Angel set his morning mug down and peeked at his watch. Seven minutes in and he wanted nothing more than an empty office back. And maybe a drink. And a girl. And his life. Cordy and her unknowable filing system in his old, moldy hotel would be fine. He sighed.
"Angel?" Gunn said.
"You weren't listening to anything I just said were you?" Gunn slid a small stack of papers his way and Wesley rolled a pen down the table. It hit Angel's mug with an accusatory click.
Leaning forward, Angel snatched it up as he reached for the papers. "It's not that...it's just... what is this again?"
"Treaty for the D'arvo Lops." Gunn sounded irritated and Angel couldn't really blame him but couldn't really make himself care, either.
Wesley cleared his throat and Angel glanced up from the legalese, certain some of it was letters simply strung together without purpose. He knew the rules of language and some of these sentences just did not qualify. Wes looked tired and guilt ghosted from deep in Angel's gut, a bare echo of the old, familiar twinge. He knew it should bother him that he couldn't care more, but... he just didn't care.
"Gunn's spent days on this alone, Angel, I think you can just sign it," Wesley said. The censure in his tone stung.
Angel's reserve popped, like a needle through the vein, and rage boiled up and shot through Angel's blood like heroin. Slapping the pen down, he bit his tongue to still the curse rising to his lips, but couldn't stop from rising himself . He jumped to his feet.
"No. I can't just sign it, Wes," he said louder than he intended. "We've only been here three weeks and it seems like three..." The words stuck in a hard clot at the base of his throat. He slammed both hands down on the table and spun away.
The blinds hung open and sunlight splashed across his face as he stalked to the windows. Trying not to shake with the effort of quelling his temper, he stood there for a long moment, hands in his pants pockets. Vulnerable and unable to resist the heated surge the sunlight always stoked in him, he closed his eyes against the ache of longing it brought and took a deep breath.
"Angel," Wesley said behind him.
Angel knew Wesley had not moved; was sitting still at the conference table, exactly three places down from his own, out of arm's reach. He always seemed to stand or sit just that far away, suppressed memories giving instinct a hand. If Angel moved closer, within seconds Wes was shifting, moving, getting up to fetch a different book, or scroll, or pen.
"Angel," Wesley said, and the word felt loud and hushed, intimate and hollow, sounding as if spoken gently into the cusp of his ear. The hairs on Angel's neck tingled and rose. "I know..."
"I dinna believe it!" a man shouted. Wincing, Angel clapped a hand over his ear and turned to face the intruder.
"Damn solicitors canna keep their dimensions straight," growled a very large, very dead Scotsman in a tattered and bloodied white shirt and grime streaked little kilt. His feet were bare. Two daggers decorated his belt, and he dangled a claymore from his right hand like it were a mere saber. His frizzed red hair, sporting streaks of grey, foxtail burrs, bits of straw, and a single braid that lay against his hard, weathered face, spilled loose over his broad shoulders.
Wesley and Gunn stood slowly, and Harmony appeared in the doorway beyond the man. She skidded to a halt, her hair swinging, and stamped her foot as her mouth opened.
"Harmony," Angel barked.
The Scotsman half turned, peering over his shoulder at her.
"Shut the doors," Angel said.
Hands on hips, Harmony tilted her head and glared at him. "I book the appointments. No fair just appearing from nowhere. No one gets through without..."
Angel took one menacing step forward and she yelped and slammed the doors shut.
The Scotsman grinned. "She's cute."
Gunn spoke before Angel could. "Can we help you?"
"I dinna ken, but probably not."
"Then why are you here?"
"I dinna ken." The man swung his claymore up and Angel crossed the room faster than thought, reaching out to grab it. It landed on the man's shoulder.
"Bloody heavy thing," he said without heat into Angel's face.
His breath reeked and Angel dropped his hands and stepped back.
"What year is this?"
"2003," Wesley answered.
"Ah." He was looking beyond Angel, out the windows, a slight frown increasing the fierceness of his features. "Los Angeles?"
"Weel, then," he said, finally meeting Angel's gaze straight on. "Ye must be that dragon's meat, Angel, provisional head of the LA branch."
Dragon's meat? What in the hell did that mean? "Yes," Angel ventured.
The Scotsman drew breath to speak, a soft grunt escaping him as the air died crossing his lips, and then swayed alarmingly. If he fell, either the doors or Angel would be along for the ride. Angel felt Gunn start forward and struck his arm out in a blocking motion. "Wait."
Gunn stopped. "Man's bleeding, Angel."
"He's not a man."
"The Vampire MacLeod," the creature in question managed to say. He attempted a courtly half-bow, which segued into a half-crouch, hands planted on his knees. MacLeod coughed deeply and blood splattered the carpet at Angel's feet. He straightened with a slight groan. "I willna make a meal, of course, within the sanctity of Wolfram and Hart."
Angel knew that name, MacLeod, and maybe this face, too. He moved back, motioning Gunn away at the same time he indicated MacLeod should sit. MacLeod drew his shoulders back with obvious effort and offered Angel the claymore, which he took, grabbing it low on the hilt to avoid slicking his palm with blood.
"Wesley? Could you?" Angel said, certain that Wes would immediately divine what he was asking. It was habit, now, not to explain or discuss. Everything he did was now either accomplished alone or involved the entire team. All or nothing. He wasn't even sure the others had caught on to his method, yet, but they seemed to have absorbed it through osmosis all the same.
"Yes, of course." Wesley sidled around the Vampire MacLeod as he lumbered towards the table. Without conscious thought, Angel watched; and caught himself waiting to see if Wes would turn his back on the vampire. He didn't. He felt for the door knob, and let himself out without ever taking his eyes off MacLeod. Good boy.
Angel and Gunn stood silent, and MacLeod, seeming impervious to their scrutiny, wiggled and wriggled in his chosen seat; finally resorting to pulling his daggers out and laying them on the table before he closed his eyes and settled into utter stillness.
Gunn opened his mouth once, and then closed it, shrugged, and crossed his arms over his chest.
Deciding that MacLeod wasn't moving for the next few minutes, Angel returned to his seat, leaned the claymore against the table within his easy grasp, and scanned the D'arvo Lop Treaty in full. Standard stuff, including the right to human sacrifice on major holy days. But in return, the D'arvo Lop would agree to lay off human recruitment as slaves and surrogates. He glanced at Gunn, but Gunn was watching MacLeod.
The changes in Gunn seemed evident and subtle all at once. He both was and wasn't Gunn anymore. According to Eve, Wolfram and Hart had gathered all his wasted potential from his past and, Angel figured, maybe his future, too. They polished and pampered it, and then stuffed it back into Gunn's worn and angry shell until it filled and overflowed it and made him more, somehow. The mystery was just one more itch between Angel's shoulder blades. One he couldn't reach or understand. Or trust.
Gritting his teeth, Angel flipped to the final page of the Treaty and signed the line above his name.
The doors swung open again, and Wes came in with Fred. Her eyes widened when she saw the MacLeod. Bingo! The MacLeod, avowed Jacobite. Outlawed after Culloden, his clan destroyed, Laird MacLeod had landed in Galway in route to places far, far away from Prince Charles Stuart and his dead claim to the throne.
He'd been what, twenty years old that winter? Of an age, anyway, when the prospect of war, and returned royalty, and a Catholic Ireland excited plenty of drunken talk among the lads of throwing in with the Highlanders against the English throne. Honor their grandys, they would, and avenge the Jacobite defeat at the Boyne in '90 to boot. Some advanced actual plans, even.
Rabbie proposed the whole lot of them trek due east and invade the Ministry offices in Dublin as the start of a second front. Angel fingered the small scar near the first knuckle of his index finger with his thumb, thinking about how the lads had hooted and cheered when he smashed his ale mug over Rabbie's head. In the end, news of the doomed Second Rising was slow, the weather atrocious and the taverns exceedingly cozy.
Angel leaned back in his chair as Harmony and Lorne came in behind Wesley and Fred.
"But, darling, we can't have you fainting over...," Lorne said in the maple-syrup voice that made Angel's toes curl. He stopped dead in the doorway, appraising the situation. "Go ahead, sweetcakes, I've got some fainting of my own to do. I'll send Dwayne over to play catcher. You, too. Arrivederci."
He peeled the headset from his ear and let it curl around his neck, like a lurking demon pet. Disturbed at the image, Angel frowned. Lorne frowned back, a thoughtful look crossing his face. Not at all sure that Lorne's skill in reading him depended on song anymore, Angel looked away fast, turning his attention to Harmony, instead.
She carried a tray laden with pitchers of warmed blood, hot coffee, water for tea, and everything to go with them. A human would have wilted under the weight. She carefully levered it onto the table and then tried to slide over to hide behind Gunn.
"Out, Harmony," Angel ordered, anticipating her resistance.
She rolled her eyes at his tone but moved without speaking back. Angel congratulated himself on his quick victory and waited until the insulated doors were firmly shut behind her.
Finally, with everyone tuned to him, he spoke directly to the MacLeod. "I remember you."
The MacLeod opened his eyes. They gleamed out from under his furry brows, sharp and clear, the bright mid-blue of cornflowers.
"I met you in Galway, right after Culloden."
Angel could feel Wesley's eyes boring into him.
"Aye?" The MacLeod seemed amused.
Angel nodded. "I was still..."
The MacLeod's face shifted then; his forehead furrowed and thickened, and his eyes darkened, the gold spreading in them from the center as if molten. His cheekbones sharpened and jaw widened. He grinned, his lips curving around heavy fangs. The air in the room seem to compress, as adrenaline pumped through the humans. Their heartbeats sped up, and their focus intensified. Angel shrugged it off. The MacLeod's fangs were quite impressive, really. Angel could only think of The Master in comparison.
"I wasna. Yer' lucky I dinna eat ye."
Very lucky, since Angel distinctly remembered taunting the giant. God, he was stupid. "You were turned when?"
"On the moor, as I lie among the black thorns and the nettles," he said, sobering. His eyes narrowed, but never left Angel's. "Woke up deep under the bodies of my clansmen. Some still lived. Momentarily."
"Mass grave," Wesley whispered, almost to himself.
The MacLeod looked up at him. "Why are ye standing? Are ye wee ones scairt of me?"
"Shouldn't we be?" Fred asked.
Angel felt his chest flutter a bit with a smile he wouldn't let show. Always the sensible one, Fred.
"Ye dinna need to worry your pretty heids over me. I've my orders. That's why yon auld Irish mumper there," the MacLeod said, tilting his chin at Angel, "...lives yet."
Skip leered, a toothy grin, in Angel's head. Angel regretted missing his chance to rip that stupid chin ring right off Skip's head. The others didn't remember Skip's smug confession of planned destiny by Jasmine. At least he didn't think they did. He did his damnedest to avoid comparing memories with them at all.
By all appearances, as Angel remembered it, Wolfram and Hart had known as little about Jasmine and her world peace plan as the rest of them. In those sometimes agonizing hours, the ones deep in the dark side of morning, when all things loomed large and possible and he believed Skip's little speech, he pondered the moment when, exactly, Jasmine might have hijacked his life. Was it as recent as Cordy's added demon attributes? His return from Hell? Maybe it was further back- when Angelus turned down the Beast. Now, this possibility. Could his whole existence have been planned, not just foretold? His head hurt.
Pulling out the chair directly across from the MacLeod, Fred sat, steam practically pouring from her ears as her brain worked. "Whose orders?" she said at the same time as Angel. She gave him a little half-grin. God love her.
The MacLeod looked from one to the other, swinging his wide head with a lithe grace that screamed predator, for all that he'd died past his half-century mark. The lean muscles in his neck and arms stood out like corded oakwood. He'd been hale and hearty, for a half-starved Scottish officer in an army that had seen no regular rations for a month or more before his death. "That's for me to know and ye to find out. Mebbe." He eyed the tray. "May I?"
Fred stayed his filthy paw. The nails were long and yellowed. Dirt crusted his knuckles and filled the worn creases of his skin. "Answer this, then," she said firmly. "Were you given these orders recently, or before Angel was turned?"
Behind her, Wes whoofed out a little breath, like he'd been struck. Yep, sharp girl, our Fred, thought Angel.
MacLeod let his game face fall as he thought. "Heh. You canna ken, mo arsaidh donas. He was verra rude and disrespectful. Take that as ye will."
"Why are you here, again?" Gunn asked. He looked slightly puzzled, like he was wondering why they were all being so... accommodating.
Angel felt only mildly curious, himself, untangling the Scot's Gaelic. But as he thought it, he realized a warm woolen cloak of lassitude had settled over him. His arms and thighs felt heavy and his brain muddied with stray images, faces mostly, the odd, tangled body, flickerings of torchlight, carriage wheels, mud clinging to the spokes as they went round and round, a hundred stakes, all flying directly at him, falling, falling while the church slid sideways. A husky chuckle echoed in his inner ear and the coins chinked and chinked and chinked as they fell from the slot machine. Gunn was his friend. Gunn was his friend and he could trust him.
"Hmmm?" Angel looked up at Fred just as Wesley, standing behind him, closed his hand around the top of the pen Angel still held, tapping it in a hard, furious rhythm. He released it and Wesley drew it up and away, and then took the seat beside him. Surprised that Wes would remain so close, Angel sat up.
As if connected by some inflexible matrix, Wes settled back into his chair, tilting towards Fred a bit. Angel rubbed at the small dent he'd made in the table with the pen and leaned back again. Wes shifted, leaning forward now, resting his elbows on the chair's arms.
"See?" The MacLeod said mildly.
"Aye," Angel said dryly. "Why are you here?"
The Scotsman shrugged.
"Not good enough."
"Weel, the ones that know canna tell me as I canna ask `em." He made a shushing motion with his hand in Lorne's direction when Lorne started to speak, and both Lorne and Gunn gave up and moved to sit down as he continued. "They dinna always get it right, when they send me, and they drop me here or there. I wait awhile. I dinna get offered tea, before," he said, waving at the tray. "But since ye willna let me drink it, with me waiting to get whisked away at any moment, I can hardly thank ye for it, can I?"
"Who will whisk you away?" Wes said.
"Them's as I serve."
Fred rolled her eyes and reached for the heavy, black earthenware mugs on the tray. Watching her, the MacLeod licked his cracked lips. Where ever he'd been, the work must be rough. In a rolling gesture so habitual he was barely aware of it, Angel flicked his own tongue over his lips to moisten them. Fred poured out the special blood brew that Harmony wanted to patent and slid the mug across the table to the MacLeod.
"I thank ye." He sipped and grimaced, but didn't offer comment on the flavor.
Without asking, Fred poured. She passed Angel the thick, black coffee Wolfram and Hart imported from their own plantation down south. The organic blend tasted like the Parisian coffee he first learned to love, untainted by the chemical aftertaste he'd grown accustomed to in the twentieth century. Maybe it would encourage his brain cells to a new level of activity.
"It shows, you know," Fred said, handing off coffees to Gunn and Lorne. "Just considering your manner and your dress, what's left of it, I'd say you are a well-educated, um, ... vampire, low speech or not. I mean, that's linen, and your short, belted kilt? You weren't running down hills at cannon fire in just your shirt, which must mean something."
She stuck her hand down into the wooden tea box sitting on the tray and it disappeared nearly to her elbow. Watching in fascination, Angel tensed, ready to snatch her if she disappeared any further into the thing. Too late, he thought to check the MacLeod's reaction. By the time he glanced over, the man was completely at ease, watching Fred like an indulgent parent might watch his daughter choose a lollipop.
Apparently unaware of her audience, eyes closed in concentration, Fred groped inside the box. "Playing at being an obstinate lout just doesn't make any sense if you really want to find out why you're here." She whipped out a stainless tea ball with a triumphant flourish. "Orange Pekoe, Wes?"
As she dunked the tea ball into Wes's cup without waiting for a reply, her face fell and her shoulders slumped. She raised her head, and scrutinized the MacLeod with narrowed eyes. "But you don't really want to know why you're here, do you?"
The MacLeod tilted his head and pursed his lips before replying. "More like, no need to know, and no need to go pokin' my nose where I might lose it. That ye should ken and ken weel, arsaidh donas."
"What does that mean, anyway?"
"Ancient evil one," Angel, Wes, and Gunn said together.
Lorne whistled. "Jinx, honeycakes."
The MacLeod laughed.
Angel wondered if he looked as uncomfortable as Wes and Gunn. He hadn't realized Gunn came with a language upgrade, or that Wes understood spoken Scots Gaelic. He sipped his coffee while Wes plunged his tea ball with viciousness. Gunn was busy looking at the table, a hint of color flushing his cheeks dark.
"That's just... that's just wrong," Fred said. Angel wondered if she meant MacLeod's words or their combined outburst.
"Not for long, mo leanaban," the MacLeod muttered, staring at Gunn. He spoke so low, Angel thought maybe he was the only one to hear him. Not for long, my child. Angel suppressed a shudder, wishing he didn't feel so thick.
"Please, Fred, may I have tea as well? A stout Darjeeling, if that magic pantry holds such a robust elixir," the MacLeod said, in a much louder voice.
Fred nodded slowly. "You know my name?"
"Aye, and the Moor's and the Pylean's and the Sassenach's as well."
"You mentioned dimensions earlier," Wes said. "Do you move through them regularly?"
"Aye, where and when ever I am needed."
"You've met us before."
"Aye, and you are humorless in every dimension."
Gunn choked on a swallow of coffee. Fred and Lorne both pounded on his back. But the wry twist of a grin that spread over Wes's face transformed him, and Angel ignored the rest.
This was the face, Angel knew, that Lilah had coaxed from Wes; a dark, nearly physical aura oozed from him. This Wes was Angel's own creation, tied to that matrix of separation that Wes so far had not questioned. Angel roused to him, though it hurt him to do so. He could not deny it.
He could sense the MacLeod's sudden interest as Wes rubbed roughly at his neck before replying. "Perhaps you've not seen me at my best."
Hands fisted, Angel sat very still, refusing the urge to reach out and grasp Wesley's arm in possession.
"Perhaps." He snagged the tea box and expertly extracted his Darjeeling. Fred offered him a clean mug, but he shook his head, poured hot water onto the bloody dregs in his used one, and plunked in his tea. "Where's Spike?"
Angel flattened his hands on the table, spreading his fingers wide. "Spike's dust."
"Ah. Not arrived, yet, then. Too bad. Spike, at the verra least, is entertainin' in every dimension."
"He's not going to arrive," Angel corrected. "Ever. He's gone, dusted, zeroed... like..."
"Darla," finished Wes.
"I guess we shouldn't put it past the Senior Partners to raise him again," Wes said softly.
Or the Powers. Angel groaned. Anyone but Spike. He'd even take Darla again over Spike.
"You're toying with us," Fred accused.
"Aye," the MacLeod said, drumming his fingers. "Takes some of the boredom outta waitin' on the demon bastards to get their fuckin' shit together."
So... the Vampire MacLeod had both interdimensional time travel and modern curse words under his belt. Angel attempted to make that fact pertinent, but the pieces kept eluding him.
Gunn, breathing again, stood up. "Well, I don't know how long that may take, but I think we're done here. I've got work to do."
"They'll rip your heart out, man," The MacLeod offered casually. " A hundred times, a thousand, and a hundred thousand more. Lift it, where ye can see it beating still, and dripping of your life, afore they toss it away like so much offal."
"You don't scare me."
"No, you dinna scare easy, that much is true. Ye've the heart of a lion and the loyalty of a sar cu'."
"I'm no dog," Gunn spit.
But Angel felt the truth all the same, the intent behind the words. Gunn, despite his bluster, despite his embracing of Wolfram and Hart's technology, despite Angel's deep suspicion otherwise, remained tethered to Angel's leash. The others had chewed theirs to shreds and disappeared into the brush.
"And he's no murderer," the MacLeod said, nodding at Lorne. He shrugged. "He'll murder just the same, in cold blood. Feel good, at the verra least, Gunn, that in this grim fairytale ye make it to the last page."
Angel knocked his chair over as he bolted up. "Enough."
The MacLeod stood as well, much slower, and pressing his fisted hands onto the top of the table, leaned over it until he was eye to eye with Angel. He wore a ferocious glare and Angel tried to match it.
"Ye are a wee fool, Angel, to trade one life- nay, three. Nay! Make it more! All to right a balance ye canna even see. I'll take my blood hot and screaming and one life at a time, thank ye, and know I've done much less harm than thee." He straightened. "Now sit ye down and wait with me."
Compelled, and not entirely under his own control as the strength drained out of his legs, Angel righted his chair and sat, noting that Gunn looked like he felt. They waited in complete silence, save the breathing, and the heartbeats, and the swallowing, and the chinking of cups on the table.
After a bit, mostly just to see if he could, Angel rose and crossed into the sunlight streaming through the windows. It warmed his back and his shoulder muscles seemed to unravel as they relaxed. He rolled his neck, and when he looked up again, Gunn propped up his yellow legal pad just enough so Angel could read it.
Shower?, it said, with an arrow pointing at the MacLeod. Wesley had his brows raised and a hopeful look in his eye; Fred was still intently focused on making a paper tetra or house or plane or something, while Lorne stared, his gaze glassy, at the MacLeod.
Hot, running water? Seemed incentive enough to win their release from whatever hold the MacLeod held over them. God knows, Angel could remember more than one emotional reunion with one of man's greatest accomplishments. Just as he opened his mouth, the hairs on the back of Angel's neck rose.
"Ah," the Scotsman whispered, "Perfect timing, arseholes."
The hairs on Angel's neck tingled and rose.
"I know," Wesley breathed into Angel's ear.
Angel turned away from the window, expecting, wanting, Wes beside him. The office seemed to expand as he turned. Wes still sat at the conference table.
"...it seems we've settled in excessively well," he continued at a normal volume. "But we are... that is, we could be considered..."
"No, we are, Wesley. We are experts in our field," Gunn said emphatically. "We earned our knowledge out in the sewers and the streets and by poring through all those old, moth-eaten books. We haven't seen it all, but we can deal with it all."
"Sure, I've been enhanced a bit." He shrugged. "Just given the education I missed growing up, though. You've got more references and translators than you ever dreamed of- that's great. And Fred has a lab any government in the world would kill for. Lorne has a real network now, and people to help him service it, what's wrong with that?"
Picking up the Treaty, Gunn weighed it in his hand as he looked at Angel. "Do you remember the first time I entered Wolfram and Hart?"
"You were on a mission, saving those blind kids; together they could see into the heart of things. Do you remember?"
Yes. He also remembered being drawn to a scroll and picking it up without knowing why. It contained the Shanshu Prophecy, the reason Wolfram and Hart wouldn't kill him. Now, that action seemed... suspicious. Intuition or set-up?
"I asked that creepy lady in files about them," Gunn continued. "Wolfram and Hart hasn't found them yet. I'm gonna lose them permanently. You remember Vocah? Cordy feeling all those hundreds of people out there she'd never be able to save? We can help those people, Angel. Anything Wolfram and Hart has here is ours for the asking. We can help more people than ever before, even if it requires some compromise."
Gunn set the treaty back down and then looked up again, his eyes hardening. "Look into my heart, Angel. We can do this."
"We have to trust each other, Angel," Wesley added, voice low, as if he were speaking to a dangerous animal.
And he is, Angel thought. A savage thrill of anger threatened to overwhelm him again as he crossed the room to his vacated chair. Without sitting, he snatched up the pen, flipped to the final page and scrawled his signature on the line above his name. "If you need me, I'll be with Cordy," he said, already in motion.
"Hey!" Gunn shouted behind him, surprise registering in his voice, and relief, too, Angel thought.
"Mind if I join you in a bit?"
Without turning, Angel took a deep breath to calm himself, and then shook his head. "No, that's fine. She'd probably like that," he said, and hoped they didn't hear his voice break.
Please post a comment on this story.
Author: LAndrews [email]
Details: Standalone | PG | gen | 26k | 08/14/05
Characters: Angel POV, ensemble
Summary: The group finds themselves hosting tea for a visitor- whether they want to or not
Notes: very early S5- spoilers for all S5
Disclaimer/Other: Not mine- I appreciate thems who owns them! For Psychofilly's challenge: A wrinkle in time for no apparent purpose, an amused and somewhat sick-minded vampire, coffee or tea
~ written 1/05
[top of page]
|Home/QuickSearch + Random + Upload + Search + Contact + GO List|