THE TRUTH WILL OUT
Wesley thumbed through the yellowed pages of Spencer's Annotated Compendium, registering only enough of the contents to know it didn't hold what he was looking for. Next to him, Fred was bent over her own book again, but the energy between them had become edgy, no longer the easy, companionable connection of a few minutes ago. Before she had brought up Cordy and Connor, which had led to discussion of Lilah.
He owed Fred the truth, he thought, or at least some version of it. Perhaps she would never understand what had driven him to Lilah's bed—how could she, when he wasn't entirely certain he did?—but at least he'd been honest about it.
Fred rubbed her forehead, then looked at Wes. She tried so hard to hide the woundedness in her dark eyes, but he could still see it. He had betrayed her, on some level, and she couldn't understand that.
"But what—" she started, and the office door slammed open. Wesley jumped and turned. Angel's wide form filled the doorway, and there was something in his eyes that made a chill run down Wesley's back.
"We need to talk," said Angel. "Fred, could you give us a minute?"
Fred glanced at Wesley. "Of course." She looked at her feet as she headed out of the office. Angel must have noticed, because he caught her arm as she brushed by.
"I just need to talk to Wes," he told her gently. "Be sure I'm on the right track before I bring everybody in."
Fred looked up at him and smiled a little. "Okay, sure." She left the office, closing the door softly behind her.Wesley stood, suddenly awkward. He still felt uncomfortable with Angel, especially like this, alone in close quarters. Angel had made several efforts now to mend fences, and Wesley appreciated that—he could even say it had touched him—but he still had dreams sometimes of suffocating in his bed.
And right now, something lurked around Angel. Menace, Wesley thought, and it made bile rise in the back of his throat as he forced himself to quell memories of Angelus. It was all still too fresh.
But when Angel spoke, his voice was even, careful. "I don't want her to hear this unless she has to."
Wesley nodded. "What is it?"
"I know who the Beast's master is." Wesley's eyes widened at that, not only at the statement, but at the hard certainty with which Angel said it. Then Angel deflated a little, his voice unsteady as he went on. "At least I think I do. And, to be honest, I hope to God I'm wrong."
He sat heavily down in the chair Fred had just vacated. Wesley sat, as well, slowly. Angel scrubbed his forehead, closed his eyes. Wesley gave him a moment before venturing, carefully, "Who is it?"
Angel looked up. His face was carefully set, neutral, but his eyes were raw and, looking into them, Wesley winced.
"Cordelia," said Angel.
Wes blinked. That was the last thing he had expected to hear. "What—why do you think it's Cordelia?"
Angel shook his head a little, as if he didn't quite believe himself. "This thing, this Beastmaster, it spoke inside my head. It was a male, cliché horror movie voice, but it kept calling me 'sweet boy,' and 'little man.' 'My sweet.'"
"Just because it sounded like a woman doesn't mean it was Cordelia." Wesley was grasping at straws, he knew. Angel would, of course, have more evidence than this.
"I know. But she came up to talk to me, a few minutes ago. I had my suspicions already, but I was waiting for more. So I listened. It was more than the 'sweet boy' thing. Syntax, word choice, the rhythm of her speech—it matched. Some way, somehow, this thing has control of her, or has taken her place, or—" He closed his eyes again, squeezed the bridge of his nose. He looked so tired, Wes thought. Old. "I don't know."
Wesley nodded slowly. "You're certain?"
"Certain enough to say we need to find out if I'm right." He looked straight at Wesley, clenched his teeth a moment. "Can you help me with that?"
"Of course." He hesitated. "I think it's best if we bring everyone in on this. Fred, Gunn, Lorne—" He broke off, leaving the last name unsaid.
Angel shook his head. "It maybe too late for Connor. But maybe if he sees the truth, if we shove it right in his face . . ."
"I don't think we can count on that. Not at this point."
"Yeah." Angel's voice was bleak. "We need to draw her out—draw it out—make it show itself. Maybe we could set something up, a trap, or—"
Angel broke off, looked at Wes questioningly. Wes cleared his throat.
"If this is true, then it may come down to a choice between averting the apocalypse and saving Cordelia." He paused, unwilling to voice the next words. But they had to be said. "You may have to kill her in order to kill it."
Angel nodded. "I know."
"Do you think you can do that?"
For a split second, Wesley saw the depth of grief, of brokenness, in Angel's eyes. Then Angel pulled the shutters down, closed himself off.
"You forget, Wes. I've been on the receiving end of that blade. If Buffy could do it, then so can I, if I have to."
"But Buffy killed Angelus. There's a difference—"
"No, she didn't," Angel broke in. Wesley stopped, looking at Angel in surprise. He'd heard this story third-hand, but he'd thought he'd gotten the details right. "Buffy killed me," Angel finished. He rose to his feet. "I'll do what I have to do. In the meantime, we need a plan."
Wes nodded, regrouping. "Yes, of course." He pushed aside the books on demon pregnancy. They wouldn't need them, not for this. "What exactly do you have in mind?"