They had been in LA for a week. Willow called it a vacation. Giles called it stalling.
"I mean, I have not been to LA like for ages, a-and wow, did you see that Wicca supply shop? It's like Tesco for Witches."
They were in Ben & Jerry's - something Willow laughably called 'soul food shop' and she had just consumed shocking amounts of sugar-high ice-cream. About three huge bowls so far.
"Hey lady -- two minutes to closing, okay?" said the man behind the counter. His eyes travelled to the bowls on her table and he shook his head wryly.
"Boyfriend left her?" the man asked when Giles went to the counter to pay the bill.
"Well. Um. You could say that." Giles risked a small glance to Willow, who had her back to him.
"Well, just tell that pretty thing that there's more men in the sea. He is not worth gaining a hundred pounds for, eh?" he gave Giles his change.
Giles gave him a tight smile. "I'll be sure to tell her that."
The man chuckled and leaned down to close the refrigerated units which held the ice-cream. His smile faltered. "What the?" he exclaimed, backing away from the unit.
Curious, Giles looked at what he was staring at. "My word..." he murmured.
The ice-cream -- all twenty vats of them -- were now pools of multi-coloured liquid goo. Some were even bubbling. He read the temperature gauge at the side of the box.
His eyebrows lifted. Giles frowned. "Cooling problems?"
The man was about to answer when a deep growl from the entrance interrupted. Giles stiffened. Especially when he saw the shade of white the man turned into.
<Vampires!> Willow mind-shouted into his brain. He winced at the force of it -- caught an apologetic look from the witch -- and slowly turned.
Four vamps -- in game face mode -- stared at them, fangs bared. One -- a female in a tattered, dust-covered black dress, which signalled that she was newly risen, hissed at him.
"Food," the female growled. "Hungry."
One of the male vampires looked annoyed. "I didn't realise newly risen meant zero IQ," he muttered.
Another male vamp, who dressed as if he was going to a Rolling Stone concert -- in the 70s -- shrugged. "She was pretty. I didn't choose her for her IQ."
"Hey, can you two losers stop your male talk and start thinking what we're going to do with these folks?" a female shoved between the two vamps a few steps closer to Giles.
"I think this old guy is yummy," she said saucily, licking her lips.
"Old?" Giles couldn't keep the offended tone out of his voice.
The female looked surprised at being interrupted. "Aren't you afraid?" she asked frankly.
Giles managed a shrug while scanning the room discreetly for wooden objects in the shop. Metal, plastic, and more plastic. Wonderful.
<Giles. What do we do?> Willow asked.
The thought was so strong that both Willow and Giles cried out in surprise, covering their ears.
<Who said that?> it was Willow this time. Giles shook his head. He didn't know.
The female vampire started backing away. "Oh shit! He's here!"
Giles and Willow exchanged a look. But they knew.
"What? How long is he going to keep tracking us? Shit!" he swore and took the newly-sired female vamp's hand. "Come Abigail, we'll find food some other time."
"Hungry," Abigail mewled.
"Dang, newly risen and she has had no food for a day. I remember what it's like," the other male vamp muttered.
"Shut your-" the female began.
<WHERE ARE THEY?> The alien voice came again, deep and guttural.
"Let's get out of here," the female took an about turn - only to scream as a stake flew from out of nowhere to imbed itself solidly in her dead heart.
When the female vampire disintegrated, the one called Abigail lost it. She let go of the male vamp's hand and charged towards Willow.
"Dego!" Willow shouted, making a swiping motion with her hand. With a bloodcurdling cry, Abigail flew backwards and crashed through the see-through glass front of the shop.
"Forget it," muttered one of the vamps and made a break for it.
But there was no way he could've made it because a dark figure, his face obscured by shadows, suddenly appeared at the entrance, blocking his way. The vamps backed away slowly -- one of them raising their hands.
"Hey, look -- we didn't do anything."
"Where is the mother?"
"How many times do I have to tell you, I don't --"
The figure dragged something from behind him. It was a demon, struggling vainly to free himself from the man's grasp.
"Sam?" the vampire asked. Then his deeply ridged brows furrowed deeper. "You turned us in?!"
"H-he made me, man?" the demon protested weakly. His red eyes batted nervously.
"Where is the mother?"
"Someone took it away. Now leave us alone, okay?" growled Rolling Stones vamp.
The figure seemed to take that into consideration. But then, with a burst of unimaginable speed, the man lunged forward. Giles had only the time to pull Willow away before he saw the glint of silver from a long blade and the sight of the Rolling Stone vamp flying through the air headless.
He dragged Willow to hide behind a fallen table. All he could see from his vantage point were shadows and swirls of dust. They were moving at impossibly high speeds -- faster than even vamps. He heard only growls and the painful thudding of bodies hitting concrete.
Then all was silent.
Footsteps moving towards them. Then it stopped. "Lemme alone!" a voice protested. Giles recognised it as the demon's. Another thud. Footsteps coming their way. Very close now.
He exchanged a worried look with Willow. At the same time, his hand wrapped around the broken leg of the table. It must've snapped off when it was hurled into the wall by all the fighting.
The footsteps stopped just mere inches before them.
Giles stiffened, lifting the piece of metal in his hands. He could hear Willow muttering a spell.
The table was tossed aside like paper.
Giles got ready to plunge the metal in the creature's -- well, whatever that came his way first -- but he stopped because he saw its face. He could only stare while Willow let out a long-drawn gasp.
"Rupert?" said the apparition before them. "Rupert Giles?" the familiar voice rose with excitement. In his excitement, he dropped the demon from his clutches. "My word! It has been, what-"
"Nearly four years," Giles found himself answering.
"Four?" cried Wesley, as if he couldn't believe it. The demon began to crawl away. Wesley sighed in annoyance and brought his foot down on the creature's back. It yowled in pain as it was pinned to the ground. Which seemed rather impossible, as the demon should have had the strength to break Wesley into a few pieces.
"Are you-" Giles shifted his gaze discreetly to the pinned demon "-quite alright old chap?"
"Oh, right as rain," Wesley answered cheerfully. With a casual twist of his wrist, he sent the bloody sword in his hand flying into the wall, its tip buried between the eyes of Mr Happy Burger Ice Cream.
"Oh look. Burger-cide." With that, he howled with laughter, his knees nearly buckled. "Burger-cide. Oh, why didn't I think of that when I spoke to the Loa the last time?"
"You spoke to the Loa? Why-"
"Giles," Willow interrupted him, her voice grave. "There's something wrong-"
Wesley interrupted her. "Because I wanted to prevent the prophecy. But I was silly, Rupert. You were right. I think too much of myself, sometimes," he murmured, rising to his feet. "Oh, wait. Excuse me while I deal with this problem." Wesley smiled and returned to the sprawled demon.
"Willow," Giles prompted, lowering his voice to a whisper while Wesley is distracted.
"There's magic pouring off him like hot molten lava. But magic I've not seen before," she whispered.
"Hey man!" the demon protested and struggled feebly as he was lifted off his feet again. "Look, I did nothing, okay? So what if I'm a Vornak demon? So what if I hung out with the vampires? They play great pool, okay? I am really harmless, honest!"
Wesley smiled. "Funny demon trying to lie to me." With that, he clamped his hands around the demon's neck. Willow winced as she heard the demon gagging, which barely concealed the faint popping sounds that came along with the act.
Giles could only stare and think about Willow's safety and the guy behind the counter's. The man was currently staring at Wesley with his mouth open, rooted and frozen to his spot.
Wesley Wyndam-Pryce was, to put it succinctly, changed.
Gone was the well-groomed, starched-up Watcher that first graced their presence with irritating probing and upper-lip snobbery. Gone was the well-trimmed hair, the suit, the glasses, the --
Everything. The man before him wore a dusty leather coat, a not too well-ironed shirt and tattered jeans. His hair looked as if it had not met the end of a comb (or scissors) for months.
<My word. He looks...>
<Roguish> came the thought from Willow. Giles gave her a discreet puzzled look, which she returned with an apologetic look. Apparently, he wasn't supposed to have heard that.
Yes, there was something wrong with Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. A lot can happen to change a man in four years, but the man he remembered was not this violent. Nor was he this strong. Or that skilful in dispatching four vampires in a few minutes.
"Wesley. I believe he is right. His species is quite harmless really. More of the merchant class-"
Wesley glared at Giles. Willow gasped when his eyes glowed green. "I need to cleanse this city from filth," he said, his voice guttural.
"Please man! I swear I didn't do anything! I've got kids-" the demon choked out.
Wesley lifted the demon higher. It squealed and kicked his legs. "Where's the Mother?"
"What? M-my mother? Well, she's in-"
Angry, Wesley threw the demon aside. He threw him so hard that he flew through the wall to land on the street outside. The man behind the counter yelped and ran out of the door.
"Wesley. Stop it," Giles said firmly, stepping forward. He felt Willow's cold hands on his -- possibly trying to restrain him.
Wesley narrowed his glowing eyes, his expression saying that he wasn't quite pleased with his suggestion.
Green. Glowing green. Heat. Melting ice-cream. Familiar, so familiar.
"Tell me what happened," he said as he slowly walked towards him, his hands up in a placating gesture.
"Giles," Willow whispered.
"It's alright, Willow. We're old friends, aren't we, Wesley?"
Wesley's green eyes narrowed further to glowing slits. "Don't talk to me like I'm a git," he hissed.
"Then tell me what happened," Giles replied, unperturbed.
Wesley tilted his head aside at that and after a while, gave him an amused smile. "It won't work with me, Rupert. This circling and probing. This teasing," he drawled.
"I just want to find out what happened, Wesley," Giles murmured in the reassuring way of his. Willow tensed when she saw the peculiar magic swirling more violently around Wesley. She didn't think Wesley bought into Giles's reasoning.
"Giles, be careful," she whispered. Mentally, she prepared herself to chant a protection spell -- even if it meant losing control of magic once more.
"I'll tell you what happened," Wesley said bitterly. "My life has been a lie."
Giles remained quiet, staring at the man.
"Haven't you wondered why we are Watchers, Rupert? Don't you feel cheated of your true destiny?"
"Being a watcher is my destiny," Giles replied firmly.
"Don't lie, Rupert. If you had a choice, you wouldn't choose this destiny."
"No. I am not lying. It is my destiny."
"Oh, balderdash. This coming from the man who was called Ripper!"
Giles flinched. "That was in the past," he muttered.
"I'll tell you what's in your past, present and future, Rupert Giles. Your destiny is to be a tool for the Powers that Be! Just like the bleeding rest of us!" With that, Wesley threw his fist into the wall next to him. The wall crumbled apart like paper and then exploded in a sudden burst of green fire.
Wesley cried out at that, his knees buckling. He fell to his knees, clutching his head and moaning.
Now Willow! Willow told herself. Chanting quickly, she unfurled a barrier around Wesley. It built up astonishingly fast -- faster than she had ever done before. The effortlessness of it all scared her, but it served her now.
Wesley reached out to touch the barrier. When he found it there, his eyes glowed a furious green. "What have I done to you, Willow?" he asked, his voice sounding hurt. "Wait -- you're still sore that I suggested you be sacrificed for the greater good, aren't you?"
It took Willow a while to remember the horrific graduation day where so many were killed at Sunnydale High. She just shook her head in denial. "We're here to help you, Wesley. You're -- you're not well."
Giles came to her side to study the ex-Watcher. She could see the question in his eyes, the amazement. The last time they saw Wesley, he was being wheeled into the ambulance, not exactly Mr. Action Man after being taken out at the first stroke. Now he apparently had Slayer strength, skills, plus more. He had been annoying, yes, but then he was wholly dedicated to the Watcher's cause, with clear knowledge of what was acceptable and what was not when it came to dealing with the supernatural world. This was not acceptable. Worse, he was not making a whole lot of sense.
They say LA can do that to people.
"Maybe we should ask Angel what happened to him?" Willow suggested, her voice soft.
"Angel?" Wesley interrupted before Giles could formulate an answer. "I think you better not. I think he still has too much water in his system," he gave them a big smile before breaking into laughter. It was high and uncontrollable, the laughter of a madman.
Giles placed his hands in his pockets to prevent them from reaching for his glasses. "I think you're right, Willow. A visit to Angel Investigations seems appropriate right now."
Wesley rose to his feet, giving them a piercing stare with his glowing eyes. "It's rude to talk about people when they're around," he snapped. With that, he hurled a fist into the barrier-
"He shouldn't be able to-" Willow began.
- and it shattered, sending a backlash of energy that whipped into Willow. She fell to the ground, her head impacting the ground hard.
Quickly, Giles went to her side. Willow looked dazed but otherwise unhurt. Quickly, he shifted his eyes back to Wesley. The ex-watcher was walking towards them, but Giles saw something different this time. His eyes were now normal -- no longer glowing. His expression -- serious and ... sad?
"Giles?" Willow breathed, struggling to get up. He could sense her trying to build her energies to formulate a spell. He placed a restraining hand on her shoulder.
"It's alright Willow," he reassured her.
Was it really alright? As Wesley stopped two feet away from them, he prayed that he was right.
Wesley stared at them for a long time before replying. "I'm sorry," he said flatly. This voice, Giles recognised.
"Wesley. You must stop," he said softly. Stop what? Giles wasn't really sure, but he had a feeling that it was sound advice nevertheless.
Wesley gave him a sad smile. "I'm sick, Giles. And there's no cure," he said, averting his eyes from them. "And if you try to help me, you'll only get burnt."
"Sick? Perhaps you can tell me-"
Wesley gave him a low laugh. Giles feared the return of the instability that he saw earlier, but when their eyes met, he saw a calmness that was both reassuring and frightening.
"I have work to do. I must find the Mother. Only she can release me from this prison," he replied calmly. With that, he walked away, stepping over debris and ash.
"Wesley!" Giles called out. What was going on? He wanted to shout out, but somehow he knew that Wesley wouldn't answer that.
Wesley halted, gave him a sidelong glance and then a small nod. "Goodbye Giles." Then a look at Willow. "Good to see you again, Willow."
Then he was out of the shattered remains of the glass door, his figure slowly receding into the inky darkness.
"The Mother? Something tells me he's not referring to his mom," Willow murmured after Wesley disappeared from view.
"No. He is certainly not. Because I know what the Mother is. Every Watcher does," he said gravely. "It's time for a little tête-à-tête with a certain vampire with a soul."
"Connor!" Fred cried out, stepping towards him. But she was stopped by Angel, who held out a restraining arm. This puzzled Fred, but she backed away obediently nevertheless.
Connor sighed, hunched his shoulders and dug his hands into his jeans' pocket.
"So, what? Do you wanna kill me now and get it over with?" Connor said, his tone dripping with derision.
"You know I can never do that," Angel said flatly.
"He said you wouldn't," Connor agreed.
Angel narrowed his eyes. He? He wanted to ask. Somehow he knew who 'he' was.
"Why are you here?" Angel finally asked. "Certainly not to apologise."
Connor lifted his head in challenge. "Maybe a little."
"A little?" Angel's voice rose. "What you did to me ... was unbelievable."
"Angel? What do you mean?" Fred asked, her voice soft.
Connor merely smiled. "Nothing less than what you deserved."
Fred shifted her gaze to Connor, realisation dawning. "You...you were the reason why Angel was missing? What did you do to him?" she took a step forward, as if to manhandle him -- but Angel just placed a restraining hand on her shoulders.
"I gave him a bath," he mocked.
Angel felt his heart lurch with a mixture grief, hurt, anger, hatred -- all directed at the child he once held lovingly in his hands. The child that was taken away by his best friend and turned into -- this.
"Get out," he said. But it was a feeble attempt at best. He wanted so much, despite all that he had suffered at the hands of his son, to have him stay -- preferably in his old room. With posters of whatever demented rock band decorating his walls.
Connor looked at him in surprise. "You don't even want to know why I'm here?"
Angel didn't answer him.
"Look," Connor said this to Fred. "You can kill me later. Right now, we got to stop him. The fires that you see on television? It was his doing."
"Who?" Fred asked.
Connor gave Angel a bitter smile. "The man you nearly smothered to death. Dad."
Another stab in his heart. Guilt, anger, hatred, sadness.
For a moment he stared numbly at Connor while Fred peppered him with questions. His mind was too busy remembering the feeling of soft pillow beneath his hands, the feeble, grasping hands that tried to push him away --
"What are you talking about? Is it Wesley? Is Wesley alive?" her voice rose.
"Yeah," said his son from a distance. "But screwed up like you won't believe. After his meeting with Koskov, he went off the rails. I told him not to go, that it was a trap, but he wouldn't listen. And he fell in the trap that the creature set for him. Fell hard. Went mad." his voice became hard.
Connor and Wesley. Hanging out together? It seemed ironic -- but poetic at the same time. Connor and Wesley, side by side, fighting -- Wesley, usurping his position as father --
"What happened? Connor, how did he get this way?" Fred was insisting. Angel was still staring at a spot vaguely above Connor's head.
"Why don't you start at the beginning?" a new voice interrupted.
This time, Angel did focus -- to look at the face of Rupert Giles. The ex-Watcher stood at the doorway with his hands in his pockets, standing there as if it was the most natural place for him to be. He gave Connor a puzzled look and looked at Angel as if he was trying to grasp his relationship with Connor. Angel figured he probably strode in in time to hear Connor calling him Dad.
Willow Rosenberg appeared beside him then, her pale face puckered up with worry.
"Hi Angel," she said softly.
Angel didn't have the strength to return the greeting.
"Well now. Now that we're all together. Perhaps we could sit down and finally explain the mystery that is Wesley Wyndham-Pryce?" Giles said, removing his glasses to clean them.
"Who are you?" Connor growled, backing away. Earl backed away too -- only from Connor. He took a seat on the far end of the sofa, away from all the crazy humans.
"I can ask you the same question, but apparently we don't have time. If what you?re saying is true -- that Wesley is...mad, we must act quickly. Especially since he is an Elemental," he said, taking a seat beside Earl -- who hastily added space between him and the Watcher.
Everyone gave him blank glances except Willow.
"But that's like... the Phoenix or somethin'. They're not -- it's like a myth!" Willow exclaimed.
"No Willow. Legend. Actually, fact. Took me a while to put two and two together. But thanks to my studies at the Watcher's Academy under a very eccentric professor, I remember what Elementals are very well."
"What's an Elemental?" Angel found himself asking. Somewhere inside, interest was rekindling, and he was not exactly sure why. For a week now he had been in a dazed stupor; uninterested in anything except Oprah.
"Simply put, the personification of the elements. Fire, Water, Earth, Wind -- in Human form. This is an oversimplification. There's more to it than that. But right now. I need to know what happened. Start from the beginning," Giles was firm, his voice turning cold. "I especially want to know the interesting bit about Angel smothering Wesley nearly to death." He gave Angel a contemptuous look.
Angel looked away, stung despite himself. Giles never did trusted him. How could he when he -- no Angelus - killed Jenny Calendar? Or tortured him nearly to death? What he did to Wesley cemented Giles' view of him: cold-blooded murderer -- with or without the soul.
He felt so tired suddenly.
"He took away my son," Angel replied, tracing his fingers over the intricate carvings above the fireplace.
If he had turned then, he would've seen Connor's confused expression.
"If it's the beginning you want. The beginning you'll get," he muttered.
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