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Posted November 28, 2002

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Fan Fiction: From the Shadows

Title: From the Shadows

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Disclaimer: All your Buffy are belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.

Rating: PG-13 to R. Language and some violence.

Pairings: Mostly canon. Wes/Faith leanings.

Summary: Jonathan and Wesley adjust to their new lives and prepare for what's yet to come.

Spoilers: Up to B:tVS "Normal Again" (6.17), after A:tS "Sleep Tight" (3.16), AU with some borrowing through end of season(s).

Series: This is the sequel to "Lesser Men", and follows the first four "Interludes".

Archive: Just let me know where it goes!

Notes: The title is from a J.R.R. Tolkein poem in "Lord of the Rings". The full line is, "A light from the shadows shall spring".


Wesley Wyndham-Price

Chapter Index:

  1. Welcoming Committees
  2. Movements in the Dark
  3. Scooby Meeting
  4. A Question of Fate
  5. Knives and Stakes and Vampires, Oh My
  6. Knitting Together
  7. Cause for Alarm
  8. Mustering a Response
  9. Subterranean Encounter
  10. Three, Four, Open the Door
  11. Legal Grounds
  12. More Questions Than Answers
  13. The Enemy Of My Enemy
  14. Two Sides to Every Story
  15. Damsels in Distress
  16. Twelve People in Search of an Exit
  17. Unsettling Revelations
  18. And So It Is Written
  19. Destiny in the Balance
  20. Aftermath


Chapter One: Welcoming Committees

"He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day."
~Unknown

 

Some days, thought Jonathan dully, it just didn't pay to get out of bed.

Surely it hadn't all been a dream? He hadn't just imagined getting fed up with Warren, fleeing Sunnydale, and getting mixed up with a bunch of British guys he barely knew. No way. He couldn't have made up that thing about his real father, or the prophetic weirdness about Angel's son, or any of the other events of the past few days. Right?

Right. So his sudden reappearance in Sunnydale, complete with a back-slap on the pavement and his former partners grinning evilly down at him? Knowing his luck, this probably wasn't a dream either.

"This is not good," Jonathan said, taking in the scene around him.

"Oh, I don't know about that," Warren answered, sinking down into a crouch in front of him. He didn't look any friendlier up close; Jonathan could practically see the glee dancing in his eyes. "It's good for me. I got to claim vengeance on you."

"For what, being smart?" Jonathan blurted.

"You made a deal with us," Andrew chimed in, hovering just behind Warren. As always lately, he was feeding off of Warren's mood. It was so easy to forget, looking at him now, that Andrew and Jonathan had ever been friends. Maybe Andrew had taken his identity as "blond" to heart the way he had "super villain"; that was as good an explanation as any for his fickle behavior.

"You broke the deal," Andrew continued. "And now you're going to pay."

"I'll just be going now..." The third voice sounded female, and vaguely familiar.

There was someone else here? Jonathan sat up carefully, and turned so he could see all three people at once. Oh, of course; her being here made sense. They had mentioned vengeance. But didn't she give that up a long time ago? He thought he'd overheard the Scoobies mentioning it once … and sometimes, he still just knew things about them anyway, fragmentary memories from his spell-enhanced day as Superstar Jonathan. Well, maybe he remembered wrong.

"Anya?" he asked, half-question, half-accusation.

She nodded at him. She'd done something curly to her hair today, and it bounced cheerfully around her face, at odds with her serious expression. "No one here is very happy with you, you know."

Somehow, he didn't think she was referring to his former partners-in-crime. "Yeah, well. I did try to leave Sunnydale, but you see how well that turned out." He waved a hand at Warren and Andrew, then planted it back on the asphalt and pushed himself to his feet. He could feel fresh bruises twingeing as he did so.

"Oh, get over yourself," Andrew groused, and gave him a half-hearted shove.

At least, he tried to. Jonathan blinked as Andrew's hand stopped short an inch in front of his shoulder.

"What the..." Andrew objected. Then he tried again, with equal lack of success. "Warren, something's wrong."

"Wuss," Warren said, swatting the back of Andrew's head. "We've played this game before. He's not all that great at shielding, remember? You just gotta hit harder." Then he stepped up in front of Jonathan and gave him a powerful right to the gut.

If this had been one of their old power games, the punch probably would have taken Jonathan down. But it wasn't, and the shield wasn't coming from him to start with. Warren's fist was stopped as suddenly as Andrew's hand had been, an inch from Jonathan's stomach, and a thread of hope lightened Jonathan's mood.

"Men," Anya said, crossing her arms in front of her. "Not only do you make boring wishes, you aren't specific about them at all. I should just stick to scorned women in the future."

Warren stared at his fist, then at the blonde vengeance demon, and a red flush started creeping into his face. "What did you do? I wished he were here. Just that! I said nothing about him being invulnerable!"

She laughed, and Jonathan felt a huge rush of relief at the mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

"You didn't specify how you wanted him," she said. "Just because you don't have any imagination doesn't mean I don't. Besides, as vengeance-worthiness goes, what he did ranks at about a 2 on the D'Hoffryn Scale. I didn't have to answer your wish at all."

"You bitch!" Warren took a step towards Anya, clenching his fists, all designs on Jonathan apparently forgotten.

Okay, Jonathan thought. Should I be running while he's distracted? Normally he would, but that smacked of cowardice and Ethan Rayne. He was not going to live up to what he'd seen of that man's example! Besides. Turning over the good-guy leaf, here.

Jonathan stepped in front of Anya and straightened up to his full five feet, two inches. He didn't make much of an obstacle, but hey, it was something. "Back off, Warren."

Warren's eyes narrowed, and he threw his hands out, making sharp, exasperated gestures. "Are you blind? She's a demon. She dragged you out of whatever hideyhole you were in because I asked her to. Why are you on her side?"

Jonathan raised his chin, staring the taller man down. "She's not as evil as you are, for one thing." Not quite a make-my-day-punk speech, but it would have to do.

"Oh yeah?" Warren set his jaw. "You're just as responsible for Katrina..."

Okay, forget being cool about this. "Shut up!" Jonathan yelled. "Just shut up!" He was not responsible, damn it. He wasn't. He helped cover it up, sure, and he had charged the stupid dampener. He wasn't proud of either action. But he wasn't the murderer. Warren was.

"What's the matter, Whine-athan?" Warren taunted, breaking into a smile. "Feeling guilty, are we? That shield won't protect you forever. And when I'm through with you, maybe I should dump you at the jail and tell them all about what you did."

"It'll last long enough," Jonathan spat back. Time to put his magic where his mouth was. He took a deep breath, then raised his hands palm up in front of Warren and blew across them into Warren's face.

And that was the great thing about Sunnydale; so many vampires died each night, courtesy of the resident superhero, that a fine layer of ash fell like fallout every week. Ash on the asphalt meant ash on Jonathan's hands, the perfect ingredient for a distraction spell that was still fresh in his mind. As the particles took to the air, he murmured a familiar, simple phrase: "Ubi fumus, ibi ignis."

Warren screamed. He sounded more terrified than hurt, which made sense; Jonathan wasn't skilled enough to make actual fire. Most of his spells, in the end, were just complex illusions. All the same, this spell was plenty impressive. Loose globes of flame drifted from his hands and burst into tiny flamelets all over Warren's face and in his eyes.

Andrew gasped, then tugged off his black shirt and started trying to beat the fire out. It didn't help any, but it did focus the Duo's attention entirely on each other. Warren didn't sound very happy.

"Now you have imagination," Anya said, and touched Jonathan lightly on the shoulder. "But perhaps you'd better leave while they're not paying attention."

"What about..." Jonathan turned as he spoke, then cut himself off as he realized Anya was nowhere to be seen. Probably a demon thing; so much for chivalry. Besides, it wouldn't take the guys long to remember where they'd heard him use that spell before, and what it meant.

Without further ado, he turned and started running down the street in the direction of Buffy's house.


Jonathan stood on the sidewalk outside 1630 Revello Drive, staring at the front door of the Summers residence. He hadn't had any clear purpose in mind when he started running, just the vague notion that he'd be safer here than anywhere else in town. Which was true... if the Slayer didn't kill him before he explained what was going on.

Or her Watcher. Jonathan glanced guiltily over at Giles' convertible, parked on the street in front of the house, and remembered the older man's parting words in L.A.:

((If you ever set foot in Sunnydale again...))

Well, it wasn't like he'd had much of a choice.

He ran a hand through his short hair, then screwed his courage to the sticking point and stepped up to the door. He reached for the doorknob first, then thought better of it; he settled for a tentative knock, then pulled back to rub his sweating palms against his black jeans.

"I'll get it, Buffy!"

Only one voice in this circle was ever that perky anymore. It had to be Dawn, Buffy's fifteen-year-old kid sister. He hadn't ever formally met her, but he'd seen her around, especially in the last few months. With all that shiny brown hair, she was easy to recognize, even when she was trying to be sneaky. Which reminded him. Did Buffy know yet that she'd been stealing?

The door flew open, and there she was, blinking down at him uncertainly from on high. Since when was she that tall? Now he really felt short; even the youngest of the Scoobies had outgrown him.

"Um, aren't you... aren't you... ah, Buffy?" Dawn's voice rose a little, and she backed away from the door, watching him with no small amount of alarm. Damn. Her sister must have broken out an old copy of the Sunnydale High yearbook. Nice to know she'd been taking the Trio seriously after all, but he didn't really like seeing that look on anyone's face directed at him.

"What is it, Dawn?" The Slayer appeared in the doorway behind her sister. She looked vaguely weary, but also happier than he'd seen her in months.

Buffy had always seemed larger than life to Jonathan, even when the Trio was busy trying to learn her weaknesses and her patterns. Even when she had started acting so strange last fall, and never quite seemed to recover. It had never seemed quite possible that anything they did could ever seriously threaten her. No harm, no foul, right? And then the mess with Katrina happened, and it was too late all around.

Buffy's eyes narrowed, and her mood darkened visibly as she hastily stepped in front of her sister. "Jonathan. What are you doing here?"

"Did you say Jonathan?" a British voice asked.

The height and breadth of Rupert Giles' disapproval was enough to fill a doorway on its own; the physical presence of the man took intimidation to a whole new level. Jonathan took a deep breath and tried to look mostly harmless, smiling hesitantly at the three people now staring at him.

"I thought we had an arrangement," the Watcher continued, in quieter, darker tones.

"We did," Jonathan hastened to reassure him. "I mean, we do. But I didn't expect Warren to meet up with a vengeance demon."

"Anya?" Most of the irritation in Giles' expression melted into grim surprise. "She granted Warren a wish?"

"And yet, you're still among the living," Buffy added, still giving him the benefit of her Slayer glare.

"Well, she got a little creative with the granting," he said, casting a glance back over his shoulder. "Uh, could I come in? I distracted them a little, but they might have seen where I went."

"You led Warren here?" If possible, Buffy's voice got even sharper.

Jonathan sighed. "It's not like he doesn't know where you live, you know, and this was the first safe place I could think of."

Giles considered him a moment, then nodded. "All right. We'll listen to what you have to say."

Buffy gave her Watcher a surprised look as he stepped back, then raised her eyebrows at Jonathan. "I swear, if you so much as look at anyone funny..." She let her threat trail off and stepped backwards also, leaving a path clear for him to step through the door.

Jonathan smiled grimly at the lack of invitation; what passed for rudeness in other cultures was only prudent in this town. Not that any vamp in his right mind would ever turn Jonathan, but this was the Slayer's house, after all.


Chapter Two: Movements in the Dark

"Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present."
~Marcus Aurelius

 

At times like this, when emotion drowned out rational thought and the outcome of his fate seemed murky, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce appreciated his literary education. He had a vast supply of quotes ready at his fingertips, supplying words where he had none, reminding him that others had been there before him and still survived. Perhaps his situation was unique, but his emotional condition certainly was not.

"Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea."

He spoke quietly, not intending to be overheard, letting the breeze carry the quote out over the waves. It was perfect out on Point Dume tonight, not quite warm, but not quite cold, with a wide view of the ocean and the starfield overhead. The lights and smog of the city behind him were only a minor distraction. He was the only one out here tonight, and for once, the isolation was a comfort.

Naturally, it couldn't last.

"Feeling disillusioned, are we?"

Wesley resisted the impulse to turn towards the speaker, and smiled grimly out over the water. "I seem to have formed a habit of structuring my life around illusory truths. Disenchantment grows no easier with repetition."

"I would have thought you'd be happy," the intruder continued, moving closer. "You don't have to worry about consequences for the kidnapping, you get to feature prominently in lots of prophecies, and best of all, you get a whole new father to pin your self-esteem issues on."

There was a teasing lightness in the other being's tone, and Wesley had to struggle to contain his temper. "And what concern is it of yours, Sahjhan? I thought you wanted me dead, not distracted and confused."

The scarred demon laughed softly, then took a seat next to Wesley on the rocky ground. "I only told Holtz half the story, you know. Dimensional travel isn't exactly easy on the average human brain, and I figured he might spill the beans when we ended up back here."

"And the other half would be?" Wesley asked calmly. He wasn't positioned well for quick action; with elbows braced on upthrust knees and hands clasped in front of him, any attempt to move would be telegraphed to the intruder. Best to listen peaceably to what Sahjhan had to say and wait for a more opportune moment.

"The best parts of the prophecies are written about the period after the death of Angel's son," Sahjhan answered, his voice practically vibrating with amusement. "So far as I can tell, everything's still right on schedule."

That got through his defenses. Wesley turned sharply towards Sahjhan, glaring into the demon's smiling face. "I'm still alive," he growled, and felt a twinge in his throat as the vibration irritated the wound there.

Sahjhan laughed again. "But you did die. That seems to be enough, as far as the prophecy is concerned. Hey, you like poetry? Try this one:

'The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on; nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.'"

"Prophecies have been averted before," Wesley answered vehemently, and waved a hand towards the insubstantial demon as if to reject his implications.

"Oh, believe what you like," Sahjhan shrugged. "It'll happen anyway." Then he paused, and cast an abrupt look back over Wesley's shoulder. "I see you brought Dad along. I'll just be going, then. Catch you later, Connor."

The demon stood up and stepped backward into one of his trademark vortexes, vanishing from Wesley's view just as another pair of feet skidded to a stop on the rocky ground.

"Wes, are you okay? What did Sahjhan want?"

Wesley looked up into Angel's concerned face, and felt a peculiar, familiar twinge seize his heart. How to define his relationship with this man? From enemies to coworkers to friends, there had been a lot of change in the last three years. They had built a complex web of trust and hope and disappointment that was still there, even under these new labels. Father and son.

As with Boss and Subordinate, the power had shifted between them once again. Wesley wasn't sure yet how he felt about that, even beyond his British-father issues. For a moment, earlier, he had felt an elusive connection, an acceptance; it was still there, pulling them together, but there were so many other issues clouding their friendship and pulling them apart. Until everything had been worked out, their dealings together would not be easy.

"I suppose I should have guessed you would be watching," he said, blurting the first thing that came to mind.

Angel winced. "Yeah, well, I don't know, I was just..." He thrust his hands into the pockets of his trenchcoat, looking vaguely embarrassed.

Wesley was struck by just how uncertain Angel was; he didn't know how to act now, any more than Wesley did. The thought was mildly reassuring. "Afraid I was going to disappear?" he asked, with a wry smile.

"I know it's silly," Angel answered, "but, yes. I mean, you were sent back, what, thirty years? You're older than I was when I was turned, and I have this feeling that the prophecies aren't through with us yet."

Unfortunately, Angel was right on all counts. Wesley sighed. "You were twenty-six, as I remember? Ironic, isn't it? We are more like brothers than father and son."

Angel smiled a little. "More like cousins than brothers. You take more after Darla than you do me, except for the hair color. I don't know why I never saw it before."

"Because there was no possible reason to consider it?" At least, that's what Wesley already told himself. As truths went, some were just so unlikely that they were continually overlooked, no matter their importance.

"Well, there's that too." Angel's smile widened a little more.

The smile was infectious, and in Wesley's capricious mood he couldn't help but feel it. A touch of humor floated to the surface of his thoughts. "Hmmm. But perhaps the tendency to brood should have been a clue."

Angel chuckled in agreement, then turned towards the ocean, staring out at the dark, whispering expanse of water. "You know, I usually prefer alleyways or dark rooms, but this is kinda nice. Is it helping any?"

"What, the brooding?" Wesley shook his head, then took off his glasses briefly and rubbed at his tired eyes. "Not as such, no."

"And Sahjhan? Don't think I didn't notice you evading the question."

Wesley look up at Angel's leather-covered back and sank back into his earlier depression with a sigh. Angel was right; he didn't want to talk about it, but he probably should. He got to his feet and stepped up next to the vampire, staring off towards the same distant point. "He made mention of further prophecies."

"Oh, of course. Because we haven't had enough of those already," Angel replied, a trace of bitterness in his tone. "Just, don't keep it from me this time, okay? I mean, I can see that things had to happen the way they did, but I don't think I can take any more, Wes."

His voice faltered a little, and Wesley winced as he continued. "You have no idea how much it hurt, watching my son vanish into that rift. God, it hurt. And I'm glad that Connor, that you're not dead, and that you're here, but we lost thirty years, and we can't afford to lose any more."

Wesley nodded slowly. "Tomorrow, we can all go through the prophecies again. Tonight... I believe I shall return to my apartment, and try to get some rest. Can you trust me to get there without an escort?"

Angel made a noncommittal noise. "Should I? You have no sense of self-preservation, Wesley."

"Connor."

Angel blinked at that, startled out of his train of thought, and turned towards his British son. "What?"

Wesley could see raw emotion resurfacing in Angel's face, and hastened to qualify his spontaneous remark. "Why did you name me Connor?"

"Oh. Why? Mostly because my mother was an O'Connor. It's a good Irish name." Angel spoke softly, reminiscently, then blinked again. "Damn it, Wes, you're still evading."

Wesley sighed. "I'll be fine, Angel. I'll be back at the hotel in the morning, I promise. I just need some time to myself."

Angel considered that a moment, then nodded. "I can understand that," he said, and reached an arm out to Wesley, awkwardly gripping his shoulder. "Just promise me you'll never run again. Whatever happens."

"Yes," Wesley agreed, and fought his British reserve enough to give his father a brief, masculine hug. Then Angel turned, disappearing back into the night. Wesley made his way back to his motorcycle, strapped on his helmet, and put the key in the ignition.


Wesley could feel the intruder's presence long before he actually saw her. It started out as a low, almost unnoticeable pressure in the back of his mind, and grew to an active itch as he parked the motorcycle and approached the apartment building. He still wasn't certain what it meant until he saw the shadows move in his doorway and recognized that familiar fall of wavy dark hair and the leather-clad curves beneath it.

"Faith," he said, pausing several feet away with his keys tightly gripped in one hand.

She stirred, moving towards him, taking slow steps into the dim hallway lighting. The same dark eyes, the same dark lipstick, the same challenging outfit; her expression was softer than usual, but otherwise she looked no different than she had the day she'd turned herself in. Difficult. Dangerous. And also, although acknowledging it went against the Watcher's code, desirable.

"Hey, Watcher-Man," she said quietly, searching his face with her eyes. "I have some things I need to talk to you about."

"You've been paroled?" He kept his voice calm and even, but inside he felt as though he'd been punched in the stomach. This week was quite difficult enough already, without the rogue Slayer being added to the mix. Why hadn't she at least called Angel first, warned them? He felt woefully unprepared to deal with her at the moment.

She shrugged, almost overly casual in her movements. "Sorta. That's part of what I wanted to talk about; Wolfram and Hart was involved, and I'm not sure the guards know yet that I'm gone."

A stab of anger ran through Wesley at that; he could almost hear the echo of his own words, two years ago, the first time she had turned up in L.A.

((There is evil in that girl, Angel. It doesn't matter what she wants, or says she wants-- you set her free-- she'll kill again.))

He'd started to believe differently when she turned herself over to the police, but it was hard, now, to summon up any sort of trust. This woman had tortured him, and enjoyed it. She had killed men. These were not things Wesley could easily forget.

"Are you working for them again?" he managed to ask.

She looked a little startled, and took a step backwards. "Fuck, Wes, no. I'm not even sure what they wanted. Their commando guys didn't say much and I got away as soon as we cleared the prison gates."

He raised an eyebrow at that. "It may not have been the most intelligent decision to come here, then. I'm sure this is on their list of places to look."

She looked down, and several strands of hair slipped forward to obscure her face. It made her seem younger, more vulnerable, less the violent woman of Wesley's memories and more the teenaged girl she actually was. "I actually went to Cordelia's first," she answered, quietly. "But it doesn't matter. I just need to talk to you. We could do it somewhere else."

He studied her a moment longer, building a list of all the reasons why this was idiotic, then pushed them all aside. No matter how risky it was to bring Faith into his home, it would probably be more risky not to. "Very well."

She hovered near the doorway as he unlocked the apartment, then gave him a questioning look. "So, are you inviting me in, or what?"

He stepped into the apartment, ignoring her question, then held the door open and waited patiently.

"Oh, right," she said. "In case I got turned. Because you would so be the first person I came for." She laughed a little, her voice wavering somewhere between sarcastic and nervous, and walked past him into the main room.

Another fragment of poetry surfaced in Wesley's mind as she brushed by, another artifact of his unsettled emotional state. He usually hadn't much use for Byron, but the words seemed somehow appropriate now.

"She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes."

He wasn't aware that he'd spoken aloud until she stopped short, staring at him again. "Uh, Wes?" She looked alarmed and a little bit dismayed, as though he'd turned into a stranger in front of her eyes.

He sighed and shut the door. "It's been a long day, Faith. I'm going to make some tea, and then we can talk."


Chapter Three: Scooby Meeting

"Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends."
~Shirley MacLaine

 

Jonathan settled gingerly onto the couch in Buffy's living room, glancing warily around at his reluctant hosts. "Um. So." He tried to smile, clasping his hands together to prevent himself from fidgeting. "What's up?"

Buffy had been leaning against the edge of the doorway, but she exploded into motion at his words. "What's up? I just found out about your spying program, that's what's up. Did you come to see what happened to your cameras?" She stalked over to him, intent clear in her face, then wound her small fist in the collar of his shirt and hauled him to his feet.

"Buffy." Giles stepped forward and laid a hand on his Slayer's upper arm, speaking calmly. "I understand your anger, but he plainly has a reason for coming here, and it might be a good idea to let him speak."

Buffy continued to stare at Jonathan a moment longer, her fierce green gaze burning into him, then unclenched her fist and let go. "Fine. But this better be good." She shook off Giles' hand and strode back to her position in the doorway, still radiating unfocused anger.

Jonathan took a deep breath, rubbing his throat where the shirt had cut into his flesh. His knees were trembling, heck, all of him was trembling, but he was determined not to collapse back onto the couch. He needed them to take him seriously, especially Buffy. No more small talk.

"I'm not here about the cameras," he said. "In fact, I'm not with Warren and Andrew anymore. I wouldn't even be in Sunnydale if they hadn't wished me back."

"Wait, you left?" Xander interrupted, entering the room. "When was this?"

Jonathan blinked, startled, at the tall young man. Normal guy or not, Xander could beat Jonathan to a pulp any day, and he looked to be in a beating mood. But what was he doing here? Xander and Anya were usually joined at the hip when they weren't at work, and Anya was... well, out doing vengeance-demony things. Jonathan was beginning to get the feeling that a lot of stuff had happened off-camera in the last few weeks.

"Wednesday night, right?" Another person? Great. Jonathan must have interrupted a full-blown Scooby meeting.

The owner of the voice followed Xander into the room, clutching a nondescript mug full of something red that steamed. "Heard there'd been a disturbance at the Hellmouth. Only you gits would be stupid enough to mess about with magic there."

Jonathan winced. He actually hadn't thought of that, at the time. It was bad enough being slapped with his own stupidity, but from Spike? Hello, evil? And, was that blood in Spike's mug?

"I kind of had to," he said, "I was looking for a place where no-one would interrupt me. I needed a disguise, and I couldn't do it at the lair, in case Warren came back early."

"So you bugged out. Where to?" Xander asked, drifting over to lean on the wall next to Buffy. Spike gave the dark-haired human a challenging glare, then perched on a chair and started sipping from the mug.

"L.A.," Jonathan replied, glancing over at Giles. If they wanted details, they were going to have to pry them out of Watcher-Guy. "It's a long story, and you'd be better off asking Wesley what happened, but I was pretty much going to hang out at Angel Investigations 'til this all blew over."

"What?" Buffy spluttered. "Angel took you in? I mean, points to you for ditching your evil crew, but I'm getting a little fed up with Angel sheltering my enemies."

Jonathan wasn't sure what she meant about Angel and enemies, but he tried to defuse her anyway. "It wasn't Angel so much, it had to do with Wesley and... um." Belatedly, it occurred to him that mentioning his new-found father might be a bad idea.

"Um?" That was Giles again, raising an eyebrow at him with a slight smile. "Do you mean Ethan Rayne?"

"Ethan? You mean the magic candy guy?" Dawn spoke up. She'd been doing a good job of making herself invisible in one of the corners, but curiosity had apparently got the better of her.

Buffy glanced over at her sister, raising one artfully plucked brow. "Yes, that Ethan. Why don't you go upstairs now, Dawn, and we'll call you when dinner's ready?"

Dawn responded with instant teenage angst. "Oh come on. It's not like you're talking about anything I shouldn't hear." She made a big-eyed appeal to Giles, but he gave a slight shrug and nodded towards her elder sister.

Buffy stared at her sister, her lips thinning into a tired, determined line. "Dawn, just do it. I'll fill you in later, okay?"

Dawn gave her sister an exaggerated scowl and stomped towards the stairs. "I'll just go do some homework. More fun than hanging out with you guys anyway."

Buffy waited until she was gone, then turned back to Jonathan, all business again. "So Ethan Rayne's involved in all of this?"

"Not really," he answered, lowering his gaze to study the carpet at his feet. "It's a personal thing."

Of course, Buffy couldn't let it go. "What, he's been teaching you magic or something? Did you leave here to get more power to use against us?"

God, she was suspicious. "Uh, no. He wanted to teach me, but I told him it was a bad idea." Jonathan still had the occasional pang of regret at the lost possibilities and knowledge Ethan had presented, but he knew, on a gut-deep level, that he'd made the right decision.

Xander laughed, interrupting his thoughts. "And we're supposed to believe you just met up with him at random, had a two-second conversation, and he left?"

Well, put that way, it did sound a little suspicious. "Um..."

"There's that 'um' again," Spike broke in, with his rough British accent. "Shall I make a guess?" The vampire set down his mug and stood up, five-foot-eleven of dark clothes, bleached hair and dangerous attitude.

Jonathan tried to retreat and flailed for balance as his legs hit the couch instead. He sat hard, then froze, feeling very vulnerable.

Spike stopped a couple of feet away, with a self-satisfied grin on his face. "Ah, calm down. 'M'not going to bite you." Then he took a careful sniff of the air, and turned towards Giles, looking smug. "You're being a bit quiet over there, mate. I bet you know what's up with this one. He smells a bit like that old chum of yours."

Jonathan sighed. Vampire sense of smell. That sucked. Where did Spike meet Ethan, anyway? "Yeah, Giles knows. I just didn't think it was anybody else's business that Ethan Rayne is my father."

There went Buffy's eyebrows again. "You? Ethan Rayne has a son, and it's you?"

Jonathan snorted, irritated by her reaction. "Which one surprises you more?"

"Ooh, point to Jonathan," Xander said. He earned a half-hearted slap from Buffy for his trouble. "Hey."

"You said 'grow up', right, Giles?" Buffy complained, pouting at her Watcher. "Because I haven't noticed much of a difference."

Giles just shook his head. It looked like he couldn't decide whether to be amused or appalled.

"Anyway," Jonathan broke in, trying to get back on track. "This is all kind of irrelevant. I was minding my own business in the Hyperion, when all of a sudden I got dizzy and found myself in the street near the Magic Box."

"Warren must have intercepted Anya as she left," Giles commented.

"Looked like it," Jonathan agreed. "He spouted something about me breaking my oath, and how I was supposed to help them get the Orbs of Nezzla'khan. But I guess Anya didn't really like him, because she made it so they couldn't touch me, and I was able to cast an illusion and get away."

"You just left her there with them?" Xander's voice rose with the question, and he straightened up, staring at Jonathan.

Jonathan snorted. "Vengeance demon, hello. She teleported out."

Giles looked like he was going to add another comment, but whatever it was never made it out of his mouth. He was interrupted by the reappearance of Dawn, who came clattering down the stairs at full speed and then rushed over to her sister.

"Dawn?" Buffy asked, clasping her sister's hands as said sister bounced up and down, about to burst with excitement.

"Buffy, you'll never believe it! I went to get Willow to help with my homework, and guess who's in there with her! Oh, I hope they didn't see me! Oh my God, this is just too great!" Dawn had stopped bouncing, but the excitement was showing up now in her loud, high-pitched explanation.

Buffy blinked a little in confusion, then brightened visibly. "Tara's here?"

"She's back!" Dawn exclaimed, clapping her hands together in glee. Then she threw herself into a hug with her sister.

"I hope they work it out this time," Xander said, with a half-hearted smile. "Someone around here needs to be happy."

Spike shifted in his seat, almost unnoticed by the others, and a strange expression crossed his face. "Glad the pixie's back," he muttered, casting a sideways glance at Giles, then stared down into his mug.

Jonathan took note of all the reactions, and frowned slighlty. Obviously, there were things going on in this group that he really had no part in. Like always. He felt like Crewman Guy at the beginning of "Galaxy Quest," without a last name or any real purpose. Maybe that was the way things were supposed to be, but it made him feel even more out of place in Sunnydale than he did already.

It was too bad he didn't have any transportation-- he didn't really need to be here, did he? He could just catch a cab, and go back where he was appreciated, even with his not-so-pristine recent past...

((Jonathan, it is refreshing to have met you.))

With that thought, Jonathan sighed and turned to look out the window.

In the background, the telephone rang. "I'll answer it, Buffy," he heard Giles say, and the sound of footsteps moved across the floor.

"Summers residence... What? This is Rupert Giles... Mr. Summers, that isn't quite..." Giles paused, apparently cut off by an avalanche of words from the other end.

"Dad?" Dawn asked, in a small voice. "What does he want?"

Jonathan watched the reflections of the others move like shadows on the glass. Everyone snapped to attention, waiting to hear what Giles said next; Buffy tightened her grip on her sister. Judging by the differing levels of disgust and anger on everyone's faces, this Mr. Summers was not their favorite person.

"Mr. Summers, this conversation is neither timely nor appropriate," Giles said firmly. "Now, I trust your original intent was to speak with your daughters?" He listened a moment longer, then stepped out into Buffy's line of sight, clasping one hand over the mouthpiece. Little green sparks were dancing up and down the receiver, and his mouth was drawn into a scowl. "Shall I...?" he asked, looking at his Slayer.

Buffy sighed, and stepped away from Dawn. "No, no, I'll take it. I can't whine about him never calling and then not talk to him when he does."

She glared at Jonathan as she walked away. "Sit down, and stay there. I'm not through with you yet."

Jonathan rolled his eyes. Whatever. Wasn't he here voluntarily? "I'll be on the porch," he announced to the room at large, and opened the front door.

Footsteps sounded behind him as he stepped through. He didn't bother shutting the door. Obviously, one of the Scoobies had taken it upon themselves to make sure he obeyed. Jonathan sighed and took a seat on the steps, waiting for the commentary to begin.

"Feeling a bit useless there, mate?"

What was it with Spike? Jonathan tensed up, telling himself not to flinch. Before today, he'd only seen Spike up close and personal once, when the vampire had come to ask questions of Warren. He'd been nervous then, and he was nervous now, even though Spike didn't seem particularly predatory.

"Cat got your tongue?" Heavy boots appeared on the steps next to Jonathan, and Spike took a seat, making sure to keep a reasonable distance.

"I don't get it. You're evil," Jonathan said. Out of all his thoughts, the simplest found its way out first.

"Yeah? Your point being?" Spike replied. He was making sounds of crinkled plastic and the clink of metal, and after a moment, Jonathan could smell why.

"And you smoke. I don't get that either. You're dead. What good does nicotine do if your blood doesn't even move?"

Spike laughed. "'Ey. It bloody well does."

There was just something wrong, even suggestive, about the way he said that. Jonathan shuddered. "Too much information, Spike."

"You asked," Spike said, smugly. "There's a lot of stuff about vampire physiology that no one understands. It just is. We get drunk or high just like humans do, it just takes a bit longer, is all."

"You're weird." The conversation felt comfortable, almost, in a really bizarre kind of way. Kinda like joking around with Andrew, back in the day, before Jonathan became the odd man out. Except not, because Spike was infinitely scarier than weak, still-afraid-of-hot-things Andrew.

"I prefer the term unique, pet," Spike commented, sounding distinctly amused. Then he swore, suddenly and vehemently, all trace of teasing gone. "Bugger that."

"What?" Jonathan started, and turned to look at Spike. What was that all about?

Spike had turned slightly towards the not-quite-closed front door, his head tilted to one side in an attitude of listening. The cigarette he'd been smoking dangled between his fingers, forgotten, and Jonathan could have sworn he saw flashes of amber in that distant blue gaze.

That couldn't be good, Jonathan thought. "Spike? What's going on?"

"Slayer's father wants the Little Bit back," Spike said, rising to his feet. He dropped the cigarette on the steps, grinding it to ash underfoot, and scowled. "Hired some fancy lawyers. They want to meet the girls in L.A. tomorrow."

Was it just his imagination, or was it starting it seem like Spike actually cared about the girl? The wheels began turning in Jonathan's mind. This was a Master Vampire who didn't kill. Who kept blood in his mortal enemy's 'fridge. Who was entertained by chatting on a porch with a recently evil-ish human. Who actually cared about whether a teenager might have to leave her sister's home. Was that possible? At least, for any vampire besides the soul-having Angel?

"Doesn't visit, doesn't call, doesn't pay child support. Useless wanker. Didn't even show up for Joyce's funeral. So why would he want her now?" Spike had begun to pace the length of the porch, scowling fiercely. "Gotta be something else going on here."

Jonathan shook his head. Did all this mean that Spike wasn't really evil? 'Cause if so, Spike just might be his ticket back to L.A. Mentally, Jonathan flipped a quarter and made a decision.

"Think they'll ask you to go?" he asked, casually.

Spike stopped in his tracks, blinking in Jonathan's direction as if he'd forgotten the human was there. "Not bleeding likely," he said, fiercely. "What's it to you, anyway?"

"You want to be in L.A., I want to be in L.A. You have transportation, right?" Jonathan rose to his feet, trying to look calm and matter-of-fact.

Spike narrowed his eyes, studying Jonathan a little more intensely. "And what makes you think I'd take you with me?" he asked, closing the distance between them with a few short vampire-swift steps.

Not evil, not evil, not evil, Jonathan chanted silently, part reminder and part plea. Spike might have nine inches on him, but Jonathan had stared down Warren before; surely he could stand up to a not-evil vampire. "Need any spells done?" he replied, getting the question out with barely a quiver.

Amber flashed again in Spike's eyes. "Hmm. That sounds... promising." He broke eye contact with Jonathan to glance at the door again, then smiled slightly, all cockiness and determination. "All right. My bike's this way."

With that, Spike strode off the porch, heading away from Buffy's house. Jonathan paused briefly, remembering Buffy's order, then shrugged and followed in the vampire's wake.


Chapter Four: A Question of Fate

"In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't."
~Blaise Pascal

 

It took a few minutes for Wesley to ready the tea, a small precious stretch of time in which to knit up his ravelled emotions and decide how to deal with the situation he found himself in. He was perilously close to overload already, and it wouldn't take much for Faith to knock him over the edge.

Fortunately, she seemed to sense that something was wrong. She stayed on the couch in the other room, almost unnaturally calm, running fingertips gently over the piles of note paper on his coffee-table and picking out words in his hasty scribblings. Occasionally, she cast a glance over her shoulder at the kitchen.

There was something different about her, something under the surface, hard to quantify. He didn't know how to describe it, except that she seemed luminous, yet wrapped in darkness. That impression worried him. What effect would she have on the current situation?

((Or is it just like fate? You know, there is no choice. You were gonna be here no matter what.))

His fingers spasmed on the handle of the teapot as he recalled her words that day. Fate had a new meaning for him now. It was an odd feeling, to realize that his own life was captured on parchment somewhere in scrawls of fading ink, written in a long-dead language centuries before his birth. As hard as he'd fought for Connor, for his infant self, it was different now that he knew it was all about him. It was more than a challenge, more than a sacrifice for a friend. He was beginning to take it personally.

"Wes, are you alive in there?"

He sighed. "The tea is nearly done, Faith. Would you like a cup?"

The old Faith would have snorted and made a bitter, mocking remark; this Faith still snorted, but paused afterward, as if she really had to think about it. Then, "Yeah. Yeah, sure, I'll take a cup."

He smiled slightly and took a second teacup down. "Your tastes have changed," he remarked, pouring carefully, then lifted both cups and carried them out to the couch.

She shifted to one end of the cushions, turning towards him, and carefully took one from his hands. "Oh, not really," she said casually. "But, hey. Two years on prison food. Maybe it tastes better now."

He took the space she'd left at the other end of the couch, and wrapped both hands around his own teacup, absorbing the warmth through the thin china. "I will tell you a secret," he said, as deliberately casual as she was. "Tea isn't about the taste, it's about the ritual. It's meant to comfort."

She took a sip of the tea anyway, still smiling slightly, then grimaced. "It must be a British thing." She copied his grip on her cup, holding it close, and looked down into it, a little frown line appearing between her brows. "Comfort, huh?"

"Yes," he replied, allowing some of the disturbance he was feeling to seep back into his voice. "Although I'm not sure which of us needs it just now. What are you here for, Faith?"

She still didn't look up, watching the swirling patterns made in the clear brownish liquid as she tilted her cup this way and that. "Mostly to ask questions," she answered, shrugging carefully.

Her voice sounded a little tight, and Wesley sighed. She wasn't making this any easier. "What sort of questions?" he asked, watching her downturned face for clues to what she might be thinking.

She answered him with another question. "You remember a year ago, when I called the hotel to talk to you?"

Did he remember? How could he not? Under ordinary circumstances, only Angel ever spoke or visited with her, but the circumstances had not been ordinary. It was the day after their return from Pylea, and in light of Willow's news, Wesley had almost expected it.

"You had a Slayer dream, if I recall correctly."

"About Buffy." She took a ragged breath, and Wesley realized that what he had taken for calmness in her was a high nervous tension. Her knuckles had whitened around the teacup, and he was beginning to fear for the integrity of the china.

"You've had another Slayer dream," he guessed. It made sense. For anything else, she would probably have gone to the hotel to talk to Angel, and rightly so. Wesley was her ex-Watcher. He wasn't her friend.

"Two of them this week," she said, and looked up at last, staring at him. More specifically, she seemed to have focused on the bandage around his throat.

Wesley nearly flinched at the conflict in those dark eyes. Anger? Worry? More emotions, violent, and all of them directed at him. "Oh," he said, suddenly realizing what was the matter.

This was a Slayer who'd already been present at the deaths of two Watchers, though only one had been Council-sanctioned. This was a Slayer with a possessive streak, who reacted to changes and losses in her life with violence and emotion. This was a Slayer with a considerable investment in him, no matter that it was balanced heavily toward the negative end of the scale. If Faith had Dreamed of what happened...

"Yeah, 'Oh'," she echoed, and shot to her feet, dropping the teacup on the table. Tea splashed everywhere, but Wesley didn't have the energy to spare to concern himself about the fate of his papers.

"Were you even gonna tell me?" she continued, clenching her fists. "Any of you? I thought you were dead! Twice! Then Lilah and her fucking goon squad broke me out and told me you were at the office! I don't care if you think I'm a piece of shit, you're still my Watcher. I should have heard it from you."

He had no idea how to respond to that. It hadn't even occurred to him that she might know. They'd never had the kind of Slayer-Watcher bond that promoted such things, to put it mildly. "Faith, I..."

She seemed to sense his hesitation, and her face closed up abruptly. "No, you know what, forget it," she said, vehemently. "Just, never mind. I should never have come here." Without any further comment, she turned and started marching towards the door.

"Faith!" Hastily, he set his own cup on the table and hurried after her, hands outstretched. He had a brief mental flash of a similar chase, four days prior, and felt a stab of guilt. If she fought him, if she did not wish to stay, did he have any right to insist otherwise? There was so much left unsaid.

His fears were moot. She paused at the door, yielding the chase; she let him wrap her left wrist up in long fingers and turn her towards him.

"I thought..." Faith said, then stopped and shook her head, looking away from his face. She focused on a spot somewhere over his right shoulder, and began again.

"All that time I was in that cell, it was hard for me, you know?" Faith spoke softly, her voice thick with emotion. "I could have broken out whenever I wanted, but I didn't. Because I was supposed to learn how to be good. I wanted to. And I started to, I think, this last year. Especially when B died. It was all on me then, no more Chosen Two."

Wesley had heard much of this from Angel, especially in the months before Darla's second return. Angel had been pleased with Faith's progress, but Wesley had dismissed it as a likely deception. Of course she would be making nice. The Watchers' Council may have failed to apprehend her, but they could still have easily had her killed.

Now, facing her, Wesley could see why Angel had believed the Slayer. She was transparent as glass, and as fragile as the china she had flung aside. "Faith..."

"No." She closed her eyes, and braced her free hand against his chest. "Let me finish. I can only do this once."

He subsided, and she opened her eyes again, still staring into nowhere. "I kept in shape, so I could go right back to Slaying when I got out... I started reading stuff Angel brought me. I even took my GED. I'll never be a good little Slayer like Buffy, but hey, she sucks at a lot of things, too. And, well, I thought a lot about what I did. I wasn't sure you guys would ever let me make it up to you, but I wanted to try. I wanted to join you guys, be part of Angel's crew, and maybe, one day, get my Watcher back." She paused there, her face tight with hurt.

When she continued, her voice was quieter, and more strained. "What the Hell happened, Wes? With the baby, and with Angel? You were supposed to be my ticket to redemption."

There was still a little voice yelling in the back of his mind, reminding him that she was a murderer, that she had tortured him, but the rest of him was too fresh from his own hurts and confusions. In many ways, he was just as lost as she was, and no more deserving of compassion. How could he ever justify failing her again?

"It's a very long story, Faith, and I don't understand it all myself." Gentleness in his voice this time, and honesty. "But if you'll stay, I'll try to explain."

She raised her eyes to his face, startled by the change, and stared at him. Disbelief? Relief? "You don't, you're not upset with me?" she asked warily.

"No." So many questions yet, but one had found an answer; he wasn't, didn't hate her. "You were never the only one to blame."

Wesley curled his left hand over her right, where she'd placed it above his heart, and released his grip on her other arm.

The anger drained from her stance, and Faith melted into tears.

Boundaries, that pesky Watcher-voice whispered. But what use were boundaries? They might be Slayer and Watcher, but neither was in the Council's employ just now, and Faith needed reassurance the way Wesley had needed Angel's acceptance earlier that day. He took another step forward, closing the gap.

Faith sagged against his chest, clutching at his shirt, and began sobbing in earnest. How many years had this been coming? Too long, for her, he thought. Wesley rested his cheek against her hair and remembered the sound of pain in Angel's voice. No, they couldn't afford to lose any more time. Any of them.


Chapter Five: Knives and Stakes and Vampires, Oh My

"I have no doubt that we will be successful in harnessing the sun's energy... If sunbeams were weapons of war, we would have had solar energy centuries ago."
~Sir George Porter

 

Spike didn't say another word on the walk to his cemetery. The only concession he made to Jonathan's presence was a restless restraint in his stride, allowing the much shorter human to keep up.

Jonathan didn't mind the silence. He was busy asking himself if he'd made the wrong decision. No matter what Spike's behavior seemed to prove, it could have all been faked, and Jonathan would never know. He didn't know what Spike was like before, besides the textbook "William the Bloody" tales. And he wasn't exactly a good judge of people. Just look at Warren.

Maybe he should have waited and called for a taxi, after all. On the other hand, Buffy might not have let him go. He could try going back to find out, except that if he turned around now, he was pretty sure Spike would get mad. You just don't back out on deals with Master Vampires, no matter how strange they've been acting.

So basically, this was a damned-if-you-do situation. The only sane alternative was to trust his original instinct, except that the instinct wasn't sane to begin with. What had he been thinking? If Spike turned on him he was going to end up like Samuel L. Jackson in "Deep Blue Sea." Chomp. Good intentions never protected anybody.

They were nearly to Spike's crypt when the vampire stopped in his tracks. Jonathan barely had time to register the movement before Spike turned in a swirl of leather duster, demon visage in place, and slammed him up against the nearest mausoleum.

"Ow," Jonathan exclaimed, as the collision throbbed through his shoulder-blades. "Shit." He pressed his hands against the weathered concrete behind him, bracing himself to push off and run, but he already knew he was doomed. Spike was too close, only a foot away, all lean muscle and sharp fangs. So much for instinct.

Spike growled at him, then shifted back to his human face with a shake of the head and an obvious wince. "Look," he said. "All that fear? I'm flattered, really, but it's getting bloody distracting. Either snap out of it, or run along back to Buffy's. Now."

"Distracting?" Jonathan said, confused and startled. "You mean you can smell...? Well, duh, I guess. But why does it matter? I mean, you're a vampire. Why would that be a distraction?"

Spike snorted, and a hungry gleam crept into his eyes. "Vampires are predators, you git. Of course we like the smell of fear, when it's coming from our prey." He paused briefly, glancing off to one side, and lifted his scarred eyebrow. "But if that's what you truly want to be, don't let me stop you."

Prey? Jonathan took a few steps to the side, to a spot where his long-sleeved black T-shirt and black jeans melted into the deeper shadows, and risked a quick look away from Spike.

Three other vampires were loose in the cemetery. One had the newly-risen look, all ridges and bloodlust, with dirt on his freshly-ripped formalwear. The other two were female and obviously older, judging by their worn hippie attire, and were both carrying knives. They hadn't seen Jonathan yet, but they were definitely hunting, and they'd probably smell him soon.

The light breeze shifted directions, and soon became now. Jonathan fumbled in his pockets as they turned towards him and began to approach. He came up with two cheap magical talismans and the stake he always carried just-in-case, but it wasn't much against three attackers. He couldn't stake them on his own, especially the two with the weapons, and there wasn't time to activate either talisman before he became dinner. Well, it looked like he was going to have to settle the issue of Spike one way or another...

"Being prey is not on my agenda," he said, tossing the stake to Spike, then dropped the lesser talisman back into his pocket. "I need thirty seconds. When I yell 'Now', get over here, or you'll fry too."

Spike caught the stake reflexively, then pulled another from his own pocket and brought his demon face back to the fore. "You expect me to protect you now?" He sounded almost offended. "You're not one of the bloody Scoobies."

"Just do it!" Jonathan admonished. The fear had shifted in his system, becoming a generalized panic, but that was OK. It was feeding him lots of adrenaline, and he could use that to boost the spell. He cleared his throat and began the Latin invocation, concentrating on the words and not his worries.

Spike rolled his eyes and set his feet in a fighting stance, with a stake gripped tightly in each hand. The other vampires slowed as they approached him, the elder two splitting off to attack him from the sides. "Traitor," one of them hissed, and Spike leaped forward, stabbing at her with a stake.

The vamp ducked fluidly under his strike and slashed back with the knife she held, leaping back lightly as a line of blood welled up across his hand. The other female vamp took advantage of that distraction to cut at Spike from the other side, but he'd been expecting her and stepped backward, lashing at her with an outstretched leg. His boot caught her in the knee with an audible crunch, and she went down hard, crying out in pain.

The fledgling vamp decided it was time for him to weigh in and threw himself bodily at Spike. He wrapped his arms around Spike's torso, briefly trapping the older vampire's arms, and momentum carried the pair several steps backward. They were within reach of Jonathan when Spike dug in his heels and wrenched a hand free, jabbing up between their bodies with one of the stakes. It caught the fledgling just below the ribs, angling sharply upward, and there was a distinct popping sound and a gush of dark blood before a new cloud of ash sifted into the grass.

The wounded female was getting to her feet, using a tombstone for leverage, and the other had circled farther in the opposite direction, looking at Jonathan. The loud Latin was clearly getting her attention, and he appeared a lot less able than his duster-clad companion.

Spike went after the injured vamp at a full run, discounting the cautious one for a moment. He knocked her back over the tombstone before she could get her knife up and ready. They disappeared from Jonathan's line of sight in a tangle of waist-length brown hair and whirling black leather.

Jonathan began to sweat. The spell was building towards its climax, and if Spike didn't reappear in the next ten seconds...

Spike rolled back into view, grappling with the vamp, and came to a halt crouched above her. He had her arms pinned down with his knees and one hand pressed against her throat. He'd lost the stake from that hand somewhere, but he still had the other, glistening with blood from the cut her sister had inflicted. He raised it high, prepared to stake her through, but was prevented from doing so as she pulled one hand out from under his knee. Jonathan could hear the crunch of finger-bones, but she had enough control yet to keep a grip on her knife, and she slashed upwards with all her strength.

Spike flinched back, throwing his head to one side, barely avoiding decapitation. The tip of the knife opened a deep gash across his collarbone, and he howled in reaction. Knife-wounds might not be fatal, but enough of them would wear him down. He feinted again with the stake, was blocked, and rolled out to the side before she could slash at him a second time.

Jonathan reached the crescendo of the spell. There was a brief gap between the invocation itself and the trigger phrase in which he could yell a warning, and he used it. "Spike! Now!" he called, darting a glance over at the third vamp. She had apparently decided to go ahead and attack him, spellcasting or no, and was advancing on him with her knife. In another few seconds she'd be much too close for comfort.

It took Spike a second to remember Jonathan's instructions, a brief span of time in which the uninjured vamp began rushing towards him and the spell trembled in stasis, threatening to break his hold. Then Spike was in motion, diving to the ground at Jonathan's feet.

Jonathan threw himself over Spike, holding the talisman at arms' length, and called out "Fiat Lux!" at the top of his lungs. Let there be light!

There was a brief, dark shimmer in the air, starting at the point marked by the talisman. It moved around them, spreading out into a circle, then filled in to make a spherical shape around the pair. Spike flinched and curled up tighter as the line crossed one ankle, raising a hissing line of smoke. When the sphere had finished forming, less than a second after it began, it started growing in intensity, sucking up every last erg of energy Jonathan had summoned and converting it into ultraviolet light. Then it rippled outward.

The uninjured vamp went up first. She had nearly reached them, knife outstretched, and her hand caught flame half-a-second before her throat did. Her abortive scream startled the other into motion. The injured vamp began shuffling away at the best speed she could muster, but it wasn't enough. She was caught feet-first by a wave of instant destruction that kept growing, swelling out to encompass the cemetery at large.

There were two more screams and flashes of flame from unsuspected prowlers before the spell let go, and Jonathan collapsed into a heap next to Spike. "Cool," he said, smiling hugely.

Spike picked himself up from the ground, wearing a shocked expression on his re-humanized face. "What the Hell was that?" he exclaimed, glancing down at the line of char marring one leg of his jeans.

"UV spell," Jonathan explained. "Normal light- or sun-spells don't really work for me, they're much too hard to control. But with a qualifying incantation and an amplifying focus, you can project just the ultraviolet, and that's really the part that kills. I never tried it with the focus before, since it takes so long to cast, but I guess it works pretty well."

Spike snorted. "I'll say. How come it did that circle effect then, if it can't kill you? Not that I'm complaining."

"Didn't want to get sunburnt," Jonathan said, and dissolved into giggles. He knew he sounded drunk, or maybe crazy, but hey! He had just nearly been killed, and had his first offensive-spell success. Surely that gave him license to be a little giddy.

Spike rolled his eyes. "Idiot," he said, but there was more respect in his tone than there had been earlier. "Let's get going."

Jonathan stood to his feet, wobbling slightly with exhaustion. For the second time in one day, he found his hands coated in ash, and he sighed at the reminder. This was still his first full day as a Good Guy. If Day One was this bad, did he want to know what tomorrow would bring?


Chapter Six: Knitting Together

"Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease."
~Hippocrates

 

Wesley awoke to the sound of a woman in his shower. It was disorienting, strange, to drift up from silence to the sounds of splashing and singing, after living so long without them. Virginia had been the last, and before that...

"Wes, you got towels?" The water cut off abruptly, and Faith's voice drifted to him from the direction of the bathroom.

Wesley opened his eyes, startled, and found himself staring at the living-room ceiling. Couch? Ah, yes. Memory flooded back, and he sat up slowly, feeling rumpled and strangely content.

"In the cabinet under the sink," he called to his guest, and stood up, stretching stiff muscles.

After Faith had finished crying the night before, he had gently led her back to the couch, and placed his teacup in her hands. She had smiled at him through the traces of tears and apologized for breaking the other; he had apologized for being such a fool, and then told her the story of the past few weeks.

By the time he'd finished, she had been fading into the silences, exhausted and at a loss for words. At that point, "What the fuck?" was the most coherent question she could manage, so he'd given up and told her to sleep on it and finish the conversation in the morning. He had offered her the bedroom, and she hadn't refused.

Faith came padding barefoot out of the bathroom, rubbing at her long dark hair with the towel. "I borrowed a shirt," she said, gracing him with a flash of white teeth. "Hope you don't mind. I was getting sick of the other one."

"Ah, no, no, that's perfectly fine. Perhaps you could, ah, go shopping with Cordelia later on."

On the other hand, Wesley wouldn't mind loaning her more button-up shirts if they all had this effect on her. She had pulled it on over her black leather pants, leaving the collar undone and rolling up the cuffs; it covered her from throat to mid-thigh, yet it was just as effective as the dangerous little tops she usually wore. It clung to all the right places... Hastily, he refocused on her face.

Faith laughed, and he flushed, embarassed. "It must look good on me," she said, "'cause you've gone all stupid again. Why would I want to go shopping with Cordelia?"

"Oh, right." Wesley ran a hand over the stubble on his jaw, feeling as though his brain was still half-asleep. "I'd forgotten, you have a rather negative history with her. Fred, then, perhaps. But didn't you say you went to Cordelia's apartment last night?"

Faith rolled her eyes and walked towards the kitchen, throwing the towel at him as she passed. "Yeah. It was a little weird. Lilah said you were at the office, but damn if you hadn't moved it, so I started casually asking folks at the bus station if they knew where Angel Investigations was. Didn't think you'd be in the phone book." She paused to peer into the refrigerator, and turned a frown towards him. "God, Wes, don't you have anything to eat?"

"I haven't been here in several days," he said, apologetically.

She laughed and closed the refrigerator, then started to rummage around in his cabinets. "As if you would on a normal day. Maybe I oughta take you shopping. Anyway, so I ran into this tall guy with weird eyes who looked a little like Angel, and he told me the offices were closed. Which I thought was bullshit, but when I told him I was an old friend, he said he'd take me to Cordy's apartment."

"That would be the Groosalugg," Wesley told her. "I'm sure Angel mentioned our adventures in Pylea?"

Faith paused mid-search and gave him an astonished look. "That was Groo? I thought I heard Cordy call him that, but I wasn't sure. Angel always makes him sound like an ogre. He's kinda hot, actually... Ha! Who bought you breakfast cereal? 'Cause you don't strike me as the Cinnamon Life type."

"I have no idea," Wesley replied, bemused. "But I'm surprised Groo didn't introduce himself."

"Oh, I asked his name," Faith said, then paced over to the kitchen table and cleared a chair for herself. "He said he was leaving so it didn't matter. He must've had a fight with Cordy, 'cause when we got there she shoved me in the apartment and joined him in the hallway without so much as Hello."

She laughed again. "And then they came in ten minutes later and made straight for the bedroom. Judging from the noises they were making, I'm pretty sure they forgot I was there, unless they get off on people listening. So I went looking for her address book and found out where you lived."

Wesley cleared his throat. He'd almost forgotten the frank way this girl spoke, the body-confidence in the fluid way she moved. He hadn't appreciated it when he first met her, caught up in his Watcher role; perhaps he had been too long removed from that role now, for he was in danger of appreciating it too much.

Be the Watcher, Wesley, he told himself, and spoke. "You'll probably get a proper introduction this morning at the office. I suggest you try not to embarrass them too much?"

Faith rolled her eyes. "And there you go again with the stick up the..." She stopped short in the middle of the sentence, as if suddenly realizing what she was saying, and looked down at her lap. The smile drifted from her face. "Sorry. Yeah. I'll try to restrain myself."

((Face it, Wesley. You really were a jerk. Always walking around like you had some great big stake rammed up your English Channel!))

Wesley winced, his memory of that day's events as clear as hers. Then he shook it off. "Never mind. I'm sure whatever you say, it won't dent Cordelia's opinion of you much."

She shook her head and dredged up a smile, dismissing the subject. Then she sat up straighter, narrowing her eyes at him. "You don't look all that great, you know. Better than yesterday, but should you really be up and around so much?" She set the box of cereal down and walked over to him, lifting nimble fingers to the old bandage at his throat.

Wesley blinked, stiffening in place as she picked at the adhesive. She was close enough that he could smell the cinnamon on her breath and his shampoo in her soft hair. "I've no idea. I didn't stay in hospital long enough to hear the doctor's recommendations," he reminded her. "And I'll feel better once I've had a shower."

"Then take one. Just let me get this..." Faith unraveled the last of the bandage, then took a step back. "Uh, Wes? That doesn't look like a five-day-old cut."

"What?" He stared at her, then at the barest trace of blood on the bandage, and brushed at the stitches with his finger-tips. Or, rather, at the place where the stitches should have been. Instead, he touched only skin, slightly swollen and a little sore, smoothing over with scar tissue. He cleared his throat experimentally, and found all the roughness gone.

"That's unusual," he muttered, and made his way to the bathroom mirror.

"You look like a swashbuckler," Faith said, hovering behind him.

Wesley's reflection raised an eyebrow back at him, with disheveled hair, a shadow on his chin, and a wicked-looking scar slashing across his neck. It appeared to be at least two weeks old, healing well, with no trace of a stitch in sight. Well, they were the dissolving kind, so that was perhaps not too horribly strange. Still.

"I'd better have a look at the prophecies," he sighed. "This definitely isn't normal."

Then his heartbeat stuttered for a second, and he stumbled, grasping at the edge of the sink. It felt strange, but there wasn't any pain as there should have been, and his reflection fluttered ominously until it was over, fading in and out. When it had finished, the scar looked even older, completely healed.

"Nor was that," he said, breathing hard, staring at the mirror. "That was rather... alarming."

"Maybe you better hurry and take that shower," Faith said.


There were clothes waiting for Wesley when he stepped out of the shower, left just inside the bathroom door. The shirt Faith had chosen for him was a close match to the one she was wearing, a light blue in color, and he smiled wryly as he buttoned it up. Faith might be on the side of Good now, but she certainly hadn't lost her attitude. This was certain to get a reaction from Angel and Cordelia.

She was ready for him when he stepped out of the bathroom, sitting on the arm of the couch with his keys clutched in one hand. "I got bored," she said, "and cleaned up my mess. Hope you don't mind. The cup was a total loss, but I saved most of your notes."

The coffee table did, indeed, look neater. "Thank you, Faith," he said, rather touched by her effort.

She glanced down at one of the piles nearest her, and frowned. "Wasn't much of it in English. I got curious and read some. What's all that stuff about Watcher bonding?"

"Something I was looking into for Rupert," he said, looking for his jacket. "From time to time, the Watchers' Council tabulates theories on how its Watchers are Chosen. I've been searching through some old related texts, looking for clues that might explain the problems he has had with Buffy since her return."

"Watchers are Chosen?" Faith jingled the keys in her hand, staring at him intently, and he sighed, reaching for a short explanation. Weren't they in a hurry?

"I believe they are," Wesley told her. "Generally, successful Watchers tend to come from a distinct type. It's as if the Slayer essence is looking for a certain group of traits, to help its host's chances of survival. If you pair such a person with a future Slayer, they generally perform well when she is Chosen; if this does not happen, as in Buffy's case, a nearby person of the right type seems to be Called at random. We were lucky that Merrick was in Los Angeles at that time."

"So what happens when the Watcher dies, like Merrick did?" Faith kicked at the arm of the couch, frowning at him.

Wesley didn't believe for a moment that she was really all that curious about Merrick, but it was plain that she found the conversation important. "It depends. There weren't any other Watchers in this part of California at that time; I'm not certain what would have happened if there were. As it was, Rupert was sent, Buffy met him, and you've seen the result. They bonded almost immediately."

"Yeah, but that doesn't explain what happened with me, after..."

Faith's voice seemed to fade as another attack hit Wesley, and his knees gave out as he clutched instinctively at his chest. It lasted a few seconds this time, and he was vaguely aware of Faith's arms around him while the world faded into a sea of white noise and he felt like a stranger in his own body. Then sensation returned, abruptly, sharper than before.

"I... think I'm all right now," Wesley said, disentangling himself from his Slayer. "Thank you for catching me."

"What are Slayers for?" she said, picking up his glasses where they'd fallen to the floor. "We can finish this convo later, I guess. We'd better get you to a hospital."

"The Hyperion," he told her, putting the glasses back on. Then he pulled them off again, blinking at the lenses. "This isn't a normal ailment, and I doubt it will kill me. As a matter of fact, it seems to be... making improvements."

"What?"

"My eyesight is improving," he said, tossing the glasses onto the couch. "I still don't have perfect vision, but the prescription is no longer accurate. I hope you don't mind driving?"

Faith grinned at that. "Are you kidding? I was counting on it."


Chapter Seven: Cause for Alarm

"Morning comes whether you set the alarm or not."
~Ursula K. LeGuin

 

Between one thing and another, Jonathan and Spike didn't end up leaving Sunnydale until 2:00 am. What with Spike's wounds and Jonathan's after-magic exhaustion, they burned a few hours patching up, snacking, and napping in Spike's crypt. Jonathan was tired enough that he probably could have slept the whole night through, but being shoved off a blanketed coffin to a cold stone floor had put an end to that.

The trip to L.A. was an eye-opener. Riding Wesley's motorcycle through the streets of L.A. had been an adventure; riding Spike's motorcycle down the highway, seated behind the owner and holding on for dear life, was much more challenging. At times, Jonathan got the feeling that Spike thought they were both crashproof.

The whole experience was like a visit to another world. The wind of their passage muted all outside sound, and the landscape blurred in motion like an Impressionist painting. There wasn't even a heartbeat to keep Jonathan company; he might as well have been clinging to a marble statue. Or maybe that guy from "Terminator 2", the one made of liquid metal, muscles flowing slightly under Jonathan's palms with every turn and lane-change.

The thought of the Terminator movies reminded him of Sarah Connor at the end of the first one. With the lonely road unrolling before her, and Destiny waiting at the other end-- except for the whole sunny thing, and the jeep, and the speaking Spanish, and all. It made Jonathan feel quasi-cool again, and he took an imaginary snapshot of the moment. In his mental game of Life vs. the Short Idiot, the Short Idiot had just scored another point.

When they arrived at the Hyperion, all the lights were still on. Jonathan was a little surprised-- it was nearly 4:00 am, after all, and almost everybody was supposed to be gone until tomorrow. Later today, actually. Maybe there had been a vision, or something, or maybe Angel couldn't sleep. He was a creature of the night, right?

Spike paused just outside the front doors and prodded Jonathan with a finger, glowering at him. "Now remember, you haven't filled your end of the deal yet. So no standing by and encouraging them to stake me."

Jonathan flinched, surprised at the vampire's sudden change of attitude. "I thought you said Angel was your grandsire, or something. Why would they want to stake you?"

Spike shrugged, sticking his hands in the pockets of his duster. "Oh, I indulged in a spot of torture last time I was here. Don't know if he's forgiven me yet."

Jonathan stared at him in disbelief. It looked like his little deal was about to backfire, bigtime. "Then why did you come? Now they're going to be upset with me all over again, and it's not even my fault!"

Spike rolled his eyes and growled at him. "Oh, for... Look, mate, it's complicated. Vampire family dynamics. Not something Angel would go pinning on sodding bystanders. I'm here for Buffy and Dawn, and once I say so I think the ponce will help, but I can't explain if I'm a pile of dust."

Jonathan blinked at him, momentarily dizzied by the unreality of the moment. Am I actually arguing with an evil being six times my age? he thought. Stupid! "Okay, okay," he said, and let his posture crumble a little in submission. He turned and opened the double door, walking into the well-lit welcome of the Hyperion's lobby.

The lobby's only occupant at the moment was Lorne, the green-skinned, red-eyed, aura-reading demon that worked with Angel Investigations. Jonathan had been more than a little disturbed by his presence Thursday night when they first met, but so far Lorne had shown far more inclination to talk than to mangle. That, from Jonathan's point of view, was a major checkmark in the OK column.

"Hey, kiddo," Lorne said, rising from his seat on the lobby couch. "Where have you been? That was a pretty impressive departure."

"Not my idea, believe me," Jonathan said, with a rueful smile. "I got wish-napped, courtesy of my old Sunnydale partners. Spike drove me back."

"Wish-napped?" Lorne asked, sounding puzzled.

At that moment, the doors behind Jonathan swung open again and Spike came through, swaggering into the hotel with his Big Bad attitude firmly in place.

"And Spike drove me back," Jonathan repeated, watching Lorne carefully for his reaction. The demon hadn't seemed violence-prone so far, but if there was one thing Jonathan had learned in Sunnydale, it was that people were seldom what they seemed to be. Lorne might have a stake hidden in one of those brilliant blue sleeves-- where did he get outfits like that, anyway?

"Oi! It's the Host!" Spike exclaimed, unexpectedly breaking into a huge grin.

"William, sugar, it's been far too long." Was that an answering smile on Lorne's face?

Spike was still smiling, but he raised an eyebrow at Lorne's comment. "None of that, now. Save the poof-talk for Peaches. What are you doing in his hotel, anyway? Night off at Caritas?"

Jonathan sighed, relieved that Spike's warning about stakeage seemed unnecessary. "Do you know everybody?" he muttered, low enough that only vampire hearing would pick up the comment.

Spike threw Jonathan an amused look, but didn't answer.

"Well," Lorne began, "after Angel-cakes got the club destroyed for the third time..." He spread his hands wide, in a what-else-could-I-do? gesture.

Spike snorted. "Typical. He's got a funny idea of friendship."

"Oh, he means well," Lorne said. "Usually. If you were here to meet him, by the way, he's out on a case; Cordelia called in a vision about an hour ago. Angel went out after it. They'll probably be awhile."

Spike sighed and crossed his arms, looking pensive. "Well, that plan's buggered, then. Don't suppose there's a phone book lying around?"

"In the office," Lorne said. "Over this way."

Jonathan watched the two walk away, deep in conversation. So much for telling his story anytime tonight. Besides, no matter what Spike was planning, there wasn't much Jonathan could do to help; he was pretty tired. A few hours' nap in a crypt didn't compare to a full night's sleep, which is what he needed after the events in the cemetery.

So. Stay down here, or go up to his room and catch a few more winks? Easy decision. They could fill him in later.


The sun woke Jonathan around ten in the morning, reaching across the pillows to warm his face. It wasn't uncomfortable, really, just the slightest tug at his dreaming mind; it took several minutes for his unconscious to nag the rest of him fully awake.

"Nnnngh," Jonathan mumbled, sitting up slowly and rubbing at sleep-crusted eyes. The hotel was still there, that was good; nobody had come looking for him yet, and that was OK by him, too. This Good Guy thing was still pretty new-- this would be the second full day-- and he wasn't sure if he had the staying-power yet to be part of the cavalry on a 24/7 basis.

He showered slowly, washing off all the grit from his motorcycle trip the night before and his encounters with Sunnydale soil, then took a minute to check for zits in the mirror. He had a minor acne-bane enchantment going, but he'd forgotten to wash his face the night before. It didn't hurt to double-check. Being short was bad enough, he couldn't afford to be ugly, too.

When he'd finished reassuring his vanity, Jonathan went digging in his duffel. Same black jeans, another black long-sleeved tee; he hadn't packed any colorful clothes, but then, he hadn't expected to be doing much in Jonathan-shape except sneaking around. Oh well. Sooner or later he'd make it to the mall.

The lobby was empty when he got downstairs, a big change from the day before. There was no sign of Spike, or Lorne, or any of the other members of the gang. Well, it was Saturday; did they work a 5-day, or 5-night, week? Or were they always on the clock, like superheros? It was hard to tell, since there wasn't any kind of a schedule visible, and Jonathan didn't have any of their phone numbers.

No sooner had Jonathan formed that thought, than the front doors of the hotel opened, and a brunette chick in leather pants walked in. Oval face, pale skin, attractive features... man's shirt? She exuded confidence and attitude, and had several inches on him, much to his dismay. She also looked a little bit familiar.

"Hey, you," she said, studying him with expressive dark eyes. "Where's Angel at?"

"Um," he said. "I'm not sure. I don't exactly work here. Do I know you?"

She raised an eloquent eyebrow at him. "I don't think so," she said dismissively, and changed the subject. "So if you don't work for Angel, what are you doing here?"

Wait! That was it! He'd run into her once before, when she was hanging out with Buffy, and got that same better-than-thou look from her then. And she had ended up in the newspapers several months after the mayor thing, he couldn't remember what for. Something dangerous.

"You better come back later," Jonathan said warily. "I think everyone's asleep, they had a late case last night."

It didn't look like she believed him. "You just said you don't work here. No one's around, and the front door's unlocked. Sounds fishy to me." She reached behind her back, and a long knife came out of the waistband of her leather pants. Her lips shaped themselves into an approximation of a smile, but there was nothing friendly about it.

"You don't work here either," he pointed out, sneaking glances around the area from the corners of his eyes. Where was the weapons cabinet? Damn. He was going to get cut to shreds on behalf of the agency, and he wasn't even officially helping them yet. How fair was that?

"Faith?" Thank God, another person at the door. Whoever it was would at least distract her, if not help him. But... wait, was that Wesley? In a matching outfit? Was he with her?

Faith glanced back over her shoulder at Wesley with a little frown. "We got an intruder here, Wes," she said. "Evil guy. Don't think he's a demon, but ya never know."

"Hey!" Jonathan said, irritated. "I'm not evil! Not anymore, anyway. I wish people would stop assuming that."

Wesley stepped forward, placing a careful hand on Faith's shoulder. She let him into her personal space without so much as a glance, keeping her focus on Jonathan.

"Well, you did spend considerable time on the wrong side recently," Wesley said, smiling slightly at Jonathan over Faith's shoulder. "And the black clothing doesn't help. However... he's not slaying material, Faith. Best put the knife away."

"Damn," she said, disappointed. "I was kind of hoping for a good fight." She tucked the knife away again with a sigh, then paced over to the couch and took a seat, still watching Jonathan.

Jonathan watched her right back, trying to keep his skin from crawling. Faith was as intimidating as Spike was, even with the knife hidden. He swallowed, and replied to Wesley's comment. "Actually, black clothes are all I've got, unless you want me running around naked. It's not like I had much time to pack."

To his surprise, that got a smile out of Faith. "Join the club," she said. "They don't allow for much luggage in prison. Where are you running from?"

"Sunnydale," he said, shortly.

Her smile widened. "Oh, I should have guessed. This place is full of rejects from Sunny-D."

"It looks as though we're about to get more," Wesley muttered, walking over to take a seat next to Faith. He had a sheet of paper in his hands, covered in a script that was unfamiliar to Jonathan. He must have picked it up off the counter.

"More what? Rejects?" Jonathan asked warily. "Is that from Angel, or Spike?" Was it about the vision, or the lawyer visit?

"Spike?" Wesley looked up, blinking at him in alarm. "William the Bloody was here? When?"

"Uh, about four this morning," Jonathan replied. "Long story. He's here to help Buffy; Giles is driving her and Dawn down sometime today."

Wesley narrowed his eyes a little, and Jonathan could practically see the wheels turning in the British man's brain. Really, it was amazing the difference it made, that the glasses were gone. This version of Wesley looked a lot more tough and calculating than the other one, without the lenses to soften that steel-blue gaze.

"Cordelia's vision involved Dawn," he said sharply, "and Wolfram and Hart. Perhaps you'd better tell me everything."


Chapter Eight: Mustering a Response

"A good battle plan that you act on today can be better than a perfect one tomorrow."
~General George S. Patton

 

The journey from Wesley's apartment to the Hyperion had been accomplished without major incident. That was, perhaps, luckier than they deserved; it occured to Wesley about halfway through the trip that if his reflection disappeared during an attack, then a sun allergy might follow. A distinctly unpleasant thought.

He had to admit, however, that it would be a fairly spectacular way to die. Going up in flames at 40mph with a desirable woman in his arms; if he had seen that on a questionnaire of likely deaths in his youth, he would have laughed and skipped over it to mark "job-related injury." He was, after all, a Watcher born and bred. No, strike that. A Watcher raised. Who knew what he had been born to be?

Of course, it followed that an uneventful journey should have an unpleasant end. How did that saying go? "For every up there is a down, For every square there is a round"... No, that was from a Disney cartoon one of his young cousins had been obsessed with.

Wesley had never gotten past the absurd butchering of history to enjoy the film, but it didn't make that lyric fragment any less true. All the same, someone needed to inform the Fates that their sense of timing could use a little work. A little space between ups and downs would have been very helpful at this point.

"Wes,
Cordy had a vision around 3:00am about Wolfram and Hart. They have, or will have, Dawn; it looks like they're planning some kind of sacrifice. She also saw Faith talking to Lilah. It doesn't look good. I'm calling Gunn and Fred; Cordy and Groo are meeting me there. I'll leave my cell phone on.
--Angel"

Undoubtedly, Angel had left a note instead of calling because Wesley had asked for time alone. That would not be inherently worrisome, except for the fact that Dawn was involved, as well as Wolfram and Hart, and that it was now seven hours and sunup since the vision had taken place. Where had they gone? And how did Jonathan's news affect the situation?

"Wolfram and Hart?" Jonathan asked, in response to his earlier comment. "Are they lawyers?"

Wesley stared at him with a sinking feeling in his stomach. "Yes. They're a law firm that specializes in serving demons and the dark side of humanity. Does that make a difference to your story?"

"Actually, it does," Jonathan said, and worried lines crept into place around his eyes. "I got wish-napped last night; Anya's gone vengeance again, and Warren thought it would be fun to ask her to summon me. I ended up at Buffy's house, and while I was there Mr. Summers called."

"Her dad?" Faith interrupted, sitting up straight from her relaxed position on the couch. "That loser? What did he want?"

Jonathan flinched at the sudden movement, then looked down at the floor. "Uh, Dawn, actually," he answered. "Spike said-- um, I was out on the porch with him at that point-- that he could hear them talking, and that her dad wanted them down here to meet some lawyers today. It makes sense that the lawyers would be these Wolfram and Hart guys."

"That's not good news," Wesley said, absently rubbing the sheet of note-paper between his fingers. "Are you certain? I can't imagine any father setting his own daughter up in that manner."

Faith snorted. "With Wolfram and Hart involved, anything is possible. They could be playing him; he might really think he just wants her back."

"But why would evil lawyers want Dawn?" Jonathan sounded a little bewildered. "Aren't there easier ways of getting teenage girls for whatever they're doing?"

"Dawn is a great deal more than a teenaged girl," Wesley said, shortly. Now was not a good time to try explaining about the Key. He pulled his mobile phone from his jacket pocket, and began to dial Angel's number.

The phone rang several times, but there was no answer. Next, Wesley tried reaching Cordelia, then Gunn, and finally Fred; the Groosalugg was not on their office mobile plan, or he would have called the Pylean champion, too. He left brief messages at every number.

Then, for good measure, Wesley tried the hotel extensions in Lorne's and Angel's rooms. Like electricity, plumbing, and furniture, telephone service was iffy in the aging hotel's upper floors, but Angel had made an effort to refurbish a few areas. It had given the team something to do during the agency's dry periods.

Somewhere in the midst of all the dialing, Faith jumped to her feet and began pacing the lobby. "Nobody home?" she asked, trailing a finger down the glass front of the weapons cabinet. "Maybe they turned their cell phones off. They could be doing a stakeout, or something, since Dawn isn't in L.A. yet."

"Actually, I don't know when they were coming," Jonathan said. "If it was early, she could be. Spike didn't tell me, if he knew. Does Lorne have a cell phone? Spike was talking to him."

Wesley shook his head in frustration. "No, Lorne usually stayed here. He didn't feel the expense was worth the hassle."

Faith opened the cabinet, and began sorting through the weapons. Her voice was a little muffled, but it still carried easily to Wesley's ears. "So, we have no info, and no backup. Guess that means we're going to find out the hard way. How about you call Sunny-hell while I pick out some toys?"

"Quite." Wesley watched her test the heft of various swords and axes as he dialed the only two Sunnydale numbers he knew, the Summers residence and the Magic Box. There were no answers.

"I'm not getting an answer at Buffy's house or at the shop," he announced. "Jonathan, I need a phone book and a list of anyone else who was there last night." Then, for good measure, he dialed the number of a friend he still had in the Watcher's Council. If there was no time to search the prophecies again before they went out, perhaps he could pick up some highlights from another informed source. Unlikely, but possible.

Jonathan sighed and went into the office. There was a Sunnydale phone book in there somewhere, Wesley knew; Angel Investigations didn't often use it, but it only seemed prudent to keep one in case of Hellmouth-y emergencies. This event certainly qualified.

His friend was actually home, but he was otherwise just as useless as all the other numbers Wesley had called. Only one thing he said caught any of Wesley's attention: "... passing mention of a new Master with two sires. That's not supposed to be possible; the research arm is demanding funding for new experiments..."

Two sires? A new Master? The implications made Wesley feel ill.

"Yes, yes, thank you, Cyril. That was very helpful." He cut off the call with a concentrated frown, and looked up to find Jonathan standing in front of him, shifting uncertainly from foot to foot, with a phone book grasped in each hand. The spine of one contained the name Los Angeles, the other, Sunnydale.

Wesley reached for the Sunnydale phone book without a second thought, but Jonathan shifted it away. "Um," the boy said, "I thought you might want to see this one first."

Curious now, Wesley took the Los Angeles phone book, and widened his eyes in surprise at what he found written on the cover.

"Hellmouth moved to LA? Key. W&H basement."

Someone had been taking notes while talking to an informant; it could only have been Spike. Was someone really trying to move the Hellmouth? The energy-shift alone would cause untold havoc, and with a much larger city under its influence, there was no way to predict the lasting effects. If it were fixed in the Wolfram and Hart basement, there would be no stopping the law firm anymore.

"So that's what they need Dawn for," he commented, tracing the elegant ink scrawl with his finger-tips. "Well, at least we know where they are now. Here." He handed the mobile phone to Jonathan. "Call the others, I'll be with Faith."

Jonathan eyed the phone warily, as if it were a stick of dynamite. "Oh, yeah. Like that's going to work. They're never going to listen to me. Besides, I don't want to get left here by myself!"

Wesley ignored him, joining Faith at the weapons case. He had just selected his favorite sword and begun to buckle it on when the third attack of the day took him without warning.

The first had been an unsettling blip, the second a faded blur. This attack was something altogether different. As before, Wesley felt his heartbeat stutter to a stop, but then the script changed. A fire began to burn in his veins. Distantly, he felt the sword slip from his hands and heard it clatter to the floor; then the burn settled into muscle and bone, and he bent over in agony. He clenched his fists and froze, clinging desperately to consciousness, and fought the urge to scream as every nerve in his body writhed in pain.

Nearly a minute passed before the napalm in his veins faded back into mere blood, and his body came back to life. The reaction left him gasping and shaking like a leaf; his fingernails had left half-moon cuts on his palms, bleeding sluggishly, and he could feel a bruise where Faith had grabbed at his shoulder to steady him. Even as he noticed those small pains, they began to fade; how much humanity had he already lost?

"Wes? Wes, is it over?"

He focused his eyes, and looked up. Faith was crouched in front of him, searching his face with a wild, worried look in her eyes. "Wes?"

"I'm f- fine," he stuttered, fighting for balance.

"You've got to be kidding me," Jonathan said, and took a few steps backward, towards the stairs. "What was that? Your eyes went all yellow, and don't tell me that doesn't mean what I think it means. Is this because of your messed up prophecies?"

Faith made an exasperated noise and grabbed the boy by the shirtfront, dragging him back to the weapons case. "Shut up, J. Make yourself useful and grab something sharp. We'll be taking the sewers as soon as Wes feels up to it."

"Just go in and fight? What kind of plan is that?" Jonathan objected.

"What, you got a better one?"

Wesley struggled to his feet, trying to form a protest of his own, but the words would not come at his summons. Instead, a multitude of distractions sent him stumbling dizzily into the wall; sounds, smells, sights-- No need for glasses, now. He could have picked out every imperfection in Faith's skin, if there had been any to find.

Faith shushed him with a finger to his lips, then scooped up the sword he'd dropped and thrust it back into his hands. "Don't argue," she told him, firmly. "We can't wait for Giles. What if that happens again, and you don't snap out of it? I can't hold you by myself. We need to find Angel, or maybe Spike or B; one of 'em has to be in the Wolfram and Hart building. So we go in, we kick ass, we find out what's going on, and then we fix you, OK?"

If she couldn't hold him? Surely he wouldn't... but yes, it was possible. Wesley took a steadying breath, then responded. "Faith, given what seems to be happening, if I don't snap out of it you'd be better off staking me. From all accounts, the prophecies are not in our favor."

"So when are they ever?" she responded flippantly, then handed Jonathan a cross-bow.

Indeed.


Chapter Nine: Subterranean Encounter

"My center is giving way, my right is in retreat; situation excellent. I shall attack."
~Ferdinand Foch, French general

 

Given the choice between standing in the lobby with that crossbow like a dumbass, or following the Dark Side Twins down the stairs and into the sewers, Jonathan didn't have to think very hard to make a decision. He was used to playing third-wheel, after all, and the idea of staying all alone in a known good-guy hangout while big things were going down creeped him out. He'd seen enough horror movies to know that wasn't a good idea.

Of course, Wesley and Faith were creeping him out too. What was going on? For a White Hat team, they were awfully grey. Unless it was normal for a White Hat to be a violent, freakishly strong woman with a history of murder, or a demon hunter rapidly turning into one of the things he usually kills, or... well, the half trained son of a chaos mage, who'd recently aspired to take over the world.

Jonathan shivered a little, and clutched his crossbow tighter. When he'd crossed the line back to the Light Side a few days ago, he'd actually believed there was a line to be crossed. The longer he stuck around in L.A., though, the blurrier that line seemed to get. It was disorienting, to say the least.

Of course, the environment wasn't helping any. Gaming never really prepared you for situations like these, Jonathan thought. You could talk about dank sewer passageways and things that lurk and attack plans all the time, but it certainly didn't prepare you for the slippery things that squeaked and slid underfoot, or the smell of the slime dripping from the tunnel brick onto your shoulder, or the noises of tiny creatures scuttling in the debris just out of sight.

"What gives with these tunnels, anyway?" Jonathan said, shining a flashlight around as he trailed behind the others.

"What do you mean?" Wesley asked, pausing to check the partial sewer diagram he was carrying.

"No, you got it the wrong way." Faith pulled the map from Wesley's hands impatiently, and turned it 90 degrees. "We went left back there, remember?"

"And then the tunnel curved," Wesley said patiently, tugging it back and turning it around again. "Do you see? We're here, facing... that way."

Jonathan rolled his eyes. "Seriously. Didn't you ever wonder why there's complete tunnel access in downtown L.A.? Not to mention Sunnydale. And they're all man-sized."

Faith snorted. "Come on, J, think about it. America's fairly new, and vamps have been around a real long time. It wouldn't be too hard to turn a few city planners."

"Not to mention the various nonviolent demonic races that wish only to keep out of humanity's sight," Wesley said, still pondering the map. "Hmmm. There's a rather large open area just ahead; we cleaned a nest out of there three weeks ago, but it's a popular spot, as there's a park just overhead. Faith?"

"What, you're asking me for advice?" Faith blinked at the Watcher. "You're plan guy."

Wesley lowered the map and stared steadily at his Slayer, wearing one of those What-are-you-missing? expressions any student would recognize the world over.

Faith sighed. "Slayer senses. Check. I'll be right back." She pulled a stake from one of her belt loops, held it up at the ready, and stalked off down the tunnel.

"She hasn't fought vampires in two years," Wesley said, watching her go. "And I still don't know what passed between her and Lilah when she was taken from the prison. There must be a reason Cordelia saw that conversation in her vision. I hope it wasn't a mistake to bring her."

"Oh, so now you get second thoughts," Jonathan laughed softly, thinking about his little confrontation with Spike the night before. "Trust me, not a good idea. Just go with it and worry about the shit when it hits the fan."

Wesley sighed and folded the map back up, slipping it into a pocket. "It isn't that I'm having second thoughts," he replied, "In fact, what worries me is that I'm not. I trust her, and I shouldn't."

Well, wasn't that inspiring, coming from the leader of their motley little group? "And what about my history?" Jonathan scoffed. "Come on. None of us takes the prize in trustworthiness just now. Especially you, if you go all fangy."

Wesley glanced over at him, his eyes shadowed and unreadable in the dim lighting. "Thank you for the reminder," he said, his voice heavy with irony. "I feel much better now."

Sudden splashing noises and heavy footfalls drew their attention back down the tunnel. Faith was running back towards them, still gripping her stake, with fresh vamp dust in her hair and a worried expression on her face. "Crossbows, guys," she yelled. "I'm being followed."

"Lock and load," Jonathan muttered, then stuck his flashlight in a pocket before following her suggestion and fitting a bolt into the mechanism.

"What happened?" Wesley yelled back.

"They're there all right." Faith said. "But the guard they'd posted saw me before I sensed anything! Something's wrong."

She slid to a stop a few feet in front of them and whirled around, stake at the ready, facing down the tunnel. The splashing continued, and a few seconds later the rest of the vampire nest came into view, eight or so hungry-looking minions and one older vamp in human face.

"Hey look guys, it's delivery," the leader said, grinning at Faith. He looked a little like Vin Diesel, tall and impressively muscular with strong, vaguely Latino features and a shaved head. It gave Jonathan flashbacks of "Pitch Black"; Riddick was just about the coolest anti-hero on the big-screen, but even he'd had some spark of humanity. This guy was just scary.

"Or is one of you named DiGiorno?" one of the younger vamps added, laughing. He was a slightly pudgy teenaged male, in ripped jeans and an EverQuest t-shirt, and he sounded a little like Warren.

"Come and find out, pizza boy," Faith challenged him, making a bring-it gesture with her free hand.

Jonathan raised the crossbow and stepped to the right, aiming at the pizza vamp's heart. Then he took a deep breath and started mentally running through the list of spells he knew. Unfortunately, none of them had "sewer slime" as a primary ingredient, and he didn't have any more UV-spell talismans. The odds didn't look good.

On the other side of the tunnel, Wesley whispered a few words in an unfamiliar, lyrical language, then unsheathed his sword and stepped up beside the Slayer. The blade shimmered briefly in the dim light, then quieted as he held it at the ready.

"Get your crossbow, Wes," Faith hissed at him. "Back the fuck up. You'll get us both killed."

Wesley's jaw set in a hard line. "Faith, I'm not the Watcher I used to be. I thought we were clear on that. I can defend myself."

"And which of us has the strength and the healing? Oh, right, that would be me." Faith rolled her eyes, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "Besides, your aim is probably better than his."

"Hey!" Jonathan objected. "Less insulting, more fighting!"

The lead vampire laughed at that. "Look at this, guys, they think they're Slayers or something. Go on, get 'em. This ought to be fun."

The minion vamps advanced with a snarl.

Jonathan's first shot missed by a couple of inches. The crossbow bolt sprouted out of the vampire's left shoulder and had no visible effect except to catch his attention. Jonathan quickly reloaded and fired again, but this time the vamp was ready for him and jumped to the side. The bolt whizzed by and buried itself in the chest of another vamp, a female with short dirty-blonde hair and a floral-print sundress. She jerked in surprise, staring right at Jonathan with shocked yellow eyes, then dissolved and sifted to the floor.

That was all the shooting Jonathan had time for. The remaining vamps quickly closed on their small group, six ganging up on Wesley and Faith and the wounded one making straight for Jonathan. Obviously, they decided he was the lesser threat.

Faith leapt into the fray with her stake, ducking out of reach of the vampires' grasping arms and feinting at them with the wooden point. She knocked one out of the way with a low kick, but there were enough of them to severely hamper her style. One of others got in a lucky punch and sent her stumbling back a few feet, but his triumph was cut short by Wesley's sword. The offending fist parted from the vampire's arm with a strange sizzling sound and thumped to the ground before shattering into ash.

The vampire screamed, sinking to his knees and clutching at the wrist-stump with his other hand. The wound smoked as if acid had been poured onto it, and the other vampires near Wesley all paused and took a step back, staring at him.

"Blessed blade," Wesley said, grinning ferally, then swung the sword again, slicing through the fallen vamp's neck. Faith took advantage of the distraction to lash out at another vamp with her stake, and the number facing Slayer and Watcher was reduced to four.

Meanwhile, Jonathan had dropped his crossbow and pulled out a stake, edging towards the wall as his attacker advanced. "You don't want to drink me! I won't taste very good," he said, trying to buy time while he struggled to recall the details of Ethan's invisibility spell. He wasn't a complete wimp, but hand-to-hand with a supernaturally strong guy double his size wasn't anything near a fair fight, no matter what skills he had. If the vamp couldn't see him, however, that might tip the odds in his favor.

"Oh, come on," the vampire said, grinning at him. "Like I'll believe that. 'I won't taste very good.' Ha!"

"Bobby!" The Vin Diesel vamp had let his demonic face out to play, and he was beginning to look a little upset. Jonathan's vamp jerked in response to the name, then stepped back and glanced over at his leader. "Finish that weakling later, help the others!" the leader snarled.

Bobby whirled back to Jonathan with an unexpected, quick punch, and connected solidly with Jonathan's cheekbone. He heard something snap, and then there was flying, and brick, and raging pain as he slid to the floor. Hazily, he wondered if hitting a wall had felt like this for Wesley.

Then Bobby was abandoning him, joining the other four, who were busy trying to separate Faith and Wesley without getting in reach of either stake or sword.

The battle continued, but Jonathan found it hard to focus so he ignored it and concentrated instead on staying conscious. The pain flared for several seconds, then receded a little, like an ebbing wave, and the black spots at the edges of his vision disappeared. When he was pretty sure he wouldn't pass out, he climbed slowly to his feet and tried again to remember the spell. It wasn't complicated, and he didn't think Ethan had used any components; there was just this sequence of words in Latin, and a little energy...

It came to him abruptly, and he mumbled the words as fast as he could, trying not to jar his cracked cheekbone any more than he had to. He must have gotten it right, because the world immediately started dimming futher, until everything looked as though he were viewing it through a dirty window. None of the vamps had been watching him when he did it, either, which gave him some breathing space. Quietly, he tiptoed over to the fallen crossbow and pulled a few more bolts from his pockets.

The light bubble he was in wavered a little when he picked up the crossbow. Jonathan figured it was adjusting to make the crossbow vanish, too, which was pretty cool. He wasted no time loading it up again and turned back to the fight, sighting in on one of the vamps attacking the others.

There were only three minions facing Wesley and Faith now, so they must have accounted for at least two more, but the vamps had been connecting too. There was blood on Wesley's forehead, and Faith had shifted her stake to the other hand and was holding her arm close to her body as if it were damaged. One of the vamps had produced brass knuckles from somewhere, another a knife, and the lead vamp had gotten frustrated and was closing in.

Jonathan fired, and the leader whirled towards him with a curse. He took two steps, his expression fading from anger to confusion as he failed to locate his attacker, then denial as destruction overtook him and he crumbled to join his defeated companions on the floor.

The remaining minions faltered, and Faith took the opportunity to grab Bobby by the bolt sticking out of his shoulder and hurl him out of range.

"Down!" Wesley exclaimed, then swept his blade in a high, swift circle as she dropped into a crouch. The two vamps still standing near him barely had time to register the attack before they were dust; his sword took the one, and her stake the other as it tried to pull away.

As quick as that, Bobby was the only vampire left. He scrambled backwards on the floor as Faith turned to look at him, then jumped to his feet and took off at high speed. Jonathan fired again, smirking as Bobby jerked in mid-step and then tumbled forward, breaking down into his component parts.

"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," Jonathan said. "You were saying, about my aim?"


Chapter Ten: Three, Four, Open the Door

"Never open the door to the lesser evil, for other and greater ones invariably slink in after it."
~Baltasar Gracian

 

Wesley came to a halt in the tunnel, breathing hard, hyper-aware of the sweet burn of strength in his muscles, the blood and sweat trickling down his face, and the slight tingle of magic in his palm where he gripped the hilt of the blessed sword. He felt energized and jittery, as though something in him had fed on the violence and was asking for more. He shivered at the thought, then dismissed it and turned to check on the Slayer beside him.

"I take it back," Faith said, staring at him. Her face was still flushed from the fighting.

"About my aim?" the voice of Jonathan asked, sounding amused.

"No, the strength and healing crack." Faith tucked her stake back into her belt loops, then lifted a hand and pushed aside the matted hair at Wesley's temple. "Look at you. No damage; just dried blood. If it wasn't for those no-pulse episodes, and the whole thing with you being a guy, I'd think you were turning into a Slayer."

Wesley looked down, pulling slightly away from her touch, and untucked his shirt-tails to wipe his sword clean. "Yes. Well. What about you? Any serious injuries?"

She sighed and held out her other arm, wincing as she did so. "Broken, I think," she said.

"Mmm. I'll need to set it. How quickly do bones usually heal for you?" He resheathed his sword and then placed a hand on either side of the break, gripping her forearm lightly. There was a slight bulge under the skin where the ends of bone had separated and shifted, and a nasty-looking bruise.

"Not quick enough," she said, hissing in pain. "Can you do anything?"

"I can't do anything about the damaged tissues," Wesley replied. "Healing and magic don't mix well. I can, however, knit the bone back together. It'll still be a little weaker than usual, but you'll be able to use it."

"Go for it," Faith replied, gritting her teeth in anticipation.

"Very well." He moved his hands just so, and the ends of bone ground audibly back into place. Then he recited the Greek phrases from memory, focusing on repairing the break. Faith didn't make a sound during the ritual, but the way she relaxed once the spell was complete spoke volumes.

"Much better," she said.

"Cool," Jonathan said. "Can you do that for me?"

Wesley jumped a little. The voice was right in his ear now, but he couldn't see Jonathan anywhere. He was reminded uncomfortably of the incident in the bar two days before, when Ethan had snuck up on him that way. "Not while you're invisible," he replied. "What did you break?"

"Cheekbone," Jonathan said, shortly. "Got punched into a wall."

There was a long pause while Wesley waited for Jonathan to recite the counterspell to his little light-bending disguise, but nothing happened. "Well? Are you going to reappear?" he said.

"Shit," Jonathan replied. "I can't remember how!"

Faith snorted. "Brilliant move, J. I guess you get to be our scout, then."

Wesley sighed. There were times when he felt his age, and this was one of them. "Is this the spell Ethan used to disguise the both of you?"

"Well, yeah, but... Oh, I get it," Jonathan said. A sudden pressure encircled Wesley's forearm, and then everything suddenly dimmed and Jonathan appeared.

Wesley went through the steps of the bone-knitting spell again, carefully prodding Jonathan's bruised face. The boy was going to have a very nasty black eye and quite possibly a headache. "Next time you get punched by a vampire," he said when he'd finished, "try blocking with an arm instead of your face. Your mirror will thank you."

Jonathan rolled his eyes. "Well, at least my face will match my wardrobe now."

Wesley detached himself from the younger man's grip, smiling a little as he stepped back out of the range of the invisibility spell. "And now that we're done with the breaking," he said, "let's proceed to the entering. We aren't very far from Wolfram and Hart."

"Lead on, invisible boy," Faith prompted, pointing off down the tunnel.

"You know, I do have a name," a disembodied voice grumbled, and then the sound of footfalls moved around them and off in the direction of the now-emptied vampire nest.

If Wesley concentrated, he could see a hazy shimmer where Jonathan was supposed to be, and he could hear the swish of denim as the boy walked and the faint thump-thump of heartbeat. It was unnerving. Was this what Angel heard all of the time? How did it compare to Faith's supernaturally enhanced senses? If the phenomenon weren't so personal, it would be fascinating to study.

"Come on, Wes." Faith tugged at his arm. "Think later, walk now."

They arrived at the area of sewer beneath the Wolfram and Hart building a few minutes later, without encountering any other beings. Wesley felt a tingle on his skin as they passed under the foundations, and frowned. It wasn't quite a warding spell; it felt more like a suggestion, nudging gently at his mind.

--nothing to see here, move along--

Undoubtedly, it was meant to keep out the innocent and the weak-minded. It wouldn't do to have bums, minions, and lost children cluttering up the area, after all. The tunnel was cleaner here, with lights recessed into the walls and brick flooring that appeared to be swept clean. There was an actual doorway set into the left side of the tunnel about six meters beyond the wards with a plaque above it marked with the firm's name.

"They must get a lot of customers from down here," Faith said with a smirk, and reached out to touch the door.

"Please do be careful," Wesley cautioned her. "We've already triggered one boundary spell, and there likely will be others. I'm not sure what precautions they put on this entrance."

"What do you mean, you're not sure?" Jonathan asked. "I thought you guys broke in here before."

"That was usually Angel," Wesley said, staring at the door's textured wood-grain surface. "And usually after dark. We have never needed the sewer entrance until now."

"And we're using it now because?" Faith wondered aloud.

"Because Spike's note referenced the basement, for one," Wesley answered. "Also, Angel's usual purpose is to intimidate the lawyers, not to snoop about. Therefore, he uses the upper floors. In this case, I'd rather have a better handle on things before I confront Lilah."

"Well, it's not so hard to check for traps." Wesley could hear the soft rasp of denim against denim, and the click of small nonmetallic things bumping into each other. Talismans in the boy's pocket, perhaps? Then Jonathan spoke again, in a commanding voice. "Ecce signum."

"Behold the sign?" Wesley repeated softly, to himself. He'd never heard that particular phrase used as a revelation spell before. He really was going to have to talk to the young man about the source of his magical training.

The door lit up, displaying a cloud of various visual effects. "Good grief," Faith commented, taking a step backward. "Talk about overkill."

The spells laid on the door displayed no less than five magical "signatures", all in the grey-to-black range, representing the mages involved in the enchantments. Most of the dozen or so spells were curses or shields of one sort or another, Wesley thought, but a few of them seemed pretty exotic, including an instant teleportation spell. Undoubtely, most intruders would find themselves somewhere unpleasant, stripped of their powers and magically sedated.

"This area must not be accessible from above through traditional means," Wesley mused aloud. "Most of the upper floors rely on technology for protection, not magic." He reached instinctively for his glasses to clean them and flushed, embarrased, as his fingers encountered only air.

"There's no way I could dismantle all these," Jonathan said, dismayed.

"Nor I," Wesley admitted.

"Good thing you don't have to, then, isn't it?" someone commented from off to their right.

The three intruders turned as one to face the new voice, and stared in surprise at the strange sight that met their eyes.

"Spike?" Jonathan asked, his voice heavy with disbelief.

"In the unliving flesh," the vampire replied, winking at them from under a familiar scarred eyebrow and peroxided hair. The rest of his ensemble was totally unlike anything Wesley had ever seen Spike wear before, and, judging from the others' reactions, they thought the same.

Gone was the traditional black-jeans-and-black-duster combination. Gone were the heavy boots and the dark shirts; Spike usually favored red, black, or some combination thereof, but both colors were now missing entirely from his torso. Instead, he was decked out in an impeccable navy pinstripe suit, complete with shiny dress shoes, leather briefcase, and a little white square of linen in the breast pocket of the jacket.

Faith recovered first, her surprised expression slipping into a dangerous grin. "Almost didn't recognize you, Spike. Nice duds. Did you move up from beers to lawyers, then?"

"And you are..." Spike started to say. Then his expression went carefully blank. "Ah, yes. You're the chit who took Buffy's body for a test drive."

Wesley suppressed a flash of irritation. Spike really wasn't his favorite person, and he really didn't want to hear about whatever experience the vampire shared with Faith. "Do we really need to review ancient history just now? I'd prefer to find out how to get into the basement undetected. If you happen to give an explanation for your presence somewhere along the way, that would be splendid."

Spike switched focus from Slayer to Watcher and smirked at him. "I can do one better; how about I answer both at one go? I've been here for hours trying to find a way in; I wasn't stupid enough to just grab hold of the bloody doorknob like some gits I know. Finally caught a lawyer sneaking in, and found out the secret of it."

"You didn't kill him, did you?" Jonathan asked.

Spike rolled his eyes. "Chip, remember? He'll wake up tomorrow in his skivvies wondering what the bloody hell hit him, but he'll live. What happened to you, anyway? Shoot yourself with that sodding invisibility ray?"

"Um," Jonathan replied, sounding embarassed. "It turns out I only remember half of the disguise spell I was using."

"Wait a minute," Faith interrupted. "Back to the lawyer thing. Does this mean you have to be wearing a suit?" She sounded disgusted. "Do they come in leather?"

Spike grinned at her, bouncing a little on his toes, clearly pleased with himself. "'Course not, Slayer. The suit's just disguise. The key's here." He pulled an ornate, oversized golden thing from his pocket and gestured at the door with it.

Wesley took it from him, weighing it in his hand with a scowl. "That seems awfully convenient. How do you know this is the right one?"

"Asked, didn't I?" Spike said, cocking an eyebrow at him. "Did the whole look-into-my-eyes bit. I'm not as good at it as Dru was, but the lawyer was quick enough to share. So was the minion with him, for that matter. That one I dusted."

"You're sure it's safe?" Jonathan asked again. "No traps or anything?"

"Unless Mr. Parks was lied to, yeah."

"Parks? As in Gavin?" Wesley brightened. The thought of Gavin, humiliated and unconscious, made Wesley's day just that little bit better. Besides, if anyone would have the key to this door, it would be a member of Wolfram and Hart's Special Projects division. "No, I'm certain he was correct."

"Then what are you waiting for?" Spike gestured at the door.

Wesley debated with himself a second longer, then decided to go ahead. If by some evil coincidence Spike had switched teams again, they were already doomed; and if he was telling the truth, this might be their best chance to get inside. "All right." He carefully fitted the key into the lock, then slowly turned it.

Silence fell in the tunnel as everyone held their breaths, waiting to see what happened next.


Chapter Eleven: Legal Grounds

"Lawyers as a group are no more dedicated to justice or public service than a private public utility is dedicated to giving light."
~David Melinkoff, Professor of Law, UCLA

 

The doorknob turned slowly in Wesley's hand, and then the wooden door began to swing open. The hinges had to be oiled, Jonathan thought, or maybe magically silenced, because they didn't make any sound. Of course, it could just be that the nervous breathing of their group was drowning it out.

The door finished opening without fanfare or magical effect, revealing a small white cube of a room. There was only one stick of furniture in the entire space-- a large mahogany desk, neatly accessorized with a check-in log, a little perpetual-motion toy, a golden pen in a small flared holder, and a little etched sign that read "Rhaogan, Security".

Jonathan looked up from his study of the desk, and swallowed as he took in Rhaogan himself. Itself. Whatever. Were there demons with more than two genders? This particular specimen seemed humanlike for the most part, with an extra helping of muscles, but there were a few obvious differences. Rhaogan was built like Shaq, and was similarly dark, but his skin was textured and rough, like tree bark. His head was covered in shockingly mobile, bright green hair that weaved through the air around his face, and inch-long claws instead of fingernails. Long bone spurs jutted out of his wrists.

"Here, now, you..." the large demon began, in a rumbling deep voice, and began to rise out of his chair.

"Vydd demon," Wesley hissed, and drew his sword in the blink of an eye, pressing the edge of the blade to the left side of the being's neck.

Rhaogan froze, blinking slowly at the ex-Watcher, then squinted his dark, pupil-less eyes and clicked one fingernail twice against the desk. Extra lamps suddenly switched on in the ceiling, focused tightly on the area in front of the desk, and a loud Clunk! announced the sealing of the door behind them.

"Bloody hell!" The soft hiss of steam accompanied Spike's shout, and Jonathan grabbed instantly for the vampire's wrist. The Vydd must have mistaken Wes for one of the undead, but Spike was the one frying in the full-spectrum light beams.

The light-warping invisibility spell swallowed Spike, diverting the UV-bearing rays around him, and the frying sounds stopped. The vampire looked a mite pink in the face, but he hadn't had time to really burn. "This doesn't count towards those spells you owe me, you know," he said in a sarcastic tone, but there was relief in the thankful gaze he turned on Jonathan.

"You're welcome, Spike," Jonathan replied quietly, with a small smile.

Meanwhile, Rhaogan had abruptly paled, turning a sort of chalky greyish color, and raised his hands off the desk. Wesley was making a soft growling noise, braced tensely as if he couldn't make up his mind whether he should go ahead and take the Vydd demon apart.

"That wasn't very polite of you," Wesley snarled. "To make up for it, why don't you unlock the door into the facility proper?"

The demon reached a claw hesitantly toward the desk again, then flinched when Wesley moved the edge of his blade, moving it up to the corner of the demon's jaw. "No more tricks," Wesley said, and Rhaogan nodded slowly before tapping a short pattern on the wooden surface.

A door clicked open on the far side of the room, where there had been only blank wall a moment before. The sunlamps shut off at the same time, and Spike shook off Jonathan's hand.

Wesley pulled back the sword, then started to swing it again, but the Vydd abruptly pulled back and dropped to his knees behind the desk, out of range. "Golden child," it rumbled, watching him with those large, dark eyes, then bent forward and presented his neck as if for an easy blow. "If you wish my life, then I offer it freely."

"What...?" Jonathan exclaimed. Was this more prophecy stuff? Because otherwise, this scenario was making absolutely no sense.

"Oh, bugger," Spike muttered.

Wesley paused, chest heaving, staring intently at the bowed form before him, then abruptly reversed his sword and coldcocked the demon. Rhaogan collapsed unconscious to the floor.

"Wesley?" Faith asked, stepping forward and gripping her ex-Watcher's wrist. "Are you okay?"

He blinked at her, then sighed and put the sword away. "Tie him up," he said, shortly. "We need to keep moving. There isn't time to get into the ramifications of what he said just now."

"If you say so," she said with a shrug, but she frowned as she moved to do his bidding.

Spike didn't dismiss the subject that swiftly. "Watcher," he said, prowling over in front of Wesley, wearing a tense expression. "You know something about this golden child nonsense, don't you? Did Angel tell you about the Aurelius prophecies?"

"The what?" Wesley said, looking startled. "No, I heard of the golden child through a Lubber demon sect... Do you mean to say there are prophecies specifically linked to your vampiric line?"

Spike scowled. "You're right, there's no time to get into it now. But you and me are going to have a little chat when this is all finished."

Wesley scowled back for a moment, then nodded shortly. "Agreed."


The hall beyond the far door was as blank and featureless as the entry room, lined with other, more standard doors. There was a person standing several yards in with her back to them, but she didn't appear to hear their entry.

Spike carefully set down his briefcase against the wall, then nodded at Faith and jerked his head down the hall in the direction of the female lawyer. She nodded back, and the two started stalking down the hall, silently creeping up on their target.

There was a gasp from down the hall, and it became obvious that the lady lawyer hadn't heard them because she was on her cell phone. "How could he have escaped?" she yelled. "I just turned him over to Gavin two hours ago! ...No, Gavin isn't here yet... What? He was going through the tunnels? ...I don't believe this! We don't have the time! ...All right. I'll secure the girl first, then. Have the psychics start scanning for them. Remember, we only have 36 hours to finish setting everything up."

She jabbed the off button angrily and dropped the phone into the jacket pocket of her suit, then stormed off down the hall. In a matter of moments, she would be out of sight and around the corner.

Jonathan glanced over at Wesley, then at the two supernatural warriors stalled halfway down the hall, then sighed. They needed to follow this lawyer, right, and find out what was going on? And guess who was the only person who could possibly get away with that. "Prep me a shot of counteragent," he whispered to Wesley. "I'll be back."

"What?" Wesley whispered back. "Counteragent? I don't..."

Jonathan sighed. "Sci/Fi TV reference," he replied, then took a deep breath and started jogging after the lady lawyer as quietly as he could.

He was very grateful for his invisibility when he turned the corner and found her entering an elevator. She stared right through him a couple of times as he tiptoed in after her, and paused once to look around when he goofed and bumped into the elevator wall. Quiet breaths, Jonathan, he reminded himself, quiet breaths.

The lawyer finally shrugged and tossed her shoulder-length dark hair back, then crouched in front of the bank of buttons and started pressing them in a random sequence. After several of the buttons were lit up, they all blinked at once and then faded out. "Damn it!" she exclaimed. "Fucking magic elevators. You'd think one of these days I'd at least hit the White Room sequence or something else interesting." Then she tried the buttons again, this time pressing 3 instead of 5 halfway through the sequence.

A fragment of Monty Python bubbled up in Jonathan's brain at that.

((Three shalt be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shalt be three. Four shalt thou not count, nor either count thou two, excepting that thou then proceedest to three. Five is right out.))

She finished the sequence then, and a larger green button materialized above the standard set. She pursed her lips in satisfaction, then pressed it, and stepped back into the center of the elevator. She faced the closed doors with chin up and plastic lawyer-smile in place.

Her cell phone rang again as the elevator ascended, and her smile slipped. She fished the phone out of her pocket with an irritated frown and answered sharply. "Lilah. What now? ...Oh, you caught him? ...Good. I was beginning to wonder about you, if you couldn't even keep tabs on a chemically crippled chaos mage. ...Uh Huh. Just don't lose him again. ...Okay, I'll stop by on my way to the meeting ...Right. Keep searching for Gavin."

This was Lilah, then? Jonathan wondered. The lawyer the others had mentioned? She had to be someone important. He'd bet that the meeting thing she referred to was the one between Dawn and her father. And the part about the chaos mage? Was it possible? If they'd caught Ethan before he left L.A. ...but surely there were other chaos mages around? Jonathan started fidgeting with the talismans in his pocket again in frustration.

Lilah's head snapped around after the first few muted clicking noises, and she stared right into his corner for several seconds. Jonathan froze, not even daring to breathe. Stupid, stupid, stupid, he told himself. One of these days you're going to get yourself killed!

The elevator slowed to a halt, and the floor indicator gave a soft "ding." Lilah frowned and stepped back to the door, still casting glances in his direction. "I swear. If I find out the legal secretaries are playing pranks with the ghosts again..." The doors finished opening and she shook her head, stepping out onto the plush carpeted floor.

Carpet? Cool. Sneaking around quickly on carpet was much easier than tiptoeing across concrete or tile. Any kid worth his salt had that figured out by his fifth birthday. Jonathan eased out of the elevator after Lilah and took a quick peek to his right and left before hurrying after her.

This place just stank of money. The furnishings, the carpet, the wood panelling, the artwork hanging on the walls, the expensive suits on all the lawyers. He wished Warren could see this-- it made their little attempt at evil overlordship look like, well, what it was. Little boys playing grown-up games. It was also pretty tempting. Not so long ago, before Katrina, Jonathan might have gone looking for a sign-up sheet.

Lilah stopped at the open door of a conference room and made a summoning gesture to someone inside. Another female lawyer, younger and red-haired, came out for a moment and whispered to her. Lilah nodded, murmured something back, then waved the lawyer back inside and moved on. Jonathan peered briefly into the same room as he followed, and felt his heart sink. There was Dawn, already present, and Buffy sitting next to her; there were lawyers at the table, and an empty seat that must be meant for their father.

Well, it was too late to warn them. Jonathan could go back to the elevator and hope the magic button sequence worked in reverse; or, he could keep following Lilah and try to find out more. She said 36 hours, after all. It wasn't like Dawn was going to get killed in an hour unless he brought the cavalry back. And speaking of cavalry, where was Giles? Wasn't he supposed to have brought the girls here?

A sudden shiver went through him then, and he frowned. Where had that come from? It wasn't cold in here. In fact...

A door opened up further down the hall, and a man stepped out, staring straight at him. The guy wasn't wearing the traditional lawyer suit; he was wearing some sort of loose, flowing outfit topped with a turban, and his eyes weren't quite all there. But it was obvious that he knew exactly where Jonathan was.

"Shit," Jonathan whispered, backing away. "Psychics." He should have paid more attention to that part; Lilah had set them to search the building. His disguise might bend light, but it obviously didn't hide him from mental eyes.


Chapter Twelve: More Questions Than Answers

"In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in an clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness. Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth."
~Mohandas Gandhi

 

Wesley listened to the receding echo of Jonathan's footsteps with a frown. It seemed that the only time anyone paid attention to his role as "plan guy" was when none of them had any ideas of their own. Heaven forbid that they should actually discuss anything they wanted to do before they did it.

Not that he was any less impulsive today. He should have killed that Vydd demon; it was the best way to prevent the being from barring that exit or prematurely raising the alarm, and after the maneuver with the sunlamps he shouldn't have trusted the appearance of surrender. All the same, when Rhaogan had freely knelt and called Wesley the "golden child," he hadn't been able to follow through.

He'd heard of the "golden child" prophecies before; according to Lorne, a Lubber demon had spoken of it mere weeks before Angel had slept with Darla, and of course there had been the cultists at the hospital months later when Wesley had been performing the ultrasound. He'd hadn't fully considered, however, how much power the name seemed to carry in the demon world, aside from all the "get the baby" attacks on the hotel just after his birth. Yet another angle to the situation that needed research.

Well, as he had told Spike, there wasn't time to consider all that just now. There were other, more urgent problems needing action. "Bloody marvelous rescue party we are," he sighed, and stepped over to pick up the briefcase.

It was light, but that didn't necessarily mean it was empty. If Gavin had been carrying it to an important meeting, it probably carried sensitive documentation that might help them figure out what was going on. Also, Wesley had discovered some specifics in his Watcher-bonding research that might help them to physically locate Buffy-- that is, if he could find a quiet corner to meditate in.

He cleared his throat, about to call Spike and Faith back, then jumped when he heard the sound copied from either side of him. They'd already retraced their steps; apparently he'd been lost in thought longer than he'd realized.

"Wasn't any way to follow the bint without exposing ourselves," Spike announced, frowning. "It sounded like the boy was right behind her, though."

Wesley nodded. "Yes, he was. He said he'd be back, but frankly the odds aren't good, and I don't intend to wait. We need to find an empty room I can use for a brief spell. If we find the others along the way, or any information we can use, so much the better."

Faith grinned. "So we get to play 'What's Behind Door Number One', huh? Cool." She retrieved her knife from the waistband of her pants again and began tapping her palm absently with the flat of the blade.

"What about watching eyes?" Spike asked, squinting up at the ceiling. "I'm dressed the part, but the pair of you aren't, and I know how fond these lawyer types are of cameras and things."

"Down here, that isn't likely," Wesley assured him. "Most of what happens here is probably the kind of thing even the Senior Partners wouldn't want on permanent record. Any surveillance is probably triggered by various warding spells, and I'll be able to warn you if we activate any of those."

"Gotcha," Faith said. "So let's get moving."


It took half an hour or so of careful searching to locate a room suitable for Wesley's purposes. They were forced to subdue and confine two other employees along the way, both human, but for the most part they were lucky. It was, after all, the weekend, and the building's population had dropped to about a third of what it might otherwise be.

Several of the rooms they encountered along the way seemed to be used for storage purposes; Wesley spotted a great many magical artifacts and supplies that the Watcher's Council would salivate over. Other rooms seemed set aside as meeting areas, or working rooms for those of the firm's members and clients who boasted exotic origins or talents. A few smelled strongly of harsh cleansers, with torture implements on the walls and blood channels carved into the gently sloped floor, leading to a central drain; Wesley retreated from such rooms almost immediately. The stench of fear and death was thick enough in the air to choke even Spike.

There wasn't any sign of Dawn and Buffy, however, or even any hint of what had happened to Angel's party. Wesley was afraid, that they'd ended up imprisoned; he'd seen the spells on the door, and Spike had been pretty smug and sarcastic when he'd arrived with the key.

((I wasn't stupid enough to just grab hold of the bloody doorknob like some gits I know.))

Translate "some" to mean "five," and presto, several more friends were added to his list of people to rescue. Angel, Cordelia, Groo, Fred, and Gunn, to be precise. It was going to be difficult, to say the least.

At his side, Faith paused abruptly in the hall and chuckled to herself, shaking her head.

"What is it?" he asked, a little startled by her sudden good humor. She'd been in hunting mode since they'd entered the building, focused and deadly.

She thew him an amused glance. "Oh, just thinkin' about a movie I got to see not too long ago-- 'This is not Mission Difficult, Mr. Hunt, this is Mission Impossible. Difficult should be a walk in the park for you.'."

He smiled a little in response. "Yes, that was an excellent film. The theme was a little tired, but it was well executed and visually brilliant. Not to mention applicable. Although of course the impossible things our agency does are a little more out of the ordinary, and our resources are puny by comparison."

"Not to mention you look nothing like Tom Cruise," Spike snorted from across the hall. "But nevermind that. Come and have a look at this."

The room Spike had located was small, about four meters by three, with a thick mat on the floor and candles set in tiny niches in each of its four walls. It held no furniture or anything else of value; it seemed to be the meditation retreat of some Important Personage or other. Wesley nodded approval, then locked the three of them into the small, bare space and cast a light warding around the perimeter.

"Jeez, Wes," Faith said, "You've been doing tons of magic today. Is that normal for you, or what? 'Cause I don't seem to remember that from before." She gave his scarred throat a glance, then the flakes of dried blood adhering to his forehead. "Or is it more of this prophecy stuff?"

Welsey thought about that for a moment, unsettled yet again by the reminder of what was happening to him. "I'm not sure," he answered, slowly. "I've never had any great level of power-- knowledge, yes, but none of the talent or raw energy needed to become anything more than a minor wizard. But today..."

Faith waved a hand dismissively. "Prophecy stuff, fill me in later. So. What's this spell you want to do?"

"I intend to call on your connection with the Slayer essence and use it to trace Buffy. Hopefully Dawn will be with her sister, and I'll be able to determine if they're in the building. Fortunately, it requires more in the way of concentration than actual magic; I doubt anyone will be able to detect what I'm doing." It wasn't particularly strenuous, either; Watchers had done it before to find Slayers, although normally it was their own Slayer they were tracing.

"So what shall I be doing, then?" Spike frowned, hands deep in his suit pockets. He looked bored, irritable, and hungry, not good signs in a vampire known for his attention-deficit way of dealing with problems.

"Investigate the briefcase while we're busy," Wesley said, and held the leather case out to the vampire again. "There might be useful information in it. Don't worry, this shouldn't take long."

Wesley didn't wait for Spike's reply; instead he lit a few of the candles, then moved to the center of the room and settled carefully into a cross-legged position on the floor. Faith watched him a moment, then sat down also, close enough that their knees almost touched.

"What now?" she asked. She tossed her hair back over her shoulders, then clasped her hands in her lap and looked him in the eye. "Time to work your mojo?"

He nodded. "It won't take long. All you have to do is grasp my hand and stay where you are until I open my eyes."

Faith shifted a little on the mat, getting more comfortable, then nodded back and extended her left hand towards him. "Just don't take too long," she said. "I don't wanna be stuck here when they finally come looking for us."

Wesley closed his eyes, then began stepping through the sequence of mental exercises meant to center his consciousness and close out all distractions. He did not manage to achieve full balance-- the turmoil of the last few days and weeks still seethed not far below the surface-- but he was able to shut it down enough for what he needed.

A few softly spoken words lit up his inner world with light. He could "see", through his closed eyelids, a quicksilver luminescent shape so bright and close as to nearly blind him; darker shadows flickered around the edges, and he knew without question that this was Faith. He let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding; he'd still been a bit worried that he hadn't Watcher-bonded to Faith after all, which would have rendered this little test impossible.

Gently, he tugged his "self" free of his physical form and backed away, looking for connections between the Slayer and other islands in the darkness.

It was not hard to find one. A thick, brilliant cord led upwards, twined with threads of forest green and leaf gold. Everything else was dimmed and distorted to the point where he could not recognize any landmarks, but Wesley got a very distinct sense of nearness; the being at the other end of this connection was definitely in the building, only a few floors away and almost directly overhead. Cautiously, he followed the cord for a short distance, and became aware of a strange echo effect.

Two different shades of green, threaded together-- it felt as though there were two beings, not one, sharing the end of that connection. As he studied the effect in surprise, he became aware of a lesser connection leading away from the twinned essence; he touched it gently and got a strong mental sense of wisdom, caring, and tea, overlaying a mostly tamed, reckless strength.

Wesley pondered that, then pulled back towards his starting point, turning his gaze back to Faith. He was startled to find that Faith's essence seemed doubled also, intertwined with a steely blue that seemed to fade in and out. By a stretch of the imagination he could see the greens as Dawn and Buffy, connected by the manner of the Key's incarnation, but he had no idea how Faith could have been affected so.

He searched further, puzzled. He knew there should be a lesser line like the one that had felt of Giles-- and indeed there was, but it was weak, entirely unfamiliar, and certainly not his. Something very strange was going on.

He was unable to investigate it further, however, as something began pulling him urgently back into his body. "Wes! Wesley, snap out of it!" Faith's voice was faint, like a whisper in a whirlwind, drowned out by a great, raging mess of other filling his mind. He was in the grip of another attack-- and this time, there was a presence behind it.

All concept of the outside world faded as Wesley fought for control. It was like trying to wrestle a mist, or run on quicksand; the enemy flowed and seethed around him, battering at him with fear, anger, and hatred.

I can't believe I was so bloody stupid, he thought dimly. Demonic forces are converting my body, and I left it unattended?


Chapter Thirteen: The Enemy Of My Enemy

Only entropy comes easy.
~Anton Chekhov

 

Lilah took one look at the psychic and spun around, facing Jonathan's direction. "I knew something was up," she said, narrowing her eyes. "You're in here somewhere." Then she reached into her jacket and pulled out a small, flat package. In one quick movement she had it open, then cast its contents into the air in Jonathan's direction. He had already started backing away, but it was too late; the cloud of powdery green dust caught him before he was out of range.

Jonathan wasn't sure what the dust was actually supposed to do, but it sure made a great tracking system for the bad guys. His light-bending field ate the powder pretty quickly and made it invisible right along with him, but that also made a rather obvious hole in the green cloud. A few curses and commands from Lilah, and he had a whole group of lawyers and minons wrestling him to the ground. All that bodyweight within the spell's radius was enough to finally overload it, and it burst silently with a great flash of light.

Lilah gave him the once-over, and frowned. "Well, well. Junior Chaos. You're the last person I expected to see, but I guess blood does count for something." She threw a glance at one of the men gripping his arms. "Put him in with the other one, Darryl; it's always good to have an extra sacrifice. I think I'll stay here after all and get the meeting over with before any more unwanted guests show up."

The one called Darryl snapped out a quick "Yes, Ma'am" and got a good grip on Jonathan's arm. Jonathan meant to fight back, but the green powder must have been some kind of drug, because he couldn't seem to move much, and his tongue felt like a lead bar in his mouth. Darryl had to literally drag him to get him to walk; his feet weren't cooperating at all.

Down a hall, through a side corridor, and down a secured stairwell; the second door down was fitted with a lock a lot like the one on the basement door. Jonathan was willing to bet it carried at least as many enchantments as the other one, too. His brain wasn't exactly working at top speed at the moment, but he could parse enough out of Lilah's words to realize that Wolfram and Hart was probably holding his father, and that therefore this had to be some kind of magical jail.

Darryl carefully unlocked the door, then pushed it open to enter a short hallway, with six closely-spaced doors. The walls were painted gunmetal gray, with traceries of words in pearlescent white around each door. The doors themselves were heavy and thick, probably steel, with little covered openings two-thirds of the way up so prisoners could be watched or fed without endangering the observers. Darryl went straight to the second door on the left, peered in, then grunted in satisfaction.

"Here you go, kid. Enjoy your last day on Earth." Darryl cracked the door open, then hurled Jonathan bodily in.

He collapsed rather limply on the floor, jarring his bruised face against rought concrete. The effects of the drug combined with his suddenly-renewed headache to send his mind spinning dizzily, enough that he barely noticed when another hand flipped him over and began touching the injured area with careful fingers.

"Hello again, Jonathan," he heard someone say; then blackness came, and he welcomed it with open arms.


The first thought that passed through Jonathan's mind when he drifted back to awareness was something along the lines of "Bleargh."

"Jonathan?" he heard his cellmate ask, cautiously. "Are you able to move?"

He tried experimentally to move his arms and legs, and found the paralysis gone. He was still stuck at molasses-speed, but at least he wasn't frozen anymore. "A little," he answered carefully. "What was that?"

"It's a sophisticated numbing agent," the other man answered, and Jonathan sighed. It really was Ethan Rayne. "It only affects magic users. I don't know the name of it, but I'm very familiar with it, as the Initiative used it extensively. The paralysis wears off rather quickly, within an hour, but it leaves one unable to cast any spells for almost a day."

"Oh," Jonathan said, then took a deep breath and pulled himself into a sitting position against one of the walls of the small, bare room. "Why are you here, anyway? Thought you were leaving."

Ethan frowned and turned away, pacing slowly across the opposite end of the room. "I was leaving. I got all the way to the airport and was captured just before I could board the plane. Karmic payback, I suppose; I've dealt enough chaos, now I can't seem to turn around without suffering the whims of Janus."

"You sound pretty fatalistic about it."

"Contrary to popular belief," Ethan said, with the weariness of having said it many times before, "this is not a game for me. I enjoy chaos, I never denied that, but I'm well aware of the potential consequences."

A sudden rush of anger and adrenaline flooded through Jonathan's system, and he sat up straighter. "Are you?" he asked. "Are you really? Do you have any idea what happened after that illusion spell you did on Wesley?"

"What do you mean?" Ethan stopped walking and blinked at him, startled at his sudden vehemence.

"Angel was outside when we left," Jonathan said, clenching his fists. "He threw Wesley into the wall. Angel killed him, Ethan, because he thought he was Holtz. So don't try to sell me some platitude about potential consequences."

Silence descended in the room, for several long moments. Ethan studied the door with a slightly dismayed expression, and perhaps a little sadness in the shadows of his eyes; but it didn't take long for the sardonic smile to return. "As I said, Jonathan, this isn't a game for me. It wasn't my intention to cause his death, but I don't regret my actions. I don't expect you to understand."

"If I hadn't been there," Jonathan said quietly, "he would have stayed dead. This isn't a game for me either. You can just cancel that visit you were planning for my next birthday, 'cause I'm not going to change my mind."

"Stayed...? You little bastard." Ethan started laughing, but his amusement had a bitter edge to it.

Jonathan felt a twinge of guilt for his trick, but he shoved it back down immediately. He hadn't lied, after all, and unless you counted the whole father thing as a trump card, he had more reasons to be loyal to Wesley than to Ethan.

Ethan stopped laughing abruptly, and his face took on a strange, distant look. "Did you feel that?"

"Feel what?" Jonathan frowned.

Ethan stared into the distance for a few more seconds, then focused on Jonathan again and rubbed his forehead. "I thought... it felt like someone was trying to make contact. But it's gone now."

"You know they have pet psychics here, right?" Jonathan said, sourly. "That's how they got me. I was totally invisible, and they found me anyway."

"They've never checked up on the prisoners before," Ethan said with a shrug, "but in light of my recent escape attempt, I suppose it's likely."

Jonathan sighed and started picking at a snagged thread on one sleeve of his black shirt. "I wonder when they'll realize I got captured?" he asked, thinking aloud. "I didn't exactly tell them what I was doing when I went after Lilah."

"Went after...?" Ethan asked, sounding puzzled. "So they didn't capture you intentionally? Then what are you doing here?"

"That reminds me," Jonathan blurted. "Lilah recognized me. Did you tell them about me, or something? I was just here to help Wesley and Faith. The rest of Angel's team came here this morning because of a vision and never came back, so we were checking it out."

"No, but they may know anyway," Ethan said, "They're one of the largest consumers of occult information in the western United States, after all. I'm sure they have profiles on any child raised on the Hellmouth who shows promise."

"Great," Jonathan said. "That's just great. I bet they were the Mayor's lawyers, too."

Ethan smirked. "Probably, considering that Mr. Trick used Wolfram and Hart's contact network to hire me for the band candy incident."

"So what are you in here for, anyway, if they usually hire you? I mean, did you piss them off or something?" Jonathan tested his muscles again, and decided it was time to try standing up. He was still a little wobbly, but his reaction speeds were almost back to normal.

From a standing viewpoint, Ethan looked a little less imposing and a lot more ordinary. He was rail-thin, easier to see now that he wasn't wearing a jacket, and fairly pale, with worry lines around his eyes and fresh bruises from rough handling. Abruptly, Jonathan wondered how much of Ethan's attitude was sheer bravado and pride. He didn't look like a rampaging evil sorcerer; he looked like a guy fresh out of prison who's just found out his parole has been revoked.

"It seems they are on a fairly strict timetable," Ethan said, looking away. "They've been planning to move the Hellmouth for quite some time, but they only became aware of the location of a key ingredient quite recently. It so happens that there is only one window of opportunity every fifty years to use the ritual, and as it closes tomorrow night, they're being forced to improvise on a lot of the lesser pieces."

Well, so much for being evasive about what they'd been doing there; Ethan already knew about the whole Hellmouth thing. At least that was one thing he could be sure Ethan wasn't lying about. "And you fill one of those slots?" Jonathan asked.

"Yes," Ethan replied, with a sour smile. "If they do it properly, that is. I did take precautions, years ago, when I first began following Janus; if they get it wrong, they could either end up with just a dead body, or set off the San Andreas Fault. Either way, I don't suppose I'll be in a position to care."

Dead Ethan. Messily dead. The concept hung in Jonathan's mind for a second, nauseating and painful in more ways than he had expected. What right did this guy have to any filial emotions from him, when they'd only just met, and he was an evil bastard? Well, not that Jonathan had done much better, this last year or so. But seriously.

Jonathan concentrated on the other reasons for being disturbed about Chaos-generating sacrifices, and put the other stuff away to examine later. Mega earthquake? Not of the good. Hellmouth in L.A.? Definitely not on his list of things to see. "So that's tomorrow, right?" he said. "How many hours before that happens will this numbing stuff wear off?"

"About twelve," Ethan said. "But they'll just dose us again. Why? Did you have any brilliant ideas about breaking out of here?"

"Well..." Jonathan dug around in his pockets, and crouched on the floor, spreading what little magic supplies he carried across the concrete surface. "I was carrying these when we left the hotel, and that Darryl guy didn't search me."

Ethan crouched next to him, examining the meager cache with an interested expression. "You actually carry a magic bone?" he said, breaking into a grin as he picked up said object. "Remind me to send the Levinsons a thank-you check when we get out of here."

"Huh?"

"For teaching you to be prepared," Ethan said, eyes sparkling with the seeds of wild mischief. He collected several of the other items as well, then carried them over to a corner, where he drew a circle on the concrete with a piece of chalk.

"Wait a minute," Jonathan said, feeling a deep sense of confusion settle over him again. "I thought you said you got dosed with that no-magic powder, too."

"I did," Ethan said, still grinning. "I also said the Initiative used it extensively. After two years, I've developed a bit of an immunity."

And of course, he hadn't thought to mention that earlier. "Um. So. What exactly are you going to do?" Silently, Jonathan added another question: and will it benefit me, too, or are you just going to rescue yourself?

"Not to worry," Ethan answered. "I'm going to infect that door with an increased rate of entropy-- and while I'm at it, I might as well do the other cells as well. I think I can manage them all with what's here."

"Entropy? You mean time? You're going to what, age the doors to death?" Jonathan had played little games with time before, but never anything like the amount that it would take for inches-thick steel to fall to pieces.

"Entropy isn't time; it's what happens over time," Ethan said in a distracted tone. "Entropy itself is disorder, another name for chaos. Now, have a little faith in me, just this once." He closed his eyes and began.


Chapter Fourteen: Two Sides to Every Story

"If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand."
~The Bible, Mark 3:25 (NIV)

 

Laughter rang out in the stormy space, and a sudden calmness fell.

Wesley focused, and found himself on a featureless black plain he knew well from earlier dreams. This time, however, there were no stars, and no avatar of the Powers That Be; there was only the mirror-smooth black surface under his feet, lit dimly by the reflection of gray clouds above and a wall of winds encircling him at several meters' distance. If he'd compared this attack to a whirlwind earlier, now he was forced to expand the concept to a hurricane.

Wisps of cloud swirled down and formed into a figure in front of him, hooded and cloaked in heavy black drapery. Wesley thought immediately of Nazgűl, and a chill ran up his spine. "Who are you?" he asked, defiant and full of dread.

"Who are you?" the creature echoed, mocking him again with its laughter. Paradoxically, Wesley was relieved to hear it speak; that was not the hissing, supernatural voice he'd instinctively feared. It sounded British, cultured, and familiar, and centered him squarely back in the world of things he understood.

"Vampire demon," he said, glaring at the thing that faced him. "You shall not have this body."

"Oh, but I already do," it said, its voice thick with amusement. "I have always been here."

Wesley shook his head in denial, firming up his resolve, then reached for the sword that still hung at his side and drew it from its sheath. "You shall not have this body," he repeated, and brought the blade up in a defensive posture.

"No?" it said, copying his movement. A duplicate sword extended from its shrouded hand, held in a posture that mirrored his own. "Then no one will."

They moved as one to attack, and the sound of steel against steel rang out in the wind-bordered arena. Wesley grunted in surprise as the other easily overpowered him. They seemed matched in skill, but the new strength and speed he'd used against the vampires only a few hours earlier had suddenly left him. His muscles shook with the strain of merely blocking his attacker's blade; if he were going to win this, it would have to be within the next few minutes.

Wesley increased his efforts, attacking as swiftly as he could, summoning up all the tricks he could remember; his enemy blocked and countered each move easily, and he quickly grew frustrated. It was like his first weeks in Sunnydale all over again, pouring all his effort into a fight with an opponent who could defeat him one-handed while reading a book.

Sweat began dripping into Wesley's eyes and his breathing began to grow ragged as he contemplated desperation measures. He had no idea what injuries in here would do to his actual body, but death was death, however you measured it. What of Faith, when a ravenous creature awoke, Wesley-shaped, in her arms? He could not allow that to happen.

Wesley managed to lock swords with the attacker again, and this time freed a hand to wrap around the other's blade, heedless of the damage it caused. He ignored the pain and the dripping blood, then drew his weapon back to make a final strike, while the other was (however briefly) unable to block.

He half-expected to be overpowered again. He half-feared to fail utterly and die without taking his enemy down with him. He was not prepared for the sudden cry that enemy gave, or its own blood flowing down the hilt of its sword.

He froze, inches from taking the thing's head, and stared blindly at its hooded form.

"You begin to understand," it said, softly, and began to laugh.

Wesley's sword dropped from nerveless fingers, ringing faintly as it hit the floor beneath him. Vampire demons took on the characteristics of their hosts; it was no shock to hear his own voice taunting him. This, however, was something more, something horribly wrong. Hesitantly, he reached for the edge of the thing's hood and grasped the rough material with a shaking hand.

((You think you know... what's to come... what you are. You haven't even begun.))

The dark fabric slipped easily away, continuing its heavy slide down the enemy's form to puddle thickly on the floor. Wesley knew what vampire demons in their natural state looked like; Angel's transformation in Pylea had been a rather vivid demonstration. They looked nothing like what he was seeing now.

"I have seen the enemy," it mocked him, "and he is me."

Wesley held his injured hand palm up, still bleeding sluggishly, and watched as it-– he-– did the same, mirroring him as completely as any silver-backed piece of glass could. Only the smirk on his double's face and the darkness glittering in the steely blue eyes showed any difference between them. "How is this possible?" Wesley asked, softly, too stunned to even raise his voice.

"Born human of inhuman parents," his twin said, sounding amused. "One parent with a soul, and one without. One face light, and the other dark. Does this sound at all familiar?"

"Hybrid," Wesley whispered, recognizing the quoted passage. "Daywalker. But that is myth, not history or prophecy!"

"Oh? And where did the First Slayer come from?"

That silenced Wesley, and his double laughed again before continuing. "Quartoth would have made things easier; all that dark energy would have brought both natures to the fore. Here, death was required. Pity it wasn't permanent; I would have been the greatest Master Vampire to walk the Earth."

"And if I do not accept this?" Wesley challenged.

"That option is no longer available," he was answered. "Now, there is only one choice left. Live, or die."

Was that all it came down to? Could he live with this new knowledge, with the dark side of his nature fully activated? He'd been trying to avoid worrying about the situation until he had time to stop and research, but obviously, that course of action had proven as futile as it always had in the past.

Wesley remembered the way he'd acted under Billy's influence, and shuddered. And yet... he was not being asked to turn evil, exactly. This was already a part of him, else he would not be here, having an argument with another part of his own being. Whatever was added, whatever changed, the bits that made him Wesley would still remain. Wouldn't they? He didn't know yet what to make of the mention of the First Slayer's origin, but assuming it were true, she had become a warrior of Light, a force for good despite her gray nature. Hadn't she?

As he stood, indecisive, a faint voice carried into the void, shredding the circling winds and pushing the clouds before it. "Wes! They're here, Wes, they're coming..." Underlying the words a banging sound could be heard, the sound of a door being broken down.

"Faith," he said, stricken. How long had it been since he left her alone in their refuge?

"Faith," his double echoed, his smirk fading into an intense, concerned look.

Wesley swallowed. "Well. There's something we agree on." He couldn't leave her; he couldn't leave any of them. He had obligations. This decision did not exist in a vacuum, despite the appearance of this place. Whatever happened in the future, he must attend to the present first. He took a deep, calming breath, then held out his bleeding hand.

Their injured palms touched, and a flash of light swept them both away.


Wesley's eyes snapped open, and he found himself back in the empty little room, clasping hands with Faith. She was still calling his name, watching him with a worried expression, glancing from his face to the beleaguered door and back again. The moment she realized he was awake, she gave a little cry and dropped his hands.

"Faith," he said, looking at her through new eyes. Difficult, he'd thought earlier, dangerous, and also desirable; she was all of these, but she was also more. He'd labeled her troubled, in need of protection, in need of redemption, but if any of that were so, it applied to him also in equal measure. Darkness and light, savior and damned, hero and villain. They were well matched.

"Wes!" she exclaimed, and touched Wesley's face with a shaking hand. "You're still alive!" She grinned fiercely, then pulled him to his feet and welcomed him back properly with a brief, intense kiss. "Let's kick some ass."

He returned her fierce smile, sharing in her predatory mood, and once more drew his sword. It still shimmered with the blessing he'd asked upon it earlier; his skin prickled where he gripped it, but fortunately did not burn. Faith armed herself with her knife and one of her stakes, and they turned together towards the door as it finally gave in, revealing a quintet of uglies with axes and clubs.

"'Bout time we saw some action," Spike muttered from behind them, and the sound of shifting bone announced his brand of preparation; a vampire was never unarmed while he could summon his demon face.

"Briefcase," one of the uglies grunted, pointing past Wesley to the leather case Spike had left open on the floor. "Give."

"I don't think so," Wesley responded, and slashed out at the offending hand.

The battle was hideously unbalanced. Fists flew, blades slashed, stakes plunged, and demons crumpled to the floor. In less than a minute the enemy had been reduced to several small glowing puddles, which dried up at an astonishing rate.

"Hey! They were the melty kind!" Faith said, grinning. "Cool. You think they had time to tell anyone else where we were?"

Wesley frowned, extending newly awakened senses, trying to tell if any others were close. "Mmm. I don't think so; there don't seem to be reinforcements nearby. I'm not sure they were even specifically searching for us. Jonathan may have run into difficulties."

Faith gave him a slightly confused look, then suddenly gasped. Her eyes widened, and she took a quick step back, raising her knife in a defensive posture. "You... you're not human anymore. But you came back alive!"

"Faith." Wesley had hoped that no one would notice the change until all was over, but it couldn't be helped. He sheathed his sword and spread his hands, presenting a non-threatening posture. "I take it your Slayer senses have returned? I rather suspect I was blocking them earlier without being aware of it."

"But you..."

"I am the same as I was before," he told her calmly, "with perhaps a little extra."

"More like a lot extra," Spike said, sourly. "We are going to talk, mate."

Faith threw a glare at Spike, then stared at Wesley for a long moment. Finally, she nodded firmly. "Okay. I can deal. Just so long as you fill me in as soon as this is over."

"That seems fair," he said, and smiled faintly, brushing her cheek with his fingertips. Then he dropped his hand and eyed the open briefcase. "So. Spike. Find anything of importance in the paperwork?"

Spike's usual arrogant expression faded into something Wesley had never expected to see in the Master Vampire-- guilt. "Ah, one small thing. M'not sure what I'm going to tell the girls, but that minion I staked when I ran into the lawyer..." He picked up the first sheet from the stack, and held it out.

Wesley took it, holding it carefully out of long habit to avoid getting smudges on the paper. "Subject Hank Summers, sired December 2000... Dear God." There was a lot more information on the page; photograph, prior information, current cover (with his girlfriend in Spain) and known relatives. Next to his daughter's names, VAMPIRE SLAYER and TRANSDIMENSIONAL ENERGY MATRIX were written in large, red block letters.

Spike sighed. "I'd thought he was just another of Darla's fledges-- I'd heard that she and Dru were in town for awhile, and he felt familiar. Last thing this world needs is more scions of our bloody psychotic family. Never once thought..." He paused, thrusting his hands into his pockets. "I imagine the firm was savin' him to use against the Slayer, but when they found out about Dawn..."

Wesley tossed the sheet of paper back onto the briefcase. Spike might be an evil soulless creature, but it was hard to remember that when he acted so human; Wesley felt impelled to reassure him. "Better you than Buffy. You were there when she fought Angelus, correct? Imagine her trying to Slay her own father."

Spike shuddered. "I'd just as soon not," he said, then turned away to slam the briefcase shut and pick it up again. "Everything else in here is just garbage, mostly custody paperwork and copies of Dawn's records."

"Wait a minute," Faith suddenly said. "December 2000? That's back before Buffy died. Before Joyce died, even. No wonder..."

"Yeah," Spike said wryly. "No wonder he acted like a soulless wanker; he was one."

"As fascinating as that may be," Wesley interrupted them, "we need to get moving before more guards are sent to remove us."

Faith nodded, and put her knife away as she stepped out into the hallway. "Yeah, we're burning daylight here. Did you figure out where they were?"

Burning. Daylight. Concepts he still didn't have to worry about. Wesley felt mometarily giddy with relief, and stepped out after her with a smile. "Ah," he said. "Almost directly above us, about three floors upward. We'd better backtrack to the elevator."

"Right, then," Spike said. He brushed past them impatiently, and led their small group as they retraced their steps.


Chapter Fifteen: Damsels in Distress

"For the female of the species is more deadly than the male."
~Rudyard Kipling

 

It took about four minutes for Ethan's spell to work, during which time the door warped, groaned, and started turning color. After the first minute or so Jonathan started hearing more noises from outside, and he hoped nobody had touched one of the doors by accident. He'd seen enough Star Trek to know what happened when someone put their hand into a highly accelerated bubble of entropy.

Their cell door was still standing when Ethan finished and started picking up the recoverable elements from his casting, but it appeared to be entirely made of rust, held up only by long habit. Jonathan gave it a good kick and the decayed steel all crashed down in a rotten, half-powdered heap. He kicked his shoe free of the fragments, reflecting gleefully back on a certain battle with a hotel door a few days ago, then jumped over the pile and walked to the next cell door.

Jonathan barely touched the knob to open the observation window, and the entire metal cover broke from its hinges and fell to the floor. He stood on tiptoe and looked as far into the room as he could, but it seemed to be empty. The next room he checked was empty as well, but the fourth was occupied. Two people were sprawled unconscious on the floor. One of them he recognized as Cordelia. He'd never met the other, but Jonathan guessed it was probably her boyfriend, Groo.

Jonathan took a couple of steps backward and kicked out at the door. The resulting noise almost drowned out the creak of hinges at the far end of the hall. He looked up just in time to see Ethan disappearing into the stairwell.

"Now why doesn't that surprise me," he muttered, shaking his head.

He was suprised when Ethan came right back through the door a couple of seconds later, with several goons right behind him. Jonathan groaned as he recognized the limp forms of Buffy and Dawn being carried by two of the burlier men.

"Oh shit," the head goon exclaimed, taking in Jonathan's escape and the destruction of the doors. "It ain't just the chaos mage-- Bruce! Warn Lilah!"

The one in the back nodded and stepped back into the stairwell, pulling the door shut behind him. The leader pulled a pistol from somewhere and aimed it at Jonathan. "You just back into one of those rooms, now," he said, "and nobody'll get hurt."

The two encumbered goons laid their living burdens down on the floor and drew weapons as well, covering Ethan and the open doorway where Groo and Cordy were just beginning to stir.

None of them, however, were paying any attention to the first door on the left, still standing, or its possible occupant(s). The Wolfram and Hart heavies learned that to their discomfort very quickly when the rusted metal exploded outward, knocking down one gunman and distracting the other two.

Unfortunately, the door seemed to have had much better luck crossing its threshold than the occupant of the cell.

"Jonathan," Angel growled, hands flat on the invitation barrier, greeting the young man with a nod. "Ethan," he added, narrowing his eyes as he took in the presence of the British mage.

Jonathan's eyes flicked to the white script paralleling the doorframe, then back to Angel. "Uh, I invite you out?" he tried. Given that this was a public building, it was pretty impressive that the barrier spell had worked at all; he doubted the firm's mages had been able to key the release phrase any more specifically than 'someone outside of the cell'.

Meanwhile, the two standing gunmen stupidly fired their weapons at the souled vampire, to no effect. Angel responded by stepping through and flinging their fallen comrade at them, and the three went down in a heap a couple of feet from Jonathan. Two of them were now unconscious, and the third had dropped his weapon. "That wasn't very polite," Angel chided the man.

Jonathan hastily collected the guns, while Angel forcibly revoked the last gunman's consciousness with a heavy fist and began stripping the three of their belts and tying them up.

Ethan eyed Angel, then the guns in Jonathan's hands, then the stairwell door. He sighed heavily, as if giving in to the inevitable, and moved to check on the Summers girls.

"Heavily sedated," he reported. "You won't be getting much out of them for the next several hours."

"Well that's just great," Angel grumbled. "I don't see how we're going to fight our way out without Buffy's help."

"I shall assist you," Groo said, clutching woozily at the frame of his cell door. Behind him, Cordelia was sitting up, looking pretty dazed.

"I appreciate that, Groo," Angel said, "but I don't think it'll be enough. We have a building full of lawyers and demons to deal with, and Lilah's already on her way."

There was only one door left standing, and two people still missing, so Jonathan gave it a good kick while Angel was talking. It collapsed easily, revealing several human-looking people lying asleep on the floor. None of them were Fred or Gunn, and none of them showed any signs of stirring.

"And Fred and Gunn are missing," he said.

"Well, if they're both unempowered humans, there's no reason for them to be in here," Ethan shrugged. "They're probably being entertained by the lawyers upstairs."

"Entertained?" Angel winced at that euphemism.

"In which case," Ethan continued, ignoring the vampire, "what is the lovely Miss Chase doing in here?"

"That's none of your business," Cordy snarked at him. She braced a hand on the wall and pulled herself to her feet, then brushed her palms over her clothes. "Damn. They scuffed my shoes, and I've got rust stains everywhere. Do you know what a pain that is to wash out?"

Angel sighed. "We don't have time to worry about your laundry problems, Cordelia. We need to get out of here. Groo, do you think you can carry Dawn?" He gestured at the sleeping brown-haired teen.

"I believe so," Groo said. He took a few steps out of the doorway, testing his balance, then smiled. The expression made him look cheerful and eager, and reduced his likeness to Angel. "Yes. I feel much better now."

Angel nodded, and carefully picked up the elder Summers sister, draping her over his shoulder. He wrapped his right arm around her legs, anchoring her in place, and took one of the extra guns from Jonathan in his left. Groo copied his actions. Then Angel gave Ethan a stern look, and gestured with his chin at the stairwell door. "You go first," he ordered.

"Very well," Ethan sighed theatrically, managing to look arrogant, condescending, and frighteningly impish all at the same time.

They made it up the stairwell and back out into the hall where Jonathan had been captured without encountering anyone else. Jonathan took a peek into each of the conference rooms as they passed them; of course, they were all empty now. Just how far had Bruce run to find Lilah, anyway? Maybe they'd get lucky and make it out of the building before the shit hit the fan... again.

Or maybe not.

"Angel," Lilah said coolly, stepping off the elevator. "I see you managed to escape your cell. Tell me, why do we even spend money on security anymore?" She smiled wryly at her own attempt at humor and snapped her fingers. Several security types followed her out of the elevator, Bruce among them. All were armed, and less than half of them were human.

"Now come on," Lilah continued. "Did you really think you'd make it out of the building?" Then she turned to address her followers. "Take their weapons. Shoot anyone who objects; in fact, shoot the Chaos Mage if he even opens his mouth. We'll store them in that conference room for now." She gestured at one of the doors.

Angel and Groo were both encumbered, Ethan wasn't likely to risk getting shot, even though they weren't likely to shoot to kill, and there was nothing Jonathan could do against so many. That left only Cordelia and her fashionable yet appropriate-for-Slayage footwear.

For once, luckily, the Powers-That-Be were smiling on their messenger. As the men ushered Angel's little party towards the conference room, Cordy's feet suddenly left the ground, and her head tipped back. Her eyelids fluttered down and a look of intense concentration crossed her face. One of the guards made a grab for her, trying to bring her back down, but it was as if gravity didn't exist for her; she wouldn't budge.

Lilah frowned. "So this is what a vision looks like? Funny, I thought there was a lot more pain involved."

Cordelia's eyes opened again, and her smile was beatific. "Oh, there will be."

What happened next was unlike anything Jonathan had ever seen before. Of course, the whole week had been full of things he'd never seen before, but this was more in the miracle end of spectrum, a pretty rare thing in his experience. Cordelia's skin began to take on a pearlescent white glow, which expanded to touch the demon gripping at her ankle and then moved to fill the entire hall.

The effect was a little reminiscent of Jonathan's UV sphere but a little more discriminatory and a lot less messy. The demons among Lilah's troops who were touched by the glow disappeared with hoarse moans and yells; in the space of a few seconds every one of them was gone. The glow continued burning outward for several seconds, blindingly bright, before finally dying down.

Jonathan was still blinking the afterimages out of his eyes when Angel moved, taking down Lilah and her two remaining guards with a few well-placed punches. Even with Buffy still draped over his shoulder he could move with speed and power.

A few moments later and they had the unconscious Wolfram and Hart employees all shut into the conference room. Jonathan was nearly giddy with the relief of yet another close escape; all of them were staring in wonder at the half-demonic seer.

"Princess?" Groo asked, with awe in his voice.

"Hey," she said, laughing weakly. "Chapter One of my new user's manual, yay Powers That Be. Plus, more clues to whatever Skip crossed me with. What kind of demon can float and glow?"

"None I've ever met," Ethan said softly, without his customary sarcasm. "No wonder they kept you in the warded cells."

"I bet Wesley will know," Angel added, looking at Cordelia with concern. "Are you okay?"

"Just peachy," Cordelia said, giving him a shaky smile.

"Not that I am objecting, of course," Groo said suddenly, "but if the purpose of your new power is to destroy demons, how is it that Angel and I yet remain?" His brow furrowed in puzzlement.

Cordelia shrugged. "How the heck should I know?"

Angel looked up and down the hall again, checking for more pursuers, and started edging towards the elevator. "Well, it's possible you're some kind of anti-Judge," he said absentmindedly, as he urged them forward.

"An anti-what?" Ethan frowned.

"Oh, ew!" Cordelia complained. "You're comparing me to that blue-skinned monstrosity? That's the one Buffy blew up with the rocket launcher, right?"

Jonathan made a sudden choking sound. "Rocket launcher?" he managed to repeat, disbelieving. He leaned on the elevator's down-button, listening with anticipation for the rest of the story.

"Yes," Angel said. "It was written that he couldn't be killed by forged weapons, so Xander snuck into the army depot for something a little more impressive. He was supposedly a demon brought forth to rid the Earth of the plague of humanity, to burn the righteous down. I even saw him kill a vampire for not being demonic enough. So, maybe Cordy burns up the beings that don't have any humanity left?"

"That is an interesting theory," Groo said, turning his dark gaze on Cordelia again. "Princess, this has many implications for..."

The elevator's doors opened with a cheery DING! And what do you know? It wasn't empty this time, either.


Chapter Sixteen: Twelve People in Search of an Exit

"The struggle is confused; our knight wins by no clean thrust of lance or sword..."
~Norman Thomas

 

The trek back to the lift wasn't a long one, despite the length of time they'd taken in their earlier search. Wesley's small group had investigated many rooms and side passageways, but the main hallway was easily found and ran the entire length of the basement. Spike led them swiftly in that direction, pausing briefly at each corner to check for enemies.

At the last turn he froze suddenly and took a step back. "You might want to see this, Watcher. Looks like that demon fellow from the entry got free and found himself some company."

Wesley frowned and moved past him, peering carefully around the edge of wall. Spike was correct; there were three Vydd standing down the hallway, in front of the lift doors. Standing among them, bound and gagged, were Gunn and Fred. They didn't appear to have been injured, and he couldn't smell any blood, but he didn't trust his newly extended senses enough to be sure of it.

"Well?" Spike demanded, cocking an eyebrow at him. "This Rhaogan, he bowed to you before, but he didn't have any friends along. What do you think he'll do now?"

"You're sure it's Rhaogan?" Wesley asked. The Vydd all looked very much alike.

"It's the hair," Spike said. "The one in the lead's got that brilliant shade of green; the others are duller, a bit more olive."

Wesley couldn't really tell the difference, but when he threw a doubting look at Spike, the chipped vampire crossed his arms and smirked at him. "And which of us dyes their hair? Trust me on this."

He sighed. "Very well. Spike, Faith, I want both of you to stay behind me and let me do the talking. If things go poorly, try to collect Gunn and Fred and get them out of here."

"Wes..." Faith's expression was forbidding.

"I'm here for Buffy and Dawn, Watcher, or had you forgotten?" Spike added his objection.

Well, it had been worth a try. "At least let me do the talking," he said.

"Lead on, then." Spike gave him a shove, propelling him out into the main hallway.

Rhaogan and his fellow Vydd watched Wesley approached without any visible change of expression. They made no moves against him, nor did they do anything to harm Fred and Gunn; however, they showed no signs of friendship either. Only their wild, independently mobile hair disturbed their appearance of outward calm.

Wesley stopped a few meters from them. He cleared his throat, one hand on the hilt of his sword, and made eye contact with his friends. Gunn looked ready to fight, no matter how helpless the battle, at the slightest sign from Wesley; Fred looked scared, but determined to keep it together and support them as best she could. Encouraging signs. Finally, Wesley turned his focus back to Rhaogan.

"You refused my offering," the demon rumbled, breaking the silence.

"Yes," Wesley answered, simply. Where was this conversation leading? Was he about to be punished for not taking the Vydd's life?

"Perhaps you will accept my services instead," Rhaogan continued.

"Ah..." Wesley swallowed, surprised. "That would be acceptable."

In the back of his mind, his frazzled Watcher instincts began running in circles, wondering what sort of prophecy could possibly exist that would incline such a strong breed of demons to give their allegiance so freely to him. In his brief vision-battle, his double had implied that he and the original Slayer were of a kind, but what could possibly endear a Slayer to a race of Hellish origin?

The demon nodded thoughtfully, then spoke again. "These humans are your comrades?" he asked.

Behind him, Gunn had gone wide-eyed with surprise and was staring at Wesley; Fred had furrowed her brow and was eying the Vydd in confusion. Wesley dredged up a smile in their direction, and assured Rhaogan, "Yes, they are."

Rhaogan rasped a few words in his own tongue and gestured sharply to his companions, without taking his eyes off Wesley. The two humans were untied with brisk efficiency and pushed forward. Gunn wrapped a protective arm around Fred and moved swiftly to Wesley's side.

"Wesley, what the fuck is going on?" Gunn asked in a harsh whisper.

"Later, Charles," Wesley whispered back. He didn't dare turn his back on the Vydd yet.

"You have other comrades in the building," Rhaogan observed, then rasped a few more commands to the other Vydd. They bowed low in Wesley's direction and then turned to leave, disappearing quickly down one of the side halls.

"Yes," Wesley agreed, mentally kicking himself for never having learned the Vydd language. He barely knew anything about their race; clearly, that had been an oversight in his studies. He knew very little of their motivations or their prophecies or anything else that might tell him what to expect next. Was it a bad sign, or a good one, that Rhaogan had sent the other two away?

The tension in his spine eased a little when he felt one of Faith's strong, small hands settle in the middle of his back. Whatever happened next, he had her support, and Gunn's, and Fred's, and even Spike's, it seemed.

Rhaogan studied them a moment more, then bowed and turned to open the lift doors. "I shall take you to them," he announced, and stepped inside.

Well. That was certainly unexpected. Wesley swallowed, fighting down a slight case of nerves, and glanced around at his companions, suddenly uncertain how to proceed.

Spike was growling at him impatiently; Gunn and Fred seemed as determined as ever, but also a little confused and alarmed about what was going on. Faith... Faith frowned at him, searching for something in his eyes, then sighed and reached out to rest a hand on his cheek.

"I'll get them out," she said, anticipating his problem. "You and Spike had better follow me in thirty minutes, or I'm coming back in."

He smiled wryly and reached up to trace his thumb over the back of her hand. He shouldn't have been surprised; she'd spent the last two years growing up. "Thank you, Faith."

"Now wait just a minute!" Gunn objected, but Faith was already pushing him and Fred back while Wesley and Spike stepped into the elevator with Rhaogan.

The lift doors closed, leaving the two least empowered members of their team in the company of the Dark Slayer. Wesley knew he might regret leaving the three of them behind later, but he had a feeling that this wasn't going to be pretty, and he'd much rather know they were safe.

The Vydd demon reached for the control panel, pushing several buttons in quick succession with one sharp claw. A large green button shimmered into existence above the lesser buttons once he'd finished, glowing the same shade as the Vydd's hair.

"Sodding security code," Spike muttered. "Lucky we ran into this bloke, innit?"

As demon reached to push the green button, a sudden white light seemed to come out of nowhere, seeping through the walls and blinding them all with its brightness. Wesley instinctively clapped a hand over his eyes and heard a few choice curses beside him as Spike did the same. It didn't help. The light seemed to burn straight through him, tingling all the way down to his bones.

After a moment the glow seemed to abate, and Wesley opened his eyes with a relieved sigh, blinking back the afterimages.

"That was bleedin' painful," Spike hissed. "Felt like someone was tryin' to put a blessing on me."

Wesley squinted at him in surprise; he wouldn't have labelled the experience painful, merely disturbing, but perhaps the effects of that supernatural light differed with each species? Curious now, he glanced towards Rhaogan-- and gasped as he registered the fact that they were suddenly alone in the elevator. "Is it my imagination," he asked, "or are we down one demonic tour guide?"

The vampire snorted. "Why am I not surprised? This whole adventure has been one near-disaster after another. Funny, since I was doing well enough until I ran into you."

"Shut up, Spike," Wesley grumbled, and reached out to press the green button himself. He had no idea what just happened, but there was still a rescue to complete. The button vanished as smoothly as it had appeared, and without further ado the lift began slowly ascending.

Wesley guessed that it had traveled about three floors when it stopped, which matched his original guess as to the location of the Summers sisters. He still had no idea where to look for Angel, Cordy and Groo, much less Jonathan, but it was a start. He braced himself as the doors opened with a cheery DING, revealing...

...a gun, pointed directly in his face.

"Jesus, Wes!" Angel said explosively, and lowered the weapon.

"Angel?" Wesley exclaimed, equally startled. He took in the presence of Buffy, draped over Angel's shoulder, and around him Jonathan, Cordelia, Groo, another unconscious form that had to be Dawn, and Ethan Rayne. That was one more person than he'd been looking for, but he wasn't going to quibble. "Thank God. Let's get out of here."

"We were about to," Angel said, gesturing at the interior of the lift. Then he saw Spike, and went hostile again. "What is he doing here?"

"I came for Buffy and the Bit," Spike said curtly.

"They don't need your help," Angel growled.

"Gentlemen," Wesley said dryly. "Can we save the posturing and explanations for later? This elevator isn't going to be of any use, unless one of you knows the code, so we'd best start looking for another exit."

"I know it," Jonathan said, looking up at him. "If it's the same as the one to bring it up; I watched Lilah punch it in. How'd you get up here, anyway, if you didn't know it?"

"Well, we had a tour guide, before some bloody burning light came out of nowhere and zapped him away," Spike said, irritably. "He was blocking the buttons when he typed the code in."

"Burning light?" Cordelia said, wide-eyed. "You mean my glow reached all the way down there?"

"Your glow?" Wesley blinked at her. That had come from Cordelia? Was this another aspect of her new demonic side? Yet another thing to research. He rubbed his temples, wondering just when he was going to get the time for a sufficiently lengthy session with his books. And he'd have to order new books, too, now that he knew about the Vydd... and no longer had a Vydd around to ask questions of.

"It didn't burn you up?" Angel narrowed his eyes at Spike, sounding disappointed.

"Guys?" Jonathan raised his voice. "Just so you know, I'm going to try the code now..."

They all managed to crowd into the lift, and Jonathan tried the buttons. It didn't work the first time, but then he laughed suddenly and tried again. "Five is right out," he muttered, pushing the buttons in a slightly different sequence. This time he was successful, and they got the elevator moving downward again without further incident.

Wesley ended up standing directly behind Angel and had an excellent view of Buffy's slack face when she suddenly blinked, staring in puzzlement down at the floor.

"Unnnhh?" Buffy mumbled, and twitched the muscles in her arms. "Ugh." Slowly, she brought one hand up and tried to brush the dangling hair out of her eyes, then swiped at her mouth. "I'm drooling?" she asked softly, staring at the hand in confusion, then suddenly seemed to realize someone was carrying her. She turned abruptly into a flailing mass of superstrength arms and legs. Wesley took a punch to the jaw before ducking out of her way, and he heard Jonathan let out an "Oof" of dismay from the front of the car.

"Buffy, it's okay... Ahhh!" Angel bent forward suddenly, dumping Buffy unceremoniously to the floor in front of him, and Wesley winced in sympathy. The Slayer's feet had apparently connected with some sensitive anatomy.

"I thought you said she'd be out for hours!" Jonathan groaned, bent over in pain and clutching at his back.

"Well, she was heavily sedated," Ethan said sourly. "How was I to know it would wear off so quickly?"

"Angel?" Buffy struggled to a sitting position, staring up at the souled vampire. "Oh! Angel, did I kick you? I'm so sorry!"

"I'll be okay," he managed to answer her.

Spike laughed. "Glad I wasn't the one carrying you, luv. Hell of a way to greet a man."

The blush drained out of Buffy's face and she shot the chipped vampire a chilling look. "But you would have deserved it," she hissed, then accepted the nearest outstretched hand and got to her feet. Then she looked at the hand more closely, and up at its owner. "Cordelia?" she asked, confused, and glanced around at the rest of the car's occupants. "Jonathan? Wes? Ethan??!! And... do I know you? Why are you holding my sister?!"

"I am the Groosalugg," Groo told her calmly, and adjusted the still-sleeping form of Dawn in his arms. "You may call me Groo. Your sister is unconscious, but she will undoubtedly be fine."

"She better be," Buffy muttered, and touched her sister's face with a gentle hand. "So. Anyone want to tell me what's going on? I mean, I thought we were here to talk with my dad, which is bad enough, but he never showed, and next thing I knew the lawyers were holding us down and coming after us with needles."

The lift had come to a halt while Buffy spoke, and its doors opened again, revealing a blessedly empty stretch of hallway. "It's a long story," Wesley sighed. "Best told back at the hotel, I'd imagine. Faith is waiting for us in the sewers with Gunn and Fred, and I'll feel much better once we join them."

"Faith?!" Buffy suddenly looked murderous again.

"Buffy..." Angel spoke quietly and put a hand on her shoulder.

"Oh, all right! But this had better be really, really good." She turned and stormed out of the lift with a frown on her face.


Chapter Seventeen: Unsettling Revelations

"Words, like nature, half reveal and half conceal the soul within."
~Alfred Lord Tennyson

 

The tense mood of the group only got more tense when they left the confines of the Wolfram and Hart basement and joined Faith, Gunn, and Fred in the sewers. The two slayers instinctively dropped into a combat-ready position as they faced each other, and nearly everyone else backed off without needing to be warned. Jonathan watched from behind Groo, still rubbing the deep bruise on his back where Buffy had accidentally kicked him. He was probably lucky she hadn't broken a rib.

"So," Buffy said, clipping off her words, all the muscles in her face tense. "Faith. They let you out of jail."

"B," Faith replied, nodding solemnly at her. "They let you out of heaven."

Buffy stiffened, her green eyes sparking in anger. "I was taken out. What the hell are you doing here?"

Let out of heaven? Taken out? Okay, that was something else Jonathan had missed. Buffy had been dead? When?

"Slayer, she's not the enemy here." Spike stepped forward and settled a hand on Buffy's shoulder. She shrugged the hand off immediately, giving him an angry look, but she seemed to lose a little of her aggression at his words.

"As I suggested earlier," Wes butted in, "I think it would be best to explain everything at once, back at the Hyperion. The sooner the better. I'd prefer to have Dawn a little farther out of the firm's reach before we stop moving."

Buffy looked away from Faith and met his eyes for the first time. She froze half-way through a nod of agreement and stared at him for several seconds, then narrowed her eyes. "Okay. What are you, and what have you done with Wes?"

"He's still Wes," Faith said casually, hooking a thumb at him. "But he's Connor, too. It's a long story."

Buffy shook her head. "Connor who?"

Faith's eyebrows shot up. "Connor who?" she repeated in tones of outrage, and gave Angel a questioning look. "You didn't tell her?"

"Didn't tell me what?" Buffy asked sharply, staring at her ex-lover.

"Uhhh...." Angel winced.

Oh boy, thought Jonathan. Just exactly how many secrets were these people keeping from each other?

"They don't exactly talk," Wesley told Faith, ignoring Buffy and Angel. "Obviously. Otherwise she might have known that Wolfram and Hart was not the sort of law firm to bring one's little sister to."

"Hey!" the two under discussion exclaimed at the same time.

"Yo!" Gunn said suddenly, disrupting the tense little circle. "You, old guy. Where do you think you're going?"

Everyone's eyes went to Ethan, who had been quietly creeping away towards a cross-tunnel. "Well, it seems like this is my stop." He gave the assembled group a thin smile.

"Not so fast," Angel said, moving to block Ethan's path with an arm and an impressive glower. "I don't trust you as far as I can throw you. You're not going anywhere until we're ready to let you leave."

"That's IT!" Cordelia yelled. "We are going back to the hotel RIGHT NOW, before I have to go medieval on all of you. You'll just have to get along like good little children until then." She stormed past them all, much as Buffy had done a few minutes earlier, then stopped suddenly and gave Wes the evil eye. "And someone who isn't me should probably be doing the leading."

Somewhat sheepishly, although not without a lot of muttered comments, Cordelia's orders were obeyed. Faith took point, studiously ignoring Buffy, and Wesley walked by her side; the rest straggled out behind. Jonathan kept half an eye on Ethan as they went and noticed Spike and Gunn doing likewise. The rest seemed either lost in thought or else concentrating heavily on watching where they stepped.


The peace held until they got back to the hotel and climbed the stairs into the lobby, and sent Groo to deposit Dawn on one of the hotel's beds. Then everything fell to pieces.

"Okay." Buffy said, leaning against the counter with her arms crossed in front of her. She looked very fierce, despite her small stature, and Jonathan made himself as small as he could in the shadows against one of the walls. The less she thought about him while she was in this kind of mood, the better.

"Now. Tell me everything," she demanded, "starting with Angel."

The vampire in question looked around at the others for support, and discovered, unsurprisingly, that none of them were willing to make eye contact with him. "Well," he said, wincing again, "it all started a little over a year ago..." His voice trailed off.

"Yes?" Buffy prompted, impatiently.

Gunn cleared his throat and spoke up. "What Angel's trying to say is, Wolfram and Hart brought Darla back. He went dark and fired us all, then slept with her and got her pregnant."

"What?" Buffy stared at Gunn, green eyes wide. If she had been angry before, she wasn't now; she looked hurt instead, and deeply bewildered. "But he'd never..."

"Never what, Buffy?" Faith snapped. "Cheat on you? Move on? Or how about try to commit suicide? 'Cause that's what he was doing, you know."

"I never said he couldn't move on," Buffy protested. "But..." She turned back to Angel. "Darla? How? Why? I don't understand..."

Spike plainly did understand. "You bloody bastard!" he said angrily, moving menacingly closer to his grandsire. "You arrogant, self-centered git! There are easier ways to do it, you know. Ones that don't lead to evil wankers in leather pants who like to torture every sodding thing in sight."

"That wasn't what it was about," Angel growled, slipping into gameface. "And you'd do well not to challenge me, William. Helpless or not, you're still evil and I will put you down."

"Stop it, Angel. Spike. Both of you." The vampires broke off their mutual glare and turned towards the golden Slayer like chastised little boys. How much of this confrontation, Jonathan wondered idly, was because both of them were always trying to protect Buffy?

"So," she continued, swallowing down her anger. It still burned behind her eyes and wrinkled the lines around her mouth, but to her credit, she was keeping her voice calm. "You fucked Darla. Obviously you didn't go all Angelus, because you're still here and I haven't gotten any nasty presents. What happened next? Who's Connor?" Then she gasped suddenly, realizing the answer to her own question, and her eyes went wide again. "You had a kid? With Darla?!" Her voice rose in horror.

"It was only that one night," Angel protested weakly. "I had my epiphany, and she left. I didn't see her again until she came back, seven months pregnant."

Spike snorted. "It figures. We were the Scourge of Europe; the biggest of the baddest. Might as well have painted prophecy-targets on our arses. And of the four of us, of course it's the two with no humanity who were chosen to create it. Poetic, almost."

"Poetic?" Wesley blinked. "It hasn't felt poetic, from my perspective."

Buffy's stunned stare turned to Wesley. "Are you saying... but... that's... how is that possible?"

"A bit of dimension hopping, a time-traveling demon who hated Angel, and a lot of strange coincidences," Wesley said, heavily abbreviating the story. "It's all rather ironic, really."

Buffy stared a few moments longer, her eyes tracking back and forth from Angel's face to Wesley's and back again, then shook her head. "Okay. Buffy brain on meltdown. Let's change topics until I have a chance to digest that, or I'm going to do something really stupid. So. What was going on with those lawyers? Why did they want me and Dawn?"

"Just Dawn, luv," Spike corrected her. "They found out she's the Key."

That put some steel in the Slayer's spine. She jolted upright, and her voice went soft and dangerous. "Who do these lawyers think they are? That was all supposed to be over with when we got rid of Glory!"

Ethan, who settled on the couch with a watchful Gunn beside him, whistled softly. "Glorificus? Do you mean to say you children stopped a Hellgod?"

Buffy glared at him. "Remember that, next time you try to cross me."

"That explains a great many things," Ethan said, ignoring the threat. "If Dawn is indeed the Key she would be very valuable to any number of occult groups. There has been plenty of time, over the thousands of years of the Key's existence, to discover ways to access its energy."

"In this case," Wesley added, "Wolfram and Hart seem to have found a ritual to relocate the Hellmouth."

"They can do that?" Cordelia asked. "Move the Hellmouth? God. I wish they'd done that years ago; I might have actually had a normal life." Then she glanced over her shoulder at Groo. "Not that I'd want anything to happen to Dawn, or that the weirdness doesn't have its benefits."

"And what does my dad have to do with all of this?" Buffy demanded.

Wesley looked at Spike, and Spike sighed. "He wasn't your dad anymore, Slayer," the vampire said, gently. "Hadn't been for more than a year."

Buffy stared at him for a minute, processing that, and then her face crumpled. "No," she pleaded. "Not him, too. God! Is there anyone in my life who's safe from my calling? I know he wasn't perfect, but he was my dad!" She moved restlessly, pacing a few steps back and forth, then slammed a hand down on the counter. "Damn it!" Tears began welling up in her eyes.

Angel moved restlessly, half-reaching towards her and then pulling back, as though he wanted to comfort her but didn't think it was his place. Spike wasn't so hesitant; he immediately stepped forward and gently brushed a tear from her cheek with a pale hand. "Not your fault, luv. Not your fault. Blame the lawyers, blame Angel, blame Darla. Don't blame yourself; you did your job."

Buffy sniffled. She didn't lean into the comforting embrace Spike offered, but for once she wasn't pushing him away, either. Jonathan was pretty sure she wasn't even aware of most of her audience anymore. "Darla turned him?" she asked, her voice bleak, and glanced over Spike's shoulder at Angel. "She's dead again, right?"

"She staked herself to save her child, actually," Wesley said quietly.

Buffy gave him an uneasy glance, then tracked back to Spike's face and searched it wit her eyes, looking for something. "And I suppose he's dead, too?" she asked softly. It took Jonathan a second to realize that she was talking about her dad, not responding to Wesley.

Spike just nodded, slowly.

"God." Buffy leaned forward, resting her forehead on Spike's chest, and the chipped vampire's arms went carefully around her. Angel almost said something, but shut his mouth before any sounds could come out; Jonathan guessed that he didn't want to disrupt Buffy in the middle of her grief. There'd be time enough to flambé Spike for touching the Slayer when he wasn't serving as her buffer against the world.

Wesley sighed. "Buffy... would you like to go sit with your sister for a little while? There are decisions to be made, and I know this has all been very hard for you..."

She sniffled again, but didn't move. "No, I'll be okay. Just..." she sighed. "Could someone else call Giles and let him know what's going on? I don't think I'm up to it."

"He's not here?" Jonathan spoke up, puzzled. "I thought he was bringing you guys."

Buffy looked up from Spike's chest, finally registering Jonathan's presence. He shrank back, kicking himself for opening his mouth, but thankfully she didn't seem inclined to thrash him. Instead, she summoned back her Slayer glare and pushed Spike away. "You brought him down here, didn't you?" she accused. "He was supposed to wait until I got a chance to grill him, and you were supposed to do the patrols while I was gone. Damn it, Spike!"

Spike sighed and stuck his hands in his pockets. "You're getting off-topic again, Slayer. What happened to your Watcher?"

She took a deep breath and scrubbed the remnants of the tears out of her eyes. "Xander called him with something important just before we got into town," she said. "He said it wasn't Slayer-urgent, but since we didn't know how long the meeting would take, he thought he should drive back and help with whatever it was. I have cab money, and I knew we could probably crash here if we had to, so I said it was fine. Why? Do we need him here?"

"No, but another pair of trained eyes would have been useful," Wesley answered with a sigh. "I don't suppose any of the rest of you read Latin, or any other demonic or ancient languages?"

"I can help a little," Fred said softly. She'd been pretty quiet during the whole conversation, snuggled up against Gunn, but she perked up a little at the mention of research.

Gunn groaned. "Ain't there anything else we could be doing, like bashing some heads in?"

"How about securing the hotel?" Angel said. "Groo, you think you and Cordy can help him? Spike and I can put in some time on the bookwork, then start breaking out the weapons. If they want Dawn so bad, they'll be back for her, and we need to be ready."

"What?" Spike objected, loudly. "Me, doin' research?"

"Oh come on," Angel glared at him. "I know you, remember? And I remember exactly how much education you'd had before Dru turned you."

Spike scowled.

"I'll keep an eye on Ethan," Jonathan volunteered, before anyone could think to assign him a task. He had the feeling everyone might forget about the chaos mage if he didn't, and the man was kind of Jonathan's responsibility. Even if it should be the other way around. Why couldn't his birth parents have been normal people?

Faith sighed. "I'll keep you company, J. If I sit with the books too long I'll end up trying to slay them, and that wouldn't be pretty."

Wesley gave the dark Slayer a tired, amused smile. "Thank you, Faith. I appreciate your restraint."

That took everyone into account except the sleeping Dawn, the grieving Buffy, and...

"Hey everyone, how'd it go?" Lorne stepped into the hotel through the main doors, unwrapping a scarf along the way. He had a wide-brimmed hat on over his horns, and a non-descript coat over his flashy clothes. "Whoa, whoa... what's wrong? You're all radiating enough negativity to choke a thousand llamas."

Faith laughed suddenly. "Everyone, repeat after me..."

"...It's a long story."


Chapter Eighteen: And So It Is Written

"Wisest men Have erred, and by bad women been deceived; And shall again, pretend they ne'er so wise."
~John Milton

 

"I'll take that as my cue," Gunn said, standing up and stretching. "You'll be okay with the books, girl?"

Fred smiled up at him. "Of course, Charles. Books never hurt anyone. Well, except maybe the kind that summon portals..." She wrinkled her nose.

"Or the kind that demons are trapped in... Watch what you scan, guys, that one wasn't pretty." Buffy sounded tired and worn, not surprising given the sheer mass of disturbing news that she'd just heard, but her tone was light and she smiled slightly in Fred's direction.

"Okay, so maybe books aren't so safe," Fred said, laughing a little, "but I'm sure we can deal with 'em just fine. Go have fun, Charles."

Gunn dropped a brief kiss on his petite girlfriend's lips, then walked over to the weapons case and retrieved his faithful hubcap axe. "Cordy? Groo? You comin', guys?"

"Sure, why not?" Cordelia said. "Beats sitting around." She retrieved a pair of swords, handed one to Groo, then linked an arm through his and headed after Gunn toward the interior of the hotel.

"I think I'll check on Dawn." Buffy turned her faded smile on Wesley, tucking her hands in the back pockets of her jeans. "Um, to see if she's awake. Then I'll come see what's the what."

"Go ahead, Buffy, take all the time you like," Wesley assured her.

She nodded, chewing a little on her lower lip, then turned and walked slowly up the stairs. He couldn't help but notice how Spike watched her every step until she was out of sight, concern clear in the tilt of his head and the tension in his posture.

"And I guess we'll be in the kitchen," Faith said, brightly. She grinned at Wesley when he caught her eye, then grabbed a fistful of Jonathan's shirt and started towing him in the appropriate direction. "You have food, right, Angel?" she added as an afterthought.

"I do have human co-workers, you know," he said, shaking his head at her. "What do you think?"

"Just checking," she said archly, then turned to Ethan. "Coming?"

"I don't suppose I have much of a choice?" the chaos mage asked, with an ironic smile. He stood as he spoke, not bothering to wait for an answer, and followed his son and the Dark Slayer out of the lobby.

"Well." Lorne had finished divesting himself of coat, hat, and scarf, and blinked at the four people still remaining in the room. "They sure cleared out quick. Now can you tell me what's going on?"

Wesley sighed. He didn't really want to repeat all of that again... but then, Lorne didn't really need it, did he? He was an anagogic demon, after all. Wesley cleared his throat and sang a short, low verse, inspired by Spike's mood. "Ain't no sunshine when she's gone... It's not warm when she's away..."

Lorne abruptly clapped his hands over his ears. "Ah! Warn me when you're going to do that! Not that your voice is all that terrible, sweet cheeks, but that's a lot to dump on a guy all at once." He shuddered. "Poor kid. I'll never understand why the monks didn't make her a blackbelt in karate, or something useful, instead of just another California teenager."

"Well, did you see anything about what's coming, then?" Spike asked, intently.

Lorne shook his head, and rubbed at the base of one of his horns. "No. I'm starting to think the Powers That Be have a specific blockage on Wesley here, and whatever's going to happen is all tangled up with him. What happened today came through loud and clear, but the future's all fogged in."

"Well, to the books then," Fred said brightly. "There's got to be something in them."


Wesley debated several times over the next few hours whether he ought to tell Angel what had happened with the Vydd demons, or reveal the conversation he'd had in the vision with his vampiric double. Each time, he decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and kept his mouth shut. He'd been burned often enough by words and assumptions of meaning in the past; he disliked the thought of presenting any sort of suspicion without something concrete to back it up.

It came as a slight shock to realize that the only one in the room keeping up with his voracious pace through the reference books was Spike. Wesley had long since learned that the Council's blurb on William the Bloody was inaccurate as to age and the details of the vampire's turning, but he'd never seen reason to doubt its hints of a rough youth and lower-class heritage. He'd certainly never expected to see the vampire as he appeared now, poring over pages in multiple languages, muttering to himself as he read. Spike even had a pair of glasses perched on his nose that he'd retrieved from some internal pocket of his duster.

Abruptly, Wesley was reminded of the chipped vampire's earlier words about the line of Aurelius. "Ah, Spike?" he began, settling his current book back on the table they were seated around.

"What?" he asked irritably, blinking up at Wesley over the lenses of his glasses. "I'm in the middle of a rather difficult passage."

Good Lord. Where had the lower-class accent gone? This man... vampire... certainly was a mass of contradictions. Wesley wondered suddenly just how many prophecies centered around him.

"Watcher?" Spike frowned. The accent, and the raised eyebrow, made a reappearance.

"Sorry," Wesley said, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Woolgathering. When the demon mentioned the golden child, back at Wolfram and Hart, you told me that there were a series of prophecies specific to the line of Aurelius. Do you remember anything else about them? It could be important."

"Oh, that." Spike shut the book in front of him with a snap, and sighed.

"What do you mean, specific prophecies?" Angel looked up from the Latin text he was paging through, and furrowed his brow at his grandchilde. "I never heard of them."

"Well, you weren't exactly the Master's favorite scion, now were you?" Spike said, dryly. "I don't know as he even told Darla about most of them, after she left him for you. I only found out a few years back, in Prague, when Dru was ill. She told me how she used to tell the old bat stories about the things Miss Edith said, and how he wrote them down in a journal with a lot of other odds and ends. So I looked it up when I brought her to the Hellmouth."

"Do you have a copy?" Wesley asked, fascinated. Drusilla was mad and quite evil, but she had a genuine seer's gift. It would be quite enlightening to see what she'd had to say over the years.

Spike shook his head, squelching that notion. "Not anymore. Dru took it with her when she left the last time. I do remember, though, that there were a lot of references in it to the golden child, mortal born of Aurelius' line. Some of it was even from before Dru's time. Her bits were just as likely to call him the Destroyer, and she talked a lot about the darkness that shall travel in his wake, demons kneeling at his feet, and streets running thick with blood. Etcetera."

Fred spoke up softly, her nose scrunched up in dismay. "Not very happy prophecies, are they?"

"Well, I have yet to meet a happy prophecy," Lorne said, aiming a reassuring smile at her. "But you're all still here, aren't you? You've outwitted prophecies before."

"Survived them," Wesley corrected him, "not outwitted them. The one about the father killing the son turned out to be true, after all." He glanced apologetically at Angel for bringing the subject up, then sighed. "I just wish we could find something useful. You'd think there would be some reference to yet another threat to the Hellmouth..."

"Hey, wait," Fred said suddenly. "I just remembered something..." She flipped back several pages, and traced a finger down a line of text. "What was that thing you called Dawn? Key, or something? I thought this was just another piece of poetry, but it mentions the Mouth of Hell..."

Wesley perked up and checked the spine of the book Fred was working from. It was written in English, surprisingly, in the eighteenth century; rather recent for a book of prophecies. It had been on the stack of "read eventually" for awhile now, pushed aside by other, more important texts.

"Here it is," Fred exclaimed.

"When the Thirteen take their stand 'gainst Devils' law
In the City that the angels gave their name
The Mouth of Hell shall gape and bring forth fire,
Called into focus by the Key of Blood.
Then shall the Chosen make their choices four
And ever after fight they for the Rule."

Wesley counted swiftly. Including Lorne, there were indeed thirteen people in the hotel, and they were all awaiting an attack by Wolfram and Hart. The second line was rather obvious, as was the third, referring to Los Angeles and the Hellmouth respectively. The fourth clearly referred to...

He broke off his train of thought as a sick feeling began to settle in the pit of his stomach. "Blood."

Spike snorted. "It's always got to be blood, hasn't it?"

"No, you don't understand..." He pushed his chair back and stood, running out into the lobby. Buffy had come back downstairs, fortunately, and Dawn was sitting right beside her, slightly drowsy but awake.

"Wes?" Buffy asked, startled at his sudden appearance. "What's the what?"

"You said needles," he asked her, urgently. "The lawyers came after you with needles. Did they take any blood?"

She frowned at him. "I don't know, it kinda all fades to black when I try to think about it. The drugs they gave us were pretty heavy duty stuff."

"Check," he urged her. "And you as well, Dawn, if you don't mind. A needle mark along a major vein, or..."

"Hey!" Buffy exclaimed, rubbing at the small red spot on the inside of her elbow. "They did!"

"Uh oh," Dawn said, quietly. "This isn't going to be like the last time some bad guy wanted my blood, is it?"

"Wait a minute," Faith spoke up. She, Jonathan, and Ethan had been playing a card game on the floor at one edge of the lobby, but something in the conversation appeared to have caught her attention. She laid her hand down on the carpet, face-up, and stood, rubbing the soft skin on the inside of her arm. "There's something going on to do with blood? A couple of Watcher guys came by yesterday, just before Lilah released me, and took some. They said they were testing it for something."

The other two players stood up also, leaving their cards scattered on the floor. Ethan narrowed his eyes, looking thoughtful. "The sacrifice they were talking about... If they were using one of the older blood magic rituals..." His expression soured. "They took some of my blood as well, claiming that they were testing it to make sure I was an appropriately powerful sacrificial subject."

Wesley sighed heavily. "They already have some of mine, thanks to Lilah's machinations just after I was born. I'd wager that all thirteen of us, in fact, have provided them samples at one point or another, either today or through other recent schemes."

"So what do you think it means?" Buffy asked.

"Besides the fact that we just proved some of the Council is on the wrong side, and that the lawyer guys tricked us?" Faith said, bitterly.

"Thirteen is an obvious ritual number," Wesley said, quietly. "And we already know what ritual they were planning to perform."

As if on cue, the ground underfoot began to rumble, gently shaking the foundations of the hotel.


Chapter Nineteen: Destiny in the Balance

"Much that we call evil is really good in disguises; and we should not quarrel rashly with adversities not yet understood, nor overlook the mercies often bound up in them."
~Horace Mann

 

The rumbling continued for a few seconds, then stopped, leaving the hotel still and quiet.

"So it's true, then," Dawn said, in a scared, determined young voice. "They're moving the Hellmouth to L.A."

Jonathan looked down at the cards at his feet. He'd been just about to win this round, and finally getting to see a more positive side of Ethan, too. "Evil has no sense of timing," he muttered. Irritably, he kicked out at the draw pile and watched the little rectangles of plasticized cardboard fly every which way.

"I take it you found something in the books," Ethan said, frowning at Wesley.

"Yes," he sighed. "Unfortunately. There was a book of recent English prophecies I hadn't got around to investigating, and Fred found something in it."

He glanced over at Fred, who had followed Wesley from their meeting room. She cleared her throat and looked down at the hefty book she was holding, then began to read.

"When the Thirteen take their stand 'gainst Devils' law
In the City that the angels gave their name
The Mouth of Hell shall gape and bring forth fire,
Called into focus by the Key of Blood.
Then shall the Chosen make their choices four
And ever after fight they for the Rule."

Jonathan glanced around the lobby while Fred spoke. Everyone was filtering back in; it was like the minor earthquake had been a meeting bell. Groo and Cordy looked a little, ahem, disheveled, and Spike had got a pair of reading glasses from somewhere that were subverting his Big Bad look, but otherwise they all looked as grim and ready-for-whatever-happens as they had walking into the hotel several hours earlier.

"So you're thinking this Key of Blood thing isn't a big sacrifice like they were pretending, just one of those nasty rituals where they boil up all our blood and cast a big spell with it." Faith scowled, crossing her arms, and drifted towards the couch where Wesley still stood facing Buffy and Dawn.

"I'd imagine so, yes," Wesley answered her, staring off into the distance with a worried look on his face.

"Yuck." Gunn made a face. "Doesn't that sound tasty."

"Which brings us to the fifth line, the Chosen part," Buffy said, firmly. "Which means me and Faith, right? What does it mean about 'choices four?' What kind of choices? And do we each get two, or four, or do we have to make them all together, or what?"

"Actually, none of the above," a new voice announced.

All heads turned towards the staircase. A man Jonathan had never seen before was descending, one hand on the rail and the other in the pocket of his coat. He was wearing a hat and a slightly smug expression.

"Whistler," Angel said, surprised.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Buffy exclaimed, scrambling to her feet.

"Hey, long time no see," Whistler joked, ignoring Buffy's question. "You know, it's funny, but that spell the lawyers were using? It called for thirteen different individual essences. I wonder what they'll do when they realize they only got twelve?"

"You're... a balance demon, aren't you?" Wesley said, staring intently at the intruder. "In the service of the Powers. Something hasn't gone according to plan."

"Well, aren't you a bright boy," the demon continued, smirking. He reached the ground floor and paused, glancing around at the varied group in the lobby. "My, my. A lot of big players in here."

"When you say they only got twelve," Buffy addressed him cautiously, "you're not talking about them accidentally missing a person, are you?"

"More like doubling up on one," Whistler said, and his gaze slid to Dawn. "When you're using such a powerful energy source, you've got to be careful how much you put in."

The rumbling began again; a few bits of plaster drifted down from the high ceiling before it settled down, several seconds later.

Buffy took a few steps to the side, placing herself protectively between Dawn and Whistler. "You mean, because the monks made her out of me?" she asked, frowning.

"Yeah. We wondered if you'd forgotten that." The balance demon walked slowly forward, closing the distance between him and the blonde Slayer. "Metaphysically speaking, the two of you are pretty much considered identical. Which brings us back to the whole Chosen situation..."

"No," Buffy cut him off, firmly. "Tell me you're not suggesting what I think you're suggesting."

Jonathan hadn't the least idea what they were talking about, except that it had more to do some secret identity of Dawn's, which he'd never heard of before this week. All the same, it was obvious to him that the subject was extremely important. There was enough tension crackling in the air to power half the city, and everyone not involved in the conversation was watching with bated breath.

"Sorry, kid," Whistler said. "I don't make the plans. I just nudge them back on track." He shrugged, then turned and started walking back up the stairs. "I think you can figure out the rest of it for yourselves."

Behind Buffy, Dawn pulled her feet up onto the couch and wrapped her arms around her knees, making herself smaller. "I'm going to be a Slayer?" she said quietly, looking shocked.

"Wait," Wesley raised his voice. "Can't you at least tell us what that omission means for their plan, or what sort of choices we'll have to make?"

Whistler turned, his foot on the first step, and grinned back at Wesley. "Didn't I say you were bright? You have to realize, the Powers couldn't possibly allow so many powerful warriors for Light to exist all at once without creating a counterbalance-- they don't want the world to end any more than the rest of you do. As for the lawyers, well, let's just say the Hellmouth has lost its anchor." Without further ado, he hurried up the rest of the stairs.

There was a collective intake of breath as soon as he disappeared from sight, as if everyone had been frozen in place and were suddenly able to move.

"An unanchored Hellmouth..." Ethan was the first to break the silence, musing aloud. "The level of chaos that will create..."

"Wes?" Buffy's gaze bored into the ex-Watcher. "You're the book guy. Explain it to me."

"You do know that the Hellmouth hasn't always been fixed in Sunnydale," Wesley said slowly. His face was set and pale, as though he were more statue than person at the moment.

"That's bleedin' obvious, if you've ever been to London," Spike interrupted. "You can feel it there, like the scent of smoke on your jacket when you've left a bar. It lingers."

Wesley nodded slowly. "Yes. You might imagine it as a sort of mystical magnetic north pole... it realigns naturally every few centuries, slowly following the major shifts in metaphysical energy. The process has been forced once or twice when someone sought to seal the Hellmouth permanently. It never worked, obviously; at best, they only managed to temporarily uproot it, whereupon it shifted to the next most powerful hotspot. Inevitably, earthquakes, fire, and heavy demonic activity occurred before it tied itself once more to the Earth. If that anchor has been removed entirely..."

"You get a free-floating portal to the stuff of nightmares," Fred guessed, wide-eyed. "Every time someone does something big enough to attract the attention of the dark energies... Poof, here it comes."

"They believe they are successful, then," Groo put in his two cents. "These lawyers. When it moves on, they will be less than pleased."

"They're not the only ones," Gunn said, tapping the flat of the axe blade against his hand. "What a mess. Hey... I don't suppose this is that Tro-Clon thing we were all worried about back when?"

Wesley turned to him, startled. "What do you mean?"

"You know," Gunn said. "That part you were worried about translating, that could mean the ruination or purification of mankind. I'd say something like this could do it-- man, there'll be demons everywhere."

"But I thought that was talking about, um, Connor," Cordelia said, glancing worriedly at Wesley.

"No," Fred shook her head, clutching the book of prophecies like a shield. "We decided the Tro-Clon was this whole confluence of events thing. I guess you could say he's part of it, but I think this entire week, everything was part of it. Especially this problem with the Hellmouth."

"Tro-Clon?" Buffy asked tiredly, then shook her head and took a deep breath. "Never mind. You know, this whole keeping secrets thing has got to go. I don't pretend to understand any of this, especially the whole Connor issue..." She wrinkled her forehead in Angel's direction again, then shifted her gaze back to Wesley. "But I am a hundred percent sure sure I heard you tell him 'we', Wes. As in 'choices we'll have to make'. What's up with that?"

"Yeah, Wes," Faith said, frowning at him. "I thought Slayers didn't come in male."

Wesley scrubbed a hand over the stubble on his face and sat down unsteadily. "Not a Slayer," he said. "According to... well, there's nothing conclusive, but a combination of fragmentary prophecy, old Daywalker legends, a conversation I had in a vision, and what Whistler said about balance..."

"Don't babble, Wes." Angel's voice sounded tight, and he cleared his throat. "Spit it out. You think you're this Destroyer Spike mentioned. You think you're supposed to be evil."

"Well... yes. There are three Slayers right now, after all, or will be, once Dawn reaches the age at which Buffy received her calling. That's unprecedented, and obviously it makes sense to create an anti-Slayer of sorts to counterbalance." Wesley sighed heavily. "It fits all of the signs."

"Well, fuck that," Faith poked him in the chest with an index finger. "The cryptic guy said we each get a choice. Choose not to be evil. If I can do it, you can."

"I don't think it's that simple," Wesley pushed her hand away and buried his face in his hands.

"Nothing ever is," Lorne spoke softly. "Look. Whistler likes to present himself as being all Light and good, but he's a balance demon, Wes, pretty high up in the ranks. He shows up to even the score, not to choose one side over the other. It's possible he's promoting evil this time, in which case, he could be trying to sow discord on purpose. Don't just take this as gospel."

Fred piped up. "And, well, maybe the Powers didn't see the time-travel thing coming. I mean, they haven't sent Cordelia any visions about any of this, right? Maybe if you had stayed in Quartoth, or something, you would have ended up a lot darker."

"Well, that's certainly an optimistic way to look at it," Spike said, dryly. "Tell the man all of Heaven's against him."

"Wait, back up," Cordelia started pacing, waving her hands around. "We keep calling this guy a balance demon. He, like, measures which side is winning, and when they get too far ahead, he shows up to smack them down. Right?"

Spike chuckled. "Roughly, yeah."

"Where are you going with this, Cordy?" Angel narrowed his eyes, watching the seer pace.

"The last line of that poem, dorks. 'And ever after fight they for the Rule'. Isn't Rule archaic-speak for a set of standards, like a ruler, or something? Which is totally a measuring tool. I mean, I don't think you guys are honestly going to beat each other up over who gets to be King of the Hellmouth, so what else could it mean?"

"She does the most astonishing things to the English language," Ethan said, under his breath.

"Shhh," Jonathan frowned at him.

"Soooo..." Buffy said, slowly. "You're thinking, what. We get to do a balancing act?"

"Hey." Dawn sat up straight, putting her feet back on the floor. "Actually, guys, that kind of makes sense. We've got this huge new threat, right? A mobile Hellmouth. Which would make with the mega-darkness. What if they allowed that in order to cancel out Wes turning out good? And Faith too, probably. I mean, if she was still evil, and he was evil, that would be two on two, but right now it's four against nothing. Well, that we know of; Glory might have counted, but she's dead. So hello, big nasty problem."

Silence.

Out of all the options, Jonathan thought that last one sounded the least painful for everyone concerned. "Uh, I vote for Dawn's interpretation."

"What do you think, Wes?" Angel asked his son, softly.

Hope began spilling into the ex-Watcher's expression. "It's... it does sound possible, actually. I'll have to do some more research..."

The earth shook for a third time, brief and sharp, like an aftershock.

"You do that," Buffy said. "But let's worry about it later, okay? Because I'm starting to think it's a very bad idea to leave the lawyers in control of the Hellmouth, even if it's not going to stay there very long."


Chapter Twenty: Aftermath

"The future is made of the same stuff as the present."
Simone Weil

 

Wesley ran one finger across the titles on his bookshelf, relying more on texture than sight to tell him what he was touching. He was still lost in images of what they'd found at Wolfram and Hart, the sheer volume of darkness and chaos that an unstable Hellmouth could bring.

The police had arrived two hours after the first earth tremor, and the fire department shortly afterward. Whatever demonic creatures hadn't escaped in the first twenty minutes or so were already dead by then, either killed by the Chosen and their companions or else trapped and crushed in the collapse of the burning building.

The destruction hadn't been so heavy when Wesley and the others first arrived, although the structure had been obviously damaged. The lawyers apparently hadn't considered the fact that a Hellmouth typically created a deep wound in the Earth, and even in its unanchored state it was taking the form it always had. More worrying were the noises that could be heard coming from the interior of the building, and the grotesque shadows of beings disappearing into the dusk.

It seemed that the man in charge of the Hellmouth project hadn't been content to have the portal and the powerful evil aura it emitted under his control; he'd cracked it wide open. Wesley paused a moment in his remembering to imagine Linwood Murrow being questioned by the Senior Partners for this oversight, and allowed himself a slight smile. If Linwood hadn't been so greedy, and of course if the ritual had been done properly in the first place, 'Hell's Own Law Firm' would have had a perpetual dark energy source under their direct control. Instead, they had suffered a painful loss.

Of course, he was only guessing about Linwood's involvement, as none of the Thirteen had made it down to the basement to be certain. They'd attempted to fight their way in and retrieve anyone still living, evil or not, but all they had encountered were corpses, many of them mangled beyond recognition, and all manner of demons roaming the halls.

Cordelia had applied her new glowing power, but it exhausted her with every use and its range dropped drastically as she tired, leaving her weak and dependent upon Groo to even walk. The vampires, along with Wesley, Faith, and Buffy, had fought hard, but some of the creatures that had come from the open Hellmouth were strong enough that it took all five of them to put one down, and there were just too many. The remainder of their group had been guarding the exits with crossbow, axe, and magic, but they also were hard pressed.

Finally, Angel had called retreat and gathered the full group back together on the street. There was nothing to be done but to choke the open Hellmouth with rubble, then attempt to find a way to close it again before it moved onward. Ethan had known an appropriate spell, fortunately, and together with Jonathan and Wesley had further weakened the supports inside the structure until it collapsed inward, lit from beneath with flickering flames.

There was no way to tell if any of the Wolfram and Hart employees or other prisoners had made it out alive. There was still a Hellmouth to close and a city to cleanse of the demons who had escaped. And yet, the problem that kept returning to Wesley's mind was none of the above... it was the fact that he had enjoyed that battle more than almost anything else in his entire life.

The strength, the speed, the adrenaline, the triumph of destroying their opponents, and the rush of fighting back to back with his Slayer and matching her blow for blow had been intoxicating. More than that, he'd been able to sense the aura of the Hellmouth itself-- and had been both disturbed and excited by the contact. Even now, if he concentrated, he could sense it, pulsing at the edges of his awareness.

Wesley sighed and blinked back to the present, pulling the volume he'd been looking for from the shelf. As Buffy had said earlier, now was not the time to worry about his destiny or their choices. They had more urgent duties to perform.

He turned to the doorway, book in hand, and flinched as he came face to face with Angel. The souled vampire was leaning against the doorframe, hands in his pockets and a pensive expression on his face.

"Hey, Wes," he said, quietly. "How are you doing?"

Wesley blinked at him, then gestured with the book. "I've, ah, found the reference I was looking for. I'm fairly sure there's a suitable method of closing the Hellmouth detailed within. After that..."

"I asked, how are you doing," Angel said, patiently.

Wesley sighed. "It's all... very difficult to absorb. So much has happened... it will be weeks before it all sinks in, I think. And there are still choices to be made..."

"You aren't evil, you know," Angel assured him. "Trust me. I've been evil. So you found out there's a lot more darkness in you than you're comfortable with. That doesn't have to mean anything. Listen to Faith... you're not the only one with shadows, Wes."

"Fatherly advice?" Wesley summoned up a faint smile. "Don't worry, I won't make any rash decisions. There is much to be done, and I plan on taking things one day at a time."

Angel nodded. "Probably a good plan." He dropped his eyes towards the floor again, but paused as he caught sight of the book in Wesley's hands. "Um, Wes? I didn't know there were rituals in 'Modern British Poetry'."

Wesley glanced down and colored slightly. Same color, same shape... wrong volume. "Ah, there aren't..."

Angel quirked a grin and clapped Wesley on the shoulder. "Don't worry about it. Buffy's still trying to get ahold of Giles, and Cordy's in the shower; you're not exactly holding up the meeting. Oh, and that reminds me." He raised his eyebrows and examined Wesley's blue shirt, stained with sweat, slime, and ash from the day's activities. "What was with the matching ensembles today? You and Faith, I mean."

Wesley smiled back. Now, that was one part of the week's strange events that he did not regret in the least. "She picked it out for me this morning," he said. He didn't bother to spell out what that meant; Angel would be able to smell that nothing had 'happened', after all, but a little light-hearted teasing felt good after the heaviness of recent events.

Angel just shook his head. "Be careful, Wes. Relationships with Slayers tend to be pretty difficult."

((This is not Mission Difficult, Mr. Hunt...))

Wesley's smile widened. "Yes Dad, I'll be careful."

Now it was Angel's turn to look embarrassed, in a pleased sort of way. "Right." He cleared his throat, and ambled back out of the room.

Wesley had just turned back to the shelves to locate the book he'd really meant to take, when he heard another footstep behind him, and a dry British voice.

"Hullo, Wes. Am I free to go yet?"

"Ethan." Wesley sighed. "Why not ask Angel? He's the one who threatened you. Or better yet, Jonathan." He really wasn't in the mood to deal with the chaos mage. The man had been helpful during their battle at the Hellmouth, but his loyalties were capricious, at best.

Ethan shrugged, his expression shuttered. "I thought you'd be easier to convince. Besides..." He paused, thoughtfully. "I was jailed for two years, under repeated mental and physical torture. I'm still rediscovering what it is to be Ethan Rayne, and my little session as a guest of the law firm didn't help. I think... given time, I will return, but I do need time."

Wesley stared at the older man, frankly surprised that he'd been so frank, and that he'd even suggested returning. He knew that Ethan had some idea of making a protege out of Jonathan, but he also knew the boy had refused the offer more than once. "You plan to come back?"

"Oh, don't sound so shocked," Ethan said, and his full, mischievous grin came out to play. "You lot have got a balance demon messing about with your destinies, and you don't think the Chaos Mage wants a chance to help you turn up your collective nose at him?"

That surprised a chuckle out of him. "Ah, now there's the Ethan Rayne I remember."

Ethan's expression sobered. "Have you ever wondered what might have happened, had you not turned me in that day in the Council library?"

Oh, had he ever; for one thing, he'd never have met Halfrek and made that confusing wish. Wesley swallowed. "I was only eleven; I had no idea what trouble I was getting you into."

Ethan sighed. "I liked to pretend I was tempting Ripper back to the streets, but in truth, he had just as much chance of luring me back to the Council. Perhaps better; he was always more stubborn than I, but you shut the door on that possibility for good."

"Wait, you were going to be a Watcher?" That was news. "Do you mean to tell me you're one of those Raynes?"

Ethan nodded. "I rejected the family calling much earlier than Ripper did, of course, but we'd met at Council activities before that. That's how he knew where to go in London when he rebelled."

Wesley narrowed his eyes. There was something else going on here, beyond the whole ex-Watcher thing. "Why are you telling me this, Ethan?"

The sorcerer put his hands in his pockets and looked back over his shoulder towards the lobby, where the sounds of Faith and Dawn sniping good-naturedly at each other could be heard. "I'm not sure yet," he said, quietly. "Let's talk more when I return, shall we?" He tilted his head, questioningly, and Wesley realized he was still tacitly asking permission to go.

"I may regret this," he answered, "but... all right."

Ethan gave him a terse nod, then turned and left.

Curiouser and curiouser, Wesley thought. I wonder if he spoke to Jonathan about any of this? And... Well, speak of the devil... I wonder if everyone intends to parade through my office before the evening's out?

He took a step back, settling on the edge of the desk before greeting his latest visitor. Might as well get more comfortable. "Yes, Jonathan?"

"Hey. I, um, saw Ethan come by? And I just wanted to tell you, well, I haven't reconsidered." The boy took a deep breath, then continued before Wesley could think of an appropriate response. "I mean, I'm not going with him. I'd like to stay here, with you guys, no matter what you choose to do. If he happens to stop by ever again, I'm not against getting to know him a little better, but..." he shrugged. "That is, if it's okay for me to stay?"

"Of course," Wesley reassured him. "I thought we already made that clear."

"Um, not so much spelled out," Jonathan said, scuffing the toe of one shoe against the floor. "You know, this is going to sound kind of silly, but when Spike was driving me back here last night I had the strangest feeling, like my destiny was waiting for me. I know I'm pretty new at the White Hat thing, or grey hat, or whatever you guys are, but I don't think I'm going to backslide. I really want to make it work."

"You will," he responded, with as much conviction as he could.

"Thanks, man." Jonathan turned to leave, looking a little more at peace with himself.

Wesley thought he heard another footstep outside the door, and smiled wryly. "Oh, and do send in whoever's next," he called after the boy.

"Hey, how'd you know I was out here?" Faith playfully jostled the confused Jonathan in the doorway, then squeezed past him and strutted forward until she stood right in front of Wesley.

She was close enough to touch. He cleared his throat, trying to sound nonchalant. "A good guess, it would seem."

She smiled, and reached out to touch his grimy shirt. "Hey, look, we still match," she joked. Her clothes were just as filthy as his, but somehow she still managed to exude a dangerous sort of beauty that was as intoxicating to him now as it had been alarming a couple of years ago. Of course, it helped that she seemed to have grown up during that time; enough, anyway, that he need not fear for his life, and that what he was beginning to hope for no longer qualified as statutory rape.

He winced at the reminder of the difference in their ages, and Faith shook her head at him, smiling wickedly. "Hey, I must be doing something wrong if I got a reaction like that. Hmmmm. Let's see if I can fix it."

She leaned forward abruptly, gripping his shoulders with Slayer-strong hands, and molded her mouth to his. Instinctively, he dropped the book he'd been holding, sliding his hands up under the edge of her shirt to rest against the warm skin at her waist.

"Mmmmm. I knew this would be good," she mumbled against his mouth, and pulled away just long enough to slam the door to his office shut.

Unnoticed on the floor, the book Wesley had accidentally chosen fell open to a natural crease in the spine. Much-read words faced up at the ceiling, words that had fortified Wesley's spirit in the past and would again, when he remembered to pick the book up. For the moment, however, it could wait.


Invictus
~by William Ernest Henley

OUT of the night that covers me,
   Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
   For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
   I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
   My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
   Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
   Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
   How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
   I am the captain of my soul.

 

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