|Navigation: Home About News Fiction Links Email|
Fan Fiction: Lesser Men
Chapter Three: Passing in the Night
The trip from Sunnydale to L.A. was longer than Jonathan remembered, and twice as boring. He'd been dreading the possibility of a talkative cabby, but he soon found out that a silent one was even worse. There was nothing to do but re-read half of his favorite comics and worry about what he was going to do next.
He did manage to pry one thing out of the quiet driver-- when the guy wanted a destination, Jonathan asked for the name of a cheap, inconspicuous hotel where he could crash for the night. The last thing he wanted to do was flash his money around, his first night in the city. It wasn't like it would last forever anyway, he didn't need to invite muggers.
The cabby stopped for gas about halfway to L.A. Jonathan would have waited in the car, but the guy suddenly got insistent, ordering him to go to the mini-mart and buy himself a snack, "Gum, anything." The sudden change from taciturn to voluble threw him a little, and Jonathan briefly wondered if there was something up with his breath. Finally, he shrugged and gave in. He didn't want to piss off his transportation.
It was good, anyway, to get out of the car and stretch his legs. His too-long legs. They were more cramped by the journey than he'd been expecting. Which was stupid, since he had practiced. But then, he'd had more than twenty years to learn the behavior of his own shape; he'd had much less time to get used to this other.
The cashier smiled at Jonathan when he stepped through the door. "Hey. Carlos bring you?" the teenager asked cheerfully, then looked down and plucked a penny from the spare change dish. An expert flick of the fingers, and the penny went spinning across the countertop, making a buzzing circle across the hardened plastic until it toppled to a halt.
Carlos? Jonathan tried to picture the ID he had barely glanced at, and failed pretty miserably. But the name sounded right. "I think so," Jonathan said. "Does he stop here very often?"
"Of course," the cashier said, still smiling. "He's the best delivery guy in the area."
Delivery? That sounded wrong. And whoa, looked wrong too! Jonathan blinked in surprise as the cheeful, bored teenager behind the counter became something altogether different.
"Oh, not even!" he exclaimed. "I thought I left this behind in Sunnydale!"
"Not all of us are suicidal enough to live on the Hellmouth," the vampire said, displaying his fangs as he leaped over the counter. "So tell me. Is the Slayer as pretty as they say?"
Well, it was a good thing he always carried a stake, just-in-case. The vamps around here didn't seem to expect their prey to fight back, either, because it was the shortest fight Jonathan had ever participated in. Instinct had the sharpened piece of wood in his hand inside of a second, and the vampire had impaled himself on it through sheer momentum three seconds after that.
"I don't know," Jonathan answered him. "What do they say?"
The vampire's only answer was a strangled moan as he crumbled away, sifting onto the mini-mart's tiled floor.
Jonathan indulged in a brief bout of the shakes, then pocketed the stake and grabbed a few things off the shelves. He didn't have any holy water on him, but some garlic powder would hopefully work for what he needed. God bless whoever started stocking these places with basic kitchen necessities for those late-at-night cooking emergencies.
The cabby looked startled to see Jonathan again, and even more startled when he got a cloud of garlic powder in the face. He doubled over coughing, backing around the car, watching Jonathan with frightened, watering eyes.
"Oh, this is just great," Jonathan said, bitterly. "You play delivery boy for vampires, and you aren't even undead?"
The guy bolted, stumbling off into the darkness as fast as he could.
Jonathan sighed. He didn't like driving, had never owned a car, but there was nothing else for it. He did have his license, after all, and besides, he didn't exactly have to be careful with the cab. He could ditch it a few blocks from that hotel the guy mentioned, and never worry about it again. Surely, since the cabby expected him to be dead before he reached L.A., the guy wouldn't have lied about the hotel?
After a little practice (if you define "practice" as trying to get out of the parking lot) Jonathan felt tentatively confident enough to proceed. He got back on the freeway without too much trouble, then spent the rest of the drive on tenterhooks, watching exit-signs like a hawk. He indulged in a moment of pride when he reached his destination without ever having once been more than two minutes' worth of lost, then resolutely drove on and ditched the cab several blocks away.
When his feet brought him back to the sidewalk in front of the hotel, Jonathan took a moment to look around, and felt obscurely comforted. The Trio had spent a couple of days in one of Sunnydale's seedy motels when they'd fled from Warren's mom's basement, and this hotel looked a lot like that one. Cheap, trashy, and reassuringly familiar. And there was no sign of vampires around.
He went through the motions of paying for a room at the front desk, barely listening to what the manager said as he tried to stifle his yawns. Then, he went looking for the door with his number on it. Unfortunately, it really did seem to have his number, in the sense that it was winning their little struggle.
Maybe this disguise thing hadn't been such a good idea, he thought. Sure, it made him anonymous. It added twelve inches to his height, several more to his shoulders, and made him look really buff. But inside it all, he still only had the strength of Jonathan. Which meant he looked like an idiot right now, trying to open this stupid door.
"Oh, it sticks a little sometimes," Jonathan muttered under his breath, "but I'm sure you'll have no trouble with it." He should have known the minute those words left the manager's mouth that he was gonna be in trouble. "Come on..."
He heard a snicker from across the hall, and felt his neck start to turn red with embarrassment. "This is just great. Forget my looks, they'll track me by my stupidity." He went into full Jonathan-pout, an expression rather foreign to his current face, then kicked at the door in frustration.
"Owwww!" If he'd looked stupid before, he must look really lame now, hopping around on one foot and clutching at the other with oversized hands.
"Ah, perhaps it might help if you tried the key...?"
Jonathan paused mid-hop and blinked at the speaker. Tall, British-sounding, and ow, was that a bloody bandage around his neck? A vampire victim, maybe? He froze, watching for several seconds until he was sure he saw the other man take a breath.
"Or you could just stand there like that all night. Up to you, I suppose."
Jonathan watched the British guy stick a key into a knob across the hall, turn it, and walk in. It wasn't until the door shut behind the man that he realized he knew him from somewhere.
"British, but not Mr. Giles," he said, frowning, and let go of his foot. "British, but not Spike. British, but... Oh!" A memory surfaced of a clean-shaven teacher-type in a suit, a dapper twin to the bedraggled man he'd just seen. The guy had been around the school for awhile, just before Graduation, and Jonathan thought he remembered seeing him carried away in an ambulance after the school blew up.
It was that other Watcher, the one who hadn't stayed very long. What was he doing here? Jonathan was glad he'd only taken the room for one night; the man might not recognize him, but he'd certainly recongize the name Jonathan had used to sign for the room. At least, if he ever still talked to Mr. Giles.
Suddenly, the Watcher's words registered. Key? But he'd already...
"D'oh." Jonathan pulled the key from his pocket, inserted it in the keyhole, and turned it. Then he gave the door a half-hearted shove, expecting it to mock him as stubbornly as ever.
The door swung open easily. Of course.
With a groan, Jonathan stepped into the room and let the door slam shut. He felt like that guy in "Island City," something-22. Greg? The one with the green code, who couldn't do anything right, no matter how many brains he had. It really was too bad they hadn't made that show into a series.
The room was pretty standard, for a cheap hotel. Single bed, yellow walls, saggy ceiling with an amoeba-shaped waterstain. No air conditioning. No little fridge to put beer in, if he'd had any. Not exactly a place that screamed "ex-Crime-Lord", but who needed luxury, anyway?
Jonathan tossed his duffel into a corner, then walked over to the bed. Shower first, or just crash? Despite the smell, that mattress was looking awfully soft...
With a weary groan, Jonathan flopped on the bed. So what if he woke up Jonathan-sized again, with grime in his hair and clothes that didn't fit? He'd have plenty of time to take care of that in the morning. What else did he have to do?
Jonathan spent most of Thursday morning sleeping, and most of Thursday afternoon, too. Sleep deprivation and nervousness, not to mention magic and an encounter with a vampire, had taken a heavy toll on his reserves over the past weeks. In a perfect world, he would have gone on sleeping for another several hours, but if it were a perfect world, then what would he be doing here anyway?
The shrill ringing sound attacked his eardrums again, and Jonathan flinched. With a groan, he rolled over and flailed at the phone. After a few wild swings, he reached the receiver, and tried blindly to pick it up. For some reason, he was having a problem with his grip...?
"Unh?" Jonathan cracked an eyelid open, and squinted at the offending hand. It was dark grey, and much too long. That couldn't be right. He blinked again, clearing the last sleep-scum away, and realized that there were several inches of sweater hanging past his fingers.
Oh. He'd fallen asleep in his disguise, and reverted to his original Jonathan-shape in his sleep. Normal. But now his clothes were all wrinkled, and he didn't have another set that were the right size for the man he was imitating. "Guess I'm going shopping today," he muttered.
The phone rang again, calling attention to itself. Abruptly, Jonathan realized that he hadn't given anyone this number. In fact, if he was lucky, no one even knew he was in L.A. Was it a wrong number? Or had someone found him already? Had Andrew finally managed to summon a demon he could control, that could track by scent?
The phone rang a fourth time, and curiousity got the better of him. He shook the loose sleeve up above his wrist, then grabbed the receiver. "Um?" A nice short sound, hard to get any ID out of. He'd see what the other end had to say. A British voice answered. "Wesley? I've booked a flight. I should be at your hotel by ten o'clock tomorrow morning."
Jonathan blinked. Not a stranger. Not a call for him, either. Weird. And it sounded like... "Mr. Giles?"
Silence, while Jonathan slapped his forehead with his free hand. He hadn't meant to say that out loud! Then the voice was back, a lot more serious and a hell of a lot more menacing.
Stupid, stupid, stupid... "Uhh, wrong room?" Jonathan slammed the phone down, and stared at it, breaking into a cold sweat. The call must have been for that other Watcher, the one across the hall, in room 12. But the caller had reached room 21 instead. Of all the luck! And why couldn't he have kept his mouth shut? Now Mr. Giles was gonna know that someone else who knew him was staying in the same hotel as his friend. Someone maybe dangerous. And if he recognized Jonathan's voice, and if he was still in contact with the Slayer?
Jonathan jumped off the bed, and shook off the ill-fitting clothes. He needed a shower, first of all. No need to panic yet. He had several hours, right? First, get clean. Second, put the disguise back on. Third, go shopping. He'd need fresh clothes, and more magic supplies. He didn't know any of the shops in town, but he knew roughly what area to start searching in.
Fourth, once he had everything else set up... then, he would get the hell out of Dodge.
It wasn't until he was towelling off that Jonathan realized the Englishman he should be fearing wasn't the one crossing the ocean, but the one in the room across the hall. Of course Mr. Giles would call back. Of course he'd tell this Wesley about the strange person who'd recognized his voice. Damn it! The younger Watcher could be knocking on his door at any minute!
Jonathan hurried through the ritual, trying to keep his hands from shaking. He couldn't afford to get any of the gestures wrong, or any of the Latin. Come on, come on! By the time it finished, he was ready to crawl out of his skin from nerves.
He had barely got the sweater back over his head when the knock came at the door. Jonathan been afraid it would happen, but there's a difference from fearing something would come, and being ready for it. He flinched, then stared at the door as though it really were the evil-minded thing he'd cursed it for yesterday. The knock came again, and through the door, a muffled voice. "Open up," it said, in those cultured tones he was beginning to hate. "I am perfectly aware that you are still in there, whoever you are."
"Shit." With a sinking heart, Jonathan stepped towards the door.
© 2004 Jedi Buttercup.