CURSE THE DARKNESS

            Wesley took a long, deep, slow breath.  As usual, sex with Lilah had left him a bit winded.  She, sweaty and sleek and smiling, didn't seem to have been as adversely affected.  She rolled off him onto the bed.  To his surprise, she didn't get up right away, but nestled against him.

            "So," she said, in that offhand tone that always made him wary, "I'm surprised you're not out looking for Angel."

            "Angel?  Why, has he gone missing?"

            Lilah lifted her head, eyeing him with what appeared to be genuine surprise.  "You haven't heard?"

            "Heard what?"

            "He disappeared a couple of days ago.  He and Cordelia both."

            Wesley frowned.  A twinge hit him--just a twinge, nothing he couldn't ignore.  "No, I hadn't heard.  Does anyone know what happened?"

            "Not a clue."  She leaned her head against one hand.  "I'm really surprised you didn't know."

            "Why?"  He sat up, settling his feet onto the floor, swallowing a lump of bitterness.  "Why would I know anything that happens to them?  They stopped speaking to me a long time ago."

            Lilah's hand traced gently down his back.  Wesley's body responded to the touch, even as tired as he was, but the cynical part of him wondered why she was still here.  Was she trying to get information from him?  Was it possible she didn't know what had happened to Angel, either?  And Cordelia--why in the world would Cordelia be missing?

            "I'm sure they're fine," Lilah said gently.  "But if you hear anything, well . . ."

            "Yes, of course."  Wesley rubbed his face.  "I'll be certain not to tell you."

#

            He waited until he was certain Lilah was gone before he left the apartment.  He didn't want her following him.  Though he wouldn't put it past her to leave someone to watch his comings and goings, he didn't think she had.  And he was almost certain he knew where to go to find out what had happened to Angel.

            She wasn't hard to find.  He just went to the last place he'd seen her, the place where she'd stayed with Holtz, and there she was.

            She jumped up, startled, then frightened, as he forced open the door.

            "Justine," he said, and the coldness of his voice surprised even himself.  "I think we need to talk."

#

            He wasn't sure if it was the cage in the closet, or the lack of food and water, that finally broke her.  But she held out longer than he'd expected.  He had to admit he was impressed. 

            "Off Point Dume?" he repeated, waving a bottle of Evian tantalizingly close to her.  She watched it with pure lust in her eyes.  "How far out did you go before you dumped him?"

            "I don't remember."  She licked her lips.  They remained dull and cracked behind the path of her dry tongue.

            Wesley screwed the lid off the water bottle and drank half of it down.  She blinked at him, probably too dehydrated to cry.  "You need to come up with something a little better than that."

            She swallowed hard.  Just the sound of it hurt.  "Five miles, maybe.  I wasn't really keeping track."

            Wesley nodded.  "You'll go out with me tomorrow, then, and we'll start looking."

            "Forget it.  Find him yourself."

            He drank the rest of the water.  She stared at him.  After a moment she said, quietly, "Okay, I'll go."

            "You'll go and you'll dive."

            She nodded.  He picked up another bottle of water and passed it to her through the bars of the cage.  "Drink slowly or you'll bring it back up."

            She didn't.  He locked the door on the sound of her retching.

#

            He could almost feel the weight of the water above him, pressing down, suffocating.  But no, not water--the hospital pillow, shoved hard against his face, the tearing pain in his lacerated throat as he struggled to free himself.

            Son of a bitch I'll kill you you hear me I'll kill you. . .

            Wesley jolted awake, his breathing ragged.  For a split second all the fear and the hurt and the anger swamped him, then he bit down hard on it all and made it fade back into the silent place where he'd kept it over the past months.  He sat up and looked at the clock.  It was almost time to rouse Justine and head out again.

            He scrubbed his face, found sweat there.  When he was asleep it was hard to remember he no longer felt anything.  The only time he allowed himself to feel anymore was with Lilah, because he could pour it all into her, pound it into her, and she turned it all to her own benefit in her cold, bizarre sexual alchemy.  His hatred aroused her.  She was twisted and cruel and the only place where he felt even remotely close to painless anymore was inside her.

            Getting up, he pulled on his clothes.  He remembered silently condemning Angel for his tryst with Darla, for allowing himself to fall so far that the risk no longer mattered under the weight of despair.  And now here he was, doing the same thing.  Except that when Angel had given himself up to the darkness, he had somehow managed to meet his own soul on the other side.  Wesley had just managed to lose his.

            He wondered if he would ever get it back.

            Maybe that was what he was really looking for, he thought that night as they checked yet another section of the ocean floor.  If he could find Angel, find a path to Cordelia, maybe he would feel human again.

            If he'd trusted the others, as Fred had said, maybe this wouldn't have happened.  Maybe Connor would still be an innocent infant, cooing in his cradle at the hotel.  Maybe they would all still be together, a happy little family.  But he'd gone off alone, in Watcher-like arrogance, self-assured in the knowledge that he knew better than all the rest of them.

            "Idiot," he muttered, then clenched his jaw.  How was he to have known the prophecies were false?

            Maybe if you'd looked a little harder, a little longer, before you acted.

            Justine heaved out of the water, climbing the ladder back into the boat.  She pulled out her mouthpiece.  "Bicycle."

            Wesley only nodded.

#

            When he closed the closet door on her that night he felt almost bad about it.  Then he rubbed the scar on his neck and the twinge of guilt went away.  It still hurt.  Sometimes he still had trouble breathing when the pain made his throat clench or the healing muscles spasmed around his larynx.  That was probably why he kept dreaming of asphyxiation, of the hospital pillow, of the box down under the water.

            "How could you do something so heinous to him?" he'd asked Justine, when she'd finally broken and told him what she and Connor had done to Angel.

            She'd grinned at him coldly.  "Wasn't my idea.  It was the boy's."

            He'd stared at her in cold shock.  What had been done to Connor, to make him capable of such conscienceless hatred?  Holtz had poisoned him, the Quor-toth had poisoned him.  Wesley wasn't convinced there could be any kind of a cure for that.  He knew the kind of twisted horror a father could inflict on a son.  It left a cold, bottomless hatred in your gut that never quite went away.  A nasty, clammy place where you could go to become soulless and numb when, say, the man you'd come to love like a brother tried to smother you in your hospital bed.

            The scar itched now.  He scratched it carefully, stretched his neck until the pain made him want to scream. 

            It would have been easier if she'd just killed him.

#

            They went out on the boat at night, so that if they found Angel they could bring him up without worrying about the danger of sunlight.  So during the day, when he wasn't sleeping, Wesley found out what he could about Cordelia.  He could only go so far, though, before he hit a dead end.  He had a strong feeling she was alive and well, if no longer earthbound.  She would be all right.  He didn't know how he knew that, but somehow he knew.

            Angel, on the other hand…

As the weeks went by, Wesley became more and more concerned about the state Angel might be in if and when they found him.  A month under the water became two, two-and-a-half.  How long could a vampire starve before insanity set in?  How long before it became permanent?  Much longer without food and they could be facing an Angel whose mental state would make Drusilla look like a paragon of sanity.

For the first two months, Wesley brought blankets, blood, hot water bottles.  When two months began to stretch to three, he added crosses, holy water, wooden stakes and an axe big enough to decapitate a cow.

And when they did find him, finally, it looked for a while like Wesley might have to use them.  But when Angel started babbling, he was Angel.  If he'd been Angelus, Wesley would have killed him without a second thought.  Angel would have wanted him to. 

Wesley hadn't known how far he was willing to go until he actually sliced his own arm open and offered it to Angel to feed from.  All he needed was another scar.  But when you cared about a vampire, you got scars.  Big, ugly ones, like the one that adorned Buffy's neck.  He had marveled at that at the time, that she had been willing to let Angel feed from her, right from her throat, had trusted him not to kill her even in his desperate, weakened state.  But now, if he'd thought Angel was strong enough to summon fangs, Wesley might have done it himself.  The realization surprised him.  It was too much--far more than he wanted to feel or admit to right now.  He pushed it away, into the cold and silent place, and let himself feel only the hard pull of Angel's mouth on his arm.

#

            By the time Wesley loaded Angel into the car, Angel was beginning to show some vague signs of lucidity.  He seemed to drift in and out, his dark eyes by turns empty and staring, then sharp and focused as Wesley spoke to him.  He had stopped babbling and had fallen instead into silence.  Haltingly, Wesley told him what Holtz, Justine and Connor had done, about Cordelia's disappearance, not sure Angel even heard or understood him.

            At the hotel, Gunn and Fred proved more accusatory than thankful.

            "You really don't care anymore, do you?"  Fred's cutting words bit deep, but he took the wound impassively, judged it unworthy of any attempt at contradiction.  Besides, maybe she was right.

            "He'll need more blood," he said.  "I'm fresh out."

            And he was beginning to feel the lack of it.  Dizzy and nauseated, he gathered himself, and walked back out, into the darkness.

END.