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Okay. Obviously they were not dealing with a Vampire Hunter of the human variety. Demon. Glowing eyes. Firestarter. You know, like the one Drew Barrymore played when she was a kid. Telekinetic to boot. Also, has a really bad temper. Gotcha. Not good.

Gunn frowned and exchanged a worried look with Fred. She returned with an anxious look of her own and bit her lower lip.

It was the kind of help they needed with Anne, but the man was far too dangerous and temperamental. But what choice did they have?

Fred probably shared the same thoughts, from the look of it. The guy may be a doubtful help at best.

They returned their gaze to the Vampire Hunter.

Fire sang to him. *That's good Wesley. It feels good to let me come into you, to let me nourish you with my strength and wisdom. They must be destroyed. All of them. Vermin. Parasites-*

"Leeches," he growled, tossing the vampire he held aside. The vampire scrambled into the safety of the shadows, whimpering pathetically.

He had needed to escape the feelings of hopelessness and despair that had drowned him after his meeting with Connor. He had hunted vampires mercilessly after that, killing so many until he was covered with wounds and bruises he could not remember getting. Then, he couldn't remember when, the Element took over. It whispered suggestions in his head, and at some point he forgot to resist them.

Somewhere inside his power-flooded mind was a terrified Watcher. That Watcher knew that he was loosing his mind, and he was begging Wesley to stop. He could feel the Element leeching into him, wrestling control from him bit by bit, filling his mind with Its reasoning, Its desires and Its thoughts.

Kill. Purify. Destroy.

"How much of me is left?" he found himself asking out loud.

The vampire on the ground looked at him in confusion. "Huh?"

Control, Wesley. Pull it back. Don't let It come too far.

But hadn't he allowed the Element too much liberty already? He remembered the incredible exhilaration he felt when he made the vampires burn. It was almost as if he became the flames and tasted what the fire ate. The thrill of it made him shiver with longing.

Return to the present, Wesley. Focus.

His glazed eyes focused. "Tell me his name," he directed his question at the vampire at his feet.

"Koskov," he willingly answered.

"Where can I find him?"

"At the warehouse on St. Bernard street. He has a lair there!" the female yelled. "Please let us go. We gave you what you wanted," she begged.

Wesley found himself considering. It used to be simple. Kill vampires before they kill you. Back then, he was so weak. So defenceless. Now ... He found himself hesitating. He had hounded, terrorised and tortured them...surely they deserved ... what was this? Insanity? They were vampires!

Sympathy never brought him any good. It brought him pain, betrayal -- a slit throat. **Never feel! Never be concerned!** his mind screamed.

He was suddenly blinded with a vision. He reeled from it; his head snapped back with the force of it. For a moment, all he could see were the vampires writhing in pain. Their scream of agony deafened him, but he couldn't shut them out. Nor could he shut out the vision of their skin cracking up, drying like parchment as the fire burnt them slowly inside, organ by organ, minute by excruciating minute -- it took them so long to die.

Wesley gasped and clutched his head. The pain soon subsided, but a long moment he didn't dare look around because he was terrified that he had done it; he had tortured the vampires mercilessly like the vision suggested. After a while, he managed to lift his eyes.

They were still around him. The two vampires were still pinned to the wall.

**Please stop.** He heard the Watcher say. **Or else it will be too late!**

Wesley closed his eyes and willed the Element back. It was a terrible struggle this time. He shook with the effort of it, his eyes rolled up behind his head and he began to sway. He thought it would never obey, but the Element retreated -- only this time Wesley got the impression that it slunk back with a satisfied smile. When it came back next, the Element would gain a stronger foothold in his mind, he was sure of that.

The world returned to him in a rush. Suddenly, he felt the aches and pains of numerous wounds and the exhaustion of ten long hours of combat. He could barely keep on his feet now, and he swayed unsteadily and caught himself against the wall, slumping against it in exhaustion.

At the same time, the two vamps shrieked as they fell four feet to the ground.

The moment they realised that he was distracted, the three vampires got to their feet and ran, never looking back. As their footfalls faded into silence, Wesley collected himself and got to his feet. The weakness was already fading and his sanity had returned. The world began to make sense again and the relentless fury that followed him for so many hours dulled.

Wesley walked towards his broken crossbow that lay in pieces near the mouth of the alley. He stared morosely at the crossbow, which was a souvenier from his time at Angel Investigations, and turned away, heading back into the alley. It was the last remnant of his life from AI, and with it destroyed he felt as if his ties to AI and the life he had led have finally been severed.

As he walked deeper into the alley, he had a strong feeling that he was not alone. He frowned and looked around, his gaze finally resting on the fire escape. His eyes looked to where it led and he finally saw them, thanks to his heightened senses.

"You can come down now. Quickly, before I decide that you're vampires," he told them.

The man was still standing in the same spot, waiting for them, when they came down. They were both nervous at the prospect of talking to a very cranky man (or demon) who could make vampires spontaneously combust.

Gunn winced when the man directed a torchlight at their faces. "Hey dude, easy with the light there, okay? You're blindin' me," he protested. Instinctively, he pulled Fred into a protective embrace.

The light stayed on them for a few seconds before the man turned it off. The Vampire Hunter was still hidden by the darkness.

"Now that you've taken a good look at us, maybe you could do the same for us," Gunn said.

"Charles," Fred warned, her eyes still on the figure.

The man made no reply. He just stood there, watching them with eyes that glinted slightly in the low light of the alley. His eyes no longer glowed, and although they witnessed how he visibly weakened a few minutes ago, Gunn was not about to take chances with this guy. He steeled himself for a battle.

It was Fred who broke the uncomfortable silence. "You're probably wondering why we're here," she began nervously, wringing her hands unconsciously. The man did not react. He did not even bother to answer.

Uncomfortable at his unresponsiveness, Fred continued, "We need your help. We heard that you hunted vampires and we really need someone like that on our side right now," she said. She quickly explained Anne's situation -- how the demons could not be killed by normal means and how they wanted her as a sacrifice.

When Fred finished explaining, the man turned his head to regard Gunn, then back to Fred again.

Then he laughed.

It was a low, scornful laugh, and it reminded Gunn of the mad wino that used to laugh to himself near his place - back when he was hunting vampires with his gang. He shifted Fred closer to him.

"This is priceless," the man said after his laughter died off. His rough voice was laced with bitterness. "You don't know what you're asking for, because if you did, you'd be thinking 'irony of ironies'," the man said dryly.

Gunn felt Fred tense beside him. But when he saw the look on her face, Gunn saw the intense look she wore when she was on to a puzzle. She knew something.

The man began to walk towards them. His boot crunched ominously on the sandy ground. "The irony of it! You need me. Wouldn't father be pleased?" the man laughed shortly, kicking aside a rusty can in his path.

Gunn shifted uncomfortably as he felt a prickling of unease. Not just because the man was sounding more and more like a madman on the verge of a killing spree, but also because the man seemed familiar -- the way he moved, the way he spoke -- but he couldn't put a finger on it.

"I thought I could escape the both of you. The whole bleeding world! But look where Destiny has brought us," the vampire hunter said sardonically.

"Isn't life grand?" said the man as his face was revealed to them in the dim light.

Fred gasped, her eyes widening in shock.

Wesley Wyndham-Pryce leaned casually against a wall and gave them a crooked grin. "Welcome to Avarice, children," he said.


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