"He's still not answering his page."
Angel paused in wiping the remains of a very angry and very hungry Ren'thal demon family from the blade of his broadsword and looked up at the sound of Cordelia's tense announcement. Only she could manage an expression that was equal parts annoyed, impatient, tired, worried and pissed. Her face was smudged with dirt and an assortment of dried demon fluids she probably didn't want to know about, giving her a grim, almost manic look. She replaced the phone into its cradle a little more forcefully than was called for, her lips pressed together tightly. "And he didn't check in."
"Man, that is not like Wesley." Charles Gunn eyed the blade of his hubcap axe critically, gave it one last swipe with a cloth, then turned around to face the other two, frowning.
When they'd first gotten a call about a demon on the rampage down by the piers, they had tried paging Wesley, but he had never responded. Cordelia had tried again on the drive over, but he still didn't respond. The next several hours had been spent on the waterfront, where they discovered the rampaging Ren'thal demon was actually a mama Ren'thal who was trying to provide for her brood of young who were nearly ready to be out hunting down their own human food. The 'children' had the claws, teeth and arm-reach to make them nearly as dangerous as the adult, and the team had been badly outnumbered. Again, Cordelia had put in a 911-page to Wesley, which he never answered. After that they were all too busy trying to stay alive to worry about it until they were driving back home.
"No, unlike some people in this organization Wesley actually answers his pages and remembers to check in," Cordelia said, looking pointedly at Angel. "He wouldn't be out of contact this long."
Angel agreed, but he didn't say anything as Cordelia quickly dialed a number by memory; he could hear the unanswered rings as clearly as she could with the receiver pressed tight against her ear. "No answer at his apartment," she said finally and this time gently replaced the receiver in the cradle. When she looked up there was only anxiety left in her expression. "But he was only going to a bookstore," she said, a little desperately.
"A magical bookstore," Gunn reminded her darkly. "One he hadn't been to before. One he just found out about."
"Right," she said grimly, searching through the papers on the desk, "and he's got the number here somewhere. Ah ha!"
If he hadn't been so worried, Angel might have smiled at how much Cordelia's cry of triumph sounded like Wesley's 'Eureka!' He and Gunn exchanged a look across the lobby as she quickly punched in the numbers, silently debating which of them was going to remind her it was two o'clock in the morning. When Gunn continued to stare at him, eyebrows raised, he finally ventured, "Cordelia, it's two in the morning."
"So, maybe they keep strange hours," she replied crossly. "Or at least they have an answering machine and I can leave a message. Or maybe they live over the store and I'll wake someone up. Or..." Her face falling, she once again put the phone down. "None of those options."
Wesley had been so excited when he'd tracked down a rare encyclopedic set of demonology in the original Siroglith, which didn't carry all the errors of the later human language translations so he claimed. A long phone conversation with the store owner convinced him it would be well worth the two-hour drive with the company credit card to see what else he might find there. He'd been making a wish list for days of the resource materials he hoped to find there, and the rest of them had merely nodded gravely as he chattered happily about each entry. It hadn't been that long ago that Wesley had nearly died from a gunshot wound, and the rest of them were pretty indulgent with him still. His recovery had been slow, painful and difficult to witness. When Angel had come back to Angel Investigations, asking to be made a part of the team again, he'd watched as Wesley had struggled from wheelchair to cane to determined non-assistance in his everyday duties as head of Angel Investigations. During those weeks of recovery it had been hard not to order Wesley to stay behind when they went out on dangerous calls, but that wasn't his call to make any more. Wesley made the decisions in the organization now, and Angel usually remembered that. When he didn't he could count on Cordelia loudly clearing her throat and jerking her head toward Wesley as a reminder. In fact, Wesley had only recently been medically cleared to drive, but despite both Gunn and Cordelia offering more than once to drive him to the bookstore, he had insisted on going off on his own. None of them thought it was a particularly good idea for someone who had just been released from medical restrictions to hop on a motorcycle to take a two hour trip, but Wesley had seemed so happy to be able to go out on his own without having to ask someone to take him that they'd all kept their mouths shut. They were all beginning to regret that.
"He's in trouble, isn't he?"
Angel shook himself out of his thoughts. "We'll find him, Cordelia," he said firmly. He didn't bother trying to convince her Wesley wasn't in some kind of trouble, because it was obvious to everyone in the room that he was. There was no way Wesley would have let those pages go unanswered unless something was very wrong. He could have run into something magical that rendered him helpless, or worse; or he could have lost control of his bike and driven it into a ravine. Wesley could be in the hands of demons or lying in a hospital somewhere unconscious. Either way he could be fighting for his life. But they would find him, and they'd go through anyone who tried to get in their way. "Gunn, let's go. We'll start at that bookstore."
He was heading for the door when Gunn called out softly, "Yo, Angel." When he turned back, Gunn had his axe in his hand and an apologetic look on his face. "You said it yourself, man. It's two o'clock in the morning. Two hour drive, and it'll be dawn when we get there."
"He's right, Angel," Cordelia added. "You can't help Wesley if you're Melba toasted."
They were both right, but that didn't make him feel any better about the fact he'd be sitting here, trapped inside the hotel, while Wesley was in some unknown trouble.
"Fine," he said, somewhat sulkily. "Gunn, you go to the bookstore. Check in with what you find out. Cordy and I will stay here. It's possible Wesley might come back here, or he could call in and..."
When he hesitated, Gunn finished, "And need help." The man clapped him lightly on the shoulder as he walked by. "Don't worry. If there's anything to be found out at that bookstore, I'll find it out."
As the door shut behind him, Angel didn't doubt that one bit. Wesley and Gunn had really bonded while he was away. Then when Wesley had been shot trying to help Gunn and his friends, it had only cemented their friendship. Angel was still feeling his way around his own relationships with the three of them now that he was back, trying to make amends for the way he had acted when he had gone 'all Darla-nuts' as Cordelia put it. He wanted to get back that comfortable 'this is my family' feeling they'd had before he'd fired them. He still felt a little pang of jealousy when Gunn and Wesley did the secret handshake of theirs that never failed to put a big beaming smile on Wesley's face, or when the three of them laughed so easily together when recalling some case they handled when he wasn't around. He knew it was his own fault he occasionally felt left out in the cold -- after all, he had left them, not the other way around -- but there wasn't anything he wouldn't do for any of them.
"We'll find him, Angel."
He looked up at the sound of Cordelia's voice. She had that determined 'nobody better mess with me and mine' look on her face, and he nodded in agreement. "Yes, we will." He walked across the lobby to carefully stow his sword in the weapons cabinet. "Why don't you get some sleep."
"I'm not going home," she said quickly.
She looked so exhausted he wouldn't have allowed her to drive home anyhow. "Didn't expect you to," he assured her. "Go on upstairs and get some sleep."
She began moving toward the stairs even as he spoke, with longing in her eyes at the very mention of sleep. "But you call me --"
"If I hear anything. Good-night, Cordy."
Satisfied, she quickly continued upstairs. Soon the hotel was silent, and Angel was left alone with his thoughts.
He ended up in Wesley's office because that office was better than the one Angel used, and Wesley had all the books. He would want a full account of their battle with the Ren'thal. (And it wasn't just your standard slice and dice as they'd discovered much to their dismay. You had to stab them at a certain spot just under one of their arms where Angel supposed their heart was as well as cut their heads off before the damn things would actually die. Of course, Wesley probably would have known that. But if he didn't it was something to add to their database.) So he forced himself to stop looking at the clock and wondering how close Gunn was to the bookstore and immersed himself in writing a report to set Wesley's eyes alight.
He was just finishing up when he heard the door to the hotel open. Due to the nature of their business it wasn’t unusual for them to get customers at all hours, and he got to his feet. He was glad for the interruption. A new case would give him something to think about other than what trouble Wesley could be in. He was just stepping around the desk when a familiar back-lit figure appeared in the doorway, and he froze.
"Wes?" Relief battled briefly with a surge of anger, and the anger won. "Wesley, where the hell have you been? Didn't you get Cordy's pages? Gunn's out there right now driving to that bookstore because --" He stopped suddenly as the man in the doorway took a step inside and leveled a crossbow at him.
"Wes, what the hell...?" The rest of the words died in his mouth as he got his first good look at the man. It was Wesley all right. Or at least it was Wesley's face and Wesley's body, and that was Wesley's voice, although it seemed a little gravelly and perhaps carried not as much of an accent as he was used to hearing. But there was at least a two-day growth of stubble on his face, and he was wearing a battered suede jacket that Angel had never seen before.
"It's been a long time. I doubt you expected to see me again, did you?" The bolt in the crossbow was aimed directly at his heart. The man smiled, but it was a parody of a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Surprise." His finger tightened to shoot the bolt.
"Wes, wait!" Angel tried to keep his voice calm and reasonable although he was feeling neither of those things. "Listen, I don't know what's going on, but --" He shook his head impatiently. "There is no but. I don't know what's going on. Listen, you left here yesterday to go to a bookstore. We tried to get in touch with you all night, but you never answered your pages. Something obviously happened to you --"
"Yes," Wesley said softly, "something did happen to me. You happened. It's time to repay you for that."
As he pulled the trigger on the bow, Cordelia called out from the lobby, "Angel, is something wrong? I thought I heard voices."
Wesley's head snapped around as Cordelia came into view. "My god," he breathed. "Cordelia?"
"Wesley?" Cordelia looked torn between smacking him and hugging him. "What happened to you? And where have you been? And why didn't you answer your pages?"
That moment of distraction was all Angel needed. He deflected the bolt and was around the desk in an instant, his arm snaking around Wesley's neck, holding him in a choke hold as the crossbow clattered to the floor. A little pressure and he could cut off his air long enough to render him unconscious if he had to. "I don't want to hurt you, Wesley," he warned.
"Oh that's a laugh, you bloody murdering demon --"
Angel abruptly tightened his arm. "On the other hand, maybe you need some time to cool down." When the man finally went limp, Angel easily took his weight in his arms and headed for the stairs.
"Angel!" Cordelia gaped at him, outraged. "What did you just do to him?"
He strode past her and called over his shoulder, "In the cabinet in my office. Handcuffs. Bring them upstairs."
"Angel, what's going on?"
"Handcuffs, Cordelia," he repeated shortly.
"Angel, that is Wesley," Cordelia whispered, looking down at the unconscious man stretched out on Angel's bed, his one arm handcuffed to the bedpost. "But what happened to him?"
Arms folded across his chest, Angel could only shake his head. "I don't know." He shifted on his feet, an undercurrent of hurt in his voice. "He tried to kill me."
"Do you think something happened at that bookstore to change him?"
"Cordelia, I don't know."
Frowning, she sat down on the bed beside Wesley and gently brushed his hair back from his forehead.
"What are you doing?"
"Checking for bumps. Maybe he fell off his motorcycle and hit his head. Maybe he has amnesia. Maybe he thinks he's a rogue demon hunter again." She chewed on her lower lip for a moment. "Or maybe it was magic. Someone -- or something -- did this to him. And they cut his hair and made it all...spiky." She paused. "Actually, it's a good look for him."
"I'm just saying." She tilted her head, studying the unconscious man. "Then again, this has got to be at least two, maybe three days, of stubble. Nice look, but again, he didn't look like this when he left here, and he certainly didn't grow it that fast naturally." Suddenly she pulled his sweater up, exposing his abdomen.
She waved Angel to silence. "Relax. I’m just proving a point. Look at this. What do you see?"
Angel stared at Wesley's flat stomach. "Nothing?" he guessed.
"Exactly," she said triumphantly. "No scar where that bullet hole was." She looked up at Angel, her dark eyes solemn. "I changed his bandages enough to know where the stitches were and where his scar is. This Wesley has never been shot in the stomach." After carefully pulling his sweater back down, she gently moved the unconscious man's face with her fingers to show Angel what she could see from her angle. "But there is a scar here." There was a thin, white mark almost three inches long along his scalp. "That's an old scar, and he didn't have that a few hours ago."
"Motorcycle accident, two years ago," came a hoarse whisper as wary blue eyes slowly opened.
Angel had heard his heartbeat changing as Wesley neared consciousness but let Cordelia talk, curious about what the man's reaction would be. Cordelia didn't have that advantage, but to her credit she didn't jump when he spoke. Instead she said softly, "You're not our Wesley, are you?"
He looked at her for a long moment. "Your Wesley?" he repeated. Something flickered in his eyes, but it was gone too quickly for Angel to identify it. "No," he said finally. "Apparently not." He tried to move and was brought up short by the handcuff on his wrist. He turned his head, gave it a long look, then sank back into the pillow, his face set and grim. "Whatever you're going to do," he said in a harsh, clipped voice, "just bloody do it and get it over with."
Angel exchanged a look with Cordelia. "I'm not going to 'do' anything, Wes," he said calmly, "except try to figure out what's happened. You obviously aren't the Wesley Wyndam-Pryce who left here yesterday to go to a bookstore."
Wesley's eyes narrowed, and he repeated, "Bookstore?"
Angel and Cordelia exchanged another look. "Were you in a bookstore too?" she asked.
The man got that stubborn expression on his face Angel recognized all too well and clamped his mouth shut.
"Look," Angel sighed, "I'm going to release you. We're not your enemies."
As Angel retrieved the key from his pocket and began to unlock the cuff, Cordelia said sternly, "But no staking Angel, got it?"
"He's a vampire," Wesley said in a hard voice.
"Yeah, so? And you were a Watcher, but we don't hold thatagainst you."
Wesley stiffened. "How did you --?" His eyes narrowed suddenly in suspicion. "Why are you with him?"
"I work with him. So does Wesley, so don't get all snooty."
"There is no way you will make me believe a Watcher would work with a vampire," he said sharply. "Watchers kill vampires. And you --" He broke off suddenly as sorrow filled his eyes. "Oh no. Oh, Cordelia," he said softly. "I'm sorry. I'm so very sorry."
She blinked at him. "What? Why? What are you...?" Then realization hit and she rolled her eyes. "Oh for Pete's sake. Come here." As Angel watched, slack-jawed, she clamped two hands around Wesley's head, pulled him up and pressed it against her chest. Angel could see Wesley's eyes go wide as her soft, generous breasts settled in around him. He was more in danger of being smothered now than he was when Angel had him in a chokehold. "Hear that, buster? That's my heart. Not a vampire."
Abruptly she let him go and he dropped back onto the pillow, eyes still wide. He swallowed hard, licked his lips, and then managed a hoarse, "Not a vampire."
"Good, we've got that settled," Cordelia said briskly, and pointed at Angel with a beautifully-manicured index finger. "And no dusting Angel. Got it?"
His voice still a little odd, he whispered, "Got it."
Cordelia shot Angel a meaningful look. "What are you waiting for?"
Angel unlocked the cuff, but he kept a wary eye on Wesley as he did so. He remembered Wesley when he first showed up in Sunnydale. The man had been pretty ineffective on a practical basis, but he had more knowledge about vampires and demons in his head than any man Angel had ever met. Since then he'd become an effective fighter, and he didn't lack courage. While he was no match for Angel, he was still dangerous. On top of that, this Wesley looked like an older, more hardened version of his friend, and that made him an unknown quantity.
With his arm released, Wesley tried to sit up but couldn't quite get the leverage. Without thinking, Angel reached out to lend his support, freezing when the man flinched from his touch.
"He's not going to bite you," Cordelia reproved.
Wesley simply ignored them both as he got to his feet, his wiry body radiating tension. And something else. Angel remembered that look from when Wesley first showed up on his doorstep, unemployed and broke. This Wesley looked as though he had missed a few too many meals as well.
"We're not your enemies," Angel repeated. "But we have a problem. Our friend is missing, and you're the only lead we have. So let's just agree to work together to get our Wesley back and get you to wherever it is you belong."
The other man turned away, but not before Angel saw the bitter twist to his mouth and heard his murmured, "Where I belong."
Suddenly Cordelia stepped aggressively into Wesley's personal space. "Listen, let me spell it out for you, Mr. Not-Wesley. Our Wesley is missing. He may be in danger -- scratch that, he is in danger. We want him back, safe and in one piece. And you --" She gave him a hard poke in the center of the chest with that perfectly manicured finger --" are going to help us."
Wesley gave a soft snort. "A failed ex-Watcher working for a vampire and an cheerleader."
"Hey," Cordelia said sharply.
But before she could say anything else, Angel spoke up, his voice softly dangerous, "Wesley isn't a failed anything. Now come on downstairs and let's start figuring out what happened and how to fix it." He sighed. "And please don't do anything stupid because I really don't want to hurt you."
Giving Angel a look of both deep suspicion and resentment, Wesley walked stiffly past him. Pausing just long enough to exchange another look, Angel and Cordelia followed.
"Something wrong with your food?"
Wesley had sat down at the table where indicated, but had maintained a determined silence while Angel scrambled eggs and made toast. He and Cordelia each had a plate of eggs in front of them, but Wesley was making no move to eat.
"I don't happen to be hungry."
Since Angel had heard his stomach growling ever since he cracked the first egg into the frying pan, he knew that wasn't true.
"Oh for heaven's sake." Cordelia leaned over, speared a piece of egg from Wesley's plate and put it into her mouth, chewing forcefully. "See. Not poisoned. Not drugged. Now will you eat already. You can't afford to miss too many more meals, Mister I'm-not-hungry."
Wesley slid her a resentful glare, but after an apparent internal struggle, picked up his fork and began eating with enough enthusiasm to tell Angel he hadn't seen food in a while.
"Okay, let's get down to business," Angel said. "You obviously know who we are, and we know who you are. But you're not the Wesley Wyndam-Pryce who works here with us."
Wesley halted his fork in its path to his mouth. "Hardly."
"All right, let's start with that. So how did you get here?"
Wesley chewed in silence for a few moments, then stopped and took a sip of tea. "You mentioned a bookstore. By the name of Malichai's Books and Magickals?"
Angel looked to Cordelia for confirmation, and she nodded her head.
"I stopped in there yesterday on my way into town, just to look around. I'd heard he had some rare volumes, and I thought I might find something useful."
"Okay. And then what?"
Wesley laid his fork down and shook his head, a little frown playing between his eyes. "That's it. I looked around, but I didn't buy anything. The prices were a bit...well, they weren't in my price range. Then I got on my bike and left."
"But that doesn’t make any sense," Cordelia said. "Did you do something while you were in there? Were you looking through some books and maybe said a spell or something?"
Abruptly Wesley straightened his spine, but before he could say what he was obviously thinking, Angel spoke up quietly, "Wesley wouldn't do that. Our Wesley certainly knows better, and I'm assuming you do too."
The other man gave him a brief nod of acknowledgement.
"Okay, but maybe he was in danger and he had to use a spell to escape," Cordelia pressed. "Isn't that possible? And maybe it went kerfluie."
"Is that a technical term?" Wesley murmured, lifting his cup for another drink.
"Fine, then you come up with an explanation."
"I don't have any."
"Then maybe you should stop making fun of mine."
"I should think if I was in some sort of danger and used a kerfluie spell I would remember, wouldn't you?"
Angel could almost believe this was their Wesley sitting here given the familiar bickering between the two of them. Guiding them firmly back on topic he said, "Let's try this from a different angle. When you left the bookstore, why did you come here? And why did you try to kill me?"
Wesley didn't look at Angel, and his voice was flat: "You're a vampire. I hunt demons."
Cordelia threw Angel a triumphant look. "See I told you he was a rogue demon hunter." Then what he'd said registered with her and she gave his arm a slap. "Angel has a soul," she reminded him stoutly.
Wesley stared into the depths of his cup, and for the first time Angel noticed the deep shadows in his eyes. "Not in my world," he said softly.
There was a moment of charged silence broken by Cordelia's gasp. "You mean Angel is evil in your world?"
"Oh yes." Wesley's voice was a bitter whisper. "He's evil. He's no longer Angel, you see. He's Angelus." As the terrible implications of that statement fell in on Angel, Wesley continued in a quiet, even voice. "If I have somehow exchanged places with the Wesley Wyndam-Pryce of this dimension, then he is at this moment in my dimension, perhaps approaching someone he believes is his...friend, but who is actually one of the most brutal, bloodthirsty, murderous animals --"
Angel stood up so fast his chair crashed to the floor; if his heart could beat it would be madly pounding in his chest right now. "Cordy, page Gunn," he ordered. "I want to know where he is and what he found at that bookstore." He, better than anyone, knew what Angelus was capable of, knew the pleasure Angelus would take in destroying someone like Wesley.
Cordelia's silverware clattered onto her plate as she stood and ran for the phone. Wesley sat motionless, his hand wrapped tightly around his cup. "I'm sorry about your friend," he whispered.
"We don't know anything yet," Angel shot back sharply. "For all we know --" The sound of the phone ringing tore him out of the kitchen and he ran to the office in time to see Cordelia snatch it off the desk.
"Angel Investigations. We help -- Gunn! Thank god. Did you find the store? Did you find out anything about Wesley?" Angel waited impatiently as she listened to Gunn, restraining himself from grabbing the receiver from her. "What? Are you sure? Maybe you..." After a moment she held the receiver out to Angel, her eyes wide and scared. "You'd better hear this yourself."
Angel pressed the receiver to his ear. "Gunn, go," he said shortly.
Gunn's voice was tight with tension, "Like I told Cordy, I'm standing here where that bookstore is supposed to be, and it's not here."
"Then you're in the wrong place," he said impatiently. "Check the directions. Check the address. Check -"
"I have checked," Gunn interrupted. "This is the address. It's out in the middle of nowhere at the end of a little dirt road. This is the right road, it stops, and there's nothing here."
Angel could feel his jaw beginning to ache from how tightly he was clenching it. "Hold on," he said abruptly, dropped the phone to the desk, and returned to the kitchen. Wesley was still staring into his cup, his shoulders slumped. "We need you."
Wesley's head snapped up, and he gave a brief nod, then stood and followed Angel. By the time he reached the office, Angel was back on the phone filling Gunn in about the Wesley they had in their office. When he was finished, he handed the phone to Wesley. "Gunn's at the address of the bookstore. He says it's not there. I need you to listen to his description of the area, to make sure he's in the right place."
Angel and Cordelia, who was nervously tearing a piece of paper in her hands and letting the tiny bits float unnoticed to the floor, watched Wesley's face and listened to his side of the conversation. The man's face was the picture of concentration as he listened to Gunn. If there was one bright spot in this, Angel thought, it was that they had a Wesley on their side. If he were ever in some kind of magical trouble, there was no one he'd rather have working to find an answer than Wesley, and it was strangely comforting to have this someone who looked like their friend standing here with that familiar intent expression on his face. With a lifetime behind him of memorizing demon lore and learning languages, their Wesley had a remarkable memory and an acute attention to detail. From the close way he was questioning Gunn about his surroundings, Angel was relieved to see this Wesley apparently shared that trait.
He stiffened when he saw Wesley's mouth compress in a way he had seen all too often in the past. "I see." Wesley turned to Angel and held out the phone. "He's in the right place," he said quietly. "The bookshop has vanished."
Angel stared at him for a moment, then accepted the phone. "Gunn, I want you to stay in the area. Do some nosing around, ask some questions, see if you can come up with anything. We'll tackle it from this end. Keep in touch, and watch your back."
As he replaced the receiver in the cradle, Cordelia demanded, "How can a store vanish into thin air?"
"I suspect it didn't vanish into thin air as much as move to another dimension," Wesley murmured absently.
"Buildings can do that?"
"Apparently this one can."
"You're guessing," she accused.
"I'm theorizing," he retorted.
"How about a little less theorizing and a little more actual doing, Mr. Rogue Demon Hunter?" Cordelia shot back. "We've got a friend missing in another dimension here."
Wesley rubbed his temple, and Angel saw a small grimace of pain. "I assume you have an adequate library here? Somewhere I can research?"
Angel watched him closely as he continued to rub at his temple. He hadn't really noticed before how the man seemed utterly grey with exhaustion, the same way their own Wesley would look after spending too many nights researching things like Shanshu prophecies and getting far too little sleep. Angel felt his protective reflex give a little kick and ruefully acknowledged there wasn't much he could do about it as this man wore his friend's face and spoke in his voice and was in fact Wesley, even if he did belong in another dimension.
"In Wesley's office," he said. "He's got quite a collection."
"Fine, then let's get..." Wesley turned to leave, but his voice faded as he stumbled. Angel immediately caught his arm, and this time he didn't let go even though Wesley once again froze under his hand.
Cordelia gave an impatient snort. "Are you Wesleys all alike?" she demanded. "Don't you eat? Don't you sleep?"
"I assure you I am perfectly fine," Wesley said stiffly, firmly pulling his arm from Angel's grasp. "I've simply been on the road for some time. If you will show me to the library, I'll get started on that research. We don’t have time to waste."
"No, we don't," Angel agreed. "But we do have time for you to at least get an hour or two of rest before we start." When Wesley opened his mouth to object, Angel continued, "We don’t need you passing out in the middle of all this. Now come on." This time Angel touched him lightly on the arm. "Why don't you go upstairs and get some rest; then we'll fill you in about this dimension, and then you can tell us what Wesley is up against in yours."
"It's possible he's not there at all." When Angel gave him a hard stare, he sighed softly. "I think there are three possibilities, perhaps four: One, we somehow exchanged dimensions, and he is indeed in my world. Two, he's in a completely different dimension that has nothing to do with me. Three, his disappearance has nothing to do with the bookstore."
When he stopped, Cordelia pressed, "And four?"
Wesley gave a small shrug, then turned away and headed for the kitchen. "None of the above."
There was silence after Angel and Cordelia finished giving Wesley a short and dirty recap of what happened in Sunnydale and how they came to be Angel Investigations. He had steadfastly refused to leave the table to get some sleep, and Angel noticed how Cordelia kept nudging the plate of toast closer to him and refilling his tea without being asked. "Well," Wesley said finally. "That's different."
"How?" asked Angel immediately. "We need to know what Wesley's up against -- and what we'll be up against when we go for him."
Wesley fell once again into silence, as if trying to gather his thoughts, then began quietly, "Things were remarkably similar, up until the point Faith arrived at Sunnydale. My -- our Faith could be difficult, but she didn't take the road yours did. I was assigned as her Watcher, we worked alongside Buffy and Giles in Sunnydale until after the Mayor's attempted Ascension. Then we were assigned to Cleveland, which was having as many demon and vampire problems as Sunnydale. I heard from Giles occasionally, enough to learn that Angel was working by himself in Los Angeles, doing what he could to help people there."
"What about me?" Cordelia demanded. "Where was I? Did I go to L.A. too?"
He shook his head. "I don't know. Giles never mentioned you."
For a moment Cordelia looked deflated, but only for a moment. "Hey, maybe I'm a star. Maybe I went to L.A. and got into the movies and I'm a big star." At Angel and Wesley's looks, she huffed, "Well, it's possible."
After taking a drink of tea Wesley continued: "Then one night Angel showed up in Cleveland. Faith was out on patrol, I was in the little office the Council had set up for us to use." He shook his head, eyes dark with memories as his voice dropped to a whisper, "I had no way of knowing."
"It was Angelus," Angel said flatly.
Wesley nodded. "Yes. We decided to go out and find Faith. I knew the district she'd be patrolling, and we thought it would be a nice surprise for her seeing Angel again." His voice cracked, and he lapsed into silence for a moment. "Faith was in a park, checking out recent vampire activity. When we got close, Angelus beat me unconscious and hid my body in some bushes. He didn't want to kill me, of course. That would have spoilt the fun he had in mind for me. Apparently someone found me because I woke up in the hospital with a concussion, a broken arm, and several ribs in disrepair. Even with a concussion it didn't take me long to figure out what had happened, and I walked out of the hospital that day against medical advice and took a bus for Chicago."
Cordelia frowned. "I don't --"
"Angelus turned her," Angel broke in grimly. "Isn't that what happened?"
Wesley nodded. "Yes, she would have had her guard down because she thought he was Angel. By the time she realized her mistake it would have been too late. And after she was turned the first person she would have come for is me. Angelus would have made sure of that. That's why he left me alive, for the entertainment value. But I was in no condition to take her on, so I picked a city at random and went there to lie low and recover." He rubbed his temple again, and Angel didn't know if it was a headache or the pain from the memories. "I'm sure Angelus thought he and Faith would be the same type of bloodthirsty team he and Darla were. But he hadn't figured on Faith's streak of independence. Apparently she broke away and went on her own, leaving a trail of bodies in her wake."
He looked up to find both Angel and Cordelia staring at him in such sympathy that it must have been too much for him, because he abruptly got to his feet and turned, walking a few steps away from the table. "It took me four months, but I finally tracked her down in New Orleans and was able to give her peace at last."
"Oh my god." Cordelia's voice was a horrified whisper.
"I'm sorry, Wesley." Angel understood now why Wesley had shown up with intent to kill, and he wondered how hard it must be for the man to trust him now.
"I drove from New Orleans to Los Angeles and came here to confront Angelus."
"But how did Angel lose his soul?" Cordelia was looking at Wesley with stark sympathy in her eyes.
Wesley shook is head. "We're not sure exactly. Giles and I both tried to discover what happened. They heard some rumors about a law firm in Los Angeles. They're very powerful and evil, and apparently Angel crossed them a few times --"
"Wolfram and Hart," said Angel flatly.
Cordelia snorted. "Well, that figures." Then she waved a hand imperiously at Wesley. "You didn't finish your waffles." When surprisingly he came back and sat down, picking up his fork again, she said thoughtfully, "So let me get this straight. You and I and Gunn never worked with Angel?"
"I've never heard of Gunn."
"Angel's working on his own and he's turned into Angelus."
"That pretty much covers it."
"But -- Wesley won't have anyone to help him," Cordelia said in a small voice. "He won't have me or Gunn." She turned her worried gaze on Angel. "Angel, he'll be all alone."
"He won't be alone for long," Angel promised grimly. "We're going to find a way to bring him back home. Wesley, I need you to hit the books, see what you can come up with. Cordelia, call Gunn. I want him to stake out that piece of ground. If that bookshop shows up again, we need to know about it immediately." He stood up and turned away, heading for the door.
"Where are you going?" Cordelia asked, already moving toward the phone.
"I'm going to do a little research of my own."
Wesley switched off his motorcycle and pulled off his helmet with a weary sigh. He would never admit as much to Angel, Cordelia or Gunn, but taking a long bike trip the day he'd been medically cleared to drive probably wasn't the smartest thing he'd ever done. In fact, it probably ranked up there with some of the more stupid things he'd done. He didn't bother to stifle a groan as he slowly dismounted, then pressed a hand to his gut where it was aching like mad. It never helped of course because the soreness was deep and stubborn, but he found himself doing it as a reflex response. He retrieved his carefully wrapped purchases from the bike's saddlebags, and the sight of them brought a smile to his lips despite his weariness. The trip had been worth it to obtain these rare volumes, aches, pains and all. Limping and listing slightly to one side, he made his way into his apartment building.
He simply didn't have the energy to go on to the hotel, but the fact that Cordelia hadn't paged him once told him nothing serious could have come up in his absence. He'd check in after he changed out of his jeans into something a lot looser and more comfortable and had a bracing cup of hot tea by his elbow. Stopping in front of his apartment door, he shifted his books to under his arm and fumbled with the key. It didn't seem to want to fit in the lock, and he blinked owlishly at it, thinking he'd used the wrong key by mistake. Frowning, he tried to fit it in again but with no more success than the first time. "What on earth...?" he muttered in irritation, trying a third time.
He jumped as the door suddenly opened from the inside, but only so far as the safety chain would allow. "Who's out there?" a gruff male voice demanded.
Wesley had to swallow his initial retort of 'It's me'. "What's going on?" he demanded in return. "Who are you? And what are you doing in my flat?"
"My apartment. This is my apartment."
"Your apartment?" All Wesley could see was a deeply suspicious brown eye through the opening. "I've lived here for almost five years, pal. Now you get the hell away or I'm calling the cops."
"But --" Wesley gaped stupidly at the number on the door, wondering if he'd somehow stumbled into the wrong building due to his exhaustion. But this was his building and this was his apartment. And his key didn't fit. "I'm sorry," he mumbled, backing away. His mind was reeling as he turned and nearly stumbled out of the building. Standing by the building, he stared at the neighborhood, recognizing the surroundings as where he'd made his home here in Los Angeles. He leaned against the side of the building, pinching the bridge of his nose as the mild discomfort that had been nagging in the back of his eyes for the last hour finally blossomed.
Okay, he was tired, he was hurting, maybe in truth he was so exhausted that he wasn't thinking straight. Whatever, it was obvious he wasn't in any condition to reason this out on his own at the moment. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He needed a good, hard slap of reality, and he knew where to get it.
He felt a sense of real relief as he walked up to the door of Cordelia's apartment. His attempts to phone her had been unsuccessful as he had gotten a busy signal every time. But if she was on the phone then at least she was home. He'd had the same response when he'd tried calling the hotel, which seemed unusual, but he was just too tired to try to work it out. Perhaps they had a case and Angel was checking out leads over the phone. Stranger things had happened.
As he rapped on the apartment door he realized he was actually looking forward to the sharp words and dramatic arm waving he would be treated to once Cordelia saw the shape he was in. With any luck she'd throw in a cup of hot tea and her couch to sleep on. He straightened abruptly when the door suddenly opened, but blinked in surprise at the middle-aged man standing in the doorway. "Can I help you?"
"Cordelia," he ventured uncertainly. "I'm here to see Cordelia."
The stranger frowned. "Who? There's no Cordelia here. You've got the wrong address, mister."
Wesley rubbed his temple. "No, this is the right address. This is where Cordelia lives."
Before the man could reply, a female voice from somewhere behind him asked querulously, "Who is it, Dennis? What does he want?"
"Just someone with a wrong address, Mom," he called over his shoulder. "He's leaving now." Turning back to Wesley he said firmly, "You have to go now. My mother isn't well, and you're upsetting her."
"Dennis," Wesley whispered in horrified realization. "Phantom Dennis?"
"You really need to go," Dennis repeated, and closed the door in Wesley's face.
Wesley walked back to his bike in a daze, his head throbbing, his gut sending pain signals to every nerve in his body. He sat on the seat of the motorcycle for a long time, trying to make sense of the jumbled thoughts tumbling through his mind. Nothing made any sense. How could everything be the same and yet so different? What had happened to him? Was he under some kind of spell? With a hand that wasn't quite steady, he keyed the ignition and eased his bike back out into the street, steeling his body for more discomfort. He was terrified of what he might find there, but he knew he had to go to the hotel. Surely Angel, Cordelia and Gunn were there. They had to be.
Wesley cautiously pushed open the door to the hotel and walked slowly inside. His flicked his gaze around the lobby, taking in every detail. His eyes sought out the old filing cabinets behind the counter with the drawers that continued to stick, and he relaxed a bit when he saw them. Recognizable books, many of which he had bought himself, nestled snugly on shelves, and what he could see of the offices looked comfortingly familiar. "Oh thank goodness," he murmured, sagging a bit in relief. At least whatever was wrong hadn't touched the hotel, and please god, not Angel, Cordelia and Gunn. He needed to find them, and somehow they would all figure out what was going on. He walked deeper into the lobby, taking in the silence around him; perhaps Angel was in his room, or --
"Well, lookee, lookee what I found."
Wesley's head snapped up, and he saw Angel standing on the upper floor balcony. "Angel! Thank goodness you're here. Something very strange is going on."
"I'd say." There was an odd, sardonic note to Angel's voice as he walked jauntily down the stairs, his gaze on Wesley. "Last time I saw you, Wes, you weren't looking so good." He grinned widely. "But it's good to see you up and about again. Makes things that much more fun, don't you think?"
"Although I am surprised to see you here. Bet you didn't just walk up on Faith like this, did you? You probably took your shot from a nice, safe distance. Oh yeah, I heard about Faith. That wasn't very nice, dusting her like that before she really had a chance to get into the whole undead thing. She showed real promise."
"Faith?" Wesley echoed faintly.
Having reached the bottom of the stairs, Angel cocked his head and studied Wesley, still smiling. "So it looks like it's just you and me, Wes. But you always knew it was going to end up this way, didn't you? You. Me. Hey, it was meant to be. But I tell you what, I'll give you a choice." Suddenly his face morphed and his golden eyes glittered. "The easy way, or the hard way. Oh please, Wes, choose the hard way."
As Angel started forward, Wesley snapped his arm up, a gun gripped tightly in his hand. "Don't."
The sight of the gun seemed to amuse Angel no end. "Oh come on, Wes. You know you can't kill me with that. At the most those bullets are just going to irritate the hell out of me, and that's probably not the smartest thing for you to do." He paused, making a show of thinking something over. "But then, you never were that smart when it came right down to it. It's true you had the book learning, but anyone can open a book and find the things you know. The fact is, you never were that useful, were you? Certainly weren't very useful to Faith. Look where she ended up. How many Watchers have to kill their own Slayers, do you think?" He took another step toward Wesley. "You think a few bullets are going to slow me down enough for you to make it to that door?" he asked softly. "Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do you?"
"No, these bullets wouldn't slow you down for long," Wesley agreed, adjusting his aim slightly and praying Angel didn't see the tremble in his arm. "Unless I place them just so. Shooting your eyes out won't kill you, but I do think it will slow you down quite long enough, don't you?"
Surprise flickered across Angel's face before he abruptly morphed back to his human face. "Why, Wes, ol' buddy. That's just diabolical." He raised his eyebrows, drawling, "That is, if I thought you really had the balls for it."
Wesley had never been more serious in his life. He knew now without a doubt that this wasn't his world, even if he didn't understand what happened and how he got here. And he knew this was Angelus, not Angel. The only chance he really had was to incapacitate the vampire somehow so he could escape, and he was prepared to do whatever it took. "As long as we're quoting bad Clint Eastwood movies, I suppose you have to ask yourself just how lucky you feel," he said coolly. "You know I'm an excellent marksman," he added, "and I'm not about to stand here and let you tear my throat out."
Angel seemed to consider that for a moment, then said in a sing-song tone, "You know, this is just gonna piss me off, Wes."
"I suppose I'll have to chance that." Keeping his gaze on Angel, he slipped his left hand into his jacket pocket and pulled out a large vial, thumbing off the cork.
"Oh, let me guess. Holy water, right?"
"Never leave home without it." With his gun in one hand and the uncorked vial of water in the other, Wesley slowly backed out of the lobby and up the stairs to the door. He was grateful he knew the layout of the hotel so well he didn't have to look to see where he was going because he didn't dare take his eyes off Angel. Angel -- no, Angelus -- seemed more amused than anything else as he watched him back through the door.
"We'll meet again, Wes," he called out cheerfully. "And I've decided the next time we meet, I'm going to make it last a long time. Going to take my time. And I'm going to enjoy every minute of it." As Wesley all but stumbled out the door and kicked it shut he could hear Angelus' raised voice, "The smell of fear is a real turn-on for me, Wes. And I gotta say, you're turnin' me on."
Wesley was shaking so hard he had trouble getting the key into the bike's ignition. Swearing under his breath, he kept looking over his shoulder to make sure Angel wasn't somehow behind him, finally jammed the key home and started the motor, roaring away from the hotel. It was several blocks before he stopped looking over his shoulder, and several more before his heartbeat slowed down to anything approaching normal. It wasn't until then that he realized he had no place to go.
He didn't dare just pull over and stop. He had no idea how else 'this' Los Angeles might differ from his own, and it was dark enough to be dangerous. It wasn't until he came across an open late-night diner than he felt safe enough to stop and go inside. He ordered a cup of coffee, wished for a bottle of aspirin, and slumped in his booth. There was still enough of a tremble in his muscles to convince him what he had seen at the hotel was real and not some hallucination. He remembered when he first came to Los Angeles and began working for Angel how even Angel-with-a-soul could be a little frightening at times. But Angelus... Wesley shivered. He'd only 'met' Angelus once before, during the Rebecca Lowell case, and then only briefly. It had been enough. He'd read everything ever written on Angelus, had studied his file to the point where he could quote entire passages, his known number of victims, where he had been in any given year. But nothing had prepared him for his first encounter with Angelus, and there was nothing that was going to help him now. Angelus was simply... terrifying.
He closed his eyes, willing away the thumping in his head and the aching in his gut, and forced himself to think. He needed a plan. But he knew he wouldn't be able to come up with any type of plan in his condition. The first thing he needed was a safe place to stay, a place to rest and recover. In this not-Los Angeles, he needed to find some sanctuary. His eyes flew open, and he threw down some bills on the table and quickly left the diner.
Wesley stepped inside the doorway of the club and stopped, his eyes traveling around the interior. So far it looked like Caritas. On the stage at the front of the club was a Rumul demon belting out a frighteningly energetic version of Copa Cabana. It sounded like Caritas as well, and he supposed that was a good sign.
"Well, well, a new visitor to Caritas."
Wesley's head snapped around at the familiar voice, and he sagged in relief. "Lorne," he breathed.
The demon looked interested, but not wary. "Have we met before?"
"In a manner of speaking."
Lorne let his gaze travel over Wesley in a frankly approving appraisal. "I think I would have remembered, crumpet."
Wesley gritted his teeth. "My name is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. I need help. Guidance. I need answers."
Lorne smiled easily. "Sounds like you need to sing, my little British warbler." He took a step back and once again raked his gaze over Wesley as if assessing him. "What's your pleasure? Hmm. Maybe a little Sting? Or David Bowie?"
"Oh good lord." The very thought... Wesley lowered his voice, not caring how desperate he sounded. "I don’t actually want to go up...there." He waved a hand at the stage. "Please."
"Ah, a private reading." Lorne looked like he was considering it. "Well, I don't usually, but the accent is just too adorable for words, and besides, the distress waves are just rolling off you." He patted Wesley gently on the shoulder. "Come into my parlor said the Regwal mucus-sucker to the Mirit dinlapper." At Wesley's blank look, he said, "I guess you have to be Pylean to get that one. Come along."
Wesley followed Lorne into a back room and waited nervously as he closed the door and then turned around, motioning for him to begin. His mind went suddenly blank, and he stared at the demon, unable to think of a single song.
"Anything will do," Lorne prompted him in a kind voice. "And I don't think it will take much."
Wesley hesitantly launched into the first song that popped his mind, sang one verse, and then stopped with an embarrassed shrug. The only time he'd ever sung at Caritas was with Cordelia and Gunn, and he'd thankfully been too drunk to remember most of it later.
Lorne was watching him with a solemn expression, and after a long moment, he said, "Very nice rendition of Greensleeves. Wait here," and left the room. Wesley had no choice but to do as he said, and paced nervously until Lorne returned with a drink in each hand. "Here," he said, handing him a glass of what looked like whiskey. "You'd better sit down.”
Wesley dropped down into one of the chairs in the room and watched as Lorne sat in one opposite. "You're a stranger in a strange land, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. You don't belong here."
"I know." Even so, it was strangely comforting to hear it confirmed. "But I don't know how I got here or how to get back to where I belong."
The demon took a drink from his glass and looked intrigued. "Really? Well, first things first. You look about ready to drop, crumpet. I'm thinking a very large meal and a good night's sleep. You're safe here at Caritas, and you've got a place here as long as you need it. I guess I'm just a sucker for a mystery and a pretty face. I'm going to go arrange for some food, and then while you're eating you can tell ol' Lorne exactly what happened to bring you here, and we'll see what we can see from that."
Lorne had enough food for two starving adults brought to the room and wouldn't hear another word from him until he had started eating. In between bites of food that was probably delicious but to which Wesley was paying scant attention, he told Lorne everything that happened from the time he went to the bookstore until he showed up at Caritas. Then he gave Lorne a thumbnail sketch of life in his world with Angel, Cordelia and Gunn. When he finished he felt drained.
"Don't stop now."
"That's all there is to tell."
"I mean, don't stop eating. Come on, little buckaroo, there are veggies to be eaten. You've barely touched those beans, and look at those carrots. And the mashed potatoes and gravy. And for dessert --"
"Please." Wesley held up a hand and produced an apologetic smile. "I think I've eaten all I can for now." And he was becoming homesick just thinking of the meals Angel had cooked for him and how Cordelia kept piling food on his plate over his half-hearted protests. In truth, he'd been warmed by the fact that these people cared for him enough to worry about his eating habits. "Do you know Angel?" he asked suddenly.
"Know him? No." Lorne shook his head. "Know of him? Hey, everyone's heard of the vampire with a soul."
"Then he did have a soul in this reality," Wesley said urgently.
"Oh sure. And from what I heard he was out there fighting the good fight and doing a lot of good for a lot of people. He never came to Caritas, but the trade brought in stories, and I listened. Then, oh it must have been a few months ago, I began hearing other stories. How he'd gone off the rails, turned bad again and, well, was the biggest, baddest vampire in town."
"Something happened to him," Wesley whispered, pressing his fingertips against his aching temples. "Something happened to take away his soul. Angel was good, he was like the Angel I knew, but something happened to him." He looked up suddenly as he realized, "He knew me. Or rather, he knew a Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, so there must be one in this dimension. I've got to find him." Abruptly he got to his feet, then grabbed the edge of the table as he swayed.
"Whoa, whoa there, Lone Ranger." Lorne was by his side in an instant, pushing him easily back onto his chair. "You're not going anywhere until you've had at least twelve hours of sleep and aren't in danger of falling on that devilishly handsome face."
"But I must find him," Wesley insisted. "The other me. And I need to find Cordelia and Gunn. For some reason they're not with Angel, but they should be. I've got to find out what happened."
Sitting back on his chair, Lorne leaned toward him, his voice kind, "Wesley, just because you worked with this Cordelia and Gunn in your own world, doesn’t mean that's the way it's supposed to be here."
"No, you don't understand." Wesley was so tired he wasn't sure he would make any sense, but he had to try to make Lorne understand. "Angel shouldn't be alone. He was alone for so long after he got a soul. But Cordelia, Gunn and I...we're his contact with humanity. He needs us to remind him what it's like. And he needs us to encourage him, and be his conscience on occasion, and he needs us so he isn't alone anymore." He took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. "I've got to help him. I can't leave him like that."
"The guy wants to eat Wesley-shaped scones for breakfast," Lorne pointed out flatly.
"That's Angelus, not Angel."
"Well, Angelus is the one that's home right now."
Wesley repeated firmly, "But he has a soul. Somehow Angel has reverted to Angelus, but Angel has a soul, and I have to help him get it back. I can't leave him like this. But I need --"
"Cordelia Chase and Charles Gunn," Lorne sighed. "I know the lyrics by heart, muffin." Getting to his feet, he wrapped a hand around Wesley's arm and helped him up. "If you're not going to eat any more, then you're going to sleep. While you're sleeping I'll put out some feelers and see what I can find out about Angel and your two missing pals from this dimension, and then we'll figure out how to get you back home."
Home. By now, Angel, Cordelia and Gunn must know something was wrong. He just hoped they were having better luck than he was.
It was very odd. Even though this wasn't his office, at least not technically, it felt like his. The desk was in perfect order; well, the drawers were, everything arranged as it should be, very methodically. The top of the desk was a jumble of books and notebooks and pages and pages of research notes. But then, that was exactly how his own desk top looked -- when he'd had one -- in his world. Where others might see chaos, he saw a comforting familiarity. The collection of books was admirable, although not as expansive as his had been with the Council's money behind it. Still, this Wesley had done a fine job of amassing a good, solid library on what was probably a limited budget, and had arranged them precisely as he would have.
Perhaps he shouldn't have rummaged in the drawers; there had been no real reason to do so except to satisfy his own curiosity. It helped to discover the man shared many of his own talents. The dozens of different demon texts and notes proved that Wesley was a linguist as accomplished as he was himself; the journal he'd managed to peek into, despite Cordelia's sharp eyes, told him the man was intelligent, well-read, methodical and observant of even the tiniest details. Hopefully the crossbow propped in the corner of the office meant the man was as good a shot as he was. That Wesley was going to need every bit of skill he possessed if he stumbled upon Angelus unawares. He just hoped he was observant enough to recognize Angelus in time, and not when the fangs sank into his throat.
"Did you find anything yet?"
He looked up from the book he had open on the desk to find Cordelia standing in the doorway again, her sharp dark eyes pinning him to his chair, willing him to come up with the answer to get her Wesley back where he belonged. He wondered if they were lovers. He remembered his time in Sunnydale and the Cordelia Chase in his world. They had flirted back and forth during his stay there, and it had been both harmless and dangerous. Dangerous because she was a beautiful, if spoiled and headstrong, young woman and he'd been tempted; but harmless because she was a student, and both his upbringing and position meant he would never cross that line.
"Nothing yet." Instead of the impatient answer he expected to come out of his mouth, he found his voice gentle and reassuring. "But you must know magic rarely gives up its secrets easily." He'd given her the task of researching on the internet, providing her with a list of words and phrases to search for, but it was more to keep her occupied and out of his hair than out of any real hope she'd turn up anything there.
Cordelia made a noise that sounded like an inelegant snort. "No, really? That must be why Wesley walks around here like a zombie when he's in research mode and forgets to eat and sleep."
Wesley smiled faintly, recognizing his own faults and remembering how Faith used to scold him in her inimitable way about the dark circles under his eyes. "Research can be...seductive," he replied, then shrugged at his description. "What I mean --"
"No, I knew what you meant." For the first time Wesley saw a smile on Cordelia's face along with the warmth of memories in her eyes. "There were times I thought Wesley was dating his dusty old books."
Wesley cleared his throat, looked down at the book in front of him, and then cleared his throat again.
"A little dust in your throat?" Cordelia asked innocently.
"Question," he admitted. "But it's really none of my business."
"Go ahead and ask. And don't worry, I'll tell you if it's not."
He didn't doubt that in the least. Cautiously, he began, "You and Wesley. Are you...?"
Cordelia frowned. "Are we what?" Then her eyes widened. "Are we what? Are you nuts? You think Wesley and I...you think we're..." She seemed at a loss for words but managed to nail him with a glare that was downright frightening. "Wash out your mind, Mr. Watcher-guy. Wesley's family."
Wesley held out his hands. "I meant no disrespect. You seemed so upset."
She looked outraged. "Of course I'm upset. Haven't you been listening? He's family." She closed her eyes for a moment and rubbed her forehead as if gathering her thoughts. When she spoke again, it was without anger. "Listen, I know where you come from you never worked with Angel or with me or Gunn, but in this world, we're a team, we're family."
She used that word as if it meant something, Wesley mused, and he found himself wondering if the Wesley of this world had had a Roger Wyndam-Pryce in his life to teach him just how meaningless that word was.
Cordelia tilted her chin defiantly, "I suppose you look at us and see a vampire with a soul who broods too much, an actress who can't get an acting job, a kid who was running a street gang of vampire hunters since he was twelve and never finished high school, and a skinny, dorky guy who showed up in L.A. with no job, no money, and was such a good rogue demon hunter that he was hunting the wrong demon. A bunch of losers, right? But let me tell you something: Angel is good, and he helps the helpless every single day. And Gunn is loyal and strong and brave, and even though he saw way too much bad stuff and death when he was still a kid, he's one of the nicest people I've ever known. I may not be able to get an acting job, but I'm Vision Girl." She said that with pride. "I'm hooked into the Powers That Be, and they send me the visions we use to help the helpless. And that dorky guy who showed up on our doorstep? He's running this place now. He took over when Angel went all nutso over Darla, and we work for him. He's saved our asses plenty of times with his books and spells. I'm proud of who I am, and I'm proud of who we are. We make a difference."
It was an impassioned speech, and Wesley was impressed by her sincerity and by the spark of fire in her eyes. She reminded him somewhat of his Faith. Everyone assumed they'd been lovers, but nothing could have been further from the truth. Oh, there was an electricity between them, but it wasn't sexual. He'd always thought of it as two lost and lonely souls finding one another and reaching out to connect. They had been a natural fit from the start, not so much in spite of, but because of their differences. Faith wanted to be a good Slayer but she was undisciplined; she needed guidance and structure. Guidance and structure was what he excelled at, and under his tutelage she blossomed. Not that she didn't have her rebellions and he didn't have his moments of coming down on her too hard, but they understood each other too well to let any of that get in the way of the job they were doing. Cordelia's defense of Wesley was achingly reminiscent of Faith's wildly protective streak where he was concerned. She fussed over him when he didn't get enough sleep, scolded him if she thought he wasn't eating enough or taking proper care of himself, and dragged him out to clubs and movies when she thought he wasn't relaxing enough. They continually fought over his right to occasionally accompany her on her patrols. He said he needed to observe her in action in order to know how she was doing on the job; she said if she was coming back alive, that should be proof enough how she was doing. He always won the arguments, but eventually he stopped going because she was paying more attention to protecting him than she was to the job at hand, and he was afraid to risk dividing her attention like that. Faith had been all he had, and he had been all she had. Perhaps Faith had taught him there could be meaning to the word 'family', but her death reinforced that the pain of loss was too great to risk that kind of closeness again.
When he came out of his thoughts he saw Cordelia still in the doorway, her face screwed up in an expression of comical confusion. "What was the question again?"
"It doesn’t matter," he answered, ducking his head to hide his little smile. "You've answered it."
She gave him a sharp look, but only asked, "Do you need some more tea? Wesley always drank a lot of tea when he was being Mr. Research."
He was fairly certain she never served her Wesley tea. Not unless that Wesley enjoyed lukewarm water with bits of tea leaves floating on top. No, he suspected he was being waited on because she didn't want him leaving the books and thus delaying the research that might find the answer to righting her world again. There was a lovely bone china tea set in the office, and earlier he'd toyed with the idea of asking her to just let him prepare his tea himself. But he'd discarded the idea. This tea set belonged to her Wesley, and he knew without asking it wasn't his to make use of. It would sit there patiently waiting for the return of the 'right' Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. The Wyndam-Pryce who put that look of pinched anxiety on Cordelia's face no matter how cheerful she tried to sound.
"Perhaps...coffee?" he suggested, hoping as an American she was better with that.
"Sure." She turned and headed for the kitchen. "Instant's good, right?"
"Well, look here. If it isn't the vampire who hangs his informants upside down over sewer water and leaves them there." Merl gave Angel a look as haughty as he could manage given the limitations of his facial expressions. "I don't think you and I have anything to discuss. If you need information, I suggest you send Wesley. Now that boy knows how to be polite, and he doesn't expect me to work for fr--." The air whooshed out of Merl's lungs as he was grabbed by the throat and slammed against the wall.
"Wesley's not here," Angel growled softly. "Wesley's missing, and I need information. And if you're not in a helping mood, then I might as well rip your head off and hang it on the wall so everyone else can see what a bad idea it is to piss me off right now."
"Okay! Okay! Sheesh, someone got up on the wrong side of the crypt, didn't they?" Angel abruptly let go and Merl dropped like a rock to the floor. "Ow," the demon complained as he climbed to his feet. "Was that necessary?"
"No, but it was fun." Before Merl could speak, Angel put a hand around his throat again, but this time only as a warning. "I need information on a place called Malichai's Books and Magickals. Wesley's disappeared, and that's the last place he was, or at least the last place we think he was."
"All right. You don't have to resort to violence, you know," Merl whined. "I like Wesley. He treats me with respect, like I am somebody. If he's in trouble, I want to help."
Slowly, Angel released his fingers and took a step back so he wasn't looming so obviously over the little snitch. "We don't have time to waste, Merl. Wesley could be in real danger."
The smaller demon looked up at him. "I'm not the one wasting time."
Angel gritted his teeth and managed to resist the urge to twist Merl's head off. "Get in touch as soon as you know anything," he snapped, and abruptly turn on his heel and strode down the sewer, trying hard not to feel guilty about manhandling Merl like that when Wesley had proven time and again they could get the same results with politeness and a little money. He could just imagine the reproachful looks he'd be getting from Wesley right now. He wished he were getting them.
Reaching an intersection in the sewer lines, Angel made a decision and a right turn. They needed more lines in the water than just a snitch demon.
Cordelia flexed her shoulder muscles and rotated her head, trying to ease the kink in her neck and at the same time look casual as she peeked into Wesley's office. She hadn't been in the top ten percent of her class for nothing; she knew Watcher-boy in there had assigned her internet duty to keep her out of his hair. But so far he'd come up with precious little on his own. She was convinced their Wesley would have produced something tangible by now. This Wesley might look a little -- was she actually going to use the word 'hot' in relation to Wesley? -- more fashion-evolved, she decided, but apparently their Wesley had him beat in the brains department. Still, when they got their Wesley back (in one piece and with no fang marks in his neck, please) she was going to take him shopping and make him buy a brown suede jacket, and maybe take him for a haircut too. There was always room for improvement.
Watcher-boy was rubbing his temples again and wincing, and she felt a sudden pang of guilt. She'd been pouring caffeine into him but never once offered him so much as an aspirin when she, better than anyone, understood killer headaches. Of course, what he probably really needed was a good night's sleep if those dark circles under his eyes were any indication, and that led her to another emotional conflict. Her instincts were telling her to nag the person who looked like her friend into getting some rest, just like she had done dozens of times before; but if this Wesley took several hours out to get some sleep, that meant their Wesley was in that Angelus-inhabited world even longer. Why did everything have to be so complicated? Pushing herself away from her desk, she went into the bathroom to retrieve her strongest headache-slaying pills. Once they got Wesley back he was going to be banned from going to bookstores by himself, she decided. From now on he could just do his book shopping over the internet like normal people.
Wesley had his head down and was writing something on a pad of paper, muttering to himself, when she stopped in the doorway of the office and asked, "Would you like some --?"
"No more coffee," he said quickly, head snapping up.
Why on earth would he sound so desperate over the coffee? She held up the bottle and rattled it. "I was going to say, something for the headache?"
"Oh." He blinked, then looked so grateful her guilt spiked. She should have done this ages ago. Walking into the office, she sat down the glass of water she brought and tipped two pills out into his hand. "I use these for my post-vision headaches. They're pretty good."
He quickly swallowed the pills, then looked up at her. "The visions give you headaches?"
"Absolute killers," she said matter-of-factly. "I recognize the look," she told him. "Listen, maybe you should get some rest."
He shook his head, setting one book aside and pulling another from the pile beside him. "No time."
While part of her wanted to pester him until he agreed to get some obviously much needed rest, the selfish part of her was glad he didn't want to stop his research. But the deciding factor was the thought of their Wesley, maybe hurt or in trouble, in that other world. Would there be someone there to be kind to him? To look out for him and help him? And was there someone there who was hoping the same thing about this Wesley? Somehow she thought not. When he was talking about Faith there was something scarily dead in his eyes, and there was a vibe about him that just screamed 'I'm alone'. So maybe what he needed was someone to care enough to bully him into doing what was best for him. Cordelia was an expert in that, thanks to all the practice on her Wesley.
"Make time," she said sternly. When he looked up in surprise, she reminded him, "Like Angel said, you won't be able to do us any good if you pass out in the middle of all this. We need you, Wesley, but we need that big brain of yours fully charged."
He looked sorely tempted by the offer, but nodded to the book in front of him. "In a bit. I just want to check a few more references. I may be on to something."
"Okay, but --"
The slamming of the front door brought Cordelia around. "Angel!" She hurried out to greet him, then saw the Host trailing in behind him. "Lorne?"
"Anything?" Angel asked, nodding toward the office.
She shook her head. "He thinks he might be onto something, but no. You?"
"Got feelers out. And I brought Lorne."
"You want Wesley to sing for him?" 'We are the Champions' began to play in the back of her mind.
Lorne stepped around Angel. "Maybe I'll be able to pick something up. You never know." His red eyes glittered with interest and he rubbed his hands together. "Now, let's have a look at that rogue demon hunter you told me about."
"I'll get him," Cordelia volunteered and went over to the office. "Wesley, we need you out here."
He got up immediately. "What's wrong? Has something happened?"
"Nothing's wrong. You just need to pick out a song to sing," she called breezily over her shoulder as she went back into the lobby.
He came out warily, and Cordelia noticed he had his hand near his side where he could quickly get to any weapon stashed there. "What's this about?" he asked Angel, looking at Lorne.
"Wesley, Lorne. Lorne, Wesley," Angel introduced without fanfare. "Lorne is an Anagogic demon. He reads peoples'...auras when they sing."
Lorne brushed past Angel and gave Wesley a frankly appreciative look. "Krevlorneswath of the Deathwok Clan at your service, crumpet. You can call me Lorne." Aside to Cordelia he whispered, "Nice look."
"When we get him back I'm going to take Wesley shopping," she whispered back.
"Good plan. Don't forget the haircut."
"Not planning to."
"And you might want to hide his razor for a few days too."
"Do you two mind?" Angel interrupted, giving them a glare. "Can we get on with this."
"On with what?" Wesley's voice was heavy with suspicion.
Cordelia explained, "You need to sing for Lorne."
He gave her a level look. "And why would I do that?" he asked precisely.
"Lorne can only read auras when someone sings," Angel repeated.
Wesley transferred his steady gaze to the vampire. "And why would I want my aura read?"
Angel met his gaze with one of his own. "Because it's a tool. And we use whatever tools we have."
Wesley seemed to consider that for a moment, then looked back at Lorne. "I...don't sing," he admitted with an embarrassed shrug.
The demon waved that aside. "Neither does Angel. Just do what he does and give me a chorus of 'Mandy'."
"Mandy?" Wesley looked as if he'd just tasted something bad. "I'm afraid I don't know the words."
Angel and Lorne both threw song suggestions at a bewildered Wesley until Cordelia stepped in and put a stop to it by snapping, "Oh for heaven's sake, just sing a chorus of God Save The Queen." Silence fell as they all stared at her and she demanded, "Well, you know the words, right?"
Wesley straightened. "Of course I do."
She jerked her head toward Lorne. "Well?"
Pressing his lips together for a moment in disapproval, Wesley finally blew out a breath and launched into a soft but credible God Save the Queen. As he finished all eyes turned to Lorne, who looked a little shaken.
Angel pressed, "What's wrong?"
Lorne seemed to pull himself out of it. "I saw a lot of Wesley, our Wesley, but I don't know how else to explain it other than there are other...layers." Cordelia saw the stark sympathy in his eyes as he patted Wesley gently on the shoulder. "No, you're not from around here, are you?"
"That we knew," Cordelia pointed out impatiently. "Did you see anything else? Anything that might help, for instance? Like his future? Like how he gets back home? If we knew that, we should know how to get our Wesley back, right?"
"Whoa, whoa, slow down, sweetcheeks. It's not as easy as all that."
Cordelia folded her arms and began tapping her foot. "Lorne, are you or are you not supposed to read peoples' destinies?"
Lorne slid a sideways look at Wesley who was watching him with a little frown. "Apparently his destiny isn't in this dimension. I'm afraid I didn't get any roadmaps back to his own world."
"So all we got out of this was me embarrassing myself by singing God Save the Queen?"
"This is the first time I've done a cross-dimension reading," Lorne said apologetically. "Apparently it doesn't work the way it usually does, and I’m not getting anything past your normal aura readings. Listen, when you get back to your own dimension, you check to see if there isn't a me over there, and you go sing God Save the Queen for him. I'll bet he can read your destiny."
Wesley didn't look convinced. "Yes, well, I'll keep that in mind." He turned to Angel and said stiffly, "Unless you have any other...suggestions, I'm going to return to my research."
"Sure, go ahead." Angel watched him leave and then sighed. "It was worth a shot."
"I wouldn’t push him too hard, Angelcakes," Lorne warned, his tone serious. "You're looking at someone on the verge of meltdown."
"That boy is carrying a world of hurt and anger around inside him, and you don't need an Anagogic demon to tell you he's past exhausted."
Angel turned his head to look at the office where Wesley had settled back behind the desk again. "He had some pretty bad stuff happen to him in his world."
Lorne nodded, his face sympathetic. "Yeah. I don't know the details, but I saw the results. 'Pretty bad' seems to be an understatement. You've got yourself a splintered Wesley held together by, well, normally, I'd say held together by spit and bubble gum, but in this case I think he's held together by sheer stubborn determination. If you don't give him a chance to recharge his batteries, and his defenses crumble..."
"Point taken," Angel said, and turned away to stride into the office, and Cordelia saw the same conflict on his face that she felt in her own heart.
"Well, you're looking a lot more bright eyed and bushy tailed than you were yesterday, muffin."
Wesley winced as Lorne walked up to the table where he'd been drinking tea and working on getting his thoughts in order. Lornes everywhere apparently had a pastry fixation, he decided. "Yes, I'm feeling much better," he replied. "And I can't thank you enough for your kindness."
Lorne waved that aside as he sank down into the chair opposite. "Please. It's not every day I get a visitor from another dimension." He leaned across the table. "And besides, who could say no to those eyes? Or that face? I'm not made of stone, you know."
Embarrassed, Wesley dropped his gaze to the table and quickly took a drink of tea. He'd known many people who were quite impervious to his eyes and his face.
"What've you got there?"
"Oh." Glad for the change in subject, Wesley straightened the papers in front of him. "I'm working on a plan."
"A plan for getting home? Good idea. What did you come up with?"
"Well, no actually, not a plan for going home, although I have to work on that too, of course."
Lorne gave him a long look. "Shouldn't that be pretty much number one on the list?"
Wesley couldn't deny that one would think so. "Normally, yes. But there's the issue with Angel."
"The issue that he wants to have you for lunch? I'd say that would definitely push the 'going home plan' to number one."
"I can't leave him like this without at least trying to get his soul back." He met Lorne's puzzled eyes and tried to explain, "You don't know Angel."
"No," Lorne agreed, his voice slow and careful as if he was trying to explain something to someone very stupid, "and he doesn't know you. Except as someone he wants to torture very slowly and then eat."
Wesley corrected firmly, "That's Angelus, not Angel."
The demon sighed. "We're doing that circular thing again, sparky, where you see a friend you want to help, and I see a big ol' blood-suckin' vampire who wants to kill you slowly. I don't think we're going to be able to agree on this."
"Doubtful, but that's okay. I know what I have to do, Lorne. If you don't want to help me, I'll understand."
Lorne got to his feet and walked over to the bar, and Wesley watched as he methodically fixed himself a drink. He needed Lorne's help desperately, but he couldn't blame the demon if he didn't want to be a part of this.
When he came back over and sat down, Wesley repeated, "I will understand, Lorne."
The demon gave him a look that wasn't entirely friendly. "Yes, you would," he said sourly. He took a long drink from his glass, then set it down and sighed. "You really should register those eyes as lethal weapons. I will do whatever I can to help you, Wesley, and I will hope that at the end of this little adventure you end up back home with your friends and not as a trophy on Angelus' wall, all right?"
Wesley gave him a genuine smile. "Very much all right, Lorne. I'm grateful to have a friend in this world."
"And I'm glad I was here to be that friend." Lorne raised his glass in a mock toast, then nodded at the paper. "So where do we stand with the plans?"
"At the top of the list are Gunn and Cordelia. I don't suppose you've had any luck?"
"I've got friends in the business trying to track down Cordelia, but do you know how many would-be actresses there are in this town? And how many talent agencies? And that's supposing this Cordelia came to this town to be an actress and didn't end up married with two point five kids in Duluth."
He was counting on this Cordelia being enough like his Cordelia that she didn't end up in Duluth, but he had to admit there was a possibility she wasn't in Los Angeles at all. "Anything on Gunn?"
"Having a bit more luck there. There seems to be a gang of street kids up near Fourth who are doing a lot of damage to vampires in the area."
"That's Charles," Wesley said with a fond smile. "Thank you, Lorne, I can take it from here." As he started to rise, Lorne put a hand on his arm and he sat back down.
"You know I wish you all the luck in the world with this...quest you're on with Angel. But if he's lost his soul and gone bad, how are you planning to fix that?"
Wesley smoothed the paper he'd written his notes on before replying. "There is a way to restore a soul," he said carefully. "It will involve contacting some people I hope are in a place called Sunnydale. I need to find Charles and Cordelia first and try to convince them to join me. Angel is going to need a support system when his soul is restored." When Lorne frowned in puzzlement, he continued softly, "Angel will remember everything Angelus did. He will have to live with every death Angelus caused. He did that for decades when he first got a soul, but having people in his life, people to keep him focused and on track, will help."
Wesley could see the question in Lorne's eyes: What if Gunn and Cordelia don't want to leave whatever lives they have and work with a vampire? He didn't have an answer to that, and he was grateful when the demon didn't ask.
Wesley parked his bike in an open space and dismounted, looking carefully around. It was late afternoon and the sun was low in the sky. He'd been out on the streets for hours, asking if anyone knew where he could find Charles Gunn. He knew the people he asked knew Gunn, and he knew the word would get back to him like wildfire that a white English guy was asking about him. By now, Charles knew and was probably having him watched. One of the reasons he made himself so visible during the sunniest part of the day was so they would know he wasn't a vampire. They would also know he wasn't a policeman. Which left them with a puzzle and a lot of suspicion. But Gunn -- at least the Gunn he knew -- would never let a challenge go unanswered. Sooner or later, he'd show up and confront Wesley.
He walked along the sidewalk, taking in the pawn shop with bars in the window, the boarded up movie theater across the street with the broken out windows, the adult bookstore with its yellowed posters on display, the mom and pop quick-shop on the corner. As he turned around to walk back to his bike he found himself face to face with Charles Gunn who took his time eyeing him up and down.
"My people tell me some skinny, pansy-assed, white English guy has been asking all over the neighborhood for me."
This would be the point where if he were someone like Angel he would try to make himself look less threatening. However, being who he was he didn't think that was an issue. Besides, the testosterone was practically rolling off Gunn in waves. "I would be that white English guy," Wesley said, slowly holding out his hand. "Wesley Wyndam-Pryce." Gunn pointedly ignored his hand, and Wesley lowered it.
"What do you want?" Gunn demanded aggressively.
Wesley answered politely, "I'd like an hour or so of your time."
Gunn looked amused. "Now why would I want to give you an hour of my valuable time?"
"I have a business proposition for you."
"You have a business proposition for me." Gunn's teeth shone in the dimming light, but Wesley had seen friendlier smiles on demons intent on ripping his head from his shoulders. "You know, I can't think of a single reason I should give you even five more seconds. But I will give you some advice, English. Get off the streets before dark. There are things out here you don't want to know about."
Wesley waited until he was a few steps away before saying casually, "Vampires."
Gunn snapped around, his body tensing. "What?"
"You're talking about vampires," Wesley said calmly.
The other man walked back to him and crowded his personal space, making good use of the two inches he had on Wesley. "What do you know about vampires?" he growled.
"Quite a bit actually," he said honestly. "I'm somewhat of an expert."
"A vampire expert."
"Actually, I'm a vampire hunter. Like you. Well, perhaps 'vampire' hunter isn't quite broad enough. I'm really more of a demon hunter."
"You. Are a demon hunter." Gunn snorted. "Yeah, right."
Less than two years ago that was a joke worth laughing at. But there had been a lot of demons under the bridge since then. "Quite an experienced one, actually. That's what I wanted to talk to you about. You're good at what you do, Mr. Gunn, and we could use a man with your skills."
"Our organization." It was all bullshit, of course, but he needed to give some plausible reason to be looking for Charles, and it had to be something that would pique his interest.
Gunn folded his arms and gave him a dismissive look. "You don't look like any demon hunter to me."
"Looks can be deceiving," he answered mildly. "Of course, there's a way to find out for certain."
Gunn's eyes narrowed. "Supposing I even cared, how?"
Wesley smiled broadly. "You're a vampire hunter, I’m a vampire hunter. I've heard there is vampire activity in a park nearby. I propose we go there together and engage in the hunt." Wesley had assumed the accent and manner of the mindlessly arrogant public school boys he had known so well growing up. 'Pompous ass' didn't begin to describe him. "It will give you the opportunity to evaluate my skills as a demon hunter." He cocked his head, adding, "And it will give me an opportunity to evaluate your skills as well." He knew his own Gunn would never be able to resist a challenge like that, and he was hoping this Gunn wouldn’t either.
After a moment Charles shrugged a little too casually. "I was going over there anyhow. You want to tag along and get your skinny white ass killed, that's no skin off my nose."
Wesley smiled and rubbed his hands together gleefully. "Splendid. I'll follow you over, shall I?"
"Splendid," Charles replied, mimicking his accent perfectly, the wanker.
As Wesley walked to his bike, he was aware of Charles changing his direction and walking over to join him. "That your bike?" he asked.
Swinging his leg over the motorcycle, he nodded. "Yes," he said and didn't miss the look of appreciation in Gunn's eyes. But Gunn just gave his head a brief shake and turned away. He disappeared around the corner and a few moments later Wesley saw him driving his truck from wherever he'd hidden it.
Wesley would never know why Gunn's innocent question 'is that your bike' stuck in his mind. But it was there as he looked down to key the ignition, and for the first time Wesley noticed the odometer. The bike had a good twenty-three thousand miles more on it than it did when he drove to the bookstore. And that's when he cursed himself as an idiot. How hadn't he noticed it before? Yes, he'd been tired and distracted and disoriented by everything that had happened, but he was supposed to be a detective. How could he miss something that simple? This wasn't his bike, and now he knew without a doubt where the Wesley of this world was. Dear god, he was back in his own world.
"Hey, Princess Charles! You comin' or not?"
Looking up, he realized Gunn was idling his truck and waiting for him to follow. "Wanker," he muttered, but waved his hand. "Lead on!" he called, and pulled out to follow as Charles drove away. But his mind wasn't on driving. He didn't notice the neighborhood passing by as the thoughts flew through his mind, thick and fast. The Other Wesley was back in his world with his Angel, Cordelia and Gunn. Dear god, had he gone to the hotel to kill Angel, thinking he was Angelus? This Angelus clearly expected Wesley to show up and try to kill him. His Angel was a vampire with over two hundred and fifty years of survival experience, but he wouldn't be expecting death at the hands of a friend. That could make the difference.
Wesley had to forcibly shake those thoughts from his mind as Charles slowed his truck and made the turn into the park. He'd just have to trust in the Angel, Cordelia and Gunn of his world, and put his plan into motion as quickly as possible. At the moment, he had to focus his thoughts on fighting vampires. He had come a long way in his fighting skills since his days in Sunnydale, but he was also used to either Angel or Gunn, or both of them, being at his back. He wouldn't have that with this Gunn; he'd be essentially on his own as this Charles had no reason to care if he lived or died. He did care if this Charles lived or died, though. He'd egged him on until he had no choice but to accept the challenge, but now Gunn didn't have his gang to back him up. It was just the two of them, and he intended the two of them to walk out of this park alive when it was all over.
Gunn stopped his truck and turned off the motor, and Wesley pulled his bike in beside him and switched it off. As he opened the saddlebags to get to his weapons he mused on the fact that the other Wesley had packed the same weapons he did and in exactly the same way. He armed himself with a crossbow, several stakes, and an almost exact replica of the specially made Gothic short-handled battle axe he himself favored. Light enough to use with one hand, but lethal. He turned around to find Gunn already striding into the park, a familiar hubcap axe in his hands.
He hurried to catch up. "I thought we might formulate a plan of attack."
Gunn hefted his axe. "This is my plan of attack."
"Yes, but if we're to work together, having a plan we both agree on --"
Gunn stopped and wheeled around, holding the blade of his axe close enough to Wesley's chin that it was prudent for him to raise it a bit. "We're not 'working together', Princess. I'm here to kill vamps. You want to kill vamps too, that's your look-out. Just stay out of my way."
Wesley sighed as Gunn stalked away, Machismo Man itching for a fight. He recognized in this Gunn the same recklessness and courage, the same tendency to be headstrong and impatient, ready to charge into a fight with no thought to a plan or strategy that was such a part of the Gunn in his world. It was a trait he shared with Angel, whose plans usually amounted to busting down door and punching faces. He liked to think he had had some influence on them; at least most times now they were willing to delay crashing through doors long enough for him to propose a plan. He saw the same potential in this Charles that he'd seen in the Charles of his own world, and he couldn't help thinking that this world would be a lot better off with Angel restored, the rightful Wesley returned, and this Gunn and Cordelia joining forces with them. Besides which, if someone did not take this Charles in hand, did not offer him some structure and a larger purpose besides killing vampires, he was going to end up throwing himself headlong into unwise fights until this world lost him.
Gunn was already hidden by the shadows by the time Wesley got his gear prepared and followed. There was no attempt at stealth; Gunn was striding purposefully in the growing darkness, daring anything to jump out of the night and attack him. Wesley followed more cautiously, watching and listening for any sign of movement. With Gunn playing the Lone Ranger, they were going to be in a world of trouble if they ran into even a small nest of vampires. Gunn was obviously used to taking charge and doing his own thing; Wesley had gotten out of that short-lived habit a long time ago.
There was the sound of leaves rustling ahead, and Wesley realized he'd lost sight of Gunn again behind some trees. As he increased his pace he heard Gunn yell, "Come and get it, you fuckers!"
"Oh lord." Wesley broke into a run, dashing through a small copse of trees into a clearing. Gunn was taking on two vampires, and he looked like he was holding his own well enough for Wesley to turn his attention elsewhere and neatly take out a third approaching vampire with his crossbow. As he turned to move to lend a hand to Gunn, something slammed into him from behind and his crossbow dropped to the ground as he felt arms wrap around him with vampire strength. As he struggled to reach one of the stakes in his pocket, he wondered briefly if these vampires were youngsters without much experience as this one seemed to be trying to shake him into submission rather than simply break his neck or tear out his throat. With his hand tightly gripping a stake, he threw his head back sharply. It hurt, but not as much as it hurt the vampire behind him, and the arms abruptly loosened enough for him to twist around and plunge the stake home. He waved the resulting dust away from his face and looked around anxiously for Gunn.
Gunn was still fighting hard, his axe swinging furiously, and the two vampires Wesley had seen had been replaced by two others. These seemed to be older, more experienced, because Wesley could immediately see their strategy. They were playing with Gunn, forcing him to use up valuable energy as they lunged forward, then backed out of reach, wearing him down. Oh perfect. The vampires were the ones with a plan of action. As he watched in horror, a third vampire joined the deadly dance, forming a circle around him.
Wesley looked around wildly for his crossbow, then froze as a gravely voice behind him said, "Looking for this, human?" He turned slowly, then swallowed hard. Mother of god. The vampire was a giant. Or at the very least had been a professional football player on steroids before his unlife. As Wesley watched, the vampire grinned, a gap where his front teeth would have been, and casually crushed the crossbow into kindling, dropping it in pieces to the ground. Wesley mentally ran through his options: he had stakes, but he'd never get close enough to use one; he had his axe, but again, the arm reach on the vampire would make that useless; and he had his gun, but bullets would be no more than annoying gnats to this goliath. "Just stand still and don't make me run after you, and I'll make it quick."
Wesley smiled tightly. "I could say the same to you." In an instant his gun was in his hand and he did exactly what he'd threatened to do to Angelus. The vampire let out a guttural cry as both hands flew to his eyes, and Wesley launched himself upwards with a stake in his hands. A moment later he found himself on the ground, coughing as the dust settled over him. That had been unpleasant. Then he rolled over, sprang to his feet, and ran over to Gunn with his axe at the ready.
Gunn was about at the end of his reserves, sweating and exhausted from the constant baiting from the tireless vampires. With a bloodcurdling yell Wesley threw himself at the nearest, slamming into him and knocking him away from the others to narrow the odds for Gunn. This one wasn't stupid or inexperienced however, and Wesley took a vicious backhand that sent him flying. He slammed into a tree, groaning as his still tender midsection took a painful hit. He was slow to get to his feet, and the vampire gleefully took advantage of the weakness he'd shown, and drove a fist into his stomach. Wesley went to his knees, bending over with his arms clutching his stomach as he gasped for breath. Heavy hands grabbed his upper arms. "They're just not making humans like they used to," the vampire gloated as he hauled Wesley to his feet.
As soon as he had his feet under him, Wesley immediately straightened and drove the point of his concealed stake into the vampire's chest. "Apparently they're not making vampires like they used to either," he told the astonished vampire an instant before it disintegrated into dust.
He was badly favoring his side by the time he limped back to where Gunn was desperately fighting the two remaining vampires. Pissed off, hurting, and in no mood for games, he strode up behind the nearest vampire, who was intent on backing away from Gunn's deadly axe, and swung his own axe, beheading the demon in one clean stroke. As the remaining vampire was distracted for a moment by the still swirling dust of his companion, Gunn swung his own axe, and silence settled in around them.
As Wesley pressed a hand against his aching side, Gunn broke into a wide grin. "Now that's what I call vampire hunting."
"And that's what I call nearly getting yourself needlessly killed," Wesley snarled. "If we'd had a plan before you charged in here inviting every vampire within a five block radius to dinner, we could have handled this with a lot less peril to ourselves."
Gunn got that stubborn look on his face Wesley knew so well. "Hunting vampires is dangerous."
"Of course it's dangerous, you bloody fool. But that doesn’t mean you can't take safeguards. Entering into a situation like without a plan of action and a strategy is simply inviting death, or worse." Letting those words sink in, he turned away, only to be brought up short by Gunn's hand on his arm.
"Are you sayin' I'm --?" Gunn broke off as Wesley winced. "Hey, are you hurt?"
"It's an old injury," Wesley answered shortly, thinking how ironic it was that the old injury was one he'd gotten while saving his Gunn's life.
"Yeah, well by the expression on your face I'd say it's feeling pretty fresh." When Wesley didn't answer, Gunn dropped his hand and his attitude. "Look, English, you're a helluva fighter. I was kind of busy myself, but I know you dropped at least three vamps --"
"Four," Wesley corrected in the sake of accuracy.
"--and one of them could have been a fullback for the Rams. And you saved my life back there. I owe you, okay?"
Wesley gave him a considering look. "An hour of your time?"
Gunn grinned again, making his face look even more boyish. "Hell, two hours if that's what you want. Like I say, I owe you."
Relieved they'd gotten this far, Wesley nodded. "Thank you. I know a place where we can talk, and dinner is my treat."
"Free food," Gunn said cheerfully. "Better and better." He fell into step beside Wesley as they walked back to their vehicles.
"I should explain, the place we're going to is a bit...odd."
"Gay place?" Gunn asked matter-of-factly. "'Cause I'm okay with that."
"I beg your -- no, it is not a 'gay place.' What on earth made you think...never mind. I'll explain when we get there. You may find it a bit strange, but it is safe."
Twirling his axe expertly in his hand, Gunn replied, "I'm not worried."
When they reached their vehicles, Wesley stowed his axe in the saddlebag, but when he prepared to mount the bike, Gunn once again caught his arm, lightly this time. "Man, I watched you limp all the way back here, and you can't even stand up straight. There's no way you can ride that bike."
"It really is an old injury," Wesley told him. "I'm afraid it just woke up a bit."
"It's going to wake up a whole lot more if you ride that bike. Look, I've got ramps in my truck. We can wheel your bike onto the back and you can ride with me to wherever it is we're going, okay?"
At that moment this Gunn was so like the Charles in his own dimension that Wesley felt a real pang of homesickness. "That's a splendid idea," he said. "Thank you."
The two hours Gunn had agreed to give him had turned into most of the night. There had been a bit of an incident when they arrived at Caritas and Gunn had gotten his first look at Lorne. Charles' personal motto seemed to be if it didn't look human, it died. Wesley managed to convince him Lorne was a benign demon, and that the rest of the clientele inside the club were bound under a non-violence spell. Of course, there had been another incident when Lorne insisted on enforcing the 'no weapons' rule and Charles had to give up his axe. And if Lorne didn't stop calling Gunn confectionary names Wesley was afraid there was going to be yet another incident.
Still, Gunn had heard him out as he'd promised. Of course he didn't believe the part about other dimensions or that there was such a thing as a vampire that shouldn’t be killed. That's when Wesley brought out the photograph he carried in his wallet. He wasn't superstitious but he did admit to himself that he thought of it as a good luck talisman. It was a photo of Angel, Cordelia, Gunn and himself, taken not that long ago in a booth at a fair one night. Wesley had to give it to Cordelia; she had come up with new and different ways to torture Angel since he'd come back to the agency, and she seemed to take great delight in coming up with ideas that Angel, in his guilt, just couldn't refuse. She thought a night at a fair was just what they all needed and blithely made plans as Angel tried to come up with an excuse she would accept. Cordelia, of course, would accept no excuses from anyone, so they had a 'company outing' at a fair. Wesley hadn't been too thrilled with the idea either, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. He'd won Cordelia the biggest stuffed animal at the sharpshooting booth (even though the rifle was obviously sighted so the unwary shooter would miss), had been bullied by Cordelia and Gunn into riding the rollercoaster (an experience he didn't plan to repeat anytime soon), and ate far too much cottonfloss – which Cordelia insisted on calling 'cotton candy' despite his best efforts to educate her. But he'd also laughed more that evening than he could remember doing in a very long time. They'd concluded the evening having silly pictures taken in a booth. They each claimed one set for themselves, and in Wesley's everyone looked happy and relaxed.
Charles looked up from where he had been studying the photograph and handed it back to Wesley, who carefully tucked it back into his wallet. "So." Charles took a long drink of his beer. "Alternate dimension."
"You believe in vampires and demons," Wesley pointed out. "Can other dimensions be that hard to accept?"
"Not after seeing that picture," Gunn admitted. "You, me -- or the other me -- that chick, and a vampire. You all work together hunting demons."
"And what's keeping that vampire from ripping out your throat?"
"I told you, he has a soul. He doesn't drink human blood any longer. He helps people."
"But the Angel in this universe...?"
Wesley sighed, the responsibility weighing on his shoulders. "The Angel in this universe was good. Something happened to turn him back into the monster he was." He looked up, pinning Gunn with a determined gaze. "But we can help him. We can restore his soul and bring him back again."
"There you go using that 'we' word again."
Wesley grimaced. "I'm sorry. I'm just so used to working with Charles..."
"Nah, it's okay." Gunn paused. "Must be hard, being here, seeing people you know but don't know you."
"It is rather. Very difficult actually. There's just so much to do..."
"And time enough to do it tomorrow." Both men looked up as Lorne came over. The club had long since closed, and they were the only patrons left. Lorne had discreetly stayed out their way while Wesley was telling his story to Gunn, but now he waggled an admonishing finger at Wesley. "I saw how you were walking when you came in here, my little crumbled crumpet. And those bags under your eyes?" He tsked. "Not a good look for you."
Wesley took his glasses off and blinked rapidly to ease his tired eyes. "But I've got to contact Sunnydale, and I've got to find Cordelia --"
"None of which you can do at two o'clock in the morning," Lorne pointed out patiently.
"He's right, man. You should get some sleep. You're looking a little rough around the edges."
Wesley pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes. "You don't understand. Neither one of you understand. I don't belong here. I need to get home, and I need to help Angel, and I need to find Cordelia and --"
"And you need to get some rest," Lorne said firmly. Wesley heard him sigh and then sink into the chair next to his. "Listen, Wesley, you're right. Neither one of us can understand how you feel -- well, being an empath demon I actually do -- but the fact is, you can't just keep going and going and going without taking some time to recharge your batteries. If you're not thinking straight, you could make a mistake."
Wesley dropped his hands to the table. "You're right, of course," he admitted quietly. "I can't afford to make mistakes."
The demon patted him gently on the shoulder. "And now for the good news. I think we've found Cordelia Chase."
"Really?" Wesley abruptly sat up straighter. "Where?"
Lorne handed over a piece of paper. "I don’t have a home address for you, but we found the talent agency she registered with. She gave the phone number of a photography agency where she's working as her contact number." He hesitated a moment. "I have to tell you, pumpkin, if she's working at this place...well, I hope she's just working at this place. The guy who runs it does the sort of photos that don't exactly show up in the portfolio of a wanna-be actress, if you get my drift."
"Oh." Wesley frowned a little as he took the paper with the address and carefully put it in his wallet. He hadn't really thought about the Cordelia of this place being any different from his Cordelia, and his Cordelia would never... "I'm sure it's all fine," he said carefully, "and thank you, Lorne. I couldn't have found her without your help."
"Pays to have contacts in the business." Lorne got to his feet. "And now I'm turning off the lights and going to bed, and so are you."
When Lorne left them, Gunn got to his feet, and Wesley followed. "Charles, about what I said..."
"About trying to help this vampire and forming the Help the Helpless agency like you did?" Gunn's face was unreadable. "I'll think about it." Wesley's utter disappointment must have shown on his face because Gunn sighed and his tone softened, "I really will think about it, English. I'll be in touch." He gave Wesley a nod and then turned around and left.
Wesley watched him leave the club, and then turned and went to the room Lorne had given him to use, his steps dragging with exhaustion and disappointment. Of course, anything was possible. So it was possible Gunn would put aside his lifelong hatred of vampires, come back because Wesley had done such a good job of convincing him, and agree to help restore Angel and join him in his fight; but, realistically, what were the odds?
Wesley walked up the narrow steps to the second floor where the photography agency was located and wrinkled his nose at the sour smell of the place. The business was located in a rather unsavory part of town, and the woman he'd passed coming out of the building as he was going in quite frankly looked like she'd be comfortable standing on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard late at night.
Darryl Shelby's office was located at the end of the hallway, and the words 'Shelby Photography' were printed in fading gold letters on the glass of the door. Wesley let himself in cautiously and looked around. The reception area, which consisted of an old metal desk with a large rolodex and telephone on top and a sagging sofa against one wall, was deserted. A ladies white sweater was draped over the back of the desk chair. Wesley was about to call out when he heard Cordelia's unmistakable voice from somewhere in the back.
"Darryl, I told you. I don't want this kind of picture."
"And I told you," a male voice retorted, "this was part of the deal. You needed a job, I gave you a job even though you suck as a secretary. You agreed you'd do some pictures for me."
"I didn't know you meant these kinds of pictures." Cordelia's voice was angry and strident. "And just for the record, Darryl, as a photographer, you suck. I'm outta here."
"Oh no you don't." Wesley heard a cry of surprise from Cordelia. "You owe me some pictures, and you're paying up. Then you get the hell out. You're fired."'
"You can't fire me, you dumbass. I quit. And get your hands off me."
There was a thud as if something hit a wall.
"You're not going anywhere. Now get your clothes off and get down on that blanket before I --"
Shelby whirled around at the sound of Wesley's voice, Cordelia's wrist still in his grasp. Her eyes went wide with shock. "Wesley?"
"'Unhand her?'" Shelby was a large man with a half dozen gold chains around his neck, a shirt entirely too tight for his body, and hair pulled back into a ponytail. He let his eyes travel over the length of Wesley's body and snorted. "Who the hell are you, Dudley Do-right? Get the hell outta here, pal. This isn't your business."
"I'm making it my business. Let her go. Now."
Cordelia was tugging her wrist, trying without effect to get out of Shelby's painful grip. Wesley saw her bend down to sink her teeth into his arm when the photographer suddenly pulled her after him like a rag doll as he reached for the baseball bat leaning in the corner of the office.
Bringing the bat around, Shelby growled, "And I'm going to make it my business to --" The threat died in his throat as he found himself facing the business end of a 9mm handgun.
"Oh, please," Wesley said softly, "do try."
Cordelia was flashing the kind of smile that could light up a building. "That'll teach you to mess with a Watcher." And with that, Cordelia twisted around and brought her knee up with a force that made Wesley's eyes water just watching. As Shelby dropped to his knees, moaning, she walked away triumphantly, aiming her smile at Wesley. "Wesley!" As she threw her arms around him in an enthusiastic hug, he returned the embrace with one arm, keeping an eye on the incapacitated Shelby just in case.
"Better get your things, Cordelia."
"Pfft. That won't take long. Let me grab my purse and my sweater."
As they left the room, Shelby managed to croak, "You'll never work in this town again!"
Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Please. That threat might not be so pathetic if I'd actually worked in this town." As she plucked her belongings from the desk, Wesley gave one more look behind them to make sure Shelby wasn't going to try anything, then ushered her out of the office.
He took Cordelia straight back to Caritas, grateful that riding on his motorcycle made conversation all but impossible. He didn't want to try to explain his situation while they were winding their way through traffic. The Club wasn't open to patrons yet, and when they got there he sat her down at a table and went off to have a word with Lorne. Within minutes hot food was being delivered to them, and while Wesley contented himself with tea, he watched as Cordelia dug into her food with all the enthusiasm of a person who hadn't had a proper meal in far too long. Wesley remembered the feeling of his own empty stomach when he first met Angel and Cordelia in Los Angeles and how Angel had prepared that breakfast for him. After that both he and Cordelia had always made sure he had plenty to eat. He couldn't bear the thought of this Cordelia not having enough money to buy herself a decent meal.
"So, Wesley." Cordelia stopped eating long enough to flash him a smile as she spread butter on another roll. "What are you doing in Los Angeles? Weren't you in Des Moines or something with Faith?"
"I believe it was Cleveland," he answered carefully.
Cordelia waved the roll. "Okay, I knew it was one of those Ohio-Iowa places. How do people keep those states straight? I mean, Ohio, Iowa. Who named those states anyhow? Can we say boring? And how about Utah? Yoo-taah. What's that about? Why can't all our states have pretty names like Hawaii? And don't even get me started on Massachusetts. Only people born there know how to spell that."
As she continued to point out the boring or esthetically challenged state names, Wesley felt a sharp pang of homesickness for his own Cordelia. She could be irritating and annoying and a bully at times, but she was brave and smart and sweet as well as fiercely protective of those she called family.
"So?" Wesley blinked out of his thoughts as Cordelia speared a piece of asparagus. "What are you doing in Los Angeles and how did you show up at that hellhole where I was working?"
"Ah. That's a rather complicated story."
A generous scoop of mashed potatoes made its way to her plate. "Then you'd better get started."
Cordelia ate steadily as Wesley told his story. He watched her carefully throughout, but her only reaction was to occasionally reach for more food. When he finally finished his explanation, she daintily patted her lips with a napkin and sat back in her chair. "So, you're not from around here."
"Different world altogether." He cleared his throat. "You don't seem...shocked."
She tilted her head and reminded him, "Alumni of Sunnydale High. And I've lived in L.A. for the last two years. Between the two, there's not much left to shock me." She shrugged. "Besides, Buffy sent Angel to a hell dimension, so I know they exist. It's not really that much of a surprise to find out other dimensions exist as well." She took a sip of water and frowned thoughtfully. "So, Angel's here in L.A., and he's evil again. The last time he was evil he killed a very nice lady in Sunnydale."
"I suspect he has killed a lot of people in Los Angeles since he became Angelus as well."
"And the me in your world, she came to L.A. to be a star and ended up as an office manager?"
Wesley doubted she meant that as unkind considering the position she was in herself, but he still felt he needed to defend his Cordelia. "She has done some commercials. She just hasn't gotten that big break yet. And she's much more than an office manager really." He hadn't told this Cordelia about the visions. They obviously weren't a part of this world, at least not yet, and they seemed very special and unique to his Cordelia. "She's excellent with our clients and has very good business sense. She's always coming up with new ideas on how we can expand and advertise our business. Frankly, I don't know what we'd do without her."
"Hmm," Cordelia answered noncommittally, moving the salt shaker around in a small circle. "I doubt it was the future she dreamed of when she graduated from Sunnydale High though."
"No, that's true enough," he said carefully. "But then that's true of many of us. Our lives often take turns we don't expect."
She looked up at him, a rueful smile on her face. "I guess you thought you'd be a Watcher."
"Yes," he allowed, "and in a way I am. Just not for a Slayer."
"A Watcher for a vampire? Is there such a thing?"
He gave her a little grin. "I doubt there's a job description as such, but I do think I'm better at it than being a Rogue Demon Hunter."
"How many rogue demons did you kill?" When Wesley winced and opened his mouth to explain, she rolled her eyes. "And yes, Wesley, I'm pulling your leg." Then her voice turned serious and she gave him a long look. "Now, why don't you tell me why you came looking for me?"
Wesley gave her the same basic pitch he'd given Gunn, with the exception he didn't have to explain to her who Angel was. She'd known Angel in Sunnydale, and she liked him, she said. In fact, she could have liked him a whole lot more except Buffy got there first, and after that Angel didn't know any other female in the world existed. He did stress the good Angel did, how they all worked together in his world, and how he was going to find a way to resoul Angel, and when he did, Angel was going to need a lot of support afterwards. She heard him out in silence, eating from the small plate of cheese and fruit Lorne had placed at her elbow. (To her credit she hadn't batted an eye when he'd introduced her to Lorne. She'd merely flashed that million dollar smile when he called her 'sweet-face'.)
When he finished, there was silence. When she finally spoke she said, "You're a good man, Wesley. Or a stupid one, I'm not sure. You should be finding ways back to your own world, but you're spending your time running around in this one trying to find help for Angel, a vampire who wants to kill you, by the way."
"There's no one else to help him," he said softly. "I can't leave him this way."
"Even if it gets you killed?"
"I have to try."
She shook her head as she gathered up her purse and sweater. "Thanks for the lunch, Wesley. And thanks for the Shelby thing too, I mean that. And I hope you don't get yourself killed while you're in this world."
She stood up and he followed. "Won't you even consider--?"
"Working for a vampire? Becoming an office manager for a demon-killing agency? Sure, I'll think about it, but I don't think it's my thing." She slipped on her sweater and then laid a hand on his arm. "I really do hope you get home safely, Wesley." And then she turned and walked away.
Wesley sank down into his chair and dropped his head into his hands, pressing his fingers against his temples. He'd failed. He'd failed with Gunn, and he'd failed with Cordelia. With his luck, he'd fail with Angel as well.
"Things not going well, sweetpea?"
Wesley rubbed his face and then looked up as Lorne sat down in the chair Cordelia had just vacated, drink in hand. "Not really, no."
"You had to know it wouldn't be easy."
"Yes, but I'd hoped..."
"That it would be just like your world where you're all one big happy family?"
"Well, it's not always happy," Wesley allowed, remembering Angel firing them all and walking out on them, "but yes, essentially."
Lorne took a drink and gave him a solemn look. "Maybe it's just not meant to be in this world, Wesleykins. You may have to just accept that."
"Well, I'm not accepting it just yet," he said firmly. "I still need to journey to Sunnydale to try to enlist the help of former colleagues of the Wesley of this world. Re-ensouling Angel is my priority."
"Yes, well, there are those who might question your priorities," Lorne pointed out dryly. "Most sane people might think that getting themselves back home would take precedence over trying to help a vampire who's licking his lips over the tasty morsel that is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce."
Wesley said mildly, "You really do spend too much time obsessing over that."
Lorne gave him a dark look as he raised his glass to finish off his drink. "Someone has to, my oblivious English muffin. And it apparently isn't going to be you."
It was dark when Wesley finally awoke. He blinked at his watch and saw he'd been asleep for almost five hours. Well, it wasn't as though he hadn't needed it, he thought, as he slowly got up from the bed he'd been chained to not that long ago. He'd been running on empty for a long time but hadn't wanted to give into it. Angel had made it clear that the decision was being taken out of his hands, and he'd been sent up here to get some sleep. It had been a good call, he admitted grudgingly. He'd had a thought an instant before sleep pulled him under, and this new direction might actually lead them somewhere. They certainly weren't getting anywhere with the research they'd been doing.
Downstairs he found Cordelia at her computer. She'd changed clothes during the time he'd been asleep and looked fresh and rested, making him feel grubby and rumpled.
"Feeling better?" she asked brightly.
"Yes, much," he answered honestly. "I've got an idea."
"We could use a few more of those. We're not getting anywhere, are we?"
"No, but we may if we try another tack."
"I'm all for trying another -- ah!" Cordelia grabbed her head and spasmed and would have hit the floor hard if Wesley's reflexes hadn't been so good. He caught her as she toppled off her chair and dropped to the floor, cradling her in his arms. She arched against him, clutching her head and moaning.
"Vision?" he whispered, awed by her pain. Her only response was a whimper as she reflexively grabbed his shirt sleeve, her fingers tightening in the material. He held her tight against him, automatically stroking her hair and murmuring, "Steady on. Steady on," as he'd done with Faith on those rare occasions when she'd been badly hurt and accepted comfort. He felt Cordelia's body slowly relax as the violent trembling stopped. "What was it?" he asked gently.
"Oh god. Oh god. It's going to be too late," she moaned.
"What did you see?" he repeated.
"Angel's on another call. He won't be able to get there in time."
"Cordelia," he said sternly. "What did you see?"
She let out a shuddering breath. "Big, big ugly thing. Looked like it was made of stone. And kids, high school age maybe, in an old building." Her voice wobbled, "I think they must have summoned it. It's going to kill them."
Wesley cursed viciously under his breath. Stupid amateurs. He wondered if they'd known to use a binding spell or if they'd messed it up somehow. "Where?" he demanded.
She closed her eyes, concentrating, her breath still catching when she talked. "Six nine eight-eight Westgrove. Looks like an old warehouse, abandoned maybe."
Carefully he lifted her to her feet and settled her in her chair before striding into the other Wesley's office where there was a map of the city on one wall. It took him a few moments to locate the address, which was due north and not that far away. He retrieved the bottle of pills she had left for him earlier, got a glass of water, and knelt down by her chair. "Take these," he ordered, shaking two tablets into her hand and helping her steady the glass of water. "Will you be all right?"
She took the pills and rubbed her temples. "Goes with the territory."
He touched her lightly on the shoulder. "You're a brave girl," he said quietly.
She shrugged, seemingly a little embarrassed by the praise. "Not like I have much of a choice."
"There's always a choice." He pulled the phone across the desk. "Call Angel when you're able and give him the information." As he got to his feet she grabbed his sleeve again.
"Hey, wait a minute. What are you going to do?"
"I can get there faster than he can. I'll try to keep whatever it is from killing those children until he can get there. But you'd better tell him to hurry."
Angel could hear the sounds of battle as he crashed through the doors to the warehouse even though no one was in sight. He'd gotten a frantic phone call from Cordelia telling him that Wesley had gone off by himself to save some kids from one of her Vision Monsters, and then later had gotten another call, this one a little more coherent. Wesley had identified the demon as a Rojhadi and instructed her to let him know it could only be killed by fire. Angel gripped the can of gasoline tightly as he sped through the warehouse toward the sounds of fighting. He really, really hated the ones that could only be killed by fire.
He saw the kids first. There were a half dozen of them, and they looked to be the age the Scoobies had been when he'd first met them in Sunnydale. They were huddled together in a corner, obviously terrified, and cut off from any hope of escape as the Rojhadi was between them and the door. But Wesley was between the demon and the kids, and by the looks of him, he had fought hard to stay there. There was a gash above his left eye that had bled down the side of his face, giving him a ghastly look, and the sleeve over his left arm had been shredded and was stained crimson. Even over the sour smell of the demon the scent of fresh blood filled Angel's nostrils. The Rojhadi hadn't escaped injury either; there were half a dozen crossbow bolts embedded in its thick hide, although they didn't seem to have slowed him down any. As he drew his own sword, Angel watched, horrified, as Wesley brought up a pump action shotgun and began to shoot point blank into the demon as he calmly walked toward it.
Something snapped inside Angel. It was too much like watching his Wesley walk serenely toward certain death for no other reason than he could. Except his Wesley didn't have a fucking death wish, and if he ever did, Angel would yank him out of the way of danger and keep him out of the way until he got his senses back. With a furious yell to gain the Rojhadi's attention, Angel raised his sword and attacked.
Wesley took a step back in surprise as Angel leaped in front of him, swinging his sword and making contact with the demon. His weapon wasn't going to have much more impact than Wesley's arrows did, but at least he could keep the Rojahdi distracted and busy. Angel growled over his shoulder, "The gasoline is behind you. Get it ready."
Without a word, Wesley turned away, grabbed the can of gasoline and headed for the ladder that led to a catwalk above the demon. Even while his attention was devoted to the demon that continued to slash at him with its razor-like claws, Angel was aware of where Wesley was every minute, just like he was when he, Gunn, and their Wesley were fighting demons.
Even with one hand gripping the gasoline can, Wesley nimbly climbed the ladder and was soon on the catwalk, making his way quickly to the place above the demon so he could douse him with the flammable liquid. This was going to be tricky, Angel knew, and he braced himself. As soon as Wesley let loose with the gasoline, he'd be calling the attention of the Rojhadi back to him. There was no place for Wesley to hide where he was, and if the demon went for him, he could probably rip the catwalk down and Wesley with it. The cement floor would be unforgiving if Wesley fell from that height. Angel increased the ferocity of his attack, hoping to keep the demon's anger focused on him as Wesley uncapped the can and tipped it.
The Rojhadi roared as the liquid splashed down over him, and before Angel could jump out of the way, a clawed hand swatted him aside with the force of an oncoming car, sending him slamming into the far wall. He shook his head to clear the stars in front of his eyes and picked himself up to throw himself back into the battle, but he was an instant too late. The demon spotted the source of his torment on the catwalk and managed to wrap a clumsy claw around one of the supports and give it a mighty pull, ripping the catwalk from the wall. Wesley only managed to grab onto a piece of metal at the last moment to keep himself from toppling off. The walkway was now swinging lazily within easy reach of the furious Rojhadi, with Wesley hanging by one hand. He had the choice of staying where he was and certain death at the hands of the demon or a most likely lethal fall to the cement floor below.
Desperately Angel lunged at the demon, which was making an odd guttural sound that could have been laughter as it reached for Wesley. But as he reached back to plunge his sword into the nearest part of the Rojhadi he could reach, he heard Wesley's calm voice order, "Get clear." He didn't need to see the flame; he heard the flick of the lighter as Wesley thumbed the wheel, only had time to mutter, "Oh crap," before he turned and dove behind a pallet of boxes.
There was a brief flash of light in the darkness, a loud whoosh, and then dimness and silence once again. Apparently Rojhadi demons weren't slow burning. As Angel cautiously raised his head over the boxes, he saw a large pile of ash on the floor and Wesley still hanging from the catwalk, his coat smoldering. Then he heard two things simultaneously: the sound of a piece of metal snapping and a soft, "Damn." Vampire speed was the only thing that got him there in time. He threw himself under Wesley just as the man dropped and took his weight as he plummeted to the floor. He had no breath to knock out of him, but it was still a hard hit, and Wesley wasn't breathing.
Immediately he rolled over, taking Wesley with him in his arms. First order of business was to get him out of his jacket, which was still smoking and in danger of bursting into flames. He quickly stripped it off the man and threw it aside, then gently sat him up against a wall and placed his hand flat on his chest. "You just got the breath knocked out of you, Wes," he soothed, hoping that's all it was and that he didn't crack his head on the way down or on the cement floor. "Come on. Breathe." It was terrifying to think how fragile humans were. Someone could unload an entire round of bullets into Angel's body, and while it would be painful, it wouldn't do any lasting damage. But one small bullet had nearly ended their Wesley's life. A blow to the head could do the same to this Wesley.
There was a gasp, and then Wesley's eyes flew open and he pitched forward. Angel caught him and gently forced him back again, keeping his hands on his shoulders for support. "Easy, easy. It's over. Catch your breath."
It took Wesley a few moments to gulp air back into his lungs and for his breathing to slowly return to normal. Angel patted him in the shoulder. "Stay here," he ordered and went over to usher the kids out of the warehouse while Wesley recovered. After seeing them safely outside and delivering a brief but stern lecture about playing with magic, he returned to find Wesley on his feet, supporting himself with one hand against the wall as he ruefully watched his jacket burn a short distance away.
"Do you always do that?" Angel asked, casually leaning against the wall beside Wesley.
"Do you always go into a situation like this with the intention of getting yourself killed?"
Wesley gave him a wary look, but refused to be baited. "I did what I had to do."
"There are easier ways to kill yourself if that's what you're after."
"And what makes you think that's what I'm after?"
There was no reply from Wesley for a long time. Then the man pushed himself away from the wall and turned to leave. "What a man does in his own dimension is his business, I should think."
Angel put a hand out and gently but firmly stopped his progress. "But you're in my dimension at the moment."
"And that makes me your responsibility?" Wesley asked sharply.
"Something like that. You're wearing the face of someone who means a lot to me," Angel told him evenly, "so you're just going to have to accept that if you fall, I'm going to do my best to be there to catch you before you hit the ground."
Wesley slid him a sideways look and said in a clipped tone, "I shall do my best not to fall then."
"I'd appreciate that," Angel told him honestly. Then he took the man carefully by his undamaged arm and led him from the warehouse. "Now let's get back and have Cordelia patch you up."
Wesley stiffened under his touch although he didn't try to get out of Angel's grip. "I'm quite capable to taking care of my own injuries."
"I'm sure you are," Angel said mildly, "but the point is, you don't have to." As he led the silent man out into the night, he wondered if this is what their Wesley might have become without the family unit of Angel Investigations in his life. Cordelia had frankly been wonderful for Wesley; she bullied him, she fussed over him, and she was excruciatingly honest with him; but she was also sweet, gentle and fiercely protective. Angel doubted there had ever been anyone like her in his life before. Gunn seemed an odd choice for a friend of someone of Wesley's background, but the two had become very tight; Gunn had introduced him to the world of video games and bad movies on TV and would kill anyone who tried to hurt him. As for Angel, there had never been anyone in his life quite like Wesley. It had been centuries since Angel had allowed himself to become close to any humans, but Wesley and Cordelia had literally become his family, and he'd rip heads off any beings who tried to hurt them. It was no more natural for a Watcher to be friends with a vampire than it was for a Slayer to fall in love with one, and yet Wesley was his friend and Buffy had been the love of his life.
In the beginning, Angel had definitely felt like the parental unit in the relationship with the two squabbling kids of Wesley and Cordelia. Gunn had only added one more kid to the mix. But since coming back to Angel Investigations, Angel had felt a difference. Wesley had grown up in his absence. He'd taken charge of the firm, and Cordelia and Gunn had given him their allegiance. It was as if they had been three siblings abandoned by their parent and the eldest sibling had taken over. Wesley had grown and changed in the last two years, and it had all been good. But without the affirmation of the others and without his belief in redemption and in fighting the good fight, their Wesley may have become the lonely, embittered Wesley he was now tugging toward his car, because despite the man's protests there was no way he was letting Wesley drive his motorcycle home when the gash on his head was still bleeding. And since he was both bigger and stronger, he won the argument.
"Did you have to go charging in there without Angel and get yourself all beat up?" It was impossible for Cordelia to look at the dirty, bloodied man Angel brought back to the Hyperion and not see their own Wesley, and she reacted accordingly. Retrieving the first aid kit, she nodded sharply at Angel to place Wesley in the chair so she could get started.
"Actually he did," Angel told her, looking at Wesley. "If he hadn't gotten there when he did and kept that Rojhadi occupied, those kids would have been killed."
"Oh. Well, way to go, Wes," she said brightly without missing a beat. Around here you had to be able to turn on a dime depending on the situation, and you never, ever let the guys get one up on you. "Here, tilt your head to the light." She dabbed gently at the cut on his forehead. "You know, you could use a stitch in this. And you've got dirt in it and heaven knows what else. I'm going to have to use the stingy stuff to clean it out, so no screaming like a girl. Do you even know if your tetanus shot is up to date? Because if it isn't --"
Wesley, who had been sitting with his eyes wearily closed, reached up to bat her hand away. "Faith, please don't fuss. I --" His eyes shot open in shock as his breath caught in his throat.
Cordelia stopped dabbing at his cut and bit her lip, shooting a look at Angel, who had gone completely still.
After a moment Wesley whispered hoarsely, "I'm sorry."
"Nothing to be sorry for," Cordelia said matter-of-factly and gently continued cleaning the cut. "You loved her a lot, didn't you?"
"I was her Watcher. It wasn't like that."
"So? Wesley is our friend and none of us are getting all groiny with him, but we love him." Carefully she applied gauze and tape to cover the cleaned cut. "It's okay to care about your friends and to miss them if they're gone."
Wesley took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I do miss her. I miss her a great deal."
"Yeah." She cut the sleeve of Wesley's ruined shirt, exposing the slash marks on his arm and grimaced at the torn flesh. "Those Rohady things aren't poisonous, are they?"
"No, just big and mean," Angel said quietly from where he was standing.
"Good." She began efficiently cleaning the wounds. "I'd miss Wesley too if he were gone. That's why I yell at him so much when he gets hurt, so he doesn’t see how scared I am. I'm the one who usually has to sit here at the hotel while Angel and Wesley and Gunn go out to fight the big bads, and I never know if they're all going to come back. We almost lost Wesley a couple of months ago to a zombie cop with a gun. He nearly bled to death before we could get him to a hospital. I don't know what I would have done if he'd died." She didn't realize anything was wrong until she saw Wesley gazing up at her with open compassion and Angel staring at her with a stricken look on his face. It was only when Wesley reached up and gently brushed at the tears trailing down her cheek that she realized she was crying. The next thing she knew Angel was hugging her tightly and whispering fiercely in her ear.
"We'll get him back, Cordy. I promise. I'm not going to let anything happen to him."
"But you're not there, Angel." She gave him a hard thump on the chest in her frustration. "You're here. And he's over there alone."
"We'll find a way," he said firmly.
She squared her shoulders and pulled back, looking him straight in the eye. "I know we will. Now let me get Mr. Big Brain here patched up so you two can work on that plan that I know you're going to come up with."
"Actually, I do have an idea," Wesley said quietly.
Cordelia and Angel turned to him. "Well, don't keep it to yourself." Cordelia's stern tone was in direct contradiction to her gentleness as she began wrapping his arm.
"I don't know what results we'd have, but as our research so far has been fruitless and the situation is urgent, I'd like to try a summoning spell."
"Summoning spell?" Angel looked doubtful. "You can do that? With a building, I mean? Aren't they used for demons and...you know, things that aren't buildings?"
"Generally, yes. And I'm not certain how or even if it will work. But if, as I suspect, this bookstore does travel from dimension to dimension, it theoretically should respond to a summoning spell if done correctly. Obviously we would have more chance of success if we knew what kind of being was involved. I could tailor the spell to summon that instead. But I think we have to try."
"Agreed," said Angel.
Wesley nodded. "All right. It will take some time for me to put the spell together, and I'll warn you, it will take a great deal of energy from our side."
"How much energy are you talking about?"
Wesley flexed his bandaged arm experimentally and gave Cordelia a wan smile in thanks. "If you happen to know any witches with any power, now would be a good time to place a call."
Cordelia gave Angel a look and pointed to the phone. "You know the number." Then she turned back to Wesley. "You provide the mojo and we'll provide the energy," she said crisply. "Let's get that dimension-hopping Barnes and Noble back here and get our Wesley back."
It was dusk by the time Wesley pulled into Sunnydale on his bike. He'd been forced to stop several times during the journey to ease the persistent ache in his side resulting from his rather creative interpretation of his doctor's instructions. His physician had cleared him to drive for short distances, not ride a motorcycle for hours on end, and not unsurprisingly his body was complaining loudly at its treatment. It would have been much wiser to rent a car, but he hadn't had enough cash for it and was reluctant to chance a credit card. He had no idea if the Wesley of this universe even had credit cards, and he hadn't wanted to risk any sort of delay or call attention to himself if the credit card he tried to use turned out not to exist in this dimension, so he'd taken his bike for the journey. He could have probably asked Lorne for the money, but Lorne had already done so much for a complete stranger and asking to borrow money seemed like bad form under the circumstances. But he'd forgotten how long the trip could take or how exhausting it could be to manage a motorcycle when your body wasn’t quite up to the challenge, and was beginning to regret he hadn't thrown bad form to the wind and asked for the money.
This Sunnydale looked exactly like the Sunnydale he remembered from his own dimension, and he recognized the same landmarks as he turned down the street to Giles' house. He'd had plenty of company for this trip to Sunnydale; the memories of his stint as Watcher in his own Sunnydale dogged him every mile of the way. Every time he felt a flutter in his stomach at once again facing Mr. Giles and the 'Scoobies' he had to remind himself that these weren't the people he had known and who had known him as a failed Watcher. He hoped the Wesley in this universe had been more successful in his stay in Sunnydale than he had.
He stopped his bike in front of Giles' house and took off his helmet, sighing in relief. He should have gone to a motel to get some rest before facing Mr. Giles, but he really did want to get this over with. He only hoped the Wesley of this world had a good relationship with Giles and Buffy, and that they were willing to help. Pressing a hand against his side, he walked up to the door, seeing with relief that the lights were on inside. He rapped on the door and waited, wishing he'd taken time to eat something a bit more substantial than a tuna sandwich and a cup of coffee in a little roadside diner. The longer he stayed in this dimension the more empty he felt, and he knew that wasn't due solely to his diet.
He straightened suddenly as the door opened and he found himself face to face with Giles. "Wesley?" The man adjusted his glasses and looked at him closer in the dimness. "Good lord. I didn't expect -- I mean, please come in." He stepped back out of the way and Wesley stepped inside, stopping short when he saw the young faces in the living room. The gang was all here, he noted with resignation. There went his plans for having a quiet talk with Mr. Giles. Buffy, Xander and Willow were all staring at him with expressions of surprise, but thankfully not anger or dislike, so he relaxed a little.
"Wesley!" Willow, looking much as he'd last seen her in his own world, sprang to her feet with a welcoming smile that was tinged with something else Wesley tried to identify. "We didn't know you were coming."
"Hey, Wesley, good to see you again!" Xander kept his place on the sofa but gave him a greeting of such overwhelming enthusiasm that the others all threw him what seemed to be warning looks.
Lastly, Buffy unfolded herself gracefully where she'd been sitting cross-legged on the floor, got to her feet and gave him a smile that seemed genuine, if someone subdued. "Hi, Wesley. Good to see you again."
A hand on his shoulder brought him around to find Giles indicating a chair. "Do have a seat, Wesley, and tell us what brought you back to Sunnydale. You've been out of touch for a long time."
"I have?" Wesley gave his head a shake. "I mean, I'm sorry. I'm afraid I'm not who you think I am. Or what you think I am. Or --" He broke off as he saw Xander quickly stand up and take a protective stance in front of Willow while Buffy immediately moved closer to Giles, her expression instantly alert. A look of dismay crossed Giles' face as he must have realized how foolish he'd been to invite in someone who had the face of a friend but who may no longer be that friend. Wesley sighed, rubbing his eyes behind his glasses. He was making a mess of this, as usual. "I'm not a vampire," he said tiredly. "You can check my pulse if you like, and I assure you my body temperature is the requisite ninety-eight point six."
"Or maybe just a little more," Willow said gently, moving closer. When Xander tried to stop her, she gave his hand a reassuring little pat. "I think everyone can stand down now. Wesley isn't a vampire. I don't think vampires sweat like that. But I do think he may be sick or at the very least about ready to --"
"Chair!" Giles ordered sharply from somewhere far away.
He was vaguely aware of a very strong grip on his arms that kept him on his feet when his legs didn't seem to want to do the job. Then somehow he was sitting and a hand was gently but firmly pushing his head down while Willow whispered to him to take deep, slow breaths. That sounded like such a good idea, and if he did that maybe the little dots in front of his eyes would stop dancing around and that rushing noise in his ears would cease. He was certain he'd feel much better then. He could hear a flurry of activity and whispered discussion around him, but was only aware of the comforting feel of Willow's small hand on his arm, rubbing gently. He concentrated on that, anchored himself to it, and determined not to sink down into the darkness that was starting to fade away.
Nodding at Buffy to keep an eye on the obviously unwell young man, Giles quickly went into the kitchen and prepared a cup of tea. There was something definitely 'off' about Wesley, but they would get to that in due course. In the meantime, the man was still English. Pausing only to add a generous splash of brandy -- something the children didn't need to know about -- he carried the cup and saucer back into the sitting room. Wesley was still sitting where Buffy had placed him, and Willow was still kneeling by his side, offering what comfort she could.
He stopped in front of Wesley and asked quietly, "Do you think you could drink some tea?"
Xander muttered, "The English universal cure-all," under his breath and was shushed by Willow, who was watching Wesley anxiously as if she was afraid he might still pass out.
Wesley lifted his head. He still looked a bit unwell, but he answered gratefully, "Oh yes, thank you." The cup and saucer rattled only a little until he got his hands under control, and he took a drink, glancing up at Giles in surprise at the taste. "Very refreshing," he assured Giles solemnly.
"Yes, I find there is nothing quite like a good cup of tea," Giles replied dryly and sank down onto the sofa opposite him. Now that he had a chance to study the man in the light he could see what he hadn't seen at his front door. This man looked younger than the Wesley he had known. He also wore glasses and his hair was styled a bit differently. All those things could have changed, of course, but the fact was, this man didn't exactly 'feel' like the Wesley he knew. Or had known, he corrected himself. During Wesley's stay in Summerville, a casual friendship had grown up between them, based in a mutual scholarly respect and their English heritage and Watcher training. Wesley was one of the most focused people he'd ever met, and it had been a complete surprise to him that he and Faith had worked together so well. Perhaps it shouldn't have been, given how close his own relationship was with Buffy and how genuinely fond he was of her. No one would have thought that possible when they first met either. But Faith flourished under Wesley's tutelage, and the two had quickly formed a bond that Giles suspected began as two lonely people connecting and then developed into real affection and friendship. Certainly Faith had expanded her role of protector where her Watcher was concerned, and it had been amusing -- and touching -- to see the rough-edged city girl bringing coffee and Egg McMuffins to Wesley when he'd researched through the night, and then bullying him until he agreed to get some sleep.
"Let's start at the beginning, shall we," he said when Wesley had finished his tea. "You said you're not who we think you are. And I see that you're right. I'm surprised I didn't notice immediately."
Wesley's eyes flicked over the group of people in the room who were silently waiting for his response. Buffy was standing nearby at the end of the sofa, her stance one of casual readiness; if there were any trouble, she would be ready. Xander was eyeing him warily while eating an apple, and Willow stayed by his side, her face a picture of curiosity as she offered him an encouraging smile.
"My name is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce," he began, "but I am not the one that you know."
"There are two sets of parents in the world who named their kids that?" Xander mused out loud.
"Actually, I come from another dimension."
There was the sound of Xander choking on a piece of apple, but Giles nodded his head. "I see. A parallel dimension? Where there are...?" He waved his hand to indicate all of them.
"Yes, exactly," Wesley said in relief.
"That's how you knew to come here." Willow realized, smiling. "Because there's a set of us in your world." Then her smile faded. "We're not like vampires in that other dimension, are we? Because we've seen that, and it's not pretty."
"No," Wesley assured her quickly. "You're all very much like you are here."
Giles leaned forward to regain his attention. "Wesley, how on earth did you get into this dimension?"
"And where's our Wesley?" Buffy spoke up. "The one who belongs in this world?"
"I may not be able to answer all your questions," Wesley answered, "but I'll tell you everything I know."
When he finished his story, everyone was silent until Buffy offered, "I always knew bookstores were dangerous places. That's why I never go into any."
Giles was certain that Wesley had recounted every detail as it happened. Watchers were nothing if not detail-oriented and thorough. "You're certain it was the bookstore that caused this?" he asked nevertheless.
"I don't know what else would have," Wesley answered honestly.
"So you've come to us to help you find a way back home," Xander nodded knowingly. "I suppose you tried clicking your heels together three times?" When Wesley stared at him blankly, Xander prompted, "There's no place like home?"
Giles sighed. "Yes, thank you, Xander, for that suggestion, but I suspect ruby slippers will not be involved." He sent a stern warning look his way, and Xander went back to crunching his apple. When he turned back to Wesley, his voice was kind. "We'll do everything we can, of course, to help you get back to your proper dimension, Wesley. We'll begin the research immediately. Willow and I can --"
"Actually, Mr. Giles, I've come on a different matter," Wesley interrupted hesitantly. "Although any assistance you can give me on returning home would be much appreciated. I haven't had much time to devote to that problem."
Giles blinked, then gave a little cough. "Forgive me, Wesley, but if you haven't come here to ask us to help you find a way back to your own dimension..."
"Then why are you here?" Buffy finished.
"And what have you been doing with yourself?" Xander added.
Wesley looked from Buffy to Giles. "It's Angel."
Giles sat back with a sigh. "I see." Buffy turned away and seemed to find the books in one of Giles' bookcases suddenly fascinating. "Wesley, I understand that in your world you worked with Angel to help people in need. But in this world, things didn't quite happen that way. The Wesley of this world remained a Watcher, and Angel left Sunnydale and went his own way alone. We didn't have much contact with him, and that was his choice as much as it was ours, but I understand from sources that he was working on the side of good in Los Angeles. But something -- we're not sure what -- happened."
"He's Angelus now, I know."
"Yes, I saw him."
Buffy turned around. "You saw him? Where?" she demanded.
"In Los Angeles. I went to the hotel -- the place where we have our agency in my world -- and I found him there."
Xander walked around the sofa and stared at Wesley in disbelief. "You went there, and you left with your head still attached to your shoulders?"
"Well, not by his choice, I assure you."
"Good lord, Wesley." Giles actually ran his hand through his hair in agitation and his voice was sharper than he'd intended. "What on earth possessed you to confront him on your own? Don’t you realize how dangerous he is?" Of course he had to have known. The man had been a Watcher, and Angelus' viciousness and cruelty was legendary. Wesley seemed to pull back into himself a bit, and Giles grimaced, remembering his sharp tone. Deliberately, he softened his voice again. "What happened, Wesley?"
They all listened with rapt attention as Wesley told them of his encounter with Angelus. When he finished, Giles was grinning in admiration as he cleaned his glasses. "Well done," he murmured. "A fine display of making use of what weapons you had at your disposal."
"Desperation being the mother of invention," Wesley said dryly.
"Be that as it may, it worked." Giles noticed Wesley sitting up a little straighter in his chair and his shoulders losing a bit of their rigidity and wondered if it was the result of his praise. Good lord, he reminded himself he didn't know this man at all, didn't know what he might have gone through in the past, what had shaped him, wounded him, scarred him in his own world. This Wesley looked no older than Xander, and Xander was a child. He certainly wasn't the self-contained, taciturn, yet scarily efficient Wesley Wyndam-Pryce who had shown up in Sunnydale to assume his position as Faith's Watcher. It occurred to him that he hadn't really gotten to know that Wesley at all until he had become a bit more outgoing, due entirely to Faith's influence. This Wesley was far more open and enthusiastic -- and young -- than the other Wesley. He would do well to bear that in mind.
"Mr. Giles." Giles blinked at the sound of his name. Wesley was gazing at him with a painfully earnest look on his face. "I've come to ask your help to re-ensoul Angel."
That quiet announcement was met by thunderous silence.
Wesley looked around at them, confusion on his face. He probably didn't understand why he hadn't been met with immediate offers of assistance. "I have nowhere else to turn," he added, perhaps thinking they hadn't heard him properly and giving them another chance.
Giles stood and retrieved Wesley's empty cup, then walked into the kitchen where he poured two cups of tea, adding brandy to his this time. He had a feeling he was going to need it. On the way back to the sofa he gave Wesley his cup, and Wesley accepted it with a polite nod and a puzzled look. Giles was aware of his anxious gaze on him as he walked back to the sofa and took a drink of his tea before speaking. "I think I should tell you a little of what has happened in this world, Wesley." Conscious of Buffy standing nearby, knowing she would be forced to listen to this again, he told Wesley the story of Faith and Angelus. When he was finished, Wesley looked sick again and Willow was casting worried looks Giles' way.
"Poor Faith." Wesley's voice was low and a little hoarse, and the cup and saucer in his hands rattled ominously until Willow quickly took it from him. "And Angel. Oh good lord."
Not to mention the poor Watcher who had been forced to give his Slayer peace, Giles thought. "We lost contact with our Wesley after that," he said slowly. "It was through the Council that we heard what happened in New Orleans. We weren't even aware Angel -- Angelus -- was back in Los Angeles."
"But now you know," Wesley said eagerly, sitting forward. "And I know where he is. We can save him!"
"We?" Buffy whirled around angrily. "You don't even belong in this dimension."
"Buffy," Giles chided gently.
"No." Buffy stalked in front of Wesley, hands bunched into fits, jammed into her hips. "You come into our dimension and tell us what we should do? Do you think we didn't want to help Angel? Do you think we just sat back here in Sunnydale and thought, oh gee, Angel's lost his soul again, same old same old, and shrugged? We wanted to help him. But he disappeared, and we have responsibilities here in Sunnydale." Her voice momentarily cracked, but she lifted her chin and continued, "And no one could afford to take off months to try to track him down so we could give him his soul back. How dare you come here and lecture us --"
"Buffy." This time Giles was firm, and Buffy bit off what she was about to say.
"I'm not lecturing you, Buffy," Wesley said quietly. He gazed up at her, his eyes pleading with her to believe him. "I came into this dimension by accident. When I saw what had happened to Angel..." He sighed, rubbing his forehead. "The Angel in my dimension is very important to me, and I knew I couldn't leave this Angel like that. I had to try to help him. I'm not here to condemn you. I'm just here to ask for your help."
Giles took his glasses off to polish the lenses for no other reason than to blur Wesley's image for a few moments so he didn't have to see those earnest, anxious eyes. "Well, I suppose if no one else is going to say it, I must. Wesley, you said it yourself. You came into this dimension by accident." Steeling himself, he put his glasses back on, bringing Wesley once again into sharp focus. "Who's to say what you've been doing up to this point --"
"Which is everything but trying to get yourself home," Xander broke in helpfully.
"--hasn't been a disruption to this dimension," Giles finished, ignoring Xander.
"I'm not sure I -- what do you mean?"
"I think he means that it's possible you may be changing some things that maybe aren't supposed to be changed," Willow told him gently. "Or maybe you already have. Like what you did with Cordelia."
Wesley protested, "But Cordelia was working for someone who wanted to take lewd photographs of her. She shouldn't have been working there."
"Don't say a word, Xander," Giles ordered sharply as Xander opened his mouth. "The point is," Giles told Wesley in a kinder tone, "we don't know that. You don't know that. So far, you've taken Cordelia away from a position she held, offered a job that isn't yours to offer to both her and this Charles Gunn, and now you're proposing to re-ensoul Angel, something that quite frankly wasn't on the agenda due to many reasons." He fought the urge to take off his glasses again. "Don’t you see, Wesley? You're changing things in this world that perhaps weren't supposed to be changed."
Wesley carefully adjusted his own glasses, then straightened his spine before looking at Giles again. "I don't accept that," he said resolutely.
"You don't have to accept it in order for it to be a very real possibility." Giles was doing his best to keep his tone patient, yet firm, mindful of the seemingly fragile state of the man across from him. He quickly re-evaluated the idea of fragility when an unexpected steely blue gaze pinned him to his chair.
"It is possible I am in this dimension due to an accident or mistake," Wesley admitted. "But I believe it is equally possible I am here for a reason, and that reason is Angel. Perhaps I was somehow sent here to facilitate Angel getting his soul back and uniting him with Cordelia and Gunn. You cannot discount that possibility."
Xander cleared his throat. "You know, Wesley, that sounds just a little arrogant. No, actually, it sounds a lot arrogant. Nothing personal, but I mean, just because that works in your world, doesn’t mean it's supposed to work in this one. What makes you think your world is better than ours?"
"I don't think my world is better. But I do think my world is better off with Angel having a soul than as Angelus. There are many people in my dimension who are alive today thanks to him, and thanks to Angel Investigations."
Giles shook his head. "But Wesley, in order for you to be 'sent', there would have to be some power that arranged this. Surely you don't think...what power...?"
'The powers that be," Wesley said suddenly, his eyes widening. "I hadn't considered it before, but I suppose it's possible."
"Powers that be?" Giles repeated, trying to regain his attention.
Wesley smiled faintly. "I won't go into the whole story, but in my dimension, Cordelia receives visions from a higher power." It sounded as if Xander had choked on his apple again. "Those visions show people in trouble. We help them," he said simply. "Perhaps those same powers sent me here, and perhaps my...mission, if you will, is exactly what I said, bringing Angel, Cordelia and Gunn together."
"Or maybe you just fell down a rabbit hole and ended up here," Xander offered, his voice a little husky from coughing.
Willow spoke up for the first time, her expression thoughtful. "What about our Wesley? Where is he? What do you think his part is in all this?"
"I honestly don't know," he told her, grateful for the seeming support she was showing. "I think he's in my dimension. I think we changed places at exactly the same instant."
She nodded, as if that made sense. "Then there must be a reason for that too," she said.
"Presuming there's a reason for any of this," Giles said a little irritably. "Which I'm still not convinced there is, other than a rather large trans-dimensional accident."
"Rabbit hole," Xander nodded wisely.
Wesley gave Giles a long, regretful look, then said quietly, "I'm sorry, Mr. Giles."
Before Giles could ask what he was sorry for, Wesley turned away from him to face Willow, who was still kneeling by his side in case he should topple over. "Willow, in this world, did you do a spell to re-ensoul Angel?"
Her face lit up with a smile. "First spell I ever learned."
"Would you do it again?"
Now he knew why Wesley had apologized. "Now see here," he said sharply. "You have no right to ask Willow --"
"Of course he does, Giles," Willow said calmly, and she touched Wesley gently on the arm. "And I'll do it." Turning, she gave Giles an earnest look. "And he's right. This world would be a better place if Angel had his soul. You know he was helping people before, and he can again. And I think Cordelia is better off not working for a slimy photographer who wants to take not-nice pictures of her, and if this Charles Gunn can still fight demons but get paid for it and have someone like Angel fighting beside him, that sounds pretty good too. So far, I'm only seeing win-win here. I can't see where Wesley has made anything worse, and it sounds like he can make things a lot better." She looked back at Wesley, her face serene. "I think we have to go with our guts, and my gut tells me to help him."
"It could be dangerous, Will." Xander dropped down beside her, all levity vanished. "This is Angelus we're talking about." He lowered his voice to a near whisper, probably hoping Giles couldn’t hear him, but given that Giles was only a few feet away there was little chance of that. "You know what he's capable of."
Jenny. Poor sweet Jenny. Her neck broken and her body laid out on his bed to welcome him home, courtesy of Angelus.
"I'm the only one who has any chance against him, and I can't be there with you," Buffy said in a strained voice. "I can't leave here. If the word got out the Slayer left town --"
"Of course you can't," Willow said immediately, her voice reassuring. "I know that." To Wesley she explained in a low voice, "Lots of bad stuff going on in Sunnydale right now, very bad. If Buffy left, well, I'd say all hell would break loose, but that would probably be the good news."
Wesley looked up at Buffy's anguished face. "I promise I won't let anything happen to her," he said solemnly. "I'll keep her safe."
Xander gave him a look that was anything but friendly. "You'd better, Watcher-boy, or you'd better find yourself a real rabbit hole to hide in because I'll find you no matter what dimension you're in."
Wesley looked into Xander's grim face and nodded. "Acceptable terms."
Xander looked a little taken back, but recovered quickly. "Just so we understand each other."
Wesley said softly, "Thank you, Willow."
She patted him on the arm again. "Leave everything to me. I'll get what we need for the spell."
"And I'll get out of your way." Wesley pushed himself to his feet and stood there looking like a stiff breeze could have him over. "Shall I pick you up tomorrow morning? I passed the motel at the end of town, and I saw there were vacancies. If you need me you can reach me there."
"Oh don't be ridiculous," Giles said irritably, giving into the inevitable as he got to his feet. "You're staying here, of course." He couldn't in all good conscience allow this boy in his condition to go out on the dark streets of Sunnydale where he'd be prey to any vampire looking for an evening meal. "I have a guest room you can use, and Xander will order in some hot food. Chinese, Xander," he added firmly. "Willow can work on the ensouling spell, and I'll begin researching how we can get you back home afterwards. I'm assuming you have no real access to reference materials in this world."
Wesley was gazing at him as if struck dumb, then Giles saw him blink quickly to hide the sudden moisture in his eyes. It was as if this kindness had been completely unexpected and a little overwhelming. He flicked a gaze at Buffy and saw her looking at Wesley, her face soft with compassion. Strays, he thought with resignation. What was it with females and strays? The way Wesley was practically trembling with exhaustion and standing in such a way to compensate for some sort of injury or discomfort was pretty much guaranteed to trigger such a response. Giles sighed inwardly. He suspected his protective response was triggered as well, although he preferred to think that he was simply being practical and aiding a fellow Watcher.
"Thank you, Mr. Giles." Wesley sounded a little breathless. "I don't know what to say --"
"Well, for starters, you can call him 'Giles'," Buffy said. "When you call him Mr. Giles I start looking around for his father. So come on, Alternate Dimension Watcher-guy." Buffy took him by the arm and lent him discreet support as she steered him toward the stairs. "I'll show you the guest room and you can get some rest until dinner gets here." Too stunned to object, Wesley allowed himself to be propelled along. As they climbed the stairs, Giles could hear Buffy's soft voice, "Thank you for what you're doing for Angel. Maybe you really were sent here after all."
"Will you stop staring at him?" Cordelia hissed.
Gunn pulled his gaze away from the glass to Wesley's office and shook his head. "I can't help it. And don't tell me you didn't stare. I've only been back an hour; you've had a couple of days with him to get used to it. Man, he looks like Wesley, he talks like Wesley, but he is not Wesley."
"Actually, he is Wesley. He's just a different version, and will you stop staring."
Angel tuned out their bickering as he stared through the glass himself. Cordelia had come up with one of Wesley's sweaters he kept at the hotel to replace his ruined shirt, and he could understand Gunn's disturbance; it was very disconcerting to see this version of Wesley wearing a sweater they were so used to seeing on their Wesley. Wesley seemed unaware of their strange fixation on his appearance. He had thrown himself into his research once again, working on a spell that he hoped would bring the bookstore where all this started back to this dimension. He'd recalled Gunn from his surveillance and placed a call to Sunnydale. The conversation with Buffy had been a bit awkward, but Giles had thankfully gotten on the phone to hear the facts, and they had agreed to come to Los Angeles to add their strength to the summoning spell Wesley hoped to use. He suspected it was Giles and Willow who were eager to come after hearing about the trans-dimensional bookstore, and Buffy was coming along to protect them from what could result. He didn't care why any of them were coming as long as they came. He doubted they could pull this spell off without the extra boost they would provide, and every minute they lost was another minute Wesley was trapped in that other dimension with Angelus.
"Hold the presses, ladies and gentlemen! We have a winner!"
Angel, Cordelia and Gunn jumped to their feet as Lorne made his grand entrance, resplendent in a lamé suit of lime green with a lavender shirt and shocking red handkerchief in the pocket.
"You've got something?" Angel demanded. He was aware of Wesley immediately coming out of his office and joining the group facing Lorne.
Lorne leveled an index finger at Angel. "You owe Merl a very large drink, Angelcakes."
"Merl came through?" Cordelia slapped Angel lightly on the arm. "Then you pay him. Wesley always pays him."
"It was a joint effort," Lorne told them. "It turns out this isn't the kind of information you can just pick up in a bar. It's the kind of information you have to track down, pay for, and use secret passwords in back alleys to get. One of my contacts came up with part of it, and Merl came up with a name."
Angel demanded, "And?"
Lorne looked at each of them and let his gaze rest on Wesley. "Ever heard of an Ermhai?"
"No, what are --?"
"Good lord," Wesley breathed. "Are you certain?"
"As certain as anyone can be where an Ermhai is concerned," Lorne told him grimly. "They don't exactly advertise in the local pennysaver."
"Well, I never heard of them," Angel repeated impatiently. "Who are they, how do we find them, and how do we kill them?"
"The Ermhai," Wesley said slowly, a slight frown on his face as if he were searching his mind for salient facts, "is older than the vampire. They were here when the Old Ones walked the Earth. They generally shunned humanity -- and other demons -- but occasionally they would make themselves known to man for reasons of their own. It's been said that the folklore of leprechauns resulted from the sighting of an Ermhai."
"Leprechauns? You mean the little green guys with pots of gold at the end of a rainbow?" Cordelia beamed. "That doesn’t sound so bad."
"It's also been theorized that it was an Ermhai that was the basis for the creature Grendel in the Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf. And for the renderings of the Norse god Odin we've seen in manuscripts. And that Ravana, a demon king in Hindu mythology, was actually an Ermhai."
"Wait a minute, wait a minute." Gunn held up a hand to stop him. "You've gone from Leprechauns to demon kings? So which is it?"
"Both," Wesley replied. "All."
"It's a shapeshifter?" Angel asked, dismayed. He hated shapeshifters. It gave them such an unfair advantage during a fight.
But Wesley shook his head, still frowning thoughtfully. "It's old magic, very powerful. No one knows what an Ermhai actually looks like because all we ever see is the illusion, what the Ermhai wishes us to see. It's possible they appeared at times as benevolent beings which in turn inspired stories of helpful sprites, fairies or gods in various cultures. At other times they may have appeared as monsters or demons." He paused. "Some believe Merlyn was an Ermhai."
Cordelia looked defeated. "So we don't know if this is a good guy or a bad guy?"
Lorne answered, "All we know for sure, sugarplum, is that this guy has a lot of magic, a lot of very old, very powerful magic. And that his name is Aldoryne."
"At least it gives me a name to use," Wesley said, pinching the bridge of his nose. "But summoning him is one thing; dealing with him after he arrives is another matter altogether. We are going to need a lot of power on our side to pull this off."
"Will a Slayer, a Watcher and a witch help?"
The whole group turned as one at the sound of Buffy's voice. She was standing just inside the doorway flanked by Willow and Giles. Seeing her again sent that same old pang straight to Angel's non-beating heart, and from the expression on her face as she locked gazes with him, Buffy was feeling it too. But before he could thank them for coming, he saw Willow lean over to Buffy and whisper. Only vampire hearing could have picked it up at that distance, so thankfully, Wesley was spared.
"Buffy, look at Wesley! That is Wesley, isn't it?"
"Oh my my. Daddy, can I have one of those for Christmas?"
"He looks all -- all --"
"All growed up? Yes, he certainly does. Very nicely too. I wonder if --"
Giles put an end to the discussion of Wesley's charms by stepping behind them and firmly pushing them ahead.
There followed several minutes of introductions, hand-shaking and explanations as the Sunnydale crew was introduced into the group and brought up to speed about the Ermhai, but when the dust settled Angel saw without surprise that the three newcomers were gathered curiously around Wesley, who was looking a little like a rabbit cornered by a trio of foxes.
"Did I remember to mention," Angel said loudly, "that our Wesley is trapped in another dimension with Angelus for company?"
The Sunnydale group fell silent and three pairs of eyes guiltily flicked in his direction. It was Giles who spoke first. "Would you like some help with the spell, Wesley? Willow and I are at your service."
Wesley shot him a grateful look. "Yes, please. I'd just about finished, but now that we have a name to use, I'm going to have to adjust it. I would really appreciate having you both review it to make sure I haven't missed anything. It's a very complicated spell, and if it goes wrong --"
Giles took him gently by the arm and steered him toward his office. "We'll just have to make sure nothing goes wrong."
"Don't worry, Wesley," Willow told him, "you've got two extra pairs of eyes now. And two extra pairs of shoulders."
That seemed to be exactly the right thing to say because Wesley looked down at her with a smile. "You are just like the Willow in my own world."
As they disappeared into the office, Angel said with feeling, "Thank god. I'm afraid we weren't much help to him."
"I'm usually not much good to Giles when he's in research mode either," Buffy shrugged. "We've got other strengths."
Nodding, he said to her, "Thanks for coming."
"You made a good case for it. Besides, I couldn't keep Giles and Willow away once they heard about another dimension and another Wesley." She spent a few moments letting her gaze travel around the hotel lobby, "So, this Ermhai. Giles didn't look too happy when you told him about that. We must be talking some serious mojo here." She looked back at him. "Think we can handle it?"
Cordelia stepped up beside her. "We've got a vampire, a Slayer, a witch, two Watchers, an empathy demon, Vision Girl, and a very determined guy with a big axe." Resolution sparked in her eyes. "To get Wesley back, we can handle anything."
"Damn straight," Gun said decisively.
"Sing it, sister," Lorne added.
Buffy looked around at them, surprise plain on her face. But as she opened her mouth to comment, Angel took her elbow and steered her away. "Why don't we get some air while they finish up that spell?"
Standing on one of the hotel's shaded balconies, Buffy leaned back against the railing and looked up at Angel. "Was that really Cordelia down there, or was she from another dimension too?"
"Cordelia has changed," he shrugged.
"That and...other things."
"Are she and Wesley like doing it? Because they so had the hots for one another in Sunnydale."
Angel folded his arms and looked down his nose at her. "Wesley and Cordelia are not doing it. They're like..." He searched his mind and came up with, "Like you and Xander."
She made a face like she didn't quite believe him, then turned and rested her arms on the railing, looking out over the courtyard. "Last time I saw Wesley, he was looking pretty beat up from what Faith did to him. I didn't...have much time for him. There was Faith...and you, and..." She shrugged. "Kind of wish I'd been a little nicer to him."
"He survived," Angel said dryly, and joined her gazing out over the courtyard. "He's been through a lot since then. I kind of left for a little while." He ignored her sharp look. "And Wesley took over the agency, did a damn good job of running it too. Then a couple of months ago, he was shot."
"Zombie cop," he explained. "He almost died. But he came through, and he kept on running the agency from his wheelchair. Hell, he even fought demons from that chair. He's back on his feet, but he's still not a hundred percent. When I think of him in that other dimension, with Angelus --"
"Hey." Buffy turned to face him. "One thing about Wesley – he's a hundred percent smart. He's Watcher-smart. He'll find a way to survive over there until you get him back. And you will get him back."
They turned to find Cordelia in the doorway, wearing her 'I'm Cordelia, hear me roar' expression. "It's showtime."
With the assistance of the green demon, Giles carefully measured out the proper amount of precisely mixed herbs into the small bowls to be placed in front of each participant of the circle. Alongside each bowl was a small vial of very expensive Jansui oil. He was going to have to ask Cordelia who their supplier was as it was getting more and more difficult to find. His responsibility was to get this circle ready while Willow and Wesley prepared the binding spell for the Ermhai. To be perfectly honest, none of them knew if an Ermhai could even be bound, but they were using the strongest spell they could find. The young man, Gunn, was methodically choosing weapons from the weapons cabinet and placing them around the outside of the circle so everyone would have one within easy reach, and Cordelia was lighting the candles that would be in front of each participant. At Wesley's signal during the spell, everyone would add the oil to the herbs and hold their bowl over the candles to warm the mixture.
Giles glanced over his shoulder at where Willow and Wesley were conferring, heads together. It was strange to see this Wesley, which he viewed as an older, more hardened version of the Wesley he knew. He remembered Wesley as being insufferably stuffy, but knew much of that was the result of the Watchers Academy and Wesley's youth and inexperience. One of the problems had been to get him to stop talking long enough to listen. This Wesley was much more reserved and laconic. But he had been cordial and polite to him and kind and gentle with Willow, which had gone a long way toward ingratiating him to Giles. There had been much discussion over who was going to cast the summoning spell. Giles left that decision to the two of them. He knew Willow was capable of sensing power in others, and she seemed content with Wesley's initial plan to do the spell himself. After more discussion, however, it was decided she would do it. She reminded Wesley that the spell would leave the spellcaster 'needing a recharge' afterwards, and she thought everyone might be happier if Wesley was 'fully charged' when the Ermhai arrived in case he was needed for defense. From what Giles had read of the Ermhai, he didn't think it was going to be a matter of 'if' Wesley would be needed for defense.
Finally the circle was prepared and everyone was standing around, looking expectantly at Willow and Wesley. They were the ones running this show, and the rest of the participants deferred to them. Willow looked serene and confident, while Wesley looked grimly determined. He was the one who addressed the group.
"I don't know if this Ermhai is the one who was in the bookstore when I went there. If he was, at the time he was showing human form and wasn't malevolent. We cannot count on that holding true, however. If we manage to bring him here I very much doubt he will appreciate being summoned, so everyone must be prepared. You must remember at all times that whatever you see will be glamour, an illusion by the Ermhai. We will only see what he wants us to see, so while he may appear weak or relatively harmless, that will not be the case. Willow will be particularly vulnerable as she will be doing the spell and it will leave her weakened and possibly disoriented. Buffy --"
"I'll cover Willow," Buffy said crisply, moving to stand beside Willow.
Wesley nodded. "Willow has performed a protection spell for me. I'll be the one to try to communicate with Aldoryne."
"Wait a minute." Angel took a step forward. "Why you? And will the protection spell work?"
"Me, because I was the one at the bookstore and I'm the injured party seeking retribution. As to the protection spell, I don't know."
Angel casually tested the heavy broadsword he held in his hands. "You know, Wes, that doesn’t sound like a particularly good plan."
"And this coming from the King of Bad Plans," Cordelia said emphatically.
"Be that as it may, it's the plan we're going with," Wesley told him, his tone leaving no room for argument. "We only fight if we're forced to. We want answers and redress, not a battle. Now." He looked around at the gathering. "Is everyone ready?"
Giles admired the way Wesley kept control of the situation, directing everyone according to the plan he had settled on. He saw in him the Watcher Angel had told him about, the one who had worked with the other dimension's Faith. He felt a rush of compassion for the man who had lost his Slayer in such a way. In the time they had worked together since he arrived here, he'd already recognized something damaged inside this man, and he wondered how much of that had been caused by the death of his Slayer. He'd often regretted he hadn't had more patience with their Wesley when he was in Sunnydale. He didn't know if the outcome would have been any different, but he often wished he'd tried harder to mentor the young Watcher back then. From what he'd learned since he arrived here, the Wesley of this dimension was past needing mentoring from him. But perhaps there was something he could do for this Watcher.
"Right. Everyone take your places and let's get started."
Willow had never ridden on the back of a motorcycle before, but by the time they got out of Sunnydale and onto the highway she decided she loved it. Her hair was tucked up under a pink helmet, and the feel of the warm air brushing her face as they sped down the highway with nothing between them and everything else was simply exhilarating. No windows, no doors, no encircling metal; they were simply surrounded by the world. Wesley had given her instructions before they pulled out, making sure she knew how to hold on and what to expect, but one thing she had learned on her own was that she had to be very careful how she held onto him. When they first started out she'd slipped her arms around him and had probably tightened them a little too much, and she'd felt him flinch and stiffen. She quickly adjusted her arms and felt him relax, and she made a mental note to avoid that area again.
Another thing she had learned on her own was that this man would push himself to exhaustion and beyond unless someone took him in hand. Knowing he wouldn't stop on his own accord, she carefully timed out requests to relieve herself or stretch her legs or get something to eat, and Wesley would immediately find someplace to stop, ever solicitous to her comfort. She would have felt a little guilty about that if not for the fact it was for his own good. She was sure there was a cosmic waiver for little white lies when you were doing them to save someone from dropping over with fatigue. He probably would have skipped lunch altogether if she hadn't mentioned she was getting hungry. Once she had him inside the diner he was pretty much at her mercy, and she ordered a luncheon of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, a salad and a piece of cherry pie; then when it arrived she said she could never eat all that -- what had she been thinking? -- and asked to switch for his lunch of a toasted cheese sandwich with potato chips on the side. At that point Wesley did give her a somewhat suspicious look, but he was far too much the gentleman to call her on it, and he ended up with the fried chicken and Willow ended up with a very good toasted cheese sandwich and feeling pretty happy about the way it all turned out.
It was late by the time they arrived in Los Angeles, and Willow could tell Wesley was tired from the way his muscles were tensed and knotted to hold himself upright and control the motorcycle. She was as relieved as he was when he finally stopped and turned off the motor. When they both had their helmets off he told her, "This is Caritas."
She was really looking forward to meeting Lorne. It must be amazing to be able to sense the auras of people around you and help them find their paths. She wondered what he could tell her about her path and had been choosing and discarding possible songs all the way to Los Angeles, although she knew she'd never have the nerve to sing in front of an audience. Maybe Lorne would let her hum a few bars of something easy, like Jingle Bells, in private. She let Wesley guide her into the club, then stopped short, staring around in wonder. It could have been any club filled with music, colored lights and cigarette smoke, but the majority of patrons here were demons of every type imaginable, all drinking amiably and having a good time. How cool was this?
"Well, well, star light, star bright, look who has graced my club tonight."
Willow turned and found herself staring into the very green face of a demon she could only assume was The Host. His red eyes were a little disconcerting at first, but she could see they were kind eyes, and he was smiling at her in a way that immediately put her at ease. He was dressed in an outrageous -- but very stylish to her way of thinking -- bright yellow suit with a blue striped shirt and red kerchief around his neck, and he was carrying a drink like it was an extension of his hand.
"Wesley, is this the little bewitcher you told me about? You didn't tell me she was such a beauty."
Wesley laid a hand lightly on Willow's shoulder. "Lorne, this is Willow. Willow, this is Lorne, The Host here."
Willow could feel her face heating up under Lorne's frankly appraising gaze. "I'll bet you tell that to all the witches," she mumbled, automatically putting a hand up to smooth her hair.
"Actually, I don't, and while you are a cutie-pie to the nth degree and have a face anyone would fall in love with, I was talking about your aura." He looked down at her, his eyes gentle. "That's what I see first, and quite frankly sweetpea, yours is a thing of beauty. Welcome to Caritas."
"Wow. I mean, thank you." She looked around at the crowded room. "This is quite the place you've got here."
"I call it home. And you can call it home while you're here as well, sweet face." He gave her a little pat on the shoulder, then turned to Wesley. "So it went well in Sunnydale, I take it?"
"Yes." Wesley smiled at Willow. "They were most gracious. Willow is going to do the spell to re-ensoul Angel, and Giles is going to research how to get me back home."
"Sounds like a very productive trip then." Lorne gave him a meaningful look. "Things have been happening here as well. I've got a surprise for you, cupcake."
Wesley looked instantly wary. This was a man who didn't trust surprises, Willow thought. "What kind of a surprise?"
Lorne took him by the elbow and gently turned him around, indicating a table across the room. Willow strained to see what he was pointing at, and her eyes widened as she recognized Cordelia, who was talking to a handsome black man, her hands flapping as she was obviously making some point.
Wesley appeared stunned. "Good lord," he whispered. "They came back?"
"They certainly did, sugarplum. A couple of hours ago, and not together either. They walked through that door within an hour of each other. I heard a little Madonna and a little hip hop --"
"They sang for you?"
"They wanted to make sure they were making the right decision."
"And?" Wesley pressed.
Lorne nodded toward Cordelia and the man Willow presumed was Charles Gunn. "I don't read and tell, but they're still here, aren't they?"
Willow again saw that expression on Wesley's face she saw when Giles told him he was staying at his house instead of a motel and that they would help him find a way home. It was as if he never expected a kindness for himself. She moved closer to him and offered, "This is a good thing, right?"
She was answered with a genuine smile. "This is a very good thing, Willow. Come on, let me introduce you."
It was good to see that smile on Wesley's face, and Willow was smiling too when they approached Cordelia and Gunn, even though the only reason she was happy to see Cordelia again was because Wesley was. If Wesley thought it was necessary Cordelia be here, then she was going to paste a smile on her face and pretend the Cordelia she knew from high school hadn't been the she-bitch from hell.
"Cordelia. Gunn." Wesley sounded calm, but his face was split into a smile as he held out a chair for Willow. She sank into it and flashed a small smile at Cordelia who, to her surprise, returned it. "This is Willow Rosenberg. Willow, you know Cordelia of course, and this is Charles Gunn."
"Willow." Cordelia tilted her head, studying her. "You cut your hair."
Her hand immediately went to her hair, which was still mussed from the motorcycle helmet. "Yes. I did."
"It looks nice."
"Thank you," she answered, surprised at the compliment. Her eyes widened as she took in Cordelia's appearance. "You cut your hair too." Cordelia always had the most gorgeous long, dark hair, the envy of just about every female at Sunnydale High, including Willow. It was shoulder length now, and sleek. It was very different, but it looked good on her. "It looks really good."
"You think so?" Cordelia made a face as she touched her hair. "I wasn't sure."
"No, no, it really looks nice."
Someone cleared their throat, and Willow and Cordelia remembered the men at the table. Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Okay, okay, we got the girlie stuff out of the way. It was necessary."
Willow nodded agreement. "It's a ritual. Had to be done."
Wesley was looking at Gunn and Cordelia as if they were the Christmas present he'd always wanted but never thought he would get. "I wasn't sure I would ever see you two again."
"Yeah, well, you talk a good game, English," Gunn said gruffly.
"I didn't have any plans for tonight," Cordelia said breezily. "My auditions were over for the day and..." She trailed off and looked away for a moment. "Who am I kidding?" When she turned back, she straightened her shoulders and looked Wesley in the eye. "I don't have any auditions. My job with that sleazebag Shelby was the best job I've had since I've been in this town. I live in a furnished dump with triple locks on the doors and drug dealers for neighbors. Tonight I was going through the want ads looking for another job, and when I looked up there was a rat the size of a Pekinese on my kitchen counter, just looking at me. It wasn't even scared."
Willow noticed Wesley's hand now rested on Cordelia's, squeezing gently.
"The point is, this isn't how I thought my life would turn out, and it isn't how I want my life to be. You got me out of a bad situation, and you offered me a chance to maybe change my life. It's a chance for me to help other people and help myself in the process." She gave Lorne a look from under her lashes. "Some people think this could be a good thing. Like I've reached a crossroads in my life and I've been given a chance to make a decision to keep on like I am, or do something that could help people and make my life into something better." She shrugged, but it wasn't as casual as she would have liked them to believe. "So here I am."
"I'm very glad you're here, Cordelia," Wesley told her, and gave her hand another gentle squeeze before looking at Gunn expectantly.
Gunn shifted in his chair without meeting Wesley's gaze. "Hey, I just want to kill vamps." When Lorne pointedly cleared his throat, Gunn grimaced. "And maybe I'm here because I thought over what you said and it sounded like I could do more good working with someone with as much experience killing vampires as this Angel you told me about. Or at least I could give it a try." He added quickly, "But no promises."
"Of course not," Wesley agreed, but he was smiling broadly.
"There is the small problem that our would-be boss will eat us," Cordelia reminded them.
"That's why Willow is here," Wesley told them. "She's going to do the spell that will restore Angel's soul."
"Like you did in Sunnydale," Cordelia remembered.
Willow said solemnly, "That's the plan."
Gunn was looking at Willow with open curiosity. "So you're a witch?"
"Yep, that's me. Just no Glinda jokes please."
"Was thinking more along the lines of Sabrina."
"Even worse," Willow told him sternly. "And please don't ask me to twitch my nose."
"No one is going to ask you to do that, Willow," Wesley assured her, throwing a warning look Gunn's way.
Ice cubes clinked in Lorne's glass as he took a drink. "So when do we turn the Dark Prince back into the Dark Avenger?"
Wesley looked at Willow. "The sooner the better. Unless you're too tired." He turned his attention to the others, "The spell is very complex and very powerful. It will take a lot out of Willow."
"No time like the present," she said brightly. There really was no question that the sooner they turned Angelus back into Angel the better for everyone.
"Do you have everything you need, sweetcakes?" Lorne asked.
She patted the satchel she'd packed so carefully in the bike's saddlebags. "Got my Orb of Thesulah, beeswax candles, sacred herbs, holy water, incense, and the spell itself. All I need is a quiet room and some time to put everything together. I wanted to wait until I got here to mix the ingredients because I didn't want any mishaps along the way."
"Does this spell use like eye of newt?" Gunn asked, and looked more interested than grossed out by the idea.
"Not this particular spell. There are some that do, of course, but we at Sunnydale only use dried eyes from newts that have died a natural death. So no newts are ever injured in the making of our spells."
"Good to know," Cordelia said, looking more grossed out than interested.
"I've got a room all ready for you," Lorne told Willow, taking her by the elbow.
"Wait a minute." Gunn held up a hand to stop her as she began to get out of her chair. "You're going to do the spell from here? Don't you have to be --I don't know -- with Angel when you do it?"
Willow shook her head. "I don't have to be anywhere near him. Well, actually, I wouldn't have wanted to try to do the spell from Sunnydale because that's obviously pushing it. But I think I can safely do it from here as long as he's in Los Angeles." She looked at Wesley. "We do know he's still in Los Angeles, right?"
In turn, Wesley looked at Lorne, who shrugged. "Haven't heard anything about him moving on, cupcake. As far as I know he's still terrorizing the populace from the Hyperion Hotel."
"So how will we know the spell actually worked?" Gunn pressed. "Do we have to walk up to him and hope he doesn't rip our throats out?"
Wesley explained, "Anyone can do a spell, Gunn. I could give you the proper words and ingredients, and you could perform a spell that could summon a demon or find lost car keys. You would know the spell had worked because the demon would appear and you'd locate the keys, but only someone with power can actually feel a spell work. Willow is a powerful witch; when she casts the spell, the power will be channeled through her. She'll sense the magic and she'll know if it worked."
Willow wasn't coy about her power; it was as much a part of her as the color of her eyes, and she had used it enough to know she had a lot of it. But she was able to sense power in others as well. Lorne, for instance, had enough demonic power that she was aware of it; a part of her had even been seeking it out, ever inquisitive. But the one who had surprised her was Wesley. Unless her spider sense was completely turned topsy turvy, Wesley was a spellcaster of no small power himself, but she wasn't sure he had fully explored that part of himself yet because it felt dormant. She turned a bright smile on Gunn, who was still studying her curiously. "So, I could use some help setting up. Want to be the sorcerer's apprentice?"
The man's face lit up with a big pleased smile. "Really? Hell, yes."
"And while you two are getting the Big Mojo ready, I could use a ride back to my place," Cordelia announced.
Willow looked at her in surprise while Wesley stared at her, disappointment washing over his features,
"I offered her a place to stay until she could find a rat-free place of her own," Lorne explained to Wesley, giving him a reassuring pat on the arm. "The rat-distress was coming through loud and clear, even without the Madonna."
"Oh, of course," Wesley said, but he looked so relieved Willow had to stop herself from hugging him. "I'm afraid I only have my motorcycle --"
"Here." Gunn dug in his pants pockets and came up with a set of keys, tossing them to Wesley. "Take my truck, it's parked out back." He grinned at Willow. "I'm gonna go help with the magic."
Wesley held the door open for Cordelia so she could step out of the club, then the two of them headed down the alley leading to the back of Caritas. It was dark enough to make Wesley uneasy, and he quickly scanned the area for any signs of danger.
"Do you have a gun?" Cordelia asked abruptly.
Wesley's hand went immediately to his coat pocket, thinking she'd seen some danger he'd missed. "Yes," he said quickly. "Why?"
"Good," she said, marching ahead. "You can hold the rats off while I pack."
He increased his pace to catch up with her. "Don't get too far ahead, Cordelia."
"Yeah, you never know where the boogy man might turn up."
Wesley and Cordelia both froze at the sound of Angel's voice, and Wesley watched with horror as the vampire stepped out from behind a large dumpster and almost carelessly grabbed Cordelia, pulling her against his chest with an arm across her neck.
"Mmm, Cordy, you smell good," Angel murmured, making a show of smelling her hair. "And you feel pretty good too." Cordelia stiffened as he playfully squeezed one breast.
Wesley could see the terror in her eyes as she desperately looked to him for help. "Wesley?" she whispered.
"Wesley? Hey, I'd almost forgotten about you, I was so distracted by the fair Cordelia." Angel rubbed his cheek against her hair and said casually, "Now be real careful when you take that gun out of your pocket and toss it over here, Wes. I can break her neck in a heartbeat -- not mine obviously -- and I'll do that before you can even pull the trigger." He gave Wesley a predatory smile and lapsed into a brogue, "Fool me once, shame on you. But fool me twice, shame on me. Now toss the gun, and the holy water."
Wesley's mind was racing as he reached slowly into his pocket and his fingers curled around his gun. He briefly flirted with the idea of trying to get off a shot anyway. It might at least distract Angel long enough so he could grab Cordelia; but he decided he couldn't take the chance. There was no doubt in his mind Angel would indeed snap Cordelia's neck in an instant if he tried anything. Of course the odds were he would anyway, he thought miserably, as he carefully took out his gun and tossed it to the dirt. "Let Cordelia go, Angel," he said, managing to keep his voice level. "It's me you want, not her."
"Well, you're half right as usual, Wes. It is you I want." He ran his free hand slowly down Cordelia's body. "But this is pretty tempting too. Who says I can't have both?"
"I do, you pervert," Cordelia hissed and slammed her elbow into his middle at the same time she brought the heel of a very expensive shoe down onto his foot.
For an instant Wesley thought they had a chance. He launched himself toward them, prepared to hurl himself into Angel to give Cordelia the opportunity she needed to get away. But Cordelia's assault wasn't enough to put Angel off for more than a few seconds, and he quickly regained his hold, tightening his arm. "Well, well, a show of spunk," he laughed softly. "We'll have to do something about that. Don't worry, Cordy, I won't forget you. We'll spend plenty of quality time together later. But right now, I want to play with my old friend, Wes." With that, he threw Cordelia viciously into the side of the brick building forming one side of the alley. As Wesley watched in horror, she crumpled to the ground and didn't move. Angel sighed dramatically. "Well, it looks like Cordy went night-night, so I guess it's just you and me, Wes."
With only one chance left, Wesley dove to the ground, grabbing for the gun he'd tossed away. But with his inhuman speed, Angel was there first, a boot-clad foot covering the weapon an instant before Wesley could get his hand on it.
"Getting a little slow there, Watcher. But not to worry, there are times I like slow. For instance, I plan to go real slow with you."
That was the last thing Wesley heard before his world exploded in pain.
Even Angel could feel the crackle of magic in the air around them as Willow chanted in a language presumably only she, Wesley and Giles understood. Perspiration beaded on her forehead, and the strain was showing on her face as the spell began to build. Gunn's face was grim, and his gaze was darting everywhere, as if he was determined not to be caught off-guard. Buffy's entire body was tense, her lean muscles corded and ready for action, and although Willow had asked them all not to move so as to not disturb her concentration, Angel had seen her change her grip on the handle of her sword more than once. Lorne looked like he could use a drink, but he had volunteered to be here for this, and Angel was grateful. Giles, sitting beside Willow, looked like he was concentrating on everything Willow said and did, ready to assist her if necessary. And Cordy's gaze rarely left Wesley's face.
Angel looked at Wesley as well, feeling the same kind of mixed emotions Cordelia must be feeling. They were both desperately worried about their Wesley, trapped in another world inhabited by Angelus, not knowing if he was alive or dead or something even more terrible. If there had been a way for him to go there alone and rescue Wesley, regardless of the cost, he would have done it without hesitation. But this Wesley said this spell was the only way to find out what had happened to their Wesley and to perhaps rescue him, and Angel trusted him in the same way he trusted the Wesley of their world. But if they managed to right their universes, that meant they would be sending this Wesley back to his own world, back to the Angelus he was so determined to kill. He supposed he could be forgiven to wanting to protect every Wesley he came in contact with, but if they were successful, this Wesley would be out of his reach.
Willow's authoritative voice echoed in the lobby of the Hyperion and there was the cracking sound of thunder and then a flash of blinding light. Angel heard a heartfelt "Fuck!" from Gunn, and then when their vision cleared, there was a very large object floating in the midst of their circle. There was scrambling for weapons as everyone jumped to his or her feet, with the exception of Willow, who sagged to one side and was immediately caught and held protectively by Giles as Buffy took up her place in front of them. The creature inside the circle was almost snakelike with glittering narrow eyes that stared at them malevolently.
"Who dares summon me?" the Ermhai's voice was sibilant, and it drew out the 's'' in its words as it turned its head to see them all.
Wesley stepped forward, weaponless, but careful to remain outside the circle. "I did."
"No." The creature turned its narrow-eyed gaze on the barely conscious Willow. "The witch."
"On my command," Wesley said firmly. "I am the one you deal with."
The Ermhai turned his attention back to Wesley and let its gaze sweep over him. Angel was getting a little nervous about how the creature was eyeing him up, but Wesley stood calmly under its scrutiny. "For what purpose, human?" It floated nearer to the edge of the circle. "Do you think your puny spell can truly bind me? I am Ermhai!"
"It is my hope we don't have to find out. We did not summon you to do battle."
"So?" The Ermhai floated around within the circle, and Angel had the feeling it would have been pointing if it had hands: "Slayer. Witch. Watcher." It paused before Gunn before continuing with a shrug in its voice. "Human. Vampire." Again it hesitated, this time before Cordelia. "Cursed One," it said finally.
"Cursed one?" Cordelia hefted her favorite girlie axe in her hand. "That's rich coming from you, Snake Eyes."
The Ermhai ignored her and continued to take inventory. "Demon. Wizard."
It took a moment for Angel to realize the creature was looking straight at Wesley. Well, that was new.
"And you say you do not wish to do battle."
"We are prepared for battle," Wesley said carefully, "but we do not wish it. You are Aldoryne?"
"I would not be here if I were not," the Ermhai sneered. "The witch summoned me by name."
Wesley replied politely, "Of course. You are the Aldoryne who is the proprietor of Malichai's Books and Magickals?"
The Ermhai went perfectly still. "I am," it said warily.
Wesley crossed his arms over his chest. "Your bookstore," he said levelly, "is responsible for the misplacement of two humans in the wrong dimensions."
"Impossible!" With the sound of a pop like a balloon bursting, the snake-like creature disappeared and in its place stood a very humanlike form. Of medium height, with stooped shoulders, balding head, thick glasses and a scholarly air, it would be someone Angel would expect to see in any rare bookstore. Glamour, he reminded himself. For all they knew this creature could have six rows of teeth and foot long talons. It was just an illusion.
But Wesley nodded cordially to it. "Yes, it was you I saw there."
The Ermhai appeared to peer closely at him. "I remember you..." Then he straightened. "What do you mean, the misplacement of two humans?"
"This is not my dimension. The Wesley Wyndam-Pryce in this dimension also went to your bookstore on the same day. We believe he is now in my dimension."
Aldoryne was pacing inside the circle, shaking his head. "Not possible. I travel through dimensions all the time, and this cannot happen. Failsafe. There is a failsafe to prevent just this."
Angel decided he'd been silent long enough. "Your failsafe didn't work," he growled. "And we don't really care why it didn't work. We just want our Wesley Wyndam-Pryce back here in his right dimension."
The Ermhai looked at Wesley. "And you wish to go back to yours?"
There was a long moment of awkward silence, then Wesley nodded his head once, abruptly. "Of course."
Cordelia made a soft sound of distress beside him and Angel touched her arm in silent agreement.
Giles, who was cradling Willow from his position the floor asked quietly, "Can you do it? Can you put these two people back in their proper dimensions? Who knows what damage may have already been done by allowing two people to cross --"
"Do not lecture me about dimensional disruptions, human," Aldoryne hissed, sounding like his snake-like illusion. "I have spent millennia traveling through dimensions."
"Then you know how serious this is," Giles continued implacably.
The Ermhai looked at him for a long time and then turned away. "Watcher," he muttered, as if that explained it all. He took several more turns around the inside of the circle, and Angel realized their binding spell really was holding him. Finally he stopped in front of Wesley. "I can perform the magic to return you to your proper dimension and bring the other back here." As everyone gave a little sigh of relief, he continued, "But I cannot do so inside the binding circle."
Wesley gazed back at him with not so much as a flicker of surprise on his face. He only said, "One moment," and turned away, motioning for the others to follow. Everyone but Giles and Willow followed him a short distance away. "I don’t think he's lying. If he can't break the binding spell -- and if he could he wouldn't still be inside the circle -- I doubt he can make any magic."
Gunn was twirling his handmade axe like he would really like to use it on something. "But can we trust him?"
Buffy spoke up for the first time. "More important, can we take him if we let him out and he goes for us?"
Wesley folded his arms and looked thoughtful. "We have a lot of power on our side, and he knows it. At the very least, we could do him a lot of damage. He could also do us a lot of damage, but I don't think he wants to fight. What would be the purpose? Besides, he could simply jump to another dimension as soon as we release him."
"Maybe he can't do the magic," Gunn said darkly, "and he's lying to us."
"Again, to what purpose? If he can't do the magic, he's of no use to us and we let him go."
"So this is our only shot at this." Angel looked around at their little group, weighing their chances. Wesley was right, they had a lot of power on their side, and he doubted the Ermhai wanted to take them on when all he had to do was set their dimensions right with a spell. And it seemed to be the only way to get their Wesley back. "I say we do it."
They all looked to Wesley, who nodded, his face expressionless. After a moment, Buffy and Lorne quietly backed away, leaving Angel, Cordelia and Gunn with Wesley. Finally Gunn broke the silence by sticking out his hand. "Good luck, Wes. And watch your back over there."
Wesley smiled as he accepted the hand in a firm shake. "Thank you. I shall."
As Gunn left to rejoin the circle, Cordelia looked at Wesley for a moment as if undecided, then murmured, "Screw it," and threw her arms around his neck. "You be careful," she whispered, squeezing him tight. "And remember, it's okay to care about people, and to let them care about you."
Wesley pressed a soft kiss into her hair. "A lesson I learned from you, Cordelia. Thank you."
Cordelia pulled away and quickly wiped her eyes before straightening her shoulders and walking back to the circle, leaving Angel and Wesley.
The two stood in awkward silence for a few moments, then Wesley put out his hand. "Thank you for giving me a place to stay and making sure I didn't starve and for... well, for everything actually. The Wesley Wyndam-Pryce of this dimension is very lucky to have such friends."
"We think we're pretty lucky too. Listen, take care of yourself, okay?" He shook Wesley's hand, then plunged in. "Look, I know it's none of my business, but the Wes I know has always worked better with other people instead of alone. I know what happened to Faith was...horrific, and it was a terrible loss, but think about..."
When Angel searched for the words, Wesley supplied softly, "Rejoining the human race?" He looked over to where Cordelia was standing, arms wrapped around her chest. "Thanks to you and Cordelia I had a chance to see what that was like." He looked back at Angel. "It's time to get your Wesley back where he belongs."
As Angel followed him back to where the Ermhai was waiting, Angel saw that Buffy was now supporting Willow, who was sitting up and looking a lot more alert, if still very tired, and Giles was waiting for them. "Wesley, may I have a moment?" he asked.
Angel watched as Giles moved Wesley out of earshot and faced him, hand on his shoulder. He was talking earnestly and Wesley was listening intently, but with a slight frown on his face. Finally, Wesley nodded, they shook hands, and both men rejoined the circle.
"I'm going to break the binding spell," Wesley told Aldoryne. He nodded to the group around the circle. "All we want is for the dimensional disruption to be corrected."
"And that is all you will get, human."
Everyone gripped their weapons a little tighter as Wesley, his gaze on the Ermhai, stepped forward and carefully slid his foot across the circle, making a break. The Ermhai walked across the line and stood outside the circle, no longer bound. When everyone tensed, Aldoryne gave them a lofty look. "If I wanted you dead, you would be dead. If I had no intention of doing the magic, I would be in another dimension by now." He moved to stand in front of Wesley. "I do not know how this happened, human, but it is a mistake that must be corrected."
"The Wesley of this world will be returned here?"
"He will be here, and you will be there. Are you prepared for that, human?"
Wesley looked at Giles and gave a nod, offered Cordelia a little smile, then looked at Angel. "I'm ready."
There was a clap of thunder, a blinding light, and when they blinked away the stars in front of their eyes, both Wesley and the Ermhai were gone.
"You place the bay leaf like this." Willow showed Gunn how to precisely lay the bay leaf on top of the lemon grass they had lined the bowls with. "Then sprinkle on the Dead Sea salt, but just a pinch." She watched as Gunn carefully followed her example. "Okay, the dried lavender is next."
"Oh, I like this one," Gunn smiled. "This one reminds me of my grandmother."
"This is my favorite part too." Willow grinned and confided, "I sometimes think the spells call for lavender just to make the mixtures smell a little better."
"Well it works. It's smelling pretty --"
"Kiddies, we have trouble."
Willow and Gunn both turned as Lorne came into the room, supporting Cordelia who was holding a bag of ice on her head.
"Cordelia! What happened to you?" Willow hurried over as Lorne eased her down into a chair. "Are you okay? Let me see your head."
Cordelia batted her hand away. "I'm okay. It's just a bump."
"Just a bump that left her unconscious in the alley for a half an hour," Lorne said grimly.
Gunn looked at Lorne in confusion. "Say what? Where was Wesley?"
Cordelia looked up, her face filled with anguish, "Angel has him."
Gunn dropped into a chair. "Angel? The evil vampire we're supposed to be fixing with this spell? The one who wants to have Wesley for lunch? Was he at your apartment? How did he --?"
Cordelia dropped the icebag onto the table, and Lorne picked it back up and held it to her head. "He was waiting for us in the alley."
Willow shook her head in confusion. "Angel was here? But why? How did he know Wesley was here?"
Cordelia and Gunn locked gazes and Gunn let out a vicious, "We fucked up. We should have expected something like this."
"But why?" Willow asked. "Why would you expect this? This isn't expected."
"Angel knew Wesley was around town, and he knew something was up because Wesley showed up at his place. How hard do you think it was for him to hang out in some demon bars and ask questions? Not that many humans come into this place from what I've seen. Wesley's been coming here, he was noticed, Angel just asked questions until someone who was at Caritas showed up someplace else and he got the information he wanted. So he comes here when it's dark and hangs around until Wesley shows up again. We should have expected it," he repeated. "Damn it!"
"I don't care how he did it," Cordelia snapped, finally taking the icebag out of Lorne's hands and slamming it onto the table. "What do we do now? He's got Wesley."
Gunn got to his feet and headed for the door. "Now," he said grimly, "we go stake a vamp. Odds are he took him to that Hyperion Hotel. We go there, we kill Angel, we get Wesley out."
"No, no," Willow objected, trying and failing to grab his arm as he went by. "You can't do that."
"Hell I can't. He grabbed Wesley right under our noses," Gunn said furiously. "You all can sit here if you want to, but I'm not about to leave Wesley in the hands of that bastard."
Cordelia got shakily to her feet, asking in a small voice, "What if it's too late?"
"Won't know until we get there."
"But what if...?" Cordelia looked sick.
Gunn touched her arm. "Then we do what we gotta do. I won't leave him like that. He saved my ass, and I owe him for that."
"No one is going anywhere." Willow used her firm voice, the one that made even Buffy think twice, and Gunn stopped in his tracks and looked around at her. "Our best chance of saving Wesley is to do the spell."
Gunn shook his head, "We don't have time --"
"And what if Wesley isn't at the hotel? What if Angel took him someplace else? What if you can't find him? If we restore Angel's soul, we will save Wesley." Willow paused, and then delivered the killing blow. "It's what Wesley would want. It's what Wesley has wanted ever since he came into this dimension. It's why he came to Sunnydale to get my help."
"She's right, kidlings," Lorne said. "That's all Wesley has talked about ever since he came to Caritas, all he's worked for: restoring Angel's soul. With Willow, we've got a chance to save them both. Don't you think that's what Wesley would want us to do?"
Gunn looked like he was still ready to charge out the door, but he looked to Cordelia, and she gave her head a nod. "We both owe him," she said simply. "Let's do what he'd want us to."
Gunn turned to Willow. "What comes after the lavender?"
"Holy water," she answered, quickly turning back to the bowls they were preparing. "We're almost ready."
One thing Wesley had learned in the time he had been Angelus' captive: when it came to torture, Faith had been a bloody amateur. She didn't have the patience Angelus had, and she didn't have his one hundred and fifty years of practice to get it right. She didn't have his finesse either. While she was ready to use a homemade blow torch on him, Angelus liked playing with Bic lighters. He supposed back in the day it had been red hot coals or pokers, but a Bic lighter did the job too and lasted a hell of a lot longer. How Angelus must love the twenty-first century with all its improvements and readily obtainable objects so easily adapted to torture. There was the thin nylon cord biting into his wrists instead of the coarse rope that would have been used a century and a half ago. When Angelus began carving crosses into the faces of his victims he most likely had one knife he carried with him. Now he had an entire arsenal of sharpened kitchen knives at his disposal, and could choose a flat blade or serrated edge, or simply alternate according to whim. And electricity. How Angelus did love electricity. Right now he was across the room, humming to himself as he went through a tool chest and set out various tools that looked...promising.
On the floor of the basement, Wesley closed the one eye that wasn't already swollen shut and tried not to think about it, tried to shut off his mind as he had done when Faith had him tied to a chair and the pain had gone into overload. Angelus' most dangerous weapons thus far had proven to be his fists. He enjoyed knocking Wesley around for the hell of it, like an abusive husband terrorizing his spouse, but without the anger. It was all a game to Angelus, and he was careful not to do too much damage too soon. He'd made it clear he was planning on keeping Wesley alive for entertainment purposes for a good long time, and he really enjoyed looming over Wesley, whispering hotly into his ear what he had planned for him, and then playfully smacking him around. Wesley kept thinking of Cordelia lying so still on the ground, hoping she was all right. And that Willow was going ahead with the spell and, please god, that it would work before Angelus decided it would be fun to try out that nail gun he was holding in his hand.
His cheek was aching like mad where it was pressed against the cold floor and his ribs were screaming for relief. He tried to shift his body to give himself some respite without calling attention to himself, but a grunt of pain escaped him.
"How you doing over there, Wes? Are you getting impatient? Don't worry, I'm just about ready for you. You know, these are some really dandy tools we've got here. Have you seen how one of these things work? You just press the trigger and..."
Wesley flinched as a nail embedded itself in the wood of an old bookshelf inches from his head.
"Yeah, we're going to have a lot of fun with this." Angelus walked over to him, grinning. "Don't you just love technology?" Using the toe of his boot, he nudged it under Wesley and flipped him over onto his back. Wesley caught his breath as his ribs protested and tried to breath shallowly through his mouth. It took him a few moments to realize what Angelus was doing. The nail gun was loaded and Angelus was sweeping it slowly over his body like he was trying to make a decision. Wesley cringed when he lingered over his crotch, but Angelus only laughed and said, "No, I've got other plans for that," and continued moving the nail gun until it was over his left knee. "And I think we have a winner. I gotta tell you, Wes. I think this is going to hurt like hell."
Wesley couldn't take his eyes off Angelus' finger on the trigger of the nail gun. He should have just closed his eyes, but he was mesmerized by it. There was no place for him to go, nothing he could do. All he could do was lie here while --
Suddenly Angelus jerked back and the nail gun dropped from his hand, clattering loudly on the floor. Wesley saw a flash in his eyes, not the golden brown of the beast, but a burst of white light. Angelus gasped in apparent pain as a flash of white seemed to envelope him, then he stumbled back until he hit the wall and slowly sank to the floor as if his legs couldn't hold him.
The spell. Wesley's still functioning eyelid slid closed and a whimper of relief escaped his lips. Thank you, Willow. Everything would be all right now. He'd tell Angel what was going on, reassure him that he wasn't to blame, that there were people in this world who were willing to work with him and help him get back on track.
"Angel?" But when Wesley opened his eye and blinked to clear his vision, Angel was gone.
"Where are they? Where'd they go?" Gunn looked positively murderous as he turned around, axe gripped tightly in his hands.
Cordelia looked stunned, staring at the empty spot Wesley had been and where no Wesley now stood. Angel simply looked gutted, and Giles understood the feeling. Had they gambled everything only to lose it all? What had the Ermhai done with the Wesley who had been here? And what about their own Wesley, lost in another dimension? Was he to be trapped there forever?
"He tricked us, didn't he, Giles?"
At the sound of Willow's choked voice, he put his arm around her and pulled her close. She was still tired and drained from the spell and he could feel fine tremors traveling through her body, but whether that was from the aftermath of the spell or the shock they were all now facing he didn't know. "It appears so, Willow," he said quietly.
She struggled weakly to pull away. "There's got to be another way. I'll bring the Ermhai back. I'll do the spell again."
"Not now you won't," he said decisively and kept her still with a firm arm around her. "You're in no condition to do that spell again at the moment. We'll put our heads together and come up with a plan. We won't leave things as they are, I promise." But even as he spoke he watched Cordelia and Angel across the room. He couldn't hear what Cordelia was saying, but Angel had his hands on her shoulders trying to soothe her. Finally he pulled her into a tight hug, and after a few moments he loosened her grip so she could pull away. She walked away from the circle and kept her back to the group as she obviously tried to regain control. That left Angel standing alone, shoulders slumped, and Buffy got to her feet and walked over to join him. Seeing them together again Giles wondered what the Fates had been drinking when they made these two so obviously right for each other and yet made it so totally impossible for them to be together.
Gunn dropped down beside them with a thump, his voice dull. "We lost them both."
"I'm going to do the spell again," Willow said quickly. "I'll get that Ermhai back and this time we'll make him fix this and put both Wesleys back where they belong."
Gunn gave her a sad smile. "Right now you don't look like you could take on a day-old kitten, Willow."
"I can't do it right away, of course, but in a little while --"
Giles interrupted. "You will need at least twenty-four hours to recover," he said firmly. "And even then it isn't certain you will have regained sufficient strength."
"Twenty-four hours," Gunn murmured, then heaved a sigh. "Man, I just wish I knew Wes was okay. This waiting and not knowing..."
Willow laid a gentle hand on his arm. "I know. But we won't give up."
"Damn straight." A slow grin broke out on Gunn's face. "Wes never gives up, that's for sure. Did I ever tell you about the time --"
"Quiet! Everyone, quiet!"
The lobby went silent as everyone stared at Angel, who was holding up a hand, his face intent. "I heard something."
Giles strained his ears and heard nothing, but of course a vampire's enhanced hearing abilities…
"The basement." Angel ran for the stairs with Buffy, Cordelia and Lorne on his heels. Gunn sprang to his feet, then paused to help Giles and Willow up.
"Go," Giles told him. "I'll help Willow." Gunn nodded his gratitude and loped after the others while Giles and Willow followed at a slower pace. They stopped on the landing of the stairs and Willow gasped, "Wesley!"
It was indeed Wesley, and Giles could see at a glance it was the Wesley who belonged in this dimension. Unfortunately it was also a Wesley who had been beaten and most likely tortured at the hands of Angelus. It would explain why Angel was standing away from him looking tragic and guilty while Cordelia was kneeling by Wesley's side, gently stroking his face as she assured him he was back in his own reality.
"You're home, Wesley. You're really home, back where you belong. This is Angel."
"I know. I'm sorry." Under the cuts and bruises Wesley was looking as guilt-ridden as Angel. "It was just...reaction." He gave a little hiss of pain as Gunn quickly sliced through the ropes on his wrists and they were freed. Gunn carefully peeled off the rope and threw the pieces contemptuously aside as Cordelia gently examined the damage to his wrists.
Lorne leaned over Gunn to offer what looked like a forced smile to Wesley. "I've got something I can mix up that will help take the sting out of those bruises, crumpet. I'll just go get it ready." With that, he turned away and hurried up the stairs and past Giles and Willow, his face a careful blank.
"Do you think anything's broken, Wesley?" Cordelia was asking him quietly. "We need to move you, but if you think you've got any broken bones --?"
"No. It's just bruising. Superficial really." He tried to smile and failed miserably. "He was just getting to the maiming part."
Everyone flinched noticeably at that, but Cordelia put a bright smile on her face. "All right then. Let's get you upstairs so we can get you fixed up." Then she leaned closer and added in a brooks-no-argument tone, "And that's the last time you go to a bookstore by yourself, buster. Got it?"
Then Wesley did break into a smile and he chuckled, although the movement obviously caused him some pain. "Now I know I'm really home." Gunn carefully took one arm to help him up, and Wesley turned to look directly at Angel, holding out his other hand. "Angel? Could you...?"
Angel was there in a flash, his relief palpable as he leaned over and carefully took Wesley's other arm. They brought him up slowly, and Angel practically lifted him off his feet when they stood him up. "Wes? Are you doing okay?" he asked anxiously.
If anything Wesley looked even worse now that he was on his feet and Giles could see the full extent of the bruising and cuts on his face. He heard Willow draw in a sharp breath, but he knew from experience that what Wesley had told them was true. It was painful and it hadn't been a fun experience by any stretch of the imagination, but it was most likely superficial, and he would heal.
Wesley smiled an assurance at Angel which immediately re-opened a cut on his lip. Gunn silently handed a handkerchief to Cordelia who gently dabbed at it until the bleeding slowed again. "Lying down would be good," he said, his voice thin. "And perhaps some painkillers." He looked hopefully at Cordelia.
"Painkillers and a first aid kit," Cordelia told him.
"And a nice cup of tea," Giles added firmly from the stairs.
As they turned Wesley around to walk to the stairs, Wesley gave him a look of gratitude. "That would be lovely." It just seemed to occur to him then that Giles, Willow and Buffy didn't belong there and he blinked in confusion. No matter how superficial the damage was, the man was obviously in some shock. "Mr. Giles? Willow? And Buffy?" He looked at Angel. "Why is everyone here?" he asked faintly. "We are in Los Angeles, aren't we?"
"Yes we are, Wes. You're home," Angel assured him in a gentle tone as they carefully helped him up the stairs. "Giles, Willow and Buffy came to help bring you home. It's a long story. We'll tell you everything when you're feeling better. For now, let's get you upstairs so we can check you out, okay?"
Giles and Willow went back upstairs to wait for them as they made their slow, and in Wesley's case, painful, way back to the lobby. From the grim look on Angel's face, Giles knew he was wondering what kind of damage might be hidden under Wesley's clothes. He was certainly in the best position to know what kind of damage Angelus was capable of inflicting.
"He looks terrible," Willow whispered, as they continued their way upstairs, everyone following the threesome.
Buffy slipped in beside her and gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "It doesn't look like any permanent damage was done, Willow. We just need to be grateful he was pulled out of there in time. I'll join you in a minute."
Everyone crowded into Angel's bedroom as Wesley was carefully eased down onto the bed. "First aid kit," Cordelia announced, and everyone cleared a path for her except Angel, who was hovering anxiously by Wesley's side and obviously wasn't going to leave. Cordelia slipped around him and sat down on the edge of the bed, opening up the kit. A few moments later Buffy brushed by Giles and went to the opposite side of the bed, placing an ice bag within Wesley's reach.
"For that eye after Cordelia's finished," she explained. "It should help bring the swelling down."
"Thank you," he told her, still looking a little puzzled as to why she was there.
Buffy made a move to give his arm a reassuring pat, saw the bruises around his wrist, and pulled back.
As Cordelia began carefully cleaning the cuts on his face, he said, "I'd really like to hear what happened. Was there...was there another me?"
Cordelia gasped and threw a horrified look at Angel. "We sent him back there. We sent him back to Angelus!"
"Fuck," Gunn whispered.
Angel looked like he was about to be sick.
"Who?" Wesley asked, confused. "The other me?"
"Wesley, we're so sorry we didn't get you out in time," Cordelia apologized in an anguished voice. "But when we sent the other you back, we sent him to Angelus. We didn't want that to happen either."
"No, you didn't."
"What do you mean, Wes?" Angel asked immediately.
Wesley took a moment to lick his dry lips. "The other Willow. She did the spell to re-ensoul Angel. It happened just before I was pulled out of there."
Willow perked up. "You mean there's a me in another dimension that isn't a skanky vampire?"
"She was quite like you," Wesley said softly, "and very powerful, just like you."
Angel asked carefully, "Are you sure, Wes? Are you sure he was Angel again?"
"Yes, I saw it happen. He was Angel."
"Thank god," Angel murmured.
"He'll be okay then," Cordelia said, obviously relieved as she carefully cleaned a cut over Wesley's eye. "And you'll be okay too as soon as we get you patched up." She sat back and eyed his filthy and blood-spotted sweater. "But that sweater is a lost cause."
"We'd better cut it off of him," Angel decided. "It'll hurt like hell if we try to get him out of it."
"We can use the pieces for rags," Cordelia agreed.
"Excuse me. I'm right here," Wesley reminded them with spirit. "And that's my wardrobe you're talking about using for rags."
"We'll buy you a new sweater, English," Gunn told him as he pulled out the knife he'd used to cut Wesley's bonds. "But I really don't want to try to get you out of that sweater without knowing what kind of shape your ribs are in."
As Gunn leaned down and began slicing through the material, Wesley gazed imploringly at Cordelia. "Weren't there supposed to be painkillers? And tea?"
"I'll see to it right away, Wesley." Giles turned and steered Willow with him. "And you should be off your feet, Willow, and you need to take in some fluids."
In the kitchen they found Lorne mixing up his potion for bruises. "How is he?"
"They're taking good care of him," Giles assured him, "and he was able to tell us that thanks to the Willow in the other dimension, Angel was re-ensouled before the other Wesley was returned there." He retrieved the kettle and filled it with water. He remembered seeing a bone china tea set in Wesley's office. That would do nicely.
"That is good news," Lorne said with feeling. "I hated the idea of sending that poor boy back over there with Angelus for company. This way he has a chance of getting back on his path. All right, all done." He finished filling a plastic container with a bluish salve and turned around just as Angel burst into the kitchen, Buffy beside him. Without a word, she went over and hitched herself onto the counter, her face still.
"Is that for the bruising?" Angel asked.
Lorne nodded. "Should give him some immediate relief."
"Good." Angel took it from him and asked flatly, "Do you have anything for burns?"
Lorne swallowed, then nodded. "Yes, I think I can find everything here I need --"
"Good. As soon as you can." Angel turned abruptly and left.
When he was gone everyone looked at Buffy. "Bastard used a lighter on him," she said shortly.
"Oh, lord." Giles set a glass of fruit juice in front of Willow, motioned her to drink, then waved to Buffy. "Buffy, see if you can find some painkillers. Try the bathroom." As Buffy hopped down off the counter he headed for Wesley's office to retrieve the tea set.
It was quite gratifying to see how Wesley's face lit up when he saw the tea. When Giles returned to the bedroom with tea and painkillers, Wesley was lying under only a sheet, presumably to keep pressure off his burns until Lorne could provide his ointment. He caught an unwanted glimpse of the red blotches across Wesley's chest and stomach before Cordelia pulled the sheet higher to give him some privacy. Giles served the tea and then excused himself to leave Angel, Cordelia and Gunn to their hovering. He couldn't blame them in the least. If he had been in their place and one of the children had been missing in another dimension and tortured by Angelus he suspected he would have been doing some hovering of his own.
He fixed himself a cup of tea then joined Willow and Buffy. "So, how's everyone doing up there?" Buffy asked.
"I suspect it will be some time before the rest of them are willing to let Wesley out of their sight, but they'll be fine. And Wesley will too, in time. He's been through something like this before, you know."
"With Faith," Buffy said evenly, "not with someone who looks like your best friend."
Giles conceded the point but said, "Wesley is smart enough to know that Angel is not responsible for the actions of Angelus, and this was an Angelus of a different dimension. I daresay there may be some lapses, but he'll be able to reason it out in his mind. He's stronger than I gave him credit for when he was in Sunnydale."
"He's a different person than he was in Sunnydale." They looked around as Angel walked up to join them and dropped heavily into a chair. "He's been through a lot since then, he's changed, learned." Angel shrugged. "Grown up."
"Didn't think we'd be able to pry you away up there," Buffy teased.
Angel looked uncomfortable. "Lorne put that stuff on his burns and between that and the painkillers he finally fell asleep. I wanted to stay with him, but Cordy and Gunn were worried if he woke up and didn't know where he was and saw me..."
"He'll be fine, Angel," Giles assured him. "I don't think you have to worry on that account."
Buffy turned a curious face to Giles. "Before the other Wesley went back, it looked like you and he were having a real heart to heart." She so obviously expected him to tell them what he'd said that Giles took a sip of tea to hide his smile.
"I simply gave him something to think about," he said smoothly, knowing that wouldn't satisfy her.
"Such as?" Buffy pressed.
"Such as, a Watcher can never really stop being a Watcher. You're trained to assist, guide, advise, do research to provide the necessary information to deal with all sorts of situations, formulate plans, and be a voice of reason when needed. It's not so much what you are as who you are, and if you try to deny it then you're in essence denying who you are. Our Wesley is a good case in point. He's never stopped being a Watcher even though he was sacked by the Council." He took another drink. "It isn't only Slayers who need a Watcher. I simply wanted him to think about that."
Wesley recognized where he was. It was the basement of the Hyperion Hotel. When he'd been in the other dimension he'd slipped down into the basement for a few minutes to do some reconnaissance while Cordelia had been occupied elsewhere. He didn't really know what he was expecting, but it had turned out to be a very ordinary basement with workout equipment and some old furniture. This basement looked much the same, and apparently this is where the other Wesley had been because this was where he ended up when the Ermhai set the dimensions to rights. He looked at some of the debris scattered around, saw the splattered drops of blood on the floor, took in the nail gun, and wondered if the other Wesley had been pulled away in time.
"Who are you?"
The hoarse voice sent Wesley's heart into his throat, and he spun around to find a figure sitting slumped on the floor in the shadows. Angelus.
Perfect. How had he been stupid enough to come back without a single weapon in his hands? Well, if he died right here, right now, he had no one to blame but himself.
"You're not -- No, you're not. Why aren't you...?" The vampire dropped his head into his hands, his unexpected laughter semi-hysterical. "So now I'm losing my mind."
Wesley didn't understand why Angelus wasn't coming for him, but he wasn't about to question the reprieve he'd been given. Diving to the floor, he snatched up the nail gun and aimed it at the vampire. It wouldn't kill, but it would certainly hurt like hell and maybe given him the few seconds he needed to make an escape. But before he could squeeze the trigger there were thudding footsteps overhead and he heard his name shouted by familiar voices. Gunn, Cordelia and Willow. In this dimension as well? He wasn't going to question it; he was simply going to hope they had enough sense to come armed to the teeth.
"Down here!" he called.
There was more thudding as three people rushed down the stairs. This dimension's Charles Gunn was in the lead, and Wesley was pleased to see he had his axe firmly in hand. Cordelia was next, gripping a crossbow, followed by Willow, who wasn't carrying anything that he could see. The three of them stopped at the bottom of the stairs and stared at him.
Gunn was the first to speak, "You're not --"
"It's the other one," Cordelia said at the same time.
Willow added her voice, smiling broadly. "They switched back. This is our Wes."
He stared at them, stunned. 'Our Wes'? He'd heard Angel and Cordelia constantly refer to their Wesley that way in the other dimension, but he'd never thought of himself as...it never occurred to him that anyone even knew he was missing in this dimension.
Willow pushed past Gunn and Cordelia and ran over to him, and he quickly stepped protectively in front of her, "Willow," he hissed. "Stay back."
"No, no, it's okay. I did the spell!"
"His soul." She was beaming up at him. "His soul's been restored."
He looked sharply at the vampire, who hadn't moved, but was staring at them all in some confusion, and then back at her. "Are you sure?"
"Wouldn't be standing here without a stake if I wasn't." She smiled, her voice gentle. "Glad we got you back, Wesley. We were worried about you."
"We?" he asked stupidly, at a loss as to who could be worried about him. The only person in this dimension to ever worry about him was gone.
"All of us. Giles and Buffy and me, and even Xander, although he wouldn’t admit that unless you stuck hot needles under his fingernails. Giles has been researching how to get you back from that other dimension, but it looks like the other team got there first." She patted him lightly on the arm. "So, go them!"
Wesley stared at her, momentarily stunned by the fact that anyone had cared enough to want to retrieve him back to this dimension.
"We've been worried about you a lot longer than that," Willow continued, too low for anyone but him to hear. "But you're back now, and you're not going to lose touch like that again, are you? I mean, you wouldn't want me doing something all witchy and spelly to make sure of that, right?"
All he could manage in the face of that was a faint, "Certainly not."
"Didn't think so." She nudged him lightly in the ribs and nodded toward Angel. "Do you think you should do something about him?"
Wesley turned his attention back to the vampire, who was now staring dully at the floor, ignoring them all. Well, Willow's spell explained a lot. All Angelus' new sins had been revisited back on Angel and the weight was crushing him. It would be so easy to give into the hatred he felt for Angelus and let himself hate Angel too. They both wore the same face, spoke with the same voice. Yet he knew they weren't the same any more than he was the same as that Wesley who had taken his place here for the last few days.
So here he was face-to-face with who he was and who Angel was. He thought of that other Wesley, the one who'd been sacked by the Council and ended up in essence being a Watcher for a vampire with a soul. And he thought of what the other Giles told him before he left that dimension. Sneaky bastard, as all Watchers were. He knew that kernel of an idea would take root and grow, which was probably why he was starting to feel the stirrings of responsibility. It occurred to him he'd always been responsible for something, or someone. For years his responsibility had been to train to be a Watcher. Then his responsibility had been to Faith, right up to the end. After that he thought his responsibility had been to kill Angelus for what he had done to Faith. Which, of course, brought him right back to what Giles had told him and what he already knew. The vampire he was facing now was Angel, not Angelus.
"There was a dimensional disruption," he said quietly, looking at Angel. "I'm not the Wesley Wyndam-Pryce who was here with you. A few minutes ago he was sent back to his own dimension, and now I'm back here."
Angel raised his head and stared at him, understanding dawning quickly as he got somewhat clumsily to his feet. "Then you... you're the one... Faith."
He supposed the fact that he could hear her name spoken by this man and not want to drive a stake through his heart must mean something. "Yes. I'm the one."
Guilt settled over Angel like a tangible thing. "I'm so sorry."
Before Wesley could decide how to respond to that, there was a blur of movement off to his side and suddenly Cordelia and Gunn were between him and Angel, Cordelia's crossbow raised and Gunn's axe at the ready. "I just want to know one thing, buddy," Cordelia demanded. "What shape was Wesley in when he got beamed out of here?"
"The answer had better be alive and in one piece," Gunn added grimly, twirling his axe meaningfully.
"Alive," Angel answered in a quiet voice, "and in one piece." Looking over their shoulders at Wesley he added, "No...permanent damage."
A rough time then, Wesley surmised, but he'd be okay, and he had Angel, Cordelia and Gunn waiting for him there to look after him.
Cordelia and Gunn still looked tense enough to do some permanent damage themselves, and Wesley said firmly, "Cordelia, Gunn, stand down."
Two heads turned, and Cordelia let her eyes travel over him for a moment before retorting, "I don't take orders from people who dress in sweaters like that."
"It belongs to the 'other' Wesley," he said pleasantly, "the one who apparently has no dress sense."
Gunn snorted, "Yeah, well I don't take orders from pansy-assed English guys."
"Then I presume you won't have any problems taking orders from me," he replied levelly.
Cordelia and Gunn looked at one another for a moment, then crossbow and axe were both lowered.
"Nice work," Willow whispered to him.
He nodded his thanks and addressed the other two who had now turned their attention to him. "And you're both here because...?"
"In case your sorry ass needed saving," Gunn answered bluntly.
"He With No Dress Sense brought us together," Cordelia explained crisply. "And it was his idea to bring Willow in to do the spell."
The other Wesley had apparently been a busy little Watcher. He probably shouldn't let all that work go to waste if for no other reason than professional courtesy.
Angel made a step forward then which immediately brought everyone's attention back to him. He was looking around like he was trying to deal with a bewildering hallucination of some kind. He looked confused, wary and apprehensive all at once. "What are any of you people doing here?"
Cordelia and Gunn looked at Wesley, their expressions making it clear that if he wanted to give orders, then he could bloody well take charge of this situation too. He glanced down at Willow who was gazing at him expectantly as if this was a test and she was willing him to give the right answer.
He thought of Faith and how much he missed her. And what Giles had told him in the other dimension. And of the Angel and Cordelia he'd so recently met. And of the Cordelia and Gunn in this dimension who seemed more or less willing to be guided by him. And an Anagogic demon named Lorne who helped people find their paths. Perhaps he'd sing for the Lorne in this dimension to see if he was on his path. Or maybe he'd simply trust his instincts.
He looked back at Angel, and this time he saw the man he'd known and fought beside in Sunnydale, not the monster who had killed Faith. It isn't only Slayers who need a Watcher. He searched his soul, seeking any feelings of betrayal to Faith. What he found was a simple truth. Despite his best efforts he was still alive, and that must mean something. And he was still a Watcher, because that would never change.
"We're here to help," he said simply, and was surprised to realize he meant it.
Wesley laid his pen aside and carefully flexed the fingers on his right hand. The gauze Cordelia had wrapped around his hand made it difficult to write, but there was so much to record. There was every bit of information he'd been able to wring out of everyone regarding the Ermhai and then everything he'd remembered about the bookstore (which he'd been forbidden by everyone to visit again) and the other dimension. Cordelia had uncharacteristically offered to type everything on the computer if he wanted to dictate it, but he didn't think there was any way that would end up well, and besides, recording information in journals by hand was far too engrained in him. He picked up his pen again and tried to grip it comfortably. He enjoyed writing in his journal, or at least he would enjoy it more if his hand weren't --
"Good afternoon, cupcake!"
Wesley jumped, sending his pen flipping into the air and skittering across the floor as Lorne breezed into his office brandishing a container of his burn remedy.
The demon stopped short. "Oh, I'm sorry, Wesley," he said contritely. "Nerves a little unsteady, are they?"
Wesley took a steadying breath. "A bit, but don't tell the others."
Lorne pulled a chair over, seated himself, and gently took Wesley's bandaged hand between his. "Newsflash, my lamb," he said dryly, "the state of your nerves is pretty much on the daily agenda around here. Haven't you noticed everyone tippy-toeing by and speaking in hushed tones?"
"I thought they just didn't want to disturb me while I was working," he said, a little stunned.
Lorne just smiled fondly. "That's what you were supposed to think. But I think you're doing just fine. Anyone would be bound to be a little skittish after going through what you did." He unwrapped Wesley's hand and turned it palm up. "Here, let me just put some more salve on that burn. If Cordelia gets back from her errands and finds out I haven't changed your bandages, I'll be the one needing first aid." He clucked over Wesley's hand as he smoothed on the ointment. "You know, you really need to give this hand a chance to heal. You're only irritating it by using it so much."
"I'm being careful with it," he protested, but his eyes closed briefly in relief as Lorne's balm cooled the burn and numbed the pain. "There's just so much to record. We may need the information some day."
"Let's just hope none of us go hopping into other dimensions any time soon. This dimension is just fine, and we should all concentrate on staying right here," Lorne said firmly, carefully rewrapping his hand in gauze.
Wesley glanced at his watch. "Angel and Gunn have been gone a long time," he said worriedly. "Maybe I should drive over to that address and see if everything is all right or if they need some help."
"Oh yes, I'm sure Angel would be delighted to have you turn up to fight a nest of Kagrit demons in your condition. If I let you do that, I'd be in need of more than first aid when Angel got through with me. Wesley, have you looked at yourself in the mirror recently?"
He had, and it wasn't pretty. Angelus had been careful not to break anything, but he'd smacked him around enough that his face was now a beautiful Technicolor of cuts and bruises. Faith had been negligent by comparison. He ached, he was stiff, and he'd been forced to wear one of Gunn's old, very soft and very large tee shirts in deference to the state of his chest and stomach, but aside from the fact that if he dropped a pen on the floor he had to wait for someone else to pick it up, he was functioning just fine. Lorne had a point about the Kagrit demons though, and Angel not being very happy if he showed up.
"They'll be fine. You gave them all the information they'll need to kill the Kagrit, and I’m sure they'll be home soon."
"It's just...I'm not used to sitting here being useless."
"You're hardly useless, crumpet. Angel and Gunn were ready to run out the door to with axes and swords, and you're the one who told them steel would wound but not kill a Kagrit." Lorne gave Wesley a gentle pat on the arm and got to his feet. "If it weren't for you, they'd be slicing and dicing for the rest of their lives and wondering why the bad old demons wouldn't die."
That was true, of course, but still, he'd gained a new respect for what Cordelia went through when she sent them off on missions and had to wait here to see if they all came back.
"And unless I'm mistaken, here are our heroes returning right now," Lorne said as voices from the lobby announced that Angel and Gunn had indeed returned victorious.
Gunn filled the doorway, grinning broadly. "Good call on those Kagrits, Wes." He was filthy, his shirt covered with a yellowish-green slime that was Kagrit blood, and his pants looked like he'd rolled in dirt, but he was still bouncing on his toes with adrenaline rush. "You should have seen those suckers."
"I wish I could have," he said wistfully. "I've never seen a live Kagrit."
Gunn grunted as Angel came up beside him and gave him a sharp nudge with his elbow. "You didn't miss anything, Wes. Big ugly demons, big teeth, big claws, try to rip your head off and eat you. Same old, same old."
"Yeah." Gunn quickly took his cue from Angel and did a complete turnaround. "Pretty boring really."
Wesley sat up a little straighter and said enthusiastically, "Perhaps on the next call."
Angel picked at a row of five neat tears five inches long on the sleeve of his coat, not meeting his eyes. "Sure. Provided the next call is in two weeks."
"No, come on, Wes. It takes you fifteen minutes to walk up the stairs. Let's just wait until everything is healed before you go out to collect a new set of bruises, okay?"
"He's right, sugarplum," Lorne told him. "You can barely hold a pen in that hand; you certainly can't use a weapon."
Wesley looked down at his bandaged hand and sighed. "You're right of course."
"Of course they're right. For a change." Cordelia marched into his office with a shopping bag in her hand and placed it on the desk in front of him, then turned to glare at the rest of them. "Okay, whose turn was it to pry that pen out of his hand and force him upstairs to get some rest?"
Angel hunched his shoulders. "Gunn and I had to go on a call. We told Lorne..."
It was all a bit much. Everyone had been hovering and overprotective ever since he'd gotten back. It wasn't that he wasn't grateful for every single thing they had done for him and very glad and relieved he was back in his own dimension. But he was frustrated at his physical limitations, felt guilty when he saw the worried looks they exchanged when they thought he wasn't looking, and really disliked being talked about as if he weren't there. When Cordelia transferred her glare to Lorne and opened her mouth, Wesley said loudly, "I don't need anyone to pry pens from my fingers and force me upstairs. When I'm tired, I shall rest. When I'm not, I shall do whatever the bloody hell I want. Is that clear?"
Angel and Gunn both dropped their jaws at his outburst, Lorne cocked his head and raised an eyebrow, but it was the look of hurt on Cordelia's face that brought Wesley swiftly to his feet. As he hissed at the pain, she walked over and gently forced him back down into his chair. "The last time you pulled that stunt you popped your stitches," she reminded him.
"I'm sorry, Cordy," he said softly.
"Well, you did scare me half to death and then there was the ambulance and the emergency room and --"
"No," he interrupted, and took her hand awkwardly in his bandaged one. "I mean, I'm sorry."
"Oh, that." She waved her free hand. "Sometimes you have to blow off a little steam. I guess we have been kind of overdoing the mother-henning, but you were lost in another dimension, and we didn't know if you were alive or dead, and then you came back with all these bruises..."
He tightened his hand on hers. "I know, and I am sorry. I didn't mean to shout at you."
"Like I said, sometimes a little yelling is good for the soul." She gently removed her hand from his and stroked the back of his head. "How's your head feeling?"
"Oh, it's fine."
"No, not at all."
"Good." She smacked the back of his head, not hard enough to do any damage but hard enough to make her point. "Don't ever yell at me again or you'll be wearing bruises on your bruises, got it?"
"Completely," he agreed immediately.
"Okay," she said brightly and returned to the shopping bag on his desk. "This is for you."
"For me?" He accepted the bag but didn't open it. "Cordelia, you shouldn't have."
"I didn't. The agency paid for it."
Angel straightened from where he was leaning against the door frame. "The agency? Why is the agency buying Wesley presents?"
"We had to cut off his sweater, remember? And we said we'd replace it, so we did."
Wesley was aware of Angel eyeing him closely as he opened the bag and pulled out something soft wrapped in tissue paper. When he got all the paper unwrapped, he stared at the sweater in his hands. It was a steel blue crew neck and very soft and expensive looking, and it looked very much like --
"Is that cashmere?" Angel asked, bounding across the room straight for the sweater.
Cordelia beat him to it. She quickly took the sweater from Wesley's hands and held it up, her warning glare stopping Angel in his tracks. "Yes, it's cashmere. It's the perfect color for him and it's soft and it's --"
"Cashmere," Angel repeated. He hesitated a moment, then obviously tried to phrase his question in a way not to earn him another Cordelia glare. "Don't they... I mean, aren't they...?"
"Expensive shit," Gunn grinned. "Good taste, Cordy."
She smiled smugly. "Thank you."
Angel was still having a problem with the whole concept of cashmere. "But I mean, the sweater we cut off wasn't cashmere."
Cordelia looked at him as if he were nuts. "Like I'd cut off a cashmere sweater? Wesley would have just had to suck it up while we pulled it off him."
"Why thank you," Wesley murmured under his breath.
Cordelia carefully refolded the sweater and wrapped it in the tissue paper so it was out of Angel's sight. "And I was thinking, if you're feeling up to it, maybe we'd go for a little drive tomorrow, Wesley."
That was the most promising thing he'd heard all day. "A drive? Splendid. Where did you want to go?"
"There's this little salon I know. They do men's haircuts, very stylish."
His hand went immediately to his head. "What's wrong with my hair?"
"Oh, nothing that can't be fixed," she said breezily. "I've already stopped in and warned them you'd had a little accident so they wouldn't think you were an abused spouse or anything."
"What?" he asked, outraged.
"Well, you could understand someone thinking that," Gunn said helpfully.
"No, I can't understand someone thinking that. Why would anyone assume I'd been beaten up by a woman?"
There was a moment of silence, and then Angel folded his arms. "Wes is right."
Wesley gave Angel a look of gratitude. "Thank you," he said with feeling.
His gaze on Wesley, Angel deadpanned, "There's no reason someone who doesn’t know Wesley would assume he was beaten up by a woman."
"Oh I get it." Gunn flashed a smile. "Only someone who knows Wesley would assume he was beaten up by a girl."
As he looked around at the affectionate smiles on the faces of his friends, Wesley settled back in his chair and let the warmth of their friendship wash over him. He hoped the other Wesley was half as lucky. As for him, he decided he was probably the luckiest Wesley Wyndham-Pryce in any dimension.