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The Other Side

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Wesley closed the book he'd been leafing through, set it aside and reached for the next one on the pile on his desk. There had been three killings of homeless people in parks throughout Los Angeles over the last two weeks, which would be terrible but not unusual if not for the residue of green secretion left on the remains. That's what brought the killings to the attention of Angel Investigations. After several days of following up dead-end leads, Angel had tracked down someone who had actually glimpsed the demon responsible in one of the killings. Angel's drawing of the demon was quite good from the description he'd gotten from the old man, but so far Wesley hadn't been able to identify it. He was hoping to find a match quickly so they could stake out likely areas for the next attack. There were far too many parks in the L.A. area for them to cover them all and hope for the best.

As he turned the pages, discarding one illustration after the next, he gently kneaded his right knee in an effort to ease the persistent ache there. He'd felt like a damned fool falling down those stairs when a Rohar demon unexpectedly dropped from the rafters and tried to eviscerate him. But as Angel said as he later helped him limp out of the building, better alive and bruised than dead and having his guts all over the warehouse floor. He couldn't have agreed more.

He glanced at his watch, calculated the time Angel and Gunn had been gone, and decided they hadn't been gone long enough for him to worry yet. They could certainly dispatch one little Hakros demon between them without any trouble. Which they pointed out to him while backing out the door as he was still issuing reminders about the nasty spitting habit of the Hakros breed. He couldn't help smiling just a little at the thought of them finding out about the spitting on their own. The tobacco juice-like spit wasn't harmful to humans, but there wasn't a cleanser known to man or demon that would take the stain out of clothes and it carried a terrible stench. Perhaps the next time they wouldn't be so quick to run out the door when he was still issuing little helpful hints about the demon they were about to fight. Because the next time the spit could be poisonous; something he planned to point out to them both when they got back. He thought of the Giles in that other universe and how perhaps he'd been right in what he'd told Wesley: once a Watcher, always a Watcher, whether you were watching over a Slayer, or a team made up of a vampire with a soul, a street kid who had been killing vamps since he was twelve, and a former cheerleader.

Dropping his pen onto the book he sat back in his chair and thought about how his life had changed in the last couple of months. That day he walked into a bookshop and walked out unknowingly into another dimension he had no other thought in mind but to come to Los Angeles and kill Angelus. That had become his mission in life, and he'd never given a thought to what he would do after he accomplished it. He certainly never imagined he would be working side by side with the vampire or that he would be given an opportunity to again use his knowledge and skills to kill demons and help keep others alive. Despite the fact it was what he had spent his whole life training for and all he really knew how to do, he had thought that part of his life was over. If he was honest with himself, and he did try to be, the reason he hadn't made any plans for the rest of his life was because he didn't plan on being alive. Yes, the Angel in that other dimension had it right even though he would never have admitted it to him. Subconsciously he'd been building a mental file of 101 Ways to Get Yourself Killed ever since he'd lost Faith.

He felt that same sharp little pang in his chest whenever he thought of her. He still dreamt about her, still had nightmares of her body exploding into dust, still woke up with silent tears trailing down his face. He hadn't replaced her by any means, but he'd found a...cause. It had taken time for Angel and him to bear being around each other, but if they were going to make this work, they needed to put the past behind them. It helped them both that they'd known each other in Sunnydale, so it wasn't as if they were both starting out as complete strangers to each other. Wesley was able to push the memories of Angelus behind him and remember the Angel who had fought beside Buffy in Sunnydale, the Angel who had actually saved his life on one occasion when he'd been cornered by three vampires while going to meet Faith on patrol. Wesley wasn't sure how Angel dealt with what Angelus had done to Faith, but as guilt was something Angel lived with every day, he assumed it was one more burden for him to carry. One more life added to the thousands dispatched by the scourge of Europe that weighed on Angel's soul, a soul that would hopefully stay intact now.

Wesley felt some small satisfaction in that area. It had been surprisingly easy to deal with the law firm of Wolfram and Hart, who had been behind the removal of Angel's soul, and deliver the message it would be unwise to attempt it again. Due to their interference, the Watchers' Council had lost a Slayer. While Wolfram and Hart may be the most evil law firm on earth whose roots went back to the time of the Old Ones, the Watcher's Council had some very long and very strong roots of its own, and they had a store of mystics, black magic, witches, warlocks and magical plagues to rival anything in the law firm's coffers. It had been a matter of Giles picking up the phone to alert to Council to what he and Wesley had discovered, that Wolfram and Hart were responsible for unleashing Angelus, which made them indirectly responsible for the loss of a Slayer. The Council could not let such interference go unchallenged. With the resources at their disposal, the Council had tracked down the dark mystic responsible for de-souling Angel, and delivered him to Linwood Murrow, the man who had masterminded the plan. The rumors were the number of UPS packages filled up a large part of his office and the resulting stains forced them to recarpet. Giles had received word from the Council that an understanding had been reached with Wolfram and Hart, and if Angel lost his soul again, the law firm wouldn't have anything to do with it.

With Charles Gunn, he felt less like a Watcher and more like a sometimes exasperated elder brother. Charles was a self-taught vampire killer, and he was strong and fast and good. But he was also reckless, impatient and far too casual about details that could save his life, or the life of the person fighting next to him. He was also used to running his own crew and being the one giving the orders. Accepting orders and conforming to a plan were things foreign to his nature, but were both things Wesley insisted on. In many ways Gunn reminded him of Faith when he first met her: a little wild, undisciplined, headstrong, quick-tempered. When he and Charles clashed over the many things they found to clash over he used the same tactic he'd used on Faith: the louder Gunn's voice got, the softer his voice became. It had been surprisingly effective.

Angel wasn't much better when it came to planning. He and Gunn could both sum up a 'plan' as: break in a door and start hitting things. Since Wesley was determined to keep the team of Angel Investigations alive by using the skills and knowledge he'd spent a lifetime accumulating, and since Angel and Gunn seemed determined to continue to fight as if they were doing it solo, he hadn't been sure at first they would be able to mesh as an effective team. It was true that they'd gone on their first couple of calls and had come back alive, but Wesley could hardly call those cases successful. The demons they'd fought hadn't been particularly dangerous or smart, and they had all fought as if they'd been fighting on their own instead of as a team. Wesley had been disappointed in them and even more disappointed in himself for not being able to make a difference.

Then they'd gotten the call about a 'monster' that had trapped a troop of boy scouts in some sea caves. They didn't have the first clue what they were walking into; they only knew children were in danger and they would be fighting in close quarters. Wesley could hardly imagine a worst scenario. It turned out the scenario got worse when they arrived and he got his first look at the demon. He'd never seen a live Kailapi demon before. They were rarely seen because they usually fed on smaller, weaker demons and had no need for human contact. The fact that one was now rampaging through the sea caves seeking out human flesh told him they may have a bigger problem than just one Kailapi demon to deal with. The bigger problem turned out to be a nest of Kailapi fledglings who were just as eager as the adult to peck out the eyes of the invading humans. Between the terrified children, the furious adult Kailapi, the screeching bad-tempered fledglings eager for their first kill, and the fact they barely had room to maneuver, it should have been a disaster. But something happened in the sea cave that day. That day three individuals became a team. Desperately searching his mind for every detail he'd ever read about the Kailapi, Wesley quickly sifted through it all and provided a succinct description of their strengths and weaknesses. Surprisingly, it was Gunn who came up with the plan they used, and everyone did their part as well as watching the backs of their team mates and using the information they now had their disposal. Aside from a few bruises, the children were all fine, and the Kailapi were all dispatched. The three of them were a little worse for wear, but alive. Except for Angel, as Gunn pointed out, who wasn't alive, but at least he wasn't any deader than when he'd started out. They were in high spirits after that, and at Gunn's insistence, Wesley learned a new congratulatory handshake that involved a lot of complicated movements and bumping together of knuckles.

They were all so pleased with themselves and the outcome of the fight that they forgot to call Cordelia afterwards to let her know they were okay. When they walked into the Hyperion, still a little giddy from their success and just beginning to ache from the bruises and cuts, she had been furious. But they all saw her anger was simply covering up how scared she was that something terrible had happened to them. Apologies were quickly followed by rib-creaking hugs, first aid, and then a breakfast of eggs, tea and toast. As he sat around the table with Cordelia and Gunn while Angel made eggs at the stove, he thought of the meal he'd been given in that other reality and of that Angel and Cordelia who had perhaps taught him more than they realized.

He smiled to himself as he heard Cordelia at her keyboard outside his office. It was hard to reconcile this Cordelia with the self-centered, spoilt rich girl he'd flirted with in Sunnydale. He suspected things hadn't been easy for her since she had come to Los Angeles, but she'd survived and she'd learned to adapt. When they had come back from fighting that Kailapi demon, bleeding all over the lobby floor, after the shouting and the hugs she'd lined them all up and efficiently dealt with their cuts and bruises. He couldn't see Sunnydale Cordelia doing that anymore than he could bear to see either version living in a rat-infested apartment or in the back room of a demon night club. She seemed happy in her new apartment, and he planned to see to it that Angel Investigations met payroll each week so she could afford to stay there. It was motivation for Cordelia as well, and she'd turned out to be scarily efficient as an office manager. In addition, she was the one who put up their web page and designed the flyers he and Gunn had posted all over town. He'd already talked to Angel about training her in the basics of weapons use because they should all be prepared, and he planned to have her help him catalogue his research books so she would know where everything was. He remembered her being a good student at Sunnydale High, and he didn't plan to let that intelligence go to waste.

As he leaned forward to continue his search for the mystery demon, it occurred to him that for the first time since he had lost Faith he was beginning to feel something that wasn't pain and anger.

 

Cordelia finished the credit check on their latest potential client, marked him as very credit worthy, and began setting up a file. Who knew she was such a whiz at office management or had such a head for business? She certainly never inherited it from her parents who had lost everything, including her trust fund, due to a little issue of willfully neglecting to pay Uncle Sam his taxes over the course of many years. But that was Sunnydale and this was L.A., and she was on her own now and finally had a job that, strangely enough, seemed to suit her. Not that she'd given up her aspirations to be an actress, but she'd found a niche for herself, and she was kind of enjoying being good at it. The only thing she'd really been good at before was being Queen Bitch of Sunnydale High, and that unfortunately wasn't something she could put on a resume.

She took a moment to look around the Hyperion Hotel lobby, which was the headquarters (and currently only location, but she wasn't ruling out expansion) of Angel Investigations. They had come a long way in two months. Two months and a day ago she and Gunn hadn't even known one another, and she hadn't given a thought to Wesley or Angel since she'd left Sunnydale. Now they were all together under the umbrella of Angel Investigations, a strange little team that was part private detective agency, part demon extermination company and was oddly enough becoming something of a family unit. Granted the unit was made up of a quartet of misfits who didn't really have any other place to fit in, but that in itself was something they all had in common.

Gunn had had his crew of vampire killers where he had been the leader, but when he began working with Angel they had told him not to bother coming back to work with them, the creeps. He'd been pretty pissed off about it since he was the one who had started that crew in the first place, but he'd put on a macho face around them and pretended it didn't hurt as much as Cordelia suspected it did. He was still a little wary around Angel, which was to be expected from someone who had lost his parents and sister to vampires, but he was showing up every day and giving a hundred and ten percent in the fights, and he had taken to hanging out here even when there wasn't anything going on, so he was obviously starting to feel comfortable around them.

Cordelia had made some friends in L.A., but they were the kind of friends she had in Sunnydale; fun to hang around with if you could afford the places they went, but not the sort you could confide in or depend on if you needed help. Wesley had taken her out apartment hunting and they had managed to find a clean, rat-free place she could afford in a not too run-down neighborhood, then he and Gunn had helped her move her belongings with his truck. She'd never heard of an apartment without a security deposit, especially in this town, so although she wouldn't embarrass him by bringing it up, she suspected Wesley had quietly arranged to pay it himself so she could afford the first month's rent. It was just the sort of thing he'd do, she'd learned.

Wesley didn't seem to have anyone in his life either. The Wesley she saw now was a changed man from the one she'd known in her Sunnydale days. That Wesley wasn't exactly a talker, but he had a dry sense of humor and a very quick wit, and he did at least smile and seem to enjoy life. This Wesley still had the quick wit and a dry sense of humor which was glimpsed occasionally, but he could give Angel a run for his money in the brooding stakes, and there seemed to be something...damaged inside him. She'd called Sunnydale and talked to Willow to get the skinny on him and that's how she had found out about Faith. She could understand the breakage now and the strain that occasionally showed between him and Angel. For the first couple of weeks those two had either avoided one another completely or circled one another trying to find a comfort zone. The tension between them had been so thick she thought this was never going to work out. But then they'd gone on a call where Angel, Wesley and Gunn had fought shoulder to shoulder against a rare (according to Wesley) and dangerous Kailapi demon. They'd come back to the hotel covered in revolting green slime and more than a few cuts and bruises, but apparently some manly man-type bonding had occurred while they were fighting for their lives and protecting each other, and there was a new sense of peace between them. Women would have just done each other's nails and gone shoe shopping together, and slime would have been avoided altogether.

Not that she thought all their issues were behind them just yet. Wesley still sometimes got that dead look in his eyes and went even quieter than usual, retreating to some place deep within himself. Angel still went on brood-a-thons. Gunn was still a guy who liked to grab an axe and run after a demon with no plan in sight. And she was the lucky person who tried to keep this madhouse running like clockwork.

But for four misfits they were doing pretty well. It was amazing how many demons and vampires needed killing in Los Angeles, and once they'd gotten a web site up and flyers posted over the city, the calls had started coming in. Another few months and they could even start to turn a profit. Or at least break even.

As she finished setting up the file for Mr. Kershaw, her electronic scheduling calendar pinged a reminder and she got up to go to the kitchen. Pulling an ice bag out of the freezer, she wrapped it in a towel and carried it into Wesley's office. He was sitting behind his desk, using a magnifying glass to clarify a detail of an illustration in one of his musty old books, and he looked up when she walked in. "Surely it hasn't been four hours already?"

"Been and gone," she said, pulling a stool over to his desk. "Come on, get your leg up here so I can put ice on that knee unless you want it swelling up like a balloon again."

Sighing as if he were very hard done by, Wesley moved around in his chair so he could prop his right leg on the stool. "It's much better now," he protested. "I don't think I need --"

"Look, I saw plenty of blown knees from the football players at Sunnydale High, and I know whereof I speak." Carefully she wrapped the ice pack around his knee, not missing the small sigh of relief he gave as the cold began to ease the ache. "A few more days of ice treatments and keeping it elevated and it'll be much better. But if you push it and use it too soon you're just asking for trouble." Wesley had taken a fall down some steps on their last call, which had resulted in his knee having swelled up to the size of a melon by the time they got him back to the Hyperion. It was much better now, but Cordelia knew from experience he needed to be careful with it for a bit longer.

He gave another sigh and said obediently, "Yes, Cordelia." But despite his attempt to sound annoyed he really didn't sound too put out. He was a person who hated asking for help, which was one of the reasons Cordelia didn't mind helping him at all. If she'd ever seen a person who deserved to be spoiled a little, and fed a lot, it was Wesley.

The sound of the door closing in the lobby made them both look up. "Customers," she said with a bright smile and turned to leave.

"Call if you need me."

"I'll do the meet 'n' greet and bring them in if we need demon expertise," she promised. She walked out of his office and aimed her best customer-greeting smile at the three men who stood in the lobby. All three were wearing expensive but worn leather coats, and the one in the middle was smoking despite the No Smoking signs Cordelia had carefully placed around the lobby where no one could miss them. So far, they weren't making such a good impression, and Cordelia was glad Wesley was nearby. Still she gave them her enthusiastic, "Welcome to Angel Investigations. We help the helpless. How can I help you?"

The three strangers looked at one another, and then the one in the middle spoke in an English accent. "We're looking for Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. Does he work here?"

"Wesley? Are you friends of his?" Relieved that the strangers were English and knew Wesley, she answered, "He certainly does. He's in his office." She turned back the way she had come. "I'll just go get --" She gave a yell of surprise as she was grabbed and held tightly from behind. "Hey! What do you think you're doing? Let go, you creep!"

"Cordelia?" Wesley's sharp voice rang out and moments later he was out of his office, limping heavily, but a crossbow held steadily in his hands. The arm around Cordelia's neck tightened in warning and she stopped struggling, keeping very still and watching Wesley for some sign of what she was to do. She was being held by the man in the middle. The other two had fanned out, and as she watched, they brought out guns from under their coats. Wesley never lowered his crossbow. Instead he moved his arm so he was aiming directly at the skinny, unshaven man on his right. "Let her go, Collins," he said in a hard voice. "Or I'll put a bolt right through Weatherby. I've been looking for an excuse for years."

"Now, now, Wesley, there's no reason for this to turn ugly," Collins said mildly.

"It turned ugly the moment you showed up. Let her go."

There was a pause as if Collins was considering it, and then he said simply, "No. Consider her your pledge for good behavior. You do as we tell you, and no harm will come to her. However, if you give us any trouble..." Cordelia jerked her head away as the man raised the lit end of his cigarette close to her left eye. There was a clattering sound as Wesley's crossbow dropped to the floor.

"Hurt her, and I'll kill you."

The cold menace in Wesley's voice was enough to make her shiver, but apparently it was no more than Collins expected, as he dropped his cigarette to the floor and lazily crushed it out with the toe of his shoe. "There now. Much better. We've come to take you home, Wesley."

"I don't work for the Council any longer, Collins."

"Yes, they received your resignation. They decided not to accept it."

"Going to be like old times, Wesley," Weatherby spoke up with a nasty smile. "Won't that be fun?"

"I'm not going anywhere with you. I don't work for the Council, and you're trespassing. Get out."

Collins shifted his grip on Cordelia. "Not without you, mate, Orders. The Council doesn't want a rogue Watcher working for a vampire. Not good for business."

"Yeah, they're going to deprogram you," Weatherby grinned. "Got some fancy spells all ready for you. By the time they're done with you, you won't know what a vampire is."

Cordelia gasped, "You can't do that to him! That's -- that's --" She couldn't think of a word bad enough to describe what they had in mind.

"That's business. Council business," Collins said calmly. "Breaking an oath is a terrible thing, isn't it, Wesley? Got to set an example."

The third man spoke up for the first time. "For god's sake, enough talk. Let's just get it over with." He sounded more resigned than angry, and Cordelia wondered if he didn't want to be a part of this.

Collins gave Cordelia a sudden shove that landed her in Weatherby's arms. "Relax, Smith. All in good time. Weatherby, tie her up and keep her quiet." He pulled his own gun. "Wesley, we can do this the hard way or the easy way. Either way you end up back in England."

Weatherby used too much cheap cologne, he was holding her in places he had no business having his hands, and there was no way in hell these three thugs were kidnapping Wesley right under her nose. As Weatherby began to pull her toward Wesley's office, she found an opportunity to slip in his grip enough to sink her teeth into one of his hands.

"Christ!" Weatherby yelped but didn't loosen his grip enough to let her escape. Instead he pulled her around and back-handed her hard enough to snap her head back. "Bitch."

That's all he had time to say. Cordelia was jolted loose and fell to the floor as something slammed into Weatherby and sent him crashing into the wall. She looked up to see Wesley pulling his arm back to deliver a blow when Collins walked up behind him.

"Wesley," she cried, "look out!"

But before Wesley could turn around Collins delivered a vicious kick to the back of Wesley's right knee. With a strangled gasp of pain, Wesley folded to the floor, his weight no longer supported by a knee that had been reduced to an explosion of pain. The third man, Smith, moved up behind her and grabbed her before she could make a move toward Wesley, and she could only watch helplessly as he grabbed at his knee and choked back his groans of pain. Collins stared down at him dispassionately. "You need to be careful with knees, Wesley. Sometimes injuries like that can be permanent."

"You scumbags!" Cordelia snarled.

Weatherby moved to join Collins, his weaselly face alight with anticipation. "I just knew he'd pick the hard way." He brought back his foot and caught Wesley in the ribs, flipping him over onto his back. Wesley tried to pull himself up, but Weatherby kicked him again, and as Wesley struggled to get breath back into his lungs, the other man delivered a blow to the side of his head that Cordelia was certain had knocked him out.

"Stop it! Stop it! You're going to kill him!"

"Oh, it'd take more than that to kill Wesley," Collins observed, lighting up another cigarette as he watched Weatherby work. "He's as tough as old boots, aren't you, Wesley?"

The man holding her back had an iron-like grip around her, but he sounded uncomfortable as he said, "For Christ's sake, you've got the tranquilizer. Use that."

Weatherby grinned up at him. "But this is so much more fun." Reaching down, he grabbed a handful of Wesley's hair and pulled his head back painfully. "You won't be quite so pretty when we deliver you to the Council, but I don't think they'll mind." He pulled back his arm to deliver another punch, but he never connected.

All Cordelia saw was a blur before Weatherby flew through the air and slammed into the wall. Collins followed in short order, and the arms around her were suddenly gone as she heard pained grunts and fists connecting with flesh. It was only when strong arms were helping to steady her that she realized it was Gunn. And that's when she saw Angel in full game face, his hands around the necks of both Collins and Weatherby, their feet dangling inches from the floor.

"Check on Wesley," Angel ordered, his golden gaze never moving from Collins and Weatherby.

Cordelia was already kneeling at Wesley's side, helping him turn over. He was bleeding from a cut above one eye and bruises were already beginning to come out on his face. "I'm all right, I'm all right," he mumbled as she helped him sit up. He clenched his jaw as he moved his leg, and it took him a few moments to even his breathing out so he could speak. "Are you okay?"

She glanced over her shoulder at Collins and Weatherby who were gasping for breath and Smith, who had a very sharp axe blade under his chin. "You should see the other guys."

"Has Angel killed them yet?" he asked with minimal interest.

"I think he's waiting to see what you want to do."

He held out a hand. "Help me up," he grunted. She considered telling him to stay where he was, but decided he would probably get to his feet with or without her help, so she may as well help. She managed to get some leverage under him, and he did the rest. He gave a little hiss of pain as he put weight onto his right leg, but he carefully removed his arm from around her supporting shoulder and limped heavily over to where Angel was still holding the two men. "You may want to let them breathe, Angel."

"If you insist." Angel abruptly opened his hands and the men dropped unsteadily to their feet, gasping for breath. "Who are they?"

"Council thugs," Wesley said flatly.

"They were trying to kidnap Wesley," Cordelia told him. "They wanted to take him back to England."

Angel gave him a sharp look. "Because you're working with me."

"Perhaps I misspelled a word in my letter of resignation."

Cordelia rubbed gingerly at her cheek where Weatherby had hit her, feeling the steady throb of a rising bruise. "They were going to use spells on him so he wouldn't remember anything."

Wesley looked at her, and she could see his gaze resting on her cheek. Without warning, he turned and landed a right hook that sent Weatherby crashing to the floor.

"Nice one, English," Gunn grinned.

"Not bad," Angel agreed. "Which one's in charge?"

Wesley nodded to Collins. "He's the head puppet."

Angel stepped up to Collins and pushed his game face right into Collins'. "You tell the Council, if they ever send anyone after any of my people again, there won't be enough of them left to mail back in an envelope, got it?"

Collins was obviously trying to go for fearless, but all he managed was a quick nod while keeping his gaze anywhere but on the fanged visage in front of him. Abruptly Angel morphed back to his human face and his voice softened dangerously. "Now, this part is personal. Take a good look at the faces in this room and memorize them. If you ever touch any of these people again, I'll kill you. And not in the quick, snap-your-neck kind of way. Got it?"

Collins' Adams apple bobbed as he swallowed, but he nodded again. Wesley moved up beside Angel and gazed levelly at Collins. "The Council can accept my resignation or not, it makes no difference to me. I'm through with them." He paused, then added quietly as if he were really talking to another human being, "We're on the same side, Collins, whether you want to believe it or not. We fight the same demons you do, the same demons the Council trains Watchers to fight."

Now that Collins was looking at Wesley and not Angel he apparently managed to get some spit in his mouth because he accused, "You'd choose him over your own kind?"

"I'm not your kind, Collins. I never was."

"Open your eyes, man," Collins snapped. "You work for a vampire."

"He has a soul."

"He didn't have a soul when Faith --"

Collins' words died a sudden death as Wesley's hand shot out and wrapped around his throat so fast Cordelia jumped. "That situation has been dealt with." Cordelia saw Wesley take a few deep breaths to steady himself, and then he said in a very low whisper, "And don't you ever let me hear you say her name again." Slowly, he released his grip on the man's throat and stepped back. "Now get out."

Staring mutinously at Wesley, Collins rubbed his throat, then nodded to the other two. As they reached the front door, Wesley said quietly, "Collins." They stopped and Collins turned slightly. "'Don't make us regret that we let you leave here alive. We wouldn't make the same mistake twice."

As the door closed behind them, Angel moved swiftly and caught Wesley under the arms as his leg buckled, "Easy, easy." Gunn was at his other side in an instant, taking his other arm. "We've got you, bro." Cordelia could see Wesley's face was white and pinched with pain, and she rushed off to the kitchen as they began to move him toward the sofa.

When she came back with a ice and towels, they had Wesley stretched out on the sofa and Angel was gently fitting his hands around Wesley's knee. Someone had given Wesley a handkerchief and he was holding it to the cut above his eye while he rested his head back against the sofa arm, his eyes squeezed shut. "Ow," he complained.

Angel released his knee as if he'd been burned. "Sorry," he said guiltily. "I was afraid it might be dislocated."

"No, it's still in place." Wesley winced as he carefully flexed it. "But he did get the boot in rather spectacularly."

"Scumbags," Cordelia snapped as she elbowed Angel and Gunn out of her way. When they both looked at her, she rolled her eyes. "Not you, doofus and doofuser. Them. The creepy Watcher guys."

"Not Watchers," Wesley corrected, then hissed as she carefully wrapped the ice bag around his knee. "They're the Council's goon squad."

"So, are we going to have more of those pansy-asses showing up?" Gunn asked, sounding a little hopeful at the prospect. "Wouldn't mind kicking a little more British ass."

Wesley shot him a sour look but said, "I think that's unlikely. I suspect the hardliners on the Council decided they had to try retrieving me just to make a point, but I doubt they'll attempt it again. I’m not worth the risk. Ow! What was that for?" he asked plaintively.

Cordelia gently smoothed the ice pack over his knee, ignoring his glare. "What was what for?" she asked innocently. "So they're just going to give up? Just like that? Why would they do that if they thought you were worth the risk in the first place?"

"I suspect Angel's promise to mail back the messengers in a very small envelope may have something to do with it," Wesley said dryly.

Angel said quietly, "The Council usually doesn't scare that easily." Even though it was a statement, Angel turned it into a question, and Wesley acknowledged it with a nod.

"No, they don't. But they can't afford any more losses at the moment, and to be perfectly frank -- Cordelia, keep your hands by your side, please -- I really am not worth the risk."

"What I don't get," Gunn spoke up, "is why they tried to snatch you in the first place."

"Because he's working with me," Angel said flatly.

"Yes," Wesley agreed. "You see the Council doesn’t care that Angel has a soul. To them, he is still just a vampire. Vampires and the Council...they have a very long, very bloody history together. They've been sworn enemies for centuries. It's not something that's going to change overnight, or because one vampire has a soul." He surrendered the handkerchief to Cordelia when she gestured for it and tilted his head to let her clean the cut over his eye. "I'm afraid I'm quite the embarrassment to them." He actually sounded pretty pleased about that, and Cordelia shared a grin with Gunn.

She carefully placed a bandage over the cut she'd cleaned. "So they were going to suck out your memories just because you're an embarrassment? Harsh much?"

"I don't know how much of that was true and how much was Weatherby being a prick, but there is precedence for the use of such spells on disgraced Watchers."

"If anyone's a disgrace, it's the people who send out scum like that," Cordelia countered vehemently.

Angel was looking at Wesley with something like guilt on his face. "I didn't know you'd resigned."

Wesley turned his head so he could look at the vampire. "It was just a formality. I assure you, my name was struck from the roles the moment word got back to them that we were working together."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. Faith and I --" He faltered as he always did when he mentioned Faith's name. Cordelia wondered if he would ever be able to talk about Faith without getting that empty look in his eyes, or if Angel would ever be able to hear her name without flinching. "We didn't exactly work closely with the Council," Wesley finished little haltingly.

She'd seen this often enough in the last two months to last her a lifetime. If they were going to be working together they couldn't go tip-toeing around Faith's ghost all the time. What had happened to Faith was part and parcel of who Wesley was, and everyone -- including Wesley -- needed to deal with that. Time to take the first step toward some normalcy. "From what I remember of Faith," she said, keeping her voice casual as she packed up the first aid kit, "you'd be lucky to get her to obey orders from someone standing two feet away from her. Don't think you'd have much chance getting her to listen to a bunch of stuffed Watchers from all the way over in Jolly Old." For a moment there was absolute stillness in the lobby and Cordelia wondered if she had pushed too far too soon. Across from her Gunn was watching Wesley closely, a little frown between his eyes. She'd filled him on what happened with Faith because if that was going to be a mine field with Wesley, then she figured he had a right to know.

But just when she thought she might have to drop the first aid kit onto the floor to break the silence, a sad little smile touched Wesley's lips. "Quite right," he said softly. "And sometimes even two feet was too far."

Gunn grinned. "Sounds like a straight up gal. I think I would've liked her."

Wesley said feelingly, "She would have had you for breakfast, Charles." As Gunn was spluttering over a come-back, Wesley glanced at Angel. "I'm sure the Council is relieved to be rid of me."

"Well their loss is our gain," Cordelia said staunchly, packing up the first aid kit. "And you're going to have to stay here tonight."

"What? Certainly not. I'm perfectly capable of --"

"Taking care of yourself? Nope, don't think so. Angel, tell him."

Angel gave him an apologetic look. "She's right, Wes. You can't ride your bike with that knee, and yes I know one of us could drive you home, but then what? Why not just stay here and take the only chance you're likely to get to have us wait on you hand and foot. Besides, I don't think it's a good idea for you to go back to your place alone just yet. I know you don't think the Council is going to try anything, but they may be counting on us thinking that."

"I can go over to your place and pick up a change of clothes," Gunn volunteered, "and I can check around, make sure there aren't any skanky British white guys hanging around the neighborhood." The way he was bouncing on his toes told Cordelia just how much he was looking forward to the prospect of finding some.

Wesley dropped his head back onto the couch arm again and sighed, but shifted in order to dig his hand into his pants pocket and pull out a set of keys. Tossing them to Gunn, he said sternly, "No playing with the weapons on the walls."

Gunn brightened. "You got weapons on the walls?" When Wesley held his look, Gunn sighed, "Okay, okay, no playing with the Watcher's weapons." He picked up his axe and held it up in salute. "Later."

"Charles." Gunn stopped and turned back. "I know I said I didn't think there would be any more trouble from the Council," Wesley said slowly, "but watch your back."

Gunn grinned. "And my front," he promised cheerfully, and turned and crossed the lobby to the front door.

"I'm not sure we should let him go alone," Wesley murmured as the door closed behind Gunn.

"I'd be more worried about anyone he happens to run into," Cordelia pointed out as she got to her feet. "Okay, I'm calling it a night. Angel, make sure he stays off his feet. Wesley, I'll know if you don't keep that leg elevated." Walking over to her desk, she picked up her shoulder bag, large enough to conceal a stake, a crucifix and a small bottle of holy water, along with essential cosmetics and hair care products, and slung it over her shoulder. "I'll be back in the morning with donuts."

Angel called a good night as he went into the kitchen, probably to retrieve some blood from the refrigerator, and Wesley said, "Goodnight, Cordelia; be careful going home."

He said that each time she left any time after dusk, as if she'd never grown up on a Hellmouth and didn't work for an agency that specialized in demons and vampires, but she waved an acknowledgment as she stepped out into the night. It gave her a warm feeling inside to know that someone was thinking of her as she was driving home. It reminded her of when she used to visit her Uncle David in The Hamptons over summer vacation and how, even though he was really only a few years older than she was, he took his position as her uncle very seriously. He was always looking out for her and making sure the guys who took an interest in her were ones he knew and trusted with his niece. David was Princeton educated, drop dead gorgeous, sweet tempered, full of laughter, and gayer than Elton John. Cordelia adored him. As she got into her car she realized with a pang that she hadn't thought of David in a long time. He'd been killed in a motorcycle accident in her junior year at Sunnydale High and she had been devastated. She wished Wesley would buy himself something safe to drive around in like an SUV instead of that motorcycle. Pulling out into traffic she made a mental note to stop by some dealerships and pick up some brochures. It wouldn't hurt to leave them around the office and maybe it would give her an opening to get Wesley thinking about a vehicle he wouldn’t have to wear a helmet to drive.

 

Surrounded by books, and he still didn't have the one he needed. Angel had patiently brought him every book he asked for which were now piled on the floor around him, but none of them had provided what he was looking for. He glanced around guiltily; Angel said he would be nearby if Wesley needed anything, but since he wasn't in sight, Wesley thought he could probably make it to his office and back without anyone being the wiser. But as he pushed himself up and lowered his aching leg gently to the floor, Angel called out, "What do you need, Wes?"

Sighing, Wesley settled back onto the couch. He didn't think he'd ever get used to vampire hearing. "'Verspronck's Demons, Vampyres and Creatures of the Night', the original Flemish, not the translation." He heard soft footsteps as Angel appeared from wherever he had been and entered his office. A few moments later the vampire was standing beside the sofa handing him the book, although Wesley noticed after he took the book that Angel immediately took a step back so he wasn't looming. "Thank you," he said apologetically.

"Wes, there's no need to apologize. I know you're researching that demon we've been trying to track." Angel cocked his head and offered a slight smile. "At least I know it's nothing personal."

Wesley frowned. "Pardon?"

"You hate asking for help from anyone; I know it's not just me."

"Oh." Wesley searched for a way to deny it, then raised one shoulder in a slightly defensive shrug.

"Something I can certainly identify with," Angel continued ruefully.

Wesley looked up sharply, saw the pensive look on Angel's face and sighed his agreement. "I am working on it," he said with dry humor.

"So am I," Angel assured him. But before they could compare more mutual shortcomings, the phone rang, and with some relief, Angel strode over to the counter to answer it. "Angel Investigations. We help -- Gunn? What's up?"

Wesley sat up and pushed himself around, poised to get to his feet. He frowned as he listened to Angel's side of the conversation, trying to piece together what was going on.

"How many? Okay, no you stay where you are. I'm on my way."

Wesley was on his feet as Angel put down the receiver. "What's going on?"

"Sit down, Wesley. That was Gunn. It seems you've got company at your apartment."

"He didn't --?"

"He could see them from the street. Seems you're a bit more worth the risk than you thought."

"Oh bloody hell. I'll just go talk to them, and --"

"You tried talking to them. You see how far that got us." Angel put his hands on his shoulders and firmly pushed him back down on the sofa. "This time Gunn and I will make sure they get the message."

"Angel, you can't --"

"What if the next time they decide to get to you through Cordelia?" Angel asked flatly.

Shocked, Wesley was on the verge of denying that would ever happen when he realized it had happened when Collins had held his lit cigarette to Cordelia's face, and could very well happen again if they weren't careful. "All right," he agreed quietly. "But you can't kill them. They're human, Angel."

"Just barely," the vampire growled as he strode for the door.

"Angel!" Wesley said sharply, pushing himself unsteadily to his feet.

Angel wheeled around. "No, of course I won't kill them, Wes," he said impatiently. "I know they're human."

Wesley faced him from across the lobby, his voice quiet. "That wasn't what I was about to say. Remember these people are trained vampire killers."

Angel stared at him, then his face softened. "I'll remember."

As he disappeared through the door, Wesley added with some resignation, "And try not to break anything in my flat."

"No promises," the vampire called back as the door closed behind him.

After Angel left, Wesley tried to settle down to his research again, but his mind kept wandering to Angel and Gunn. He'd brought Council trouble here. He should have known it was a possibility, but he honestly thought the Council would be eager to wash their hands of a Watcher who had let his Slayer get turned, then killed her by his own hands. He was through in the field anyhow. Of course, working with a vampire, especially the infamous Angelus, was an insult the Council couldn't ignore, and deprogramming him, unless Weatherby was lying about that, would give them their pound of flesh. Well, endangering the people he was responsible for was something he couldn't ignore either, and Angel was right about that. They needed to take a stand and send a message the Council couldn't ignore. He just wished he knew what was going on over at his flat.

He had just turned back to his Verspronck with renewed determination when the front doors crashed open and Collins, Weatherby and Smith sauntered inside, cradling automatic weapons in their arms. "Hello, Wesley," Collins said easily. "I think we have some unfinished business. Let's see how this goes when your pet vampire isn't around to interfere, shall we?"

***

Angel and Gunn stood outside Wesley's apartment door and listened. Rather, Angel listened as he motioned for Gunn to stay quiet. They'd both seen three shapes moving around in Wesley's apartment from where they'd been observing outside. The men had either been sloppy or overconfident as they hadn't gone to any great lengths to conceal themselves if they were laying a trap for Wes.

It wasn't until Angel was halfway to Wesley's place that he wondered if he would still be able to enter once he got there. He'd brought Wesley home two weeks ago after they'd spent a couple of tough hours battling a nest of vampires in an abandoned warehouse. For some reason they'd gotten into a discussion about medieval poetry on the way and when Angel stopped the car, Wesley asked him if he'd like to look over his small but apparently impressive collection. For a moment, Angel hadn't been able to respond. He knew what a large step that had been for Wesley to take: to invite into his home the vampire who had turned the most precious person in his life and forced him to kill her. He'd accepted and spent the few minutes inside Wesley's apartment making appreciative noises over Wesley's rather remarkable book collection while his respect for the man grew. It was true Wesley could have rescinded the invitation as soon as Angel left, but that was something Wesley would have mentioned before he came over here. It wasn't the sort of detail he would forget.

"Something's wrong," he said suddenly and looked at Gunn. "There's no one in there."

Gunn, who had been impatiently waiting for their grand entrance, growled, "We saw them. They're in there. Maybe your spidey sense is off."

"My spidey sense is working just fine, and I'm telling you there's no one in there. No heartbeats, no breathing."

"Maybe they don't have heartbeats. Or lungs."

"They can't be vampires. And other demons are alive and have hearts and lungs, which I could hear if they were in there."

Gunn gave up on that argument and hefted his axe in one hand while dangling Wesley's keys in the other. "Only one way to find out."

"Do it," Angel ordered.

The instant the door was unlocked, they were inside the apartment, poised for a fight. But Angel knew as soon as he stepped inside that the apartment was empty. Gunn checked the other rooms to be sure, but he came out of the bedroom shaking his head. "You were right. So what does that mean? They weren't after Wes after all?" He looked around the living room with a frown, noting the expensive equipment setting about. "They weren't ripping off the place. No self-respecting burglar would leave that laptop behind or the digital camera."

Angel felt a cold unease creep through him as he looked around the room. Nothing had been disturbed as far as he could see. "They saw us coming. But if they were waiting for Wes," he thought out loud, "why would they have a look-out? It was three against one. All they had to do was hide and keep quiet until the door opened. And why were they so careless to let themselves been seen from the street?"

"Yeah, it was almost like they --"

"--wanted to be seen," Angel finished as that cold unease turned into pure dread. Pulling out his cell phone, he tossed it to Gunn. "Call Cordelia," he ordered sharply. "Make sure she's okay. I'll call Wes and warn him."

"They faked us out, didn't they?" Gunn was quickly pressing numbers on the phone, his eyes sparking with anger. "They set us up. They wanted to draw us away from Wes."

And they'd left Wesley behind, alone and certainly no match if the goon squad went for him again, Angel thought grimly. He quickly punched out the number to the hotel on Wesley's phone, then silently counted the unanswered rings on the other end as he listened to Gunn's conversation with Cordelia. "Tell her to stay where she is."

Gunn held a hand over the phone. "She wants to know what's wrong."

"Tell her we'll call her from the hotel," Angel growled, "but she needs to stay where she is." He slammed the receiver down. "Wes isn't answering. Let's go."

Gunn said a quick good-bye and gratefully disconnected. "She's pissed," he said, following Angel.

"She can be as pissed as she likes as long as she stays where she is."

 

Gunn ran up the stairs from the lobby to check some of the rooms, but Angel already knew he wouldn't find anything. He walked slowly around the lobby, taking in the books that were no longer in neat piles on the floor around the sofa. There was no point in looking, but he went to the basement anyhow, and for good measure verified that Wesley's motorcycle was still parked in its usual place.

He met Gunn in the lobby. The other man was standing beside the sofa, looking down at the books with an expression of absolute fury on his face. "We're fucked," he said flatly. "We fell for it like a couple of amateurs, and we let them waltz right in here and grab Wes."

"We'll get him back," Angel promised grimly.

"Who?" Angel and Gunn both whirled around to find Cordelia standing in the doorway of the hotel, her hair damp and pulled hastily back from her face. She began marching purposefully toward them. "What's going on? And where's Wesley?" Stopping in front of Gunn she poked him none to gently in the chest with her index finger. "And don't you ever hang up on me again when I'm asking you questions, buster. And I ask again, where's Wesley?"

Angel and Gunn exchanged a look. "There were three people in Wesley's apartment. We thought they were there to ambush Wesley, so we went over to deal with it."

Gunn glumly took up the narrative, "And while we were over there they came here and snatched Wesley. It was a trick."

Cordelia looked from one to another, her face draining. "They took him? Those three goons? The ones who were beating him up and wanted to suck out his memories?"

"We are not going to let that happen," Angel said fiercely.

"We don't even know where they might take him," Gunn pointed out, pacing back and forth in his frustration. "We don't know anything about this Council or how they operate or how to track them."

Angel's head snapped up and he met Cordelia's gaze. "No," he agreed, "but we know someone who does."

Cordelia was already heading for the phone.

 

Cordelia knew she'd been right to insist on purchasing one speaker phone for the office in spite of Angel's mumbled objections about the price. Her foresight was why they were sitting around the phone in question at the moment instead of all having their ears pressed up against a receiver.

"Good lord." Rupert Giles' voice came over the phone loud and clear. "I had no idea. I mean to say, I expected Wesley to tender his resignation, but it was only a formality. And I knew the Council wouldn't be happy with him working with Angel, but kidnapping and deprogramming."

"Then it's true?" Cordelia asked anxiously. "They can actually take away his memories? They can make him forget us?"

"Yes, they can," Giles answered soberly. "It's a very complex spell, generally used only on someone who has gone rogue, as it were, and whose vast knowledge of the occult could make them extremely dangerous."

"So they take away all his memories?" Gunn demanded.

"Not precisely. They rather...substitute new ones. Memories that would have nothing to do Watchers or Slayers or the Council or what he had studied for most of his life."

"But then..." Cordelia looked across at Angel's grim face. "He wouldn't be Wesley," she finished in a small voice.

"And he wouldn't remember Faith." Gunn was scowling fiercely at his fists resting on his knees. "Man, that's not right."

"None of this is right," Angel pointed out in a hard voice. "Giles, we need information. We need to know how these people operate. How we can track them. Where they would take Wesley. How much time we have."

Giles' sigh came over the speaker. "I'm not exactly an expert on the operations side of the Council."

"But you're all we've got," Angel said flatly.

"Very well. This is all conjecture, of course, but it is based on my experience with the Council and knowing how certain situations played out in the past. I don’t think they'll risk trying to take Wesley out of the country until he's been...neutralized."

Angel asked immediately, "So they'll do the spell here? They'll bring in someone?"

"I believe so, yes. Wesley wouldn't exactly be a docile captive, and trying to transport a drugged man that distance has its own set of problems. They wouldn't take the risk. So I believe he's probably still nearby in some safe house."

"Is there some way you can get a list of those safe houses?" Gunn asked. "It would give us a place to start."

"I'm sorry. I'm not in the ranks of the Council that would be privy to such information. But I think we do have some time before they remove his memories."

Angel frowned. "What makes you think that? What do they want?"

"Information," Giles answered. "Information about you, Angel. The Council library has volumes written about you, but this is their chance to get first hand knowledge they've never had before."

"Wes won't tell them anything," Gunn said firmly.

"He will if they use drugs. He won't be able to withstand that."

Angel waved that aside. "Okay, it's good if they're going to spend time questioning him. That gives us more time. They can't take away his memories until he tells them what they want to know, right? Besides, what is he going to tell them they don’t already know about me? They already know how to kill a vampire."

"Information they could use against you later, Angel," Giles said soberly, "but I agree, it does give us some time. Especially as we all know Wesley won't give them what they want without a fight. That may give us some more time. What concerns me is the fact that they obviously had this abduction planned for some time. That makes me think they already have someone standing by to perform the spell."

"This is all fascinating," Cordelia said through gritted teeth, "but how do we find him?"

"I may have a way."

They all started at the soft voice that came over the speaker.

Cordelia leaned closer. "Willow?"

"Hi, Cordelia. I've been listening, and if no one has any other ideas, I'd like to try a locator spell for Wesley."

"They may have shielded him, Willow," Giles told her.

"We really don't have anything else though, do we?" she asked reasonably. "And just maybe I can punch a little hole in that spell. You know, if I give it a little extra...juice."

Gunn sat up a little straighter. "You can do that? I mean, if they're trying to hide him with magic, you can get through that?"

"Oh, I've been known to punch a few mystical holes in my time." Cordelia could just picture the impish smile on Willow's face. "I'll need something personal of Wesley's to use in the spell."

"No problem," Cordelia said crisply. "When can you get here?"

There was muffled murmuring on the speaker, and then Giles spoke, "Willow will need some time to get the ingredients together for the spell, and then we can be on our way."

"As soon as you can, Giles," Angel said quietly, "and thanks."

After the call disconnected, the three of them sat in silence for a few moments, then Cordelia got to her feet and went into Wesley's office. She knew exactly what she was looking for, and just maybe it would give Willow that extra 'juice' she was talking about.

***

He woke up to a nagging headache, a queasy stomach, a thumping knee and total darkness. Thanks to the after-effects of the tranquilizer he'd been shot with, it took Wesley a few minutes to clear his head and assess his situation. He'd been kidnapped from the Hyperion by Collins, Weatherby and Smith, and knocked out with a dart to his neck before he could do more than struggle to his feet. He was now tied to a chair and blindfolded, for god's sake. He must be very dangerous indeed to warrant all this caution. Although he was certain the blindfold served no purpose other than to keep him disoriented and remind him who was in control. As he was the one currently tied hand and foot to a chair, he was well aware who was in control. His injured knee was thumping in time to his heartbeat, proof they hadn't exactly been gentle with his transportation.

He kept completely still, trying to hear if anyone was around. Angel's vampire hearing would have been handy right now. As it was he couldn't detect any movement around him with his human hearing, and he gave surreptitious little tugs on the rope binding his hands and feet, checking for any signs of weakness. There were none, but he continued to tug at them anyway, refusing to accept his situation as hopeless. Desperate certainly, but he wouldn't admit to hopeless.

As he worked against the restraints, he took stock of his situation and reluctantly admitted that desperate could be an understatement. There was no way to tell how much time had passed since his abduction, or how far away from the Hyperion he was. Had he been thrown into the back of a van and driven a few miles away? Or taken to a private airstrip and been flown out of California altogether? Had he been unconscious for an hour, or several? His bladder wasn't uncomfortably full and his stomach wasn't growling with hunger pangs, so that narrowed it down to no more than a few hours. But still no way of knowing how far he'd been taken. By now Angel, Gunn and Cordelia should know he was missing and had probably deduced who his kidnappers were. But they would have no way of tracking them, and therefore no way of finding him in time to prevent what the Council had in mind for him.

Wesley felt the first stirrings of real despair. He'd heard of the memory wipe spell, of course. Every Watcher knew of it. It was dark magic, used only in the most extreme circumstances. Technically it was more of a memory replacement spell. It took away the memories of the victim and gave him new ones. One minute he would be himself, the person he had become through his experiences, education, training, and relationships; the next he would become someone else because his memories of his entire life, from childhood on, would be false; planted memories of a life he had never lived. He would remember schools he'd never attended, classmates he'd never met, lovers he'd never had, jobs he'd never held. A few months ago he might have welcomed such a spell; he would have welcomed anything to take away the pain of loss and failure he'd felt, even death. But things had changed for him. If they took away his memories now he would lose Faith a second time, lose the precious memory of her which was all he had left. And he would lose Angel, Cordelia and Gunn as well, people who had come to mean a great deal to him. His life would be a lie. And no matter what memories they forced into his mind, his life would be empty because he would have lost what meant the most to him. No false memory, however pleasant, could replace the real memory of Cordelia dragging him to a movie premiere he didn't want to go to so she could dress up and watch the stars walk the red carpet; of Gunn dropping heavy hints until he agreed to teach him how to drive his motorcycle, or the exhilarating journey they'd taken high into the hills around Los Angeles, giving Charles his first look down on the city he'd been born in; or of the sometimes painful but always intriguing journey he and Angel had made together, learning to trust and depend on one another. Somewhere along the line he'd stopped thinking of Angel as the vampire who had killed Faith and had begun thinking of himself as a Watcher again. And nothing could ever replace the painful, yet comforting, memory of Faith, of all they had shared, of all they had been to each other.

He could not lose that, not any of it. There had to be a way. He took slow, deep breaths to calm himself and force himself to focus. The fact that he still had his memories meant they still needed something from him, and that would be information about Angel. The Council couldn't pass up a chance to get first hand current information about the most infamous vampire to walk the Earth. His best bet was to stall. Stall, and make sure they didn't use drugs on him, because then he really did lose any hope of dancing just out of reach. Granted, Angel, Gunn and Cordelia didn't know where he'd been taken, but aside from Faith he'd never known anyone more determined and single-minded than those three when one of their own was threatened. His breath caught in his chest as he realized he was 'one of their own' now. They would do everything in their power to find him, and he owed it to them to hang onto who he was until they did.

"Well, it's looks as though the guest of honor has decided to join us. Hello, Wesley."

Wesley stiffened when he heard Collins' voice, mentally berating himself for woolgathering when he should have stayed sharp and alert, but he did manage a cool, "Collins. Is the blindfold really necessary?"

"Maybe not necessary," Weatherby sneered, "but we thought it might be more fun this way. For us."

"Shut it, Weatherby," Collins ordered mildly. "We've got Council business to attend to."

"And that business necessitates keeping me bound and blindfolded?"

Collins pointed out, "You haven't exactly proven to be... amenable up to this point, Wesley. We thought it was for the best."

The best for you, Wesley thought sourly. Because if I get my hands free they're going to end up around your neck, and you bloody well know it. "Amenable to having my memory wiped? No, I admit to preferring to be given a choice in the matter. Which brings me to my next question: why hasn't it been wiped?"

"Surely you can work that out for yourself, Wesley."

Already have, you great ponce. But you so love hearing yourself talk I thought I'd give you the opportunity.

"Come on, he's just stalling for time," Weatherby warned.

Collins sounded unconcerned. "He can stall all he likes. It won't make any difference. Your 'friends' won't find you, Wesley. I doubt they'll even try." Wesley's nostrils twitched at the smell of Collins' cigarette smoke as he heard footsteps approaching. "You were Watcher to a Slayer, man. Do you know how many trained Watchers pray for that honor? And you pissed it all away. Let your Slayer get turned by the very vampire you're now working with. If it were up to me, we'd put a bullet in your brain and be done with it."

"But it's not up to you, is it? You've got orders, haven't you? Must be annoying, being such well-trained little Council thugs." His head snapped back as a fist connected with his jaw.

Hot breath tickled his ear, "Not all of us are so well-trained, mate."

Weatherby was the key, Wesley realized, surreptitiously working his jaw and ignoring the trickle of blood he felt trail down his chin. He had the buttons that could be pushed, and whatever timeline they had could be disrupted if he could push enough of them and make Weatherby react. Of course, Weatherby's reactions would no doubt be painful for him, but they wouldn't do any serious damage to him -- he didn't think -- and it would give Angel, Cordelia and Gunn more time to work whatever plan they undoubtedly had by now. If he had the time, he'd take a moment to marvel at the amount of trust he had in them, but he'd have to save that for later. Right now he had some buttons to push.

***

Angel was hungry, but he fought down the urge to go into the kitchen and get some blood. Right now he wanted to feel that restless edginess that came as a result of being hungry. Feeding calmed him down, and he didn't want to be calm. He wanted a store of rage and ferocity inside him because when they found Wesley, if those three Council heavies had ripped away his memories and turned him into some sort of Stepford Wesley, Angel was prepared to let instinct take over and deal with them as he saw fit. He could brood about it later. Wesley had managed to push aside his own feelings when he'd come here to work with him. The man brought an invaluable store of knowledge with him, and had been kinder to him than he had any reason to expect or deserve when he'd struggled to deal with what he had done as Angelus. Angel had had to deal with his share of remorse regarding his deeds in the past, but this had been especially painful. He'd known, liked and respected Faith and considered her a friend, which of course was why Angelus had targeted her. In the aftermath of his re-souling it was so tempting for him to do what he had done for a century after being cursed by Gypsies and retreat from humanity. But Wesley had simply gone about in his quiet way, taking care of things, restocking the refrigerator with pigs blood (something Angelus hadn't needed), keeping him distracted with questions as he methodically recorded everything Angel could remember about Angelus' deeds, and told them all about his adventures in that other world. Eventually the urge to run and hide had passed, and Angel found himself with three team mates who were all, for one reason or another, looking for a fresh start and willing to fight the good fight. It was because of him that Wesley had been kidnapped and was in danger from a spell that would change him from the man they knew, respected, and cared about a great deal. He was going to do everything in his power to make sure that didn't happen.

"So all we have is magic? That's the plan?"

Angel shook himself out of his thoughts and looked up at Gunn, who had been prowling restlessly around the lobby.

"Unless you've got a better one."

Gunn frowned. "I just don't think we should rely on magic. Isn't there some way we can figure out where they've got Wesley? You know, like detectives do? We do call ourselves Angel Investigations."

Angel rubbed his eyes and fought down his irritation. He may have to drink some blood after all, just to keep his anger at bay for the time being. They were all worried and upset; it wouldn't do to lose his temper with either Gunn or Cordelia. "Unless you know someone on the Council of Watchers we can call to ask them where they're holding Wesley, I really don't know how we can do that." He got to his feet and clapped Gunn lightly on the shoulder as he walked past him. "I know you're worried, so am I. But I've got a lot of faith in Willow." He went into the kitchen, opened up a container of blood, and forced himself to drink slowly and only enough to barely slake his hunger. He wanted to keep that edge.

When he came out of the kitchen he saw Gunn had moved over to the weapons cabinet where he was methodically taking weapons out and giving them a clean. Good, that would keep him busy and focused for a while. Cordelia was at her desk, where she had retreated after Giles had called to let them know he and Willow were on their way. She had tried hard to keep herself occupied while they were waiting for them to arrive, but from what Angel could see she was mostly leafing through files without reading them and stopping occasionally to gaze at what looked like a piece of paper she'd brought out of Wesley's office.

He walked over and pulled a chair up beside her desk. "How're you doing?" he asked quietly as he sat down.

She shrugged without looking up. "I'm worried, angry, scared." She raised her head then, her expression hard. "And if they've hurt Wesley I'll happily stake them, human or not."

He nodded solemnly. "I know the feeling."

She absently picked up the piece of paper again which Angel could now see was a photograph. "What's taking Giles and Willow so long? Shouldn’t they be here by now? Couldn’t they have, I don’t know, teleported here or something?"

"Giles said they'd be here as soon as they could," he soothed, and then indicated the photograph. "What's that?"

"Oh." Cordelia seemed to just realize she was fingering the photo and held it out to him. "Wesley keeps this in his desk drawer. I've seen him take it out sometimes when he gets all quiet and broody."

Angel accepted the photo, which was a Polaroid of Wesley and Faith. He recognized it immediately. It had been taken at a birthday party for Willow. Xander had been going around with a Polaroid camera all night snapping pictures of everyone and making a general nuisance of himself. He'd caught Faith and Wesley on the sofa in a relaxed mood and they'd posed for him with Faith's head resting demurely on Wesley's shoulder as she held up two fingers behind his head. "I remember this," he said, his voice a little hoarse.

"Yeah, happier times," Cordelia said quietly and took the photo back. "Willow said she needed some personal item of Wesley's, and I just thought...I mean, this obviously means a lot to him, and I thought maybe it would help her punch that hole..."

"It's perfect," Angel said quickly as her voice grew more strained. "Just the thing. Good work, Cordelia."

She looked back down at the picture, and Angel could see the tension in her shoulders. "What do you think they're doing to him? He'd know we're trying to find him, right? Do you think it's too late? Do you think they've ready sucked out his memories and he won't even know us? Do you think --?"

"They're here!" Gunn's voice gave Angel a welcome reprieve as he quickly stood up to greet Giles and Willow, standing in the doorway. Cordelia was asking far too many questions he either didn't have the answers to or didn't want to dwell on.

***

Wesley's ears were ringing from that last blow, and he was holding onto consciousness by his fingernails. Weatherby had proven to be predictably easy to provoke, and so far Collins had been content to stand back and let him have free rein as they questioned him about Angel. But he could hear Smith getting more vocal and insistent in the background and knew Collins wouldn't indulge Weatherby much longer. They must be falling behind on their timetable. Along with the aching bruises, stinging cuts and tender ribs, he felt some satisfaction.

"Enough." A fresh wave of smoke hit Wesley as Collins moved closer again. "He's not going to tell us anything."

Wesley grunted as fingers gripped his hair tightly and yanked his head back. "I can make him talk," Weatherby insisted. "Just give me a little more time."

"I said enough," Collins said sharply. "Smith, get him ready."

It was time for the drugs. He had no defense for them, but at least he'd bought some time; he just hoped it was enough. Someone was working up the sleeve of his shirt to expose his arm, and he knew from the careful touch that it wasn't Weatherby. He could smell smoke off to his right, so he knew where Collins was. When he judged Smith to be close enough, he said quietly, "You don't have to do this."

A sigh brushed his neck as he felt a prick of pain in his arm. "You always were a stubborn little bastard, Wesley. Of course, I have to do it."

***

"Thanks for coming," Angel told them as Giles and Willow came down the stairs to the lobby. Willow walked straight over to Cordelia and wrapped her arms around her in a big hug. Angel saw Cordelia's eyes go wide, then watched as she squeezed her eyes shut and returned the hug tightly.

When Willow finally stood back she promised, "I'm going to do everything I can to find him."

Her shoulders straight once again, Cordelia nodded. "I know you will."

Giles moved closer to Angel, murmuring quietly, "You do realize we could be --"

"--too late? Yeah, but I'm trying not to think about it." He turned to look at Giles. "And the Council wants to kill me? What kind of people would do what they're planning to do to Wesley?"

"I don't condone it, Angel, and don't expect me to defend the Council. I'm here to do what I can to help."

"And maybe we should get started," Cordelia pointed out. "Willow, do you need anything?"

"Nope, brought everything I needed right here. But you should lock the doors and turn off the phones to make sure we're not interrupted." As Gunn and Cordelia went off to do that, Willow nodded to the lobby floor. "This will do just fine. Just give me a few minutes to set everything up. Oh, and do you have something of Wesley's I can use to focus the spell?"

Cordelia hurried over to her desk to pick up the photo and took it to Willow a little anxiously. "I found this. Do you think it's okay? I mean, it means a lot to him, and I thought..."

Willow took the photo and gazed at it for a long moment, then looked up at Cordelia, her voice gentle: "It would be perfect, Cordelia. It has just the right kind of energy; it would be much better than using just a shirt or something like that."

Cordelia's hopeful expression fell. "But? There's a but there. You didn't say it, but I heard it."

Willow explained softly, "It's just that whatever I use has to become part of the spell. I have to burn it and mix in the ashes. If I use this, it'll be destroyed."

"But you said it would be perfect."

"Yes, it would be. I think if anything could help me punch a hole in a shielding spell and find Wesley, it would be this."

Cordelia looked at Angel a little desperately. "Angel?"

He hated the thought of Wesley losing what may be the only photograph he had of Faith, but he hated even more the thought of them losing Wesley. "Use it. First priority is finding Wesley. We'll deal with anything else later."

Willow looked at Cordelia for permission, and she nodded.

"Okay then," Willow said, "everyone make yourselves comfortable in a circle and let's get started." As she began getting her supplies out of her bag, Giles laid out a highway map of California on the floor and beside it a street map of Los Angeles. "Giles thinks they must still be in the general area," she said, carefully emptying small bags of pre-measured herbs into a bowl, "so we're going to start with California. If we can pinpoint them to Los Angeles, we'll use the city map."

"You're going to find him on a map?" Gunn asked a little doubtfully, dropping to the floor beside Cordelia. "Is it going to have one of those signs that says 'you are here'?"

"More or less." She glanced up at him. "It's a nifty spell, but it takes a lot of energy, a lot of positive energy. If you don't believe we can do this, it might be better if you waited outside or upstairs."

"No," he said quickly, then took a deep breath. "Look, I want to be here for this, and I want to find Wes. Please. Let me stay. I need to be here for this. Just tell me what I have to do."

Willow smiled as she added one drop of fragrant oil into the bowl. "That sounds like some pretty positive energy to me. Just need you to keep thinking those kinds of thoughts."

Angel didn't miss the look of relief that crossed Gunn's face as he settled into place or the way he took some deep breaths as if trying to focus all his inner strength to give whatever Willow needed to find Wesley.

Willow held out her hand to Cordelia. "Cordelia?" Cordelia took one last look at the photo she held, then handed it over. They all watched silently as Willow added it to the bowl, then lit the contents. "Everyone join hands, and don't break the circle. I'm going to need all your energy. I'll tell you when you can let go."

Once everyone had stretched to join hands around the maps, Willow closed her eyes and began speaking in a language that sounded like Latin, but it wasn't because Angel didn't understand a word of it. Cordelia was staring at the map as if her willpower alone could make Wesley's presence known; Gunn had that determined look on his face Angel had seem so many times when the man was facing down a dangerous demon; Giles had his eyes closed, but he was concentrating hard and radiated a sense of calm power; and Angel was calling on every bit of demon strength he had to add to the circle.

He saw it first, and a little gasp from Cordelia indicated she saw it too. A tiny white light, no larger than the light of a firefly, was moving around over the map with the erratic movements of a firefly. It circled aimlessly over the map of California, and Angel felt his hopes drop as it didn't seem to settle anywhere. If Wesley had been taken out of the state... Then suddenly it was on the city map, moving in smaller and smaller circles until it finally dove down onto the map and a neat brown circle appeared on the paper as if it had been scorched.

"Wow." Willow slumped a little and opened her eyes. "That was one tough shielding spell." She gave Cordelia's hand a little squeeze. "I think that picture made the difference. That was some strong mojo. So, what do we have?"

Angel snatched up the map and studied it for a moment. "Down by the docks. Lots of warehouses down there, but this has got one block circled."

Gunn was already on his feet and heading for the weapons cabinet. "Let's go." As he pulled out his axe, he looked over his shoulder at Willow with a big grin. "Cool spell."

She returned his smile. "Well, that was some of the most focused energy I've ever worked with."

Cordelia marched over to the cabinet and pulled out a small, but lethal looking axe, the one Gunn referred to as a 'ladies axe'. "I think we were all feeling a little focused," she said grimly. She looked up at Angel as he retrieved his favorite broad sword. "You feeling focused, Angel?"

"Oh yeah. I'm feeling really focused. Let's go." He turned around and stopped as Giles reached into the cabinet and pulled out a sword that was a particular favorite of Wesley's. "Giles, you've done enough. I don't think you should get mixed up in this any more."

"I have every intention of accompanying you, Angel," he said calmly. "Remember, Wesley is my friend as well."

"And I'm coming too," Willow announced, moving up to stand beside Giles. "You may be glad you've got a witch along."

Giles said somberly, "She's right about that. You heard what she said about the shielding spell. They obviously have someone very powerful there. We may need Willow to deal with them."

"I've found that dead mages usually can't cast spells," Angel retorted grimly, "but point taken. Let's move."

***

The headache was worse this time as Wesley slowly surfaced. Blinking his eyes, he realized they'd taken off the blindfold, and he looked around warily. He found Collins holding a small digital tape recorder in his hand. He snapped it off and slid it into his jacket pocket, smiling amiably. "Very nice, Wesley. I think that's all we need." Weatherby and Smith were standing off by the side. Weatherby looked disappointed and Smith wouldn't meet his eyes. "Well, there's no need to wait any longer, is there? The Council has what they want, and your usefulness has pretty much ended. Our friend here --" He nodded to a figure who was standing silently off to the side, cloaked in black, his face hidden by a voluminous hood -- "is going to give you a refit now. The Council's picked out a pretty nice life for you, considering all the trouble you've caused them. You'll be happy to know you come from a nice middle class family, no close family living unfortunately, and teach Latin at a small private boy's academy in Lancashire. That will be your life from now on, Wesley. Just the quiet life of the Lake Country. No vampires or slayers to trouble your dreams any more. And certainly not important enough for the Council to be concerned about." He dropped his cigarette to the floor and casually crushed it out with the toe of his shoe. "Not important enough for anyone to be concerned about really."

The mage had begun chanting softly, his hands moving in graceful, intricate patterns.

"Don't do this," Wesley tried to keep his voice steady and reasonable. "For god's sake, Collins, please don't do this."

"Past the point of no return, mate," Collins told him, lighting up another cigarette. "You, I mean. The Council doesn’t believe you can be reclaimed."

Wesley caught his breath sharply as something warm pushed against him, then began to worm its way into him. "No," he gasped, "don't. Please don't."

Weatherby grinned nastily. "Say goodbye, Wesley."

The tingling warmth exploded inside him.

***

The streets around the docks were nearly deserted this time of night, and Angel made good time, taking the turns with a squeal of tires. They were only a few blocks away when in the back seat Willow gave a sudden gasp that made them all jump. "What?" he asked sharply. "What's wrong?"

Giles had an arm around Willow, steadying her as she took some slow, deep breaths. "Magic," she said unsteadily. "Really, really powerful. It's close."

"The spell." Sitting squeezed in the middle between Gunn and Angel, Cordelia grabbed Angel's arm in a painful grip. "They did the spell. Oh, god, we're too late!"

Angel didn't answer. He took the last turn much too fast as everyone grabbed for something to hold onto, then screeched to a halt outside the warehouse marked on the map. He was outside the car before the engine died. He was only vaguely aware of the footsteps pounding behind him as he headed for the heavy wooden door barring their way. It barely slowed him down. Wood splintered and hinges flew through the air like deadly missiles as he applied every bit of rage boiling inside him in one vicious kick.

He saw Wesley first, tied to a chair and sagging as if unconscious; saw the dark bruises on his face and could smell the sharp tang of fresh blood. He didn't even try to subdue the demon inside him. Wesley had told him Collins was the leader, but Angel smelled Wesley's blood on Weatherby, and that was all he needed. He knocked Weatherby's crossbow aside before the man could raise it and slammed him into the wall. Gunn headed straight for Collins, tossed his axe aside at the last minute, and used his fists to send the man sprawling. Smith turned to grab a weapon and found himself facing Giles, holding a sword as if he'd enjoy using it. "Hello, Smith," Giles said softly. "Do stay for the party, won't you?"

Behind them all, Willow was occupied in a battle of wills with the mage, who was now trapped in a shimmering white circle and unable to use magic against them, at least for the moment.

Cordelia rushed over to Wesley, her axe falling unnoticed to the floor as she dropped down in front of him. "Wesley?" she whispered, gently raising his face. He blinked owlishly at her without recognition, and her voice caught on a sob. "Oh god. They did the spell. We're too late. I'm so sorry, Wesley. I'm sorry."

His tongue flicked out to wet his dry, cracked lips. "Cordelia?" He looked up at Angel and Gunn, who were busy pounding Weatherby and Collins as if they had no intention of stopping. "No! Angel...Charles...don't."

It was only Angel's vampire hearing that allowed him to hear the soft, hoarse voice. He spun around, dropping a nearly unconscious Weatherby onto the floor. "Wesley?"

"Wesley?" Gunn gave Collins one final shove into the wall and turned away as the man slid bonelessly to the floor.

Cordelia was gripping his arms tightly. "Wesley! You're okay! You're you!"

"I wouldn't exactly say I was okay," he corrected, his voice strained. "Get me out of this chair. I can't feel..."

"His arms and legs are asleep." Angel was already there, using his sword to carefully cut the ropes that were tightly binding his arms and legs. "Gunn, get over here and hold onto him while I cut these ropes. Get him on the floor and remember his knee. Just take it easy, Wes. Almost there."

"Giles." Willow called out, her own voice strained. "A little help here?"

Giles pressed the point of his sword against Smith's throat. "Call off your mage, Smith," he ordered in a hard voice, "unless you'd like some of what the other two got."

Smith swallowed carefully, then nodded to the mage. "It's over. Go back to London."

When Giles nodded to Willow she released the circle of energy and the mage quickly and silently left. Giles gave Smith a shove to move him closer to Collins and Weatherby and stood guard with his sword while the others gathered anxiously around Wesley.

He'd been freed of his restraints, and Angel and Gunn carefully lowered him to the floor. He was clamping his jaw tightly, and Angel could see the faint tremors racing through his body. "We need to massage his arms and legs," Angel instructed quietly. "Gently," he added quickly as Cordelia began enthusiastically rubbing his arm. "It's going to hurt like hell," Angel told him apologetically.

Wesley merely grunted, his eyes squeezed shut as Angel, Willow, Gunn and Cordelia all worked carefully on one of his limbs. "Oh, your poor hands," Willow murmured, shifting to pick up one of his swollen hands and beginning a gentle massage. "Wesley," she said softly, "I felt them do the magic. Why aren't you...? I mean, I'm glad you're not, but why aren't you?"

"I'll explain later." He winced and shuddered as feeling started coming back to his limbs. Opening his eyes, he looked up at Angel. "Get rid of them first."

Angel nodded. "Right." As he got to his feet, Wesley reached out clumsily with his free hand and managed to grab a handful of Angel's pants leg.

"Angel. You do know what I mean by 'get rid of', right?"

Angel sighed regretfully. "Unfortunately. Although I could always claim later that I didn't," he added hopefully.

"As tempting as it is, restrain yourself," Wesley told him in that soft, hoarse voice. "By the way, Collins has a tape recorder in his jacket pocket."

Angel had a pretty good idea what was on the tape, so he nodded his understanding and strode over to where Giles was standing guard. Reaching down, he hauled Weatherby and Collins to their feet and slammed them both back against the wall. He reached into Collins' pocket, pulled out the small recorder, then gave them both a long look. "The only reason you're walking out of here," he said carefully, "is because Wesley saved your lives. You be sure to tell the Council that. And you be sure to tell the Council, if I ever see any of you in my town again, I will kill you. You've had two get-out-of-jail-free cards. You won't get another." Pulling them away from the wall, he gave them a shove toward Smith, who barely managed to catch them and stay on his feet. "Now get out."

The three of them stumbled out together, Smith struggling to keep the other two upright. When they were out of the building, Angel turned back and strode over where Gunn and Giles were carefully sitting Wesley up and bracing him against the wall while Wesley and Cordelia argued. Cordelia was waving a cell phone and insisting on calling 911 while Wesley was stubbornly insisting he wasn't going to any hospital he didn't care how many ambulances she called.

Angel sighed and knelt down beside Wesley, putting a hand carefully on his shoulder. "Wes, how badly are you hurt?"

Wesley waved a hand. "Superficial. They weren't going to hurt me badly enough to require medical treatment."

"Why in heaven's name were they hitting you at all?" Giles asked, surrendering his handkerchief to Willow so she could dab at the re-opened cut over his eye. "If they wanted information they could have simply used drugs."

"They did use drugs."

Angel tightened his hand carefully on Wesley's shoulder. "But if they used drugs, and you told them what they wanted to know, then why all this?" he asked, indicating Wesley's cut and bruised face.

Gunn broke into a wide grin. "He was stalling. You knew we'd be coming for you, and you were stalling, right?" He held up his fist and Wesley obligingly if somewhat clumsily performed the handshake ritual. "Way to go, English."

Angel put two fingers on an unbruised spot on Wesley's jaw and tilted his head to get a better look. "Yeah," he said dryly, "way to go."

Willow once again reclaimed Wesley's hand and continued gently massaging it. "Are you going to tell us now?" she asked. "How you're still you? That mage was awfully powerful. Took everything I had to keep him contained."

"We thought we'd lost you." Cordelia's voice was a whisper, and Wesley laid a hand on hers, swollen fingers closing in a stiff grip.

"I thought I had lost...everything," he said finally. "I felt the spell too."

"Then what happened?" Angel asked quietly.

"No one was more surprised than I was to find out I was still me. I didn't know at the time, but I realize now it must have been the Willow in the other world."

"The other me? What did she do?"

"When we summoned the Ermhai in that other world, she did a protection spell for me. We were more worried about it using magic against us than about any physical battle, and since I was to make sure it knew I was the one who summoned it, she wanted to make certain I was protected." He gave a brief laugh that had more than a touch of hysteria in it. "I don’t think she knew her own strength."

Cordelia had turned his hand over in hers and was absently rubbing it. "You mean you're permanently protected from spells?"

"No, it will certainly wear off in time, but there was evidently enough power left to protect me from the mind wipe spell."

Gunn shook his head in admiration, carefully kneading tight calf muscles. "You are one lucky white guy, Wes."

Wesley looked around at the faces surrounding him and then suddenly seemed to find flexing his fingers the most fascinating thing in the world. "So it would seem," he said softly. Then he looked back up, his voice a bit heartier. "How on earth did you find me?"

When Cordelia opened her mouth to launch into the explanation, Angel broke in, "We'll tell you the whole story later. Why don't we get you home first and get some painkillers in you."

"Oh god, yes."

"I would imagine a nice cup of tea wouldn't go amiss either," Giles suggested, standing back as Gunn and Angel got Wesley to his feet.

Wesley looked at him with a faint grin, one Englishman to another. "A good cup of tea never goes amiss."

 

Wesley had argued that he could recover downstairs on the sofa, but that was an argument he lost with everyone. He was taken upstairs to one of the guest bedrooms over his protests (which were "noted and discarded," Cordelia informed him breezily) and settled in there. It was only after Cordelia and Willow had cleaned and bandaged his cuts, his knee had an ice pack on it, they had some pain medication in him, and he was on his second cup of tea that Angel allowed Cordelia to fill him in on the rescue. When she finished he looked surprised. "A location spell?" He turned to Willow. "I'm amazed it worked. I'm certain I would have been shielded."

"Oh you were," she said cheerfully. "Big, heavy shield. Took some serious punching to get through it."

"What did you use for the focus?"

Willow looked at Cordelia, who bit her lip. "It was my idea, Wesley. I’m sorry."

Wesley turned to Cordelia, puzzled. "Sorry for what?"

In a rush, she explained, "Willow said she needed something personal and it would be better if it was something that meant a lot to you." Wesley nodded, obviously understanding how the spell would have worked. "The picture of you and Faith, the one you keep in your desk drawer." She was twisting her hands now. "I know that meant a lot to you, and I thought it would give Willow that extra juice she needed. I'm sorry. We had to burn it. I didn't know what else to use, and we were so afraid we wouldn't be able to find you."

There was silence, and Angel watched Wesley closely. He was staring at the bed cover, and from the look in his eyes Angel was very much afraid that had been the only photograph of Faith he had, but it was going to break Cordelia's heart if he showed any regret over its loss. "That photograph did indeed mean a great deal to me," Wesley said finally. Then he raised his head and reached out to take Cordelia's hand, giving it a little squeeze. "That was very clever of you to think of it, Cordelia. I can't think of anything that would have worked as well. Thank you."

Cordelia's smile lit up the room. "Really? You're not -- I mean, I was afraid you'd be upset."

"That you found me?" Wesley asked dryly. "Certainly not." Then he dropped all pretense of humor and looked around at them all before giving into fatigue and letting his head fall back against the pillows propped up against the headboard. "I want to thank you all for everything you did. That was quite an extraordinary rescue, and you managed against some pretty incredible odds. Only people of your special talents and determination could have pulled it off. I'm very grateful."

Wesley was starting to slur his words a bit thanks to the combination of exhaustion and pain medication, and Angel didn't think he'd thank anyone for letting him go on in that state. He pushed himself away from the wall where he'd been leaning and watching and said for everyone, "We're glad to have you back, Wes."

"Yeah, wouldn't be the same without you around here, English."

"And I think what Wesley needs right now is sleep," Angel added firmly when it looked like no one was about to budge from their spots beside the bed even though Wesley's eyelids were sliding shut.

"We'll talk to you later, Wesley," Willow whispered, placing a soft kiss on his forehead.

"You're quite a powerful witch, Willow," Wesley murmured, drifting off. "And you put something in my tea, didn't you?"

As Wesley slid into sleep everyone looked at Willow, who gazed back with wide eyes. "What? I would never put something in his tea without telling him." When everyone continued to look at her, she sighed and slipped a hand carefully under Wesley's pillow, drawing out a small bag. "But I did put this under his pillow. Just a few herbs to help him sleep. He really looked like he needed it."

"He did need it," Angel agreed. He motioned for her to put the small bag back under his pillow and then shepherded everyone out of the room. And if it took a bag of herbs to keep him in bed until he was rested, then Wesley need never know.

***

Wesley woke slowly, but with perfect clarity in his mind and a nagging ache in his knee. He lay still for a few moments and took in his surroundings. There was no clock in the room, but he picked up his watch from the nightstand and blinked at it, assuming that the 6:45 was P.M. given the darkness outside. Had he really slept most of a day? He grunted as he sat up. He must have needed it, and he did admit he felt a lot better for it. The first thing he saw when he sat up was the cane propped conveniently against the bedside table. He picked it up and looked at it thoughtfully; it was beautifully carved, and unless Wesley missed his guess, quite old, but definitely sturdy. Cautiously he got to his feet and tested it out. Hopefully he wouldn't need it for more than a day or two, but it would work quite nicely and gave him a much-needed feeling of independence. He smiled wryly as he moved toward the bathroom; he didn't think Cordelia was much bothered about his independence, so he assumed he had Angel to thank for the thought.

After having cleaned up and dressed in the fresh clothes that had been left for him, Wesley made his way slowly down the stairs. He could hear the clicking of the keyboard before he saw Cordelia, but his movement must have hit her field of vision because she looked up and smiled brightly. "Wesley, you're up. Finally. Angel will be thrilled. He's been chomping at the bit to cook a big breakfast all day."

"You shouldn't have waited for me to eat."

Cordelia waved that aside as she got to her feet. "Don’t worry, we didn't. But Angel still wants to make that big breakfast."

"Hey, did I hear -- Wes, you're up." Angel appeared out of his office. "And you found the cane. I hope you don't mind. I just thought..."

"It was just the thing," Wesley assured him. "I'm sure I won't need to use it for long."

"You'll need to use it until you can actually put weight on that leg, mister," Cordelia said in passing as she walked over to the basement door. "Gunn, he's up," she called down the stairs.

A few moments later he heard thumping on the steps as Gunn took them two at a time and appeared in the doorway. "Hey, it's Sleeping Beauty. We thought we were going to have to send Cordy up there to kiss you awake."

Cordelia swatted him on the arm as she passed. "As if. Besides, it's the handsome prince who's supposed to do the kissing, so you and Angel would have to duke it out for the honor." She paused, crossing her arms as she appeared to consider that. "Come to think of it, I know of some people who would probably pay good money to see something like that. So if someone wants to volunteer, I could get my camera --"

"No one is volunteering," Angel said firmly. He turned to Wesley, adding a little hastily, "Not that I don't think you're...I mean, I would and I could and all...it's nothing personal...and it certainly isn't you..."

"How much money are we talking?" Gunn asked, interested. "Because, you know, we could use a few new weapons around here, and the good ones aren't cheap."

"Oh god, can we please talk about something else?" Wesley murmured, looking for the nearest escape route. "I am not kissing anyone for money," he added firmly in case anyone hadn't gotten the message. But when he looked around all he saw were grinning faces. "What?"

"Man, you are so easy," Gunn laughed.

"It's because he's English," Cordelia said knowingly. She patted Wesley gently on the shoulder. "You're really English, Wes," she told him, as if she was letting him on a secret.

"Thank you for noticing," he said with mock stiffness. "Did someone say something about breakfast, and perhaps me getting off my feet?"

"You'll get both," Angel said, quickly moving over to put a supporting hand under his arm, "but we kind of wanted to show you something first."

"In my office?" Wesley asked, as he was guided that way.

"And so smart too," he heard Cordelia murmur to Gunn as they trailed along.

Inside his office, which looked the same to him, Angel guided him over to his chair, and he dropped down carefully. They were all gathered around him looking a little nervous and anxious, and he started to feel a little anxious himself. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong," Angel answered quickly. He threw Cordelia a pleading look. "Cordy?"

He watched as she took a deep breath. "I know it was probably the only way we could have found you, but we still feel really bad about losing that photo you had of Faith."

"Please, you don't have to --"

"Yes, we do," she said firmly. "We all talked about it and came up with an idea. Angel actually did it, but it's from all of us, and we hope it's okay."

She looked over at Gunn who leaned over and pulled out something from beside the desk. It was a rectangle shaped and wrapped in brown paper. He accepted it from Gunn with some confusion. Since they were all watching him, waiting for him to open it, he did so carefully, peeling away the paper. When it was fully unwrapped, he felt something catch in his chest, and he stared at it. It was a framed pencil drawing of Faith. It was a three-quarter view, with Faith's head turned slightly, looking off into the distance. Her hair was blowing slightly in a breeze and the night surrounded her. There was a crossbow in her hands and if it was possible to capture someone's spirit on paper, then Wesley would have said Angel had done so. There was a primitive wildness in Faith that Wesley was never really sure was due entirely to her Slayer blood, and it was there in the way she was standing, tensed for battle. He had seen her like this so many times when he'd accompanied her on patrol, and he knew what she was looking at with that familiar expression on her face: It was him. She was making sure her Watcher was safe.

The portrait blurred suddenly, and he heard Angel say something, sounding upset. But then he felt Cordelia's hand on his shoulder, rubbing gently. "No, he likes it," she said softly. "Just give him a minute."

"My god," he said finally, then had to cough to clear his throat. "This is..." He looked up at Angel who was watching him anxiously. "This is extraordinary. I had no idea..."

Angel seemed to relax a bit. "I mostly draw for relaxation and for fun, but this...it was special."

He looked back down at the portrait and swallowed. "It's beautiful. Thank you." He was afraid if he tried to say anything else he'd just choke up and make a fool of himself.

They seemed to understand, and as he continued to gaze at the portrait in his hand, he felt a soft kiss in his hair, then Cordelia moved away. As all three of them filed out of his office, Angel said, "I'll start the waffles. They'll be ready when you are, Wes."

As he turned to leave, Wesley said, "Angel."

The vampire turned back.

"I'm starving."

Angel smiled. "Then I'll make lots of waffles."

When his office was empty, he carefully set the picture on the corner of his desk. "No more hiding in a drawer for you, my girl," he said softly. "It looks like this is home now." Pushing himself to his feet with the aid of the cane, he went to have breakfast with his team.

end