Odi et Amo
Subject: [glass_onion] Fic: Odi et Amo (AtS) Date: Sunday, July 21, 2002 4:33 PM
Title: Odi et Amo
Author: Corinna (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Spoilers: Massive spoilers through the end of S3 Angel. Archives: List archives, and by permission. Disclaimer: None of these people belong to me.
Summary: It's a mighty thin line. Wesley, Connor, and the days after "Tomorrow."
Notes: The title comes from Catullus, poem 85, and means "I hate and I love." Thanks to Christine for the best joke in here, to the Green Chick for betarrificness, and to H. and E. for the seed of the idea.
When the knock came at the door, Wesley was quick to come out of the kitchen to answer it, but not quite quick enough.
"Look," Lilah said. "You have a visitor. Isn't that a nice change of pace?"
"Get out," Wesley replied, and for once he didn't have to repeat himself. Lilah smiled almost sweetly as she swept up her jacket and left. Fred stayed out in the hallway until she was gone.
Fred was wearing a sleeveless pink top that made her look even slighter than he'd remembered, and she shifted back and forth on her feet. "Wesley? Uh, I'm sorry if this is a bad time."
"I told Gunn that none of you were to come here again. I would have thought he would mention that. Or do the two of you not.talk?" He put all the insinuation he could into that last word and was grimly satisfied when she blushed and looked down.
"I thought you'd want to know," she said, her voice careful and small. "I didn't think it would be right just to not tell you."
"What do you want, Fred? I haven't got all day."
"It's Cordelia," she said. "Cordelia's dead." And she began to cry, her hands flying to her face as the sobs shook her.
Wesley stood at the far end of the living room, watching her, for a long moment. Finally, he returned to the kitchen and put the kettle on. When he came back with the tea tray, Fred had stopped crying, but was still standing awkwardly in the same spot, arms wrapped around her torso.
"Sit down," Wesley said. "Tea?"
She smiled at him: not the sweet grin he remembered, but the small guarded smile she gave to Angel Investigations' new clients. He turned and looked out the window.
"Now, tell me what happened."
In between sips of Fortnum & Mason's Earl Grey, she told him the story. A highway accident. Witnesses said that Cordelia had lost control: her car had hit the median and exploded. He'd told her not to buy the thing; it handled like a tank. She'd just laughed. Now she and the car were ash. There'd been nothing left of her in the wreckage, not even enough for dental records: another side-effect of her demon aspect, it seemed. The official police report had to list her as "missing, presumed dead."
"There'll still be a memorial service, I presume."
She had the decency to look embarrassed. "There. there was one. Last week, in Sunnydale."
"It's a pretty town. I mean, except for the Hellmouth and all, and you can't really blame the town for that, now, can you."
"No," Wesley said. "Well, thank you for letting me know, Fred. It was. considerate of you." He stood up to end the conversation. As she stood up in turn, she started to cry again.
"It's all just so wrong, Wesley! It's all wrong now. Angel's gone, and oh, Connor, Connor came back except he's gone too and I don't think they went together because I think they would have called, and Lorne said he was going to Vegas but he didn't say where and we can't find him either and it's just Charles and me, and we're not enough. Wesley." Her voice was ragged and pleading.
"It will all work out, Fred. These transition periods are always difficult." His chin pointed up just a bit, towards the door. "Good night."
It was a few days later that the closeness of his apartment in the hot Los Angeles night became too much, and Wesley went for a walk. As usual, the sidewalks were deserted, and he walked till he lost track of how long he'd been walking, all of his thoughts caught up in the night and the cars driving by and the neon of the storefronts. When he saw some slight form streak down the street ahead of him and into an alley, he thought it was just a trick of the light, or his overactive imagination. But as he got further down the block, he heard the thudding sounds of a fight in the alley, and the unmistakable growl of a vampire. Wesley sighed and reached into his pocket for the stake he always carried.
He paused at the mouth of the alley, hiding himself in the shadow of a faceless brick building to size up the situation. A fight between demons didn't concern him, and there wasn't much he could do against more than one vampire on his own -- even then, he'd have to hope for a dumb one. He craned his head around the corner to see.
There were two humans fighting four vampires. The taller one, further back in the alley, was grappling with one opponent: both demon and human were female and long-haired, but Wesley couldn't tell much more, other than that the woman was struggling just to stay alive in the fight. The human man was a different story. The man -- no, boy --looked like the frailest of the six of them, all loose-limbed adolescent unformedness, but he was taking on three large vampires. As he jumped into a familiar spinning kick that knocked one of his opponents into the far wall, Wesley recognized him, and retreated another half-step into the dark. Connor.
Wesley had only seen the boy once since he'd somehow returned to L.A., at that ridiculous dance club Lilah had dragged him to. He'd left almost as soon as he'd seen Connor and Angel there, relieved that their appearance had taken Lilah's sordid little game decisively out her hands, but thrown off-balance by the boy's appearance, by what he knew must have happened to him. Angel wasn't with his son tonight, and the woman Connor was fighting with wasn't someone Wesley knew.
Or rather, he corrected himself as her struggle with the vampire brought her under a white building safety lamp, she wasn't someone he'd ever liked. Justine, Holtz's thug. Connor dusted the last of his opponents and pulled Justine's assailant off her. She put her stake through the demon's heart with a grunt. After the creature was dust, she lifted one hand experimentally to her face. "Ouch."
"You shouldn't have gone after them alone," Connor said. "If I hadn't followed you, you'd be dead by now."
"Dead's just a matter of degrees," she replied. "Besides, if I hadn't let you spend so long setting your trap, they might not have gotten away in the first place."
The boy raised himself to his full height, so they stood almost eye-to-eye. "The Enemy has many snares and stratagems. We must be always on guard."
"Steven, these were just a couple of dumb vamps. It's not like fighting Angelus again."
"And these dumb vamps." Wesley's stomach turned as he heard Holtz's voice in Connor's scornful overemphasis. "They nearly killed you. Risking your life so casually risks the entire cause. I need everyone who fights with me."
"With you? This isn't just your mission, you know. You didn't train this crew."
Wesley backed away as Justine went into what sounded like a well-worn argument. He retraced his steps as quietly as he could to the corner, where he turned left, and ran right into Lilah Morgan, opening a dumpster at the side of a building.
"Revisiting your roots, are you?"
She'd startled at the sound of a voice, but by the time she turned to face him she was smirking. "Stalking me already, Wes?"
"Don't flatter yourself."
She laughed. "You expect me to believe you just stopped by my building because you're --what? Taking a tour of the neighborhood?"
Wesley looked up. The brick building they stood in front of might once have been another warehouse, but now it was obviously an apartment building. Windows on the lower floor had heavy white curtains, or showed glimpses of the lives lived inside.
"Not that I mind the company," she continued. "I have a whole set of prophetic scrolls that were just delivered to the office this morning, and my Ga-shundi's kind of rusty."
"Not even you could be stupid enough to still think I'll do your dirty work," he scoffed.
"Oh, I know just how dirty you work, Wes." Lilah's voice was a purr, insinuating and overconfident. Wesley felt a familiar rush of rage in his sternum as he pushed her, hard, against the building wall.
"Do you, now?" His mouth was at her ear, and he could feel her shaking against him. "Just what is it you think you know?"
"Wesley." she said, and it wasn't knowing at all. Her hands reached around him, pulling him closer, and he kissed her, falling into the taste and the heat of her, grabbing handfuls of her perfectly tailored silk shirt out of her waistband and running his hands up to the satin bra beneath. "Oh. Oh, we -- Wesley, the co-op board will throw me out if anyone sees us do this here."
"Let them. You shouldn't be living among decent people anyhow." His hands had moved down to the eyelet hook at the top of her skirt's zipper, but she pushed them away.
"If they do, I promise you, I'll come stay at your place."
"What floor are you on?"
"Just one flight up."
"All right. I suppose I can buy some sort of decontaminant on the way home." He kissed her again at that, harder, shutting out the boy and the fight and the ache in his throat, kissed her till the whole world was lips and teeth and tongue and their feet climbing up the stairs and the way that silk and smooth ivory flesh made his entire body hum.
The most difficult part of this new world had been adjusting to how different the sounds were. Steven had found the machines strange and wondrous, and the press and stench of so many people overwhelming, but not knowing what the sounds around him meant, or even what to listen for: that had thrown him utterly off-balance. The ocean had roared like some gigantic beast. The beast had smiled and called him son. He'd had to learn everything over again.
Even the buildings had their own sounds: things in the walls clicked and hissed and sighed as he traveled down the street, hugging the shadows. They hadn't seen any vampires on these streets in over a week, since they'd cleared out the nest below the carpet store, but Father had taught him to be careful, and he would not fail again. Father said that if you missed even one member of a pack, he'd be back with new forces for revenge. There were no vampires in Quor-toth, but Steven had never doubted that the time would come when he could use every lesson his father taught him.
A footstep cracked hard on the ground behind him, and he turned.
"For a hunter, you're far too easy to track." The man stepped out towards the streetlights so Steven could see his face. He looked amused.
"Why are you tracking me?" Steven shifted his stance, brought the knives in his arm braces to the ready.
"You might say I have a vested interest in you, Steven," he replied. "I'm the reason you ended up with Captain Holtz."
"God gave me to him."
"Then I must be God's emissary." The man made a strange sound in the back of his throat. "A ministering angel."
Steven tensed at that, waiting for him to strike, but the man just stood there, arms held loosely at his sides. That the man had surprised him, that his look was so intent: these were reasons for Steven not to underestimate him. But there was nothing about him that suggested he meant danger, either. Steven frowned and leaned back on his heels. "Did you work for my father?"
The man blinked twice, hard, then said in a careful voice, "I ran a detective agency, before you were taken to Quor-toth. I work -- worked -- for the higher Powers."
"A detective agency." Steven reached for his knives again. "Angel Investigations."
His eyes narrowed. "What did they tell you about me?"
"Nothing. I heard the girl Fred mention you once to Gunn. She was concerned about you."
Wesley's face darkened. "She should be."
"You're not with them now."
"No. I left. With you. And the mortal enmity of the Scourge of Europe." Wesley laughed softly at that. "Makes life interesting."
"You don't have to worry about Angelus."
"You've killed him?"
"No." Steven smiled. "That would have been too quick."
All of Father's lessons were useful ones.
Wesley had learned how to keep a proper Watcher's diary during his training, and had kept the habit long after he stopped thinking of himself as a Watcher at all. When Connor was born, he'd had three separate notebooks, all the same perfect-bound black ones his grandmother had bought him at Smythson's before he first went up to Cambridge, all flawlessly cross-referenced. Mother, father, and inexplicable child. He'd thrown the books in the trash when he ran.
Now he kept his notes on a Macintosh PowerBook. The search function was no replacement for a well-prepared index, but the digital typeface was easier to read than his own hand, and working on the laptop from the couch brought back fewer memories than his notebooks had of his schooling. Of his father and his teachers, watching him over his shoulder, waiting for him to fail. He hit `save.'
A knock came at the door, and Wesley checked his watch. Ten-thirty: later than she usually showed up. He sighed, quit out of his files, and locked the computer's desktop. But Lilah wouldn't be guessing at his passwords tonight -- a look through the peephole showed Connor waiting warily in the hall.
"You're far too easy to track," the boy said when he opened the door, and he smiled. The first real smile Wesley had seen on him, and it broke open his face, transforming his perpetual careful squint for just a moment into an open glow. Wesley saw Angel's grin in it, and his temples clenched.
"I'm not trying to hide," he said, and let him in.
Connor stepped across the threshold with the same predatory slide Wesley had seen on the street. "This is a dangerous place. You should be more careful."
"Yes. Well, there have been three attempts on my life in the two years I've been in Los Angeles, and I haven't died yet. Perhaps I've become overconfident."
Connor was at the tall built-in bookcases on the living room's outer wall, looking intently at all the titles. The Augurii Prodigique. Of Demonology. Earnshaw's Supernatural History of the Far East. And a few that hadn't been on the Council's required-reading list as well.
"I know this one," he said, taking a squat blue book off the shelf. "Father told it to me. What he could remember." He stared glassily across the room as he began to recite. "The world was all before them, where to choose/ Their place of rest, and Providence their guide./They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,/ Through Eden took their solitary way." He shook his head and focused back on Wesley. "It's pretty."
"Steven. What happened to Holtz?"
"Angelus." He spat out the name like a poison.
You're a dead man, Pryce! You hear me? Dead!
"He killed Holtz?"
The boy nodded and looked down at the book turning over and over between his hands. "My fault. I was... deceived. I was too slow."
Wesley knew that look, knew that emotion, and God, had he looked so pathetic when he'd tried to be brave? No wonder the boys at school had ragged on him. "Whatever may have provoked him, Angel's actions are his own, and not your fault. You don't have Holtz's blood on your hands."
Connor's gaze flew up to meet his, shocked. "His blood? There was blood all over. His throat was red."
"Angel bit him?"
Connor nodded. Wesley went to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a glass of Scotch. After a moment's consideration, he went to the kitchen for ice and water, and poured another more diluted one for his guest. This isn't Angelus talking to you, it's me, Angel. You know that, right? "Here," he said. "Drink this. Slowly." Connor took one tentative sip, then another. "Now," he continued, settling back on to the couch, "tell me what happened."
Wesley listened so intently that he looked like a hunter tracking his prey. He didn't ask many questions, but Steven found himself telling him everything that had happened since he'd forced the sluks to show him the cracks in his world and followed them through to the other side. His father sending him to Angelus. Angelus's betrayal -- the devil will show you bright things, many colors, Father had told him, and it was the fairground they'd lured Steven to, to distract him while the demon ripped Father's throat out.
He had another glass of the whiskey: it tasted warm. Wesley drank two. The story continued: his father's friend Justine at their rooms, too late as well. The funeral pyre. And then, his revenge. Steven was quite pleased with his revenge.
"You're quite certain the box can hold him?" Wesley asked.
He nodded. "Justine is certain. She said not even a minnow could get through."
"And you trust her, do you?"
"Are you so certain of that?"
Steven wrinkled his forehead. "What do you mean? He left her in charge of his warriors when we went to Quor-toth."
"Did he? Or did he just not expect ever to return here?"
"He always wanted to return." Steven was surprised at how emphatic his voice sounded, and how distorted. He took another sip. "He always spoke of it. Where we would have lived. Where he was from. How beautiful it was."
"Really? And where was he from?"
"He lived in Yorkshire."
"Yorkshire?" Wesley looked surprised. "He didn't sound like a Yorkshireman." He pushed on the arm of the couch for support as he got to his feet. "Although if he didn't grow up there... and certainly accents shift over the centuries... educated men even then sounded very different." As he spoke, he was walking towards the bookcase, reaching down to one of the lowest shelves. He pulled out a large book with a picture of a gray stone fortress on the cover. "It would have been interesting to talk to him, if he weren't a -- under different circumstances."
"He was a great man."
"Mmmm." Wesley came back around to the front of the couch and stopped short in front Steven, looking down very seriously at him. "Steven. Know this. I got this scar because I trusted Justine. I don't want you to make the same mistake." He pointed to the long red and ragged scar across the entire right half of his neck. It was surrounded by dark blue bruises, and it looked painful.
"She did that?"
"Yes, she did. Because I let her get close enough." Wesley held the book up in front of himself so Steven could see the title. Rural England in Pictures. "Now, much more importantly: Yorkshire."
Wesley flipped through the pages until he found what he was looking for. He turned the book around, and placed it on Steven's lap. The book was open to a picture that covered two pages. It showed an old gray-brown stone building, a large and long one, which was missing its roof. Behind it, hills stretched out into the distance. Everything around it was green. The ground, the hills, the sprawling trees: Steven didn't think he'd ever seen so many different types of green all in one place together. The caption on the picture said "Chapter Six: Yorkshire, Moors and Dales."
"There are more pictures on the pages after that one," Wesley said quietly. "Is it what you thought it would be?"
"No," Steven said. "It's so... There's nothing like this here." He thought of the green place where they'd burned Father's body. "I wish there were."
Wesley smiled a little at that. "Yorkshire isn't all greenery. There are the moors, which are far bleaker. And the cities, of course. They're much larger now than they would have been in Holtz's time. But the Abbey there is much the same."
He tried to imagine his father there, eating lunch on a blanket on the long green lawn. His first children were there too, playing among the low-hanging branches of the trees, and his wife Caroline sat with him on the gentle slope of the grass. She was preparing plates for the children, and the two of them were talking. Steven thought that he looked happy. He stared longer at the picture, his head heavy, until he could almost hear the birds singing from the treetops.
He awoke with a start. The room was dark, and he was lying on the couch. A soft pillow had been placed under his head, and a thin white blanket was draped over his body. The picture book rested on the coffee table, within arm's reach, and his shoes were lined up beneath it on the floor. He propped himself up on his elbows and cocked his head. From around the corner, he heard Wesley's breath whistling softly as he slept. Steven listened to the sound for a moment, then lay back down and pulled the blanket up over his shoulders.
It was quite odd to walk into Wolfram & Hart's downtown office building through the front door rather than break in through the cellars, to be given a small Arbithian charm that said "Visitor" by a bored security guard. Wesley stuck it in his shirt pocket and took the elevator up to Special Projects.
"I'm here on business."
"Business?" Lilah asked. "What kind of business?"
"You had people watching Daniel Holtz when he returned from Quor-toth. Don't try to deny it; I know how you work."
"Do you ever." She looked up at him, appraising and enticing at once.
"Maybe," he said, doing his best to ignore her, "they even had cameras."
"Maybe they did."
"I want to see the recordings for the last day of his life. I want to know exactly what happened when."
"Ignorance really isn't bliss after all, is it?" She smiled at him for a moment, and then her face went blank. "Sorry. Can't help you."
He stepped towards her, coming behind the long polished wood desk. "Yes, you can. And you will."
"Why would I do that?"
"I'm willing to make a trade."
She leaned back in her leather chair. "Go on. I'm listening."
"You give me copies of all the reports and the video footage from that stakeout. And I'll translate one of those scrolls you were on about for you." He kept his voice casual. She looked skeptical and intrigued.
"I think you'll find that my Ga-shundi is excellent."
"Oh, I already know that I like your Ga-shundi, Wes. But why would I trust you to translate the scroll correctly? I mean, last time I checked, Wolfram & Hart was still evil."
"Why would I trust you not to doctor the reports on Holtz?"
Their eyes met for a moment. "What's this all about, Wes?"
He'd rehearsed his answer. "I need to know. Word on the street is that Angel killed him. If he did, well, I'll be next when Angel returns to LA. It's the sort of thing a man likes to plan for."
"What's wrong with just taking the underworld's word for it?"
"It doesn't fit. Angel's supposed to have bit him. But he doesn't fight with his teeth."
"He bit me."
"What?" Wesley was shocked, and suddenly possessive.
"Last fall. I came to the hotel to talk business, and the next thing I know, he's getting up close and personal with me on his desk. Then he bit me, so I kneed him in the groin and got the hell out of there."
He couldn't help smiling. "So you're the skanky brunette."
"That wasn't Angel, Lilah. That was an old man named Marcus Roscoe. Standard body-switch spell, Algurian conjuring orb, very grade-C magic."
Lilah didn't even try to hide her consternation. "Goddamnit! You would think that for all the money we pay them, we could get some decent aura-reading systems off our psychics."
"You would think, yes. So do we have a deal?"
"Not so fast. So if you don't think that Angel had Holtz as the blue-plate special, who do you think killed him?"
"I have my suspicions," Wesley said slowly. "But I want proof."
Lilah stared at him long and hard, as though she were trying to look past his features and into the intentions behind them. Then something in her expression shifted again, and she reached for the phone and dialed a number without breaking eye contact. "Wilma? Would you have Investigations send up all the reports and recordings they have on Daniel Holtz, date-stamp May 20th? That's H-o-l-t-z. Right, the vengeance-crazed vampire killer. Yes, I thought he was memorable too. Uh-huh. Yes, right away. And could you get a mobile-worker station set up in Translations for me? Really? Great. Make sure the Balear Scroll gets sent down to there immediately as well, OK? And you can escort Mr. Wyndam-Pryce over when it's ready. Thanks." She hung up the phone and turned away. "Wilma will walk you over to our Translations office. There are dictionaries and glossaries and all those other things you'll want over there." Her hand rolled on her wrist in a dismissive gesture.
"I'm sure I'll be delighted," he said dryly.
"I hope so. Firm policy: no outgoing calls and no leaving the building till you're done with the translation. You're working for Wolfram & Hart now: we don't want you so much as breathing on anyone else before we know everything about what's in that scroll ourselves."
"Don't worry. I packed a lunch."
"I'll be down to check on your progress later."
"I'm sure you will." Their eyes met again at that, and she smirked.
Wilma was an unbearably young woman with long pink fingernails. She took him back on the elevator to the thirteenth floor, where there were rows of beige carpeted cubicles with workspaces and bookshelves. Almost all of them were occupied, almost all by humans. Wilma checked a computer terminal and then walked him to a cubicle on the north side of the floor, where a prophecy scroll on a protective stand, three plastic-wrapped notepads, and a jar of freshly-sharpened pencils were waiting for him. "The books you'll want are all in the library, at the corner. They're finding you the dictionaries you'll need right now."
"Thank you," he said automatically, and sat down. The yellowed scroll seemed to stare at him from its carefully padded resting place. There was a weight like hot lead at the bottom of his stomach, and a tightness in his throat. He thought for a frantic second of fleeing, of grabbing the scroll and getting the hell out. But then he thought of Connor as he had been -- not very long ago at all in human time --still a small squirming bundle in his arms, and of the young man in his flat the night before, drunkenly mourning the sadist who'd raised him in darkness. It's all right, it's your Uncle Wes, he loves you bunches. He's just... English. He squared his shoulders and hoped that the Balear Scroll wasn't about another goddamned apocalypse.
"What's that smell?" Steven asked.
"Burnt sage. It -- well, call it a supernatural washing-up powder."
"You're finished cleaning now?"
"I doubt it," Wesley said. "Can I offer you something to eat? Drink?"
"No." The picture book had been put away but the blanket and pillow were still in a neatly-folded pile on the far side of the couch. "I'm sorry. I came too early."
The note he'd found when he woke up in the morning alone had just said Come back in two nights -- I have important things to tell you. He'd gotten back to headquarters at lunchtime to find Justine glowering at him.
"Where have you been?"
"What happened to all your talk about not going off alone?"
"I can take care of myself," he said. "Besides, I'd already taken out my target for the night. I know how to follow a plan."
"But nobody knew if you'd done that, because no one knew where you were! You could have been dead, for all we knew!"
"I thought you said death didn't scare you."
"It doesn't." Her voice shifted, became softer. "But I promised Daniel that I'd look after you, and that's different."
Father had sent him to live with Angelus. Father had told him his destiny lay with the beast and his demon friends in their strange hotel. He'd never once mentioned Justine. Steven looked at the knife she wore and wondered if its edge would leave a ragged scar.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I won't go off without telling someone again." Two nights later he told Aubrey he was going to check on a rumor about a master vampire in Hollywood. He skipped the evening's hunt and returned to Wesley's apartment for his information. The apartment smelled strange now, and Wesley looked tired.
"Not at all," Wesley was saying. "You can join me for dinner. Do you have any preferences?"
"I like Ding-Dongs. Moon pies. Froot Loops. And pizza with pineapple or pepperoni, but not both."
"Good Lord. Er, would you be willing to try something new?" Steven nodded and followed Wesley into the kitchen, where he picked up a printed flyer and the telephone. "Yes, this is for delivery... 733-5352. Yes, that's right. One Vegetarian Delight, one lo mein with dried tofu, a large egg drop soup, and two egg rolls, please. Thank you." He hung up. "A bit of a change of pace, but there's a pizza parlor five blocks down if you hate it."
Wesley put plates and bowls and napkins on green mats on the dark brown table by the windows. Steven watched him from across the room, remembering lessons his father had tried to teach. "You are setting the table."
"Correct." He looked surprised. "Is there anything else I can explain to you?"
"No. I know many things. Many more than when I came here. It's a strange place."
"I've always thought so." Wesley went back into the kitchen, brought out forks and deep-bowled spoons and glasses. "Would you like wine with dinner?"
"I thought you had things to tell me."
"And I do. But we'll have dinner first." His voice was firm. And so they did. The food was strange, but good: Steven liked to chase the vegetable pieces across the plate and slurp the noodles off his fork. Wesley smiled and said he should try linguine.
After dinner, they washed the plates in the kitchen sink and put them on a wooden rack to dry. "Now?" he asked. Wesley nodded, and they walked into the living room.
Wesley went to the television, and then turned to face Steven, who had settled himself back onto the couch. "You know about this? Television?"
"Make-believe," Steven replied. "Like the movies."
Wesley sighed a little. "Yes. Usually, it's make-believe. But sometimes, people take the same sort of cameras they use to record make-believe, and they record true things. The camera just shows you what was in front of it when the recording was made: it tells the truth, even when the people in front of it are pretending. Do you understand?" Steven was confused, but he nodded anyway. "Good. We're going to watch a recording that was made in front of the French Cottage Motel the night that Captain Holtz died. I know this will be difficult for you, Steven, but I think you'll want to see it."
"I'm not afraid," Steven said, and braced himself against the back of his seat.
Wesley pushed a few buttons, and the television came on. It showed an image of the motel, with the door to the room he and Father had shared at its center. At the bottom right side of the screen, the date and time were spelled out in white. "It'll be a moment before anything happens; I just wanted to set this up for you."
The image didn't shift for what felt like a long time: just the sounds of cars going by on the street, outside of the picture, and the clock ticking off the seconds in the corner. Then the sound of a car pulling in, and heavy shoes on the stairs, and then Angelus. Steven's back tensed.
The vampire pushed against the door of the room, and almost stumbled as it fell open easily. He stood for a moment in the doorway, and then in a blur the door slammed shut and he was inside. Steven imagined his father in the room, perhaps relaxing in a chair, or napping, at ease. In Quor-toth, Steven would have been there to protect him: he slept so deeply, and he wasn't as strong as he had once been. He wouldn't have been prepared for the demon's strong hands grabbing him, or the sharp teeth digging into him. Steven gripped at the arm of the couch. Watching the blue door, knowing what was going on behind it, he wished desperately that he could dive through the television screen and run a stake through Angelus's heart before it was too late.
And then Angelus was in the doorway again, pausing and looking back once as he walked out with Father's letter in his hand, and tears were running down Steven's face now, and he tried to wipe them away before Wesley could see. "Is that it?" he asked when he could speak again.
"Wait," said Wesley.
Justine arrived, and walked through the still-open door to the room. A moment later, she walked out again, but not alone. "Father?"
Wesley pushed a button on his remote control device, and the pictures stopped moving. "Yes. That's Holtz."
"How? He was... Angelus killed him! I saw the marks."
"He was alive when Angel left. Look at him."
"No. You're lying."
"This isn't make-believe, Steven. Look at him. Do you want to see what happened next?"
"No. Yes. Show me."
Wesley pressed the button again, and Father and Justine started to move again on the screen. They went down the stairs, and this time the camera followed, tracking them as they walked together down to the ground level. The camera started to shake up and down, and a man's voice said "Damn!" The picture froze for a second, and then started up again from another angle, further down and closer to the street. Father had one hand on Justine's arm to steady his steps.
When the two of them got to the bottom of the staircase, they stopped for a moment to talk -- the camera moved in closer, but he still couldn't hear their words -- and then they turned away. Something flashed bright in Justine's hand.
The camera shifted again, following them down the alley at the side of the building. There was some sort of scuffle between them; Father slapped Justine across the face, hard, and she pushed him up against the wall as they turned the corner and went behind the building. Steven frowned as he stared at the screen. There were shadows thrown across the back wall, two figures struggling together and then moving lower towards the ground. Finally, Justine stumbled back into the alley. She braced her left hand against the side of the building and threw up, her body heaving with the effort. There was something in her right hand; she threw it away, chest still heaving, and wiped her hand on her pants. She began to cry, long sobs that shook her entire body. Then she took a long deep breath, wiped her face, smoothed her hair back, and turned the corner again. Back to where Steven had found her when he arrived. The camera focused in on the object she'd thrown away. It was a long metal rod, with a point at one end, and it was covered in blood.
*"No!"* he shouted, and the sound echoed around the dark living room.
On screen, the camera was pulling back, showing the front of the motel as it had at the start of the recording. Any minute now, Steven himself would arrive, throw open the door to their room, shout for his father. On the couch, in Wesley's apartment, he could feel himself shaking.
"No." He stood up. "I -- I have to go."
When he was at the door, Wesley called to him again. "Steven? Why don't you come back later. Or tomorrow. Whenever you're done."
Steven nodded, and ran home.
When everything else was ready, there was still one more thing to do.
Wesley pushed open the double doors of the Hyperion's lobby and walked in till he stood at the edge of the landing, looking out over the black and white steps and the lobby that had somehow acquired a red pentagram at its center since he left. Gunn was standing behind the front desk, leaning on it as he read something. His back straightened and his expression turned dark when he saw who was there.
"You want your vampire back?" Wesley's voice sounded hard and deep. "Be at Pier 32 at nine tonight. Bring a blowtorch, a crowbar, and a bolt cutter. And a hell of a lot of pig's blood." He turned to go.
"Wes!" Gunn ran out from the office, grabbed his arm before he'd made two full steps towards the exit, and roughly turned him around. Gunn's face was closed off and suspicious. "What's going on, Wes?"
"Pier 32," Wesley repeated, and his voice wasn't shaking at all. "Los Angeles Harbor. Don't be late." He turned away and walked out.
At five to nine, Gunn drove up to the pier in his truck, followed by a green van. Gunn and Fred got out of the truck; two strangers -- one short and stout like a fireplug, the other taller but no thinner - got out of the van.
"All those things you said to bring. I figured I better bring someone who knew how to use them. This here's Hakim." Gunn nodded to the short man, who raised a hand in greeting. "We used to patrol back in the day. That's his buddy Stan."
"Gentlemen," Wesley nodded. "We'll be casting off as soon as the captain's ready, so we'd better get ready ourselves. You're none of you seasick-prone, I trust?"
The newcomers looked at each other, and at Gunn, in confusion. "We're not going far, are we?" Hakim asked. "'Cause I know I didn't sign up for the Love Boat."
"We won't go far out to sea at all," Wesley said. "Now, let's see what you have in the van we can use."
They took everything Wesley could imagine they might need: two bolt cutters, a pair of pliers, three crowbars, a set of long metal tongs, a saw, a sledgehammer, two electric drills, a large heavy wrench, and the blowtorch. Fred had packed a picnic cooler full of butcher's blood; she was struggling with it, but when Wesley tried to help, she shrugged him off, refusing even to meet his eyes. When they got on board, he checked his pockets one more time to make sure he had everything he needed, and nodded for the captain to take the barge out.
"You want to tell us what this is all about now, Wes?" Gunn asked.
"I will," said Connor, stepping out from the small cabin that served as the helm.
"Connor!" Fred exclaimed. Catching herself, she flushed red and stammered apologetically, "I, I, I mean, Steven."
"That's all right," the boy replied. "Connor will do." He and Wesley had discussed the matter of his name, as they'd discussed so much more, when he'd come back to Wesley's apartment. They hadn't spoken of what he'd done while he was gone: Wesley thought it best not to know if he were ever asked. But they'd been able to agree that Angel would want to call his son Connor, and that the boy could live with the strange new name. Wesley thought it was a sort of penance on Connor's part. Wesley thought the boy was his father's son in unexpected ways indeed.
"Well, whatcha doing here?" Fred smiled at Connor shyly. "We were worried about you."
"I'm here to get Angelus -- Angel. To get him back."
"You know where he is?"
"I know where I put him."
"What?" Gunn put one hand on his axe and glowered.
"More or less, anyway," he said, returning Gunn's glare.
"If you weren't his son --"
"Connor," Wesley said, "why don't you tell Gunn and Fred the story? It will take me a little while to get set up. We have time."
There was a strong breeze off the water, so it took some time for him to set up the small brazier and get a good fire going in it. When the wind was right, he could catch some of the tale Connor was telling the others: the whole story, at least as far as Connor knew it. Wesley had his own suspicions. He would have liked to have been able to confirm his theory of what had really happened behind the French Cottage Motel that night, but he knew that even if she were alive, Justine would be too loyal for that. If she had, as he believed, killed Holtz and set Angel up for it on Holtz's own orders, to bind Connor to him for all time in grief and vengeance, she would go to her death without admitting it. Just as well: this way, Connor got to keep both of his fathers, and Angel would have to live with the reminders of Holtz in his only son. That all seemed fair enough to Wesley.
Gunn came up behind him, his work boots clanking on the metal deck. "Let me get this straight," he said. "Between the time Cordelia called Angel at the hotel and the time he got to Point Dume, Junior here and that crazy chick managed to round up a boat, a big metal box, welding equipment, the taser I couldn't find for a month in the weapons cabinet, and on top of all that the kid ran halfway cross Los Angeles? Whatever happened to just, you know, stakin' people?"
"It's Holtz's influence." Was Gunn trying to be friends with him again? "The man never had a plan in his life that wouldn't have made a Bond villain cry out `Simplify! Simplify!'" Gunn laughed appreciatively and Wesley felt his heart squeezing in his chest. Really, this was intolerable. "It's over now," he said, a bit too brusquely. He reached into his pocket for the bundle of herbs he'd bought at Rick's Majick `n Stuff, a premixed batch wrapped in cheesecloth and sealed in plastic to keep it fresh. He tore open the plastic, grimacing a bit when it didn't yield at his first pull, and dropped the cheesecloth bag into his right hand.
"What're you doing with all this?"
"Magic," Wesley said.
"Really?" Gunn looked impressed. "You can do that? You never told me."
Wesley stifled the urge to shrug. "During the Napoleonic Wars, a Wyndam was the most powerful warlock in England. I can't do much more than parlor tricks in comparison, but it'll get the job done."
"Finding Angel. Excuse me." Wesley tried to picture Angel in his mind's eye: his height, his bulk, his ridiculous hair. When the image became strong enough, he dropped the packet of herbs into the fire. The smoke became suddenly sweeter, and Wesley could feel the power in it. He called out, *"Te inveni!"* and a small green ball of light rose up from the center of the brazier. It floated over the flames, just hovering, so Wesley closed his eyes and focused on Angel once more.
"Holy God," Gunn breathed, and Wesley knew the spell was working.
"Go remind the captain he's to follow the light. It'll take us to the right place." Gunn didn't move. Wesley could feel the magic pulsing through him, right on the edge between pleasure and pain. *"Now,"* he said sharply. "I can't do this all night."
He focused again on his mental image of Angel, flipping through memories as his concentration stuttered. Angel sitting in the lobby of the Hyperion Hotel, looking a little lost, smiling sheepishly. Angel playing with his infant son. No -- Wesley pulled back from that one. He couldn't picture two people, especially not with one of them so nearby. Not a strong enough magician for that. Not your fault, boy, he could hear his grandfather saying, I told your mother not to marry outside the coven. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, and Angel came back into focus, training in his basement gym. Wesley concentrated on the image and tried to slow his breathing. The magic was getting strong at his pulse points, aching and sweet. Angel moved through a series of katas, kicking, punching, and blocking an imagined opponent. Then he turned to face his watcher. His eyes glowed yellow, and his face changed, and he roared. Wesley's eyes snapped open, and he turned to face the others, all standing together near the center of the deck. "We're getting close," he called, and returned to his spell.
Wesley knew what the risks of a locator spell were. Finding someone meant tapping in to their psychic energy, and when the someone was a trapped vampire, the energy was bound to be more than a little unpleasant. But he hadn't, couldn't have, known what it was like to have Angel clamoring inside his head. The sound blotted out thought. The demon's power amplified the magic's effects, and he shuddered as the energy hit the base of his spine. "Almost there," he said to himself as the ship started to turn. "Almost there." Angel roared again.
The magic circled up his spine like a snake. He tried to focus once again on the image of Angel in his training room, his strength harnessed in precisely controlled movements, but the demon was irresistible, and the scene splintered into inchoate images of destruction: blood, gore, snapping chains. The magic was a blazing light against the inside of his skull. The vampire's eyes were large and angry. The power felt like it was erupting through the top of his head, spilling out into the night air in tall bright plumes.
Angel screamed. Wesley opened his eyes.
*"Conquiesci,"* he gasped. The green light rose up to his eye-level, and hovered there placidly. The magic ebbed out of him again, and his breath caught at the emptiness it left. He looked out over the ocean, so dark and still, and took a long, deep breath. The beacon still needed some of his psychic energy, but not all of it, and he tried to place his concentration on it at the back of his mind, so he could focus on the work that still needed to be done.
"Is that it?" Gunn shouted.
"That's it," Wesley replied, turning back towards the helm. "Drop anchor. We're here."
As soon as Wesley spoke, everyone began to move, looking around for tools or just milling about on the deck. Steven gripped the crowbar Hakim gave him and waited for what came next.
When the barge stopped, the captain came out on the deck, wiping his hands on his black jeans. "Let's get to work." He slapped Gunn on the shoulder. "You're the largest: why don't you give me a hand?"
"I'm strong," Steven said.
The captain looked amused. "I'm sure you are, son, but this job needs a little leverage. Maybe next time."
Fred's hands fluttered nervously as Gunn walked to the back of the barge to help the captain with his machine. It looked like a giant spool. "They're gonna find him down there, no problem. Just straight down from the light thing, right?"
"I think so. Wesley would know."
"Oh, straight down, yeah, I think that must be right," she said hastily. Steven could hear clanking and the sound of a line being released. "We'll find him right quick, don't you worry."
Steven had to smile at that. When he and Justine had dropped the box into the ocean, he had been so sure that no one would ever find it again. You get to live -- forever. He hadn't known about magic. He hadn't known that Angelus had a soul now either, or he might not have been so easily deceived about him. He still wasn't entirely sure what that meant, Angelus having a soul, though he had listened very carefully when Wesley explained it. Father had taught him that the soul was a gift of God, so the sons of Adam might know redemption. Steven couldn't see how the vampire who had killed his father's first family could ever be redeemed, but Wesley said that sometimes just wanting redemption was enough.
"We got something!" Gunn yelled, and an engine began to whir.
"How thick'd you say this box was?" Stan said.
Steven held his thumb and forefinger about the width of the side of the box, and Hakim groaned. "We're gonna be here all night. Yo, Wesley! You got any more hocus-pocus to help us out with that?"
Wesley had been sorting through the tools still on the deck. He looked up when he heard his name. His face was paler than it had been before he worked his spell, and Steven frowned. "What?" Wesley said. "No, I'm afraid not. But we should be all right."
"Easy for you to say," Hakim muttered.
There was more noise from the back of the barge, and a heavy thud, and there was the box, covered in ocean plants, lying on the far end of the deck.
"All right." Wesley's voice was like Father's again, confident and commanding. "First things first. If anyone has any open wounds, or newly-scabbed scars, now would be an excellent time to cover them up. I've brought plasters if you need them."
"This is Angel," Fred said, and she sounded angry.
"This is a vampire who hasn't fed in well over a month. I see no reason to fuel his bloodlust further. Everyone?" Hakim and Stan were already checking their arms and legs; Steven had bandaged his own wounds carefully before they got in the car, but he double-checked as Fred reluctantly checked herself.
"We need to move this to the center of the deck! It's too big to leave back here!" the captain called. Wesley gestured for Steven to join him, and with each of the four of them taking a handle they were able to slide the box back to where the others waited. The metal handle was slick, and the top of the box was fogged up and covered in slime.
"Is that glass?" Stan asked.
"Multiple-layered laminated safety glass, unless I'm very much mistaken," Fred said. "Nothing else could have survived the extra G-force pressure of being underwater for so long, and even then it's a lucky thing."
"There's metal in the glass," Steven added.
"Good to know," Wesley said, and rolled up his sleeves. "Fred, get some blood ready." He wiped away some of the slime, looked in, and shook his head. "I can't see a thing. Hakim?"
Hakim stepped forward, carrying the sledgehammer in both hands. "Back off, y'all. This thing hits the wrong way, it might bounce." He took a deep breath and swung hard. The glass shattered loudly, and inside the box, Angelus growled. Steven caught his breath. "Still a lot of wire mesh through here," Hakim said. "Hand me those bolt cutters."
"Careful," said Gunn. "Watch your hands."
"Oh, I'm watching."
Angelus kept growling as Hakim carefully pulled back on the wire, using the handle of the bolt cutter to push more pieces of glass into the box. When there was a large enough hole in the window, Wesley took a container of blood in the arms of the tongs, lowered it towards the window, and slowly poured it in. He lifted the container again a moment later and said "Again." After the fourth, he said, "Enough. Let's get this thing open."
Then they were all upon the box, with all their tools and instruments, breaking off the locks he and Justine had worked so hard to keep in place and loosening the bolts and wires. Steven wanted to help, but Gunn put one hand on his chest and pushed him gently back. "He wouldn't want you to see him like this."
"But I'm stronger than you are," Steven protested.
"I know that," Gunn said. "Hell, you couldn't have done all this if you weren't." We're family. And I want to show you how I feel about that. "I didn't -- damn."
Steven scuffed a toe on the deck. "That's OK. I deserved it."
"No, you didn't. But you gotta let us do this for him, OK?" Steven nodded grudgingly. Gunn grinned and slapped his shoulder. "Good man." Steven watched all of them working to repair what he had done and wished for a monster to kill.
When they had the lid entirely off, Wesley stood over the box. "Angel? Angel. Look at me. Are you able to control yourself?" Angelus growled again. "I'll take that as a no." He held out his hand and Fred brought him more blood. "We don't have a lot more time till we get to shore, Angel," Wesley continued as he poured the blood down. "You're going to need to pull it together a bit. You're going home."
"Connor?" The voice from inside the box was hoarse and tentative.
"Connor's here, Angel. He led us to you."
"Connor." The word was like a sigh. Steven looked awkwardly down at his feet.
Wesley nodded at Fred, and another container of blood was tipped in to Angel. "You can't be allowed to gorge. Even on pig's blood. You know this. There'll be plenty for you to eat at the Hotel."
"You're on a barge coming in to Los Angeles Harbor." A tilt of Wesley's chin, and Fred and Gunn were at the side of the box as well. "You remember them?"
"Gunn. A-and Fred." The two of them beamed at one another, and at Angelus. "Cordelia?"
"Cordelia... Cordelia's back in Sunnydale," Gunn said. "Tomorrow, man."
"Tomorrow," he agreed. Then, quietly again, "Connor..?"
Wesley turned around to look at him, the question hanging in the air. Steven nodded, and the others stepped back to let him speak to Angelus alone. He thought of the last time he had seen the vampire, how Angelus had called out to him. He'd tried to tell Steven that Justine was lying. Steven hadn't listened. Steven had called him the Prince of Lies. He didn't know what to say to him now. He gripped the crowbar a little tighter and walked over to the box.
Angelus was very white, and the trails of dried blood across his cracked lips and pale face looked like inkblots. The clothes he had been bound up in were loose on him now: his skin was stretched thin across his cheekbones, and his eyes were rimmed in red. He turned to look at Steven, and his expression was both hopeful and relieved.
"Hi," Steven mumbled.
"Hi," said Angelus, and he smiled.
At the harbor, Gunn went back to his truck for some chains and a padlock, and Wesley went into the helm with the captain. "I have your cashier's check."
"It's covered," he replied.
"Lilah Morgan. Bigshot over at Wolfram & Hart. She said to put it on their tab." The captain looked at Wesley appraisingly. "Said you were a valued business partner of the firm. I didn't know you had that kind of juice."
"Take it off their tab. Now." The lack of subtlety was so typically Lilah. She'd sent him a contractor's welcome packet and put him on the firm's employee mailing list. He'd be getting invitations to their Summer Family Picnic till Hell froze over, and maybe even after.
"You sure? They're not people you want to be refusing favors from."
"As their valued business partner, I think I can make up my own mind."
The man shrugged. "It's your money."
"Yes." He handed over the yellow slip of paper. He'd planned to live off those funds all of next month. "Thank you for your services tonight, Captain. A pleasure doing business with you."
Wesley watched as the others released Angel from the metal coffin's bonds. Angel waited docilely to be bound hand and foot, but he was still twitching, and his eyes flashed from brown to yellow and back again more than once. He was weak as well, and Gunn had him lean against his shoulder as they hobbled off the barge; Wesley was happy to see that Hakim had a stake to Angel's back as they went, and that his grim expression suggested he'd not hesitate to use it. When their little procession passed the helm, Angel looked the other way.
Stan and Gunn picked Angel up and heaved him into the back of Gunn's truck, rolling him in a blanket so he'd be less conspicuous as they drove him home. Connor came over to Wesley as he disembarked. "You're all right?"
"You looked ill. After the magic."
"I'm fine. It wasn't a complex spell." As a Watcher, he'd had to learn some very simple magics: binding circles, healing charms, raisings and exorcisms and the like. He'd been the States long enough to think that was enough. It was humbling to be nearly overcome by the sort of thing his cousins could -- and probably had -- done while standing on their heads. What, Weasel can't even do that one? It's dead easy. "It's just been a while since I tried anything of the sort."
Gunn joined them, and he held his hand out awkwardly. "You helped us out here, Wes."
"Not at all," said Wesley. He didn't shake hands. "You're heading back?"
"Make sure he's bound carefully tonight. Cordelia had a chest full of irons and chains; I - I don't know where she kept it." Speaking of Cordelia in the past tense caused a sharp and unexpected physical pain in his solar plexus. "Let him have a pint of blood every hour, but no more: even with pig's blood, too much will make it harder for him to control the demon. Tomorrow, start to get him back on his feeding schedule. He'll be shaky for a while, but --"
"You're not coming?" Connor was shocked.
"No." Eleven-thirty might not be too late to drive to Lilah's building, tell her to stay the hell out of his plans, and careen into bed with her. Another sort of pleasure to run through a body still aching for the spell's sweetness. Or maybe he'd just go home: he was cold and worn, and it was a good night for a large Scotch and a Chet Baker CD.
"But you have to."
"Connor," Gunn said. "Wes has his own place. I'm sure he wants to get home."
Connor cut off Wesley's meaningless murmurs of assent. "I can go with him, then. I stayed with him before. We could come to the hotel together in the morning."
Gunn sighed, and his eyes met Wesley's. They had worked together so closely for so long that he didn't need words to insist on what had to come next.
"Connor," Wesley tried. "This is for the best." Gunn nodded and took a few steps back towards the truck.
"Connor. Steven," he whispered. "It'll be all right. You'll be fine. But I can't go with you."
"Why not?" Connor's bright blue eyes brought back memories of the night he was born, and his mother weeping in the back of Angel's Plymouth.
"I took Angel's son from him."
"God meant for my father and I to be together. Nothing could have stopped that."
Wesley grimaced. "That's small comfort to a man who lost the childhood of the only son he'll ever have."
"He took so many more."
Wesley sighed. "It would be far too difficult. They distrust me. They don't want me there."
"But I do."
When Wesley had first spoken to Connor, first tried to gain his trust with half-truths about his role in Connor's kidnapping, it had been a sort of revenge. Whatever else happened, he wouldn't let Justine have the satisfaction of having the boy at her side. He wasn't sure when other things had started mattering as well. "Connor, they're --. They fight for the good. You'll come to like them all a great deal, I promise."
"But you're my friend too. And you know -- you know how to fix things. There's a lot, a lot to fix, you know? I don't think I can do... this," he said, waving his arm at the truck behind him, "without you." He held out his hand palm up, petitioning. "Please. Come with me?"
As Wesley took the boy's hand in his own he knew, as he realized he'd known for a very long time, that the most terrible things we do to one another are the things we do out of love. "Yes," he said. "I will."
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