"Jonathan. Lord, please, he's only a little boy!"
His father grabbed him by the hand roughly and pulled him away. Wesley was confused and more than a little frightened now. Father had been acting strange around him the past few weeks. No more sitting on his lap to hear stories about the Council. No more bed time stories about Peter Rabbit. No more wrestling in front of the telly. Father was mad at him all the time now, always shouting, "No, Wesley!" each time he did It.
It's not as if he wanted to. It just happened. He didn't know how to tell Father that.
Mother was following them now, and she kept saying that he was a little boy -- only, he wasn't you see? He was big and strong, like Father said he was.
But he was scared.
"Father, please, I'm scared," he whimpered.
He was pulled roughly into the house and they headed towards the stairs. Then his father pulled open the basement door and hauled him in. Wesley thought Father would follow him in, but he didn't, he only stood at the doorway staring at him.
Wesley was guilty now. He was being punished, but he didn't know why.
"Don't you ever do that again, do you hear me, boy?" his father said roughly.
Wesley shook his head. He was too terrified to say anything else.
Mother appeared next to Father, her blue eyes streaming with tears. "Jonathan, for God's sakes, please stop!"
"We have to do this Margaret. You know we have to," his Father said, his chin up -- the way he spoke to Uncle Lewe and Uncle Nod when they came on Council business.
"He's just a boy. He's afraid of the dark."
"Then he'll have to outgrow it. He'll be a Watcher one day, Margaret, nothing else. Do you realise what the Council will do to him if they found out what he is?" Father's voice turned small and quiet, and Wesley saw that his Father's eyes were wet too. Was he crying? He thought men did not cry. Father said men should not.
"Father, I don't like the dark," he said in a small voice.
Mother and Father looked at him, their eyes were the same. So wet and big. "Wesley," his mother whispered. Then she bit her lip and with a small sigh, walked slowly away.
"Mother? Mommy?" he lost his strength to speak. He shifted his gaze to Father and pleaded with his eyes. But Father only looked at him, his face impassive.
"Father please ... Daddy ... please don't leave me here. I'm scared. There are monsters in the basement."
"Yes there are," his Father said, his voice flat. "Remember that when you light another fire."
Then Father closed the door, and he was alone in the dark with the monsters.
"Are you ... alive?"
He opened his eyes.
He wanted to say something sarcastic. He usually did after someone asked him such a silly question, but after feeling the strange heaviness that weighed down his limbs, Wesley wasn't quite sure anymore.
Connor ... or Steven, whatever, was watching him with an unreadable expression -- something between anxiety and wariness.
He realised that he was lying on his stomach on something hard, and that his arms hung limply by his sides. No wonder the boy thought he was dead.
Wesley got up carefully, adjusting to the brief moment of dizziness the movement cost him. When things began to steady around him, he looked at Connor, who was still studying him impassively. "Where am I?" he wondered out loud, looking around.
"Some abandoned warehouse," Connor answered shortly.
Wesley frowned. He did not remember getting here. Better, he barely remembered what happened last night. He was at the Hyperion, fighting the Gurnaks. Then there was fire ... and Angel? And the Hyperion again?
He gingerly rubbed his forehead with his hand, wondering whether what he remembered were dreams or reality. "What happened?" Wesley asked tentatively.
Connor shrugged -- the way teenagers do -- as if to say, 'who cares?' "I followed you after you burnt the Gurnaks."
"I..." he swallowed. "I burnt them?"
"Yeah. And you did a lot of other stuff too," he glowered, his eyes narrowing. "You passed out-"
"-and then set yourself on fire."
"What?" his voice rose a little.
But Connor was not finished. "Then you got up, a burning pillar of fire, and disappeared. You are a demon aren't you?"
"Well, I'm surprised you took so long to figure that out," Wesley said dryly. But beneath his sarcasm, was fear. He remembered vaguely what had happened, but they seemed distant; in fact, his dream about being locked in the basement seemed more real than his recollections of the day before. But if his dreams were real, then ...
"Angel is back," he said shortly, giving Connor a pointed look. The boy only straightened and tipped his chin up in defiance. It reminded him of his father for some reason. "So you buried him in the ocean? There is a cruel streak in you that seems familiar," he murmured, getting down from the low table he was lying on.
"He deserved it. He killed my father!" Connor responded hotly.
"I doubt it."
Connor flinched at that. Then, he said hesitantly. "Why are you so sure?"
"Because if he wanted to kill your father, he would have done it before. He had plenty of chances and plenty of reasons."
He walked around gingerly, testing his strength. He didn't appear to have much, because the world started spinning once more.
Then he felt someone hold his elbow. "Don't pass out again. I wouldn't know what to do if anything burns," Connor said flatly.
*You could lock me in the closet.*
The thought came unbidden into his mind. It made him flinch; as memories of hours in the dark basement with ghouls came flooding back into his mind. He decided to focus on Connor instead. "Why are you still with me?"
Connor's face was expressionless. "Does it matter?"
Wesley grinned at that answer. "At some point it will," he answered.
Suddenly, Connor's face blurred and his vision darkened. Suppressing a groan, Wesley reached out to the nearest wall to brace himself.
"Are you going to pass out now?"
Wesley had to smile at that. He wanted to pass out. Anything better than existing right now. "Help me back," he whispered to the boy.
And to his surprise, Connor obeyed.
Fred swept the Hyperion floors dispiritedly. Despite the ick factor of the ash being former Gurnak demons, Fred ignored the sticky clumps of ash that stuck to her boots, shirt, hair...
"Where's the vacuum?" she heard Gunn say.
She looked up to see Gunn puttering busily about, ducking under this and that, lifting this and that -- as if a vacuum could be hiding under a pile of books. He was rattled, that's all, she knew. Just like how everyone was.
Lorne, meanwhile, was sitting on the couch, looking uncharacteristically morose. She dropped the broom and went to him.
"Hey sweetcakes," Lorne said absently as she sat next to him.
All she could do was put a hand on his arm -- which he patted.
"I just can't figure it out," he said, looking at the soot covered area at the center of the hall. Fred didn't want to look. Wesley used to be there. "I saw a future for him, Fred. He can't be dead. He has a role to play -- in the Apocalypse."
Fred felt blank and drained.
"I can't be wrong."
"He's dead," she heard Gunn say flatly. This time, she did look up. Gunn's eyes were hard and ... determined? It made her frown, disturbed by what she saw.
"And there's nothing we can do to change that. Now, all we have to do is pick up, vacuum this shit up and move on," he said firmly.
Firmly? Or gladly? Fred thought. Was Gunn glad that Wesley was gone? Finally? The thoughts were too disturbing to contemplate. Without a word, Fred got up and headed up the stairs.
"Baby?" she heard Gunn call.
She didn't want to answer. She was no one's baby.
Upstairs, Fred walked around the corridors absently. So many rooms, yet so empty. It used to full of life and a heck of a lot of noise. Wesley and Cordelia bickering downstairs. Gunn showing off his fighting moves, sometimes upsetting a potted plant or something -- which set Wesley and Cordelia off again. Angel telling them all to calm down and not disturb his afternoon slumber ... And then Connor was here, and he was always crying or chuckling in that baby way of his. Fred missed all that. Fred wanted it all back.
She found herself wandering into Angel's apartments. She stared at the blackened walls -- gouged out by the fire that nearly got Connor and Angel. This was where it must've happened -- when Wesley decided to take Connor -- and changed everything.
Then her eyes shifted to the bed.
Her eyes widened.
"Please, don't hurt me."
Despite his wavering vision, Wesley aimed his gun at Mr. Swanson's chest. "You set a trap for me, didn't you Mr Swanson?"
Mr Swanson was sweating profusely, and his face was white. He lifted his trembling hands in an effort to placate Wesley and stammered: "Look, I can explain."
"Five minutes," Wesley said curtly.
"He said he would kill them," at that Mr. Swanson burst into tears, letting them flow freely down his cheeks.
The unexpected display of emotion disconcerted Wesley. He unconsciously shifted his feet. But he remained quiet.
"He said that if I told you what to do -- where to go, they'll be alive. They'll be okay," he whispered.
"Who?" Wesley asked, his brows knitted in a heavy frown.
"My girls. My daughters. He has my daughters. K-Koskov. He's -- he's a vampire," Swanson murmured. At that he turned away and covered his face, his shoulders shaking with silent sobs. "I didn't even know there were vampires until a few weeks ago. I am just a businessman, damn it!" Swanson cursed.
Wesley lowered his gun -- only to have Connor stop its descent. "He's lying," he hissed.
Wesley frowned and looked at the young man's face. "Yes," he agreed.
Swanson must've heard what he said because he whirled around, despair etched on his face. "You don't believe me," he whispered.
Wesley sighed and walked towards the man. "No. You're lying -- but you don't know that you are."
"W-what?" he blubbered, backing away as Wesley approached him.
Wesley did not give him an answer. Instead, he looked at his gun and pensively caressed it as he contemplated what he had to do next. Connor, however, knew what he was thinking.
"He is leading you into a trap. Don't be an idiot," Connor hissed.
Wesley gave him a sideways glance.
"Please help me. I'll pay you anything. I don't want my girls...I don't want him to hurt my girls."
"Don't," Connor said, he reached out and clasped his arm -- as if to physically prevent him from going.
"Connor," Wesley whispered.
A resigned look came over Connor's face. He gave Wesley a light push and threw his sword to a corner. It clattered loudly, the sound travelling in Wesley's empty warehouse. "You're going to regret it," he muttered as he walked out of the house.
And he was right.
A Week Later
"Firefighters say that the fire started at 4am last Saturday. Police believe that the fire was started by arsonists. However, the intention seems unclear. The warehouse belongs to the Swanson Corporation and sources believe that Mr. Swanson was in the building when the fire broke out. Whether he survived the fire or not also remains unclear."
"Strangely, one of Mr. Swanson's 10-year-old twin daughters were found at the warehouse. Police refuse to comment on her condition, or how she came to be there, but she is currently believed to be in state custody."
This time Angel did turn away from the television. It was Fred, holding a tray with a glass of blood on it. She gave him a nervous smile.
"Blood?" she asked, her voice a little on the over-perky side.
He returned his gaze to the television.
"Meanwhile, unexpected fires have broken out in several parts of LA since the Swanson fire. Could these fires have been set off by the same arsonist?"
Fred sighed and knelt by his side. Nervously, she touched his shoulder. This made him flinch, which made Fred jump a little. Guiltily, she withdrew her hand.
"You need to take some blood Angel. You haven't had any since yesterday afternoon," she said.
"You should go away, Fred."
Fred flinched. Then, pursing her lips, she shook her head. "No."
Angel gave her a hard glare. "I lose everyone close to me. I don't want to lose anyone else."
"Angel," she whispered, risking a touch to his hand. It was icy cold -- colder than usual. "You didn't leave me in Pylea, and I won't leave you either. You got me?" she said firmly.
Angel removed his hand from hers and returned his gaze to the television.
"The arsons seem random. So far seven people have been killed by the fires. Police believe that we now have a serial arsonist in our midst. How our arsonist sets the fire, however, is a complete --"
The television screen went blank. Fred stood before it, remote control in her hands.
"It was actually starting to get interesting," he commented dryly.
Fred threw the remote aside and knelt before him, clutching his hands as if she was afraid he'd get up and run away. Not that that would've stopped him. "Angel, look at me. We're going to get through this. We're going to find Cordelia, and Connor, and everything's going to be fine!"
Her voice wavered and shook, and Angel was reminded of the less than stable Fred in Pylea. Concerned, he met her eyes -- and realised that she was crying. "Fred-"
"When I found you in your room, did you know how freaked out I was? I thought you were dead! Not in the ashy kind of way -- we had so much of that that day but-"
"Shut up and listen to me," she snapped.
Surprised, Angel did what he was told.
"Since you came back, you haven't told us what happened to you. Who brought you back. Where you went. Who did this to you. You're barely eating, barely recovering and you're watching Oprah."
Angel merely stared at the blank screen.
"Okay. She has something to say once in a while. She can be entertaining. B-but I thought we lost you for good. We missed you. And we're glad you're back. But you're not back. Not really."
Angel met her eyes again reluctantly.
"Please come back to us," she whispered.
"Fred...I-" his eyes narrowed. Then he frowned heavily, suspicion clouding his eyes.
Fred frowned herself. This was more than Angel being anti-social. "What is it?"
With shocking speed, Angel got off his armchair, whirled around and pointed his hidden weapon (what was he doing with one?) at-
"Hey! Hey! Take it easy!" the intruder protested as Angel stuck the point of his crossbow up his chin.
Angel backed away, surprise in his features. "Earl?" he said incredulously.
The demon informant brushed off the cross bow and petulantly adjusted his coat. "Yeah. Earl. Your informant. Your buddy," he huffed.
Before Angel could put a word in, Earl began his barrage of words: "You better tell your pal -- sorry ex-pal -- Pryce that he's gone off his rocker and he has no right doing the things he does, bustin' into people's homes and turning them into fried enchilada just because they said they don't know. Ten. TEN people have died because of his crazy quest -- some were not even demons, just plain ordinary people, leading normal, achingly boring lives. What did they do? Ka-boom, that's what they did. Hiroshima. Why? Who the freaking 37th hell knows? Why I just heard from Myrtle the other day-"
"Earl," Angel interrupted.
"-that he didn't even ask his stupid question before frying one guy. That man is off his rocker, real crazy, and I put the blame on you guys. Yeah, even you, pretty stick thing at the back holding that tray. Drove the man up the wall with your holier-than-thou attitude-"
"Earl," Angel grated.
"-about him stealin' some baby. Yup, it's all over the grapevine, what he did. Wow, we demon folk thought it was super of him to just save the baby's neck, but no, you, Mr. vamp with a soul decides to smother him to death, which by the way is a pretty lame thing to do to a guy who nearly had his head sawn off. So I'd think you-"
"EARL!" Angel roared and clamped a hand around the green-skinned demon's neck and lifted him a few inches off the ground.
"Shut up," Angel growled.
Earl let out an 'eep' and promptly shut up.
"Now, tell me why you're here," he growled.
"Well," Earl said in a little choked voice. "Boy wonder here said I was useful."
"Boy wonder?" Fred asked, now beside Angel.
It was then that Connor walked casually through the door, hands in his tattered jeans pockets. The trio stared at him -- Earl with relief, Fred and Angel in shock.
Connor gave Angel a smirk bereft of any humour. "Hey, dad. Had a good swim?"
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