/"It's a dangerous business, of course," Costas says, absently chewing and muffling his words, a half-eaten apple held loosely in one hand. "Liable to get you killed any day you go out carrying that badge."
He's sitting cross-legged on grass a green so bright it could be reasonably described as 'lurid'. The early afternoon sun catching in his hair sets mud-brown dancing with colours Wesley never even suspected hidden there. A light breeze tousles the hair and takes a decade of years off the man.
"And that would be without the extracurricular pursuit of all things demonic," Wesley muses, trying to angle his head in such a fashion as to shield his eyes from the sun as he jots a theory down; a pen is in his fingers and paper in front of him. Well, when was that ever not the case?
"Hell, I'm surprised every time we come back from that alive."
Costas chomps down on the apple again, and the messy bite sprays juice so wide it reaches the edge of the faded old plaid blanket Wesley is sprawled upon, creating little spots where the red and blue darken almost to black.
Wesley sets down his pen and shifts awkwardly a body made ill-equipped for leverage while lying down, worming around until he can reach the papers nearest that edge and remove them from danger. He resumes his previous position. Notes Costas rolling his eyes.
He feels concentration pull his forehead into creases as he contemplates the detective.
"Perhaps we shouldn't. Go out, that is."
"Yeah. Perhaps we shouldn't. After all, only crazy people would do this gig." He finishes with his eyes pointedly on Wesley.
Who blinks and stutters, and raises his hand to shield his face and pretends it to be from the sun. Pretends it is the weight on his chest from depriving his sprawled position of an elbow's leverage that constricts his words. "I swore once... I told you... I swore to dedicate my life to these pursuits."
"And so did I, you know." Costas says. Wryly, he tosses an easy shrug to the world. Two-shouldered, open-armed, no grounding wrench of pain as scar tissue stretches and protests to drag him back. "After a fashion."
Beyond the fence, two children run laughing down the street in pursuit of a third, also laughing, shrieks of high mirth amid a litany of "Can't catch me!" Wesley watches them go, thinking on the inanity of sitting in a tidy yard on a bright afternoon debating life and death and the Good Fight with the world obliviously at play around them. Costas' battered cords and an astonishingly dire bright shirt, his own cheap grey suit pants and button-up-collar T-shirt not precisely the mail of champions.
He pushes his glasses more firmly on his nose, squints through them at the near-albino disc of the sun in the blue, blue sky.
"But what if we just - stopped?"
"You're not getting cold feet over one failure?"
"Far more than one, Jack."
Costas finishes the apple, a stolid meeting of his teeth through its flesh. He swings his arm back and hurls the core into the bushes, to rot under cover of their spread. Leaves scatter and branches reverberate slowly back into stillness, and Costas delivers more dialogue he's heard before. "You know I couldn't do this without you."
"You're wrong. It's I who couldn't--" Wesley begins.
"In any case," Costas states, "What the hell are you wasting time moping over this for? Goddamn it. Don't you know we could die tomorrow?"/
The kitchen was stripped to a skeleton, white and cold, blank walls and clean tiles. Wesley's chair and the table at which he sat marked the only remaining furnishing apart from the fittings.
There used to be a clock on the wall, just there, just so, a simple white face with black hands and numbers, not numerals, and the absence of its ticking was conspicuous, adding to the void. Next to it, that space was a glossy calendar, twelve months of the year according to Formula One, defaced with a myriad of pencil scrawlings in two distinct hands. There were postcards and photographs on the cupboard doors, there - Costas with Irene, Costas' family, distant cousins and their offspring; cards from Spain and Crete and Paris. He missed what had been of this room, the things that had filled it when somebody lived here
At times, the silence was oppressive, but occasionally faint voices drifted down to him, and more often than that the odd thuds and noises of feet and movement. Their acoustics echoed around the walls of the near-empty house.
The chair was hard and dug into his back and buttocks, grating against his bones as though his skin had stretched to the thinnest of membranes and the slightest pressure crushed and mangled unprotected nerves barely below the surface. His shoulder added to the tight cacophony - it had been aching with a vicious, wrenching intensity for the past two days.
As he shifted again in his seat, he heard the sound of movement intensify from above. It carried across the ceiling and metamorphosed into a repeated, irregular thudding descending the stairs.
The noises crystallized into two over-muscled gentlemen in stained T-shirts carrying with them an unwieldy large wardrobe and a rather grievous odour. For politeness' sake, he tried not to wince when they passed. Although the glances they gave back did not pay him the same courtesy in return.
Irene ghosted into the kitchen in an echo of their path as they vanished through the door.
Wesley had been there several hours now, sitting numbly the a debris of an existence. Little pieces of a life, torn down and moved out, Irene setting about the operation as though it were of military import, commanding the two men who cast odd sideways glances at Wesley or notably avoided looking at him at all.
Irene had boxes stacked in her arms like a skinny packhorse, and wore an expression appropriately mulish, a pattern not dissimilar to previous form. She had walked through the kitchen any number of times already, but this time she did not carry on past when she saw Wesley still there. Instead, she paused and set her load down on the table. It came within a hair of a heavy landing on Wesley's loosely curled fingers.
She said decisively, "You can't stay here. You know that."
Wesley knew that. He'd known it even before he'd spent the morning watching as people shifted out what remained of the life that had never, in the end, been his at all.
He just stared back at her. She responded again before he could dredge up any words. "I am not going to let you make me keep this house."
Wesley blinked. "Of course not," he said, surprise breaking the lock on his jaw.
"I've wanted to get rid of this place for years. Jack never would. But I... I didn't want the memories."
And no, Irene did not keep memories. She had spent the last few days throwing them out, methodically erasing the paraphernalia of Costas' life. Irene was no sentimentalist. Wesley had claimed the swords, a few other weapons that were of use to a one-handed fighter, though he wondered vaguely why he bothered at all. He had received thin looks for claiming as little as that. He did not dare speak up for the sake of sentiment alone.
"I wouldn't think to complain," Wesley stuttered quickly. "You've been more than generous, allowing me to remain here these last two days while everything went through the legalities. I couldn't expect more."
"Perhaps. But you were Jack's friend, and he didn't have many. I know... I know that he wanted very much to help you. To get you out of that awful apartment. I'm sorry that I can't continue to do so. That..." She flapped a hand helplessly.
"You don't know me," Wesley filled in. "Really. It doesn't matter. I'll find - something." And he trembled inside at the thought of what.
"I have a life of my own. I can't be looking after my ex husband's strays just because he was stupid enough to get himself killed by some vampire cult gang." There was a tremble in her voice, a shudder that at one point almost stressed it to breaking. Then she looked away, and when her gaze returned her composure had returned with it. "I'm sorry. That's a dreadful thing to say. I know really nothing about you. Please, forgive me."
Wesley said, "It doesn't matter."
"And please don't pretend I'm not turning you out onto the streets."
Wesley snapped his teeth shut and regarded her warily as he said nothing at all.
"Of course." And the icy, efficient woman... stumbled over her words. "I could have left it until next week. The week after. Longer. But... I'd still have it to do, and I couldn't stand..." She got a grip over herself finally. "Besides, it wouldn't help, would it? We both know you have nowhere to go, period. It would be for both of us only a putting-off of the inevitable."
"I do understand," Wesley said into the brief pause. "He's not coming back. And you need to move on."
Her hands were like those of a statue, stone at her sides. "Yes. We do need to move on. I don't know anything about your problems - Jack could be a tight-lipped, stubborn bastard when he wanted, and for some reason he wanted about you. I don't know what that means. I don't know for sure what your relationship with him was. Whatever it was, though, you know that relying on Jack wasn't an answer to your problems. He just provided a stay from having to find an answer. Maybe he would have done that forever; it still doesn't make it an answer." Her voice was shaking by the time she finished, and her posture was no longer controlled and still.
Wesley clumsily stood up, scraping his chair back across the floor. The wood of its legs screeched on the linoleum. He caught Irene's arm and awkwardly guided her toward the chair. "Please--"
"No." He felt her retreat, the stringy muscles of the limb beneath his grip tightening in strain, before she gave in, relaxing into the chair with a soft sigh. Her hands rose, fingers crooked and clawed to cover her face from his view. Her elbows planted on the table as her head bowed forward. A barely perceptible convulsion rocked her shoulders.
"Irene." Expelling the name hurt his throat. The tenderness came out harsh.
She wasn't listening anyway. Her shoulders shook again, more violently. An undignified half-squeak half-sob whistled from behind her hands, despite her reserve and the iron grip of control he could tell she was trying to reassert. "Please, Irene--"
He ventured his hand again, to rest it on her shoulder in an attempt at comfort, but she stiffened under his touch. "Don't."
She caught his hand, though, as he tried to withdraw it, her head jerking up. Her fingers brushed through the gaps between his, her skin smooth and dry and chalky with thin dust from the removals. She explored his hands, feeling the calluses from holding a pen. "You don't have the hands--" a brief pause, then a dismissal of all etiquette "--of a vagrant."
"Well." Wesley swallowed, feeling insecure and annoyed. "No." He wrenched his fingers free, repulsed. It wasn't that it had never occurred to him to contemplate how Irene and others of Costas' acquaintance really saw him, but he had never experienced it so blatantly demonstrated.
Irene turned her eyes down to where her hands had retreated to curl softly on the table.
"We were nineteen," she said then, startling him, serious and determined and unexpectedly collected. "And neither of us knew a damned thing. He didn't smoke then, or drink, or at least those times when he did it didn't matter because I did too. The police training... he was passionate about the job, but at the start it wasn't like it later became. We knew how much it would shape our lives. We thought we had enough... enough love, enough energy... to stay together."
She looked up slowly.
"Irene." Wesley found himself unconsciously backing off, another step further from the table. "You don't need to tell me these things. Really you don't."
"Don't tell me to shut up."
"I--" The croak stuck in his throat.
"Were you ever married?" She asked it like an accusation, changing focus with a speed that left him dizzied. "Is there a Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce left out there somewhere? Children?"
"N-no. Irene... Ms. Danner... I don't see what purpose this could possibly serve."
"It serves--" She stopped. Another turnaround. She looked away again, but this time she didn't try to hide her face as the half-coughed sob broke through. "I knew him since we were children." There was confusion in her face, a puzzlement, as though the bereavement had until now been only a vague abstract that hadn't completely registered. As though she was only now face-to-face with the idea of a world without Costas in it. "Can you believe that? We used to play together when we were five, rolling in the mud and feeding scraps to the caged birds in my aunt's back yard. I can barely remember now, that was so long ago... but... I knew him even then..."
/Wesley rolls onto his side under constricting sheets that entangle his body, tricky and clutching like a straight-jacket, for a one-armed man. The soft prison shifts against his skin, against uncovered scar tissue and pale, unmarked flesh alike, teasing nerve endings that already feel alive with a giddy, static buzz. The movement brings him up against the warm bulk of the body sharing the bed with him, tight slab of muscle carrying a discernable hint of flab. Wesley nuzzles his face into the solid arch of a shoulder-blade; rubs his forehead and the bridge of his nose, without spectacles as naked as the rest of him, into the faintly sweaty skin, across the slope of the shoulder and down the length of a whole arm.
One hand is little use for embracing. Holding, stroking, caressing become frustration, even humiliation. He has not the leverage, not the limbs to spare, and lying on his bad side to free his good arm puts pressure on a scar that's still tender and might always be.
But he tries nonetheless, embracing the form next to his with the whole of himself, curling around it to wrap it in as much of his skin as he's physically capable of.
In response to the affection, Jack groans his way to wakefulness. Wesley is well-placed to feel the changes in the rhythms of his partner's body, the heart rate increasing, the breathing quickening, the little shifting motions as consciousness descends, and Wesley, embarrassed, pulls back from his impersonation of a blanket, distancing himself from the warmth of the embrace.
Jack rolls over. Two arms gather Wesley back in before he can distance too far and crush him, like a teddy bear, into the big chest. Still only semi-awake, Jack mumbles something unintelligible. Wesley tries in vain to loosen the grip enough to allow himself to breathe with ease. Ends up struggling within the embrace until Jack wakes up enough for realisation to descend.
"Sorry." Jack is laughing, in his drowsiness, embarrassed little chuckles that shake his chest, and Wesley with it.
He bends his head down to capture Wesley's mouth. Early morning breath and fuzzy tongues don't make it the most polished of kisses, but since both sides have enthusiasm enough, the fact goes largely unnoted, except by that cold little block of objective cells in the back of Wesley's brain that seem to note everything, always.
Wesley's body is sore in what is right now a vaguely pleasant way, but that he knows from almost-forgotten recollection he'll be cursing before the day is out. The surface of his skin feels tight and itchy and hot - although that latter could be from Jack, who seems to give off the heat of a furnace - and it hums with the electro-static aftermath of exertion even now.
He catches Jack's lower lip in his teeth, teases it with his tongue. Jack cheats with his advantage of two hands, distracting him enough to loosen the grip and teases out an embarrassingly puppyish yelp, which Jack's mouth half-smothers even as he's drawing back from the kiss.
Wesley rolls over to take the pressure off scar tissue that's starting to ache, feels the coolness of the air on it, as their movement has pushed down the sheets to waist-level. He trails his hand over Jack's chest, and then away as he collapses onto his back and his knuckles hit, instead, sheets unwarmed by the collected body heat in their immediate portion of the bed.
He lies, staring up at a canary-yellow ceiling with yellower sunlight flooding across it. He says slowly, as fingers roam over his chest and make a dusting of hairs stand on end, "This isn't real. Wasn't. This didn't happen. It never... never would have happened. Would it?"
"Shh," Jack says. "I won't tell if you don't."
The voice is next to his ear; it's followed by a dampness in the shape of a mouth which fastens onto the base of his jaw, makes him gulp, bouncing his throat underneath its attentions as it works its way down the side of his neck. A sigh escapes from him as it crawls down to his shoulder, so close to the scarred nub that he has to screw his eyes shut abruptly in an instant of repulsion at the very thought.
But it's only the briefest of kisses Jack plants before moving on.
Wesley knows this isn't real. None of it is real. He will make love to a dead man, and wake up soaked in sweat and other of his body's substances in an empty bed. Wake up with the emptiness and frustration so tightly packing his insides that they might just split the skin of this encasing shell and tumble out, unchecked, to join the stains already marring the sheets./
Irene had handed him the keys as they left. "The car," she said awkwardly. "You can have the damn car. I don't want it, and prudish as he was about the thing, I'm sure he'd want you to have it more than he'd want me to sell it."
Wesley was not so sure, "You don't touch my car!" still ringing inside his head. But the keys rested now in his pocket, an irregular lump of discomfort against his hip as he struggled with the box of items that numbered almost the remainder of his current possessions. His own few belongings mixed with those small things Irene had allowed him to take or had not realised weren't his. The box was neither very heavy or large, but it wasn't easy to carry wedged between his hand, his chin and his chest. His satchel, stuffed full of his own clothes, swung behind his shoulder, the two swords jammed with a small hand-axe under its buckles, poking out precariously the excess of their lengths at either side and gathering scratches from the unkind treatment.
He reached the end of the path and the box shifted as, kicking the gate open and carefully manoeuvring out, he lost the wedge-grip with which he'd held it under his chin. He clung on with his fingertips, and with energetic squirming and contortion managed to balance the load against his chest once again. But then the strap of the satchel slid down his shoulder to hang at his elbow, making the endeavour a lost cause. A second later he was half-kneeling on the sidewalk six feet from the Lexus, surrounded by the scattered ephemera of another lost life.
Cursing, he fell the rest of the way to his knees and scrabbled to gather the items, tossing them back into the box - the books with their spines strained and covers bent, the creased papers and battered files. A loose sheet meandered across the sidewalk and he moved in pursuit.
It was caught upon two booted feet. A large, pale hand reached down to the paper. A black-clad arm extended, holding the paper out to Wesley as he raised his eyes.
He must have been lurking in the trees at the end of the path but Wesley, distracted, hadn't noticed anything of his presence until that moment.
Angel's hand wavered in the air, and Wesley's balance wavered, still over-extended, frozen as he'd reached out. His limbs hummed with the strain, but speech and movement seemed to have become alien concepts.
Angel looked the worse for wear, physically more battered than Wesley had ever seen him. Apparently the demon-hunting business was being none too kind all around. He withdrew his hand when Wesley didn't take the paper, and it hung loosely clasped at his side, fingers relaxing and tightening by turn. Crinkles erupted and spread out across the page.
"I heard about your friend," Angel said awkwardly, stilted. "I'm sorry." A pause. Wesley heard his own heart beat in the silence. He almost imagined he heard Angel's. "I... I shouldn't have called, that night."
"It wasn't your fault," Wesley said. It came out rougher than he'd anticipated.
"If I hadn't called, he'd be alive." Doubt flickered across Angel's face, though, even in the saying, and so it might. They both knew there were no such sweeping certainties. "Well. He might be."
"You only did what you had to do," Wesley said angrily. "It might have saved Detective Lockley. It didn't, but it might have done. You weren't at fault."
Angel met his gaze intently, and for all that they were exhausted and shocky and a little wild, Wesley was unnerved by the force of personality behind his eyes, the years and experience within them. "But you are," the vampire said slowly; low, intense.
Wesley's heart juddered and fluffed a beat.
"Isn't that it, Wes? Are you so in love with your mistakes that we really have to make a competition of our guilt, as well?"
"It's my fault they were both involved in this world from the start. I introduced them to the creatures that killed them."
Angel didn't respond for long seconds, not in movement, and not in words, and this conversation of silences was making Wesley's skin itch and shiver.
"You told me something once," Angel said eventually. "About guilt. And about choice. I thought about it a long time. I knew you were right." His voice cracked. More than that, it splintered, raw and bloody in the air. "I wanted to tell you that I knew you were right. It was their choice to make."
"But it doesn't take the pain away," Wesley snapped. "It won't bring him back."
"Nothing can do that."
"They only had that choice because I placed it in front of them. Jack... Kate... they weren't a part of any great mission. This wasn't their destiny. They weren't chosen by their forebears or by any higher powers. They were just... sacrifices to my failure. I brought them into this to do what I couldn't. Because I was afraid to try myself. Because I thought I could train soldiers - thought I could hone people into weapons and send them out to die. That was my destiny, after all, wasn't it? The Slayer, the Council. I've been trained all my life for just that. Wouldn't my oh-so-gracious peers among the Watchers be proud of me now, to see how proficient I've grown? A little late, more's the pity, but never mind." He finished on a sneer. It twisted the insides of his throat and strangled his voice into silence.
Angel's eyes fell shut with the heavy finality of a theatre curtain and his mouth thinned into a line of pain. "I should have accepted your offer, back at the hospital. I know that now."
"What? Because then things would have happened differently? Because then the world would have been a better place?" Wesley slammed papers and books back into their box, needing to be elsewhere, needing not to hear any more. His unsupported knees wavered his body awkwardly with the quick, angry motions. "We'd still have found a way to screw it all up, you and I. It is the one thing we commonly seem to do exceedingly well."
"Perhaps that's true. But... those weren't the reasons."
Wesley continued shovelling books. He did not ask what Angel meant.
"There was... another reason, as well... that I came here, today," the vampire said, eventually, when enough time had passed to make Wesley's lack of interest blindingly clear even to a socially inept fiend of the night.
"What was that?" Wesley demanded bitterly, straightening in a sharp motion that jarred his spine for his pride, the box clutched in a bruising vice between forearm and stomach. The car keys jangled in his awkwardly twisted fingers. The satchel butted against his thigh, weapons spinning and clanking under the straps and threatening to escape their hold. "Did you come here to tell me that I need to pull myself together? To get over what's happened, put to one side the fact I got my friend killed, and move on? To learn how to stand on my own two feet?"
At least he still had two of those, if they hadn't seen such a great deal of use. He snorted laughter.
"No--" Angel protested, strained.
"Then you're wrong."
The world narrowed to a tiny point of focus, and then--
He remembered clearly turning his back after his fierce declaration, and afterwards only knew that somehow he'd negotiated unlocking and opening the car. The box and bag were slung over the back seat and sliding off - the box emptying again, this time onto the floor in a cascade as he started the engine. The buzz of anger and adrenaline in his veins blanked out feeling and thought, left in their wake only instinct and reaction.
And Wesley was putting his foot down in the driving seat of a dead man's car, watching the bonnet eat up the tarmac of the road ahead and watching Angel, a dark, deceptively man-shaped blot fading into distance and shadows in the rear-view mirror, crumpling the forgotten sheet of white paper in his fist and letting it fall, mangled, to the ground.
/The blade scythes through the air, testing the limit of Wesley's defences, alarmingly close to his ribs before he succeeds in turning it aside.
"Nearly dead," Costas says, circling the centre of the games room warily, his own weapon held with a superior confidence and proficiency.
His eyes are like Father's; his stance, his moves, the way his knuckles contort around the hilt of the sword. A shiver travels down Wesley's spine and settles in the small of his back. Costas attacks with a move that plagued him through his training years and he's unnerved enough, this time, to make a hash of the block.
The sword point penetrates, as he tries instinctively to twist aside. Metal pulls through flesh, dragging a raw gasp from his lips. He staggers back with a deep gash across the soft flesh of his belly, bleeding out into his torn shirt.
It's more discomfort than pain at first. Then the wrench and the pressure crystallise and he's familiar enough with blinding agony by this time to anticipate an instant prior just how it's going to be. As a consequence, when the pain lands it just rocks him, rather than knocking him off his feet; leaves him swaying like a skinny tree in high winds. The sword shakes in his hand like it's trying to dance a merry jig.
"Had enough already?" Costas sneers.
"I--" Wesley has no breath left to speak; can only concentrate on his next block as another attack hits, lurching out to catch his opponent's sword on his own, leaving himself badly over-reached. It almost kills him. Instead, by a hair, it stops the blade and extends his life a handful of moments longer.
If he had the hand to spare, it would be clutched over his stomach to stem the bleeding. Instead, he's doubled up over air, gasping and wheezing and shuddering around the wound. The sword seems to have trebled its weight in his hand and he holds it and moves it like a club, precision and skill a memory.
Costas' blade swipes in to slash across his face down from the top of his cheekbone to bisect his upper lip, whipping him around in a half-turn as he flinches and manages to recapture his balance just in time to turn aside the next swipe, aimed at his right thigh, so that it cuts shallow instead of cutting deep, missing major arteries and inflicting only sting.
This isn't Costas at all, and appeals won't work.
"You call this a fight? Come on, damn you. Put some effort into it."
He's heard those words before, been here before. Though Father never cut him almost in half to prove his point, this is all far too familiar. He tries to stop all the old reactions from flooding back.
He does, trying to surprise his phantom opponent - almost succeeds. But when Costas moves late to block, it's still almost casual, with a skill Wesley only remembers seeing in one man, who used it all for show and never himself ventured out to confront the darkness.
There is blood seeping down to soak the waistline of his trousers where it cinches in. He isn't sure of the wound's severity; daren't look down.
He tries to focus everything on his opponent.
Costas swipes past his guard again and draws a thin line up his collar bone and across his shoulder with the tip of the sword; is thankfully forced to draw it back in order to deflect Wesley's frantic stab, attack as defence, before the blade can drag across and reopen the scar tissue beneath the pinned arm of his shirt.
Costas slaps the edge of the sword across his upper arm - his only arm - and drags forward, splattering blood as he scrapes the blade's length through the wound. Wesley screams - can't help it - even as he's turning again, turning his body away from the blade.
Costas' sword slams through his, dashing the weapon from his weakened grip and skittering it across the floor of the practise room to chip the skirting where it's stopped short. Costas' face contorts with a curious focus that's almost impersonal as he drives the weapon home. Wesley feels the intolerable pressure of three feet of steel passing under his ribs, grating past bone to exit at the base of his back.
Costas is close enough to hold him as his legs collapse, and for a moment does, the warmth and sweat of exertion suffusing from his body into Wesley's chilled one. Wesley's blood absorbs into his clothing by way of exchange.
He wrenches the sword out as he pulls away.
And Wesley is on the floor, a mess of spilled blood and limp bone, the real world fading into focus around him./
"I keep dreaming about you," Wesley told the car, squatted on his haunches on the edge of the kerb with his knees drawn up against his chest. "Damned ridiculous thing to do, I suppose." His arm hugged his right knee, while the left slipped asymmetrically out of his admittedly asymmetrical body's near-foetal curl against the night's chill. He'd parked in a lay-by off an industrial area of locked up offices and factories. Their concrete car parks and meandering roads provided an open, lonely expanse, far from human traffic, where it probably wasn't best to linger alone on a late evening.
Such conversations ought properly to be held at a graveside, but there wasn't a grave yet to stand beside, and who knew how long before there would be, with an enquiry on the murder of a police detective under way? So instead he talked to the car, which had to be imbued with Costas' spirit if anything was.
"Last night, you killed me. The night before that--" He trailed off, unable to finish the thought. "And there've been other dreams. Harmless dreams, stupid, innocuous, pointless dreams. Sometimes it seems I just close my eyes and you're waiting there."
The empty concrete landscape sent him no reply. It left him with silence, feeling small, fragile and unnoticed, hearing his noises emerge muffled as though he wasn't really there at all. The pools of streetlamps dotted about the concourse dazzled his eyes. He blinked and found their sunspots imprinted on his retinas. Costas, this one time, was a silent ghost.
Wesley gazed self-consciously over the sea of wire and road, bends and intersections all unsignposted, unmarked, leading in circles, doubling back, vanishing into dead ends. A miniature cosmos, punctuated with neat, empty sidewalks.
He remembered his words to Angel. That defiance, wrapped up in anger and scorn, had carried him for an hour of aimless slogging through traffic, the streets a haze of red in his eyes. Until he'd returned to himself sufficiently to realise just how aimless, and had glanced down at the fuel gauge to register that, even if it was half-full, he had almost no money to replace it when the arrow ran down to zero. That was why he'd pulled over here, where he hoped there would be no-one, at night, to come shift him out if he slept parked in Costas' car. But he didn't feel like sleeping. In truth, his body had seen little of the phenomenon in days, and that which it had seen plagued by the dreams.
He turned his head and the streetlights left phantom trails before his eyes. He was aware of the intensifying sensation of his legs cramping from stillness and awkward posture, destroying any air of ritual he might have hoped for. This wasn't working.
"I'm sorry," he whispered to the ghosts. "I'm sorry." But Costas - Costas had, at the end of the day, killed himself. Had been looking for answers before he found Wesley, and would have kept looking elsewhere if Wesley had not come through with them. Such stubbornness usually won out in the end. He could not apologise to the dead man in any way that would have meaning, and really there was much else more real requiring apology of him. Weakness, indecision, cowardice... he could hardly be said to have acquitted himself well since waking in that hospital room.
He felt a stab of guilt over Angel, the vampire a dejected dark blur in remembered shadows as he drove away. Angel had nobody now either, and there had been an offer there he'd been all too willing to make himself all those months ago. He could still recall the sting of its decline. But what he'd said had been right enough. He hoped that Angel would be okay, but for himself, he would not substitute Angel for Costas. He had to learn to live without a left hand.
He would do this himself, or not at all. All of himself was bound up in this fight and he would not lose himself again, letting another manage his surviving for him; letting focus and purpose be imposed from without and detachment from the world quiet the images in his head (the Kungai as it crushed his arm and reduced his world to pain that hadn't ceased to be a constant since, Penn's teeth sinking into his wrist and draining what the Kungai left of his courage and resolve... Costas' care no less a leech, though far more well-intentioned).
Weakness had been his excuse, the arm a crutch for his fear, but it hadn't been the arm that crippled him.
So long as he was a cripple, he wasn't expected to act. So long as he couldn't fight, he didn't have to (the feel of the sword in his hands and the giddy exhilaration settling in his bones again; the sheer excitement of 'I can do this!' after far, far to many weeks of 'I can't'). So long as he couldn't live a whole life...
Yet it had not been he who died.
It would not be much of a legacy to take from the man who had tried in earnest to help him if he lay down now and spent whatever was left of his life wishing that it had.
The streetlamps blurred in his gaze, and glittered dually, the lenses of his glasses ghosting them at the edge of his vision. The hint of moisture dried up a mere glaze on the surface of his eyes as its presence registered with his brain and turned the emotion cold inside him.
A rogue droplet plopped down onto the sleeve of the tattered leather jacket he'd bought in the bike shop back in Sunnydale, all those months ago and a whole world removed. He watched it work its way down the grooves and channels worn into the leather. Others followed, the beginnings of a rain shower, and he was going to catch pneumonia if he didn't move soon.
Wesley slowly stood, gathering reluctant feet beneath him.
He rounded the car, its smooth frame cool in the night air where he ran fingers across the metal to the handle. A disarray of unclosed case files all but tumbled out as he opened the back door. He bent to gather them and stray sentence fragments caught his eyes, notes he hadn't thought about in too many days prompting the analytical part of his brain to whir into gear. The suspected vampire nest in Redondo... the demonic slave ring working its way up in profile on the underground rumour mill... a peculiar murder case featuring a victim missing his head... the esoteric Amulet of Amest, stolen from the city museum months ago, still unrecovered.
Disturbed by his fumbling, a sword slid down with the papers. There was a brief instant of dizziness and speed, his head reeling and his senses crystal sharp, narrowing as he caught it before it could hit the ground.
He watched the reflection off the blade as he turned it this way and that in the sparse light. After months of training Costas, the weapon did not feel so very heavy in his single hand.
There were, obviously, a host of different reasons not to fight. He'd already been crippled by it; his ineffectiveness proven time and again; he had no reason to believe he actually could succeed alone; and he was afraid. Only one reason, as always, to fight - because he could. He was one of the few in a position to know about the evils existing in the dark corners of the world. The Watcher's Council might not want him, but that had never freed him to just... walk away. He thought about Kate and Costas; thought about Buffy's friends, of whom he had once disapproved so severely. And perhaps they were all not so different.
No. Not only one reason, Wesley reflected as his thoughts turned back to Costas. His friend was dead. He would have to sell the car, would not be able to attend the funeral, and there was, anyway, always, only one way to properly honour him.
There was still plenty of work out there to do.