Title: Adapting to the Elements
Timeline: Between season 3 and 4 of Angel.
Disclaimer: Nope I'm not Joss and I'm making no money off this.
A/N: Special thanks to my betas stretfordditto and spikendru
The boat swayed as the wind and waves nudged it. Connor took a deep breath of the crisp salt air; it was biting.
The ocean looked empty, and Connor's mouth twisted into a faint grin. He knew the truth; Angel's casket was now wedged into the silt, under more water than he'd known existed. In Quor-toth, the most water he'd seen was a lake, filled with Slucks—the creatures he'd chased out of his world into this one.
Connor leaned over the boat's railings, watching as Justine finished tying the boat to the docks. She flicked her hair from her eyes, then looked up at Connor as if sensing him. She pursed her lips as if she was going to say something, but instead finished her work.
They'd not spoken since slamming the bolts home on Angel's prison. Connor was accustomed to long periods of silence; talking was a great expenditure of energy but here people thought differently. Angel's friends spoke a great deal more than was required, and used words he'd never heard before.
He didn't blame any of them; they'd been deceived by Angel as he had almost allowed himself to become. The mistake had cost Holtz his life. But he knew that they would look for Angel, and his absence would implicate Connor in their minds.
Connor flung himself over the boat's railings, to the wooden pier below. He couldn't let them ever find what was beneath those waves.
"Hey, kid where you headed?" Justine called after him. "This is a hell of a big city, not a safe place to be alone and when you're just starting off."
"I need to go back to the hotel." He looked down, stuffing his hands into his pockets before meeting her eyes.
"You're going to Angel's friends?"
"They'll go looking for him. I have to make sure they don't find him."
Justine nodded. "Good luck, Steven." He figured that might be the last time anyone would use his old name.
Gunn woke up; his head hurt from using Angel's desk as a pillow. He peeled a case file away from his cheek that had pasted itself there with sweat and drool. He looked across to the answering machine, but there were no new messages. The digital clock on the machine flashed 8.45 but he doubted Angel had been able to program the right time. Where the hell is everyone?
He shook his head, and heard the sounds of frantic key strokes and scraping of a spoon along the ceramic surface of a bowl. Gunn stretched his limbs, yawned, and made his way out into the lobby.
Fred smiled up at Gunn, her brow crinkled slightly. It was the look that said things could be worse but they could also be better. It felt familiar.
Connor didn't seem concerned about it. Even last night when he'd come in and they told him about Angel's and Cordelia's disappearance, it didn't seem to bother him. Gunn guessed it took a lot more than that to faze someone who'd grown up in a hell dimension. Despite this, Connor seemed to be quickly adjusting. He sat on the top of the counter stuffing his mouth with sugary cereal and flicking through one of Gunn's comic books, which he'd purchased for when research got too boring. It was an action packed adventure, filled with butchering monsters and heroes who gave as good as they got. It was right up the kid's alley.
"Sampling the fine cuisine and appreciating the art. It didn't take you long to adapt." Gunn got a blank stare from the teenager. Connor had obviously taken on the mannerisms of kids his age, too; factor in that he was Angel's son and you got a whole lot of brooding.
Connor slowly nodded, as a slight grin made its way across his face. "Yeah, I'm right at home."
"Wait until you discover video games." Fred favored the two with a warm smile before going back to shifting through electronic information on her screen.
"We could go to an arcade, once we find that dad of yours." Gunn suggested.
"Charles," Fred had gone very still, she squinted at the monitor. "I've just found this in the DMV's records." Gunn looked over her shoulder.
"Those are Cordy's and Angel's license plates."
"It seems that both cars were abandoned. Cordy's in the middle of the freeway," She moved the cursor down the page, "And Angel's somewhere on the bluffs in Malibu."
She scribbled down the details on a piece of paper and handed them to him.
"Is that a 'u' or a 'q'?" Gunn teased as he tried to read her writing.
"I wanted to be a professor and the chicken scratch is a requirement." She smacked Gunn's arm playfully with the note pad.
"I better go check it out."
"I don't think you should." Connor leapt off the counter, his slouch suddenly replaced with tensed muscles. "I should go with you; it could be dangerous."
Gunn strode over to the weapons cabinet, took out a broad sword and tossed it over to Connor. "Let's go then."
Gunn punched Angel's number into his cell phone. Angel's phone buzzed on the beach below.
"Come on." Gunn tilted his head toward the piercing sound, indicating they should retrieve it. Connor hadn't taken long to grasp the purpose of the machine—it was used to converse with one's allies at great distances. He hadn't seen Angel drop it, but he'd been focused on his task.
They found their way down the bluffs. Gunn picked up the phone, the cover had snapped off in the fall, but the screen still lit up. Gunn brushed away the grains of sand.
"I'm not used to tracking near water," Connor said, "It will have erased any footprints, but he was here, I can smell him."
Gunn nodded, and continued to scroll through Angel's missed calls. There were fourteen, but they were all from the hotel. Fred had been overusing the speed dial again. "There's just missed calls, no new outgoing calls."
They stood still and faced the ocean. Connor made a rut in the sand with his shoe; the tide would clear it away.
Gunn sighed before his eyes flicked towards Connor. "Sorry Connor, there's nothing out here. Best go back to the hotel."
Connor nodded and followed Gunn back to his truck.
Wesley made his way up the stairs to his apartment. He'd ventured out of his home to go to the corner market close by. It was a seedy place, and he suspected the late night shift employee was a Gakin demon, who luckily, hadn't tried to engage Wesley in conversation. He didn't feel much like interacting with any being—human or otherwise. He didn't have the energy to pretend he was invested in small talk.
He did a complicated juggling act with his grocery bags, using his now empty hand to search through his jeans pockets for his keys.
Lilah was waiting outside his door; he considered turning back to the convenience store—having a stilted conversation with a Gakin demon suddenly seemed a good alternative than having to talk to Lilah. Her eyes fixed on him; he was out of options.
"Have the files on my desk tomorrow." She snapped her phone shut, cutting off the person on the other end. It had been a week since they'd slept together, and the between times tended to become awkward. He stepped past her, not allowing the awkwardness to settle over him.
"What? You don't call and now you're avoiding me in the hallway," she rolled her eyes as she faced him, and then smirked. "Doesn't make a girl feel all that special."
"We both know that's not why you're here, Lilah." He let the door hang open.
He raised an eyebrow at her.
"Right, I'm not. Though, why I was here last time hasn't slipped my memory. Who knew what was lurking under that prim and proper surface?But this is strictly business," she admitted. He crossed his arms and waited. "Angel went missing over a week ago, along with Cordelia Chase. Got any leads you like to share?" Her eyes narrowed as she studied him. "You don't known anything, do you? You're out of the loop. It figures."
He poured himself a Scotch and took a seat. "Or maybe I simply don't care enough."
She bent down to his eye level, close enough that he could feel her breath on his face. He fought a shudder.
"Now, Wes, we both know that's a lie."
"I have no clue where Angel is, you've wasted your time coming here."
"If it meant they'd take you back, you'd be in there like a shot."
"Get out." He whispered.
"Don't worry—there's nothing else here for me."
He gripped her wrist as she moved to leave. "There never was."
Wesley picked his way though the dilapidated remains of what had once been a suburban household. The people here had become as warped as the building's foundations. It was the same rat-infested nest he remembered it being.
It was the place where it started. Wesley was certain that, in his time, Holtz had been a good man. The remnants of that person that still remained, and Wesley's fear of Angel hurting Connor had been what convinced him to make that deal. Wesley figured that, in the end, he was as innocent as Holtz. They'd both turned into what they so eagerly fought.
He found the main quarters of operations; it wasn't much anymore. He'd known to expect Holtz or Justine to be here, and expected to find the answers to where Angel and Cordelia had ended up.
There were three men and two women in the room. He recognised them from before despite their bedraggled and half starved appearance. They were apparently still fighting for Holtz' original cause, blood splattered and bruised. A bearded man in the far corner whittled stakes, preparing for another vampire attack this evening, Wesley surmised.
They stared at Wesley with vague recollection, but without aggression or even fear of any reprisal. He knew that look in their eyes; they had nothing left. Their lives were finished—everything given up for nothing.
"Where are Holtz and Justine?" Wesley asked. He aimed his crossbow at the bearded man's throat.
"Hell, if we know." The man barked. "Bastard took off with that kid months ago. Justine came back and told us, and then she split for good."
One of the women looked up at Wesley, and shook her head. "It was never about making things right, it was just payback."
"I thought that was the common thread that brought you all together."
"No," She said. "Well, yeah, but more than that. We thought we were doing something noble. He used us too."
It was getting to be too much for Fred, as she listened to the legal jargon on the other end of the phone. In Pylea, she only had herself to take care of, at least. That was the only benefit of hermit-cave-dwelling-on-the-run-days. Now she had bills, paperwork, a boyfriend, and Connor to take care of, in addition to a paper on 'Supersymmetry and P-dimensional subspace' to write.
She continued on with her verbal battle with the man from the bank. It was hard work being Angel, Cordelia and Wesley rolled into one, with no vampire strength, visions or Watchers' Academy training.
Gunn walked through the main doors; his slumped shoulders meant he'd probably not found any cases that they could handle without the others to back them up. The only job they'd been offered in weeks was to clear out a huge vampire nest, but that just seemed too risky. She also found out that Wesley had been taking on their old clients, and doing well finding new ones. And she was shocked to find out he was working with Holtz's old men.
Gunn took a seat next to Connor, watching him play on his Gameboy. They seemed to be getting on really well.
"I know the payments are late," Fred said, "Yes, I understand that last month's payments were…" She went back to listening to the lifeless drone again.
"Left, go left!" Gunn yelled, "Now the blue ghost's taken a chunk out of you."
Her mind drifted to the sound of Pacman's death. Pacman never goes hungry.
"Ghosts are incorporeal, how can it eat me?" Connor asked
"Computer games—not scientific. Now hand it over." Gunn said.
"I'm sorry. The cheque is in the mail." Fred lied, said goodbye and hung up. She turned to Gunn "We're going to have to take the job."
The boy squinted up at the bright summer's sky. A green expanse of land lay before him as he sat on the steps of a great hall. Sun spots danced in front of his vision, and he turned his attention back to the pages of 'David Copperfield.'
"Wesley, son, come over here." His father called. He was in the middle of a group of men. They'd been shooting pheasants, and there was a pile of them already. They were now laughing, smoking and speaking of their business. He'd one day work with men like these, he'd discuss the same things: Death, monsters and slayers—the only things his father had ever shown interest in.
He nodded. Wesley's father towered above him; he wasn't a big man, but Wesley was small for an eleven-year-old boy. His mother had assured him he still had a lot of growing left to do. He knew, though, that the boys in his halls were right—he'd always be a weakling. The only thing he had in common with them was that their lives had also already been mapped out. They were all to be Watchers, as their fathers had been.
Roger took his son aside. Wesley preferred when his father ignored him. He felt self-conscious under his gaze. He wanted Wesley to join in with the shooting. He just wanted to be left to his own devices. He felt the prickle of tears in his eyes as his father began to berate him for being so childish.
"One has to learn, that life is hard decisions, my boy."
Wesley nodded. Everything always came back to his father trying to prepare him for the hardship of being a Watcher.
"One must sacrifice everything, even one's very beliefs and morality, for what is needed to be done."
Wesley woke up, the acute humiliation of his childhood fading back into his subconscious. Lilah's naked body laid beside his. He closed his eyes; mistakes happened twice but more than that, logic dictated that it was a pattern. It was the first time they'd both fallen asleep afterwards. He wishes her perfume didn't smell so sweet. When she was gone it lingered in the room. This is a new kind of shame to him.
Justine limped back to her motel room, which smelled of dampness and dirt. A gang of vampires had gotten the jump on her. The undead community could stay pissed off for a long time, and they really didn't appreciate her killing the whole lot of them.
"Hey, I still haven't got last week's rent yet," the motel manager called after her.
"I'll have the cash soon," she called back, quickly ducking into the room, pulling the chain across the door. She froze. "I should have known you'd find me."
The butt of a shotgun slammed into her skull. She'd not been ready for it. She crumpled over, face first into the greasy carpet, the pain shooting through her jaw bone and her tongue as her teeth cut into it. There was the taste of blood, and then nothing.
She thought she heard Gunn yell, but it was difficult to tell when she was being throttled by a huge vampire. She clawed at the thick arms but they wouldn't let her free. She'd survived a hell dimension, and to die back home seemed unfair.
The vampire's teeth turned to ashes on her bare neck. Her butt hit the concrete, hard. She felt stupid.
Connor held out his hand to her. "Thanks Connor. I thought I was a goner, I started to get black spots in front of my eyes."
"It's out there then, that Angel's gone?" Gunn asked.
"Yeah, gave them the courage to attack," Connor grinned. "Guess, they didn't count on me."
Justine's eyes popped open. Her arms and legs were bound painfully behind her back. Wesley was sat close by watching her, his mouth set in a line.
"I'm going to take the gag away," He nodded, "But if you scream it's going back."
She rolled her eyes but nodded anyway.
"What the hell?" Justine rasped, as he cut the cloth away.
"You're going to tell me what you did with Angel and who else is responsible?"
"Screw you, I'm not telling you a thing." She glared at him.
"Have you ever been tortured before? Because I have."
She laughed at him. "Do your worst." He strode towards her, grabbed the back of her chair, and yanked her into a closest. The locks click shut. She was alone and shut in like Angel. Ironic really.