TITLE: Second String
AUTHOR: Roseveare, t.l.greentalk21.com
LENGTH: 3700 words
SUMMARY: Wesley and Cordelia, cleaning up after the apocalypse.
SPOILERS: Season 2, 'Are You Now or Have You Ever Been'
NOTES: Book of Days Spring Challenge. Requirements: Wesley - action/adventure - apocalypse - no Spike
DISCLAIMER: Not mine, no profit, yadda, yadda, yadda
Second String

Wesley did not like having buildings fall on top of him. In general, it tended to be an occurrence he would be rather happier to avoid. In application, however, it seemed to increasingly be one that had singled him out for special and significant attention.

Overwhelmingly, his impression of the collapse had been noise; not pain, and not the pressure bearing down. Afterwards, even as things were still shifting and settling, he was mostly aware of the abrasive brick dust and wood splinters he'd breathed in, and the sharp edge that scored his arm as he moved to block his mouth was nothing in trade for shielding his hacking coughs against drawing in still more.

By the time he'd finished coughing, the convulsions had already shed a good deal of that portion of the building that had landed atop him. He pushed up from the stone-tile floor, cracked tiles inches from his fingers where the larger chunks of masonry had bounced and rolled informing him just how fortunate he'd been.

The old church, which had been rickety before, was now not so much a ruin as simply gone. He squinted through the dark to discern the changed landscape in a collection of shadows and edges. One single corner - his own corner - had survived the collapse, and it stood a thin column with a tiny slice of roof supported, just five feet from where he rested on hands and knees. He stood, swaying, with the rubble shifting underfoot and the last of the dust still settling, sleeve across his mouth, and watched that column seem, too, to sway against the glow of the streetlamp across the deserted road behind it, and it was no hard conclusion that lingering in that spot might not prove the wisest move.

"Cordelia?" It came out as a croak. "Angel?" Hacking coughs wrecked his balance and tipped him back to one knee. But neither of them had been anywhere near him when the vortex collapsed in on itself, he thought, struggling upright again. He started to pick his way across the rubble toward where he had a vague memory Cordelia might have been standing, though it had to be said the area of the church seemed disorientingly smaller now the church was no longer there. "Cordelia?" He didn't dare to shout too loud, afraid the noise would bring down that last treacherous spar.

The debris beneath his right foot suddenly squirmed and something seized his ankle with purpose, dropping him face-first back among a host of sharp edges and blunt corners. He released a muffled "oof".

Whatever had hold of his leg was clawing its way up using him as its leverage, hissing and spitting as it shed bricks and dust. Kicking out at it, Wesley struggled loose and turned to see one of the acolyte demons. Torik'nath, his brain supplied, the breed finally clicking into place. Squinting closer as he stumbled back to his feet, he realised it was the one Angel had run through and tossed aside right before destroying the Offered Urn. It hunched now around the hole in its gut, though that was not a great deal of comfort when it was still rather larger than he and he wasn't feeling especially healthy either.

It also seemed to have little regard for its own condition, apparently being far more concerned with the objective of disembowelling the infidels who had dared to disrupt the Sacred Apocalyptic Rite of Geff-Ynuk - that right now being nominally Wesley, even if Angel had been the one doing the actual disrupting. He only just stepped back in time to avoid a swipe of the demon's claws, and promptly fell over again on the uneven ground, sprawling helplessly as the torik'nath moved in for the kill.

His hand fastened around a brick, and acting on instinct before thought he swung his arm and let fly. The brick connected easily with the demon's skull; it rocked back on its feet, looked stunned a moment, then very slowly fell over.

Something rattled and shifted, and Wesley froze as the rattling seemed to echo and build. He squinted up at the remnant column of wall, made a strangled noise in the back of his throat as he saw it wobble and a great wave seemed to curl up and down its length.

He turned and scrambled away over the debris as it came crashing down, a pile of bricks burying the torik'nath and the spot he'd been not three seconds before.

The shockwave knocked him flat again, or perhaps just the shock. Peering out across the now completely flattened corner of the church, trying through the dust catching the sparse light on the air, he hoped - God, he hoped - that Cordelia hadn't been anywhere under there. Angel, of course, he had less immediate concerns for... assuming Angel had survived his proximity to the vortex as it was destroyed.

"Cordelia!" Less fear now of raising his voice. In the relative silence, he waited and listened over the distant sirens and traffic, and tried again to map the ruin before him to the main room of the church they'd been standing in before the collapse... to where Cordelia had last been standing. His thoughts weren't working so well as they might, but even so he was already crossing to the area where the muffled cry and the sound of slightly shifting debris came from by the time he heard it.

He took more care approaching, then, because he couldn't see Cordelia - not that he could see much of anything, although the collapse of the wall had allowed for the faint illumination of that one nearby streetlight to spread across to them without the intervening block of shadow. He didn't want to risk adding his own weight, perhaps fatally, to the layers that might already be crushing her. "...Cordelia?"

A section of the debris bounced slightly and yelled incoherently at him in response.

With some relief, Wesley crawled across to it, and began to work clear the section that had moved while trying to catch any bricks and larger pieces threatening to slide into the void beneath. He hauled a beam aside and a dust-caked hand emerged and waved itself agitatedly. Smiling despite himself, Wesley cast the beam away and reached out to touch the fingers with his own. "I'm here, Cordelia."

She took it as an invitation; caught hold of his hand tightly, and he grunted as he took the weight. After a moment in which hard breaths and sounds of movement emanated from the hole, a second hand emerged and he took that one, too, and - doubting his strength all the way - pulled her clear.

She staggered against him, her heels finding little purchase among the rubble. He was privately amazed she still had her shoes at all, let alone that she herself appeared so undamaged. Those larger pieces of debris must have formed a safe void around her. "Wesley...?" She stared up at him, wide eyed. Scuffed and scraped and her hair a nightmarish tangle with a good portion of the masonry still in it. "It feels like the whole world just went and landed on my head. Did it?"

"Er. Just the old church, I believe."

"Oh. Good." She looked down and said mournfully, "These were new shoes." She looked around her and winced. "Reminds me of Angel's new place. If he'd had the interior decorators in yet, anyway."

She sagged around his waist and he helped her clear, to a space at the side of the wreckage that had been the alley adjacent to the church. Cordelia sank down on a discarded box, and squeaked as her hair flopped down into her face. She reached up and pinned a lock between thumb and forefinger to regard with horror. "Oh, God." She looked down at the state of her clothes and buried her head in her hands. "I hate my whole life."

"I'm sure Angel will, um, stretch to covering hairdresser's expenses for damage inflicted in the course of duty," Wesley volunteered comfortingly, fairly sure Angel would take some persuading to do anything of the sort. He tentatively reached down to pluck a long splinter from the tangle on top of her head, and brushed off the worst of the dust with his fingers. She slapped his hand away without raising her head and muttered something unintelligible to her knees.

Wesley, given opportunity finally while waiting for Cordelia to fully come around, noticed for the first time that his arm was seeping blood into his shirt sleeve. Something sharp had made a long tear in both the cloth and the flesh underneath. He couldn't see well enough to properly examine the wound, but although the blood was plentiful it was hardly gushing, and as such he concluded he could afford to pay it no heed for the time being.

He looked around the darkness. The city noise and lights seemed a million miles away. It was surprising, perhaps, that nobody had yet come to help, but on the other hand this wasn't a hugely populated area, being mostly offices and industrial, and little time had actually yet passed. And looking around, he saw there were also some fires in the near distance, lighting the night sky orange. He frowned at them, gauging their positions and the loose seven-point shape they drew across the cityscape, encircling his own vantage point, and connected them belatedly to the force lines of the demon cult's vortex. Oh.

Well. It was better than the end of the world, he thought.

"Angel!" Cordelia's head raised sharply as she made her abrupt proclamation. She glared at Wesley. "Why are we sitting around here, dumbass? Angel's still somewhere under there!"


"Come on." She was on her feet and had grabbed his arm to start dragging him back to the collapsed church before he could offer protest, or defence, or a query as to whether this meant that she was, in fact, feeling better now, or even just 'ouch'. She dropped his arm after a few steps, her face scrunching up. "Ew." She wiped her hands off on his sleeve and turned away, making repulsed faces. When she turned back, though, she had her scarf in her hands. A grimace down at it, and she announced the verdict, "I don't suppose it can get much more ruined than it already is, on the damages-Angel-so-needs-to-someday-pay-for scale." Rolling up his sleeve, she tied the scarf in place over the cut. "Is that everything, Wes? Nothing else you've been keeping all prissy British about?"

"I was being stoic and manly!" Wesley protested for his wounded pride, but climbed down a little as she mimed a yawn. "But to be honest, at the moment it's rather hard to tell." Given that it was very, very dark and everything hurt quite a lot, he added mentally.

"I so hear you." She sighed feelingly. "C'mon, we still got our bloodsucking boss to dig out of this wreck... How is it that I'm always left cleaning up after the apocalypse?"

She drew in a breath and screamed, "ANGEL!" making Wesley cringe and cover his ears. She seemed unconcerned for her own safety as she scrambled over the rubble, continuing to call. Wesley trudged in her wake until she stood silent and dejected, no ground left to cover and no sign of any help forthcoming from their stray vampire.

"He must have been knocked out by the blast," Wesley said glumly, setting a hand on her shoulder. "He was standing right next to the vortex when it--" He didn't voice the other option. Cordelia didn't need to hear it yet, and in his experience she'd likely only get angry with him. But he did add, "Even for a vampire, that must have delivered a great deal of punishment."

"Yeah." Cordelia was looking at the sky. She bounced agitatedly on her feet - not something he'd have recommended, given what they were standing on. "We gotta find him!" She turned to him. "What time is it?"

Wesley squinted at his watch in the dark; then raised it to his ear and listened carefully before replying. "I have no idea. Although it was 2.45AM when the building landed on my wrist." He huffed pointedly. "We did spent an inordinate amount of the night waiting for that cult from your vision to show up."

"Hey! It's not my fault if the PTB don't give out visions labelled by date and time. It felt like tonight, I said it felt like tonight, okay?" Cordelia rubbed and her own bare wrists and looked up at the sky again.

"Dawn," Wesley realised suddenly. She gave him a withering look, but it was hardly his fault if his brain wasn't in peak condition for having a building dumped on top of it. He'd not been too concerned about Angel, given what he knew the vampire was capable of surviving, but if Angel wasn't conscious, it could take more than hours to find a body in all of this, and all they had was maybe three at most in which to work. In the dark.

"Yes. Dawn," Cordelia said. "And, duh, rescue workers. Emergency services. Paramedics. People who rope off disaster sites and take days carefully digging survivors out of wrecked buildings and to which we can't exactly say 'oh, hey, be careful not to bring our boss out while it's sunshiney, because of how he's a vampire who'll combust into itty bitty pieces of dust'."

Wesley swallowed. "I can see where that might be a problem. We'll have to work--" A very definite groan sounded some way behind them, back toward the alley. "Quickly," Wesley finished meekly, a trace of a question hanging in the word. They exchanged a brief glance, then picked their way across to the sound, a certain grim reluctance stretching between them.

They both knew Angel hadn't been anywhere near that part of the church when it had fallen in.

The source of the groan was half buried under a pile of bricks about a dozen feet down the alley from where they'd stopped to rest, and in plain view for anyone who was paying a decent amount of attention. The man looked like a vagrant and smelled strongly of alcohol, among other less pleasant aromas that had Cordelia wrinkling her nose and voicing several less-than-charitable comments even as they were digging the poor fellow out. He'd only been caught in the edge of the collapse, though he seemed more dazed than either of them and had a nasty gash in his forehead.

"Sir?" Wesley prompted, helping him sit up and trying without much success to examine his eyes. "Can you tell us what hurts?"

A string of indecipherable muttering that might've been foul language but could as easily have been a random list of groceries wasn't the most helpful response in the world. Cordelia snorted. "You're going to be okay," she said, her voice taking on a soothing tone with, granted, a certain manic quality. "We're going to find you help. Can you stand?"

It seemed he could, after a fashion, and they helped him to his feet very tentatively and kept him there only with some expenditure of effort. "He may be drunk," Wesley said, reeling from a breath that he suspected was high enough proof to intoxicate all on its own, "But he also has a concussion and ought to be checked out properly." He chewed on his lower lip and frowned at her across the tramp's sagged head, considering. "Can you get him to the car on your own?"

"We'd have to wash the car out and..." She caught his look. "Yeah, I guess. What will you be doing?"

He sighed. "I'll start digging."

Cordelia nodded. "I'll be back soon. I'll see if I can't find us some flashlights from somewhere, too." She moved off slowly, the old man hanging heavily from her shoulder - just as well the fellow couldn't see her expression while she tried to incline her face as far away from him as possible.

She'd long gone out of sight in the darkness before he heard the familiar roar of Angel's car starting up down the street. The engine noise slowly faded. Tiredly, Wesley hauled himself back into the rubble, and walked - lurched - it, trying to meticulously count paces on a surface a long way from horizontal, until he'd traced the point he thought had harboured the heart of the explosion, the Offered Urn, the vortex, and Angel.

"Angel?" No answer, but not overly surprising since the word came out barely a croak. "Angel!"

Getting down on hands and knees, he began slowly to haul off the layers of debris, backing off some way each time to cast the discarded pieces aside well clear of his chosen search area.

By the time Cordelia returned bearing torches, he'd found one hopeful indicator - the body of another torik'nath, one of those handful Angel had slain in trying to reach the Urn, or so he hoped.

"I left the smelly old man with the paramedics at one of those fires," she said.

"Where did you get the torches?"

"Um... that part? You probably don't want to know."

"You stole them?" he asked, pained.

"Hey! Emergency services... we have an emergency here. This is Angel's life... unlife... whatever... that we're talking about! Don't waste the batteries, 'cause I'm not going out to steal any more."

They set back to work in the rubble, the increased illumination bringing renewed energy - not just because of the torches; there was also that lightening band of grey where the horizon met the sky that would very soon cease to be aid and turn to hindrance. The time seemed to progress too quickly, and it wasn't long before their urgency ensured they were more scratched and battered from their efforts than they had been by the initial collapse. Cordelia's breath was coming in sobs of effort, although Wesley strongly suspected she'd have accomplished more with less expenditure had it not been for constantly raising her head to look at the sky.

They alternated their search with pauses to shout, and wait, and hear nothing but the distant sirens and traffic that they dreaded they would any moment start to hear closing in.

It wasn't in one of these such pauses that their break came. Wesley was hauling up a large spar fallen from the roof and didn't in fact hear anything at all. It was Cordelia who dropped what was in her hands and spread her arms, calling, "Hush!" And even then Wesley couldn't hear anything, but he could see that she did; watched her as she climbed the edge of the depression they'd created, and upon reaching a certain point, began hauling pieces from the sheer side with a total disregard for the precarious balance of it all. "Angel!"

"Wait, Cordelia, I don't think that's a terribly good idea--!"

He barely got the words out as the pile started to shift. She continued to heave at a large board, so single-minded she hadn't noticed, and then shrieked and fell back as a section gave. She tumbled down the slope of the rubble, fetching up against Wesley's knees. He crouched down and managed to cover her body somewhat with his own as debris spewed on top of them.


Wesley had decided long ago that he was not going to be buried when he died. No eternity in a dark, forgotten casket under all that depth of dirt for him, thank you. He coughed and spluttered, throwing off the heavy pieces of debris.

One of them groaned.

"Angel!" Cordelia was up in an instant, no matter that the process involved planting an elbow in Wesley's stomach to shove him aside. "Angel! Sunlight! ...No!"

Wesley sighed, and ached, and bent down and plucked her up from where she was trying to flatten their already-only-very-tenuously-conscious vampiric boss by pasting her body over him like a blanket. "It's all right, Cordelia. It isn't light enough yet. He should be fine. We just need to get him into the car quickly."

"Right." She stood and dusted herself down, much good that it did, and looked faintly embarrassed in the growing light. "I knew that."

"Okay..." Taking an arm each, between them they carried the semi-conscious vampire to the car.

"...freaky vase cult demons all dead?" their burden mumbled.

"Yes, Angel. The freaky vase cult demons are all hacked into bitty demon chunks. And buried under a ton of churchy brick wall."

"...and you're both okay, right?"

"Indeed. We're quite all right, Angel. Don't concern yourself."

"You owe me hair. And clothes - you also owe me clothes. And definitely a manicure. And I guess if you're doing all that it wouldn't be any great pain to spare Wesley ten dollars for a new crappy suit."


"...'s my hair?" the vampire asked.

"You don't want to know. Come on, Angel... get in the nice, dark trunk... We're all going back to your crummy hotel now. Home sweet falling-down home. Only not literally. I hope. Because if that one falls down, too, we're not digging you out of there."


Neither of them heard what he said as they slammed the trunk.

"Well," said Wesley, as they walked around to the front of the car, both headed for the driver's door and a brief jostle that ended in a decisive victory for Cordelia. "Another night's work done and dusted." He groaned as he eased himself into the passenger side.

"Don't talk to me about dust." Cordelia briefly lingered outside the open door and attempted, once again, to brush down her outfit, before slumping defeatedly into the driving seat. "I need a bath." She moaned. "I need a bed." Her brow crinkled in a frown. "Maybe I'll sleep in the bath..."

She leaned her head back against the headrest and closed her eyes, seeming to let herself drift. "Maybe I'll just sleep here." She jerked awake. "Does Angel's crummy new hotel office thing even have a working bath?"

"It has water," Wesley offered, cautious of giving out misinformation that would come back to haunt him, possibly with menaces. "I'm sure the plumbing must have been hooked up in one of the en-suite rooms. And I'm not sure if the boiler's working, but there's definitely a kettle."

Cordelia sighed heavily, sat up, and started the engine. "It'll do."