Title: Into The Mist (1?).
Disclaimer: 'Angel' and all associated characters are the property of Joss Whedon, ME etc, and are not mine. I make no profit from this.
Rating and warnings: PG-13 with some strong language.
Genre and setting: Gen, h/c and AU, diverting from canon around the end of Season 3, before Connor returns. Mainly Angel and Wesley. Some dialogue taken directly from 'The Price'.
Summary: Angel and Wesley unexpectedly find themselves in another dimension after a chance encounter with a demon. They must survive long enough to find a way home, all the while dealing with their very tenuous relationship after the kidnapping of Connor.
Author's note: A little something I started a while back but never posted. Unfinished so far, but thought I'd post it anyway. Feedback, as always, is highly valued and much appreciated, so don't be a stranger!
Lilah poured herself a cup from the water cooler, idly running through her weekly schedule in her mind. Things were coming along nicely, falling into place.
"I hear congratulations are in order."
Years of practice prevented her from starting as Gavin appeared behind her, and she turned to him smoothly as though she was always expecting him to show up unannounced. He had a nasty habit to popping out of nowhere and following her around. Like a bad smell.
"Gavin. What a pleasant surprise," she purred, not a drop of sincerity in her tone. She gave him a sickly sweet smile, and he returned it.
"People are saying you're making great strides with Angel."
She frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"You mean you don't know? He tried to kill one of his people in the hospital."
Her smile returned, and she produced a condescending look. "Wow, Gav, you're quick. Maybe your next newsflash will involve that newfangled invention called fire."
Gavin looked put out with an expression that was about as genuine as his Rolex. "Hey, you know, despite our differences, when a co-worker tries to pat you on the back --"
"I check for the knife," she finished for him. She tipped her head at him and he chuckled.
"Well, in any case, Angel tried to kill a human, bringing him one step closer to his dark side, and one step closer to us."
Lilah repressed a snort. She'd seen his 'dark side', and they were barely scratching the surface. "Dark-side-shmark-side. Remember a year ago? Wine cellar... Slaughter?"
She'd been there. She remembered all too well. The sound of that door locking. The blood. The paralyzing terror. She remembered pleading with Angel to help them, only to have him ignore her. She remembered the pain. There would never be enough torment in the world for him.
She shook off the thoughts and the shudder threatening to break, her false mask remaining safely in place. Gavin didn't seem to have noticed.
"They were lawyers," he explained, as though that justified it. Lilah felt a tiny surge of loathing for the man, well aware that it was his intention to provoke such a response. She had never considered Lindsey a worthy adversary before he'd no longer been there, and it soothed her to imagine Gavin in his place by her side all that time ago. She dismissed his jibe as easily as he'd tried to dismiss her near-death experience, determined not to give him the satisfaction.
"And you are?"
"A realist. Angel tried to smother one of his closest friends with a pillow. We're making progress."
Lilah thought for a moment, the seeds of inspiration being sown. "We could make more. Get those two wacky kids together again and see what happens."
The more she thought about, the more appealing that sounded. Gavin was almost forgotten as her mind considered the possibilities, but she had to divert a small portion of her brain to at least go through the motions of conversation.
"Might even make up for you losing that baby."
Gavin made verbal sparring too easy. "Nice try, but unlike you, Gavin, I'm ahead of the game. Angel tried to kill his friend, kidnapped and tortured Linwood, and performed dark, forbidden magics, all on my watch." She'd have to buy Angel flowers or something.
"Thanks, Gavin." She paused, a look of distaste settling across her features. "Can we stop feigning now?"
"Sure," he replied, and they scurried their separate ways.
"Cordy, look out!"
Cordelia whirled at Angel's voice and saw the projectile just in time. She ducked as the thrown weapon crashed into the wall behind her and winced.
"Princess?" Groo said worriedly, and she flashed him a reassuring smile across the alley. He went back to the fight.
"You know, Angel, when you said we should get back into the work, I didn't think this was what you meant." She had to shout above the sounds of battle and the white-noise of rain hissing against the asphalt. She couldn't be sure if Angel had heard her or not, but it didn't much matter. He was busy.
The demon roared and rounded on him again, easily knocking Groo to the side. Cordelia reloaded her crossbow with difficulty, her cold and shaking fingers refusing to fix the bolt in place properly. While she waited for another opening, she took the chance to assess the progress of the others.
Fred was still attempting to coax the last of the terrified people from the dumpsters they'd taken shelter behind, trying to encourage them to run. A few had already made it to safety, but it seemed as though those remaining were either too injured or too scared to move. Gunn was pulling a man to his feet and draping an arm over his shoulder, supporting his sagging weight. The man had a rather serious head wound and was bleeding generously. Fred ushered a woman, pale with shock, ahead of her, steering her gently towards the end of the alley. Another young girl, barely more than a child, followed her, sobbing hysterically.
"You go," Cordelia yelled to them over the din. "I'll cover you!"
Gunn nodded grimly to her and hauled the man away quickly, soon joined by Fred and her girls.
Cordelia returned her attention to the fight, strangely pleased by the turn of events. They'd all been worried about Angel since the -- incident -- and to see him out again was a relief she was sure they all felt. When the phone call had come, she'd silently thanked whatever deities responsible for the anonymous tip-off and tripped off after them, a huge smile on her face. A distraction was just what they'd all needed, and it couldn't have come at a better time. God knows she'd been feeling cooped up, and it couldn't have been good for Angel to be trapped in one place with so many memories.
Seeing her chance, she loosed a bolt. It flew true but was too late, clattering harmlessly against the side of the alleyway. She cursed and knelt again, hoping not to have angered the demon further.
"Pathetic half-breeds," the demon rumbled with a sneer, exposing tusk-like teeth. It drew a wicked looking dagger from a sheath at its side and slammed it hard against its chest, the beat echoing from its armour. "I will make trophies of your hides and orphans of your children."
"That's what they all say," Angel quipped in a long suffering tone. "But can you say 'she sells sea shells' really fast three times?"
The demon growled again in annoyance, and Angel shrugged. "I guess not." He lunged at it once more, but it parried his sword strokes easily. The gathering raindrops snapped from the pools on his duster as the blows reverberated through his body. The demon was strong, and didn't look to be tiring.
Pushing away suddenly, it broke round to his side and hurled him several meters, sending his sword skittering and him rolling through dirty puddles.
"Angel!" Groo shouted after him. He took Angel's position between Cordelia and the demon, turning to it and squaring off. They circled each other.
The demon sniggered. "Gift me your female and I will spare you," it entreated, motioning a grotesque hand towards Cordelia. She made an 'eww' face. Groo flushed a disturbing shade of red and bared his teeth.
"You will not touch her!" he yelled, and with a battle cry, launched himself at the demon and toppled them both. After a tussle, Groo was the first to stand, and he kicked at the demons side in a fury.
"Okay, Groo, kill it already," Cordelia muttered to herself, touched and slightly freaked by his level of protectiveness. He continued to lay into it, heedless of anything else.
As he brought his foot back for another strike, the demons hand shot out, grasping his ankle like a vice. With barely a flick of the wrist, he was flipped backwards, and the demon rose as though it had not a scratch on its body.
"No!" Cordelia screamed as it snatched up Groo's fallen sword, and she let loose another bolt. It sailed with a thud straight into the creatures side and it howled, tipping off-balance. It brought down the sword in a wavering arc that caught Groo deep across the shoulder, but missed his neck by a hair. Groo cried out and clutched the wound. There was blood everywhere, and for a terrible moment, Cordelia couldn't breathe.
Time sped up to its normal pace in a flash and the demon took off, sprinting down the alleyway with the bolt still protruding from its ribcage. Cordelia rushed next to Groo and fussed over him, hardly noticing as Angel flew past in persuit.
When he'd first received the call, Wesley's first instinct was to ignore it and go back to his drink. Let the helpless go to Angel. Let him be their champion as he was meant to be. Wesley wanted no more part of it.
But the longer he'd sat, the more persistent his thoughts became, straying back no matter how thoroughly he tried to drown them out. It seemed that no matter how firmly he told himself he was through with it, a small part of him would forever be dedicated to the cause. Attracted to Angel and everything he stood for like a tragic moth to a flame. His imagination niggled at him, and he couldn't manage to put the possibilities from his mind.
An innocent could die tonight if he did nothing. As much as he liked to convince himself that he no longer cared, he couldn't bare to have that resting on his shoulders as well. It was an hour of anguished looks towards the door before he finally made up his mind and headed for the streets.
Wesley wasn't stupid. He was well aware that the call could have been a prank, and the very nature of the anonymous tip-off made it suspicious. He didn't want to take the chance that it wasn't. If someone genuinely needed his help, he'd have to give it.
He was, at least, more prepared than others may have been in this situation. The hurried description of the demon in question had left him in little doubt of its species. Hun'rak were fairly easy to distinguish and difficult to mistake with other demons, the bright orange markings down the sides of their faces being quite unique. The behaviour of this individual also fit the profile. It's sophisticated dress, in comparison from some of the more bestial demons, its use of language, and its tendency to hoard and stockpile future victims, all pointed towards a mature male, probably provisioning for young. He would certainly be attracting attention.
Wesley went over the incantation once more in his mind. He was lucky that the volume he'd needed had been in his own personal library and not... elsewhere. The necessary power he'd borrowed from the infused script had lent him the required fuel, and he needed only to recite the words in order to trigger the spell. He'd have to remember to repay the debt and return some energies back to the text in the near future, lest he upset the balance and lose the information for good. Magically endowed books were quite delicate, apparently.
The Hun'rak were notoriously difficult to kill by all accounts, and a disturbance spell was often recommended to weaken them first. Once the demons strength was diminished, it became especially vulnerable to the usual means of disposal, and would not be of any particular trouble to kill. Or at least, that was the plan. Wesley was unsure how long the spell would take to come into effect once it was cast, or what the precise repercussions would be for the caster. But he knew his chances of killing it alone were much improved if it worked, perhaps only even plausible by the use of extra help.
He'd considered bringing his shotgun, and as he moved further from the better lit areas and into the darkened back alleys, he wondered if he ought to have gone with his instinct. His hand rested comfortingly above the less conspicuous bulk of a pistol. It would have to do. He clutched the stake tightly in his other hand, hidden in his jacket pocket.
What had started as a light drizzle had fast become a deluge, and torrents of water cascading down from the rooftops on either side of him drenched his clothes. He pulled his jacket tighter and grumbled to himself, wishing he'd had the foresight to wear more layers. His throat itched uncomfortably.
The rain was dampening any sounds, and the deeper he went into the darkness, the more nervous he became. The rough location he'd been given didn't leave him with much to go on. He was simply hoping to know a sign when he saw it. That sign came as the sound of beating footsteps.
Picking up his pace, Wesley jogged towards an approaching junction, listening carefully for the direction of the echoes. A large and inhuman form blurred suddenly across an opening at the end of the street to his right, and he made for it.
The caller was right, then. The demon was indeed a Hun'rak, and a large one at that. It appeared to have already been wounded with what look liked an arrow, a vicious point stuck in its side. It half limped into the shadows, unaware of Wesley trailing behind it. It was a turn of luck that should make his job easier. He could make it quick.
The demon stopped in a corner, bending to inspect its injury. Painful but clearly not of any further concern, it all but dismissed the bolt, snapping it off short and flinging the shard away angrily. Wesley readied himself for the spell, extending an arm and grounded is feet firmly. With any luck, the demon would be weakened to the point where the bolt itself would kill it, and he wouldn't have to engage in a fight. He summoned the energy.
He started when something large, black and heavy fell from above, landing on the demon with a dull smack. The figure rolled with the enraged demon, pounding as it went. Angel. The blood drained from Wesley's face, his feet frozen to the spot.
The two jumped back up, Angel in game-face and the demon with a curved, serrated knife in its grip. Angel stopped suddenly when his stalking brought him around, his eyes locking with Wesley's and narrowing.
"You..." he hissed, building up to a charge.
The demon took its chance, tackling the vampire and throwing them both back. Angel's head rocked back as the demon swung a punch, narrowly missing the blade as it sliced across afterwards. Angel could not defeat it in this state, and Wesley at once put all other thoughts from his mind. Steadying himself again, he concentrated on the spell.
Crashing into a dumpster, Angel was removed from the line of sight long enough for Wesley to make his shot, and as the demon turned and advanced on him, he shouted the last of the words. The demon seemed quite surprised when its easy human target glowed a ghostly green. It halted and doubled over as the energy hit it, the seriousness of its wound increasing suddenly. With a fearful glint, its eyes climbed to Wesley's, watching as the glow faded and he was left panting.
It gave an agonized roar when the bolt was ripped from its side, lashing out and back-handing Angel before he could deliver the killing blow. Thick yellow blood sprayed from its torn flesh as it whirled, sizzling madly when it came into contact with the exposed brick surface of the building. Wesley yelped when it splashed on his jacket, struggling frantically to shrug it off as it began to smoke.
"These humans defeat me," the demon gurgled to itself, a plaintive quality to its voice.
Wesley had no time to carry out the rest of his plan. With a decisive nod and another speculative look in his direction, the demon ran for the wall. Wesley would have sworn that the demon went straight through it, but before he could confirm it, a bright light burst around him.
The sudden suction slammed at his ears at the same time as the ground rose up to meet him, face first. The collision crushed a grunt from him as pain exploded through his head. It stunned him long enough to prevent any thought for several long moments, and it was with an automatic motion that he brought his head up dazedly.
He spat blood as he pushed himself up onto his hands, then unsteadily to his feet. The rain still streaming into his eyes, the world performed a sickening pirouette around him and he lurched dangerously to the side. Staggering, he reached blindly for the alley wall on which to lean, met no resistance, and promptly sank back to his knees before he could fall. The mud was cold and thick beneath him.
It was only after a minute of rapid blinking that he managed to bring his rebellious vision under some semblance of control; the spinning mud very quickly becoming stationary mud, and not the kind that regularly frequented the back streets of Los Angeles. A drunken frown pulled at his face at the thought, the confusion a little too much on top of the disorientation. He took a second to gather himself.
Rubbing the rain from his face and cautiously looking around him did little to reassure his off-balance senses, and he grimaced. Squinting against the moisture running into his eyes, he peered at his surroundings. A dark and dreary landscape peered back. New rivulets dripped from his hair and poured down his face as he gazed in morbid fascination at the trees and grass that had no business being there.
Thick mist hung beneath the branches of the scattered trees, obscuring the view only a short distance from him. Scanning around his position on the floor and the clearing he was in revealed further choked woods behind him, looming dark and menacing in the half-light. The deep grey clouds of the overcast sky rumbled threateningly. It completed the bleak scene with a chilling finality.
The uncomfortable fear rose unbidden in reply, and it took a colossal strength of will for Wesley to clamp it down.The cold and wet happily soaking up his clothing encouraged him to get to his feet once again, and he absently brushed at his legs in a pointless but automatic gesture. His eyes remained fixed on the trees.
He was trying very hard not to panic. He couldn't seem to drag his mind past the shock of this new and unexpected situation, and in return, it was doing its damnedest to separate him from the rest of his body. Wesley was fairly sure that it was an inappropriate response considering the circumstances, and fought to bring himself under control. His mouth still hung slightly agape in a most graceless fashion.
The functioning part of his brain kick-started the rest back into action, and he stumbled forward in what he told himself was not an aimless direction. The grass squelched underfoot, and a horrible, cold dread settled firmly in the pit of his stomach. The rain started to seep into his shirt.
He could not suppress the overwhelming sense of relief that flooded him when the sight of Angel, initially just a solid shape against the mist, materialised before his eyes. It took him a couple of pathetically thankful seconds before he remembered not to run to him gratefully. The bitterness, anger and crushing guilt never failed to purge all feeling from him, and the weary indifference returned comfortably. The murderous expression on Angel's face as he marched up to him further hardened his lingering resentment.
"What the hell did you just do?" Angel demanded with anger, stopping only to thrust an accusatory finger in his face.
Wesley couldn't help the scowl that emerged with that one insinuation. "I didn't 'do' anything," he replied, trying to ignore the obvious threat in the motion. He schooled his features back to neutral, hoping to placate Angel long enough to avoid an unhelpful confrontation. "Angel --"
"No. You don't get to say anything unless I ask it, do you understand me?"
Wesley let a tense silence pass for a second before reluctantly nodding once. Repressing his building fury and indignation was difficult but necessary, and if this was the way Angel needed to play it, then so be it. The familiar acceptance and ever-present, if despised, nervousness that surfaced whenever anyone so much as mentioned Angel's name renewed with a passion, and went a long way to suppressing all the righteous feelings wanting to spill out. He was smarter than that, and he needed to get this right. One step in the wrong direction could upset the delicate balance one needed with Angel, with potentially disastrous consequences.
Angel's voice remained at a dangerous timbre, and Wesley watched him as carefully as a prey animal monitors a barely restrained dog. "If you didn't do this, then what the fuck just happened?"
It was very clear that arguments would not be tolerated. Angel was in charge here, and disobedience was promised pain. A refusal to answer was to skate on very thin ice, and yet an answer that he didn't want to hear or that he didn't like could also very possibly result in violence. Wesley decided simply to go with the truth, having very little other alternative.
"I don't know," he said very quietly, not taking his eyes from Angel's face.
He'd been expecting an aggressive reaction, but that didn't prevent him from jumping when he was hauled forward by his shirt collar. "God dammit, Wesley!" Angel growled in his face, snarling his name like the word itself was offensive.
The anger momentarily won out and flared at the treatment, making him reckless. "I don't know what it is you think you want me to tell you," he gritted out in challenge, his hand wrapping around Angel's wrist.
"Get a clue," Angel hissed, curling a disgusted lip. "A few fucking suggestions would be nice."
Angel's arm shook with the force of those few words, making Wesley's teeth rattle. He looked Angel firm in the eye and made him wait, exerting the small amount of influence he had to show Angel that he didn't have all the control, and couldn't get everything he wanted with force. "Then put me down," he said coolly, dragging out the words.
Brave or incredibly stupid, Wesley didn't know, but doubt flickered in him unpleasantly. Angel's glare didn't waver, and for a sickening second, Wesley feared he'd pushed him too far. He was sure that Angel could smell the anxiety on him, mingled underneath the facade, but he did not back down. His expression remained steady.
After a painfully prolonged silence, Angel finally released him with a flourish, pushing him back and turning from him. Wesley stumbled as Angel straightened his sleeve casually. Bullying bastard. A rebellious voice in his head wanted to ask if Angel was done proving his point yet, but Wesley kept it quiet. They both knew Angel was the strongest here and could dominate Wesley easily, but there was little point in aggravating the situation. And Wesley did not want to incite another round of intimidation. He was slightly ashamed to realise that it was relief he was feeling now that Angel had moved a distance away.
He took a deep breath and smoothed some of the water from his face, using the movement as an excuse to regain his composure. He thought carefully of their situation, slipping easily and willingly into the blank thinking place that required no emotion.
"Somehow we must have jumped dimensions." Angel made a jerky, frustrated noise, but he continued regardless. "It seems likely that the demon we encountered has the means to open portals, perhaps by some form of mystical switch, or an object anchored here. It probably pulled us along in its wake as it escaped. This could be its home dimension."
Angel seemed to digest that briefly, his impatience on hold. "So now what?"
"My educated guess? Find the demon and kill it." Angel's snort announced what he thought of that plan. "I didn't say it was flawless."
After some consideration, or so it seemed, Angel crouched and pulled a long knife from a strap at his ankle, brandishing it like a sword. He flipped it in the air a couple of times to get the feel of its weight, then raised his head to the sky. It took Wesley a pause to realise that he was inhaling for scents, though he suspected that the rain was dampening any possible trails like a blanket. Without another word or even a glance in his direction, Angel forged off into the trees.
Wesley stood, suddenly alone again as Angel's dark form was absorbed into the mist. With an almost overpowering sense of reluctance, he followed.