Disclaimer: Don't own, etc., etc. Joss Whedon rules supreme and retains pretty much everything. Only written for personal enjoyment and because this plot bunny just wouldn't die, even after some serious staking…
Summary: Follows on directly from That Old (Grand) Sire Of Mine. Rating 15 for minor sexual references. Wherein there are various machinations afoot, and if not tears, certainly lots of yelling before bedtime …
THE ONE CHOSEN
Ffion waved cheerily at her parents and her fiancé as they finally left her exclusive Somerset country cottage, Nigel gallantly offering her mother his arm down the rather steep stone steps, then shut the door and slumped against in relief. Thank god that was over.
Checking her elegantly slim 18-carat-gold-and-diamond Rolex, Ffion blew out an exasperated breath; she'd feared she would never get rid of them…once her father and Nigel got started they could pontificate forever, nodding portentously to each other across the table like Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and to say she was working to a tight timetable here was probably the understatement of the decade.
Uncharacteristically ignoring the Royal Doulton china, Waterford Crystal and her great-grandmother's 18-carat-gold cutlery that normally she would have lovingly washed the instant she could get it away from the upstart person using it to eat or drink, Ffion instead dashed upstairs and pulled out the two smallest valises from her Luis Vuitton luggage set.
She had a window of a little over twenty-four hours to get to LA and persuade, bribe or threaten (as appropriate) her fiancé's black-sheep brother to not attend the wedding and get back here without anyone being any the wiser. Escaping down to London had been easier than she thought; Ffion simply mentioned she was going to down to spend just a couple of days with her old school friend, Selina Houghton-Beldon, now Mrs Ambassador to…somewhere South American, before the Ambassador and his wife went to their new home. In actual fact Selina had no idea of Ffion's upcoming nuptials as the two women had only been nodding acquaintances since leaving school, and indeed had no idea that her living in London had long been used by Ffion as an excuse whenever she needed to visit the city for reasons she didn't want to reveal.
Unfortunately, this evening's meal with Nigel and her parents had been long planned, and Ffion had been unable to come up with any plausible reason to cancel it at such short notice that wouldn't arouse suspicion or concern. She had to be at London Heathrow Terminal 4 for 3:00am, her flight left at just gone 5:00am. As she hastily gathered toiletries and clothing, Ffion desperately hoped her fiancé's brother showed a similar non-confrontational weakness of character and wouldn't make a fuss about being asked by his incipient sister-in-law to steer clear of his only brother's wedding…
Wesley cried out in pain as his wrist was crushed; the stiletto dropped into the sink as the nerves of the fingers holding it were suddenly deadened; the muscles in Wesley's arms protested as they were wrenched behind his back and a sudden weight pushed him into the unyielding marble edge of the sink unit, immobilising him.
"Tsk, tsk. Naughty," breathed a voice in Wesley's ear in a deep growl. "To mark that fair English skin of yours…"
In any other circumstance comical, the floor-length mirror showed only Wesley's own reflection, his wrists pinned together at the base of his spine and his body pressed against the bathroom sink, as if restrained by an invisible policeman. Wesley tensed his body, but he was no match for the coiled strength that held him so easily. "Spike, let me go, now."
"Er…don't reckon so, mate. You were about open a vein, remember." Spike, standing behind him and holding him effortlessly, précised the last few moments sarcastically.
"For God's sake, I'm not suicidal."
"'Course not, you were about to slit your wrists 'cause you were thinking about changing the colour scheme in here to red and wanted to see what it'd be like."
"The only thing I want to slit is your throat!" Wesley snapped. "I need to draw three-quarters of a pint of blood into that flask, that is all. Now – let me go!" He pushed back and the grip on his arms was released. Wesley turned around and glared at the blond, well aware that Spike had released him rather than he himself pulling free of the vampire's grip.
"What do you need it for?" challenged Spike.
Since it was clear Spike wasn't going to let matters continue until he had an explanation, Wesley told him, "I need it to feed Angel."
Spike's eyes instantly darkened to angry sapphire. "No way. That Drama Queen has my ex-tumble bringing him three mugs of the ruby red every day like he's Donald Trump, now you want to add your own haemoglobin to the mix?"
Wesley didn't back down. "Spike – firstly, if I choose to feed every damn vampire in LA, I will do so, until you can provide a bill of sale for what's in my veins? No, thought not. Second, there is a reason for my sudden altruism. Angel is being poisoned."
Spike's aggressive attitude lessened somewhat. "Poisoned, for real?"
"Perhaps too strong a description, but at any rate certainly drugged. Someone is adding Luaric to his daily mugs of blood, the taste being hidden by the pig and otter blood."
"Luaric? Well that explains why tall dark and dreary has been even drearier of late." At last Spike backed off a little, looking thoughtful. "Why not just tell our Lord and Grumpy Master?"
"Because I have no leads to go on as to who the culprit is. If he's tipped off he could crawl so deep into the woodwork that we'd never find him, which would leave us with a dangerously exposed underbelly, metaphorically speaking." Wesley pointed out. "The best solution I could come up with on the fly was to substitute the drugged blood with an uncontaminated supply. Unfortunately, the only source I can utilise and completely guarantee the perpetrator won't get wind of is myself. Angel won't realise it's my blood if it's mixed with pig and otter blood to disguise the taste. The handle end of the stiletto has been enchanted with healing charms."
Spike grunted then reached out to capture Wesley's wrist and turned it palm up so the veins could clearly be seen. "Three quarters of a pint, that's all?"
"Yes." Wesley remained still; he lacked the power to break Spike's grip and besides, the vampire's fangs were still sharper than even a magically enhanced stiletto.
Carefully avoiding tearing the delicate tissues, Spike punctured Wesley's main arterial vein with his teeth, but as he created a little suction, instead of feeding, he lifted his mouth from the limb and instead pushed the flask under it. Both watched as the blood flowed smoothly from Wesley's wrist into the flask. Expertly eyeing the rising level, Spike reached out and picked up the stiletto by the point, holding it handle down about half an inch above Wesley's skin and making stroking motions. As his wounded flesh closed over to leave no trace of Spike's bite, Wesley knew that there would be not a drop over three-quarters of a pint in the flask. Spike hadn't mellowed that much towards his grandsire.
Angel's ears pricked up as he heard familiar approaching voices. He finished washing out his mug and placed it on the draining board. Over the past days his blood had seemed somehow…nicer. Finishing up some paperwork, he had buzzed Harmony for a fourth cup, only for the vampiress to enter his room with her coat half on. When he asked where she was going, he received a pointed glance at the wall clock and a declaration that she had an actual unlife before she swept away again.
Surrounded by empty offices and just the (mostly humanoid) cleaning staff, Angel had thought himself about the only member of the senior staff in the building. Even Wes, who usually had to be pried away from his office with a crowbar (not that you could see him in there apart from the top of his head behind a barricade of weighty tomes) had been gone a good hour. Lorne had vanished an hour ago to go check on Caritas, which was now being run by a hand-picked manager for him; that the guy had the habit of humming when nervous and didn't know Lorne was an anagogic – i.e., empathic – demon made him the perfect employee. Spike was probably mooching around the rafters somewhere; Angel didn't really care.
Stepping out of the kitchen, Angel saw Gunn walking towards him with Fred, both wearing their coats and clearly heading out.
"I'm telling yah, we gotta be missing something here." Gunn was determined on that point.
"Hi." Angel greeted them as he stepped out of the kitchen.
"Hi, Boss Man." Gunn greeted, "Still burning the midnight – well, 7pm – oil?"
"Just finishing up a few things. Is something wrong?"
"Not Big Bad or anything." Fred hastened to reassure him. "It's just – remember that Shiva-kin that rose three weeks ago Tuesday? Big, green, lots of teeth and horns?"
"Sure it tried to snack on the shoppers on the Boulevard, we blew it up with a couple of those new grenades you designed." Angel praised Fred, smiling as she blushed.
"Yeah, well, seems to have become the Shiva-kin national pastime." Gunn put in. "We've had five more of them, two this week alone."
"Did they get away? Who stopped them?" Angel had no idea there'd been more and he frowned; just like El Diablo Robotico, nobody ever told him anything!
"It's cool. Once we knew Fred's super mystical-mashing grenades actually worked, I had that SWAT bunch we've been paying to sit on their booties loaded up with them and sent out to clean the deck." Gunn explained. "Score – us six, Shiva-kin six hundred – little pieces that is."
"Gunn thinks something must be precipitating so many Shiva-kin coming into our dimension." Fred put in.
Gunn shrugged, "I'm just saying – I checked the records, the last Shiva-kin before the one we blew up to rise in LA happened twenty-four years ago and once it got chopped that was it. Maybe it's some kinda new thrill sport these things are into?"
"Close but no cigar, cinnamon buns."
They turned as Lorne came up behind them.
"I thought you left for the night?" Angel asked.
"I did. I have a date with a very nice woman…well, female…at Caritas," Lorne smirked. "Unfortunately I got halfway there and realised I'd left that bottle of '93 Rothschild in my office mini-bar. This is a grab 'n' go mission kiddies…"
"So what's the deal with the Shiva-kin, O Oracle?" questioned Gunn.
"Simple, cupcake." Lorne absently checked his reflection in an office window and straightened an immaculate cuff. "It's their dimension's Springtime…which only happens once every twenty-four-point-six Earth solar years…or something. Demon love is in the air, children, their hormones are hopping like drunken Scotsmen at a hootenanny."
"And this involves LA how?" Gunn raised an eyebrow.
"We're a trial by combat." Lorne shrugged, then rolled his eyes as they looked at him sceptically. "Hate to break it to you, kiddies, but in a lot of other realities, this is a bona fide Hell Dimension. The Shiva-kin males who get to mate with the females are not necessarily just the ones who are the strongest and fastest, but those who are the most cunning. The Council Of Great Hell-Bitch-Shiva-kin pick a dimension from those they can access. The contending virgin males are sent through in groups and those that make it back in one piece – or rather with their genitals still attached and still alive enough to be interested – are guaranteed to snuggle with a Shiva-kin honey."
"Those six we killed were –" Gunn made a discreet gesture.
" – the Shiva-kin equivalent of acne-ridden, fifteen-year-old computer nerds." Lorne finished. "You got it, baby, but not to worry – the Shiva-kin mating cycle only lasts another three Earth days, then it's sit back and relax time for another twenty-four-point-whatever years."
"I had to ask." Gunn muttered.
"You usually do." Lorne pointed out. "I –"
They looked at Angel, who had raised his hand and was clearly listening to something.
"What is it?" whispered Fred softly, while Lorne and Gunn looked around for the nearest available sharp pointy or heavy blunt objects.
"I can hear a heartbeat."
"Well there are still a few people who are as sad, pitiful and bleakly unfulfilled as you…" Lorne began…"Still one or two people in the building, in short."
"The heartbeat's in my office," Angel explained coolly, "and I saw the cleaners already clean it."
"And since we're all out here, nobody should be in there." Gunn's hands clenched and unclenched as his stance subconsciously shifted so he rested lightly on the balls of his feet. "Let's go say hello."
"No! No! No!"
Wesley looked up from the kitchen table as Spike hurled popcorn venomously at the screen.
"How can you be that stupid and still be conscious!" Spike demanded of the contestant. "Her Reply was written by Sir Walter Raleigh! Sir Walter Raleigh! God, Americans!"
"It's only a game show," Wesley pointed out. "One that you are unlikely to ever be able to take part in."
"Phhh." Spike vented his disgust. "This twit went to Harvard, that's what's so galling. Though…if developing a brain the size of a planet comes at the cost of being a sad poof like you, who can blame him for spending his college days in a miasma of drink, drugs and profoundly deviant sex."
"I beg your pardon?" Wesley sat a little straighter. "I think someone is forgetting he's here on sufferance."
"Yeah, right." Spike downed the Jack Daniels and poured himself another shot before replacing the bottle on the glass-topped coffee table he was also using as a footrest heedless the damage his boots might be doing. "Look at you. You're sat in a kitchen drinking tea at 7:30pm, buried up to your eyeballs in a bunch of languages that nobody's spoken in three millennia. Ooh, you party animal. Know what – you may go down in history: Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, the first man to actually die from blue balls. You're not normal, mate; you don't even wank in the shower."
"Of course, how remiss of me," Wesley shot back, "to not habitually masturbate now that I share my open-plan apartment with a creature that has super-powerful hearing and a bizarre notion that he's funny."
"Yet, you're still sat there." Spike turned Wesley's often-uttered phrase back on him.
"Fine." Closing the books, Wesley stood up and put them back in the cupboard and shut the doors again before snagging a bottle of beer from the fridge and going to sit down on the couch where Spike raised his eyebrows. "If I spend an hour ogling the host's buxom assistant with Neanderthal relish and making crass comments about her breasts, legs and more intimate anatomy, will that shut you up?"
"No, but at least you'll be slightly more fun to be around than watching paint dry."
Ffion tried not to be envious of the elegant and expensive décor – Angel was a vampire, a creature that should have been staked centuries ago, but who had even manage to ensorcel Nigel's own brother into being his follower…though considering the way Nigel caved like a house of cards when you applied the slightest pressure, maybe that wasn't so surprising. After all, that was why she'd chosen Nigel – these strong-willed, determined types got in the way. Cricking her neck, Ffion took a peek at the papers laid out on Angel's desk with interest.
"Sit down and read them properly."
Ffion shrieked at the sarcastic voice behind her and jumped a good half-foot in the air.
"Athletic." Commented Gunn as the strange woman whirled around to face them, one hand pressed against her chest.
"So, is B & E just a hobby or are you here for a reason?" Angel enquired, folding his arms across his chest.
"Oh…oh." Ffion drew in a breath, trying to gather her composure as she did a quick inventory: Gelled and spiky brown hair, with the affected all-black clothing complete with swirling leather duster, so this guy must be Angel. Green-with-red-horns was Krevlorneswath of the Deathwok Clan, a.k.a. Lorne from Pylea, the anagogic demon. Big, black and muscle-bound must be Charles Gunn, former Angelic 'heavy' and now Wolfram & Hart legal-eagle with some kind of good vibe to the Big Cat. Skinny-with-mousy-hair must be Winifred Burkle, brain the size of a planet, bra size minus-A cup. Vision girl Cordelia Chase didn't seem to be around, nor was there a taller, leaner version of Nigel with spectacles. "I- I'm Ffion Wilkes-Booth."
"Do all English people have weird and double-barrelled names?" asked Gunn of nobody in particular.
"So why you taking a sneak 'n' peek in my office, Fifi?" Angel ignored Gunn.
Ignoring the jibe, she drew herself up. "I'm here to see Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. It's very important."
"Wrong office. Wesley's is down the hall -" Angel pointed.
"Well then…" Ffion took a step forward.
"- but he's not there."
Angel smiled insincerely. "Nope. He's left for the day. He'll be back tomorrow at nine. I'm sure he'll be happy -"
"I have to be on the midnight flight from LAX!" Ffion blurted. "It's imperative I speak to him. Where does he live?"
"Oh sure, no problem. We give any complete stranger who breaks into our offices the home address of our friends." Fred said chirpily.
Ffion's palm itched with the desire to slap the skinny girl's face, but something in those soulful brown eyes warned against it, some hint that Miss Burkle was a lot tougher than she looked.
She held out her left hand to display the large diamond solitaire ring. "I am Nigel's fiancé."
Blank looks all round.
"Wesley's only brother." She clarified through gritted teeth.
"Oh." Angel nodded. "Can you prove it?"
Giving him a withering glare, Ffion explained, "Nigel and I are getting married three weeks tomorrow. I need to speak to Wesley – "
"No problem." Angel raised his hand to stop the flow. "I'm sure we can spare Wesley for a few days without incident – " He broke off as the others all looked at him as if he were crazy. "What?"
"Er…Cup of Perpetual Torment ringing any bells, Angel-Boss?" Lorne hinted.
"I don't want Wesley there!"
That got their attention, though not in a good way. Ffion cursed herself inwardly for letting her irritation with these American idiots loose her tongue.
"You don't want Wesley to go to your wedding?" Angel's eyes narrowed and Ffion caught a faint hint of Angelus as the vampire prepared to be offended on his friend's behalf.
"No. It's very…difficult."
"Hey, we've got plenty of time." Gunn leaned his backside against the front edge of Angel's desk and folded his arms. "Tick, tock."
Knowing she was bamboozled, Ffion sank down on one of the office couches. "Very well. I presume you have heard of the Watcher's Council?"
"You mean the old Watcher's Council bunch of windbags that the First Evil blew up last year or the new actually-useful Watcher's Council that Buffy's cooking up in Sunnydale?" Gunn enquired cheerfully.
Shooting him a poisonous look, Ffion did not deign to answer, instead directing her comments at Angel, recognising him as her main foe. "My wedding to Nigel Wyndham-Pryce is not just the social event of the year. It is the social event of the decade in our world. My family and Nigel's are the two second-oldest in Watcher circles. Our ancestors have been Watchers since before the time of Christ. Only one family has a more ancient lineage than ours."
"Giles's." Angel guessed.
"Indeed." She gave a thin twitch of her lips at the hated name.
"It's not that hard to figure out if you know him," Angel commented to the others.
"Rupert Giles, however, has no children. He has cousins and other relatives who are Watchers, but he is the last descendent in an unbroken direct line. Myself and Nigel will, of course, produce the next generation to continue our great heritage." Ffion explained with smugness she couldn't hide; how do you like them apples you prancing dust-heap in waiting? "Our wedding – everyone who is anyone will be there, and it must go off without a hitch."
"And Wesley being there ruins your grand production how?" Lorne asked.
"Aside from the fact that he turned his back on his family to become the servant of a vampire creature - " Ffion bit her lip as the atmosphere went from icy to boiling and she realised she was surrounded by four angry people, three of whom were a hell of a lot faster and stronger than she was. "Wesley's choice of career is not the problem. He was already living in America when I met Nigel, I've never met him. His…work is not at issue."
"So what is the issue?" Fred demanded.
"Well, I'm certainly not prejudiced myself," declared Ffion defensively in the way that those who in fact are often do. "But…you must understand…I am my parents' only daughter, and they are deeply conservative people. My father and mother would never accept…and to countenance them at my wedding…my family would be mortified."
"Whoa, hit the brakes, lady." Lorne interposed. "You kinda lost us back there when you hung that sharp left. A few more words to fill in the spaces?" he asked, the others aware that Lorne had not referred to Miss Wilkes-Booth by any of his usual pastry-motif nicknames.
"My parents come from a generation which views…alternative sexuality as…unacceptable. While I'm sure Wesley has few problems here in America, my family would never accept him at the wedding if they knew, particularly as I'm sure he will want to bring his partner…" Ffion's voice trailed off as she looked at their faces.
All around her, jaws were hitting the carpet and eyes were bugging out. Gunn and Fred looked at each other. Wesley? Batting for the other team? Wesley!
"Wesley's not…" Angel shook his head, aware that drawing attention to his vampiric traits was not a good idea with Miss Wilkes-Booth. He had been in close contact with Wesley for nearly five years. Wesley had often had the scent of other males on him – Gunn, Lorne, even Angel himself. Myriads of such scents attached themselves to a person in the course of a day; car exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke, perfume and the like. Angel had never scented the unmistakable musk of male sexual activity on Wesley in the five years he'd known him. In LA, that would have been highly unlikely had the ex-Watcher possessed any homosexual or bisexual proclivity, since it would have been easy – probably even easier – for him to maintain a discreet liaison with another man than a woman. Fred, Lorne and Gunn looked at him with 'is-she-serious?' expressions and he shook his head slightly, rubbing one side of his nose with his left forefinger in a gesture that they instantly understood.
"Oh dear. He's not out at work. I hope I haven't put his job in jeopardy." Ffion said, not quite managing to pull off the sincerity, at which they all bristled. "I came to ask Wesley if he would mind not attending. Even if his partner were the epitome of probity he still wouldn't be accepted…never mind that…fellow he lives with."
"Wesley lives with a guy?" Gunn looked from Ffion back to Angel who again shook his head helplessly to indicate he had not scented any hint of male sex on Wesley.
Wrapped up in her own grievance, Ffion rattled on, missing the byplay as she sniped maliciously, "I mean, if someone who looks like a reject from a 1970s Sex Pistols gig does 'it' for you…and that hair…what did he do, just pour a bucket of bleach over his head…?"
"What!" Angel barked.
A strong hand wrapped itself, bruising, around Ffion's upper arm as the startled woman finally got a disturbed reaction from the despised group of people.
"Whoa," Gunn stepped forward into her personal space, his face suddenly a lot more dangerous than any lawyer should be able to manage. "This guy Wesley is living with - " Gunn held out his hand, palm down, approximately six feet or so above the carpet, " – he about this tall, less colour than snow, monochrome clothes, with hair that redefines 'bottle blond'?"
"Y-Y-Yes." Ffion, acutely conscious that a supernaturally strong killer vampire had her upper arm in a death-grip and didn't seem to be exactly happy, hastily fudged: "I- I hired a private detective to locate Wesley…to see how the land lay before I approached him…" Not seeing any lessening of their apparent ire, she added a little supporting fiction, "My man – B-B-Beresford saw them…you know…whatever…I don't know," her mouth pursed in a moue of distaste, "necking and stuff."
Angel released her abruptly, not because he was aware of the harshness of his grip, but because she had ceased to be important.
"Necking…oh god!" Fred whispered, her bronze-coloured eyes big and round like old coins as she stared at the others.
Belatedly aware that she had somehow missed something of importance, Ffion looked at Angel's cold, cruel expression with confusion and vindictive hope – was the stupid vampire about to go back to his pre-Enlightenment Hellfire Irish Catholic roots and throw Wesley out into the street?
Angel's lips compressed flat for an instant. "Gear up."
Ffion blinked as they scattered away from her like marionettes jerked by a puppeteer without so much as a glance in her direction. Hesitating momentarily, she grabbed her purse from the couch seat and hurried after them as they strode down the hallway, her eyes widening as she took in the weaponry they seemed to have at hand. Angel was actually inserting a stake into an inner pocket of that oh-so-theatrical leather duster, while the skinny shrimp wielded a loaded crossbow and looked scared to death. Green and ugly was gripping what resembled a Roman soldier's dagger while Gunn, obviously not one for subtlety, twirled a twelve-inch Viking-style battle-axe in one hand.
Fred slid into the front passenger side as Angel jumped into the driver's side and firmly shut the door, causing Ffion to check as she was about to clamber in. Quickly she scrabbled in the back after Lorne and Gunn, grabbing for the seat back in front of her as Angel took off with smoking tyres.
Absently Wesley reached out and plucked a handful of popcorn from the bowl; Marianne Weston from East Amboy, New Jersey chewed her lip as she looked at her choices. Yet again the host told her to take her time. Sound advice considering getting the answer right would net her a cool one million United States dollars.
"'C'." Announced Spike firmly.
"Yes, indeed." Wesley agreed. "Hold your nerve, girl, don't let him bamboozle you."
Marianne sat back and drew in a deep breath. "The answer is…"
Wesley's head snapped around as his apartment door virtually imploded, the top hinge torn completely out, and five people threw themselves into his apartment at a dead rush.
"Get away from him!" yelled Fred, pointing the crossbow, before faltering at the completely non-violent and bloodless scene in front of her. The others' weapons also began to droop at the lack of mayhem.
Spike and Wesley looked at each other and then the ex-Watcher stood up from the couch and folded his arms across his chest with slow deliberation, crooking his left eyebrow in that idiosyncratic quizzical habit of his. "Would one of you care to tell me what on earth is going on…and who might you be, may I ask?"
Edging out from behind Lorne, Ffion stated, "I'm Ffion Wilkes-Booth. I'm Nigel's fiancé?"
"Oh…of course, mother did say…" Wesley looked around the group scathingly. "You've obviously met my…colleagues…"
"Spike lives here!" Gunn denounced, hefting the axe warningly.
"Yeah?" The blond vampire was nonplussed at the hostility.
Angel growled, "You –"
Ffion went rigid as Gunn's declaration suddenly registered inside her brain, Beresford having never bothered to actually name Wesley's blond lover in his report, and her eyes snapped wide-open in shock: "YOU'RE HAVING SEX WITH A VAMPIRE!" she screamed, losing it completely.
Everyone shrank back from the sudden banshee-shriek, which came pretty close to beating out the Ethulak as decibel levels went. "Try again, I don't think they got that in Paraguay," whispered Fred, her own eyes wide.
"What!" Wesley looked at Ffion as if she'd suddenly sprouted a second head. "Spike is my roommate. He had nowhere to stay!"
"Oooh!" Gunn gestured unthinkingly with the battle-axe and then hastily led it slide out of his hand to the floor as Wesley looked at him with a distinctly chill expression. "So you're not…?"
"My. Sexuality. Is. My. Business." Wesley enunciated slowly, icicles almost visibly forming on each word, and then turned his attention with obvious effort to Ffion. "When is the wedding?"
"Three weeks tomorrow." Ffion said neutrally, struggling to regain her composure, flushing at the scene she'd just caused.
"That close? I had no idea…" Absently Wesley ran his hand through his hair. "I will have to reschedule several appointments, but…"
"I don't want you to come!"
Once again, Ffion found herself the focus of a distinctly unfriendly look from a vampire, but this time the infamous Spike, whose record of evil nearly matched that of his grandsire and mentor, Angelus. The peroxide blond shifted his stance slightly closer to stand behind Wesley's shoulder, his pale blue eyes fixed on Ffion with a frightening emptiness in their depths.
"I realise that Nigel is your brother, but it would be impossible. My parents, your family…your sister Magdalena is my Matron of Honour, and you know she's married to -"
"I understand." Wesley's features were shuttered, impassive. "I will be…unfortunately unavailable."
"Oh. Right. Thank-you." Abruptly deflated by the ease with which she had accomplished her mission having come armed with various well-reasoned arguments, considerable cash and intended blackmail information, Ffion inched back out of the apartment, saying inanely, "Well then…I'll just…cab…midnight flight…"
Nobody noticed as she whirled and hurried down the hallway to the elevator as if an entire pack of hell-hounds snapped at her heels, her heart beating frantically with relief at escaping this three-ring circus. These people weren't just an affront to the Watcher's Council, half of them were plain insane!
"You feed him."
The tension, which had begun to relax and wipe a hand across its brow, hastily reapplied the vice-like grip as Lorne, Gunn and Fred reacted to Angel's flat, emotionless statement.
"Huh?" Gunn ventured.
Angel didn't relax his grip on the stake he'd had in his hand since they'd burst into the apartment, his eyes fixed on Wesley. "You let Spike feed on you, or else do you take a kitchen knife to your neck to unwind?"
"Yes, I feed him."
Fred opened her mouth but closed it with an audible snap as Angel didn't give her chance to diffuse the situation. "That's it? You've fought by my side for five years, yet I'm still on three mugs of microwaved pig's blood a day. Spike's corporeal for all of a few weeks and you open your jugular for him…Is that all you open for him?" He added the sexual innuendo with careless insult.
"You feed Spike?" Gunn reached down and picked up the battle-axe again.
"Actually, I feed you both." Wesley corrected, "You just didn't know it."
"Harmony brings Angel three mugs of pig's blood every day –" Fred began quietly.
"Which same is being daily drugged with Luaric by some bad boy in Wolfram & Hart that we don't know how to flush out." Spike suddenly put in, moving forward but away from Wesley, giving himself a clear avenue of attack, his body balanced lightly as he kept his gaze on Angel. "So Wes thought it best to make our guy think he was still dosing Angel with depressant, when in fact we substituted Wes's blood, mixed it with otter and pig so you couldn't tell."
Lorne stepped forward. "Angel was being drugged with Luaric? Whoa, that's nasty stuff…"
Spike jerked a thumb towards his motionless grandsire. "What? You think tall, dark and dreary here's perpetual mood of doom was just 'cause he's a miserable sod? Well, yeah, there is that to it, but in actual fact someone in Wolfram & Hart fondly imagines he's keeping Angel in a state of despondent misery."
"So what do I have to do to earn the privilege of sinking of my teeth into the source, Wes?" Angel challenged, looking uninterested in this information.
"For a start you can get out." Wesley looked at each of them, his disgust plainly showing. "All of you."
"Leaving you two to snuggle?" Angel's smile was mocking.
"Hey! Asshole!" Spike took a step forward. "All that moral high ground you're dashing towards – don't bother, 'cause you haven't got any right to it. I fought for a soul, you had yours forced on you, Angelus. I died to save the world and I've fought side by side with you wankers since I've been here despite the general less than charitable attitude towards yours truly! Or has Mr Macho Gunn over there forgotten how I saved him from being garrotted by a killer cyborg, hmm? So let me ask you this: excepting Fred here, out of all you bunch of noble, self-righteous, pious, upstanding, manly-man Heroes, who was the only one who hasn't consistently treated me like dog shit they've just trodden into their brand new carpet…? Hmm, I think that's what you Yanks call a no brainer. What's the matter Angel? Wesley's your toy and nobody else can play? 'Cause I don't think so! Is that what this temper tantrum's about?" Spike challenged.
"It's about trust!" Angel snapped at his grandson, then glared at Wesley, his voice deepening closer and closer to a vampire-snarl as he vented, "I'm the CEO of Wolfram & Hart now, remember? I'm fighting the bad guys and the good guys, if those cyborgs can be believed, as well as trying to work out the Senior Partners' angle before they manage to kill us all! But you just…you don't talk to me about this…you actively took measures to hide it from me…! You don't even tell me when I'm the one being attacked. How can I depend on you to have my back, Wes? How am I supposed to be the Champion of Light effectively if you're doing everything to keep me out of the loop?"
Wesley, however, showed no inclination to back down. "Well, it's quite simple really, Angel: You can't have it both ways. You admire me because – what was it you said after I killed my cyborg-father? – Ah, yes: "'You do what you have to do to protect the people around you, do what you know is right, regardless of the cost. I never really understood that until now.' ""
Fred, Lorne and Gunn exchanged worried glances, but wisely kept quiet as the confrontation unfolded.
Wesley's tone was conversational, but his grey eyes had leached of colour until they looked dead and lifeless, like dull grey pebbles on the bed of a crystal clear but bitterly cold high mountain stream. "You're right, you never did really understand that, Angel. You can't have your cake and eat it, I'm afraid. You can't want me to go on being, as you so eloquently put it: "'the guy that makes all the hard decisions even if you have to make them alone,'" and still reserve the right to sulk like a child when in doing exactly that, I make choices you don't happen to agree with."
"That's not what this is about." Angel shook his head. "Damn it, Wes. Spike –"
"That is exactly what this is about!" Wesley barked with his first show of anger, his hand making a slicing motion through the air. Everyone else bar Angel flinched back slightly from his ire. "And I did choose. After Angelus killed Jenny Calendar and you came to LA in penitence, I chose you. And I chose you again; I saw you Angel, the real you, in Pylea, remember? I saw the pure essence of the monster inside you, but still I chose you…" and I chose you again, even after you tried to smother me when I was defenceless, helpless in a hospital bed, despite that you knew perfectly well I had been protecting Connor and protecting you and hadn't betrayed you at all… " – and I chose you again when you decided to take Wolfram & Hart up on their cute little offer and walk willingly into the belly of the beast."
"I know that." Angel's voice softened in the face of Wesley's strident anger.
"Do you? Looks from over here like you've been having some serious amnesia!" Wesley glared at them inclusively. "Let me break it down for you all: Nobody believed that a vampire with a soul stood any kind of chance, especially not in LA of all places. You were counted out before you ever even got started by the 'smart' money. But I believed enough to choose you, Angel. The same way I believe enough in Spike to choose him. Whether he stays the distance or not, right here and now I believe in his desire to achieve redemption, enough to give him the same benefit of the doubt that I gave you. It's more commonly known as 'forgiving others their trespasses, as you would have yours forgiven you'."
Angel and Wesley faced each other across the room. Everyone else tried to look as if they were somewhere else, but Angel dropped his gaze first, because the raw truth of Wesley's words exposed again to Angel the reality of what he had witnessed when he'd lain helpless on the rooftop of his own office building, his very will sucked out of him by Roger Wyndham-Pryce, unable to move or speak as Wesley and his father had circled each other around his prone body, one protective, the other predatory:
"Walk away Wesley, you will never understand what we're trying to do here." Roger's tone had been curt and dismissive and full of self-righteous conceit.
"You're using the Staff of Deva-Sin to take Angel's will, make him your slave…"
That had been news to Angel, who finally understood what was happening to him, but his attention had been focussed with growing terror on the confrontation above him. Wesley and his father were pointing guns at each other, and Angel knew something very bad was about to go down.
Roger had almost hissed his retort, "That creature is far more dangerous to mankind than you realise!"
"You're wrong about him, he's not what you think."
Angel had felt his withered walnut of a non-beating heart tingle at Wesley's instant defence. He had someone who believed in him, even if he no longer believed in himself –
"He's a puppet." Roger dismissed Angel icily. "He always has been, to the Powers That Be, to Wolfram & Hart, and now he's ours…"
Those words had struck Angel like hot knives, though he had so little self-will left he couldn't even cry out; they struck at his deepest fears, at the anger and resentment and grief he felt over giving up Connor, the betrayal of their friendship that Wesley couldn't even remember and the loss of Cordelia…They struck at the relentlessly growing conviction that he was nothing more than a pawn on a chessboard as vast as the universe, being strung along then dumped by various entities.
But Wesley hadn't backed down - Angel had come back from his momentary mental dip into rage and humiliation as the ex-Watcher continued to face off against his father, and for the first time, the older man had shown anger.
"You know what that vampire is and what he's done, and you follow him anyway – you join forces with him and have the nerve to ask why I don't trust you?" Roger had snarled, before demanding the staff as he coldly told Wesley that he would shoot him for it, "…please believe that."
Raw fear had coursed through Angel and he could smell it on Fred kneeling beside him as Wesley had simply backed away to the edge of the rooftop, where he could not fail to plummet to certain death should Roger open fire. His words had been equally cold, "Oh I do believe you, father, I was raised by you after all. But I drop this, the crystal shatters and Angel is restored, so I reckon whether I live or die, your plan has failed." Angel could only lie there unable to move, watching as his best friend prepared to commit suicide to save Angel by letting his own father shoot him.
That fear was what rode Angel still. Wolfram & Hart's internal surveillance cameras had recorded the confrontation between Wesley and the injured cyborg in Wesley's office that had led the ex-Watcher to the roof and his father's attempts to snatch Angel. There had been no doubt, no hesitation, no bluff, in Wesley. He would have activated the cyborg's self-destruct and blown himself and the building to atoms to stop Roger's plan. He had to have known that Angel and Spike would definitely survive the explosion for such held little fear to vampires as long as they were reasonably distant from ground zero.
"I just want you to be safe." Angel lowered the stake, finally. "I lost Doyle, and Cordelia –" and my son, Connor – " and you're the last of my original gang, Wes. I just don't want to have get up one day and have to add you to the list of those that are gone."
Wesley gave one of his wry little smiles, but followed with a shake of his head, "Angel, I can't promise you that. I'm only human; one bullet or stake or sword in the right – or should I say, wrong – bit of my anatomy and it's game over. Do not pass go, et cetera. I can't promise you I won't get killed fighting with you for the Powers That Be any more than Cordelia or Francis Doyle. The only thing I can promise you is this - I vow I'll stay as long as I can for as long as you need me. So I do swear here and now that they will have to drag me kicking and screaming off this mortal coil. Wesley Wyndham-Pryce will not go quietly into the night." At least, not yet…he shrugged. "That's all I have to offer, take it or leave it."
"Done." Angel agreed.
"Whew!" Lorne said with exaggerated cheer. "Well, it's been fun, cupcakes, but there's a Sea Breeze with my name on it so –"
"But you don't feed here." Angel told Spike, cutting off Lorne's nervous I'm-edging-out-of-the-door speech and making the green demon wince. "You only feed from Wesley when you're on Wolfram & Hart premises. Clear?"
"Sod off!" Spike glared at Angel. "Wesley's okay with it, aren't you?"
"Wesley is too good a friend for his own good." Angel put in with a wry smile as Wesley hesitated. "Tell me Spike, is it as still as easy as it was the first time to pull back?"
There was an uncomfortable silence and Spike pressed his lips together, his eyes flitting away from their faces for a moment, his silence answer enough.
"Thought so." Angel commented. "It's Wesley's choice, and I'm not interfering, but I want you both in a controlled environment where I can help if something goes wrong, that's all."
Like Spike not being able to stop himself sucking Wesley drier than the Sahara; the words hung in the air, unspoken but unanimously understood.
"It's late…I'll…see y'all tomorrow." Fred backed off, her usually subtle Texan accent coming out momentarily.
"Uh, sure. Come on guys…" Angel made a production of ferreting out his car keys. "Erm…the door…"
"Will be paid for by Wolfram & Hart." Wesley didn't make it a request and Angel had the grace to look embarrassed as Wesley followed his four associates to the threshold of his apartment and carefully began adjusting the damaged door so it at least seemed to fit into the hole. "See you all tomorrow."
Muttering embarrassed goodbyes, the four of them slunk away like chastened children.
Ffion took a large gulp of the Jack Daniels over ice, considering she deserved to be able to break her no-alcohol whilst flying rule. She glanced at her watch – they were at 30,000 feet over the Atlantic and she still didn't feel safe. It was just too much. The effrontery of Angel swanking around LA as head of the city's most powerful law firm, when a soul should have had him crawling into the deepest hole he could find to wallow in self-flagellation! As for her brother-in-law, well…the man was certainly clearly psychologically disturbed…not only had he served one vampire for five years, but he was clearly happy to have Spike for a houseguest!
Slipping a hand inside her purse, Ffion took out an old, sepia photograph, showing a group of young women standing side by side outside the British Museum, their clothing and headgear indicating wealthy women of the Edwardian era. King Edward VII & Queen Alexandra had ascended the throne upon the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. The new Queen's habit of wearing tight necklaces from her shoulders up to her throat had been much copied by the young women of the aristocracy, since it had the side-effect of encouraging good posture; the limited mobility of the neck tilted up the chin and caused the girl to have to stand straight to speak clearly. Ffion knew both faces as well as she knew the one that looked back at her in the mirror each morning. The one on the extreme left was her grandmother Alicia Van Holstein, soon to be Mrs Wilkes-Booth, and the woman on her right, with whom she at linked arms as both smiled demurely at the camera, was Lydia Deane, soon to be Mrs Giles.
Ffion's fingers stroked with greed the front of Lydia's beautiful Edwardian dress; Rupert's grandmother, in contrast to the other women in the photograph, wore not a multitude of necklaces, but a simple gold pendant consisting of a simple round stone, set in a gold border, though close examination would show that the stone appeared to have markings scratched into the surface. Wesley was far brighter than his brother, but now that she had scuttled his presence back in England with the attendant risks of him discerning more than he should, she could move things on nicely. Ffion wasn't getting any younger, and she needed to have everything wrapped up as soon as possible if she hoped to have healthy children to pass the pendant onto…
Wesley lay on his side, watching the LED display change from 03:15 to 03:16 without much notice; he made no noise, though he doubted Spike was asleep any more than he was as his thoughts chased themselves around and around his cerebellum like especially stupid dogs unaware they were trying to catch their own tails.
A smile that, though he didn't know it, contained enough sadness to break a statue's stone heart slowly curved Wesley's lips. Angel still didn't get it. But then none of them did.
I chose you.
Wesley had made his choice in the full knowledge that he was sacrificing everything. Angel and the others had never realised that Wesley, even if he survived the Big Finish, the Grand Finale, or whatever you wanted to term the next Apocalypse, had no viable future.
The Niamh Scroll had always referred to him as the Mahju, which could be and usually was translated as Mage, Magus, Sorcerer, Enchanter, Wizard, Shaman, wise man or so forth. But the root word from which Mahju was derived had a very different connotation…Wesley could list them several of the choicest from memory: Pariah; Outcast; Banished One; Driven-Forth-From-Among-The-People; Spurned; One-Cast-Out.
The venomous words of the Watcher Council's hitman in Angel's basement back when Faith had escaped to LA from Sunnydale had echoed in Wesley's mind on and off ever since; to his gratitude, Angel had never grasped their significance, or their truth: "A Watcher working for a vampire, perversion!"
At the time Wesley and Angel had been too busy trying to avoid getting killed by the psycho to consider other things, but whereas Angel had never understood the ramifications of what had been said, Wesley had already faced up to the consequences of joining Angel Investigations before he'd actually done so. Spoken by a mentally unstable Watcher Council hitman or not, those words, couched in slightly different phrasings, had been uttered around the globe by those of their society.
Wesley was a disgrace, a shame to his family, their ancient name and the Watchers entire creed. He had thrown his lot in with a vampire and as such was beyond redemption and without any acceptable exculpation. Assuming they all made it past the Apocalypse still breathing, and hopefully with most pieces still attached, everyone had their sweet future lined up.
Angel - and Spike, if he stayed the course - got to be real boys again, though Wesley intended to absent himself when it came down to Buffy choosing between her newly human lovers. Charles Gunn could be the next Attorney General of the USA with little effort. Lorne would be winning the other-dimensional version of Emmys and Oscars all over the place, and would doubtless follow his dream of being able to open a coast-to-coast chain of Caritas bars. Fred would probably have nowhere to store all the Nobel Prizes.
The same applied to others – Buffy Summers, Rupert Giles, Xander Harris, Willow Rosenberg – the Scooby Gang entire had already dealt with the First Evil and would move on through their lives yet again, secure in the knowledge that they'd kicked Big Bad ass. After all, it was what they did.
Wesley closed his eyes wearily. His only talent was an encyclopaedic knowledge of demoniac and other dimensional languages. Even had there been any call for such ability, the Watchers and others of their mindset would do all in their power to prevent any such role going to the traitorous Watcher who had disgraced his calling with the "perversion" of "serving" a vampire.
It was a pretty safe bet that Wolfram & Hart's LA Division would be unlikely to survive the showdown, meaning the Apocalypse would render him unemployed (on top of most likely deceased). If he were lucky, Wesley would be able to get a minimum-wage janitorial job in a factory somewhere that would enable him to retreat into studying his books in some apartment somewhere, until...
It was why he had used his first impressive salary from Wolfram & Hart to actually buy Cordy's place, having it cleaned weekly but not renting it out. He stored some of his more 'delicately acquired' collection of mystical objects and books/scrolls there, with a view to one day moving in, assuming he survived the End.
Phantom Dennis was good company once you got used to him.
To be continued.
© 2004 C. D. Stewart