JOURNEYS ON THE DARK SIDE
I suppose I should be glad that the pain has stopped. My throat feels like my own again, although there's still something of a scar there. I don't think it'll be permanent. It's healing well, anyway. There were times when I honestly believed that it wouldn't; or maybe I just thought it would be better if it never got the chance to heal. When I was lying in the park, for example, and I thought I was going to bleed to death. Still not sure why I didn't. At the hospital they said that it was a miracle, though somehow I doubt it. Miracles don't happen to stupid ex-Watchers who keep failing everybody. Why would they? I'm sure that God, his angels and the whole battery of saints have all manner of better things to do than guard the life of a useless waste of space whose only significant contribution to history seems to have been the betrayal of his closest friend. I wonder who else might have been watching over me that night? Some passing demon, who thought what I did was amusing? Some twisted arm of Fate, that still has plans for me? I suppose I'm better off not knowing; just like I'm probably better off not knowing what's happened to Angel. What if the rumours I've heard amongst certain of my contacts are right, and he really is dead? So many of them are saying that he is, though I suppose that could just be wishful thinking on their part. My contacts, like poor old departed Merl before them, have a tendency to come from the darker side of life. Demons, practitioners of dubious magicks, even a vampire. Not the redeemable kind, like Angel - just a sorry excuse for a demon who drank from too many weak humans lying in the street, and wound up addicted to all their illegal vices. There can be few things less pleasant than the sight of a grovelling vampire desperate for another fix. He can't seem to decide himself whether to be vicious or just plain pathetic.
But whoever and whatever he is, he's joined the chorus of people saying that Angel is dead. That Connor killed him. The rumours say that Cordelia is dead too, though, and I know that isn't true. Connor would never kill Cordelia. How could he? Admittedly I don't know the boy; not as he is now, anyway. But I knew the baby, and I know the father, and I'm sure that he could never hurt Cordy. And so long as she's still alive, there's a chance that Connor didn't kill Angel either. I can't find Cordy though, and I'm sure that they're not in the same place. It's all so crazy. So weird. I'd try to talk to Connor, but I doubt I could get near him. I've no doubt that he knows exactly who I am, and what I did to him. It's my fault that he is who he is. What he is. My fault that he grew up in hell, or a near approximation - always supposing he minds, since it's the only life he's ever known; and that, of course, makes it somehow much worse. Still, what's done is done, and scrawling my miseries down in unnecessarily pompous looking books that nobody else will ever read isn't going to help me find Angel. I need a concrete lead, but I can't seem to find anything even remotely helpful. All of my sources seem to have dried up. Angel has disappeared, and right now I don't have a clue if any of us will ever be seeing him again.
He hadn't slept in days - or if he had he wasn't aware of it. Nights were for studying, just like the daylight hours, or for visiting the places and the contacts that just weren't available at any other time. If he tried to sleep he knew that he would only lie awake, feeling the tingle in his neck as the last of the healing was completed; listening to the silence. Sometimes he drifted off into a restless doze where he seemed doomed to forever relive the attack; to feel again and again the knife cutting his throat, and the coldness of his body as he lay waiting for death. He heard again the silence of that night, felt the hard ground beneath him, stared up into a dark, invisible sky beyond city lights that had mysteriously disappeared... That or he found himself staring up into Angel's face, and heard his friend's voice, filled with fury and a passion for revenge. So he had found that he preferred not to sleep.
But night weren't always bad. Lilah was there sometimes. Maybe that was a good thing... although for the most part it was hard to see why. Sometimes she came during the day, breathless and on a high from her work, and they argued over whether or not he disapproved. Nights were for arguing as well; a maelstrom of shouting and insults - things that he had never believed he would ever say to another person, especially a woman. Lilah inspired those things in him though; appealed to his new sense of anger with the world, and his general state of depression. She made his blood run faster, and sometimes, when he found himself thinking that he really didn't care about anything anymore; when his whole life weighed down on him in a morass of hopelessness and despair; that had to be a good thing. She was better than the alternative, then. It was probably best not to think too much about the violence that always seemed to exist between them. Was it his fault that he hit her, and hers that she hit him, or vice versa? And why didn't he tell her to get lost when he already knew well in advance how things were sure to end? Did he like hitting her? Being hit? Certainly there was a familiarity to it. He had spent what felt like most of his life being hit, especially in recent years. If there was a way of life that didn't involve hospital waiting rooms, and blood and bruises, then he had never found it. Had never looked. Now that nothing in his life mattered anymore, he couldn't imagine that he would start looking now.
Tonight, though, he was alone. Sitting at his desk, writing in his journal the way he had done so many times before. There was a sense of the automatic about it; of the inevitable. Words lined neatly up across the page, detailing the contacts he had been to see, the information he had - or more often hadn't - been able to gather about Angel's disappearance. He wrote about the mystical prophets he had tried to consult; the dark and dangerous places he had visited; the creatures he had encountered. It had turned the journal into a litany of neat, orderly despair - precise rows of perfectly detailed catastrophes, all in his well-schooled handwriting. It helped to clear his mind to set it all out like that, without emotion. He could detail his own feelings then too, distancing himself from them in the process. Therapy, Americans would probably call it; and that amused him. Therapy. Like there was any kind of therapy that could sort out his problems.
He closed the diary with a weary hand, laid aside his pen, and locked the book away in a desk drawer. It was a secret account, and always had been; a habit instilled in him by the Watchers. Secret accounts, secret information; all of them trying to keep as much as possible from the rest of the world. He didn't want anybody to see this particular journal anyway. Not with so much of himself laid bare within its pages. Such personal details were not for other eyes.
He looked at the clock on his desk - two am. LA was never quiet of course, but it was getting to the time when it was as quiet as it ever got. The time when the majority of clubs had closed and parties ended, with the city's day shift not yet begun. That was always a good time to make a sweep; to go looking for the places that made Caritas seem like a normal human night-club; the places where there were no spells to prevent acts of violence. The kind of places that wouldn't get any patrons if there were such spells in place. He had become adept at hunting them out; finding them hidden in innocuous seeming buildings, or in the cellars beneath. They were insane places for a human to go, but somebody had to go there. Gunn would never find them, even with his years of experience on the streets. Gunn had been taken by surprise by Caritas - he would never find the places that were stranger still. So it was down to Wesley to go there instead, asking the questions that nobody knew the answers to; except perhaps Angel himself.
Throwing back the chair with sudden energy, he made a beeline for the closet near to his apartment's rather rickety front door. Rickety since a Falox demon had burst in one night a week back, demanding answers from the mate of Lilah Morgan. Through his surprise - not to mention outrage - at being called that, Wesley had managed to decipher the beast's furious bellowings well enough to work out that Wolfram & Hart had done something underhand and despicable. That much wasn't a surprise. His being taken to task for it was. Between insisting that he wasn't an employee of the firm, or the mate of an employee, he had managed to pull out the foot long knife he kept hidden in the bookcase, and attempted to do what the text books recommended where Falox demons were concerned. It hadn't worked, the Falox had used him to beat a tattoo upon the already much abused door, and it had been Toby, a half-human informant that Wesley sometimes consulted, who had eventually killed it. That night Wesley and Lilah had shouted at each other until the moon had begun to set. Needless to say Lilah had found the Falox's visit hilarious, and Wesley had threatened - though mostly only in jest - to use the foot long knife to do to her what he had been unable to do to the Falox. For some reason Lilah had found that funnier still. Wesley glowered at the memory as he tugged upon the closet door and shrugged on the heavy coat that hung just inside. It was a good one for night-time questing, for the thick lining was perfect for hiding weapons. He loaded it up with an automatic pistol in one of the pockets, and an assortment of knives in slightly more secret places, then tugged open the door, swore when it nearly came off its hinges, and slammed it shut behind him. He locked it by habit, though there was really no point in such measures. One good push and a burglar would easily get inside. He made the twelfth mental note of the week to get the confounded thing fixed or replaced, then headed briskly for the lift. By the time he had got there he had forgotten all about the door. There were other things to worry about now.
I found Nancy's by accident - well, of course I did; there's been no genuine luck in the whole of this endless quest. I'd realised that there must be something hidden in that row of buildings; had to be, for the apparent external structure didn't tally with the old city blueprints, which I've had on file since some early venture with Angel Investigations. It's details like that which matter when you have to investigate every possible lead; every tiny shred of potential evidence.
So. Nancy's. Whatever the opposite of a jewel is, that's Nancy's. Only accessible through the chanting of passwords - or by falling like an idiot down a flight of ten stone steps, which apparently confuses the magical barrier - it's everything that a demon bar ought to be, and with a twist. Once you're past the magical entrance the interior is like some quaint Irish pub back in the nineteen twenties. Sawdust on the floor, ring for bare-knuckle fighting, lots of wooden panelling, old photographs on the wall, an atmospherically low ceiling. Guinness on tap, as well as any number of drinks I don't especially want to know the ingredients of. There are weapons on the wall that get tugged down every time somebody picks a fight, and which are covered with about ten years' worth of splashes of different coloured blood. It's hot inside; hot from the roaring fire kept burning in a fireplace bigger than some rooms; hot from the many creatures milling about in a space that isn't quite as confined as it feels. They jostle each other, and growl in half a dozen different languages, and cheerfully beat each others brains out on the bar, or against a wall. Thick smoke from the fireplace does a good job of hiding some of these unpleasantries from the clientele - not that they mind the carnage; and wreaths of green smoke from the local demon equivalent of hookahs help with the camouflage job. The green stuff smells faintly sickly and sweet, and has roughly the same effect as particularly strong hashish. Not that I've ever had hashish - exactly. All that I can say is that such things - and this sweet, thick green stuff is no exception - are proof enough that passive smoking is a genuine phenomenon. I've had the hangovers to prove it.
I asked the questions carefully that first time, until I realised that nobody there has any particular dislike of humans. Demons they are, and evil some of them certainly are; but they don't care what species I am, so long as I act the right way and buy enough rounds. They all sit in their corners, nursing drinks that foam or steam or bubble and boil ferociously, and they curse each other in terms that could make a sailor blush - if the sailor in question could understand enough demon dialects to make sense of the conversation. And always supposing that he didn't mind sharing a table with an assortment of improbably large demonic creatures, looking very much like the long discontinued evolutionary sidelines of Earth's reptilian races. They sit there with their furiously wriggling snacks, their drinks that would dissolve the innards of any humans fool enough to take a sip, and their varied collection of bodily smells, skin excretions and dubious personal habits. And yet still they make better companions than anyone I was at school with. Or would do, if they weren't all quite so hell bent on murder, mayhem and mass destruction. They all seem to have their own personal plan for wiping out some rival race, or for destroying the world, or the universe, or the whole of the known reality, and consigning it to some clearly very inviting level of hell. I've had some inspiring conversations there, politely declining the wriggling snacks, and making up my own tales of evil deeds to match everybody else's - and in the process hopefully avoiding being torn limb from limb as an impostor. Needless to say I haven't discovered anything worthwhile yet - except for a plan to infect everybody in the country with the werewolf 'virus', which I suppose should be foiled eventually. Once I'd have been terribly excited at the idea of tangling with evil sorcerers and their werewolf associates - perhaps part of me still is. But it's a quiet part, subjugated to the bitter nonchalance that characterises the rest of me these days.
There must be somebody in this blasted city who knows something about Angel; who at least has something more to tell me than a facile theory or a misunderstood rumour. If there is somebody, I don't suppose I'll find them in Nancy's - but I keep going back there anyway. It's dark and gruesome, like a bitter and twisted version of the 'English' pub I used to call my local in the days pre-Caritas; but then I suppose I'm a bitter and twisted version of myself these days, so maybe that's why I fit in so well there; why I keep going back. And I can keep hoping that one day there'll be a lead there. A real one, instead of one that sends me trekking uselessly all over the city until the sun rises, and all my contacts scuttle away to places unseen. Until then Nancy's is as good a place as any to head for, and use as a jumping off point. Maybe I'll chance my luck there too often, and I'll wind up as somebody's latest victim, but as long as they wait until after I find Angel I don't suppose it really matters. That seems to be all I'm good for now. Looking for Angel. It's why I keep going back to Nancy's, with all its constant disappointments. I owe it to the friend who tried to kill me, and who, if I do ever manage to find him, might very well thank me by finishing the job. To be perfectly honest, I don't know that I'd blame him if he did.
Nancy's was much as it usually was. A host of growling life forms jostled each other at the bar, and three spiked Graal demons were trying to tear each other's heads off in the carefully fenced boxing arena. Somebody cheered as a fountain of thick green blood shot up to splash on the low oak ceiling. Wesley watched it drip back down again, and felt glad that he didn't have to go near that part of the room. Graal blood was notoriously acidic, and in its undiluted state would easily make short work of his clothing and his skin. Exchanging a nod of greeting with one of the demons watching the fight, he pushed his way in through the throngs, and found an empty table. The chairs were covered in the debris of somebody's recent meal, and the table top was splattered with an interesting assortment of blood, Daxal slime and cigarette butts, but he sat down anyway and stared about at his fellow patrons. Most of the usual crowd was in tonight by the look of things; Lowell, the legendarily untrustworthy demon broker; Samson and Delilah (as Wesley had nicknamed them), the giant pair of Fyarl demons who were never seen apart; even old Ramoth, who was forever complaining that the place wasn't half as good as it had been in his youth (which had been sometime at the close of the eighteenth century from what Wesley could gather, which at least helped explain why nobody seemed to have seen Nancy in some while). Ramoth waggled a glass of some noxious substance in salutation, and Wesley nodded back. He didn't go over to offer a verbal greeting. Ramoth never knew anything of use to anybody, but his anecdotes and faulty memories were legendary amongst the regulars. Old demons liked to reminisce just like old humans, and Ramoth was one of the more enthusiastic of the type. A waitress appeared at Wesley's elbow, and he tore his attention away from the very wet-behind-the-ears Fell demon half-breed who was the old demon's latest captive audience.
"I suppose you want your usual?" Samantha, as Wesley had nicknamed her, thanks to her startling similarity to Samantha Fox - had Samantha Fox had lilac skin and four rather fetching curly ears, anyway - was the least friendly waitress he had ever encountered. Her real name was unpronounceable to the human tongue, though Wesley was familiar enough with the language of her people to know that it could roughly be translated as 'One of Poisonous Disposition', which rather backed up a thesis he had once written suggesting that Drell demons were at least partly clairvoyant. He smiled up at her, in what might have been a pleasant fashion once, but in his current mood was more like a glare. Samantha didn't mind. Glaring was the height of her customer relations tactics.
"The usual. Yeah." There wasn't much choice; Guinness was the only drink served at Nancy's that wasn't toxic to humans.
"Straight?" Her lack of interest was impressive. He nodded.
"Yeah." The management seemed determined to persuade him to try his pint laced with everything from werewolf blood to enchanted fire water, but he generally gave demon drinks a wide berth. Rupert Giles he was not.
"Be with you in a minute." She rarely meant it when she made such statements, for she had a habit of forgetting about orders at the slightest distraction, but he didn't mind. He wasn't really in any hurry.
"Wesley!" The surviving Graal demon, liberally coated in the blood of his competitors, had emerged from the ring, and came over now to join the human. "Did you see the fight?"
"Some of it." Wesley's eyes travelled up to the ceiling, where the oaken beams were showing some serious damage from the acidic geyser of blood that he had witnessed as he entered the pub. "Friends of yours, or did they insult one of your wives?"
"Old business rivals." The demon offered a huge hand for Wesley to shake, then whipped it away again when several drops of blood fell onto the table top and started hissing. "Sorry. Forgot. So are you still looking for your boss, or have you given up yet?
"I never give up." Wesley looked away, watching the milling demons. "I don't suppose you've heard anything?"
"Me? I'm a pawnbroker. What do I hear except clocks ticking?" He smiled, and began to wipe the blood from his hands with a truly enormous handkerchief. "I did hear that the Lopez brothers were looking for you though. They should be here somewhere."
"Really?" The Lopez brothers were the demon equivalent of private investigators. Like most demon-human half-breeds they lived a confused mishmash of a life that gave them access to both worlds, even though they were too demonic to ever fully be a part of the human city they lived within. As far as Wesley knew their father had been a small time mobster on the run, who had tried to hide out in the sewers, and had found himself in the middle of a whole other civilisation. Possibly the prospect of some friendly faces - even when they were a rather blotchy green colour, and blessed with three luminous eyes - had seemed a better idea than a lonely life on the lam. Possibly some female of the species had proved too strong for him. Wesley hadn't asked. Either way, the Lopez brothers had been the result. They were identical in their facial features, which were a striking mix of green and Hispanic, but were very different in build and personality. Marco was at least seven feet tall, possessed of the gravitas and dry joylessness of a high court judge. Lilo, on the other hand, was a full foot shorter, had the reputation of a formidable party animal, and was mercurial enough to try to bite off the head of somebody to whom he had been chatting amiably only moments before. They were available for hire to everyone, though they demanded payment in the currency of the Llask, their demon kinsmen, which rather limited the scope of their employment. The news that they were looking for him was welcome to Wesley, for he had hired them a month before, and hadn't heard anything from them yet.
"Here." It was Samantha, bringing him his pint with her usual grace. The dark liquid tried to dive overboard as she practically threw the glass onto the table, and white foam trickled away to join the drying and sticky remains of previous drinks. Wesley nodded his thanks, too preoccupied now to acknowledge her properly. She put down a bowl of what lookied like tiny maggots with legs, and prodded a few escapees back inside. "Compliments of the house," she growled, just the way that she usually did. Wesley didn't bother telling her that he didn't want the things. He had given that up weeks ago.
"I didn't think humans liked their food to wriggle?" His Graal companion - Tex, as he had for some reason chosen to call himself - was rather interested by the contents of the bowl. Wesley shook his head.
"We don't. That is, most of us don't. Around here nobody seems to appreciate that." He looked more closely at the bowl, wondering what new delight he had been brought this time. So far Samantha had tried everything from giant locusts to the deadly clawed slugs of her home dimension, and seemed to take it as a personal insult that Wesley hadn't taken a bite yet. "What are these things?"
"Kappa worms I think." Tex wrinkled his nose. "No flavour. Plus they bite going down. I prefer a more placid snack myself. A nice Fyarl steak maybe." He smiled rather wolfishly. "Although I hear good things about human meat. I don't suppose you've ever tried it?"
"Oddly enough, no. To my knowledge, at any rate." Wesley took a drink, looking at the other patrons over the top of the glass. He could see no sign of the Lopez brothers. The Graal scowled.
"One of these days, Wes, when you've found your friend Angel, and got rid of all the ghosts that haunt your soul, you're going to have to make sure you look me up. I'd like to meet you then. See if you're still as cheery and chatty as you are now."
"Sorry." He wasn't. Not really. Who needed cheer when there was so much else to do? When had been the last time he had smiled properly? The day he and Angel had taken baby Connor to see the doctor together, before the hotel had been struck by that dreadful, prophesied earthquake? Time enough for smiles if the world ever put itself back together again. Tex raised what passed as an eyebrow, then shook his head in faint amusement.
"You're your own worst enemy, Wes. Maybe your friend will help you to see that if you ever find him again. In the meantime, there's a mismatched pair of Llask half-breeds heading our way. I'll leave you alone shall I?"
"Going back to kill off a few more of your own species?"
"Only if the mood takes me." The big creature rose to his feet, and flapped his massive, bloodied handkerchief in farewell, striding away just as the Lopez brothers arrived. Wesley greeted them both with a nod.
"You said ten days," he told them idly. Lilo pulled out a chair and sat down.
"So?" He grabbed a handful of the Kappa worms and tossed them down his wide, ribbed throat. "You can't put our kind of work into a time frame. Anyway, we're only a little over."
"Three weeks," Wesley corrected. Lilo shrugged.
"Well maybe it's worth it. You never know."
"Is it?" Wesley wasn't optimistic. Lilo threw back another handful of Kappa worms.
"Don't know. Depends on how interested you are in a woman called Justine I suppose. The one who used to work for your friend Holtz?" Lilo smiled at him, looking rather as though he were waiting for praise. Wesley's eyes snapped up.
"Justine?" His voice was harsh and rough, a cover for the chill that had suddenly raced down his spine. "What about her?"
"We've found her. Seems she's got a job in some little bar, no more than a few blocks from that karaoke place you used to like so much."
"Justine." Wesley's eyes had gone as hard as his voice, and it took an effort of will to stop his hand straying to the fading scar on his neck. "What's the name of this bar?"
"Raymond's. Human joint, very unimaginative." Lilo shrugged. "Still, it takes all sorts. We get paid then, yeah?"
"Yeah." Wesley watched absentmindedly as the half-breed grabbed a third handful of Kappa worms. "You are half human, you know. I hope you can digest those things."
"We can't." Marco spoke up for the first time, his slow, lugubrious voice making him sound rather like one of the teachers at Wesley's prep school. Lilo stared at the creatures in his hand and frowned.
"We can't," his brother reaffirmed. "Our stomachs are strong enough to prevent them from biting their way out though. Which is good, obviously."
"What happens then?" Lilo sounded faintly unhappy. "Are they toxic?"
"No. But don't expect to get any sleep for the next twenty-four hours." Marco reached out and offered one of his massive hands for Wesley to shake. "We'll be round your place to collect our payment in the morning, if that's convenient - to your schedule and to his stomach."
"Hmm? Oh. Yes of course. It's all ready for you." All four hundred carefully polished disks of human bone. One of the more easily accessible forms of demon currency, if not exactly one of the nicest. Lilo's eyes narrowed.
"Then don't go running off after your friend Justine, and getting yourself killed before you can pay us. We'd take that as a personal insult."
"Besides which, it would be pointless. The place closes at two, so she'll have gone home, and we don't know where that is." Marco stood up, his great height emphasised with the others still seated. "The bar opens at nine in the evening."
"Not exactly a place to go for parties, is it." Lilo also stood up, and Wesley followed suit. Even through his present sense of detachment from the world, his deeply instilled manners could still sometimes shine through.
"I'll see you in the morning," he told the brothers, and they shambled off together arguing about Kappa worms. Wesley sat back down again.
"Another drink?" Materialising at his elbow with one of her characteristic scowls, Samantha snatched up his empty pint glass. He nodded slowly.
"Yes. One more for the road I think. Thankyou."
"Huh." She was gone again, and he stared after her for a moment, mind on other things. Justine. Had he been hoping to see her again? He wasn't sure, but at this precise moment he was happy to have been given the chance. If anybody was likely to know just what might have become of Angel, it was the henchwoman of Daniel Holtz. She had probably been involved in the affair from the beginning. His mind drifted back to the last time he had seen her, when she had cut his throat and left him to die. He still didn't know why he hadn't. He wondered if she knew that he was still alive.
Tomorrow night suddenly seemed a very long way away.
I first met the Lopez brothers at Caritas, where they had gone for a reading, and had chickened out before they got up on stage. Since I was there for the same reason, and had also backed out, perhaps we gravitated together naturally. Actually we all just wound up hiding at the only table that the powerful spotlights could be sure not to reach. They turned up there, trying not to look sheepish, and asked if the other seats at the table were taken, and I, probably deciding that there was safety in numbers, pointed them at a couple of chairs between me and the stage. They sat down, there was a faintly awkward silence for a few moments, and then we introduced ourselves. I was quite excited at the idea of demon private investigators. In many ways of course we could be at odds; Angel Investigations tends to be hired by humans against demons naturally enough. In the event, though, I've never known us to be on opposite sides of a case. Admittedly I've never actually told them the truth about what I'm working on, though, so I suppose there's a fair chance that they've been lying to me too. Still, we get along amicably enough, and if ever they end up working for a client who wants to wipe Angel Investigations - or me - off the map, then perhaps one of them would tip me the wink? I like to think so, but then this has always been a cut-throat business. Hmm. I wish I'd found a better way to phrase that.
Which I suppose brings me to Justine. I plan to go to this bar - Raymond's - tomorrow night of course. It's been a while since I was in a bar that only serves humans. Demons are easier to get drunk amongst, since you can be fairly sure that none of them is going to try to off-load his problems onto you, or act as a pseudo-psychologist, or try to follow you home. Well actually sometimes they do try that one, but you can always beat off a demon with a knife or an axe - or just get home quickly and pointedly not invite them in. It's different with a hopeful human suitor who won't believe that you're not interested in their advances. Killing them is out for starters, no matter how appealing it seems. They're not discouraged by not being invited in, either.
And now I'm rambling. It often happens these days when I write this journal. Since I knew that the Watcher Council would no longer be reading it, I suppose. It looks neat and well ordered, and on the face of it, it is - but look a little deeper and it's started to wander terribly. It bothers me sometimes. Have I lost some of myself since being sacked; lost some of my training? Time was I would never have relaxed any part of my thoughts enough to allow my mind - let alone my writing - to wander when my journal is open on the table in front of me, and my pen is in my hand. Mind you, in those days I wouldn't have been sitting at my desk in jeans and a sweater still dirty from a fight with a mud demon in an alley the night before. I wouldn't be sitting at a desk that hadn't been dusted in ten days, either, and neither would I be carrying three days growth of stubble. I suppose I've let a lot slip... and I'm still doing it, because I'm rambling again. Trying to avoid the issue, which is Justine. I thought I felt rather empty where she was concerned. Lilah set up that stupid display so I could watch a gang of vampires kill the blasted woman if I wanted to, but I didn't really feel anything then. Not when I was looking at her before the vampires appeared, or when they were advancing on her. I have to admit in all honesty that I don't feel nearly so empty now.
Do I wait outside the bar, and try to talk to her before she goes in? Or just wait until it opens, and go inside as an ordinary customer? Buy a drink from her, act like there's nothing wrong? Maybe she won't even recognise me? But I think that she will. Holtz had his people well trained, and it's hardly going to matter that it's been a few months. I think Justine saw me often enough to recognise me, and I like to flatter myself enough to think that I must have made some impression, when she was slicing my throat open.
Maybe I could make her talk by threatening to do the same to her? I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror this morning, and I do rather have the look about me of someone who might be prepared to kill. I don't know how far something like that would affect Justine though. She set out to kill me in cold blood, and from what I've been able to find out about her, she's always been the cold and hard type. If I threaten to kill her she might not even care. So what do I do? I still believe that she's my best chance for finding Angel, without trying to go after Connor himself. And how can I do that? I've already done enough to hurt that boy without going further now. I couldn't force any sort of truth out of him, and even if I could bring myself to try; even if I could be sure of getting close enough to him; I doubt that it would work. I've seen him fight; I know what sort of a world he must have grown up in. I know whose child he is. I could never make him do anything.
Which leaves Justine, the probable sociopath, and possible psychopath, who's likely to take one look at me, hear my demand for answers, and burst out laughing. Just the thought of that makes my blood run cold; but not with fear. With anger and hatred of the kind that I haven't felt in a long time; something that seems to appeal to what I can only term the 'new me'. Me the way I am now, with everything I thought mattered gone, and everyone I cared about turned away. It leaves me thinking that maybe I am capable of doing the things that might be needed to make Justine talk. Any number of things. Part of me, deep inside, shivers at the suggestion, whilst the rest of me spreads its wings and nods its head and feels almost glad. It's like sloughing off a skin; getting rid of past weaknesses and limitations, and throwing away all the things people used to laugh at and mock. Whether or not it'll work when it comes to the crunch; whether I'll be able to take the initiative properly, and make Justine talk to me, I don't know. I suppose I'll find that out tomorrow night. Maybe when I next write in this journal, it'll be to record Angel's return. What would be the first thing I might say to him, or what might be the first thing he'd say to me? I shudder to think; but that's immaterial. First and foremost I just have to find him. What happens next; all those hundred scenarios that have played through my head in quiet moments; all the words I'd like to say and know I never will. That's not what matters. Nothing about my life does; nor should it. There are far greater things at stake. Whatever else he might have said and believed, my father turned out to be right about that.
Lilah turned up at half past five, just as he was pouring a second whisky, in the hope that it would kill off the taste of the first. He had locked away his journal shortly before, and was glad of it. He didn't want Lilah to know about Justine. Not yet; perhaps not ever. He had no idea what she or her employers might do with the knowledge, or with the woman, but he wasn't prepared to give them the chance to show him. Justine would make a perfect recruit for Wolfram & Hart. She was already twisted enough for their unique recruitment tactics to work perfectly, the way that they had failed to work on him. Justine claimed to stand against all the things that Wolfram & Hart represented, but that didn't mean that she wouldn't join them, and that she couldn't be corrupted by them. There was too much darkness inside her already; too much to which they could all too easily appeal.
"Hey Wes." Lilah had her cheerful personality on, which meant that she had almost certainly spent her day doing something truly despicable. Given how late she had arrived, he was inclined to think that Wolfram & Hart had something big on, so she might have been up to almost anything. Demon resurrection, human sacrifice, the worst kinds of dark conjurings - she had probably been a part of all of them at some time. He glared at her.
"What do you want?"
"To see you of course." She went over to him, stride quick and jaunty, and stole his glass before he could pick it up, knocking the whisky back in one gulp. "Good stuff."
"Of course." He reached for the bottle again, but she picked that up too quickly as well, and skimmed through the details printed on the label.
"Must cost a bit. That's my Wesley; miserable and twisted, but insists on drinking himself into oblivion with only the finest Scotch malt."
"Oblivion may be better than the alternative, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be pleasant getting there." He snatched back the bottle and the glass, and poured out another measure. "Being drunk is certainly better than having to spend another night here with you."
"Ouch. I'm stung." She wasn't, clearly. "Besides, it's not night anymore, it's morning. Gone dawn."
"Then shouldn't you have returned to your tomb?" He drank the glass of whisky, then contemplated the bottle. Getting drunk might have seemed like fun before, but he wasn't sure that he trusted Lilah enough to risk being in that state when she was around. He screwed the lid back onto the bottle, and returned it to its shelf, then pointedly picked up a book. Lilah, as ever, was unoffended.
"What are you reading?" She got behind him so that she could read over his shoulder, and sighed when she saw that the book was written in Latin. "Honestly, do you ever just turn off your brain and relax, Wes? How about trying out the latest John Grisham? Frederick Forsythe? Stephen King?" She took the book away and tossed it onto his desk. "JK Rowling? Come on, Wesley. All work and no play makes--"
"It's not work." He retrieved the book, and found his place again without effort. "It's The Aeneid, and I'm reading it for pleasure." He eyed her sourly. "Or at least I was, until you stuck your oar in. It's very difficult to take any kind of pleasure in anything when you're involved."
"You're on fine form tonight, Wesley. What's wrong? Another of your contacts draw a blank on Angel?" She ruffled his hair. "Never mind. I'm sure he'll turn up eventually. Of course he'll probably be all messed up because of whatever he's been through, and'll come back as Angelus. I wonder if you'll get to stake him, or if your buddy Gunn will beat you to the draw?"
"Shut up." He sat down on the nearest chair and started to read; and because she was astoundingly hard to offend, and was possessed of endless audacity, she sat down next to him, picked up a book lying on the edge of his desk, and started to read that. It was a seventeenth century treatise on witchcraft, written in archaic English, but that didn't seem to bother her. Either that or she wasn't really reading it at all. She kept up the pretence though, until his clock beeped to tell him that it was six o'clock, and he laid aside his book and stood up. Lilah raised her eyebrows.
"Bedtime?" she inquired lazily. He glared at her.
"If I say yes, is there any chance you'll push off and leave me in peace?"
"Do you want me to?" She threw her book at him, just because she knew how protective he was of them all, and how desperate he would be to catch it and put it somewhere safe. "It's been a long day, Wes. I'm tired."
"And I've got the only bed in the city?" He kicked off his shoes and headed for the bathroom, pulling off his shirt as he went. "Suit yourself. It's a free country, or so they tell me."
"Always the gracious host." She smiled at him as he disappeared, a genuine look of fondness showing in her eyes - but when he came out of the bathroom to find her already in bed, there was no expression left on her face save a scowl.
"Shift over," he told her. She smiled.
"You're supposed to want me in the way. It makes the physical contact thing so much more physical. And contacty."
"Fair point." He pushed her out of the way anyway, all but collapsing into the bed. It was gone six in the morning now, and he had an appointment with the Lopez brothers at anytime from now onwards. He was exhausted, and had been for some days, but he knew that sleep would most likely elude him. He might get an hour or two, although the chances were that he would only get that much if Lilah stayed. If she left, the shadows were sure to catch up with him.
"Tired?" She slid closer to him, and he shot her a sidelong glance.
"With all the things you've done in your career I'm surprised you can still even think about sleep."
"All the things I've done? I've been hearing a lot of things about you Watchers, Wes, and for the most part you seem to be good guys just by your own declaring. Your society is no more saintly that mine is."
"If that's your attitude then you either don't know as much about the Watchers as you claim to, or you're quite seriously deluded about Wolfram & Hart." He closed his eyes, and thought about the Watcher Council, and wondered why the hell he was standing up for them. "Anyway, I'm not a Watcher any more, so it's all irrelevant."
"You could go back." She slid an arm beneath his shoulders so that she could hold him properly. "That might be handy actually. I could get quite a lot out of hanging with a proper Watcher. Just think of all the confidential information I could get hold of. I'd be a vice-president at Wolfram & Hart before you could get yourself fired again."
"The Watchers don't reinstate you once you've fallen from grace. And even if they did, I wouldn't be carrying on with you if I was a member. I'd get a plane straight home to Britain, and not shoot you so much as a farewell glance." He opened his eyes again, rather regretting that remark, but from the look of her she wasn't bothered by it. Lilah, it seemed, could not be hurt with any words. She smiled at him.
"I'd come with you. I've always wanted to see the Tower of London. Anyway, they reinstated your friend Giles, didn't they. The one who used to Watch that Slayer over in Sunnydale, who's got so many of the Undead shaking in their mildewed shoes?"
"Buffy. And yes, they did." He didn't bother asking her how she knew. "But that's different. There's been a member of his family in the Watchers pretty much since the organisation got started. He can raise demons, and spin black magic, and do more evil than a lot of the demons that the Slayers are trained to kill, but they'll always take him back. The rules are different when you don't have that kind of pedigree behind you." He shrugged as best he could lying down, and with her arm around his shoulders. "But it doesn't matter. I'm past needing that lot now. I don't need their name, their money or their resources. Neither does Giles, but I think it amuses him to use them."
"Mm. Maybe I should meet him." She rested her head against his, but he moved away slightly, eyeing her with faint humour.
"From what I hear you're too tame for him. His file mentions vampires and at least one evil sorceress. So unless there's something you're hiding..."
"No, no fangs. Or magical powers." She pulled him back into her embrace. "If I had fangs you'd know about them by now. I'd have killed you weeks ago, especially with that gash making all your blood so conveniently close to the surface." She ran a finger across his neck, smiling rather unpleasantly. "Does it still hurt?"
"Not as much as it did the last time you did that." He pushed her hand away, but it came back as though on a piece of elastic.
"Go on with you Wes. It's only a little scar. Besides, you like pain."
"Hardly." He didn't bother pushing her hand away again, and instead stared blankly up at the ceiling, clearly thinking about something. "If you wanted to get rid of Angel, what would you do?"
"Oh, I don't know, Say, for starters... try to turn him evil, try to turn him into a miserable, dark brood machine, bring his old girlfriend back from the dead, and then try to kidnap and dissect his baby son..." She shrugged. "Other than that I don't know. Why?"
"Just wondering. Thinking." He frowned at the ceiling as though he had never seen it before, though he had spent rather a lot of time staring at it of late. "About where he might be."
"Wes, do you think just for once we could go to bed together without you thinking about Angel?" She sighed. "It's a little intimidating, to say nothing of weird. And kind of gross. I mean, threesomes might do it for some people, but..."
"Lilah? Shut up." He slid an arm around her, holding her close, a faint smile softening the hard lines of his face. "He's just on my mind a lot, that's all. All of this is my fault, and even if it weren't, I'd still have to find him. The world needs Angel."
"Rubbish. This world needs a lot of things, Wes, but a big growly hero-complex guy isn't one of them. It'd be a whole lot more fun for the rest of us if he stayed lost." She sighed. "I'll dig out the files, and see what we've got. Maybe there's something you can use."
"You'd help?" He was surprised, and she smiled, nestling closer to him.
"No. I'd lie, and enjoy watching you go off down blind alleys. Or I'd send you to some bookworm-eating demon and amuse myself watching the police try to identify you from what's left. What do you think?"
"I think you're sick."
"Yes, probably. But you're a psychological screw up with a death wish. I know which I prefer being. Now why don't we stop being rude to each other long enough to give ourselves even more reason to be rude to each other later?"
"Shut up Wes. It's not like you ever have anything interesting to say anyway." She covered his mouth with her own, hard enough to forcibly keep him silent. One of her hands strayed back to his throat, tracing the extra sensitive line of his fading scar, and he fought back briefly. She smiled wickedly, enjoying his discomfort, pulling back to let him see the tight smirk on her mocking face. "Just relax for a while, okay? Turn off that famous brain. Forget about Angel." He opened his mouth to speak, but she put her hand across it, like a warm, soft gag.
"I said, shut up," she reminded him." Now are we going to get some sleep or what?"
"Sleep's out of the question." He took his eyes away from the ceiling, staring at her now as though she were a stranger. "I don't seem to be enjoying it much lately."
"Guilty conscience?" She sounded cheerful. "Let your morals go. Be happy."
"Yes, those pesky morals. Strangely I'm rather pleased to have them." He closed his eyes again, wondering when exactly he had grown so comfortable with her presence that he was willing to shut his eyes - and his defences - with her so close beside him. Her hands still toyed about with the scar on his throat, but he forced himself to relax anyway. Everybody had to relax sometimes - even a paranoid neurotic with an attitude problem. He smiled at the thought, and Lilah copied the expression.
"Feeling happy, lover?"
"Don't call me that. I was just thinking."
"About me actually."
"Oh." She pouted, and as his eyes opened, he saw the expression and smiled again. "You don't think about me very often, do you."
"As little as possible. I was thinking about things, that's all. The way everything has turned out."
"If it's any consolation, I like the way things have turned out." She rolled over onto her back, manoeuvring about so that she could rest her head on his chest, staring up at the ceiling that had occupied his attention for so long. His hand toyed absently with her hair.
"It's not much consolation, no. You're evil."
"Only marginally. If I was really evil, a good boy like you wouldn't be having anything to do with me." She smiled; a self-satisfied and amused smile meant only for herself. "Anyway, you said sleep was out of the question, so what do we do instead? Play I-Spy? Because frankly all I can see right now is a slightly dingy ceiling and a rather big spider, and that's not going to last us until I have to leave for work."
"Then go to work now and do us both a favour." A thought occurred to him. "And didn't we have some kind of a no talk agreement?" The tone of his voice gave the distinct impression that he was smiling, if only faintly, and to be sure of it she rolled over, taking care to rest her elbows on his stomach.
"We did. No soppy stuff and no conversation - especially planning ahead, any and all mention of relationships, and anything to do with each others families." She frowned. "Which reminds me, your mother rang when you sneaked off somewhere a couple of nights ago. Roaming the roof again trying to out-brood Angel? Anyway, I told her you'd moved. I think she thought I was a hooker."
"She would." He stifled a yawn, gratified that he had finally relaxed a little, even if there wasn't much chance of it lasting very long. It was pleasant to relax, listening to the relative quiet of a city not yet fully woken up. Lilah's elbows were still digging painfully into his stomach though, so the period of relaxation did not last terribly long. He pushed her off.
"Remind me again why I let you stay here," he complained, feeling distinctly sore. She offered him a lascivious smirk, and he glowered. "Yes. That's probably about it." She laughed lightly.
"Do you have any complaints? Only, this is turning into something dangerously close to a proper conversation, and if we break our no talking rule there are going to have to be penalties."
"Stop bloody talking then." He turned over onto his side, staring at her, and trying to remember just when he had become so used to her being there. "For somebody who doesn't want any conversation, you don't half go on."
"Wes..." She rolled over on top of him, and he froze for a second, fighting the self-preservation instincts that immediately snapped into play. She laughed at him, and he scowled, putting up only token resistance now.
"What?" he asked, sulky again, which was rather how she liked him to be. She couldn't help laughing further, much in the hope that it would make him glower all the more, then ruffled his hair in a manner guaranteed to annoy.
"Shut up." She stared down into his eyes, and wondered for the hundredth time about the darkness that seemed to exist there, then revelled in the small part she had played in bringing it to life. "If you can't think of anything better to do right now than talk, then you haven't learnt much these past weeks."
"Who said I'm the one who's been learning?" He let the last of his tension seep away, and smiled almost tenderly - not that he would ever admit to anything truly tender existing between himself and the woman he professed to hate. Lilah hit him with a pillow, none too gently.
"I do," she shot back, with what might have been her most wicked smile yet. "So why don't we move on to the next lesson?"
Lilah. It's a question I've asked myself so many times. Why her? Sure, she came to me, which I suppose made it easier. It's not like I set out to find her. But even so - what was it about her that let her get to me? I was on the defensive the whole time, and still she managed to get to me. Nobody else ever managed that, except maybe Angel. I've always been so good at keeping people at a distance. And then she creeps in, with her insults, and her insinuations and her stupid comments; that book she brought me, just to rub in everything that I'd done. I hated her for that, the way I didn't even hate Justine. But all this time later, and she's still here. She lets herself into my place, she's often here waiting for me when I come back from nights out looking for news. She brings me things she's knows I'll like; books believed lost, obscure translations of old texts. Who else could turn up at my door with a copy of Plato's Republic in Kungai? They barely even have a written language. So is that why I keep letting her back in? Because she brings me fascinating books? Hardly. If that's all it takes to get under my skin I'd be spending two nights in every three in bed with Shambro, the twisted old Rime demon who runs my favourite book store - and slime aside, he's really not my type. But then neither's Lilah. She's evil. She set out to use Cordelia's visions against her. She tried to undermine Angel Investigations at every turn. She's tried dozens of times to recruit me into Wolfram & Hart, and common sense even if nothing else ought to be keeping me well away - but I've never pushed her out of the door, even if I have pushed her out of bed once or twice. I lie there with her beside me, and wonder if I'm just letting her stay so that there's someone there. Then I start thinking that maybe California is getting to me more than I'd realised. My father would be horrified at the notion of me sitting here, writing about insecurities and feelings in my journal. All this self-analysis can't be a good idea. But then neither can sleeping with Lilah. I should kick her out of the door and tell her never to come back. Tell her that I'm one of the good guys, and that I don't need her kind of companionship. But what happens then? I'd be lying if I said I'd be happy with just a few casual acquaintances from Nancy's for company. All those years keeping to myself, but I've got used to having friends and colleagues around me now. I suppose I came to depend too much on Cordelia and Gunn... and the others. I miss arguing about who's going to lay the traps for the rats in the basement. I miss the taste of that dreadful coffee in the machine in the main office. I miss being distracted when I'm on the phone to the bank manager, or some prospective client, because a big green demon dressed the way even Elton John never dared, keeps sashaying about the lobby singing I'm Every Woman. And now that that's all gone, maybe Lilah is better than the nothing I'd have instead. But like I said - too much self-analysis. It's not supposed to be my style. My kind just gets on with life. An attitude like that has its advantages, believe me, even if it is rather suffocating at times.
Anyway, enough mawkishness. The Lopez brothers turned up at eight, which was clearly too early for Lilo, or for his stomach at least. One less customer at Nancy's is likely to be ordering Kappa worms in future, that's for sure. They woke me up with their knocking, and I slipped out of bed in the hope that I wouldn't wake Lilah, only to come back and find that she was up, dressed and raring to go. She'd heard everything of course, and I was glad that I hadn't been discussing anything incriminating. No mention of Justine, or even of Angel. Just Kappa worms mostly, and Lilo's moans about indigestion and internal nibbling. I know curry can have some startling effects later, but clearly Kappa worms are a hundred times worse. I commiserated as well I was able, anyway, which wasn't much. What do you expect when you're half human and you try eating live demon worms? Idiot. Marco wasn't very sympathetic either.
Lilah wanted to know everything, obviously. I told her the Brothers Weird were looking for Angel, and she looked like she was hearing a story she'd already heard far too often. I was counting on that. Bore her enough about Angel and she's less likely to ask awkward questions later. She wanted to know about the bone disks I was using as payment, anyway. Apparently Wolfram & Hart have had dealings with Llasks in the past - that one-eyed bounty hunter, I'll bet. Seems they make their own bone disks for payment, anyway, which is worth noting. I'd like to know where they get the bones from for starters. I didn't tell her about the demon currency exchange. Well she should know about stuff like that already if she's serious about this demon thing, and besides, it's a story that always sounds insane when you're telling it. Don't know why - stands to reason that demons are going to need to trade with each other occasionally, and if they're all going to come here from their different levels of hell, and their various different dimensions, they're obviously going to have different currencies. Hence the exchange, hidden beneath an old church on fifth. The church was sold years ago, and converted into a night-club, and I think it's mostly a singles bar these days. Downstairs it's quite different though, and if you speak enough languages you can get hold of just about every currency you can name. Handy when you employ so many informants and detectives, of so many different types.
Lilah left soon after the Lopez brothers. I told her not to bother coming back, but since I do that most mornings I don't think she's likely to take any notice. Wonder what I'd do if she did? Maybe she'll try that one day, and see if it'll make me come looking. Well she'll be disappointed if she tries that route. I may not especially want to be alone, but there's very little else that I'm more accustomed to. I don't go looking for anybody. Not like that. Still, I doubt the situation is ever going to arise in this relationship. Sorry. Not relationship. Whatever. There's something that she wants, anyway, and whatever it is, it keeps her coming back here, with her peculiar gifts and irregular offers, and cool, easy insults. Infuriating bloody woman. Still - complaining about her, and swearing at her, is easier than admitting that I've come to enjoy having her around.
The night couldn't come quickly enough for Wesley. He spent the day reading and collating his notes; flicking restlessly between one old book and another, or reading back through his careful accounts of every clue and rumour he had been able to uncover about Angel's possible whereabouts. At around noon he drifted off to sleep for a while, sprawled on a chair in a patch of sunlight, listening with half an ear to somebody on the floor below arguing away on the telephone. Whoever it was, their life seemed to have no problems in it more serious than the menu of some future dinner party. Wesley smiled as he slept, although he didn't dream; and below him the argument rose and fell in volume, before fizzling out. Whoever it was using the phone rang off with a clatter that was loud enough to wake the man dozing on the floor above - not that it could ever have taken much to wake him up. He sat silently for a moment or two, reorienting himself, checking the time and clearing the sleep from his head; then he went out. There was no sense in letting the day waste away when he had things to do.
He started by finding Raymond's - a few blocks from Caritas, just as the Lopez brothers had said. Not that Caritas was still there of course. The smouldering ruin that Wesley had last seen on the night of Connor's birth was now a cold, blackened place full of litter that had fallen down from the street above. He looked about, mostly because he had been feeling nostalgic for the place, and amused himself by testing to see if the non-violence spell was still in place. Remarkably it seemed to be; not that it had ever proved to be much good in the days when the club had still been a going concern.
Raymond's was a small place, considerably less grand even than a shattered and blackened Caritas, situated halfway along an alley that seemed to be a shortcut between two particularly grim roads. There was a delivery lorry parked outside, and two uncomfortably large men who were unloading crates of beer. They nodded a greeting to Wesley, who did his best to look as though he wasn't loitering, then fell into a noisy argument about whether or not they were delivering the right load. He slipped on past them then, several possible answers ready in case he was challenged, and had a quick look at the bar itself. It was considerably smaller than Nancy's, decorated at some point in the eighties by the look of things, and never updated. Pink neon strip lights stretched across the walls, and a number of palm trees had been painted about the place. The floor was tiled in white, with occasional scatterings of electric blue, and the drinks bar itself was a shiny mass of mirrors and neon. Wesley decided that he was very glad he wasn't seeing it at night, with all the neon switched on.
"If you're looking for the owner he's not around. Gone to the bank I think." It was one of the delivery men, looking horribly big as he loomed in the doorway, carrying an unnecessarily large amount of beer. Wes, never the most muscular of men, thought unkind things about hernias, and wished that the man would put down at least one of the crates.
"Okay." To cover himself, on the off chance that word might get back to Justine about a British man looking about the place, he put on what he hoped was an American accent. It wasn't something that usually worked very well when he tried it, so he kept his words to a minimum. "Thanks."
"You want to hang around, or shall we give him a message?" The second delivery man had come in now. He had a look on his face that suggested suspicion - or perhaps he was just curious about this obviously English man with his clearly put on peculiar voice.
"No." He felt confident about that one syllable - it was the one thing he felt sure he could say without his accent failing dismally. "Er... thanks." He flashed a confident smile at both men, and walked back out of the place without looking back. One of his hands hovered within easy reach of the stake he always carried with him, although it wasn't much good against humans except as a cosh. Neither man stopped him though, and he left the building and the alley quickly, but without any obvious hurry. He had seen what he needed to see - Raymond's was no place to confront Justine. He would have to catch her in the alley outside. There was a lot of time to kill then, if he was going to wait until the place closed for the night. That seemed to be the most sensible time to approach her, and the most likely time to find her alone, but it left him at rather a loose end until the early hours. He thought about heading for the Hyperion to see how everybody was, but he knew that it would only depress him. Angel and Cordelia weren't there anyway, and he doubted that Gunn or Fred would be terribly happy to see him. He wasn't sure that he wanted to see them either, even if just from a distance. Abandoning the idea, he chose a different route, and whiled away the afternoon at the firing range. Not that he needed the practice; he had been a crack shot for years. It was something to do though, and the crumpled Irish American who ran the place was always happy to see him. He was a tough New Yorker; a former policeman who found the well-spoken, supremely well educated Englishman to be deeply fascinating. Wesley just liked spending some time with somebody who didn't even believe in magic, let alone demons, vampires and the other things that made up Wesley's normal world.
There was a party of businessmen from Dallas at the range, all loud cheer and macho competition. Wesley and Mannion, the ex-policeman who owned the place, mocked them quietly from a corner and engaged in a little competition of their own. Soon enough, though, it was time to leave. Mannion bade him a fond farewell at the door, firmly in the belief that Wes was heading home to a fiancée, a seaside apartment, and a home office dedicated to his own estate agency. Quite when the lies had become so detailed, Wes didn't remember; he just knew that Mannion was a very hard man not to talk to, and he could hardly tell him the truth. He certainly wasn't going to tell him that he was going, not to an expensive house by the beach, but to a dimly lit couple of rooms in an apartment block in the middle of the city. There was no fiancée waiting there for him either, and at this time of day there would be no blindingly annoying, and deeply disturbing, attractive, evil lawyer, either.
Somebody had been to the apartment though. Not a beautiful fiancée or a member of staff from the non-existent estate agency needless to say - but there was a note pushed under the door. It was written on a sheet of green-tinged animal hide, the writing itself heavy and large, in ink made from some kind of charcoal solution. He read it automatically, without having to think about the translation, or even about the language in which it was written.
Forget about Angelus, it said, in spiky and irregular script, or you'll finish up where he is. Wesley threw it aside. It wasn't the first such warning he had received. There were a lot of people - and a lot more who were anything but people - who had no desire to see the vampire back amongst them, fighting their multitudinous wrongs. There was no reason to suspect that the author of this latest note really knew where Angel was, in order to make good on his threat to send Wesley there to join him; he was just trying out a particularly unoriginal kind of pressure. All the same, it went in the "In" file, to be checked out later, and traced back to its source if possible. There would be another being to interrogate then; some new line of inquiry to open, and a new jumble of possible places to search for a sign of Angel. They would probably come to nothing, just as all the others had done, but Wesley had to try them. Angel had to be found.
He got his equipment together quickly, not wanting to risk being met by Lilah before he could leave the building. He didn't usually see her so early, but she liked to catch him by surprise when she could, and technically it was now after official business hours. Not that Wolfram & Hart had business hours as such. Any firm that dealt with creatures from innumerable hell dimensions had to maintain a working day that stretched rather beyond the usual nine to five.
Working fast, he changed clothes, looking for something black and comfortable. Something that would help him to stay invisible whilst he waited outside Raymond's. He settled in the end for black jeans, and a sweatshirt just loose enough in the sleeves to hide an ivory-handled knife strapped to his left forearm, and a satisfyingly long wooden stake strapped to his right. Both were spring loaded, and he was well practised enough to be able to have them to hand in a split second. He smiled grimly as he loaded a gleaming black automatic pistol, and stuck it in the back of his jeans. If Father could see me now... It was what he always came to mind in such moments, but it wasn't a particularly pleasant thought. Wesley's world had always been one of tightly knotted ties and perfectly ironed suits; of courtesy, perfect manners and endless convention. When he had first started to throw all that aside, in the months before Connor had been born, it had been almost giddyingly liberating. Now, when everything had gone so much further, it felt rather different. Still - his old self would just have to get used to it, and shut the hell up.
He slid another ammunition clip into one of the pockets of his jeans, and put a small plastic box into another. It was a featureless box, unmarked and unadorned, but its contents were less simple and plain. There was a hypodermic syringe inside, with an array of gleaming needles, and two tiny bottles. One contained a drug powerful enough to knock out several vampires, the other a slightly unpredictable antidote. He had bought them both from Tex, his Graal friend at Nancy's, and had used them both often enough to know that they could be counted upon to work. Granted he had never yet tried them out on a person, but Justine was as fitting a guinea pig as he was ever likely to find; and he had been assured that they weren't dangerous to humans. Tex wasn't known as a liar, and Wesley trusted him - certainly enough to chance Justine's continuing health on his word, anyway. With a last look around to be sure that he hadn't forgotten anything, Wesley hurried out, and let the increasingly unstable door click itself locked behind him.
Nancy's was fairly quiet so early in the evening, but he wanted to go somewhere that he knew Lilah never visited, and where he could be as conversational or as isolationist as he wanted until it was time to start out for Raymond's. By his watch it was nearly eight in the evening, and Justine wouldn't be leaving the club until at least two. He planned to be there early, but still had several hours to kill.
He ordered a pint of the perpetual Guinness, and managed to persuade Samantha to bring him some human food to go with it. It took some time to convince her that human food wasn't made out of actual humans, but she seemed to get the message in the end, and returned eventually with some salad and a plate of fries. He was fairly certain that not all of the ingredients of the salad had grown on Earth, and she insisted on bringing him a side serving of Talesian parasite worms as well, but on the whole he thought of his order as a success. He settled back to eat, trying to avoid watching Tex and his fellow Graals tearing each other to pieces in the ring, and idly listened in to the conversation on other tables. Here were demons of several different species, for the most part harmless at least to the humans they lived alongside, relaxing together in just the way that humans were doing in a hundred other bars across Los Angeles. Later in the evening the violent ones would move in, and the gentle conversation would turn into arguments; the ring would fill up with creatures bearing genuine grievances; and Wesley would be considerably less safe than he was now. For the moment, though, he listened to a proud Fell father telling an acquaintance about his new baby, and studiously ignored the two Tuniths planning a bank robbery at the next table. Tex came over for a while, to snack appreciatively on the heavily spiced parasite worms - which were either dead or severely stoned by the firewater that half filled the bowl they were served in - but Wesley was not in the mood for conversation. He was too restless, and too focused on thoughts of Justine. Tex teased him about his agitation, and managed to coax him into a half-hearted exchange of opinion on Graal literature, but by the time a handful of his scaly relatives joined them to enthuse over Hollywood's latest blood and guts extravaganza, Wesley had mostly tuned out. Later on, when the Graals headed cheerfully off towards the ring, ready to begin slaughtering each other once more, he ordered a final drink and started to think about leaving.
It wasn't hard to find Raymond's again. A large neon sign in the shape of a lurid palm tree lit up half of the front of the building, although the club's name, written in pink lighting, was flashing rather uncertainly and had lost its 'm'. The letter itself was still there, but the bulb merely hummed uselessly, and spat sparks at the passers-by. A crowd of students was heading along the alleyway, clearly making for the bar, and Wes hung back to let them go in. They were a happy, noisy crowd, obviously in search of cheap alcohol in a place that wouldn't ask them for proof of their age. They vanished inside in a babble of merry, careless conversation, and the door swung shut to seal them inside. Wesley walked on past, and slid unnoticed into a gap between two buildings a little further along the alley. It wasn't a large space; just a simple quirk of architecture; but it was big enough for him to stand in, far enough back to be invisible to anybody walking past. He was fairly sure that Justine would walk that way after leaving the club, since none of the other likely routes had anything much in the way of residential accommodation for some distance. Even if she didn't come in his direction, he ought to be able to see before she got too far ahead; unless he was so far off his game that he deserved to miss her. He checked his watch. It was half past midnight, which was later than he had thought. Clearly he had stayed longer at Nancy's than he had realised. Not that it mattered much now. Half of the demons he had been discussing literature and film with were probably dead in the ring by now, and if he didn't handle his confrontation with Justine well, he would likely be going to join them. His fingers stroked at the spring-loaded triggers that would shoot his hidden weapons out of his sleeves and into his hands if he needed them, and he thought about the knife that was pressed against his left arm. It was bigger and heavier than the knife Justine had used to slit his throat, but her weapon had been effective enough. It would be again, too, if he gave her enough of a chance to use it.
People walked back and forth along the alleyway for most of the night, and he was surprised to see how popular Raymond's was. Most of the clientele were young; the eighteen to twenty-one group who didn't appreciate the drinking laws, as well as one or two older types. The ones who clearly still yearned for the eighties, when they, and the club, had still been in their prime. They turned up in ones and twos, dressed like Don Johnson in Miami Vice, and Wes eyed every one of them with suspicion. People who looked like they belonged in another decade were very often vampires, still stuck in the era they had been turned in. Justine probably kept an eye on them all though. She might have been unhinged, and possibly evil, but she wouldn't let vampires have free range through her customers. He trusted her that far at least.
A light rain fell at around one, but for the most part it didn't reach him. Later it dried up, and the weather changed to a hot and airless mockery of the pleasantly warm day that had preceded it. The walls of the buildings he stood between were cool enough to give some relief, but he wished for a breeze nonetheless. It didn't come. Instead the clouds gathered overhead, highlighted by a hundred shades of screaming neon, and he wondered if he was in for a storm.
Two o'clock came with an explosion of noise; a bursting open of the door of the club, and a raucous cacophony of drunken singing. Wesley watched the students and the eighties flashbacks as they struggled off home, bellowing songs he didn't know in a badly off kilter chorus. At the end of the alley they split off in several noisy directions, heading to wherever it was that they had come from. None of them saw the dark figure lurking nearby, which was probably for the best. It was the sort of thing that could be rather hard to explain.
The staff started to leave soon after two. A pair of young men, the first Wes had seen who were sober, came out together, distinguishable from the clientele by their Raymond's shirts - bright red things, with the name embroidered in yellow on the back and the chest. A pale young woman followed some ten minutes later, and Wes stretched his arms and legs as quietly as possible. A drop of rain fell. The alley remained empty of any sign of his quarry. He wondered if she had some other entrance she liked to leave by, or if she had decided to stay in the bar tonight. He had no idea what kind of relationship she might have with the proprietor, after all.
Half past two went by. Another young man in a red Raymond's shirt came out of the bar, taking the other way out of the alley. A powerful blue car drew up and he climbed inside, then the roar of the engine subsided into silence. Wesley felt a few more drops of rain, and thought he heard a roll of thunder. Raymond's was silent and still.
She came as the rain started to fall in earnest, hitting the tarmac with real energy, and bouncing about in an excitable spray. Wesley stared at her as she came closer; the face he had never really hoped to see again; the deadly hands currently clutching nothing more menacing than a gaudily striped umbrella. She looked impatient - annoyed that she had been held up for so long that she had been caught by the rain. Her misfortune was Wesley's gain, however, even if it did mean that he had got wet as well. Everybody else had gone. The alley was empty save for himself and his quarry, and the timing could not have been better. Waiting until she had gone a few steps past him, he stepped silently out of his hiding place.
"Justine." He kept his voice very steady, very level. There was no emotion in it - this was no time for anger or hatred, and he certainly couldn't think about revenge. He was here for one reason only - though there was no reason for her to know that. She froze, standing stock still for perhaps two seconds, then turned around very slowly. Her self control was impressive, and she certainly showed no sign of fear. He wasn't surprised. Justine didn't do fear. It wasn't her style.
"Pryce." She seemed surprised, which was understandable. She had probably never expected to see him again. "Hello."
"I think we can forget the pleasantries." He took a step towards her, but just the one. He had no intention of getting within arm's reach of her. She was dangerous, and he could never forget that. She smiled at him, her face clear and unblurred by the rain, thanks to her umbrella. It gave her the advantage of vision, but he was willing to grant her that match point, since it also kept her hands occupied.
"You're looking for Angel." She seemed delicately amused. "I suppose I should have expected somebody to come looking. One of his bizarre little entourage. For some reason I didn't expect you though."
"Why? Didn't think I cared?" She smiled lightly, and shook her head.
"Hardly. You care about him more than those others, you proved that. Why do you think I was so willing to kill you? I just didn't expect you to be the one who'd come after me." Her head cocked slightly on one side, adding to her air of calm interest. "So what's it going to be? Kidnap and torture? There's nothing I wouldn't expect from a vampire lover."
"Yes. We always were the bad guys to you, weren't we." He remembered how all of Holtz's people had found it so hard to believe that anyone could work willingly for Angel. None of them could accept that he was a good man, working to good ends.
"Well hey Wes, if the shoe fits..." She held out her umbrella. "Want to get out of the rain?"
"Strangely enough, I don't plan on getting that close to you." He drew his gun, smiling tightly. "Shall we go to your place or mine?"
"You think you can take me through the streets at gun point? It may be nearly three in the morning, but there are still people around. Real people too, not just vampires. LA never sleeps."
" I don't intend to take you anywhere at gun point. I just expect you to understand that the gun's here, and that I can use it any time I want. You try to escape and I'll shoot you no matter who's watching. LA may never sleep, but it also never bothers to report a shooting. Or hadn't you noticed?"
"You have a low opinion of our fellow citizens, Wes." She was looking wary now, and he knew that he had her on the defensive. She believed that he might shoot her, even if only because she would do it herself in the circumstances.
"I don't have a low opinion of anybody except you right now. But I do know what people are like when it comes to gunshots. So why don't you come along quietly, and let me get the chance to ask you a few questions before I have to kill you?"
"Well when you make it as inviting as that..." Her eyes were cold and her lips were thin and tight. "Congratulations. I didn't think anybody could sneak up and get the drop on me."
"I doubt many people would want to."
"Maybe. Maybe not. To be honest I have sort of been expecting someone. I thought that the circumstances would be different though. A bullet out of nowhere; a knife; a blunt object. Maybe a nice wooden stake?"
"I don't want you dead." He shrugged. "Not yet, anyway. Strangely I'm not that fussed about how you end up eventually."
"I probably deserve that. But don't expect any apologies, Pryce. I thought there was real poetry in what I did. A kind of justice if you like. You work for a vampire, you choose him above your own kind - so I cut your throat open, the way he probably would have torn it open himself one day. You got the same as his victims did, which is no more than you deserved."
"Possibly." Her opinion didn't matter to him in the slightest, and if she was really determined to see him as the bad guy, he wasn't going to waste his energies arguing. "Now let's get moving shall we? I'd like to get out of the rain."
"I offered you my umbrella. We could get pretty cosy under here together." Her smile was cold, and she was making no attempt to pretend that her intentions were honourable. He knew exactly what she would do if he got that close to her.
"I'll carry on getting wet, thanks." The weather was against him, but he would just have to put up with that. The rain had half-blinded him, and he could hardly hear her voice or his, but he didn't think anybody would be coming along the alley. They had no reason to at this time of the night.
"Your choice. I won't offer to nurse you back to health when you've got pneumonia."
"I'm gutted." He gestured with the gun for her to move past him, and she pouted.
"I thought you said your place or mine? I'd like it to be mine."
"I'm sure you would. When I said that it wasn't a serious offer. We're going to my place."
"But it's such a long walk..." She scowled at the notion, and moved a little closer. He stepped smoothly aside.
"Long walks are good for the soul. Though of course I'm not entirely sure that you have one of those."
"Ouch. You do hold a grudge, don't you." She smiled quite dazzingly, for once losing all trace of the bitterness that always seemed to fill her eyes. "But then so do I. I think we have something else in common too."
"Planning ahead." She moved past him, exactly as directed, shooting him a bloodcurdling stare as she went. The hatred in her eyes was unmistakable, but Wesley was prepared to grant her that, so long as he still had the gun. His eyes narrowed at that comment though. It seemed so off-hand, and yet... A roll of thunder crashed overhead, and in the accompanying flash of lightning - an unattractive mix of blue with the hot yellow and pink of the nearby neons - Justine's face took on a greater menace. She seemed to be smiling, and in that second of weird lighting his senses danced a mad tattoo upon his brain. Something was wrong. He didn't want to take his eyes off her - didn't want to risk losing his advantage - but he knew that he had to turn around. The lightning bolt turned itself off, the world crashed back into semi-darkness, and the heavy rain became heavier still. His senses sang at him, and he risked the briefest look behind him. He couldn't see much. His eyes were full of salty water, and he didn't dare more than the swiftest glance, but he saw something. A shadow? Two shadows? Two large shapes that shouldn't have been there but were. He spun back to face Justine, and gestured with the gun.
"Call them off or I'll shoot."
"Will you? Before you find out what I know about Angel?" She shrugged. "Maybe I don't care. I've not been afraid of dying since my sister was killed. You know all about my twin sister, right Wes?"
"You're afraid. Most people are when it comes to the crunch." He shot another glance back over his shoulder, and this time thought that he heard a noise. Damn it, who were these people, and why couldn't he see them properly? His position was horribly precarious. It would be too easy for a pair of assailants to disarm him before he could bring the gun to bear on either of them, or make good on his threat to kill Justine. He wasn't sure that he could really go through with that last anyway. She was the killer here, not him, even if she did always see him as being the bad guy.
"I'm afraid?" Her smile was like ice; smug, self-satisfied ice, that bit deep. "I'm not the one trying to look in two directions at once. Is your pulse racing, Pryce? Are you wondering what kind of a chance you've got?"
"I'm wondering what kind of a chance your two friends think they've got." He took a swift couple of paces forward, breaking his own rule about not getting too close to her. "Call them off."
"Well I would..." She sounded anything but compliant. "Thing is, though, they're really not the type to do as they're told. And in all this rain it's so hard to make yourself heard." Another roll of thunder echoed above, and this time the lightning came with greater intensity. A shadow was stretched out on the ground at Wesley's feet, and instinct alone told him that it wasn't his. He whirled around, but the lightning had already gone, and without it the alley seemed darker than before. Wesley could see nothing save the echoes of the former light repeating behind his eyes. He heard a footstep, and spun back again just in time to catch Justine coming at him. Her eyes were as cold as ever, and he didn't need to see the gleam of pink neon against metal to know that she had a knife in her hand. His own hand went to meet it, the speed of years of practice bringing his gun up hard and fast enough to collide with the striking blade. He nearly dropped the gun; she fumbled and did drop the knife. She swore, lashing out with the umbrella and missing by a hair. Wesley's free hand came up, heading smoothly and swiftly for a paralysing grip on her neck; one of the first things that any young Watcher learnt. It was simple and brutally effective, but it didn't get the chance to connect. As he was reaching for her, compensating for her attempt to dodge aside, mind taken up with that brief struggle, he felt rather than saw the shadow again. The long shadow that was where his own should be, and yet clearly didn't belong to him. Something cold ran up his spine, like the breath of some frozen beast, and as his fingers touched Justine's neck, something heavy crashed into his shoulder. His arms went numb. Another peal of thunder brought him a second's heightened vision; a blur of Justine retreating, a multitude of pounding rain trying to blind him; a fluid shadow swirling about at his ankles - then suddenly the ground was rushing up to meet him, and there was tarmac all around. He tasted rainwater; caught a blinding flash of renewed lightning reflected in the puddles before his eyes. There was pressure on his back and ice rushing over his skin, and the breath was chilled in his lungs. Something scrabbled at the ground, sending wet stones skittering away. Then a single footstep chased away these strange phantoms of sound and vision, and before his eyes he saw a knife. Justine's knife.
"What about now, Wes?" There was a jauntiness in her voice that was utterly repulsive. It was a sharp, bitter contrast to her usual attitude to life; to everything. Wesley tried to struggle to his feet.
"I wouldn't fight too hard if I was you. If you excite my bodyguards I probably won't be able to stop them from shredding you."
"Bodyguards?" Whatever was holding him clearly wasn't human. Why would Justine-? But the thoughts were whirling into one another, as the pressure and the cold took their toll on his body and his mind. The thunder and the lightning were frequent now; a dizzying kaleidoscope to further confuse his ebbing senses. Justine laughed at him, but the laughter sounded skewed and far away.
"Poor Wesley. Always underestimating me." The knife flashed and sparkled, and for an instant he saw the palm tree of Raymond's gaudy visage reflected perfectly inside it. He wondered if she was about to finish what she had started all those weeks before, and felt his throat muscles tense. As if somehow that would stop the knife from forcing itself through them, to work its mischief once again. Instead she simply retreated.
"Go away, Wesley." Her voice was cold and empty again, the mockery and humour gone back into hiding beneath the general unpleasantness of her usual self. "Go home. Look for Angel somewhere else, and don't come here again."
"I don't understand." It took all his strength just to speak. In the manic pulsing of the sky's electric lights he could see the black, fluid shadows that were rolling and gliding around him, chilling him with every touch. He could see Justine's face looming above him, but it was rippling and fading as though the rain between them were a river of increasing depth. She didn't appear to be laughing anymore.
"Forget about me." Her voice came from so far away that she might almost be at the other end of the alley. Bands of increasing pressure; of increasing cold; wrapped themselves around his chest, his arms, his neck. He tried to speak again, but he couldn't. When next the thunder roared overhead he barely heard it at all. He was fighting to breathe, and his hands wouldn't obey him. He was thinking of the knife and the stake so close by; weapons that might help him to regain the initiative if only he could get hold of them. He couldn't move a muscle. The weapons were as useless as if he had left them behind back in his apartment. He tried to breathe - got nothing but rainwater. Could see nothing but rainwater. Somewhere in the back of his mind echoed a deep, throaty growl - then all was cold and wet, and dark and strange. After that there was nothing at all.
I'm not used to waking up in the street. It happened once, in London, when I was about twenty-two, and determined to get drunk. They were so strict in those days. I was trying to get by doing a masters degree in ancient languages, and studying several dozen demon tongues at the same time as all the human ones. Everyone kept talking about me like a commodity instead of a person, and they bandied about all these moronic phrases. 'Linguistics prodigy'. They'd been using that one for most of my life, and they'd get so excited about it - but they'd never let me relax. If I was such a prodigy surely I didn't need to work so hard? But the Watchers have been extra careful ever since bloody Giles picked up that Ripper nickname, after breaking out of the security stranglehold supposed to keep him at Oxford. He went on a drink and drugs and bad magic roller-coaster ride that lasted several years, and the rest of us got put on leashes so short there was no danger of anything like relaxation. Not that I really wanted to relax, in all honesty. I'd been living with rules and regulations of one kind or another all my life, and I loved it all, or thought I did. Being the good boy, studying hard, never breaking a rule or worrying a single grey hair on any one of those grey heads in the Watcher Council. Properly shocked by all the whispers I used to hear about everything that the legendary Ripper had got up to when he was my age. Everybody has their limits though I suppose, and one day I just knew that I wanted to find out what it was like to break the rules. Even just one. I wasn't going to go filling up on illegal substances, or summoning demons, or doing goodness knows what in that 'dark whirling maelstrom' that was supposed to be London's secret Underworld. The idea of any of that terrified me, the way it was supposed to. I was scared off by my Watcher elders and betters the way that Giles had completely failed to be. Looking back of course, it doesn't sound frightening at all; just all so exciting and wild. Like the stories of heady psychedelia in the sixties; crazy parties in smoky rooms, but with demons instead of hookers. Or maybe both, I don't know. I wish I'd found out. Maybe it was just the drugs and the psychedelic lifestyle that Giles was looking for back in the seventies; maybe he wanted the demons all along. Me, I just wanted to try something different, so I went out one night after some big exam that meant everything then, but which I don't remember a thing about now, and I got completely drunk. In the past I'd hardly had more than a swallow or two for toasts . My father would never have allowed me to touch alcohol, and these things aren't easy to come by in strict boarding schools either. So that night it wasn't hard to go off the rails, and wind up lying in the street completely paralytic. A policeman dumped me back at my digs - Council owned, needless to say - and I slept it all off in a flower bed beside a statue of some illustrious forbear. Another bloody Giles, probably. Goodness knows there have been enough of them, outliving us all, and permeating the Watcher ranks throughout the centuries. Good little Watchers every one, save for the ultimate rebel I never had the guts to try to be like.
This time, outside Raymond's, there wasn't any policeman. There was no flower bed, either, or statue. I don't know when I woke up, although I know I was surprised that I did. I'm still surprised. Why didn't they kill me? It's not as if they didn't have plenty of opportunity. I feel rather like I did that night when I met Justine last. Lying on the ground, all cold, waiting to bleed to death and wondering why the hell I wasn't. Is there a guardian angel for useless former Watchers? Somebody lost in the ether who enjoys saving the lives of people that the world would probably do better without? It certainly feels like it when you're lying on the ground with your throat slit open, and life won't walk out on you. When you're being held down by a pair of murderous demons, whilst a psychopathic woman with a knife hovers about in front of you, and you know that she hates every incompetent inch of you. Why the hell did I wake up in that alley? I don't know. But I did wake up, anyway, and I suppose that's all that matters. I was soaking wet, although the rain had stopped. I don't think I've ever been so cold in my life, and I certainly hope that I never am again. The sun was coming up, and somebody had switched off that nauseating palm tree. Some overhead light had a bad case of the jitters, and it was flickering like mad. It screwed up my eyes and my head - not that there was much of my head left to screw up. I think I probably swore quite a bit, then I picked up my gun, made sure that everything else was where it should be, and somehow made it home. I don't know how the hell I got here. That guardian angel of useless former Watchers again I suppose, guiding me through all that early morning screaming, manic traffic. Listen to me - 'screaming, manic traffic'. What happened to listing the facts only? The Watcher Council would have forty fits if they read this journal now. Still, they sacked me, so it's their fault however the hell I've turned out.
I don't know where Lilah is. How's that for a change of subject? Usually she'd be here by now, but she might have gone home if she came here earlier and found out I wasn't around. I don't know if I'm glad or not. Glad she wasn't here to see me collapse in through the doorway looking like hypothermia incarnate, half blind and soaked through, and seeing doubles and triples of everything. She'd have asked what happened, and wouldn't have shut up until I told her something. Then we'd have argued about it all morning, and I'm not in the mood for her mind games right now. On the other hand, the conversation might help. I've dried off, I don't feel like I'm about to die of cold anymore, but my head is still doing flip-flops.
They were Glimmer demons, from what I can work out. I couldn't see them; they looked like little more than shadows; but there were inky black shapes and icy cold breaths, and that all spells Glimmer. They come from one of the hell dimensions that nobody ever wants to go to; all eternal night and everlasting winter, and a sky like thick black paint. Glimmers are perfectly substantial, but they don't look like it. They don't look like much, actually; they're so black and smooth and shiny that you can't really see them at all when you look at them directly. They just look like shadows, oozing about the place. They're cold-blooded, and one touch will suck the warmth out of you. That's always been the theory, anyway. I'd like to confirm most of it here and now. They're not my favourite creatures, I've decided - but after a hot shower, several whiskies, and some tea hot enough to burn a hole in the back of my throat, I think I'm pretty much back together again. I'm just angry now. What the bloody hell was Justine doing with a pair of Glimmer demons, and why didn't the Lopez brothers notice them? Actually, to be fair Llasks have dreadful night vision - so why they have a fondness for atmospherically shadowy and gloomy subterranean tunnels I don't know. Anyway, whatever the reasons, I went in there tonight looking like an idiot. All confidence and no forethought. I was certain I'd be able to get to her; take her somewhere quiet and make her talk. Instead I get sat on by a pair of Glimmer demons, and she gets away. It doesn't make any sense. She hates demons. If she hates them less than she hates vampires it's only because they didn't kill her sister. So why the demonic bodyguards now? Unless she's really scared of something. She said she was expecting somebody to come after her, and that she'd been expecting just a bullet, no chat. I suppose there must be someone she's afraid of. Not me, obviously, given how easily the Glimmer guards got rid of me. I'd be insulted, but my interest seems to be reawakening itself. There's things here worth looking into, so I'm going to have to have another go at getting close to the whole mad bunch of them. Tomorrow night, then, with an anti-Glimmer arsenal, and some proper planning. She knows something, I know she does - and she's going to talk if it takes me the rest of the year. After tonight I've got a lot to make up for.
Wesley abandoned all hope of catching Justine by surprise. He couldn't hope to sneak up on her with a pair of Glimmer demons watching her back, and he had no intention of again making the mistake of trying. With that in mind he headed to Raymond's the following night at around midnight, and went inside the club with a handful of students. He was armed much as before, though he didn't expect the gun to be much use in a crowded club. It was a part of going prepared, though, and he wasn't going to risk facing Justine without the means by which to defend himself. That would likely be suicide even without the demons to back her up.
He made his way to the bar by fighting past a throng of middle aged businessmen who were trying desperately to look cool, and ordered a beer. A rather waifish girl who looked as though her ID was as false as anything carried by half of the customers pushed the glass across the bar, and smiled dazzlingly. He wasn't entirely sure that he didn't prefer Samantha's growls and glowers. Friendliness was a habit out of which it seemed all too easy to grow.
"Justine around?" he asked casually, hoping she was still using her real name. The girl nodded.
"Somewhere about. Try the tables, where the diners are."
"Thanks." He gave her some money, deciding that he preferred the prices at Nancy's as well as the service, then headed off to look about properly. Tables? Clearly Raymond's was a lot bigger than its outside suggested.
He found the diners on the other side of the dance floor, though reaching them proved awkward. A pair of very drunk girls looking as though they were too young even to be drinking in his country, let alone in theirs, tried to make him join in their dancing, and he tried to fend them off as subtly as possible. He had no wish to draw any attention to himself. As if to intentionally thwart that plan, a very large, florid man dressed in shades of white and pastel pink that did nothing for his complexion, collided with him violently, apologised at the top of his voice, and started trying to buy everybody drinks as compensation for the disturbance. Wesley eventually slipped on past, leaving the big man talking largely to himself. Several diners looked up as he threaded his way past them, but if they were at all bothered by his presence it was probably only because they were surprised to see someone who was not drunk, underage, or dressed in oversized clothes of a pastel hue. In his black attire - what he saw as his fighting gear - he looked a little odd, he had to admit. Dark and sinister, and a cutting contrast to the rowdy, merrymakers spread all around him. He didn't care. Pastels had never looked good on him anyway.
There were two waitresses looking after the tables. The first was a redhead who would very likely have attracted his attention in former days. The other, her back to the wall and her attention mostly taken up by the roving hands of her customers, was Justine. She saw Wesley only a fraction of a second after he saw her, and their eyes locked.
"Georgie?" She was still looking at Wesley, but she seemed to be addressing the second waitress. "Can you handle this lot on your own for a while?"
"I think so." The redhead turned around, saw the direction of Justine's gaze, and eyed Wes up and down appreciatively. "You going to be long?"
"I doubt it." Justine gestured with one hand towards a bright red door marked Private in a typical street graffiti style font. Wesley nodded slowly.
"After you," he said, without any attempt at grace or charm. She laughed - once, shortly, and with nothing but ice in her tone.
"Of course. Although that's such an obvious demand, how do you know that I haven't arranged with somebody to be in there waiting to attack the second person who goes in?"
"Because Glimmer demons can't count." His voice was as unpleasant as her laugh; all ferocity and sharpness and spite. Her eyebrows raised.
"Well aren't you the man with an answer for everything." She smiled without expression, and led the way to the door. "There aren't any demons inside, anyway. They don't like the club. Too bright I suppose."
"Too noisy." He was close behind her, opening the door as she did, pushing her into the room beyond. "Glimmers like silence, or as close to it as possible. They can't take loud music."
"I know the feeling." She turned to switch on a light, revealing a basic, ordinary office. There was a desk, a handful of chairs, and a filing cabinet that had seen better days, all standing on a striped carpet bearing an impressive array of stains. Justine sat down on the edge of the desk and folded her arms.
"So you decided to come into the lion's den?" she asked. He closed the door behind them, then turned to meet her challenging stare.
"The lion's den? I don't see any lions. If I'd known how easy it would be to get to you in here I'd have tried this method first."
"Oh you can get to me in here, Pryce, but I'd like to see you get me out of here." Her smile became broad and mocking. "Or perhaps you've got some kind of magic spell that you think might work?"
"Spell?" He drew his gun. "This is far more practical."
"And probably more effective too; somewhere else. You can't take me through those crowds out there with that on display and you know it." Her smile became wider as she jeered at him and his efforts. "So do you have any more great ideas, or is this the bit where I just tell you you're a jerk? You can't fire that in here without it being heard by somebody. But I have this." Her hand darted with impressive speed to a pocket, pulling out what looked to be a long bladed flick-knife. "I can have cut your throat before you can make a move, and what happens then? Nobody will know it was me. Nobody will care. You wouldn't be the first fatality in here. A little window dressing, and nobody will bother to ask a thing."
"You're assuming I'll let you get close enough to use a knife." He weighed the gun in his hand for a second, then put it away. She was right of course - he couldn't use it here. Not without taking inadvisable risks. In recent weeks he had become used to using it, both as a threat and as a means of strengthening his own self-image. It had its limitations though, and he knew enough to admit to them. Justine's mockery brightened her so often bitter face.
"I'd get out of my way if I were you," she told him. "You got lucky last night. There were people up the other end of the alley, and I didn't want to risk being seen, but in here it's different. I don't kill without real reason, and I don't believe that you're a threat to me - but I might just change my mind. So get out of my way, forget about this place, and never come to see me again. I don't like vampire lovers."
"I could leave." His hand strayed to his belt, hidden by the loose hem of his slightly oversized sweatshirt. "But I'm not going to. I came here to find out where Angel is, and I don't plan on letting you out of my sight until you answer my questions."
"You'll be lucky." She moved away from the desk, knife held ready, but he didn't back away. "Angel is staying where he is. He got what he deserved, and he's staying to take the rest of it. Accounting for every sin, every evil deed, every stolen soul. And if you want to bring him back - if you want to rescue him from that judgement - you're as bad as he is. You deserve your own punishment." The knife glittered in her hand, and he saw the fanaticism in her eyes. All that bitterness and hatred. He loathed her then, in that moment. Hated her warped view of the world, her constant desire for revenge against things she barely understood. Her hostility. He smiled.
"So do you." His hand lifted, pulling out the small weapon that had been hidden in his belt; a tiny cross bow, no bigger than the gun he had been holding before, and already loaded with a tiny bolt. Justine's eyes snapped to it; stared at it. Coldness sucked all else from her face.
"What do you think you can do with that? That little arrow couldn't hurt a fly." She didn't look sure though, but neither did she back away. He answered her doubts with a grim smile.
"A shot in the right place. In the neck maybe? It might not cause much damage - not as much as a knife stroke, anyway - but you lose blood pretty fast out of your neck, you know. Unless the person who attacks you doesn't know what she's doing, or aims badly, or doesn't press as hard as perhaps she intended." He took a lazy step forward, almost forgetting about the need to stay back out of her reach. "Do you know what it's like to slowly bleed to death, Justine?"
"I'm not going to find out. You could never shoot me with that thing. Think I'm going to stand still and let you do it? And what about Angel?"
"Maybe you'll be able to talk through all that blood. Maybe you'll give me the answer I want to hear, in the hope that I'll take you to the nearest ER. Maybe I don't care as much about Angel as I care about my revenge." He let his eyes glitter, trying to match her own fanatical expression. It didn't come easily, but he was angry so often these days that he thought he had done a good job. She switched her knife from hand to hand.
"Fine. Come and get me then. We'll see who wins a little one on one contest - and who ends up with a slit throat. Either way you're not leaving this place alive, Pryce. If I die, my two bodyguards will know, and you'll never make it out of here without them seeing. Guess who'll they'll figure as the most likely culprit?"
"Glimmer demons are no problem when you're expecting them." He wondered where they were, for an empty boast like that one was nothing. Glimmers were notoriously difficult to fight, and even though he was not really planning on killing Justine, he did still have to get her out of the club. "Maybe you'd better tell them that you don't need them any more, and save them both from a nasty end."
"For them or you?" The sour look on her face increased. "Anyway, I don't care what happens to them. They're just a means to an end. Now I thought we were going to fight, not talk."
"Lately all the women in my life seem to take that attitude." She didn't understand the joke of course, but he knew that Lilah would have appreciated it. "Alright. So we fight it out. Give it your best shot."
"That's my line. You need to give it your best shot. You've only got the one." Her knife moved from hand to hand again, her movements fast and sharp and confident. "Ready?"
"I should--" He got no further, for she attacked without warning. He had been expecting such a move, however, and found it easy to dodge. The knife sailed past him, and he hit out at her hand as it flew by. She didn't drop the weapon, but she stumbled and fell awkwardly against the table. Wesley aimed a blow at her with the crossbow, but it barely connected.
"Think you're clever, don't you." She was spitting the words out, and for the first time he saw the true measure of the hatred in her eyes. He really was fighting for his life. Hardening his resolve he swung back again, once again deflecting her attack. He was no stranger to fighting for his life, and one lone human couldn't be any more dangerous than some of the beasts he had faced in the past. She had an intensity though - and that knife was as dangerous as the claws or fangs of any demon. It stabbed at him again, and he moved past it, catching at her arm and heaving with all the strength he could summon in that moment. Justine let out a yell, falling to one side, lashing out as she did so. The knife grazed Wesley's arm and he snarled angrily at the pain, lashing out reflexively with his free hand. It caught her in the face, knocking her head back, and she collided with the edge of the desk.
"Bastard." There was a dribble of blood coming from the corner of her mouth, and for a second Wesley was fascinated by it. He hadn't really thought to draw blood, but it was there at his instigation. Still - these things had to be done. He had to get Justine in his control.
"Now now. Insults will get you nowhere." The fight was doing wonders for his adrenalin, and he could feel his spirits rising. Justine, on the other hand, was all but breathing fire. At his off-hand come back line she spat out an oath and launched herself forward again. The knife was still in her hand, but she seemed to have forgotten it now, lashing out with her hands instead. It was impossible to defend himself properly against the onslaught, and he felt his head swim as a heavy blow slammed against the side of his skull. He stumbled back a step, and in the corner of his eyes saw the knife flash again. It came up, darted in, flew unerringly for his throat - and in a move of which he was secretly rather proud, even if it was technically dishonourable, he brought up a swift hard fist and caught her a glancing blow on the chin. She fell back, dropped the knife, and collided heavily with the wall. In a trice he had her pinned there with a hand on her shoulder, and just as quickly the crossbow was at her throat. He smiled unpleasantly.
"Now what were you saying about this being too small to cause damage?" His voice was pleasant on the surface, but the ice underneath was unmistakable. "At this range this little bolt could go right through your neck."
"And I suppose you'd enjoy that. Enjoy the sight of blood do you?" She struggled briefly, but it was easy enough to hold her still now that he had her pinned. "Like making holes in necks, is that it?"
"Yeah." He shook his head, exasperated. The woman certainly knew how to hate. "Now we're going to go back to my place, and--"
"Thanks, but I'm not that kind of a woman."
"You're whatever kind I want you to be." He pushed her into the nearest chair, then tried the window in the wall just nearby. It was big enough to climb through, and would certainly be better than taking her through a crowded club. All he had to do was get her through it. She realised what he must be thinking, and laughed.
"You're joking? You think I'll co-operate that much? You'll never get me through there."
"Not easily, no."
"Not at all." Her spirits were recovering now that she was no longer pinned to the wall. "How do you think you can get me to climb through there? Or get through there yourself with me around? You're a bigger fool than you've always seemed to be."
"Maybe. Maybe not." It wasn't easy to find Tex's little box of drugs one-handed, but once he had pulled it out, he set it on the desk to make the task of manipulating it rather easier. Justine watched with suspicion.
"What are you doing?"
"What does it look like?" He took out one of the bottles - the sedative, he thought, although he didn't dare risk a look. He fumbled at the job of sticking the syringe into the top of the bottle, but it went in in the end. Justine started to get up, but he moved towards her menacingly, with the crossbow directed once again at her neck. She got the message, and sat mutely, staring at her knife as though hoping that she might suddenly develop telekinetic powers. Wes held up the needle at last, triumphant, and wondered how much of the drug he should give her. Rather less than he had given to the enraged bull demon he had encountered the previous week, presumably - but by how much?
"What is that stuff?" Justine sounded worried. Wesley smiled at her, as brightly as he could. In all honesty he didn't feel too bright, but as long as he could still fake it well enough he thought he should be alright.
"It's a sort of anaesthetic," he told her, with a certain degree of relish. "A Graal demon friend of mine synthesises it out of... I don't know. Lots of demony things probably. A little eye of newt and toe of sloth. Touch of herbs and spices..."
"Keep that away from me." She tried to back away, but of course seated on a chair there was nowhere to back to. He grabbed her arm.
"It's painless," he told her, nestling the crossbow once again against her neck. Her eyes widened.
"You're nuts. You're bloody insane. Look at you, going after your own kind with demon drugs and arrows. Why don't you just kill me straight?"
"Shut up." He was trying to concentrate, for it was hardly an easy task to inject her one-handed, especially since his right arm was becoming increasingly numb. In the corner of his eye he could see a trail of blood running down his fingers, and knew that Justine's lucky blow with her knife must have done more damage than he had realised. Still, if the blood had only just now reached his hand, it couldn't be all that serious - or so he hoped. Justine saw the blood as well, and smirked happily.
"You should get that seen to," she commented. He smiled thinly, not paying her or her words much attention. She wouldn't try anything while he had that crossbow so close to her neck - and it was hard enough to sort out the damn syringe without having to watch her that closely at the same time. It was a mistake, of course, but he didn't know that. Not until he saw her suddenly make her move.
She leapt sideways, which was the last thing he had thought of. Forwards perhaps; backwards, so that she went over with the chair maybe - possibly to her left, so that she would be out in the middle of the room with more space for fighting. Not to her right. There was nowhere to go but into the desk; no room to manoeuvre. He swung the crossbow around, trying to follow her, totally thrown - but Justine was not trying to make grand gestures. Her arm came up as she moved, scything back towards him in a deadly blow that hit his right arm - his wounded arm - with what must have been a sizeable part of her strength. The world wobbled in Wesley's vision, and he staggered. She was on him then, knocking the crossbow from his hand, following up that first devastating blow with one to his head before he could even think about retaliating. He had never imagined that she would be so strong; but even had she not been, anger and desperation gave her extra energy now. She kicked him as he went down, and he heard his head connect with a table leg with a sickening thud.
"You're a dead man now, Pryce." He thought she was going for her knife, but when he opened his eyes he saw her towering above him with his little crossbow in her hands. He blinked uncertainly, trying to get his eyes to focus. It felt as though they had both been knocked clean out of his skull with the force of that blow from the desk. He tried to raise his head, but it didn't want to co-operate.
"Better aim well," he told her. "I don't want to be slowly bleeding to death for hours. Not this time."
"Oh don't worry. I never make the same mistake twice." She took a step closer, and he saw her fingers twitch on the trigger. He was surprised to find that his imminent death didn't make him feel all that sorry - and then he saw her tiny frown, and realised that the crossbow hadn't fired. His eyes flared and he kicked out, sending her stumbling backwards, struggling up rather slowly himself. She was ready to fight back, but he was just as ready for her; and just as angry as her now too. Her arms were a blur as she lashed out, not bothering to try forming proper blows. She was probably his match for strength even on a good day, and his right arm was horribly painful just now; but he gritted his teeth, knocked one of her arms away, and hit her as hard as he could. It didn't have as much effect as such a blow might ordinarily have done, for he didn't have the strength anymore; but it caught her on the side of the head, and made her arms go limp. He threw himself across her then, pinning her to the ground as she began to struggle, trying to stop her from shouting out. He doubted that anybody in the club would hear her over the music, but it was a risk he didn't want to take. Fumbling desperately about on the carpet, he found the fallen syringe, and as his grip on her weakened and she began to free herself, he drove it home into her arm. She jerked and the needle snapped off; the syringe itself flew across the room and smashed against the wall, dribbling its cloudy load in a stain that would no doubt linger - but he had managed to inject her with some of it. With a grunt of effort she threw him off, and he rolled away across the floor. She tried to get up, and found to her surprise that she couldn't move.
"What-?" Her eyes were murderous. "Damn you, Pryce. What have you done?"
"Just a little sedative. It's for your own good." He got to his feet and retrieved his crossbow, checking it over. "Oh, and for future reference - it has a safety catch. There's a trick to making it fire."
"So you've already said." He rattled the window he had chosen earlier as an exit, then jerked it open with an effort. "We're leaving now."
"You'll never lift me," she spat. He smiled.
"Won't I?" It was a hell of an effort, but she was unable to resist by much, and in moments he had her on her feet and resting against the wall. She tried to fight him, but he was easily able to hoist her up and push her out of the window. She went out head first, but it wasn't very high, and he didn't think that she would hurt herself. In point of fact he hurt himself rather more, falling out of the window afterwards, and landing awkwardly.
"And I suppose you're going to carry me all the way back to your place?" she asked. He glared.
"Cab drivers ask awkward questions."
"I said shut up." He pulled her up again. "You can walk, with a bit of effort. Everybody will just think that you're drunk."
"And you?" She smiled her usual humourless, cold smile. "Wes, you look like you've been worked over. I must have split your lip, and you're going to have one hell of a black eye pretty soon. And look at that arm." He glanced down. His right hand was red with blood now, and the sleeve was wet and heavy. He shrugged.
"We'll make it. Now where are your bodyguards?"
"That would be telling." She stared about. They were in a thin side alley, and it was very dark. "They could be anywhere, you know what they're like. But they'll come if they think I'm in danger. They're very..." Her voice slurred, and she had problems getting the last word out. "Intuitive."
"Well I'm ready for them." He stared about, wishing that he had Angel's night vision. Justine laughed. The drug seemed to have affected her mind as well as her body, giving her more than the mere appearance of drunkenness.
"Yeah. You're ready for them. Just like you were ready for me."
"I got you didn't I?"
"Yeah, sure. Because your crossbow wouldn't fire. Look at you, Pryce. You're in no shape to take on--" She broke off, staring about. "Did you hear that?"
"Yes." He took a step away from her, staring into the shadows. A Glimmer wouldn't ordinarily make so much noise, but if it was in a hurry maybe... He spun around, wanting to see in all directions at once. Justine was right; he wasn't in any shape to fight demons.
"We should get inside." Justine looked oddly pale, but he didn't care for her or her tricks. He raised his crossbow - and felt the icy touch on the back of his neck that said as clear as could be that there was a Glimmer nearby. Black shadows encircled his feet, and he stumbled, lashing out with his wounded right arm as he raised his crossbow to fire. Ice chilled his face, and the horrible pressure he remembered from his last encounter with the creatures began once again to encircle his chest. Through the mounting fog in his mind he thought he heard a strange, out of place sound - then aiming at the place where the world seemed darkest, he fired the crossbow. There was a scream that set his teeth on edge, and for a second the shapeless, inky shadows were a misty, pale grey. They had a shape in that second; the shape of a giant, bat-like creature with six legs - then it shattered like glass and was gone. Justine gasped.
"You were going to shoot me with a poisoned arrow," she accused him, sounding genuinely outraged, and clearly unaffected by the death of her guardian.
"I wasn't planning to shoot you with it." He fumbled for another bolt. "Besides, it should only be poisonous to a shape-shifter."
"Quite the walking chemical laboratory, aren't you." Something made her look away from him, and he followed her gaze. That strange sound again; that out of place noise. He knew it now - the sound of a human footstep. Justine was looking worried, and although her movements were slow and clumsy, she made an attempt to get away. Wes caught her arm.
"What is it?"
"Nothing." The sheer obviousness of her lie clearly didn't bother her. His eyes narrowed.
"The person that you're so afraid of. The reason you hired yourself a pair of bodyguards."
"Rubbish." The word was badly slurred, but still she contrived to sound outraged. The step sounded again, and beyond it the rustle that could only be a second Glimmer demon. Wesley raised his crossbow, worry beginning to crease his face. He couldn't hope to fight on two fronts.
"It must be somebody pretty bad if you were prepared to lower your standards enough to hire demons. Who is it Justine? If we're going to get away--"
"Screw us getting away. I don't want to get away with you, I want to get away from you. We're not in this together, Pryce."
"Fine. See if I care." A trail of coldness felt its way down his spine, but when he whirled about he could see no further sign of the remaining Glimmer. He raised the crossbow - and heard a succession of footsteps from further down the alley. Somebody else was here now. He couldn't see a face, but it was somebody who seemed slight of build. A little shorter than Wesley perhaps. Wes's eyes narrowed. There was something about the proportions... as though he were looking at somebody who still bore the signs of adolescence. Justine was backing away now, though the drug had slowed her down to the point where she could barely move at all.
"What do you want?" She raised her voice to speak to the human shadow, and there was a definite hint of fear in the words. "Why do you keep hanging about and watching me? I'm not going to do anything. I'm not your enemy."
"Maybe." The voice seemed young - and familiar perhaps? But why would somebody so obviously young be menacing Justine? Why would the usually fearless woman be worried by anybody, let alone what appeared to be a mere boy? It came to him then - a realisation, or rather a theory. There was one teenage boy of whom she might have every reason to be afraid.
"Connor." He breathed it very softly, not wanting the boy to hear. Suddenly he didn't want the shadowy figure to know who he was. Justine glared at him, apparently furious that he had guessed.
"Just leave me alone!" she shouted, though in that moment Wesley didn't know if she was shouting at him or at the shadowy boy up ahead. He lowered his crossbow and scanned the skies. He had no quarrel with Connor, but he wanted to know where the second Glimmer had gone.
"Maybe I'm not here to hurt you." The figure came a step closer, and Wes moved slowly back into the shadows. "But it pays to stay aware, Justine. I just want to know what you're doing. When you're doing it. Who you're with. Who's this? A boyfriend?"
"No, just--" She broke off, clearly not wanting the shadow to identify Wesley, any more than Wesley wanted that himself. If this was Connor, and he knew that Justine had been talking to one of Angel's friends... Wesley was convinced that the boy had been responsible for Angel's disappearance, and there was no telling what he would do to stop Justine from passing on whatever she might happen to know.
"It's nobody, Just - just leave me alone. Please."
"Maybe." He didn't take another step forward, but neither did he retreat. "I'm just keeping my eye on you, Justine. Don't forget that."
"How the hell can I?" Those words were quiet, and only Wesley heard them. He wondered what he should do. Would the boy leave? What if he realised that Justine was drugged, or came close enough to see that she had been fighting? He considered drawing the gun, but it would be a useless threat. He had no desire even to point the thing at Connor, and he could never think about using it. Always supposing that this was Connor. But who the hell else could it be?
"I'm never very far away, Justine." The voice had a coldness to it; an edge of real menace. Clearly Connor was someone who didn't trust easily. He took another slow, calculating step forward, and instinct made Wesley snap the crossbow up to point at him. Just as suddenly the boy's head whipped around to stare at him, alerted by that slight sound. It was as though they were eye to eye in that moment, though neither of them could see the other's face. Wesley was conscious of barely breathing; of standing without moving a muscle. The silence was deathly, and he could almost fancy that he could hear a thin smile beginning to grow across Connor's face - until the faintest rustling sound drew his attention with the realisation that the Glimmer was back.
It rose over the buildings - a great, black shape darker than any night sky, all of its legs visible as it swooped low. A wave of icy air washed over the three humans and Justine let out a low chuckle of relief. Wesley raised the crossbow, but the demon didn't seem to be interested in him. Before it it could see the person it had originally been hired to guard against, and with a hiss of anger it dropped out of the sky, heading straight for Connor. Wesley let out a warning shout, and ran forward a couple of paces, only to stop short when he saw that the boy did not need his help. He met the creature head on, grasping at it, spinning it about with a strength that was clearly far greater than any human's. Justine started to stumble away.
"Stay where you are." He had the crossbow pointed at her again, although most of his attention was still caught up with the boy fighting the demon so close by. The Glimmer was clearly losing. "He's - he's amazing."
"He gets by." She couldn't run away from him, and she was realising that now. The drug had left her almost helpless. Wesley caught her arm, and began to half drag her away down the alley. He hated to leave the boy to fight alone, but it was clear enough that he was in no real danger. If he fought off the Glimmer too soon though... Wesley did not wish to be on the wrong side of that amazing strength, and he had seen and learned enough recently to be sure that Connor was not someone inclined to be merciful. He had already very likely done something to Angel - maybe Cordelia - why not Wesley as well? Quickening his step Wesley hurried on, with Justine almost helping.
"I thought you were friends?" he asked as they went. She scowled at him.
"You and Connor. Why are you so afraid of him now?"
"Who's afraid?" Her eyes showed cunning, dulled by the demon sedative. "And who's Connor?"
"Oh very good." He pushed her onwards, wanting to be far ahead before the Glimmer met its inevitable death. So far the boy didn't know who he was, but if he found out, this could all be over. He would know then; he could hunt Wesley down and stop him from ever finding Angel. Fighting his own exhaustion and injuries, as well as Justine's, he quickened his step and dragged the semi-stupefied woman along with him. It wasn't that far to his apartment - but in his present condition it was more than far enough.
Do the ends ever justify the means? I don't know why I'm asking that - it's a strange sort of time to start wondering about it. The Watchers have always believed that it's the end that's important, and that any means which are necessary to arrive at that end are therefore by definition perfectly acceptable. A popular test in early training is about letting a number of civilians die in order to wipe out a large number of vampires - play acting, in this case, obviously! It's an important lesson to learn though. The Watchers will sacrifice anybody for their own ends - the Slayer, naturally enough, and plenty of others through the years.
And now I have a woman chained up in my closet. How is that supposed to be acceptable? She knows something, and she's going to tell me, but I've not quite stooped low enough to try beating it out of her. At least I don't think that I have. I confess that I have hit her - during the capture - but I don't see that that's so wrong. It's not as if she can't defend herself, and in a hand to hand fight she's got just as much chance of beating me as I have of beating her - when she's not chained up. It's just that there's an old fashioned side of me that wants no part of hitting women, and goes into horrible flashbacks whenever the thought arises. Fred. Billy's blasted infection, twisting my mind into goodness only knows what horrible shapes. The mere idea of raising a hand against Justine makes me remember that awful night at the hotel, chasing Fred around, screaming at her, probably trying to kill her. You could argue that Justine deserves it I suppose, and I'm not saying that I'm not going to try hitting her. Just not yet. I'm prepared to sink to all kinds of depths to get Angel back, but I'd rather leave the darker places until I've explored a few more possibilities.
Which is why I've got her chained up in my closet. She's waiting there to find out exactly what I'm going to do with her, and of course the obvious truth is that I just don't know. Do I leave her there until the claustrophobia or the silence gets to her so much she agrees to talk? Until the degradation and depravation of imprisonment make her crack? Because it seems to me that that's worse than just hitting her and having done with it. I've spent enough hours alone, locked up in small dark places, to know that it's not a nice thing. The silence weighing in - even when you love silence and solitude, it's never your friend when you're locked up in it, and you have no way of knowing when, or if, you're going to be let out. You never know what might come out of the darkness at you; what your gaoler might be prepared to do. Maybe there are memories of the things that happened last time, that you have no wish to go through again. I'd feel a lot worse about it all if I thought that Justine actually feels things the way that other people do. She's so... empty. So cold and distant, and everything I can feel myself becoming. Maybe that's the worst of all of this. Not what I'm doing to Justine, or the fear of what I might do; just the realisation as I watch her, and talk to her, and look at all that she is, that there's so much of that in me. She watches the world as an outsider, just the way I do. She has a cause that she's abandoning her humanity for, and I think I'm doing the same. I'm not sure when it happened, but I can see it more clearly now that I've been forced to observe the comparisons.
She lost her sister of course. I don't have one of those, and never did, but I suppose it was probably something similar that made me lose my soul as well. I said I don't know when it happened, but that's not really true. Oh there must have been other things as well; lots of things that happened, and brought on smaller changes; but I think the moment everything really went dark was when Angel bent over me in the hospital, and I saw his eyes change. It's certainly the worst memory I can think of. The moment when I saw my friend, and the man I looked up to in life more than any other, suddenly turn into somebody who honestly and without reservation wanted me dead. Not the greatest moment of my life, even if I did deserve it. Or at least I think I did. Everybody else thinks I did, anyway, and so they're probably right. Fred and Gunn, never coming to visit, avoiding me even after Angel and Cordelia disappeared. Cordy herself, steering well clear, even after everything we'd been through together. I guess Angel had to be the first thing on her mind. Anyway, all that's irrelevant; all that matters is that something's changed; in me - hell, in the world for all I know. And now it's like I'm looking at the world through Justine's eyes; and worse. I'm seeing me through her eyes too. I don't know when everything got so screwed up, but when I look in that skewed mirror inside my closet; that harsh face and lifeless, lightless eyes; everything feels ever more screwed up still. Everything seems darker. And I wonder how much of me I can still bring myself to like.
It all seemed such a simple idea. Find Justine, get her to talk. All those weeks thinking about it, I honestly never gave all that much thought to the mechanics of how I'd get her talking. It's not as if I can just ask her questions. 'So Justine, when you conspired to kidnap Angel and send him away, where exactly did you put him?' I've tried that already, and variations. All I get are curses I'd never dreamt of hearing before; swear words that I'd never have imagined anybody coming up with. I take it she's angry, and I don't blame her for that. I'd be angry too. Nobody likes to be locked up, or chained up, or kidnapped. Who would? But this is different. It has to be. I'm not doing this because I want to, even if a part of me buried deep inside probably does like the idea of revenge. I'm doing this because it needs to be done. (Keep telling yourself that, Pryce). How else am I supposed to get her to talk to me? I could visit her house, take her chocolates, smile at her nicely? She's insane with hatred towards everything vampiric. Look at the way she hates me, just because of my association with Angel. I don't think she sees me as human, to be honest; more as somebody who has given up all right to that classification. She's brutal and bitter and crazy, but I don't think she'd have slit just anybody's throat. I don't think she's that far gone and cold-blooded. I rated special treatment, because I'm the friend of a vampire - was the friend of a vampire. So how can I ever expect her to tell me the truth? Everything she's become through hatred and grief tells her that I can never be trusted, and probably that there's nothing I won't stoop to. Well maybe she's right at that. Is there anything that I won't do? Since I set out on this crusade to find Angel, I've killed or attacked demons who were probably fairly harmless. I've attacked humans who I thought might bring me closer to Justine, or to whatever accomplices she might have. I've invoked powers that the Watchers are trained to use only in times of their greatest needs, and risked all kinds of things in the process. I'm not sure what the penalty is for invoking such things, but I know that, if the Council ever does find out, they won't be content with just a ticking off. For starters their idea of greatest need doesn't really extend to the struggle to find a reformed vampire, kidnapped by a mad woman with a grudge against his kind. They'd tell me not to be so bloody silly, and then either finish the job that Justine started, or lock me away in one of their dungeons. The kind that make my father's cupboards and cellars look like luxury suites at the Ritz. I'd never have thought of using powers like that for any ends until recently. Contacting spirits that have more grudges against the living than you'd think any dead creature could ever harbour. I've changed, but I still don't know how far I'd go. Maybe now that I have Justine here, I'm going to find that out.
I can hear her, now that everything is quiet. She thinks I've gone; she'd never make that much noise if she thought I was here. She'd never show such weakness. I'll have to soundproof the closet I suppose. Can't have people hearing, and coming to find out what's happening. This isn't exactly an understanding area when it comes to having women chained up in your closet, which I suppose would be a good thing usually. They'd call the police, there'd be awkwardness. I'd probably end up in the cell next to Faith. Actually no, that wouldn't work, would it. She's in a women's prison. At any rate, Justine would be free, and all my attempts to find Angel would be over. I can't let that happen, so Justine can't escape. Can't be heard calling for help. The last thing I want is for Lilah to hear, and find her. How do I explain that one? Although of course Lilah would probably find the whole thing rather diverting. She'd be excited by it. She's odd that way, or professes to be. Oh dear, how do I get myself mixed up in these things?
Listen to the woman. Justine, not Lilah. I'm not expecting Lilah tonight, which is a good thing - though I'm sure Justine would shut up if she arrived. She'd know I was here then, and whimpering for help is never a good idea when you want to seem tough in front of your gaoler. That's a lesson I learnt a long time ago, and I know her well enough to be sure that it's a rule she'd cling to as well. She wants me to think that she's unbreakable; something strong and hard and rigid. That I'll never get her to talk. That attitude ought to keep her from making too much noise until I can insulate her closet a bit. What a thought. It's become my job to stifle the cries for help of a traumatised woman. I should hate myself, but fortunately for my cause I hate Justine more. At least I think I do. Sitting here now, listening to her thumping and bumping about, muttering imprecations and shouting for somebody to let her out, I'm not so sure. It makes me feel pretty bloody low. The floors are thick here though, and nobody on the other levels will hear her. The neighbours might, but they've been away these last few weeks; something that makes me very relieved. Heaven only knows what they'd think of some of the noises that have been coming out of this apartment, especially since the blasted door broke, and stopped being such a good insulator. Between the two of us Lilah and I must make enough noise to bring in all kinds of complaints, which makes me wonder what Justine is likely to hear. I could tell Lilah not to come around any more, I suppose, but I know that it won't do any good. And when she's here, no matter how many times I tell myself - and her - that nothing is going to happen, still it always does, in the end. One of us picks a fight or starts up with the insults - and then it's all downhill from there. Do I really want to risk Justine hearing that? Wouldn't it be easier just to stop Lilah from coming? But since the only way to make that happen is to chain her up in the bloody closet alongside Justine, I suppose that's probably something of a non-starter. What a mess.
I wish she'd shut up. I'm sitting here trying to write, in the hope that it'll help to clear my mind, give me a better perspective. Maybe think of whatever the hell I can do next. Instead all I can think about is the noise she's making. Maybe she's scared of the dark? No, I doubt it. How can somebody who likes to fight vampires be scared of the dark? Maybe she's claustrophobic? Maybe she's just scared of what I'll do to her. To be honest, I'm scared of what I might do to her. Of what I'm going to have to do, if I'm to have any chance of making her crack. She's so cold, so hard. So angry and full of hate. It takes more than a bit of persuasion; than a few days without food or basic comforts; to make somebody like that come around. Think about what I'm asking from her; to help somebody she hates, and sees as less than human, to find somebody she hates even more, and believes that the world is a better place without. I suppose I could try asking Tex if he has any more drugs that might work, but Tex always asks so many questions. Asking for something like a truth serum would only cause raised eyebrows, and I wouldn't put it past him to try following me home. Graals are cursedly inquisitive, and they're dreadful gossips too. Somewhere out there is whoever Justine hired those Glimmer demons to protect herself from. Connor is still my guess, but she won't confirm it, and I'm not one hundred percent sure that's who I saw tonight. Whoever it is, I don't want word getting back to him that Justine is here. There's a hell of a grapevine in the Underworld, and I've no doubt he could hear everything on it if he listened hard enough. If Justine does know where Angel is, Connor - or whoever - would certainly want to make sure that she can't say; and to do that he'd have to try to shut her up, or get rid of me. Maybe both. I don't really know enough about him to know what he might be capable of, but I do know what I've made a point of learning these last weeks, as well as what I saw tonight. Whatever Justine says, she was scared enough of somebody to hire those demons, and Connor makes a pretty good suspect on two counts. In the first place, suppose they worked together to get rid of Angel? They were allies of a sort through Holtz, and they both hate Angel; so maybe he's been watching her to make sure she's not let anything slip. And in the second place, I doubt that Connor thinks very highly of Justine. I've heard enough to believe that it was she who killed Holtz, and if Connor isn't too bull-headed to think straight, he must know it by now as well. Last thing I need is a super-powered teenager with a grudge coming knocking at my door; or, knowing my door, and with Connor being what he is, I doubt he'd be doing much knocking. I wonder how far he'd go to get what he wants? Quite the group in this little play, aren't we. A regular collection of hates and furies, all bundled up together doing unpleasant things to one another. No, I don't want anything to do with Connor right now, and if that means shutting myself off from the world until Justine finally cracks, I suppose it's something to consider. That way I get peace and security, and Connor gets to stay back at the Hyperion, or wherever it is that he's living right now, and neither of us need worry about the other. I can quite happily go some years without having a face to face meeting with that boy, although whatever he is I've played a big part in creating. You could say I'm as much his father as Angel or Holtz. I hope he never comes to that conclusion himself.
Oh don't get me wrong - I don't think he's dangerous. Not to ordinary people, anyway. I don't see any need to warn Gunn and Fred about what I've learnt. About what I saw tonight. He won't hurt them. Why would he? He hates vampires and demons, and he seems to be pretty driven. He's certainly quite fantastically strong. But to hurt a human he'd have to be more than any of that, and I don't think he'd go that far without some serious provocation. Provocation like believing a human woman killed the man he loved as a father, for example. Justine probably had a right to be scared, but I wish she'd just hidden herself away instead of hiring those bloody demons. Defending yourself against stalkers and prowlers is highly over rated, after all. I'm going to be stiff for days thanks to those things.
She's gone quiet. Maybe she's realised I'm here. Maybe she's gone to sleep. How's that fair? I haven't been able to sleep properly for weeks, except for sometimes when Lilah is here - but the woman who made me that way gets to fall asleep when she should be afraid for her life. I suppose I should check up on her, and makes sure that she really is just asleep. That she hasn't strangled herself with her chains, or drowned herself in whatever might be in her bucket. I wouldn't put anything past her; she's clearly unhinged. She probably thinks the same of me. Give me another week or so, and I'll probably think that way myself. Capable of anything. Unhinged. Who the hell knows? We'll find out together, her and I, here in this place. Our prison, until one of us or both of us cracks. I have to find Angel, you see. Because I owe it to him? Because it's my duty to the world? Because I just want to try to assuage my own feelings of guilt? Oh dear. Back with the psychoanalysis again. Maybe I'm spending too much time alone.
Doesn't matter really though, does it. In a few days, or weeks, or whatever, Justine will crack. She'll tell me where Angel is, and maybe all of this can be over. If she doesn't crack... Well if she doesn't crack I suppose it'll still all be over, because she's not getting out of here without telling me what I want to know. Without helping me to find Angel. So if she doesn't crack there'll only be one other route out for her, won't there. By her hand or by mine; and given the kind of person she is, it's probably more likely that it would be mine. Be the end of everything then, wouldn't it. That one last step on the road to losing my soul. Not that it would have to be a very big step.
I've often hated myself over the years. For being incompetent, or clumsy, or socially inadequate. For being a fool, only good for looking in books and translating ancient documents. But now? Now I'm sitting in my apartment with a woman chained up in my closet; a woman I'm seriously considering torturing into helping me, and thinking about killing if she won't. How far can a man really fall? And once he's fallen, how much of the way back up can he climb? I don't suppose it matters; not where I'm concerned. I'm just a small player in all of this, and always have been. The smallest cog in a very big machine. What happens to me - or to my soul - is of no importance to anyone. All that matters is Angel.
All that matters. The world isn't safe until he's back - so all of this soul searching; all of this sitting here alone in the dark, wondering and worrying, really does amount to nothing. Time to stop thinking, perhaps - and time to wake up Justine. I don't think she'll make me do anything drastic, but I'm sure now that I can do whatever circumstances demand. It's what I was trained for, and what recent events have further prepared me for. Like I said, my soul - and Justine's come to that - are nothing. Maybe everything is inevitable now.
So consequences be damned.