“I want to be a man of the world, blood in my veins and a hurt in my heart, hide in the street with the noise and the dirt, and the one still looking for a brand new start. Oh, I’ve been sleeping far too long, hiding out in a palace of gold. Show me one thing before I’m gone that can’t be bought and can’t be sold. Show me how to come alive, show me how to make you mine. ‘Cause if you’d only be my girl, I could be a man of the world.” ~Marc Cohn, “Man of the World”
“When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” ~Alexander Graham Bell
Wesley rifled through his papers desperately, looking for the one piece of information that would show him the right direction. Everything had gone to hell; he had nothing left. Nothing except a strong desire to make things right.
He couldn’t look at Illyria without seeing Fred, the woman he had loved. She was gone, destroyed by the thing that wore her body. He had held her dying form in his arms. He had—
Wesley shook off the thoughts. Grief would not help him now; it would only cloud his mind, make it impossible for him to make things right.
He glanced up to see Angel in the doorway. They didn’t speak much these days, not now that Wesley had regained his memories, not now that they both knew what had gone on between them.
Angel had been one of his best friends. That was just as painful a loss to bear.
“Angel. What are you doing here?”
“We missed you at the meeting today,” Angel replied.
Wesley waved to the books surrounding him in piles all around the office. “I had some information to find. Information on Illyria. I thought you wanted me to make that a priority.”
The vampire didn’t appear to be appeased. “I didn’t want you to neglect your other duties either, Wes.”
“Forgive me,” Wesley replied stiffly. “I’ll make it to the next one.”
“Fine.” Angel turned to go and then paused. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
“I’m fine,” Wesley said. “It just takes some adjusting, that’s all.”
“Of course.” Angel looked as though he wanted to say something else, but he merely shook his head and left Wesley to his books.
Wesley understood the sentiment. He didn’t particularly like being with himself at the moment either. It was just that he needed to find the solution. Everything he’d found so far suggested that any route he might take would lead to near-certain death, but he wasn’t sure he cared.
No, that wasn’t true. Wesley knew he didn’t care, as long as he survived for long enough to put things to rights. That’s all that mattered now.
“What are you doing?”
Her cold voice was so different than Fred’s warm, honey-laced tones. Fred, who had shown him for the briefest of moments what it meant to love and be loved in return. Everything had been perfect—and then he had lost her.
Wesley would do anything to get her back.
“I’m looking for something.”
“What are you looking for?”
“What does it matter?” Wesley demanded bitterly. “Why do you care?”
“I do not care,” Illyria responded. “I simply want to know what drives you. You have not slept, and your weak form requires it.”
“My weak form requires a lot less of it than you might think,” Wesley returned. “Shouldn’t you be with Spike?”
Illyria gazed at him a moment more, then turned and left without another word, apparently growing tired of his company. Just like everyone else.
Wesley stifled the urge to call her back. Being with the god-king was painful, and yet there were times he craved her company. When the reminder of Fred was more desirable than painful.
It wouldn’t be long now, though. Wesley would find a way to fix things, to make it so that Fred never had to die, so that Holtz never took Connor.
Wesley would put right everything he’d managed to destroy.
The spell was black magic, the sort that put a person’s soul in jeopardy. Wesley didn’t care; he figured that he was already damned. It didn’t matter what happened to him, as long as Fred was safe.
Wesley didn’t plan on surviving this anyway. Even if the spell didn’t kill him, there was a good chance that he wouldn’t live through his attempt at stopping Holtz and Sahjhan from taking Connor.
That’s where it had all gone wrong, he’d decided. If Connor had never been taken, Angel would never have gone to Wolfram & Hart, and if Angel had never made his deal with the law firm, Illyria would never have been released. All he had to do was to prevent Holtz from stealing Angel’s son.
Turning back time was never an easy task, however; few demons or even demi-gods could manage it, and calling the right one was a monumental effort for one of Wesley’s limited abilities.
He had returned to the Hyperion for this spell, to where it had all begun. Wesley knew he was less likely to be interrupted here, less likely to have anyone stop him. No one would expect him to come back here.
The spell called for blood, and Wesley didn’t hesitate to draw the ceremonial blade across the palm of his left hand, allowing his own blood to spill into the circle drawn on the floor of the Hyperion. It was a more potent sacrifice to use one’s own blood, and since the spell didn’t call for, say, the blood of an animal, there was nothing preventing him from doing so.
Besides, Wesley really didn’t want to be the cause of another death.
He chanted the ancient demon language that no one but a few scholars remembered, watching the flames of the candles gutter as the magic gathered force and focus. Hoping that the protective circle would hold long enough for him to make his request, he finished the spell, his voice rising as he shouted out the last words.
There was a whirlwind of light and sound, and Wesley shielded his face with his arm, waiting until it died down before looking to see what he had conjured.
It wasn’t anything like he’d expected.
The being that stood before him—no, floated before him—was a creature of beauty. Neither male nor female, it gazed upon him with a depth of compassion that Wesley felt in his soul. There was nothing dark or evil about it, and he had no idea what had happened.
This creature would not request his soul, but Wesley just might offer it anyway.
“You have called upon forces too strong for you,” it said in a musical voice.
Wesley swallowed hard. “I have to save her.” His carefully prepared speech went out of his mind; he couldn’t remember what it was he was supposed to say, the plea he had been prepared to make.
“You wish to save the woman whose soul was destroyed. We wish to preserve the balance. You will be our tool.”
“The balance?” Wesley asked, not comprehending. “I made a mistake, and it hurt my friends. I need to make things right.”
“You are short-sighted, and you do not see,” the being replied. “This world teeters on the brink of destruction. The vampire called Angel will set forces in motion that he cannot hope to stop, and it will plunge this world into darkness. You will preserve the balance between darkness and light.”
Wesley could not look at it. He had fixed his eyes on the floor after the initial glimpse, its sheer radiance bringing tears to his eyes for an unknown reason. “I’ll do anything if I can save her, if I can save Connor. I will be your tool if that is what is required.”
“Poor, foolish mortal,” it said, its voice a whisper in his ears. “You think you are sacrificing all. It is only by losing everything that you will save anything.”
A roar filled Wesley’s ears, the sound of a thousand waves crashing against a thousand shores. He was being broken; he was being remade. He was nothing; he was all things.
He was holding a baby.
Wesley returned to himself slowly, gripping the child out of an instinct he’d never known he possessed. Lorne’s voice reached his ears, but he couldn’t hear the words. Connor was fussing a bit, and he hummed, more out of reflex than anything else.
It was the shock in Lorne’s tone. It hit him like a splash of cold water in the face, and Wesley remembered why he was there, what he had to do.
He turned to see the demon staring at him in alarm, his red eyes wide. “Take Connor,” Wesley said.
Lorne made no move, and Wesley shoved the baby into his arms. The demon took Connor automatically, having been stunned by the thoughts and emotions rolling off of Wesley. “What are you doing?”
“I have to fix things,” Wesley replied. He dropped Connor’s bags on the floor.
Lorne really didn’t want to let Wesley out of his sight, especially after what he’d just picked up. The man was positively suicidal. “Wait for Angel,” he urged. “You need backup, Wes.” Wesley shook his head, heading towards the entrance to the hotel. “If you go alone, you’re not going to make it out alive!”
The doors swung shut behind him.
Angel came back to the hotel after meeting with Lilah feeling more confused than ever. It seemed that he had a sworn enemy he’d never even heard of orchestrating everything with Holtz. Wes would be the one to ask, and Angel just hoped that he’d be able to get some answers out of those enormous tomes of his.
Lorne leaped up from his seat in the lobby, where he held Connor, trying to soothe the fussy infant. “Angel, thank goodness. You have to go after Wesley. He’s planning on getting himself killed.”
“He what?” Angel asked, keeping his distance from his son. He still didn’t trust himself around Connor yet, not until he was sure that the baby’s blood was out of his system. “Wait. What is Wes planning on doing?”
“He’s going after Holtz by himself,” Lorne said. “He’s—he’s not completely sane, Angel. I’m not sure what happened, but—I think he might have done some time traveling.”
Angel shook his head, trying to process what Lorne was telling him. Wesley had looked pretty bad the last couple of days, and had said he wasn’t sleeping very well, but Angel hadn’t detected any signs that he was planning on a suicide mission.
“Do you know where he’s headed?” Angel asked, deciding that figuring out Wesley’s motivation could wait until later. There was no way he was going to let his best friend do something that stupid.
“His place first, I think,” Lorne replied. “If you can prevent him from getting to Holtz, that would be good. I don’t think he’ll make it out of there alive otherwise.”
Angel nodded, already planning his next move. “Can you watch Connor?”
“I’d be happy to,” Lorne responded, adding, “Angel, be careful. Wesley really doesn’t like you right now. I think it has something to do with that time traveling I mentioned.”
Angel nodded, indicating that he’d heard, but he didn’t give it much more thought than that. After all, this was Wesley they were talking about. They might not have always liked each other, but Wes had never hated him.
Wesley had forgotten that he’d only owned one semi-automatic at this point. It wasn’t until after Angel had effectively exiled him that he had purchased the second gun. Still, he wasn’t planning on needing more than one. The first step was to neutralize Justine, who would be coming for him. She wouldn’t catch him unawares this time.
He held the small, blanket-swaddled pillow close, as he would have been holding Connor, watching as Justine came stumbling towards him out of the darkness. Her face was bruised, and she held out a pleading hand towards him. Once before, Wesley might have felt some small measure of pity for her, even after she had slashed his throat.
Wesley hadn’t the strength for pity now.
He played along for a moment, approaching her with caution but without showing any weapons. “Justine? What happened?”
“Holtz,” Justine responded. “He took everyone, and he’s going after the kid. I tried to stop him, but—”
“Did you really?” Wesley murmured, his tone chilly.
Her eyes widened as she realized that he wasn’t holding a baby. “Angel will kill that kid.”
“No, he really won’t.” Wesley backhanded her across the face, kicking the knife out of her hand and pinning her to the ground. “You see, Justine, the prophecy was a fake, planted by Sahjhan because Connor is destined to kill him. I’m going to make sure that he gets a chance to grow up and do so.”
She glared at him, her eyes burning with hatred and contempt. “Angel will betray you,” she stated.
Wesley simply smiled. “He already has. That is the difference between us.” He drew his gun, seeing the fear in her eyes before he brought the butt of the pistol down on her temple.
He dragged her unconscious body to the deeper shadows where no one would see her, and then pulled out his cell phone. He was grateful he’d left it at his apartment and not at the hotel. Every moment counted, and Wesley knew he didn’t have the time to go back inside to use the land line. Lorne picked up on the third ring, and Wesley said quickly, “Holtz is coming for Connor. You need to get out of the hotel now.”
“Wes?” Lorne asked. “Don’t do this. Wait for Angel. If you go alone—”
“I know,” Wesley said quietly, pausing. He’d never wanted to harm the demon, who had always been kind. “Lorne, please—get Connor out of the hotel. Make sure Fred and Gunn get out as well. I don’t want anyone there when Holtz turns up.”
“Wesley, be careful.”
He ended the call without replying, using the remote on his keychain to unlock the car. Everything was ready for his escape, but Wesley wasn’t escaping this time. This time, he was facing the enemy head-on.
“We’re doing what?” Gunn asked.
“We’re leaving,” Lorne said, handing Connor to Fred as he grabbed the diaper bag. “Wesley just called and said that Holtz was on his way to take Connor, and Angel went after Wes.”
Fred jiggled the baby instinctively, soothing him. “Why did Angel go after Wesley? Is he in trouble?”
“He’s gone after Holtz on his own,” Lorne said. “I’ll explain on the way. We really need to get out of here. From what I got out of Wes, things are going to get really bad if we don’t do what he said.”
Gunn led them out the back to his truck, starting the engine just in time to hear Holtz yelling at his gang to follow them. He gunned it, tires squealing as he pulled away from the hotel, glancing back over his shoulder at the demon-hunters.
“Okay, so how did Wes know Holtz was coming?” Gunn asked.
“I don’t know,” Lorne replied irritably. He was still trying to sort out the jumbled images he’d received from Wesley’s head. There was Connor, but not as an infant, instead as a young man, Wolfram & Hart; grief over Fred; a sense of betrayal so deep that it coated Lorne’s mouth with a bitter after-taste. Two sets of memories overlaying each other, creating a montage he couldn’t sort out—not without the appropriate cues.
“One minute, Wesley’s telling me that he’s taking Connor for the night, and the next…” Lorne trailed off. It had been as if the Wesley he’d known had disappeared, replaced by a stranger wearing the same skin. “I told Angel that I thought there might be some time traveling involved. Other than that, we’re just going to have to wait for the man himself to explain.”
“Time traveling?” Fred asked, bewildered. “But why? I mean, he’s seemed…different lately, distracted, but…” She glanced over at Gunn. “Do you know why Wes would do something like that?”
“The man is a mystery lately,” Gunn replied. Actually, he had a pretty good idea that Wesley was still smarting over the fact that Fred had chosen him. Not that he could blame Wes, but Gunn wasn’t about to give Fred up for anybody, nor was he ready to tone things down just for Wesley’s sake.
All was fair in love and war, after all.
“So where are we going?” Gunn asked Lorne, wondering what Wesley wanted them to do.
Lorne shook his head, looking down at the baby, now sleeping in Fred’s arms. “I don’t know. I think we should wait to hear from Angel or Wes. The hotel isn’t safe right now.”
Gunn nodded, not voicing his thoughts—that nowhere was safe right now, and he wondered if it would ever be again.
Wesley’s plan was simple; really, simple was always best. If a plan became too complicated, it was that much easier for something to go wrong.
So, he was going to wait for Holtz at his lair, and when he did return, Wesley was going to kill him.
Sahjhan was another matter altogether.
Holtz had the urn he needed to trap Sahjhan’s essence inside, but Wesley knew that he didn’t have the time for that. Holtz was corporeal, and therefore a bigger threat than the demon. Angel had managed to figure it out the first time around; Wesley would just have to hope that he’d figure it out again.
Wesley wasn’t planning on being around for it.
He was fairly sure that killing Holtz would be like removing the head from a snake. The backlash from Holtz’s followers would probably kill him, but once Holtz was dead the group would disintegrate.
That’s what had happened last time.
He waited patiently, his gun out and ready, the safety already off. Wesley had no intention of giving Holtz time to react to his presence. It really wasn’t very smart of him to have left only one guard behind. Wesley had no problem dispatching him quickly.
Holtz swept through the door a few minutes later, his long coat swirling around him. “Find Justine!” he ordered. “I want to know why she didn’t finish her mission.”
“That would be my fault,” Wesley said, his face like stone. “So you really shouldn’t blame her.” He felt the recoil of the gun as he fired three times, hitting Holtz twice in the chest and once between the eyes—just to make sure. He got off another three shots, taking down two of Holtz’s followers and injuring the third before someone tackled him from behind.
Wesley fought grimly, his only goal to take out as many as he could before he was overwhelmed. The crossbow bolt caught him high in the shoulder and he dropped his gun, unable to hold onto it. Fists and boots struck his back and stomach, and Wesley curled into a ball out of reflex.
They were going to beat him to death. He supposed he should have expected it.
He was barely conscious when he heard the cries of pain begin. The barrage ended abruptly, and Wesley tried to hang onto consciousness, hearing Angel’s voice. He had to tell him—something. What was it that Angel needed to know?
“Wes?” Angel’s hands were gentle as he rolled him onto his back, and Wesley cracked an eye to see him. It was the only one he could open. Someone’s boot had caught the other side of his face, and the right eye was already swollen shut. “Just hang on, okay? I’m going to get you to the hospital.”
“You have to…” Wesley coughed, and pain lanced through his side. He could feel blood on his lips, and he knew they’d punctured a lung. Angel needed to know about Sahjhan and about the urn, he remembered. That the demon had to be stopped, because he would come after Connor. “Sahjhan. You have to stop him.”
“Easy,” Angel said, sounding worried, speaking rapidly into the cell phone that he’d miraculously remembered to bring. “Gunn? It’s Angel. I’m at 2239 Santa Elena. Wes is hurt, and we need to get him to the hospital…Calling an ambulance is out. I don’t want him connected to the bodies…Yeah, bodies, plural. Just get here.”
Wesley clutched at Angel’s hand. “Angel—the Rhizikian Urn. Trap him.”
“I will,” Angel replied, his tone placating. “I’ll take care of it, Wesley, just lie still. Gunn is going to be here soon.”
The bodies had to be disposed of if Wesley was going to escape murder charges, and the gun would have to be hidden as well. Once Gunn arrived, Angel would let them take the man to the hospital. He would make sure the bodies were hidden so that no one would be able to connect Wesley to the killings. It had been self-defense.
No, this had been for Connor. For him. Angel didn’t understand, but he loved Wesley for it.
“Not soon enough,” Wesley replied, the blood bubbling up from his lips. He could feel himself fading. He yearned for the release. “I’m sorry, Angel.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Angel said fiercely. “You saved Connor.”
“This time,” Wesley whispered. He couldn’t draw in enough air to speak. He couldn’t tell Angel to be careful, to watch out for Wolfram & Hart. They wouldn’t know the right books to look in to know that Connor was destined to kill Sahjhan.
Wesley knew he was out of time.