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Posted June 27, 2002

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Better Buffy Fiction

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Fan Fiction: Lesser Men

Title: Lesser Men

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Disclaimer: They're not mine. In fact, take them back, Joss, please? They've taken over my life!

Rating: PG-13

Pairings: Canon.

Summary: Jonathan finds a direction. Wesley feels like a target. Britishness abounds.

Spoilers: Everything up to "Normal Again" (6:17) in B:tVS, crossover includes everything up to "Sleep Tight" (3:16) in A:tS.

Feedback: Highly appreciated.

Archive: Better Buffy Fiction Archive, my site; Others, just let me know!

Jonathan Levinson

Chapter Index:

  1. Farewell, Sunnydale
  2. Exit, Stage Left
  3. Passing in the Night
  4. Voices in the Dark
  5. Recognition
  6. Shades of the Past
  7. Divergent Paths
  8. Found
  9. Group Confrontation
  10. Recalling Pandora
  11. Where There's Smoke
  12. Finding Courage
  13. Coffee and Conversation
  14. An Angel's Wing
  15. Is That All?

Chapter One: Farewell, Sunnydale

They'd left him alone with the monitors again. Jonathan was beginning to wonder... no. If he was going to be honest with himself, he'd have to admit that he'd been wondering for a very long time now what Warren was really up to.

It had been so much fun at the beginning. He'd been recognized again, important, playing on the same level as the Slayer and getting away with it. Not only that, he and his fellow super-villains had much better stuff than she did! A cool lair, a freeze gun, minions, money, chicks...

Jonathan swallowed. Well, the chick thing hadn't gone so well. Hadn't they said, way back at the beginning, ix-nay on the urder-may? And look where that had gotten them. Katrina was dead. Katrina! Warren's ex! How had that happened? Where had their plans gone wrong?

Andrew didn't even seem to care anymore. He was like Warren, Part II. Fitting, maybe, since until he'd hooked up with Jonathan and Warren, he'd been just "Tucker's little brother". Sure, the "Run, Juliet" thing was funny and all, but when people thought about trained demons attacking the school, Tucker's devil dogs were what they remembered first. Not Andrew's flying monkeys. Seriously. Prom vs. school play? No contest.

Jonathan sighed, and tried to shake off the cloud of depressing thoughts. The same ideas had been running in circles through his mind for days now, weeks even, and he was no closer to a solution. All he did was lose sleep, and Warren was getting more and more impatient with him. What was he going to do? He couldn't leave. Sure, he had magic, but nothing on a grand scale. With Warren's gadgets, and Andrew's summoning powers, they could hunt him down in no time.

He should have known. He should have realized a long time ago that this was going to turn out just like the other time he tried to be Jonathan the Great. Buffy had said something wise then, about him treating people like socks... wait, that couldn't be right. Socks? Anyway. He had been practically king of Sunnydale, but there had been this dark side to all that power, that he hadn't known about at the beginning. And how had that turned out? The Slayer had bailed him out of it and returned him to obscurity.

It didn't look like that was going to happen this time. On the monitors, Jonathan could see Buffy huddled under a stairway, while her friends were getting pounded on. She looked almost catatonic. Were more people going to die? More people's lives on their heads? And not just Buffy and her friends. Didn't Warren realize? Without Buffy and the others around and active, the evil population would skyrocket in Sunnydale.

Warren might think they were big enough supervillains to hold off competition, but Jonathan wasn't so sure. What could they have done against the Mayor, for example? Or Adam? Sooner or later they were going to have to move off the Hellmouth, and then what? Some of Warren's gadgets depended on the strange effects the Hellmouth had on the laws of physics, and it would be a lot harder for Andrew, too, since the demons would have to travel further for less power. Not to mention the difficulty Jonathan would have getting ingredients for spells, unless they went to another hotspot like L.A., and they'd just run into more problems there. They'd be small fish in a very big pond.

Buffy was saying something on the monitors. Jonathan focused on the screen as her lost look suddenly cleared into her resolve face, and she leaped into the fray. He found himself holding his breath, watching intently as if she were fighting his problems instead of Andrew's unpronounceable demon.

It died. More than that, it died emphatically, with slime dripping off of Buffy's hand. She hadn't been that strong since they'd started surveilling her. Where had that come from? How had she shaken the poison off?

"Does it matter?" Jonathan said aloud, touching an index finger to the screen where the body was displayed. "She got out of it. How does she do that? She always gets out of it. I am so on the wrong side."

He turned then, looking around at the trappings of their lair. Where were the beanbag chairs, the imaginary schematics, the whiteboard with fun goals like "Conjure Fake I.D.s" and "Miniaturize Fort Knox"? They had suddenly gone all Initiative down here. He still had a few fuzzy memories rattling around from his day as Mr. Levinson, Tactical Advisor, and the comparison was sobering. The Initiative had seemed like such a good thing, but then there was Adam.

"Enough." He was no Buffy, but surely if she could snap out of her hallucinations, he could conquer the apathy and cowardice that were keeping him here.

Wait! That was it! He was no Buffy... but he didn't have to be Jonathan, either...

A few minutes later, Warren's monitors fuzzed out for a few moments, as the front door opened and then banged shut. Jonathan exited the house, muttering Latin under his breath, dressed in old sweats and carrying a duffel bag. He turned to look at the front door again, smiled grimly, then turned right and started down the sidewalk.

He had just one more stop to make on his way out of town. He needed a quiet place to perform the disguising spell again, and the ruins of the old Sunnydale High School seemed as good a spot as any.

Every time he passed by this place, he always wondered why the city didn't raze the rubble and use the land for something else. It was a waste, and more than that, it was a hazard to the community. Anyone could just wander into the crumbling structure and get hurt.

Or maybe not. Sunnydale residents usually made a point of ignoring things that weren't normal, and the old high school certainly fit the bill. Even if you didn't know the Hellmouth was there, which most people didn't, there were little pieces of Demon-Mayor all over the place...

"Eww." Jonathan lifted his right shoe, wrinkling his nose at something that had crunched under his step. "Speaking of."

He shook his head and moved onward, finding a relatively open space. He set his duffel bag down, then paused to look around for a moment. If this was going to be the last hour he ever spent in Sunnydale, this was a pretty appropriate place to be.

There, where the stairs had been, he'd once been called a stallion. It was a joke, obviously; Harmony had been making fun of Cordelia at the time. That had been cool. And not, of course; but the dissing-Jonathan part was pretty normal. The dissing-Cordelia part had been unusual enough to enjoy.

Not that he hated Cordelia, really; they were just at opposite ends of the popularity scale. She had given him six bucks once, even if it was just to get his vote, and there was that time she'd let him order coffee for her. Or something. It had had this name a mile long, and he hadn't even gotten it right.

He'd always messed things up, when he was here. Except for Latin, anyway, and chess, and stuff like that. Stupid athsma. Stupid height problem. He'd always be short. What had Warren said? "Short and insane." Pretty accurate, really.

Jonathan laughed bitterly. He'd come a long ways since then. And yet, not very far at all. Four years, was it? Something like that. And he was still at the bottom of the barrel. If he'd only managed to get in with the Slayer early, like Willow and Xander...

Nah. No use kicking himself over that, at least. How could he have known? He'd barely wondered about the group that always camped in the library, until the evidence had started to pile up, and then it was too late. They were geeks, too, but they were geeks with a mission, and he was just... he was just Jonathan.

The magic had been a cool thing. It had surprised him, that he could do it, and it actually worked. Except for that one spell, but the other kid hadn't mentioned the monster! Anyway. It was the first talent anyone had ever sought him out for. Now, it would be the talent he used to make sure they didn't seek him out again.

Jonathan shook off the cloud of thought, and bent to unzip the duffel bag. Under the magic supplies and his favorite action figures, there was a folded charcoal-colored sweater, several sizes too big for him, and a pair of black slacks. New shoes, too, and new socks, even new underwear-- he'd practiced this particular disguise before, and knew what sizes he would need.

This had been another of Warren's sneaky little plans, actually. He'd told Jonathan to work up "a special disguise", an ace in the hole, for when they might need to distract the Slayer without alarming her. It had never panned out. There had been no opportunity, first of all, and then they had gone beyond such small-time games.

Not that Jonathan minded. It gave him the perfect new identity. He'd never told Warren who he'd picked to imitate, for one thing. Also, the only people he knew of in the country that might recognize his new face were here in Sunnydale, or else in some godforsaken secret hideyhole.

Even if there was someone in the city who'd know, Jonathan would probably never meet them! If he found a magic shop right away, he could keep the disguise as long as it took for Warren to give up, or until Buffy pounded Warren into the ground. Jonathan wasn't picky. He'd take either one.

He undressed swiftly, wrapping his sweats around a gallon Ziploc he'd stuffed with money, and pulled on the other outfit. He kept one hand wrapped up in the waistband of the slacks, trying to keep them up until he could finish the spell, then dug into the magic supplies with the other.

Several minutes later, the Hellmouth had the rubble to itself once more; in the distance, a cab headed towards the City of Angels...

Chapter Two: Exit, Stage Left

They'd left him alone again, with only the beeps and buzzes of the machines to keep him company. Wesley had heard them leave as the first twinges of lucidity began to wash through his mind. His first instinct had been to call out, to summon back whoever was leaving, but the sudden effort of opening his mouth had tugged sharply at the stitches in his neck. Consciousness subsided once more into a fog of pain and nightmare, and he spent another vague stretch of time in fitful sleep.

Wesley woke again, disoriented, somewhere in the depths of night. Something had startled him awake, but he had no idea what it could have been. The combination of pain and medication had slowed his thoughts to the consistency of treacle. He didn't even know where he was... or did he? Cautiously, Wesley sniffed at the air.

Hospital. He was in hospital. Why?...

A sudden cry split the air, the thin, despairing wail of a sick infant. Wesley was abruptly aware that this was the sound that had awakened him.

"Connor?" His voice was barely intelligible, roughened by the pain and hours, maybe days' worth of disuse. "Connor?..."

But no. Connor had been taken from him, hadn't he? Vague memories surfaced of those last few hours. The panic Wesley had felt as he looked up from his lullaby to see Lorne's knowing face. Nausea, as the anagogic demon crumpled under his blow. Guilt, as he lied his way out of his friends' company. Determination, as he levelled his gun at Justine. Horror, as Justine pulled the knife. Disbelief and despair, as the rented SUV drove away with Connor inside, while Wesley's lifeblood oozed between his fingers onto the grass.

Ah. That was why. Someone had found him there, dying by the pint, and conveyed him to the hospital. Someone with large hands? Warm. Not Angel, certainly. He had no doubt that if Angel had found him, if Angel had been coming after him, he would be dead now. Or possibly undead. Angel might easily have turned him, if only to have the pleasure of watching his son's kidnapper die twice over.

"He's gone, Wes." A soft voice interrupted his thoughts.

Wesley flinched. He was becoming accustomed to the pain, but the movement still made his vision swim a bit. When it cleared again, the room still looked empty. Not that he could see very much from flat on his back. "Who?" he managed to ask.

"Connor. He's gone." The voice was flat, and so quiet it was hard to decipher its owner, but the choked sob that followed was entirely feminine.

"Fred? I can't..."

Fred had apparently been standing in the corridor. She walked slowly into his range of vision, stopping an armslength from the left side of his bed. She looked worse than he'd ever seen her. The hollows under her eyes and the tearstains on her cheeks were bad enough, but it was the emptiness of her expression that hurt the most. She looked utterly defeated, something he'd never seen in her before.

"Wes, how could you? He's in a Hell dimension now. Why did you take him?"

Wesley closed his eyes, drawing in his features in a pained expression that had nothing to do with his wound. "Hell? Holtz said..."

"Holtz did it! He jumped right into the portal with Connor. Lorne told us you'd been to see him! What were you thinking?" Her voice had begun to shake.

It was too late, really, for an explanation, but he had to try. "The father..."

"The father? Oh, God, Wes, can't you even say his name? Angel's in shock. He's so devastated, all he says is 'Connor', in between cursing you and Holtz. We haven't told him you're here."

The tears were flowing again. Fred wiped them out of her eyes, then set her jaw. "And we aren't going to. Because you're not coming back."

"Fred... a prophecy!" Wesley tried to catch her gaze, finding it even harder to speak as his throat tightened with emotion. He had to get the message across. Not to be forgiven, for he knew he didn't deserve that, but for understanding, at least. "Father would kill son."

"A prophecy?" She looked startled for a moment, then made a choked, watery impression of a laugh. "Of course. This is you we're talking about."

"Taking him to Giles," Wesley said, sadly. "Not Holtz. Said if I took Connor... not attack."

"So you're saying Angel was prophesied to kill his son, and Holtz knew this? That you were trying to help Connor, and Holtz played you?"

She looked a little less betrayed, but given the disbelief in her tone, that was small comfort to Wesley. Tentatively, he moved his left arm. Upon finding it still present and not directly attached to the source of his pain, he reached out towards Fred, lightly touching one of her hands.

"Fred... I never..."

She looked away and pulled back a step. "Oh, Wes." She sighed heavily. "It's just, I just, Angel, and Connor's gone, and Gunn is so upset..."

"Gunn?" Wesley's brow furrowed. He hadn't had room in his thoughts for anyone but Connor. Had his friend been hurt?

"When we found you, he was so shocked. He kept saying something about you being gutshot, which must have happened before I met you, because I never... but he couldn't get you to the hospital fast enough. And then the doctors had you, and he started muttering about secrets, and a lecture you gave him..." Her voice faltered to a stop.

"Bloody hell." Of course Charles would feel betrayed. Wesley had forgotten about that. He'd forgotten about most things during the last few weeks, in his efforts to prevent his little family from self-destructing.

Ah well. If Angel had killed Connor, everything would have collapsed; in Wesley's absence, they could survive. Angel would plan Connor's rescue, and the others would fall in behind. Still, it stung, knowing that not one person would miss him when he was gone. Not even Cordy, when she returned, for she would automatically align with Angel. Wesley wasn't blind. He knew what was behind her Angel-ization of the Groosalugg.

He tried one more time. "Fred, I'm so, so sorry. We'll... you'll get him back."

She looked up again, anguish in her expression. "And if he's dead?" And then she was gone, flying out of the room as quietly as she'd come in.

No, Wesley wasn't going back. He had burnt all his bridges, and there was nothing to do but pick up the shattered pieces of his life and move onward. He was getting fairly good at that.

When? Wesley contemplated the thought. If he stayed, Angel might find him, after all. Cordy might get back, and read him the riot act. Gunn might come, and stand where Fred had, with condemnation in his eyes...

Now. Why not? He hadn't been through Watcher training for nothing. With a little concentration, a simple spell, and a timely raid on the pharmacy, Wesley might even make it out of the hospital sometime tonight.

Yes. Now.

It took him several precious minutes to locate what he needed, once he managed to haul himself upright. Painkillers were not just left out in the open, and many of the nurses' stations were still manned by watchful personnel. Stealth did not come easily for him on the best of days, and this day-- week?-- was one of his worst.

Still, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. He found his supplies, then studied the wall signs with blurred vision and aimed his tired legs for his next destination.

There was one final stop to make on his way out of the hospital. Wesley knew he didn't have much time before the masking spell would begin to wear off, and he'd have to resort to the painkillers. Nevertheless, he found his footsteps heading in the direction of the nursery.

Most of the infants were sleeping. Wesley flattened his free hand against the glass, leaning against it ever so slightly, and scanned the rows of bassinets with his eyes. No Connor, of course. He wasn't addled enough to expect that. But the child that had woken him up...?

There. At the far end of the room, a nurse was pacing the floor, with a blue-wrapped bundle snugged in her arms. Wesley smiled sadly at the pair. He hoped that Connor had someone to comfort him so, but he knew that was unlikely. Fred had said Hell, and she was unlikely to exaggerate on so important a subject.

If Connor weren't already dead, he could be suffering greatly; and Wesley rather thought he wasn't dead. Wesley was a pessimist, after all, especially on the subject of fathers and sons. If Angel hadn't killed Connor yet, then the true crisis must be yet to come. That meant, assuming Holtz had also survived the jump, that they could be anywhere now, or anywhen. Time passed differently in other dimensions, and whatever power had taken Holtz there could as easily send them to another place altogether. He needed to...

No. Wesley shook his head. Tonight was for getting out of hospital, and finding a place to lie down and heal in peace. There was nothing he could do in his present condition. Later, if there was a later, he could research for clues to Connor's present location, and find some way of letting Angel know. Or one of the others. Someone who would at least read a letter all the way through before doing anything rash.

Wesley blinked, and found the nurse staring at him with an alarmed expression. He pulled back with another half-smile, then turned and walked swiftly down the hall. The last thing he needed was to have security find him before he exited the building. He rather doubted they would look favorably on a bandaged man in bloodied clothing with a stolen doctor's bag in his hand.

Several minutes later, Wesley traced a careful path through the shadowed areas of sidewalk, thankful for the late hour. Very few people were about, and those that were, knew better that to look closely at a passing stranger. The natives of Los Angeles were not nearly as blind as those who lived in Sunnydale.

The journey from hospital to home might take one minute in a car, at average speeds; for him, now, perhaps a fifteen minute walk? The spell would probably last that long. The question was, whether he'd have time to retrieve more supplies from his apartment and take the motorcycle to a cheap hotel.

Perhaps a cab would be more wise...? Or perhaps not. He needed his own source of transportation, and he wasn't going to be back here anytime soon. Abbreviated packing, then. Books, a few changes of clothes, a weapon or two; his leathers, for the ride. That would have to suffice.

Cordelia had a key. The others could have anything he left behind, or burn it, as they pleased.

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.

"Where's Wesley?"

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.

Chapter Four: Voices in the Dark

Wesley snorted softly as he walked into his hotel room. On another night, the spectacle he'd just witnessed might have been rather amusing. A grown man, as tall as Wesley and twice as muscular, in an apparent battle to the death with a door? Well, it was more believable than many other things he'd had the pleasure to witness.

Wesley set his suitcases on the floor by the door. It was a good thing he'd had the extra set, and that he hadn't packed any of his books for the trip to England. If he had, they'd be in the SUV now, wherever Justine had left it. Fortunately, he'd been assuming that Rupert would have anything he would, and more, and that together they might unearth a way to save both Angel and his child.

Rupert! The person on duty at the hotel desk had told him that today was Thursday, or would be, as soon as the sun rose. Giles had been expecting to pick him up at the airport Wednesday night! Wesley hurriedly calculated the hour in his mind, then crossed the room to the telephone.

Bending over made his head swim, and Wesley knew the spell he'd used to block the pain and keep himself mobile was beginning to deteriorate. Hurriedly, he sat on the bed, pulling the 'phone into his lap so that he might dial without having to stretch any muscles.

While Wesley waited for the call to connect, he took in the room around him. The decor was pure Urban American Decay, all must and stain, in faded 1970's coloring. It was quite cheerless, actually. Not where one might expect to find an Englishman of upper-class heritage, but who needed luxury, really?

"Giles residence." The older man's tone was brusque, worried. "That had damned well better be you, Wesley."

"Unfortunately," Wesley agreed. He rubbed his forehead with the hand that wasn't gripping the receiver, trying to focus his thoughts.

"Well? You obviously aren't here. What's happened?"

"Everything." Wesley sighed. What to tell first? Nearly getting caught? Letting his guard down and getting his throat slit? Losing Connor to a madman who had jumped with him through a portal to Hell?...

There was silence on the other end for a moment, then, "Wesley. I'd appreciate a little more detail, if you can manage it."

"Well," Wesley answered. "Do you want the short version? I failed."

"Try the long version. It might make a bit more sense." Somehow, Giles managed to convey both patience and irritation with the same sentence.

Wesley sighed again, bitterly. "I was about to drive to the airport when one of Holtz' minions showed up. She claimed she had seen the light, that she was leaving Holtz' employ, and I believed her. No wonder people think of me a failure; I'm much too gullible. She nearly took my head off with her knife, then took Connor away."

"Wesley! Are you all right?" The distant voice shifted audibly from irritation to concern.

"I'm alive, at any rate." Wesley swallowed, trying to blink the haze from his vision, then cleared his throat and continued. "According to Fred, Holtz took Connor and jumped throught a portal to some Hell-dimension or other."

Another pause. Then, decisively, "You should rest. Give me your address, and I'll be there tomorrow. We can continue this discussion then."

Wesley winced. "Perhaps I'd better solve this one myself, Rupert. I have no doubt that Angel will be hunting me, and I have no wish to involve you further in a mess of my own making."

"Oh, do shut up, Wesley. Don't be dramatic. I'll be there tomorrow morning-- that'll be Friday afternoon by your clock. What's the name of your hotel?"

Was it childish of him, Wesley wondered, to feel a sense of relief at Giles' words?

The conversation wound up very shortly, and he set the phone to one side, staring up at the ceiling. He knew he should clean up, rebandage, and get something to drink before he allowed himself to sleep, but there was no way he was moving from the bed tonight. Exhaustion, drugs, and the after-effects of trauma were dragging him down into a deep, dark pit, and there was no escaping it. With a sigh, he let go and closed his eyes.

"Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, I presume."

The voice was soft and mocking, and naggingly familiar to Wesley, but no matter where he looked he could not see the speaker. That was perhaps not surprising, as he couldn't actually see much of anything except himself. He was standing alone, on a featureless, smooth black plain that extended as far as the eye could see. The only light came from the stars scattered across the night sky above, and their reflection on the glossy floor below. It was a curious effect, as though he were alone in the depths of interstellar space, and Wesley knew without question that this had to be a dream.

The voice spoke again, whispering and full of laughter. "You think you know... what's to come... what you are. You haven't even begun."

Wesley frowned. He'd heard that phrase before; something to do with Buffy and the First Slayer. Giles had shared many of his notes in that drunken summer between Buffy's second death and her resurrection. This dream could be using those memories in a construction of his unconscious, trying to deal with the recent upheavals in his life, but somehow he doubted that.

"Don't you have anything original to say?" he challenged the empty cosmos.

Mocking laughter. "It's as true for you as it has been for all the others," it replied. "Why should we change our ways?"

Wesley was abruptly aware of a presence behind him, as if a switch had been flipped in his subconscious. He spun around dizzily on the smooth black surface and found himself face to face with a person he had hoped not to see again, anytime in the near future: Faith. The rogue Slayer. His Slayer, in the days when his name had meant something positive to the Watcher's Council.

She smirked at him, and he realized that she had been the one speaking.

"And why choose her image as your avatar?" he demanded, obscurely upset.

She lifted her hand and blew a kiss at him, then turned and sashayed away. Her footsteps made no sound, but her laughter carried easily to his ears. "Beware," she said, and then she was gone.

Wesley's state of mind upon awakening Thursday afternoon was a lot like it had been in the wee hours Thursday morning. There was the disorientation of waking someplace unknown, mixed with a heavy dose of pain and the distinct sense that there had been an important noise calling for his attention.

After a few seconds, the telephone rang again. The shreds of dream Wesley had been clinging to faded as he fumbled at the 'phone, very glad that he'd left it on the bed when he fell asleep the night before. "Ah... Hello?"

"Wesley, are you all right?" It was Giles.

"As all right as I was when I dozed off, which isn't very," Wesley answered, matter-of-factly. "Is something wrong?"

"Well, I tried to ring your room a few minutes ago, and apparently reached room 21 instead of room 12. The man that answered recognized my voice."

"Do you know who it was?" Wesley asked. His imagination prompted him with images of Angel hunting him down, or perhaps Gunn putting his knowledge of the town's low-rent hotels to use.

Oh, Wesley knew he was being a bit paranoid. They would have confronted him directly instead of taking a room, and he was probably over-estimating their hostility towards him. Perhaps they were giving him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they were deep in researching Connor's location themselves. All the same...

"No," Giles answered, interrupting his train of thought. "No, not for certain. I'm positive that I've heard the voice before, but I'm having difficulty recalling the name."

Wesley sighed. "Well, what did he say?"

"Not much," Giles answered. His voice was more puzzled than worried, now. "In fact, he seemed somewhat afraid of me. Nevertheless, I am concerned that this man has shown up just now, in the same hotel. Perhaps you should relocate."

Wesley frowned. "I had hoped to spend the next day recuperating," he said. "But I suppose you're right. How will you know where I am?"

"Turn your mobile on," Giles said. "I'll ring you when we land tomorrow morning."

The conversation wound to a close, and Wesley put the 'phone back on the rickety bedside table where it belonged. He stared at the ceiling for several minutes more, working up his courage, then slowly sat up and swung his feet over the edge of the mattress.

Well. He wouldn't be running any marathons today, but he could perhaps make it to another hotel. He was weak, tired, and his vision blurred with pain every time the stitches pulled, but he had painkillers in his suitcase, and spare bandaging. Surely, it was safe enough here to take a shower before he left? Giles hadn't sounded particularly alarmed.

By the time he turned the water off and reached for a towel, Wesley was feeling a lot more human. He even worked up enough energy to retrieve a razor from his luggage and do something about the stubble shading his cheeks and chin. Then he dressed, taking his time, and packed everything back up.

When all was done, Wesley picked up his suitcases, took one last glance around, and then exited the room. He paused for a moment to lock the door and pocket the key, then looked around, scanning the other doors for the number 21.

When he located it, he blinked, surprised. It was the door he'd seen the young man having trouble with, when he'd arrived. He hadn't felt the slightest twinge of recognition at the time. But the man at the door now?

"Open up," said the older British man standing there, clearly addressing the occupant of the room. "I am perfectly aware that you are still in there, whoever you are."

"Ethan Rayne," Wesley whispered to himself. "What is he doing here?"

Chapter Five: Recognition

Jonathan stepped slowly towards the door. On the one hand, he was happy that he'd managed to finish dressing before disaster happened. On the other hand, well, disaster! What was he going to say to the guy? How was he going to explain this?

He paused with one hand on the doorknob, thinking things over again. No, no use hiding; surely a Watcher had magical ways of knowing if the room was empty, and there weren't any other exits except for the windows, which incidentally were next to the door. Maybe he could fake a name and make up some bogus story, but would he be believed?

And perhaps he'd better make sure it was the Watcher, before he just threw open the door. He knew of at least one vamp with a British accent, and obviously, there could be more. Hotels didn't come with the same invite-only protection that homes did, unless you lived in the same room for a real long time. Jonathan stretched up on tip-toe, and put an eye to the peep-hole set into the door.

The man on his doorstep wasn't what he expected. The stranger wasn't the Watcher named Wesley, or anyone else he knew. Jonathan didn't recognize him at all. He looked maybe Giles' age, not all that physically impressive. He was lean and wiry, not overly tall, with brown hair that was starting to recede and brown eyes that were currently narrowed in irritation. He didn't look like a vampire, since he seemed to be breathing, but Jonathan had a creeping feeling that the man had strength far beyond what could be seen.

There was only one way to tell what was going on. Jonathan took a deep breath, wrapped a hand around the stake in his pocket, and opened the door.

"Riley Finn?" the man exclaimed, then started to laugh. "This is totally unexpected! And possibly quite delightful. I've been looking forward to the opportunity for payback."

Jonathan blinked, and instinctively retreated a few steps into the room. His disguise had been recognized? And not in a good way, apparently. There was something about that smile, something in the tone of the laughter that made his skin crawl.

He cleared his throat and raised his hands palm-out in front of him, trying to ward off trouble. "Look, I don't know what you're here about, but..."

The Englishman laughed again, cutting him off. "Don't try to play innocent with me, you Initiative bastard. I spent nearly two years in a cell in Nevada because of you. Now, tell me where to find Jonathan Levinson, and I'll cut the torture in half."

Jonathan stumbled backwards again, and collided with the edge of the bed. He sat down hard, trying desperately to think of a way out, and could find none. Maybe this was the universe's idea of justice. Fess up, and be punished for his own crimes. Fake it out, and be punished for someone else's.

"Uh, what do you want Jonathan for?" Jonathan crossed his fingers mentally. There was still a fraction of a chance that the guy didn't work for either Warren or Mr. Giles.

"Does it matter?" the man asked him. "Let's just say I have a birthday present for him. And here you are, occupying the very room I tracked him to. I was mildly confused when the manager gave me your description instead of his, but now it all makes sense. One more punishment for old Ethan. Well, you're not going to get the better of me this time."

By the time Ethan had finished his little speech, his face had twisted into a snarl, and his tone of voice had gone from mocking to bitter. It was all very confusing to Jonathan. So this guy might be on Jonathan's side? But why? What reason could there be for anyone to punish a complete stranger by kidnapping Jonathan?

"Look, this isn't making much sense to me," Jonathan said, gathering his courage together. "And I'm not really Riley Finn, so I'd appreciate it if you back off. I'm just borrowing his face for awhile."

"Borrowing his...?" Ethan stopped short. His eyes narrowed, and he looked Jonathan over a little more carefully this time. "But that would mean..." Then suddenly, his expression cleared, and he started laughing again.

Jonathan raised his eyebrows. There was no menace in the laughter, this time, that he could hear. What was going on?

Finally, Ethan stopped for a breath. "Ohhh, I should have been watching for this. Blood will tell, after all, and you have been learning magic."

"What?" Jonathan gaped at him. "What do you mean?"

Ethan smiled at him. "I think I saw a bar across the street. I have a lot to explain, and I don't really want to do it in some filthy hotel room."

"But I..." Jonathan tried to protest.

"Oh, come on. You'll be 21 tomorrow, Jonathan, that's close enough." Ethan turned and walked out into the hallway again, throwing a mischeivous look over his shoulder at Jonathan. "Or don't you want to know what this is all about?"

What the hell, Jonathan thought. He was doomed regardless. And what else did he have to do?

He sighed, then followed Ethan out the door, shaking his head as he went. "Next time, I'm going to be more careful picking my disguise."

Ethan chuckled. "Oh, I would have found you eventually," he replied, glancing briefly over his shoulder at Jonathan as he walked. "But, you're right. Riley Finn wasn't a very good choice. What made you pick him?"

Jonathan wrinkled his brow, studying Ethan's profile, wondering how much he should tell. If he said it had been prepared in the interest of distracting Buffy, he'd be pretty much admitting what he was running away from. But what other excuse could he use?

Suddenly, he realized that he had seen Ethan before. Back in the year the swimming team had gone whacko. Back in the year he'd finally noticed that everything was going whacko. "Wait a minute," he said, alarmed again, and stopped walking. "I have a question for you first. You're the guy from the costume shop, right? The one that sold me a frog costume?"

Ethan stopped a few feet ahead of him and turned around, wearing a strange expression on his face. "Yes, actually. I'm rather surprised you remember."

"How could I forget?" Jonathan's voice rose in horror. "I was picking bug parts out of my teeth for days! Ugh!" He shuddered. "I should have taken the knight costume I wanted first!"

Ethan chuckled. "But you had a lot less chance of being injured as a giant frog, you must admit."

"You did that on purpose?" Jonathan couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"Well," Ethan shrugged, "I was there in the interests of chaos, but chaos is, after all, a balancing force. Someone had to be the frog. Why not you?"

"That isn't really an answer." Jonathan scowled at the Englishman.

"Oh, but it is," Ethan said, laughing. "I may be a servant of Janus, but there's nothing stopping me from mixing business with personal matters."

"Who are you, anyway?" Jonathan demanded. "Seems like you already know a lot about me."

Ethan turned and started walking again, up to the edge of the street. "I could hardly avoid it," he said. "Since..."

Abruptly, he cut himself off and squinted back over Jonathan's shoulder. "We're being followed, and... well." He smiled, the dangerous smile Jonathan had seen first. "Well, well, well. Someone else is about to join the party. Come."

Jonathan scowled again, but followed Ethan anyway as he set out across the street. "Whatever, man. I'm getting sick of the mystery routine."

Ethan didn't comment. He hurried into the bar, then stepped to one side and gripped Jonathan tightly around the upper arm. Just when Jonathan was about to protest, Ethan began chanting quietly in Latin, and the world began dimming around them. It stopped at about half-light, but all of a sudden people weren't noticing them anymore.

"Whoa," Jonathan whispered. "That's pretty cool."

"Shhhh." Ethan admonished him. "Being invisible doesn't help if they can hear you."

"Duh," Jonathan said, rolling his eyes. As if he didn't already know that from the whole invisibility-ray disaster. Just thinking about it made his skin smart where Buffy had pulled his chest-hair.

They waited there a moment, then the door swung open once more and their pursuer stepped inside. It was Wesley. Jonathan still didn't know the Watcher's last name, but he knew what illness looked like, and uneasiness, and the guy looked like he was weighted down by both, even without the neck bandage.

Ethan was grinning again. Jonathan frowned at him. What was so funny about this? Wesley was pale and sweating, and the bandage was showing spots of fresh blood. He obviously wasn't here for the hell of it. He looked worried. And, given Ethan's attitude, maybe he had a right to be.

"Well, if it isn't the little Watcher," Ethan finally said, grinning, leaning over next to Wesley's ear.

Wesley sighed. "Well, there goes that idea."

Chapter Six: Shades of the Past

Wesley stared across the hallway as if transfixed. This was stretching the bounds of coincidence. Now there were two people in the hotel besides Wesley that had something to do with Rupert, one of whom was definitely dangerous. What on earth was going on?

The door opened, and the tall young man from the night before was framed in the opening. Wesley still didn't recognize him, but the name Ethan exclaimed was definitely one he knew.

"Riley Finn?" Wesley murmured. "Buffy's ex-boyfriend, in contact with Ethan Rayne? This can't be good."

Hurriedly, he pulled the key from his pocket again and unlocked the room door. Forget relocating, this business with Ethan and Riley was too important to ignore. It was unlikely that it had anything to do with Connor, but he had most of a day before Rupert would arrive to help him. In the meantime, this was definitely something Rupert would want to know about.

Wesley moved his suitcases back inside the room, then stood there a moment, staring at the telephone in indecision. Should he let anyone else know about this? He didn't exactly want to speak with any of the Angel Investigations staff, but there wasn't anyone else he could inform. Rupert was already on his way, and there really was no point in calling the Slayer unless things got catastrophically out of control.

Well. He could call Cordelia's apartment. She might still be on vacation, and if not, she was likely to be at the Hyperion. Being Cordelia, however, she would probably check her messages often, and would therefore be able to pass the warning along in a timely fashion. Yes. That would work.

Wesley stepped quickly over to the 'phone and dialed Cordelia's number, then carried the instrument back over towards the windows. While it rang, he parted the Venetian blinds at eye-level with finger and thumb, watching the conversation taking place across the way.

After three rings, someone picked up at the other end. "Hello?" Cordelia asked, in a quiet, depressed tone of voice.

Blast. "This day just keeps getting better," Wesley muttered under his breath.

"What? Wes, is that you? Where have you been?" Cordelia spoke much more loudly now, with worry in her tone. The 'phone picked up another voice faintly in the background, asking questions that Wesley couldn't quite hear.

"I can't talk," he said, quickly. "Ethan Rayne is in town. I thought someone should know."

"Wes, where are you?" Cordelia asked again, a little sharp of tone, but also pleading. "Fred was upset. She didn't mean it. We do need you here. If you're still the Wes I thought you were, then you have to fix this. If you don't, I think Angel will go off the deep end."

Wesley swallowed, then resolutely put the receiver down and cut off the call. He was dismayed to find that his hands were trembling. "And what if I can't?" he asked the empty air.

He was uncomfortably reminded of the days after the Blim incident. Despair, guilt, shame; old friends, all three. No. He would not return this time, not until he found Connor again on his own, and perhaps not even then. It was time he moved on, before he caused any more hurt to the people he cared about.

He peered through the Venetian blinds again, and saw Ethan exiting the room, closely followed by Riley. It was time to justify his "private investigator" title. Wesley waited until they were halfway down the corridor, backs to him, then stepped outside, relocked his own door, and followed.

It was more difficult for him to keep pace than he'd hoped. By the time he reached the the sidewalk in front of the bar, he desperately wanted a glass of something numbing. He knew it was stupid to drink with painkillers in his system, but since the painkillers weren't adequately doing their job...

Ah. Door. Wesley entered the bar quietly and stood in the entryway for a moment, carefully scanning the main room for his quarry. In all likelihood, Ethan had no idea what he looked like now, so he wasn't much worried, but instinct told him to be careful. He hadn't the energy to defy Ethan at the moment, and Ethan had a reputation for holding grudges.

Wesley had only been eleven or so the last time he'd seen the man in person. He'd accompanied his father on Council grounds and noticed the young sorcerer hiding in the Library building. Many years later, he'd found out that Ethan had been visiting Rupert that night, trying to coax his old friend back to the streets. Instead, due to Wesley's discovery, Ethan had been forcibly ejected from the property and it had been firmly warded against him.

Wesley frowned. He didn't see Ethan or Riley anywhere visible. That wasn't good. Still... the investigating could wait for a moment. He would sit down, order a drink, and then make every effort to find them and eavesdrop on their conversation. Just as soon as...

"Well, if it isn't the little Watcher," someone said, grinning, in his ear.

Wesley sighed. "Well, there goes that idea."

Ethan laughed. "Sneaking up on us? That wasn't necessary. Why don't you just join us for a drink?" He muttered a few more words, and appeared next to Wesley, accompanied by Riley.

Riley blinked at each of them, nonplussed. "Is this some kind of game?"

Wesley turned to look at them. "I could ask you the same question, Riley Finn. I wasn't aware that you knew Mr. Rayne."

Riley rolled his eyes. "I don't. And I'm not really Riley Finn, either. If I were, I'd be with my wife in Nepal."

"Nepal?" Ethan said, sounding interested.

"Wife?" Wesley asked, confused. If that was meant to be an explanation, it was the weakest one he'd ever heard.

"Let's just get a booth, guys," the Riley look-alike said. "I'm getting impatient here. Let's skip ahead to the explanation part of this little outing."

"Yes, let's," Wesley said, turning his gaze on Ethan.

"All right, all right." Ethan threaded his way to a little table near the left edge of the room, studying him as they went.

Wesley heaved a sigh as he sank into a seat and immediately flagged down a waitress. He was aware of Ethan continuing to watch him, with that little smirk on his face. The youngest member of their party watched them both. Apparently, he didn't want to speak first.

Finally Ethan broke the silence. "You've grown in strength, haven't you? It's really too bad I didn't just borrow you that day, instead of waiting for Rupert. If I'd had a chance to teach you, before the Council sank its teeth into your psyche..."

Wesley snorted, and tilted back his first drink. "Not possible, considering who my father is. I was indoctrinated from the cradle."

Ethan frowned at him. "Oh? Oh! Right. Wyndam-Pryce. One of the senior Watchers."

Wesley gave him the raised eyebrow, and Ethan chuckled.

"That day you got me kicked out wasn't my first visit. I was determined to be a bad influence on Rupert, it's true, but that wasn't all I did on Council grounds. I picked some things up, and I've kept an ear out since." Ethan paused, studying Wesley again. "You know, it's surprising, really; you're nothing like him."

"Who, my father?" Wesley asked, starting on his second glass. "Thank God for that."

"Speaking of fathers who don't resemble their sons..." Ethan drew the sentence out, glancing at the faux Riley.

He grumbled in reply. "I don't know why you're bringing up my dad, but whatever it is, it doesn't matter. I'm adopted."

Ethan nodded, as if something had been confirmed. "I'd been wondering if they ever told you that."

"Why?" The young man shifted in his seat, gripping the table with whitened knuckles as if he wanted to leap right out of his chair. "You've been hinting around at something ever since you knocked on my door. Give me the reason already!"

There it was again: Ethan's trademark dangerous grin. "All right. Ready, then, Jonathan? How's this. I'm your real father."

Wesley choked, spraying alcohol over half the table. Neither Ethan nor the one he'd called Jonathan seemed to notice. Ethan Rayne had a son?

"Say what?" Jonathan seemed just as startled. "But, you're, you're British."

Ethan chuckled. "And you live on the Hellmouth. I didn't just visit the place for Ripper's sake, you know. There's something about it that draws all who have touched the darker arts. When I found out you were going to be born, I meddled with your adoption papers and made sure you went there. It's a handy training ground, isn't it? Now you're almost 21, with power of your own, and a distinct tendency to chaos already. I couldn't be happier."

Jonathan blinked at him. "What are you, Darth Vader?" he said. "I don't believe this."

Of course, if Ethan were Vader, that would put Jonathan in Luke's role. Interesting choice of imagery.

"Look, Jonathan," Ethan said. "I don't expect you to trust me immediately. In fact, I'd be disappointed if you did. I'm just asking that you spend some time with me and decide whether you like what I do. I'm fairly certain you will."

Jonathan fidgeted in his chair for a moment, then stood up. "I'm going to take a break and think about this," he said. "Don't go anywhere." Then he strode off in the direction of the restrooms.

Wesley watched the young man leave the table. Well, that had been informative. Why had Ethan let him sit and listen to the whole thing? What was his role in all of this?

"Ah, he's a good boy," Ethan said, following Jonathan's progress with his gaze. "He'll come around."

Wesley shook his head. "Pardon me if I rather hope otherwise," he said.

Ethan turned back to the table with a smirk and downed his own drink. "So what are you really doing here, Wesley?"

Wesley sighed. Well, was there any point in lying? "It's a long story," he said, gesturing at the bandages on his neck. "I lost Angel's son."

Ethan raised an eyebrow and leaned forward. "Angel has a son?" he asked. "Really? But he's a vampire. I thought that wasn't possible."

"Oh, so did everyone else," Wesley said, waving a hand in the air. Dimly, he was aware that the alcohol was starting to react with the painkillers, and that he'd be better off shutting up now, but it was hard to care.

"You remember all those demonic prophecies," he continued. "The ones about the miracle child, the golden child. That's Connor. He's Angel's son by Darla."

Ethan stared at him. "Fascinating. Yes, I've heard the tales. In fact, I ran into a chap a couple of days ago here in town with a bizarre story about the miracle child and a time-travelling demon. Do you think they might be related?"

Wesley froze, paralyzed by a sudden stab of hope and disbelief. "I... Oh God. I know what this is! I knew there were too many coincidences! It's all... it's all..." He shook his head, trying to find the word, but could only come up with Fred's bit of nonsense. "It's all conflue-y!"

"Ah, Wesley?" Ethan frowned at him. "Are you all right?"

"Not in the slightest!" Wesley exclaimed, suddenly excited. "Do go on! What did he have to say?"

Ethan smiled. "I can do better. I didn't believe his tale, so I captured the events out of his memory. Here." He pulled a small, oval mirror out of his jacket pocket, and faced it towards Wesley. "Watch."

A few words in Latin, and the mirror stopped reflecting Wesley's pale face. It began to glow, with shapes moving softly under a haze of color, and then cleared to show a patch of English countryside.

Wesley watched as a swirling portal sucked all the color out of the scene, then dwindled away, leaving Sahjhan and Holtz standing in a country lane, next to the gate of a private drive. He gasped as he recognized Connor in Holtz' arms. Holtz looked awful, as though he'd been folded, spindled, and mutilated on the passage through the portal, but what Wesley could see of Connor's face was still unmarked and peaceful.

"Good," Wesley sighed. "The protection spell held. I only meant it to last for 48 hours, until we were safely in England, so they can't have been in the Hell dimension for long."

"Shh," Ethan said. "Listen."

Sure enough, there were voices quietly accompanying the scene.

"Where is this place?" Holtz was asking. He sounded a little disoriented.

"This? Sahjhan answered. "Oh, it's the world you jumped from, some number of years in the past."

"In the past?" Holtz flinched. "How far into the past? And, why?"

"Oh, a few decades or so. Not to worry, you'll run no risk of meeting yourself here."

"But, why?" Holtz repeated.

The demon shrugged casually. "Why what?"

"Why bring me here, now? I thought you wanted the child dead. It would have been easier to leave us in that place."

Sahjhan snorted. "Quortoth? Quite the place, wasn't it? Shame how it didn't touch the little nipper, though."

Holtz looked down at Connor, and rubbed the infant's smooth cheek with one rough, singed finger. "How is that possible?"

"I'm not sure," Sahjhan said. "There's a protection spell on him, but I'm not sure how long it will last, or who cast it on him. It might even be the Powers; I've heard that Darla tried to rid herself of him several times, but was never successful."

"That's an interesting theory," Holtz said, straightening his back and speaking with more confidence. "But it's not very helpful to my cause. What happens now?"

Sahjhan laughed. "Well, for starters, we're going to leave the tyke here, at this gate."

"To what purpose?"

"Well, there's no getting out of the prophecy. It states pretty clearly that the father will kill the son. What's more, the confluence of events will make sure that happens in L.A., back in the week you jumped out of. I can't pin down the exact day, but I'm sure of that week. I have sources the humans don't."

"And?" Holtz interrupted the demon's speech. "Get to the point."

Sahjhan obliged. "When you jumped, I had a brilliant idea. Why not send him to the past, and let him grow up as part of a community that hates Angel, souled or not? He'll be an adult now, not an infant, and Angel will have to defend himself. Maybe I'll even get two deaths for the price of one."

Holtz nodded. "And if Angel survives, it will maximize his anguish. Not only did he take his son's life, he missed out on everything that made his son into a man."

Sahjhan smiled. "Exactly. So how about it? Put the kid by the gate, ring the bell, and let's get back to L.A. pronto."

"One last thing," Holtz said. "Why not let me raise him myself, as I intended?"

"Are you kidding?" Sahjhan said. "You'd get attached. You wouldn't want him to die, and everything would get all tangled again. Go on. Put him down."

Slowly, Holtz did so, caressing Connor's cheek one more time as he settled the blanket-wrapped infant on the grassy verge. As he reached for the button that would notify the owners someone was at the gate, the plaque on the gatepost came into view.

"Travers Residence," Wesley read, horrified, as the scene faded back into the original reflection.

Ethan chuckled. "Thought you'd like that. And now that I've done my good deed for the year..." He raised the mirror higher, holding it insistently in front of Wesley's face.

Wesley was puzzled, but he looked again anyway... then gasped. "What have you done?" he exclaimed.

"Oh, it'll only last a few days," Ethan said, laughing. "At least I didn't turn you into a Fyarl, like I did Ripper."

It wasn't Wesley's face reflected in the mirror, anymore. It was Holtz's.

Chapter Seven: Divergent Paths

Jonathan stood in front of the mirror in the restroom for several minutes, just staring at his reflection. Or, rather, Riley Finn's reflection. There was something a little strange about having Deep Thoughts while wearing someone else's face, but he didn't exactly want to zap back to his normal Jonathan-shape and watch his slacks puddle around his ankles. Especially in a men's restroom.

He thought about his parents, the ones who'd raised him for the first eighteen years of his life. He thought about their absent-minded caring, sometimes frustrating and non-supportive but always unquestionably there. He thought about their reactions the day Buffy kept him from killing himself in the tower. He thought about playing chess with Dad, watching old Bond movies with Mom, and how they'd wanted him to go to college, get a glimpse of the world outside, after the high school blew up.

Jonathan wasn't very close to them, these days, especially since he'd moved out to "get an apartment with Warren and Andrew." Still. As ineffective as they were, they were his parents. Maybe not his blood parents, but his parents all the same, with warm-fuzzy memories attached. Not that he'd ever admit that to any of his male friends. Anyway. This guy, Ethan? Much cooler. Much smarter. Also much more dangerous, and never ever a candidate for warm-fuzzy anything.

So now what? Go with his newfound father, and learn all kinds of powerful new magic? Something about that idea just felt wrong, like a reprise of the last year, only on a bigger scale. People had a tendency to get hurt when the Geek Trio took shortcuts, and Warren cared a lot less about that collateral damage than Jonathan did. Ethan's attitude? Way middle-aged Warren.

But what else was there? Keep hiding in L.A., or what?

Jonathan sighed. Better go out there and talk some more. Maybe he was getting the wrong impression. Maybe Ethan didn't always grin dangerously and make injured guys miserable. And maybe Jonathan was just making up excuses so he didn't have to add another notch to the Life side of Life vs. the Short Idiot.

Well, there was one thing he could do: he had some change in his pocket, and there was a payphone outside in the hall. He should probably tell his parents he would be away for awhile. And maybe they could tell him something about Ethan? Didn't adopting parents get some kind of information about their kids' real parents?

He turned and walked out of the restroom, digging the change out of his pocket. There wasn't anyone on the phone, fortunately, so he plunked in his 35 cents and dialed the familiar number. Then it asked for more change, and he frowned. "Long distance?" He hung up, pocketed the change again, and tried it with 1-800-COLLECT. Stupid commercials. It was easier back when the only way to do collect was to dial 0, and no one had to watch Mr. T lower himself to prance around with old ladies and payphones.

"Jonathan?" his mother answered, at last. "Is that you?"

"Yeah, mom," he said. "Sorry about the collect thing. I'm out of town, and I thought you should know."

She sighed. "Ah. Well, we weren't planning a big birthday party anyway. I'll buy you a cake whenever you're back. Are you at one of those gaming conventions again?"

Mother-guilt: faster than light, heavier than lead. Jonathan winced. He'd forgotten how gung-ho she was about family holidays, and her martyred tone was worse than any cursing-out she could have given him. "Um, no. Uh, I met this guy, he said he's my real dad?"

She was silent for several ominous seconds, then spoke cautiously. "Is his name Ethan Rayne?"

"That's what he says. Is something wrong?" Mentally, he crossed his fingers. He knew the answer was likely to be Yes, but why couldn't life be uncomplicated for a change?

"Yes," she said, sounding worried. "When we adopted you we were told your parents led very disruptive lifestyles, especially him, and that we'd be much safer keeping all the papers entirely anonymous so he couldn't track us. How did he find you?"

Jonathan sighed. "It doesn't matter." He glanced up, with the receiver still to his ear, checking to see if the person in question had left yet.

He hadn't. Neither had Wesley. In fact, Ethan was holding a mirror in one hand, or something like, that was faintly glowing... and from this angle Jonathan could see his other hand, making gestures under the table, sprinkling some sort of powder.

"Uh oh," Jonathan said. "This can't be good." Better go rescue Wesley now.

"Jonathan? Is something the matter?" his mother asked.

"Sorry Mom. Gotta go. I'll call later."

He hung up and started weaving through the crowd, headed for the table. His suspicions were confirmed when Wesley suddenly wasn't Wesley anymore, replaced by a shorter guy with intense features and graying hair. The glowing thing wasn't glowing anymore either-- definitely a mirror-- and Ethan tilted it at Wesley, who suddenly looked absolutely horrified.

Jonathan sighed, and felt suddenly older. "Um, Ethan?" he said, stepping up behind the man that spoke of the Hellmouth as a training ground. A training ground, for God's sake, as if the high death rate was worth it if a few kids developed useful talents to change the misery around them.

"Ah, Jonathan," Ethan said, with amusement still dancing in his eyes. "I think it's time we moved on. Let's leave Mr. Holtz here to his drink and go fetch your things."

"Um, I don't think, I mean... I'm not coming." Jonathan looked down, concentrating on his shiny overlarge shoes, telling himself he was indeed 6'2" right now, taller than usual, and definitely taller than three inches.

Silence. Then, "Why is that?" in a careful, even tone of voice.

He looked up. Ethan was staring at him again, with a little frown between his eyebrows.

"I just ran away from this, you know," Jonathan replied, uncomfortably. "From this kind of fun, where people get hurt all the time. I can't do it again."

"I worship chaos, Jonathan," Ethan said. His face sagged a little, then he shook his head and put that smile of his back on. "I'm not in the white hat business. It's been that way since before you were born. Watching you this last year or so, I had hoped... Well. I'll be back on your next birthday to ask you again." And then he was gone.

Jonathan watched him go. "Am I always going to wonder what would happen if I went with him?" he asked the air.

Hollow laughter answered him from the table where no-longer-Wesley still slumped. "Oh, yes. There are always what-ifs with fathers," he said, and met Jonathan's gaze with a small, sad smile.

Even with the tough new face, the man still looked like a kicked puppy. "You don't look so good," Jonathan commented. "What happened to you?"

Wesley shook his head. "It's a very long story."

"Suit yourself," Jonathan shrugged. "Need any help getting back to your hotel room?"

Wesley's eyes narrowed, and suddenly the kicked puppy was entirely Watcher, measuring Jonathan with his eyes. "Mmm, well," he said. "Since we don't seem to be enemies after all...?"

The statement hung in the air, and Jonathan decided he could afford to let a little of the truth out. "Maybe a week ago," he said, "if you came to Sunnydale. Now? Here? It's all good. I'm leaving all that behind." He stepped closer to Wesley, and offered the older man a hand up.

"Thank you."

Awkwardly, they made their way out of the bar, Jonathan leading, Wesley gripping his arm and turning greyer with every step. Jonathan paused on the sidewalk outside so Wesley could catch his breath, but the short pause kept getting longer, and Wesley didn't seem to be getting any better.

"Uh, are you okay?" Jonathan tugged at Wesley's arm. "Should I call an ambulance or something?"

"Yeah, you might want to do that."

Another menacing voice. Jonathan rolled his eyes. He'd heard enough of those today, already! Slowly he turned around, and found himself face to face with Angel.

He remembered Angel, sort of. The souled vampire hadn't interacted much with students outside the Scooby Gang, but Jonathan had seen him off and on during all the planning for the Mayor's Ascension. He'd never seen him look quite this pissed, though.

"Daniel Holtz and Riley Finn. You just made my day." With that, Angel picked Wesley up by the shirt front and hurled him bodily into the wall.

Oh, shit.

Chapter Eight: Found

Wesley knew the moment he stood up that something was going very wrong. Either he was allergic to something, or the combination of magic, drugs, and alcohol in his system was turning sour. Regardless, he was very grateful that Jonathan had chosen "the white hat business"; without the boy's help, he would probably have passed out right there on the floor. Wesley was still curious as to the young man's true purpose for being in Los Angeles, and what Ethan had meant about the boy's activities this past year, but questions could wait until some other day.

Slowly, the pair made their way outside. Jonathan paused when they reached the sidewalk, a little courtesy that Wesley was very grateful for. He couldn't seem to catch his breath, and his balance was rather shaky.

"Uh, are you okay?" Jonathan was tugging at his arm. "Should I call an ambulance or something?"

An ambulance would be nice. He could barely feel anything anymore except for the throbbing knife wound, and the ground had taken on a queasy rocking motion. Hospital would be better. Neither, however, was a good idea at this point. Wesley swallowed and opened his mouth to frame an answer, but was cut off by a familiar voice from the sidewalk behind them.

"Yeah, you might want to do that." Was that Angel? Here? Now? Bugger...

The voice continued. "Daniel Holtz and Riley Finn. You just made my day."

Then there was a fist at Wesley's shirtfront, a flash of Angel's angry face, and he was in the air. For about half a second, there was the sensation of giddy flight, then more pain and a wall of blackness. Wesley closed his eyes, and knew no more.

"This wasn't supposed to happen, you know."

Wesley blinked, and found himself back in the star-specked dreamscape he'd visited that morning. For some reason, he'd forgotten about it the moment he woke up; but here, now, he could remember the earlier dream as clearly as if it had just happened.

"What wasn't supposed to happen?" he asked the avatar, bitterly. "The part where I stole Angel's child? The part where I ran into Ethan? The part where..." He paused. "What's happening to me?"

She laughed lightly, and her borrowed shape flowed from an eerie copy of Faith into a shorter, blonder, more cheerful Slayer. "No one saw Buffy coming. But she wasn't the only domino in the chain, or even the first."

"You didn't answer my question," he said, angrily.

The pseudo-Buffy winked at him mischeivously, then leaned forward to ghost over the path of his throat wound with one small, strong finger. "Trust us. Trust your instincts. And beware."

She faded out then, leaving him all alone on the featureless black plain.

"Beware what?" he sighed, staring up at the unfamiliar constellations.

Some indeterminate amount of time later, Wesley became aware that he was flat on his back on cold concrete. He was vaguely aware that someone had said something important to him, but it disappeared from his mind like mist in a wind, driven out by more mundane considerations. His ribs were aching, his neck was throbbing, and there was a definite sensation of nausea in his stomach.

Gradually, he became aware that there were voices going on somewhere above him. After a moment, he was able to concentrate enough to decipher what they were saying.

"... sure he's going to be okay?" That was Angel, sounding anxious.

"He should be. He's breathing again, and I know I got the alcohol out of his system. It must have been reacting with something else he's taking, or something Ethan did to him." That was Jonathan.

"That's what you were doing? I didn't know there were spells for that."

"What, getting rid of alcohol? Duh. Teenagers invented that one a long, long time ago."

An actual chuckle from Angel. Wesley furrowed his brow. Angel, in a better mood? What...

"Look! He's waking up!" Cool fingers, there, on Wesley's forehead. "Wesley, can you hear me?"

Wesley's eyes fluttered open. "Angel," he said, weakly. "Can explain..."

"Shhh," Angel said, frowning at him. "You're so sorry, right? Well, I am too. Does that sum it up? We can get into the blaming and brooding and never forgiving each other later. For now, we need to get you back to the Hyperion. Where's your keys?"

Wesley fumbled with his pockets. "Luggage in room 12..."

"On it," Jonathan said. He took the keys from Wesley's unsteady hand. "Did you bring your own car?"

Car? Wesley smiled a little. With leather pants? Right. "Try motorcycle."

Jonathan's eyes widened. He looked like a small child in a candy store with a $10 bill burning a hole in his pocket. "That's yours?" He looked over at Angel. "Can I drive it back to wherever for you guys? I promise I won't wreck it. Please?"

"Ask him, not me." Angel shrugged.

"Go ahead," Wesley said, amused by the exchange despite his dark mood. "I'm unable to at the moment, and I'd prefer not to leave it here."

Jonathan's face lit up with a delighted smile. "Yes! I mean, sorry and all, but... hey." Then he shifted, addressing Angel again. "I'll bring all the luggage over, then get the bike and follow you wherever we're going. Where's your car at?"

"About a block that way," the vampire agreed, pointing an arm down the street. "I'll put Wesley in the back seat and wait for you."

"Got it."

Very unusual, this being fussed over by Angel. Especially after losing Connor. It made Wesley feel a little uneasy, but he wasn't exactly in a position to protest. What was he going to say? "Leave me here, I'm not worthy?" It might be true, but it would also be very stupid.

Angel picked Wesley up carefully, draping the younger man over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. "How's that?" he asked. "Anything hurt?"

Well, almost everything hurt and this position was pressing on his sore ribs, but Wesley wasn't about to tell Angel that. Being carried down the street like a girl would probably be worse, from an image standpoint if nothing else. And if he could take the time for that ironic mental commentary, it probably wasn't as bad as it felt. In which case, why was Angel carrying him at all? He wasn't broken, just a little weak.

"I'd prefer to walk," Wesley said.

Angel snorted and made his way easily down the street, as if Wesley were no heavier than a sack of flour, then laid him carefully on the back seat of the convertible. It still smelled faintly of the cleaners Angel had used after Darla's water broke in the car. Wesley tried to say something again, anything, a thank-you maybe, or a rebuke, or a promise to get Connor back, but Angel shushed him once more.

"Rest, Wes. Holtz is around here somewhere-- that's why I was out hunting to begin with. Let's save the talking until we're back in the hotel." Angel slid into the front seat and started drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.

A few minutes passed like that in relative silence. Then, footsteps approached. Angel shifted his attention to the sidewalk, and Wesley saw him do an obvious double-take. "Oh," he said. "Jonathan! You're you again, too." A pause. "I do remember you, kind of. Weren't you helping us with the whole Mayor thing?"

Jonathan leaned over the passenger door and put Wesley's suitcases and a duffel on the seat. Angel was right; Wesley remembered seeing this short young man in Sunnydale. Hadn't there been a rifle involved at some point? Hard to remember.

He'd never have guessed then, but now that he knew, he could see the traces of Ethan in the boy's face. The world really was a small place-- at least, if the Hellmouth was involved.

"Yeah." Jonathan was answering Angel's question. "Larry and I were helping out with the bomb stuff..."

"What was that about talking later?" Wesley interrupted quietly, with a faint smile.

Angel snorted, then turned the key in the ignition. "Smart ass."

... Wait a minute, Wesley thought, watching Jonathan walk away towards where the motorcycle was parked. "You're you again, too?" he repeated silently, then sat up carefully and glanced in one of the car mirrors. Sure enough, Wesley was Wesley-shaped again. But hadn't Ethan said it would take a few days for that to happen?

Chapter Nine: Group Confrontation

Jonathan grinned as he put the helmet on and settled into the seat of the motorcycle. Now this was transportation. If he had a choice between that grubby cab from the night before and Wesley's motorcycle, or even between Angel's convertible and the motorcycle, he'd definitely choose the bike every time.

The drive back to Angel's place was just long enough to feel like a decent ride. The sun hadn't been down very long-- in fact, it must have set while he and Wesley were in the bar with Ethan-- so the air was a decent temperature, and there weren't many suspiciously pale people on the streets yet.

They passed the abandoned taxicab on the way. It already had gang grafitti sprayed on it, and one of the windows was broken. Whenever that "delivery guy" finally tracked it down, he was going to be one unhappy camper.

Not that Jonathan cared. He had poked around in the trunk and glove compartment before he left it, and found a whole lot of disturbing things in there. The guy deserved to be inconvenienced, or even better, put entirely out of business. Maybe he could tell Angel about it later? He could probably put a stop to it.

They finally parked at an old hotel, the Hyperion. Jonathan carefully put the kickstand down on the bike and stowed the helmet, then went back to the convertible to get the luggage again. Duffelbag over the shoulder, one suitcase for each hand. He would probably have objected to playing porter in other circumstances, since he was the smallest one in the group. Just now, though, Angel obviously had his hands full with Wesley, and Wesley was in no condition to carry anything.

Wesley did manage to get out of the car on his own two feet, but he wasn't moving very fast, even with Angel there for support. Jonathan didn't blame him. He'd had a really crappy day, and from what he'd picked up out of Angel's monologue earlier, it hadn't been the first.

Not that Angel was much better off, at least emotionally. When Wesley had crumpled against the wall and turned back into himself, Angel had stared at him in shock, then took two steps backward, bracing himself against the nearest vehicle.

"But... Wes?" he'd said, sounding utterly stunned. "I thought... where did Holtz go? I didn't mean to, I didn't really want Wes dead."

He hadn't been much use over the next few minutes, hovering behind Jonathan and stammering out pieces of the recent trouble between him and Wesley, alternating between grief and anger, then relief when it looked like Wesley was gonna make it.

Angel hadn't even paid any attention to interested passers by other than to growl at them whenever they got too close. Jonathan had worried there for awhile that someone was going to call the police, but there still hadn't been any sirens by the time they left. That could have been awkward.

These people were so messed up. Even so, it was obvious they cared about each other more than the members of the Trio ever had. It made Jonathan feel sorry for them and jealous of them all at the same time.

The lobby looked nice, when they finally got inside, like something you might see in the movies or on TV, though a little dated. Jonathan didn't get much of a chance to look around, though. As soon as the doors shut behind them, there was a gasp from somewhere up above and a petite brunette came running down the stairs towards the three men. She was cute, with flowing long hair and a girl-next-door sense of style, and she was putting out all kinds of protect-me vibes. Wesley's girlfriend, maybe?

"In the courtyard, quick!" she hissed at them when she got close. "I'm so glad you're here, both of you... all three of you, I guess, except I don't know who you are..." She paused to glance at Jonathan. "But really this isn't a very good time." She stopped only a foot or so away, casting nervous glances in the direction of the office door.

"Fred? What's going on?" Wesley asked quietly.

"Shhh!!" Fred hissed again, and made shooing motions off to the side. "Not out here!"

Jonathan looked at the luggage in his hands, then shrugged, and followed the others into a small outdoor area filled with green growing things. And something else green. Or was it someone?

"Wes? It's about time you got back," the green guy said. He had actual horns, and red eyes, and everything. It was creepy. Jonathan hadn't seen many friendly demons on the Hellmouth-- no surprise there-- but this guy was rather obviously non-human, and no one seemed to mind. Jonathan decided to just stand quietly near the door, hoping to attract as little attention as possible.

"Could have done without the bump on the skull, though," the green guy continued, narrowing his eyes at Wesley. "Seriously, kid, when are you going to learn how to share your troubles?"

Wesley looked away. "Lorne..."

Lorne shook his head dismissively, waving a hand in Wesley's direction. "Anyway. Let's just put that issue on hold, because there are bigger ones right now. In your office. Threatening Cordelia. Present company included, some times I think these Watcher's Council types couldn't find their own..."

"Lorne." Angel cut off the flow of words. "This isn't the time."

"There's three of them, Wes," Fred said, speaking up. "They didn't give us any names. They just yelled at us and asked us where you were. They've been here at least an hour. Cordy gave up after awhile and sent me out to keep watch so I could warn you before you walked in on them. So, I'm warning you."

"What did you tell them?" he asked, finally meeting her eyes.

She shrugged and started wringing her hands together nervously. "That you were in the hospital. They checked, of course, and then they got all upset about you being missing."

"But what do they want with me?" Wesley sounded utterly mystified.

"I've been eavesdropping, but they still ain't saying." Another person came crowding into the courtyard, a tall black guy. Coworker? He immediately walked up to Fred and tugged one of her hands free, clasping it in his own. Oh. Not Wesley's girlfriend.

The guy frowned and continued. "The leader of these Watchers, though, he's got a little box in his hands that he won't put down, he says it's for your eyes only. Plus, he's started mentioning Connor's name like he knows it means something."

Wesley flinched. "Connor? I didn't tell them anything about Connor." He trailed off, automatically removing his glasses to polish them, deep in thought. "The only one I even talked to recently was Rupert, and he swore to secrecy. I don't see how the Council could know Connor's name, even if they had the original prophecy."

"Could they have been tapping Mr. Giles' phone?" Fred suggested, hesitantly.

"I suppose that's possible," Wesley said, sliding his glasses back onto his face. "He isn't exactly in favor with the Council. Or..." Suddenly, he looked over at Angel, wearing a pained expression. "If one of them has had a visit from Sahjhan..."

The anger was back, simmering in Angel's eyes. "What's Sahjhan got to do with the Watcher's Council?" he growled.

"Possibly nothing," Wesley said, quietly. "Possibly everything. Just... please don't kill anyone today, Angel. Especially Quentin Travers. You'll have to trust me on this."

"Wes..." Several people started talking all talking at once, some questioning, some objecting.

Wesley paid them no attention. "I really should go in and talk to them, find out what they know," he said, refusing to look at any of his friends. "I'll send Cordelia out here."

None of them tried very hard to hold him back. Not even Jonathan, who thought they were all being very foolish, and that Wesley would be far better off getting some sleep. They just stood and watched him shuffle wearily out of the room.

"So, young Jedi..."

Jonathan blinked in startlement, and found Lorne staring at him.

"Tell us your story." It wasn't just the green guy; they were all looking at him now, even if Lorne was the only one speaking.

Jonathan swallowed nervously. "Um... I think I'll just go and make sure Wesley doesn't fall down." He almost ran out of the courtyard, leaving the luggage behind.

Chapter Ten: Recalling Pandora

Wesley stopped halfway across the lobby to catch his breath. His hands were trembling again, and he wasn't sure whether it was a reaction to his physical state, or his emotional one. Beyond all the difficulties with his friends, his guilt, and his fears about Connor's identity, the very idea of facing down a group of Watchers made his spirits sink. He hadn't spoken to anyone from the higher levels of the Council in person since he had been fired and left virtually penniless on American soil.

An old Buffy-esque phrase came to mind, one that seemed appropriate to the occasion: "This is so not of the good." The girl had a definite talent for butchering the English language. She had certainly helped make his brief stint as an active Watcher lively, if nothing else. Perhaps Wesley could borrow a page from her book, and stare the Council down? No harm in trying; but he had no idea how to manage it.

Footsteps sounded behind him. "Your friends scare me, Wesley."

"Yes, well." Wesley frowned, trying to find some neutral way to explain their behavior to Jonathan. "They're all a little upset just now."

"Yeah, I know." Jonathan appeared at his elbow, looking determined. "I heard some of it from Angel. That's not what I meant. But never mind. Need some help in there?"

"Help?" Where had that come from? Surely there wasn't anything that Jonathan could do? This wasn't his fight, anyway. Wesley raised his eyebrows. "I'm not sure you would be of much assistance in an argument with the Watcher's Council..."

"Not for that, dumbass." Jonathan glared up at him. "I meant like moral support. Or just plain support. We already scraped you off the pavement once today, you know."

Wesley blinked at him. "Did they ask you to help me?" he asked, glancing back towards the courtyard. The thought was like a tiny bright spark in his internal gloom.

"Your friends? No, I think they're too busy trying to stay calm. Besides. They started asking me questions."

Wesley couldn't help smiling at that, despite the sting of dashed hope. "Ah. Of course. An ulterior motive."

Jonathan shrugged. "Anyway. Let's not keep the English guys waiting."

Wesley thought about that a moment, and then suddenly had an idea. "I appreciate the offer, but I really don't need any support; I don't wish to look weak in front of the Council. However, I might be able to use you as a distraction..."

"A distraction?" Now it was Jonathan with the raised eyebrows, sounding faintly alarmed.

"Just stand behind me and glower. You needn't say anything," Wesley instructed him, and smiled. This might not be such an awful interview after all.

"I'm five-foot-two. How am I going to distract anybody?"

Jonathan's confused mutterings just made Wesley's smile widen as the steel crept back into his blue eyes. He now had a plan. Granted, his plans often went wrong, but it was a plan all the same. With some small measure of confidence thus restored, he approached the office door and opened it.

"Wes! Thank God!" Cordelia leapt up from her seat behind the desk and rushed around it to hug him, brushing two hovering Council types out of the way. She gave him a quick squeeze, making him wince in pain and spots dance in his vision, then pulled back and stared seriously into his eyes.

"I'm sure you've already heard it all, or said it to yourself," she said, emphasizing her words carefully. "So I'll just say, ditto. But if you go all Brood Boy Lite because of this and take off again, I'll hunt you down myself. Clear?"

Unaccountably, his throat tightened up again, and he cleared it self-consciously. "Clear," he agreed. "The others are waiting for you."

She nodded, then hugged him again and swept around him in a flash of brown eyes and tanned skin.

She didn't appear to have noticed Jonathan's presence in the room in her hurry to exit, but the Council envoys did. "Mr. Wyndam-Pryce," said the eldest of the suit-clad, stiff-backed trio, as soon as the door shut behind Cordelia. "And Mr....?"

Wesley could see the box Gunn had mentioned held tightly in Travers' hands. It was small and metallic and did not resemble any important artifact Wesley was aware of.

He brushed off the lingering warmth of the encounter with Cordelia, and met the Travers' gaze without flinching. Evenly, his manner cold and aloof, he said, "This is Jonathan Rayne, whose father I believe you are acquainted with?"

Travers' eyes narrowed as he contemplated that. "Ethan Rayne, do you mean? I was not aware that he had any sons."

"The very same. Interestingly enough, they share not only genetic material, but also certain abilities, and certain attitudes towards the Council." Wesley left the statement floating in the air, with a slight smirk on his face.

Apparently Jonathan had taken that as a cue; Latin syllables interrupted the silence, and Travers suddenly turned pale. "Is that a threat?" the man asked, trying to sound belligerent.

Thank you, Jonathan, Wesley thought. He had no idea what the boy had done, but it had had just the right effect. "Funny that you should mention threats," Wesley continued aloud. "I've been told that you were in here threatening my staff in my absence?"

"Of course not, sir," the second Watcher said, hurriedly. "We were merely very concerned as to your whereabouts, and the young ladies may have taken our enthusiasm amiss."

"Ah. Of course. Silly of them." Wesley didn't take his eyes off of Travers. "So why were you so concerned with my whereabouts?"

"You tell us," Travers said vehemently. "This box, which appears to be of other-dimensional origin, turned up on my desk yesterday evening with the message, 'To Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, Regarding Connor.' I was also informed yesterday that Mr. Giles, whom we are aware is still in contact with you, had disappeared from his flat in Bath. Combine these facts with the known appearance of a portal to Quortoth in Los Angeles on Monday, and we have a very interesting puzzle."

"So what does the box contain?" Wesley asked, trying to sound bored.

"We don't know," the third Watcher admitted, casting an apologetic look at Travers. "It won't open, no matter what we do. We think it's keyed to you, specifically."

"Well then." Wesley held out a hand. "If I may?"

Travers glared at him for several seconds, then glanced over Wesley's shoulder and finally stepped forward to place the box on Wesley's outstretched palm.

As soon as the metallic surface touched Wesley's skin, the box began to glow, much as Ethan's mirror had earlier in the day. Then it popped open with a muffled click, exposing the contents.

He'd had a few suspicions on what the box might contain. A letter, perhaps, mocking his failure? A lock of Connor's hair? Or perhaps some kind of trap? The item that rested on the bottom of the box fell into none of these categories.

It was a pebble. A small one, about as large as the end of his thumb, a light grey in color with speckles of amber and aquamarine. The kind of thing a child might pick up and put in his pocket, thinking it was pretty. The kind of thing a child had, in fact, once put in his pocket, about twenty years ago.

Wesley plucked it from the box, barely noticing when the box itself vanished. There was a faint chime in the air, and a flash of light, but all he saw was the pebble, and all he heard was a lady's voice, whispering, amused. "Done."

Ah, yes. He remembered that voice. He knew what she was now, of course, but at eleven, he'd been hurting, alone, and trying avoid thinking about his father's demonology texts. And truthfully, he wasn't sure it would have mattered.

He had found the pebble the day after he'd run into Ethan Rayne. Wesley disliked Ethan, as an adult; he knew perfectly well what Ethan was, and the kind of chaos sown in the sorcerer's wake. But as a boy, he had been impressed by Ethan's casual power, laughing defiance of the Council's wishes, and undeniable strength of will.

Wesley had come back from the errand that had taken him into the Library and innocently mentioned the encounter in the Library to his father. His father had immediately searched out the security director to make Wesley repeat every detail of his meeting with Ethan. Not only had Ethan been severely treated as a result, Wesley had been thoroughly punished for daring to be upset about it.

The next morning, Wesley had run away. It hadn't lasted long. He'd been in his father's office being punished again by nightfall. That morning, however, Wesley had escaped to a nearby village that sat along the banks of a small stream. There had been any number of pretty stones there, sparkling in the water, but Wesley had only taken one.

When the path led him through the centre of town, Wesley had come across an old wishing well. He knew, of course, that most wishing wells were not mystically enchanted, nor did they contain benevolent spirits; his father had lectured him out of most popular childhood beliefs by the age of five. All the same, on that particular day, something had prompted him to make a wish.

While he'd been searching his pockets for something to drop in, a pretty lady had appeared on the path beside him. "Hullo," she had said, "what's your name?"

"Wesley. Just Wesley. I'm tired of being Wesley Wyndam-Pryce."

"Really?" the lady had asked, with a big smile and a tilt of her head. "I'm Halfrek. Are you here to make a wish?"

Wesley had sniffled and mumbled and complained that he hadn't a penny, only this little pebble that he had picked up out of the stream.

"Oh, what a lovely pebble. I'm sure it will work, dear. Now just toss it in, and make your wish. Be sure to say it out loud, or it can't come true." She had sounded so positive; he had implicitly trusted her.

"But I thought they had to be secret?" he had asked, blinking up at her with wide blue eyes.

"Oh no," she had laughed. "Wish-granters aren't mind readers, you know. You have to say exactly what you want."

So eleven-year-old Wesley had thought, and thought, and finally came up with the best wish he could think of, with plenty of and's to link it all together. "I wish that Mr. Wyndam-Pryce wasn't my real father, and that my real father has nothing to do with Watchers and doesn't wear suits and would never tell me I'm not good enough and wouldn't make me always study and that I could go live with him."

The curly-haired lady had opened her mouth to say something, then stopped short and blinked at him in dismay. "Oh, honey," she said. "I didn't realise who you were. I'm sorry. I can't grant that one, although if you wait twenty years I think you might be surprised. Do you have any other wishes today?"

"No! You said if I said it out loud, it would come true!" With stubborn tears in his eyes and a trembling lower lip, Wesley had hurled the pebble into the well anyway... but he had never heard it hit bottom. When he had looked up again, blinking in defiance, Halfrek had vanished.

There was no doubt in Wesley's mind, some twenty years after that day, that it was the very same pebble in his hand, although it looked a little smaller to adult eyes.

Chapter Eleven: Where There's Smoke

Jonathan wasn't sure what to think about being labeled "Jonathan Rayne." The whole evil-father thing was still pretty new to him, and the name just sounded strange. Although, it did roll off the tongue easier than Levinson did. And, well, it certainly seemed to have an effect on the Watchers.

So actually, it was pretty smart of Wesley. And pretty impressive, too. It was like watching Buffy's transformation under the stairs the other day. Just a few minutes ago Wesley had been all wilted and depressed, and look at him now, going all Captain Picard on these guys.

Not to mention, letting Jonathan have some fun, too. He knew a couple of fast spells that didn't really have much oomph, but looked pretty cool; when Wesley had introduced his "certain abilities" and "certain attitudes" one of them had come immediately to mind.

It was amazing what you could do with a few simple ingredients. Once, last summer, before the Take Over Sunnydale plan was hatched, he and Warren and Andrew had taken a weekend to go camping. They played all kind of nasty tricks on him in his sleep, so one night he had stayed up late playing with the camping supplies trying to find a way to get them back. The results had mostly been pretty lame, but he'd struck gold in the ashes of the campfire.

He always carried a small baggie of ash, now. The spell only took one small pinch of it, plus a simple Latin phrase: "Ubi fumus, ibi ignis." It meant "Where there's smoke, there's fire." Maybe if he found a way to capture real smoke, the fire would actually burn, but ash was close enough for his purposes.

The ash in his hand ignited first, forming a globe of multicolored tongues of cold fire. Then, with a little concentration, he forced it to spread up his arms and over the rest of his body, forming a cloak of flames from his shoulders to the floor. It wouldn't actually harm anything, but it looked really, really impressive.

The guy that seemed to be the leader had given him a startled look and turned pale. Not as satisfying as Warren and Andrew's first reaction, but good enough. Then he asked Wesley if that was a threat, and how smooth was Wesley? He just continued the conversation, as cool as you please, without even peeking to see what Jonathan had done.

The rest of the conversation had gone fairly well. The younger two Watchers pretty much folded and starting sucking up to Wesley, and the leader-guy went from coolly condescending to bitterly submissive.

Then everything went strange, when Wesley took the box. It opened in immediately in his hand, astonishing everybody (including himself, it seemed). Then he reached in and plucked out one small thing: a pebble. Jonathan's first thought was that it must be a magic stone, or an uncut gem or something, but it looked just like an ordinary little pebble. As soon as Wesley picked it up, the little box vanished with a faint chime and a flash of light.

Nobody moved for at least a minute, watching Wesley watch the pebble in his hand. Finally, the lead Watcher ran out of patience and broke the silence.

"Well?" he growled at Wesley. "What is that? What does it have to do with anything? And who's this Connor?"

Wesley ignored him.

The man tried again, growing angrier. "I asked around after the box showed up. I was told that your vampire friend Angel had a son recently, which you didn't tell us about, despite the prophecies that a miracle child would bring an end to human existence. Is Connor the child's name? I demand an answer on this subject, Wesley. You had no right to keep this from the Council."

Wesley looked up, at last. Something else had clicked behind those eyes, Jonathan thought. The Captain Picard-ness had gone, and he looked more Gil Grissom-ish, now: calm, collected, and well aware that he was in possession of more facts than anyone else in the room.

"Go, Travers. Come back at midday tomorrow. Rupert will be here by then."

Oh. This was Travers? The one Wesley had told Angel not to kill? Angel had mumbled something about a prophecy before, the one Wesley had gone haywire over, that 'The Father Will Kill The Son'. Surely that didn't mean...? Connor was a baby, right?

It was much easier to decipher Travers' thought process. He practically vibrated with outrage. "We're not going anywhere. I demand..."

"You demand nothing." Wesley didn't speak loudly, but the words seemed weightier than anything else in the room. "Come back tomorrow."

"Oh, sod this." Travers stormed past them out of the room, closely followed by his two nervous associates. They were all very careful not to get too close to Jonathan as they left.

Once he was certain the Watchers had left the hotel, Jonathan extinguished his fake fire armor and shook the ashes into the wastebasket. Then he stepped up next to his new friend, looking at the little stone still in Wesley's palm. "Wesley? What's up with the pebble?"

Wesley shook his head. "Jonathan? Was I... dead?"

"What?"... Oh. "Not for long. The wind got knocked out of you, I guess, and with all the crap in you, and the shock, you just stopped. I did CPR."

Wesley just nodded, looking faintly dazed.

"Wesley, what does that...?" Jonathan blinked as a suspicion began forming. No. Couldn't be. But the pieces were all there. There was a prophecy about Angel killing his kid. Wesley had told Angel not to kill an adult. And lo and behold, someone had died, even if it was temporary.

"Don't tell me," Jonathan said, excited. "There's time travel involved in all this? Cool!"

Apparently, that was too much for Wesley. He gave Jonathan a startled look, then started laughing. "Jonathan, it is refreshing to have met you. Mind helping me upstairs? I'm not sure I can keep standing much longer."

Jonathan was willing enough to help Wesley upstairs, but as it turned out, he didn't need to. As soon as the occupants of the courtyard realized that the Watchers were all gone, they flocked back towards the office.

Fortunately, they didn't all gather in the office, where there wasn't really room. They gathered loosely in the lobby and sent the tall black guy (who seemed to be named Gunn) and Angel in to fetch Wesley. Instead of carrying him upstairs, though, they settled him into a chair, and Cordelia appeared with bandages, a damp cloth, a tube of ointment, and a small pill.

"Cordelia..." Wesley began to protest, weakly, when he saw it.

"Take it," she ordered him. "It's left over from my Migraine Girl days. You're looking pretty grey there, and I don't want you passing out when I take a look at your stitches. We want you awake for questioning afterwards." Teasing, but with steel underneath.

Fred appeared with a glass of water, and Wesley gave up and swallowed the pill with a sigh. Cordelia smiled a little, handed the glass back to Fred, and started unwrapping the soiled bandage around Wesley's neck.

About half-way through this process, her eyes met Jonathan's, and she paused. "Jonathan? From Sunnydale, Jonathan?" she exclaimed, finally recognizing him.

Jonathan nodded. "Small world, huh?" He mentally crossed his fingers, hoping she hadn't heard of his recent try at being one of Buffy's nemesis-es. Angel and Wesley hadn't, after all.

No such luck. Cordelia's eyes narrowed. "Willow says you ganged up with Warren and Tucker Wells' little brother and started making a nuisance of yourselves. What are you doing here?"

"Originally? Running away from Warren. Today? Mostly, getting dragged into a bunch of Wesley's business. Can I beg a room from you guys tonight?" He blinked at her, trying for the wide-eyed, poor-me, I-have-seen-the-error-of-my-ways expression.

Cordelia's face was still set in disapproving lines, but Wesley took the opportunity to speak up. "Leave him be. I wouldn't be here without his assistance."

The was a sound of shifting feet in the background-- Angel, presumably, who knew some of what Wesley meant, and was personally responsible for it.

How did debts like theirs balance out, Jonathan wondered? Wesley kidnaps Angel's son and gets his throat slit and the baby taken from him. Angel temporarily causes Wesley's death, by accident. Wesley turns out to be said kidnapped son... although he didn't seem too certain of that yet. The whole thing was just too bizarre. By comparison, his long-lost-father situation looked entirely normal.

Cordelia shook her head. "Whatever." She turned back to the bandaging again, but she kept darting wary glances at Jonathan out of the corner of her eye.

More shuffling of feet. A soft whisper, presumably Fred, then Gunn's voice, louder. "You guys eaten dinner yet? We're making a taco run."

Jonathan hadn't even thought about food all day. There had been too much going on. But now... his stomach rumbled loudly, reminding him. "I didn't eat today at all," he answered, then glanced over at Wesley's pale profile. "I doubt Wesley did, either."

"Okay." Gunn studied him a moment, then nodded. "We'll bring some back. Just don't start talking without us."

They left. Personally, Jonathan thought these people were all showing an amazing amount of patience. Didn't they want to know what had happened with the Watchers, and where Wesley had been? Or had someone actually noticed the state Wesley was in, and decided that fixing him up was more important than the questions?

Didn't really matter. It was all very interesting to watch. Besides, the more Jonathan learned about this group, the better. If he wasn't going back to Sunnydale anytime soon, maybe he could make himself useful to these people.

Wesley had treated him with a fair amount of respect, so far, which was more than he'd ever really gotten from Buffy's crew. The Scoobies had never been intentionally mean, and sometimes helped him, but they'd never gone out of their way to be friends. Mostly, that was why Jonathan had ended up with Warren and Andrew... looking for respect and friendship, with cool toys thrown in. Maybe he could have that here.

It didn't take long for Cordelia to finish cleaning Wesley up, or for Gunn and Fred to return, thankfully. There were a few long moments filled only with the sound of crunching tacos, and then the expected circle of inquiry formed around Wesley at last.

Unfortunately, by that time Wesley had drifted off into oblivion, asleep in his chair with a half-eaten taco still clutched in one hand and a little piece of lettuce stuck to his chin. He looked a lot younger like that, and more vulnerable.

"Better let him sleep," Jonathan said, before anyone could get the bright idea to wake Wesley up and ask him questions. "The Watchers were pretty clueless, anyway, and there wasn't anything in the box except a little piece of rock. He told them to come back tomorrow when Mr. Giles gets here, so you'll hear it all then anyway."

"Giles is coming?" That perked Cordelia up. "Giles is good at fixing things."

"Giles agreed to let Wesley take Connor to England," Angel reminded her, not as pleased. "But Jonathan's right. We're not going to get anything else out of Wesley tonight. Gunn? We can put him in my bedroom."


Angel paused as they lifted Wesley from his chair, and gave Jonathan a sudden, dark look. "There's a spare room on the third floor. Lorne will show you. We'll have more questions for you tomorrow, too."

"Sure, man. Whatever." Not a pleasant thought. Jonathan hadn't mentioned the whole Ethan Rayne thing yet, and it was sure to come out when the questions started flying. Not to mention the details of what he'd been doing in Sunnydale.

Wesley hadn't seemed to care. Would the others? No telling. Still, if he was going to stay on the good side of the line, better to face the music now than wait.

"Good choice, kid."

Jonathan looked at the green guy in surprise. "What?"

Lorne just shook his head. "We'll talk tomorrow. Come on. I'll show you to your room."

Chapter Twelve: Finding Courage

In the past thirty-six hours, Wesley had awakened four times. The first time had been in the hospital, at a baby's cry; next in a low-end hotel room, to the sound of a phone; then on the cold concrete, outside a bar; and now, in the Hyperion, in Angel's bedroom.

The first three times, there had been pain, and disorientation, and depression. This time, however, something was different. Oh, the pain was still there. Nothing but time would solve that problem. But for the emotions... he still didn't really know how to define what he was feeling.

Wesley sighed, and opened his eyes to study the ceiling. His relationship with Angel had always been complex, and deeper than it should have been. Watchers kill vampires, but this watcher had sacrificed his career to help that vampire, not long after they had first met.

Many Watchers, perhaps even most, would not have done as he had, no matter how extenuating the circumstances. He still remembered Weatherby's words, much later, when the retrieval team had come after Faith: "Do the sacred oaths you swore as a Watcher mean nothing to you now?"

That had been within months of Wesley's arrival in Los Angeles. Even earlier that that, he'd been willing to commit grievous bodily harm on Angel's behalf. What was it he'd said to the man he'd pinned with the crossbow dart? "You should understand, the man I work for means a great deal to me. And I will not give you a single red cent. What I will do, Sir, is beat it out of you if I have to."

So much had happened in the next two years. During the time when Angel had fired them all and they'd continued the agency's work without him, Wesley had told Angel that Cordy was the hardest hit by his betrayal, and perhaps even believed it. And yet, after the incident with the new clothes, who had been the one still feeling cheated and upset? Wesley.

There was the day he'd sent Angel to battle Groo, uncertain if Angel would be able to come back intact from another encounter with his internal Beast. The day he'd forced Angel to wear the pink motorcycle helmet; that one still brought up a smile every time he thought about it. The day Angel rescued him from the ruins of their first office. The day Gunn's old crew invited Caritas, and tried to get Gunn to stake Angel; Wesley had bonded strongly with Gunn during Angel's dark period, but that day, Wesley had realised that if forced to choose, he would have to choose Angel.

It was fascinating, thumbing through all these old memories from a new perspective. Interesting to imagine that he might always have known, somewhere deep down, that their destinies were connected. Strange to think about how different life might have been, had he grown up here, with Angel, in Los Angeles.

He tried to imagine a world where Wesley Wyndam-Pryce never existed. Would Mr. & Mrs. Richard Wyndam-Pryce have remained childless? Probably so. He'd always had the impression that his mother wanted daughters, but none had ever been forthcoming.

Would some other child have reported Ethan Rayne's activities in the Council library? Would some other Watcher have failed the two-Slayer assignment as thoroughly as he had? Would some other linguistically gifted researcher have come along to add his variable strengths to Angel's team? The answers to those questions were probably all "no", or at least, "not until later". What differences might that have caused?

The mind boggled. Furthermore, it was probably a waste of time to speculate; after all, he had been sent back three decades and left on English soil. Which reminded him of something else; it still made no sense that he'd seen Holtz at the Travers' gate, while the Wyndam-Pryces lived nowhere nearby. That was a link that still needed further investigation.

A muffled ringing sound interrupted Wesley's thought processes, and he abruptly remembered Rupert's words yesterday about leaving his mobile on. He'd done so, and tucked it into the pocket of his leather coat, which he had been wearing last night. Since he'd fallen asleep in the lobby, that meant the others had carried him in here as-is, so his coat must still be somewhere in the room.

Wesley sat up quickly, and almost immediately regretted it. Not from the neck wound; it was not as bad as it had been the day before. Leather pants tended to chafe one's... legs, and he had been wearing them for too many hours.

Gingerly, Wesley slid off the bed, and located the chair the coat was suspended from. After a few moments, he managed to find the cellular phone, and put it to his ear. "Rupert?"

There was a lot of background noise, but the caller's voice came through loud and clear. "Yes. I've arrived in Los Angeles. Where shall I direct the taxi?"

Wesley winced. "Ah... actually, Rupert, a great deal has happened since we spoke yesterday afternoon. I'm back at the Hyperion."

"The Hyperion?" Giles sounded rather puzzled. "Is this a positive development?"

Wesley sighed. "It's difficult to tell, as yet. Ethan's been involved, and Travers, and someone you may remember from Sunnydale, a young man named Jonathan."

"What? Wesley..."

"I doubt I can explain things more than once, Rupert, and I've put everyone off until your arrival. Get here as soon as you can."

"Right. I'll be there directly."

The conversation ended, and Wesley turned the mobile off again with a frown. He was in need a trip to the loo, at the least, if not a shower, before facing anyone.

Luckily, it appeared that someone had remembered his suitcases; they were in a corner by the door. It might be time to face the music, but at least he could do so wearing more comfortable clothing.

Wesley stopped on the balcony above the lobby and leaned out over the railing, delaying his entrance just a little longer. He'd told Rupert he preferred to explain things only once, and he'd meant it. He would wait up here until the older man arrived, then join the others and get it over with.

It looked like Jonathan and Lorne had just come downstairs, too; he heard Fred greet them cheerily, and a conversation started up. Pretty soon everyone had joined in, asking Jonathan questions about why he left Sunnydale and what he was doing there.

It really seemed like the boy was going to be okay; he'd had a pretty rough start, but then, sometimes the best champions of Light had a rocky beginning. Take Angel for example, or Rupert, or even Cordelia, to a lesser and less literal extent.

Where did that leave Wesley? He wasn't sure yet whether he'd been blessed, or cursed, by the way things had turned out. Would the others forgive him? Accept him? Believe him? He hoped so, knew intellectually that they probably would, and yet he was up here on the balcony, separated from them by his own fear.

He was afraid of what he'd see when he looked into Angel's eyes and told the vampire what had become of his child. He was afraid he'd see the look his human father used to wear whenever Wesley had done something displeasing. That expression that said, you're not what I want in a son. If Wesley saw that look in Angel's eyes today...

Better to die now, to spontaneously combust and leave the others wondering always, than to experience that kind of rejection from Angel.

And yet, as much as he feared Angel's rejection, he also feared what might happen if he were wrong. What if this were all some cosmic joke? He'd been wrong about the Shansu on first translation. What if the note on the pebble-box had been a joke, or a Wolfram & Hart trap?

What if the only reason he was so certain of his suspicions was because he desperately wanted them to be true? It would tie up the problem of Connor, remove the problem of his British father, and balance out his failures in the annals of Watcher history. Those were three of the nagging issues that weighed heavily on his spirit. Could he possibly be indulging in wishful thinking?

"Trust us," a very soft voice whispered in his ear.

Wesley blinked and looked around. There was no one near him to speak... and why did he have a sudden image of stars in his mind? Wesley shook his head, dismissing it, and tried to quiet the turmoil in his heart. What had happened to the calm, focused feeling he'd experienced the night before? Everything had seemed so clear when he'd seen the pebble lying there on his palm, sparkling with answers and promise.

He could do this. He could face the others, ask his questions and give them answers, without dissolving into a nervous wretch. He could talk to Angel without revealing the fear that burned in his veins. He had survived so much already. Why was the thought of surviving this day so hard to imagine? He was stronger than this.

The door opened down below, and Giles stepped through, squinting a little as his eyes adjusted from the sunshine outside to the lobby lighting.

"All right," Wesley sighed. "No more delays." He took a deep breath and then started slowly down the stairs.

Chapter Thirteen: Coffee and Conversation

Jonathan crept quietly down the stairs a little after ten o'clock Friday morning. He still had Wesley's keys from the day before, and he was thinking about borrowing the motorcycle for a quick breakfast run. He'd been hoping that he could get out the door without having to field any awkward questions, but it didn't look like that was going to happen. He could already hear voices drifting up from the lobby.

"Jonathan?" That voice was a little closer. Apparently, there was someone following him down the stairwell, too.

Jonathan turned to look. Great. It was the cryptic demon-guy again. "Hey. Lorne, right?"

"Yeah. Look, Jonathan, I just wanted you to know that you're doing the right thing. It's not always easy or attractive, but trust me, it's a lot more fulfilling in the end."

Jonathan blinked at him. What was this guy, anyway? Beyond the obvious non-human thing? "Are you psychic or something?"

Lorne rolled his eyes a little. "Or something. I read people's auras. Usually when they're singing, but you were lit up like a lighthouse last night. Hard not to take a peek, you know?"

Jonathan couldn't quite hold back an involuntary shudder. He'd never liked the idea of having other people in his head. "Well thanks for the encouragement but, could you not do that anymore? It's wigging me out."

Lorne smiled. "I see what I see, kid. And I see you, in front of a microphone, really soon."

Jonathan shuddered again, and resumed walking down the stairs. "Thanks, but I think I'll take a rain-check on that."

Lorne laughed, and followed him down the stairwell.

When they reached the lobby, it looked like breakfast was already in progress. Cordelia, Gunn, and Fred were busy with doughnuts and coffee, and there were more of each set out on the counter.

Fred saw them first. "Hey, guys! Good morning. There's plenty of food, help yourselves. We're just waiting for Wesley to wake up. We're keeping the agency closed for now, so there's not much else to do."

"Thanks," Jonathan said, and took one of the paper cups and a maple bar. It looked like the custard-filled kind; yum. "It's nice of you guys to feed me."

"Don't get used to it." Cordelia frowned at him. "I still don't trust you. How did you run into Wesley, anyway?"

Well, here goes. How to tell the truth in the least incriminating way possible? "I left Sunnydale Wednesday night. Warren was starting to creep me out, he doesn't care anymore who gets hurt or killed in his little plans. So I packed up some stuff and caught a cab to L.A. I was going to just hang out and hide, but this guy, Ethan Rayne, tracked me to my hotel."

"Ethan Rayne?" Cordelia interrupted him. "The creep who messed with the band candy? Not only did I have to see my mom in lycra, Snyder made us clean up graffiti at the high school."

"Whoa, that sounds like the old Cordelia," Angel said. He walked into the lobby, smiling wryly, and took another of the cups of coffee.

"It's Jonathan's fault," she said irritably. "I'm already all worked up, and here he is, reeking of Sunnydale."

"Hey," Jonathan objected. "I don't reek. But yeah, that's the Ethan Rayne I meant."

"What did he want with you?" Gunn asked, curiously. "Wesley talked about him once. The guy sounds like a bad-ass."

Jonathan sighed. "Well, yeah. But it's complicated. I've been Jonathan Levinson all my life, but I've always known I was adopted. Then, yesterday, this guy Ethan appears, and says he's my real dad."

"Your dad?" Angel asked, sounding alarmed. "You said he was behind the Holtz disguise thing, but you never said..."

"Let me finish, okay?" It was Jonathan's turn to interrupt. He didn't want anyone drawing unpleasant conclusions before he was done. "Ethan wanted me to go with him and do the father-son chaos thing. I said thanks, but no thanks. He left. End of story. Except that he was messing with Wesley too, and I decided to help Wesley get back wherever he needed to go. That's how I ended up here."

"You're sure that's the whole story?" Angel asked. "You're not here to spy on us for Ethan?"

Jonathan snorted. "I get the impression he could find out anything he wanted to know without any help, especially help from me. I have some magic skills, but not much else, and nothing on his scale."

"I believe him, Angelcakes," Lorne spoke up. "He's clean."

"Well. So where are you going next?" Fred asked, piping up. "Any big plans for the weekend? Or just more hiding out from those friends of yours? We could help with that, probably, if you hired us. Except that we're busy with other stuff right now."

"Um, actually... I was hoping I could stick around. You know, find out what happens. If you don't mind. I have some things I'd like to ask Wesley and Mr. Giles, too, about Ethan. In case he comes back."

Jonathan scuffed the toe of his shoe on the tiled floor, hoping they wouldn't object. Actually, it was more than just the Ethan thing, anymore. He wanted to see the end of this thing. He'd heard only about half the story in bits and pieces, like a swiss-cheesed soap opera, and he was fascinated. This was serious stuff, the kind of thing Watchers would write in their secret history books, he thought. Vampires with kids, time-travelling, psychic demons, who knew what else.

Besides, he'd been useful a couple of times already. Maybe he could find something else to do. He was sure anything these guys were involved in would be better than hiding out somewhere, or wandering around on his own trying to find a way to make money in this town.

The group studied him for a few minutes, then looked at each other. "Okay," Angel said, at last. "Just don't do anything you might regret, because we'll make sure you do."

"Got it." Jonathan said.

That settled, he started making a big deal with the eating, so he wouldn't have to answer any more questions. He was just finishing the last of his coffee and listening to the others' small talk when the front doors opened again, and another familiar face walked in.

"Ah. Hello. I understand Wesley is here?"

"Giles!" Cordelia set down her coffee cup and gave the older British man a hug. "It's good to see you. Yes, he's here. We're just waiting for him to show his face again."

"It's good to see you too, Cordelia." Giles smiled at Cordy, then pulled back to greet the others. It wasn't long before he noticed Jonathan, and his eyes narrowed immediately.

"Uh, hey, Mr. Giles." Jonathan shuffled his feet a little nervously. The others were fairly convinced now that he wasn't evil, but it wasn't their Slayer he'd been bothering.

Giles frowned. "Wesley mentioned that you were here. I trust this means that you have left off your plans to rule Sunnydale?"

Jonathan winced. Sarcasm. Well, it was better than being yelled at, or blasted into a crisp on sight. "Pretty much. Being evil wasn't as much fun as I thought it would be, anymore."

"Evil seldom is, in the long run," Giles replied. "At least, for men of conscience. Of course, that doesn't lessen the consequences for your crimes."

"Um, yeah," Jonathan said, looking away. "I kinda figured that." He'd been hoping to evade the worst of it, of course, but since when was he that lucky?

Giles nodded. "So. As to those consequences. Anya said that your group has been involved in robbery, murder, and the consistent terrorizing of Buffy and her friends. Is this true?"

What kind of a question was that? No, he knew what kind of a question that was. What kind of an answer was he supposed to give? Say 'yes', and get the third degree for the badness. Say 'no', to any degree, and get the third degree for lying.

"Um, well, kind of. But Warren was the one who actually killed Katrina, and he was the one trying to hurt Buffy. I was just..." Jonathan sighed. "I didn't know what I was getting into, I guess. I like Buffy, really. She's, well, she's the only real superhero I've ever met. I never thought things would get so messy."

Giles opened his mouth to say something else, then shut it again as his focus shifted somewhere behind Jonathan. There were more footsteps on the lobby floor; sounded like Wesley was up and mobile again. Good! Maybe Giles would forget the rest of his lecture.

He could dream, couldn't he?

Chapter Fourteen: An Angel's Wing

Wesley descended the stairs slowly, listening to Rupert greet the others. The greeting soon unravelled into a series of sharp-edged questions aimed at Jonathan; all well-deserved, but perhaps a little untimely. It annoyed Wesley a little. The crisis of the day was not the situation in Sunnydale, it was the fate of Connor.

His feet left the carpeted stairs for the tile floor, creating muted echoes, and everyone turned immediately to greet him. Jonathan seemed relieved; most of the others acted curious and a little wary.

He aimed for Rupert first; a calm greeting, with just enough smile to reassure. "Rupert. Thank you for coming, I really appreciate it."

"Of course. Anything I can do to help."

There was a flutter of looks and questions half-begun, from the others; Wesley waved them all away. He didn't want to lose the script before he even started. "Before I say anything else, I want you all to know, I believe Connor to be safe. A great deal older, but safe, and right here in Los Angeles."

"Older?" Fred's voice, curious.

"Safe? Here?" Angel's voice, relieved and somewhat hopeful.

"Yes," Wesley said. He found a place to sit down, and met Angel's gaze for a brief moment. "And I'm fairly certain that we do not need to worry about the prophecy any longer."

"Another faulty translation?" Angel's voice was sharp, but a little more of the tension went out of his stance as he spoke.

"Ah, actually, no," Wesley said. "But that's near the end of the story."

"Well, begin at the beginning, then." Giles moved to the counter and set his suitcases down, then took a cup of coffee and found a seat.

"I saw them jump into the portal," Angel spoke again, his voice roughening with remembered despair. "Into Quortoth. Sahjhan called it the darkest of dimensions."

Wesley nodded. "Yes. Fortunately, I had anticipated some trouble on the, ah, journey, though obviously not as much as I encountered. There was a short-term protection spell on Connor when Holtz made the jump, and they weren't in Quortoth long enough for it to expire. Rather than wait, Sahjhan transported them to England, several decades in the past."

"How do you know that?" Angel wanted to know. "And why send Holtz and Connor to the past? Sahjhan said he wanted Connor dead."

Wesley glanced over at Jonathan. "I ran into Ethan Rayne in a bar yesterday. He had a great deal to say to Jonathan, but he also had some information for me. He claimed it was his good deed of the year."

"How do you know he wasn't lying to you?" Cordelia interjected.

Giles stirred then, shifting in his seat and giving Cordelia a sharp look. "I have some history with Ethan, as some of you know, and I think we can trust that he told the truth in this matter. He has a history of supplying accurate information, although it is often accompanied by a rather nasty trick."

Wesley nodded at him. "The Fyarl incident. Yes. He mentioned that."

"Exactly," Giles said. "He had information on the Initiative's secret project, the one that produced Adam."

Everyone seemed at least partially satisfied with that reasoning, so Wesley continued. "In this case, he had lifted some memories from Holtz and stored them in a projection mirror. I'm not sure where he encountered the man, or what prompted Ethan to do this, but I wasn't particularly concerned with the details at the time. We are, after all, in the midst of a confluence of events. Unlikely things are bound to occur."

"So you saw them actually in England. Where? Why?" Angel fidgeted, impatient.

"I was able to hear part of their conversation," Wesley said. "Sahjhan decided to let Connor be raised by a group of people that would hate Angel, regardless of circumstances. The prophecies would ensure that father and son met this week in a fatal encounter, and he believed this would be more easily accomplished, and more painful to Angel, if Connor were already grown."

"Watchers," Gunn said, sounding faintly disgusted. "You telling me Connor's a Watcher? Is that why you were all upset about this Quentin Travers guy yesterday?"

"Oh, dear Lord," Giles said. "If it's Quentin, I suggest you never tell him."

A faint smile lifted the corners of Wesley's mouth. "No, he isn't, although at first I feared he might be. Connor was left at the Travers' front gate, then Sahjhan took Holtz through the portal again, presumably back to L.A."

"Just like that?" Fred said, aghast. "What if something happened to him? What if it rained, or if robbers came along, or something?"

"I'm not sure," Wesley answered. "In fact, I have no information on what happened to Connor over the next few years. I was hoping Rupert might be able to fill in some of the gaps."

Giles shook his head. "I'm afraid I can't," he said. "This is the first I've heard of an unknown infant appearing on the Travers' doorstep."

"But you said you know where Connor is now, right?" Angel asked, starting to pace across the lobby floor.

"Yes," Wesley said. "I believe I do. Something happened last night... well." Deep breath. "I was rather hoping to discover how he got there, but..."

"Where is he, Wes? Just tell me where my son is!" Protective anger, parental love.

Wesley took another deep breath, trying to quiet his nerves. "I... I didn't see Connor as much as the rest of you. Did he... was there any distinct birthmark you would recognise him by?"

Just to make it certain. Just to make sure he wasn't imagining things.

"He had this little mark on his lower back," Fred said, softly. "Strawberry colored. Like an angel's wing, I thought."

Wesley nodded. The moment of truth had arrived; he felt both relieved and terrified. Slowly, he stood up, then turned around and rolled up the hem of his shirt.

The lobby fell utterly silent as Wesley's back was exposed to their view. He knew what they would see: there, nestled in a network of fine white scars, was a little red feathery shape-- an angel's wing, as Fred had called it. Proof.

"God, Wes..." Gunn sounded a bit pole-axed.

"Wesley?" Fred said, wavering a little in confusion.

"Oh, dear Lord..." There were soft swishing noises behind him as Giles, reverting to standard, promptly began cleaning his glasses.

"How did I miss that?" Lorne asked. Wesley could almost hear the wheels turning in the demon's brain. And that was a good question, one to explore later; why hadn't Lorne seen anything of this in one of his readings?

Four reactions, all pretty shocked; still nothing from Angel. Wesley could feel the muscles in his back and neck tightening, as if expecting a blow, an instinctive response to the amount of fear-spiked adrenaline in his system.

Cordelia broke the silence next. "Oh, thank God," she said, brightly. "For a minute there I thought it was going to turn out to be Groo."

There was another pause, and then she spoke up again, her voice thick with irritation. He could imagine the looks the others must be giving her. "What?" she exclaimed. "I mean, he does look a lot like Angel."

Gunn snorted. "Oh, so you did notice that. I wondered. Where is he, anyway?"

"Guys!" Jonathan interrupted them.

Wesley took another deep breath, silently thanking the young man for stopping them before they really got started. Cordelia was probably trying to lighten the mood, but that was really not what he needed to hear right now.

It mattered, of course, what his friends thought of all this; but in the end, it would not fundamentally change his relationship with any of them. A shift from that sort of relationship to father/son, however...

The silence stretched another moment, then Angel took a reflexive breath. "Connor...?" His voice was so quiet, it was almost a whisper.

What did that mean? Was it a sign of acceptance, or rejection? Wesley dropped the hem of his shirt, then slowly turned back around. He needed to see Angel's face. He needed to know.

"Yes," he answered.


There was nothing as simple as acceptance in that strained voice. Wesley barely had time to wonder what it meant before Angel suddenly moved, and cool arms clasped Wesley tightly against a solid chest.

The embrace was possessive, fiercely so. A corner of Wesley's brain that wasn't swamped with emotion remarked that it was probably as much vampiric Sire instinct as it was actual fatherly caring, but the rest of him just stood there and soaked it up. Everything was going to be all right now. It no longer mattered what they thought of him in England. He belonged here.

Chapter Fifteen: Is That All?

At first, Jonathan wasn't going to say anything. He already knew, after all, and he wasn't one of Wesley's friends; these people were. It was their reactions he wanted to hear. When Cordelia started off about some guy named Groo, though, he had to say something. Couldn't they see Wesley was terrified? Every line of his tense back screamed "father issues" loud and clear, and probably "Angel issues" too.

"Guys!" he hissed, hoping that would get the point across.

Everyone quieted down; then finally, Angel reacted.

They weren't considered a manly thing, usually, these powerful expressions of emotion. For some reason, though, the word 'sissy' didn't even surface in Jonathan's thoughts as he watched them. There was something primal about it that defied PC categorization.

"That's so sweet," Fred whispered, clutching at one of Gunn's hands.

They might all have stood there forever, agreeing with her, but they were interrupted by a sudden sound at the front of the building. Jonathan blinked, suddenly back to reality, and glanced towards the front doors. "Um, guys? I think the Watchers are back. And there's four of them this time."

"Four of them? I'd swear no one left before I did. They must have taken the bloody Concorde." Giles scowled as his four fellow Council members began to enter the hotel, then sucked in a sharp breath. "Bugger. It's Richard Wyndam-Pryce."

Angel cautiously unfolded his arms, stepping back far enough so that he could look into Wesley's face. "Your father?" he said quietly, with an intense, concerned expression.

Wesley shook his head. "Not anymore."

That got a smile out of Angel, a quick flash of teeth and a suspicious mistiness at the corners of the vampire's eyes.

"Are we interrupting something?" Quentin Travers said coolly, watching the pair with a disapproving expression.

The four Watchers ranged themselves just inside the lobby doors. Everyone, including Jonathan, started to gather closer to Angel and Wesley in response, as if circling the wagons. Giles and Gunn stood nearest the front, with the others ranged behind them, all in defensive postures.

"We're here to speak with my son." Richard Wyndam-Pryce was dressed impeccably, wearing an expensive suit as though he were born to it, not a thread out of place. He wore an expression of aloof disdain, with a slightly disapproving curl to his upper lip.

"You don't have a son, Dick," Angel announced, with a hint of growl in the back of his throat.

Wesley's erstwhile father raised his eyebrows at that. "Ah, but I do," he said, "and I believe I see him standing there right next to you. We have some questions for him about information he has been withholding from the Council."

"He owes the Council nothing," Giles said, as belligerent as Angel, in a quieter, more British way. "You fired him, or have you forgotten?"

"Ah, hello, Rupert. We fired you once too, as I recall. Sometimes I wonder why you are still on the payroll. You cannot be doing your Slayer much good from your flat in Bath."

What an asshole! Years of being condescended to weren't enough to develop armor against that tone of voice, as Jonathan knew from experience. He was perfectly ready now to hate this guy on Wesley's behalf.

Wesley shook his head and sighed, addressing the other elder Watcher. "Travers, I did ask you to come back today, to answer your questions. And I will. There's no need for unpleasantness. The short version is that you do not need to worry about the prophecies you mentioned any longer."

"What?" Travers blinked at him, incredulous.

Wesley continued. "However, the tale more properly begins with a portal, and a child left on your parents' doorstep thirty years ago."

"I see." The elder Wyndam-Pryce sighed heavily, interrupting his story. "I had suspected something of the sort. And you say the prophecies have been, or are being, averted?"

Well. That was a strange reaction. Surely he didn't mean that he knew about it already?

"I believe so," Wesley said, slowly. "In the sense that Buffy was prophesied to die at the Master's hands, and still closed the Hellmouth afterwards."

Richard shook his head in reaction, and smiled a little. "I saw it happen, you know; I was on my way to visit with Quentin's father. I knew from the beginning that no child who came to this world as you did would have a normal destiny. I could not pass up such a challenge. To be the one to mold a child of fate... Of course , it always seemed that no matter how thoroughly I tried to prepare you for what might come, you never quite measured up."

He dropped the reminiscent tone, and his face went hard. "So forgive me for doubting your word now. I believe some sort of proof would be in order. We came here for information, and we will not leave without it."

Angel moved restlessly as the speech wound up, slipping into vamp face, and took a step forward. Neither of the elder Watchers reacted, but the younger ones flinched and reached nervously for stakes.

Wesley reached a calming hand to Angel, then put in his own two cents. "You need proof? Did you not hear me earlier when I compared myself to Miss Summers? Ask the research deparment, Fa... Richard. Ask them about 'The Father Will Kill The Son,' and consider that it was the son of Ethan Rayne who gave me CPR. I believe that's all the proof you need."

"So that's what you meant about the translation," Fred said suddenly, glancing at Wesley and then Angel with a horrified expression. "It wasn't faulty. It really happened."

"Yes," Wesley said softly.

"Messed. Up." Gunn enunciated clearly, then swore under his breath, without taking his eyes off the Watchers. "But then, you could say that about most of us. Messed up, I mean."

"Typical," Richard said, frowning at them with a bitter twist to his voice. "You fail even in succeeding, and still keep company with the enemy." Then, he pointedly turned his back on them and addressed Travers. "Come then, Quentin. You've dragged me all the way to America for nothing; we had best get moving, if we are going to find some other way to justify this trip to the Council. Perhaps a visit to the dark Slayer?"

The elder Wyndam-Pryce threw one last bitter, superior look back at the man who used to call him Father, then strode out of the hotel, followed quickly by Quentin Travers. The nameless younger Watchers shrugged, and joined their elders. Within moments, the lobby belonged solely to Angel Investigations and company again.

It was over, as quick as that.

"That's it?" Cordelia exclaimed in disgust, breaking the stunned silence.

"It... would appear to be so," Wesley answered her. He sounded like he had swallowed something very unpleasant.

Jonathan shook his head. "I don't understand. You told him you died, and he didn't get upset at all, except to criticize. I mean, the bad father vibes were obvious, but that was heartless."

"Yeah, and when exactly did this dying thing happen?" Cordelia demanded.

Wesley shook his head. "It's a long story," he said, "and not important right now."

"The hell it is," Gunn said.

Wesley sighed. "The dying, well, it was an accident. No need to elaborate. As for Fa-, I mean, Richard... I thought, when I realised the truth, that it could have been... it must have been the fact that I wasn't his own flesh and blood. That he had always measured me against what his own son could have done. But this..."

Wesley paused again, locating a chair, and then sat down heavily. "I think... I think he never even saw me as a person. I was a project to him. A puzzle, dropped through a portal at his feet."

"But you were just a baby," Cordelia said, sadly.

"And Slayers are just little girls," Wesley said, sharing a look with Giles. "It's a logical outgrowth of the Watcher mentality."

"Wes..." Angel moved closer to Wesley, and gripped one of his son's shoulders.

Wesley shook his head. "I... I think I need some time alone," he said. "I know there is much still to be said, and the fact that I turned out to be kidnapping myself does not really excuse my actions over the last few weeks..."

"Wes..." Gunn began to object.

"No." Wesley stood up, and looked around the group, matching gazes with each of them. "I need to think. There's still Sahjhan to worry about, and more translation to be done, and... and it's all too much." He sighed again, and for a moment, he looked older than anyone else in the room.

"That's understandable." Giles studied him for a moment, then glanced over at Jonathan. "I think I shall make a quick journey to Sunnydale. As long as there's nothing I can do here, I'd like to spend some time catching up with Buffy on recent events and make sure this young miscreant's friends haven't gotten out of hand. Then, I'll return to help with the translations."

"I'd appreciate that, Rupert," Wesley said, smiling faintly.

Giles nodded, then picked up his suitcases from their resting place by the counter and exited the hotel. He paused only to fix Jonathan with a sharp look, and a quick word of advice. "If you truly intend to improve yourself, I suggest you stay here and learn from these people. If you ever set foot in Sunnydale again, however..."

Jonathan agreed quickly. Only a fool, or an army, would mess with Giles when he had that expression on his face. "I have no problem with that."

He'd been sort of leaning that way, anyhow. What was there left for him in Sunnydale? Except for the Scoobies and his former partners, his only ties there were his adoptive parents, and phones existed for a reason. He'd always be one of the "lesser men" in that town, the ones who couldn't win, but here, there was a chance to start over. He'd be stupid to throw that chance away.

The doors shut behind Giles.

And then there were seven.

Wesley seemed to sense that the others all had questions to ask and things of their own to say to him, regardless of his request for thinking time; he snatched his keys from where Jonathan had laid them on the counter and was gone, muttering "Tomorrow" as explanation.

And then there were six.

Gunn and Fred shared a thoughtful look, holding tightly to each other's hands, then excused themselves. "I'll leave my cell phone on, in case of visions," Gunn told Cordelia as they left. "We'll be around."

And then there were four.

"Angel..." Cordelia said tentatively, laying a hand on the vampire's arm.

He shrugged it off, almost impatiently. "Go home, Cordy. I'm sure Groo is waiting. We'll talk tomorrow, okay? When Wes is back."

Cordelia gave him a troubled look, then picked up her purse and traced the same path the others had taken across the tiled floor and through the double glass doors. For once, she did not bother with a snappy comeback.

And then there were three.

Lorne snorted. "You want to follow him, don't you? Make sure he doesn't suddenly disappear before tomorrow?"

Angel blinked, startled. "It's daylight out, Lorne. And I'm sure he'll be fine."

"Oh go on. I'm sure if you think about it, you can figure out where he's going. If you can't get there by sewer, well, you can get close enough to find him quick once the sun sets."

"You sound like you're trying to get rid of me."

Lorne smiled. "Sugar, not to be rude, but if you're planning on being Mr. Broody for the rest of the day, anyone would want to get rid of you."

"You have a point there." Angel smiled back, briefly, then headed for the basement.

And then there were two.

"So tell me, Lorne," Jonathan said, casually. "Are things always this interesting around here?"

Lorne laughed. "You have no idea, kid. You have no idea."


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