Click Here For Parts Two, Three and Four
He thinks he's dreaming, but he can't be sure. He can't open his eyes. Can't breathe. He hopes that he's dreaming. Hopes that this isn't real, that none of this is happening. Can't remember how to breathe. Is he dying? He doesn't know that, either. He knows nothing but blackness. Nothing at all but the dark.
There was no time to think these days. Everything was constantly in motion. Buffy was busy about some typically deadly task, so Angel wasn't at the hotel lately. He was off being a guardian angel, trying to keep her safe without interfering too much. Gunn was off fighting vampires by day as well as night, hunting them in their lairs to try to stem the rising tide of their suddenly growing numbers. Spike had been kept equally busy, trawling bars for information, fighting tough little demons on street corners, baffled by the seemingly inexplicable explosion in the number of monsters active on the streets of Los Angeles. Not that he minded - action suited Spike best, and he liked to be fighting. He was as interested as everybody else, though, in why there were suddenly so many things for him to fight.
Which was Wesley's department of course. Somehow, no matter how much he became a man of action, he was always led back to his books. To long hours poring over pages so ancient that sometimes the light shone through them when they turned. To mammoth research sessions that stretched from one day into the next, reading three or four books more or less at once, each in a different language, each with a different alphabet. It was second nature to him, and always would be, and somehow it always felt like coming home. He was a fighter now, as well as a scholar. He was a magician of considerable power and ability. Everything that he had become was a reaction against all that he had once been - against everything that he had been trained from birth to be - but still the core of the Watcher remained. He was proud of that, in a way that he didn't quite understand. The Watchers had abandoned him; thrown him from their ranks; had then been destroyed utterly. There was nothing there left to aspire to; no reason to measure himself against them any longer. He had learnt long ago that that didn't matter. What they had taught him, what they had given him, was something to be treasured. He didn't owe them anything, but he was grateful nonetheless. Their traditions gave him the skill to read these books now - gave him the knowledge of the existence of these books. Their schooling, their rules, their disciplines, were why he was sitting at this table, simultaneously checking through four books with a combined age of six thousand years. Nobody else could do this. Had he been a conceited man, he might have smiled at the thought.
"Still at it?" The voice came from behind him, though there had been no one there a second before. A hand brushed fondly at his head. "You're going to get a crick in your neck."
"Then somebody will have to give me a massage." He didn't look up. "You've been gone a long time."
"I do have work of my own to do, you know." Lilah Morgan trailed her hand down the back of his head and over the back of his neck, then slipped into a chair next to him. "What are you reading?"
"The usual." He gestured vaguely at the books spread open before him. "Histories, books of prophecy, you know."
"Enthralling." She hauled one of the books closer to her chair, and frowned at it. "This is Yrcanian, isn't it? You can tell, 'cause the symbols all look like teeth."
"Should I be impressed, or just worried about what cause you'd have to be familiar with the Yrcanian alphabet?" He pulled the book back. "I shudder to think what your lot would do with a copy of this book."
"I'm sure they probably have several." She leaned back in her chair. "You're planning to be boring today, aren't you."
"I'm busy." Somehow he was able to read all four books whilst talking. It was impressive, she was willing to admit that - but it was still annoying.
"I know you're busy. You were busy yesterday. You were busy the day before yesterday." She smiled her best seductress smile. "I might start to feel neglected."
"Neglected, Wes. Alone. Miserable. Bored. Resentful."
"Oh, right. And you'd call up a legion of hell beasts to attack the hotel in revenge, I suppose. Because I wouldn't be at all distracted then."
"You might not be paying attention to me, but at least you wouldn't be reading those blasted books." She scowled. "Anybody would think that ten times the usual number of vampires, and a sudden invasion of Broxx demons, was a bad thing."
"Some people might be inclined to interpret it in that way, yes." He sighed and looked up from the books at last. His blue eyes glinted at her, showing faint amusement behind the annoyance at her interruption, and the strain of all his hard work. "I have to find out what's happening."
"You know what's happening. Wolfram & Hart are up to something. That's almost always the answer." She flopped back, looking sulky. "I can't find out what it is, though. I don't think they trust me. Suddenly I'm not the dependable foot soldier anymore - I'm more the dodgy double agent, never quite trusted by either side. And it's all your fault."
"I'm sure that there's probably a reason why you blame me, and I'm sure that I'm about to hear it, but Lilah..."
"I was only ever supposed to get to know you. To exploit your weaknesses. It's your fault I keep coming back."
She scowled. "You're not paying any attention, are you. I could strip off and sit on the table, and you'd still be looking at those books."
"Yes." He hesitated, and regarded her thoughtfully for a moment. "Well. Mostly. Are you offering to try?"
"That's probably just as well." He sighed, and shut the nearest book with a snap. "What do you want?"
"Dangerous question, Wes."
"Undoubtedly. But then with you, any question is a dangerous one." He frowned at her. "If you really came here just to complain that Wolfram & Hart don't trust you anymore..."
"Oh, that'll pass. It's just them, being periodically extra-sneaky. Happens from time to time." She scowled. "You're the problem. You were more fun before Angel-knickers invited you back into the fold. Now it's all duty, duty, duty, and work, work, work. You're dead. Doesn't that entitle you to a little time off?"
"It would seem not. I may be dead, but I still have a job to do. An important job. Presumably if it hadn't been important, I wouldn't have been snatched from the netherworld to do it."
"Yeah yeah yeah." She was being overly theatrical, trying to distract him because that was one of her favourite hobbies. He had long ago learned to give her only a fraction of his attention at such times. Lilah Morgan was beautiful and fun and hugely enjoyable company - but she was also a massive distraction, who delighted in knocking him off down some pretty unmentionable tangents. She quite genuinely did care nothing for his work or why he needed to do it. Evil girlfriends - there were probably laws against them. There probably should be. And, of course, it probably wouldn't make any difference.
"You're smiling." This minor concession to her presence seemed to fill her with delight, and she leaned in to give him a kiss. He broke contact eventually, trying to scowl.
"I really do have to get this work done, Lilah. We have to know what's going on."
"I know. Next time I won't fall in love with a hero."
He raised an eyebrow. "So we've fallen in love now? I had to pay up for calling us a relationship. What's the forfeit for talking about actual love?"
"You ever quit being so chained to your desk, Wes, you might just get to find out." She stood up, stretching as seductively as possible. "And still he's looking at the books."
"Not exclusively." He caught hold of her hand. "I'd like to spend some time with you. Believe me, it hasn't escaped my notice that we're in an empty hotel, with countless beds on offer. But this is important. So go be evil for a few hours, and I'll talk to you later."
"You'd better do a damn sight more than just talk, Pryce." She turned the tables, capturing his hand in both of her own. "Or I go looking for Spike. He wouldn't stand me up for a date with a book."
"If it was just the one book, it wouldn't be such a problem." He flashed her a small smile, neatly ignoring her threat to two-time him with Spike. It had probably been nothing more than a joke. On the other hand, of course, she was Lilah. Anything was possible.
"Yeah yeah. You geniuses are all the same." She let go of him. "Sundown, Wesley. I'll come looking. And if I don't get what I'm looking for..."
"You'll glare at me some more?"
"Hardly. You enjoy that. I'll have to think of something dark and unpleasant that isn't a turn-on."
He sighed. "Goodbye, Lilah."
"See you later." She flashed him a smile, and disappeared. For a second or two he waited, half expecting her to come back just to annoy him some more, but the room remained still and quiet. Probably for the best - he did have a lot of work to do. On the other hand, he couldn't deny that he was sorry to see her go. He turned back to his books, hauled the nearest open again, and went back to his interminable reading. Interminable... but never boring. Much though he liked the idea of a little extra-curricular activity with Lilah, he could never be sorry that he was reading his books instead. Deep down, the books were what he knew best - what he understood - the one thing that he had never been able to live without. He would never have wanted to try. Soon enough he was oblivious to the world once again.
He's drowning. It's the only explanation. Can't see, can't breathe, can't feel anything, touch anything. He doesn't remember going swimming, but he doesn't remember much at all, truth be told. All that he's aware of is now. All that he knows is this sensation of floating, somewhere, in something. This certainty that he's drowning. Which way is the surface? He doesn't know. Fumbles briefly, tries to swim. Can't. He's just hanging there, in the darkness, waiting for the end.
Angel had always tried to avoid England in the past. Cultural prejudice perhaps - although he preferred not to think that way now. His eighteenth century Irish citizenship was far behind him, and he had had Englishmen as friends for years. Maybe it was the weather, although he had to admit to himself it wasn't really all that bad just now. Perhaps it was the local indifference to ice hockey. Why, in a country so infernally cold, had nobody thought of playing the game? He was assured that they did, sometimes. Some of them. Every time he turned on the TV, though, it was football or cricket. Or both. The fact that he didn't have time to watch ice hockey just now was irrelevant. If he had had the time, he wouldn't have been able to watch it. And that was annoying.
Or maybe he just didn't like England. That could be it, admittedly.
He had gone to London in Buffy's footsteps. It was his job - or part of it at least - to watch out for her, and where possible see that she didn't come to too great harm, so when she had headed to London on some allegedly lethal mission, he had gone too. 'Britain' had been the only destination he had known at first, and that hadn't sounded too bad. He quite liked Scotland, with its glorious scenery. Cornwall was quite nice too. The beaches were nice, and they ate a lot of fish. It made the locals' taste nice too, as he remembered. But no. Not Scotland - England. He had arrived on a pale, grey morning, in a pale, grey part of town, under a pale, grey sky, and had followed Buffy to her destination - the pale, grey temporary headquarters of the new Watcher movement. A building dating from the twenties, or thereabouts. Almost tall, almost imposing, almost aesthetically pleasing - and generally pretty uninspiring. It didn't exactly fill him with enthusiasm, but he followed her up the short path, beside a row of birch trees with a distinctly pale grey look to them, to the big front door. It wasn't pale grey, but it was pale brown, which wasn't exactly an improvement. Buffy rang a large bell on a long chain, and then stepped back looking rather uncertain when footsteps sounded out from the other side. The door creaked as it opened, and a small figure peered out. Red hair framed her face, neatly - though Angel suspected incidentally - complimenting a dark green velvet shirt at once both stylish and anything but fashionable. Buffy grinned a delighted hello.
"Will! I was half expecting a butler."
"There is a butler." Willow spoke quietly, as though to avoid being overheard. "You'd have given up and broken in by the time he came to open the door though. I think he's deaf."
"Sounds like he's good at his job then."
"Oh, he's got all these lights that are supposed to tell him when he's wanted. He just doesn't ever look at them." Willow beamed happily at her. "It's great to see you. I've missed you."
"It's been, what? Six months? Feels a lot longer."
"Yeah. I still haven't really got used to not seeing you every day." Willow moved aside to let Buffy come through the door, and Angel transported himself over the threshold. Technically, although Buffy herself could never see him, he could be visible to anybody else when he chose. For the time being he had chosen to keep his presence a secret. It became awkward when other people could see him and Buffy couldn't.
"Ah. You opened the door, Miss Rosenberg." A faintly querulous voice, slightly crestfallen, sounded out from nearby. Willow jumped.
"Oh! Sebastian! I wish you wouldn't sneak up like that. Yes, I opened the door. I wanted to let Buffy in." She gestured to her friend. "This is Buffy Summers. And don't call me Miss Rosenberg. I keep telling you that."
"Indeed, Miss Rosenberg. And Miss Summers would be...?"
"Giles told you all about her." Willow rolled her eyes at Buffy. "Buffy, this is Sebastian, the butler."
"Hi." Buffy held out her hand, but the butler was apparently not interested in such formalities. After a quick look out of the door he frowned disapprovingly at the lack of luggage, then wandered off looking slightly disappointed. Buffy frowned.
"Did I do something wrong?"
"He doesn't like to shake hands. He's a servant. I think he likes to be invisible. He's really in to all that 'knowing your proper place' stuff. The ladder of society. He gets all upset if I make myself a cup of tea. Giles says that he used to work for one of the old Watchers, who got blown up in the explosion. I suppose everybody feels that the Watchers ought to look after him now, rather than leaving him out of work. There probably isn't much chance of him betraying any confidences when he can't hear anything, so everybody trusts him and just sort of ignores him." She drew in a deep breath. "I'm sorry, I'm talking a lot, aren't I. Would you like to see Giles?"
"Yeah." Buffy sounded as though the idea was pleasing to her, and Angel agreed with the sentiment. It would be nice to see Giles again. The sometimes prickly, sometimes peculiar former/current/whatever Watcher had been a good friend once. And then a rather stand-offish, almost-friend for quite a lot longer. Theirs had often been an awkward relationship, but most of the time they got along rather well. Not that Giles would be able to see him, this time. "Where is he?"
"Are you kidding?" Willow was smirking now. "He's been looking at every clock, and gazing out of every window, for the last three hours waiting for you to arrive. It's a wonder I beat him to the door. He's probably trying to act all English and aloof, but if he's any further away than the library I'll eat my hat. Or, you know, if I had a hat. I could eat a shoe?"
"Don't bother." Buffy couldn't help laughing. It was good to be back with Willow, good to be amongst friends. She had had little to do with the newly re-founded Watcher organisation, but what she had seen of it, she liked a lot more than she had the old one. There were only some twelve members at present; all men roughly of Giles's age, and all with a distinct air of misbehaviour about them. As far as she knew none of them had fallen quite as far out of favour with the old Council as her own former Watcher had managed, but they all seemed to have got themselves sacked somehow. At the last Council meeting she had attended there had been a distinctly odd smelling cigarette smoke prevalent in the room, that Giles had insisted at least six times was merely herbal. It had been when Buffy had found this claim quite extraordinarily funny that she had realised just what kind of herbal. Still, they seemed a competent lot in their own way, and they had all fought vampires at some point. Or they claimed to, which wasn't quite the same thing, but still set them apart from their predecessors.
"It's this way." Willow took her down a short stretch of corridor, painted, Angel couldn't help but notice, in some vague shade of pale grey. A few paintings hung on the wall; former Watchers perhaps, though by the look of them they were from several centuries past. Buffy peered at one or two, but there was nothing there to interest her. She had never exactly been a history fan. Willow no doubt already knew all about the paintings - who they depicted, who had painted them, where they had first been hung. She could be a real mini-Giles when the mood took her. Nowadays she even had the bad magic background to complete the picture.
"This library. I suppose it's full of books?"
"Libraries usually are, Buff." Willow grinned, guessing what her friend was driving at. "That's not why you're here. Giles isn't going to bombard you with two hundred ancient texts for new improved Slayerage. It's something else. He just likes meeting guests in the library. I think it feels like home."
"So long as it doesn't turn out to be the centre of a Hellmouth, and have a giant snakey octopussy weird thing living in it, that's fine." Buffy had had some odd experiences with libraries over the years. One library in particular, that was heavily associated with Giles. They had come to a door now, and she hesitated.
"Do we knock?"
"It's Giles! Besides, when did you ever knock. Start now, you'll get him worried." Willow pushed open the door. "Go on in."
"Well if he starts going on about books that I should be reading, I'm blaming you." Buffy shared a brief smile with her friend, then stepped into the room beyond the door. Angel followed her, already looking about him with interest. For a not especially large house, it had managed some remarkable hidden depths.
The room wasn't massive, but it was a lot larger than he would have imagined. Wood panelled of course, like so many libraries and drawing rooms in so many houses over the years. Bookcases everywhere - built into the wall, standing in the middle of the floor, balanced precariously on top of each other... Books on top of books on top of books. In the middle of it all, a sea of open books spread out on the floor around him, was Giles. There was a bottle of beer in one hand that he tried to hide at the sight of Buffy, but there was nowhere for him to put it. Instead he dithered, and Buffy had to laugh.
"Giles." She refrained from running to him - that would be too much, as she knew from experience. Instead she walked over at a far more sedate pace, considered merely shaking his hand, but instead pulled him into a brief hug. He returned it warmly, and finally gave up worrying about the beer.
"Buffy. It's... it's wonderful to see you. Really. I, um... I'd offer you coffee, but it's a lot more complicated that it sounds."
"I'll bet. I've already met Sebastian." Buffy looked around at the book-covered floor. "You ring the bell and order coffee, and three days later he brings you a kettle?"
"That's really not all that far from the truth." The Watcher pushed a pile of books off a series of chairs, and gestured to them. "Sit down then, Buffy, Willow." His eyes trailed past them, and for a second he frowned in Angel's general direction, then looked away again. If he had seen something, or thought that he had, the moment had passed quickly enough. "Um... are you alone?"
"I was with Faith in Mexico City last month. Other than that I've been alone since I dropped Dawn off at school in Vienna." Buffy slid into a chair, and tried not to step on any really ancient books. "Was there somebody else you wanted?"
"No. No, I suppose not." Giles flashed both girls a smile. "It doesn't matter. So, what do you think of the new headquarters?"
"Bland." Buffy smirked. "Sorry."
"Yes, well it's not exactly brimming with character, I'll give you that. It belonged to somebody's grandfather, and it was empty, so we moved all our bits and pieces in. Helps to have somewhere official. Happily I'm not here all that often."
"Until recently." Willow picked up a book that had been lying on the floor at her feet. It was not huge, but it was certainly larger than anything that Buffy usually liked to have to read. Leather-bound, gilt-edged - typical Giles reading material, in other words. It looked as though it was written in Latin. "Do you want me to go down to the kitchen, Giles? If you want tea or coffee, I can get it. I think Sebastian is almost getting used to me being in there now. He hasn't used the broom to shoo me out for a couple of days."
"No, you stay here." Giles flashed her a distracted smile, silently thanking her for the offer to give them some time alone. "Buffy..."
"The serious bit." She leaned back in her chair. All these years, and he could still be strikingly formal with her. All this time since the tweed and the ties had gone, and still that stiffness could remain. He smiled a half-smile that was partly a frown, as always slightly thrown by her very different approach.
"Yes. The, er... the serious bit. Buffy, it's wonderful to see you. It's always wonderful to see you..."
"But you didn't invite me here just to show off your new headquarters, or your nice new Kinks T-shirt." She smiled back at him, and at his momentary distraction as he glanced down at his attire.
"Er... yes. Well, quite. We've uncovered a prophecy."
"Wonders never cease." She folded her arms. "Okay, give it to me straight. What is it this time?"
"You don't seem especially intrigued." He looked almost put out, and she sighed.
"Giles, you're always finding prophecies. You find them, you warn me, I make sure they don't come true. Come on, we've been doing this for years. Since I was sixteen years-old, you've been finding me prophecies, most of which seem to be about me dying. And I'm still alive." She frowned. "Well, mostly. With one or two temporary lapses. Couldn't we have done this over the phone? I was on the trail of another Slayer."
"Yes, I know. Don't worry, I've got that covered. Or somebody has. We don't exactly have a world-wide network as yet, but we can usually get somebody where we need them to be quickly enough."
"Just tell me you didn't send Andrew."
"I didn't send Andrew." Andrew was in Sussex following up some leads of his own, which apparently involved a sorcerer who had died in the 13th century. Giles had heard the full story at least three times so far, but each time he had failed to bother listening properly. Andrew tended to have that effect. "Gordon Grahame. Former Watcher fired by the Council in 1987 for... well, you don't need to know that. He's a perfectly competent chap. Trustworthy, too, whatever the newspapers said at the time. Listen Buffy, this prophecy..."
"Is very old, and written in some weird language that only Watchers bother learning, and it was written centuries ago by somebody really respected who has never been wrong before." She raised her eyebrows. "Right?"
"Er... well, yes. Mostly right. It's written in Latin, so it's not just Watchers who know it. But, er... the rest was pretty close." He sighed. "You don't hold much store by prophecies, do you."
"Been there, done that." She waved a dismissive hand. "What does this one say?"
"It mentions the Slayer."
"Which one? There's no shortage these days."
"No. But since nobody could really have predicted what happened back in Sunnydale, I think we can assume that any prophecy referring to the Slayer in the singular means either you or Faith. It mentions a warrior. A warrior drawn from light and darkness, who will travel the greatest of distances to kill the Slayer and her protector. 'Destroy them utterly' is how the wording goes. Well, more or less. Buffy..."
"The Slayer and her protector? Watcher, you mean? Well Faith's Watcher is already dead, so I guess that rules out the pair of them."
"If it meant Watcher it would have said Watcher." Willow glanced up from the book that she was still holding. She had intended to study it, so that she would be intruding as little as possible, but she spoke up now. "The wording is very precise. It's not exactly cryptic, so if it meant Watcher, I think it would have said so. It says 'protector'.
"But I don't have a protector. I mean, I did once. My dad, but I don't think we can count him now that I'm an adult. And he's not really around anyway. My mom, but..." She shrugged. "I don't think that really counts either. And Giles, who tries to protect me every so often. I never let him though, so I don't see that he counts either. Oh, and there was Angel I guess. Except he went evil, and then went weird, and then ran off to another city, and then died. So, again he's not really what you could call a protector." Nearby Angel almost winced. Buffy's description of their time together was typically blunt, and typically honest. He couldn't really fault it, but it still stung.
"Yes..." Giles's eyes flickered around the room, before coming to rest once more upon Buffy. "Although there might be one way of explaining it."
"My creepy stalker guardian angel, you mean." She smiled. "No, I don't still think it's creepy. Just don't tell Angel that."
"Fits, I guess. A Slayer with a protector." Willow shrugged. "Only thing is, killing a dead guy doesn't work. Or does it?"
"Not killing in the strictest sense, no. He could be removed, certainly." Giles tapped his fingers thoughtfully on a nearby table, the only part of the wooden surface that was visible beneath acres of books. "I'm not sure that one can exorcise an angel as such, but there are always ways and means to dispose of the dead. With the right books, the right spells or weapons... it's possible."
"So you think that this 'warrior of light and dark' is going to come after me and Angel?" Buffy still looked less than impressed. "I don't know, Giles. What would be the point? Why me, and none of the other Slayers? These days just killing me wouldn't serve any real purpose."
"Revenge?" suggested Willow. "Or maybe somebody just wanting to strike a blow against our operations. You are kind of a figurehead, Buffy."
"She's right. You may just be one Slayer amongst many now, but you're still the longest lived and the most successful Slayer in some years. You're certainly the most experienced fighter that we have, and you've been invaluable in helping to train the newer Slayers. Killing you would do a lot of damage."
"So say you're right, then. Say somebody does come after me and Angel. I kill whoever it is, and we all go home in time for tea." She shrugged. "It's happened before, it'll happen again. I don't want to sound conceited, Giles, but this is what we do. We find prophecies, and we stuff them."
"Yes." He smiled faintly. "You certainly have an excellent track record where defeating prophecy is concerned. But Buffy, this is different. The prophecy says 'a warrior drawn from light and darkness, who will travel the greatest of distances'. I can't even begin to pretend that I know what that means. The greatest of distances? Another dimension perhaps. We could be talking about some demon warrior. And light and darkness are the two original elemental powers. Light and darkness. Good and evil. This isn't just a - a bloke with a sword and a grudge."
"Great." She folded her arms and stared around the room, at all the books and all the shelves, and the occasional piece of flooring visible beneath the impromptu carpet of pages. "Something we don't understand is coming from somewhere we don't know, bringing powers we know nothing about, to kill me for reasons we're totally unclear on. You really know how to welcome me to London, don't you Giles. You couldn't just invite me over for your birthday or something?"
"We'll work it out, Buffy. Like you said, this is what we do." He glanced over towards the side of the room. "And Angel?"
"He's not here. He's only around when I'm in danger, or... something." Buffy was extremely unclear on the whole idea of guardian angels, and still didn't really understand how somebody she couldn't see or hear was supposed to help her. She had a vague idea that he might deflect weapons at the last second, or use his invisible feet to trip up her opponents, but so far she had yet to see any real evidence that he was helping her. She certainly couldn't see him now as, realising that the time had come to admit to his presence, he faded into view beside a peculiar art deco vase that stood on a tall plinth. He held a finger to his lips to keep Giles and Willow silent, and the Watcher gave an almost imperceptible nod.
"I see," he said, in answer to Buffy's question. "If I'm right though, and you really are in danger, he's sure to be along. In the meantime, I should return to studying the prophecy."
"Does that mean I have to plough through all this stuff too?" Buffy's lack of enthusiasm brought a smile to her Watcher's face, and he shook his head.
"No. Willow, why don't you show Buffy to her room? Try to wrestle some food from Sebastian for her."
"Sure Giles." Willow cast a sidelong glance at Angel, but made no other reaction to his presence. "I'll let you get on."
"Thankyou." He nodded his thanks to her, and smiled warmly at Buffy as the pair left the room. Only when they had been gone for several moments did Angel move, picking his way carefully across the floor towards Giles.
"Neat trick," he said quietly. "This place have angel detectors?"
"No." They had once been relaxed in each other's presence. Nowadays neither ever quite knew how to address the other. Giles's disapproval of Angel's recent alliance with Wolfram & Hart had rather destroyed the rebuilding of their friendship. "Call it a certain sensitivity, usually to the presence of ghosts. Obviously there are certain metaphysical similarities."
"One dead being is probably very similar to another." Angel smiled uncertainly. "Hi. Been a while."
"Yes." They had met in person only a few times since Angel had left Sunnydale for Los Angeles, and whereas they had once communicated fairly regularly by telephone, that had rather tailed off during the Wolfram & Hart affair. Angel didn't blame Giles for his disapproval. It was easy to think that you knew best when you had hundreds of years of experience, and a determined drive to destroy all that was evil - but sometimes it was better to have a more detached outlook. Giles had seen what Angel hadn't - that Wolfram & Hart corrupted even those who were most on their guard.
"So, er... there's trouble then." It seemed better just to jump to the business at hand. Giles smiled faintly.
"Presumably you know that. Like Buffy said, you're only around when she's in danger."
"True. I never really know what the danger is, though. I just... sort of get word, and away I go." He shrugged. "The Higher Powers aren't big on detail. They obviously think there's a real threat, but that's all I get told. You really think that somebody is out to kill us both?"
"I don't see how else to interpret the prophecy. No other Slayer that we know of has anything that could really be termed a 'protector'. And no other Slayer is likely to attract such a prophecy anyway."
"Which means we're it." Angel sat down on the corner of the table. "And you honestly have no idea where to start?"
"The usual books, the usual places. You don't have anywhere important to be for the next few days, I take it?"
"I guess not." The guardian angel looked around at the sea of books. "You could use Wesley's help."
"Any chance of that?" Wesley was weird and unpredictable, and he and Giles had never got along - but he did have his uses. Angel shook his head.
"Sorry. Don't think so. Things are crazy in LA at the moment. We've got vampires and demons crawling out of the woodwork everywhere. Their numbers are up three hundred percent. I felt bad leaving to come out here as it is, so I certainly can't take anybody else away. Wes is trying to work out what's up, and Spike is playing Philip Marlowe. Or a violent, toothy kind of Philip Marlowe, anyhow."
"Sounds like there's fun all around, then. Great." Giles sighed. "Help yourself to a beer. There's a crate hidden in the window seat. Beyond that..." He shrugged. "Welcome aboard, stay alert, and keep focused on Buffy. I don't know what's coming or when to expect it. I just know that we've got trouble."
"Yeah." Angel thought about his friends fighting back in LA, and the unanswered questions that remained there too. "Lately there's a lot of it about."
He's cold now. Not cold like when the winter draws in. Not cold like ice and wind. Cold like... cold like nothing in the world has ever been warm. A cold that is everything, and in everything. A cold that has such intensity it could make bones snap without effort. Strange, that dying should be like this. Sad, that he'll never be warm again. He thinks that he's struggling, but he's lost all sense of self against the cold. Lost all sense of everything. And still he can't breathe - but by now he's forgotten even to try.
"There's fresh coffee." Slumping down into a neighbouring chair, Annie let out a long, exhausted sigh. "But I suppose offering it to you would be rather pointless."
"Yeah. Would a bit." Gunn grinned at her. "You look wasted."
"Thankyou so much. I'm delighted that my appearance is so sparkling." She pretended to hit him, and frowned when her hand passed straight through his shoulder. "That still surprises me. I don't think I'll ever get used to it."
"You weren't really supposed to find out." He flashed her a small smile. "But then I guess if I can't trust you, right? More effective as a fearless killer of vampires if they don't know I'm already dead. Dead warriors are a bit less scary."
"Not to me. What could be more scary than being attacked by dead people?" She was remembering the night at her hostel, when they had all been under siege by the reanimated dead. Gunn shrugged.
"Depends on your outlook, I guess. But if you're already dead, something's already killed you. It means you're not infallible."
"Yeah. But if you're already dead, nobody can kill you again. Which makes you even more infallible. Or is there some kind of social handicap to being a ghost?"
"All those cards they used to stick up in restaurants and boarding houses, you mean? No Coloureds, No Ghosts?"
"Idiot." She sipped her coffee. "It's been a long day. Been a long night."
"Been a long week." He stretched, his own fatigue showing. "I shouldn't feel this tired."
"You've had to play at being solid for a long time. You know how that drains you. You're getting a lot of practice at maintaining it recently, I know - but it's still early days yet."
"Listen to you. The Ghost Professor."
"I've been trying to do some reading, ever since I found out that you were dead." She winced. "And will I ever get used to saying things like that?! You know what I'm talking about, anyway. When you fight, you have to be solid or you can't stake anything. It's bound to be a drain. You only have to look at how insubstantial you are right now to see that."
"Yeah." He was insubstantial right now. She was right about that; and right about the reasons, too. All of his souped up knowledge had not remained in death what it had been in life, but he still had enough to know more than he might have done otherwise. Enough not to have to rely on Wesley to fill in all the gaps, anyway. "These last days, it's been crazy. I'm not going to be good for anything for a while."
"You've been wonderful." It had been insane - vampires everywhere, for the best part of a week or more. Trying to pass themselves off as teenagers seeking shelter in her hostel; trying to get into the rundown houses nearby; attacking people in the streets, lurking in the alleyways even in the daytime. Vampires in clothes still streaked with earth from their graves; vampires with faces that she recognised. Kids she had had under her roof just a few days before. That was when she had really stopped being just an outsider - when she had finally decided that this wasn't just Gunn's fight. Not just something that he had to do. It was something that all of them were a part of; her, the kids in her hostel, the local neighbourhood. People who had always known about the vampires, at least on some level, but hadn't ever tried to fight them before. They had left it up to the street kids; to Gunn and people like him. The gang he had used to run with, spending their nights patrolling, always on the look out for vampires. Now Annie was one of them, and so were the neighbours she had barely spoken to before. All of them, armed with broken broom handles and chair legs, taking it in turns to help the young experts in their vampire hunting. She couldn't believe how hard it was; how draining it was. How the vampires moved. How strong and fast they were. Gunn had told her that these were mostly new vampires - that they didn't have any experience yet, and still mostly moved like the humans they once had been. It didn't look like that to her. It seemed incredible that Gunn and his various friends had been doing this for so long - fighting vampires many times more strong, more cunning, more deadly than those she was helping to fight now. She thought about Cordelia - bright, bubbly Cordelia, with her beautiful clothes and her beautiful hair. And Wesley - thin, scrawny Wesley, with his glasses and neat hair. Vampire fighters both. If they could do it, she had told herself - if they could fight vampires and worse - then so could she. She hadn't been on duty for more than twenty-four hours, and still she was tired. Hadn't slept properly since a sixteen year-old boy she had used to pay to wash her car had tried to tear out her throat in her own driveway. He'd had yellow eyes, and inhuman teeth, and his skin was paler than it should have been - but it had still been him, at least to her mind. One of Gunn's friends had staked him with what had looked like part of a gatepost. She still saw it, religiously, every time she tried to go to sleep, and she still didn't know why. Just one more vampire. Just one more dead kid. Beside her Gunn smiled, and she smiled back. There was nothing mechanical about the expression. She meant the smile. It reached her eyes; it was real. The shadows remained behind it though.
"I've been wonderful? I'm used to this. I'm dead, it can't hurt me. You've been the wonderful one. Helping fight the vamps at night, still running this place as well. Keeping people safe. You're the real hero, Annie. Cooked meals, warm beds, safe walls. It's people like you who are really helping to keep the vamp numbers down. They can't get at your kids in here. That's thirty, forty less people for them to feed on or turn. We need more places like this."
"We need more people who know about vampires. Who are prepared to believe that there's more to life than they've realised. I keep thinking, what if we told more people? What if we wrote to the state governor, or even to the Pentagon. I mean, the authorities must know something about all of this, right? They're supposed to know all about aliens and stuff. Shouldn't they know about vampires as well? I keep thinking, maybe the army should get involved. But they'd never believe us."
"Some people would. You remember Wes? He's got a friend, into the same business as him. Gathering intel on monsters and the like. Apparently he ran into a branch of the army a few years back, with government connections real high up. They were trained to fight vampires. People do believe. I guess downtown LA's just on the top of nobody's list of priorities."
"I wouldn't usually think that it needed to be." She stifled a yawn. "Just lately it's been so crazy."
"Yeah. Wes has been reading about every book he's got. Books written thousands of years ago in who knows what levels of hell. I guess he thinks he'll find us some answers in there, about why there's so many vamps all of a sudden." Gunn shrugged. "I reckon it's just the way it goes, is all. The vampires know there's more Slayers out there nowadays. They're going on the offensive, and we're stuck on the front line. You don't need books to tell you that. I'd like to know why none of these shiny new Slayers are coming to LA though. We keep hearing about them all in Italy, and South America, and Australia. Every sunshine paradise that ain't here."
"There might be more of them now, but that doesn't mean there are a lot." She sipped her coffee, staring into the spirals of steam. "It's incredible. I hear so much from you that I never knew about. An army of girls, being gathered to fight vampires. It's like... it's like something from a story I'd just dismiss as fantasy."
"Sometimes it's everything else that seems like fantasy. Guys in suits, going to work in offices. Buying houses, getting married, having kids. None of that seems real." Gunn flashed her a sidelong smile. "Course, it is all just a fantasy when you're dead. I don't think there's many offices that'll give jobs to dead guys, and I'm pretty sure I won't be getting a mortgage or a wife any time soon. Or kids."
"You had a job in an office," she reminded him. "It scrambled your brain and then it killed you. That's a pretty strong encouragement to leave the ordinary life well alone."
"Yeah. If you can call Wolfram & Hart the ordinary life. If there's anything that office wasn't, it's ordinary." He frowned. "Except to me it was, which is even more weird. When did going to work with demons get to be ordinary?"
"When did fighting vampires seem like just another job?" She yawned again. "And I've been doing that less than a fortnight." She raised the coffee again, but this time didn't drink. "I'm scared, Charles. What's really going on? Why are there suddenly so many vampires?"
"I told you. They've heard about how many Slayers there are now."
"Really? Then why Los Angeles? Why this bit of Los Angeles? If there was this kind of vampire activity in every city, we'd hear about it eventually. Your friend Wesley - surely his investigations have included some basic detective work, rather than just reading ancient books?"
"Yeah, he's asked around. Friends and colleagues in other countries. So far this is just a local thing. But that doesn't mean--"
"Charles, don't try to fob me off with half truths and half-assed theories. You don't know that that's the reason. Nobody knows what the reason was, or your friend wouldn't be reading all those books right now. You told me that you're given your missions by some kind of angel. That there are higher powers governing your work now. Well don't these higher powers know anything?"
"Half the time they don't seem to know anything. And when they do know they don't tell us." Gunn shrugged. "We've always figured it out for ourselves. You've seen a lot, Annie. There's no reason to get scared now. Most of the vampires we're dealing with are so young and stupid you could dust them with one hand tied behind your back."
"And the demons?"
"Yeah, well. You let me take care of them. Spike's supposed to be Demon Guy, but I guess they're keeping him pretty busy somewhere else." Gunn sighed. "And we're a fighter down right now, with Angel off playing at Guardian Angels so much of the time. But we'll win through, right? We always do."
"Not always," she reminded him. He glanced down at his partially transparent body, and smiled awkwardly.
"Yeah, well everybody's allowed to slip up once or twice."
She laughed then. "Most of us only get the one chance, actually. Oh, Charles. Look at you. I can see the pattern of the chair through you, and I'd really rather not. I hate that chair."
"Charity donation?" He looked down at his chest. Sure enough, an impressively repulsive paisley design was showing through. It didn't go at all well with his shirt. In all honesty it probably wouldn't have gone well with anybody's shirt. "Man. I see what you mean."
"I keep meaning to find a cover for it. If you're going to flop around on the furniture in that state, I think I should raise it up my list of priorities."
"Yeah, well if it's any consolation, I don't plan to be spending too much of my time looking like my own shadow. This is embarrassing. Kinda gives the game away, too."
"You need home-made chicken soup." She set aside her coffee. "I could put a bowl next to you. Maybe you could... pick up the chicken vibes?"
"What is this. Ghost humour?" On any other occasion he would have thrown a cushion at her, but at the moment he didn't have the energy for it. "Does chicken soup even have vibes?"
"I don't know. The ghost of the chicken? You're the one who's supposed to know about these things. Ghosts and ghouls and zombie policemen, and other creepy dead things." She smirked. "Not that ghosts are creepy. Not all ghosts, anyway."
"You know many?"
"Currently not, no. I'd quite like to keep it that way. I don't like it when my friends die, Charles, even if they do spend more time here after death than they did when they were alive. I want to be able to make enough coffee for two. I want to have you here, sharing the food when the house is full. It scares me to see you so pale that you might just fade away."
"I'm not fading anywhere." He reached out for her hand, and she felt the faintest flicker across her skin, as though somebody had blown delicately there. Nothing like the strong grasp when he manifested properly. "I'm just tired. We all get tired sometimes. I don't like seeing you like this. You're so pale, you haven't been sleeping properly. I'm dead, nothing else can happen to me. But you need to take it easy more."
"We both do. Neither of us is going to be much use to the fighting otherwise. I'm glad it's still morning. Do you have to check in at the hotel?"
"I don't think I can. I don't have the energy to zap back there, and there's no way I'm walking through the streets looking like this. I'd get someone to drive me, but everybody's either asleep or out on duty somewhere. Rondell's got some of the guys hunting nests, and a few more over at the funeral home." He yawned. "I should be with them."
"Yeah. Because you're so much use right now."
"I could keep watch. I ought to be doing something."
"Yeah. Resting. Come on, Charles. You're doing too much, and you could be laying us open to danger. Over-stretching yourself is a great way to leave a hole in our defences. I can still fight when I'm tired. You can't."
"True." He had realised that himself, a long time ago. On the one hand it had been foolish to fight for so long, but on the other he could hardly abandon his friends in the thick of battle. There had been so many vampires, coming at him for so long. Easily dispatched, true enough - but still needing to be fought, however briefly. It could be a neat trap, really. His fighter's brain couldn't help considering the notion. He wasn't being conceited, thinking of himself as the best vampire killer here. He was strong, he was fast, and he could take risks that living people couldn't. That made him good - even better than he had been before his death. And he had been very good then. This eventual limit to his strength was his one weakness, and it could be very easy to exploit. He just couldn't work out why. Who really stood to gain from putting him out of action for a few hours? It was daytime. The vampires were hardly at their best, either. But then if it hadn't been intended to put him out of action, why had so many vampires come to attack this rundown, lifeless part of town? There was a thought coalescing in the back of his mind, but just at the moment he couldn't quite connect the dots. He should talk it over with Annie, he knew - try to work it out that way. She was tired, though. Heaven knew, he was more than tired himself. He could talk, he could joke, he could sit and marvel at the hideousness of the paisley pattern showingthrough his chest. He just couldn't seem to think. Not properly. Not right now. Just the idea made him drift off towards sleep.
"You're falling asleep," Annie told him. He opened one eye.
"It wasn't a criticism. Go ahead, you've earned the rest."
"Yeah." He wanted to tell her that he was trying to think of something, but he had worked so hard to stop her being too afraid. He didn't want to tell her that he was starting to worry now. And besides, he wasn't really starting to worry. He was too tired for that. For better or worse, the worrying would have to wait for later, for when he awoke again.
It seems to take forever to die - if dying is what he's doing. But then what else could he be doing, alone, suspended, dark, cold? Has he always been here? Is this what he is? Is this all that he has, all that he's ever had? He doesn't know. Maybe he can't remember anything else because there's never been anything else. Maybe... But it's hard to think, and the cold is consuming him. For the first time he tries to speak aloud, but no sound comes. Nothing comes. All is silence. It feels like the end of the universe, and might as well be. Maybe he's all that's left alive. Maybe he's all that ever was. Maybe Time itself is coming to its end.
The Storyteller was the last place on his list - the last in a long line of bars he had been trawling for the past forty-eight hours. A small, cramped, badly lit place beneath a music store run by some drug-addled hippie who hadn't been sober since 1967. Spike pushed aside the beads that hung in the doorway, and almost fell down the three wooden steps that lurked beneath. Somebody somewhere laughed, but he couldn't see who in the jumble of shadows, smoke and bodies, so he didn't bother glaring. He would fight later, if he had to. For now he just wanted information.
It was a familiar bar, even though he had never been there before. There were plenty of them in Los Angeles, and probably in other cities too, in other countries around the world. Open twenty-four hours a day; a place where the dreamers, the writers and the dropouts came together with a few of the demons on the very edge of the Underworld. A safe place, mostly, where many of the regulars weren't even sure how much of what they saw was for real. Pale, pale girls hoping against hope that they would meet a vampire, knowing nothing of the creatures they were so sure they sought. The kind who read too much of the wrong sort of book, thought Spike, as he passed several tables draped with such girls. They wanted romantic, pseudo-Gothic lovers to sweep them off their feet. Most of them would never find out that their dreams were wrong - those that did would not live to learn any lessons. But they were not his problem tonight. He ignored them, for they could never answer his questions. They didn't know anything. Instead he focused on fighting a way through to the bar.
"What'll it be?" asked the bartender, a short, stocky man in an ageless suit. Spike eyed the bottles with relish.
"Whisky." He couldn't drink it, but he couldn't expect to get information if he didn't at least buy a drink. Money was the problem. He couldn't keep any in his pockets unless he concentrated constantly to maintain his solidity. He could, however, slide his hand neatly through the man standing next to him at the bar, and coax some money from his pocket.
"Not seen you in here before." The bartender frowned at him. "Seen you somewhere, though."
"I get around." Spike took the glass, and made a show of swirling the whisky around inside. He had become quite practised at upending the glass when nobody seemed to be looking, and emptying the whisky out onto the floor. The bartender frowned harder.
"I know that voice, too. I saw you reading poetry! Yeah. You were good. Ought to go back and read some more sometime."
"Really?" Spike's ego, suitably stroked, rose to the occasion. "Thanks. Yeah, I always did like those poems. Just needed the right place to read them in, I guess. Didn't always get such good audiences in the past."
"Everyone's a critic." The bartender offered him a smile that was a good deal more friendly now than it had been before. "So what is you came in for?"
"Whisky." Spike waved the glass, which was now empty. The bartender's gaze had hardly wavered, but Spike prided himself on his sneakiness. "It's good stuff here. Single malt. Nice."
"Finest Scotch, brought over here from the Highlands by my own boat. But that's not why you're here, and we both know it. You're looking for somebody, right?"
"Not exactly." Spike offered the bartender a faintly abashed smile, trying to keep everything friendly. "Just wanted to ask some questions. I'm not a copper or anything."
"You don't say. And with that accent I really had you pegged as one of Los Angeles' finest." A broad hand grasped hold of Spike's. "Sam Dyas. I don't break confidences, and I don't tell tales. But I do like poetry."
"Spike," said Spike, rather warming to the bartender now. "It's okay. I wouldn't ask you to say anything that might hurt your customers. I just wondered what you might hear, working in a place like this. What you might know. You get all sorts through here, right?"
"Up to a point." Sam looked guarded now. "I try not to let vampires in. Don't like their kind. I serve alcohol here, not blood. I'll let some demons in, but none of the troublemakers. I don't like fighting in here, and demons fight dirty. All teeth and claws, you know? Tentacles, some of them."
"Yeah, I know." Spike pushed the glass back over the bar, and Sam refilled it. "Thing is, it's sort of my job to fight demons. The bad ones. The ones who like the slice and dice, and the bad magicks and all the rest of that stuff. I don't mind the quiet ones, and I don't mind the ones who don't make trouble. But I fight the rest, especially vampires. And there's a lot of vampires around these days."
"Yeah, I know. We've all noticed. Had five or six try to get in here the last couple of nights, and I don't usually get that many in a month or more. Seen them in the streets, too. Round here there's a lot of alleyways and the like, where a vampire can hide out safely even during the day. It's like there's some kind of gathering going on."
"Except there isn't."
"No, there isn't. They're not coming here from other towns. The ones I've been seeing around here, they're new vampires. Not visitors. They peer in through the windows, and you can still see the earth from their graves plastered all over their clothes. Under their fingernails. They hardly even know what they are, yet. Somebody somewhere is making a whole lot of new vampires."
"And I want to know who." Spike slammed the now empty glass back onto the bar top. "I've been wandering all over the bloody city trying to get some answers, and everybody I speak to plays dumb, or tells me to go somewhere else. I spent most of last night fighting Broxx demons on an old building site, and I'm not in a great mood anymore."
"Broxxes, huh." Sam made a sympathetic face. "Banned their kind years ago. Always starting fights and ruining the furniture. Not usually that dangerous, though. They're not killers."
"They are now. Centuries ago, when they first came to this dimension, they were lethal. Looks like they're going back to the old ways. Sacrifices. Eating human livers, that kind of thing. I don't like that in my town."
"Yeah. Can't say I think much of the idea either." Sam frowned at him. "You're sure about this? Like I said, I've banned the Broxx en masse, but I've never really thought of them as bad guys. They're strong, sure, and they could do a lot of damage if they wanted - but they've never seemed to want to."
"Like I said, they do now. I don't fight for fun." He frowned briefly. "Well yeah, I do actually. But I don't usually choose to fight things like that for fun. Take a lot of killing, do Broxxes. You can't just bash them over the head and hope they'll stay down."
"I can't say that I've ever tried." Sam nodded slowly. "You want to talk to Meridian. Or maybe you do. Corner booth, by the window with the curtains pulled shut. Take him over a bottle of vodka and he might answer your questions."
"Yeah?" Spike looked over in the direction of the corner booth, but it was too dark there to be sure of what he was looking at. Sam shrugged.
"Yeah. Or he might beat the living daylights out of you. Depends."
"You can never tell with Meridian. On whether or not he wants the vodka I guess." Sam pushed a bottle over the bar, then turned to search out a glass to go with it. Spike took the opportunity to coax a little more money from the pockets of his nearest neighbour, and wondered briefly about asking Wesley for some magic lessons in order to facilitate the operation. Problem with Wesley was that you never knew if he would agree to something like that, or jump on his moral high horse, disapprove loudly, and spout Watcherly moral maxims like somebody's old aunt.
"Thanks mate." Tossing the money over the bar, Spike scooped up bottle and glass and set off across the room. He was almost at the corner booth before he was able to see the dark shadow of his contact, and it wasn't until he had put down his offerings and slid into the seat opposite that the man took on any kind of recognisable shape. If it was a man. Spike rather doubted that.
"Meridian?" It was hard to be sure exactly what he was looking at - a domed black shape, with the vague features of a man. Vague features that showed no expression, or interest in Spike.
"Vodka." There was a hint of approval in a thick, hoarse voice. "Dyas sent you."
"He said that you might be able to answer my questions." Spike opened the bottle and poured a generous measure into the glass. "Drink up. I've done this informant thing before, and I'd rather speed the process along than play games."
"What makes you think that I'm an informant?" Meridian seemed to be watching Spike intently, but he could discern no eyes in the shadows before him, and didn't know why he was so sure that he was being watched. For all he knew, the mass of blackness in front of him could have been staring at something on the other side of the room.
"Fella at the bar. Sam. He said you might be able to answer my questions. See, I'm looking--"
"You're trying to find out why there are so many more vampires in the city now. Why somebody is making so many of them. Why the Broxx are back to their old ways, and why you've had to spend so much of your time lately fighting them." A black gloved hand slid out of the shadows, took the glass, and lifted it up into the darkness that so nearly hid the face. "You're William The Bloody, aren't you. An interesting career change for you."
"You recognise me?" Spike couldn't help being flattered. "Yeah, I'm William The Bloody. It got to be a bit wordy, though. I prefer Spike."
"So I hear. Spike the vampire, tearing out throats across all of Europe. And yet now you want to know how you can stop a demon invasion."
"What can I say. I'm a complicated guy." Spike folded his arms and tried to look intimidating - which wasn't easy when he was talking to little more than a three dimensional shadow. "How is it that you know all about me? I hadn't heard of you before today."
"Another interesting thing. Spike the vampire walks in through the door, in broad daylight. No hiding from the sun. No bursting into flame. There was talk of a prophecy..."
"Yeah. Good little vampires turning human. Load of balls as it turned out. Now I didn't come over here to talk about me. Do you know about the Broxx demons or not?"
"I think perhaps I may." Meridian reached out, wrapping one hand around the neck of the bottle. Spike caught his wrist.
"Hang on. Drinks for chat, right? You tell me something before you have any more of that. I bought it as a trade off."
"You didn't buy it at all. The man standing next to you did. You stole his money, and I'm interested to know how. It looked like a fascinating technique."
"Yeah, but I'm the one asking the questions. So hard bloody cheese. What do you know about the Broxx demons?"
"A cruel past. Given to sacrifices and blood rituals. When they first arrived in this dimension they found humans to be an ideal victim. No claws, no teeth to speak of. They congregated beneath the growing cities, and killed many. Folk tales tell of a human warrior named Jason, who fought the leader of the Broxx in hand to hand combat in 1866. He had already killed dozens of the Broxx, by hunting them in their lairs beneath the cities. The Broxx still speak of him with a growl, the way that vampires speak of the Slayer. Jason was rumoured to be immortal, to be able to travel great distances in the blink of an eye. He was everywhere, and he was unstoppable, so the Broxx leader sought out that fight to try to end the legend once and for all. Jason won. The leader of the Broxx was cleaved in two, and both halves, so says the story, begged for their lives like frightened children. The Broxx have been a quiet race ever since."
"And you believe that?" Spike clearly didn't. "Immortal warriors and all that twaddle?"
"You asked me what I knew of the Broxx. I'm telling you what I know. Recently they have given up their peaceful ways. They have returned to their days of violence and blood. Generations of demons who have never killed at all are now seizing humans out of alleyways, and tearing them to pieces."
"Yeah, I know that. That's why I'm here." Spike began to stand up. "This is bloody pointless. Keep your sodding vodka."
"Spike." A black gloved hand caught his wrist, stopping him from leaving. "The Broxx. What do you know of them?"
"I know that they're pesky little buggers. That they're stronger than humans, but not stronger than me. I know that they're a pain in the backside to kill."
"But not impossible."
"Course not. Nothing's impossible to kill. Well, dragons maybe. If you're on your own. Anyway, what's your point?"
"Point?" Meridian pulled slightly, guiding Spike back down into the booth, pulling him forward across the table, as though seeking greater secrecy. Spike saw Meridian's face properly then, and almost pulled away.
"You don't like what you see?" A faint, hoarse laugh echoed dully in Spike's ears. "I have my reasons for hiding in shadows, William The Bloody."
"I can see that." In point of fact he could still see little, but little was more than enough. Meridian was almost wasted away - a skeleton in all but name. Thin, darkened skin stretched itself over his bones, and his eyes were sunken so deeply into their sockets that they were barely visible in the gloom. Everything about him was wrong - discoloured, misshapen, desiccated. His gumless mouth leered at Spike now, his uncommonly long teeth crooked and sharp. He was human, though. Spike was sure of that. "What do you want?"
"Vodka. Shadows. Death. Not necessarily in that order."
"I've given you vodka. You got shadows. If you want me to kill you..."
"If I could die easily, Spike, don't you think that I would be dead by now? Look at me. How long do you think a man has to live to come to be looking like this? A thousand men and demons have tried to kill me. I've even tried myself more than once. It never happens. But I'm not the issue here. Who I am, and where I come from - what was done to me long ago - that's not why you came. You want to know about the Broxx."
"Yeah." Spike relaxed slightly, although he remained decidedly uneasy. "Give me the answers, mate, and I'm gone. You can sit here in the shadows and brood on your own all you like, then. Got experience of that kind of thing myself."
"I doubt that there are many similarities between the two of us. But to answer your question. The Broxx are hard to kill, but by no means impossible. The vampires that suddenly flood the city are weak and young. Recently made. They're not hard for you to kill."
"No. Still gotta kill them, though, haven't I. Can't hardly leave them to get stronger. Can't leave the Broxx either."
"Precisely. I don't have the answers you seek, necessarily, but I can observe. I can suggest. Think now. You fight demons and vampires. You struggle to find answers to your questions. You spend all of your time on investigating and fighting. Fighting and investigating. No great fight. No great challenge."
Spike's eyes snapped up, staring deep into the shadowed holes in Meridian's skull. "But one hell of a great distraction."
"Being here, you are not being somewhere else. Am I right?"
"Damn it!" Spike jumped to his feet, half stumbling over a table leg in his struggle to get out of the booth as fast as he could. He had to get out of this bar, to a place where nobody could see him transport himself home. There might be no time to lose. As he ran his voice came back to Meridian, but the words were no surprise to the misshapen old man. He curled his wasted hand back around the vodka and hugged the bottle to his impossibly thin chest. He knew where Spike was heading. And by now he felt sure that it was too late.
Voices. Are those voices? He doesn't know, because he's not sure if there's such a thing as voices. As other people. As communication. He thinks that he hears something, but it could be nothing more than his imagination. Nothing more than murmurs in the vastness of space. Whispers in blackness. Should he try to speak to them? But if they are voices, if there are other creatures out here, how can he tell if they are good or bad? This doesn't feel like a place where the good might dwell. He doesn't know what that says about him. He just knows that he's suspicious, and that the voices don't feel like his friends. Just knows that he wants to get away.
The lights were low at Haven. It was morning, but the clientele had decided that for another few hours at least it would still be night-time, and Lorne wasn't about to disappoint them. He wasn't especially tired, and he wasn't in any hurry to be anywhere else. If the demons, vampires and misfits of Los Angeles didn't want the party to end, that was fine by him. A gargantuan purple fur ball by the name of Trask was singing an old Dean Martin number, and most of the other beings in the club were swaying appropriately, one or two of them singing along under their breath. Trask had eight inch long fangs, and a pair or twisted, lethal-looking horns sprouting out of the sides of his head, but he cast a spell over his audience with nothing more deadly than music. Vwoop - that was the best that Lorne could do in terms of pronunciation - a bright blue beanpole with a penchant for dressing like Bill Haley, was waiting in the wings. He would pick up the pace once Trask had finished, no doubt with something from the more raucous side of rock'n'roll. There would be others to follow him, and Lorne would no doubt wind it all up himself, once it began to look as though his customers were ready to go home. He was already planning what to sing. Sinatra, maybe, or possibly some Shirley Bassey. Yes, quite likely Shirley Bassey. He was in the mood for a little Bond.
It was Dega's fault. Dega was a Krayn demon - almost entirely human in appearance, save for decidedly pointed ears and a tendency toward exotic eyes. There were undoubtedly other differences between the two species, but so far Lorne had only seen the Krayn race fully clothed. Wesley could probably answer the question, but Lorne preferred his own line of investigation. Dega, he couldn't help thinking, was worth investigating further. He had to be six foot seven at least, with blue-black hair that gleamed most aesthetically in the club's colourful lighting, and a perfectly tailored tuxedo that just screamed Bond. He even had a cigarette in one hand, and a glass waiting to be refilled in the other. Lorne moved closer to try to hear what the Krayn was drinking tonight, but couldn't catch it. If it wasn't vodka and martini he would be greatly disappointed.
"Hey, orange blossom." He slid onto the barstool nearest to Dega, and gave the barman a quick nod. A fresh Seabreeze arrived for him barely a second later. "You're looking particularly suave tonight."
"Lorne." Dega smiled politely, with genuine warmth in his purple eyes. "You're open late tonight. I thought I'd find the place closed."
"Well maybe I saw you coming, doll. Couldn't close up before you'd got yourself a drink, could I. Is that shaken or stirred?"
"It's tonic water." Dega grinned at him. "Sorry. I wanted a clear head. I need a reading, and I thought I might sing."
"You don't need to be sober for that. A lot of my clients prefer it if they're not, especially first time up." Lorne shrugged. "But that's your decision. You've never sung before though, sweetheart. Why now?"
"I don't know. I guess I just want some answers." Dega smiled at him, in a way guaranteed to get Lorne smiling in return. "Are you reading tonight, though? You don't seem to be paying much attention to that purple thing singing up there now."
"Trask? He doesn't come for the readings. He's a Dorrl, it's against his religion to get his answers that way. No, you got all my attention right now, sweetheart. Every little bit of it." He clinked his glass against his companion's. "Now what do you say we put a little something more interesting into that tonic water? Tonic feels lonely without gin. Pink gin, maybe. Add a little colour."
"Are you trying to get me drunk, Lorne?"
"Honey, as if I'd try such a thing." The irrepressible green demon neatly relieved Dega of his drink, and slid it back across the bar. A measure of pink gin appeared in it almost as though by magic. "Here you are. Now, any ideas what you'd like to sing?"
"I have no idea at all. I haven't sung since my brother's wedding nine years ago. Not in public, anyway. Something easy?"
"You take the time and think it through, doll. The right song will find you." Lorne drained his glass and stood up. "I have to do a little circulating, but I'll be back when Vwarp or whatever his name is has finished giving us his teddy boy act. He's up after Trask... or so say the rumours." He winked. "Don't you go anywhere."
"I won't." Dega turned his attention to his drink, only half watching as Lorne headed back out across the shining dancefloor. Trask's turn on stage was just coming to its end, and the audience was already beginning to clap. Vwoop took his place a few moments later, appropriating the microphone with the urgent air of someone afraid that his predecessor might be about to do an encore. Seconds later the opening chords to Johnny B Goode cleared away the last of the slow mood inspired by Trask, and the dance floor filled up straight away. Lorne danced for a few minutes with a pair of young girls from the local college, spun a bemused vampire in a merry circle, then stepped off into the tables that lined the other side of the room. Illyria was there, watching the merrymaking from the shadows, with her usual expression of part confusion, part superior disinterest. Her eyes snapped over to Lorne as soon as he approached her.
"They should not still be here," she said, displeasure showing in her voice. "They are supposed to be gone before the sun rises."
"It's a club, Lil. We stay open as long as they want us to." He was in high spirits, and it showed clearly. His eyes shone, his grin was even brighter than usual, and he had apparently dressed the previous evening in the full knowledge of how good he was going to be feeling. His clothes were a riot of orange and red, as bright as the jewellery that flashed when he moved his hands. "Why? There something you'd rather be doing?"
"You are supposed to be helping Wesley." She disapproved of his continued partying, when there was something else that he could be doing. Something Wesley-related, which was without a doubt her own favourite pursuit. He shrugged.
"There's nothing I can be doing for him, my little blue sunbeam. What use am I around all those books? I speak the lingo, I can't read it."
"Wes said if I didn't have anything else going on, then it might be nice to have some help. He knows how I work, and he knows my priorities. Have a drink, put your feet up. Stop being such a party-pooper."
"If there is danger, then all able bodied--"
"Hon, there are fighters in this world, there are scholars, and there are entertainers. You're a fighter, good for you. Wes is a fighter and a scholar. That's double plaudits for the dead British contingent. Me? I'm an entertainer. I make people smile, I don't make them dead." He gestured around him. "All these creatures in here? They're out of the fight. As long as I keep this place open, and an all round fun place to be, they're not out there slice'n'dicing the locals. So long as I keep the drinks flowing and the finger food available, they're not drinking blood and barbecuing human spare ribs. This is my contribution, and it's the one I'm best at. You want to go help out back at the hotel, you go ahead."
"They do not wish for my assistance." She sounded haughty. Lorne shrugged.
"Yeah, well. Beggars can't be choosers, doll. Maybe they'll be happy to have you right now. No reason why you can't charge round the streets with Spike or Gunn, fighting things with big teeth. Wes might not want you on the Research Squad, but that doesn't mean you have to stay out of it."
"If I wished to fight, I would fight." Her eerie eyes stared at him in blue-tinged contempt. "Wesley needs assistance."
"Yeah yeah yeah. It's all about Book Boy, I get it already. I can understand the fascination, Lil. I wouldn't kick him out of bed myself. But he's a ghost, you're in the body of his dead girlfriend... it ain't going to work, sweetheart."
"You prattle." She had never had any patience for his more cheerful conversations. "There are stirrings, and the sense of foreboding, and all you do is flutter your eyelashes at strange creatures in too many clothes. The Earth moves, Krevlorneswath of the Deathwok Clan."
"Just Lorne, okay? Lirry, I get the vibes. I feel the... the 'stirrings', if you really must call them that. Are you telling me that you know what's coming?"
She scowled at that - but then Illyria scowled at everything. "No. It is enough to know that there is wrongness in the air. That there are sensations."
"No, it's not enough. You say that you want to help Wesley, but just telling him that 'something is coming' isn't any kind of help that I can see. Telling him what is coming - that's helping. Get me?"
"I do not understand." She looked away from him, to where two hundred demons of all shapes and sizes were dancing two hundred different dances to the tune sung by the energetic Vwerp. Or whatever his name was. To her, it was a confusion; a pointlessness of beings. To Lorne it was life. He sighed, and clapped her on the shoulder, something he would never have attempted out of the protection of the club's anti-violence spells.
"I know you don't, Lil. And I'm sorry. Nothing I do makes a whole lot of sense to you, but honey, I'm all you got. Stay here and lurk if you want. Listen in on a few conversations, see if it tells you anything. I got customers to read, and vibrations to listen in to, 'cause believe it or not, I do want to help. A little, and in my own inimitable way. We'll get Wesley his answers. Just don't expect him to welcome you with open arms when you bring them."
"If Wesley still exists to bring the answers to." She turned away from him then, wandering back into the sub-lit extremities of the club, where couples went to find some privacy, and groups held hushed conversations around candlelit tables. Lorne stared after her. That parting shot had bothered him, although he couldn't quite understand why. It was as though she knew something, but wasn't yet sure what it was. He had known that feeling himself, sometimes, when he was picking up pieces in the vibrations of the air around him; when the images he saw through the singing of others didn't quite come together as they should. If she was sensing things then maybe they should talk. Illyria, however, was not the easiest of people to talk to, and she rarely wanted to talk to him. He sighed, and turned away across the dance floor. She had no more answers than he did, that was obvious. Maybe later they could put their lack of answers together, and come up with something useful. Until then it was back to the drawing board. Until then it was back to Dega.
"Hey, doll. You decided yet what you're going to sing?" Sliding back onto the stool next to the Krayn, Lorne waved a hand at the bartender. Another Seabreeze slid into his waiting hand. Dega smiled.
"That's a neat trick. You've got him well trained."
"He's telepathic. Probably started mixing it when I was still halfway across the room." He raised the glass to his companion, then took a sip. "He has one almighty talent with drinks, too. I could swear his race were originally bred to be bartenders."
"It's nice to have purpose." Dega was still nursing his pink gin and tonic, and Lorne clucked in mock disapproval.
"Many more customers like you, I'm going to lose my purpose. And my club. Drink up, orange blossom. Somewhere behind that bar, there's a vodka martini with your name on it."
"I can't sing if I've drunk too much." Dega fidgeted with his glass. "I'm still a bit stuck on what to sing, actually. Any ideas?" Lorne regarded him silently for a moment.
"There some reason why you're so anxious to sing to me all of a sudden, doll? You've avoided that stage all the time you've been coming here, playing it coy - now you want a reading. Maybe if you can give me a hint, I can find you the right song."
"I don't know. I just... I've got some things going on in my life, that's all. It's not that I didn't need to sing for you before. I just wasn't sure I wanted to. Now I've decided, and I want to get it done before I change my mind. That make any sense to you?"
"Sure it does, sweetheart. Sure it does." Lorne flashed him a gentle smile, before draining the rest of his Seabreeze. "Well if you're looking for something simple to sing, but that'll help lay your heart bare, a good place to start is Dylan. Simple chords to get you started. There might be something from your own culture that you'd prefer, but I can't give you any advice on that. I'm still making my way through the music in this dimension."
"My people mostly sing dirges." Dega didn't sound too impressed. "Dirges and folk songs that sound like human nursery rhymes. They might be simple to sing, but I think everybody else here would run away in despair."
"Hey, at least your people know what music is." Lorne picked up a full glass without seeming to notice that his empty one had been replaced. "Don't let Vwoop up there put you off. He sings in here nearly every night. He'd be a pro if he wasn't bright blue, with one of his mouths in the back of his head. Kinda puts off the talent scouts."
"Yeah. Humans are a little parochial. I've noticed that." Dega smiled at him. "You like them, though, don't you."
"Sweetheart, they may never accept me for what I am, but they make the greatest music I've ever heard. Okay, so for the most part it's the only music I've ever heard - but when you've got a dimension that can come up with Aretha, Kate Bush and Freddie Mercury, all without breaking a sweat, you know you've got a dimension it's worth knowing. If music be the food of life, as... well, okay, as the quote doesn't say..." He shrugged. "You get my drift."
"Yeah, I do." Dega looked over towards the stage. "How long does he sing for, usually?"
"Three songs. This is his second set, as we've been open longer than usual."
"Yeah. Lucky me, you stayed open." Dega didn't look especially lucky. Lorne laughed.
"Honey, if you've got to sing, you've got to sing. Now get up there on stage. He'll be finishing soon, and I'll get you on next. No sense in waiting and losing your nerve while some other guy finds his groove. I haven't done a reading in an hour, so you'll have the benefit of my brain after a full recharge. Only the best for a friend."
"Thanks. I think." Dega took a deep breath, then drank down the last of his gin and tonic and headed for the stage. He cut a sharp figure walking through the crowds - the coloured lighting shining on his tuxedo, his naturally athletic, graceful frame attracting attention. Lorne couldn't help but admire the spectacle. Settling back on his stool, glass in hand, he waited for the Krayn's turn to sing. It was good to perform a service for a friend. Good to use his talents to see what needed to be seen.
There was a clattering of appreciative applause for Vwoop, just as there had been for his more mellow predecessor, Trask. Familiar faces, familiar performances - a karaoke bar relied on a constant stream of people willing to stand up and sing in front of complete strangers, but that didn't mean that old regulars were rare. Haven hadn't been open for long, but already it had attracted its own stars. Lorne raised his glass to Vwoop as the tall blue creature disappeared off in search of food. He was a good guy, was Vwoop - inside the club, anyway. Whatever it was that a seven foot tall demon with three mouths got up to in the outside world was no business of Lorne's. The Pylean was eternally proud of that.
Dega looked endearingly nervous up on the stage. In his perfectly cut tuxedo he might have seemed natural behind the mic otherwise - there was something glamorous about him. His fingers gripped the microphone awkwardly, though, and he fidgeted and fumbled for a moment or two at first. The audience was polite enough. Many of them had sung, and many of them - with the possible exception of the vampires - had been nervous doing it. There was a small smattering of applause when the opening chords of Blowin' In The Wind came over the speakers of the karaoke machine, and apparently taking heart from this, Dega took a deep breath, smiled shakily over at Lorne, and began to sing. His voice was one of the sweetest Lorne had ever heard, taking the lyrics with their simple message, making them beautiful, reflective, sad - the whole of the audience seemed captivated, and for a second the Pylean smiled at the sight, smiled with a sense of pride for his purple-eyed, captivating friend. Then the images hit him, and everything tilted upside down.
He saw demons. Rampaging Broxx demons, their teeth dripping with blood - vampires crowding the streets, Gunn and Spike battling them in alleyways. He saw people sheltering, people hiding, people crying, but there was no air about it of a true battle. It was a distraction. He could sense that there were people - beings - watching over it all, laughing, gleeful, glad. Deep inside him, the Pylean's heart began to beat with ferocious speed. He had go somewhere - had to warn somebody - had to-- But the images were still coming, still building up in his head, and he couldn't move, couldn't see the real world any longer. Could barely breathe. He knew that he was starting to choke, but the song didn't end. Dega must be able to see him - must know that it was his song that was doing this. Why didn't he stop? But that beautiful voice sang on, so sweet, so sad, and Lorne's torment increased all the while. He saw blackness, darkness, felt the cold. Felt bitter, bitter cold. He saw demons clothed in the blackness of night; saw weapons, twisted and terrible. He saw Angel - Angel right in front of him as though he were there in the club, and he tried to call out to his friend. But Angel was not there. Angel was far, far away, wrapped suddenly in mist, fighting some foe that Lorne could not see. And was that Buffy? The small blonde girl that both Angel and Spike cared for so much? Was she dead? Dead or not moving, and Lorne was shaking his head furiously, trying to get the images to go away. He didn't want to see this. If this was what was coming, he didn't want to see this. All the pictures, all the sensations, all the sounds echoing in his skull began to blur, either through his own fatigue or because the vision was coming to its natural end - he didn't know. He fought to the end of it like a buried man trying to claw his way up to air. What was this that he was seeing? He tried to cry out - tried to reach out - saw his own hand grasping at nothingness through the mists of the fading visions, but all he caught was empty air. As the pictures finally died away, as he drew in his first proper breath in what felt like hours, he saw the last rushes; the last glimpses of what would happen - might happen - could happen - was happening. Angel, half the world away. Gunn, asleep and unaware. Spike, fighting through a crush of people, desperate to reach somewhere - and in the middle of it all was Wesley, alone in the hotel as a strange glow filled the air, and the glass in the lobby doors began to bulge inward. Long before he knew what he was doing, Lorne was running; knowing that he was already far too late.
Something is touching him. Something that comes out of the darkness - something that he can't see. He might try to fight it off, but he's not sure how to move. Movement feels like something that belongs to another life. Here he just floats. Just drifts - flotsam on the tide. And if he does move, the hand and the body that belongs to it will know that he's here. Know that he's not just some inanimate object. What will happen then? But it's an insistent hand, and it's tugging at him. It wants him to go somewhere, but no matter how much he hates this black nothingness, he knows that he doesn't want to go with that hand. He knows, instinctively, that the hand means him ill, and that he cannot trust it. Should not follow it. That he belongs somewhere else, that is neither there nor here. He knows he has to fight - but how can he fight when he's forgotten how to move? How can he flee when he doesn't know where he's supposed to go? And the hand pulls. And maybe, maybe, the darkness is beginning to lighten.
It was quiet in the hotel with Lilah gone; not that Wesley minded the silence. He had spent the better part of his life alone, and he welcomed it. Alone was good. Quiet was good. He missed Lilah, though, and he had finally learnt that it was no bad thing to admit that. She wasn't what he had hoped for in life, admittedly. She wasn't Fred. She wasn't even on his side, if he was perfectly honest. She was Lilah, though, and he liked that. Loved that. Being in love with Lilah was like sticking your hand into a hornets' nest, whilst offering your right foot to a cobra, your left to a Great White shark, and your neck to the hungriest vampire you happened to come across - all whilst balanced on top of a primed and unstable mine. But she did have one of the warmest smiles he had ever seen, and she made him feel... He smirked to himself, and waved a hand to make another page turn. She made him feel like he could solve every problem that Cordelia threw at him; fight every beast; stake every vampire. Fred had made him feel like that too, during their all too brief liaison - but Fred had been so good. So pure and so fine. A large part of his subconscious mind didn't believe that the relationship would ever have lasted. What would Fred have continued to see in him - in the confused, failed Watcher, who had wandered through more shadows than she should ever have had to know? He had nothing to hide from Lilah. She knew how far he had fallen; she had watched him climb back up. No matter how much he might once have wished to spend the future with Fred, he knew that he was happy now. Not as much as he might have been, maybe - but happier than had ever seemed likely once. Lilah floated into his mind as he scanned the new page of his book, and he forced a smile from his face. Concentrate, he told himself sternly. Not that he needed to, really. He had been so well schooled that nothing could properly distract him. It was a little harder, when he couldn't feel the rough papers, parchments and leathers beneath his fingers. When he couldn't smell the scent of old books and scrolls - the scent that was so much a part of his memory. The experience of reading was different now, but as long as he could still turn the pages, read the words, learn new things and rediscover the old - as long as he could still gaze upon the beauty of a fine book - things weren't really so different. So he bent his dark head, and smiled at thoughts of Lilah, and read words in a language that perhaps three other living beings still knew. The world made sense at times like this. Everything made sense. If he had been anybody else he might have sung. As it was, he merely turned the pages with extra verve.
The lights flickered faintly as he worked, and Wesley cast them a scathing look. The lights, like the rest of the building, were real - this was no ghostly or magical place. That meant that the bulbs could still run out on occasions, and replacing them, as he had cause to know well, was a major aggravation. He and Angel had last changed some a few years ago, and it had been a vastly annoying procedure. Much clambering about on abnormally high ladders, and balancing precariously on one leg. The bloody things were probably about due to go again. He wondered if he could change them by magic. It had to be better than doing it the hard way, especially since he knew full well that he wouldn't be able to hold the light bulbs for long enough. He had spent so much of his time working on his magical powers that he had almost completely neglected practising proper materialisation. Most of the time he remained as incorporeal as when he had first manifested as a ghost. And no way was he going to ask one of the others to change the light bulbs for him. Spike would never let him forget something like that.
As though sensing his displeasure, above his head the lights ceased their flickering. He smiled to himself, turning another page in the book in front of him, flicking to a different chapter in a second book off to his right. A chapter on Broxx demons, fittingly enough, given the problems that Spike had been having with them of late. It was basic information - their arrival in the human dimension, their battles with a legendary warrior named Jason. Nothing that Wesley hadn't learnt more than twenty years ago. Nothing that told him why they might be on the move now, returned to their warlike ways. He skimmed through the chapter, barely noticing the grotesque drawings of the Broxx with their human victims. There were drawings of Jason too, and lurid details of the supposed story of his origins. Wesley flipped through more pages, more books. He wanted tea, always a part of his mammoth study sessions in the hotel before. He had never thought to stop working long enough to make it, but somebody had always brought him some at some point. Cordelia, telling him that he was working too hard; Fred, talking constantly about something, ninety-nine percent of it irrelevant or incomprehensible; Angel, late at night, when everybody else had gone home. The scent of strong tea, mingled - peculiarly, but in its own way pleasantly - with the scent of the blood that Angel drank. Tea was useless to him now. He couldn't even smell it, let alone drink it. Couldn't eat one of Cordelia's secret stash of chocolate biscuits, or Fred's peculiar home-made muffins. The less he thought about Cordelia's baking the better. He smiled to himself as he turned a few more pages, checked something against a passage in another book. So many study sessions. Gunn, expressing only half-joking disbelief that anybody would want to own so many books, and Fred desperate to jump right in and help read them. Lorne offering to juggle with some of the smaller ones, on the grounds that Wesley needed distracting - which was emphatically what was Wesley hadn't wanted. Connor, asleep in his crib nearby, and Angel driving Wesley's ears to the point of insanity with his dreadful attempts at lullabies. Never had sweet songs of sleep sounded so jarring and pained. Wesley turned a few more pages, opened yet another book. He had missed the hotel, and all its memories. Wolfram & Hart's offices had not been a good place to work. Here, though - here was comfortable, familiar, friendly. Here was home, in that weird way that places could sometimes have. Home like nowhere else had ever been. It was cold, though. He didn't remember it getting this cold before. Bloody heating, probably. If it wasn't the lights misbehaving it was the rest of the ancient equipment that kept this place homely. Or was meant to. He sighed, and was halfway to his feet, intending to have a look at the heating controls, before he remembered that he wasn't supposed to feel the cold. Broken heating or not, it should make no difference to him. The hairs on the back of his neck began to prickle.
"Who's there?" He couldn't see anybody, but he knew that there was something. His senses had been good before; now that he was a ghost, and a part of the Otherworld himself, those senses had only become sharper, clearer. Something was present, something was moving. Something was reaching out for him. He spun around. Nothing. Nobody. And still the feeling persisted; he was not alone. He was as sure of that as he was of the world that surrounded him.
"Who are you?" He took a step forward, eyes everywhere at once. Despite the crackling of his sixth sense, this was not necessarily an enemy. He was himself a supernatural being, and he wasn't evil. Whatever he was sensing seemed supernatural too. It could be an ally. He didn't believe that, but it was still possible. Slowly his hands clenched and unclenched. He might look unarmed, but he was not. He could pull weapons from thin air in the blink of an eye should circumstances require it. Who was there to aim such weapons at, though, when the room remained so resolutely empty? His heart should have been thudding in his chest, marking his unease. He had never quite got used to the fact that it didn't nowadays - that it was no longer there to resound noisily in the silence. Something creaked, and he spun around to face the lobby doors. Again there was nobody there. As he watched, though, he could see that there was something. Faintly at first, with increasing power, the glass was beginning to glow.
"Cordelia?" She wouldn't make this happen - not that peculiar shade of green, not this aura of disquiet - but she was never far away. She always heard him. And yet, strangely, he knew now that she could not. If she could hear him, if she could be here, she would already have been. He tried to transport himself elsewhere, but couldn't. If he couldn't get out, it was likely that nobody else could get in. The air was beginning to crackle. He could see the edges of his form take on that unpleasant, sharp glow of green light. The glass in the lobby doors was bulging.
"What's going on?" There was no point in running, so he headed towards the windows. The glass looked fluid, he saw now. It wasn't breaking under the pressure. Instead it was stretching, blossoming, growing - reaching out for him, like some formless monster. Like water, thick and sinuous. He took a step back as one long tendril stretched towards him, and he felt its nearness. Like something vibrating, deep inside the air. Like something cold - something impossibly, frighteningly cold. Greenness blurred around the edges of the tendril, across the whole surface of the glass. Greenness that was growing brighter, brighter until streaks of it held a whitened, crackling incandescence.
"I think that's enough of this." He took another step back, though this time not through trepidation. A ball of blue fire came to life in his hand, and he hurled it angrily against the glass. Blueness spread out - a warmth grew through him that was killed in an instant by more of the raging, cold green. He threw another ball, another - called a huge battle axe into existence, that he smashed with all his strength into the nearest window. It sank into fluidity, glowed green, burned his hands with its sudden clawing cold - then vanished. Electric shocks danced up his arms, and he felt his whole being tremble. Suddenly disorientated, he stumbled back. The steps by the door confused his feet, and he almost fell, almost collapsed. With a roar like wind down a narrowing tunnel, the greenness, the fluid glass, the crackling, insidious energy within it swooped down upon him and engulfed him. He felt himself beginning to dissolve.
"What the hell...?" He could hardly hear his voice. He wasn't so much speaking as thinking; found now that he couldn't speak. Couldn't move. He tried to gather his strength, but there didn't seem to be anything left to gather. Everything was tinged with green, everything was cold, his vision was fading away for all the world as though the hotel were dissipating, drifting, fading away into greenness and mists and ice. He thought that he heard voices, somewhere, but wherever they were they weren't here. Weren't with him. Weren't voices that he knew. He called his magic to him, but his strength was gone, and though he felt for a moment a warmth within him; though he thought that he saw, briefly, a flutter of blue light, the feeling was gone in a second. It was hopeless. What was going on? Who had done this? Who would want to ambush him in this way? He was still trying to fight, though his struggles now were nothing more than thoughts. Still trying to speak, though he could no longer even think coherent words. He was drowning, despite having no need to breathe. Suffocating in nothingness. And now the hotel was gone, and all was green. Green rising, green burning, green shining, until the whole of everything was the same bright, freezing, all-consuming colour. Greenness that seared his eyes. Then blackness, then emptiness - then nothing.
Nothing but the wait for something that he knew was about to arrive.
And then suddenly he's awake.
Click Here For Parts Two, Three and Four