TITLE: Shaken, Not Stirred (1/1)
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SUMMARY: AtS. Wesley has a good evening. Lilah has a bad evening. A vampire hostess bar is involved.
SPOILERS: Nope. Set late Season 2 , just after 'Epiphany'
RATING: PG 13 - Nothing more than a dash of immoderate language to get your knickers in a twist.
DISCLAIMER: I am not now, nor have I ever been, Numfar. Not even a little bit.The characters are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui, Sandollar, and David Greenwalt Productions, 20th Century Fox, and whoever else may have a hold upon them. The situation is wholly mine, and I do not mean to infringe upon any copyrights.
"Honey, much as I appreciate the income I rather think you've had enough for the moment. Lonely drunk is * really * not a good look for you."
Wesley Wyndham Price blinked. It spoke volumes about the appearance of his fellow drinkers that a Christmas-coloured demon resplendent in a vivid purple suit and crimson silk shirt looked perfectly unremarkable in this bar.
Wesley, who had been trying to catch the attention of a waiter, looked gravely down at his empty glass with its melting ice cubes and curl of lemon. When he spoke he took a little too much care to pronounce his words clearly.
"I may be lonely, but I'm not drunk." His brow furrowed as he replayed the sentence in his mind. "Or lonely."
"Right. And I'm Joan Collins. Look, my little English muffin, if singing takes this much Dutch courage then by the time you're feeling brave enough your legs aren't going to carry you to the stage."
In the background two yetis and a Fyarl demon were giving a rendition of "My Way" which just about made up in volume and enthusiasm what it lacked in pitch and melody. Wesley shuddered. In spite of all the drinks he was very far from relaxed.
The Host gave him a long, appraising look and then glanced around at the rest of the bar. His gaze encompassed a party of elderly Mirikin demons, a handful of vampires and assorted other creatures with various imaginative combinations of antlers, scales, horns, snouts, fangs, mandibles, arms, tentacles, legs and wings. Creatures, for the most part, that would have come as a *great* surprise to Charles Darwin. It was a quiet night by Caritas standards.
Reaching an easy decision, The Host slid into the seat opposite Wesley Wyndham Price and snagged the arm of a passing waiter. "Another sea breeze for me, Raoul, and a tequila for Captain Conviviality. And whilst you're at it, bring a filter coffee and something," his lips twitched in a sudden smile, "something appropriately crisp and starchy for my friend here."
The waiter obediently threaded his way off through the tables, careful to avoid the occasional tail or tentacle snaking underfoot.
Wesley eyed the demon quizzically. He was rather touched by The Host's concern, but at the same time there was an edge of mockery in his voice when he said: "I thought you said I'd had enough?"
The Host smiled.
"That was when you were sitting alone drinking yourself into a stupor - you aren't alone now, are you, sweet-cheeks? And whilst I'm being all Jewish mother, I *do* want you to be sure to get a cab home -my patrons aren't going to give you any trouble whilst you're in Caritas, but once you're out the door they might see you as convenient fast food. Or in your case, kinda slow, stumbling food."
"You'd be surprised," said Wesley, looking needled. "I'll have you know I've fought and slain some pretty nasty demons after more alcohol than this. Lots more."
The green demon bit back a smile and pointedly didn't mention the limp or the crutches they both knew were propped up under the table.
"No need to get all pouty now, precious. I'm just looking out for you - don't want Tall, Dark and Broody to get his panties in a bunch because Slengahar and his buddies ate you on their way home."
Scowling slightly Wesley followed The Host's gaze and weighed up his chances against the five big blue spiky things at an adjacent table. Kankanath demons, he wondered automatically, or were they Lesser-Spotted Sesstini? But one really couldn't bring reference books on a drinking session...either way, if that was indeed Slengahar and his friends then perhaps a taxicab wasn't a bad idea.
"You're much too cute to end up as a snack, honey," said The Host disarmingly. "And anyway, this is all rather beside the point. I'm sure you're just dandy at fighting big demonic evil. That isn't what's eating you just now, though, is it? Metaphorically, I mean." Another smile. "I don't need the PTB to tell me that your immediate future involves a microphone and a Judy Garland number."
He deftly relieved the returning Raoul of his burden of glasses and food and pushed the tequila across the table.
"Come on, don't give me that puppy dog look, you big bad rogue demon hunter. Get this down you and then go and strut your stuff up there while you can still walk in a straight line - and then I'll see if I can't help figure things out a little. *And* there will be this nice cup of coffee waiting for you when you get back, as if the unbridled joy of my company weren't encouragement enough."
"Let's hear it for the handsome Englishman, boys and girls!" cried the green demon, bounding to his feet and clapping with characteristic enthusiasm as the last uncertain note of Wesley's song trailed away.
As Wesley tottered painfully off the stage to scattered snores, snarls and (pleasant surprise!) a smattering of applause, he reflected that it could have been worse. He had experienced actual torture at the hands of a psychologically disturbed teenager with superhuman strength, a viciously creative imagination and a grudge. He had done battle with fire-breathing monsters many times his size. He had survived an encounter with Cordelia Chase when she found him absent-mindedly eating the last of her favourite type of doughnut. Singing a Judy Garland number in front of a (mostly) live audience really wasn't the worst thing that could happen to a person.
It just always *felt* that way.
The Host was still clapping and beaming encouragingly as Wesley sat down. "That wasn't so bad, now, was it, sugar? You really have a very nice voice, you know." Wesley choked slightly on the coffee and quirked one eyebrow incredulously.
"No, really," protested the demon warmly, and in spite of his incredulity Wesley felt himself blushing slightly. "You've been practicing, haven't you? But down to business. *Quite* the tangled web of emotions, you've got going on there - In fact I'm starting to think we should have gone with Gloria Gaynor rather than Judy. Where to begin...well, the Virginia thing."
Wesley's flinch was barely noticeable. The tactile memory surged up briefly of skin against skin, a warm, soft body curled up in his lap; shampoo-scented curls tickling his chin; a hand squeezing his thigh under the table during a dull dinner party. Something warm and tender and human and *normal* and absolutely nothing to do with green ichor, fangs, scales, horns, zombie cops or evil law firms. Or virtually nothing, once that whole rescuing-her-from-hideous-and-untimely-sorcerous-sacrifice thing was out of the way.
"Owch. I won't even tell you she's a bitch and you're better off without her, because we both know she's a pretty sweet kid, all things considered. She just didn't sign up to save the world."
"That's quite a skill you have for stating the obvious," said Wesley acerbically after a moment, taking off his glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose. "I trust you won't object to being strangled with your own cravat once you've uttered the phrase 'better to have loved and lost'."
He was smiling rather tightly, his cut-crystal vowels slurring slightly with the drink, and the dry tone he'd aimed for came out far harsher and more brittle than he'd meant. A heartbeat later he glanced apologetically across the table and The Host reflected that without his glasses Wesley became almost a stranger - his face oddly both harder and more vulnerable. Difficult to read. His aura, on the other hand, was an open book as far as the green demon was concerned.
"Alright already! No need to get all alpha male on me, sweetness. Sheesh, you're pretty feisty after a few drinks, aren't you?" The green demon batted his eyelashes shamelessly and watched a little - just a little - of the tension seep out of Wesley's face as his mouth curved into an involuntary half-smile. "Not to get all Hallmark card on you, but it *is* worth remembering that even with little Miss Society Page gone, you've still got some good friends."
The coffee was all gone. Depressingly - and quite unaccountably, considering the ruthless quantity of gin he'd got through so far and the number of painkillers in his system - Wesley seemed to be heading back towards sobriety, with the added bonus of a hangover. Lovely. Why was it that some days all it took was one small sherry to feel plastered and other days a person could drink their bodyweight in alcohol and still not feel drunk?
He picked up an onion ring delicately, automatically regretting the lack of cutlery, and as he bit into it Wesley wished, not for the first time, that he had never known that there really were monsters under the bed. That he had never known the world was so much stranger and more fearsome than most people ever guessed. But he *did* know and, knowing, Wesley could never pretend otherwise to himself. He was in the frontline of a war and at times he envied many of his neighbours, content in their belief that "good" and "evil" were abstract ideas.
He carefully wiped the grease from his fingertips with a paper napkin but his gaze was focused on the middle distance, recalling Cordelia with an eye blinking out of the back of her head. More things between heaven and earth, Horatio...
"Look," he said evenly, "at the risk of being stereotypically British I really have absolutely no wish to share my feelings about the tragi-comedy that is my love life right now. Call me old fashioned, but washing dirty linen in public has never been one of my more cherished pastimes. The reason I have just comprehensively humiliated myself in front of your delightful customers is so that you can use this magical perspicacity of yours to offer me some guidance. Please."
The Host pouted slightly and took a sip of his cocktail.
"Hmph. Well, there are no easy paths for you, honey...I think we both know that already. Romantically there are already a number of definite possibilities at hand, once the sting of..."
Wesley shot him a look that left The Host in absolutely no doubt about how unwelcome this particular topic was at present.
"Alright, already! We won't go there. So, it's mostly that great big slab of adorably tortured vampiric masculinity you're worried about? Our very own Fallen Angel, all bright and shiny after his recent epiphany?"
Wesley looked like he could have said a great many things, but contented himself with a measured: "Quite."
"You and your pals had to hold the fort while Mr Soulier-than-thou was obsessing over his Momma. Or Lover. Or whatever the hell she is. Was. Is. And you've done a pretty good job. You've got all this group bonding going on - taking a bullet for your buddy, yada yada yada. It's a beautiful thing, it really is. I'm filling up. Now Angel cakes wants to come back to play and you don't know if you want him back. Did I miss anything?"
"Not quite how I would have put it, but essentially correct," replied Wesley. Another coffee had materialised at some point - he couldn't for the life of him remember seeing Raoul, so maybe he was still pretty tipsy.
"What I want to know is what I should do about it." The smile faded away as quickly as it had come. "When I saw him at my door, I just...it has been so bloody difficult managing alone. I could have staked him myself for putting Cordelia through so much pain. He let her down. He let us all down. Part of me was absolutely delighted to see him again. But I don't know if I can trust him."
He made a small, frustrated sound.
"If it were only a matter of pride then it wouldn't matter, because fighting the forces of darkness is more important than that." His deprecating expression showed that Wesley knew that he sounded like a character from a pulp comic book, but stood by his words nevertheless because they were the literal truth. "I know how much we need his strength. But...I honestly don't know how stable he is. I have never forgotten that Angelus is always lurking under his skin, but I never expected Angel - ANGEL, with his soul intact - to risk our lives as he has. To turn his back on the cause." He hesitated infinitesimally. "I don't know if I can trust my own judgment when it comes to Angel...I have made some very poor decisions before now. But," he concluded firmly, "I *will not* tolerate any increased risk to Cordelia or Gunn."
Wesley's eyes were burning when he looked up into The Host's crimson gaze.
"I need to know whether Angel's return poses a threat to them. I need to be sure we are doing the right thing."
"Stop worrying about it, sweet cheeks, " the green demon said very gently, squeezing Wesley's hand. "You need to take him back. I can tell you *for sure* that if you turn Angel cakes away things will go Very. Badly. Indeed. For all of you. He really hit rock bottom - almost forgot to put on any hair gel at one point, the mopey little drama queen. I mean, I know he screwed up *big time*. But he loves you three kids. And you've gotta give him points for trying to rebuild the bridges he incinerated. He saved your cute little dimpled asses last night, didn't he? You need to take him back. You want to take him back. So take him back." The demon sighed. "I know it won't be easy for any of you at first, honey, but it is much, much better than the alternative, take it from me. You'd be dead within the month."
The Host watched Wesley's shoulders relax for the first time since he'd hobbled through the door. The relief was palpable.
In the background a large, sharp-tusked purple demon finished a surprisingly high-pitched rendition of "Like a Virgin" and bowed blushingly. His clansmen whooped and applauded madly and The Host glanced automatically at the stage and then jumped to his feet. "All right! Give it up for Argandinax the Terrible, Devourer of Souls, Tormentor of the Innocent and Terror of Three Continents!" cried the green demon, clapping encouragingly at the stage. "Eat your heart out, Madonna - before Argandinax does it for you! I'll be over in a second, 'Gandi, sugar."
Wesley's sudden snort of laughter took them both by surprise.
"GANDHI?" he repeated weakly. "Dear God, my life is ridiculous. Abso-bloody-lutely ridiculous," he exclaimed, eyebrows arched in sudden merriment. The Host, poised to go and offer words of wisdom to Argandinax The Terrible, surveyed him affectionately and stroked Wesley's cheek with one the back of one curled green hand in a surprisingly tender little gesture.
"Not just yours, honey," said the demon, plucking an onion ring from the basket. "Believe me, it's not easy being green."
And that was probably true enough, thought Wesley, a wry little smile ghosting across his face. Perhaps it was all right to feel a surge of relief at Angel's return after all.
Lilah Morgan picked her way through the crowd in Caritas with the utter confidence of someone who was certain that everything in the room wanted to fuck her or eat her - or possibly both - and didn't *give* a damn. You think you're bad, every line of her sharply tailored form asked them. You don't know the *meaning* of the word. Get in my way and you'll find out. She glanced back over her shoulder and cast a bright, predatory smile at her well-fed client and so it happened that she had her back to the booth containing Wesley Wyndham Price as she stalked past him.
Just behind Lilah and her rotund client walked two soberly dressed Asian gentlemen. Wesley eyed the smaller man narrowly, taking in his pale skin and an indefinable *something* about the way he moved. Vampire, he thought - more a gut feeling than a quantifiable certainty, but he'd have bet this month's pay on it nevertheless. He was suddenly very conscious of the stake in his pocket. A taxi home later really wasn't a bad idea at all, he reflected.
"It is a karaoke bar," murmured the vampire disdainfully in Japanese as they passed Wesley's table. "Why do these Americans always think I will enjoy karaoke bars? They are so crude. Does this man Anderson imagine that this vulgar place is anything like my Tea House?"
His ears pricked up automatically. Wesley Wyndham Price was fluent in an impressive array of languages, many of which had not been designed with the human vocal chords in mind. Learning Japanese had been a piece of cake next to the court dialect of the Trj'knz slime demons. And Wesley had got an "A" in his Trj'knz exam. He leaned back to listen as the four people took their seats -any distraction from the painful tangle of emotions Angel's return had provoked was more than welcome
I do believe that I'm having a James Bond moment, he thought to himself, smiling again, for here I am spying on the latest machinations of Wolfram and Hart in my spare time. The name's Price. Wyndham Price. Licence to stake. Wesley nibbled another onion ring absent- mindedly and toyed with the idea of ordering a dry martini.
Something with six limbs was singing an Elton John number on the stage in front of them. Badly. This was not one of Lilah's favourite venues, but Mr Anderson was the client and the client was always right. At least in matters of so little importance.
The waiter arrived with their drinks. Lilah peered through lowered lashes at the impassive face of the vampire opposite her as he accepted a glass of warm blood. She was trying to assess whether he was pleased with the negotiations and thinking about the kudos that this deal would win her if it all went smoothly. Surely the board wouldn't pick Lindsey Fucking McDonald over her? The guy was a *joke*, no discipline, lousy track record, no loyalty to the firm when it came to his stupid fucking kink for vampires -helping Angel and then running around after that syphilitic old vamp-tramp Darla, the original Good Time Had By All... but for some reason he was still there, still her main competition when other, better lawyers had fallen by the wayside. In some ways the firm was still a goddamned boys' club.
"To mutually beneficial business relationships", said Lilah Morgan, smiling a sharp, lipsticked smile as she raised her Virgin Mary to clink against the other glasses. Mr Anderson smiled just as broadly as he echoed her. He slopped some of the Czech beer he was drinking onto the floor in an unthinking libation and muttered a quick dedication to a couple of patron deities or demons before touching any of the drink himself, which came as no surprise to Ms Morgan. She all knew about the deals one made with other realms to get the kind of earthly wealth Mr Anderson had.
"Did you enjoy the opera, Shimazu-san?" asked Mr Anderson. The vampire nodded briefly.
"I am fond of Puccini, thank you. The performance was quite good."
"I thought the soprano was excellent," offered Lilah warmly.
In the ensuing lengthy pause the demon behind them croaked another three lines of "Candle in the Wind" and Lilah's knuckles whitened visibly around her glass. So much for small talk.
After a moment the vampire and his lawyer, Mr Gushiken, exchanged glances. Gushiken looked across at Lilah and set his glass of soda on the cheap table.
"Mr Shimazu finds the terms of your contract generally acceptable. Your price is high, but if the merchandise is guaranteed to be of the quality you claim then Mr Shimazu will pay it. He stipulates that this price will only pertain to virgins under the age of sixteen, however, and only if the paperwork - medical certificates, birth certificate, passport, travel visa etc - is in each case as intact as their honour. In the case of older girls or of non-virgins under sixteen he expects a discount. The level of discount will naturally vary according to the condition and appearance of the merchandise. I have drawn up some guidelines and a breakdown of the charges Mr Shimazu thinks appropriate and I have amended the contract to Mr Shimazu's specifications. In principle, though, Mr Shimazu accepts your offer to supply fresh hostesses for his Tea House each month, with Wolfram and Hart to handle documentation and oversee the export process itself on an ongoing basis. The contract will cover an initial five year period, at which time it will be subject to review." He passed Lilah a leather document wallet as he spoke.
"I believe that we have a deal," said Mr Shimazu quietly, looking around at the bar.
"Well I'll drink to that!" exclaimed Mr Anderson, lifting his beer once again. "To Shimazu-san's little American Geishas - may their blood be sweet as cotton candy! In fact I think this calls for champagne. Waiter?"
Wesley reminded himself that he was more than a little inebriated and thoroughly alone in a bar full of demons; and that physically he was in pretty lousy shape, what with the recently-acquired bullet hole in his side. This was really not an appropriate time to be contemplating swashbucklingly heroic action.
On the other hand he felt duty-bound to do *something* about interfering with the export of All-American virgins to Japan as a vampire delicacy now that he'd heard about it. It was a little like having a cat -one couldn't do anything about saving all the small creatures it savaged when it was out of one's sight, but if it dragged a mouse into the kitchen one felt obliged to intervene on the mouse's behalf. As distractions from his immediate concerns went, this was quite a good one.
Bugger, thought Wesley, wondering what to do.
Raoul arrived promptly with a magnum of Moet & Chandon, four champagne flutes and a bucket of ice.
Lilah gave a calculatedly girlish giggle as the waiter carefully popped the cork with minimum spillage and filled the glasses. Take that, McDonald, you cocky little fuck, she thought to herself. This financial milch-cow was going to provide a very healthy little flow of profit. She couldn't believe Shimazu had gone for Anderson's first offer - she'd been prepared to negotiate downwards, but he'd actually gone for it. Ha! What was the last success Lindsey had had? He was too damned busy concentrating on his pet obsessions. He was getting lax. Lilah was going to be Head of the Department, she could feel it in her bones. Lindsey McDonald would just be a bloodstain on the carpet.
They clinked glasses in a fresh toast and drank. Shimazu knocked back the champagne like it was water -vampires often had remarkable tolerance for alcohol, she remembered. God, but she felt good.
"What about a song, Shimazu-san?" boomed Mr Anderson unexpectedly. "Come on, my friend - I know you Japanese love this kind of thing." Lilah blanched visibly and held her breath, watching the other lawyer's eyes widen and dart across to his employer. If Shimazu was a big karaoke fan she'd eat her briefcase. How Anderson could be so astute a businessman and yet fail to gauge Shimazu's temperament baffled her.
"My voice is very poor, but if you insist, my friend, of course I shall join you, " replied Mr Shimazu with vicious courtesy. It apparently didn't cross Anderson's mind that he had made a gaff, or that Shimazu was underlining it. Or perhaps he knew perfectly well and saw it all as a power game - Lilah wasn't sure.
Mr Shimazu made a mental note to kill Jeff Anderson very, very slowly at a later date - just as soon as it was sure not to inconvenience his own business plans. The vampire looked at his lawyer and across at Lilah with a faintly malicious expression on his pale face. "But my good friend Akahito and the beautiful Ms Morgan must certainly join us, Mr Anderson. After all, we are all one big happy family now, is not that so?"
Lilah's smile was so wide she thought her face might crack. She despised this kind of thing more than words could express. "I should be honoured, Mr Shimazu," she replied with a flutter of her dark lashes as she swung her slim legs out from under the table. She slid gracefully to her feet. "And then perhaps the anagogic demon who runs this place can give us some good news about the future of our business partnership. What song did you have in mind?"
Lilah was *seething* when she got back to the table. Goddamned "Wind Beneath My Wings". Huh. Thank fuck McDonald wasn't here - he'd have relished her discomfiture, the one-handed son of a bitch. Still, at least he couldn't play that fucking guitar any more, she remembered suddenly. The thought cheered her up tremendously. She indulged in a quick image of Lindsey being slowly cut up into small chunks while she, Lilah Morgan, was promoted in his place. The smile that she shone on her companions a moment later was quite unforced, for once. "More champagne, Mr Shimazu?" she asked flirtatiously, leaning forward and angling her smooth white neck towards him in an accidental-seeming way. "You look a little... thirsty." Another flutter of her long lashes and she saw his eyes dart briefly to her throat.
"Thank you, Ms Morgan. I am."
"We'll have to do something about that. And please, you must call me Lilah," she breathed, holding onto the image of Lindsey bleeding the last of his heart's blood onto the carpet. Anderson beamed and pulled the magnum from its ice bucket. He refilled their glasses and a moment later Lilah lifted the delicate glass flute in another toast, her eyes sparkling wickedly.
"To profit....and to slaking one's thirst," said Lilah.
A little flat, she noted with a touch of regret, swirling the liquid on her tongue - but then it had been sitting there open for several minutes, letting all those lovely bubbles escape while they sang that *stupid* fucking song. Still, she could see The Host heading over towards them and there was always the possibility that he might have gleaned something useful about their immediate future, something to help their business dealings to flourish.
Shimazu knocked his champagne back, his eyes still fixed on Lilah's exposed throat, watching her swallow. Anderson refilled the flute at once and the vampire tossed back another glassful, but even as the muscles of his throat closed, an odd look crossed Shimazu's face.
Lilah was a little surprised by the feral expression in the vampire's eyes but she ventured another girlish ripple of laughter when the fangs unfurled from his mouth and the smooth forehead suddenly crumpled into his game face. Flirting with demons was never dull.
What she had not expected, though, was to have to dodge as Shimazu hurled his empty glass towards her with a wordless howl of fury. And she had most *certainly* not expected him to then crumble into a sudden cloud of powder-fine ash, coating the table, their drinks, their clothes, their hair, their skin and the suddenly worthless contracts with a fine layer of silt.
"Oh *shit*," exclaimed Lilah furiously as the dust settled. "Shit, shit, SHIT!"
In the next booth Wesley Wyndham Price slipped a newly-emptied hipflask into his jacket pocket and dabbed a few drops of Holy Water from his hand with a greasy napkin. He waved innocently at the waiter.
"Raoul? A dry martini, please," said Wesley, grinning like a schoolboy. "Shaken, not stirred."
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