"How terrible is wisdom," the older man leaned in close to Wes, still bound o the chair, glasses stolen, rendering the man a blur of motion and color, "that it brings no profit to the wise."
Wes glared up at him, an effect somewhat undercut by the fact that his eyes narrowed in a futile attempt to gain some clarity on what the man's expression showed (not that that would necessarily show what the renegade Watcher was actually feeling, but even knowing what his captor was attempting to project could be helpful). This was it, despite how much he hated putting in contacts, he was going to cave to Harmony (as he always did, eventually) and get some of the blasted devices.
His captor took his sudden increase in irritation as a result of his current predicament and smiled, though since his lips didn't part, Wes couldn't see the flash of white which might have alerted him to that fact. "You know, you're the third renegade Watcher I've had to deal with," Wes said, pseudo-pleasantly before his captor continued. "And they all say that. Every single one. I'm starting to think there may be some deficiencies in our education."
This time Wes could see the flash of white as his captor grinned. "I'd say there's more of a deficiency in our salaries."
"Ah. You know, each time I keep meaning to ask a couple of questions about the quote, but I've never gotten the chance, you don't mind, do you?" Wes continued without really giving his captor a chance to respond. "First, you do know that it's a quote from a play, not actually from Sophocles' himself, right? Second, it's put in the mouth of a man whose prophecies all end in disaster because he's too dumb to figure out a way to profit from being able to see the future, right? Third, the quote isn't 'when it brings no profit to the wise,' but 'when it brings no profit to the man that is wise,' okay?"
Before Wes could continue with his stream of questions, the renegade Watcher backhanded him hard across the face, almost knocking the chair over. It teetered for a moment, then the Watcher grabbed Wes by his hair and yanked him back upright. "First, the play was written by Sophocles, they are his words. Second, that's because he's cursed, not stupid. Third, it depends on the translation."
"Fair enough, but you do realize that Sophocles is where we get the term sophistry, right?"
"You do realize that that's because of anti-intellectualism in the 15th century shifting the term sophist from praising a wise man to insulting a specious one, right?" he countered.
"All fair points. Just one more question. Did you become a Watcher because you were seeking profit?"
The ex-Watcher jerked back as if slapped. He straightened like a soldier under inspection and he stood there for a moment absolutely still, absolutely silent. Then the decision was made and his lips curled in fury, a knife sliding out of a sheath in the small of the back. The blade was held with a casual competence, but his voice was shaking with fury, "I became a Watcher for the same reason you did, the same reason we all did, because it was what our fathers and their fathers and their fathers did. It's what we're born for. It's what we're supposed to live and die for. Well, I broke free of that on my own. I wasn't tossed out like trash. And I did not fail!"
"Wrong," Faith said from behind him, then flattened the taller man as he tried to turn around. Not that it would have done much good. She hadn't wanted to wear the mask, but Wes had talked her into it, partly by pointing out that he wasn't going to let even ex-Watchers know where the renegade Slayer was and that he'd kill them if he had to, but mostly because he let her pick out the balaclava she wore herself. The formerly red mask had been painted interesting, if not particularly camouflaging colors. But at least it did keep her from being identified. Probably.
"You got the goods?" Wesley asked, hands bursting into flame, melting through the ropes and the arms of the chair they were tied to as easily as they turned his gloves to ash. He pulled free and began to pick at the ropes binding his legs. Faith slapped his hands aside and ripped the ropes apart with bare hands and Slayer strength.
"Yep, three crates waiting for us down in the trucks," Faith said, eyes noting the split lip and bruised cheek Wes was sporting and paused for a moment on the way out to kick the downed ex-Watcher in a very sensitive place.
"Good. And the security cameras?" Wes asked, retrieving his glasses and letting the world leap back into focus.
"Then let's get out of here," Wes agreed, casually stepping on the renegade Watcher as they headed out into the halls. The theft had been carefully planned but not particularly complicated. Once communications with the outside world had been sabotaged, it was mostly a matter of letting Faith knock the shit out of their guards. Unfortunately, their mystical defense system couldn't be tricked so easily, so someone had to trigger it and suffer the consequences for doing so. Harmony had wanted to do it, but the Guild wouldn't hesitate to dust a vampire. A fired Watcher would get more consideration. Not much, but more. Enough not to get killed while Faith slipped around beating up guards and getting rid of the security cameras. It would also give him some time to spread hints that he was working for the Archmage inside the Guild, as well as all the many outside places he'd left such clues for them to find. Though, with the man unconscious, the conversation might all have been for naught. On the other hand, seeing as how Wes hadn't been able to resist the urge to antagonize the man, maybe that was for the best.
Faith led the way through a group of unconscious, or otherwise restrained/detained Humans and extremely dead Demons. "That's impressive."
"I'm the best," she said with a shrug.
"And so fast too," he said, innocently.
"Th—" Faith turned to look at him. "Was that innuendo, Princess?"
"Would I do that?" Wes asked.
"Not twice," Faith said with narrowed eyes.
Wes just smirked at her. Faith paused at an open window, "This is my exit."
Wes looked around. "Why? Didn't you have to clear the rest of the building out?"
"Yes," she admitted. "But if we go out the front, then I don't get to use this!" she flicked her wrist and managed to get the grappling hook to appear in her hand, rather than the sword (or accidentally discharging the crossbow bolt, which had been the original problem when she picked out her new, elaborate weapon from the bunch they'd purchased from Emil). "And this," she attached the grappling hook to the window frame, "is going to be totally awesome."
Her sarcastic, challenging gaze met his. One eyelid dropped over a dark eye in a teasing wink.
Wes met her gaze levelly, not reacting to her wink.
"You remember, like you said earlier?" Faith asked, uncharacteristically confused.
"Yes, I remember. Thanks for the reminder, but—"
Faith went out the window before he could finish his sentence. After a moment's hesitation, Wes followed her out.
"That was pathetic! You went down so slow! I'm sure mine was actually awesome!" Faith said, standing on the pavement and waiting for her Watcher to join her.
"Well, I wouldn't know, seeing as you just jumped out the window. In fact, couldn't you just have survived the fall on your own?" Wes asked.
"Sure. And that's awesome too, but you'd have broken your legs."
"Probably," Wes admitted, with a tiny smile to himself. "Can I ask just one more question?"
"If you must."
"How are you going to get the grappling hook back down?" he asked.
Faith's grin faded and she tried to flick the grappling hook loose only to fail completely, to Wes's blatant and unhidden amusement. Faith frowned, then smirked, wrapped the rope around her forearm and pulled, hard. The rope held up. The arcane material of the grappling hook held up. The ancient window frame of the mansion the Trade Guild was using for their auction did not.
Wes had to dodge the falling wood and the look he gave Faith was so amusing that she made a mental note to put him in non-lethal danger more often.
"Well, that sucked," Harmony said, looking at the wound on her stomach.
"I know, love. But so do you," Wes answered.
Harmony glared at him. "Seriously? Right now? Seriously? I know I'm naked and hot, but seriously? It's not even your birthday. And I'm bleeding!"
"Not what I meant, Harmony," Wesley said, rolling up his sleeve to reveal his forearm and raised it to offer her the vein.
"I don't like that. For a week afterwards you smell like food," Harmony said, though her eyes traced the line of blood vessels.
"I know, Harmony, but you need to get healed up before Faith decides to join us and animal blood won't do it—"
"What about one of the Cavendishes? Isn't that what they're for?"
"Not what they meant by 'feeding us,' love. Besides, I don't really want to explain how you got cut. Do you?"
"Vampires don't need surgery."
"You're way too graceful for that." Harmony grinned at him. "Usually."
"You're welcome," he replied, meeting her sarcasm with sincerity.
"Fine, fine, but you're sleeping on the couch for the week."
"What did I do?" Wes asked.
"Besides stab me?"
"Hey! That's not what happened." Harmony stared at him. He frowned slightly. "Okay, it is what happened, but that sound pretty bad."
"Homemade magical ritualled me?" she offers.
"Better, I guess."
"But you're sleeping on the couch so I don't sleep-eat you."
"I haven't objected to that in the past."
"NOT WHAT I MEANT!" Harmony yelled, though she couldn't resist the urge to smile. His smile irritated her and vanished as she sank her teeth into his forearm, canines finding the vein along the bottom of his forearm. His free hand stroked her hair as she drank. She pulled back the moment she felt the wound close, then looked up at him, a wicked smile on her face as she pulled him back down onto the bed. "I guess I'll take the guest room, after I wear you out," she whispered in his ear.
"I AM MAJOR ALEX MOORE! You will not keep me waiting on the front step like a dog that pissed in your foyer!"
Cavendish ignored the camouflaged man's anger with the casual aplomb of a man certain of his position and proprieties, who cared naught a jot for the titles, ranks, or opinions of anyone who was not a Wyndam-Pryce. He did not even feel the urge to question why the man was wearing forest camouflage while making a visit to the Cleveland suburbs, or to ask if the man had a warrant, or an exemption from the Posse Comitatus Act that would let him enforce a warrant if her were to have one. He did, however, feel the urge to ask if the man had any more appropriate attire and to offer him a complimentary, if distinctly condescending jacket. As the major had a pistol which his enraged hand was clutching, but which had, thus far, remained in its holster, Cavendish resisted the urge.
"Major, the master has been informed of your presence. He will decide if and when he wishes to see you. This sort of delay may be avoided in future if you choose to make an appointment."
"I do not have to make an appointment! The power and authority of the United States Army goes wherever the fuck it wants, whenever the fuck it wants," he stepped forward and poked Cavendish in the chest. "Do you understand me, Mr. Cavendish?"
"It's just Cavendish, sir," the butler said, without moving from the major's path.
"Get out of my way, or I'll go through you."
Cavendish didn't move, but he suddenly appeared almost immovable and wall-like. "I'm sorry, sir, but I can't do that."
They stared each other down. Major Anderson was a large man, with military-short brown hair, a muscular build and hard brown eyes. Cavendish was a little shorter, a lot heavier and about twice the younger man's age. He was also the only one of the pair of them that was calm, which was beginning to unnerve the officer. This wasn't how interactions with civilians went. Especially not when you were, frankly, bluffing your ass off, because you were there on behalf of a secret program which didn't, officially, exist.
"You wanted to see me?" a man asked, coming down the stairs behind Cavendish. He was taller than Cavendish and taller than the major, but slighter than either of them. Anderson might have taken him for just another suit, despite the thin leather gloves he wore and the slight bulge under his suit jacket, but for the ice in the eyes hidden behind glasses that almost made him look like an academic.
This man was dangerous. But so was Anderson and he had the might of the US army at his back. Though not, he couldn't help think to himself, literally at this moment. Still, none of that showed on his face. "Yes, indeed, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. I did want to see you. See your adopted country needs you to do it a little favor."
"What's the favor and how does it pay?" Wes asked, as Cavendish stepped aside, ushering Anderson into the front hall.
"The favor is to come along nice and quiet and do what you're told and the pay is that you don't get arrested, deported, or shot," Anderson said, with an ugly smile on his face. The smile disappeared as he heard Cavendish shut the door behind him. He resisted the urge to turn. Wesley was the problem. Or so he thought until he saw the stunning dark haired woman coming down the stairs behind Wes. When he'd saw her picture, he hadn't believed she could do what she was accused of, but seeing her in motion, he could believe it. He did believe it. Still, he'd seen combat, both with the Army and the Initiative, and didn't give ground.
"I see. And what would be the basis for any of those actions?" Wes asked, not turning to face Faith, despite the fact that she was not being quiet on the marble stairs.
"Well, besides all the stuff we couldn't tell anyone, because it'd get us locked in an asylum, there's harboring a fugitive, kidnapping, murder and theft. We got that whole little excursion of yours to the Fitzgerald House on camera. I especially enjoyed the part where you said if any of the survivors IDed Faith, then you'd have to kill them. That'll play real well for a jury."
Wes flicked a hand and his eyebrows and Anderson heard the door lock as Faith straddled the banister and jumped to the floor, despite the fall of almost a story, she just flexed as her feet hit the carpet and approached, her face a mask of fury.
"And before you do anything you'll regret, you should know that all the data is at half-a-dozen different off-site facilities."
"Oh, I wouldn't regret this. You might. Briefly," Faith slid forward and her lips twitched into an ugly smile, "or perhaps for a very, very long time."
"An interesting argument. Maybe we should send it to the people you stole all that stuff from. I'm sure they'd find it, interesting." Faith's hands rose. "Oh, and I've got a platoon of hardasses outside, just waiting for an excuse to shoot this place up."
"If you think that'll stop me, then you really have no idea what you're dealing with."
Anderson flinched back, sliding sideways as he wasn't going to back into Cavendish. Faith continued to advance. "Perhaps you'd like to share a bit more information regarding what it is you want, so we can make an informed decision regarding which option is, in fact, superior," Wes said with Faith playing the bad cop to his good cop. Except Anderson was absolutely certain she wasn't playing.
"Look, there's nothing sketchy about this. The US Army is doing its job and protecting people, just from more…unusual enemies than most. We need a bit of help, there's an issue with a project. You'll even be back in Sunnydale. And if things work out, we can even get the charges against you," he looked at Faith, "dropped, maybe help with your," his eyes flicked to Wes for just a moment, before returning to Faith, as the more dangerous of the two, "citizenship application," his spine straightened. "And, you know, not release those recordings to the people you robbed. And everyone else in the world."
Wes glanced at Faith, then shrugged. "And how long would this help take?"
"That depends on you, doesn't it?" Anderson asked, confidence returning as he dealt with the Watcher, not the Slayer.
"No!" Faith snapped.
"Indeed, not good enough. I think you'll agree when you hear what I propose. As you may have noticed, we do not trust you. Therefore, you will remain here. If I do not return within the time we agree upon, then you will suffer for it. An exchange of hostages, if you will."
"Absolutely not!" Anderson shrieked, as Faith also expressed her disapproval of that idea, if for somewhat different reasons.
"Why don't you check with your superiors, Major, see what they say."
The man blanched, but he withdrew to make the call. "You can't be serious about going back to Sunny-Dee. That's crazy!" Faith snapped.
Wes gave her a look.
"What will Harmony think about you running back to California?"
"She can come if she's concerned," Wes said with a shrug.
"And the Archmage? You haven't found the book he wants yet. What'll he think of you running away?"
"That's a point," he paused to consider. "If asked, well, Sunnydale is a major center of the underworld. If someone has a dangerous artifact, there's a good chance someone in Sunnydale knows something. Going there even makes a certain amount of sense."
"I…" Faith stuttered slightly, then continued more forcefully. "I'm going too. This is bullshit, but I ain't scared of Sunnydale."
Wes paused, considering his response, then went with the straightforward and straightforwardly honest. "Thank you."
"I'm not doing it for you. He's offering me a fresh start. I'll earn that," her chin rose and black eyes turned into the very gates of hell, "and I'll see to it that he keeps up his end of the bargain and knows what I can and will do if he breaks his deal with us."
West smiled at that. Despite the rest of her words, she'd said us.
Jane Cavendish was not going to spend the next six weeks inside, waiting for the US Army to get bored and go away. News and requests came in, even with the young lord and his harlots out of town. The world didn't stop turning and people didn't stop dying. As her father had been left in charge, it was just a matter of convincing him to let her and a few of the cousins out to handle things. That wasn't too difficult, especially once he saw the capabilities of the new weapons the young lord had purchased from Emil. They wouldn't be going unarmed, even into a police station, which was, indeed, where they were going.
Detective Biren Huang was not the most pleasant person in the world, which was one of the reasons she didn't get the support her investigations deserved. The other reason was that the disappearances she was investigating were tied into the cult of the Old Ones, which had quite a bit of influence in the city government.
Detective Huang looked up at Jane as the woman stopped in front of her desk. "Where's little lord Fauntleroy?"
The exact balance between personality and cultist influence was a matter of great debate amongst the Cavendishes. At least the ones who hadn't had to interact with her.
"Kidnapped by the US army to solve all the problems they couldn't. What did you find?" Jane asked, trying to match the older woman's tone.
Detective Huang sneered at her effort. "Because these assholes," she waved at the rest of the bullpen, which studiously ignored her comments, except for one junior, but very large detective, whose attempt to interject was stopped by his older, smaller, fatter and scarred partner, "wouldn't know a conspiracy if it bit them on the ass, I can only keep an eye on those members who are also up to other illegal shit. That isn't many of them. Still, of the six I've got surveillance on, one has disappeared and two died in 'accidents,' all in the last three days."
"50% casualties?" Jane asked, surprised.
"Oh, good, you can do division, I'm so fucking proud of you, kiddo. Now, I can't give you the files, of course, but I can give you this piece of paper," she passed over a sheet of notepaper, with six names, one starred and two circled, "and tell you to get the fuck out of here before one of these no-balled bastards calls IA on me for involving outsiders."
"Thank you, detective," Jane said, answering crudeness with courtesy as her father had taught her. It did not provoke the embarrassment in Biren which it had in her, when her father used it against her foul-mouthed self as a teenager. Instead the detective didn't even appear to hear her, returning to her paperwork without looking up.
The local news had stories on the deaths, which gave them a place to start (and a conversation with the coroner gave them photos of one of the corpses, in disturbingly graphic detail, which didn't suggest anything mystical about their deaths, unless someone out there had magic .45s). Unfortunately, that didn't get them anywhere as Jane and her cousins were really not investigators. After wasting most of a day talking to people who either knew nothing, or were unwilling to say anything to a bunch of Brits, they headed back home. A pleasant family meal was blighted by the silence of the cousins she'd brought with her (who had not reacted well to the photos) and by her own endless chatter about figuring this out before the young lord got back from his jaunt.
The presence of Major Moore, sitting in the corner under the eyes of everyone, attempting to figure out how to eat British cuisine (or at least which parts he could eat) didn't help matters. He did, however have a few suggestions for their investigation, mostly based on the few physical details they had and his experience with firearms. Well, and his absolute certainty that his input was valuable on really any subject. The worst part was that he was correct and his suggestions were useful.
Even more useful was her father's reminder that the young lord had made other contacts amongst the police and had recently done a major favor for someone on their way up. Namely, he'd provided them with the largest weapons bust in Cleveland history and assisted them in capturing a majority of the members of the second largest gang in the city. That sort of thing was good for the career and good for putting someone in your debt.
One of the country cousins pointed out that they had access to the young lord's accounts. They were flush at the moment, they could hire a private investigator or two. The cultists had some influence, but they weren't everywhere, the right PI could do a lot of good work. After dinner, Jane would make a few calls and got things moving in all directions. It sucked that she wasn't the best at everything, but the reminder was probably good for her humility.
She was still thinking that when the alarms, physical and mystical, warning of invaders on the grounds began to scream.
Author's Note: Next time, we get back to Sunnydale. You know, eventually.