Rebel, Rebel by Misty Flores
Summary: When the Watcher's Council comes after Faith, Angel Investigations must pull from the chaos they’ve become embroiled in to save the renegade Slayer, and Wesley must face a past that has become more haunting than ever.
Spoilers: Sleep Tight, Season Three.
Through this world I’ve stumbled, so many times betrayed, trying to find an honest word to find the truth enslaved – Sarah McLachlan
Her eyes stung to the point of being painful with salty droplets. The room was entirely too quiet, dark. It reminded her of her cave in Pylea, but this was neither comforting, nor anything she really had any patience to dwell upon.
In Wesley’s empty office, she stared at the telephone, wondering how on earth she could gather the strength to do this. In her heart, she knew it was foolish to hope that the other girl could even begin to repair what had been thrown into chaos. Yet, here she was, her palm resting on the cool plastic of the telephone, lower lip bitten, eyes focused, heart beating.
Fred had never truly appreciated Cordelia’s position until the Seer disappeared. The vacation she had taken had seemed almost silly at first, until the world unraveled, and Fred was left with attempting to fill the role of the heart. She couldn’t do it. Not now.
With a hasty inhalation of air, Fred grabbed the phone from the cradle, placing it against her ear and hurriedly dialing, while she was alone, before someone else could tell her not to call. The phone rang, once, twice.
When the familiar voice picked up, tinny with noise, Fred gave an audible sigh of relief, never realizing her body was trembling until her voice picked up the shake.
“Cordelia…” The conversation passed in a blur, and Fred’s mind reeled as she haltingly gave a summary of what had transpired. When she finished with, “Connor is gone,” she waited, hoping to hear anything that could give her an idea as to what to do.
There was only silence, almost as if the woman on the other end of the line did not hear her, and Fred waited, anxiously.
Then she heard it, small, soft. “God…” and the line disconnected.
Fred placed the phone back in its cradle, and stared at it, the relief she expected never appearing. Instead, the enduring sorrow continued, and the physicist from Pylea buried her head in her arms, and began to sob.
The strangled scream caught in the back of her throat.
Faith’s hands lashed out, catching a hold of the cheap cotton sheets, head banging against the top bunk as she sat up. The flash of pain made her eyes shoot open, darkness permeating them as she gasped, rubbing at her forehead, swallowing hard. Confusion wracked her sweat soaked body, and Faith needed a minute to orientate herself.
Her eyes, adjusting to the dark, roved over the room, and she found her cell, much to her relief, around her, like it had always been. The toilet in the corner, the sink, with its ‘drip, drip’, providing a pattern that she must have lulled herself to sleep with.
Pulling her knees to her chest, the Slayer trembled, sucking in her breath.
“Dreams are getting worse,” she whispered, running sticky hands through dark hair, eyes closing. Her heart was beating way too fast. Her roommate, above her, never stirred. Faith swallowed, eyes drifting to the open bars of her cell, leading to the hallway.
Her block was way too quiet. She was trapped. Trapped – from what? It was a fucking cell, yeah, she was trapped. That was kinda the point. It was JAIL.
Faith blinked, shaking her head slightly, attempting once again to get a hold of herself. She eyed the sink, but somehow, couldn’t quite get her feet to touch the cold cement floor, and swallowing in an attempt to moisten her parched throat, she lay back, staring up at the box springs of the mattress above her.
Her eyes closed, but still the sense of danger filled her, and she allowed one tiny acknowledgement: the dreams were getting worse. Faith was no psychic, and maybe that was what had her so freaked. These nightmares were different, scarier… worse than the normal oh-so-fun memories of home, knives and mayors.
She didn’t want to go back to sleep. Even now, as she breathed in one more time, she had to admit, that for the first time in a while – she was scared.
I’m finding my way back to sanity again, though I don’t really know what I’m gonna do when I get there. – Lifehouse
The incessant beeping tugged at his ears, slight pinpricks of pain that made his eyes flutter open. His pupils dilated, Wesley dared not move, as the bright lights of the fluorescent bulbs above him stabbed into his brain, forcing him to suck in his breath, shut his eyes tight against the unwanted light. With his eyes closed, he felt the weight of reality return, in the feeling of the cloth underneath his fingertips, the beeping that continued to grate his hearing, and the glaring pain that seared through his throat. Wesley attempted to swallow, but it was too painful, and it was the audible groan that ripped from his throat that made him realize he wasn’t alone.
“Mr. Pryce. You’re awake.” He blinked his eyes open, this time making a point to do so slowly, and found a blurry version of a balding man in glasses, a clip board in his hands, staring down at him from the foot of the bed. Wesley stared, attempting to rise above the motion sickness that he seemed to be experiencing to figure out exactly what was going on.
The doctor - at least that was who Wesley assumed he was - picked up his wrist, placing pressure on his pulse point as he checked his watch, speaking crisply, “I wouldn’t attempt to speak just yet, you’ve been through a rather painful experience. You’re a lucky man, Mr. Pryce.”
Somehow, Wesley didn’t think that word correctly described the situation. He winced, trying to form words. “How-“
“You were found in a park, throat slashed, apparent victim of a robbery-“
The words were muted as the realization and memories flooded him at once. Justine - and Connor. Bloody hell, where the hell was CONNOR?!
“Woah - hold on there.” Strong hands pushed him back onto the bed, holding him still. “Getting a little too frisky.”
“He’s awake.” The familiar voice made Wesley pause, unable to see the face because of the doctor blocking his view.
“Yes, he is. And active.” The doctor straightened, allowing Wesley a full view of a haggard version of his friend Charles Gunn, looking tired and wrinkled, holding a steaming coffee cup. Painted on his lips was a tired expression.
“How is he?” Charles locked eyes with Wesley once, before turning toward the doctor, his back to him now. The only thing Wesley could make out was that the cup of coffee seemed to be trembling.
The murmuring subsided, and both the doctor and Gunn turned back, before the man in the coat took up his clipboard, and nodded to the patient. “I’ll have a nurse check his vitals. I see no problems, other than a few hours for observation.”
Wesley was quiet when Charles was left with him alone. His beating heart continued to pound, thumping against his chest, and a thousand words were waiting to be said in answer to the accusing look in Gunn’s face, but Wesley could not voice one.
Charles stayed a good ten feet away, moving to the other side of the room, settling into a chair, and placing the coffee cup on the dresser nearest him. “Angel doesn’t know I’m here,” he said finally. “And I think it’d be better if he doesn’t smell you on me, now. He ain’t too happy with you, and…” Gunn trailed off.
Wesley closed his eyes against the wave of pain. “Gunn…” he began in a ragged, throaty whisper.
“I want answers, Wes.” The voice was harsh, angry, and Wesley found his throat closing. Blue eyes opened, encountered a hurt and angry expression. “I want to know why you - you could have TOLD us - Connor’s GONE man, he’s GONE. So give me some fucking answers.”
Wesley closed his eyes again, suddenly no longer able to face him. He had no answers. He had nothing now. Gunn waited, minutes, months, years, Wesley wasn’t sure. They stayed that way, in silence, until the sound of the empty coffee cup hit the trash bin and Wesley’s eyes opened to find Gunn’s form walking out. His eyes closed again, and suddenly nothing seemed to matter anymore.
“Connor is gone.”
Cordelia wondered just how many times she would have to repeat it to herself in order to make it seem real. Even now, her heart pounding, body trembling and her head ringing, as she stared up at the steps of the Hyperion, she kept the words as a mantra, words that continued to haunt her broken heart.
Cordelia took another step forward, and another, dreading each step that would bring her closer to reality, to the truth – in all its damning glory. It was all very simple, very black and white: Cordelia was off boffing the daylights out of her beautiful, sweet hero, and while she was gone, every single thing she cared about had gone to complete hell.
Nice, Cordy, REAL heroic. Not at all like typical you.
Hazel eyes flooded with tears, and she bit them back, swallowing down the moisture as she placed her hand on the doorknob, trying to gather her strength to face it all. Her mind whirled, as Cordelia thought of Angel, of Fred and Gunn and Wesley, and lastly of Connor. Her empty heart gave just a little, as she twisted the knob and pushed open the door, steps clicking into the Hyperion Lobby.
It was silent, and she was in no mood to announce herself, as she walked forward, chest constricting slightly with turmoil, the need to see Angel suddenly overwhelming every other impulse.
It was Fred, whom she saw first, the young physicist with blow dried strands of mahogany cascading over her shoulder, straightening from behind the counter, eyes drifting curiously, immediately locking with hers.
It took only a second for Fred to get over her shock, the hopeful face crumbling into something akin to despair as she twisted around the counter and launched herself into Cordelia’s arms. The Seer’s eyes closed involuntarily, clutching at the taller woman in a desperate hug, as Fred sobbed quietly; strong, resolved face breaking in the presence of the person she deemed stronger.
Cordelia’s eyes stung, and her hollowed heart trembled, but she refused to be beaten by her fear or her sadness. If she broke down now, she had no idea how she could stop, so she took in a hiccup and a sob, and let Fred pour out her emotions. Fred deserved it, much more than she did.
Cordelia gave a short whimper, catching it as Fred pulled back, watching her with marvelous, sparkling eyes.
“It’s good to see you,” she said softly.
Cordelia’s soft smile froze, but she only delicately smoothed Fred’s longer hair over her shoulder in a gentle caress, and asked simply, “Where is he?”
Fred nodded toward the stairs. It was all Cordelia needed. As she moved toward the stairs, she was met with Lorne, the green skinned demon staring at her with eyes burning with sorrow.
Suddenly afraid to look, terrified that she would see the blame in his eyes that was so justly deserved, Cordelia stared. But Lorne only managed a tired smile, a shake of his head that made her eyes water, and she pressed her hand into his shoulder, before moving past him, up the stairs.
At the foot of the staircase, her steps faltered once again, her courage, what little she had, once again shriveled.
Who the hell did she think she was, anyway?
Heartbreak sieved through her system, as worry and anxious fear gave her the strength she needed, curling a hand around the doorknob and pushing open. She knew better than most that Angel did not need human frivolities, and so instead of saying she was here, she let her eyes wander across the room, taking in its state through blurred tears.
It only took a second to understand exactly what had happened in this room. Charred wood cluttered it, a baby crib was torn in shreds, and broken toys and ripped toddler’s clothes were strewn around the room, evidence of a violent outburst.
“Angel…” The breathless whisper came out before she could stop it, as she walked further into this room, pushing back the flashes that abounded now.
Connor sleeping soundly in his crib. Angel in his tuxedo. Lorne with a book of nursery rhymes.
The words startled her, pulling her from her thoughts, hazel eyes immediately zeroing in on the figure previously hidden in the shadows.
“Angel…” Her voice broke, head tilting as she ventured forward, and this time he turned, caught her form with a strong, predatory gaze. It made her stop, as his mouth parted slightly. Rising from his haunches, he gave her a thorough glance, an almost hungry quality to it. Cordelia let her arms fall to her sides, half hoping he would rush into her arms, allow her to hold him, and perhaps maybe then, she could sob, understand all the anger that was flowing through her now.
But, no… that would have been too easy, wouldn’t it?
Angel blinked away her image, closed his eyes, and sank back down on the floor, shutting her out, making her achingly aware of everything that had changed.
“What are you doing here?”
That last thing she wanted was to give explanations, and so she merely shook her head slightly, eyes once again moving over the room, and little Connor flashed through her brain, white hot flashes that seemed more painful than any vision she had encountered.
She used to be able to say anything that came to her mind. Before, she could open her mouth and say even the worst possible thing, and she could have made him smile. But, everything was different now, and it was tangible, even in the way he stared at her with dead eyes, a man who had lost his son – his miracle, his hope.
“Get out, Cordelia.”
She stepped forward, heedless of his warning, and her tears began to trickle down her face, as she knelt before him, palm hesitating as it rested on his arm.
He jerked away from her touch as if burned.
“Get out.” The words were forced, and angry. Cordelia froze as he looked up, yellow glazed eyes crazed with grief, anger, and … something else. It was the last emotion that made her stand, making her completely aware that she was the last person on earth that could help him now.
The look had been accusatory, and she didn’t blame him for it at all. Another day, another world, she would have been furious, she would have pushed and prodded, and maybe she really was the selfish little rich girl from Sunnydale – maybe she had never changed at all.
Because Cordelia, too ashamed to face him, turned away from Angel, walked away from the room, and only when she closed the door behind her, did she allow the tears to fall.
Charles was tired as he walked into the lobby, hands shoved into the pockets of his old jeans jacket. It had been a long ass day, and when he caught Fred’s half smile, he wondered if there was anything to really smile over.
Fred rounded the counter, slipped into his arms, a trembling waif of a girl that he cared for beyond life itself, and despite the hell that their lives had become, he found a small smile drifting on his face, as fingers caressed her soft brown strands, drifted down the spine of her back.
“Hey, baby girl.”
She pulled back, hands clenching his forearms. Lorne came forward, both expressions intense as they studied him. “How is he?”
“He’s getting checked out today,” he said in a low voice, making sure to keep an eye on the stairs. “But he wouldn’t tell me anything.”
Fred swallowed, looking away, confliction clear on her face as she exchanged glances with Lorne. Gunn stared at the demon.
“You read him, didn’t you? Couldn’t you tell why the hell he did what he did?”
“I didn’t have much time to really sift, sweetie,” Lorne answered, eyes flashing slightly at the accusatory tone. “Before Wesley tackled me like a first line man.”
“He had to have had a reason,” Fred said almost desperately, reminiscent of a conversation they must have had in one form or another, at least twenty times. “He got his throat SLIT-“
Charles swiveled his gaze to the foot of the stairs, and found an eerily calm Cordelia staring at them, hazel eyes wide and startled.
“Cordelia,” Gunn said, suddenly relieved, and not sure why. “Where’s Groo?”
“He’s not here,” she said flatly, coming forward, offering no other explanation. Instead, she crossed her arms, and said with an almost frighteningly even tone, “What the hell is going on?”
Her daily routine was almost bordering on monotonous, now.
It came without thinking, from the moment her eyes opened, until the moment her eyes closed, she went through her motions, avoiding the women who caused trouble, barely talking to the ones she deemed annoying. Sometimes, she read. At eleven, an hour before lunch, she was in the corner of the courtyard, hefting weights that were much bigger than should have been normal for a girl of her size, sweating profusely. On her face was a big ‘don’t fuck with me’ expression, and with very good reason.
Faith wanted a distraction, but at this moment, her mind was so damned frazzled, that anything that was the WRONG kind of distraction would have made her resort to some very bad habits, and Faith’s habits, the ones she was trying to kick anyway, tended to be the ‘maim and murder’ type.
So she sat on the bench press, muscles burning, breath moving in and out, teeth clenching. At the last set, she collapsed against the bench, running fingers through her hair, pulling the sweat soaked tendrils away from her sticky face. Sitting up, she reached for her towel, moving from the bench, letting Debra, the chick with the chest hair, sit down in her place.
Walking around the courtyard, her mind continued to whirl. Faith, in an effort to try to gain some sense of stability, checked out the action around her. It was all the same. Mamie and her group of borne-again prison folk sat at one corner, waving their Bibles and professing all about the need to repent. On the other end was Jackie, with scars on her hands, her small, lithe figure glaring over the yard, attempting to find out who was messing with who, who would disturb her little power circuit. It was amazing, what a person could get used to in here. In a way, it was worse than the outside, when everyone in here was used to breaking the law, and used whatever means necessary to gain the power to make it through each day alive.
Faith wondered why she didn’t crack, and had to give Angel more credit than he maybe deserved. Those visits of his worked wonders. And why the hell hadn’t he come lately? Faith hitched in her breath, wiping at her body with the towel.
The Slayer turned, suddenly face to face with Mamie, the older black woman smiling at her kindly, uniformed sleeves rolled up to reveal muscular biceps.
“What the hell do you want, Mamie?” Faith asked, irritation flooding her voice as she turned away. That was the last thing she fucking needed. Mamie, with her Bible thumping ways, trying again to convert her damned ass.
Mamie hesitated, coming forward, voice lowering. “Look… at the risk of sounding like a completely deluded-“
“Faith. I got my religion, I’ve got my Lord. You’ve got nothing.”
Faith rolled her eyes, moving away. “Right.”
“You’re gonna need something, girl,” Mamie’s voice came louder. “Cause that’s some dark crap you’ve got coming after you.”
Faith froze, heart suddenly skipping a very audible beat. She whirled, voice dropping into a low, dangerous whisper, “What?”
“Just a feelin’,” Mamie said, shrugging. “That you’re gonna be tested, like you’ve never been tested before.” Faith swallowed hard. “Look, it ain’t none of my business, or nothing. But… I wanna pray for you.”
The nervous chuckle escaped her before she could stop it, as Faith scoffed. “Right, whatever. Stay the hell away from me,” she snarled, leaning in close to make sure Mamie got her point, before moving away.
“You’re not alone, Faith,” Mamie called after her. “But you sure as hell will feel like it.”
Faith clenched her fists, but kept walking.
“I’m praying for you, anyway,” was the last sentence.
Faith closed her eyes, took in a shuddering breath, as her eyes opened, and she looked around the courtyard. Suddenly, it seemed as if every eye was upon her, and every gaze was searing into her very soul. Too hot, and trembling, Faith turned back to the only pair of warm eyes in the place.
“You do that,” she told Mamie haltingly.
The sunlight that drifted down over the front of the open hospital doors seemed wrong somehow.
Wesley winced, hand rising to his neck, pressing his palm against the stitches, digging into his pocket for the pills with his free hand. All expenses paid, courtesy of the benefits of Angel Investigations. Benefits, he realized, he most likely no longer had.
Wesley paused on the concrete. Former Watcher, he emerged from this place with nothing, not a ride home, not even a set of keys, no job, most likely, and no family.
No Connor. To even swallow would have caused more pain that he thought he could bear.
Well, Mr. Pryce, Wesley stared down the street. What now?
Hands in his pockets, he didn’t move, had no idea what to do, until the decision was made for him.
Inches away from him, a black car pulled up to the front of the curve. Wesley was still, as the door swung open, and from the dark, a figure emerged.
It only took an instant to recognize the face, but Wesley’s throat parched, and he took a full step back.
He said ‘Forgive me for what I’ve done there, ‘cause I never meant the things I did. And give me something to believe in.’ – Warrant
The trees along the setting sun gave off a brilliant hue in their tops, a greenish glow that tinged with orange along their leaves.
It was a beautiful sight, if one actually took the time to look. Wesley’s eyes skimmed the treetops, and perhaps even a month ago, he would have stopped to admire the view, bask in its beauty. Now, his stomach was twisted into uncomfortable knots, and his throat ached. Perhaps it would have been bearable, had it not been for the incredible, unendurable tension in his heart.
“Your bill has been covered, then.”
The words were almost thrown at him, and Wesley allowed them to register, barely. He crossed his arms, kept his unseeing gaze facing the window, letting the silence speak for him.
“Bloody hell don’t understand why you’re mad at me, boy. Usually a man demands a certain amount of respect, or have these Americans finally succeeded in robbing you of what little common sense you actually had?”
The sting sunk in, but he marveled at what little the words did to his already sunken demeanor. Again, he refused to answer.
“I suppose it’s that throat,” the driver responded, making a turn. Wesley didn’t bother to ask how he knew exactly where to go. This man was thorough, rarely could Wesley make a move in his past without him knowing about it.
Who, what, when – every step of his life in an effort to ensure he would not be what he had lately become: a complete failure.
The car drifted to a stop, Wesley let out a sigh as the engine was cut, and silence seeped over the car. He supposed he was more angry, than curious, as he turned, gazed into the glittering hard eyes. “Why are you here?”
The older man, graying streaks attractively edging over his temples, gave him a soft glare. “Hasn’t a man the right to see if his son is all right?” Wesley stared at his father, a clog in his throat acutely painful. It prompted him into action, fumbling with the door handle and stepping out of the rental. “Besides, it isn’t as if you had anyone to take you home, is it, son? This is ‘doing well’?”
Wesley slammed the car door closed, resting his hand against the warmed metal, closing his eyes. Bloody hell, why here? Why now?
“You aren’t here to see me, Father,” he answered finally, in a low, painful rasp, vibrations that made his stitches itch moving against his throat. “Nothing at all quite interested you, unless it involved the Council.”
His father regarded him. “You never did understand the importance of your position,” he answered gravely, a tone that seemed hesitant, soft. “Or of the Council. It forced us to make sacrifices, Boy. Choices-“
“And I’ve made mine,” Wesley clipped, stepping away from the car. “Good-bye, Father.”
Dark eyes flashed at the insolence, Wesley acknowledged that this must have been quite a surprise to his father, who expected complete obedience, and a ‘sir’ at the end of his sentence. In his early days, he would have been slapped for such a show of disrespect. The voice was scratchy when Wesley Wyndham Price the Third snapped, “So you’ve forgotten your family, then?”
Wesley took in a breath, and answered in a low voice, “I have no family.”
Mr. Pryce, Senior, with flint black eyes, and a crooked mouth, stared at his son, the glare of disapproval clouded by the look of speculation.
Without another word he shifted the gear in the car, and immediately moved from the sidewalk, jerking off into the distance.
Wesley’s shoulders were curiously slumped as he crossed the street, moving to his apartment.
Lorne moved up the stairs slowly, the added weight of the conflicted auras making each step slow, hard.
The green demon understood the mission, but quite often he never felt he understood the Powers, or the role they played. If they cared so much for good, why were the good forced to suffer?
Oh sure, he got the whole ‘get your reward in heaven while the bad guys spend eternity in hell’ bit, but what was so wrong with a little taste, just a small morsel that reminded you, exactly what you needed this so badly for?
Hands slipped into pockets, and Lorne, eying his dark blue ensemble in distaste, acknowledged that even he didn’t feel like going with the bright colors this morning. And the fact that Cordelia, normally a harpy about his fashion choices, had not mentioned it showed exactly how far gone the little sexpot was.
Lorne believed in kyerumption, even if he knew that if Angel, or anyone else heard the word one more time, they would most likely slap him upside the head, and maybe even twist a horn or two. Perhaps he was turning into a butler in a comic book, but since he was the only one who talked anymore, maybe that was what was needed.
Pushing open the door to Angel’s room, Lorne paused, took in the disarray, and found the vampire standing next to the closet, rifling through his clothes.
“You’re up,” he said, surprise flitting on his features, relief in his tone. “That’s … good.” Angel didn’t respond, merely continued to dig through his clothes, finding a black sweater and yanking it out. Lorne’s smile faltered. Letting out a breath, he came forward, stepping gingerly through the mess. “So, the Cordster’s back, little hottie’s downstairs.”
“I know,” came the clipped answer.
“Ah.” Lorne stood still, watching as Angel tied the belt, buckled, reached for his leather jacket. “As far as I can remember, she was a good ear to vent to,” he supplied helpfully.
He got a dark glance in response, as the vampire slammed the closet door shut, reaching down to pick up a teddy bear that he threw into the vacant crib.
Lorne, deciding the subtle approach wasn’t working, went for the direct approach instead. Carefully, he began. “Angel, you’re hurting – there’s a big aching hole in that chest, I get that. But she might understand. She’s your Seer, Angel – your link to the world. Talking to her, letting her in – maybe it’ll help you move on.”
That, however eloquently put, was precisely the wrong thing to say, apparently, because suddenly Lorne had a face full of pissed off vampire exactly two inches away, eyes flashing dangerously.
“I don’t want to move on. I want to find out where Wesley is.”
Oh, crap. Throat immediately parched, Lorne felt his left butt cheek constrict quickly, forcing him to take a step back. Why on earth did he keep forgetting that he was talking to damned vampire?
Angel took the step with him, grabbed his left arm in a grip that was pretty darn painful, and growled, low, in his throat.
“OWwwww. Angelcakes! That kinda-“
“Where the hell is WESLEY.”
Lorne swallowed, wincing when the grip tightened. There was no doubt, judging from the half crazy look in Angel’s eyes and the ever increasing pressure on his fragile arm, that Angel would hurt him if he didn’t tell.
“He was released from the hospital today,” Lorne finally managed, immediately relieved when the grip was lightened considerably.
Angel pushed him out of his way and strode out the door.
Lorne didn’t realize he was sweating until he mopped the moisture from his forehead. Closing his eyes, he took another look around the room, found his gaze lingering on Connor’s burnt crib.
Cordelia wondered that if she had a big remote control, and pointed it at Fred and Gunn, and rewound and replayed in slow motion, pausing in several different areas – would she then be able to understand what the hell went wrong?
How the hell – when the hell – what the hell –
She swallowed, fingers curling around the coffee mug and holding on tight, nearly shaking in her rage, and yet somehow managing to appear nothing more than just a little disturbed that Connor was gone and Angel was psycho-guy and Wesley became amateur kidnapper.
Thoughts whirling, she resisted the urge to look toward the stairs and turned back to Gunn and Fred, irrational anger sifting through her. How could they have NOT KNOWN!? HOW?!
Fred’s fingers were clenched tightly in Gunn’s, the young girl’s head was resting on his broad shoulder, buried into his side. Cordelia closed her eyes. That was why. Swallowing, she remembered a vacation that seemed ages ago and was just yesterday, and her anger slid into despair.
“Where’s Wesley?” she finally managed.
Fred and Gunn, young lovers, exchanged glances, before Gunn answered, rubbing at his bald head nervously. “Wes was getting released at that hospital near his house this afternoon. I tried to talk to him, but the dude wasn’t saying anything.”
Immediately, Cordelia launched up, forgetting her resolve to keep her hands on the coffee cup and consequently, spilling the hot liquid all over her fingers. She hissed, placing two digits in her mouth for only a second, before she moved to the coat rack, grabbing the jacket that hung there.
“Cordelia? Where are you going?”
“Where do you think?” she snapped, pulling on her jacket. “I’m going to talk to Wesley, and he’s going to tell me what the HELL he was ON when he took Connor.”
Fred’s voice was quiet. “Cordelia, we don’t know the whole story. Wesley was looking kinda haggard when we saw him this week, maybe-“
“Well, we damned well better GET the whole story, don’t you think?” Cordelia whirled, causing Fred to shrink back under the flashing hazel eyes. Cordelia didn’t even stop to ponder on how she could STILL intimidate the hell out of a girl who had stood up even to Angel. Instead her mouth parted and words that had been pent up tumbled out in one hurried rant. “Don’t you GET it? This shouldn’t have happened! Connor should never have been taken. Wesley SHOULDN’T have been being Joe Stoic and I should have never-“
“Uh… sweetie.” Lorne stepped forward, crossing into the room with a grim expression and a flustered jacket. “We may have a bigger issue at hand.”
Gunn looked almost relieved at the interruption, but Cordelia noticed Fred glancing at her warily, gazing at her through peculiarly clear eyes.
Flushing, Cordelia ran tired hands through her hair, turning toward the demon. “What?” she asked tiredly, as if she couldn’t take anymore.
“Angel’s gone after Wesley himself,” Lorne said. “Now.”
Cordelia’s eyes bore into Lorne’s, and seeing the unspoken warning in his eyes, she winced, her heart tumbling lower into her chest.
One of these days, Wesley was going to have to understand how Cordelia turned off her brain.
Sitting at his desk, Wesley hadn’t bothered to turn on the lamp, hadn’t bothered to move really, for the better part of an hour. Once again the indecision had come over him, and even now, mind flashing with images of Gunn’s disappointed and angry face, of visions of Cordelia and Fred and Angel – and yes, Connor, beautiful little Connor with his beautiful smile in a heartbreakingly innocent face- , he still could not break his mind from pondering, thinking.
His father was in Los Angeles. Wesley sat, attempting to tear his mind away from his father’s words, found it refocused on the Hyperion. His fingers slid across the cold plastic of the phone, and again he attempted to pick it up, take what little strength he had to dial, hear the ringing – listen for a voice – any voice-
He slammed down the phone and found himself trembling. Bloody Hell.
Burying his hands in his hair, Wesley closed his eyes, let them slide through the stubble of his four day old beard, and pushed away from the table. The claustrophobic tendencies of the apartment did not escape him, and suddenly desperate to get out of the house, he grabbed his keys, heading for the door.
He didn’t look across the street to the park, he couldn’t – but when he turned and walked down the pavement, he was forced to remember his car was stolen, and the reason for it. Wesley paused, heart heaving, and it seemed his mind seemed intent on pursuing the endless guilt trip, because now there was a flash that suddenly became not a flash at all.
Wesley paused, heart skipping a beat – No, he decided with a hitching of breath, resignation and of course, the obligatory guilt. That was Angel, leaning against the black convertible, watching with hooded eyes. Eyes of a dead man.
Wesley resisted the urge to look away, instead found himself frozen in place, unable to move, as Angel pushed away from his car, fists clenched and eyes dark – terrible. The vampire strode forward, until he was inches away from the Watcher, and this close, Wesley could see the trembling, the very thin thread Angel was hanging from.
He was almost afraid to speak. “Ange-“
“Shut up.” It wasn’t a snarl, but a snap that was almost a growl, coming from somewhere buried deeply within Angel’s limits of self control. He took a step back, almost as if he didn’t trust himself this close to Wesley. Ashamed, Wesley felt almost grateful for the space.
“I want the books – all of them. All the spells and all the portal books you took from Pylea. I want them NOW.”
Wesley stared in the dark abyss, and again his mind flashed – Angel’s son is gone – But Angel would have killed him – the prophecies – His thoughts scattered, and Wesley frowned, shaking his head. He had been a thinking man – with a rational mind –
Had he done the right thing? Had he played into the prophecy’s hands? Had he saved Angel endless guilt in the son dying at his own hands – or caused him more pain than he could bear by inadvertently giving his son to the enemy Angel feared most?
Wesley had trusted his mind for so long – it was the one thing that had never failed him.
Until now. He held up his keys.
Angel jerked them out of his fingers, grabbing them and pushing past him. Wesley turned, the tightness in his stomach bordering on painful now, as Angel moved into his apartment.
He followed, standing in the doorway as he watched his former employer, his friend – his brother – ransack his library, pushing books into a duffel bag and turning toward the door. Dropping his keys on Wesley’s mantle, Angel paused, not daring to look at him.
“Twenty-four hours, Wesley. You have twenty-four hours to get out of town.” Wild eyes met his then, eyes of an animal, and it no longer mattered if Angel was cursed with a soul, he had lost what had most mattered. He had trusted him – Wesley had been trusted completely and implicitly. “Or I’ll kill you, Wesley, God help me-“
Wesley could stand the silence no longer. “Angel, you must-“
“NO.” Angel visibly shuddered, back to him as he paused in the doorway. “I don’t want to hear it. I CAN’T hear it, Wesley. Whatever you have to say, you never said it before, and nothing matters now.”
Wesley watched as Angel walked out of his apartment, got into his car with his books, and drove off. He found himself sinking into the couch, aware that his knees were dangerously close to giving out. Leaning back against the cushion, he closed his eyes.
//Check me out! I’m Mr. Dad!//
His eyes drifted open.
Perhaps Angel was right. Light, hesitant fingers ran over his throat, visions of red hair, and the wince of a knife slicing through his throat, suddenly mottled with a past experience with a shard of glass and a brunette.
Perhaps, nothing mattered now.
Faith shifted, pulling the pillow roughly from under her head and smacking it together with her palms, attempting to give the cheap stuffing some semblance of shape.
Stuffing it back under her head, Faith blew out her breath, hands resting lightly on her abdomen as she stared up into the mattress above her.
“Keep shifting, Faith, and I’m gonna come down there and kick your ass.”
Stacey’s voice was mottled with sleep, and Faith smirked, brought down from her nervous agitation, to answer, “Fuck off, smart ass.”
Stacey’s arm waved down and Faith got a middle finger pointed to her in response. A smile crossed Faith’s face, and she closed her eyes, only to have them reopen immediately when a flash of Mamie’s soulful brown eyes stared at her.
Shit. What the hell was the matter with her? Faith had never been beaten by her nightmares, hell, she had truly LIVED during the darkness of the nights – and now she was a freakin’ wimp because of some dreams and a rabid chick?
She closed her eyes, letting out a shaky breath, and felt her mind drift.
The crushing weight on her esophagus made her eyes snap open, and Faith choked, hands reaching up to grasp at the hands crushing her windpipe, hips arching to buck off the body straddling her own.
Faith tried to move, but the metal chain only tightened around her neck, and she gagged, mind reeling as she gasped, eyes locking onto those of her assailant. Stacey’s eyes were dark midnight, mouth pulled into an unnatural frown as the chains wove tighter around Faith’s windpipe.
“Stace-“ she barely managed, trying to gather her rapidly fading strength, unable to cry out, body twisting, suddenly trapped under the sheets. Stacey didn’t say a word. The older woman just wrapped her knees around Faith’s thighs, and twisted again, causing Faith to gasp in pain.
Stacey was never this fucking strong. Faith closed her eyes, fighting to stay conscious, cold metal twisting and clanking, until she gave up on the chains and went for the wrists, wrenching the thumb up, feeling the crunch of bone give way, as Stacey grunted.
With a move that could have dislocated something, Faith wasn’t sure, the Slayer arched up her legs, maneuvering between the bodies, and planting her foot on Stacey’s chest, she pushed hard. The hands lost the chains, as Stacey flew back, and Faith gasped inward, deep breaths, heaving in, feeling her mind return to her with the unfiltered pain.
She just needed two seconds to regain herself, but she didn’t have that, because Stacey was on her again, and Faith had to move, this time from a knife that slashed down at her.
“FUCK!” She twisted away, the knife catching her on the arm, a slice that made her wince, tumbling off the bed and to the other side of the cell. Blood began to drip, and Stacey carefully stepped out from under the bunk, nostrils flaring.
Being attacked in her bunk wasn’t new. Faith had heard stories, had been privy to more than one chick who was taught their lesson as soon as the lights went down. But this was Stacey. Stacey was in here for fraud – she was no murderer.
“Stacey, what the hell are you doing?” she managed, holding her injured arm to her, eyes wide as she backed up against the wall. Stacey didn’t say one word. Eyes as dark as black onyx regarded Faith, before the knife flashed in the barely there lights, and Faith once again twisted out of the way, rolling under and kicking up, sending Stacey sprawling against the toilet, a clash of metal and a splash of water coming back as a result.
And Stacey just kept coming.
For once, Faith was absolutely terrified, because Stacey had blue eyes – not the black dark orbs that were staring at her now. The blood dripping from her arm was slippery, and she fell in the pool at her feet. Stacey took advantage, jumping on top of her, forcing Faith to grit her teeth, grab the arm, and hold on for dear life.
Life over death, there was no way in hell Faith was dying now. Not like this. Instinct took over, and Faith did what she always thought what she did best. Grabbing the wrist, she pulled harshly, slamming the hand into the ground, twisting the blade, and pushing up. The knife went into Stacey’s gut like it went through butter, and Faith kicked off, letting the body fall back.
Voices shouted, beams of lights began to circulate, but Faith paid no heed, eyes stinging as she sank to the floor, hands buried into her hair, as the dead body lay before her.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Breathing heavily, she didn’t look as the metal gates swung open, and when the baton cracked on her head, she blanked out almost immediately.
You speak to me in riddles and you speak to me in rhymes. My body aches to breathe your breath. Your words keep me alive – Sarah McLachlan
Cordelia grabbed the long black coat, registering dully in her mind that she HAD had a weird penchant for black recently, and slipped it on, pausing only to thumb her growing hair out of the collar before moving toward the door.
“CORDELIA!” An unwilling moan broke from her throat, as she turned, wanting so badly to ignore Fred’s plaintive cry. “You can’t go alone, at least let Gunn go with you.”
Charles stepped forward, fully prepared to follow Cordelia until she stopped him with a crisp, “No.”
“Listen, Fred, the state Angel’s in, I don’t trust him alone with anyone. You haven’t seen his little beige soul, okay?” She closed her eyes, throat parching immediately at the thought. “When he’s all Mr. Despair,” she said, her tone lower, “The last thing he wants is a crowd. The last thing he needs is –“ she cut herself, tired of arguing, tired of the way Fred and Gunn kept drawing her back, when the thing that needed to be done was getting to Angel. And Wesley.
And to FIX all of this…
“If you don’t trust him with anyone, why are you going alone?” Gunn snapped, coming forward to grab at her elbow.
Cordelia jerked away. She never answered, and she could have snapped anything. Something scathing that would have shut Gunn and Fred up, and she would have. God help her, she would have. But the deep seated panic and the confusion that welled up inside her mangled her words.
All she could say was, “Because I HAVE to.”
Her boots clicked on the floor as she practically ran to lobby doors, pulling them open and letting them swing closed after her.
Gunn watched Cordelia go, his hands falling to his sides as an exasperated sigh fell from his lips.
Shit. And more shit.
Closing his eyes, his hands curled into fists, allowing him to release his tension only slightly. He needed some damned violence. And soon. This shit was getting too close to home, too hard – too complicated.
His eyes opened, found Fred staring at him plaintively, his girlfriend’s eyes beseeching him for an answer as to what to do. Go after Cordelia? Go after Angel?
Two weeks ago he had fallen in love. Two weeks ago he had held a girl and kissed her and loved her. Two weeks ago he had the damned world. Two weeks ago had never felt so far away.
Fred stared at him, and he wanted more than anything to offer a reassuring smile, tell her that it was alright, he would go after her. And he would, dammit. ‘Cause Wesley didn’t deserve to die – and if Angel hurt Wes – no matter what Wes did – that vamp would be-
The basement door burst open, Fred jumped in surprise, and Gunn blinked as the vampire in question strode into the Hyperion Lobby, carrying a bundle of books and a duffel bag filled with what looked like – yeah, more books.
“Angel!” Fred looked visibly relieved as she followed him into Wesley’s old office. Angel barely looked at her, Gunn’s features darkening as he dumped the books onto Wesley’s desk. “You’re here! Oh, thank God! Lorne said that-“
“Start looking.” Fred closed her mouth, and stared at Angel in bewilderment. Curious, Gunn came closer, digging his fists into his pockets, leaning against the office door frame. There was no blood on Angel that Charles could see. Wesley was probably safe. Angel began flipping through the books, handing a particularly thick one to Fred. “We’re getting Connor back. Look for portals – spells, anything. I’m getting him back.”
The voice was clipped and dark. Fred had her mouth slightly open as Angel brushed past her, her eyes meeting with Gunn in astonishment. Swallowing, Charles straightened as Angel walked by him, turning. “Yo, Angel.”
“What?” Angel clipped, taking the Hyperion stairs two steps at a time.
There were so many things Charles could have said, but he found himself saying, “Where’d you go?”
“I didn’t kill him, Gunn,” he snapped, never moving.
Well, that was good to know. “Cordy went looking for you.” And Angel froze, if only for half a second. Charles waited expectantly. “Should I go after her? Maybe tell her you’re …. All right…” Gunn trailed off as Angel began to move. He completely ignored the question. Gunn swallowed, looked back to Fred, who stared at him from over her mountain of Wesley’s books.
Bloody boring stake-outs.
Casper Lee sighed, leaning his head back against the headrest, before reaching for the radio and fiddling through the dial, frowning with every station that drifted through the speakers.
Americans and their pissy music. His scowl deepened. Boring rubbish. He was a highly trained doctor, an elite man from a gentlemen’s class. A man who could give lectures at Oxnard, and had on more than one occasion.
And today, after years of accomplishments, he was a squatter.
“Council better pay me well for this,” he muttered under his breath, keeping his gaze on the apartment building as he crossed his arms, closed his eyes for just a second.
The sound of a car engine zooming past forced his eyes back open. Sitting up, he peered into the darkness.
A young brunette slid crazily to a stop, jerking open the car door and slamming it, very nearly tripping on the concrete and she ran up the steps to the apartment.
Well, things finally got interesting.
Reaching for his cellphone, Mr. Lee began to dial.
“We got a visitor,” he began, as soon as the line picked up.
He didn’t even bother to warm up the blood as he grabbed the container off the shelf.
Slamming the refrigerator door closed, Angel turned, twisting open the lid, ignoring Cordelia’s smell as it drifted from it. He took a swig, blanched at the taste of pig – animal – damned filthy blood – and gulped it quickly.
His mind raged, but his body was exhausted. Leaning against the wall, Angel crossed his arms, closing his eyes, a hiccup emerging as his eyes teared up, and the well of hatred and anger continued to build.
“God,” he whispered, hands palming through his hair, a face of a demon flickering on as he lowered himself to the floor.
Eyes roved over the burnt remains of the room – memories of a child with his laugh and his forehead. Memories of a woman on a bed with a bottle…
“Robot chipmunks on ice…”
The sob burst within him – a torrent of rage and he growled, grabbed a charred piece of wood, hurling it toward the scant frame of a bed.
A voice whispered from inside, a demon who spoke of revenge, taking what he needed, and swallowing himself in warmth – of blame and hazel eyes that should have been there –
Of a small baby who was ripped from his arms – the only life that had ever been his -
Hurt and death and pain and rage – all so simple and easy for a vampire to digest – and increasing desperation -
Angel whimpered and covered his ears as the tears slid down his cheeks one by one.
The soul stretched to the width of a rubber band, containing the demon.
Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Don’t panic-
Cordelia gave up trying to keep the mantra steady, groaning as she stopped ringing the doorbell and began to slam on the door.
Panic that edged into her was now streaming in full force, and when Wesley finally opened the door, dressed in flannel pajamas and wearing an exhausted frown, Cordelia snapped.
Relief mingled immediately with anger, she was none too gentle as she pushed him out of the way, frantically looking over the room. “Where is he?”
“Cordelia?” Wesley blinked sleepily, rubbing at his eyes in an attempt to get her into focus.
“Where IS he?!”
“Who?” he asked, completely bewildered.
“Angel, smart ass!” Turning, Cordelia paused, found him still at the doorway, and still (luckily) in one piece. “You’re not dead.”
“No, I’m – what?” Wesley swallowed, winced, and then looked toward the door. “Angel left – Cordelia? What are you doing-“ He was cut off immediately when Cordelia’s palm connected with his cheek, sending him back against the wall.
The anger had flared as soon as the relief at finding Wesley okay came, and now her hazel eyes flashed, and she wondered if by GOD, she wasn’t going to kill Wesley herself.
“What the HELL were you thinking?!” she whispered, voice low and dangerous and so different from her less angry screech. “You took CONNOR, Wesley. Do you get that? You. TOOK. CONNOR.”
Dead silence descended now, as Cordelia stepped back, eyes clouded with tears. She took a shaky breath, wiping at her lids in an attempt to clear them, refocused them again on Wesley, finally able to see him. Dark blue eyes looked hollow. He hadn’t moved from his position against the wall, frame skinnier than she remembered. A beard that made him look rough and unkept covered his jaw, but not the patch stained with blood that went from the tip of his ear to his collar bone.
“I took Connor,” he finally responded gravely. “I’m sorry, Cordelia. I was so sure… I was so… sure…” Wesley’s eyes closed, his knees gave out.
Something gave within her, something that clogged her throat and made her own eyes water. Something that slipped through the anger, and made her take one step at a time, closer to the shaking man, until she was pulling his hands away from his face, searching him.
“Okay,” she said gruffly, pulling him up gently, clasping his hands in hers. He was trembling, broken Wesley.
God… what the hell had…
“Sit down.” Carefully, she deposited him on the sofa. Her mind carefully, consciously, shut down as she moved to his bathroom, reaching into his medicine cabinet and grabbing the gauze and the Neosporin. When she returned, she purposely didn’t look at his eyes as she cradled his cheeks, lifting his head.
When she peeled off the blood soaked bandage, he winced. “Bloody-“
“Shhh.” She shushed him, taking in a shaky breath as she looked at the damage, before turning and taking a piece of cotton gauze and the alcohol. She could pretend that this was just another mission – that they had returned home and she was patching them up. Like always. Just long enough to understand – to try and understand… “Tell me,” she said after a minute. “Tell me what happened.”
Cordelia knew her hot and cold moods sometimes left the group bewildered, and if she looked now, Wesley would be staring at her uncertainly, with fear in his eyes.
So she took in a breath to steady her trembling hands, and locked their gazes. “Tell me,” she repeated firmly.
He watched her, and she looked away.
He began to speak. Cordelia continued to not look at him, forcing her hands steady as he began to tell of a prophecy, of the signs. The earthquake and the blood lust – the ever increasing rage – and Wesley’s paranoia.
Her hands began to tremble, her heart began to beat harder, and she began to sweat, but still, she forced herself to remain silent as she taped the gauze, smoothing it over his Adam’s apple, feeling it vibrate.
“Holtz told me he would take the child, Cordelia. I couldn’t allow it.”
She took in a deep breath. “So you took him instead.” He swallowed at her expression.
“You didn’t tell anyone. You didn’t even tell Angel, that he might have had a part in his kid’s death – you didn’t TELL anyone…” She began to gasp for breath now, and she had to force herself to stop, gain control. “You didn’t tell ANYONE?!”
”WHAT Wes?! You didn’t trust anyone?! No one? Not Fred or Gunn or Lorne – or even Angel!? NOT ME?!”
”You were on vacation-“
“Don’t you DARE use that.” Cordelia swallowed hard. “A vacation I could have any time. You should have called me the MOMENT things got out of hand.”
Wesley stared at her, almost as if he was seeing a stranger. Her jaw clenched, and she stared right back, glaring with him, eyebrow raised. In the tense confrontation – there was a glimpse at their past – a young girl in too tight clothes, sticking her tongue out at a stiff young ex-Watcher.
And now they were here: a half demon ex-Princess and a scar laden young man who actually looked… old. Her shoulders slumped, her eyes closed, and she found she could say nothing else.
“Damn you, Wes,” she whispered. “Damn you for not saying anything. And damn me for leaving.” The last sentence was said slowly, low, as she settled down next to him, crossing her legs and staring at the wall.
In this house, there were no lights on. In this room, it was dark, and silent, and she might as well have been alone. Broken ends were severed, and Angel might as well have been here, staring at her with his beautiful, tortured eyes.
God – all she wanted was to hold a child, to keep him close to her and breathe in his scent.
“God…” Did she say that, or Wesley?
“I need to understand, Wesley,” she said finally. “I need to understand – but… what it’s done to Angel…”
It was too much, she knew, for both of them. Maybe that was why he backed off, even as her hand slipped in his and he clenched it almost painfully. “And Groo?”
She blinked, mind jerked away from Angel and Connor. “What?”
“The Groosalug. He’s not here.”
“No,” she said, pulling her hand back. “He’s not here. Not here, here. It doesn’t matter.”
“Did something go wrong?” It was almost absurd, really, the way the tone was polite conversation. She stared at Wesley, saw the genuine concern in his voice, and almost smiled. Of course Wesley would care about her boyfriend when he had a slit throat and Connor was gone. What a man. GREAT priorities.
“Wesley, I don’t-“ Ringing, tinged with vibration, came from her purse. Immediately, she reached into her purse, flipping open the tiny cell phone and putting it to her ear. “Hello?”
“Gunn,” she immediately answered.
“Wesley all right?”
“In one piece, if that’s what you mean,” She answered, giving Wesley a glance. His face remained curiously closed.
“Good,” Gunn sounded audibly relieved. “That’s good.”
There was silence, and Cordelia waited impatiently. “Did you want me to tell him anything?”
Gunn was quiet. “Did he talk to you?”
“Can we talk about this later?” she asked, when Wesley shifted on the couch.
There was a moment of quiet, and an exasperated expression filled the receiver before Gunn replied, “Yeah, sure. Whatever. We need you back here, Cordelia. Angel’s ain’t brooding anymore.”
“He’s all… you gotta come back.”
Shit. “Okay, I’m on my way,” she whispered. Clicking the phone shut, she turned to her old friend, who was staring at her with something akin to hope in his beautifully blue eyes. “I gotta go,” she said finally, getting up immediately.
“What is it?” He got to his feet, following her towards the door.
“I don’t know, it’s about Angel-“
His steps faltered. “Cordelia-“
“Not now, Wes.” She grabbed the door handle, mind already locking onto getting out of there without tearing her soul in two. “I just… not now…”
She reeled, frozen, as her mind began to tingle, and her eyes opened, and suddenly unseeing, she clenched at the handle. “Vision.”
Darkness, coupled with moist humidity, filled her senses. Her face wet and dirty, heart pounding, and mind swimming with panic. And it was coming, closer, closer to the cell.
Oh, God, oh God…
Turning desperately, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror.
Cordelia gasped, torn out of the vision, back into the present. Wesley’s hands held her shoulders, face worried. “What is it?” he whispered.
She swallowed. “Faith.”
Leather clasps held her down. She thrashed, did her damnedest to throw them off, but they held her down. Blood ran red as it seeped from her forehead, into her lips, bitter copper on her tongue.
Her eyes opened, wavy, dizzy hues of people gathered around her, and the needle came closer, closer-
She awoke with a start. Gasping heavily, Faith took in deep, sucking breaths. Goddamn fucking dreams. She swallowed down, hard. Her heart beat slowed, and Faith winced, when a piercing throb came from her forehead.
What the fuck?
Slowly – GOD she felt tired – Faith raised a weary arm to her hair, came away with rusted blood scratched onto her fingertips. She gazed at it, eyes boring into it, her throat dry and scratchy, and suddenly she knew why.
She wasn’t in her cell. This wasn’t her cell. This was… a dark room, small and black and nothing in it. A doorway, metal with a small, metal box that they would slide things in - solitary. Oh, shit.
An involuntary sob came out as she lifted her long sleeved shirt, hasty, fumbled movements, and peered into the darkness, trying to see if she would find pin pricks on her arms.
Shit, oh, Shit.
A wave of dizziness overwhelmed her when she launched to her feet. She reeled, hand launched out to catch the wall as she fell against it.
What the hell? Her eyes flew down to her hands, staring at them. Why the hell was she so … weak?
Moving toward the steel door, Faith banged her fists into it. “HEY!” Her voice echoed against the steel, sound proof door. She pried with her fingers at the little hatch. Hissing in, she moved back when her fingers wrenched, sending a jolt of pain. Great – now she had a fucking hand issue to go along with the splitting headache.
“HEY!” she screamed at the door. Nothing. Faith stepped back, licked her lips to attempt to get some moisture into her dry throat, eyes roving around the black cell.
There was barely room to stand in here. She shivered, as a sudden chill swept over her, a wind that forced her to pause, jerk her head toward the door.
There couldn’t be a draft in here. There was no way out of this place, and no way there could be a draft-
Her pulse began to beat in her ears, loud and pounding, as the fear began to take her. Dreams within dreams sliced into her mind, and she stepped away from the door, back, back, until she was pressed up against the wall farthest from it.
Trapped. She was fucking trapped, and alone and…
Oh, shit, she was so scared.
Outside the cell, from the other end of the hallway, steps began to echo down the corridors. She shouldn’t have heard them, but she did.
And they were getting closer.
What was it about stupid Englishman and their stupid belief that tea would fix everything?
Cordelia glared disdainfully at her cup, the ‘weed soup’ simmering in her tiny teacup that no real man in his right mind would have owned. Of course, it seemed perfectly natural then, that Wesley owned a set of four. He sipped at his pensively.
Shaking her head, Cordelia’s voice was systematic, even as her own mind and thoughts wrangled with conflictions. “The damned Powers,” she said finally. “Sure, give me a vision of Faith, but not of their own CHAMPION.”
Wesley said nothing, pursed his lips in thought, and set aside his cup. “What did you see?”
“Crap.” At that monosyllabic word, his eyebrow rose, and once again, Cordelia would have given anything to know what he was thinking. “She’s in jail,” she said finally. “I think. Some dark, dingy place, that would have the Health Department screaming up SOMEONE’S ass. And…” she frowned, trying to regain the images in her mind. “It’s…” she sucked in her breath. “She’s in trouble, Wes. But…” Her hands clenched around the tea cup, and she trembled when suddenly the pipeline opened, and another vision flooded through her.
Pressed against a wall, headache pounding, fear flooding through her, and something else…
Cordelia’s eyes jolted open. “Oh, God…. OH GOD…” Wesley took the cup from her before she could spill the hot liquid over her shaking hands. Her eyes locked on his, wide and scared. “She’s got no strength, Wesley. It’s all gone. She can’t defend herself…” She blinked, stood up. “And something’s coming after her. NOW.”
“Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who’s the most psychotic Slayer of ‘em all!” Murray got a slap on the back of his head, even as he chuckled, and he threw his colleague a dark scowl. “You can’t tell me you didn’t think that was funny!”
The older man was tight-lipped, hands crossed as he stared at the foggy mirror. “Do you bloody think the black arts are a game?” he asked crisply. “Continue with your work. Concentrate.”
Murray shook his head. That damned Pryce never did have a sense of humor. And this WAS funny. He kept his joke for someone who might appreciate it, filing it away in his mind, and in the fog, continued to keep the image of the girl in the cell clear, whispering the incantation.
“Technology ain’t got nothing on this,” he drawled.
The steps continued, one at a time. Slow, methodical. Faith hated slow and methodical.
“HEY!” she screamed again, slamming at the door. No one came. Of course no one fucking came. She turned, eyes wild as she searched the room for a weapon, any weapon. There was darkness, nothing but, and maybe a toilet. Faith moved toward it, arms reaching out until she found the cold metal. She pulled at the seat, and it should have snapped off in her hands, it SHOULD have.
It didn’t even move, and her injured fingers screamed at her, forcing her to give up. She turned, gazing at the door.
Fuck, oh Fuck.
In a rational mind, a person might have waited to see who opened the door before they began to panic. In a rational mind, they might have reasoned that perhaps this was just a watchman, coming back to check up on her. But Faith wasn’t a rational person. She was a Slayer, and subject to psychic nightmares, and robbed of her strength, she came to the only logical conclusion.
This was SERIOUSLY not good.
Backed up against the wall, trapped, with an aching head, and a dizzy mind, she waited desperately, heart pounding, swallowed into her throat.
A key was inserted, the door began to open slowly, every creak taking years. A flash of a blade glinted in the little bit of light that was let into the room.
Her legs gave out from under her, and Wesley caught her as her hand pressed against her forehead, eyes wide and unseeing.
“Oh, God, Oh, God…” Cordelia pushed herself out of his arms. “CALL the jail, Wesley – CALL THEM!”
She sank onto the couch, the play-by-play manifesting panic and emotions that had to have been Faith’s, flooding through her. Wesley ran to the phone, dialing furiously.
Cordelia’s hands tightened around a sofa cushion, nearly tearing it in her anxiety. “He’s gonna kill her, Oh, GOD - he’s going to KILL HER NOW.”
Fate has led you through it, you do what you have to do. But I had the sense to recognize that I don’t know how to let you go – Sarah McLachlan
Faith was dangerous when she was cornered. Her heart pounded almost painfully in her ribcage, and her mind – GOOD GOD, her MIND – it swirled and exploded into bursts of white hot rage. It was nothing compared to the desperation that coupled with the panic of feeling entirely helpless. Faith’s whole life, she had searched for the one thing she had always envied the hell out of Buffy: Control. The power to twitch a finger and slice a knife, and KNOW things were gonna come out your way. The power to not feel so helpless, to not feel like you were drowning in your own vile blood, your own sin, your own torrent of rainfall and guilt.
FUCK. She almost had that. It had been there, slipping through her fingers, tangible, within reach. No one ever forgot, but she was starting to get over the hurt, even in her cell with Stacey snoring above her, during those long nights where she had nothing to do but go over each and every act she had committed, every torment she had inflicted, that had landed her in here.
Her control was splintered now, leaving behind a helpless, twenty year-old girl, with a sliced arm, a bloody forehead, and none of the strength that had kept her alive, brought her out of a coma, and traumatized so many.
The door continued to creak open, at the exact moment her headache flared, and she winced, keeping her eyes open, on the figure that stepped inside, holding the knife steady, way too steady.
Panic. Panic. Panic.
//It’s a kill or be killed world, B. That’s all it is. Want. Take. Have.//
Faith drew in a ragged breath, straightening as well as she could, hands pressed against the cold, wet concrete.
“How the hell did you get in here?”
Of course he didn’t answer. Of course he stood there, and of course, in the little light that drifted from the swinging fixtures in the hall, she could see his eyes perfectly: dark, black onyx.
Faith wanted to cry. She wanted to slide down to the floor, gather her knees to her chest, and sob her heart out, let out all the fear, all the sorrow…
Dizziness overcame her, she shook her head in an attempt to keep herself clear.
This one didn’t rush her. He stood in the middle of the cell, regarding her. Faith, breathing erratically, looked around him. “HEY! Someone’s trying to KILL ME IN HERE! Do your damned JOB and PROTECT AND SERVE!”
“The LAPD do that.”
He spoke, a crisp, clear, English accent. Her eyes locked with the ever consuming darkness of his orbs. “What?” she breathed in startled surprise.
“The Los Angeles Police Department protects and serves. The Sheriff’s department runs the jail.”
Well, thanks for the damned lesson. Fat lot of good it’s gonna do me, now.
She didn’t know what to say. She searched for the words – they used to come to easily to her, this word play. She knew the game. The smirk that should have come so easily to her lips, didn’t. Her mind, usually quick witted, ready to come back with a great response that would make him stumble, regard her with suspicious eyes, was slow.
For the first time, she was paralyzed with fear. He stepped forward, and immediately, she slammed her body back, against the wall. Fuck, Fuck.
“You are afraid.”
“You’re fucking delusional, if you think they’re going to let you get out of here after you killed me,” she whispered.
He smiled. “The prophecy does not lie. We will protect the world.”
The grin that stretched over the thin lips chilled her, she knew that grin. Knew it too well, and when he jerked forward, like a snake, she was almost ready. She jolted away from the wall, the knife flashed, and she let out a startled shriek when she felt the blade slice into her shoulder, a bite that made her stumble, crash into the floor. He almost danced away from the wall, rolling down, the knife swiping, and she scrambled back, seconds away from being impaled.
Oh, shit, oh shit, oh shit…
He came down at her again, and her mind snapped into place, palm wrapping around the hand to catch it, twist it down, over his shoulder blade, and wrench up. Break the wrist, force him to drop the knife, and then slice his neck with it.
That’s what should have happened. That’s what should have fucking happened.
But she couldn’t hold the hand, the knife sliced into her skin, and her eyes widened when he jerked away, tossing her to the other side of the room. Her head snapped against the concrete, blinding pain filled her senses, and she crashed into a heap on the floor.
Pushing herself up with every damned bit of strength she had left, Faith watched. He wiped the blade on a cloth he had taken from his pocket, inches away from the open door.
Okay, okay… strength not gonna work here. How the hell did Buffy do it?
She licked her lips, and closing her eyes, she took what she could get. He came forward, and she waited.
One seconds… two…
The blade came down, and she yelled, launching into a somersault, crashing with her body weight into his knees. He stumbled, hands flying back, and with a fragmented mind, Faith twisted her legs, keeping her steel toe boots straight. Both toe points crashed into his unprotected face. The hand with the knife slammed against the floor, the blade clattering away. He was stunned for a minute, and that was all Faith needed. With hasty, shaky, trembling and damned clumsy fingers, Faith tore at her boots, removing her laces.
As a kid she had stolen a boy scout manual from this guy, read it and fantasized, and no one knew how to do a better knot than she did. Stumbling up, erratic pants coming from her, Faith closed her eyes, practically falling backwards.
A flash slid before her, in her mind, words that came almost foreign-
“Get OUT of there, nitwit. Through the hall, through the sewer, the way he came in. Get to Angel Investigations – we’ll be waiting.”
Her eyes opened, and Faith didn’t bother to wonder what the hell happened. The blood was streaming from so many different places, she was covered in it, and GOD, she felt faint. She reached down, grabbed the bloody knife, and ran for as fast as she could toward the door.
The figure left behind was silent, but alive.
Wesley slammed the telephone down with a curse.
“Bloody hell…” he whispered, gripping the handle in a clasp that could have very well broken it, had it been under a stronger hand. “Cordelia, no one is picking up…” His voice faltered as he turned around, and looked up.
“GET to Angel Investigations- we’ll be waiting.” Cordelia was floating four feet above the ground, hand on her head, eyes shut closed.
“Cordelia?” he whispered, throat constricting at the sight. Her eyes flashed open, and suddenly whatever was holding her up gave way, and Cordelia crashed to the floor.
“Cordelia!” Falling to his knees, Wesley helped the Seer up, guiding her to the couch as she blinked, shaking her head.
“What the HELL?!” Cordelia ran her hand through her streaked hair, looking at Wesley with wide, relieved eyes. “She’s okay. She got out of there…” Wesley’s frown deepened.
“How do you-“
“I…” Her relief quickly turned to an expression of panic. “I don’t – Wesley, I think I was able to get into her head, talk to her, maybe THAT was why I was getting the play by play…”
What the bloody…
Things were going entirely too fast for Wesley to process. He stared dumbly at Cordelia, his beautiful friend bewildered, scared, like a mutant in that movie they had been dragged to see – the young one who discovered with a kiss. she could damn the world.
She stared, hazel boring imploringly into his, seeking an answer for what had just happened. He had no answer – had she learned nothing?
“Part-demon, Cordelia,” was his quiet answer. She stared at him, and he began to see the way her mind worked then. Part-demon reminded her of her birthday, her birthday of Connor, Connor of Angel – and Angel… when it was Cordelia, it always came back to Angel.
Her eyes darkened, closed in pain. Exhaling slowly, she waited only a second, gathering her senses, before she reached for his hand. “Help me up.” He did so, as well as his injury could allow. “We needed to get to the Hyperion. I think I told Faith to meet us there. I need to see Angel. You need to come with me.”
Wesley stilled, his heart beat hammering, thumping, skipping, never resuming its normal beat. “You think you told what to whom? To where?” She grabbed his hand, leaving no room for argument, dragging him toward the door. “Cordelia, Angel warned me-“
“Angel has to get over it.” she paused, a curious expression floating over features masked by pain, before she turned, stared at him frankly. Cordelia had a gift for frankness, as her delicate fingers slipped over his palms, held them close to her. Had she ever figured out, that perhaps SHE was the real boss of Angel Investigations? “We have a mission, Wes,” she began slowly, blinking away tears that made the hazel brilliant and captivating. “And… GOD – I hate the powers. I hate them. They should have told me, they should have – but they didn’t – and there’s a damned reason for that – We’re saving Faith-“
“Despite the torture,” he found himself adding, starting in surprise as he did. She gave him an even gaze, cool and almost angry. He swallowed, looked away, knowing she was thinking of Connor. Again his heart gave, his stomach dropped, he became almost nauseous.
“You took the action, you face the music.”
When she pulled on his hand, he had no choice but to follow.
Wesley had always been better at the research.
Fred was a physicist. A good one, granted. A multi-tasking one, okay. But she wasn’t a translator. Slipping off her glasses with a sigh, Fred took a moment to rub at her temples, put aside the books, and stare at the stairs.
Fred checked the clock on the wall, the one Wesley insisted they have, when she began her experiment on time and it’s implications on modernity. It was an odd subject, Cordelia’s eyes had promptly crossed, and even poor Angel stared down at Connor blankly.
Only Gunn and Wesley had listened, nodding at all the appropriate parts.
Wow. It seemed ages ago. She wondered if this was another relevant point in her theory, mind floating back to her thesis, before her wandering eyes caught a lone figure sitting on the orange couch, hands tangled into his fists. Immediately, she stood, forgetting about the books, just for a minute, venturing forth into the lobby.
Fred had never really taken care of anyone. Before Pylea, she had her parents taking care of her. In Pylea, she had herself to keep alive – nevermind anyone else. After Pylea, she had looked onto Angel Investigations to take care of her. It had never dawned on her that this might happen in a relationship, in friendship: the overwhelming urge to take care of someone – to worry about what might happen to one person, or five.
Fred was quiet, always quiet, and yet he always knew when she was coming. Charles turned, gave her a small smile, and looked back down at his hands. She stood still, taking in the slumped shoulders, the deep sigh that came from his body, and her big, beautiful Gunn just looked… small.
An aching hurt filled her, in the spot that had been hit several times since she had kissed him, starting the moment she turned in that ballet house and saw the demon stick the knife into Charles’ back. Settling down beside him, she waited a moment, taking an unsure breath.
Carefully, quietly, Charles reached forward, took her hand and brought it to his mouth, pressing it against his lips, holding it there as he leaned forward, eyes staring at something straight ahead. She held her breath.
Gunn closed his eyes, shuddered once, and pulled her hand away from his lips, into his lap. “It’s happening all over again.” Fred waited, not quite sure what he meant. Craning her head, she gently used her free hand to tip his chin toward her, until she caught her eyes. Her breath caught when she saw moistness.
“I’m losing my family, Fred. It’s happening all over again. I let down my guard, and it happened. I can’t do this again. I can’t lose it all.” Her vision was blurry, stinging in her eyes made her blink, as she gently palmed his cheek. He stared at her imploringly. “The only person I can believe in is you, Fred.”
Her heart broke then, as her hand slipped around his waist, and his body leaned forward. She cradled him, pressed her lips against his scalp and murmured reassuring words into his ear. He was still, shuddering occasionally, eyes pressed tight, cheek pressed against her breasts. He held her tightly, tighter than she had ever been held by him before.
It was desperate, and needy. He needed her. Fred closed her eyes, pulled him closer, and suddenly understood that in this moment, there was no one else but she and Gunn.
Because she needed him, too.
Angel had gotten to know his ‘family’ pretty well.
The habits of a predator were never truly lost, and although Angel understood his family – their patterns and weaknesses – ways they could be overcome – he had forced himself to be blind to them. For some reason, they all came to the surface to his mind with startling clarity, now. Gunn, and his need to be impulsive. Fred, and her naivety – the gut instinct of a survivor underneath that made her just as dangerous. Wesley – his blind faith.
Angel closed his eyes, sniffed, and immediately moved toward the door. When Lorne walked in, he had him by the collar, held up against he door, before the Pylean demon could even open his mouth to speak.
“You’re going to talk to the Powers,” Angel began crisply, in a voice that was husky with exertion, self control barely keeping the demon face from emerging, even as the eyes began to glow gold. “And you’re going to tell them that unless they want their Champion to take a permanent vacation, they’re taking me to Connor.”
Lorne was flabbergasted, jaw dropping, mouth opened, for the moment just stunned. “Angel-“
Angel kept him pinned. “Do it.”
Lorne was still, and maybe Angel should have given the Host more credit. The messenger for the Powers was straight and tall, the fear that Angel had seen before, disappearing before his very eyes. “What’s the matter, Angel?” he asked crisply. “Losing a little steam, there?”
Angel’s hands tightened around the lapel, dangerously close to his throat. “Don’t, Lorne. You don’t know who you’re dealing with.”
Lorne’s red eyes darkened, flashed in anger. “You’re wrong, honeybuns. I know exactly who I’m dealing with. And it’s still Angel.” His hands closed over Angel’s. “The Powers that Be care about the mission, Angel. They don’t care about your so-“
A growl, low and angry, escaped in a violet outburst. The haze of anger slid over him, seeping over the soul like boiling water in an overflowing pot, and when Angel blinked, Lorne was suddenly across the room, bleeding from his lip.
Angel stepped back, shaking his head, suddenly unsure. What the-
“Had fun?” Lorne said, picking himself up from off the ground, straightening his suit. “Fine. I’m done. I’m leaving you alone, Angelcakes. I’m tired of playing valet, and your personal beating toy. You wanna be dense? Be dense.” Moving toward the door, his hand on his lip, Lorne paused, staring angrily back at him. “Let me ask you one thing, Mr. Revenge. You’ve already lost your son – you really willing to lose everyone else?”
He had no one else.
Angel glared, hands into fists. He was exhausted, damned exhausted, and maybe that was why he didn’t bother to toss Lorne to the other side of the room.
Lorne slammed the door closed, and Angel, thankful for the silence, sank to the floor. Hands that were curled into fists, slammed into the carpeted floor, muffled thumps that did nothing to alleviate the rapidly growing tension.
Angel didn’t move, his face buried into the carpet, eyes closing, knees drawing into his chest. He couldn’t move: he moved, and he exploded.
Angel took in a deep, sucking breath, almost painful, if his lungs were actually alive and working. He kept his eyes shut tight, and he whimpered, growled… drifted…
The bed was soft… warm. She nestled into his side, backside pressed comfortably against his hips. When she shifted in her sleep, he hissed, head lolling back as he stilled her body from provoking anymore response from his groin.
Blueballs, he could handle – but not the mortifying embarrassment that would happen if Cordelia, who had once again fallen asleep in his bed, discovered the fact that he was most certainly, blessedly, NOT a eunuch.
She grumbled against the constraint, eyes fluttering sleepily as she twisted, tightening her hold on his son. Angel pushed himself up onto one elbow, a smile drifting lazily onto his features at the scene.
Connor began to squirm, and he frowned, carefully pushing off the bed, padding around the side, gently, delicately, extracting the child from the exhausted Seer’s arms. She mumbled in protest, but allowed it, locked away in dreamland. He gave a soft smile, and glanced down at Connor.
The child gave him a gummy grin. He grinned back. He had been doing that a lot lately.
The cradle was a little too stuffed with stuffed animals. Gunn and Fred had gone on a spree. Cordelia had cooed over them, more so than Connor, who liked his worn old rattle just FINE, thank you very much. Fred had preened, Wesley had smiled. Cordelia had elbowed Angel until he had thanked them, and even Gunn – that big manly… man – looked proud of his purchases.
Angel considered, and removed a large teddy bear, placing Connor in its place, turning back toward the bed. His Seer hadn’t moved, still curled into the same position. Angel sank down beside her, placed the bear carefully in her arms, and watched, contented, as she tightened her arms around it.
“Angel?” she murmured lazily.
“Admit it. You’re going to miss this…” He blinked, as her eyelids fluttered, and suddenly, brilliantly hued orbs gazed up at him.
Her fingers stole to his, slid up his palms, to his forearms. Angel was completely still, as her soft delicate digits gently massaged at his forearms. “These dreams,” she whispered. “Big old pervert.” He stared. “You know what I mean – I mean, sex dreams coupled with big family drama? About me? You’re gonna miss it.”
He swallowed, hard. “Why am I going to miss it?”
“Well…” Cordelia closed her eyes, shifted against his sheets, her scene wafting to him. “When it all becomes real, I refuse to let you cheat on me with a sex dream. Even if it IS of me.”
He laughed, he couldn’t help it. “Deal.”
She stared at him through heavy, sleep laden lids. “Isn’t this when I kiss you?”
He grinned, heart bursting at the smile on her mischievous lips. “Yeah.”
She smiled, a giggle bursting from her as he fell into her arms, into her lips. She pulled him over her, legs slipping upwards to wrap around his hips, and pulling him down closer. Angel laughed when she nipped him.
“What! Only YOU get to bite?” Heart full, Angel cradled her cheeks carefully.
“I’m not going to miss this.” Before she could answer in huffed reply, he continued. “Because I’m never letting you go.”
Her lips welcomed him, tongue tangling with his, and when Connor wailed his protest at the moans, Angel laughed-
The loud crash from downstairs brought him out of his fantasy. Keeping still, Angel found himself flat on the floor, torn between images that never existed, and a room that was charred and burned – in a room that was reality.
Pushing himself up, Angel felt truly dead, and it was an odd feeling. He hated being the dead one, but it was where he belonged, where he was accepted – time and time again proved he had no place among the living.
His eyes lingered on the bed, drifted toward the crib, and he saw Cordelia there, so close he could almost taste her scent on his tongue. She held Connor in her arms, cradling him, singing an off-key tune.
“Go to sleeeep, my baby peeeep…”
And in her eyes was such LOVE-
The searing pain came then, forcing him to get up, remember a Cordelia who had walked into this room earlier with haunted eyes laced with guilt. The desolation was so clear, but she had been here, she had offered herself to him, to take solace, to attempt to understand…
And his soul wanted to badly to bury himself into her arms, pretend she loved him, understood – to take whatever he could get, now that he had nothing at all… She had always tried to understand…
Moving toward the door, Angel walked into the hallway, throat dry and hoarse as he called out to Fred and Gunn, jogging down the stairs. Charles turned, and Angel called out hopefully, “Have you seen Corde… lia.” He paused, when the slim figure turned, beautifully familiar eyes stared up at him hopefully.
He paused, relief flaring through him, and something besides the pain, something remarkably similar to hope.
His shoulders slumped. “Cordelia.”
“Angel,” she whispered, coming forward. He reached out, anticipating her warmth, until a familiar scent caught him, and an unwilling growl turned his attention.
Wesley stepped into the room, and Cordelia moved beside him.
The soul stretched tight, and the relief shattered.
Figured – on the lam, scott free, walking the streets, and Faith actually felt safer in prison.
Hello to the irony.
She gasped, stumbling when the wound in her shoulder flared up, making her land against the side of the building, in the alley. Raising her blood streaked face to the sky, she wondered how long it would be before the bastards followed the blood trail. She looked back, eyeing the dark patches. ‘Cause she sure as hell was leaving behind a lot of it.
Come on, Faith. Do what the fucking voice in your head, told you to do.
Sure – maybe she was going crazy, but at the moment – the damned annoying voice had had a better plan than she did. Get to Angel – get to Angel and he would fix it. Maybe get away from the baby sitting and kill the bastards coming after her. Maybe that Cordy he seemed to crush on so much lately could have a vision or something, figure out what the hell was wrong with her.
She turned a corner, found a blissful sigh of relief emanating when she saw the old office, and she very nearly ran from her shadows, into the building, until she remembered something that the damned voice forgot to remind her.
New place – some damned hotel, they weren’t here anymore. Oh, SHIT.
Faith collapsed against the wall, sucking in her breath as she held her injured limbs to her, felt the pain in her chest twist and sear, and GOD, if she could just lie down in a box and sleep for years –
She shook herself, wiped hastily at the tears. No fucking way. She was getting to SOMEONE.
Closing her eyes, she willed the voice to come back, tell her where to go, where to find Angel – cause she could have sworn he had told her where he was – but damned if she could remember with the blood seeping into her eyes, making them sting.
A couple turned the corner and she slipped back into the shadows, holding her breath as they walked past, talking and laughing.
Okay, okay… think…
Her eyes snapped open. Cordelia. The damned Seer/May Queen/Priss that was practically raising Angel’s kid. She hadn’t moved, right?
The bitch better not have moved.
With an agonized groan, Faith closed her eyes, sucked in her breath, praying for strength to hold out before she fainted, and pushed away from the wall, once again turning into the alley, stumbling through as quickly as she could.
What ravages of spirit conjured this tempestuous rage Created you a monster broken by the rule of love And fate has led you through it You do what you have to do - Sarah McLachlan
In two flat seconds, everything he believed in, everything he had come close to admitting – every hope and belief, and every single nuance of trust, shattered. It emerged as an explosion, a single point of energy that burst, causing the vampire to come forth in demon form, forgetting anything and everything humanizing about himself.
Three seconds later, Wesley was flat against the wall, a strong, cool hand wrapped tightly around his throat, and the grip was tightening. Dimly, in a far away world, he could hear shouting, cries of warning, and somewhere behind him, something grabbed at his arm. He jerked back, and it wasn’t a problem anymore.
Until he smelled blood. The demon caught it, curiously – and found Cordelia bleeding from her lip, sprawled on the floor. Angel froze, hand slipping from Wesley’s throat as Fred, glaring at him with fear in her eyes, helped her up.
“God DAMN IT, Angel!” Gunn roared, coming forward.
“NO!” The red trickled down Cordelia’s lips, vibrant, and his knuckles were streaked with it. He could only watch dumbly, staring down at himself, body shuddering at the act of violence.
He swallowed, closed his eyes. “Cordelia-“
“Wesley, get your ass over here,” she whispered, eyes dark and angry, coming forward, arms outstretched, almost as if by standing in the center of the room, she could hold them all behind some invisible wall. The blood continued to slide down her lip. It rumbled a response from him, his expression frozen, stunned.
“Cordelia, I’m sorry-“
“It doesn’t matter,” she clipped, wiping at her face. But, it did. He took in a shuddering breath, tried to gain control, ignored the look of fear in Fred’s face, and was almost relieved at the anger in Cordelia’s. But she paid no attention to him. Again, she motioned to Wesley. “Get over here.”
Wesley. Angel turned, eyes darkening. He had hit Cordy. Oh, God, he had hit Cordy – and it was her blood, and he could smell it, chilling him down to his bones. Oh, God, oh – God…. He had hit her, and it was because of him – because of HIM-
“What the hell are you doing, here?” he hissed, finding it so much easier to stare into the eyes of the man who had taken his son, than to look at Cordelia and the wound he himself had inflicted. “I warned you, Wes. I warned you.”
“Stay out of this, Cordelia,” Wesley said sharply, body straight and tall as he backed away, Angel coming forward.
At the mention of her name on his lips, Angel growled. “Don’t say her name, and don’t say his – don’t say you’re sorry – don’t say one damned WORD, Wesley. Get out. GET OUT.”
To his credit, Wesley stood his ground. His voice was low, almost soothing, and if Angel had been any less angry, he might have laughed at the way Wesley spoke to him, like he was a rabid animal he was attempting to calm.
“Angel, Angel, listen. I need for you to learn the truth-“
“I don’t WANT to hear a word, Wesley. I want you out of here, before I-“
“What, Angel?” Frustrated, Cordelia broke into the conversation, and stepped in between them, keeping him from getting to Wesley. “You’ll what? Kill him? Do it, then!”
“God, Cordelia- don’t fucking tempt me. Get out of my way-“
“He took my SON!” he roared, and the pain flared, deeper into his heart, forcing him to stumble, his knees to weaken, and the rumble to work it’s way from his throat into his mouth, a whimper as Cordelia’s eyes immediately softened. He saw it before his eyes closed. The pain, the pity, the sadness. He didn’t want it from her – she didn’t understand. She had brought HIM back – back when she KNEW what he had done. She had brought him back, and hadn’t given a damn –
“Angel.” An involuntary moan crept over him at the husky voice. Soft, and vibrating, drifting over him, seeping bitter warmth. In a second, she would touch him, a hand on his finger, digits slipping over his hand – and he would betray himself – he would betray Connor.
He whirled, Angelus’ words sifting through his own. “Don’t you have a boyfriend to screw? Or are you all done with him?” In that sentence, he knew he had gone too far, but he was past caring. Fred gasped audibly, Gunn froze.
Wesley whispered an intolerable, “Angel…” Cordelia was absolutely still, silent, face expressionless. His heart, already severed, broken, sunk lower, but he forced his expression passive. Her shoulders slumped, and she looked away.
That shut her up.
The tension swept through him, a coiled spring, and Angel, fully aware that he had hurt Cordelia more with his words than he had ever done with his hands, couldn’t face her anymore.
He turned his attention on Fred long enough to snap, “Keep searching,” and moved up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
When he reached his room, he slammed the door shut, locked it with fumbling fingers.
Oh, God, oh, God…. DAMMIT.
He knew what was happening. It splintered into his soul, whispered sinfully into his thoughts.
He was losing control.
The words were Gunn’s. In them was anger: pure, unfiltered disgust.
Cordelia was thankful for it. It distracted her, gave her a minute to block out the unbearable hurt at Angel’s insinuation, and allowed her to instead focus on Gunn, note the way he held the crossbow, realizing with a sinking heart he had held it all this time. Her eyes locked with Fred’s, and she pleaded silently. Fred looked visibly shaken, but she nodded, and when Gunn turned toward the staircase, Fred grabbed his wrist. “No, Gunn!”
“Not right now,” she said, pulling at the crossbow, handing it to Wesley and returning to rub soothingly at Gunn’s arms, his chest, trying to alleviate his anger. “We have the vision, remember?”
Oh, thank God. At least Fred was getting it without Cordelia having to wave little white flags. She swallowed hard, tried to gather herself, and again stared at the staircase.
“Dammit…” she whispered. She turned to Wesley, and found him studying her face with something that was close to pity, and regret.
“Are you all right?” he asked gently.
Cordelia wasn’t all right. As a matter of fact, she was quite willing to stake Angel for what he had done – had she not seen the agony in his eyes – but that didn’t matter now. GOD – the Powers that Be really chose some SHITTY times to give them missions.
“I think it’s fairly obvious to say, Angel’s not going to help here,” she said quietly, sinking down onto the orange couch, taking a moment to breathe, before looking up at her friends. “Well?”
Wesley stood still, the crossbow in his hand. Gunn and Fred suddenly caught up in the silence, didn’t move, until Fred turned to Wesley.
“Wesley?” The thin girl came forward, and awkwardly, gave him a hug. “You’re okay?”
Cordelia’s emotions caught in her throat at Wesley’s reaction: the step back, the quick look in Gunn’s direction. “I’m fine… thank you. About Faith…”
It had been a hasty explanation Cordelia had given Fred and Gunn before Angel had come down and decided to play ‘Ass hole of the Year’, but it had been enough. Neither had known Faith personally, but she understood the inclination to cling to the mission, rather than face what was apparent to all of them.
It was almost too easy to push away Angel’s face, to pretend the nursery didn’t exist. And it was almost too hard.
“Cordelia, I’ll assist you in finding Faith,” Wesley said.
Fred glanced at Gunn. He blew his breath out, taking a moment to recover from his rage before answering raggedly, “Yeah, sure…”
Relieved, Cordelia took in a shaky breath. “I don’t know how she’s going to get here. She’s hurt… Wesley, I need you to do something for me.”
“I’m… going to be staying here for a few days. But I can’t… I can’t leave here, thanks to the, hello – Sir Assness, upstairs – can you and Gunn go to my house – get a few things?”
When he gave her a dubious expression, she offered him a smile, her face naked. She knew her request was silly, but it served a few purposes: getting Wesley out while Angel calmed down, it gave Gunn some time to cool off, and gave her some time to… sort things out. And take care of the split lip, while she was at it.
“Of course.” Wesley was careful, almost humble as he turned to Charles, as the black man met his gaze head on, his face unreadable for a moment. “Gunn?” he asked hesitantly.
It was a terrible moment, until Gunn nodded. “Sure, dude. Let’s go.”
“We’ll wait for Faith,” Fred said. “She’ll be here, right?”
Offering an uncertain smile, Cordelia inhaled shakily. “God, I hope so.” Faith had to make it here. Los Angeles was damned big, and no place for a Slayer with no strength. She needed the sanctuary.
Right, Cor, ‘cause that’s what this place is. A sanctuary.
Cordelia’s eyes flickered to the staircase, and bitterly, she wondered if wherever she was, maybe Faith was better off.
Charles knew the power that women had over men.
He understood, in the moment that Fred and Cordelia crossed glances, that when Fred’s palm ran down his chest, she was just doing her job – a command taken from the queen herself: Get him under control. Don’t let him go up there- cause he’d kill Angel if the vampire said the wrong shit – gave him any indication that he was going evil.
He grimaced, opening the door of the truck and slamming it behind him when he slid in. They were right. He would have. Gunn was no fool. He knew that when Fred pressed herself into his arms, when she pressed her lips against his in a soft good-bye, she was giving him more than an embrace. She was also telling him to behave himself. To not treat Wesley like he was a dude who had been a best friend, and hadn’t even trusted him enough to tell him his world was bottoming out from under him.
Maybe, it should have made him angry. Maybe, he should have been pissed that Fred and Cordelia were protecting dudes that needed a serious kick in the ass. Maybe, he should have snapped at them both that they didn’t know what a man was capable of, what a fool did, when he knew he could get away with it.
People proved they couldn’t be trusted. People proved time and time again, that they didn’t deserve to be believed in. No one was perfect. No one got put up on a pedestal, ‘cause they got pulled down, and hard.
But, he wasn’t pissed. When Fred kissed him, eyes shining imploringly, his heart ached, and he slid his knuckles softly over her pronounced cheekbone, and pressed his lips against hers gently, offering her a soft, reassuring smile.
When Cordelia closed her eyes, winced slightly to herself, he didn’t say a word.
And when Wesley entered the truck, closed the door, Gunn turned on the ignition, turned to him, and said frankly, “You okay?” Wesley, startled, answered in more of a stammer than anything else, that he was fine. Gunn nodded, and drove.
He wasn’t pissed at them. His mind drifted over things, and he wondered why he wasn’t pissed, why all there was inside of him was this aching need, this foolish wish that just once, he could understand people. ‘Cause he was pissed at Wesley – but that didn’t mean he didn’t try to understand. And, even then – he was still pissed at Wesley.
He pulled up to the curb, shut off the ignition, opened the door, and stepped down. When they got to the apartment, and Dennis let him in, he knew why he wasn’t pissed at Fred or Cordy, for doing what they did.
Gunn wasn’t perfect. He was pissed enough to grab a stake, take it up the stairs – and if Angel so much as looked at Fred wrong-
He blew out his breath.
He staked Angel – he’d never forgive himself. Fred knew it, Cordelia knew it. He knew it.
Maybe that was why he was so scared. ‘Cause for the first time in forever, Gunn had no clue, no control. He was no leader here. No one was.
She had no clue why she was mentally screaming Alanis in her head.
On a normal day, Faith hated Alanis. Couldn’t STAND the whiny loser. But now, as she concentrated on keeping one foot in front of the other, eyes darting back and forth, looking for unmarked cars and cop cars and blood trails, and people with black eyes, all she heard in her head was ‘You Oughta Know’. Loud. Hard. Banging in her head.
//Well I’m here, to remind you, of the mess you left when you went away- //
She sucked in her breath, mouthing the words, when the world tipped slightly. She tripped, and found her balance by leaning against the mailbox. Shit. This was getting hard.
Groggily, she did a mental check of her wounds. One: the bloody bandage covering the stitches of the swipe that Stacey had taken at her on her right elbow. It had cut through some muscle, and so far, every time she moved, it ached in the annoying way. Two: the welt, high on her forehead from what HAD to be a baton. There was blood matted in her hair from it, and it gave her such a headache, she at times, wanted to crack her head open, thinking that might alleviate the pain. Three: The swipe at her shoulder blade from Black-Eyed Psycho Number Two. Right on her shoulder, dripping blood, because it cut deep. Four: The slash in her left arm from when she forgot that she was a fucking wimp now, not as deep, running from her elbow on the inside of her arm, to her wrist.
Not counting the exhaustion, the headache that came from when her head banged against the wall, and way she kept shivering from getting caught in the rainstorm.
FUCK – this was a bad day. And still, the song continued blaring in her head.
//It’s not fair, to deny me, of the cross I bear that you gave to me – //
She closed her eyes, pushed away from the mailbox, and stumbled forward, lightheaded and dizzy as hell.
“Did you forget about me, Mr. Duplicity, I hate to bug you in the middle of dinner,” Faith said in small sing-song, tripping on a crack in the sidewalk, turning the corner on the dark night. She was surprised she knew her way back, honestly. “Does she speak eloquently, and would she have your baby…”
Faith faltered to a stop, a jolt in her heart making her breath uneven. Towards the middle of the block, she saw it, the apartment building, damn near shining. The soundtrack in her head changed somehow, and now it blared Offspring, as she tried to pick up her pace, found she couldn’t, but found, thankfully, she COULD still walk – CAREFULLY.
Like the latest fashion, like a spreading disease…
“Hey- man you talkin’ back to me? Take him out – you gotta keep ‘em separated…” she whispered breathlessly, steps faltering ten feet away from the house. Licking her dry, chapped lips, Faith looked around the dark streets. There wasn’t one car that looked like the black convertible.
In Faith’s panicked, tired mind, there were a dozen new paranoias. What if she moved? What if she died? Suddenly afraid, Faith swallowed hard, eyes on a tricked out ugly-as-hell truck that was parked on the curb.
There was no way that Dennis-ghost was letting her in… Lights flickered on and off from the place, and Faith stepped forward gingerly, heart hammering with hope all the way, trying to peer into the window for some trace that Miss Priss still lived there.
FUCKING BITCH had to still live here.
Oh, God – please. Faith sank down onto a bus bench, craning her neck, shivering hard, slumping against the seat, wondering how the hell she was going to get to the front door.
Her eyes, attempting valiantly to stay open, blinked closed, and she shook herself, the soundtrack in her head banging against her eardrums.
“Hey man, you disrespecting me…” she whispered. “Take him out – you gotta keep ‘em separated. They don’t pay no mind… under eighteen… won’t be doing any time.”
Her heart jolted as her fingers, stained red, clasped around her shoulder, trying to keep it from seeping any more blood, watching the lights from Cordy’s house.
“You got any eights?”
Casper Lee shifted in his seat, turning his attention from the dial to stare at his companion. “I told you I’m not playing the bloody stupid game.”
Dawson frowned, shaking the playing cards. “You got any better ideas?”
“It’s a stupid game.”
Dawson dug the cigar further into his mouth, looked back toward the truck, and leaned his head against the seat. “You got any eights?” he repeated.
Mr. Lee sighed, glancing down at the cards thrown carelessly in his lap. “No,” he said finally.
“Now, come on- you gonna play, you bloody well have to do it right.”
Casper closed his eyes – and he thought going this alone was torture. “Go fish,” he managed through gritted teeth, fingering his gun.
Dawson grumbled good-naturedly, taking another card from the pile. He chuckled, showing him the card. “Ace!” he exclaimed happily. “Bloody wild!”
Rolling his eyes, Casper checked his watch. Bloody hell. Lost the Slayer, lost the mission – and idiot over here was happy about a bloody card?
Damned useless, following Pryce around. Lee never thought much of the Ex-Watcher – and if wanted to ‘save’ his souls in Los Angeles, let the man do so – what point was there in following him?
So, he had almost gotten himself killed – happened every year.
“Allright, mate. Your turn!”
Blowing out his breath, he glanced toward the house again, and suddenly froze.
“Blimey…” he whispered under his breath.
“Don’t sound so put out, you’ve got a good hand-“
“Shut up.” Lee straightened up, grabbing the binoculars from the back seat, fumbling with the controls, and leveling them almost clumsily at the front of the apartment. Through the constricted vision of the contraption, he spotted a dark haired girl, bobbing her head, eyes trained on the house.
“What?” Dawson straightened, peering. “Oh, hell! That’s not who I-“
“Call Pryce,” Casper clipped, reaching for his gun. “Now.”
Charles took in Cordelia’s apartment, wondering how someone who spent so little time in it could manage to make it so… lived in. Shifting his feet, he placed his hands in his pockets, let out a shuddering breath.
Wesley walked past him, shifting things around Cordelia’s phone. “Wonder where he is?” he muttered absently.
Gunn turned toward him, confused. “Who?”
“The Groosalug,” Wesley said, peering into Cordelia’s bedroom. He turned, catching Gunn’s clearly confused expression. “What?”
“I just – thought Cordelia and Groo, you know… broke up-“
Wesley’s hand slipped from the doorknob, thanking Dennis as the ghost floated over a suitcase filled with clothes, most likely at Cordelia’s request.
“Why would you think that?” he asked distractedly, placing the suitcase on the table and grabbing a notepad and pencil, scribbling down on it. “Cordelia didn’t want Groo involved. She considers this a family matter.”
Charles let that sink in. “Groo’s not family?”
Wesley paused, turning soft blue eyes on him. “Apparently.”
Charles pursed his lips, lost in thought. “That simple, huh?”
“I doubt it. Nothing is ever simple.” Charles glanced at the bloody bandage on Wesley’s throat, and said nothing. “Dennis, do you know where the Groosalug is?” Wesley asked, staring up at the air. Dennis gave a soft wind that rustled the house plants. “I take it that’s a no,” Wesley whispered. “Bloody hell… he would have been useful… Cordelia said he’d be here.”
Charles crossed his arms, and took a step toward the kitchen, opening the refrigerator door. The miracle light turned on inside, and he looked over the tub of peanut butter, the two jars of blood, and the leftover Chinese food. Blithely, he wondered if Cordelia kept anything SHE liked to eat in this.
“What’s up?” Gunn asked, closing the door, watching the light as it blinked out. Wesley came forward, a card in his hand.
“I need you to check out the jail.” Placing the card in Charles palm, Wesley continued to explain. “Ask for the name on the card – he’s the warden. We need information about Faith – who’s had access to her, and so forth.”
Charles turned the card in his hand, looked up at Wesley with glinting eyes. His mouth twitched in open aggravation, as he shuddered, the wave of anger that had dissipated coming back with the hard glare. “I don’t think Cordy put you in charge, man,” he said matter-of-factly. “Sure you’re supposed to be giving me orders?”
English looked stunned for only a moment, before he winced slightly, looking away, and then back again, offering Charles a hurt, conceding, sad smile. “Fair enough,” he whispered. “I didn’t mean it like – you have the car, Gunn. I wasn’t attempting – it wasn’t an order… it was me asking a favor…” He stepped back, tearing his eyes away from his former friend. “I – forgive me. I’ll go-“
Gunn snatched the card back. “I’ll do it,” he said crisply. Wesley appeared startled, but drew his hand back, nodded. “You’ll get back all right?”
There was a moment of silent, until Wesley gave a shaky nod. “I’ll take a cab.”
Charles shoved the card into his pocket, turned toward the door, and once there, wavered. Shit.
Turning back, he offered no pretense. “Wes.” Wesley looked at him with misty eyes. “Wasn’t trying to be mean or nothing. Just saying how it is, now. You know? It’s not like we can just forget.”
It was important that Wes got that. And he did – cause deep down, Wes was a good man.
English nodded, gave a short smile. “Of course.”
Charles exhaled, and pushed open the door, leaving the apartment.
Fred had made a remarkable adjustment, everyone said so. To come so far after five years in a Pylean Hell dimension was evidence that there was a lot of strength in her somewhat fragile looking body. She was getting more proud every day, confident – finally able to say she found her niche in Angel Investigations.
Sure, she wouldn’t quite be able to tell you what that niche WAS, but she had one.
Fred still had habits, however – Pylean habits that she never quite broke, and sometimes, it made her learn things.
Eavesdropping was one of those habits – the slinking around that caused Cordy to shriek on more than one occasion – usually when Fred appeared over her shoulder, innocently asking about an article in a magazine or a particular webpage.
Cordelia always reacted like it was the devil himself appearing – drawing back and pressing a hand to her chest, sucking in. She almost wished she could see the relieved laugh that Cordelia would issue, instead of the somber face that she saw now, as she leaned against the doorway.
Lorne was humming slightly, holding Cordelia’s chin gently. Cordelia hissed when he pressed the cotton against her swollen lip.
“There, there, Nipper,” Lorne said, grimacing in sympathy. “It’ll be okay.”
“I’m fine,” Cordelia managed, from her position. Fred crossed her arms, but said nothing. Cordelia looked anything but fine. The Seer’s hands were visibly trembling, and her eyes seemed kinda dull. Fred frowned.
“I can’t believe he did this,” Lorne muttered, turning away to throw away the bloody cotton ball, choosing another. “Mr. Vampire is quickly losing my patience.”
“He didn’t mean to hit ME, Lorne,” Cordelia answered wearily. “Angel’s lost his son… that’s… gotta be painful…”
“He’s hurting, yes,” Lorne confirmed, mouth set firmly as he once again tenderly placed the cotton against her lip. “But he’s losing his priorities.”
“He’s losing himself,” Cordelia answered. She let out a hollow, angry laugh. “God, Lorne. Two weeks. I was gone for TWO weeks and this entire place went NUTS - oww.”
Fred’s frown deepened, her heart sinking.
“It should heal.”
“Lorne, I’m Vision Girl, remember?” Cordelia reminded him irately. “I’ve been burned, slashed, maimed, hanged, shot, squashed – all through the wonderful pipeline provided through the Powers That Be. A split lip I can handle-“
“Sure,” Lorne agreed. “What you can’t handle is why you don’t blame him for it – and sweetie, you should.” Cordelia gave him an even stare. Lorne put down the gauze, and stared at her frankly. “Then, why don’t we start with you not blaming yourself.”
“We should keep looking for Faith,” Cordelia said breathlessly.
“Stop avoiding, hon-“
Fred was silent, unable to hear anymore, and she turned, walking out of the office and back into the lonely lobby. Twisting her fingers into her hands, Fred made her decision. Gathering her gumption, she walked resolutely toward the stairs.
By the time she had reached the top, she had gathered her gumption, and before she could pause, and think, REALLY think about what she was doing (Fred WAS capable of psyching herself out, she knew that), she pushed open the door to Angel’s room.
She wasn’t sure what she wasn’t expecting, but finding a fully dressed Angel stuffing weapons into a duffel bag wasn’t it. Faltering in the doorway, Fred stared.
“What do you want, Fred?” Angel clipped, tossing in an axe. “Did you get the information?”
“I – uh… still looking,” she lied, feeling a welt of guilt slide through her. Angel had lost Connor – they had all lost Connor, really – but Angel … it was all Angel believed he had. His love in Connor – it was beautiful and sweet and a miracle and Angel had lost it… She took in a shuddering breath. “I promise, I’ll get right to it…”
“Hurry up,” he clipped, almost glaring at her through dead eyes.
“Okay, but-“ she swallowed. Fred – you’re just going to have to say it. Cause, you’re the only one who can… right? “Cordeliahadavision,” she blurted out.
Angel whirled, gave her a narrowed look. “What?”
Blowing out her breath, she tried to still her nerves, speaking slower. “Cordelia had a vision – of Faith… she’s in trouble.”
That had to do it, right? Because Angel cared about Cordelia, and Cordelia said he had cared about Faith – even visited her in the prison, and he would care – cause it was a vision and it was Faith, and Cordelia-
For a moment, she thought it did. His eyes softened slightly, he shifted his balance, nervous, anxious – thinking.
“Tell Gunn to handle it,” he clipped, widening the bag and grabbing another broadsword. “I’m going to find my son.”
Fred’s eyes widened in response. “I-uh…”
“Fred.” Angel turned, gave her an even stare that held such pain, she had to step back. “Do the research. Now. And don’t come up here again.”
Tears stung in the back of her eyes, and ashamed, Fred stepped back, her butt hitting the door as Angel continued to finger his weapons.
It wasn’t fear that paralyzed her, but realization.
She took in the wild eyes, the stance, the point of no return –
Up until this point, Fred had held a foolish hope that they could go back, find a way to the time when they sat at a ballet and stared in wonder and hope – drunk on the knowledge that they were in this together…
It wasn’t ever going to be like that now. Not anymore. Fred felt so stupid for believing it.
Turning, she closed the door behind her, unable to do a thing while her hero image of Angel crumbled at her feet, along with the heartbreak. She had been so stupid to think things could go back.
Just… so… stupid.
La-la-la-la-la-laaaaah – la lah.
Faith blinked, the bench beneath her remarkably cold. That had to be the reason why she couldn’t get warm. The bench was fucking cold, and when Cordelia came out of her apartment – or was she waiting for her to come in? Faith blinked- whatever. Whenever that bitch came out, Faith was going to do her damnest to kick her ass… She grinned. Hell – at this rate, it would be kinda fun to see Cordelia kick HER ass.
“The more you suffer, the more it shows you really care…” she whispered, palms wrapping around the moist, rotting wood.
When the door opened, Faith’s mouth went dry with anticipation, her heart came alive with hope.
She stood shakily to her feet, teeth chattering, thankful that the blood had crusted and nothing was seeping THAT much anymore – she was dizzy as hell, though.
//She came over, I lost my nerve – took her back… made her desert. //
She smiled, walking forward – blinking down when it seemed harder than she remembered.
Shit – one foot, then one, ha. Not that hard.
She wobbled, winced at the stabbing pain in her head, and moved toward the black guy –
She froze. He didn’t look like Cordelia – Cordelia wasn’t a six foot tall black guy. Faith found herself sinking to her knees, suddenly out sight as he locked the door, walked away, got into the big tricked out truck, and drove off.
Oh, SHIT. FUCK. SHIT.
Faith closed her eyes, despair that had been hovering now entering her full force, hitting her body and making her crawl.
//I may be dumb – I’m not a dweeb – I’m just a sucker with no self-esteem. //
FUCK. FUCK. FUCK.
Tears were streaming down her cheeks, as she knelt on the wet grass, soaked and dizzy, exhausted and hurting – and FUCKING CORDELIA MOVED.
She choked down a sob, panting in heaving breaths, wet hair in stringy strands hanging all over her face.
Somehow, she managed to get to her knees, she wasn’t sure how, and stumbled to the front of the apartment building.
Okay – not a problem… she’d just try to find some place to … hole up and maybe try to not die until she found Angel – even with no strength, and the fact that she had no money, maybe hypothermia, and had just escaped from jail.
No problem – she had been in a coma for six months – she’d kick this thing’s ass too…
She tried to move, tried to gather her gumption to move from the front of the apartment, but there was one problem, besides the blinding fear.
She had no idea where to go.
La-la-la-la-la-laaaaah – la lah.
Wesley winced, massaging at his aching throat, craning his neck as carefully as he dared, maneuvering the phone to his other shoulder, trying to find an angle that would hurt less.
“Yes,” he repeated. “Wyndham Price.” He listened, a grim expression on his features. “Yes, yes… good. Yes, I’m family. Yes- bloody- hold, please.” Walking toward the dresser, he grabbed a pen and paper. “All right.” He scribbled. “Off of Wilshire? Thank you. I appreciate your help.” Hanging up the phone, Wesley regarded the address.
Closing his eyes, he let out a breath of air. Wesley was a dweller, but in this moment, he was grateful for not having the time to think about the implications of his father being in town – of Faith.
He hadn’t had a chance to think about that, and he wasn’t going to allow himself the moment. Both brought back memories he would just as soon forget. He grimaced, taking the suitcase and waving a good-bye to Dennis, stepping out of the apartment.
Perhaps amnesia WAS spectacularly under-rated. It was tempting, the utter bliss in waking up not remembering what you were, who you came from, what you did – perhaps the nausea that made him keel would not be present, then. Perhaps the great weight on his chest that was making it difficult to breathe, would be lifted.
He heard the slip of metal as Dennis locked the door behind him, and Wesley turned, gripping the suitcase as he jogged down the stairs, fully prepared to walk to Melrose to catch a cab, when movement from a car on the other side of the street caught his attention.
It was parked the wrong way – as if someone had been driving on the wrong side of the road and slid in – facing completely the opposite direction of the other parked cars. It nagged him, and he paused, watching as two men emerged, walked quickly across the street, with quick paces, to something near him.
Curious, wary, Wesley craned his neck. All time stopped with a shuddering of his heart as he caught the profile of a very familiar looking girl.
His eyes darted back to the men in the tan jackets, a glint of metal in a hand that slipped out of the jacket.
Oh, Bloody Hell…
You call me strong, you call me weak But still your secrets I will keep You took for granted all the times I never let you down You stumbled in and bumped your head, if not for me Then you’d be dead – Three Doors Down
Wesley stood completely still, feet planted to the ground as suddenly his mind snapped everything into place. There were two seconds of wasted time, when his mouth parted in aching realization, and his hands bunched into fists, that the two Watchers had time to come closer to Faith.
The Slayer turned, and stared, as one held out a gun, the other grabbing her arm, jerking her towards him.
Faith’s cry of surprise and pain – so foreign from this particular girl – spurred him into action. Ultimately, and upon later reflection, Wesley wouldn’t understand why he was able to be so sure of what he was doing, so unafraid as he gathered the stone from the garden, walked quickly, with powerful paces, and swung the stone into Casper’s head, grabbing the gun as it moved toward him.
The shot rang off, and the gun clattered to the ground, as the one he didn’t recognize let the Slayer go, catching him with a blinding punch to the jaw. It snapped his head back, tore at his stitches, felling him in a dazed heap.
A heavy weight rested on him, and he grew dizzy with pain, when the calloused hands wrapped around his throat, causing a searing agony as he gasped for breath. Choking, Wesley attempted to push him off, but a fist to his temple blinded him. Darkness was quickly closing in, and still Wesley fought, as the hand roughly rubbed against the stitches, making him grunt with pain.
Suddenly the man was off, the weight lifted, and Wesley blinked in surprise, his senses flooding back to him to discern a girl holding a rock in her hand, staring down at him.
“Hey, Wes,” Faith managed. “You look like shit. And you fight like a girl.”
Wesley lay his head back on the concrete and took a breath, allowing only a second for recovery before he pushed himself up, immediately locking on the two stirring bodies.
“We have to go,” he whispered, blindly reaching for Faith’s hand, in hopes of getting them to safety before both men awoke. He wasn’t strong enough to fight them, the gun was lost under curb, and he had no time to look for it. Suddenly, the hand slipped, and Wesley jerked his gaze back, just in time to catch the Slayer as she fainted into his arms. “Bloody hell,” he whispered, heart catching as his hand lingered on the blood streaked face, the ragged gasps. “Faith,” he said gently, stumbling to his feet, every bone in his body aching in protest as he half dragged, half carried her away. “We have to go.”
His eyes moved to Cordelia’s apartment, but immediately, he dismissed the possibility. They would be trapped if they knew where they were going.
Faith’s dark eyes opened, gazed at them with a glazed look of surprise. “Wes,” she said dizzily. “You look like shit.”
“We going somewhere?” she asked, stumbling as she tried to keep up.
He looked back, saw Murray on his knees, and gasped inward. Immediately panic gave way to reason, which gave way to the part of his brain that obeyed laws, and he moved to the nearest car.
Turning his head away, Wesley smashed the window, wincing as some of the cut glass buried into his wrist.
“Woah.” Faith was on her knees, looking on in obvious surprise. “Shit.”
Unlocking the door, Wesley came forward, attempting to pull her up. “Faith…” her eyes closed, her head lolling back. Wesley felt his heart jump, and he rasped, “Faith!” Rubbing at her face, he felt his stomach twitch when he got her back. “Faith,” he said calmly, carefully. “I need you to hang on. There are some very dangerous men that we have to get away from. Now, can you hotwire a car?”
Faith stared, at first, seemingly through Wesley, and then her pupils dilated and she finally seemed to see him. “You want me to hot wire a car?”
“That would be helpful,” he mumbled, pushing her into the car seat, slamming the door.
He ran around the side, sliding into the car, and buckling hastily.
“Sure, I know how,” she said, eyes closed, leaning against the headrest. “Donna said that-“
“What?” he asked, turning, looking back to see the men start to walk. “Bloody hell-“
“Donna- big chick. With these boobs out to here-“ she demonstrated, molding out a chest that was considerably larger than her own. “And they were pierced-“
Dazed, Wesley stared, and shook himself out of it, fumbling under the hatch. “FAITH! HOW do you do it?”
She blinked. “With a girl?”
“The CAR, Faith!”
“Well, in a car you gotta worry about the gear shift-“
Wesley lost patience, turning and grabbing Faith’s hands, pulling them away to find them smeared with blood. Shock. She was going into shock.
”So the backseat-“
“Faith…” Gentle now, he managed to control his breathing, caressing her cheeks, trying to get her to concentrate on him. “Please, Faith. I need your help.”
Faith gazed at him, the dark brown softening. “Huh?”
“How do you hotwire a car?”
“Oh…” She closed her eyes, battled for clarity, and opened them again. “Donna said you gotta connect some wires…” she sucked in her breath. “Those guys coming?”
Wesley looked. “Yes.”
“Move. Am I the only one that hears that damned music?” She muttered, suddenly moving her head in between Wesley’s legs, hands fumbling underneath the steering wheel.
Wesley allowed one delirious thought – of what a policeman would say if he happened upon Wesley in a stolen car with a beautiful, bloody girl with her head between his legs - Bloody hell – maybe HE was going into shock.
The machine roared to life, and Faith pushed herself off of him, burying herself into her side of the car. “There. Going to pass out now. Good to see you, Wes.”
She was out cold in a second. Wesley allowed one last look – the men were running toward them now – and he cursed, jerking the wheel and spinning away from the curb, foot slamming on the gas.
“Have you ever felt… disconnected?” Lorne looked up, curious when Cordelia spoke.
The Seer gazed at him with a conflicted gaze, unreadable at first. Unsure, the Host simply stared. “How do you mean, sweetie?”
Cordelia, beautiful face marred by an ugly lip that was swollen and split, trickling blood dried – and that thing HAD to ache – sat down beside him, laying out a map of Los Angeles between them. She seemed lost in thought, as if she was working out what she was attempting to say. Lorne had often admired Seers – there was something very… odd about all of them, and Lorne knew that Cordelia was the most original of the bunch.
“I mean – you’re connected to the Powers, right?”
He gave her a grim smile, reaching over for a cotton ball, placing it gently on her lip, soaking up a small sliver of blood. “Remotely, sweetie.”
“So, it doesn’t piss you off that this is all … one-way?” she burst, running a distracted hand through her hair. “I mean, sure it’s all well and good that we have a mission: help the hopeless and all that – but SHIT – Lorne… don’t they ever let up?” Cordelia slammed her hand down on the table, a testament to her pent up emotion. “Give their Champions a break? IF someone deserves happiness, deserves a break where he DOESN’T have to worry about turning evil, or losing his son, it’s Angel. And what about Wes and Fred and GUNN!? I mean – SHIT, Lorne!” Cordelia’s hazel eyes were quickly filling with tears, and a taken back Lorne immediately placed his hand on hers.
“And we can’t even GO to them, ask them to help…”
Lorne kept quiet, studying the obviously hurting girl. He wondered often why Cordelia was so committed to a mission that had never seemed to bring anything to her but pain. Aura reading hadn’t helped on whit when it came to understanding her, and it wasn’t until a day, a while ago, when he had looked into her eyes, did he truly felt he understood what the life of a Seer must have been like.
Lorne could choose his missions – he read against wills, but usually, when he allowed someone in, it was his choice.
Cordelia’s visions were coupled with a foreboding sense of helplessness. She stood, she watched, she felt – and yet, she could do nothing.
Perhaps the reason Cordelia was so hellbent on helping the hopeless was the fact, that during the ordeals, she was so helpless herself.
“I think you’re looking at it the wrong way, sweetie,” he said finally, fingering the soft curve of her fingers, eyes drifting over the skin. “You’ve got the Powers set up like some sort of Guardian Angels – like they can pick and choose who needs help. All they do – is try to keep things fair-“
“But it’s NOT fair…” Cordelia whispered furiously.
And people didn’t think this woman was a champion. He felt his heart sink, and he smiled grimly, conceding her point. “Maybe. But they do what they can.”
“You’re half demon now, aren’t you?” She blanched, but the words hit something, as she leaned back, hazel eyes suddenly darkening.
“Lorne,” she said after a moment. “Today, during the vision…”
“Guys!” Both he and Cordelia turned to find Fred burst into the office. “You have to see this.”
Curious, Cordelia and Lorne stood, albeit more slowly, weighted down with broken hearts, and searing souls, and followed Fred to the lobby, where the small television set blared.
Cordelia crossed her arms, face frighteningly impassive as she gazed with him at the screen.
“Police are looking for this girl,” the newscaster with the bad wig said, eyes dull and voice crisp. Lorne’s eyes narrowed at the young, dark haired woman in the picture. Sad eyes, sad mouth – dangerous face.
Cordelia sucked in her breath. “Oh, God…” When Lorne shot her a look, she swallowed. “I just didn’t think they’d come after her this quickly. I thought we had time…”
Suddenly tired, Cordelia turned toward the stairs. Lorne’s eyes widened, immediately sensing what she was going to do.
”I have to, Lorne. We need him.”
He was still staring when Fred came up beside him. He dimly heard her hollowed voice meekly ask, “Do you think they’ll be okay?”
The ever unknowing reader of auras shrugged his shoulders, too tired to answer. Instead, he shot her a false smile, and turned back to watch the news, about the escaped convicted killer.
There was a painful ache that started from her chest, a weight that made it difficult to breathe normally.
Consequently, by the time Cordelia reached the stairs, she was openly gasping for breath. Her hand felt cold on the doorknob, and she knew that he could smell her even now.
Struggling, she tried to ignore every memory of what had happened in the past few hours, knew very well, that one of the reasons she had avoided coming up here earlier was because she didn’t WANT to think of Angel – of Connor.
Now, that she was forced to, she shook, her palms trembled, and she was grateful there was no one here to witness her near breakdown. Gathering herself, she closed her heart, closed her mind, thought of the mission – the damned MISSION – and pushed open the door.
He was pulling on his jacket, pausing only slightly when he saw her. She froze, eyes lingering on his action. “Where are you going?”
His hands wavered, an odd tremor to his tone before it became dismissive. “I’m going to talk to the Powers.”
A worry sunk deep within her, a realization that swept through her. “Why?” she asked dumbly, before clamping her mouth shut, and wincing. “Angel-“
“I’m finding my son.”
”Good for you,” she snapped, slamming the door behind her. The shaking intensified. “Angel,” she began, slower, calmer. “I understand about… “ her voice wavered at the word, “About Connor, okay? But we have a situation right now – Faith-“
“I told Fred to tell GUNN to take care of it,” he snapped, throwing his duffel bag on the bed.
“It’s NOT Gunn’s mission,” she answered, eyes widening in surprise. “YOU’RE the champion, Angel. It’s YOUR job-“
“I’m not a champion.”
Cordelia swallowed, wishing that she could see his face – maybe then she could find a way to reach him, to talk to him, to try and get him to understand that…
God – there was pain, there was so much pain, but she couldn’t voice it now. She couldn’t break down, and if she did, she wondered with Angel was so far gone, if he would even care.
“I’m not your hero, Cordelia. Get it through your head.” He turned, eyes flashing. “I quit. I’m finding my son.”
“You can’t QUIT, Angel. This is your mission, it’s YOUR life – we can’t just QUIT-“
“WE?!” The word was an outburst, and Cordelia found her throat rapidly drying out as he came closer, and closer, eyes hooded and dark: dangerous. “There’s no ‘we’, Cordelia,” he said dangerously. “There’s me, and my son. And I’m finding him.”
Anger was slowly beginning to take hold, ebbing through her frustration, mingling with her despair.
“Oh, really?” she said, eyebrow arching, hazel eyes matching his glare for glare. “If it’s just you and Connor, Angel – then tell me: would your son want to see you now? Turning your back on-“
She never got a chance to finish the sentence, before a growl that sent shivers into her spine ripped out from his throat, his hands clasping at her shoulders so roughly, she winced. “Listen, Cordelia,” he hissed. “You want a hero so badly? Go find your Groosalug. You want a ‘we’? Get him to fight your mission – you left with him, didn’t you? Left Connor-“
OH, NO he didn’t.
A stab of pain made her heart jump start, her breathing became even, dangerous. A flash of what she used to be resurfaced, mouth set and firm. He was blaming her. He was BLAMING HER for leaving.
And she couldn’t stomach that – she could barely stand blaming herself on her own. The last thing she could handle was Angel’s dark eyes telling her what she was so afraid to face.
“I left because you TOLD me to,” she answered quietly. “You TOLD me to leave. You wanted me GONE – so I left. Leaving wasn’t a choice.”
He released her, stepping back. “You didn’t put up much of a fight, did you? Didn’t think much of your mission, then did you? At the prospect of ‘com-shukking like bunnies’, was it?”
She closed her eyes against the assault, fully aware of the tear that had escaped her lid, inching down her face in a telling trail. Once again, she tried to gain control, tried to remember that this wasn’t about her or Angel – but about Connor – of about feeling alone and helpless, and having a child that meant everything in the world ripped out of your arms.
And she could understand that.
She took a breath, took a chance. “Angel,” she said softly, reaching for his face, trying to touch the soft skin. “I know you’re in pain, Angel. I know-“
He pushed her away, jerked away from her touch, fury in his face, anger in his eyes. “Don’t try to get into my head, Cordelia,” he snapped. “It’s not a place you want to be.”
That was it, then – that was that.
What a bastard.
Cordelia shook her head, unable to believe that THIS was Angel. This vampire who snapped like a snake – a selfish bastard who only thought about himself-
“How dare you,” she whispered finally, back straight, body tall, too furious to be afraid when she stepped into his face. “HOW. DARE. YOU. You’re not the only one who LOST a CHILD, Angel. You’re not the only one who LOST A SON. You’re not the only one who wants to DIE inside-“
“And your selfish obsession for getting Connor back is going to KILL you and KILL US-“
He grabbed her by the shoulders, shoved her toward the door, visibly battling for control. “GET out.”
This time, she needed no encouragement. Grateful, that at least she was able to SEE the door through the blur of her tears, Cordelia wrenched it open, slammed it closed behind her, leaving Angel in his beige aura, all by himself.
And she hated herself.
Because she had to physically push herself away from the door, to keep from going in there again.
It had taken the rest of the money in his already nearly empty wallet to secure them a motel room in one of the seediest parts of Culver City.
Wesley had no chance to be picky – he couldn’t afford to use his credit card, on the off chance they had a lock on that, and his cell phone, dropped in the chaos outside of Cordelia’s, was missing.
Beggars couldn’t be choosers.
He winced as he felt the rain soak itself into the back of his muddy coat, carefully pulling Faith out of the stolen car, walking the half block with the girl into the motel room.
He was grateful for the bad weather. One could not easily track someone in rain, everything was harder.
Faith was shivering in his arms, and he held her closer, whispering words of encouragement as they half stumbled into the parking lot, finally making it into the motel room. The girl collapsed as soon as they entered, onto the cheap shag carpeting. Wesley stared at the trembling figure. Briefly, he wondered how it was possible, that this was the same girl who had held a pane of glass to his face, cut jagged shapes in his chest.
Shaking off the images, he closed the door behind him, wincing at his own injuries, before gathering her to him.
“All right, Faith,” he whispered, pausing when she immediately turned into him, shuddering as she wrapped her arms around his neck, buried her face into his shoulder. For some reason, the sensation made his heart heave. Grimly, he wondered if anyone would ever place this much trust in him, sane. Cradling her to him, he picked her up, her body remarkably light for the powerhouse it had once been, and placed her on the small bed.
Disentangling himself, Wesley reached for the phone on the night stand, picked up the earpiece, and found there was no cord.
Cursing, Wesley slammed down the phone, pulled at the base, and found no telephone line. He froze, sitting on the edge of the bed, hands clasped together. He had dimly remembered a pay phone across the street, but –
A small moan redirected his attention to Faith. Grimacing, immediately he walked toward the bathroom, grabbing the two cheap cotton towels.
Faith’s eyes were open, and focused on him, when he reentered. She didn’t say a word, but watched him closely as he settled down, sinking the mattress with his weight, the box springs squealing at his invasion.
Turning her gently onto her back, Wesley carefully began to look at her injuries. The blue shirt was soaked clean through. He bit his lip, caught her gaze. She said nothing.
“Please don’t take this the wrong way.” He could have sworn that garnered a smirk from her, as his fingers went to the buttons, breath hitching slightly as he carefully pulled them out of their holes, exposing Faith’s toned abdomen, ample chest, with every inch. He ignored that, spreading open her shirt, grazing her skin slightly when he pulled her shoulder up, wincing when she hissed in pain.
“Didn’t figure you for a dom, Wes,” she mumbled, and it made him smile.
It was an odd partnership, him attempting to repair her, her trying to help, but when they got the shirt off, and she was there, cuts and bruises all over her body, vulnerable and helpless… Their eyes locked, and Wesley wondered if they were both thinking the same thing. Grim, helplessly, irony.
With the flimsy towels, he began to clean the wounds, taking a small one, and holding it to her shoulders, letting the warmed towel seep some heat into the shoulder. She was freezing. There was some thought, and he removed his glasses, thinking it might help alleviate the awkwardness if he wasn’t seeing clearly.
“You’ve got a hell of a blue in those eyes, Wes.” He gazed at her blurry face, but she turned it, away from him. Carefully, he peeled off her pants as well, pulling out the sheets from under her and wrapping them around her. “Wes.”
He paused in the middle of reaching for his glasses. “Yes?”
She was silent for a moment, staring at him in open contemplation. “Who died and made you my guardian angel?”
“I have no bloody clue.”
It was a hollowed laugh she gave, one that made her wince, moving restlessly against the hand at her shoulder.
Suddenly, she paused. Wesley gave her a curious look, and found her eyes locked to the spot on his neck that ached. Trembling slightly, she reached up a weak arm, fingered the stitches.
“What happened?” she demanded, voice much more forceful, panicked.
“I had an accident,” he said gruffly, taking her hand and pulling it from the wound.
She looked uncomfortable for a moment. Finally she shifted, rasped from a pain wracked voice, “Did I do it?”
He looked surprise, found an intensity in her eyes as she waited breathlessly for his answer. “No,” he answered.
Her entire body relaxed, visibly relieved, and Wesley frowned, reaching up and placing his palm on her forehead. Bloody hell!
He recoiled back, panic flooding through him. He should have bloody noticed – She was scalding to the touch, a burning fever. He looked again toward the phone.
“We have to get you to the hospital.”
“Not exactly legal, Wesley,” she said, eyes fluttering closed, lips beaded with sweat. His lips pursed. Cordelia had told her to escape… she was on the run. “Is it cold in here?” she suddenly asked, eyes opening, unexpectedly bright as she shivered.
Wesley immediately stood, hastily fumbling with the tub handles, spilling water into the tub, hoping he was doing the right thing.
“We have to cool you down,” he said, coming back to the bed. When he bent over, her hot body plastered against him, shivering all the while. Her lips touched his wound, and he stiffened, but Faith mumbled her apologies, leaning her head back, gasping for breath.
Wesley moved quickly, gentle as he lowered the Slayer into the tub.
“FUCK!” Her eyes opened. “It’s COLD!”
“Trust me,” he said quickly, grabbing a washcloth and running it over her skin. “We have to cool you down.”
“Trust you?” she repeated, teeth chattering. “I’m fucking COLD! You can’t get much colder than a freaking ICE CUBE!” His movements stilled, as he realized the implications of the words, but Faith only held his gaze a moment longer, and closed her eyes, grabbing his hand and holding on tight.
He continued to wash her, gripping her hand all the while.
Some time later, she spoke again. “Wesley?”
Her voice was quiet, scared. “What’s happening to me?”
He froze, swallowed down painfully. When she gazed at him imploringly, all he could offer her was a squeeze of her hand.
Charles parked the truck as quickly as he could, ignoring the ringing cellphone long enough to slip out of it, and close the door.
Walking into the patio, he answered it.
“Charles?” The voice of his girlfriend was tinny and real.
“Hold on.” He opened the door, and found Fred pacing in the lobby, phone in her ear. “Right here, baby,” he said into the phone. She whirled, and found him, face breaking into a relieved smile.
“Oh, thank God.” Rushing into his arms, she gave him a hard squeeze that made him grunt (Fred had a damned strong grip for a girl) and released him. “Have you seen Wesley?” she asked breathlessly.
He looked down, confused. “Not since I left him at Cordy’s. Why?”
“We need to find him,” Fred said, entwining their fingers as she led him to where Lorne was sitting. “The news says that Faith-“
Oh. Yeah. That. “I heard it on the radio,” he said, nodding. “That’s why I came back here. Figured maybe she’d be here, and we could find a way to…” he trailed off at the look of uneasy sadness in Fred’s face. “What? What’s wrong?”
“She’s not here…” Fred said breathlessly.
“Times running out,” Lorne said, glancing back toward the stairs.
“And Cordy?” Gunn asked hopefully. “Didn’t have a vision or nothing, did she?”
“She’s upstairs,” Lorne informed him. “Maybe you should try Cordelia’s again,” he told Fred.
Fred gave Gunn a look, but seemed to agree, because she fumbled with the phone, and began to dial. Charles noted her trembling, and gave Lorne a questioning look.
The Host looked just as tired, once again looking toward the stairs.
An urge to panic was quickly settling into Gunn’s stomach, but he stilled it, long enough to gather Fred into his arms and drop a kiss on her forehead. She gave him a distracted squeeze back, just to let him know she appreciated it, and turned away.
Gunn and Lorne waited, watching as Fred waited. “Hello?!” she yelped suddenly, tugging a strand of hair back over her ear. “Groo? Hello! Hi! Yeah – No, we’re fine – Is Wesley there?” She waited, and her shoulders slumped. “No.” She listened, and when Gunn cocked an eyebrow, she hastily explained, “he went shopping or something – got lost on the bus trying to get back- “No, it’s… everything’s fine!”
Charles shook his head, and reached for the phone, taking it from Fred’s hands. “Groo?”
“Gunn, my friend! Your Fred sounds harried – is everything all right?”
Charles weighed his options, ignored the dagger look Fred was throwing, and made his decision. Damn family – fat lot of good it was doing him right now – Family Boy Angel upstairs wasn’t doing shit.
“Hey, man – you think you could get here?”
“Is that Groo?” Charles looked up to find Cordelia’s eyes fixed on him, hand poised on the banister, staring down at him as if he was some sort of servant at her event.
“Hold on,” he said mechanically into the phone. “Yeah. It’s Groo.”
Cordelia clamped her jaw, and continued her descent. “Where’s Wesley?”
“We can’t find him,” Fred said breathlessly.
Cordelia appeared lost in thought, and finally, she took the phone from Gunn, turning away from them. “Groo? Hey. No, listen… I need you to come here. We kinda need you.”
Charles felt that panic flare up again, and it was an ugly feeling, as he swallowed down hard, crossing his arms. Taking in the positions of everyone around him, from Fred’s nervous stance, to the look of bitter despair in Lorne’s, he wondered if he had missed something important.
When Cordelia clicked off the phone, he asked flatly, “What about Angel?”
Cordelia froze, and then she turned her back on him, her voice remarkably unaffected when she answered, “He’s not working for the mission anymore.”
Fred’s heart sank, the hope that had been burgeoning despite all that had become apparent bursting.
It was what they had all be unconsciously waiting for, the final nail in the coffin that told them, this wasn’t going to be okay – and if Cordelia said it – if Cordelia MEANT it-
Gunn’s hand clamped over hers, and she numbly let him lead, away from Cordelia and Lorne, into the patio, just before the open courtyard, where the rain splattered out in big raindrops. She turned to Gunn, and found her boyfriend’s face dark, intense, worried.
“Angel’s losing it,” he said fiercely. “You saw what happened today.” His voice was almost squeaking in emotion, and Fred, slightly dazed, felt her eyes tear up. “We gotta do something soon, Fred, ‘cause hell – we all loved Connor – but Angel’s gotta get a grip!”
“I ain’t having Angelus making an encore appearance, Fred!” he said finally, voice breaking. “I can’t handle the thought of him going after you or …”
“It won’t happen.”
“How do you know?” He demanded, and it struck her that he was pleading, asking for reassurance. And the fear hit when she realized she had no reassurance to give.
Gaping at him like a gutted fish, Fred trembled, and suddenly just buried herself into his arms, holding him tightly, breathing in his slightly wet, manly scent, anything but get away from what she was beginning to realize.
Things were quickly going to a very dark place.
This is the way it’s going to be I gave him away, and now I’m free But he was the life I’m meant to lead There’s nothing left for me This is my melody - Nina Gordon
The lights of the street drifted through the half closed blinds, painting curious patterns across the wall. Wesley moved away from the window, flipping the crack he had made through the plastic closed with a twist of his fingers, eyeing the pay phone across the street, barely visible in the drizzle.
He turned, a queer awkwardness in the form of a knot in his stomach settling deeper as Faith gathered herself into a large, black robe. He glanced toward the tub, found their clothes side by side, stretched out on the now empty tub, sopping wet.
“Fills you out better than me,” she said, tugging the too large robe closer around her smaller form. He smoothed his hands over the cotton of his own – the one bloody thing this motel actually had, besides the complimentary condoms in the dresser.
“Yes, well.” He gave a slight shrug, expression on his face freezing when she closed her eyes, hitched in her breath slightly. Sinking into the chair, she gripped the arms, leaning forward, wet strands covering her face from view as she breathed in heavily.
Bloody hell. Coming forward, padding in bare feet, Wesley knelt, carefully tipping her chin up, until he was able to see her face, discern the pain. Without saying a word, he slipped the robe off her bare shoulder, carefully probing the wound.
She flinched, but said nothing. He frowned, forcing his eyes to stay on the shoulder, and only the shoulder, not venture… lower – where the robe covered nothing. Faith was being unnaturally modest, and it was something he pondered, if only briefly, as her hands, connected to arms that were still wounded, hastily bandaged with blood stained remnants of his own shirt, pulled the half fallen robe around her further, keeping her cleavage hidden. She seemed almost nervous, and Wesley, grimacing, stroking her shoulder, using a Kleenex to mop around the wound, didn’t blame her.
They were practically strangers: intimate strangers, true – if a half botched watcher/slayer job, and a night of torture counted – but strangers, nonetheless. Her breath hitched in, an erratic heartbeat in her that he attributed to her fever: brought down, but not by much.
At the very least, it made her sane – no longer blubbering about sex with girls with pierced nipples, or car sex – or … other… unpleasant things.
“Yes?” he answered, a little too quickly, looking up and catching a gaze of startling brown, remarkably clear, flushed cheeks and swollen lips.
Her eyes lingered over his, her face almost like a lost child. “How’d you find me? Dumb luck?”
He managed a smile, gently skimming his fingers over goose-bumped skin to pull the robe back over her shoulder, his eyes on his task, and no place else. “Something like that,” he admitted. “But we were looking for you. Cordelia had a vision.”
Faith’s eyes fluttered, she visibly struggled to gain her hold on clarity, as she swallowed, braced herself, and opened them again, staring at him as if he held the very world in his hands. “This is gonna sound crazy, Wes, but I think she-“
”Talked to you? Through the vision?” He received a startled look of surprise, and he gave a gentle nod as he stood, slipped his arms around her tiny waist, and allowed her to use him as her crutch. “I rather believe she did,” he answered. “Let’s get you to the bed.”
Faith seemed bewildered, and he knew she wanted to press the issue, but had not the strength. She gave no fight when her forehead rested against his shoulder, dangerously close to his wound.
He said nothing, let her palms grip his forearms. “If they know I was in trouble, how come you’re here?” she asked bluntly, a rasp falling from her lips as he settled her on the bed. “Where’s Angel?”
A stab in his inner gut that was rather painful went through him, and finding himself unable to meet her eyes, he instead concentrated on sliding her legs under the covers, the robe big and cumbersome, tangling around them.
“At the Hyperion,” he managed in an indifferent tone.
She was quiet for only a second. Faith, fever-ridden and weak not withstanding, had not lost ALL of her thinking facilities. She collapsed against the pillows, shifting over to the center of the full sized bed. When he turned to move away, she caught his arm, a weak grip that both he and she noticed. Their eyes locked on the arm, on the way she struggled to keep her hand closed around it, and with a sob and a jerk of her hand, she pulled away. He swallowed, and sank down on the side of the bed.
“We’ll help you, Faith,” he promised gruffly. “I can’t promise I know what is happening, but I have an idea, and-“
”Then tell me what the fuck’s going on!” she said angrily. “Just… shit, Wesley! LOOK AT ME!”
He looked. Dark bruises shadowed the pronounced cheekbones. Wet hair framed a sad, panicked face. A remarkably full lower lip trembled with abandon, and tears of frustration seeped from her eyes. The robe had slid off one shoulder, leaving it bare. It was the intact one, there was nothing but smooth skin that seemed to glide over the muscle that was of no use to her.
Carefully, with shaking fingers, he smiled grimly, reached over and pulled it back up, pulling off his glasses to obscure her again, fully aware he was using it as a defense mechanism. His eyes moved toward the window – and thoughts flitted through his mind – the payphone – Cordelia – Angel –
“I believe you’ve been drugged, much in the way Buffy was. I believe the Council has sent assassins after you, in an effort to kill you. And I believe that Cordelia and the rest at the Hotel will find a way to save you.”
She was sullen, silent. “So how come we’re not there?” she asked pointedly. “Instead of stuck here in this hooker motel where the next door bitch is fucking her pimp?” she snapped, motioning at the wall that thump, thumped.
“Because it’s not safe,” he answered firmly.
“The guys after us don’t know where we are. How isn’t it safe?”
Wesley kept his eyes on the window, on the payphone, his mind someplace else entirely.
A child. A red-head. A father.
“It just isn’t.”
“Fuck.” Faith leaned back against the cheap pillow, kept her arms crossed, closed herself to him as she turned her face toward the thumping wall. Distracted, Wesley stared at the window. All was silent, until he felt fingers on his neck. Curious, he turned, found the blurry form of Faith staring up at him.
“Put the glasses on, Wes,” she demanded.
Wesley frowned, flickered his gaze down to the pair of spectacles she held out to him. She shook them at him, irritated. “Put them on,” she repeated. He did so, sliding them on, her face coming into focus.
Satisfied, she managed to pull herself up, and began to study his face. His breath caught when her fingers probed his cheeks, slid across his lips, stroked the wetness of his hair. Her expression was earnest, a line by line study of his face, bringing him toward her. Dark eyes were full of mystery as she sent delicate shivers through him, uncertainty fleeting as soft digits traced his eyes around the glasses, down his nose, once again darting against the feather touch of his lips.
Over his chin, her fingers stopped at his stitches. His eyes caught her lower lip as she bit down on it in concentration, and in his whirling thoughts, he wondered what on earth she was doing.
When her lips brushed his, gently, he was surprised. She leaned back, regarding him, as if searching for his next move. When he did nothing, she moved forward again, probing him, exploring his mouth, tilting her head, and sliding in with her tongue, along his teeth, and over the roof of his mouth. Pulling away, she suckled at his lower lip, and flabbergasted, Wesley was unaware he was returning the kiss, savoring it, until she pushed him gently away, separating their lips slowly.
Mouth pursed in open surprise, he stared at her wide-eyed.
Faith’s eyebrows knitted together, confusion on her face. “You saved me,” she whispered, fingers curled around the lapels of his robe. “You look like you’re dying inside, and every thing you say and do makes you look like you’re the most pathetic man in the world. It’s like you’re dead, Wesley – in those damned blue eyes. Like nothing matters. But you saved me. You pulled me back from whatever the fuck I was on and you saved me. ME. The last person in the world you should have cared about. Why?”
It was an angry demand – a confused and bewildered Slayer searching for a last desperate measure of control in a world that was quickly falling apart all around her. But he had no explanation – there was nothing he could say that could explain the way she just read him completely, no way he could understand why his heart was pounding, why suddenly the brown eyes both scared and pulled at him.
“I’m afraid I don’t know,” he whispered.
“Fuck.” Faith fell back, wiping at her eyes hastily. “If I could, I’d kick your ass, you know that?” she muttered angrily. He had to manage a smile at that, even as her furious, tired eyes glared at him. It was something so incredibly insane, and for some reason, in a deep, dark, chasm in his heart – in a place that wasn’t occupied with payphones and fathers, and babies – he laughed.
The smile widened slightly. He pushed his way to a sitting position, suddenly fully aware he was exhausted when his knees gave out, medicine given to him at the hospital making him slightly woozy. A hand clamped on his arm, and Faith was now staring at him again.
“You look like shit.”
“You’ve said that more than once.”
She studied him, a hard glint in her eyes, and suddenly she shifted over again, lifted the covers. When he stared, she arched an eyebrow. “Just get in,” she said finally. “You’re no good to me if you’re half dead and bleeding.” He couldn’t fault her logic. With a heavy sigh, he moved toward the open space. “Take off your robe. That shit’s all cotton and scratchy as hell.”
This time, he paused, narrowing his eyes at her. “Faith, there must be some measure of decency-“
“Decency? You and I are practically swiss cheese thanks to your buddy’s knives and you’re talking about decency? Listen, you horny fuck – I’m not in the mood for anything like that, alright? I just want to sleep.”
He rolled his eyes, ignoring the wave of anger, in favor of using the energy to pull off the robe, leaving him in his boxers. She tried to move, found herself tangled again in her robe, and cursed.
Seconds later, her own robe was off, and dropped to the floor.
If Wesley weren’t so exhausted, he might have had a bloody heart attack. Instead, he only sighed in resignation, mentally made a note to ask God why on earth he was always in charge of the insane Slayers, and slipped under the covers.
There was absolute quiet, until she shivered, moved over, and invaded his personal space by pressing her naked body against his. When he stiffened, she shifted, muttered something about him being a pervert, slid her arm around his waist, and drifted to sleep.
Wesley closed his eyes, slipped off his glasses, and with the hand that wasn’t pinned under Faith’s body, kneaded at his temples.
Gently pushing Faith’s dark strands off her shoulders, he raised his weary head to the blinds, thought again of the pay phone, and tightened his hold.
It was odd – it was only when the bloody Slayer pressed herself against him, absently brushed her lips against his throat, and fell a dead weight against him – was Wesley finally overcome with the true exhaustion.
It would be all right to sleep for a minute, wouldn’t it? Just rest his head and sleep – regain some strength, and then call Cordelia, worry about assassins, get to payphones.
Heavy lids overcame his dogged resistance. Just for a minute – then he would worry. They were safe for now. Just for a minute.
Mr. Pryce was going to be pissed.
Murray craned his neck, massaged at the aching muscles of his back awkwardly, and threw a glance over his shoulder.
The older man held his hands behind his back, fingers clasped together, staring out the window with this dark gaze that had intimated many lesser men.
Glancing at Lee, Murray wondered if sometime the man took his job just a little too seriously. Sure, the Council was sacred stuff, and sure – the fate of the world was in their hands, and all that, but a man had to live a little. Otherwise, what was the point?
No one had really appreciated the very sarcastic and tacky comment he made about the girl’s penchant for blood – and Mr. Pryce REALLY hadn’t appreciated Murray’s comment about the possibly of his son getting a blow job – although that had been real.
Some people really needed to lighten up.
Casper Lee stood, eyes flickering over the video monitors that Murray had set up next to the magic mirror, and stepped over the incantation orbs.
“Forgive us, sir. We have failed you.”
We? Murray cocked an eyebrow. Bloody pissant. He hadn’t failed anyone – they were under orders not to hurt Wesley, from Pryce himself. If anything – it was Pryce’s fault.
Still, despite these reassurances in his head, Murray still waited with bated breath, until Mr. Pryce turned, his dark blue eyes searching them both.
It was a bloody tense moment, until Mr. Pryce flashed a quick, barely there smile. “Don’t concern yourself. Wesley was foolish for getting involved. I should have known better than to present myself to him. He has done us a favor, however.”
“Oh?” Casper looked genuinely intrigued.
Mr. Pryce turned to Murray, and the younger man arched an eyebrow curiously. “Yeah?”
“Keep an eye on the brunette that was with them before.”
“The Seer?” Casper asked. “Do you think he’ll contact her?”
“Most assuredly.” Mr. Pryce regarded them both, eyes dark with thought. “Or someone will. A Seer is a Mecca of communication, and when in doubt, you follow the one link. She is it.”
Murray stood, his orders well in hand, grabbing his gun and putting into his pockets, rubbing at the spot where the Slayer bitch hit him.
“Let’s go,” he drawled to Casper.
“Mr. Lee.” Casper stopped, turned immediately. Mr. Pryce was once again facing the windows, back toward them.
There was a moment of silence, and then, “Tell the men to begin the preparations. There will be no more delays, no more restrictions. We have lost too much time as it is, too many things gone wrong. No mercy.”
Murray frowned, saw Casper grin, and shook his head. No mercy. Of course, no mercy. They were saving the world, right? Who the hell cared about mercy when they were saving the world?
Fred Burkle had had to concentrate very hard to get her mind in working order. While Charles sat at the counter, glued to the small television set in hopes of finding some news on Wesley, she sat, looking over the books that had been taken from Wesley’s apartment. She frowned, removing her glasses to squint at the pages. Prophecies and incantations were riddles, tainted riddles at that. She often wondered their point was, if it was true that there wasn’t anything that could be done to circumvent them.
Her eyes flickered to the patio, where Cordelia waited, leaning under the canopy, watching as the rain drizzled over the bushes that Fred had found some time ago, had made excellent listeners. In her old, faded jersey, and her messily pulled back hair, Fred wondered if Cordelia could benefit from a talk to those bushes.
“What are you doing?”
Fred jumped, a near shriek coming from her lips as she jerked her body back, and found Angel’s hard form nearly a foot a way, glaring down at her.
“I … uh… bushes,” she found herself stammering, hands moving back to Wesley’s books, closing them protectively from Angel’s stare. She felt her heart pound, the heavy breathing, and she finally believed she knew what a vampire was, the power they had. He carried a duffel bag, slung over his shoulders, the black trenchcoat covered dark black pants and a black shirt. She found herself wishing for the beast he had become in Pylea. That one, at least, she felt she knew.
“What’d you find?” he demanded.
She glanced helplessly at the pile of volumes around her, felt herself inwardly groaning when she could offer nothing more than a shrug.
“I- Angel, I don’t even know where to start-“
His eyes narrowed, silencing her with a stare. “Keep looking,” he clipped, shifting the weight of the bag.
Gunn had moved from the counter to the open doorway. His glare to Angel was open hostility. Fred closed her eyes, tried to contain her nervous agitation. She glanced back toward the patio. Angel immediately followed her stare. Fred turned back, and saw the features harden at the sight of the women waiting in the rain. He shifted, turned, nearly pushed Gunn out of the way.
“Where are you going?” Fred asked, rising out of her chair, fingers sliding over the books as she moved around the desk.
He never answered, just kept going. Gunn turned, fists clenched. “Angel, we’re in the middle of a-“
The front door slammed, cutting off Gunn’s words. It was a helpless situation, one she had no control over, and it slipped further from her when Charles, HER Charles, strode to the weapons cabinet, and pulled out a broadsword. Angel’s favorite.
A tug in her heart twisted awfully, as a dawning realization came, and she cried out, “Charles, no!”
“Fred, someone’s got to,” he said. Her boyfriend never looked at her, as he strode through the hallway, matching Angel step for the step, the lobby door slamming behind him.
Crap. Fred swallowed down hard, her blood rushing through her veins at a furious pace, holding on to her glasses so steadily, they nearly cracked.
“What happened?” Cordelia asked, coming into the lobby, staring at her with clear bursts of hazel.
“They both just left. Angel left, and Gunn just followed…” Fred waved tired arms to the door, sank down on the orange couch, and considered crying.
When Cordelia stared at the door, she fully expected some sort of anger, but what she got was worse.
Cordelia didn’t say a word. The Seer only pursed her lips, shifted her glance away from the direction that Angel had disappeared to, and turned back to the patio. “Figures,” was the only thing Cordelia said.
The resignation, the lack of emotion at Angel and Gunn’s actions, affected Fred more than any outburst of anger. She felt furious, nervous hope in her heroes of Angel Investigations deflating into something worse: despair.
“Aren’t you going to do something about it?” she blurted out, making Cordelia’s retreating form pause, stare back at her uncertainly. Gaining Cordelia’s attention, Fred stepped forward again, body tall, back straight, face flushed and red. “You can’t just let things get this bad, and just leave it alone, Cordelia! You’re the heart-“
“I’m the heart?!” Cordelia hissed, turning back on her like a panther. Fred stepped back, her bravery shrinking. “The heart?” Cordelia looked beyond pissed, as she stared down the Pylean refugee. “Who’s heart, Fred?”
“No! I want to know! WHO’S? Not Angel’s! Not Wesley’s, or Gunns! WHO’S heart, Fred?” Cordelia demanded, coming closer all the time.
Fred had never been one to back away from what she deemed correct, but Cordelia had never fought her logic before. The Seer’s eyes were flashing in a way she had never seen, as she continued to advance. The Princess of Pylea.
“You don’t believe it?” she asked, suddenly afraid. If Cordelia didn’t believe, if Cordelia lost hope in the group as a whole, it was all gone – Fred wasn’t anything but glue, and even then, she was weak glue – she wasn’t the heart- Cordelia was the heart-
“How can I believe in something so… stupid, Fred?” Cordelia demanded. “I’m Cordelia! I’m the nastiest bitch of Sunnydale High! I can’t be anyone’s HEART. I can’t be anything for anyone because-“
“You’ll let them down.” Fred’s eyes widened in realization, as the redness of Cordelia’s face, the tears in her eyes, suddenly gave it all away.
Cordelia was silent, hostile frame staring Fred down, until her mouth opened, and her eyes suddenly held a faraway, glassy look.
When the vision came, Fred was unprepared. Her heartbeat was still bumping erratically against her chest, when Cordelia froze. It was so quiet, Fred wouldn’t have even known it was happening if it wasn’t for Cordelia’s eyes snapping open, now wide and scared.
At the sound of her name, the Seer jerked her gaze to meet Fred’s, dawning clarity now coupled with horror. “Oh, God, Fred. CALL GUNN.” Fred stood, bewildered, hands tangled together as Cordelia ran to the phone, pushed it to her ear and hastily began to dial. “FRED!” she said again, and the lanky girl stumbled into action, rushing behind the counter and picking up the other line, punching in Gunn’s cell number.
“Cordelia, what’s going on?” she almost cried.
“Wesley,” Cordelia snapped, cursing as she slammed down the phone, picked up and dialed again. Fred fumbled the receiver, and she whimpered as it clattered to the ground. She scrambled to retrieve it. “He has Faith – and they’re about to find them. They’re about to-“ her eyes closed, and she shook her head. “GOD. I can’t even talk – I was able to talk to them before…” she slammed the phone down, looking near panic.
A lump, large and painful, lodged itself into Fred’s throat, as she stood, frozen to the floor when Cordelia strode to the weapons cabinet, grabbed the tazer, and HER favorite sword.
“Cordelia…” she said hastily. Gunn’s phone kept ringing and ringing. He wasn’t picking up. Cordelia grabbed a post-it from the counter, scribbled down hastily. “Get a hold of some one. ANYONE. Tell them to get to THIS address. Hopefully, Groo will get here in time, but-”
“Cordelia, you can’t go alone!”
“I have to, Fred!” The two women locked glances, and Fred felt the truth sear into her heart when Cordelia whispered, “There’s no one else.”
Gunn’s phone was still ringing as Cordelia disappeared through the front door.
It was still drizzling when he stepped gingerly out of the motel. It didn’t matter, the clothes he had slipped into were still damp.
Wesley pulled the jacket closer around him, keeping his hands shoved into his pockets as he looked both ways, glanced back up at the motel, and jogged across the street. As if on cue, the rain pounded slightly harder now, soaking into his jacket, sliding down his cheeks, rendering the bandage at his throat almost useless.
Moving into a run, Wesley huddled close to the payphone, located at the corner of the liquor store, music blasting from inside. Shivering, he fished into his pockets for the coins he had found under the cushions and deposited them into the slot.
His fingers were shaking with the cold. It was true, this city spoiled you. Sunless skies were considered the end of the world. He grimaced. At least this time, they weren’t that far off.
Turning, he heard a car screech to a stop, but barely paid it attention, rubbing at his eyes before he could register the brunette emerging from it, turning away to keep his eyes on the window that had to be his and Faith’s.
The phone continued to ring, and finally, FINALLY, Cordelia’s voicemail picked up. Wesley cursed, waited in resignation until her cheery, happy, voicemail message went through, and he was able to say hastily, “Cordelia, it’s Wesley. I have Faith, but we’re in trouble. When you get this message – the Motel 8 on Sepulveda and Venice. I know it’s far, but they were following- I’ll tell you later. I’ll call back.”
He put the phone back, staring at it hard, almost as if it was this particular phone’s fault Cordelia wasn’t answering. He had before, considered calling the Hyperion, had decided against it when the fleeting thought that Angel might answer had come to him. Now, it seemed he had no choice. With trembling hands, he fished for another quarter and dime, and slipped them in, hearing them register their presence with two pronounced clanks.
This time, Fred’s breathless hello came after the first ring. Wesley blinked in surprise, shifted.
“Wesley! Oh, thank God!” Fred’s breathing was erratic, her tone was nearing a screech. “Where are you?”
“You have to get Faith, and get OUT! Cordelia had a vision – they’re coming, Wesley! They’re coming-“
A slow, deliberate sound made him stiffen. It was immediately recognizable, unmistakable.
Fred’s words fell on deaf ears as Wesley turned, and a very familiar man held the cocked gun directly to his chest.
“Hang up the phone like a nice chap, Wesley,” Lee said, eyes hard as steel. “Or we’ll kill you, too.”
Liar, Wesley silently chided. He willed himself not to look at the motel, and obeyed.
Fred’s voice was cut off with a click, when the phone found its cradle.
The truck screeched, burning rubber filling his nostrils as Charles clenched his hands around the steering wheel, made another hard right.
Angel was taking him into the middle of nowhere, and that was just fine with him. A nameless ghetto was as good as any place to kick Angel’s ass. Gunn was panting, a loss of control so apparent, that it scared even him, and angered him even more, as his soul twisted into his gut.
The car screeched to a stop, Charles grabbed his sword, kicked open the door, and strode out into the empty parking lot.
Angel was already walking the other way. If he noticed Gunn coming toward him, he didn’t give any indication. Charles was no man to stab another in the chest, but kicking he was okay with. Quickening his pace, Gunn felt a satisfying thump in his chest, when he launched his foot, caught Angel in the small of the back, and saw the vamp fly face first into the gravel.
“That’s right, man. How you like that?” Charles said, standing over him, all but spitting as Angel rolled himself over. The gameface emerged, and Charles was just fine with that, too. “Yeah, man. You remind me who you are. Cause I forgot. And I promised you I wouldn’t, didn’t I?”
“Charles…” A low growl that would have frightened anyone but him rumbled from the killer vamp’s throat. He stood, slowly, a predator, the duffel bag overflowing with weapons upon weapons.
“You gotta forgive me, Angel,” he said, kicking at Angel, feeling the boot connect with a chin, seeing his former boss and friend whip over. “’Cause I kinda forgot about some rules. Forgot about vampires, forgot about their tendency to obsess, revert to stuff – and I ain’t having that, Angel. I got myself a family. Thought you did, too. Wrong, wasn’t I?”
Angel’s fist came up fast, too fast. Charles reeled with the pain of it, practically back flipped with the force. Landed on his back, dazed.
“I don’t have time for you, Gunn,” Angel growled, yellow eyes flashing, seething. “Don’t get in my way.”
“You don’t got time for NOBODY, Angel! Not time for Fred, or Cordelia or Wes- well guess what? I ain’t them, man!” Charles pushed himself to his feet. “I don’t CARE if you’re feeling all sorry – cause you know what? It ain’t always ABOUT YOU, Angel. So, I don’t CARE if you got no time. You’re making the time. And if I gotta beat your sorry ass – then so be it.”
Angel snarled at him, turned his back and moved toward the building.
“You take one more step and that big ass head with the gel you like so much is gone, Angel,” Charles said, wielding his sword, holding it up.
Angel paused, narrowed his eyes, and turned. Charles gave a small jerk of his head.
“Fine, Charles. You wanna fight? Be a big boy? Come on, then.”
In two seconds, the vampire had swept up another sword, and the blades crossed with a bang. Charles felt the surge go through his arm, and it only fueled his anger, pushing it away, swinging his foot and catching Angel in the gut.
The vamp wanted to throw down? Cool. Vamp wanted his ass kicked? Even better.
It was anger that coursed through him, and Gunn never stopped to ponder why. He had forgotten what Angel was, and he shouldn’t have. He shouldn’t have, not for one second. Cause Angel was a vampire.
And vampires got staked. No mission, no vampire.
Simple as that.
Cordelia gave up all pretense as she banged on the door, quick, harsh raps.
“FAITH! WESLEY!” She was practically panting, soaked from the drive over, rain drops still dripping off her nose as she waited impatiently. Her hand, now sore from banging, kept right on at it, the visions stills dancing in her head.
When the door finally pulled open, Cordelia nearly fell in, and encountered a woman she hadn’t seen in years.
“Faith,” she blurted. “You look like crap.”
“Lot of that going around,” Faith replied easily, hand on the doorknob, giving Cordelia a critical onceover. “What’d you use to cut your hair, garden shears?”
Cordelia stared at her blankly. “Yes, Faith,” she said patronizingly. “I cut my hair with garden shears.”
Faith narrowed her eyes. “When the fuck did you go blonde? Who the hell do you think you are, Marilyn Monroe? The streaks-“
Oh, yeah. THIS was fun. “Great, so now that we’re all caught up,” Cordelia snapped, pushing Faith into the motel room, banging the door shut behind her. “Where the hell is Wesley?”
Faith, dressed in a robe that was way too big for her, crossed her arms, rubbed at her shoulder. “Said he had to make a phone call.”
Cordelia blew out her breath, striding to the open window, and proceeded to twist the blinds closed. Faith’s eyes narrowed, settling on the glistening blade in Cordelia’s hand. “What the fuck’s going on?” Cordelia came forward, hands immediately tipping Faith’s face, inspecting the damage.
The door pounded, nearly crashed forward with the force of the blow.
“Long story really, really, Martin Short short? We’re in trouble,” Cordelia answered, as both girls swiveled their gazes, and the frame rattled with another bang.
Desperation was a tricky thing.
Fred was not a ‘sit and wait’ type. She couldn’t wait, alone in this hotel, with no one, not even Lorne, who disappeared to who knew where, to assure a half-crazed ex-Pylean who lived in a cave for five years (and she never, ever forgot that), that everything was going to be okay.
Fred was fully aware of her new responsibility, she remembered her conversation about taking care of people and being taken care of, and Fred knew that at this moment – no one was going to take care of her.
And she no longer cared. Grabbing Cordelia’s note, Fred scribbled her own message, in a long, nearly illegible scrawl, dumped it on the counter, and ran to the weapons closet.
She chose HER favorite weapon – a crossbow, and ran for the lobby doors, leaving the Hyperion empty behind her.
It was easy to forget that this was Angel. Easy to forget all about Connor, and the itty bitty hockey sticks, and playing with them in the middle of the lobby.
It was way too easy, to forget about glass breaking, to forget about holding a crossbow to a vampire in the middle of a haven that had been decimated by his crew. Easy to forget glancing into the office and finding the vampire crouched in front of a crying Cordelia, hands covering hers soothingly. Just as easy to forget Angel coming down the stairs, arm in arm with a hot Seer, looking happy and human-
Angel’s fists crashed against his jaw, and Gunn stumbled back, managing to duck as Angel launched over him, barely holding on to his sword.
Easy to forget that Angel might someday become human, easy to forget going to a second hand thrift shop and finding the perfect cart for Angel’s kid.
His pager went off, it had been going off for a while, but Gunn didn’t hear it. His mind was on other problems, on other heartbreaks and other betrayals.
He was too busy trying to forget.
Faith sagged against her, a warm weight that made it almost easy to get her courage back, as she slipped an arm around the Slayer’s waist, helping her stay put.
“Get the fuck out – that was your plan?” Faith managed to snap, as they stepped back from the doorway. Cordelia took in a ragged breath. It would give any minute. “That was your fucking plan? Escape from jail and get myself killed?”
“Oh, shut up,” Cordelia responded, pulling her back, moving to the open window. “You’re alive, aren’t you?”
“NO fucking thanks to YOU- when the hell did you move?”
“When the hell did I- what? You know what, nevermind.” Cordelia shifted Faith, and dropped her sword for only a second, pushing up the window. “Get out onto here.”
“What, now we’re leaving?”
“We stay here, and we’re dead.” Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Figures when I get a Slayer, she’s damned near impotent.”
“Oh, Fuck you, Chase.” Faith at least had enough strength to flick her off.
“Nice, USE that anger, and get your ASS onto the fire escape. LET’S go,” Cordelia said, pushing Faith out onto the landing. The door continued to rattle, each thump pushing Cordelia’s heart further into her throat. Faith managed to land in a heap in the wet metal, and Cordelia quickly followed, slamming the window shut and shimmying down, her sword gripped into her hand.
It was cold. Her teeth chattered as she stumbled, helped Faith get to her feet. The visions hadn’t lied. Faith was slowly getting some strength back, but not enough, and Cordelia bore the brunt of the weight for both of them, gritting her teeth, almost slipping on the wet steps as the rain began to pound now.
She was quickly getting tired, but she managed to get them both onto the ground, landing them in an alley that was dark and shadowed, and just as scary.
It was okay, though, because they were on the ground, and only about twenty feet from the car, and it would be okay.
She wasn’t aware she was even saying that out loud until Faith said, “Geez, Cordelia. You sure ramble when you’re scared.” But Faith clung to her, dark eyes almost black with fear.
It was so… WEIRD, to be doing this. Hobbling through the alley, keeping her sword in her hand, and letting Faith – FAITH. KILLER FAITH – hold on to her like she was Auntie Em or something. What was it about Cordelia ALWAYS ending up with no strength Slayers? What was it about her? A big sign tattooed on her forehead? ‘Weak Slayers! Come to me now!’
But Cordelia had hope.
“We’re almost there,” she said. “We’ll just get you back to the Hyperion and…” she trailed off.
Faith froze, dug her fingers in Cordelia’s shoulder. “Get surrounded by lame-ass Brits carrying guns?” she asked helpfully.
Cordelia froze, holding Faith to her as her heart skipped a very deliberate, very scary, heartbeat. There were three on one side, walking through the rain, and when she turned her head, she spotted the two coming from the other side.
Not to mention the two who had just landed from the fire escape.
Faith sighed. “Well, this shit just keeps getting better and better.” Cordelia shoved Faith behind her, her sword in her hand. “Any idea how we’re going to get out of this one, ‘C?”
Cordelia swallowed hard. “Alive? Not really.”
Why must the night crawl by like this And why do we dwell on what we’ll miss I’ve got to be careful what I miss My happiness was his This is my good bye kiss - Nina Gordon
Staring into the face, was almost as if he was looking into a glimpse into his own past.
Casper Lee once wore a too-tight tie. His hair used to be gelled down, so that not a strand was out of place. He wore three piece suits, and horn rimmed glasses. Like Wesley, he drank tea every morning at six, sorted and cataloged his books aphetically, and once, under controlled circumstances, had staked a vampire.
Wesley had congratulated him with a clap on the back, and a beer down at the pub.
Now, Casper Lee’s hair was longer, in tangled strands hanging down over his face, messy and wet with raindrops. His face was bare, a shadow of a beard covering his chin, but doing nothing to hide the hard line of his mouth. Wesley frowned.
“Wesley.” Wesley kept his hands at his sides, staring down the pistol of the gun, shivering like a wet dog in the drizzle. Bloody hell.
“Would you really pull that trigger, Casper?”
“I would.” The hand was shivering, but the eyes glinted. Wesley’s eyes narrowed, hands forming into fists.
“I won’t let you kill the girl, Casper.”
A shadow of a smile creased across his old friend’s lips. “Really. And how exactly would you propose to stop us? You can’t fight destiny.”
“No,” Wesley remarked. “You can’t. The Powers had a vision, they chose to get involved…”
“Wouldn’t happen to have been that vision that brought that pretty little brunette over here- who we just happened to follow, would it?” Wesley’s overcome expression lay naked before him, and Casper nodded. “Follow the pretty seer, get the psycho Slayer – think that’s what the Powers had in mind, old chap?”
“I think the Powers work in their own ways – and should NOT be manipulated for one’s own purposes,” Wesley replied, his mind whirling as he kept his gaze on the gun. Cordelia was here? Please, Lord – let her have gotten to Faith in time. “These things have their ways of coming around, Casper.”
“You’re a stupid man, Wesley,” he answered. “Always were. Never bloody knew why they chose you over me.”
“You knew exactly why,” Wesley responded easily. “Because you never could control that temp-“ He immediately stopped the words, as the gun now touched his nose.
Casper’s gaze hardened. “You were saying?”
Wesley’s heart gave a loud, deliberate thump. He could care less about the gun, about Casper, about the Council and their ideals…
But dear God – Cordelia and Faith –
“You’re a foolish man, Casper. You never could think on your own,” Wesley began, edging away from the barrel of the gun. In his mind, he began to calculate ticks of his jaw. In two, he could sweep under and pull the gun. On a normal day, it would be that simple. But the rain was making it hard to see, and his own chilled fingers and weakened body were working against him – everything was so against him now.
“You know the rules, Wesley, just because you choose not to obey them, doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten them. A rogue Slayer must be terminated at all costs.”
“She’s no longer a rogue.”
“She is to us.”
“Casper, listen to me- “
“Hush, now, Wesley.” Casper’s voice was low, barely containing his rage, smug pride. “No mercy – only reason you still have your head is because of who your father is.”
Wesley stiffened, a ram rod going straight down his back at the words, often echoed in his past. “I don’t see him here,” Wesley said tersely. “Do what you will, then.”
“Sorry, Wes, ole’ boy, don’t got the time. I’ve got a job, see. And I’m here to see it through.” The gun swiveled, pushed forward, and Wesley’s throat flared, seared with pain as sight of the pistol tore through his stitches. He cried out, slumping back into the concrete, holding onto his throat as Casper disappeared.
All he could do was gasp, pray for the pain to stop – and pray Cordelia had gotten to Faith in time.
Today is the greatest day I’ve ever known – can’t live for tomorrow – tomorrow’s much too long-
Guitars, amps and drums suddenly pounded in her ears. She managed to keep standing, her palms scraping against the brick wall behind her.
On a normal day, she would have kicked these idiot’s asses. Would have pushed Miss Priss aside and opened a huge can of whoop-ass and – Faith blinked. She used ‘whoop-ass’. What the hell was wrong with her?
Sagging against the wall, Faith fought the splintering headache, grateful for Cordelia’s fingers threaded through her own as the men came closer. Cordelia pressed something cold, metal, into her palm. At this point, not curious enough to care what it was, Faith kept her gaze on the five plus men that now had them surrounded.
“We don’t want to harm you, Ms. Chase,” said one, big, old and ugly, and packing a penis shaped gun. Inadequate bastard. “Just give up the Slayer.”
“Right. Sure. I’ve seen what you’re going to do to her if you get her.” Cordelia’s voice wavered slightly, but her stance never faltered. The sword was up, unfailingly straight, swinging a wide arc, keeping the men at bay – even with the guns pointed directly at her. Faith tried to push Cordelia back – it wasn’t the chick’s fault – but Cordelia only kept her behind her. “Keep STILL, Faith.”
Her throat was way too dry to say anything at first. She had to cough, and so she just barely heard their response. “It’s our job, Lady. We take our job seriously.”
“So do I. You may work for the Council, but I work for the Powers – and my Boss is cooler than yours, okay? So get your asses back.” One stepped forward, apparently not ready to believe her, and Faith’s eyes widened when Cordelia’s blade flashed, leaving him with a bleeding hand, and sputtering curses. “I mean it.”
Three more guns came up, eyes hardened, and Faith swallowed. She found her voice, it came right with the hammering of her heart. “Cordelia,” she began. “Get the fuck out of here.”
“Faith, you’re delusional. Shut up.”
“Better listen to her, miss. I know you’re a smart little thing, but them Visions ain’t going to save you from guns, and neither is that sword.” A shorter man stepped forward, limbs wiry and lanky, sounding truly apologetic. “We got orders, Miss. We’re gonna follow ‘em.”
“Follow them all you want, but you’re not taking her, anywhere.”
Faith nearly screamed from the frustration. “You’re stupid, you know that? Cordelia – you’re the stupidest, most idiotic, stupidest- “
“Shut up, Faith-“
“Just get OUT OF HERE!” Faith finally lost enough control to shriek, shoving at Cordelia, managing to knock Cordelia forward. Everyone was startled, including Faith, as she stared at her arms, a soft intake of breath coming into her when she realized it was coming back, slowly.
Not fast enough, Cordelia was back in an instant, pushing Faith and pinning her to the brick wall. “STAY. PUT,” she hissed. “You got a death wish or something?”
“Do you?” Faith shot back.
“Bloody hell, this is what’s taking so long? A girl with a sword?” Both girls looked back to see another man enter, with hard eyes, and a hard stance, arms in his pockets, watching them both lazily. Faith’s mouth parted, her words dying in her throat as sudden and complete fear enveloped her heart as she looked into those eyes.
Dark, black, expressionless orbs. Eyes of a killer- no conscience – and SHIT-
“You wanna deal with the Seer, Casper?” said the shorter one angrily, waving his gun. “Be my guest. I’m not taking out a Seer – right up there with shooting nuns, that is.”
“Cordelia,” she said, aching now, slumping back against the wall, and damned near crying as she kept her gaze on the one they called Casper. “Just please, leave. LEAVE.”
Her mind counted each beat, watched as the gun was pulled out, and she tried to shove Cordelia out of the way, but there was no strength, no strength at all -
“Murray – you were always too superstitious for your own good.”
Faith cried out as the shot was fired. Cordelia jerked with the force of it, hands flailing, form spinning away from her. The screams kept coming, as Faith fell to the ground, splashing in puddles as Cordelia’s rain-soaked face slipped into the water. There was red all over, and Faith fought, the metal object in her hand dropping to the ground as hands pulled her away from the body-
There was still screaming, as they pulled her away, let her stumble back, the robe flopping helplessly, falling open.
Even as the blow came down on her head, the screaming continued.
Just before she blanked out, Faith realized the screaming had been coming from her.
His phone began to ring incessantly, from deep into his pocket. It was annoying, almost throwing his concentration, and Gunn needed it. Angel was strong, he was a better fighter, he was quicker.
But it was his cell phone, and the only people that called his number were the people who had it – and really few people had it.
Gunn gritted his teeth, braced himself for the punch that was so powerful it almost went through his stomach, barely managing to stay conscious for the crack against his jaw. He almost got whiplash as he fell back, but he had been waiting for it – almost thankful he had been paying attention in those training lessons that this damned vampire gave-
He rolled back, let Angel stumble forward with his own weight, and with his brute strength, Gunn pushed up, swiveled, and slammed the sword into Angel’s side.
The phone kept ringing.
Gunn was breathing hard, panting now, blood speckled his face, rage colored his cheeks red with it, and he pulled the bloody blade away from the dead body, the living vampire, as Angel gave him a glare through yellow eyes. Angel had no time to react, Gunn already had the sword at his neck.
His heart was beating so loudly, loud enough and hard enough for both of them, and Gunn’s fingers twitched.
“Don’t think I don’t know the rules, man,” Gunn whispered fiercely. “This ain’t no Highlander, but I sure as hell can cut this head off and leave one hell of a pile of dust.”
Angel could have moved, he could have done one of those quick flashy things he did with that super speed and slipped away from that sword in half a second flat. But he didn’t move.
Yellow eyes glowed, he panted open, filling air into those dead lungs. A low growl slid into his voice, and suddenly, it was there, two words.
The cellphone was tinny, digging deep into his pockets, and it nagged at him. His sword hand was up, and Angel was still, completely still.
And suddenly, nothing mattered anymore.
“What the hell is your problem?” Charles demanded finally, slamming the sword the ground, stepping away in disgust. “You got issues, man! But you don’t care! You got a family, but you don’t care! All you care about is your son, don’t even care WHY or HOW…” Charles shook his head, stepping back, never taking his eyes off the vampire fallen at his feet. “You know what? I don’t care. You do what you gotta do, Angel. I ain’t playing this anymore. I got my family to take care of.”
Gunn turned away, digging into his pocket.
“Charles.” Gunn paused, shifting his gaze back to Angel. The vampire’s visage was human now, the cry was almost plaintive. Almost sorry. Gunn was breathing heavily, as he turned back to him, flipped open his phone.
“This is Gunn.”
“Gunn… I… “ The voice was tinny, faraway – vaguely familiar.
“Yes!” came the voice excitedly. “You will forgive me, for not quite understanding which way to-“
“Groo, what is it?” Charles said, quickly, jerking away when Angel stepped forward gingerly.
“I have entered the Hyperion Lobby, and encountered a message in what appears to be Fred’s scrawl. I fear for Cordelia. I’m afraid the writing is illegible, but there is an address, and a word about a vision-“
“I have no transportation – perhaps-“
“What’s the address?” Gunn ordered. He listened, and nodded firmly. “I’m on my way.” Gunn clapped the phone shut. He was hampered in his attempt to move toward his truck, however, when Angel grabbed his shoulder. “Don’t touch me!” Gunn hissed.
“What’s going on?”
“Family stuff– nothing you’d care about,” Gunn said, shooting him a dirty look as he picked up his sword, walked quickly to the truck.
Angel was there in two seconds, eyes a blazing, dark brown. “Charles.” The voice was a snap, an unspoken order, as he kept the door from closing, looking up at Gunn. “What’s going on,” he repeated. This time, there was almost a plea in the voice, a soft lilt, a change, and Charles fought hard for that anger- almost wished he HAD used that sword.
“Cordelia had a vision – went off herself to take care of it or something. Groo can’t get there, and he thinks she might be in trouble.” Angel was quiet, too quiet, like he was sorting all these thoughts in his head, filing them away.
He straightened, and something in Gunn, almost against his will, sagged in relief, when Angel barked, “Where.”
Casper ignored Murry’s look of disgust, and instead concentrated on the damned lighter.
Shaking his head, he clicked it again, covering it gently as he puffed at the little flame, managing to light the tip of his cigarette. When he sucked in the smoke, he finally allowed himself to breathe.
“No mercy,” he repeated, when Murray once again looked at the woman in the rain.
Murray nudged her with his foot. “You shot a Seer, man. That’s… you’re going to hell for sure.”
Casper managed a grim smile. “We’re saving the world, Murray. I’m sure the Lord will allow for a few casualties.”
“Personally, I’d be more worried about saving my soul.” Murray crossed himself, stepping away from her. “So what? We just going to leave her here?”
“I’ll take care of it,” Casper said, sliding his free hand through his hair, mopping at the droplets that made standing there a tad uncomfortable. “Make it look like an attempted rape, mugging, that sorta thing.”
Murray visibly shuddered, and he straightened. “Or you could get her to a hospital. Set her up in that little dumpster and make an anonymous call to 9-1-1. Could do that, too.”
Casper arched an eyebrow, allowed a smirk to cross his face as he turned. The smile froze at the earnest anger in Murray’s face. They stared at each other for one long beat. “Or I could set her up in that little dumpster and make an anonymous call to 9-1-1.”
Murray gave a short nod, satisfied. “Gotta get that Slayer bitch back –“ he waved his gun toward the Seer. “You take care. Watch your soul, man. Geez.” He stepped away from the pretty body with the rim of red blood mingling with the puddles surrounding her, almost afraid to get near her. “Watchers,” he muttered, shaking his head and making his way to the end of the alley.
It was curious, the feeling is detachment that came over him as he knelt over the girl, pushed with his shoulders until she turned. She was breathing, barely, but the wound was bad. Very bad. Casper clamped his mouth, running the situation through in his head. This was a Seer, who had led them to the motel, who was the one responsible for the recapture of the Slayer. It was her responsibility, and she paid the price.
His palm stretched over the gunshot wound, high on her abdomen, pulled it away to find it stained red with blood. Pulling out a wet handkerchief, he wiped himself as well as he could, and methodically began to search her pockets, pulling out the wallet, scanning the contents.
“Cordelia Chase,” he whispered. “Shame. Pretty girl.”
Since he was a child, he was raised to believe in the importance of the mission – and in the solid approach to control. He had a job, he did it. That was partly the reason he still had one.
Wyndham-Price never fully understood the price for the mission, for the oath taken as a Watcher. And if there was one thing Casper truly never understood, even as he lectured at Oxford, and kept accurate accounts in his diaries, was why Watchers only watched.
They were capable of so much more. Pulling out the gun, he felt truly apologetic as he slipped on the silencer, rolling the barrel in his hands.
A warrior for good with misaligned intentions. A dangerous sort.
Placing the gun on her temple, he allowed her one more ragged, barely there breath, saying a soft prayer for her soul.
It was a prayer he never finished, because the soft whiz came so quickly, he couldn’t whip the gun in time, and the arrow caught him in his throat, pinning his voicebox, driving him back.
Fred lowered the crossbow.
Her eyes were glistening: bright, brown. Her body heaved with pants, and when he fell back she gave him only enough attention to kick away the gun, falling down next to Cordelia.
The man twitched once, twice, but Fred only had eyes for her friend. Her breath was ragged now, fear sliding through her as she trembled, cupping Cordelia’s face. With what little strength she had in her wiry frame, Fred pulled at her, chattering in the cold.
“Oh, God, Cordelia. Cordelia-“ her eyes widened as her hand pulled back, soaked with warm, red blood. Her palm stayed on Cordelia’s abdomen, even as her jeans soaked red. Removing her jacket as well as she could, Fred stayed alone in that alley, holding it against Cordelia’s jagged gunshot wound, trying to talk her friend into coming back.
The rain poured down, soaked her jersey shirt, and the alley made the blood wash off, keep going. Droplets pounded against her face, past her glasses, but Fred didn’t feel any of it.
If she killed the man, or not – she didn’t care.
But when Cordelia’s frail body stopped breathing, Fred sobbed, her body shuddering in the cold, keeping the Seer close against her.
In the dark alley, only the pelting rain muffled her cries.
Wesley blinked, suddenly brought to consciousness when rough, gloved hands pulled him to his feet, setting him right.
“Wesley Wyndham Price,” came the same voice. “He’s injured, sir.”
Wesley’s eyes opened, found himself staring into a pair of jade blue eyes, as the man tipped his chin. “Stitches were pulled. That’s going to require some work. Medic!”
Wesley grimaced, finally able to gain his bearings as he gripped the wooden bench. Police beams ran over the street, and what had been previously empty, was now bursting with uniforms and yellow tape.
“Sir?” Wesley turned, found a young officer, the one who had spoken earlier, holding a pad in his hand. “Can you speak?”
Wesley winced, placed his hand on his throat. “I… yes – a little.”
“Wesley!” Wesley stood, stared hard across the street until he spotted a familiar female, covered in a brown blanket.
“Fred?” Pushing away the officer, Wesley moved through the crowd, fighting his way through the officers, holding a hand to his throat. “Fred!”
“Wesley!” Officers began to scream orders, but Wesley’s relief at finding Fred was short-lived when he saw what she was standing next to.
A body bag.
“Sir! Sir, I need you to step, back! I’m warning you, sir!”
“I know her!” Wesley said, pushing at the officer.
“It’s okay, Officer, let him through.” The same detective who had inspected him before, now motioned him over, keeping his hand on Fred’s shoulder. “Are you a witness?” he demanded.
Wesley shook his head, trying vainly to understand, searching Fred’s red, swollen eyes for an answer. “Witness to what?”
The detective pursed his mouth, and knelt down, flipping open the body bag.
Casper’s lifeless eyes stared back at him. “I know him,” he found himself breathing.
Wesley swallowed, shivering as he stared helplessly at Fred. “He attacked me.”
The detective gave him a long stare. “You and two others. You know her?” He thumbed to Fred. Fred, shivering in her big brown blanket, gave a slight nod.
“I do. This is Fred.”
“Well, this guy also attacked Fred, and nearly killed another woman-“
ANOTHER? “Who?” Wesley demanded. “WHO?”
“Cordelia,” Fred rasped, and turned her face back into the alley. “They won’t let me in-“
“CORDELIA!” Panic, raw and rampant, slid through him. “What happened to –“
The men in the alley, paramedics, rushed toward him. “Move, MOVE!” They rolled a white tablet with them, and it was a blur, really, he could barely see – but it appeared to be a slim, weak – almost lifeless version of –
Bodies were pushed, bodily through the crowd, Wesley felt his heart skip a beat when he saw two large men now physically throwing officials and spectators to get through the crowd.
“Angel,” Fred whispered.
“CORDY!” Angel managed to get to the side of the cart, and suddenly Wesley’s view was obstructed, unable to catch what the sheer panic on Angel’s face had turned to when every policeman in the district it seemed, tried to get Angel away from the trolley.
“Fred!” A low, strangled cry of relief tore through the woman at his side, as the large, black man finally spotted her, made a beeline in her direction. In two seconds, Fred was in his arms, pressing her lips against Gunn’s fiercely and holding tight for dear life.
Wesley’s own throat was closed tight. He found it impossible to breathe, as Fred whispered in broken sentences what happened. It was her emotional monologue he heard, as the man moved as he finally saw Angel’s expression.
“We couldn’t find anyone…” Angel’s wild eyes, blazing with fear, broken with despair, as his hands cradled Cordelia’s face, leaning over her, even as the medic’s tried to push him away. “so she just went to help Faith herself, and this guy, he just came in the alley and-“ Angel’s low, guttural cry of pain, a whimper that could have been made by an animal as he collapsed over her form, sniffed over her wound, tears shining in his eyes. “They say they don’t know if she’ll make it.”
“Cordelia.” The word came out aching, edged in need, a fear in the vampire’s eyes he hadn’t seen since… Connor. When Angel flung off another medic, Wesley was spurred into action, shoes that seemed filled with lead moving quickly.
“ANGEL- ANGEL!” Clutching at his shoulder, the Ex-Watcher barely gave the growling face another look. “You have to let them take care of her!”
“Don’t you touch her,” Angel hissed, hunched over the trolley. An officer pulled a gun.
“Angel- they’ll try and save her, but you have to let her go-“
“I can’t let her go, Wesley. I’m not going to let her go- Cordelia!” Angel slammed his hands down, clutching her own in between, making as if he were going to shake her. “Cordelia, come back! Come back!”
“SIR! If you do NOT leave the patient alone, I will be forced to arrest you-“
“That won’t be necessary,” Wesley assured him. “He’s upset, she’s very dear to him-“
“I don’t care if she fucking had his BABY, he’s going to KILL her if we don’t get her to the hospital NOW!” a medic snapped.
“Gunn! Fred!” Charles and Winnifred immediately ran forward, trying hard to pull Angel away. “Angel, the sun will rise soon, we have to get you somewhere safe-“
Angel was suddenly still, nuzzling the face of the blank Cordelia. He shuddered, fingers trailing the soft cheek. “Just talk to me,” he whispered. “Tell me it’s going to be all right. Cordelia? Please.”
Wesley felt a lilting tremor go through him. His glance to Fred and Gunn told him they felt it, too. The attempts stopped, and this time, only Fred came close, placed her palm over Angel’s, and whispered, “Angel, please. Let them take care of her. We’ll follow. She won’t leave you, Angel.”
“How can you be sure?”
The tear streaked eyes glistened behind Fred’s mangled frames. “Because you asked her not to.”
Angel gulped, a sob hiccupping in this throat, and she pulled him away, his eyes never leaving Cordelia’s as the medics were finally every to pull her away. A medic turned to Wesley. “You too, we have to take a look at that throat.”
Wesley nodded. As he passed Angel, a fist clenched around his elbow, making him wince. It was a terrible moment, when he looked into Angel’s hard eyes.
“Don’t let her out of your sight,” Angel said roughly.
Not even pretending to ignore the relief that coursed through him, Wesley gave an affirming nod.
The three members of Angel Investigations crowded together as the door to the ambulance shut, swept away in the drizzling chaos of blue uniforms and yellow jackets.
Wesley took in a ragged breath, finally allowed the dizzy pain to overwhelm him. His mind, not allowed to think, now took over, and he took an inventory, and found himself wanting one renegade Slayer.
Mr. Pryce III had a slight headache. His chest was tight with tension, but even with the shortness of breath, he didn’t move his hand to his collar to loosen the tie. Since he was 16, he had never been seen with a sloppy tie, and there was no reason that would change now, no matter what the circumstances.
He wondered why now, after all this time, he was forced to be thinking of his son, when he should have been thinking about the mission. A bloody important mission, and they had sent him to take care of it, because Mr. Pryce was reliable. Mr. Pryce got the job done.
His fingers were trembling slightly as he grabbed the pills, let two spill into his palm. Gulping them down, he leaned back in the leather jacket, eyes roving over the suite that was messy, unkept.
This new way of doing things, discreet, involved, was new to him. It was aggravating, disquieting: the times were changing, the council was changing. All because of two Slayers who refused to listen, and refused to die.
Pursing his lips, Mr. Pryce picked up the Montblanc, took his paper, and stared at it. The report read as it should have, shoddy at best: a mission that should have been taken care of, mangled by a group stemmed from Sunnydale, a group that involved his son.
Mr. Pryce understood the importance of this mission: a last ditch effort to do things right. Start over, and circumvent disaster while he was at it. An opportunity to prove himself, show the Council his blood was still as noble.
And Wesley – damned boy – with his new ideals, and new loyalties. He had convinced the council his relationship would not be a problem. Wesley was his child. yes, but he had chosen his path. When push came to shove, he would listen to his father. Wesley always listened. Mr. Pryce had been heavy handed, true, but that was how one simply had to be, when they were fighting for good.
The mission was always more important. Infinitely more important. There was no room for shifting loyalties, and their stance was always more important than family. Blood.
He pursed his lips, distracted when the door opened and a crowd of men, wet, dreary, muddy, burst into the room. In their midst was a slim figure, a black cloth bag over her head.
At the sight of her, his gaze darkened, his heart thumped another beat. A rare opportunity.
Funny how the fate of the world rested on a woman so small. He guessed it must have gone to show something. He wasn’t sure what.
“Bring her,” he said crisply. With cold eyes, he watched as the men pushed her onto the floor, all the time, studying with his watcher eyes.
The bag was pulled off roughly, and there, face marred with bruises, cuts, weakened with pain, stood the girl who had tortured his son. Ruined his son’s life. Ruined his reputation.
Her dark hair hung in wild tresses, the robe was almost lewd, as she tossed her hair back over her shoulder, eyes glassy.
This was the Rogue Slayer, who was responsible for so much. Who would be responsible for so much.
“Faith,” he said crisply. “I gather you do not know who I am?”
She blinked, on her knees, staring up at him with confusion. “The fuck who ordered these bastards to kill Cordelia?” she hissed.
He gave a quirk of a smile. She was able to think. Good. “Yes,” he answered. “I am that. I am someone with whom you have quite a history.” He knelt down, until they were level, eye to eye. The piercing blue eyes flooded through her own, and when she frowned, gasped, leaned back, he knew she understood. “You tortured my boy, Faith. You’ve done some horrible things. But you’ve tortured MY boy. He may have been able to forgive you for that – but I certainly haven’t.”
“Just kill me,” she whispered, voice low, desperate.
“Those are the orders,” he admitted. “But the Council is always interested in research. A Slayer, we’ve never fully been able to test one before.” He smiled grimly. “It should be quite enlightening.” Rising from his haunches, he stood, and ordered crisply, “Get her ready. We’ll begin with the first test shortly.”
Faith was pulled up, and she flinched as a man dug his fingers into her shoulder, but she didn’t say a word. Pryce noted that, gave a nod of affirmation.
Strong. She would last for a while, before she was broken. Good.
He turned. He was looking forward to the challenge.
Cause I am hanging on every word you say, and even if you don’t want to speak tonight, that’s all right, all right with me. Cause I want nothing more than to sit at heaven’s door, and listen to you breathing. That’s where I want to be. - Lifehouse
From his spot on the bed, opposite Cordelia, hands tangled together, Wesley had been able to see the sunrise. He hadn’t moved since. He frowned, reaching up to finger the new bandage on his throat, tape making it awkward for him to even move. The beeping was an irritating noise that was becoming disturbingly familiar. Wesley pulled his gaze from the window, and leaned forward, gently tangling Cordelia’s still fingers with his own.
He had seen her like this before. In a hospital bed, a white gown, tubes in her arms, face blank with pain. His eyes drifted closed, shutting the image away, a sob clawing its way from his throat. “Bloody hell, Cordelia,” he whispered, bringing the soft hand up to his face. “Why on earth do you have to try and be a bloody hero, all the time?” There was a pause, before he whispered, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“Wesley, you dumb idiot. You say sorry to me one more time, I’ll kick your ass.”
The words made him freeze. Jerking his head up, he caught sight of a pair of groggy hazel eyes, staring at him as if he had grown a second head. “You’re awake.”
“Duh,” she responded, voice lilting softly as she shifted, groaned. “Oh, God, that hurts. Why does it hurt, Wes?”
“You have internal bleeding, and the gun shot was in close range.”
“Oh.” Cordelia inhaled sharply, clutching at his hand desperately. “Faith?”
The smile of relief on his face froze. “Gone.” Cordelia sighed, closing her eyes.
”Yes, you did. You did your best, Cordelia.”
“It wasn’t good enough.” He said nothing to that, but squeezed her fingers, heart beat racing as he saw the sun. He checked his watch. Ten o’clock.
“The others should be coming soon,” he whispered. “I…”
“What happened?” Cordelia demanded. Her voice was weak, wracked with pain. The demoral was giving her quite a kick, he could see it, in her eyes, the struggle to rise above the rocking of the boat. “Where’s Angel?”
Wesley’s throat was dry. “I don’t know.”
“Princess!” A large figure startled them both, as a man rushed in, one who looked like Angel at first glance, and then, was suddenly the Groosalug.
“Groo.” Cordelia’s face was passive, but she smiled, raising her hand as her boyfriend entered, on his face worry, love, and desperate fear.
“I’m so sorry, Princess. The bus – I still am not familiar with…”
Wesley stood, feeling suddenly out of place as Cordelia only placed her cheek against Groo’s hand, closed her eyes, and cried.
Bloody hell. Wesley was openly panting as he walked out of the room. Once outside, he leaned against the hall walls, and fought for his breath. His eyes were stinging with tears, so involved in trying to battle the sobs that at first he didn’t hear the calls.
Raising his head, Wesley’s blurry vision revealed a slim girl and a larger, dark-skinned man, rushing down the hallway, tripping over irate nurses and nearly knocking over a bewildered man in a wheelchair.
“Fred!” Fred rushed into his arms, held him tight with a squeeze that was almost painful, and when she let go, Wesley was suddenly wrapped into an equally vicious hug by Gunn, making him choke.
“We tried to get here, as soon as we could, but, the police were questioning, and,” Fred began breathlessly, panting.
“She’s not in any trouble,” Gunn finished, clamping his hand on Fred’s shoulder. “Detective Dalston said it was self defense.” Wesley blinked, not quite sure what they were referring to, never getting the chance to ask when Gunn asked, “How is she?”
This time, he managed a relieved smile. “Awake. She’s a strong girl.”
“Oh, thank GOD.” Fred collapsed against Gunn in relief. The big man exhaled, wrapping his arm around Fred’s shoulders. “Can we see her?”
“I wouldn’t quite yet,” Wesley said, his hand on Gunn’s shoulder, making them pause, before they were able to turn into the room. “The Groosalug is there,” he explained.
“Oh.” Fred crossed her arms, in a nervous attempt, it seemed, to have something to do with them. “But she’s gonna be okay?”
Wesley grimly nodded. “Yes.” He searched the corridor, and uneasy worry settled into his stomach. “Angel?”
“Daylight – we had to answer all the cop’s questions, and then he was stuck. Trying to find a way here, but…”
“I understand.” Wesley glanced back at the room, and when he glanced back, the knot in the pit of his stomach sunk. The initial relief over, suddenly there was the silence, the awkwardness, the remembrance of what he had done. What had happened.
Charles looked openly uncomfortable. He stepped away from Wesley, hands in his pockets. “Fred, you want some coffee?” he asked softly. Fred turned, on her face a questioning glance, but Wesley understood, could see that she did also, because she gave a soft nod, and a smile.
“Please,” she said, squeezing Gunn’s hand. Charles nodded back, gave her a smile, shifted another glance at Wesley, and moved down the corridor.
Unsure now, Wesley crossed his arms, kept his gaze on the floor.
“Wesley,” she said finally, abruptly, as if she was trying to find the courage to say it, Fred pushed her glasses up onto the bridge of her nose, and rebalanced her feet.
“I’m sorry,” he blurted, face reddening, flushed with agony, embarrassment, sincere… guilt.
“I know,” she said. “But you still shouldn’t have done it.”
Unable to take not seeing her expression, Wesley glanced up. Surprisingly, he didn’t see judgment, like he expected, but naked honesty. She was frank, staring at him with no smile on her face.
But there was no anger. And for that, Wesley would have given her the very world. “You’re going to have to apologize eventually, Wesley. Cordelia told me why you did what you did, and I’ll say I understand to a point, but you hurt us. All of us, Angel-“
“I know,” he clipped. The pain wouldn’t stop, and his eyes brimmed with tears, a tear in his heart, and it wasn’t RIGHT to have this now. There was something so much more important, so daunting, and every second counted- “Faith,” he suddenly said.
Bloody hell, Faith. The world tilted, the self consuming fear, now twisted, wrapped around him, coupled with rage. Faith, young, tired, weak. A thin remnant of what she used to be. Gone.
“We must find her,” he said.
Fred looked startled, confused at his complete and utter change of subject, but she nodded. “You know who took her?”
Wesley’s face was grim, his mind swimming with thoughts, moving along rapidly, so rapidly. It was disconcerting, the assuredness, the clarity that his mind reasoned with, now. For so long, forever, it seemed, his mind had played tricks on him, paranoia his greatest failing.
There was no paranoia, now. There was anger, there was fury, there was worry, and there was fear. All hinged into a pair of brown eyes, into another side of a woman that for only a few hours, gave him her world, and entrusted him to save it.
It wasn’t the Faith that tortured him that gave him that. That one was jaded and angry, unable to find her place in this existence, taking out her anger, her desperation on a man who should have helped. It didn’t make it better, it didn’t make it right… but blasted… his own actions proved no man was perfect.
Another girl, a sweet, scared, child, had slept in his arms and begged forgiveness. She had trusted him with her broken heart. And blast it all, if he was going to let her down, too.
His features grew firm. “I have an idea.”
She remembered being in a position like this before. In a hospital bed, alone, a hole in her stomach. Lying there, sobbing after she had told Xander to stay away from her, she had SWORN, to never let it happen again.
Every time she moved, her body ached, screaming silently that she did NOT like getting shot. She bit her lip against it, kept her body absolutely still, eyes resting dully on the bland wall before her. Her eyes were dry now, the tears flowed and gone, there was nothing left in her. Her hands pressed against her mouth, and she only stared, her mind whirling, lost in thoughts.
Rich bitch of Sunnydale – Vision Girl – Little Miss Streaks. So many permutations of the same girl, the same woman, who had chosen a destiny, a destiny that she thought was unavoidable. God, she should have known. She should have KNOWN. He had done it before, he had left her before, hadn’t given a damn about his mission.
Angel never understood. Sucked into his own little world, his own little obsession – and she tried so hard. She thought she had succeeded, that he had finally let her in. God, what did it take?
Her arms ached for his child. Her heart ached for the father. It was family, it was friendship, knit so tight, she could fall asleep on his bed, trust him completely with her life, and become part demon to save him from a world of pain he couldn’t have imagined.
And it happened anyway. She wasn’t a Champion. She was a Seer, and they had failed. The mission had failed.
“Princess?” Turning, she encountered the worried, dark black eyes of her lover. His thumb, calloused, rubbed against her palm, and Groo looked so worried. She stared at him, for the moment too heavy hearted to do anything but look. This was Groo, a man who barely knew her, but loved her with everything inside of him. He believed in his fairy tale romance, in his princess, and his destiny, and his true love.
He didn’t understand this heartbreak, this sorrow, or the concept of family. Groo never had a family, not a real one. She was all he really had, that he could ever want to call his own.
But she wasn’t his, she couldn’t be his, because visions in her head pounded for a Champion with a very specific name: Angel.
“Are you alright?” he asked gently. She smiled humorously.
“You mean aside from the big gaping hole in my stomach?” he didn’t get the sarcastic note, and her lips quirked. “I’ll be fine,” she said finally, gripping his fingers. “I’ve just been in this situation before – ya know. Reminiscing.”
“Ah. I see.” He didn’t see, but that was okay. Poor Groo. Did he feel like he was in over his head, she wondered. Perfectly fine in a battle, but words, politics, games, always eluded him.
The door opened with a creak, and Cordelia felt a sense of dread, when suddenly a pale hand pushed through, followed by a pale face. Again, the déjà vu came. She had seen this face before, apologetic, sane. His eyes were glistening with unshed tears. His trenchcoat, dark, dirty, wet and muddy, hung about him, no longer fitting his form, but ragged, torn.
His eyes focused on her, an unconscious plead, as he gripped at the door frame, and finally saw Groo.
Cordelia felt the tension immediately, her eyes locked on Angel’s form, her hand stayed nestled in Groo’s, but she no longer saw the other man. She only saw her Champion.
She closed her eyes at the word. “Groo,” she finally managed quietly. “Can you give us a minute?”
The Groosalug was an honorable man, who did what he was told. He kissed her palm, and rose, big body moving out of the small chair, walking toward Angel, eyes darkening. Cordelia’s own heart stumbled in beats, leadened, her expression strangely passive as Angel let Groo pass, and closed the door behind him.
It was so weird. There he was, and her heart twisted, and her eyes stung, and Cordelia felt herself trembling with emotion, biting on her lip as she shook. Angel, with his beautiful angelic face, coming forward, seated in the chair the Groosalug vacated. There was something in his eyes that she had never seen before.
But the fury, the anger, the heartache, it all tumbled within her, and it was too much. There was too much, and she was sitting here with a hole in her stomach, and Faith was gone, and he hadn’t been there.
HE HADN’T BEEN THERE.
“God, Angel,” she managed, not daring to look at him for fear she would scream.
“Don’t,” she clipped. It was so painful, to try and talk around the lump in her throat, and Cordelia knew that maybe it was an inherent defense mechanism, because when she was this angry, the words she said… “I… just don’t. I don’t want to hear ‘I’m sorry’, again, Angel. Not if you don’t mean it.”
She couldn’t look at him. It was hard enough to hear the pain in his voice, the choked way he said her name, almost as if he was pleading with her. “Why are you here, Angel?” she said finally.
He was quiet. “I needed to see you.”
“Why?” she demanded, and this time, and it must have been complete reaction alone, she turned, caught his gaze. Her cold expression froze. His eyes were dark, almost black, and he was trembling. Oh, God, Angel. Her eyes fluttered closed, immediately looking away. No, she couldn’t- “Why?” she said again, softer, calmer.
God, Angel – the truth. Please. For Once.
“There is no why,” he answered. The vampire’s voice was tired. “I needed to see you. That’s it.”
“But WHY?” Cordelia’s eyes were moist as she gripped the sheets with her hands. “How- Angel, a few hours ago, you couldn’t stand to see me in your room! A few hours ago, you gave me a split lip-“
“NO. Don’t say you’re sorry,” Cordelia finally looked at him again, her eyes naked, her entire world tipped to one side, making no qualms about bearing her open, broken heart to him. “You can’t keep saying you’re sorry, Angel! You can’t make me believe in you, you can’t make me love you and trust you, if you can’t even trust yourself. All you see is you. All you want is what you need, at that moment. It doesn’t matter if it’s me, or if it’s Connor or Buffy – or even Darla. I can’t be that person, Angel. You only came because I almost died. You didn’t come when it counted. You didn’t come when we needed you, and GOD, Angel – I know Connor’s gone, and I KNOW that he was everything, but, that’s just it- we were here, too.” Her voice broke, her eyes closed, and her beeper thingy at the edge of her bed beeped louder. “God – Angel. Is this what Connor-“ And the little boy that she had held, had loved, and rocked, and kissed, his memory came flitting through her, and it was suddenly too much, it was all too much. How could she be this man’s seer? How could she? When Angel loved too much? When his love burned? When his love ached and seared, and consumed?
It was too much, it was all too much, and Faith was gone, and Angel was here, and he wasn’t there before-
“Cordelia, you have to-“
She shivered. “Angel, please leave.”
She had said ‘please’. She couldn’t demand he leave. Even if she couldn’t bear the sight of him, she couldn’t demand it, because she needed him, here. It was so pathetic. He had taken forever to get here, but he was HERE, and she wanted him here, even if he burned and broke. She needed him here. She needed the man who had loved his son, and been her companion, and she knew the obsession that came with it, and if he stayed one more moment, she’d stop caring about that line-
And she had to remember the line. She had to remember the mission. Sometimes, she was the only one that remembered the mission.
So she closed her eyes, and she held her breath, and she waited, praying he would go.
The metal chair squeaked, there was no sigh. It was Angel, and he didn’t need to breathe. Her eyes were shut tight, her fingers clenched around the sheets, and when the door closed, Cordelia, in all her bitter disappointment, finally began to sob. --
//I’ve been a bad, bad girl…//
Everything was a foggy haze. Around her, she heard the words. She felt the weight of her body, of her head, as she sagged forward. The only thing keeping her from toppling over, were the ropes, bound around her wrists, tied behind the chair. Where the ropes hung, burns came. The thread had aggravated her wounds, and they had reopened, spilling blood over the floor.
//What I need is a good defense, ‘cause I’m feeling like a criminal.//
Dark leather pants, a dark, tight t-shirt. He had played dress up with her, put her in clothes she had once worn before, almost as if he needed to see her like this. Wesley’s father, with the same damned blue eyes.
Her eyes fluttered, and she leaned forward again, chin resting against her chest.
“Faith.” She blinked, couldn’t move, and found her chin tipped up, until she had no choice but stare into dark blue eyes. “I asked you a question.”
Her head was jerked back, the nape of her neck pulled painfully, and she hissed in, when the pinprick of a needle slid into her neck.
//I don’t run, I wanna suffer for my sins.//
Her throat felt large, immensely large, too large to speak. She fumbled the words, her lips almost refusing to cooperate, as she tried to focus on Pryce. Both of him.
“The five basic torture groups. What are they, please?” He was so damned polite. She shook her head, trying to concentrate, as she glanced up at him. This seemed familiar. Really fucking familiar.
“Blunt,” she managed, suddenly nauseous when the floor refused to stop rocking. “Loud.”
“That’s two, good girl. The rest?”
She twisted to the side, was suddenly righted again by some bastard. “Uhh… Sharp. Cold.”
“And hot.” She almost smiled, and the smirk froze when a butane light was suddenly produced, inches from her face. “Tell me, Faith. Did you use this on my son?”
“Wesley,” she managed.
“That’s right, Wesley.” The aerosol can came within inches from her face. The light flared, and she whimpered, body instinctively jerking back from the flame, so close to her skin, almost making it bubble. Searing, hot- her eyes shut against the pain, and she was there again, straddling him.
//“Admit it, Wesley. Didn’t you always kind of have the hots for me?” //
She swayed, suddenly thrust into another place. God, she didn’t know when, or where, maybe from Giles, she had read a book. A book about pain. And safe places. Find your safe place. Take your mind away.
The same blue eyes, the same glasses, but she wasn’t straddling him anymore. She was sleeping next to him, in a motel room. Her head jerked, and she was lost in her safe place.
The darkness kept coming, through her blankets, through her robe. The wounds were raw and bleeding, and the pain seared, itched inside of her in a place she could never touch.
Hands held her down, and she thrashed wildly to get him off – she couldn’t get him the FUCK OFF.
“Faith!” It was a strained voice, full of sorrow and fear, and it was close – so close-
Her eyes shot open, bringing into focus a face that loomed out of the darkness, inches from hers. Her body panted, pinned beneath a hard, naked body, who’s hands tangled in hers, keeping her down.
“Wesley,” she said raggedly.
“A nightmare,” he said, like he had been saying it for ages. “That’s all it was, Faith. A night mare.” She panted heavily, chest rising and falling, breasts pressed against his lean torso, eyes locked on his own blue orbs. Her heart pounded inside of her, so hard it hurt.
“A nightmare,” she repeated.
Wesley’s hands squeezed reassuringly, nodding, voice calm. “A nightmare. It’s over.”
“It’s over?” she said.
Her eyes closed, head falling back against the pillows. His body weight, splayed on top of hers, was a reassurance that they were here, this was happening. The way he kept her under him, with superior strength, told her it was real.
“No,” she said achingly. “It’s not over. It’s not the FUCK OVER.” Her outburst came with a jerk of her arms, trying to buck him off, but with no strength, there was nothing she could do. Her writhing jerks tore at her shoulder, and the pain was so steep, so agonizing, that she gave up with a collapse.
When she began to sob, he finally lifted off. Faith felt him release her, the warm of his body leaving her own, and she shook uncontrollably, going by pure instinct now. She didn’t care if it was Wesley, hell maybe it was because it WAS Wesley, but she was blind to it now. Arms slid around his shoulders, and with what little strength she had, she pulled him back to her.
God, please – just let him hold me. One fucking minute. One fucking minute.
His body was stock still, as the terror swept over her, buried in the reality of her plight. She ached, body and soul, and her blood was smeared with her sins, her fear weighted with her past, with what she had done to him. But her panic must have done something, because his arms swept around her, and Wesley held her. His face buried into her shoulder, and he held her trembling body close.
“It’ll be over soon, Faith,” he whispered. “I promise.”
She pounded uselessly at his shoulder, sobbing, even as she breathed, practically panted against his cheek. “WHEN?” she asked desperately.
“I don’t know,” he answered quietly. She shuddered, closed her eyes, pressed her lips against him, and held on for dear life. She was scared. She was so fucking scared. “You’re safe for now,” he added, in that damned British tone.
Safe. She was Safe.
Looking up, she found there was only one of Mr. Pryce. He knelt before her, glancing at her curiously. “Where were you just now?”
She smiled, a genuine smile, this time even able to ignore the rocking of the floor. “With your son.”
The slap across her face was hard enough to draw blood.
“My Princess, if he hurt you...”
Cordelia had a headache. She was angry, on the verge of snapping, and it wasn’t this man’s fault. The Groosalug looked confused, furious, hands balled into fists. Her eyes felt heavy, too heavy for this conversation. God, all she wanted was to sleep now. To not think about Angel, or Faith, or Wesley, or even Groo.
But, this guy wasn’t making it very easy.
“He didn’t HURT me,” she managed. “I got this gunshot all on my own. Big girl, Groo.”
“But Princess, he has upset you.”
“Cordelia, Groo,” she reminded him. “Not Princess.” God. She did NOT need this right now. She took in a soft breath, attempting to get leverage on her splintering mind, and tried again. “Groo,” she began softly. “I’m honored that you feel you have to protect my honor, or something. But Angel and I are friends. We have fights. And you can’t go and try to duel him to the death everytime we do!”
Her dark-haired lover narrowed his eyes, a warriors mentality that was almost impossible to break coming forth. “This ‘fight’ resulted in you almost losing your life. I shall not tolerate such a flagrant disregard for the woman I love.”
“Angel’s going through problems.” Great, she was defending the big vampire bastard. Why? She had no idea. “Groo, he’s-“
“Obsessive. A warrior should know better.”
Yes, a warrior should have known better. “Nobody’s perfect, Groo.”
At this, his face softened. He sank down in his chair, and offered her a beautiful, dimpled smile. “There is one exception.”
She stared in the dark black of his eyes, registering the words. Her. Perfect. Damn, but how she wished THAT were true. Suppressing the urge to sigh dramatically, Cordelia felt another wave of nausea slide over her. The damned medicine, doing what it was supposed to. This wasn’t what she needed now. God. Maybe she SHOULD let Groo go beat up Angel. She SHOULD.
“Fine,” she finally said, tone dropping an octave when a haze of pain swept over her. “Fine,” she repeated. “You do that. You go after him, and beat the crap out of him.”
He knelt, took her hand in hers gently, as if he were holding something infinitely precious. The action made her heart ache, and she wasn’t sure why. It was a bittersweet feeling, painful and agonizing, seeing this man’s worship of her. God, wasn’t that what she had always wanted? A man to be totally, and completely hers?
“As you wish,” he whispered, pressing his lips to her fingers, rising. “I shall find Angel, and I shall-“
“Beat the crap out of him, right.” Cordelia nodded mechanically. Groo almost snorted, moving toward the hospital. “Groo!” He paused, turning back.
“I think he’s in Venice. Take the bus!”
The Groosalug’s staunch resolution visibly faltered, and despite the dire circumstances, Cordelia couldn’t help but smile as his fists clenched. “Yes, my princess.”
God, she really wished the guy would argue about something already. In two steps he was gone, and Cordelia finally allowed the tension out in one long breath, falling back against the pillows. There. One problem averted. Groosalug would be lost for hours on the buses.
A hand slid to her abdomen, and she hissed. God, getting shot hurt. Her body felt as if it weight a ton, not exactly heartening, coupled with her splintered heart. Her hazel eyes flickered toward the doorway, as her soul betrayed her, and she waited for Angel to appear.
He didn’t, of course. She had sent him away. Her Champion. Who had lost a child. The one thing he had believed in.
An unwelcome sob slid over her, and Cordelia clenched her fists, closing her eyes in an attempt to shut out the world.
And suddenly, the world flooded into her.
Cordelia’s eyes shot open, but she no longer saw the hospital. Instead, her hands were constrained, aching, and the wave about her, on the floor, in her head, was making her sick. She gulped, tasted the blood, and it made her gag.
Hazy vision blurred the figure before her. Drumming pounded in her ears, and the heaviness around her was permeating.
“Faith?” she whispered.
Her brain jolted, a soft, lilting sigh. //Cordelia. You the one singing?//
The pain was searing, and Cordelia jerked, recoiled when a hand slapped her, so hard the chair tumbled over, head cracking against the hardwood floor.
Cordelia felt as if she was flung out of Faith’s body, through the wall, on the lawn of the house with the address that started with 3443.
Sucked back inside, she fell as Faith did, her body weighted with agony when this time, the old man in front of her produced a knife.
Share my life, take me for what I am. ‘Cause I’ll never change all my colors for you Take my love, I’ll never ask for too much Just all that are, and everything that do. - Whitney Houston
The coffee was hot. Really hot. Way too hot.
Charles grimaced, carefully walking with the two Styrofoam cups, balancing the little cup of cream, and the two packets of sugar, just how Fred liked them, and kept his gaze on the floor in front of him, noting absently that his shoes were dirty.
At the end of the corridor, Fred slept, body twisted in a way that had to be uncomfortable, splayed across three different chairs. Charles’ lips twisted up, and despite the uncomfortable anxiety, the never ending tension that made his shoulders ache, he couldn’t help the sense of pride at the fact that Fred was HIS girl.
The pride was short lived, when suddenly a cry came from Cordelia’s room. Fred jerked up, and Charles began to move, only to remember that the coffee was damned HOT, and he hissed, jerking to a stop as Wesley also slid into the room. Walking as quickly as he could, he hobbled to the counter, placed his coffee on it, and darted forward, steps faltering in the doorway.
“Cordelia!” Wesley was bent over her, holding her hands. Fred was at the foot. Gunn watched helplessly as Cordelia jerked, writhed in the bed. Her eyes were open, glassy. “Cordelia!”
“Oh, God. Guys, guys!” Cordelia sat up in her bed, winced in pain, and buckled from the wound, falling back. “Shit,” she gulped heavily. “Shit. Shit.” Taking in long, gasping breaths, Cordelia’s eyes were wild, a hand pressed against her forehead. “Faith. I know where she is.”
Wesley froze, a reaction Gunn didn’t miss, as he came into the room, moved to the other side of the bed. Cordelia’s eyes connected with Wes’s, she nodded quickly. “Wesley, she’s with your father.”
His father!? Charles’ own surprise was unchecked, but when his mouth parted to question, he found Fred had beaten him to it.
“Yes.” Wesley clipped his answer. “My father.”
There was a whole lot here, that people weren’t telling him. And Gunn was DAMNED tired of not being told things. His hands balled into fists, the bruises on his face discoloring even more when the red flushed into his system. “What the hell is going on with Wes’s pops?”
“Gunn, there’s no time,” Cordelia said, shooting him a look. “He’s going to kill her.”
“When?” Wesley was already on his feet.
“Fred, take care of her,” Wesley said, grabbing his jacket from the hook.
“You don’t even know where she is!”
“I do,” Wesley said, pulling out a worn, ragged piece of paper from his jeans. “I know where my father is.”
Fred shifted from next to Gunn, and her uncomfortable gaze told them all, she was hesitant to even give the question. “Shouldn’t we, you know… find Angel?”
“There’s no time,” Cordelia said, rubbing at her forehead, trembling slightly. “Please, Wes, just go.” Wesley headed to the door, and Gunn’s eyes narrowed, the anger almost threatening to swallow him up inside.
“You can’t go alone!” Fred said. “God, Wesley- haven’t you learned a thing?!”
Wesley froze, faltering at the doorway, as the words sunk into the air. He turned, the bandage stark white against his pale skin, and his frown sunker further, shoulders visibly sinking. “I…”
“He ain’t going alone.” Charles shook his head, tone rough and angry. Moving around Fred, he reached for his coat, and pulled it on in short, rough jerks. “Don’t know why everyone here likes SO much to forget about ME! I’m the freaking GO-TO guy! You guys should KNOW to ask me.”
Cordelia and Fred both smiled at him, eyes shining with damned near hero-worship, like he had just run a marathon or something, and Gunn didn’t dwell on it. They would have made him smile, and he didn’t want to smile right now.
He strode to Wesley, looked him in the eyes, and said evenly, “Let’s go, dog.”
Wesley’s dark blue eyes regarded him silently, but there was a hint of a grin, all that Wesley felt was allowed or something, and then English turned. “Come on.”
Walking away, side by side, long strides down the corridor, Gunn sneaked a glance to the tall man next to him.
“Your father, man?” Gunn asked in bewilderment.
Wesley’s adam’s apple bobbed, indication of a heavy gulp, but there was no answer.
Charles closed his eyes, took in a shuddering breath, and kept walking. Someone was going to explain this shit to him, and soon. He was taking way too much on faith.
Gunn glanced over. Wesley’s face was staring straight ahead, all he saw was a passive profile.
Silence, as the words did something, churned into his stomach, cause Gunn knew exactly what he was apologizing for.
“Yeah man,” he answered easily. “Me too.”
And he was. Cause when it came down to it, Wes was a good man, who had made a shit load of bad choices. And just like every person he had ever known, including himself, it seemed Wes was about to come face to face with a past he had avoided for years.
Charles didn’t envy him. Not one bit.
There were endless rows of them, it seemed.
Angel paused, touched his fingers to the glass, the vampire’s face pressing close, haunted eyes watching every movement. The nursery baskets were colored: pink or blue, corresponding to each child’s sex. In each one, there was a baby. His eyes were riveted to one, a child with a little wrinkled face. Just borne.
The tiny face contorted, the baby yawned, a soundless cry as he shifted, surprisingly strong for a newborn. Angel was frozen, his feet glued to the floor, even as the chasm in his heart opened wider, when the proud Father laughed, ten feet away, pointing out his son to everyone that passed.
Angel’s eyes turned back, regarded the child. The lump in his throat, the pain, it was all myriad of emotions, trickling down, lower, lower, settling into his stomach.
The soul ached for the pain, the demon fed on it. Angel’s fingers scratched against the glass, kept his eyes on the child.
He blinked. It would be so easy, to break the glass, sweep in, take the child that looked so much like Connor- but it wasn’t Connor.
It wasn’t Connor. His eyes closed, and he exhaled, a long sigh he didn’t need, that fogged the glass, disrupted the vision of the child.
With a frustrated shout, Angel banged against the glass, ignoring the sudden silence as he flung himself away from the wall. He walked quickly, soul searing as he continued to move.
His mind continued to whirl, ignoring the deadened heart that told him there was nothing to care for at all. Hazel eyes burned through him, choked tears mottling a voice stained with anger and hurt sifted through his ears, and his hands clenched into fists.
He hadn’t been there. Faith was gone, because he hadn’t been there. Cordelia was gone, if not in body, in mind, from him, because he hadn’t been there.
Faith. The renegade Slayer who had believed in him. Needed him. Needed to believe that redemption was possible. A new life, she had to believe she was capable of that. Had he been fooling her this whole time?
Again, the pressing need to see Cordelia was overwhelming. Even if his mind refused to believe it, his heart, full and pressing and urging for more, wanted to thump at the sight of her, reassure himself that he hadn’t lost her. Not like he lost Connor.
Cordelia was living, and breathing, and hurting.
But she was alive.
He paused, steps faltering when he heard the voices in Cordelia’s room, vampire senses coming through, Fred’s voice soft and lilting and worried.
“Do you want some Tylenol?”
“Fred, I’m fine. They’re giving me stuff that’s much stronger.”
“Right, cause you’re used to much stronger- erm… I’ll just get you some water. I know the visions don’t hurt anymore, but…”
“Fred, I’m fine. I just… they have to get to her.”
Angel blinked. Get to who? Vision? Jerked into motion, Angel turned into the room, ignoring Fred’s startled burst of surprise to demand, “Where.”
Cordelia regarded him, mouth parted. “I… Angel-“
“If Faith’s in trouble, they’re going to need my help,” he clipped. There was clarity in this moment, in how Cordelia’s hazel eyes regarded him. The hostility was there, but it didn’t matter. He was the Champion. She was the Seer. That was how this worked.
“3443 W. Halldale,” she said. He gave a short nod, turned toward the door. “Angel.”
He whipped his head back, staring down at his Seer, who’s face was curiously guarded. “The guy who’s torturing her is Wesley’s father.”
The sentence hung in the air like a bad smell. His growl rumbled loud, coming from his stomach, up to his throat, but he squelched the curses, and only gave a short nod.
He understood. Whether or not he would have the self control to not kill the bastard if he had hurt Faith, was a different story.
Turning, he left his Seer, reeled out of the room, and began to run down the corridor.
Blunt was next.
She kept count. How, or why, she had no idea. It seemed the only thing running freely in the vagueness of her mind, were the five methods. Forced to count alongside him, he continued to speak, slowly, softly, always unfailingly polite, even as the blade etched across her skin.
He had asked her, point by point, what she had done to Wesley. She had been forced to remember every wrong, every single account of what she had done.
“Was this of your own free will?” he asked.
One side of Faith’s face was swollen. Her right eye had puffed so badly she no longer could see out of it, and her left eye stung, as blood from a wound in her forehead crept into it. There was no clarity in her vision, but a blurry version of a man who looked like an older, harder, stiffer version of Wesley.
Strangely impassive, Faith stared.
“Faith,” he said again. “I asked you a question.”
If she didn’t answer, he would bring out the needle. Fuck, she didn’t want the needle. She had gagged, dry heaves that felt as if her entire stomach wanted to erupt the last time the thing had been pushed into her skin.
“My own free will,” she managed, slumping against the ropes, wincing when they bit into her skin. The pain was minimal, compared to the gashes on her face, her shoulders, her chest.
“Your own free will.” She blinked, eyes closing. A cloth wiped at her face. “No, no. Open those eyes. It’s rude to close them when one is speaking.”
Refocusing, he was there again, in the dark room.
“What are you waiting for?” she bit. “You want to kill me, just kill me.”
“Not just yet.” He slipped into the chair opposite hers. “You see it’s so rare, to have one like you.”
“Homicidal maniac. A being of pure evil.”
Evil. She was evil.
/“I’m evil. Just kill me! I’m evil…” /
Her body jerked back. “The Watchers Council was never quite sure what to do with you, Faith. Some were convinced you could be rehabilitated.” He chuckled humorously. “You see what that logic did to my son.”
/She was dizzy, fingernails digging alongside his skin as the embarrassment followed the return to sanity.
Faith kept her face hidden, buried into his shoulder, suddenly very aware of the fact that she had been naked. Consciously naked, against a man who was most likely repulsed by her. Her mouth was pressed against a white line, a small jagged scar, that could have been placed there by her.
What the fuck was she doing?
But he kept her there, and Faith couldn’t move, not yet. The strength just wasn’t there, and neither was the gumption, even if her face flushed, and the shame at her own neediness crept over her.
A choked whimper escaped, mottled words formed on her bruised lips. “Wesley.”
“Yes,” came the quiet response.
She couldn’t quite get the words out. They were choked and angry, and scared, and when she finally stuttered them out, through the hazy state of her mind, they were so quiet he probably had to strain to hear them.
“I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry. I’m-“
“Faith.” His fingers rubbed against her shoulders. Her eyes drifted closed at the caress of a pair of soft lips on her forehead. “Shhh.”
“I wanted to kill you.”
“I don’t doubt that.”
She was trembling now, immersed in his scent, cheek flat against smooth skin. She was still tight in his embrace, even as her mind flashed with a recount of that night.
“You should hate me. But you’re helping me. You’re fucking helping-“
“Help me,” she whispered. The words were trembling, soft, full of meaning, and she had never felt so naked than at that moment, whispering against his skin, feeling his heart skip under her, his fingers pause against her skin. “Help me, Wesley,” she whispered again. “Please.”
There was silence, and it was so terrible, seeping into her bleeding heart, on edge until she felt him sigh underneath her.
“You trust me.” It was a flat response.
She found herself giggling almost hysterically. “Don’t have a choice here, Wes.”
“I don’t care. You shouldn’t be helping me.”
They both fell silent. Her eyes finally found the courage to open, and found his profile staring straight up, blue eyes lost in thought.
When he moved, she instinctively clutched at him. He paused, and the shame came just as quickly, as she pushed herself off, curled into the other side of the bed, heart hammering in fear.
“Faith.” She bit her lip, looking at the thump, thump, thumping. “I’m going to the payphone. I’m going to call Cordelia, and we’re going to save you.”
Her eyes closed, she shivered at the words. “Don’t leave me.” God. She was a fucking mental case. She had never begged anything, from anyone. He was the last person, who she should have begged-
And he was there, kneeling against the bed, looking into her eyes. “You said you trust me,” he reminded her. “Then believe me, when I say you’re safe here. And I’ll be back.”
Haunted by his eyes, Faith wondered if there could really be so much pain, as there was in his eyes at that moment. What the hell was going on with him?
Her palm drifted to his cheek, cradled it carefully. “Safe,” she repeated.
“You’re safe, Faith.” His palm covered her own, squeezing gently. “I promise.”
The physical torture had paused for now, and it left behind a crumpled mess of a girl. Robbed of her strength, of her healing, Faith was still remarkably strong, managing to stay seated in her chair, as she looked upon him with dead eyes, glassy with pain.
She regarded him, trying desperately to remain focused.
“Do you believe in free will?” he asked quietly.
She swallowed, closed her eyes. “Doesn’t fucking matter.”
“Refrain from using those words, please. Answer the question.”
Her eyelids, heavy with exhaustion and pain, fluttered. She glared at him from under them. “Why do you care?”
Hmmm. She was getting some clarity back. When the man behind moved again with the needle, Pryce held up his hand. No, it was better this way. Let her understand.
“Free will,” he said again. “Do you believe in it?”
“Do you?” she shot back.
He smiled. “I asked you first.”
She gave a heavy breath, sagging underneath her bonds. “I have to.”
“I see. I do not. I believe things are destined. Lovers. Actions. Personalities. Predetermined, because everyone has a role in life, Faith. You understand that, don’t you? Some of us, are meant to be heroes. Others are meant to be cowards. Some are meant to be leaders. Others, murderers. Free will, you understand, implies a choice. But you never had one, did you Faith?”
She blinked, bruised face expressionless. She gave stony silence.
“Because if you had a choice, would you have become what you are? Rotten? Evil? It’s in your bones, Faith. The call for violence, for bloodshed. Look at your friend Angel, the vampire.”
“Shut up,” she whispered.
“He isn’t here, is he? Because of his nature. He is inherently evil.”
“Prove me wrong, Faith.” She closed her eyes, apparently now fully concentrating on breathing. He noticed a lone tear trailing down her cheek. He noted it down.
“I’m not evil,” she muttered. “I’m not.”
“Yes, dear,” he said pleasantly. “You are.” He motioned with a jerk of his finger, and Murray came forward. “Start the preparations, the incantations.” Murray nodded. “It doesn’t matter, Faith. It’s your nature. You have no choice. Does that help at all?”
“What the hell do you want from me?” she burst, openly trembling, eyes flashing. “What?”
He cocked his head, his own heart twisting at the sight of the young girl, hating so openly. “I suppose I would like to understand fate. What makes you a monster, Faith. When you could have been just another girl. It’s a question I’m sure you have asked yourself countless times. What if you hadn’t been chosen? Another girl, living in a poor tenement with a dead father, and a mother who loved her colorful use of language and her soap operas even more. You were chosen, and you thought, finally, you were special. Chosen, Faith, it was your destiny. There was no choice. Your future was decided, then and there.”
She shuddered, eyes obstructed as her head bent down, a soft whimpering coming from her.
He paused. “Faith?”
She gave another sob, and suddenly jerked her head up. “Just kill me now, Pryce,” she whispered. “You’re not going to break me. You’re not going to get into my head, and you’re not gonna make me believe that there’s no fucking choices.”
“Oh?” he was openly curious. “And you say this, because?”
“Because your son could have chosen to be a little dickwad, pissant, mindless drone like you. That was his fucking destiny as a Watcher, and he didn’t take it.” Pryce burned, his eyes flickered to the man behind her. It was all he needed.
The needle sank into her neck, and she hissed, eyes closing, slumping in the chair.
Wesley was silent as he looked from the paper, to the large house, secluded in the hills of North Pasadena.
Gunn placed the gear in park, and gave a low whistle at the sight of it. “Looks big.” Wesley could feel his friend’s gaze on him. “So… how we going to get in? What’s the big plan?”
The role of leadership had been passed to him, not because he wanted it, but because they had no choice.
He made no comment. There was nothing in his heart but resolve, fury, commitment. “Walk right in,” he answered calmly.
When he glanced at Charles, the big man was staring openly in surprise. “Uh… Wes. That don’t sound very… ”
From his lapel, Wesley produced a pistol, a familiar looking pistol that might have belonged to Casper Lee.
“Oh.” Charles let out a shaky breath. “Walk right in with a gun. Right. Okay.” Wesley opened the door, hopping out. “This shit’s getting crazy,” he heard muttered behind him, and although Wesley had no time to remark on it, he had to agree.
The waiting was always the hardest part.
Fred continued to pace, hands wringing together nervously as she walked to and from, back and forth, front and back, eyes drifting over the setting sun.
She shivered, wrapping her nervous arms around her body, feeling her heart thump hard within her, a testament to her obvious agitation.
“Fred, sweetie.” Fred turned, regarded Cordelia. The Seer was staring at her with a drawn expression. “If you’re going to keep walking in circles like a merry-go-round, do it outside. You’re giving me motion sickness.”
Fred let out an apologetic giggle, coming forward. “I’m sorry,” she said nervously, settling down on the side side of the bed that Cordelia left open for. “I’m just…”
“Scared? Nervous? Worried?”
“And in a little frustrated, sorry, frightened and claustrophobic, and you’ve got it right.” When Cordelia stared at her blankly, Fred added, “I don’t like hospitals.”
“Hmm. Not a huge fan of them myself.”
Fred smiled light, an expression she was not able to keep very long. “Where’s Groo?”
Cordelia’s eyes reopened, her voice was soft, and weak. “I sent him to Venice to kick Angel’s ass. On the bus.”
There were a lot of things about that sentence that didn’t make sense, but Fred, at that moment, wasn’t really willing to get into it. She blew out her breath, gave a shrug, and then said as an afterthought, “But Angel went after Wesley and Gunn.”
Cordelia shuddered visibly, a reaction that made Fred frown, and she quickly stood, pulling a chair and coming forward. “Are you okay? Do you want some ice chips, or something?”
“Fred,” Cordelia shook her head slowly, forcing the Pylean ex-slave to still her nervous fussing, sink back down into the uncomfortable plastic of the chair. Cordelia raised her right hand wearily. “I’m fine, damned near high, actually,” she remarked, a silly smile on her face, indicating the IV pushing the pain medication through her.
“Oh.” Fred swallowed, licked her lips. “You didn’t have any problems, did you? Because of you know…” she leaned forward, whispered almost as if speaking louder was a sin, “Demon thing?”
Cordelia’s eyes fluttered open again, suddenly lost in thought. “Never thought of that.” Her eyes drifted closed again, and Fred noticed this time, thumping her head as her aching heart shuddered in realization.
“Oh, God. I’m sorry. I completely forgot that you’re probably all tripping out and you want to sleep, I’ll just leave-“
“Fred.” A delicate hand closed over her wrist, keeping her close. Pulling slightly, Cordelia’s eyes open, suddenly clear, free of pain or groggy medicine induced highs. “I just…” There was a moment of silence, in which Fred waited intensely, unsure what to do as Cordelia’s grip on her hand was infallible. Hazel orbs tinged with moisture accompanied a cracked voice, as the Seer said in a tone completely devoid of sarcasm. “You saved my life, Fred. So… thank you.”
The words were so simple, but it took Fred a full second to absorb the meaning, to understand the look of complete admiration, grateful adoration coming from a woman she revered, almost worshiped. Her eyes suddenly stung, and a smile drifted to her lips as she couldn’t help but say humbly, “Well, Cordelia… you would have done the same for me.”
They shared a smile, a soft smile, and Fred felt something shift in, as their hands tangled, fingers held. Equals.
The moment past when an orderly came in to check Cordelia’s vitals, and Fred flushed, leaning back, crossing her arms, waiting silently until he finished. As she waited, her mind, thinking, always thinking, was pulled back to the circumstances that brought them here, and she couldn’t help but shudder.
“What?” Cordelia asked. The orderly stepped out, and Fred gave her apologetic glance, rubbing at her shoulders, trying to soothe out the unconscious shivers.
“I was just… wondering,” she admitted. “If this was how those people felt. You know, in the wars. The women. Waiting for their husbands.” Cordelia simply stared, and Fred, face flushed, added, “Because I feel so tight inside, so nervous, and I keep looking at the door, afraid that they won’t come back. That he won’t come back. There’s this knot in my stomach that won’t go away until they all come back, but my heart, it’s thumping, so hard, and so fast… and it won’t stop until Gunn walks in.” Fred’s brown eyes searched Cordelia. The Seer was silent, her fists was tangled around a white hospital sheet, and her luminous orbs seemed mysterious, lost in thought. “I was just… thinking, maybe this is what they felt like,” she finished.
Cordelia was silent, and Fred wondered if she was thinking of Angel, as she closed her eyes, and said in a statement that was half wonder, half resignation, “Yeah. That’s exactly what they felt like.”
-- She fought the drug. If she concentrated, she could feel the blood rushing through her veins, carrying whatever it was to her muscles, robbing her of her strength, to her brain, robbing her of her clarity.
She sobbed, shaking now, shivering with cold as her hands twisted at the ropes, ears pounding, paranoia coming forth. It came along with the anger, and the fear. The fear that he would break her, the fear that she would believe him.
The fear that he was right, had been right all along. This, hands behind her back, body aching, split open, was all there ever was for her. All there ever had been.
No point to any of it. There was no hotel room, there was no safe spot. There was no Wesley, except the Wesley she had tortured, the Wesley she had straddled, licked, burned.
“Faith.” The voice broke through her consciousness. Calloused digits leaned forward, tipped her chin up, careful to not muddy himself with her bleeding nose. “What are you thinking of?”
There was still something in her, even as her stomach rebelled against the drug, and she choked, fought the urge to vomit. When she had regained control, she smiled. “There is no spoon.”
“There are four lights!”
A large sigh floated her way, and she grinned, tossing her head up with as much strength as she could muster. “I can do the gingerbread man from Shrek, too. Got some milk?”
She winced when she saw the slap coming. He had a large gold ring on his third finger, and it pounded against her wounded flesh, tearing more of her lip with it.
Fuck. Could she bleed ANY MORE?
“Okay,” she managed. “I get it, okay? You have a NICE ass ring. Stop flaunting it.” Stiffening, she almost smiled at his loss of control, as he jerked her head between his hands, pulled her up until her neck almost snapped, his dark eyes boring into hers.
“You’ll be dead soon. You will not beat us, child. In a few minutes, nothing will matter.”
Shit. She knew that. “Maybe,” she whispered. “But it’s damned worth it.”
“Are you so callous, you have forgotten what you’ve done to my son?” His hands jerked away, as if she was too filthy to be bothered with his touch. Her expression sombered at the mention of Wesley, a twist coming from inside her she hadn’t had before.
“I remember ever day,” she whispered. “Every. Fucking. Day. And you know what ? You got your fucking revenge, okay? I’m dying. I can see the light at the end of the fucking tunnel – there is no damned spoon, and I’m getting disconnected any minute, now. Your son is AVENGED.”
He stared at her, breathing hard, panting as he pulled at his tie, loosened it roughly. He stared at her, sweaty and tired, and suddenly, he broke, letting out a peal of laughter that sent chills through her.
As she glared, he continued to laugh. Sweat and blood dripped into her good eye, and it stung, but she kept watching, as the dude who refused to shoot Cordy came in, carrying some old dagger, some candles. A mirror.
“You, poor, silly girl. This has never been about revenge. Not completely.”
The tone was unfailingly polite, even if it’s clipped, terse emotion. Every nerve in her jolted, and relief and dismay floated through her like a river at full current as she slumped back in the chair, and let the tears finally fall, blurring the figures.
She still saw him though, as she tried to shake the tears away. A blue-eyed man with a patch on his neck, leveling a gun directly at his father, face hard, angry.
“Then pray tell, Father,” Wesley asked. “What is it?”
I don’t know how to leave you, and I’ll never let you fall And I don’t know how you do it, making love out of nothing at all. – Air Supply
It seemed that ever second, every mistake, every failing, every insecurity, every piece of filth in his life had been boiled down, seared, branded upon his soul. And it had all led up to this.
Wesley held the gun, just feet away from his father’s chest, in an attempt to save the life of a woman who had tortured him, who had killed in cold blood, who had made a game out of his life, his pain, his agony.
His mouth was set in a grim, determined frown, as he openly shook, voice deceptively steady as he kept his palm firm on his pistol.
“Let her go, Father,” he clipped.
His father studied him, eyes floating over his body, and Wesley felt as if he was back in gradeschool when his father’s mouth twitched. “That’s a familiar weapon. Saved it for a special occasion, did you?”
Wesley’s fear had almost beat him, had it not been for the anger, as he glanced behind him, and saw Faith. Her face was almost unrecognizable, staring at him through an eye smeared with blood.
He almost closed his eyes against it, physical pain sliding through him as his hands shook with fury. “How dare you?” he whispered. “How dare you treat another human like this?”
“She is not human. She is a Slayer. A tool.”
“She’s a girl!” Wesley said roughly, throat coated with tears. “When did you become a killer?”
“Wesley…” the words were barely given breath, proof of Faith’s weakness.
Wesley’s hard expression softened, and never taking his eyes off his father, he spoke. “It’s all right, Faith. I’m here.”
Mr. Pryce was still, staring at his son with an unrecognizable expression on his face. Murray twitched in the corner, still holding his incantation books, his spells.
“When did you become a disappointment?” he returned finally.
“That was probably around the same time his dad became a smart ass,” Gunn cracked from behind, dragging in two men, throwing them to the ground. “Sorry about being late, ya’ll. These dudes thought they were gonna be all smart and sneak in, but they ended up being all stupid, instead.” Gunn straightened, shouldering the baseball bat he carried, and giving the room a curious onceover. He whistled. “Man. Is this place, stuffy.” He turned, found Wesley’s father, and nodded. “’Sup.” His eyes found Faith, and he froze. “Oh, shit. You bastards.”
Wesley’s father gave his son a hard glare, a silent request for an explanation.
“Father, meet Charles Gunn. He’s our Go-To Guy.”
“And the muscle!” Gunn piped up, tapping his bat. “And Mr. Common Sense, so you, Mr. British Short Dude, you just get your hand OFF those spells, or I club this bat straight to your face. And don’t think I won’t miss.”
Wesley finally managed to take his eyes off his father, afraid to look at Faith, for fear he would erupt in fear, and saw the candles, the books, the pentagrams. He hissed inwards. This was more than a simple extermination.
“Are you fully aware of what you’re doing, boy?” Pryce demanded.
It was a simple question, but Lord, how it was loaded. Every second, of every moment, in his life, he had been taught to respect this man. At this moment, he was pointing a pistol directly at the heart of his FATHER.
His hands trembled, but he managed to keep the gun up. Again, the blue eyes drifted to Faith, and her eyes closed, ragged breathing coming from her body, and the gun miraculous straightened.
“Perhaps for the first time in my life,” he clipped. His eyes drifted over the pentogram, and a very fear enveloped his heart.
“Wesley, now I need you to understand,” his father spoke easily, brusquely. “There are things you don’t understand, things about prophecies-“
Good GOD, PROPHECIES.
“What are you doing?” he demanded, swiveling the gun back in his direction.
“Wesley, you will stop swinging that silly gun in my hand, or I shall be very angry,” Pryce snapped, coming forward, steps faltering when Wesley cocked the trigger. His eyes flashed, anger visible in his features. Wesley’s heart pounded.
Faith whimpered from across the room. “God, Wes…”
“You wouldn’t kill me.”
There was a long, tense moment, until Wesley sighed, his shoulders aching. “Commit patricide?” he asked. “Perhaps not. But I’m not above shooting you, Father. You would have KILLED her,” he whispered roughly, brokenly.
“And I shall. I have a mission, and I assure you, Wesley. She is a dead woman.”
But Faith was very much alive, and Wesley fully intended on it remaining that way. “You will NOT. You will LET her GO.” He was demanding now, eyes stinging with tears as he shook the gun at his father. HIS. FATHER.
“I mean it, dude! Don’t touch those books!” Charles looked ready to cleave the bat to Murray, who hastily put the books away. “You were saying?”
Mr. Pryce ignored him, eyes on his son, edging toward the desk, Wesley’s gun following him every step.
“There is a prophecy, Wesley. One concerning her. Concerning this woman. Her involvement in the latter days. If she LIVES, Wesley, she will be one of the key figures to sway the apocalypse.” Wesley’s gun wavered.
“Father,” he whispered…’
“LISTEN to me, boy!” His father reached for the papers strewn about the desk. “I taught you myself about translations. Study them yourself.”
Faith was silent, eyes hollow as she listened, sinking against the chair.
“If you allow her to live, you make it that much harder to save the world.”
“Wes, man, don’t listen to him,” Gunn said quickly. “The Powers brought us here to save her, man.”
“Did they?” Mr. Pryce quirked his lips. “Wasn’t it your Cordelia’s visions that brought us to her in the first place? That allowed her to escape so we could find her? She would have been safe in the prison. Sooner or later, a prison warden would have kept watch on her, but no, she left.”
“She lost her strength in there,” Wesley said quietly. “Don’t tell me the Council hadn’t already made their connections.”
“She is EVIL, Wesley. It is her destiny.” His father waved the papers, threw them on the floor, and sank into the chair. “Bloody hell, boy! Listen to me! A nature of evil is always that: evil. Her future is foretold – should she be allowed to live, she may become instrumental in bringing down the good – as long as she lives, there IS no new Slayer. It’s a chain reaction, and it’s documented-“
“So, instead of killing her, you do this. Tie her to a chair, torture her, bit by bit, break her spirit?”
“The incantation called for it,” Mr. Pryce said methodically. “Faith needed to recount every sin, sacrifice herself willingly, give herself to the Powers-“
“You USED her, the same way you’ve used me, Father,” Wesley whispered, eyes darkening in rage. “You treated her like an animal-“
“Wesley…” Faith’s voice broke through, soft, lilting. Wesley paused, eyes shifted to her, and she gave him a pleading look, her expression so horrified by the words.
And she believed them.
“Father, you yourself have never believed in a lack of free will.”
“I’ve had time to change my mind. You yourself have a destiny, boy. You know that.”
“I refuse to live my life based on prophecies, Father!” Wesley spat, eyes moist, angry. “I will NOT. I will NOT ruin another life-“
“Your job lies inherently IN them. You’re immersed in them, always have been.”
Charles shifted, agitation obvious. “Wes…”
“Like me, you know your role, your duty. You may have chosen a new ‘family’, but the work stays the same, and how is that work, Wesley? Where has it gotten you? Where was your ‘family’ when you were lying motionless in a park, dying?”
“Wesley, don’t listen to him, man. We got other things to worry about.”
Wesley’s eyes closed, an open sob catching him in his throat as the tears slid down, every nerve in his body suddenly shutting down, and then coming alive in flagrant pain.
“Wesley!” His eyes opened, and his eyes closed again when he saw the five men who entered, each brandishing weapons. “Crap,” was Gunn’s response.
“Put down the gun, Wesley, and you will not get hurt.”
Wesley didn’t put down the gun. He kept it up, and he held it still. “You will NOT harm her. I failed my family, Father. But I will NOT fail her.”
“Yeah, you did.”
Wesley blinked, and everyone swerved when one of the men pulled off the baseball cap, and emerged in vamp face.
With a speed that left Wesley breathless, Angel grabbed the gun from the man nearest him, swiveled, pivoted, and kicked his foot into the second’s face. A back hand got the third before he had a chance to blink, and the fourth shot into the vampire.
Of course, all that did was piss him off.
Gunn finally made good on his threat to club with his bat, and he caught the fifth in the chest, the gun rapidly shooting into the ceiling, but giving no harm.
“Angel?” Wesley breathed. Faith’s eyes were closing now, her lips were moving silently.
“Bloody hell, Wesley! Did you have you bring your vampire, here?” Mr. Pryce sniffled angrily. Angel strode around the pentagram, kicking over the candles as he jerked the gun from Wesley’s hands.
“YOU!” He said, pointing a finger into the Watcher’s face. “I’ve got BIG problem with you, pal. You did everything wrong. You should have TOLD us. You took my trust, you toppled it and you-“
“Fuck…” Faith was still, good eye suddenly wide open. “He’s really pissed.”
“You are SO going to get it later, Wesley.” Turning back to Wesley’s father, Angel grabbed the older man roughly by his throat, and slammed him against the wall, banging the gun against the old man’s chin. “Listen, Mr. Pryce. We’re walking away with Faith, now, and the ONLY reason, I haven’t ripped off your skin, soaked you in acid, and left you for the dogs, is because you’ve got Wesley’s blood in you, blood I’d rather not see.”
Mr. Pryce struggled for breath, hands wrapping around Angel’s. “Vampires. You, Angel – you who yourself have a dark role in the prophecy-“
Angel’s hands clenched tighter around his throat, cutting him off with a squeak. “What is it with Pryce’s and their damned prophecies?! Let me tell you something, pal, I’ve lived through three of these damned things – and gotta tell ya – NOT THAT SCARY.” His eyes flashed yellow, and he whispered, inches from Pryce’s face, fangs grazing his skin. “Not compared to me.”
“Angel…” Wesley was quiet, ashamed. “I’m sorry.”
“Not one WORD, Wesley,” Angel hissed, never looking back. “I’m here for Faith, I’m here for Gunn, and I’m attempting to be here for you, because you’re family. But DON’T push me.”
“Damn, Angel.” Faith looked confused and bewildered. “Whatever the fuck it is, get over it.”
“Faith, he stole my son, got him kidnapped, and let him get sucked into an alternate hell dimension.”
“Oh.” Faith blinked. “I’m sorry. That’s gotta suck.” Wesley sucked in his breath, closed his eyes against the guilt, and moved forward, around Angel, who still held his father by his throat.
Tenderness clouded his features as he knelt in front of Faith, carefully tracing her skin with his fingers. She regarded him, eyes locked with his. “Hey, Wes?” she managed, words mangled with blood, pain.
“You wanna untie me, or you going to go all dom on me, again?” The smile she offered was a painful one, but it managed something, a smile from his own tear-streaked face, as he moved around her, carefully cutting the rope with the dagger lying on the ground, laced with her blood.
The bonds fell away, and Faith tipped with them, no longer able to hold herself up. Gunn moved forward to help, but Wesley was already there, gathering her carefully into his arms.
“I’ve got it,” he said quickly, waving Charles away, gently shrugging off his jacket to wrap her shivering form in it.
When Faith shuddered, buried her face into Wesley’s neck, Angel watched. He noted Wesley’s lips as they brushed Faith’s forehead, the way Wesley lifted her, as if he carried something infinitely precious.
The hope in a man’s eyes, that a woman could believe in him, despite all the wrong he had committed, the fatal mistakes – the absolution that came from it.
There came a sudden clarity that made the demon fall from his face. He pulled away from Wesley’s father, and grabbed the scrolls, throwing them into the fire.
“So, we leaving?” Gunn asked, heading toward the door.
Wesley, Faith cuddled in his arms, moved past his father, fully prepared to pass, until he heard his father speak.
“You may have damned us all, Boy.”
Wesley froze. “Your tie, Father,” he said finally. “It’s loose.” Without another word, he stepped over the fallen men, and exited.
Mr. Pryce’s eyes were flint, cold, angry, but the expression was quickly replaced with fear when the vampire came forward again.
“You ever come near Wesley, or Faith, or anyone in my family again? I’ll kill you,” Angel hissed. “You don’t deserve to be a Father. And coming from me? That’s saying something.” Mr. Pryce straightened, fully prepared to retort, until Angel cracked a punch against his jaw, knocking him to the floor.
Stepping over him, Angel left the suite.
Gunn remembered once, when his sister had the cold. She had been sick, and although Gunn knew there was no way in hell they could afford it, he had brought her into a stark, white hospital like this one.
All his homeboys had come with them, and Gunn had remembered the nurses face as she checked her face, took her pulse. It was all methodical, and it just pissed him off. There was no heart in that place. It was cold. Sterile.
Gunn had hated hospitals, there was no warmth, and even now, Charles Gunn was tired, his shoulder ached, and the bruise that Angel had given him was going to turn purple.
The coldness even came from Angel, who winced as they walked.
Gunn pursed his lips, knowing that that came from the wound he had inflicted. “That hurt?” he asked bluntly, keeping his stride straight.
“Like hell,” Angel said.
“Good.” Angel gave him a surprised glance, and Gunn shrugged. “Don’t tell me you don’t think you deserved that.”
Angel was silent only a moment. “No, I did.”
The silence that followed was an awkward one, as both men walked side by side, moving toward the room that held the two most important women in the world to them.
“Yeah,” the vampire answered gruffly.
“We’re gonna find Connor, man.” Angel froze, and Charles tilted his head, absolute sincerity in his voice. “We’re gonna find him, and we’re gonna get him back. He ain’t gonna lose out on none of that stuff, all right?” Angel was dumbstruck, staring at Gunn with an overcome expression, as if he didn’t quite believe what Charles was saying. Charles grinned, and slapped his shoulder. “We ain’t a family if we don’t got Connor, right?”
“You really are the Go-To guy, Gunn,” Angel managed behind a splintered throat.
“Pffft. What’re friends for, if it ain’t for beating the shit out of you?”
Charles turned, and a tiny, waif girl buried herself in his arms. He wrapped her into him, smiling widely, as Angel watched. Fred’s eyes were misty with tears, relief clear on her face as she pressed herself against him.
“I love you, Fred,” Gunn said simply, tracing her face with a tip of his index finger. Angel couldn’t help the soft tilt in his heart as Fred stared up at Gunn, transfixed, such awe in her gaze.
“I love you, too,” she whispered. When he grinned, and squeezed him, pecking him once, blushing as Angel looked on. “Where’s Faith?” she asked hurriedly.
“Wesley’s checking her in.”
Angel left as Gunn explained, his eyes locked on the room from which Fred emerged.
Cordelia’s attention was on the television screen, as a reporter in a big wig stood freezing in front of a hospital that looked suspiciously like this one, spoke hurriedly into her microphone.
“- has been found, brought in barely alive, by a Mr. Wesley Pryce. Police officials are standing by, but there has been no indication, that she will stand trial-“
A flip of the switch, and Cordelia shut it off, finally turning her head. Hazel eyes captured his dark ones.
He swallowed, nodding hesitantly as he came forward, one foot in front of the other. “She’s going to live, if that’s what you mean.”
“Wes with her?”
Silence descended, in which Angel was able to study the tile on the floor, note the mildew hidden in the cracks, breathe in Cordelia’s scent.
“And you?” Looking up, he found her staring at him. “How are you?”
It was a different kind of question, she was asking. One not without anger, not with out pain, but pure unfiltered emotion, as his Seer gazed at him through moistened orbs, testing him, trying him, attempting to fix something that was broken.
Something that would take so much TIME to fix…
“Not good,” he finally responded. Her eyes watered slightly, but she remained quiet, never speaking, staring at him as if he was her very world. It undid him, uneasiness and pain that drew a painful knob in his throat, that he couldn’t get rid off, even with a ragged breath and a hard swallow. “There’s an aching hole, Cordelia, in my heart. Every second, my body aches for my son. Every minute, my soul screams that a piece of it is missing. I’m ready to go crazy, Cordelia, not knowing where he is. Not knowing if he’s safe, not having him here with me. I was alone, Cordelia, and suddenly I wasn’t. And this little life, this little Connor, he was MY boy. MY boy. Who looked at me, and loved me, trusted me unconditionally… and it aches where it used to love. It’s broken, Cordy…” his voice broke, tainted with tears. Every word dripped with anger, anguish. “I’m going to go crazy, and inside me is the urge to kill, and maim, and destroy everything that drove me from Connor. And I can’t do anything, Cordelia. I can’t do anything.” His fists clenched, and he hiccupped, shoulders shaking as his eyes closed. “I’ve never been so helpless, Cordelia. I’ve never felt so lost. And it’s never going to get better. I’ve lost Connor, and I’ve lost you.”
“Angel…” The word was edged in need, and it haunted him, forced him to look and found a woman with tears sliding down her face, in her expression acceptance, love – and understanding, heartbreaking understanding. Her arms were outstretched, and the need for the warmth was undeniable. Angel fell, into her embrace, wrapping his hands around her waist, sobbing into her shoulder.
Desperation coupled with loss held them together, broke them from their earlier restraints, severed them from the anger that had kept them at bay before. Now, two companions clutched each other, sobbing, taking comfort in the only thing they had left.
“Oh, God, Angel…” Cordelia’s hands were gentle as she kept his trembling body close to hers, fingers running along the nape of his neck, eyes shut tight against him. “It’s okay to have these feelings, Angel. It’s okay to feel. He was your son. And you loved him. And he was taken from you.” She pulled back, cupped her friend’s face and regarded him with absolute love and heartbreak. “We are NEVER going to stop looking for Connor, Angel. Never. We’re going to find him, and in the meantime, we have to live. Now, more than ever, we need to live for HIM. Because when we get him back, he’ll need you. The way you are. The way we need you, now.”
He pushed down the lump with a swallow, absolutely still as she tenderly wiped the tears from his eyes with her fingers, completely disregarding the salty droplets that were slipping down her own.
Overcome, Angel suddenly understood. His world tilted, slipped, and he encountered a reality he had only suspected, one he never dared voice because it had given him too much hope. Trembling fingers reached forward, touched the salty wetness on Cordelia’s skin.
“You loved Connor,” he said gruffly. “Like a mother loves a son.”
It wasn’t a question. There was no answer that was needed. There was only truth. There was only Cordelia. Her eyes closed, and together, they leaned foreheads on shoulders, slipped arms around waists, a tangled embrace of desperation and love.
Breathing her in, Angel heard her whisper even as he gave it.
Neither knew what they were apologizing for.
Perhaps, it was for everything. Perhaps it was for a future, perhaps for a past, but it didn’t matter.
All that mattered was now.
Wesley rather felt like the little pig Wilbur in that children’s book his mother had read to him so long ago.
Charlotte’s web. A pig, whose stomach was empty, and mind was full, watching over a spider. He remembered a passage in the book, where the pig discovered that the spider killed. The loss of innocence in Wilbur, as he cried, begged for Charlotte to release the flies.
She did so, even as she gave her last hours to save his own life.
Wesley managed a choked laugh, as he leaned forward, fingers carefully caressing Faith’s bruised hands.
The Slayer slept peacefully, for the first time in forever, he imagined. Too exhausted to have the dreams that had woken her up before, thrashing in his arms. Her eyes were closed, and she was breathing evenly. Her face was discolored, a gash on her lip and on her forehead was equally matched with the stitches that were carefully etched on her cheek.
Wesley was still, gentle as he reached up, brushed her hair away from her forehead. He was exhausted, but like Wilbur, his stomach was empty, and his mind was full.
He was still holding on to Faith’s hand when Angel stepped into the room. Wesley didn’t move, as the tense form lowered himself into the chair opposite his. Dark eyes glared into his blue, and Wesley found he could not look into Angel’s face.
The shame permeated him, weighed on him. He kept his gaze on Faith’s hands.
Angel was quiet, openly breathing, trying desperately to keep his control. Wesley breathed raggedly. It was obvious, in the way Angel’s hands shook as he folded Faith’s other palm in his own.
There was a moment of complete silence, before Angel slid his thumb against Faith’s skin, and glaring over her sleeping body, said low, angry, desperate. “Talk to me, Wesley. Tell me what happened. Make me understand.”
Wesley ached. “I don’t now if I can.”
Hooded eyes from a vampire stung him, and Wesley had no choice. Removing his glasses, clutching tightly to Faith’s hand, he did.
It was so weird, to wake up without a jerk, without a half sobbed cry caught in her throat.
There was no music. Instead, as her body became weighted with reality, and her body was stuck in some medicated limbo, there was complete silence. For a moment, fear pounding through her, as the past events flood through, and her heart skipped in her chest, fully expecting to find herself lashed to chair.
Bracing herself for whatever violence was necessary, Faith opened her eyes, hissed, and closed them immediately, as the bright glare of the hospital lights bit into her brain.
Shit. Trying again, she peered, and found herself in a bed. A curiously cold pair of fingers was stroking her left hand, and another, warmer, calloused pair, stroking her right.
It took her a full minute to convince herself she hadn’t gotten herself in the middle of a threesome again. The white door ten feet away was closed, and she noticed Angel (cold hands) , and Wesley (warm hands) sitting on either side of her, staring at each other.
Damn. If it wasn’t for the headache, and acute nausea, she would have made a smart ass comment by now. She closed her eyes, took a ragged breath, and tried anyway.
“You guys look like you belong in some stupid stand off at the O.K. Coral.”
Okay, lame. But worth a shot. It at least got their attention, eased the tension someone, when both men turned their heads, discovering her.
“Faith.” Wesley squeezed, his voice rough and emotional. “How are you feeling?”
She flinched, pain searing up her arms, and on her face, on her torso. Pretty much everywhere.
“Scared,” she said softly. “But…” she shifted, felt the pain flare, but… not as bad. Not torturing, at least. “Getting better.”
Her hand instinctively tightened around his, fingers soft against him, squeezing with a force that was… stronger, some how.
“The doctors got that stuff they injected out of you. You’re healing faster, you’ll get your strength back,” Angel said, his voice tight. Faith turned, regarded the vampire, and then the Watcher, both holding her hands as if she was some barrier between them.
Fuck. Maybe she was. Breathing out raggedly, Faith turned to Angel, and gave him a smile. “Hey, Angel.”
He managed a tight smile, genuine warmth in his eyes as he regarded her, thumbing along her cheek tenderly before drawing back. The haunted sadness of his eyes wasn’t lost on Faith, and neither was the trembling in Wesley’s palm.
Paranoia gave way to her weakness, and she found herself swallowing hard, thickly asking a question that she almost didn’t want to know the answer to. “Cordelia-“
“She’s fine,” Wesley said, and relief like she had never known it, flooded through her, so deep and consuming, she damn near cried.
“Good to know,” she managed.
The silence that followed was an awkward one. Faith’s vision was impaired, as her left eye was still semi swollen, heavy lidded. She regarded him as well as she could. There was an uncertainty now, and it filled her with an uneasy nausea.
Angel sat in silence, and suddenly, after another glance at Wesley, he stood abruptly. “I’m going to check on Cordelia,” he announced.
Faith watched him go, caught sight of a blue uniform in the hallway, as he closed the door behind him. Bewildered, Faith closed her eyes, trying hard to understand, to recollect. She had a headache, and her mind felt splintered, but her body remembered, in her aches and pains, in her gashes, now covered up by bandages and compresses.
She still felt naked. The pressure on her hand increased, and Faith was made aware of Wesley again, as the young man stared blankly at the white sheet.
He glanced up at her, and it struck her, the sorrow, full of unbridled intensity in his blue, blue eyes. It was guilt, of the magnitude she had seen reflected in her own, in Angel’s dark orbs.
It was odd, standing on this side of the fence, to stare, to understand.
Her voice was soft, weak, as she asked, “Did you really do that, Wes? Take Angel’s son?” He froze, continued to stare at her as if he hadn’t heard the question. Faith stared at him frankly, and when he looked away, uncomfortable, her stomach dropped.
Fuck, was it over? All the trust, and all the sharing, and the holding – was it over? Just because she wasn’t gonna die anymore? Her eyes flickered toward the doorway, heart hammering in sudden fear. Was it over?
Her eyes closed, no longer curious about Wesley’s misfortunes, chest panting as her mind began to whirl with possibilities.
“It’s true.” The world stopped turned, slowly tilted, came back. She opened her eyes. Wesley was silent only for a minute, dark blue eyes moistened with tears. “It’s all true.”
She glanced at the door. It was as if Angel could barely look at Wes. “Why?” His hands shook, and when his mouth opened feebly to explain, she suddenly didn’t need the explanation anymore, not it if hurt him that bad.
“Forget it,” she said hastily. “You must have had a reason.”
He stared, startled, and his mouth closed for one quick swallow. “Thank you,” he said gruffly. Leaning back in his chair, Faith was completely still as his fingers opened her palm, traced the lines found there. “It’s a long story,” he said. “But we’ve reached an understanding.”
It was hard to speak. She was healing quickly, but her lower lip was still a mess, but her sarcastic nature won over the pain, and she blurted, “He’s not going to kill you?”
Shit, Faith. Cause THAT wasn’t callous and idiotic. But Wesley surprised her, he had been doing that a lot lately. He only gave her a dark, searching gaze, and smiled wanly. “Something like that. A thing like I did, it can not be forgotten.”
Didn’t she know it. She remembered every day. Again, the quiet descended, as her eyes fell on his hands. Forgotten, human nature… Mr. Pryce continued to swirl in her head, and her heart shuddered within her, painfully, as a dark, low feeling settled into her stomach.
She began to breathe harder now, fighting for control, as her fingers tightened around his, and she licked her lips, eyes wide. “Wesley.” She tried so hard to sound like she didn’t care, but her words edged in aching need, in fear. “Do you believe what your …” she tripped on the word, flushed over it. It was Wesley’s FATHER. “Father said… about the prophecy… and me… That I’ll be evil?”
Everything that had ever meant anything in her world hinged on what he would say to her. She kept her gaze on those blue eyes, drowned herself in them, hanging on a precipice that wasn’t healthy, wasn’t safe.
Safe. A safe place. In her world of torture, her safe place had been him. And fuck, if that wasn’t Freudian, she had no idea what was. She wasn’t safe anymore, as her hand clutched his, in a grip that was rapidly becoming painful. Her chest rose and fell, as Wesley stared at her, and she found herself trembling.
Cause Wesley knew about these things. Wesley knew her. And if Wesley believed… there wasn’t anything. There wasn’t anything at all –
“Faith.” His voice was heavy, laden with guilt and anger, and so many things she couldn’t possibly understand. He was in a whole new world, from a place that she had never known. The glasses glinted, and this time, when he tried to remove them, her hand moved, held them into place. She knew why he did that, and she wanted him to see her when he said it.
“Prophecies,” he mumbled, a heavy sigh drifting over his body, as he ran a rough hand over an unkept face. “Prophecies.” His eyes closed, and he was still, before he looked up, and said gravely, but firmly, “Fuck prophecies, Faith. Believe in choices. In free will.”
The words seemed unbelievable at first, but they worked their way through her, and the dam that had been building in side of her, a torrent of emotions hinging on this man, suddenly flooded, breaking through. A sob, mingled with a hysterical laugh of relief, and overwhelmed with emotion, Faith leaned forward impulsively, ignoring painful swollen wounds to press her lips once, hard, against Wesley’s.
Her eyes drifted closed when his head tilted, frozen in shock, and then softening, opening his mouth to welcome the caress. His calloused thumb stroked her cheek, and a gentle slip of his tongue against hers made her gasp, fall weak against his caress.
When his lips drifted away, her eyes opened, shock filtering her system as he stared at her.
“Do me a favor,” she whispered.
He blinked, wonder in his blue eyes, and she couldn’t blame him. This wasn’t exactly… hell, what the hell was going on? Were they like… gonna date or fuck or –
Oh hell, who the fuck cared.
“Yes?” he asked.
“Scratch my nose.” He blinked, and she managed a smile, husky voice tinged with laughter. “You won’t let me move my hand, Wes. And I’m itching like crazy.”
A moment of blank shock was ended when Wesley did as she asked, scratching at her nose delicately, and never letting her hand go. Faith gazed at him, and then at the door, her heart tremoring once more. “When are they gonna take me back?”
His hesistant smile gave way to uneasiness, and his answer was heavy. “When you can move freely. Couple days or so.”
Jail. Again. Figured she’d get carted back to jail, the moment she finally felt just a little bit free.
“Okay,” she said thickly, swallowing hard. Her eyes opened, and she couldn’t help but ask, and nervous as hell as she did it, “How long will you stay?”
“I bloody live in this hospital, Faith.”
The blue eyes had never been more mesmerizing, and Faith wondered how she had never noticed it before, as her eyes closed, exhaustion taking over.
He never did let go of her hand, and Faith was just fine with that. Cause Wesley believed in choices, not prophecies, and he was choosing to stay right here.
It was the choosing that made all the difference.
It was the choosing that gave her hope.
I still don't know what I was waiting for, And my time was running wild A million dead-end streets Every time I thought I'd got it made, it seemed the taste was not so sweet So I turned myself to face me, but I've never caught a glimpse Of how the others must see the faker, I'm much too fast to take that test - David Bowie
Faith walked into her room wearing a really ugly, blue jumpsuit.
Cordelia clucked her tongue, overwhelmed by so many faux paus on one person. And on FAITH. The girl had potential. Sure, she dressed like the dominatrix from hell, and a slut-o-rama, half the time, but Faith wore leather pants. And got away with it.
That was a HELL of a BIG DEAL.
And here she was in, this… ugly. Blue. Jumpsuit.
“I don’t even know where to begin,” Cordelia remarked flippantly, sitting up with a wince, hand over her abdomen. “Love the handcuffs.”
“If I could, I’d flick you off,” Faith said, leaning in the doorway.
“Right. Cause you haven’t done THAT before.”
“Oh, fuck you.”
“Again, the déjà vu is just so overwhelming,” Cordelia muttered.
“Why are you always such a bitch?” Faith asked, pushing off the doorway, and into her room.
“Must be the company.” And God help her, Cordelia couldn’t help but suppress the huge grin on her face as Faith, hand cuffs and all, settled on the side of her bed. The two women regarded each other, silence falling as the bullshit was moved aside for a moment. Just one. “You look good, Faith,” Cordelia said finally, indicating the fading bruises, the healed lip.
“And you look like shit,” Faith remarked, ignoring Cordelia’s rolling eyes to add, “But, healthy.”
“So you’re out,” Cordelia said. Faith looked down at her handcuffs, and shrugged, smirk fading.
“Yeah.” There was a pause. “You?”
“Observation. They think I’ve got some blood disease. And I insist I’m fine, but I can’t really, you know TELL them, that the reason my blood’s weird is because I’m all demon-y. Morons.”
Faith’s lips pulled into a smirk, before she shifted uneasily, the clanking of the handcuffs audible and loud. Cordelia grinned. “Wesley give you his pair?”
“No,” Faith said defensively, red coloring her cheeks as she turned, hiding the absurd grin with a scowl. “I hear your boyfriend’s dumb as a post.”
“You had a reason for coming? Or was it just to annoy the crap out of me with the oh-so-funky blue jumpsuit?”
“I wanted to thank you,” Faith finally said, breathing raggedly. “You know, for the whole saving-my-life-taking-a-bullet-for-me thing. Just… never really expected ANYONE to do that for me…” she let out a trembling sigh. “Thanks.”
Cordelia arched an eyebrow, but her eyes were twinkling as she responded. “That was hard as hell for you to say.” Before Faith could respond, she said, “If it helps, I tried to duck.”
“Whatever,” Faith said, shaking her head as she stood.
“Faith.” The Slayer paused, turned around, and found the Seer smiling at her sincerely. “You’re welcome. I’m glad you’re okay. And that you’re not evil.”
Faith grabbed a pillow from the nearby bed and chucked it at her, laughing as Angel opened the door, staring between them as if both had grown second heads.
“Faith was just leaving,” Cordelia said, stuffing the pillow under her back, smiling innocently. The vampire still looked suspicious, but Faith turned, and he allowed a smile as Faith gave him an awkward hug.
“Take care, retard,” she said warmly. “Good luck…” she flushed, “You know… with the Connor thing. I’ll… you know, even pray and shit. If it helps.”
The sincerity in her voice was heartwarming, and Cordelia had to smile in spite of herself as Angel hugged her back. “It does,” he said gruffly. “We’ll see you soon.”
“Okay.” Taking a ragged step back, Faith turned to the doorway, where her two female butch officers were waiting, and found instead, Wesley.
Cordelia was silent, Angel sinking down beside her as Faith turned to him, caught in a gaze that was hungry, intense, longing.
For a moment, Cordelia’s heart ached for them.
She didn’t know what she was expecting, but not the bittersweet challenge in Faith’s voice, as she asked Wesley simply, “You still believe in prophecies, Wes?”
There was absolute quiet in the room, before Wesley slowly shook his head, and took another step in the room. “No. I believe in people.”
For two seconds, he kissed her, a gentle caress, before he pulled back, brushed a lock of wild hair from Faith’s face, and stepped back. “I’ll see you in a week.”
Faith managed a smile, even as the officers stepped into the room, and placed their hands on her elbows.
“Bring cigarettes,” she said. “Like fucking gold in there.”
And just like that, Faith left the hospital room.
“You know, I’m wondering if this is starting to become some sort of conspiracy to keep me out of the loop.”
Charles glanced up, leaning on his broomstick, glancing at the kneeling Fred as Lorne, a big apron tied around his middle, frowned at the charred pieces of wood, throwing them glumly into a bag.
“What do you mean?” Fred asked curiously.
“I’m always knocked out or out when things happen.”
“Yeah, dog, where WERE you?” Charles asked, resuming the sweep across Angel’s room, using broad strokes. Fred gave him a stare, and he stared right back. He still did not subscribe to the theory the softer the stroke the cleaner the floor. A broom sweep, was a broom sweep. “Cause you know, we could have used your help.”
When Lorne didn’t answer, Fred sat up, suddenly distracted by the way the green demon slumped down into a chair, shrugging. “Doesn’t matter, anyway.” Fred and Gunn continued to stare blankly. “I was trying to get a connection to the Powers,” he admitted finally. “Figured it was worth a shot.”
Oh, Lorne. Sweet, wonderful, green Lorne. Fred felt her heart skip in hopeful anticipation, but Lorne’s face didn’t change, and the hope died as soon as it came. “Nothing?” she asked softly.
He shook his head. “Not even a peep.”
Her heart sank, and Fred felt her insides tremor, catching Gunn’s dark eyes for a moment, before looking away. In the silence, she began to paw through the ashes, and froze.
“Oh, God,” she whispered. Lorne and Gunn paused, as Fred lifted up a small, grey and green charred jersey with trembling fingertips. Her breath hitched, and she laid it on a nearby chair, smoothing it out delicately, fingering the letters. “It’s over, isn’t it?” she smoke with a tremoring voice, despair in her tone. “Nothing will ever be the same again.”
Oh, God. With the realization came an outpouring of emotion, and Fred smothered her face with her hands, suddenly overwhelmed with the reality of their situation. In a second, large hands were pulling hers away, and she was forced to see a gentle face staring down at her, carefully gathering her into him.
“Hey,” Gunn said softly. “Listen girl, I ain’t going anywhere, okay? That’s one thing that will never change.”
There was such conviction in his voice, such a need to make things better in his eyes, in a way that only Gunn could, that Fred couldn’t help but love him for it. Her fingers gently pressed against his cheek, and she smiled, slightly. “I know,” she answered softly.
When they turned to Lorne, he was staring at them with an odd expression on his face. It was unreadable, and Fred had no idea what he was thinking, until he carefully stood.
“Are you prepared to become rocks?” he asked finally. “Because, it’s not over. Not by a long shot.”
It was a question that she knew the answer to immediately.
“No,” she said, her tone wavering. “I’m not.” Lorne swallowed, and she took a breath, continuing, “But I can be one of those bridge things that sway a lot, but never actually fall.” The answer made Lorne smile, and Gunn’s arms wrapped around her, and Fred knew the promise that she made was binding.
Letting Gunn go, she knelt down again, grabbing the shirt and carefully folding it.
“We’re going to be okay,” she said raggedly. “’Cause we’ve got the mission, and we’ve got each other.”
Her fingers smoothed over the charred material, heart shuddering.
That was all they had, now.
The lights over the city seemed different somehow. Darker, colder. Angel smoothed his hand over the railing of his balcony, and felt the wind drift over him, ruffle his hair. Cars honked, in the distance, someone yelled. Dogs barked.
People lived, down there. People, fodder for evil, and despair, human, who found their souls constantly in peril, who had children and lost them.
He shuddered, clutching at the railing.
The vampire’s demon gave a growl at the voice, and he swallowed, eyes on the world outside, as he clipped, “What.”
Wesley was silent behind him. “I don’t… Angel, I don’t know how I will ever-“
His eyes closed involuntarily, and he trembled, the aching in his heart splitting open. “Wesley,” he managed. “Stop. STOP. You were trying to save my son. It comes down to that. I understand that.”
There was a pause, genuine need in Wesley’s tone. “I know you can’t forgive me, Angel, not yet.”
Angel kept his eyes shut, and began to breathe, a human characteristic, one that came back with remarkable ease. “I’m good with grudges.”
That was all, there was nothing more to be said. Smell, sound, taste, told him Wesley had turned, was leaving.
An uncertain pause, a change in scent. Wonder, wary guilt mixed with the sorrow in Wesley.
“Doing well,” he answered politely. “Her strength is back, almost full strength. Her sentence won’t be increased by much, even after the escape.”
Angel stiffened, finally turning to gaze at the Watcher in the eyes. “How?”
“Her defense lawyers seem to care for once.”
Angel stared, and Wesley offered a grim smile, before nodding, and moving toward the door.
The darkness of the city called to him. Angel’s eyes closed, and he leaned against the balcony, breathing raggedly.
Breathing, in and out. He didn’t need it. But the oxygen in his lungs calmed him, filtering through a dead body, and again, the loneliness consumed him.
“Wes said you were up here.”
Angel’s eyes opened. A simple voice, flat and almost cheery.
Cordelia stood in his doorway, arms crossed. Slender arms leaned against the wood, and for once second, she dissolved into the woman she was the night of the ballet. Beautiful, warm, his.
His throat clogged, and turning away, Angel sighed, eyes fluttering closed. “I was looking for you,” she said, coming forward.
When she reached him, she leaned with him, forearm brushing forearm. He felt her heat even through the cloth of his shirt, her leather jacket. His hands tangled together, as he gazed upon his friend.
“Downstairs,” she said dismissively. “I kinda wanted…” her words drifted off, and then picked up again, coming out in a rush. “I found this.” Angel felt something small and flat pressed into his palm, as she leaned against him, folding his fingers over it, stepping away.
Casting her a curious look, Angel then glanced down, unwrapping his hand to find a worn picture. It was a small photograph, taken recently. His aching heart suddenly remembered it, taken the morning after they had found the money. Fred had snuck in, taking it while they slept.
All three of them. Angel, Cordelia… and Connor.
His heart seared deeply within him, his hands trembled, but Cordelia anchored him, taking the photo and smoothing it out carefully, showing him a frame. “I wanted you to have it,” she said softly. Unsure, Angel watched as she slipped the photo into the frame, set it delicately on the balcony railing.
Angel’s eyes roved over the portrait. Warmth pressed into his side as she leaned her cheek on his shoulder, voice soft, gentle. “We should remember, you know? Keep the memories alive, and all that. That way, when we find Connor, we can tell him. I’m sure he’ll … you know, want to see that.”
God. Bittersweet anticipation swept over him. Cordelia’s voice was so sure of itself. She KNEW they were getting Connor back. There was no need to despair. He would be back.
He leaned heavily against the railing, carefully fingered the faces in the photograph. It was a moment of silence, absolute trust, until Cordelia spoke.
“Right now, though, we should probably worry about the demon that’s going to be crashing the UCLA spirit rally.”
The words sunk in, slowly. Angel licked his lips, something in him, certainly not his dead heart, thumping as Cordelia stared at him. In her hazel orbs was absolute trust, love. Her half smile on her face held something that fascinated him, warmed him.
The trembling in his soul continued, as he glanced back at the humans in his city, and then at the picture of he, Cordelia, and Connor in bedtime bliss.
He looked up, and found Cordelia still there, leaning against the railing, much like she did three years ago.
And suddenly, something shifted into place. It wasn’t an epiphany, but it was close, as he spoke quietly, for the first time.
“Feel like taking in a little college atmosphere?”
Cordelia’s eyes sparkled, her mouth parted and her beautiful face was filtered with disbelief, and then overwhelming relief as the words registered. On her face was such a mesmerizing smile, as she laughed, an aching, wonderful laugh of love and acceptance. She flew into his arms, and her embrace was intoxicating, the joy in her face enough to make him smile in return, hold on to his anchor. HIS anchor.
Cordelia’s own heart was beating so fast, as she clutched onto her big, undead hero. Her embrace was desperate, and she had never felt more complete, more relieved, than the moment he had accepted his mission. THIS was her Angel, the Angel she had been so afraid to lose, and her eyes closed, breathing his scent, impulsively turning her cheek against his and pressing her lips on that spot.
Her lips lingered, as her heart shuddered, her body stilled, heart hammering against his still chest. Eyes closed as her lips skimmed over his cheekbone, and when his head tilted, her mouth welcomed his, buried into his embrace for a long, lazy, caress.
Shuddering, Cordelia’s lips sought entrance into his, in a move that seemed so easy, too easy, as if she had done it for years, fingers sliding up to bury into the nape of his neck, pulling him closer.
Her friend. Her lover. Her companion.
The break for reality came with her need to breathe, as Cordelia’s mouth moved from his, pulling back, and found her hands spread across his chest, his arms wrapped around her waist. Her lips stung, swollen from a long, consuming kiss. Confused, shocked at what had happened, Cordelia stared into his face, hoping to find an explanation.
What she found, was love. Her heart skipped with it, her soul sang with it, and her mind screamed with complete fear from it.
It was a long silence, until a confused, “Princess?” broke her from the spell. Slowly, Cordelia tore her eyes from Angel’s, and found the Groosalug standing uncertainly in the doorway.
Licking her lips, her hands clenched at her best friend, as she stared back at him, mouth dropping, and then back at Groo, and then, at the picture.
Clarity came with a single glance.
“He says the appeals are going okay. At this rate, I’ll be out in a year.”
The husky voice was cheapened by the phone, but the news made him smile. Across the glass, the beautiful face, with yellowed and fading bruises on her face, smiled back.
“You look like you could be okay with that,” she said, leaning her chin on her hand, gazing at him.
Wesley hated the glass. His gaze was full of warmth, staring at a past that had been horrific, a future that was even more uncertain, and a present that was at this moment, a bright spot.
”I could be okay with that,” he admitted. Her face flushed, and Faith, who looked uncharacteristically nervous, shuffled in her chair, pushing her wild strands back behind her ear with her free hand.
“Just don’t make me stay with Cordelia, okay? We’ll kill each other in an hour.”
“You like each other more than you care to admit.”
“Well, yeah. She’s a bitch. I like bitches. I am a bitch. We go good together.” He couldn’t help but smile at the shrug that accompanied the statement.
Opening his satchel, he pulled out a carton of Marlboroughs, and a small book. “I thought we’d take things slowly.”
“Hold that up.” He did, patient as Faith studied it. “Charlotte’s Web? It’s that for, like, bratty kids?”
When his eyes twinkled, she slumped back, shaking her head. “Fuck you, Wes.”
“You don’t want it?”
“Hell yeah, I want it. I must have read everything in that library. And seriously – you can only read freaking Monica Lewinsky’s bio so many times before you start to go a little nuts.”
“So how’re things, Wes?” Faith asked, gnawing on her lower lip as her brown eyes darkened in concern.
He swallowed. “I’m not sure,” he answered honestly. “Quiet.”
The silence descended, and Wesley tilted his head. “Perhaps the worst is over?”
Faith, who until then had been inspecting her fingernails, gazed at him. A sudden, tight smile slid over her face, and she shrugged.
“Maybe. Maybe, we’re getting lucky for once.”
Lilah Morgan was having a very bad day. Her day planner was filled with appointments, and all of them involved some sort of sacrifice, or signature in blood. Her fingertips were sore enough. Rubbing at them, she considered making her assistant take over with the pinpricks.
Glancing up, she waited as he finished his report. Eloquent, familiar looking man. Her eyes scanned over the documents, silently reading. Papers upon papers of conclusive material. Impressive. She had heard of the group, had never really taken them seriously. Relics, she considered them – it wasn’t as if the Slayers around paid them much attention.
Apparently, they were trying to rectify that.
Sighing, she tossed the pile onto the desk, leaned back carelessly in her leather chair, and gave him an even stare.
“Why should I care?”
“Someone needs to exterminate that woman. Wolfram and Hart have the resources.”
She managed a smile. “But you said she’ll be a catalyst for evil, didn’t you? Shouldn’t that make her an asset to us? We are evil, you do know that?” she remarked coolly, leaning forward, hands together on her desk.
He arched an eyebrow, pulling off his glasses and giving them a meticulous wipe. “The prophecies indicate only that she will be a major catalyst. Who’s to say she will not sway toward the side of the good?”
Lilah shook her head. He had her there. “May I ask, Mr. Pryce, why you are so intent on taking out a Slayer, who, from the last few reports, I’ve gotten, is pretty close to boning your son?”
That got a reaction. He stiffened, got a little red-faced, but recovered. A man with class. “I have a job. I swore to take this woman out. And I will follow it through.”
She pursed her lips. “So… the fact you can’t stand the sight of her, or the vampire who your son happens to work for doesn’t have a thing to do with this?”
He managed a tight smile. “Perhaps a little something.”
“And the fact that you’ve just been relieved of your position thanks to this girl SERIOUSLY not getting dead, nothing to do with it, either?” His smile faltered, and she grinned. “I told you. My company rocks.”
He breathed out slowly. “I don’t want my son harmed.”
She pushed the manila folder toward him. “We know all about your prophecy, Mr. Pryce. We’ve been following it for years. We’ve had our own dealings with Faith. And you’re right – who’s to say it won’t go either way with her? What you’re neglecting to understand, is that the role of the vampire, the Slayer, and your son are all intertwined. There can’t be one without the other. Angel Investigations has been a thorn in our side, for years. But there’s a balance, see. Angel has his own anchor, just like your son is quickly emerging as one for the Slayer. What YOUR manuscript is missing, is that these Champions,” Lilah produced a photo of Faith, and dropped it next to an 8 x 10 glossy of Angel, “Will be on opposite sides. And their anchors, will be decimated.” His eyes remained cold, impassive. “Ah,” she said. “So you DO know that?”
“I don’t want my son harmed,” he clipped.
She smiled. “What if it’s not Faith? What if Angel’s the evil one? It could happen. It’s a fifty/fifty chance.”
“If Faith dies, my son is no longer an anchor.”
Lilah shook her head. “I’m sorry, Mr. Pryce. I feel for you, I really do. Okay, I don’t, but the plan is already in motion. Prophecies are tricky things to manipulate. We’ve been at the business for years. We don’t need your help.”
The doors opened, and guards came forward. “Good-bye, Mr. Pryce, have a nice trip back to London. Say hello to your son for me.”
Mr. Pryce’s eyes blazed, but Lilah had already forgotten him, as the phone rang, and she picked it up with a crisp, “Hello?”
“Got the appeal hearing – keeps going this way, we’ll have her out in six months. Provided you can pony up the money and turn in that serial killer you represent.”
Lilah smiled. “Not a problem. He was becoming more a liability than anything. Bye.”
Hanging up the phone, Lilah Morgan gave herself to breathe, let her mind rest from the complicated worlds of what-if’s, and manipulation.
Sighing, she rubbed at her head, made a mental appointment to schedule sometime with her masseuse.
Prophecies really were a bitch.
You've torn your dress, your face is a mess
You can't get enough, but enough ain't the test
You've got your transmission and your live wire
You got your cue line and a handful of ludes
You wanna be there when they count up the dudes
And I love your dress
You're a juvenile success
Because your face is a mess
So how could they know?
I said, how could they know?
So what you wanna know
Calamity's child, where'd you wanna go?
What can I do for you?
Looks like you've been there too
'Cause you've torn your dress
And your face is a mess
Oh, your face is a mess
Oh, oh, so how could they know?
Rebel Rebel, you've torn your dress
Rebel Rebel, your face is a mess
Rebel Rebel, how could they know?
Hot tramp, I love you so
- David Bowie
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