Angel cradled the baby closer to his chest, hunching over him protectively. They'd gotten him back. It had taken threats and sacrifices and the darkest of magic, and Angel had crossed lines he hadn't even before the Gypsies had ensouled him. But it had all been worth it.
Connor was home.
Angel's eyes searched the baby's face, finding every minute difference in the unlined baby-fat—a faint scratch on his forehead, a slight plumping of the pink cheeks.
The changes were superficial. It was his son.
"Connor," Angel marveled softly. Raising the infant to his shulder, he buried his face in the velvety-soft babyflesh, inhaling the tender scent of innocence.
Cordelia forced herself to wait, to give Angel this moment alone with Connor. She desperately longed to touch the baby, reassure herself that he was real and safe and back. But Angel was his father, and the moment belonged to father and son.
She watched as he nuzzled the little fold of a neck, marveling at the tenderness he'd shown, always, to Connor. It was as if he'd always been a father, not a bloodsucking fiend.
But she could only wait for so long, and this was it. "My turn," she burst out eagerly, moving beside Angel and holding out her arms. Angel just shook his head, face still buried against the Connor's neck.
"Angel, you've had him long enou—"
"Mine!" Angel hissed, and Cordelia jumped back in horror as she saw the blood running down his chin. She stood there stupidly, unable to move, unable to process the horrible scene.
Then Fred screamed and the shrill sound broke Cordy's paralysis. She lunged forward to grab the infant from Angel, grappling with him for the tiny body. Angel's attention faltered for a moment as he saw Gunn charge at him with an axe, and Cordy managed to pull the baby away.
But it was too late. His body was limp in her hands, his big innocent eyes fixed and blank—
Wesley jerked awake, reaching over to turn on the lamp beside the couch. He was shaking, although that seemed silly; by now he would have thought he was used to the dreams. They were different every night, but really just variations on a theme. They were all gruesome, all hopeless. All lies.
The prophecy was a fake.
Wes reached up and touched his throat unconsciously. It felt, sometimes, as if there were still a knife slicing into him, instead of merely a scar marking him. No, not scar; wound. It wouldn't be a scar until it healed. Sometimes he felt like it never would.
Angel would never forgive him. Wesley knew that, but then he'd known it from the start. If he'd thought Angel would ever understand what he had to do, he would have explained it to him instead of just secreting the baby away. But saving Connor was more important than hoping Angel understood.
And now Connor was gone, lost in a hell dimension and in the care of a vengeful fanatic. And Wes, however inadvertantly, had delivered the baby into his hands. Sometimes the knowledge was like a weight pressing down on his chest until he could barely breath. He'd struggle and gasp for breath, then wonder if he should struggle at all.
At least Angel has his friends to console him, Wes thought, unable to repress his bitterness at the desertion of his friends.
Wes forced his breathing to return to normal. Perhaps he would pay Lilah a visit tomorrow. Not to fall into place as she thought he would, not by any means, but he could no longer afford to ignore Wolfram & Hart. He'd been in purgatory too long.
It was time he found his own little circle of hell.
For an evil law firm that undoubtedly made shocking sums of money, the bowels of Wolfram & Hart were disarmingly ordinary. The hallways and storage areas and file rooms were nondescript; it was like any office building in the city, tedious, functional, designed with an eye towards economy.
What did you expect? Wes thought mockingly. Gilt pagan altars, and hallways runnning with blood?
Well, perhaps not. But he was somewhat disappointed that the fabled security system was so lax that a simple glamor allowed him access to the building.
Perhaps that was something he could change. Yes, there was no saying that he had to remain a researcher for the rest of his life. It was a different life. He was a different man.
Lilah didn't know he was there. A carefully choreographed Potemkin of a tour wouldn't have shown him what he wanted to see—the truth. But all he saw were functionaries, hurrying along with folders, with parcels, with memos, chattering into cell phones. Nothing very shocking. Even hell had its gofers, apparently.
Somehow, the mundanity of it all made it less seductive. His momentary impulse towards the company faded; its surface glamour and vigor was an illusion. It wasn't who he was. Not before, and not now.
And then a door opened, and he saw her.
Wes slipped around the corner before she noticed him. Despite the glamor that disguised his appearance, he couldn't escape the feeling that she would know him if she saw him.
Sometimes he thought Lilah knew everything.
That was absurd, of course. She was highly conversant about evil and its many benefits, but there was more to the world than that.
Lilah didn't even glance in his direction. "Zimmerman, get her other arm," she barked to someone out of Wesley's sight. "Now!"
There was a struggle, and he could hear raised voices inside the room from which Lilah had emerged. "What are you waiting for?" demanded Lilah. "Give her the shot, now!"
Then she leapt back as a dark-haired woman lunged out of room and tried to grab her arm. She was mad, desperate, wild-eyed.
Wes lost his breath for a moment. This was a dream, surely. It couldn't be happening. Faith was in prison up north—she'd tortured him, surely the Council would alert him if she was released—
The thought died as soon as it formed. Of course the Council wouldn't contact him. The Council preferred to pretend he'd never existed, much less served as Watcher. If it knew Faith was out of prison, it would have given her a map to his home and let her take care of him before exterminating her once and for all. Two of the Council's greatest embarrassments, conveniently wiped out.
A half-dozen men in white uniforms poured out of the room after Faith, swarming her as if she were a side of beef and it was feeding time in the lions' cage. After a moment one of the men stepped back, holding up an empty syringe. Within a minute or two the girl's struggles had died down, and her limp body was carried back into the room by Lilah's flunkies. Faith was no longer a threat.
Wes didn't listen as Lilah berated the medic to kept Faith sedated and under control. If he joined Wolfram & Hart, he would have access to all its secrets. Access to Faith. He could have his revenge on her for what she'd done to him, if he wished.
Years before, he hadn't been strong enough to handle her.
But now, things had changed.
The doctor was late.
Faith wasn't really sure how she knew he was late; there wasn't a clock, and she hadn't seen the daylight in … it seemed like forever, but she had no idea. Weeks? Months? Her thinking wasn't very clear, and her head was beginning to throb. The doctor usually came when her head began to throb.
Then he was there, leaning over her, and Faith felt an instinctive relief. Finally! If he hadn't come soon, she would have had to struggle. Struggling was hard. Floating was easy.
But instead of giving her a shot the doctor hauled her to her feet. "Come on now, quickly. Move."
More tests? she wondered groggily. They'd stopped the tests weeks ago. Or days ago. They'd learned everything there was to know about her. She used to be a Slayer, and now she was nothing.
"No shot?" she asked blearily.
"Not yet," he replied.
In some distant part of her mind Faith was aware that he was not the doctor. She tried to focus on his face, but he looked fuzzy and imprecise—like an image out of a memory, or a dream. Or maybe a nightmare. "Later?" she asked.
"Yes, Faith. Later," Wes said quietly.
Faith awoke with a start. She felt uncomfortable, like something had been done to her while she was asleep. The feeling wasn't new. But when she tried to rub her eyes, her arms could barely move. And then she heard the chains rattle.
Chains? What, was this some kind of punishment? Because of the day before, when she attacked Lilah or whatever her name was, that sleazy Yuppie robot who'd tried to get her to kill Angel a couple of years before?
"Okay, fun's over," she called. "Time to get me out of here!"
Then the door opened, and her Watcher was looking down at her. Same as he'd always done.
"Wes?" she said in surprise. "…What happening?"
Wesley stared at her, his face unreadable. "Don't you remember last night?"
What? What did he mean, remember last night? That sounded … no way! She caught a glimpse of the room behind him through the open doorway and realized she was no longer at Wolfram & Hart. It looked like somebody's home.
She gave the chains an experimental tug and found to her increasing apprehension that they didn't give. "Chains, Wes? Not really like you."
"You don't know me," said Wes curtly. "Nobody does anymore."
A knot began to form in Faith's stomach. Somehow the closed-off, remote look on Wes's face worried her more than those creeps at Wolfram & Hart. Quietly—so quietly it didn't make a sound—she began to increase the pressure on the chains. Wes never knew anything, not when he was her Watcher and not now. He thought he could keep her there? He was wrong.
"You with the lawyers?" she asked. That woman had made it very plain who was holding her, and why—she was going to be their secret weapon. Their very own private Slayer, who'd do whatever they wanted. "What, Angel dump you? Guess he got sick of you sending him those moon-eyed glances," she mocked.
His mouth tightened. "You don't know what you're talking about."
"Yeah, sure I don't," she taunted. "Remember way back when, Wes? That time in the library when no one was around, and I sat in your lap? I wiggled around like a bowl of jello, and it didn't do a thing for you. And if I don't do it, nobody can. No woman, anyway," she added spitefully.
Wesley flushed. Yes, he remembered the incident clearly. He doubted he'd ever forget it.
"Any red-blooded man would have had my jeans off in about two seconds, but not you, huh Wes? Just shoved me off your lap like you were afraid I'd give you the clap."
"You probably would have," he said indifferently, and briefly enjoyed the look of rage on her face. Despite what she told herself, she was almost pathetically näive; he'd shoved her off his lap because he didn't want her to feel his arousal. Unlike her, he'd known what the Watcher-Slayer relationship should be, and it wasn't what she taunted him with—although he'd known keenly, even then, that she wouldn't have gone through with it even if he'd responded. She been mocking him, as she always did. As they all had, always.
Now she was before him, in chains.
"No, Faith, I'm not with Wolfram & Hart," he finally said, his voice rough. "And I'm not with Angel anymore either," he added before she could open her mouth. "And I'm not going to keep you here."
He leaned forward and unlocked her wrists, then stepped back before Faith could rise. She staggered to her feet, her coordination a little rocky after being chained for so many hours, and rubbed the imprints the cuffs had left on her wrists. The marks were faint, but she never would have thought Wes would be the one to put them there.
"What the hell did you think you were doing?" she asked, still trying to wrap her mind around the fact that this was Wes.
Wes shrugged. "I never planned to bring you here," he said simply. "But you were too heavily drugged to be left on your own. Wolfram & Hart would have found you, or perhaps a passing demon, and my little rescue would have been for nothing. And I'm quite sick of doing things for nothing."
Faith scowled. "So you just thought you'd tie me up?"
"It seemed fair," observed Wes.
"Fair? What the hell did I—" she broke off, recalling when she'd had Wes tied up and at her mercy. Yeah, mercy.
"Forgive me, but I was somewhat concerned about what might happen if you awoke before me. Considering the last time we met, it seemed best."
Faith felt resentment, sharp and familiar, stab her. He was wrong, dammit. The last time he'd seen her, she'd turned herself in to the police and allowed herself to be taken to prison. And she'd stayed there. The bars hadn't kept her in, and neither had the guards.
"What makes you think it's safe to let me go now?" she challenged.
Wes raised his hand for a moment, and allowed Faith to see the pistol he held.
"What the hell's happened to you, Wes?" she demanded in growing disbelief. Christ, he was giving her whiplash! Getting her out of Wolfram & Hart, then chaining her up, and now pulling a gun on her? It was like she was in the bizarro world or something.
She'd never admit it, but the bleakness in his expression frightened her a little. She never would have believed Wes could frighten her. Hell, she wouldn't have believed Wes could frighten a Girl Scout.
"I was reborn, Faith," he told her, opening the door and gesturing towards the hallway. Telling her without words that he wanted her gone, just like everybody else did. Then he pointed to his throat, and for the first time Faith noticed the angry red line bisecting it. "Didn't you see my birthmark?"