It was too cold in the office, as always -- why did Americans always insist on setting air-conditioning at ridiculously low temperatures? -- and the English text was dancing in front of Wesley's eyes as proto-Akkadian never had. He wished, not for the first time, that he could just turn the Files and Records interface back on and let her run the audit for him. But after all, the point of an audit was to double-check. It was entirely possible that Files and Records was merely a motivation-free semi-animate database interface, with no evil inclinations or programming, but really, could Wesley be sure if he didn't check the data himself? So for nine days now he'd been scanning every piece of paper, worm drive, fiche, scrap of parchment, and carved stone tablet in the files, looking for inconsistencies -- there were some very strange holes in the data surrounding Angel Investigations' previous year, though he felt oddly uncomfortable tracking them down -- and despicable organizations that needed to be shut down ASAP. Many of the more heinous operations had become quiescent since the collapse of the Sunnydale Hellmouth. Some of them would probably start up again once functionality was relocated to Cleveland or Okinawa, but the breathing space was welcome. Speaking of breathing space --
Wesley arched his back and groaned as his spine crackled in the stretch. He'd had no time for a workout for weeks. If he spent too much time down here in the caves, Files and Records wouldn't be his worry; out of shape as he was, he'd be killed by the next passing vampire. Well, the next passing vampire who wasn't Angel, or otherwise employed by the firm. A workout with Angel and Charles would hit the spot, but they'd all grown apart in the last year; he couldn't exactly remember why, but they certainly no longer had the kind of camaraderie which would allow a good sparring session. Maybe it was time to take a break for the night, head down to Wolfram & Hart's impressive gym, and exercise himself into a stupor. He'd not been sleeping well, lately. Erotic dreams which turned to nightmares when his partner's head rolled across his bedroom floor weren't helping.
Funny how the interns didn't seem any less nervous now that they weren't as likely to be shipped to hell in return for demonic favors. He tried for a friendly smile, for what it was worth, and dredged up her name despite his exhaustion. "Yes, Ms. Schussler? What is it?"
"There's somebody here to see you, sir. I told him to come back during regular business hours, but --" Good heavens, did he really make the poor girl that uncomfortable? She was so pale even her copious freckles looked ghostly. Or did she always look like that? The girl's eyes flickered nervously back toward the hallway, and she continued, "he says he's a colleague of yours. From Sunnydale." Her voice lowered to a stage whisper on the last word, and Wesley realized it was not him she feared. He supposed it was reasonable for the intern to be nervous when speaking of the collapsed Hellmouth.
"Show him in," he told the girl, wondering why Rupert was here. His most recent update had reported Rupert Giles and a gaggle of slayers driving through the Midwest in a school bus and rebuilding the shattered Watcher's Council. Perhaps Wolfram & Hart's information gathering unit also needed an audit.
But when the secretary escorted in his guest, staying as far from the young man as she possibly could without overt rudeness, Wesley re-evaluated. Unless Rupert Giles had dropped thirty years and adopted a rakish eye patch, there was no reason to doubt the firm's spy reports. Plenty of reason to doubt his own sanity, though. Unless he was mistaken, Alexander Harris had just walked into his office.
"Hey, Wes," Xander said. "How they hanging? Long time no see, my friend."
"My friend?" Wesley asked. There might be several averted apocalypses between now and his last meeting with Xander, but Wesley didn't recall "friend" as an appropriate term for their relationship.
Xander grinned, undaunted. "Figure of speech. Whither mi casa goes, su casa shall goeth, enemy of my enemy, yadda yadda yadda. I got screwed by your slayer, and that practically makes you my father, or uncle, or something. Plus, needed favor, so working on my friendly face. Does friendly face work? I'm not sure if the eye patch makes me look wounded and trustworthy, or wickedly piratical." The boy's one-eyed gaze wandered in a familiar distracted-by-shiny-objects look. "Now there's an interesting connection. I fight the undead on land, and I'm the comic relief. And Johnny Depp fights undead pirates at sea, and he's the comic relief, and super sexy as a bonus. Does this mean I'm also super sexy? Cause, you know, haven't had a bloodthirsty demon date in at least a couple of months."
Wesley cut off the babbling. "Xander. Please have a seat. Tell me what's wrong." He gestured to a folding chair wedged between boxes of papers. Of course, this was Wolfram & Hart, so even the folding chairs were flashy Philippe Starck models. He settled back in amongst his files. "Is everybody all right? Everybody who survived after Sunnydale, that is? Faith still fighting for good?" He searched his mind for anything that might bring Xander Harris to speak with him. "I'm afraid I can't give you any more news about Cordelia than I told Willow when she called. We do have the foremost experts in mystical neurology investigating her illness."
Xander look oddly guilty, at that. "No, this isn't about Cordy. But... how is she? There's nothing I can do to help, is there?"
"As I said, there's no change. I'm sorry." The boy may have been a terrible boyfriend, even allowing for Cordelia's penchant for exaggeration, but he'd seemed to care for her back in high school.
"I know I don't worry as much as I should," Xander said, which explained the guilty look. "But I always assume that Cordy can get herself out of whatever mess she's in. Unless she's been carted off to be the Bride of Frankenfootball Star, or hung upside down by vampires." He looked sheepish. "Magical coma should probably be on that list. But hey, Faith woke herself out of a semi-magical coma, and I'm way more frightened of Cordy that I am of Faith. Even evil Faith."
Wesley chuckled. "Then you should have seen evil Cordelia. Now that was frightening, and not just because of her sartorial choices." It wasn't really funny; when he wasn't having nightmares about his headless lover, he was having nightmarish wakings from dreams in which he felt perfect love for a maggot-faced god. "If you're not here about Cordelia, Xander, why are you here?"
Xander leaned forward, all business. Serious was a good look on the boy; Wesley wasn't sure if he'd seen it before. "Actually," he said, "we need legal help." The look on Wesley's face must have been something to behold, judging by Xander's evident amusement. "We want to hire Wolfram & Hart, the not-evil division, to represent us in a few LA cases. Though I'm using 'hire' metaphorically, meaning 'convince you to work for free'."
"'Pro bono' is the term you want," Wesley corrected absently. This was an unexpected twist. "If you just need legal help, then why come talk to me? Why not ask Angel? He's the head of the firm, so he decides what cases we take. As you can see," he gestured around the basement room. "I'm just Files and Records."
"Cordy's unconscious, and me not so big with the Xander-Angel-bonding, therefore we beseech Mr. British-man, L.A. version. And Buffy and Faith are training new slayers, Willow is finding the girls for them, and the Giles/Dawn team is the Amazing Two-Person Watcher Duo, ergo me doing the asking." The boy tilted his chair back and laughed. "I hope you're not feeling all third choice or anything. Because also? I'm thinking you're not 'just Files and Records' around here. Wills warned me that you' d gone all stubbly and Ripperish, but the full effect is impressive, I've gotta admit."
"Complement duly noted," Wesley replied. "Give my regards to Willow. And your legal issue is...?" Stubbly and Ripperish, eh?
"New slayers. New slayer, in particular. Elsa Alvarez, 14. You know about the new slayers, right?"
"Even a mystical law firm can usually notice new superheroes popping up all over the world, yes," Wesley said.
"Well, what do you think happens when little girls all over the world awaken into slayers, with no watcher to explain things to them?" Xander looked at his hands for a moment. "*So* wasn't expecting I would ever miss the Watcher's Council."
"Ah." Though the Watcher's Council kept such things as secret as they could, there were always accidents. How could there not be, when a girl with a predestined fighting instinct suddenly gained super-strength? It hadn't occurred to Wesley that in the absence of the Watcher's Council, there was nobody around to clean up, afterwards. "I'd imagine there have been some ... incidents ."
"Give that boy a cookie," Xander said. "Elsa was playing lacrosse, Willow did her mumbo-jumbo, and Elsa did a number on another girl's collarbone and some ribs. Our slayer is headed to juvie, this not of the good, thus, the hiring -- the pro bonoing, excuse me -- of the evil law firm."
"Not evil any more, thank you for your support," Wesley said. "And yes, of course we will help your slayer. But as it's now," he glanced at his watch, and was rather surprised to realize quite how late it was. "10:30 PM, it will have to wait until morning. Come to think of it, why on earth did you arrive so late? Why didn't you get a hotel room for tonight and come to the office during business hours? There isn't a dire emergency with this Alvarez girl, is there?"
Xander had the grace to look abashed. "Cash flow problems -- my job fell into the crater with the rest of town. I was hoping you could point me towards somewhere to crash." Actually, it probably wasn't grace which made Xander look abashed, but rather experience and calculation. Wesley vaguely recalled that the boy had been a champion cadger back in high school.
In any case, it would be easy enough to hook the boy up in a hotel on the corporate account. Except it was late, and Wesley didn't want to bother any of the people who knew which hotels actually had the corporate account. Between his nightmares and his barren social life, Wesley wouldn't mind a change. Perhaps company -- even if that company was Xander Harris -- would stave off the dreams for one more night.
"Sure," he said, thinking about checking himself in to an institution even as the words left his mouth. "Wait one moment while I send an e-mail to the crew so they're prepared to deal with your slayer at our morning meeting, and then I'll be ready to go. You can crash at my place."
-- -- --
It had to be the beer.
Lolled on the couch, Wesley nursed his sixth Newcastle while Xander stared blearily into his third. Only copious alcohol could explain why at two in the morning, he was still talking to Xander Harris and enjoying himself. Xander "proves his manhood by insulting every male he knows except Rupert Giles" Harris. On the other hand, if they were going to go judging people by the way they had behaved three years ago, then Wesley wasn't up for any prizes, either. And this Xander wasn't the skinny kid desperately flailing to cover his inadequacies. He was an adult, albeit a young one, and he seemed to have stopped flailing. Like some other people that needn't be mentioned from those days.
Wesley could be very philosophical when he was deeply, truly drunk.
Right now, Xander was bemoaning the state of his love life. "All these years. All these years I've known that at least once, I dated a human. And now you tell me that Cordy isn't even human any more. I don't know why I try. I used to think it was the Hellmouth, but Cordy was human -- bitchy, but human -- when she lived in Sunnydale. There was that brief and ill-advised period of the Willow-smoochiness, but even Wills became, like, the most powerful witch in the uncharted territories. My Scooby superpower is more powerful than Buffy's. She sometimes misses, but I can always catch the demons with my amazing demon-catching sex appeal." He took another long pull of his beer.
Wesley was affronted by Xander's glory hogging. "You're not the only one," he complained. "My last girlfriend is the walking dead, and her head is detachable."
"Ah, but when you dated her, she was alive," Xander explained, sagely.
Aha! Xander had walked right in to Wesley's logical trap. "And when you dated Cordelia, she wasn't a demon. And Willow wasn't a very powerful witch. Whereas when I dated Lilah, she was working for the powers of darkness, and a lawyer to boot. So there." Victory was his!
"It doesn't matter, anyway," Xander said, dismissing Wesley's tipsy brilliance with a wave of his nearly empty bottle. "No time for romance. Too many errands. That's my job. Fixing broken windows and running errands."
Wesley pondered his own less than stellar romantic history. His relationship with Lilah -- he wished he could remember what had attracted him to Lilah in the first place -- had ended with her ignominious death; he'd lost Fred to Gunn's innocence, only a year after losing Gunn to bloodshed, terror, and betrayal in a basement karaoke bar; Virginia had left from the danger; and he himself had broken off the relationship with Peter back in St. Albans, for fear of what the Watcher's Council would do if he were caught with a man. What the Council had done anyway.
Xander was still rambling on. "I even asked Willow to lay some of the gayness on me. But I don't think it's women, I think it's demons in general. It's not like there are plenty of human men I know in Sunnydale I could experiment on. Everyone's a demon."
"Giles is human," Wesley offered.
Xander laughed. "Yeah, but Giles is Giles, not a guy. Besides, he was a demon once."
"Clem is a demon," Xander mused, apparently oblivious to Wesley's shock. "And Spike. And neither of them ever hit on me. So maybe it isn't all demons. Or maybe it's all demons as a general rule, but I'm just not attractive to men. Wes," he asked, looking Wesley in the eye, "do you find me attractive? You're human, right?" Wesley wasn't going to touch that one. Luckily, he was saved from the need to answer by Xander's two-second attention span. "Ooh, lime-flavored tortilla chips. I didn't realize that English guys ate those. Can I have another beer?"
"I still don't understand," Wesley said, carefully enunciating each word to avoid spraining his tongue. "You told me that the Sunnydale gang has that groupie who is extremely irritating, so why are you still the errand boy? Why not send this -- Andrew?" He waved his beer bottle to make a point -- he couldn't remember what point, but definitely a point of some sort -- and a thought emerged through his alcohol-induced haze. "For that matter, why not just call? This is the 21st century, you know."
Clearly something fascinating was happening inside Xander's Newcastle, as the young man seemed entranced by its contents. "They sent me. Very good reason. They had a good reason to send me. Yeah." He paused, then spoke with the ponderous importance only alcohol can give. "Remember now. Can't help. What will I teach them? How to drive a school bus with no depth perception?" He giggled, still staring down into his bottle. "I mean, being drivers with no depth perception. The school bus probably has depth perception. Do school buses have perception?"
"No!" Wesley leaned forward and put his hand over the mouth of Xander's bottle. He must have grabbed more clumsily than he meant to, because Xander looked up at him, aggrieved. Or perhaps he was just offended that Wesley had blocked whatever enthralling circus he was watching. "I mean, why send you? You have to be more useful with the slayers then the new Doughnut Boy."
Xander nodded sagely. "This is a very important mission which requires special skills. I have to persuade you, see? Andrew couldn't persuade Scott to smooch Jean." He went into gales of laughter at his unfathomable joke.
"What plan? How hard you think it would be to persuade us to get a slayer out of jail? I even broke Faith out of jail, and she tortured me. I'm good at getting slayers out of jail." He rose in indignation, which was probably a poor idea. Beer and standing didn't seem to mix very well. Xander must have thought so, as well. Tilting his head back to follow Wesley's ascent, he'd fallen over backwards on the loveseat.
If Xander had an answer, Wesley would have to learn it at some later date. Unless the answer involved snoring.
"Aboslutely not." Xander's idea was one of the stupidest he'd ever heard. "Wolfram & Hart is a law firm, not a day care center."
"What, the Watchers' Council was a day care center?" Xander asked. Even the hangover which left the young man's skin faintly green didn't discourage the snark.
Wesley pulled his car into the firm's garage. How did Buffy and Rupert come up with these ideas? Or was this brilliant one Xander's work? "I am not rejoining the Council, I am not helping re-form the Council, and I am in no way whatsoever taking on any more slayers. You might recall the banner job I did with the last slayer in my charge."
"Hey, Brit-man, as far as I can tell, Faith just had a key role in averting two separate apocalypses. Doesn't sound like too big of a fuck-up to me. Besides, we're just asking you to provide some basic training and mentoring. Nothing like the Mr. Belvedere outfit the Watchers had running. How hard could it be?"
"Training slayers is absolutely not an appropriate job for a law firm," Wesley said as he parked, ending the discussion. He thought.
"Look," Xander said. "You guys protect L.A., right? Don't you think protecting L.A. will be easier without a ton of untrained ignorant slayers running around all Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup? It's for your own good, savvy?"
Wesley couldn't tell if he were more amused or exasperated at Xander. The headache was certainly giving exasperated a head start. "And explain exactly why Wolfram & Hart adopting your untrained tag-along just to get him out of your hair is 'for our own good'?"
"Well, Andrew is formerly evil, and Wolfram & Hart is formerly evil. It's a match made in ... well, made somewhere. Besides, if he stays with us, Giles and Buffy are going to get into a bitch fight about who gets to murder him first. And then we'll be down either a slayer or watcher, and that wouldn't be prudent. Not at this juncture." Xander paused, and a momentary flash of real pain shadowed his animation. "Anyway, Anya liked him." He snorted. "Though she had consistently terrible judgment. Dating a troll. Dating *me*. But still. Annoying as Andrew can be -- and frequently is -- he could be useful. He's helped train slayers before. Sort of." Xander tugged at his collar. "Or at least he's been there while other people have trained slayers. And if you keep him plied with comic books and the 3.5 edition updates to Dungeons & Dragons, he'll do all the annoying administrative stuff for you. Set up some shadow nonprofit that you guys fund -- judging by Buffy and Faith, it could probably be a gym for juvenile delinquents -- and Andrew can handle all the paperwork. Especially if you convince him that he's being being Charles Xavier for your New Mutants. You just need to hire tae bo teachers and some stuffy British guys to train the slayers. It's kind of like the Scientologists and the phonics people. Why do the Scientologists care so much about phonics? Will the aliens come sooner if everyone is hooked on phonics?"
"I don't think it has anything to do with phonics, Xander," Wesley answered dryly. "I believe they use literacy training as an introduction to prospective members." What was the point? Xander was already wandering off on another topic, eventually coming back to nagging.
Xander practically bounced as he followed Wesley into the building, nagging and babbling all the way. Maybe he did have a superpower, like the rest of his little Scooby gang. He was One-eyed Carpenter Man, able to metabolize five pints of malt beverage in a single bound. He'd probably bounced up immediately after losing that eye and cried "Talley Ho, Buffy me old china, what do you say we slay the First and then go out for spot of bowling?" And followed up, Wesley was sure, with some inexplicable American pop culture reference.
"Xander, please be quiet just for a minute," Wesley pleaded as the doors closed on the executive lift. I've called a meeting with the partners -- the Angel Investigations crew. I'm sure we will happily represent any incarcerated slayers in Los Angeles, and have them released into the custody of their parents. You'll have to tell Buffy and Giles that is the best we can do."
When Xander and Wesley entered the boardroom, only Angel was there. Wesley's nerves, already strained by Xander's constant bouncing, went on full alert.
"Xander," Angel said, nodding.
"Angel," Xander replied.
This was going surprisingly well. No "Dead Boy", no violence. Wesley waved Xander to a chair, and winced as his arm clinked. Surreptitiously he resheathed the knives he'd let fall into his hands when Xander and Angel first saw each other. Instinct was a funny thing.
Both Angel and Xander noticed, and laughed. The slightly uncomfortable silence that followed the simultaneous laughter was broken by Xander. "Jinx. By me a Coke."
At which Angel smiled, laughed again, and he and Xander shook hands and exchanged pleasantries like normal people. Was this an alternate universe? Wesley was relieved when Fred and Lorne slipped through the boardroom door, nursing big mugs of coffee. Charles followed a moment later, looking serene as he always did these days, followed by -- oh, pants. Lilah.
"Morning, lover," she said, waving a folder at him. "I've got a full report for you on this Alvarez case." She directed an appreciative look Xander's way, who was amusing Fred with slayer tales. "Who's daddy's roommate?"
Wesley took the folder from a beautifully manicured dead hand. "Thank you for the files, Lilah. Why couldn't you send this up with an intern, again?"
Lilah pouted. "Maybe I just wanted to spend some quality time with you." She tilted her head and fingered the scarf around her neck. "Besides, I've got quite the zinger in that bundle. I wanted to see how you would cope."
Fantastic. It was bad enough facing Lilah with a hangover, without some difficulty perverse enough to amuse her. Wesley skimmed through the papers in the Alvarez dossier, looking for the problem. Statements all in order... situation as Xander described it, check... alleged victim's statement. Oh. Bloody hell.
He cleared his throat. "We have a problem, everyone." They turned to him: Fred and Lorne worried; Lilah smirking; Angel blank; Charles serene; Xander interested. "It seems, ah," he looked down at the papers he held. "The firm can't take this one on. We already represent the alleged victim's parents, and they have just filed civil suit against our slayer."
Fred was the first to react. "What? Why on earth did we take an anti-slayer case?" She looked nervously around the table. "We do still like slayers, even though we're sort of evil now, don't we?"
Angel put his hand over Fred's. "Fred, we are not evil just because we own a formerly evil law firm." It was an old argument, and it wasn't going to end here.
Xander just blinked.
Wesley gestured to Lilah. "Lilah, you seem to know the details better than I do. Would you care to elaborate?"
How on earth did she manage to make even her businesslike facial expression look like a smirk? Lilah took the folder from Wesley, but she wasn't reading from it. "The firm took the case automatically, because the alleged victim's parents -- Mr. and Mrs. George Loukides -- are standing clients. The girl's mother, Ms. Portia Loukides, is president of WellCenter." She looked around the table, one eyebrow raised.
Lorne spoke up. "The doctors? Why does a doctors' office need to hire evil lawyers, your Zombieness?"
"Not just doctors, Green and Flaming. A full managed health care facility: doctors, surgeons, insurance. Evil enough without any black magic associations, but they also had a little side business, selling byproducts on the demonic black market. No direct collateral damage, so Mr. President over there," she tilted her head at Angel, "chose to leave the account open for now. The firm needs a few paying clients to keep you all in Kona."
Lorne looked aggrieved. "Look, Little Miss Cursed for All Eternity, we have a plan about those kinds of clients, and you know it."
Wesley's hands twitched, but Fred interrupted, glaring at Lilah. "Yeah. We're going to keep the not-so-evil clients on board and try to convert them to doing good. Remember? So don't talk about us like we're going over to the dark side." She turned to Angel, and whispered, "We aren't, are we?"
Xander watched the byplay like it was a game of table tennis being played for his amusement. "Sometimes Giles acts like it's just us. I'm so glad it's not. Wacky hilarity ensues," he remarked to the room at large.
Angel looked pained, but then, Angel always looked pained these days. "No, Fred, we're not going evil. No, Xander, Angel Investigations is not 'wacky'. Lilah," he said, with that particular note of 'I hate you, but I have perverse and brooding reasons for tolerating you' reserved just for her. "Anything more?"
Lilah put on her sweet, good girl face. She'd never fooled Wesley with that face, though she had other expressions he'd believed. All business, she peered into the dossier with the earnestness of any intern. "Let's see. A lacrosse game May 20th. Ms. Elsa Alvarez, 14, body-checked Ms. Alicia Loukides, 14, according to Ms. Alvarez." Lilah looked up at Fred with a slight smile. "As you may recall from lacrosse games of your own -- they do play lacrosse in Texas, don't they? -- body checks are nearly always prohibited in girls' lacrosse. They happen all the time, of course." She turned her smile from the glaring Fred to Wesley. "Girls can be so brutal."
Lucky Xander couldn't see the undercurrents, or he might not have interrupted so casually. "So the other girl's parents are suing because Elsa broke a rule? What, do they file suit every time somebody cuts in front of their baby in the lunch line?"
Come to think of it, maybe Xander -- who did, after all, know the details of the case -- could see the undercurrents, and was just trying to diffuse the tension. He certainly managed to redirect Lilah's smug face in his direction. "No, Mr. Harris," she said. "You are Mr. Harris, right? I don't want to cause any embarrassment if Wesley has started bringing his dates to board meetings. No? Good. They aren't suing because Elsa body-checked Alicia. In fact, they don't believe that Elsa body-checked Alicia. The extent of the alleged victim's injuries is such that her parents assert that Ms. Alvarez must have gone for their daughter with her lacrosse stick and intentionally beaten the crap out of her." She raised her brows in mock surprise. "In fact, they use 'beat the crap out of her' in their statement. The coach wasn't looking, so he can't speak to the matter one way or the other."
Angel looked bored. "We resign from representing Alicia and we take on Elsa's case. End of story. Does anyone have a problem with that?" He asked the question perfunctorily, clearly ready to move on to whatever the next item of business might be. Wesley suspected that discussing slayers made Angel uncomfortable. Angel hadn't discussed his recent side-trip to Sunnydale except with orders to prepare for an army of super-vampires, but Wesley had seen something familiar in Angel's expression upon his return. It was the attitude of a man who had let somebody get under his skin. Wesley knew it well.
And while he was thinking about aggravating ex-lovers, wasn't the timing perfect for Lilah to screw things up once again? "It's not that easy, Angel," she said. "You can't just drop the case and take on your former opponent like that without raising some very serious ethical questions. We would almost certainly be investigated by the Bar Association. It's certainly possible, but it would probably have very poor implications for the firm's continued solvency." She smiled much too sweetly.
The Angel Investigations team looked around at one another, stumped. Well, most of them look stumped, Charles just looked serene. One of these days, Wesley was going to smack him. Xander glared indiscriminately at all and sundry. "So that's it? You're just going to let a slayer rot in jail because she accidentally went all Dirty Harry on some other girl? Pay for the other girl's medical bills, sure, that's only fair. Though it doesn't sound like she needs somebody to pay her medical bills. If your mom owns the insurance company, do you still have to have insurance, or is it just automatic?" Wesley wondered if Xander felt the stares aimed his way, because the young man suddenly focused. "Are we going to have to hire some other law firm and go all slayer on your asses? Because we will, and we'll win -- power of right and goodness, and all -- but we really don't have the money." He turned his glare on Wesley. Why not on Angel, Wesley wondered. It was his decision. "Or is Science Chick over here right, and you guys are becoming evil, now?"
"Xander --" Angel began, but Fred interrupted.
"Xander is right." Fred had her resolved face on. Wesley wondered how angry she would be if anyone ever told her how adorable her resolved face was, like a kitten, determined to get at the toy held just out of reach. "We have to get this slayer out of jail."
"Fred, don't worry." Angel held out his hands. "We'll find a way to get her out of jail. We just need to come up with the best way --" Fred cut him off once again.
"But I know the best way. It will work, and it won't even be," she glared at Lilah. "*Unethical*. Like you know the meaning of the word."
Lilah laughed. "Pray tell, Winifred."
Fred turned to Xander. "We can have your slayer sent to psychiatric care instead of juvenile detention. It should be easy enough to get her away from the shrinks, don't you think?" Lilah opened her mouth as if she were going to respond, and Fred shook her finger at the dead lawyer. "And if you say one word, missy, about why it is that I know about therapy for adolescent girls, I swear, I'll -- I'll -- I'll find a way to make your death so much more unpleasant that it already is."
Wesley cut in quietly but firmly. "More unpleasant than the eternal hellfire she's going to face as soon as she irritates Angel enough that he sends her away, and her former employers imprison her back in hell? I'm impressed, Fred." Lilah's face settled in triumphant lines, and Wesley saw he had been manipulated once again. Wesley had told off Fred in defense of his ex -- Lilah lived for that. Or, well, didn't. "Current suggestions are ethics violations, or slayer therapy." He sighed, and turned to Xander. Xander was looking at him steadily, a slight smile beginning, slowly rising to the surface. The smile blossomed fully just as Wesley realized what Xander was thinking. Psychiatric care -- no, better than psychiatric care. Rehabilitation is what they could call it, with character building gymnastics and martial arts, arts and crafts classes specializing in stake-whittling, and an incompetent clark with a history of summoning demons. A school for slayers, official enough to please the bureaucrats; the Watcher' Council wet dream; Wesley's nightmare. Although the more he thought about starting from scratch and getting it right this time, and the more he looked into Xander's optimistic face, the less it seemed like a nightmare.
"You know I'm right," Xander said conversationally to Wesley. Most of the crew -- even Lilah -- turned to him in confusion. Charles just looked serene. Screw Charles.
"It's totally inappropriate," Wesley insisted, beginning to grin back. He knew when he was beaten. "We're not psychotherapists."
"Oh come on. You've got formal training. God only knows that Angel has plenty of experience." Xander grimaced. "Not going there."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Angel asked, but Wesley and Xander ignored him.
"We're still not taking your Doughnut Boy," Wesley argued, mostly for the sake of form.
"Sure you are," Xander said, and Wesley smiled.