July 6th, hospital
Wesley pulled up a chair, and looked into the broad features of seven-year old boy. The boy lay in a hospital bed, several tubes going in and out of his body. There was a steady beat, as one machine was surveying his heart-beat. The face was peaceful. A little patched up, maybe, but peaceful.
Wesley reached out, slightly straightening the blanket. The boy didn't stir. It would have been a surprise had he stirred, and a good one, too. The boy had been lying in comma for two days already.
All of them were like this. Yes, there had been others. Other children. Other boys Wesley still dreamed about.
He could, of course, name them. He had always been good at remembering things, so why not use this talent to keep track of hurt little boys. This one was the fifth. Samuel Gordon, who liked to play football and wanted to be a cook in his father's restaurant when he grew up. A normal child. Nothing special about. Nothing, besides the fact that this little boy was now, finally and irrevocable, in a coma, out of which he, if you believed the doctors, probably would never awake again.
The first had been Mike Sullivan, six years old, found lifeless on his mama's veranda. The toy airplane was still in his hand. Peter Stevenson had been next. A clever little boy who loved ice-cream and Madonna. Eight years. He hadn't come back from a friend, and a couple out for a stroll latter found the body in an alley. It was pure coincidence that he had still been breathing when he was found. Funny, almost, how it always summed up to alleys with vampires.
Half a week later, Joe Fields didn't come home. He had been taken self-defence courses, to be one day able to protect himself.
This boy's name? No one knew it. Wesley had told them the boy's name was Kevin. They knew nothing about him. Wesley knew one thing about 'Kevin', though. 'Kevin' was the one who had gotten him into all this.
All of these children, mutilated. All of them hurt, destroyed, crushed in the ground.
There was a knock on the door, and Wesley turned around. A nurse was standing there, slightly blinking the tiredness away. The end of the night shift was nearing, and human beings just hadn't been created to spend long periods without sleep.
"You need to go now, Mr. Wyndam-Pryce," she said, smiling, "The doctor said only ten minutes."
Wesley stood up, casting one last look at the boy. It was a pity the kid had ended up here.
Following the nurse out of the door, he asked, "Is there any hope for him?"
The woman shrugged.
"It's just like with the others, sir," she said, "No sign that they are going to wake up. The police really should get the bastard that did this to him."
Wesley nodded, "Yes, they should."
"I mean," the nurse said, her high pitched voice starting to get annoying, "Why would anyone do this to little children? Burn them with acid and all?"
Wesley smiled empathically.
"I'm confident the police will get him," he said. But the police wasn't what would be needed here. They were dealing with the supernatural, and the police hadn't even started to accept the supernatural.
The nurse smiled weakly.
"I hope that, too," she said, shaking his hand, "Good bye, Mr. Wyndam-Pryce. Do we have your number, so that we can call you if there's anything new about your nephew?"
The 'nephew' in question would not get better anytime soon, but Wesley had left his number anyway at one of his earlier visits. You somehow never stopped to believe that miracles were possible.
"Yes. Call me, if there's anything new. Goodbye."
The nurse smiled energetically, "Goodbye, sir. Oh, and what I wanted to say, it's really sweet of you, looking for the boy, when he's having no one else in the world."
"He's family." he said. It strangely hurt to know, that if the boy would wake up again, he indeed would have no one else in all the whole world.
"Well, bye," the nurse looked a little insecure, and then quickly hurriedof.
Wesley walked out of the hospital with mixed feelings. He knew that he could help these children - he had to help them - somehow. The way their injuries were placed triggered something in his mind. The patterns the acid burns formed made in themselves no practical sense. They seemed random. But still. Something about them was familiar
There were five bodies already, in the intensive care unit. All of them unidentified, white boys. Ranging between the ages of five and eight. All of them in a coma, out of which, if one believed the doctors, they probably would never rise again. And most probably, there would be more to come.
It was hot outside, and the heat easily mad sweat pearls appear on his forehead.
All of it had started two days ago, for Angel Investigations. On Independence Day, when all of them had just been looking forward to a bit of relaxing before returning to their stressful lives. Well, fate, having had a very bad day, seemingly decided otherwise.
July 4th, Wesley's apartment
It was July 4th, Independence Day, and the United States were celebrating their birthday. There had been parades all day long, the armed forces and many others showing their best sides to the public.
Los Angeles seemed to be drowning in the sheer mass of American flags that were displayed, and even if there wasn't a flag, some incarnation of at least the colours would appear. It was warm, it wasn't only warm but it was stiflingly hot. The whole city seemed to be bustling with people.
A few stray firecrackers had already been shot by impatient children, but the real firework would only come tonight.
It was, to put it in three words, a lovely day. Would have been a lovely day, if you weren't trying to translate an obscure Hittite dialect into proper English. It was especially depressing, if you had been trying to translate that text since early morning, and now it was already dawning. It didn't help either, if you had only managed to translate seven sentences.
Wesley sighed, reading the sentence for the third time. It just didn't make sense. Well, it probably would have made sense, if there were real air-conditioning and no noise on the street. but like this, not a chance. He put his fingers in his ears, and muttered the sibyls again. They still weren't willing to be cooperative.
Starring at them one last time, as if trying to force them into submission, he sighed, and started at the beginning of the text again.
"The king rose from," he muttered, but was interrupted by the phone ringing.
"Fates are against me," he told the air. The air didn't answer. It would have been a bit worrisome when it had.
He picked up the phone, listening to the caller for a while. The powers that be had just decided that they needed Angel and his team to look at something. And they didn't even pay a bonus for working on red-letter days. Knowing Cordelia, Angel would have to pay one.
July 4th, outside a warehouse, somewhere in LA
It had been almost literary impossible to drive there. The streets were just too crowded, not to mention that quite a few had been barred in favour of parades. So, by taking several short-cuts Wesley didn't even want to know about how Angel did know of them, they had finally arrived. The area wasn't breathtaking. There also wasn't a single flag seen anywhere near. It looked almost deserted. True, a few buildings looked somehow inhabited, but more like they were inhabited by rats, mould, and several other unpleasant things.
Cordelia looked around, and scrunched her nose.
"Didn't they, like, clean up for Independence Day?" she asked.
"Obviously not," Wesley said, then pointed to the door of the warehouse. "Was that the one you saw?"
She nodded. "Yes, Wes," she said, slightly irritated, "That one, and not the one over there, or the one back around the corner. Now can we go in, and fight the big bad? I've got a date tonight." As if to emphasise her words, a firecracker exploded. This one wasn't the only one. Fireworks began, painting the sky in the most brilliant colours. Cordelia looked at her watch. "He's gonna pick me up in twenty minutes, so hurry," she said.
"Come along then, if we would quit chattering and instead get working as Angel already has, we'd be incredibly faster," Wesley said, starting to walk over to the warehouse. Cordelia shrugged, then shortly frowned, and walked after him.
The warehouse was dark on the inside. It smelled of dust, dead things, and oil. Not the most pleasant smell on this world. "Angel?" Cordelia called out.
"Over here," they heard him call.
Wesley put the flashlight on, and let its shine illuminate the room.
"Where?" he asked.
"Right here," Angel replied, "On the left." The light fell on him, and he blinked a few times.
"I found the boy," he said.
Cordelia cast another look at her watch, but then hurried over.
"And the hooded guy from my vision? Is he, anywhere in sight?" she asked. Angel shook his head.
"There was no one here when I came. And since you say he is human."
The boy lay at his feet, looking as if he was sleeping. His shirt had been torn off, and long, painful burns were all over his belly. The burns stared back at that them, taunted them for allowing that to happen. You should have been quicker, they seemed to say, and this would never have happened.
"He was," Cordelia interrupted him, "I saw him walking in the sunlight. No member of the undead, then."
Wesley slightly tipped back his glasses, and said, "Well, there are certain sorts of zombies."
"Wes? He was human, OK? I just know."
Wesley knelt down, checking the pulse of the boy. "He still lives," he said, surprised.
"I've already called 911. He's just unconscious."
"Have you tried waking him?" Wesley asked.
"Yes," Angel said. "Didn't work."
"Are we now finished, or do we have to look for anything the guy left behind?"
"That's actually..." Wesley started.
"...a pretty good idea," Angel finished.
"Oh great," Cordelia declared. "Can I look for the boy while you go, and look? Because, hello? Designer dress here."
Angel smiled at her.
"Of course," he said.
"Thanks." Cordelia smiled her famous smile, and looked at the boy.
They heard her quietly talking to the boy, as they started to look around.
"I wonder what she's telling him," Wesley muttered.
"She's not going to tell us," Angel said, almost smiling.
"I bet not," Wesley said.
To make a long story short, nothing had been found in the warehouse. Nothing, that was, but quite a few cobwebs, and a newspaper from 1975, that had been used to darn a hole in the wall.
July 6th, hospital
Wesley walked through the beautifully cultivated park of the hospital. The real trouble had just started when the ambulance arrived.
July 4th, warehouse
The paramedic cast a pitiful glance at the family he believed to be assembled here. "Sir?" he respectfully asked.
The man he believed to be the father of the child looked up, and asked, "Yes?"
"We're leaving now. Would you like to accompany your son?"
The man seemed to be confused for a moment, than shook his head. "Oh no, he's not my son."
"So, you're not family?" the paramedic asked.
There was something strange in the man's eyes, but then it vanished again.
"Wesley!" he called, "Could you come over here?"
The younger man who had been talking to the woman he believed to be the mother, came over to them.
"Yes?" he asked, tilting his head a little to the side.
"He's the uncle." the man said.
The paramedic nodded at him, than turned to Wesley. "Your nephew isn't showing any reaction. I fear he'll have to stay at the hospital for a while." Wesley nodded.
"Whatever is necessary." he said.
These people seemed strangely cold to the paramedic. "There have been others," he said, in a hushed voice, "Four, already."
"Oh great lord," Wesley muttered.
"I'm only telling you, because, sir, did you notice anything strange?"
Wesley shook his head, the ghost of a smile appearing on his lips for a second.
July 6th, hospital park.
What should he have been telling them? My co-worker is having visions, and that's why I'm here? Didn't sound very convincing. To be concrete, it sounded more like a free ticket for the madhouse.
July 6th, evening, Angel Investigations
A few hours later, he was still pondering about the comas. In fact, all of them were pondering about it. Only that Cordelia called it thinking, and with Angel it was brooding.
Wesley had read countless books in the past few hours. None even mentioned acid burns.
But then, suddenly, unexpected but not uninvited, it hit him.
"Of course," he said, jumping up from where he sat. "That's it."
"What's what?" Cordelia asked, looking at him as if he had finally lost his mind.
"I know," he said, "who's put these kids in a coma."
"That's great," Cordy said, smiling, "How did this knowledge appear to you? You've been starring into the air for the last half hour."
Wesley, at least had the grace to look a bit embarrassed.
"Just like this. Suddenly it was there. Come on, we have to hurry. At midnight these children will day. I'll explain on the way."
"Where are we going?" Angel asked, who had seemingly appeared out of thin air, but had been standing there listening to their conversation for a whole while already.
"St. Anna Cemetery," Wesley replied.
July 6th, Angel's convertible.
"You say you are going to sacrifice their. their..." Cordelia said, "Spirits, why exactly?"
"Their leader, a nearly immortal demon, can only survive, if even given five spirits every two centuries. They capture the spirits, call on them when it's time to perform the ritual, and the demon devours them. It has been like this before the white man even set a foot on this land."
"So we are dealing with religious fanatics?" Angel asked, as he sped up thegas.
"Exactly," Wesley replied.
July 6th, St. Anna Cemetery, short to midnight.
They could hear the chanting from afar. Well, at least Angel could, enhanced hearing, and all that. As they went nearer, Cordelia and Wesley could, too.
"What are they singing?" Cordelia asked, in a whisper.
"They are praising various forces," Wesley whispered back. "They want to have the fates on their side when they perform the ritual."
"Well, this time they fates aren't." Angel grimly said.
Whatever would have been the answer on that, it was postponed, by a sudden peal of thunder. "What's that now," Cordelia asked, "A bad horror picture?"
"Probably." Wesley replied, as they walked on.
What they saw made them speechless. Seven men, clad in red robes, were standing under a big oak. Their hands were raised to the sky, in a demanding gesture.
"Don't these people know that lightning always strikes into trees?" Cordelia muttered.
They were chanting. Horribly of tune, that was. Mystical blue light had formed around them, probably protesting against the bad singing. Or maybe not.
A demon formed out of the light.
"Let's go," Angel told his partners.
A final outcry of the men, and the night went dark again.
"Too late." Wesley darkly said, "The demons has eaten their spirits already."
"At least," Angel said, and his voice sounded determined. "We can stop that from happening again."
July 7th, around midday, Angel Investigations.
Wesley had received word from the hospital that the little boy he had been pretending to be the uncle of, had died. This was depressing. On a luckier note, he had finally succeeded in translating the Hittite text. That of course, wasn't that big of a comfort. He felt someone's hand on his shoulder and looked up, smiling at Cordelia.
"Hey Wes," she said. "Are you all right?"
There was heartfelt sympathy in her eyes.
"I could be better," he said. "I could have saved them."
"Sometimes," she said, "There's just nothing you can do against the evil. Sometimes it's just stronger than you, better than you, faster than you. Sometimes we are the losers. But hey, sometimes even we win. And that feels great, doesn't it? Oh and, hey, you'd like to go out with me?"
"What?" he asked. "I'm sorry, Cordy, but I don't quite get you now."
"See. You're my friend. You seem distraught. You could use some distraction."
"So what could help better than going out with the most beautiful woman I know?" Wesley said, finishing her sentence with a smile.
"Now, where do we go first, " she asked. "The beach or my place?"
"Not that I don't feel honoured, but why to your place?" Wesley asked.
"Oh. just because," Cordelia smiled innocently.
And Wesley, being a man, after all, picked to go to her place.
July 7th, late afternoon, Cordelia's apartment.
You'd be amazed how much planning and calculation can be behind such a beautiful face. You'd be amazed.
Wesley could tell. He should have learned his lesson by now, but he obviously still hadn't.
He sat on Cordelia's sofa, comfortable, but still. watching Cordelia acting a scene out for an audition tomorrow wasn't quite what he had imagined. But then again, revenge was sweet, Wesley guessed. And Cordelia Chase never forgot a thing. And she didn't forget to, being denied a date, just because Wesley had gotten it into his head to accompany a boy to the hospital. She did feel sorry for the boy. She would have gladly accompanied him. But still. Wesley had had no right dragging her into the hospital just like this.
"It's the best of detergents. Fighting against persistent stains? A thing of the past." She smiled winningly as she spoke these lines, "Ruining your favourite shirt by washing it? A thing of the past. Buy the terminator among the detergents. The detergent of the future. Furowash!"
Wesley looked at her, as she propped down next to him on the sofa.
"And?" Cordy asked. "Was I good?"
Wesley didn't know what to say.
"It was, interesting," he said.
Cordelia smiled, and decided to take that as a compliment.