He didn't know why he had returned to England. It was home, he supposed, although he hadn't been there in years. Not since he had been given the assignment in Sunnydale. He had climbed on a plane, back then, and said his goodbyes to all this. To the places he had grown up in, the scenery and feel of the places he had always known. To everything that his former life had been. He was still saying goodbye to it now, in so many ways. Still leaving little bits of his old life behind, with every decision he made, every new thing he learnt. Every step forward he took on the path of discovery. He was a different man now, which made it all the more peculiar that he had chosen to come back.
London. It was no more his home than any other part of England. Of Britain, of Europe, of the world. It was where his parents lived, at the moment, anyway. They were ensconced in one of the family homes there, as Roger Wyndam-Pryce tried to gather together those few of his cronies from the old Watcher's Council who had survived the recent massacres brought against them. Wesley had no intention of visiting his parents. His father was the last person he wanted to see right now - or ever - and his mother, welcoming though she might appear to be, would only end up infuriating him. Standing politely by whilst her husband tore shreds off her son, never once stepping in to prevent it, to stand up for Wesley, to do anything that might be of use. A part of Wesley wanted to go there anyway, and present himself before the domineering bastard who had so shaped him into what he was - to show him what he had made; what circumstance, past and experience had shaped his son into. He was so different to how he been before. No more the bumbling fool, no more the weak, helpless buffoon good only for translation and study. He could hold his own against demons, vampires and magicians now, and had done so many times. He could best his father even in his young, strong days - and probably any other Watcher come to that, save perhaps for Rupert Giles. He so wanted to show his father all that he now was, and prove to him that he needn't be a disappointment. But he knew that he wouldn't. He could defeat a whole horde of vampires with his bare hands, whilst his father stood and watched. He would still be the useless son who couldn't do a thing right. And in his heart of hearts, he still felt that he deserved that abuse - for as well as being useless, he was also the son who had killed his father. Not for real, perhaps, but the fact that the creature into which he had fired all those bullets had turned out to be nothing more than an enchanted cyborg didn't change the other obvious fact. He had thought that he was firing the bullets into his father; into Roger Wyndam-Pryce, his tormentor and nemesis. And that, to him, was what mattered.
Which was why, he supposed, he had come to England. He hadn't been able to stay in LA, or at least not amongst his friends. Oh they had all been supportive enough. Even Spike had tried to make him feel better; Gunn and Fred had offered their best wishes, and tried to cheer him up. Angel had done the same, even though their relationship had seemed peculiar and distant just lately. Wesley hadn't wanted to be with them though. Not yet. Their smiles, their support, their attempts to understand, all conspired to make him feel worse. They didn't know. How could they? Angel and Spike had killed their parents, but they had done it as evil monsters. Gunn barely remembered his parents, and Fred's were wonderful people who nobody would ever want to hurt. None of them could know how he felt. How good it had felt, somewhere deep inside, to fire all that hot, terrible lead into his father's chest. They would never be able to understand the disappointment, stirring deep within him, that had appeared when he realised that it had not been his father he had killed at all. And so to England, where he could pretend that he was going to visit his father, and explain and apologise and make amends. Where he could get drunk in bars he hadn't dared visit in the old days, and look for fights with the kind of people who wouldn't ever give a damn what he had or hadn't done to his father. He could pretend to himself that it would help, too.
But none of it made any sense at all now that he stood at the airport doors. On the aeroplane there had been a sense of detachment to it; an air of unreality, that probably came from far too many hours enclosed in a pressurised capsule with a crowd of anonymous strangers. Now that he was actually here, and faced with the prospect of having to do something, he felt peculiar. It was home, but it didn't feel like it. He was here, but he didn't feel like it. Maybe it was just the airport; airports were the same all over the world, for the most part, and it certainly didn't look decisively English. He was just looking for problems, he decided. There was probably a part of him that was determined not to relax, or to be happy. The part of him that wouldn't feel at home wherever he was.
There was the usual array of buses and minicabs lined up outside the airport. Harassed looking parents struggled to gather together their children and force them through the doors of idling vehicles. Drivers of every description fought to fit a multitude of suitcases into spaces that were clearly not big enough. People hugged, kissed, shook hands politely. Brisk businessmen in slightly crumpled suits headed for shiny black cars, nodding greetings to waiting chauffeurs or colleagues or cab drivers. The usual sights. Wesley thought about hiring one of the minicabs himself. He had to get into the city somehow. Swinging his small bag onto his shoulder, he headed across the long, broad car park looking for a car that didn't seem to be doing anything. He didn't fancy the buses. Too many people; he'd had enough of that on the plane. There was one small blue minicab waiting a short distance away that didn't seem to be waiting for anybody. There were no holidaymakers trying to force their way inside, and no businessmen clutching briefcases and laptops heading its way. An opportunist then. Seemed ideal.
He was halfway to it when a large black car drew up alongside him. He ignored it for a moment; it couldn't be anything to do with him, so there seemed no point in turning and looking through its partially smoked windows. When one of the windows slid down, though, he did turn. The driver had obviously mistaken him for somebody else. Who, he couldn't imagine. He didn't look much like anybody else from the airport, either from his own plane or from any of the others. His casual clothes and leather jacket were mirrored a hundred times in the other people around him, but his three days of stubble and generally haggard appearance marked him out as an individual. He was fairly sure that the contents of his bag did as well, although fortunately that was hidden from all prying eyes, including electronic ones. Not a complicated spell, but a useful one, just like the one that had allowed him to walk through half a dozen airport metal detectors with a gun in a shoulder holster just underneath his jacket.
"Hey Wes." The voice came from the front of the car, and he blinked in surprise, fighting the instinct to draw the gun. It hadn't been a friendly voice. A cheerful one, yes, but one filled with definite mockery. The inside of the car seemed dark in comparison to the bright day outside, but he could make out the shape of a man at the wheel. A bulky man, he thought, although it wasn't easy to tell in so little light. "Get in," the man told him, without bothering to identify himself. There was authority in his voice, but not the kind that Wesley felt inclined to acknowledge.
"You forget, Smith." This time the voice came from just behind Wesley, but when he began to turn to meet it, a hand slid neatly under his arm and moved him towards the car. "He only obeys orders from vampires."
"Weatherby." This voice at least was unmistakable; Wesley would have known the man anywhere. He glanced over to the other side, and saw another unmistakable figure sliding in to flank him there as well; Collins. The alleged crème of the Watcher Council's enforcement division. He had met the threesome before, most recently several years ago in LA when they had been trying to recapture Faith. They hadn't been very happy with him, he recalled with some considerable pleasure, when he had sided with Angel and thwarted their plans.
"Get in," Collins told him. Wesley hesitated. He could easily throw off Weatherby's hold, although he wasn't sure that he could fight the two of them, especially if the man in the car joined in as well. On the other hand, they probably wouldn't want to make a scene here. The decision was made for him by a definite pressure that appeared suddenly in his side. Weatherby had a gun, which was pressing most unpleasantly into his ribs.
"Get in," repeated Collins. There was a tight, hard smile in his voice. Wesley allowed them to push him forward the last few paces, and watched dispassionately as Collins opened the near rear door of the car. Even now he could probably make a break for it; they wouldn't want to fire a gun in a crowd, especially with airport security being what it was these days. Their car, its license plate, and probably their faces, would be all over the television news by lunch time. He was curious though, and he couldn't help it. What exactly did they want? A part of him didn't really believe that they wouldn't cause a scene, anyway; that they wouldn't fire their guns. They were more than ruthless enough. There were a lot of civilians standing around, and the last thing that his already disturbed conscience needed was the death of an innocent person to weigh it down even further. Responding to the insistent pressure on his arm, he climbed into the back of the car. Weatherby followed him, and Collins went around to the far side, sliding in to trap Wesley in the middle. He smiled in a manner that was almost friendly.
"Not particularly. What's this about?"
"A happy chat between friends?" Weatherby was grinning, his manner every bit as abhorrent as Wesley remembered. "Anybody would think that you're not pleased to see us. What's wrong? Not as delighted as you thought you'd be to be back in the old mother country?"
"What's this about?" repeated Wesley. Weatherby smiled, and nodded at Smith to get the car moving. They swung out into the general flow of traffic, and settled into an easy, unhurried pace. Collins took up the talking then, leaning back into the seat with his arms folded, eyeing Wesley in a half friendly manner that was anything but genuine. Collins had been all about the pretence of friendship the last time, too, remembered Wesley. Apparently well meant words, and the promise of help, favours and acquiescence, all hiding ice, dislike and disapproval.
"We'd hoped you'd be pleased to see us, Wes. I mean, granted we're not vampires, but you haven't entirely turned your back on the human race, have you. You even work with a couple of humans, alongside the undead and the horned and inhuman."
"What do you want?" He spoke with resignation; none of these three were likely to abandon their comic book heavies act any time soon. Now that he was trapped in the car with them he was going to have to put up with it. Collins grinned.
"We need your help. That's all. There's few enough people left with our various qualifications, in case you hadn't noticed. The Council is gone, our mutual 'friend' Rupert Giles seems to be putting a new one together, but to be perfectly honest I can do without the sort of help that comes with Buffy Summers as part of the package deal. You, on the other hand, I can stomach. Just about."
"Especially without your vampire boyfriend in tow," put in Weatherby. "What happened anyway, Wes? Why did you come back? He throw you out now he's got another vampire to play with instead?"
"What sort of help?" asked Wesley, choosing to ignore the other man's jibes. Weatherby laughed. Smiling tightly, Collins continued the story.
"You ever hear of a vampire named Beatrice?"
"Beatrice? Yes." There might be more than one, admittedly, but there was one specific one who bore that name. Since she was of especial relevance to one of Wesley's particular fields of expertise, he was reasonably well versed in her history. "She was turned by Angelus, some time in the early nineteenth century. He did it as an act of revenge against an obscure religious order, so it's not as if she was ever a part of his little family. She was a religious maniac prior to her Becoming, anyway, and some part of that seems to have remained in her psychological make-up. She's reputed to be very powerful, and decidedly unhinged."
"Very good." Collins nodded approvingly. "Anyway, she's why we need your help. She's holed up somewhere here in London, and she's got some kind of plan up her sleeve. We've been hearing very interesting things about her just lately. Seems she's planning a ritual that, if it all goes right, will turn her into something beyond a mere vampire. Something really powerful. We have to stop that, and I rather think you'll agree." He smiled sardonically. "Unless you're really that much of a vampire fan these days."
"Angel has a soul," spat Wesley, well aware that that cut no ice with these three. "And quite apart from being dead, so does Spike now, or I doubt he could exist as a ghost. And you know damn well that's the only reason I work with either of them. I don't have anything to do with any others."
"Even though you work with Wolfram & Hart?" Weatherby was regarding him with open hostility now. "Never mind, Wes. We don't care about that right now. We just want your help to stop Beatrice. The rest doesn't matter."
"What rest?" Wesley shook his head, as repelled as ever by the trio of agents and their resolutely hostile demeanour. They were quite determined never to see things his way, and arguing with them was about as worthwhile as arguing with a ten foot Stromoth demon. In fact he had met Stromoths that were less intractable. "Look, just forget it. You say you need my help. Perhaps you should start by being a little less unfriendly."
"Unfriendly?" Weatherby seemed astonished. "Call this unfriendly? Believe me, Wes, if we wanted--"
"Leave it." Collins' voice was sharp. Weatherby lapsed into silence, staring out of the windshield in faint disgust. He would dearly have loved to prove just how unfriendly he could be, and his body language showed that he still hoped to one day get the chance. Wesley shot him a look of faint distaste.
"Unfriendly," he repeated, having no intention himself of bending to Collins' order. "You kidnapped me at gun point. That's not the way that most people go about obtaining assistance."
"We're not most people," pointed out Collins. "Us or you. Come on, Wesley. If we had strolled up for a little chat, or phoned up your hotel room or whatever, you'd never have listened to us. You made it quite clear the last time we met that you don't like us. You disapprove of our methods. You'd rather mollycoddle the psycho who practically stove your head in, as well as trying out her home tattoo kit on your various body parts. Fine. Whatever. But we need your help, and we need you to listen."
"Then maybe you'd better stop with the insults." Wesley's voice was like ice; the mention of Faith had been more than enough to cause that. They had been enemies and more, he and the Slayer he had been sent to Watch. They had loathed each other, and been ready to kill each other in the past, but they had parted eventually as fellow warriors with a genuine mutual respect. Any insult to Faith was an insult to him; but Collins and the others couldn't be expected to understand that. They might be Watchers, but like more than ninety-nine percent of their colleagues, they had never Watched a Slayer. They didn't know about the bonds and the ties. Which, given his past with Faith, was an interesting set of metaphors to use. He nearly smiled - but didn't. Not here.
"Maybe we got off on the wrong foot." Collins was speaking through his teeth, tense with the effort of pretending to be polite. Wesley would rather he didn't bother. They hated him, he hated them; it wasn't like there was any point in trying to hide that. He kept quiet though, and listened to the unit's leader as he tried to stay civil.
"This ritual," Collins began, relaxing a little at the chance of hiding emotion in formality. "You ever hear of something called the Ceremony of Beginnings? Or at least I think that's what it's called. The details we have are in some old language I can't be sure of. The translation may be a little ropy."
"The Ceremony of Beginnings?" Wesley frowned, casting his mind back through its remarkable nooks and crannies. "Doesn't ring any bells. Do you have any documentation?"
"Not in the car. It's back at our headquarters. From what we can gather, though, it's your usual magical ceremony. Blood letting, ritual sacrifice. Some kind of representation of the Becoming, leading to... well, to a new Becoming, I suppose. As something rather stronger than a vampire. We need you to help us make sure that she can't go through with the ceremony. Even you can't turn us down."
"What sort of something 'stronger than a vampire'? There are any number of creatures that can lay claim to that." Wesley wasn't being dragged into anything about which he was not yet fully informed. Collins shrugged.
"You'll have to go through our information to be sure of all that. All we can say is that it's something powerful. Something really powerful. There was something about the sun ceasing to destroy, and stakes no longer... I don't know. Something about screaming ashes, you know what these ancient writings are like. About as straightforward as surreal poetry. Sounds to me as though, if she goes through with it, she'll be impervious to just about every method of execution we know of for her kind. Super strong, super powerful, and able to walk in sunlight. You think that's something we can just allow to happen?"
"No, probably not." Wesley frowned nonetheless, wondering why exactly such a ceremony hadn't been brought to light before. "What is it you want me to do? Besides check your translations. For all we know what you've got isn't a magical ceremony at all. It's the recipe for chocolate digestives."
"It's a ceremony." Weatherby came back into the conversation with a voice like broken razor blades. "Unless the recipe for chocolate digestives calls for blood, candles and ancient runes."
"Can't say as I'd know." Wesley folded his arms, leaning back in the seat. "Okay, so she's got hold of something that can make her uncomfortably powerful. What exactly do you want me to do about it?"
"Get us inside." Collins spoke now with a trace of something very like triumph in his voice. It might have been just because of Wesley's apparent willingness to help - but instinct told the renegade Watcher that it was something rather more than that. His felt his hackles rise, in readiness. "Get us to where we can stop this, before it's ever allowed to begin. If she goes ahead with this ceremony, Beatrice could be the biggest threat that mankind has ever faced. Well, at least since the last one. But there's one sure way to prevent it."
"Which is?" This was like getting blood from a stone. Wesley was certain now that he was not going to like what he heard. Weatherby's smirk was hardly reason to change that opinion.
"The sacrifice in the ceremony. It has to be her Sire." This time Collins didn't bother to hide the pleasure that he was gaining from all of this. Neither did Weatherby. "We have one way - short of killing Beatrice, which might be rather difficult since we don't know where she is - to stop her from turning herself into a creature we'd probably never be able to stop. And that's to kill Angel, before the next full moon." He glanced at his watch, as though such phases of the moon were there to be read alongside the time. "Which by my reckoning is two nights from tonight." The grin grew, and his eyes sparkled with ill-suppressed pleasure. "Better get moving, Wes. Wouldn't you say?"
The flowers were very pretty. White ones, pink ones, yellow ones, blue ones. Even some blood red ones, that made her feel quite thirsty. Tall, short, tough, delicate - a beautiful array that made her heart want to sing. Or some part of her that might once have been her heart, anyway. She didn't think that that particular organ did much of anything anymore. It just sat there in her chest, dulled and silenced, and waiting for somebody to force a stake through it. She sometimes thought about cutting it out, just to see what it looked like; just to find out if she really needed it anymore. It might be nice to hold her own heart in her hand, just for a moment. Would she get to see it turn to dust before the rest of her did, if it turned out to be fatal? Or would she turn to dust and leave her heart untouched, the way that sometimes the things that vampires were holding when they died were left unscathed. She rather liked that idea - of her heart remaining behind. Perhaps somebody would bury it, and give her the Christian burial that a part of her still sometimes wanted. Or would the consecrated ground just burn her poor little heart into ash?
But the flowers were pretty, anyway. She blinked at the thought, because flowers and hearts were not especially connected; unless one was cutting out the hearts of newly-wed brides and grooms, and draping them with garlands of flowers. She had done that once... twice... more times perhaps. She remembered a very pretty church decorated with orange blossom, and another somewhere much hotter, where there had been giant pink flowers. Spike had made her a bouquet from them, and she had laughed excitedly, and made a terrified official perform a wedding service for her and the young human groom whose bride had just been unceremoniously drained dry. Afterwards, when she had eaten her young 'husband', and Spike had been cleaning the official out of his teeth, they had lain together on a beautiful beach, watching the waves in the moonlight, and listening to the terrified cries of the humans discovering their dead. And the flowers had been so pretty then, too.
"But the flowers like the sun," she said to herself, her voice filling the little room with sound. She so wanted to go outside and walk amongst the flowers; to smell the rich scent of a garden warmed by sunshine. She hardly remembered what that was like. Jasmine smelt beautiful by night, but it was no substitute for a full, sun-drenched flower garden. It didn't seem fair.
"What was that?" Her companion glanced up from the book that she was reading. Drusilla cast her an unhappy look. Beatrice never seemed to understand the thoughts that played havoc with her fellow vampire's mind. She never stopped to listen, or think, and she never tried to open her mind to other thoughts. She was the only audience that Drusilla had right now, though - so she would have to do.
"The flowers," she said sadly. "They like the sun."
"Pick some tonight. Bring them in here."
"That's tonight." Beatrice didn't understand; Drusilla had known that she wouldn't. Tonight was no good - tomorrow was irrelevant. It was now that mattered. She wanted the flowers now, as they lay soaking in the sun. They were singing, and she couldn't hear them properly from in here. The glass in the window was too thick. Double-glazing, probably. Everything seemed to be double-glazing these days, except the pretty, atmospheric housing built in ages past, where ghosts glided everywhere. Ghosts were good company, usually. They were more open to vibrations and sensations. They understood things that living people - or unliving vampires - didn't. But here was sterile and new, and double-glazed. Here was cold and shrouded from the killing sun, and here was too quiet. Much too quiet. There was no old framework to tell her stories of the history of the building; no current of old traumas and joys. And she couldn't hear the flowers.
"Tonight, tomorrow. What does it matter, Drusilla?" Beatrice had no patience. Dru didn't like her. They had met for the first time when Dru was still young, and they hadn't liked each other then. Beatrice had called her a hopeless child, touched by spirits, and Drusilla had gone away to talk to the little children buried in the local graveyard instead, to tell them of her sorrows. In the 1920s when they had met again, her Spike had been there to protect her, and he and Beatrice had fought over some insult that Dru no longer remembered. She had enjoyed that; jumping up and down in excitement at each blow on either side, and clapping her hands in delight. Spike had tasted good afterwards, all covered in blood and the fever of undead adrenalin. But Spike was gone now, and she didn't know where. They had gone their separate ways in a fluster of angry words and recriminations, and he had run back into the world she had stolen him from. Never like the other vampires, was her Spike. Just like her. An anomaly. Something that Beatrice refused to understand.
"It matters..." She sang the words because she couldn't hear the flowers singing, and she wanted music from somewhere. Beatrice glared, and turned back to her book. She was reading about spells and glories and blood, and pretty little ceremonies with pretty little candles, and big, wicked knives. She wanted power, and she thought that Drusilla didn't know. She thought that Drusilla didn't understand, just because she talked to her dolls during the day, and tried to share with them the blood of her kills. Drusilla understood though; she had read the book as well. She had read it when Beatrice was out hunting, and she had understood it all readily enough. The ceremony, the death of Angel, the power. Drusilla supposed that that was why, when they had met quite by chance in an alleyway in Liverpool three weeks ago, Beatrice had asked her to join forces for a while. Drusilla was her best way of getting to Angel. Dru wasn't sure how she felt about that, really. Did she look like somebody who would betray her Sire so smoothly?
"Matters, doesn't matter... really Drusilla, I couldn't give a care. Just be quiet, I have to read." She was bent over the book again, struggling to understand what Drusilla had understood straight away. The requirements of the ceremony; the way to kill Angel, and bring forth powers that would turn an ordinary vampire into something much greater. The creation of such powers would make everything unbalanced, and Dru's dolls had told her of this several times. The balance would be all wrong, and Beatrice would have too much power, and all kinds of spirits would be able to slip from world to world on the currents of the unnatural vibrations. Dru had seen it all in her dreams. Besides, imbalances notwithstanding, she didn't want Angel to die. He was her father. He was her creator, her designer, her architect, her destroyer, her tormentor. He had been all things and more, and he had loved her and hated her and abandoned her. Set fire to her in a cold, dark place. She ought to hate him, and revel in his painful destruction. She ought to clap her hands at the sight of it, and cheer every stroke of Beatrice's ceremonial knives. Instead she had resolved to prevent it all. Prevent Angel's death, prevent the unleashing of the unnatural powers, prevent the imbalances that her dolls so feared. She didn't know why she had set herself upon such a course, for she had no real interest in saving the world from the after-effects of Beatrice's spells. She had even tried to kill Angel herself, once - but now things were different. She listened to the whims of her dolls, and it was they who stood against Beatrice. She felt their unease with the building currents in the air, and saw that she had to do as they wished. They showed her things that troubled her, and made her see that Angel had to be saved. She just didn't know where to begin. To stake Beatrice would be the natural choice, but she had tried that already, when the other vampire had been asleep. Nothing had happened. Some part of the ceremony must already be underway, she assumed, but she couldn't know for sure. She had read only the one book, and there were many others. Many scrolls, many parchments. Beatrice couldn't read most of them, although apparently she knew as much as she needed. She must do, if her magicks were already underway. Dru had tugged the stake back out of her chest, and watched the hole close up as though nothing had ever pierced that useless heart beneath. Then she had wandered back to her own bed, and talked the problem over with her dolls. They hadn't known the answer either; they had just told her that she couldn't allow such a setback to interfere with her attempts to save Angel. She had no idea why they were so adamant about that, since none of them had ever met him, but she agreed with them anyway. The things they whispered to her invariably turned out to be of worth, sooner or later. Rising to her feet now she wandered away from Beatrice, leaving her poring over her book and muttering obscure calculations, and went instead to the other room; the big, grandiose library. It was still new, still double-glazed, but it had an air of the old about it at least. The books told stories that the rafters and the foundations couldn't. She ran her hands over the ancient spines, and smelt the old leather, the old pages, the old ink. It reminded her of things; of people and places and sights and sounds, and it helped to focus her mind. A vase of cut flowers, long dead, stood on the table, and she asked them what they thought. An orchid winked at her, though its petal were all gone.
"I agree," she told it, undeterred by its drab and withered appearance. She hadn't seen her own reflection in so long that the appearances of others were of little concern to her anyway, and the orchid spoke so wisely that it really didn't matter what it looked like. She gathered up its browned petals all the same, and tried to stick them back on as a reward. They wouldn't stick, and she scolded them, then threw them aside. She had a lot to do if she was going to take the orchid's advice. A lot to read, a lot to study. A lot to discover. Singing softly under her breath, she went to the bookcase and climbed up to reach the highest book. Always start at the top, she told herself, and settled down to look at what she had found. She didn't have a clue what language it was written in, but there was always the chance that something might suggest itself, so she settled down on the floor, legs crossed, and started to read. It was gibberish, but it was pretty gibberish. The words that would save Angel would be pretty ones, she was sure, so she carried on looking. Carried on until the day had darkened into night, and she could go outside at last. When she returned it was with new petals for the wizened orchid, and she stuck them to it with sellotape and string, and told it what its sleepy cousins out in the garden had said. The orchid nodded wisely, and Dru nodded as well. She definitely had a lot to do tonight. As usual the flowers had been the wisest of councils.
They took him to a building near the Thames, where the sounds of the boats echoed in the near distance, and seagulls yelled rude stories at each other in the air. A big building, old wood under a new façade, with almost no furniture inside save tables and chairs. There were books everywhere of course; Wesley wouldn't have expected anything else. Presumably the best they had been able to gather together, to replace the ones lost when the Council Headquarters had been blown into so much dust. The sight of them made him feel a little more at home, a little less tense, which was a positive boon after the atmosphere in the car. He had been just about ready to shoot one of them then. They had been arguing all the way here, about Angel; about whether or not the risk of an indestructible vampire was worth his life; about how exactly they would go about killing him. Everybody knew what a difficult and dangerous target he was, and how so many people had tried and failed to liquidise him in the past. Collins wanted Wesley to lure him away and drug him; Weatherby wanted him to be the one to actually do the killing, to prove that he still had some loyalty to the human race. Wesley had sworn at the pair of them, quite eloquently, and in a manner he would never have considered the last time that the four of them had been together. Collins had looked faintly impressed; it was clear that he was revising his opinion of the renegade Watcher all the time. It might almost have been something to celebrate, had Wesley not had so much on his mind. He consoled himself with the thought that Beatrice had no more chance of killing Angel than any of the others who had tried from time to time. It wasn't much of a comfort. Determined to prove that there were ways to stop Beatrice besides the majority's favourite, he had turned, as always, to the books. There had to be something, he told himself as he studied. There had to be something somewhere.
There wasn't. He had checked their translations first, to make sure that they were on the right track to begin with, and had been disappointed. They were right. There had been no mistakes, no misreadings, no misinterpretations. Beatrice's ceremony required Angel's blood, and Angel's death, and would lead to a quite impressively powerful renewed vampire at the end of it. He tried to find reference to the ceremony in other books, but had no success. It was as though it had come into being, complete with its ancient scrolls, just a short time ago. Lilah had spoken of inter-dimensional book sales though, and he himself had made use of her remarkable book buying contacts even if, for some reason, he couldn't quite remember why. There was no reason why Beatrice shouldn't have gone looking in similarly out of the way places, and if so that explained the dearth of information. When he asked Collins how they had found out about the ceremony he had growled something about not revealing his sources, although it had eventually turned out that he quite simply didn't know. The information had turned up out of the blue, delivered by some anonymous contact who had then disappeared again without trace. Wesley supposed he should be glad for the tip-off, although frankly he wasn't sure that it wouldn't have been better had it all remained a secret. At least then he wouldn't be left wondering if killing his friend might be for the greater good. He scowled, and pushed a pile of books across the table. Damn it all. Usually he was so good at deciding what to do. He could see all the arguments spread out before him, neatly annotated and colour-coded, allowing him to analyse, compare and cross reference every small detail within his mind. He could compare the tiniest points, and overlay them all onto what Angel had always called the Big Picture; that giant canvas that was all and everything. For some reason that talent was failing him now. He couldn't begin to see which was for the best; kill Angel, let Angel live. He put it down to his objectivity having been compromised; Angel was his friend and mentor, after all. Not that that was any excuse.
Collins read books at another table nearby, Weatherby paced restlessly. Smith brought coffee at some point, but Wesley didn't notice his until it was cold. He was supposed to be checking their translations and that was all, but he couldn't resist the chance to extend his investigations. Not just into checking where the ceremony might have originated, but also looking for ways to stop Beatrice that wouldn't be quite so fatal to Angel. He met with little success. All that he could discover was that Angel's presence wasn't even required for the spell; merely the presence of somebody well known to him. That hardly made him feel any better. If Beatrice had that, or the means of getting it, then it even ruled out the possibility of tracking her down just by watching airports for a black-windowed plane. Not that that was the most efficient of plans, but it was better than the nothing he was left with after discarding it. He pushed books and pieces of paper around on the table, compared one piece of text to another, muttered under his breath in the languages he was reading. It was hopeless. He was getting nowhere, and nearby Weatherby was getting increasingly restless. Wesley could hear the man muttering, saying things that bordered on the obscene, his body language heading fast towards the openly hostile. Not that he wasn't just plain hostile anyway, but he had at least been trying to hide it to some degree. He sat down opposite Wesley in the end, and glowered at him over the table.
"Well?" he asked loudly. Wesley reined in the urge to glare back.
"What?" he asked instead. If in doubt, try to wind the other man up. His reward was a look of utter loathing.
"What have you found? Were we right? Is this ceremony everything we said it is?"
"And more, by the look of things." It was quite fascinating really. A work of art, magically speaking. Somebody somewhere had put a hell of a lot of work into it, and he couldn't help feeling that they deserved some respect for that. "Angel will never know what hit him. She can do this on the other side of the world, and he won't know a thing about it until it's too late."
"He'll never know anything about it anyway, given that he'll be dead," growled Weatherby. "We're going to kill him, remember?"
"Not while I'm still alive, you're not." Wesley pushed away the books and stood up. "You don't need to kill him. We just need to find Beatrice."
"She could be anywhere in the city. She might even have left it by now." Collins smiled sourly. "Wesley, I understand that he's your friend - though heaven only knows why. We're all entitled to our little eccentricities I suppose, and we all know that vampires have their hypnotic side. But he still has to die."
"Hypnotic side?" Wesley shook his head. "You lot should have read more of the set texts during training, and bothered a little less with the daft movies. Hammer House of Horror in the common room after lights out, was it? Look, admittedly she could be anywhere. I know that. But you said that an anonymous source put you onto this. Gave you the information. Well how did that source know about it all? What put him or her - or it - onto all of this? Maybe whoever it was knows Beatrice."
"And maybe they're both nearby." Collins frowned, staring at the book on his lap. "It's a possibility I suppose. The information we have was delivered here one day, by hand. There's no reason to assume whoever passed it on is even still in the country, but they could just as easily be living next door." He shrugged. "Okay. But so what?"
"What do you mean, so what? If we can find her, we can handle this without needing to go anywhere near Angel. There won't be any reason to kill him."
"Except that killing him ends it for sure. What if she's already set things in motion? What if stopping her, or killing her, won't end this?" Smith was sitting on the windowsill, playing with his empty coffee mug, and looking extremely bored with everything that was going on. Wesley shot him a disparaging glance.
"If she's dead, the ceremony can't go ahead, can it."
"For all we know, it might resurrect her. It'll make her super powered - why not immortal?"
"Because the sources here don't say anything about that. They do say, though, that she has to perform the spells on the appointed night. If she's dead, she can't do that." Increasingly tense, and angry at their determination to stick to their original plan, Wesley was close to punching something. "Look, it's all here in black and white. Or blood and pale beige, in certain cases. At any rate, it's clear enough. If we can find Beatrice-"
"If." Collins was smirking his unpleasant smirk, and his eyes showed mockery and contempt. "Listen to yourself. If. If we find Beatrice, if we stop her. Well what if we don't, Wes? What if we can't find her? She does her little ritual, and we wind up with a creature we can't stop, terrorising the world and killing countless people. You want that?"
"Of course I don't want that." He looked back at the books, his eyes gleaming darkly. Of course he didn't want that. But he didn't want Angel dead, either. Whatever unknown obstacle was making their relationship so tense just lately, Angel was still the best friend he had ever had. Killing him was unthinkable. Weatherby smirked at him.
"You sure, Wes? You don't sound too certain. Maybe you really do rate vampires higher than people."
"I rate some vampires much higher than I do some people, that's for sure." Wesley's tone was dark and sharp, but Weatherby didn't seem to notice. He was a hard and brutal man, with an aura of strength and cruelty, and any vibes that he did sense were not enough to make him back down. He didn't need to; he knew full well that he had nothing to fear from Wesley.
"Well that's nice. Honestly, you make me sick, Pryce. Protecting this vampire once was bad enough, but now you're trying to save his life at the expense of probably thousands of humans. We must need our heads examining, ever bothering to come to you for help."
"That'll do, Weatherby." Collins stood up, stretching casually, playing his old, genial rôle once again. "Wesley, we understand how you feel."
"No we don't," growled Weatherby. Smith laughed. Collins smiled faintly, but held up a hand for silence.
"We do know how you feel," he corrected gently. "I know Angel is your friend. Or at least you think he's your friend. You've known him a long time, you've fought a lot of battles alongside of him, am I right? You think he's worth more alive than dead."
"He is worth more alive than dead. He saves countless people. You've no idea of the good work he's done."
"Then why not ask him what he thinks you should do?" It was a gentle enough suggestion, and if Collins hadn't been such an odious man, Wesley might have been impressed by it. It was almost reasonable, after all. He shook his head, his repulsion for his three companions rather destroying any chance of taking the suggestion seriously.
"There's no point in asking him. Knowing him he'd hand me the stake himself. Angel would be the first to offer his life if he thought that it was the best way to save the world. He's always been the first to choose the honourable path." He smiled faintly at the thought; Angel's willingness to sacrifice himself was one of the main reasons why Wesley was so determined to protect him. Weatherby just scowled though, unimpressed by the idea of a vampire ready to die for humankind.
"If he doesn't mind dying, why not give him the chance. Let him be heroic, and do us all a favour. He's just some damn vampire, anyway. Time you remembered who the hell you are, and which side you're supposed to fight for."
"You might want to think twice about saying things like that." Wesley spoke quietly, but his voice had the power to carry whatever the volume. Beneath the stubble he was white with anger, but such signs were not inclined to bother Weatherby. The other man merely laughed at him.
"You're a joke, Pryce. A sick, twisted joke. A human who cares more about vampires than humans. A human who'll let thousands die just to protect a godless creature who should have died hundreds of years ago." He picked up the nearest of the books that Wesley had been studying; a massive tome that he himself had acquired from a London book-dealer several days before. Not that he thought about that now, nor even recognised the book. Not that he remembered taking it from the broken fingers of the dealer who had tried to protect his wares from a man with no intention of paying. He merely felt the leather in his hand, and the weight of all the pages, for the few furious moments before he threw the book straight at Wesley's head. The other Watcher reacted with a speed Weatherby hadn't been expecting, dropping to the ground and rolling aside, coming up again closer to his tormentor with a gun in his hand that nobody remembered seeing him draw. He levelled the gun at Weatherby's head, and smiled a taut, mocking smile.
"You were saying?" he asked. Weatherby swallowed hard.
"You wouldn't shoot. If you do you'll just be proving me right."
"There's nothing to prove." Wesley took a step closer, moving slowly and smoothly and keeping the smile at full mast. "I don't deny it, Weatherby. I do care more about Angel, certainly than I do about most humans. Do you have any idea how many lives he's saved? How much he's endured to prevent death, destruction, disasters? Do you know how many times he's saved the world, saved humanity? He's not the godless creature, Weatherby. We are. All of us, here in this room. You name me one Watcher who's done half the good that he has, yet we're still here talking about killing him." He let the smile drop, and lowered the gun as well. "Now we're going to find some other way of ending this. Put the feelers out; find Beatrice. If you've got half the contacts in this city that the Council used to, you should be able to find something."
"Not if we don't intend to try." Weatherby eyed the gun, clearly thinking of all the things he would like to do to Wesley if he could only be sure of disarming him first. Collins stepped forward, moving slowly, his own eyes also on the gun.
"You know the Council, Wes. Old, outdated, largely useless. Their contacts were as hopeless as they were. We could probably call in a few old favours, but they wouldn't do us any good. Beat the living daylights out of some twisted supernatural creature in a sewer, and what have you got? Spilt blood in any one of a thousand colours, and a twisted supernatural creature with a few more bruises. Nobody is going to tell us anything. They all know who we are."
"Then I'll ask."
"And what good with that do? If they don't know yet who you are, they soon will. Somebody will have seen you with us, and you know how grapevines work. Wesley, nobody in London is going to speak to a Watcher. They're all still afraid of whatever killed the Watchers. None of them want to risk the wrath of something big enough to take out the whole Council. And even if they did, they certainly don't want to be seen helping the Council's most notorious assassins."
"I don't care."
"You should." Collins smiled patiently. "Wesley, we're going to take out Angel, and the only way you can stop us is by killing us. Do you think you can kill all three of us before we kill you?"
"Yes." Wesley didn't even think about it. Collins' confident expression wavered slightly, but he persevered nonetheless, and his calm smile returned for a slightly less calm encore.
"So say you try. And say one of us survives. Say all of us do. Wesley, if we go after Angel without you to help us, people are going to get hurt. There's no telling who we'll have to go through to get to him."
"And you think I care about the staff at Wolfram & Hart? They're a means to an end, that's all. I'm not one of them, and I never will be. Even the ones who aren't evil just haven't had a chance to turn that way yet. It's hardly a case of them not wanting to be."
"I don't mean the general staff, Wes." Collins had the gleam in his eye of a man who knew that he had some leverage to use. "I mean the others. Your team. There's several of you, aren't there. The heavy, the Texan girl? A demon you seem to think of as a friend? Things can happen, you know. Accidents. People get hurt. Demons get hurt. Sometimes people die." He hesitated for a moment, rather put off by Wesley's silent advance. "Hey, there's no need to look like that. It's not like we'd kill anyone on purpose. But these things happen."
"You wouldn't." Wesley levelled the gun again, this time at Collins, and his pale blue eyes glittered coldly. "You may be the most abhorrent excuses for human beings that it's ever been my misfortune to come across, but you're still Watchers. You're sworn to protect innocent lives."
"We're sworn to do what we have to do, Wesley." Collins couldn't take his eyes from the gun. "We're not from the same drawer as you. And besides, anybody who makes it their business to get involved with the likes of you and Angel can't exactly claim to be innocent. You make us go after Angel without you there to get us in, and we can't promise that it'll all go smoothly. Help us, or risk losing more friends than just Angel." Seeing something flicker in the pale eyes, he took a chance and reached out, very slowly pushing the gun down to point at the floor. Wesley didn't resist. He was unable to pull his mind away from the thought of his friends, all dead at his own instigation. Fred, Gunn, Lorne - he didn't want to think about it, but the image of gunmen bursting into the offices at Wolfram & Hart, and leaving Fred's broken body on the floor, was more than he could cope with. He could certainly take out one of the three assassins - probably two. He might even be able to kill all three of them. But was it worth the risk? It only took one of them to shoot before he could, and one of them would still be alive to carry out the mission. And he himself would be dead, and unable to save anybody. Not Angel, and not the others. Collins twisted his wrist and took the gun away.
"Sensible decision, old man," he said, in a falsely cheerful voice that grated on Wesley's nerves. "Now go and sit down."
"If anybody at Wolfram & Hart dies, Collins; anybody at all who means anything to me; I'll kill you. All three of you."
"Somebody at Wolfram & Hart who means something to you is going to die, Wes. Just as soon as we can get over there." Collins unloaded the gun, then tossed it over onto the table. His smile was gone, and all pretence at geniality had gone with it, for that particular act had long since ceased to have a purpose. "And the sooner the better. We've wasted enough time as it is."
Drusilla left her dolls and her flowers behind and went for a long walk through London. She had had a lot to think about after her little conference. So much advice, so many suggestions, so many pictures in her head. The quiet streets, with the sounds of partying in the distance, helped her to sort through it all, and to work out what she needed to do and when. A cool wind stirred her dark hair, and brought with it the scent of people, of late night curry houses, and alcohol spilt in the road. The pubs, those places where she liked to prowl and capture late night stragglers, were closed now, their windows dark. She headed for the night clubs instead, and listened to dizzying music with pounding beats, pouring through closed doors. Strobe lights burst from high up windows, and painted the pavements with electric blue patterns, all pulsing to the same overpowering rhythms as the music. She felt it inside her like the beating of her long-stilled heart, and pressed her head against the cold brick outside, but at each place there were no victims. Nobody outside, everybody inside, and no way to get in herself. So she wandered on again, and on again, and on again. To ever more run down areas, where only the night clubs themselves seemed alive, to more sophisticated places, where the streets were cleaner, but the clubs were just the same. And, at last, her perseverance got its reward. Outside a big, white building with a giant plastic alien on the roof, and silver flying saucers painted on the walls, a young woman was crouched on a metal fire escape, attempting to touch up her make up in the flashing light that shone out of the windows in its inevitable pulsing patterns. Drusilla wandered up to her, wearing her human face, and smiling shyly all the while. The girl looked up.
"Hello." She seemed cheerful, though tired. Welcoming another temporary refugee, probably, assuming that Drusilla too had come out for some air. Dru smiled back at her, though more with seduction than greeting. She didn't speak.
"Gets awfully crowded in there, doesn't it." The girl spoke like the gentlewomen of Drusilla's memory; the ones with the prettiest dresses and the nicest carriages. She was no older than twenty, and her eyes were bluer than the flashing blue lights. Her skin looked blue in each of those flashes too, and her hair. The effect was unearthly, to match the painted UFOs, and the alien on the roof.
"Awfully crowded," she agreed. She knew what the night clubs were like inside. She had been into them before; the people inside were easy pickings. Often she could kill inside, and nobody would notice, though it paid to pick a victim with care. Once she had drunk a youngster dry only to find that she had been popping pills all night, and the combination of alcohol and ecstasy tablets had left Drusilla spinning joyfully on the dance floor with her head lost on its own flight of fancy. Spike had liked to tell the tale of his exploits at Woodstock, with its drug-soaked crowds causing interesting after-effects, but she had never before experienced something quite so intense herself. By the first light of dawn she had been curled up under a parked van in a back street, consumed by dreams of snakes and searing sunshine. She had had to force her way up through the floor in the end, to avoid the creeping rays, and spent the day nursing an unpleasant hangover and unexpected echoes of her hallucinations. This time, though, she saw no sign of glassiness in the eyes of her intended victim. No suggestion of taints in the blood.
"You alone?" the girl asked. Drusilla sat down beside her.
"Not anymore," she said. She could smell so many people; the heat of so many people. It made the hunger stir within her. The girl laughed.
"Lonely? The name's Rachel. I'm a student."
"We're all students." The girl was hot from her dancing and the crowds, and the inevitably high temperature in the club. It made her pulse beat faster, and the artery in her neck pulsed deliciously. "The world is full of learning."
"I suppose you're right. 'All the world's a university'. My father always used to say that." She laughed. "If all the world really was a university, we might stand a chance of the fees being brought down. I don't think I'm ever going to pay off my debts."
"I shouldn't worry about it." Drusilla couldn't hold herself in any longer, and her vampire fangs slid out. "You won't have to think about fees for much longer."
"Yeah? You a politician or something?!" The girl turned back to look at her, and a frown quivered its way across her face. "Hey, what's wrong with your face? Your forehead wasn't like that before. And those teeth..." For a moment she hesitated, as though assuming that it was a joke, then slowly began to rise to her feet. "Look, I've got friends waiting for me. I should go now."
"By all means." Drusilla stood up as well, apparently just being polite, her newly pointed smile growing more feral, more predatory by the second. "Run home to mummy."
"You're weird. You've been doing something weird." The girl shook her head, and edged away down the steps. Her shoes, ridiculous for fast retreats, clanged on the metal fire escape. "What was it? E? GBH?"
"Maybe." Drusilla smiled on. "You're funny, aren't you. You see, but you don't believe." She reached out, and her hand brushed the girl's hair before she could duck aside. "What colour is your hair? When the lights aren't turning it blue? I don't suppose it matters. Hair colour doesn't change the taste, after all." She frowned. "Although sometimes people dye their hair funny colours, and the taste gets into them. Bleach and chemicals. I can't tell if you smell natural. You smell of too many other people, and sweat and excitement and drinks with funny names."
"Whatever you say." The girl took another step away, but Drusilla, unable to wait any longer, was upon her in a second. She smiled, her yellow eyes glinting blue-green in a sudden flash from the strobe lights. "What the hell are you doing?" The girl fought back, but Drusilla's inhuman strength was too much for any ordinary person to combat. She forced the girl's head to one side, watching the artery pulse delightfully. Some nights it was wonderful to be a vampire. But when she bit in, and tasted the rich red blood, she found herself seeing Angel and Beatrice. She scowled into the cooling neck. Vampires weren't supposed to have consciences. Why was she feeling guilty that she was doing nothing to further her cause? As she sucked out the last few drops, she scowled sulkily, then stood up and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. Confound the sense of duty, wherever it had come from. It wasn't as if she had ever forgotten Beatrice's plans; she had just wanted to get something to eat before doing anything. All the same, she supposed that she had spent rather longer upon the hunt than she had intended, wandering the streets looking for somebody to bite. It was nearly two in the morning, and her plan was not yet set in action. Staring down at the body of her victim, artistically sprawled on the pavement, she waggled her fingers in farewell. Poor Rachel, with her debts and her disbelief. Still, she had tasted nice. A vegetarian, Drusilla thought, and her blood sparkling with the added frisson of spices from a recent Thai meal. It all added to the signature of originality that made every victim something new and exciting. But Angel still danced in front of her brain. Turning away, she broke into a run. Things to do. People to see.
She knew exactly where to go. She had been there some days before, delivering stolen books and scrolls to the people that she knew were holed up inside. Everybody in London's underground world knew the three Watcher assassins. Most feared them, for their skill and their ruthlessness, but such things mattered little to Drusilla. She just wanted assistance. Angel was marked for death, so Drusilla had taken the information to three people who might stand a chance of doing what she had failed to do, and kill Beatrice before she could kill Angel. She had watched through the windows as the threesome had sat around their table and argued over what they should do; argued over the meaning of the strange words in the writings; argued over how to proceed. She had seen them returning after long trips to gather more information; watched them gathering their library from sources all over the city and beyond. Smelt the blood on them when they had brought back the books stolen from people unwilling to give them up. And still they had done nothing, done nothing, done nothing. Each day and then the next, nothing. She had heard them speak, though, and she knew what they intended. Death for Angel, to protect the world at his expense. The world she cared nothing for. Nothing at all. Let every human be sucked dry by Beatrice, it mattered little to Dru. But Angel - Angel was different. And Angel must be saved.
So she went there now, as she had planned to do, thinking of the three Watchers. Wondering how she might be able to convince them to bend to her will. Wondering at the identity of the man she had heard them say was on his way to England, and was supposedly a friend of Angel's. Angel seemed to like to associate himself with humans these days. Buffy - curse her - and all her friends; his new friends in Los Angeles. Humans, humans everywhere, and none of them to drink. The same was true of her poor Spike, only in Angel's case there was no cruel chip to make him behave so strangely. The thought of it made her shudder. Poor, poor Angel. All tortured by gypsy spells. She cried for him sometimes during the day, when she was curled up in one bed or another, trying to sleep. She couldn't help him though - couldn't free him from his soul. But she could free him from his imminent death; in that at least she was resolved. So she crept up to the building where she knew the Watchers were hidden, and peered in through a darkened window. An empty room lay beyond. A room filled with furniture covered in dust sheets, and cardboard boxes with curled corners, all standing in irregular piles. It was easy to pull open the window and slip inside; the building was alarmed, but she had long since rigged this one window to be immune to the tug of electricity. Old carpet greeted her silent feet, and she went swiftly across it. She could hear voices; men's voices, arguing. One of the three assassins, and somebody she didn't know. Angel's name came into the conversation. They were talking about killing him, she realised, and she growled throatily. They still wanted to do that. The new voice though; the new voice was arguing against it. The new voice wanted to kill Beatrice instead, and Drusilla almost purred in happy agreement. That was more like it. This one had sense. Kill Beatrice. She had always been annoying. Kill Beatrice, and leave Angel alone. It was a one-sided argument so far as she could hear, though, and she headed for the library to listen more closely. Her initial plan was adapting itself all the time, and she sang the song of the flowers under her breath. This could work, she told herself. This was going to save Angel's life. For all that it was worth saving.
"I'm not saying that I don't want to help you!" The new voice. "I have no intention of letting this creature complete her ceremony. Why would I want that?"
"I don't know." The lean, cold one. The one called Weatherby. "You tell us, Wes. You're the one who likes to hang out with vampires."
"And you're the brainless idiot who fails to accept that Angel has a soul. He's not an ordinary vampire." Drusilla peered through the door and saw the new arrival shaking his head in frustration. "Why can't you understand this? He's a good man."
"He's not a man!" Weatherby advanced upon the newcomer, clearly with violence on his mind. "He's a vampire. Why can't you understand that?"
"Oh, I understand it." The newcomer caught the hand that had intended to strike, and gave it a sharp twist. A fast move, thought Dru, with approval. If his head moved as fast as his hand, he might be of some use. Weatherby broke his hold easily enough though. The new boy had speed, then, but not strength.
"Oh, you understand it." Weatherby didn't lash out again, but his eyes showed that he wanted to, and Drusilla could smell his rage. His disgust. "You know how dangerous he is. You know about all the people he's killed. But still you protect him. It's sick, and I'm sick of talking about it. You heard the deal, Wes. Help us, or we'll kill them all. Every single one of them. The black guy, the girl, that green thing you spend so much time with..."
"Yeah." Smith now. Drusilla rarely heard him speak, and thought of him with some contempt. Collins was the brain of the operation, she knew. The boss. Weatherby was the muscle. Smith seemed to have no particular function. "There's another one too, isn't there Wes? Some girl in a hospital? In a coma?"
"You leave Cordelia out of this." There was white hot rage in the newcomer's voice. Such emotion always made Drusilla feel hungry. Watchers tasted nice anyway; she had learned that a long time ago. It was almost enough to make her mouth water. "You can't claim to kill her by accident. She's not even in the same building as the others."
"Maybe." Weatherby shrugged. "But I don't know. Maybe we should make a clean sweep. Get rid of the vampire and all the people he's tainted. Even girls in comas."
"Now you listen here." Drusilla watched the new boy - Wes, he seemed to be called - take a swift, furious step forward. Collins' voice rang out though, loud and sharp with authority.
"Enough. This is stupid. We're not going to kill some girl in a coma, and we're not going to kill any other humans. Not if we don't have to. Now sit down and shut the hell up. Wesley, what's the best way into the Wolfram & Hart building?"
"Bloody well find out for yourself." Wesley turned away, sitting down on the nearest chair, arms folded. Weatherby towered above him.
"We didn't bring you here for decoration, Wes. You're going to tell us what we want to know, or so help me I'll break every bone in your body. I can make you tell us."
"I doubt that." The newcomer was smiling, coldly and without humour. "I very much doubt there's anything you can do to me that Faith didn't already attempt. Remember? And she didn't break me. You're not worth a fraction of her."
"Yes, of course. It's not just vampires you like, is it. It's psychotic murderers as well. You really do have peculiar loyalties, Wesley." Collins strode over to stand beside Weatherby. "Well never mind any of that right now. We'll talk about it all when we're in California. All I care about for the moment is getting over there before we lose any more time." He looked over at Smith. "I'm going to load up the car. You stand guard in the meantime. And don't let him out of your sight."
"Sure." Smith hopped off the windowsill where he had been sitting. "Give a shout if you want a hand."
"Yeah." Collins nodded his head and made for the door, thinking wishful thoughts of the beds awaiting upstairs. He was halfway across the room when the lights went out, but his instincts didn't warn him of trouble. They didn't warn him of anything until a sudden weight crashed into his chest, and the floor came up to meet him. After that everything was too blurred to mean a very great deal. He heard a voice cry out, and recognised it as Weatherby's, then a sudden light blazed blue and gold in the middle of the room. He couldn't be sure of the details; everything was still artistically blurred. He thought that he saw Wesley, holding a ball of light in the palm of his hand, but that didn't seem to make much sense. He passed out after that. Nothing else seemed a logical course of action.
Conjuring the ball of light was simple magic. Wesley let it hover in the air in front of him, and scrabbled for the bullets that Collins had taken from his gun. He could see that the other man was down, but as far as he could see the chest still rose and fell, so there seemed little point in wasting time by checking on him. Combating the unknown threat was far more important. Weatherby was yelling at him to bring the light closer, or make it brighter, and Smith was recoiling from it as though it were something evil. To him it probably was. Magic had its place in the Council of course, but it was governed carefully, and was not supposed to be for the likes of them.
"Can you see anything?" yelled Wesley, ignoring Weatherby's demands for more light.
"I can't see a bloody thing! Something crashed past me, but I don't know where the hell it's gone." Weatherby was coming closer, and Wesley straightened up, gun reloaded. He snapped the magazine closed, and looked around the room. A dark shadow moved close to Smith and he shouted out a warning, but Collins had already noticed that something was amiss. He hurled himself to one side, and vanished behind the table. Wesley saw their attacker then, although he couldn't make out real detail. A human shape, female if the dark dress was anything to go by. He thought that he saw long hair, flowing about the head. Thought that his blue-gold light was shining upon yellow eyes. Cursed.
"Is this a public building?"
"Of course it bloody isn't. We're not--" Weatherby scowled at him. "Hell, I don't know. Maybe. I guess it could have been a conference centre once."
"You set up in a public building. And you didn't even cast spells to guard the entrances? Weatherby, half of London knows who the three of you are. You don't think that it might at least have been an idea to make sure that vampires couldn't get in to the place where you sleep?!"
"Yeah, because you always think of everything." Weatherby was angry enough to start fighting with a potential ally rather than with the flitting vampire now moving around them. "Just shoot her, damn it. Or give me the gun if you don't want to hurt one of them."
"Guns aren't the best thing to use against vampires. Not small calibre ones like this, anyway." He fired nonetheless, but the creature was too fast. He thought that he saw her wagging a finger admonishingly. Weatherby swore, wrestling Wesley for the gun.
"Oh, that's constructive." He let him take it; why fight? There were more important things to worry about. Nearby he thought that he heard Smith moving, and wondered what the other man was doing. Nothing particularly helpful, if his previous record was anything to go by. Smith might be a lethal killer and an efficient Watcher, but he still managed to be quite astonishingly useless at times. Something crashed past, and he reached out to make a grab at it, only to realise, as his fingers snagged on something heavy, that it was Smith. The man's solid shape fell unchecked to the floor, and Weatherby dropped to his knees beside it.
"Alive," he hissed. "It's not feeding."
"Yet." Wesley raised a sardonic eyebrow. "It's probably far more convenient to feed when there's nobody about to stake you from behind."
"Good point." Weatherby raised the gun and fired blindly at the last place in which he had seen the shadowy form of their attacker. "So we get picked off one by one and then drained. Charming. And you honestly want to dedicate your life to serving these things."
"Shut the hell up, Weatherby." Wesley snatched the gun away with a twist of which he felt secretly proud, and moved away from his fellow Watcher. Or fellow former Watcher, for he was never entirely sure how right it was to consider himself still a member of that elite. But then were any of them Watchers any more, now that the Council was dead and gone, and so many of them put to the sword across the globe?
"Pryce! Pryce, damn it." Weatherby was scrabbling after him, but the glowing ball of light followed its creator, and was soon beyond his reach. He stumbled over a fallen chair, cursing all the while. "Pryce! I can't see a thing. I don't have any weapons."
"You don't have a stake?" Wesley was beside him again, although the other man didn't have a clue how. "I thought you three were the elite?!"
"We are." A hand caught his arm, but for once there didn't seem to be any malice in Weatherby's actions. He genuinely was just looking for help. "Call it complacency. Call it whatever the hell you like. Nobody attacks us. Nobody."
"There's a vampire somewhere in here that holds a different view." Wesley pulled a cross from inside his jacket, and pressed it into Weatherby's hand. "Try to keep her at arm's length. Maybe I can work around behind her, and--" He broke off, his voice abruptly ending with a sound suspiciously like a faint grunt. Weatherby spun around, but he could see nothing. The ball of light had vanished.
"Pryce?" He fumbled for his cigarette lighter, managing to create a tiny flame that flickered precariously. Damn. He needed more lighter fuel. He was always forgetting to refill the blasted thing. "Pryce? Where did that light go?" He reached out with both hands, feeling with one, stretching out the lighter in the other. There was Smith, sprawled nearby, ungainly and apparently shapeless. There was Wesley's gun. Weatherby grabbed for it, and pointed it up into the darkness. His lighter was showing him other things now, and his eyes darted left and right. Another sprawled form. Wesley. He was lying face down, the back of his head turned slightly to Weatherby, a mess of scrumpled clothing and much awry hair. Weatherby shook him, dropped the lighter, and snatched for it again. This time when its tiny flame bounced into life it showed him something else. Something both expected and unexpected, which made his mouth go dry. A woman was looking down at him, smiling gently. She had long black hair and a remarkably sweet face, warmed by a smile that turned, as he stared at it, into a look of such coldly unimaginable evil that he felt his blood turn as though to ice. The lighter fell from his hand, and he held up the cross. So small, so powerful - so useless. A booted foot knocked it aside, and a hand came down from far overhead, seized him by the throat, and dragged him to his feet. He struggled. He was a fighter. A warrior. The Council's elite. He had fought vampires a hundred times. He had bested sorcerers, demons and witches. Killed a thousand creatures that his fellow humans would never have believed had been alive to kill. For some reason all he could do now was struggle pathetically in the grip of a woman who was not a woman at all.
"Hello dearie." She spoke like a Cockney, with the forced vowels of somebody who had probably long since lost her original accent, and spoke instead in the way she had chosen for her own. He aimed a kick at her leg, but she didn't flinch.
"What the hell do you want?" Wesley had suggested that she was planning merely to knock them all out, and then feed in peace, but he didn't believe it. Part of that was just wanting to contradict Wesley, but a part of it was sensible reasoning. She knew that they were here, she probably knew who they were. Instinct told him that this wasn't any random attack. She laughed at him strangely endearingly.
"Want want want. Who wants anything, really?"
"What?" She didn't make any sense, and he lifted the gun rather shakily. Wesley had been right of course, in that matter at least; it wasn't nearly of a big enough calibre to do any damage to a vampire. Still, perhaps at such close range... She knocked the weapon from his hand before he could even make the attempt.
"Naughty naughty." Her face was pressed close to his own, and he felt her skin change. He couldn't see it; couldn't see her anymore; but he knew that the soft, beautiful face he had seen in the tiny glow of his cigarette lighter had changed back into the yellow-eyed creature he had glimpsed before. He fought then. Fought with all the tricks he knew, and all the strength that he possessed. She only laughed at him. Laughed and bit, and drank. But only a little. He was still conscious when she dropped him to the floor, then bent over him and stroked gently at his hair.
"Bad human. Miss Elizabeth was right about you. She said that you wouldn't help Angel."
"Angel?" He wasn't sure if he was speaking aloud. He felt so light-headed, so unreal. Everything wavered inside and outside his head. Angel. That was the only part of any of this that made sense. But what the hell did Angelus have to do with anything?
"Angel." She was confirming it for him, and he knew then that he had spoken aloud. "Sleep now, little soldier. Maybe tomorrow I'll come back. Maybe tomorrow we'll need your help." He heard the sweet smile in her voice, and his body recoiled from it. "Always seek help from a friend. Daddy told me that, but I'd rather kill you and suck out all your shiny juices. Like a blood orange, my sweet." The hand fell away from his hair, and he heard her straightening up, and taking a step back. "But sometimes there are times for killing, and sometimes there are times for planning, so I won't kill you tonight. Just sleep now. Just sleep." A heavy boot crashed against his skull, and without any say in the matter, he obeyed her whispered order. She scowled down at him then, for she had meant exactly what she had said. She did want to kill him. The famous Watcher assassins, with their rich, tasty blood. It was a meal the like of which she might never see again. All waiting, all helpless, all unconscious. But they might be useful, yet.
So she left them. She had other priorities tonight.
Wesley awoke to the feeling that really he ought to be dead. Then to the worry that he was dead. Then to the terror that he had been dead, and now wasn't any more. There had definitely been a vampire. She had definitely attacked him. He remembered inhuman strength and a blow that had made his world collapse, and he remembered thinking that this was very likely the end of everything. This was the point when somebody sucked out his blood, and he died, and then Angel died because there was nobody left to save him, and then so many other people died because there was nobody left to save them... and so on down into darkness. He had never expected to wake up. At the thought that he might have been drained and then awakened, turned into one of the creatures he despised, his breath came quickly and the pulse beat soundly in his neck. He frowned then. Should he have a pulse, if he was a vampire? Should he feel himself breathing with quite such force? Should, indeed, he really be worrying about whether or not he actually was a vampire? He had to conclude that that wouldn't really make much sense. He stretched, or tried to, and came up against the unarguable barrier of hard, biting rope. Relief filled him. Thank heaven - tied up. He almost smiled than. To feel relief at the sudden discovery that his hands were bound behind him, uncomfortably tightly, and that his feet seemed to be tied to the legs of a hard wooden chair was bizarre to say the least. There were many, many ways in which he would rather have woken up. But if he was tied up then surely that at least was incontrovertible proof that he hadn't been turned? Probably depends on who's tied you up, his subconscious told him. He agreed, somewhat unwillingly, and experimentally opened his eyes.
He was in a room. Not the room he had been in before - that had been old and dusty, and piled with books that had no shelves or proper filing system. This was different. A newer, bigger, airier space lined with shelves that teemed with books old and new. Mostly old; big and heavy and covered in leather and gilt. There was a thick rug on the floor at his feet; a whole series of them, that lay about the floor to hide the shiny new tiles. A table nearby, with several books lying on it. A lamp burning on the table. Blinds that covered the windows at the edges of the lamp's reach, with just a few cracks of daylight showing through here and there. Daylight kept out, then, and darkness kept within. It screamed vampire with a suddenness that made his heart pound again and his senses dance into life just seconds before a shape registered at the limits of his vision. He turned his head, and his throat seemed to catch and contract. She was coming at him, and there was nothing he could do to stop her. She was dark and lithe and he was bound so tightly, and she was coming so very, very fast, laughing so low, so richly, so teasingly. Images of Faith raced into his mind, and he flinched back involuntarily. Flinched back as she loomed up in his vision, and leaned in close, and sat herself down on his lap. Faith again, like years before. He began to struggle then, furiously, and with all the strength that he possessed. A woman's voice laughed delightedly, and a hand reached out to capture a handful of his hair, and hold his head still. God but she was strong. Inhumanly so, like any vampire of course - but it was always a surprise to encounter it. That something so human looking, so delicate looking, could be so strong that he would be helpless even if he weren't tied - it was wrong and obvious and terrifying and inescapable, and he wanted to get away from it. He couldn't even move.
"Now now." The voice was gently scolding, and he looked up into eyes that showed no malice, no evil. They were nice eyes, set in the midst of a nice face; and one that he recognised. He blinked.
"Yes." Her voice was almost a croon, the harsh accent all that stopped her from sounding like the mothers of his youth. She tilted his head slightly, watching his neck with such blatant hunger that he got the horrible impression he was being stored in some kind of larder. "You're a clever boy. Angel's boy. That's why I brought you here. Not like the others, are you. They wanted to kill him. Wanted to turn my poor Angel to dust and ashes and ashes and dust." She let go of his hair, and he turned, slowly, to watch her again. "But you don't want to kill Angel. You don't want him dead."
"No." He kept his voice level. Wesley hadn't experienced true fear in a long time; he seemed to have left such things behind, in the half confused memories of his time with Lilah. He didn't feel it now; not so intensely as he would once have done. What he did feel was a dreadful sense of unease. "No, I don't want him dead."
"There, see." She drew back, smiling down at him like some benevolent aunt. Or somebody else's benevolent aunt, anyway. "I knew you were a good boy. Miss Elizabeth always knows who's good and who's bad." She turned away, wandering back out of the limits of the lamp's glow. Wesley heard her feet scratching and scraping alternately upon the rugs and the tiles. He hated not being able to see her.
"So, er..." Speaking to her was very likely pointless; this was Drusilla, a vampire, and impossible to negotiate with. It wasn't as if he could establish a relationship with her, get her to identify with him, any of those other things that prisoners were supposed to do to ease contact with their captors. "What exactly is it that you want?"
"Want?" She came back into the light, this time holding a doll; a large one, probably three feet in height, dressed in neatly pressed red and green, and sporting hair just like Drusilla's own. The vampire sat it down on the table, then sat down next to it. She had extraordinary body language, thought Wesley. A mixture of the childish, the threatening, the blatantly sexual. She was smiling at him all the while, never once losing eye contact. "Your friend asked me that, but I didn't want to tell him. He had unfriendly eyes."
"My... friend?" He thought suddenly of the other three humans, and was angry with himself for not thinking of them sooner. "Collins, Weatherby, Smith. Where are they? What did you do to them?"
"Bad." Her tone of voice was suddenly admonishing, her eyes like flint. "Mustn't demand. Not without pleases and thankyous. Isn't that right, Miss Elizabeth?"
"Please, then." He could humour the insane vampire. It was a matter of simple practicalities; of doing what was right for the moment. That had always been one of his talents. "What happened to them?"
"They're not important." Her tone was entirely dismissive. "You're not here to talk about them. You're here to save Angel. Stop Beatrice from killing him. Find a way to kill Beatrice." She beamed at him suddenly, like an extraordinarily happy child. "That's why you're here."
"That's what I was doing anyway." He felt a burst of quite irrational anger. "I want to help Angel. I was helping Angel. All of this is just a little unnecessary."
"Unnecessary?" She swooped in on him in that second, her eyes right before his, gleaming yellow for a split second before they returned to normal. "They were taking you to America. What were you going to do in America? Books give answers. Books don't win wars."
"What?" He shook his head. So she wanted him for his research skills. It was an improvement, he supposed, on wanting him to betray Angel; and in all honesty, he had been just as much a prisoner in the hands of Collins and the others. The only reason they hadn't tied him to a chair had been because they hadn't thought of it yet. All the same - at least they were human. Humans who completely failed to agree with his point of view; with his set of priorities; but human nonetheless. Drusilla settled herself on his lap again, and he felt himself freeze beneath her. It was like having a wild panther suddenly start behaving like a house cat.
"Miss Elizabeth said you would help." The voice was sing-song, gentle, and entirely off-putting. "Help us. You will, won't you?" She was all but nuzzling his neck now, and he had no way of knowing whether it was through some bizarre display of affection, false or otherwise, or whether she was just mulling over the pros and cons of taking a bite. "Help to save Angel." Her voice was a purr, and one hand stroked his hair so gently that for a moment he almost relaxed. He tried to pull back, thrown by her unexpected attitude, and in that instant it all changed. Her eyes flashed yellow, her demon teeth burst into view, and the stroking hand upon his hair took a fierce grip just as before. He winced, trapped hair stinging, neck protesting to the hard wrench as she bared it once again.
"Ow!" He didn't know why, but he reacted with open anger, as though she were something more ordinary, less powerful. Trying to jerk his head away, like somebody playing a game that had got unexpectedly rough.
"Naughty boy." She stroked his cheek, and through the teeth and the yellow glare, she smiled at him. He had seen vampires smile many times, but it was usually with mockery or anticipation. This was nothing like that. There was something in her smile that was almost warm, almost gentle, in spite of the fangs. She let go of his head, and ruffled his hair playfully. "Must behave. Bad things happen when you don't behave. Didn't your father ever tell you that?" He didn't answer, but held her gaze in the sort of angry, mute stare that answered her question more clearly than any words. Most vampires wouldn't have noticed but, like Spike, Drusilla was unusually perceptive. The grotesque shapes carved into her mind by Angelus gave her a different perspective to her fellows; gave her an element of humanity that they lacked. She smiled more softly than before, and the fangs and the brow ridge disappeared. "Poor baby. All torn up inside. All torn up and twisted, and lost." She settled herself on his lap once again, and stroked his forehead. "So tangled up. There are holes inside your mind, that turn everything inside out. Miss Elizabeth sees, but she can't see why. She says it has to do with grandmother, but grandmother never was one for minds."
"There are... holes?" He didn't understand her, but he didn't think for a moment that he was alone in having felt that way when faced with her. She wasn't one for making a great deal of sense, at least to the casual observer. Not interested in his questions she looked sharply at him, and her eyes glittered darkly.
"Hardly important. Not any of it. Angel. Angel's important. Don't go trying to get out of that, or I shall have to get cross. You don't want me to get cross."
"Very likely not, no." He certainly wasn't in any hurry to see what she was like if she was really annoyed. "So, er... Angel?"
"Angel." She nodded and jumped off him, childlike in her enthusiasm. "We have to find a way of stopping Beatrice. Poor unsuspecting Beatrice. You know that she's indestructible until the ceremony is complete?" He shook his head, alarmed, and her expressive face twitched in disapproval. "Well she is. And you, my little dear, have to find us a way past that. Most of the books you'll need are here. I tried to read them myself, but the languages are confusing. All wiggly, wriggly little lines and funny pictures. I needed a Watcher." Her eyes were sharp again, and for the first time he felt his anger dissipating into real fear. She was so changeable; so mercurial. It was impossible to predict which mood would fly next across her face. Impossible to know what she was likely to do next. "So I went out and got one, didn't I, dearie. My very own little Watcher." Talon-like fingernails pressed into his chin, forcing his head up so that he had no choice but to look into her weird, deep eyes. There was real evil in them now; no more of the teasing and the warmth and the gentility. Harsh, hard, cold evil that made his blood run cold. "And you'll do this for me, or I'll kill everybody in London before I get around to doing the same to you. Don't think that I can't."
"I wouldn't dream of it." Without question he believed at least in her readiness to attempt such a threat. With all the power she exuded, and the strength she had already displayed, it was impossible not to. It would be a very great fool indeed who underestimated this stormy, ferocious woman; a very great fool; and whatever his father might say, Wesley didn't believe that he was that. Despite his lingering interest in all of this, he wanted to be out of here. The research might be vital, the chance to save Angel unmatched - but he didn't want to be here any longer with this deceptively crazed and manic woman. She was smiling down at him now though, a child again, and she brushed at his hair as though to tidy it.
"You will help?"
"I'll help." Right now he just wanted to run; to put as much distance as he could between himself and his turbulent tormentor, but he knew that he meant what he had said. He would help. He would give all that he was to the challenge, because that was what was needed. That was what he always did for Angel. The mockery and insinuations of Collins and his companions echoed in his head, and he heard again their disgust at his willingness to work for a vampire. What would they think of him now, offering to assist Drusilla - one of the worst vampires currently known to the Watchers? Her cruelty and brutality were legendary; her deeds chronicled in books that were not for the fainthearted. His sworn duty was clear; to escape from her or die trying; to kill her or die trying. To return to the assassins and lead them here to do the work they had been specially trained to do. It was hardly the first time, though, that his sworn duty lay in sharp contrast to the duty fate's second roll of the dice had chosen for him. He watched dispassionately as she drew a short, clearly antique dagger from within her clothing, and was careful not to flinch when she pressed it against his neck. Instead he met her eyes, holding her sultry, wild gaze with his own unemotional one.
"Hold still," she told him, and turned behind him to cut the ropes that bound his hands. It was wonderful to be free to move them again, but he didn't revel in it as much as he would have liked. He didn't stretched his arms as they wanted to be stretched, or rub his wrists. Instead he moved slowly, keeping his eyes upon Drusilla. She handed him the knife so that he could free his own ankles, and he stiffened slightly at that. Was it an insult; a demonstration of his inability to present a threat? Did she believe him so harmless that there was nothing to fear in giving him a weapon? He took it, still holding her gaze. There was little that he could do with it, especially with his feet still tied; little that he could have done anyway, with so small a blade. He could hardly behead her with it. Could barely incapacitate her with it, and even then only if she was obliging enough to stand still and let him do it. Slowly he cut the ropes around his ankles, then hesitated, weighing the knife in his hand. He was fast. He was good with a blade, and there were one or two magical tricks that he had up his sleeves. Maybe he could take her out after all. She flashed him a smile, briefly, then turned and walked away around the large table that dominated the centre of the room. So dismissive. So unconcerned by whatever he might do. With good reason, very likely.
"The books are all here," she was saying. Her voice, resonant and musical, managed to leap between friendly and unfriendly in the space of each syllable. "All the books any little Watcher could ever want, and more besides. New books. Old books. Books my family read to me when I was a child, before the demons awoke inside my head." She made a strange keening sound, and held her ears as though to keep out the voices she had heard so many times. "So many books." She looked back at him with a devilish smile, and beckoned with one long white finger. "Read them, Watcher. Before I remember how good your kind taste, and let my control slip."
"I..." He looked around at all the books; so many of them, and him without a clue where to start. "This could take days, Drusilla. Months even. We only have until the full moon."
"Then read." She looked pointedly at the knife in his hand, and he tossed it onto the table. It was no real use to him; he had held onto it merely as a source of comfort, but throwing it away still felt like he was willingly stepping into the impregnable fortress of his enemy. Like a dog bearing its throat to the pack leader, which was a decidedly unsettling analogy here. Drusilla smiled at him again. He rather wished that she would stop doing that.
"Do you have any idea where to start?" Fighting the urge to run, he moved closer to her, running his eyes over the many, many books. It was a struggle to turn his back on her, but he forced himself to do so, the better to examine the library. She moved in close, encircling him with her disproportionately strong arms, and resting her head on his shoulder.
"Start at the beginning," she told him, and her coldness against his neck made him itch to pull away. He didn't try it; to make the attempt, so uselessly against her strength, would be worse than not to attempt it at all.
"The beginning." The first shelf contained Mordant's A History Of All Things Evil, as well as Graham Greene's Monsignor Quixote and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Oh good; an eclectic filing system; such things were always a great help. He sighed. "Where exactly is the beginning?"
"At the start of it all." She let go of him, to his unending relief, and wandered off to the other side of the table, where there was a shelf of books with apparently no two matching spines amongst them. Mammoth tomes; tiny paperbacks; glossy, mass-market hardbacks. She peered at them all for several seconds, then reached out and drew out one book from amongst all the rest. It was gigantic. At least two feet in height, black as night and bound in leather, with gilded pages and a mammoth bookmark like a tail of scarlet silk fixed into the spine. She lifted it so easily, despite its size, displaying her inhuman strength with the sort of easy familiarity of long use. The title of the book was written across the front in silver lettering, but not in English. One of the Torax strain of demon languages, said Wesley's brain, dutifully slipping into reference mode. Not a book from this dimension then; very likely his theory about the origins of Beatrice's ceremony had been right. He took the book from Drusilla, and put it down on the table.
"This is the book Beatrice likes to look at." Drusilla watched over his shoulder as he turned the first few pages. Hand-written in shining black ink; a work of art, the text illuminated like the old books of mediaeval Earth. He was quite breath-taken, but something made him glance up from the beguiling pages.
"Beatrice likes to come in here? You mean she's nearby?"
"This is her house, silly." She stroked his hair again, and his neck, apparently enjoying his unease. "But don't worry. She won't hurt you."
"I'm a human, in a vampire's house, brought here to find a way to kill her. And she won't be a little pissed off about that?"
"She won't mind much. Besides, we won't tell her why you're here." She giggled throatily, and her fingernails ran their way up and down his arms. "Not the truth, anyway." Abruptly the nails were digging into his shoulders, and forcing him, with sudden brutal pressure, to sit down on the nearest chair. "Now read. No more talking, dearie, or I'll forget my manners. And so will my teeth. Understand?"
"Perfectly." He pulled the book towards him, and looked down at the beautiful, alien script. It would take some work; he was familiar with the language, but far from fluent in it. So much work, and so little time. Bending his head, trying to forget that there was a blood-thirsty killer looming over his left shoulder, he turned to this new task. The challenge interested him, despite the circumstances, and the scholar in him was enthusiastic even if the warrior wasn't. Soon enough he was absorbed, and the mysteries of the book began to reveal themselves to him. The next time Drusilla stroked his head, he didn't even notice. Her cold touch meant nothing at all.
Collins awoke rather as Wesley had done; to worry, surprise and fear. He had no idea that it had been a vampire who had attacked his little enclave, but the worries were there nonetheless. Not knowing what had happened, or for how long he had been unconscious, he stirred slowly, and watched the world about him through half-closed lids. He could hear nothing, see nothing, sense nothing. The room was still dark, but not so dark as before. Daylight, or a rough approximation of it, filtered faintly through the drawn curtains, and he thought that he heard the sounds of daytime to accompany it. Increased traffic, urban songbirds, the distant tinny sound of the radio from the building site down the road. He let out a long sigh. The dangers of the night went away with the sun, and he immediately felt he had less to fear. He opened his eyes, rubbed his protesting head, then sat up. He looked around.
Pryce was gone. He saw that straight away without really seeing it at all. He could be on the other side of the room of course; behind the table perhaps, or just in one of the dark places that still lingered. But he wasn't. Collins knew that. He stood up, rather shakily, and went over to the curtains, tugging them wide open and letting the daylight flood in. It was still early, he thought. The world was still coloured pale grey, the way it was before the sun had risen all that much. He tried to guess how long he had been unconscious, but he had no idea what time it had been when he had been attacked. Giving up the attempt, he turned his attentions instead to his two colleagues.
"Smith! Weatherby!" Using a tone of voice that suggested anger; as though they alone had been defeated by the unseen opponent, he nudged the sprawled pair with an imperious foot. "Wake the hell up."
"What?" Smith sat up slowly, blinking uncertainly about. "What happened?" He rubbed his head, and winced. "Ow. Bloody hell, I think my skull's snapped in half."
"I shouldn't worry about it. It can't diminish your looks or your brainpower." Collins hauled him to his feet. "Pryce has gone."
"Gone?" Weatherby was clambering to his feet, clinging tightly to the table edge as he did so. He rubbed his neck, wincing at the pain from the holes left by Drusilla's fangs. "She took him?"
"She? You saw who attacked us?" Collins turned on him in an instant. "It was a woman?"
"You could call her that I suppose. I wouldn't." He dabbed at his neck with a handkerchief, although the blood had long since dried, then sat gingerly down on one of the chairs set around the table. "It was Drusilla. I didn't get a very good look at her, but I know her face when I see it."
"Drusilla." Collins' voice was like ice, and the word cracked out of his mouth. "That godless bitch. What would she want with us, if she wasn't feeding?"
"Pryce." Smith sat down near to Weatherby. "Well he's gone, isn't he? Unless he went after her when she left, he must have been what she came for."
"He can't have gone after her." Weatherby ceased worrying over his neck, finally having to accept that he hadn't been dramatically wounded. "He was out like a light. I saw him. Right before she grabbed me, she knocked him down. He didn't look like he was going anywhere under his own steam."
"Must have hit him by accident then, mustn't she." Smith's eyes glinted vindictively. "She'd have no reason to take him. Vampires kill, they don't kidnap."
"You think they're working together?" Collins sounded interested by the proposition. Smith just shrugged.
"Make sense, wouldn't it. We know the connection between Drusilla and Angelus. He made her what she is, and you think they don't still work together?"
"Fair point," admitted Weatherby. "Look at Sunnydale a few years ago; Giles was still filing reports back then, and they were still the proper little family group. Angelus, Drusilla, Spike. And we all know where Wesley stands on Angelus. And, apparently, on Spike."
"I don't know." Collins was ready to believe just about anything of the colleague he held in such low regard; but this? "Drusilla is a little different to Angelus. Pryce might be a twisted bastard, but he's right about one thing. Angelus does have a soul. Drusilla doesn't."
"True. Maybe. For all we know Angelus and this soul crap is all a load of nonsense, and frankly I don't care about it anyway." Weatherby had a headache, and as far as he was concerned that was entirely the fault of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. He was quite positive that none of this would have happened if Pryce hadn't been with them, and he was more than ready to blame him for everything from the holes in his neck to the destruction of the entire Watchers' Council. Pure spite made him spit out the charges now. "Think about it. He'd do anything for Angelus, and you know it. Why not for Angelus' daughter too? For all we know they're working together. We grabbed Pryce, so she came here to get him back."
"No." Collins shook his head. "It doesn't make sense. She must have taken him for some other reason. If they were working together, chances are she'd have taken the time to do this properly, and killed at least one of us. Leaving us alive suggests she was in a hurry to get out of here. Like maybe she wanted to get Pryce somewhere before he woke up." He scowled. "Oh, what the hell. It really doesn't matter either way. We've still got to get the son of a bitch back."
"We do?" Smith didn't look convinced. Collins glared at him.
"If she took him because they're working together, then it's our duty to get him back. We need to find out what's going on and put a stop to it. If she took him for some other reason, we've still got to get him back. I hate him as much as you do, but we can't leave him in the hands of a vampire. He is one of us." A trace of clear disgust crept into his voice. "In a manner of speaking, anyway. Besides, he's still our best shot of getting close enough to Angelus to dust him. We need him. For all I care the pair of you can play safe, and stake him right after we do the same to his boss; but until then we need him." He stood up, still simmering from the rage and hurt pride caused by the ease with which his stronghold had been taken by the enemy. And one enemy at that.
"Right." Accepting the word of his nominal leader, and recognising the sense in all of it, Weatherby stood up and stuffed his disappointingly un-bloodstained handkerchief back into his pocket. "Smith, get on the computer. Look for police reports of any crimes attributable to vampires. You know the drill. Try to look for any attacks centred in clusters. Maybe Drusilla has been around long enough to have taken a few victims. That might help narrow our search. I'll break out the maps, and have a look for likely buildings. If we're going by her usual modus operandi, we want somewhere big and grandiose. It needn't necessarily be empty."
"Not until she rings the doorbell, anyway." Collins nodded. "Good. I'm going out. Now we know there's something going on, I can really lean on our informants. This time I'm not coming back without finding something out." He picked up Wesley's gun and checked the load, then stuck it into his pocket. "Get to work. By the time I come back I want to have some idea of wherever Drusilla is holed up. We go in, we get Pryce, and we get back out again, and I don't care who we have to go through in the process."
"And if it turns out Pryce really is working with Drusilla?" asked Weatherby, a hopeful tone in his voice. He had been wanting to take action against the other Watcher ever since they had last crossed swords, in Los Angeles back in 2000. Four years of harboured grudges led to a certain sense of satisfaction, now, with the idea that there might soon be a chance of revenge. Collins allowed himself the smallest and most sardonic of smiles.
"Then we deal with him," he said simply. "The way the Council should have done back in '99. I always said you shouldn't sack Watchers. If we find out Pryce is helping Drusilla, in whatever the hell she's up to, he's a dead man." His eyes hardened, and the still lingering smile twisted up at the ends. "Screw it. Even if he's not working with her, sooner or later one of us is going to take him out. Might as well be sooner."
"That sounds like a plan I can approve." Weatherby was already trying to think of the most fitting way to bring a permanent end to Wesley's notoriously chequered career. Several pleasantly poetic options sprang to mind almost immediately. "Shame we have to deal with the Angel business first."
"It'll be worth the wait." Smith was already on his way to the door, heading for the room where they had set up their various pieces of computer equipment, stolen, like everything else in their headquarters, from other buildings in London. "That ponce has been asking for it for years."
"Yeah, well neither of you forget; he doesn't die until I say so. We've got better things than revenge to worry about." Collins pushed past Smith on his way to the door. "Now get moving. We're on limited time, and I want this wrapped up. We've had enough cock ups already on this job. Any more, and I'll stake one of you as well as Pryce and Angel. And don't think I don't mean that." He left with a bang of the door. Smith whistled.
"I think he's serious," he commented, with a lightness that he didn't really feel. Weatherby nodded.
"I think you're right. Just be glad you're not Pryce. If you think Collins is angry with us, you wait until you see what he does with that aggravating sod." He smirked slightly. "I'm rather looking forward to it, myself."
The books in Drusilla's library were amongst the most fascinating that Wesley had ever read, and in many ways he was sorry that time was so limited. Before many hours had passed there was a towering pile of volumes on the table, and many other books spread out around him, open to pages of differing languages and typically graphic illustrations. Drusilla had found him a sizeable pad of paper and a biro that wrote in purple ink, and he scribbled notes in his own idiosyncratic shorthand. It might almost have been fun, were it not for his ever present companion. She moved restlessly about the room, sometimes gliding on silent feet, mumbling to herself or making strange noises; sometimes dancing, slowly and almost beautifully, to music inside her own head. She sang, she talked to Miss Elizabeth who herself sat mutely in the centre of the table, staring at Wesley as though keeping guard. Sometimes, energy seeming to desert her, Drusilla would wander back to Wesley and sit beside him, or stand over him and stroke his hair, mumbling peculiar sweet nothings. On the whole he preferred the doll; her glassy-eyed stare was strangely oppressive at times, but at least she sat still and didn't stroke him, or sing in that soft, throaty voice. Everything about Drusilla was sinister, from the peculiar flirtation in her eyes, and her grotesquely sexual body language, to the soft songs she whispered to herself as she danced in dreamy circles. He watched her with one eye as he worked; watched her whirl about with her arms outstretched, or sometimes with her hands clasped to her head. She sang old folksongs that must have been ancient even when she had sung them for the first time, in the days when she had been human. He watched her pace restlessly when the music was no longer with her; heard her quote Shakespeare and Byron; tried not to flinch when she came up behind him and rubbed at his shoulders with her long-nailed, horribly strong hands. She was wearing perfume of some kind; something earthy and subtle and old fashioned that didn't want to be ignored. It fitted her image of darkness personified, and lingered in the air every time she moved. She knew the effect that it all had, too, even if there was so much of the child in her. The child, after all, only went so deep.
"Did you find anything yet?" Her tone was whining, insistent. He made a point of not lifting his eyes from the pages of the books.
"Bits. Here and there. Maybe."
"The forces are gathering, Watcher." She leaned over him, staring at his notes and the incomprehensible tangle of language in the books. "She puts things in such disarray. Everything spins."
"No doubt." He rubbed his eyes, wishing for some natural light. It would have been wonderful to pull back the curtain and allow the sun to illuminate his work instead of the lamp that stood on the table. It wasn't nearly strong enough, and its hot yellow glare was decidedly unfriendly. "Maybe you should have kidnapped all four of us. We might have got this done a little more quickly then."
"The others wouldn't have helped. They wanted to kill Angel." She turned away, running her fingers over the spines of all the other books, pulling out one or two to look at their covers. "Poor daddy."
"I didn't think you cared that much for him." Ceasing his frantic scribbling for a moment, Wesley looked up. "I was under the impression you were ready to kill him yourself at least once. There was some ritual to replenish your strength back in Sunnydale?"
"Sunnydale." She sounded sad, and made her little keening noises again. "With Spike. Poor Spike." Heaving a huge theatrical sigh, she threw the nearest book at the table, narrowly missing Wesley's head. Alice In Wonderland, he saw, as it flew close by him. Great. Nice to see the theme of insanity being kept up, anyway.
"That was different." Her moment of anger past, she was speaking once more in a dreamy voice that spoke of a thousand sorrows. "This is different. I don't know why, little Watcher boy. I just know that it is."
"Fine." He didn't give a fig for her reasoning. "But if you want speed, maybe you ought to lend a hand. I'm going as fast as I can."
"Are you?" She pulled a chair out from under the table, and sat down beside him, pulling his pad over for a closer look. "Pretty squiggles. Are they poetry?"
"Drop the mad act, Drusilla." He pulled the pad back. Odd that he felt almost comfortable about chiding her. He had never really met her before, although his studies of the life of Angelus had made her an extremely familiar figure to him. He knew every recorded detail of the torment inflicted upon her by Angelus, and it seemed as if he knew each and every facet of her madness. Enough to be sure that she wasn't truly insane, anyway; enough to know that her character was far more complex than that. She put her hand over his, in a gesture that seemed friendly until he was reminded again of her strength. She might just as well have nailed his hand to the table.
"Poor Drusilla," she said gently. "Always misunderstood."
"I'm not misunderstanding anything. But don't misunderstand me." He made a point of trying to remove his hand, even though he knew that it was hopeless. "You need me."
"You're a bright little Watcher boy, aren't you." She released him, then climbed up to sit on the table instead, picking up Miss Elizabeth. "Bright little Watcher boys have to be careful that they don't get their fingers bitten off. And their ears, and their toes..." She smiled wickedly, busying herself by arranging the doll's extravagant skirts and petticoats. "All kinds of bits and pieces get bitten off. It can be quite messy. Messy and painful. And tasty."
"Yes, but I work so much better with all my bits intact." He turned back to the books. "What time is it?"
"Daytime." Apparently nothing more precise was going to be offered. He scowled. Even a research junkie started to tire of his work now and again, and it might be nice to know how long he had been busy. "Don't worry, dearie. Beatrice will sleep for a while yet."
Beatrice. His heart gave a jolt at that. Of course - she was here somewhere, and he had allowed himself almost to forget it. She could be anywhere in the building; even in the room next door to where he now worked. At any moment she could awaken, and come in here. And then what? Would she kill him outright? Would Drusilla try to protect him? He wasn't sure that the sensation he felt was entirely that of fear, but it was certainly unnerving to be alone in a vampire stronghold. Alone and unarmed, save for the magicks he possessed. And even they could not necessarily be counted upon, for Beatrice clearly had some knowledge and ability in that field herself. Drusilla caught the look in his eyes, and stroked his hair with a lazy, gentle hand.
"Relax, dearie. She won't hurt you. We'll look after him, won't we Miss Elizabeth. Have to keep the little Watcher safe, so that we can keep daddy safe."
"Well let's hope that Beatrice doesn't fancy Watcher for breakfast." He pulled his head away, irritated by her constant touching, as well as with himself for letting it get to him. She unsettled him greatly, and her low, throaty chuckle told him that she knew it.
"She'll get Watcher for breakfast if you don't find something worthwhile." For a second the voice was cold and sharp, like the snap of brittle ice under pressure, then she was leaning close again, her body language blatantly sexual, and her fingernails toying with his neck. He was suddenly acutely aware of the pulse beating there, and knew all too well that she was even more so. One pointed nail traced the path of the live-giving artery, and for a second every muscle in his body seemed to freeze. She laughed at him, very, very faintly.
"It's alright, my dear." She spoke to him as though he were a tiny child cowering beneath the covers of his bed. It wasn't a tone of voice he was used to. "Auntie Dru will take care of you." He couldn't miss the glint in those deceptive, deep eyes. "Very good care."
"That's what worries me." He turned his eyes back to the book in front of him, taking refuge in ancient pages and beautiful lettering. Miss Elizabeth stared at the back of his head with her glassy blue eyes, even though Drusilla had already lost interest. The vampire was looking at the book, trying to guess its secrets. The doll cared more for the Watcher. If Wesley had been more of one for popular culture, he might have thought of other dolls, with sharp snapping teeth and mocking eyes, drawing blood with their serrated fangs. Instead he saw only the illuminated text, and the words even he had to struggle to read.
"How close are you?" asked Drusilla, all trace of play gone. He didn't look up.
"When I know what I'm looking for, I might be able to estimate how close I am to finding it." He rubbed his eyes, almost wishing for his glasses. Supposedly he no longer needed them, but there were times, when he was studying hard, that he wondered just how far behind him he had really left those old inconveniences. He sighed. "Make yourself useful, would you? See if you can find a book called Magicarum Clestium. I can't believe you don't have a copy here, given what else you've got. It should be black."
"Here." She found it almost immediately, her quick, predator's eyes scanning the spines of the books far more quickly than any human could manage. She handed it over without enthusiasm, however. "It doesn't look very helpful. Latin. Latin means this dimension. Too ordinary."
"Perhaps." He flicked through the pages though, trying not to waste time by stopping to admire the edition. It was in almost perfect condition, despite being nearly five hundred years old. His own copy was ragged in comparison, the leather cracked and the hand-cut pages crumpled. This one seemed barely to have been read. Drusilla hung around by his shoulder, and he knew that she was reading the words as well. She knew Latin then. Not a surprise, perhaps, given when she had been born; but not all women had been fortunate enough to receive a full education back then. He heard the scowl in her sigh when she failed to see anything of immediate use.
"What next?" she asked. She was bored, clearly. Wesley liked the idea of being incarcerated with a bored vampire marginally less than he liked the idea of being incarcerated with an angry one.
"Next I read some more." He found a particular passage and studied it carefully. It wasn't that he needed to see the text to read it; he had been familiar with this book for most of his life, and knew fully half of it by heart. The Magicarum Clestium, however, was more than it appeared to be. On the surface it was a simple history of certain branches of sorcery, listing a variety of spells. To those who were aware of its abilities, though, it was rather more complicated than that. In the hands of a practitioner of magic, it was potentially a more potent spell ingredient than any of the usual herbs and potions. Wesley ran his hand across his chosen passage, and muttered the words in rhythmic Latin. The ink glowed softly, and Drusilla, drawn to it like a moth to a flame, whispered rhythmic words of her own. Hers were also in Latin, but they were not part of a spell. For some reason she was singing an old nursery rhyme. Wesley ignored her. Responding to his own chanting, however, before his eyes the pages of the Clestium began to turn. Drusilla's soft singing broke off.
"Naughty Watcher," she said quietly. "Not supposed to be a magician."
"Ssh." He held up a hand for silence. The pages had ceased to turn now, and the book lay open on a page featuring hundreds of tiny demons, expertly drawn by some long dead scholar so that they appeared to be scrambling all over the text. It was tempting to admire the work without studying the words themselves, especially when the eyes of the little demons began to glow, and they began to climb about the letters for real. Drusilla was enchanted by them, and leaned closer, eyes wide, to watch them scamper and play.
"Have you found something?" she asked. Wesley flipped through the pages of his notebook.
"I don't know. But with the work I've done already, and the things that I'm being shown now, I might be able to work out where to go next." He read through the page, then turned back to the huge book he had been studying before, rifling hurriedly through the leaves. It took him a moment for his brain to switch between the Latin of the Clestium, the shorthand of his notes and the unfamiliar language of the huge book, but languages were his business, and it wasn't too difficult a task. Drusilla was no help, getting in the way as she watched the scrambling demons, and doing her usual trick of sprawling across his lap. He shut her out, the way he had long ago learned to shut out distractions. His father shouting at him, Cordelia talking incessantly, the loving interplay between Gunn and Fred that he had had no wish to witness. Admittedly none of that was quite as distracting as a sinister and beautiful vampire rubbing herself up against him, but the books were all that mattered. They were all that could matter. He made sure of that.
And thus it was that Beatrice found them, when she wandered into the library some twenty minutes later. Amidst a pile of books that almost hid them from her eyes - though not from her other senses - they were huddled together, busy about their respective tasks. Drusilla was still sitting on Wesley's lap, one arm curled around his neck, the other making playful snatches at the frolicking, painted demons. Beatrice cleared her throat loudly, and rather enjoyed the effect that her sudden presence had upon the young, clearly human, male. She heard his heart beating faster and more loudly, and licked her lips with unconscious relish. Adrenalin improved flavour, in her opinion.
"Are we keeping fresh food in the larder now, Drusilla?" she asked. "If so there's some ropes in the other room. I prefer to keep my snacks tethered so they can't run off."
"He's not for eating." Drusilla rolled off Wesley's lap, amused by the rigidity in his muscles. He was trying to stay focused on his reading, and feign a lack of interest in what was going on between the two vampires, but his heart rate couldn't keep itself secret from a vampire. She trailed one hand across his neck, just to toy with him. "He's my pet."
"He's human." For Beatrice such things were simple. "That makes him food. What's he doing with the books?"
"Studying. He's quite the scholar." Drusilla was playing her wide-eyed child rôle again, the best to make Beatrice either trust her or dismiss her. "It seemed a shame not to make use of all the books. He's finding out all kinds of things, aren't you dearie." Wesley didn't answer, and her fingernails dug sharply into his shoulders. Not enough to truly hurt; just enough to remind him who was boss. "Aren't you dearie," she repeated. He glowered, but nodded. Her smile fluttered into being again. "He's not for eating, Beatrice. I was lonely, and I haven't had a playmate in years. I want somebody to replace Spike, and my little pet here is going to be that. I just didn't want to turn him until he'd looked through the books. He might not appreciate them afterwards." This time Wesley really did go rigid beneath her hands. Turning him? She couldn't be serious? Beatrice seemed almost as incredulous, though not nearly so shocked.
"You're not here to find new playmates, Drusilla. You're here to help me with my work. There's no room in that for humans who would be so much better dead." She came closer. "And this one has blue eyes. You know they're my favourite."
"Eye colour doesn't make any difference to the taste." Dru ran a ghosting hand over Wesley's cheek, as though he really were the pet she had claimed him to be. "It's what they eat that counts. Anyway, I have time enough for whatever you want, and to play with him as well."
"I'm not a toy." He spoke quietly, although he knew well enough the hearing abilities of vampires. Drusilla stroked the back of his neck.
"Quiet, pet. I told you she won't eat you, and she won't. She'll have to get through me first."
"Not all that difficult." Beatrice came closer, though she was still wearing her human face, and her movements were easy and unhurried. There was no tenseness in her limbs; no suggestion that she might be preparing to spring. Not that she needed to prepare - a vampire could leap great distances from a standstill, often with no apparent sign of effort. Her eyes were on the books, though. She knew that she could take Wesley easily enough, and she wasn't bothering to watch him. She just wanted to see which books he was reading. He made a concerted effort to keep reading, keep writing, keep his eyes fixed on the work in front of him, whilst Drusilla's hand stayed on the back of his neck.
"Why is he reading this?" Beatrice lifted the huge book that made up the lion's share of Wesley's research, and weighed it in one hand. It wasn't an especially large hand, and it seemed unfair to Wesley that it should be such a strong one. Drusilla giggled softly.
"We thought it looked the most interesting. Why? Is it important?"
"Never mind." She tossed it back onto the table, sending several other books flying. "It's evening, Drusilla. I don't know about you, but I'm hungry; and I eat people. I don't keep them as pets."
"We can go hunting." Clearly the idea pleased Drusilla no end. The hidden vampire features ghosted across Beatrice's face, the brief flash of yellow eyes emphasising her scowl.
"We don't need to hunt." A powerful hand closed on Wesley's shoulder. "We've got a little human snack right here."
"Him?" Drusilla looked disparaging. "He's barely a mouthful, skinny little thing. We'll find a night-club, and get a couple of tender little birdies. All tasty from the cocktails and the heat."
"Hmm." With just the one hand still on Wesley's shoulder, Beatrice hauled the Watcher to his feet. Wesley had been manhandled by vampires many times, but it still seemed rather disconcerting to be jerked about with so very little effort by somebody of no great size. "I suppose he does look a little pale. Not as skinny as he looks, though." She licked her lips, her movements that same mixture of the dangerous and the sensual that Wesley had seen before, both in Darla and more recently in Drusilla. "Appetiser?"
"I told you." Drusilla broke the strong hold with ease, and pushed Wesley back into his chair. He crashed back from the force of the push, the chair almost upsetting itself. Anger flashed across his face; anger and deep concern. He was close to death now, and he knew it. "No eating my pets. You ate that ticket collector on the train down from Birmingham, and you knew I wanted to play with him a while. And you ate that stagecoach driver all those years ago. I was going to teach him to sing."
"Oh, I can't be bothered to argue with you." Beatrice just looked disgusted; as far as she was concerned, humans were for eating, and nothing else. "Just come on if you're coming. If we go now we should meet the early crowd before they get too drunk. They taste better when they're still only tipsy."
"True." Drusilla giggled lightly, and ruffled Wesley's hair. "Be good and we might bring you back a doggy bag, my pet. How do you fancy a little teenager, all trembly and wobbly-kneed?"
"Drusilla..." He knew what she was, of course; knew exactly what sort of things she was famed for doing; but after declaring a truce of sorts with him, surely she wasn't going to go out and kill humans? But of course she was, and he was a fool for thinking that she might hold back. She laughed at him, though warmly and without rancour.
"Just a bite, my pretty boy. Carry on reading your little tales. We'll be back before you've missed us."
"Drusilla!" He managed to sound authoritative, even if he was scared. Standing up, he squared his shoulders, and tried to pretend that she wasn't ten times stronger than him. "You can't go out eating people. I won't let you."
"You're very sweet." She stroked his cheek, and he jerked his head away, annoyed. He had had just about enough of her and her touchy-feely approach.
"I mean it. If you kill anybody, I won't help you with this."
"Oh you'll help." Her eyes were suddenly hard and inhuman, even though she was still wearing her human face. Beatrice pushed past her, expression more irritated even than before.
"If you're not going to eat him, Drusilla, at least shut him up." With one small swipe she backhanded Wesley so hard that he crashed over the table and fell to the ground on the other side. Stars exploded, and for several seconds he found it impossible to breathe. He coughed, very hard, and tried to decide if his head was still attached to his body.
"Poor baby." Drusilla hauled him to his feet by one shoulder, with no gentility whatsoever. His feet lost contact with the ground almost as soon as they had regained it, and he realised in a sudden, dizzying moment that he was being held suspended, his toes swinging several millimetres above the floor. Still struggling to catch his breath, he fought her briefly, without any hope for his success. Very gently she lowered him into the nearest chair, then twisted his hands behind his back with a sudden shock of brutality that caught him entirely by surprise. It was several seconds before he realised that his hands were tied there, trapped against the hard slatted back of the chair. Breath returned, and with it the ability to speak - not that he used it for anything particularly meaningful. He merely swore, in a rough, hoarse voice more like a growl. Drusilla laughed delightedly.
"I should wash your mouth out. But your mouth is full of blood, isn't it." So that was what was running down his chin. He should have guessed. Drusilla trailed a finger through the trails, then licked it experimentally. He saw her eyes widen and spark, and saw the flash of the vampire that rushed momentarily across her features. Instinctively he flinched back. She merely laughed though.
"Got to go, little pet. You'll keep." She leaned closer though, kissing him full on the mouth in a move that was half genuine, and half merely an excuse to fill her own mouth with his blood. When she pulled away it was with a smile that was entirely feral. "Night night."
"Come on, Drusilla." Beatrice was already at the door. "Or I'll forget my manners and eat him now."
"Coming." Straightening up, the dark-eyed demon flashed Wesley one last smile, then disappeared after her 'sister'. Wesley watched after them for a moment, then very, very slowly allowed himself to relax. Drusilla had tied him tightly, but she had left a loop of rope in his hands which he discovered when he tested the bonds. So that had all been an act for Beatrice? If so he hated to think how she might behave were it all for real. Tugging on the loop, he caused the bindings to fall away, and he rubbed his wrists tenderly. He felt dreadful. Bits of him still hurt from the abduction earlier, the ropes he had just removed had rubbed painfully on burns from the ropes Drusilla had used on him before, and his head spun from Beatrice's attack. Why was life always so damned painful? Dismissing the thought, he dragged himself to his feet and tested his balance. Not too bad. He could walk without collapsing, and he knew from long experience that his body could take a good deal more battering than this before it gave in under the strain. He was left with three options then, he realised. Get the hell out of here before his tormentors returned; head off after them and possibly prevent them killing anything upward of two innocent civilians; or get back to work and keep looking for a way to help Angel. Despite the dangers of the second option, it was the third that seemed the most insane; sitting down, missing out on a good chance of escape, and awaiting the return of a pair who would, very likely, kill him in the end. Muttering under his breath, he walked painfully back around the table to the chair he had been sitting on before, and sat down on it again. The books awaited him with a patience he lacked; his notes still lay there, with their unique shorthand written in Drusilla's purple biro. It only took him a moment to regain his equilibrium, and then he started back to work. The stars still danced in front of his eyes, he could still taste blood and Drusilla in his mouth, his wrists and his back still ached. You're a fool, Wesley, the lingering facets of his old self were telling him. Get out whilst you still can. He didn't listen to them. He never did anymore. He listened to new voices now.
Collins returned to his not-so-safe house with a lighter spirit than before. He had leant heavily on a young man he knew locally; a drug addict who sold his own blood to vampires to make the price of his next fix. Hardly a roaring trade, but there were vampires enough who enjoyed the buzz of a cocaine/blood mix enough to make the price reasonably high. Not that Collins cared for the spirit of free enterprise. He cared only for the young man's notorious lack of backbone. People who dealt with vampires generally knew where the creatures hung out, and it hadn't been hard to get some details about rumours on the vampire grapevine. Beatrice had been seen here and there, and even if there was no undead local likely to tell Collins about it - at least without the application of a few choice skills that hedidn't have the time for right now - the next best thing was a human in front of whom vampires spoke freely. So it was that he returned with the whole of London narrowed down to a handful of possible locations. With Weatherby and Smith's research added to his own information, he was able to narrow it down still further. Beatrice, it seemed most likely, was in one of two possible places; a vast improvement upon an entire city's, or even country's, worth of buildings. Soon it would be dark, which was not exactly the perfect time to go hunting for vampires, but he was spoiling for a fight and didn't care about the risks. He had had a long day, and it was time for some fun.
Smith seemed less happy. Collins supposed it was rather less satisfying to spend the day poring over printed matter rather than beating the living daylights out of repulsive humans, but such were the privileges of rank. Watchers were supposed to enjoy reading, anyway; quite how Smith had managed to miss out on that particular gene was a mystery. Smith seemed to have missed out on rather a lot of genes, though, at least as far as Collins could tell. Brains and charm being just a few of them. He smiled to himself at the thought, as he and the others prepared for their sortie. Weatherby was smiling too, although his mind was undoubtedly in different pastures. Weatherby, Collins was sure, was thinking about Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, and what he might be doing in the company of Drusilla. That was something that Collins had been thinking about too - that and what to do about it when they found out. He could see Weatherby's own preferences written in his eyes; that particular gleam only shone when his colleague was thinking about violence. For all Weatherby's intellect and skills, there was a part of him that was ever the bully. It was part of the reason why he was so good at his job. Today that job was just ever so slightly different to the many times before.
"Are we going to kill Pryce?" Loading a particularly wicked looking knife into a hidden sheath on his ankle, Smith glanced up at Collins. The other Watcher shrugged.
"Depends how much he asks for it I suppose."
"But we are going after him? Like we're going after Drusilla and Beatrice?"
"Yes, we're going after him." It made a change to demons, anyway, and a certain renegade Slayer. Renegade Watchers didn't tend to come along very often, and when they did a little pressure from the Council almost invariably brought them back into line sooner or later. The Council's elite team of killers and professional bone-breakers rarely had the chance to exert their own forms of pressure upon their colleagues. With luck it should prove an interesting task. They had had the same training, after all; been taught to resist the same things, face the same things, fight the same way. Collins and his team had gone beyond that and, as far as the evidence suggested, so had Wesley. Collins smiled to himself, and saw his smile copied by Weatherby. This should definitely be interesting. Possibly even inspiring. Unless you were Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, presumably.
It was dark by the time they left, their various weapons secreted about them, some rather less secretly than others; and darker still when they ruled out one of the places on their list. There had been a vampire there right enough; Collins' informant had been telling the truth about that. It just hadn't been Drusilla or Beatrice. Wiping the dust of the pale-skinned disco flashback from his hands, Collins had walked back out of the first building on his list with a sense of frustration at a wasted visit, and satisfaction at a job well done. Maybe the visit hadn't been all that wasted after all. One address left.
It proved a hard place to find, though a big building such as it turned out to be should theoretically have been easy to locate. Once they knew where it was they could see it a mile away. A huge place, less than a hundred years old, and looking like some eccentric mansion house built for a rich man with dreams, it clashed with everything around it; Gothic architecture competing with an abundance of glass in a nineteen twenties Art Deco style, all in the same building. There were some flats nearby, of the recently renovated type popular with the young urban rich, and a pub that looked straight out of the seventeenth century, and might well have still borne the scars from the Great Fire Of London. It had already closed when Collins led his team past, and the threesome cast a longing look through the darkened windows. Beneath low eaves and lines of polished horse-brasses, they could see taps controlling any number of real ales and showier, more modern beers and lagers. Collins scowled.
"My kind of pub."
"A locked door doesn't have to be a barrier." Smith was thirsty. Collins smiled.
"True enough. But business first. If we take out Drusilla, we'll have a drink afterwards. Might even pay for it."
"I'll believe that when I see it." Weatherby rubbed at the window to clear it up some of its city grime, and peered in. "Serve the stupid sods right, anyway. What are they doing closed at this time of night?"
"Probably don't get much business around here." Collins shrugged. "Or maybe Drusilla ate them. You're asking for trouble with vampires in the neighbourhood, if you run a public house. There was a place not far from here about fifty years ago. It went through six publicans in two months before the brewery gave up and closed the place. Vampires got every one of them."
"And now they go for the night-clubs." Weatherby looked grim. "All those kids together, all the heat and the hormones. They might just as well go around with Eat Me stamped on their necks. Bloody civilians."
"The bloody civilians are happy." Smith was not generally given to being prosaic, but despite his interest in the beer, he had no wish to be distracted any longer from the task at hand - especially if it was to wonder over the fate of people who didn't bother to notice the dangers surrounding them. "Come on."
"Single-minded, isn't he," joked Weatherby. Collins raised an eyebrow.
"I wouldn't say that. His mind has three tracks at least. Sex, alcohol and violence."
"Not violence. Work." Smith smiled, unconcerned by the jibes. "And not just any old alcohol, either."
"Yeah, he's a connoisseur," confirmed Collins. "Only the best alcohol, only the best violence."
"Not half so choosy about the sex, though," added Weatherby. They both laughed. Collins scowled, although he didn't mind the insinuation in the slightest.
"Just concentrate on Drusilla," he said with meaning, and pulled slightly into the lead. The other two both sobered up then; joking might be a part of any team work, but the work always came first. For all their apparent lack of seriousness at times, there were few who were more serious when it really mattered than the Council's three most celebrated hitmen. Drusilla would not be an easy target - even if her reputation didn't make that clear, her earlier attack on the three of them did. She had beaten them easily on their own home turf, and now they were planning to enter hers. She could see them, hear them and smell them, long before they were ever aware of her presence; and she might not be alone. Pulling out a long ironwood stake, Collins weighed it in his hand, feeling its familiar shape and balance. He had killed more vampires with that stake than some Slayers had seen during the course of their careers, but he had no illusions about this. He knew he might never leave that anachronistic building alive. He might not even make it in through the door.
They chose a side door, slightly overgrown with weeds, but still easy to open. Somebody had been using it recently, to get into the garden perhaps. It was quite an attractive garden, supposed Smith; there were many roses in a variety of colours, although it was hard to appreciate them in the darkness. A well worn path showed where people had wandered amongst the flowers in the past, and by the look of the earth, wet as it was, the path was still in use. Collins pointed at several of the rose bushes.
"They've been cut recently. Somebody has been picking flowers."
"Vampires don't pick flowers," growled Weatherby. Most Watchers shared the common assumption that all vampires were little more than animals, with no appreciation of the finer things in life, and even though experience had taught the threesome that the truth was rather different, it was still hard to imagine a vampire admiring flora. Collins smiled grimly.
"Drusilla might. She's famous for liking flowers. Flowers and dolls."
"Then we might just have found her." Weatherby pulled out his own stake, ironwood like Collins', but longer and heavier and altogether more like a spear. It even had a carved handle, spiralled to give better grip. His grandfather had been given it, back in the nineteen twenties, at round about the time that this strange house was being built. Collins smiled tautly at the sight of the familiar old weapon.
"She ate him, didn't she."
"Not something I'd overlooked." Weatherby had never met his grandfather, and certainly felt no particular malice towards Drusilla for supposedly having been the vampire who had ended his life; but there was some degree of family pride involved. His mother had been upset about her father's death, anyway, as he supposed a daughter would be. He might even give her back the stake, as a souvenir, if he managed to use it to despatch Drusilla. And if he managed not to get himself killed in the attempt.
Inside the house, they found a short length of corridor floored with hard tiles. It wasn't the easiest of floors to negotiate quietly, but they managed it to their own satisfaction. There were a number of doors, all leading to darkened rooms - a study, a drawing room, an entrance hall - but there was no sign of life - or unlife - within any of them. Not that there would be, even had Drusilla been present, given her innate ability to remain unseen. They didn't dare turn on any lights, or use torches, but merely continued on down the corridor, watching all directions at once and seeing nothing, until finally Weatherby squeezed Collins' shoulder.
"Light." His voice was a breath - barely a sound at all. Even so he was taking a risk, for it was noise enough for a vampire to hear no matter how low the volume. Collins turned his head to look in the direction Weatherby was facing, and saw a faint gleam of light underneath a door. He nodded. He didn't need words then; just a few sharp movements with his hands that were the signs they all understood. No human would have heard them move, so silent were they as they approached the door. No human, even had he been present amongst them, would have heard them open the door, ready for battle and tense with adrenalin - but then it wasn't a human they were expecting to encounter. Drusilla would have heard them, they were sure of that, and it was teeth and ferocity and unmatchable strength that they were expecting to face. Instead they met a library, and a sole figure bent over a long table, and leafing through the sort of large, old books that played so much a part in every Watcher's life. Collins breathed out a long sigh.
"Pryce." He closed the gap between them even as Wesley was registering their presence. The other Watcher stood up, startled, turning around to meet a hefty hand that slammed into his chest and almost bent him backwards over the table. Collins froze then, frowning at the bruises and blood that marked his colleague's face. "What the hell happened to you?"
"I had a little disagreement with somebody." There was the look of a hunted animal in Wesley's eyes; suspicion, caution, distrust, that went well with his dishevelled appearance and ragged stubble. Collins' had a frown of his own that outdid Wesley's for force, but couldn't quite match it for vigilance. "What are you three doing here?"
"Why do you think?" Letting go of the other man, Collins stepped back to allow him to rise. He did so, straightening his clothing with the old instincts of a man who had once been far better dressed. "Where is she?"
"The sodding Queen of Sheba. Who do you think?" Collins might have been fazed by the injuries Wesley had suffered, but Weatherby was not. He crossed the distance between them faster even than Collins had done, and took a firm grip on Wesley's shoulder. "Your girlfriend. Drusilla. What the hell is going on here, Wesley? I see you looking like you've gone ten rounds with Frank Bruno, and I see ropes on the floor. Okay, so maybe we should give you the benefit of the doubt. But I also see you here, alone, no guard, the doors unlocked, happy as a lamb in springtime. You're no more a prisoner than I am, are you."
"That probably depends on your definition." Wesley tried to knock the hand away, but failed. He could still have broken the grip, if he really tried, with a swift move in any one of a number of fighting styles, but he reined in his instinct to do so. If he tried that now he would have to fight all three men, and he didn't really want to do that. Quite apart from the fact that he was tired and sore, he didn't really believe he had much chance of success - and he was quite certain they were all armed with rather more than just the stakes he could see. "Drusilla isn't here. She went out."
"Hunting." Collins' tone was filled with disgust, either at Drusilla or at Wesley. Possibly at both. "And you thought you'd just stay here. Are you a prisoner?"
"No more than I was with you." He looked from one to the other of them, "I'd thank you for coming to the rescue, but somehow I doubt that's why you're here. You have something else in mind, don't you."
"Rescue certainly wasn't high on the list, no." Weatherby pushed him back into his chair, then picked up the nearest of the books. It happened to be the Magicarum Clestium, and his lip curled in disapproval. "You know how to use this?"
"Of course I know how to use it. We were all taught that when we were kids." He reached out to pull it away, but Collins was holding him now, with one hand on the same shoulder that Weatherby had been gripping so tightly moments before. Smith hovered nearby, doing the sort of lurking that professional menacers like himself had been practising for centuries. He was just out of Wesley's sight, and the effect was rather unnerving, just as intended.
"That's not what I mean." Weatherby flicked through a few of the pages. "There are two ways to use this book, Wesley. You can read it straight, or you can read it with a little chanting. One way is useless except for mild research. The other way is forbidden."
"To Watchers." Forcefully, and glad that Collins was not nearly so overtly brutal as Weatherby, Wesley broke free and stood up. He took the book back, and set it down on the table with all the gentility and care that befitted an antique. "But I'm not a Watcher. They didn't want me, and I don't want them or their rules. They don't apply to me anymore."
"All kinds of things don't apply to you anymore." Collins looked around at the other books; the huge one that was the centre of Wesley's research, the jumble of others that he had been reading, or which Drusilla had toyed with when she had been 'helping' him earlier. Alice In Wonderland lay where she had thrown it, and Coral Island and Little Women lay there too. Collins smiled.
"Been doing some very eclectic research, haven't you. It's almost as though there was somebody here with you earlier. Somebody reading books beside you, keeping you company? And clearly not bothered about leaving you here with the door unlocked as soon as she got hungry." His voice changed, noticeably not for the better. "I've had it with you, Pryce. Had it with your peculiar morals and your even more peculiar loyalties. I don't care if you're a Watcher or not; if you're a good guy or a bad guy or even a bloody vampire yourself. You've just been found guilty under the old charter of the Council."
"Which no longer exists," pointed out Wesley. "And even if it did - and even if I was still a part of the Council and could be charged that way - the power isn't yours to use."
"True enough. Funny thing, though, when all your colleagues, and the organisation you've been a part of all your life suddenly gets blown to smithereens - you suddenly wind up being promoted beyond your wildest dreams. I have all the authority I want now, Wesley. Because it comes from me." Collins was smiling the tight, bright smile of a man who was enjoying himself immensely. "I think we can find a way to kill Angel without needing your input."
"That's just as well." His voice guarded, his eyes everywhere without seeming to move at all, Wesley kept his face carefully neutral. "Because you weren't going to get it anyway."
"Because you never hurt vampires," said Smith scathingly, finally revealing his location through his voice. Wesley didn't bother to scowl, or to roll his eyes. He had heard that jibe so many times that its original power to annoy had long since been eroded.
"Change the record," he shot back; but by then he was already moving; already knocking aside Collins, snatching a heavy book from the table, spinning to meet Smith with a speed and accuracy that had been honed in days now forgotten by all save Angel. He slammed the book down on Smith's wrist, knocking loose his weapon, then using the book in a powerful backhand that caught the other Watcher on the chin, and dropped him unconscious to the ground. Collins had recovered by then, slashing with his ironwood stake in a move long forbidden in any fights against humans. Wesley dodged it easily, throwing himself to the ground and executing a perfect roll that brought him up behind Collins and allowed him to deliver a heavy blow to the other man's back. Collins recovered quickly and regained his balance, spinning around with impressive speed - only to run straight into an advancing fist. He collapsed to the ground. Wesley turned again, still fast, still smooth, still faultlessly efficient. He met the barrel of a gun; his own gun; pointed at him with mocking sarcasm by Weatherby. Wesley froze, his eyes still glittering with the heat of the fight, bright with a wariness and watchfulness - again from days forgotten by all save Angel - that robbed Weatherby of the fear he had hoped to see. Once again he was forced to accept that this was not the Wesley he had known in days of old.
"Don't move," Weatherby told him, rather unnecessarily. Wesley glared back, almost sulkily.
"Or you'll kill me?" he challenged. "I rather think you're going to do that anyway. What will I be, Weatherby? An entry in your journal? A notch on your stake?"
"A footnote in history. Not even that." Weatherby's smile was truly unpleasant. "Somebody should have done this a long time ago, Pryce. Before you were ever allowed to head out to California and get turned by that damned vampire. They should have seen you weren't Watcher material. You don't give a damn about your own species. You don't give a damn about anybody. It's all vampires. She's out there now eating people, and you're back here instead of trying to do something about it. You're just sitting here, reading her books and practising magicks you shouldn't even know the first thing about."
"But I do have one thing in my favour, Weatherby." Wesley's eyes were like chips of ice, pale and bright and infinitely cold, and lit with a humour to match. Weatherby scowled at him, contemptuous and just as cold.
"Oh yeah?" he asked. "And what's that?"
"Put simply?" A sharp, hard little smile matched the ice in Wesley's eyes. "That I'm not a total wanker." And he threw himself aside. Weatherby saw him move; saw the blur as his target rolled across the surface of the table and landed hard on the other side. Fired the gun without scoring a hit; heard the bullets echo and completely failed to hear the other sounds that he would otherwise have heard as well; Wesley landing, knocking over a chair, the front door swinging open. Collins was stumbling to his feet, almost spoiling Weatherby's aim - not that it was an aim worth keeping. As Wesley came up suddenly to his feet, a ball of fire already forming in his hand, Weatherby was throwing aside the gun. Screw weaponry - he would do this the old fashioned way. It would probably be more satisfying anyway. Wesley hurled the ball at him, aiming for the gun that had already fallen, and scoring no more than a few singed hairs on his enemy's hand. Weatherby's lips curled with displeasure.
"I've thrown my weapon away. How about you forget yours?"
"Maybe." Wesley didn't trust him for a moment. He well knew that Weatherby would be armed to the teeth, and that the mere act of throwing away the gun didn't mean he wasn't prepared to pull just about any sharp instrument or heavy object from about his person. He stepped out from behind the table though, playing along, hands held out from his sides as though to prove that there were no more balls of fire about to rise into being. "What do you want?"
"To settle this." There was an increasingly unpleasant gleam in the other man's eyes; if it were possible for them to become more unpleasant than they had been to start off with, which Wesley seriously doubted. "Scared, Pryce?"
"Of you? No." Wesley rarely seemed to find himself afraid these days. He wasn't entirely sure why, but a lot of his emotions seemed to have been frozen at some point, giving him a wholly different attitude to the world than he had possessed a few years before. Certainly Weatherby wasn't enough to frighten him, whatever he was planning. "But I'd rather you just left. I don't know what time the others will be getting back."
"Others?" Collins stepped forward then, moving neatly in between the other two to stop, or at least postpone, the clash. "What others? There's somebody here besides Drusilla?"
"Yes. And she's just as hungry and a hundred times more cranky. If I were you I'd get out of here before they get back. I can just about vouch for my own safety. I don't know about anybody else's."
"Stop talking to him." Weatherby was advancing again, his words directed at Collins and his glare directed powerfully at Wesley. "He's only trying to postpone the inevitable. Let me tear him into little pieces like we should have done the last time we met him. You can talk to what's left, if it's still capable of listening."
"You're all talk, Weatherby. You always were." Wesley also advanced again. He had tried to warn them; tried to get them to leave. Like the others he had been unable to hear the front door open due to the masking sounds of the gun, but he knew that he could not count on Drusilla and Beatrice being away for much longer. But if the three witless wonders of the Council could not understand that, he wasn't going to carry on trying to convince them. "I'm ready for this if you are."
"That's just what I wanted to hear." Smiling grimly, Weatherby flexed his fists and quickened his step. It took only a second to reach the other man; less than that to feint smartly and begin the game. Collins moved aside, frustrated at the sudden end to his attempts at interrogation, but ready enough to watch the fun unfold. He wasn't particularly concerned for Weatherby; he had seen his companion fight demons with nothing but his fists to help him, and Wesley was hardly a demon. He watched the pair circle each other, almost willing the fight to begin, and was entirely unprepared for the sound of a low, throaty chuckle from somewhere behind him. He froze, and he didn't turn around. He didn't need to. Only a fool wouldn't have guessed what that laughter meant.
"They're having a fight," said a deep, merry voice. A female voice, strongly accented and filled with traces of mockery. "What fun. Shall we watch?"
"What-?" Immediately distracted by the voice, Wesley looked up, eyes widening when he realised that the two vampires had returned. Weatherby took advantage of his distraction to land a powerful punch that carried considerable resentment behind it. Wesley went down, landing hard on his back and making no immediate attempt to rise. Only then did the new voice register with Weatherby, and he started to turn to face the door. It was a move he didn't get to complete.
Drusilla had attacked the moment Weatherby had done the same. Even as Wesley was falling she was breaking into a run, and when Weatherby turned it was to meet a fist far more powerful than the one he had used against his chosen opponent. He had a fleeting image of yellow eyes before everything spun out of focus. He crashed to the ground. Drusilla loomed above him, a dark shape in his vision, teeth the only thing he seemed able to see clearly. Collins ran at her, but Beatrice was a hundred times faster than he could ever hope of being. She hit him like a battering ram and he crashed to the ground, struggling desperately just to keep her teeth from his neck. Nearby Weatherby was doing the same with Drusilla, swiping wildly with his hands at a target he couldn't see, wishing for his stake and experiencing his first moment of solidarity with his long dead grandfather. He could smell the vampire's blood heavy breath, peculiar for its coldness in contrast to the warm breath of the living. She was excited, he realised; there was no other reason for her to be breathing. She didn't need the oxygen, but her body still responded to anticipation with quickened breath. He realised that he was the reason for that anticipation even as he was noting the fact that he had no chance at all of fighting her off. Her strength was overpowering, and she was beginning to growl.
"Drusilla." The voice seemed to come from nowhere to Weatherby, who could still see nothing but a dark blur and a set of snapping fangs, but it came of course from Wesley. Struggling to sit up, he croaked the vampire's name out through a mouth that seemed once again to be full of blood. Forcing himself to put authority into the voice, he snapped her name once more, although he was in little better physical shape than Weatherby. "Drusilla! Leave him alone."
"Are you jealous, my pet?" She loosened her grip almost immediately, and Weatherby fell back. Wesley glowered.
"Just leave him alone. And the others. You've only just eaten, you don't need them as well."
"He's getting above himself, Drusilla." Beatrice released Collins and tossed him aside, going over instead to haul Wesley to his feet. He didn't bother to resist, for he hardly had the strength and equilibrium anyway. "Remind me again why we didn't kill him earlier?"
"Because I said not." Dru stood up, moving over to join her 'sister' and her mute captive. "He's much more entertaining alive." She nuzzled up against Wesley's neck, muttering more of her strange sweet nothings under her breath. "Aren't you, pet."
"Just leave the others alone." He felt horribly tired. So much for this being a holiday; a chance to get away from everything that had been bothering him. He wanted to push Drusilla away, but he had learnt that to try it was futile. Instead he endured her hand on the back of his neck, and the teasing scrape of her teeth against his skin. She laughed at him.
"They're hardly friends of yours."
"No. But don't hurt them. They're no danger to you."
"They want to be." She stepped away from him, hauling Collins to his feet with the same lack of care that Beatrice had used upon Wesley. "Don't you, my little drop of poison?" There was no answer. Collins was still half conscious, but he was not in the mood for talking. Neither was he in the business of playing along with vampires. He just hung there, helpless in the grip of his captor, and directing a particularly venomous glare at Wesley.
"And since we don't do as humans tell us..." put in Beatrice, meaningfully. She tossed Wesley into the nearest chair, and went over to the unconscious Smith. Weatherby scrabbled for his stake, trying to save the life of his unknowing associate, but unable to find the weapon. His hand fell upon Wesley's gun, and he emptied it into the vampire without the slightest effect whatsoever. Beatrice growled at him. She was still growling that way when Wesley ran her through with Weatherby's stake. It passed straight through her heart in a textbook manoeuvre, but as Drusilla had discovered before him, it had as little effect as the bullets. She let go of Smith to pull the stake through her chest, and the hole left by it closed up almost immediately. Wesley eyed the stake, now in her hands, with considerable trepidation.
"She's already begun the process." Blinking dazedly at the death-defying vampire, Weatherby looked over at Collins. "The spell's already underway. And he's bloody well helping them!"
"Not them." Beatrice was eyeing Wesley with new interest. "You know of my plans, don't you. And you were brought here by Drusilla." She smiled suddenly; a bright, warm smile that was so far removed from her previous behaviour as to be decidedly disconcerting. "Drusilla, my dear, have you finally become interesting? Did you bring this scrawny little rat here to find a way to stop me?"
"Maybe." Dru had thrown away her usual act of general oddness, and came over to join them in a walk that bore little resemblance to her usual rambling stroll. She took Wesley's shoulders and moved him aside. "I don't want Angel dead."
"Even though you once tried to kill him yourself." Beatrice smiled hugely. "Well, no mind. Alright Drusilla, keep your new toy. I won't hurt him until after I've finished my work, when my ceremonies are complete. Then he's mine. Try stopping me if you can." And laughing softly, she turned about and left the room. Drusilla smiled without concern.
"She took that better than I might have thought."
"She wasn't worried." Wesley didn't like the implications of that. "She really doesn't think we can stop her."
"She doesn't know that you're a Watcher," Drusilla told him. He shrugged, and went slowly to sit down on the nearest chair.
"I'm not a Watcher. I was sacked five years ago. Besides, I've used every scrap of knowledge I can think of, and none of it's been any use yet." Wiping fresh blood away from his mouth, he cleaned his hand on his shirt, and watched the red smear grow on the cloth. "All that I can think of is getting away. You know she can use either one of us in her ceremony so that she doesn't need to have Angel himself present? If we leave, it could at least slow her down. Maybe make her put this off until the next full moon. We'd have a month then to look for something else to help us."
"You're not fool enough to think we've got a chance of leaving." Drusilla seemed to sniff the air. "Anyway, it'll be light soon. There aren't the underground tunnels around here. I have to travel above ground, and you know how inconvenient that is for me."
"I'd hope he doesn't care." Weatherby had made it to his feet, but Collins barked at him to shut up and sit down. His colleague glared at him, clearly wounded by the reprimand.
"You sound like you're starting to side with him!" he protested. Collins glared at him with disgust.
"This is no time for arguing, you idiot. You saw what happened. That stake went right through her heart, and she barely flinched. This is bigger than our disagreements, at least for now." His eyes narrowed. "Bigger than our disagreements with Pryce, anyway."
"We need Drusilla." Wesley spoke meaningfully. "We won't get anywhere without her help."
"Save it. I couldn't give a toss for your opinion." Collins couldn't tear his eyes away from Drusilla, her bestial features now gone. She looked strikingly innocent. Girl-like, with her large dark eyes and her pale face framed with long dark hair. She was smiling the secret smile of one who had whole worlds inside her head, and as he watched she wandered over to stand beside Wesley. One hand caressed his hair with the gentle touch one might reserve for a pet. Oddly enough he didn't flinch away.
"Sweet of you to try to protect me, my little one," she crooned softly. He scowled up at her.
"I'm not. They haven't got a hope in hell of killing you. It's them I'm trying to protect." He stood up, wincing heavily. "Now we have to get back to work."
"We have to get on the next plane to Los Angeles," corrected Weatherby. Smith, beginning to wake up, groaned in groggy agreement. He didn't know what the argument was about, but getting on a plane to Los Angeles definitely sounded preferable to staying where he was and getting hit again. Wesley didn't bother arguing.
"By the time you can fly over there and get anything done it'll be too late. We only have until tonight." He frowned. "Or at least I think we do. I'm rather loosing track of time."
"The full moon is tonight," Collins confirmed. "He's right, Weatherby. Going to Los Angeles would be pointless now. I don't like it any more than you do, but we've let ourselves be distracted far too much already. We should have got straight on the next plane after we met him at the airport, or gone off there ourselves after he was taken, and not wasted all this time looking for him. Now we've got no choice." He went over to the table, trying to disguise a stiff limp, and pulled out a chair. "How far along in your research are you?"
"Not far enough. Even with the Clestium I haven't made much headway. We're dealing with a series of spells that don't even originate in this dimension. I could probably come up with something to counteract it, if I worked at it hard enough, but it would only have a limited effect. I'd far rather find some way of stopping her altogether."
"And killing her is out of the question, at least at this stage." Weatherby collected his stake, eyeing it sourly. It had served him so well in the past, but he had just been witness to its complete uselessness against Beatrice. "We're going to need magic, aren't we."
"And there you've been knocking it all of your life." Wesley went back to reading through the giant book that he had been studying on and off all day. "This whole affair is all to do with magic. It stands to reason we'll need it to fight more of the same."
"That's fine for you. It leaves the rest of us at something of a disadvantage." Collins picked up Wesley's notebook, and glanced through the lines of unreadable shorthand. "You want to tell us what you've been studying all this time?"
"I've been trying to work out the details of the ceremony she's planning to perform. The parts of it that she's already completed, and anything that she still has to do. I was hoping for some way of thwarting her, but so far the details are proving elusive."
"It's not as though indestructible beings are all that common," put in Smith, picking up a large book and flicking through it. Though he often gave the impression of being less academic than his companions, he read the words effortlessly, though they were written in Sumerian. Whatever else he might be, Smith was still a Watcher. Wesley shrugged.
"I've encountered a couple. Usually there's a way around it, but I can't see one in this case. There was a vampire in Los Angeles who had his heart removed by a demon sorcerer. He became indestructible - even stake-proof, like Beatrice. That was a strictly limited deal though. Eventually his time ran out and he died."
"Maybe if she doesn't finish the rest of the ceremony, she'll run out of time," suggested Weatherby. Drusilla shook her head. She looked bored, as though annoyed that she no longer had Wesley to herself, and she spoke with none of the playfulness of earlier.
"She still has her heart. I saw it when I stabbed her through it myself."
"Yes. Remind me never to get into a family squabble with you." Shooting her an almost amused glance, Wesley leaned back in his chair, continuing his earlier train of thought. "The other indestructible creature I've encountered was the Sunnydale mayor. It took a massive explosion to kill him, but that wasn't until after he had ceased to be indestructible. He had to finish his rites and rituals first, and we can't let Beatrice do that." Weatherby smirked, his mind moving along obvious lines, but Wesley shot him a sharp look. "I mean it. She can't be allowed to complete that ceremony, even if it does give us an opportunity to kill her straight afterwards. Angel cannot be allowed to die."
"Besides which, completing the ceremony won't allow us to kill her," added Drusilla. "That much you should already know. The spell she is planning will make her very much stronger than she is now. It won't leave any weak spots."
"Well there has to be something!" Collins was past frustration now, and heading towards blind anger. "Any spell can be countered, surely. Everything has its mirror, and everything has its nemesis."
"So the theory goes." Wesley took back his notebook, flicking through the pages until he came to one of the earliest. The lines of purple biro seemed to him to have been written days ago; even weeks ago. The previous night, when Drusilla had taken him from the others, felt like another lifetime. It was the fatigue, he decided. The fatigue, the worry, the work. "According to my reading so far, she needs a good deal of space and quite a bit of equipment to make this work. Possibly she's planning to use the cellar, or the garden. Otherwise I don't know. I can't find any mention of a specially sanctified piece of ground. She won't need to have prepared somewhere."
"She has things in the cellar. I've seen them." Drusilla was standing behind him now, bending down to wrap her arms around his neck and rest her chin on the top of his head. "Candles in big black holders. A cauldron. A big hole dug in the floor that looks like a fireplace. There were things drawn on the floor. Words that I couldn't read. All spikes and swirls and cruel, cruel points."
"Sounds right." Doing his best to move with her holding onto him, Wesley rifled through the mammoth book until he found a page depicting a series of symbols. "Are these the one you saw?"
"Yes." She returned to stroking his hair, and he fought back the urge to shake her off. Collins and Weatherby were watching him with such outright hatred that he almost enjoyed it. Maybe there was something to be said for the unwanted affections of a vampire after all. "Sharp pictures. Such cruel lines and shapes."
"They're focusing symbols. They concentrate the spell and the powers it creates." He frowned at them. "Destroying these symbols can be catastrophic. If we were to wait until everything is underway, and then obliterate one or two of the markings, the powers would be unleashed and Beatrice would be destroyed, no matter how indestructible she thinks she is."
"Yes, but if we were to do that, we'd be killed too," pointed out Collins. Wesley nodded, as far as he was able with Drusilla's arms dragging at his neck.
"Half of London would probably be destroyed too. I didn't say it was an ideal solution."
"What we need is a counterspell." Smith was pacing up and down, still engrossed in the Sumerian text he had taken from the table. It was a beautiful edition, he had decided; hand copied from the original scrolls by some Mediaeval scholar with a fine hand and an eye for beauteous detail. Not that he would have pointed out such things to Collins or Weatherby. Everybody looked up at him, and he frowned thoughtfully. It wasn't exactly a new expression for him, but it was one that his colleagues were not greatly used to seeing. "Granted we don't have one, and presumably there's no way of getting a proper one, at least unless we can find out which dimension she got all of this from, and go there ourselves."
"There isn't nearly enough time for that," commented Weatherby. Smith nodded.
"I know. But we're Watchers. Surely between us we have the knowledge to come up with a counterspell? Collins, your speciality was magical weaponry. Didn't you write a thesis along those lines? And Pryce is supposedly the linguistics genius - plus he's a magician, or something approaching it. If we can make a spell, he can deliver it."
"I'm not a magician. Not in the definite sense. Besides, this would be alien magic, of sorts. I don't know if I could channel something like that." Wesley was eyeing a particularly graphic set of pictograms, which made perfectly clear what some of the consequences could be when dealing in these magicks. Smith fixed him with a steely glare.
"If you want to save your vampire boyfriend, you'll have to. You know this is our only option. You've come to that conclusion yourself, and don't pretend you haven't. You just couldn't do it alone. Well now there's four of us. If you don't want to try it, fine. We might be able to find a different method, but she's sure to kill Angel in the process. We don't care. All we want is to stop her from using any powers she might manage to create for herself. If you want to save Angel, you know what we have to do."
"Yeah." He stared at the book, thinking of the forces that could be unleashed. He had power; he had strength. He had the ability to perform any number of magicks, and had used that ability more than once in the past. He was certainly the only one of them who had any hope of attempting such a task now. He nodded. "Alright. Supposing you aren't barking up the wrong tree entirely, I might be able to do it. But we've still got to come up with the spell."
"Doesn't sound like such a great idea to me," muttered Weatherby. Collins smirked.
"Sure it does. If it goes right, our work is done. If it goes wrong, we lose Angel and Pryce. Either way, we're winners in a sense."
"Yeah." Weatherby let a slow grin take over his face. "When you put it that way, it does have a certain attraction." He flicked listlessly through one of the books close to him - a nineteen fifties paperback edition of a once classic work on basic spellcraft - and wrinkled his face up into an expression of distaste. "I don't know where to start, though. I'm not a linguistics expert or a an expert in magical weaponry. My speciality was demon combat."
"You don't say." Excusing himself from Drusilla, and surprising himself in the process with his courtesy, Wesley leaned forward to take the little book from Weatherby, replacing it instead with a larger, cloth-bound book. "You'd do better reading something that isn't sixty percent fiction."
"I'd do better reading something by Jack Higgins or Alistair MacLean." Weatherby snatched the new book from Wesley, eyeing it without enthusiasm. He was a doer, not a reader, and gained little pleasure in scouring books written in - by the look of things - archaic French. It wasn't one of his better languages. "What am I looking for?"
"References to fighting magic with magic." Collins headed for the bookcase. "I'm well versed on the theory. I've just never tried it for real before, obviously."
"Obviously." Weatherby cast a sidelong, extremely snide, look at Wesley. "Magic is hardly recommended by the Council."
"Which could well be why they're the ones who got blown to smithereens." Wesley felt momentarily guilty about making such a jibe, then realised that, for now at least, he didn't care. He turned his attentions back to his books and his notebook. Let the other three congregate at the other end of the table, and whisper conspiratorially amongst themselves. He didn't need to hear them to know that they wanted him dead, and might still be likely to try making him that way. Neither did he need to hear them to know that they were not at all happy with this alliance. He didn't blame them - he wasn't happy about it either. The three Council assassins had never been his favourite people, even back when they had supposedly been on the same side, long before he had shocked his former colleagues and employers by allying himself with Angel. Drusilla slid into a seat next to him, and started looking through one of the books. She was reading it upside down, but something about the way she studied the pages suggested that she was reading it properly anyway. Possibly she read Greek better that way. Wesley didn't care, particularly, especially as it was keeping her hands off him.
"Snap, Crackle and Pop don't like you very much, do they Watcher." She spoke with a broad smile in her voice, and a teasing glint in her eyes. Lost to his book it took Wesley several moments to respond.
"What? Oh. No, we've never got on." He glanced up again, watching them for a second in their huddle over their books. "Are they saying anything interesting?"
"No plans. No strategies. But they want Daddy dead, and you too." She grinned lasciviously. "They want to spill your blood all over everything. I can sympathise with that. Spill it, lap it up. You have tasty blood, Watcher."
"Thankyou." He turned back to his book, taking refuge in the struggle to understand it. Drusilla giggled.
"They're also talking about what to do when they've finished here. I don't think they plan to let you live, if you survive the spellcasting."
"I'm not surprised." It wasn't as if they had ever tried to disguise their feelings. Their disapproval was practically tangible, coming off them in waves to clog up the atmosphere. "But then you never planned to let me live either, did you. Seems everybody wants me dead."
"I didn't plan to kill you, dearie." She stroked his hair, entwining her fingers as best she could in the short strands. "Just reawaken you. You'd have thanked me for it."
"No." He forcibly pushed her hand away, even though it hurt. She didn't resist; didn't use her massively superior strength. "I would never thank you for that. Whatever you put in this body instead of me might, but I'd be long gone by then. And probably pretty pissed off about it. I never saw myself as a vampire."
"It's every Watcher's secret desire."
"No, it's every Watcher's not-very-secret fear. Along with the same thing happening to their Slayer." He could have added, and being kidnapped by a flirtatious vampire, but didn't. Instead he found himself stifling a yawn, and having to rub his eyes before he could continue reading. He was hopelessly tired. It would be a wonder if he could ever finish his research, let alone manage to perform the spell that they all hoped to create at the end of it. Drusilla folded her hand around one of his.
"There's been a lot of work to do. I haven't managed to get much sleep just lately." Not since I blasted my own father with the entire contents of a gun. Not that there had been any opportunity to try to sleep since arriving back in the UK. Drusilla nodded.
"You haven't eaten, either. Should have come hunting earlier."
"My teeth aren't nearly sharp enough." He rubbed his eyes again, then refocused on the books. "Who did you kill?"
"Poor Watcher." She smiled at him like a mother smiling gently at her child. "All bound up in regret for strangers. Like my Angel."
"If you disapprove of his humanity so much, why are you so determined to save him?" He could read and talk at the same time - it was one of the necessary skills of research - but he could feel it getting harder. He was too tired. Life seemed to be all about too little sleep and too much work lately. He hadn't been sleeping right since... since when exactly? He wasn't sure that he remembered, but he could see the strain in his eyes whenever he ventured close to a mirror, and knew that it had been there for some time.
"I told you. Miss Elizabeth thinks it's important." Her eyes turned to her doll, lying on the table with her own eyes shut, her hair spread out around her head in a strangely artistic fashion. Wesley shook his head.
"That's no answer. She's just a doll."
"She's Miss Elizabeth. I took her from a child who tasted of strawberries and rainbows. I think the child hid inside her. Her name was Elizabeth too." She was staring into the middle distance, lost in the memory, and didn't see Wesley's momentary expression of disgust. "Such a little thing, with a beautiful dress of blue and gold, and I didn't get a single drop of blood on it. She was so pretty."
"That's as may be. It doesn't mean that the doll is any better at planning strategies." He tore his eyes away from the thing, sprawled there in a suddenly apparent echo of its former owner, as she must have looked when Drusilla had finished with her. Once again the mammoth book and its entirely foreign language closed over his head, sealing him in. Drusilla frowned, then leaned against him, as though to snuggle up. He had tensed up when she had done that the first time; become rigid in her grip. He barely responded now, almost as though he had grown used to her.
"What happened to Grandmother?" she asked in the end. He frowned, glancing at her in surprise. It seemed such a random question, but apparently it was leading them somewhere. He shrugged.
"I thought Angelus killed your family."
"Not that grandmother." Her head rubbed against his shoulder, almost catlike, and he realised in a flash who she meant.
"Darla? Angel killed her years ago in Sunnydale."
"Yes. But you know that wasn't the end of it. Wolfram & Hart brought her back, and I want to know what happened to her then. She was human, and I made her real again. I know I did."
"Yes." He remembered that too - remembered Angel, upset at the loss of a human who had finally found peace with herself, mourning Darla's return to undeath. So what had happened to Darla? Odd that it should seem such a jumble in his mind. He put it down to his being so tired, but it still seemed peculiar. He remembered her return so clearly. Wolfram & Hart had resurrected her, and used her to undermine Angel's fight. He had fired his team, turned dark and dangerous, and stepped over the line he had drawn for himself between his human side and its vampire echo. It had been a difficult time for all of them. So why did what had come next seem so vague? There had been an explosion at Caritas; some kind of flight through a rain drenched alley. Darla had been killed in a fight then, hadn't she? It didn't have the same clarity as the rest of his memories though - almost as if there was something else behind it. He jumped suddenly, and twisted away from Drusilla.
"You're playing with my mind. Get out of it."
"Not playing, dearie. Trying to see, that's all. Can't fault a girl for trying to use the powers she has. I told you; you have holes in your mind. I see them gaping there, all filled in with shapes that don't fit. There are doors with locks that have no keys, and I think Angel might know where those keys are. I want the holes gone, Watcher boy. The holes in my mind. You can't see them. Our three unfriendly friends can't see them. I can. I see everything, and I know when things aren't right. When everything is unbalanced and mixed up and dancing so wrongly. I know. And I know that Angel is in the middle of it. He makes my head spin when he does good things. I'd like to have him without that nasty soul again, or have him dead so he doesn't make my poor head hurt so much. But I won't have him dead yet. Not when there's still answers to find."
"You're not making any sense. There are no holes in my mind."
"No confusion? No pictures that don't connect?" She brushed his forehead with her fingers, and he saw, for one white hot moment, the picture of a woman, and a knife, and felt a blaze of pain across his throat. He gasped, pushing himself away from Drusilla once again.
"Keep away from me. And forget the tricks. I'm helping you already, you don't need to play your games."
"Poor Watcher." She made a show of turning back to her book, holding it with both hands as though to prove that she would not try anything further. He sat down again, but several chairs away this time, his expression troubled and confused. Best just to concentrate on the printed words; not to listen to her anymore. Not to look at her, or acknowledge her touch, but merely turn his mind to work. He had let her distract him long enough.
He was standing outside a burger bar, listening to the chatter of the others passing by. Hardly the sort of place that he would usually go to. Why would it be? Wesley Wyndam-Pryce was not known for his patronage of fast food outlets. Tonight though; tonight he had purpose. Tonight he was here for a reason. He just didn't know what that reason was. There was a statue near him; a looming, grinning, manic statue of a burger in a bun, with arms and legs and big, domed eyes. For some reason it seemed familiar, although he couldn't imagine why. Flashes of foolishness interrupted his thoughts; what was he doing standing in front of this ridiculous thing, as though he were planning to start conversing with it? He turned away, and as he did so something else burst upon his thoughts. Something about earthquakes? About fires and blood in the sky? Old prophecies, probably. His mind was full of them. Things he had read about as a child, things he had studied recently. One thousand and one possible futures, predicted by one thousand and one liars, drunkards, fools and the honestly gifted. But blood in the sky? That was one that made no sense at all, save to the distant pocket of his memory that seemed to recognise it. He turned to wander away, feeling the eyes of the strange statue as it seemed to watch him leave. He glanced back at it once, from a long distance away, and it seemed to have grown to unimaginable proportions. It was towering above the asphalt, its eyes lit by red sparks, but there were neon lights around, and street lights, and he had walked some distance by now. It was an optical illusion, he told himself. Nothing more.
And so he walked on. Past the familiar landmarks of Los Angeles, all out of order, for some reason. Since when had the hotel been so close to the burger place? Why was Caritas within such short walking distance? Why was his apartment so nearby? He walked past them all, not quite understanding why he was seeing them, or why they were making him feel the way that he felt. The strange sense of longing that the sight of the hotel stirred within him. Why did he feel a sharp heat in his throat at the sight of the gardens outside his apartment building? It seemed to tie in with the vision he had had of the woman and the knife, when Drusilla had touched his head before, but that was just Drusilla and her games. Wasn't it? And why did he feel so cold, and so weak, and so distant and so disconnected, and--
You're dead! You're a dead man, Pryce! You're dead! The voice was Angel's, and there was a pressure he couldn't recognise on his face, and he couldn't breathe, and his head was starting to spin... None of it made any sense; but then dreams could be like that, he supposed. Certainly his relationship had been odd with Angel just recently. Perhaps his mind was just filling in the gaps in his fears, and toying with his own paranoia? Then why did the pressure feel so real, and why did it seem, in part at least, to be something he recognised? But that was just foolishness, like everything else that he was seeing and feeling. When had Angel ever attacked him like that? They had had their disagreements, certainly. Their mock fights - real fights even, when Angel had not been himself - but this? No, it made no sense at all. But the pressure was building, and he couldn't speak, couldn't breathe, couldn't hardly think anymore, and his consciousness seemed to be drifting away. He clung onto it, trying to fight, but unable to gather any strength in his limbs. What the hell was going on? What was he seeing? And why, beneath the panic, was there a sense of eternal sorrow? Angel was trying to crush the life within him, and a part of him; a deep, dark, sorrowful part that seemed more familiar than anything else; was accepting it, and acknowledging that it was only right. His life was Angel's. If Angel wanted to kill him, that was fair enough. He balked at the thought, but that deep, dark part of him was ready to accept it. He struggled, he fought, but he couldn't shake the feeling. He deserved to die by Angel's hand. He had betrayed Angel. He had... done something... Something he couldn't quite remember... But the pressure, and the pain, and the final, desperate need to breathe was crushing his chest with bands of steel that re-awoke the pain in his neck and brought the familiar taste of blood to his mouth, and Angel's voice was distracting him once again.
You're gonna die! You hear me? You're gonna pay! The voice grew louder; the blood pounded in Wesley's ears. What was going on? Why was Angel attacking him? What was all of this about? The words thundered on, and it made less and less sense all the time, but there had to be answers here somewhere, didn't there? Something that would tell him what all of this was about? All that he could really hear - really understand - was the venom. The hatred. The tumble of words that carried so much blame and vitriol, and made his heart sting and tremble. You're gonna pay for what you did! Still Angel's voice, still so hateful and angry. You're gonna pay! You took my--"
With a sudden jerk that made his whole body twitch, Wesley came awake and found himself gasping desperately for breath. It came in huge, shuddering lungfuls that made him feel as though he had been suffocating. It took some moments before he could bring his breathing under control; some moments before he could think about why his lungs seemed to be burning. He wiped cold sweat from his forehead, and closed his eyes for a second. Strange. He had thought that he had been dreaming; why else would he have awakened so shaken up? And yet he couldn't remember a thing. Cautiously he looked about him; at Collins, Weatherby and Smith, still asleep in their chairs at the other end of the table; at Drusilla, watching him with an expression of obvious interest on her face. Guarded interest. He knew then that she had been inside his head again. He glared at her.
"What the hell was all that about?"
"All what, dearie?" She was holding Miss Elizabeth in her arms, stroking the doll's hair as she had been stroking his on and off all along. He turned his glare up a notch or two.
"You know damn well. You were inside my head. What's going on? Did you make me have that dream?"
"I didn't make anything." She smiled sweetly, with an innocence that it seemed unlikely any vampire could genuinely know. "Not inside you, my pet."
"But you saw?"
"Maybe." She shrugged, and smiled. "My Watcher boy is upset. Take deep breaths, dearie. Clear your mind. You'll need it wide awake and free."
"Yes." He nodded slowly, trying to get rid of the nagging concerns from a dream that he couldn't remember. It had left him highly unsettled, but he knew that he had to get past that. At the end of the day, it had been just a dream. No need to recall its details; he wasn't given to precognitive dreaming, as the Slayers sometimes were. Rubbing his face with both hands, and wishing for a shot of strong whisky, he stood up, and paced back and forth a few times to remove the stiffness from his legs. Everything began to slot back into place then, and he took a few moments to organise his thoughts. To exorcise the last whispers of a truly disturbing dream that he couldn't remember, and to get his mind back on track.
They had spent so long reading. Arguing. Making frantic notes, running back and forth to the bookcase, discussing half remembered lessons and ancient theories they had been schooled in decades before. Collins had come up with some fine ideas, and they had gathered about discussing them, and building on them, whilst Drusilla watched and smiled, and whispered things to her doll. It had been late afternoon before they had closed the last books, and smiled at each other across the tabletop with a triumph that came from hard work shared, and conclusions reached through long study. The satisfaction of a task completed, lasting for several seconds at least before they had remembered their differences, and the smiles had faded away. They had agreed to try to catch a few hours sleep then, since the human contingent at least had been without it for some time. Weatherby had wanted to go in search of food as well, but they had voted against him in the end. There was no telling how far they would have to go to find something edible, and they still had no idea where Beatrice was. Stopping for meal breaks in a building inhabiting a dangerous vampire was foolhardy in the least; though it could be argued that it wasn't as foolhardy as going to sleep all at once. So Weatherby had argued anyway, his stomach growling its agreement. They had both been shouted down. And now the sun was sinking, and the four Watchers were sitting, in clear discomfort with each other's presence, at opposite ends of the long table. Weatherby was glaring as only he could, Smith looked as vacant as usual, but with glitters in his eyes that Wesley definitely didn't like the look of. Only Collins was showing no active dislike, but Wesley was sure that that was not at all reflective of his mood. Here they were, and the time was approaching when they were going to have to do something decisive together, and there was enough ill will in the room to fry a dozen Angels. How was it that the only one who didn't look hateful was the evil one, sitting off to one side, with her eyes gleaming brightly? He wished that he knew what she had been doing inside his head, but felt sure that she would never tell him. She was thinking about it now though he could see, staring through him, as though still looking into his mind.
"We should get moving." He stood up, stiff and uncomfortable from sleeping in the hard chair. Drusilla caught his wrist as he moved past her, making a strange noise that might have been a purr or a growl.
"Can't trust the others," she told him. He stared back at her, trying to figure her out for about the hundredth time in just the last few hours.
"You care?" he asked her. She smiled, cattish, sharp and shameless.
"I care about Angel. You die, he dies."
"Yes, of course." He had been the outsider for too long to take offence at this open dismissal of his own individual worth. He merely nodded, and walked on past her. She let go, not bothering to try to hold him back, but watching him with such a sharp, hard stare that he felt her eyes on his back all the way to the other end of the table.
"We should get moving," he repeated meaningfully, staring straight down at Collins. The other Watcher looked up at him, his eyes lazy and mocking. He nodded though. However much Collins might want Angel dead, and however much he might dislike Wesley, he did at least want Beatrice stopped. He pushed himself to his feet.
"He's right. Come on." None of the others challenged his authority. Nobody had ever officially given Collins the position of leader of the little band, but the others obeyed him anyway. Some people were like that. His was an authority that Wesley didn't envy though; an authority that he didn't even respect. Collins had cold eyes, and an arrogance that came from his Watcher training, and that was something that Wesley had worked hard to overturn in his own make up. Seeing it in the eyes of the other man now merely made him understand all the more clearly why Buffy and Faith had so resented him back in Sunnydale. He turned away, and without preamble knocked over the nearest unoccupied chair, and kicked away one of the back struts. He had a stake now, of fine, lacquered wood, with a sharp, splintered end. He probably wouldn't get the chance to use it, but he felt better for having it. Drusilla appeared beside him, her superhuman speed showed off with her usual lazy, cat-like grace, for no other reason than that she was superhuman, and liked to be.
"Will it work?" she asked, as they headed together for the door. The five of them, in a bunch, probably the least willing union the Occult had seen in years. Wesley shrugged, well aware that, whoever the question might have been directed towards, he was the only one who would bother to answer it.
"Without trying it there's no way of knowing. We've been through that."
"True." She didn't care for his predictions, or for those of Collins and the others. Predictions meant nothing unless they were the ones she saw inside her own head. Her visions, that told her what was coming, in a series of broken pictures only she and Spike had ever seemed to understand. They were telling her nothing now though; had shown her nothing since the hint of new arrivals in the company of lurking Watchers. She took his free hand, wrapping her fingers around his, and leaning against him with her usual semi-sexual vibe. "But will it work?"
"You'll kill me if it doesn't, won't you."
"I'll kill them. If it doesn't work you'll already be dead." She brushed her teeth, human for the time being, against his neck. "But the others won't outlive you for long. London itself may not outlive you for long." Her free hand stroked the back of his neck, causing Weatherby to make disgusted noises. Wesley almost smiled.
"We've done the best we can," he told her. "All that research has to have counted for something. I could never have done it on my own in time, but with Collins and his theories on magical weaponry, and the others to help read the source material, we might just have cracked it." He wished that she would let go of his hand so that he could rub his eyes, aching from too much reading and too little sleep. She let go of him then, reading his mind perhaps, and in the process unnerving him yet again.
"The best had better be enough. If Angel dies... all sorts of truths die with him. The whole of the world as it once was. Perhaps." She gave an oddly girlish shrug, and captured his hand again. "And Beatrice will be unfriendly, and all the pretty flowers will die."
"Well that's exactly why we're planning to fight her," growled Weatherby. "To save all the pretty flowers." The sarcasm was clear in his voice, but the sharp heat in his eyes vanished instantly when Drusilla looked up at him and hissed in sibilant rage. Her eyes flashed yellow, and Wesley felt his hand, in hers, pressed suddenly with real strength as the monster within her flexed its muscles. He winced. Weatherby just fell silent.
"Shut up, Weatherby," commanded Collins, unnecessarily as it turned out. He was on edge, and even though he shared his compatriot's opinion of all of this, he didn't want to think about anything save Beatrice just now. She had been amongst them; had mocked them for what she saw as their helplessness against her. She had been so strong, and so calm, and he could not forget her strength. He had been so powerless against her. Him, the great warrior of the Council, always so fearless and efficient - or so everybody thought. He couldn't deny a certain degree of trepidation now, though, as he left the library, and headed down unfamiliar corridors. Where was she? Hiding somewhere, ready to spring out at them? Lurking, intending to pick them off one by one? Drusilla would hear her coming, if she chose to sneak up - none of the rest of them would. And how trustworthy was Drusilla, really? She said that she wanted to save Angel, but he had no reason to suppose that she really did. A quick massacre would prove too much of a temptation for most vampires; they were famous for such acts, after all. They certainly weren't famous for their loyalty to each other, and their determination to save each other from harm. She had muttered things about Angel knowing some truth that had vanished, and how she wanted him to stay alive until she could discover it, but none of that made any sense to him. He only saw her, with her sharp eyes and evil nature; with her history of violence and brutality, and no reason he could think of for wanting to co-operate with humans. Her and her traitor friend, cosying up together in a way that made him sick to his stomach. No, he couldn't trust her; her or Wesley. He could trust nothing but his own instincts and his certainty that they were in the greatest of danger. Beatrice knew that they were going to try to stop her. She would be ready for them. It made him highly uneasy, and made him feel as though he were being marched to his own execution.
The cellar steps were broad and sweeping, more like the kind of grand staircase that might lead down into the entrance hall of an old mansion. They were uneven and roughly cut though, mere stone and uncarpeted. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling, and darkness loomed beyond. Wesley held out his hand, palm up, and let a ball of blue light form in the air just above his skin. It illuminated the steps, and the series of black candles that stood waiting in massive holders screwed to the wall. It was all like something out of a mediaeval castle, thought Collins, quite forgetting to glare in disapproval at Wesley's display of magic skills.
"Won't she see us coming now?" asked Smith. Wesley shot him a sidelong glance.
"You think she doesn't know already?"
"I can hear your hearts beating," purred Drusilla, reaching out playfully to touch the ball of fire in Wesley's hand. "I can smell each and every one of you, and hear every flutter of your lungs. So can she. She could five minutes ago. She can smell the blood in your veins, especially where it's been made to leak." She brushed her fingers very lightly over one of the injuries on Wesley's face, where the fresh blood had only recently ceased to flow. "A little light is no great give-away."
"Then let's just walk a little faster and get this over with, shall we?" Collins moved past Wesley, for the steps were more than wide enough to allow such passing. Ahead, in the blue light, he could see a domed doorway leading to the cellar. Stone flagging made a hard floor that they would have no hope of moving silently on - not that there was likely any point in trying. He could see the flicker of candle flames then, and knew that Beatrice had been hard at work. A moment later he thought he heard her laugh.
"She's waiting for us," he said, pulling a crucifix from inside his clothing, and holding it up like a shield. Such things were effective, generally, against lesser vampires; the ones with no brains, who were interested solely in food. The cleverer ones, the more agile ones, the generally more capable ones, were rather likely merely to bat it aside and attack anyway, but it made him feel better to have it. It might buy him a second or two of precious time. A second or two could often make all the difference, at least for a man like him, so he kept a tight grip on the crucifix, held it out at arm's length, and inched on down the stairs. The others followed him, and gradually the blue ball with its bright, clean light filled in more of the details of the underground lair they were approaching. He saw a large space, older than the building built above it; a hollow in the centre of the floor, bearing red embers that glowed very faintly, and surrounded by candles that had not yet been lit. There were markings on the floor; some kind of alphabet, or just drawings perhaps; spiky, pointed designs at any rate, painted neatly in a circle. There was a cauldron, too, just as Drusilla had described. A huge, bronze cauldron, standing on three stout legs, a massive handle adding to its height. Tendrils of smoke emerged from the top, curling upwards and turning yellow, then green, then blue, as they soaked up the light first of the candles, then of the blue ball. A dark shape moved leisurely around, lighting further candles, more and more of them until Wesley's unconventional torch was all but useless. It vanished with a sharp shake of his hand. Collins glowered. She was lighting candles, damn it. Not only had she shown no concern earlier, over their determination to stop her - now she was lighting candles and not even bothering to acknowledge their arrival. It made his temper boil. How dare she? He was no novice; no fool to be slighted. He was a professional.
"Beatrice?" Drusilla moved into the lead, speaking in the childish voice that he had read about in her records. There was a lot of the child in Drusilla; something to do with the number of them that she ate, perhaps. Supposedly she often preferred them to adult victims. Their souls were less complicated. Maybe adults gave her psychic indigestion.
"Drusilla." Beatrice lit another couple of candles, then moved slowly over towards her guests. She didn't get very close; merely hovered, so that they were within easy reach of her inhuman speed if she chose to attack. "Were you wanting something?"
"We've come to see what you're doing."
"You've come to see if you can stop me." Beatrice's voice showed delight; as though this were some wonderful joke that she appreciated immensely. "You and your four humans. You've chosen an interesting bunch, my dear. I compliment you. Watchers are always so enticing."
"They taste nice." Drusilla sighed faintly, recalling the taste of Wesley's blood in her mouth; the heat and the sparkle of it. There was magic in Watcher blood; all Watcher blood, even if so many of them disapproved of all but the simplest of spells. Watchers were magical by their very profession; by their destinies; by the supernatural thread that tied them, like the Slayer, to the beginning of the great battle against darkness. She rather fancied tasting it all again.
"I'm sure they taste wonderful." Beatrice swept them all with her eyes, making no secret of the open hunger the sight of them awoke within her. It had been a while now since her last meal; the pair of young lovers she had interrupted huddled in a car in a little alleyway. They had tasted of each other, and of the joint they had just shared; usually the sort of meal that she relished, and savoured for hours. Watcher blood though; she was hungry for it now; hungry for the man she had wanted to kill hours before, but had been forbidden to touch. Drusilla's pet, intended for turning, supposedly. Her tongue flickered across her lips, and she put on her game face. It was unintentional, but she couldn't hold back the instinct to feed. Collins tightened his grip on the crucifix, and followed Drusilla through the big, domed doorway. They were in the cellar then; in the midst of all the candles. The tiny flames seemed to flicker and burn everywhere, disorientating in their constant motion; in their brightness against the dark. The words painted onto the floor of the room seemed to glow, and Wesley looked around at them, moving away from the others to make an examination of the room.
"The spell's begun," he said flatly, his voice showing no emotion. "Our coming in here must have started it, Drusilla. You or me."
"Those close to Angel, instead of Angel himself." Drusilla's eyes narrowed, and she glared at Beatrice. "Naughty naughty."
"And I get two for the price of one. I thought I'd only have you to make this work." Beatrice looked over to Wesley, prowling through the candles, reading the words on the floor and stopping to look at the cauldron. The smoke was hot, and he felt it dry the skin of his face, and threaten to singe the stubble on his jaw. "He's a friend of Angel's too? I'm intrigued. Do Watchers and vampires play together now?"
"Only some of them." Splitting up from the others, and trusting them to continue their advance in separate directions, Collins moved in on Beatrice. "The rest of us don't play at all. We all know why we're here. Let's just get on with it."
"So eager to die?" Beatrice shrugged, apparently unconcerned. When she moved it was so unexpected that Collins was helpless even though he had thought he was ready for anything. He had expected violence; a leap, a bound, a blow. Had expected the danger to come from Drusilla too, if she wasn't really on their side at all. He wasn't expecting a gun to suddenly appear in Beatrice's hand, drawn from who knew where. Wasn't expecting to hear the sharp crack of it firing, and feel the crucifix in his hand splintering into uselessness. He threw down the relics of it - broken wood, chewed and torn - and snarled his displeasure in a voice that seemed almost as bestial as the growls of the vampires. Beatrice laughed throatily, then clicked her fingers to make the candle flames leap a little higher. There was no denying now that the words written on the floor were glowing; dark red, brighter in the centres, and giving off a warmth that added to the heat from all the flames. Drusilla began to sway back and forth, touched by the warmth and the magic, and feeling a drain in her centre that could only be a symptom of the spell's use of her as Angel's surrogate. She saw Wesley wobble momentarily, then stand his ground with fierce eyes, and she gave a little smile. Her Watcher, ready to use his magic to fight somebody who would so surely swat him down. She felt almost regretful. Such a waste, to let him be killed now by Beatrice. He would have made such an interesting vampire. Such a strange one, with his darkness and his unexpected depths. There were such irregularities about him; such unpredictabilities. So sad to have to see his blood spilt and wasted. So sad to never get the chance to spill it herself.
Except that he wasn't falling. He wasn't collapsing to the ground in a shower of his own blood. Smith was moving to cover him, a stake in one hand and a long dagger in the other. He looked as decisive as Drusilla had ever seen him, in all the time that she had watched the three of them in their lair. Behind him, beginning to chant, Wesley had summoned a ball of light to the palm of each hand. Orange this time; none of the blue he had called before. These were circular flames, rolling and twisting about themselves, the colours shifting and changing; perfectly round, larger cousins of the candle flames. Drusilla saw his lips move, and knew that he had begun to chant. She wasn't sure what he was saying. She didn't think that Smith and Weatherby understood that, either; it was as nonsensical to them as it was to her. Latin, the language of choice of so many spells, but despite the familiar language it was still all so much gobbledegook. Clearly she just didn't speak Magic. She could see straight away that Beatrice did.
The effect upon the other vampire was immediate. She had been circling Collins, toying with him since shooting the crucifix from his hand, and at the same time keeping an eye on the candles and the writing and the others in the cellar. She expected no trouble from Drusilla and Wesley, for her spell was designed to use their strength, drawing it in as a conduit to reach out to Angel. Wesley's chanting, a part of his own spell, was protecting him though, as surely as it was throwing its intended magical spanner in her works. Her yellow eyes snapped over towards him, focusing on his slight, stoic form, and a growl erupted from her throat. Drusilla would have smiled, but she no longer felt able; whatever Wesley was doing, it was having no effect upon her as yet. She still felt trapped; still felt herself swaying, lulled into dreamy detachment. Warm, relaxed, unable to transform. A part of her wanted to fight, but the rest of her knew that she didn't have a chance, and told herself merely to stand and endure. Stand and watch, as Beatrice did whatever she had to do next. Given that the other vampire was spitting flame and curses, it didn't take much imagination to guess what that next act was intended to be.
She leapt like any powerful hunter at her prey, though faster than any mortal animal could manage. Smith lashed out at her, ready to protect his fellow Watcher just as he had been assigned to do, but she bowled him over as though he were nothing at all. Wesley threw up a hand, palm out, words snapping from his mouth like whipcracks, and for a second a glow suffused the air. Drusilla thought that it was beautiful, though her own eyes were so coloured by the many, many candle flames that she was not entirely sure of her own vision. Something had happened though; something powerful; for Beatrice was brought up short, unable to reach her intended victim. Her teeth snapped and clicked on empty air, and her long nails swiped uselessly at nothing. Growls broke forth from her throat, as fearsome as any, and the sleek muscles of her arms tensed and coiled beneath her cold skin. Drusilla's eyes slid over to Collins then, for she knew what the next step of this little plan was, and she was eager to see it begin. This was when she should be freed, and she wanted so much for that. Wanted so much to be sure that she was no longer a conduit of death for Angel; wanted so much to turn her own teeth and nails upon Beatrice. Smiling grimly, enjoying the sight of Wesley's struggles just that little bit too much, Collins began his own part of the plan; the weapon.
He paced up and down, weaving his way through the candles, chanting aloud in simple, straightforward Latin. Beatrice snarled in fury, but when she tried to turn to attack him she found that she couldn't. Just as Wesley's chanting had stopped her from attacking him, so it also prevented her from turning away. She was caught, in classic attack pose, unable to move in one direction or the other. Her teeth gnashed the air, and her head tossed from side to side, causing her hair to lash like some maddened Medusa. Wesley closed his eyes, frowning hard, the strain clear on his face now as he fought to keep up the spell. Drusilla watched the single drop of blood that welled up in the corner of one eye, and trickled down the side of his face. She couldn't help but lick her lips as she watched its short voyage. The strain was too great, she thought. He wasn't merely fighting nature with his spell; he was fighting Collins as well, for the other Watcher's weapon was a simple bludgeon designed to attack all magic. Even as the heat was fading from Drusilla's limbs, and she felt her helpless swaying ease into stillness, so she saw Wesley beginning to tremble. Collins' voice grew louder, more forceful, more determined, for he could see that he was having an effect, and his confidence grew accordingly. He was no magician, and so far he had only thought of attempting such acts. Now he was doing it for real, and just like so many spellcasters before him, he was enjoying his new-found power. This, Drusilla knew, was the part he had been looking forward to; the part that would give him the greatest pleasure. This was when he turned everything on its head, and directed his strength no longer upon the candles, and the glowing words, and the spell that he didn't understand - but upon Wesley's own enchantment, breaking it to leave the other Watcher fully at the slender mercy of Beatrice.
It came with a sound like cracking ice - a flash of snow white light that made every candle judder and almost go out. Drusilla felt the last of the forces holding her slip away, although she knew that they had not gone. The spell was not broken; merely foiled. Bludgeoned to a standstill. It was enough for now though; enough for her to tense her own muscles, and turn to vent her anger upon Beatrice. Enough, also, to stop Wesley in his tracks.
Beatrice sprang the second she was free; the second Drusilla was free. Exhausted, Wesley could offer no resistance, even had such resistance been possible, as the furious vampire he had held at bay for so long hurled herself in an instant towards him. She hit him in the chest, sending him flying backwards through the air, to crash to a stunning landing in a heap of candles. He didn't move, and the flames licked appreciatively at his clothes. Drusilla intercepted Beatrice before she could move in to strike the next blow, and in a crescendo of growling, and a fierce snapping of teeth, they locked together in a furious battle.
"Now that I could get used to." Flushed with his success, Collins was standing in the middle of the room, feeling the tingle of fresh magic that was spread throughout his body. His eyes were bright with excitement. "Put the candles out. I'll see about the cauldron." He laughed darkly. "We didn't even need him. The great magician, and he was just a distraction."
"A dead distraction." Smith's smile was cold and hard, though bright with his own satisfaction. He began to kick at the candles, knocking them over, and grinding their glowing wicks into the stone floor. There were many of them, but he was fast and efficient; it shouldn't take him long, especially with Weatherby to help. Taking care to avoid the yelping, snarling morass that was the two struggling vampires, the pair moved across the floor, stamping upon the candles. It was easy; peculiarly easy. And, as it turned out, with good reason. Something was clearly wrong.
"I thought I told you to put out the candles?" Frustrated by his colleagues' inability to perform such a simple task, Collins bit back a curse. There was no time to tell them what he really thought of them; he had no way of knowing for how long Drusilla would manage to keep Beatrice occupied, and he had no wish for a return match with an indestructible vampire.
"We did put the bloody candles out!" Smith looked around, back at the sea of wax through which he had so recently stamped his way. Every candle was lit again; some lying on their sides, but their flames still burning strongly. He gaped. Further away, roused by the burning sensation against his skin, Wesley stirred and began to rise.
"Forget the candles." His voice was hoarse, his vision blurred, his skin dancing in pain from the many candles stinging at him, but he focused as best he could upon the other three as he forced himself to his feet. "I told you, you idiot. You couldn't stop the spell with that child's play magic of yours. Just break what was already underway." He flexed his arms, wondering just how much of himself had been broken alongside the spells. Still - it had been necessary, he told himself. That was how he had rationalised it when they had first came up with the idea, and it was what he was going to continue telling himself now. Beating out the last few flames that were trying to take hold upon his shirt, he stumbled over to the fire in the centre of the room. It was larger now than it had been, the bright letters around it pulsing in tandem with the rise and fall of the leaping flames. Standing as close to it as he could, so that the heat seemed to sear his eyebrows, he reached out with both his hands. Nobody moved, and he growled under his breath. "Come on!"
"Do as he says." Sulkily Collins stepped up to take one of Wesley's hands. Smith took the other, and together they reached around the fire to take Weatherby's hands as he came to complete the circle. Wesley closed his eyes then, momentarily struggling against the desire simply to relax and give in. He hated to have his eyes shut with so many enemies in the room, but he had to concentrate to make this work. Had to focus every last piece of his strength upon the flames, and upon Collins by his side. Together then, in an attempt to utilise Wesley's magical abilities, and Collins' knowledge of magical weaponry, they began to chant in ragged unison. All of Wesley's strength went into the spell; into focusing his own powers upon Collins, and allowing him to use his theoretical skills for a more practical purpose. The air around them trembled. The flames rose, shrank, shuddered. The ground shook, though faintly, and Wesley felt his whole body shiver as well. He was not strong enough for this; he knew that. Had known it all along. He was no Willow; no true magician. Perhaps, in time, he could be; and certainly he had real powers; but he was not strong enough for this. His legs wobbled, and waves of blackness seemed to crash down upon his skull. It was working though. One by one the candles began to go out.
"No!" With a scream of pure rage, Beatrice threw herself towards the ragged circle, caught at the last moment by Drusilla renewing her hold upon her rival. They crashed to the ground again, tearing at each other with their teeth, snapping and growling and scrabbling for purchase on the stone floor. Very slowly, starting at the heart and spreading upwards and outwards through the flames, the fire began to change colour. Beatrice wailed in fury and disbelief, but even as she fought to reach her persecutors, the fire split down the middle. As though suddenly it were solid it broke in half, broke open, fell apart. Like stone then, the flames shattered into tiny splinters of themselves, and dissolved into the flags of the floor. The cauldron cracked, the sound like a pistol shot, and suddenly it was pitch dark in the cellar. Only Drusilla and Beatrice could see, and of the Watchers only Smith and Weatherby were in any position to try. Gathering up their exhausted comrade, knowing him by his shape and his weight, they dragged him to where they thought the stairs awaited, stumbling over candles, splashing through the leaking contents of the cauldron. Beatrice watched them go, and her eyes burned with hot yellow fury. She threw Drusilla aside then, able to shake her off at last, and hurled herself at the one Watcher who remained within her immediate reach; Wesley, abandoned predictably enough by the others, and slumped upon the floor in utter exhaustion. He could do nothing to defend himself when she caught him up; would as like as not been helpless anyway, even had he not been so weak and tired. He felt her arms around him, smelt the old blood on her breath, and knew from the sheer brutality of her touch that this was not Drusilla. Like a rag doll he was dragged upright, jerked about, thrown back against the broken metal of the cauldron. He felt its heat as he felt the pain of its hard contact, but he was too tired to groan. He was too tired even to know of the total darkness, and a part of him was wondering about his colleagues. He was not fool enough to expect their help, but he did wonder if they were watching this. A hand caught hold of his hair, dragging his head to one side, and he knew what was coming then. Bent backwards over the cauldron, he could do nothing at all to defend himself. Couldn't move so much as a muscle. He felt the fangs pierce his skin, and for a moment, as the blood began to flow, he caught a brief, brief glimpse of the picture he suspected Drusilla had put into his mind before. A woman, a knife, a sudden, brutal slash. This time he thought there was a name to go with the woman; a reason behind it all; behind her attack, behind her reason for meeting him in an unnamed dark place that seemed so familiar. The flow of blood seemed to bring all manner of pictures into his head then, reawakening thoughts of a recent dream he had thought he had forgotten; another vampire, pressing down on him, and him helpless against that superior strength. Another time when he couldn't see, couldn't breathe, couldn't think, couldn't do anything save wait for the blackness that had to be coming; was, in so many ways, already there. Then there was ash in his mouth, and dust settling over his face, and every picture in his mind, and thought in his head, and bizarre, unintelligible hallucination behind his eyes exploded into maddening nothingness. One minute groping at what felt like the truth; the next forgetting he had ever tried to strive for it. Had ever believed it even existed. That was where reality hit him, and with it the pain of every fibre of his being. Perhaps fortuitously there was nothing at all after that.
He awoke to find himself in the arms of a woman, gently cradled and utterly relaxed. It wasn't a familiar sensation. The last time had been... Virginia? He had awoken in Lilah's arms more than once, but somehow it had never been terribly gentle, even if it had been relaxing once or twice. He almost smiled, for she was a good memory, even if he hadn't always been sure of that. The smile never happened though, for he realised all too soon whose arms must be supporting him now, and the pleasure of it all vanished in the ice that crept up to take the place of the earlier contentment. A cold hand touched his brow.
"You're awake. I heard your heart beating, so I knew that you weren't dead. It almost stopped though. I heard it flutter and waver. You have a very stubborn heart, Watcher."
"Be a shame to still it then." His voice felt heavy, and it didn't come easily. She laughed at him.
"It might be stilled, but it would at least be preserved forever. A stubborn little heart. It wouldn't be any more cold than it is now."
"Touché." He sat up, half expecting her to stop him. She didn't, but she continued to hold his hand, apparently loosely but with enough force to stop him from breaking free. He didn't try. "What happened?"
"I killed Beatrice." She said it without emotion; she cared nothing for the fate of her 'sister'. "Angel will still be alive, and probably won't know anything. Perhaps he never will."
"I wasn't planning to tell him." He rubbed his head which, like much of the rest of him, throbbed painfully. He must look like hell - certainly he felt like it. He was used to patching himself up though; used to cleaning the injuries, and making them look less than they were. Used to carrying on regardless. It had been a long time since anybody had really stopped to commiserate with him. Cordelia, he thought, trying to remember how long ago that might have been. When had they all stopped sharing smiles and jokes and kindnesses? It was probably immaterial. Very slowly, he looked around to see where he was. Sudden movements seemed to make his head spin, and his muscles protested as well. Slow, then. He could cope with slow.
They were in the library, where they had spent so much time together, both with and without Collins and the others. Those three worthies were nowhere to be seen, and he hadn't really expected to see them. They would have escaped at the first opportunity, no doubt certain that they were leaving him to his death. That might be to his advantage, at any rate. If they all now thought that he was dead, they might not be trying to make him that way themselves any time soon. He was fairly certain that they had decided to kill him, at some point. That was an annoyance, but not an insult, or a real problem. His shaky memory of what had happened in those last few moments of his consciousness suggested to him that they had run off before their mission had been completed anyway. Drusilla had killed Beatrice; the legendary Watcher assassins had already gone by then. They had run away in fear, and destroyed their own reputation in the process. Not that anybody else would ever hear of it, but it amused him at least. The great assassins, fleeing from Drusilla, and her no longer indestructible 'sister'.
"You think anybody else will try the spell?" he asked in the end. He didn't want to destroy the book; such things were against his training and his beliefs. Books were almost sacred objects. She shrugged.
"Doesn't matter." She meant it, too. Saving Angel was all that had interested her. He suspected that the only reason she had disliked the idea of a powerful Beatrice was because it had been Beatrice who would be getting the power. Any other vampire was probably welcome to it; just not one that Drusilla herself disliked. He sighed. There were so many reasons why it did matter, but there was no point arguing that. She wasn't human, as he had been all too often reminded. She didn't have any morals, or any conscience, or any sense of responsibility to the world or the creatures in it. He nodded slowly.
"Yes, I suppose you would see it that way. You've saved Angel, so your truths you swear blind that he's hidden might turn up again." He couldn't keep the scepticism from his voice. She tugged gently on his hand, pulling him back down beside her, and rubbing the back of his neck with her strong hands. A vampire made a good masseur, he couldn't deny that. With her strength she was perfect for the task, though the coldness of her hands made it a strange experience.
"You don't see," she told him, without reproach. He nodded, glad that her apparently skilled work on his neck meant that that simple gesture no longer hurt.
"True. I thought I saw something, earlier, but it was just you, wasn't it. Putting pictures in my head."
"Maybe." She was smiling, but since she was behind him, he couldn't see it. The pictures remained in her own head, even though they were now gone from his. Angel's fury, his insistence that Wesley had taken something. A woman with a knife, and blood to make Drusilla's mouth water. Interesting pictures, filling holes in her Watcher's enchanted head. Or was it the whole world that had been enchanted? She didn't know; she only knew what her second sight told her, and that was as confused as everything else.
"And what happens now?" He leant forwards as he spoke, to break the contact between them. Drusilla smiled at his back. She wanted so much to kill him. Wanted so much to drain his body of every drop of that sparkling blood. He was close to Angel though, and she knew that that was important. Whatever confusion had done strange things to her memories, she knew that it was centred upon Angel; and that meant that this slight, dark figure, with his oh-so-desirable blood, was a part of it too, in some way at least. She wasn't sure that she could kill him. Not until she knew more. Not until she understood more, and had had time to think about the pictures she had seen inside his head. She reached out to stroke the back of his neck.
"You helped me save Angel," she told him, making her voice as honeyed as she could; as sweet and as warm as she could. No sense in letting her true self come out now. She wanted him to trust her, even if only slightly. She might be able to us that, another time. "I think that deserves a lengthening of the truce."
"It does?" He had expected to be killed. Had expected never to wake up at all, and certainly not to live long after awakening. She smelt his confusion, and wanted so much to taste it as well. To tear open his throat and taste everything else. Instead she let him go, and rose to her feet.
"Maybe I'll find your three friends, and eat them instead."
"I think you might find that rather hard, but I wish you luck anyway." He was frowning, part scared, part disbelieving. She didn't blame him for his disbelief - she didn't really believe that she was letting him go, either. Softly she trailed her fingers across the back of his neck one last time. It would be so easy, and he wouldn't have a hope of defending himself... but no. Let the lie stand. Let him leave here thinking that he was taking her goodwill. One day she might be glad of it. She caught his shoulder, though, before he could go very far away.
"Next time we meet..."
"Yes?" This time he really did know what was coming.
"Next time, Watcher, you're mine. I'll have that blood yet."
"You'll kill me."
"I'll make you wish I would." She smiled, and the expression was so innocent, so beautiful, and so very, very dangerous that for a moment he almost smiled back. If his blood hadn't been turning so surely to ice, he probably would have done. Instead he merely nodded, and turned away. It took every bit of his concentration and his courage to keep walking away from her, his back to her lethal presence, and at every step he expected her to spring; expected to feel her teeth sinking into his neck. The holes left by Beatrice burned in sympathy with his fears, but the attack never came. He still waited for it though - even after he had left the library, and the building, and walked out once again into the sun. He had a feeling he would be expecting it for months to come.
"Hello Mother." He kept his voice light. There were too many other people within earshot for him to allow any emotion to seep into the exchange - and besides, his mother would hardly expect profuse warmth. She never did. "Is Father in?" He laughed at her response. "Yes, I know I just spoke to him recently, but I thought-- Well no, fair enough. No, no, I quite understand. There's a lot to be done, with the Council being... gone. No, it's perfectly alright." A further comment made him smile again, though this time rather oddly, with a dullness in his eyes. "What do you mean I sound different? Well I suppose the line must be better. Something to do with the weather I expect. No, mother, it's quite alright that he's away. It's not as if I'm planning to drop by and visit, after all. Why would I?" This time the expression in his eyes was more than merely dull, and an odd kind of pain showed in his face. "I'm half the world away, like always. No, everything is fine at work, mother. Really. I just--" Just what? Wanted another go at apologising for my attempt at patricide? Wanted to talk to somebody about all that had just happened? Needed somebody to talk to, and didn't have anybody else? He couldn't talk to Angel about all of this, and Cordelia was still in a coma. Gunn was... different, Fred was... Fred. And Lorne was loud and colourful and loving and caring, and everything Wesley didn't feel up to facing. It was just the sort of time when it might be nice to turn to a father, and share the experience; discuss the situation. He smiled bitterly. Even if his father had been available, he knew exactly how the interview would have gone - and it would have been an interview, never a conversation. The greeting, the ice that would come at the mention of Angel. The glaring, the discomfort, the shuffling, the reprimand. He was a fool for even considering it, really. Something in his mother's tone of voice made him jump, and he almost turned to look at the telephone in response.
"Yes, Mother. I'm still here. No, I just... I've been called to a meeting. Yes, I know - still, it was nice to talk to you. Tell Father I... Well, tell him I called. Better not tell him I said 'Hi' or he'll only moan about me turning American. No, I wasn't being sarcastic. I... I'll speak to you soon. No, I don't know when I'll make it over to England. Things have been crazy lately. There's never any time to take a break, and England's such a long way away. I'll... I'll think about it." He nodded. "Yeah. Yes, Mother. Goodbye." Slowly he lowered the phone, then pressed the button to break the connection. Well that had been a waste of time; but then when had such things ever been anything else? Here he was, back at home, and still thousands of miles away from it. Still thousands of miles away from anywhere, and from anyone, whilst around him the crowds of London heaved and swelled. Still, the holiday was over now, and with it the time for reflections such as these. It was time to go home. Nice, perhaps, to think that he had such a thing, somewhere. Some day he might even find out where it was.