Lifeblood, Part Three

LIFEBLOOD
PART THREE

Click Here For Parts One, Two and Four

 

The security staff at Heathrow Airport had been on heightened alert for months, but none of them saw the crossbow and battle-axe that passed right under their noses. The man carrying them appeared to have nothing more with him than a small overnight bag, the kind that might have a shirt or two stuffed into it, and maybe a few pairs of socks and a toothbrush. The six hand-carved wooden stakes that were wrapped inside one shirt, and the ancient dagger that was wrapped in a second, might have raised more than one or two eyebrows, but nobody saw them either. The man carrying them all had tricks enough to have passed more than a few weapons through the metal detectors.

London was home. Or so he had been told. He felt no kinship with it though, as he climbed into the nearest empty taxi and headed for his chosen hotel. Scenery went past that had probably meant something to him once, but was unfamiliar now. He didn't stop to wonder at it. It didn't matter to him. The buildings, the skyline, the roads and the people - it might all have been something that he had never known before today. Amnesia, he thought, with an air of considerable detachment, might be distressing for some. To him it seemed a matter of mild curiosity. He couldn't decide whether or not that should be disturbing, which was probably disturbing in itself, but that didn't bother him much either. He had come to the conclusion that he wasn't the emotional type, and had left it at that. Let his memory take care of itself.

And so he headed through the familiar landmarks that he didn't know, through the familiar streets that he didn't recognise, to a hotel that logic dictated he must have seen before, but that looked as foreign as any in a city he had never visited. He had a room on the third floor, where he dropped off the overnight bag, stowed the knife and two of the stakes away on his person, and hid the battle-axe under the bed with a simple concealment spell to protect it. The crossbow he wore strapped to his back, beneath a light jacket that was enchanted to provide extra camouflage. Thus attired, he strode on out of the hotel with no intention of returning there save for emergencies. David Holbrook had no need of any of the comforts of home, or so he told himself. In actual fact he had no idea if it was true, but now was as good a time as any to find out.

He went first to an old churchyard. It was a quiet place, where amongst the old, leaning gravestones and twisting, bent trees, there was a strange sort of solitude. It seemed an odd place to find in the middle of a sprawling city like London, but it was not alone. Relics of the past, hidden within a growing metropolis. It seemed natural to him, which suggested a certain familiarity. Either that or simple logic - he really didn't know. He knew what he was looking for, though, amidst the debris of yesteryear. A gravestone, lost in one distant corner. A name, scrawled on a piece of paper by a strange, yellowing man in a little store in Los Angeles. Emily Carrington, 1757-1776. He didn't have a clue what she had looked like, but in his mind's eye he was surprised to find that there was a picture, of a blonde girl in a dusty study, reading poetry to her father. He chided himself gently for such whimsy, then knelt beside the gravestone, and scattered dried leaves over the untidy grave. A faint red smoke drifted towards him on the breeze, and he closed his eyes, muttering quietly in Latin. Only when the smoke had dispersed did he open his eyes again, then stood up and brushed the traces of dirt from his knees. There was an image in his mind now, to replace the girl in the study. A pale grey house, some miles from where he now stood, where Angel ought to be. A man could kill as many people as he liked, but killing them did not always silence them; and the dead would often want revenge. The dead knew where their killers walked.

Nobody watched him as he left the churchyard and walked back into the busy streets around it. The sudden return to noise disturbed him for a moment, and the press of the people unsettled him. He pushed such thoughts aside. Crowds might not be his greatest love, but they were a minor concern. He had a house to find. A pale grey house, old but not ancient, in a quiet and pale grey neighbourhood. Instinct and the long-faded voice of Emily Carrington pointed him now towards the east.

He walked long and hard. Through modern, wide streets with glass-fronted buildings, and through old, narrow roads that most people never saw. Past high street shops and tiny corner stores, past expensive, fashionable housing, and flats that barely escaped being condemned. Buskers sang on the pavements, hawkers offered toys, games and clothes, and beggars asked for money. It was all background noise. He was thinking of a pale grey house, and a blonde girl in a dusty study. Both thoughts seemed to revolve around books, but he couldn't understand why. There had been no books in his apartment at the Wolfram & Hart building. He was a man of action, Cunningham had said. A fighter. Fighters didn't need books. And yet his imagination was filling in titles for the books that lined the shelves in that dusty study, and a part of his mind dwelled on thoughts of the library that might await him in that pale grey house. He pushed the thoughts aside. He had to face Angel, and find out what was going on. He had to stop his old enemy, and his accomplice, Buffy, and he had to do it as quickly as he could. They had shown him that, back at Wolfram & Hart. Fighting Angel was his duty. More than that - it seemed to be his life.

It had been just past noon when he had left his hotel room and embarked upon his search for Angel. Dawn was just rising when he walked at last up the drive of the pale grey house. He recognised it from the picture he had seen inside his head, beside the grave of Emily Carrington. Not an old house, not a new house. Not a beautiful house, not an ugly house. Just a place where many shades of grey seemed to meet. He walked slowly but surely up the path, and wondered what he was to do when he got there. Knock on the door? Angel would not be about during daylight hours, surely, but there was no telling how many people he had as his servants. The evil or the misguided, following the orders of a vampire, and protecting him when he slept. They would die if need be; he was prepared for that. A carved wooden stake could pierce human flesh just as well as that of a vampire. The notion seemed weirdly familiar to him, which suggested many things.

He heard voices as he walked up the drive, and he drew back into the cover of the bushes that grew beside the driveway. Two voices, he thought. A young woman's, and an older man's. They spoke happily together, the girl laughing, the man teasing her gently. Magic, he realised. They were talking about magic. Speaking of books that he had committed to memory himself, and didn't often hear in the conversations of others. For a moment he felt something almost like kinship, but he abandoned the thought. These people followed Angel, or so the evidence would suggest. They were not his friends, and they couldn't be. If they tried to protect Angel from him, then he would have to kill them too. He pulled back further into the shadows, amidst grey, early shadows from the grey early light, beneath grey bushes that grew beside a grey stone wall.

"Did you hear something?" The girl had stopped nearby, and he could see her now, through branches and overhanging leaves. There was a scuffing of feet on gravel, as both people stopped to listen. He wondered if he should press back into his cover, but decided against it. That would be sure to make other noise, and attract more attention. Instead he remained where he was, as still as possible, until he heard the crunch of footsteps moving onwards again.

"Was your friend at home?" The girl was still talking as the footsteps faded. The man didn't answer her directly, suggesting a nod or a shake of the head.

"I was counting on that." A short laugh. "A creature of habit, is Alfie. He gave me both volumes, though not without a little complaint. I hope you're in the mood for some serious reading."

"Hey, I'm always in the mood for reading, you know that. I'm Research Girl!"

"Research Girl. Yes, of course." Dry humour in the voice. Definitely friends, then. Friends of Angel as well, though? They might only be visiting. Slowly, keeping his eyes fixed on the path ahead, he slid out of his hiding place. Leaves and earth showered the ground as he moved, and he flinched at the sudden, quiet sound. A fighter, maybe. An outdoorsman it seemed he was not. With one hand hovering near the automatic pistol beneath his jacket, he stood his ground and waited. Up ahead, both the man and the girl had ceased to move.

"I thought you said nobody ever came here?" asked the girl. The man nodded.

"Although the law of averages would tend to suggest that I have to be wrong occasionally." His shoulders squared, and with a deep, determined breath, he turned briskly about. For a second surprise flashed its way across his face, then he smiled a sudden, polite smile. Not a welcoming smile, but one that was pleasant enough. It wasn't returned.

"Wesley! Well this is a... or possibly it's not. Did Angel ask you to come?"

"Wesley?" The man now facing him looked confused, though the expression was gone in an instant. "You know Angel?"

"I... what?" The other man looked exasperated. "Wesley, don't be obtuse. Of course I know Angel. You know I know Angel. I've known him rather longer than you have. I... Can we do something for you?"

"That depends." The pale blue eyes were familiar, and yet oddly they were not. There was strangeness within them. A confusion that was not a confusion, and seemed to be something else. "Are you friends of Angel's?"

"Oh, wonderful." The other man rolled his eyes. "I thought he'd lost it years ago back in Sunnydale, but this is really something new. Wesley, ghosts aren't supposed to be able to get drunk."

"Which is fascinating, I'm sure." Suddenly there was a gun in his hand. "Now - are you friends of Angel's?"

"Wes, you really don't want to be pointing that thing at us." The girl had an odd authority in her voice now - the tone of somebody who knew that she had no reason for fear. One of her hands curled in the air, and the faintest orange light glowed around her fingertips. All of a sudden the gun was in her hand, and she was looking at it with an expression of faint distaste. "Told you."

"Witch." Fury flared in the pale blue eyes, and blue lights leapt from his fingertips. The girl barely blinked. With one hand she pushed her friend aside, with the other she waved almost casually in the air. An arc of orange light leapt from her palm, striking her accuser full in the chest before he had time to react. He crumpled to the ground. The girl raised an eyebrow.

"Okay, I'm thinking pot and kettle. And a certain amount of name-calling. I'd be insulted, except technically he's right. About the witch thing."

"Are you alright, Willow?" Her companion showed no particular care for the figure slumped nearby. The girl nodded.

"I'm fine. Way fine. That was child's play, if a little unexpected. When did he go all evil Mandrake?"

"If you mean the magical powers, those have been building for some time. How hard did you zap him, exactly?"

"I'm past the killing people phase, Giles. You know that. Besides, he's already dead."

"True." Together they approached the slumped form. "Although one shouldn't really be able to knock out a ghost. Not even with magic. Admittedly there's not been a great deal of research done..."

"Well, he's still breathing okay, anyhow." Willow frowned suddenly. "Hang on. Now I know Angel never seemed to get used to the whole 'dead things don't need to breathe' idea, but do ghosts even have anything to breathe with?"

"One would assume not." Giles reached out, and very carefully took the pulse of the man sprawled upon the path. "Hmm."

"Hmm? Bad hmm?" Willow reached for the other wrist, and also checked for a pulse. "Oh. Hmm. He shouldn't have a pulse either, should he."

"And more to the point, we shouldn't be able to touch him to search for one. He's solid." Giles dropped the lifeless hand, and regarded Willow thoughtfully over their unconscious guest. "Solid, a pulse, and breathing. Well, that's certainly new."

**********

"It's definitely Wesley." Peering at him closely, as though he were some newly discovered species of rabbit, Buffy turned her head in several different directions, apparently trying to discover if he turned into somebody else when viewed from a different angle. "Unless he has an identical twin brother?"

"An evil identical twin brother," interjected Willow. "He pulled a gun on us, and when I took it away he tried to zap me. That's not good manners. British people are supposed to be polite."

"Yes, do let's start reverting to bad cultural stereotypes." Giles shot her a withering look, which she met with a bright smile.

"Okay, so British people are rude and nasty. But Wesley has always been polite. And arrogant and annoying, yes, but that all went away when he got the stubble and the glower."

"Yes, he did seem to have improved somewhat recently. There was some sign of a mild psychosis perhaps, but whatever it was it did wonders for his personality." Giles shook his head. "I don't understand it. It's Wesley, he's alive, and apparently he doesn't like us very much. And no, he doesn't have an identical twin brother."

"Not even a secret one?" asked Buffy, who clearly liked the idea. "A secret evil wizard identical twin brother?"

"No." Giles shot her one of his disapproving stares, that were usually more fond than annoyed. "The Watcher Council records the birth of all children born into Watching families, even the ones who aren't destined to be Watchers themselves. They know of upcoming births long before they happen, so it's impossible to conceal one from them. I looked Wesley's family up on the register a long time ago. It seemed good sense when he turned up in Sunnydale so soon after Gwendolyn Post. He has no secret evil brothers, identical or otherwise."

"Shame." Willow scowled. "So if we rule out the evil identical twin, we're left with it being Wesley."

"Which some of us have never been in any doubt about." Giles scowled at the unconscious man as though the mystery were some personal insult. "But alive."

"Being dead and then being alive again isn't all that rare," pointed out Buffy. "Well, yeah it is. But in this room the average is pretty high. He's not a vampire, anyway."

"Having a pulse and attacking at dawn would tend to rule that out," agreed Giles. "You can think up all the more interesting alternatives that you like, Buffy, but this is still Wesley; and we have to work out what on Earth he's doing here, alive, and in such a bad mood." He frowned. "He asked if we were friends of Angel's. It seemed important to him. I really don't think that he knew who we were."

"Returning from the dead didn't make me forget who I was." Buffy frowned. "Well, I don't know. There was wooziness. Maybe it's tougher if you're not a Slayer."

"Maybe." Giles sighed. "Of course the only way we're really going to find out what's going on is if we speak to the annoying little twerp."

"Giles!" Buffy's mock-horror brought a smile to his face, and this time when he sighed it was purely for comic effect.

"I suppose we'd better wake him up, then. Do you need to zap him, Willow?"

"No. He's not being kept unconscious by magical means."

"Good. In that case I vote for slapping him, or fetching a bucket of cold water." Giles reached out, shaking the motionless figure by one shoulder. "Come on, Sleeping Beauty. Snap out of it."

"Are you sure that you took all of his weapons away?" asked Willow, rather unnerved at the idea of waking somebody who had only very recently tried to shoot them. Giles shot her an aggrieved look.

"No, actually I thought it would be a better idea to let him run around with a submachine gun hidden in his trouser leg. Anyway, with Buffy's abilities and yours, there isn't a great deal that we have to worry about." A hand snapped shut around his wrist, and he flinched at the sudden grip. "Ow."

"You." Wesley's eyes had opened without any of them noticing; ice blue and filled with hate. "Angel's friends."

"Oh, knock it off." Giles tried to break the other man's hold, but found to his surprise that he couldn't. "You really have been working out, haven't you." Wesley's other hand came into his line of vision and, as he watched, a pistol appeared in its grip. "Ah."

"Wes, don't be a jerk. Shooting Giles isn't going to accomplish anything." Buffy frowned. "Well, okay. Dead Giles. I meant it won't accomplish anything constructive."

"And besides." Willow had injected a note of quiet confidence into her voice. "You don't want to make me angry."

"Really." For a second there was confrontation in Wesley's voice, then all of a sudden he relaxed and Giles found that he could pull free. He didn't bother disarming the younger man; apparently not having any weapons was no barrier to him suddenly possessing one. Instead he stepped back out of the way, for Wesley's attention seemed now to be taken up entirely with Willow. He was frowning at her, watchful and obviously intrigued. "You have great power," he told her, somewhat suspiciously. "I felt it."

"And you'll feel it again if you don't behave." Taking charge now, Buffy folded her arms and moved forward. "Okay Wes. Talk. Why are you here, and what's with the unfriendlies? Fine, so we fell out over that whole Wolfram & Hart thing, but I thought that was water under the bridge? You helped Giles a while back. And you helped me, too."

"I would never help friends of Angel's." Wesley sat up sharply, looking around at the threesome. "If you're going to kill me, go ahead. But I won't answer your questions. Not one of them."

"You've picked one hell of a time to grow a backbone." Giles looked just about ready to do something drastic. Buffy pushed him gently but firmly out of the way, and regarded Wesley with what she hoped was an impressive stare. Something decisive, that showed off her Slayerly Powers. He glowered back at her, and his fingers tensed around his gun.

"Wesley..." It wasn't the best way to begin a conversation, but it gave her a few seconds more to think. His glare darkened.

"What is this 'Wesley' business? Wes, Wesley... you keep saying it as though it's my name. Who is Wesley?"

"I--" She frowned. "You don't know?"

"Of course I don't know." He stood up, pushing past her, manoeuvring into a position from which he could better see the three of them at once. "Just what is going on here? Is this some other trap of Angel's? Where is he?"

"I don't know right now." Giles kept his voice level, a frown on his face that almost matched Wesley's. "You really don't know who we are, do you."

"You're friends of Angel's. That's all that I need to know." Wesley's gaze flickered constantly towards Willow, the one person in the room who was keeping him from using his gun. "But I have a few ideas. Small, blonde - that's Buffy. Angel's woman."

"Hey!" Indignant, Buffy did her best to look anything but small. "And that is so last century. Well, pretty much. I mean, okay we nearly-- but I-- Hey!"

"I know that you came here with him. The two of you came to London. I know that you have something planned, and I know that it's my duty to stop it. I always stop Angel. It's what I do." The gun was gone from Wesley's hand, and in its place was a wooden stake. "This time I intend to stop him permanently. Whatever he's planning, I can't let him get away with it."

"The only thing that Angel is planning is how best to save Buffy." Giles moved forward a few steps, keeping his pace slow and steady. "Now listen here, old man, I don't know who's been talking to you, or how they've got your head in such a twist, but you've got it all backwards. You haven't been against Angel since you first arrived in Sunnydale. Barring the occasional outbreak of soullessness. Just what is it that you think he is?"

"Angel is a vampire. I fight vampires." Wesley gave the stake in his hand a slight shake as though in demonstration. "I might not remember doing it, but I know that it's what I do. I fight."

"Wesley..."

"My name is not Wesley, it's David." He didn't remember being called David, and he couldn't make the word sound right in his head, but it was what they had called him back in the office. It was what Cunningham had called him, and Cunningham had sent men to stop a demon from blowing up innocent humans. Cunningham was one of the good guys; he had to be. And so his name was David. Giles sighed.

"It's not, you know. Look, what do you remember?"

"I remember..." Wesley frowned. "Is this a trick, to find out what I know?"

"No, it's a question. To find out what you remember. You must have noticed that there's something wrong with your memory?"

"Yes." For a second Wesley's expression softened, though the moment was so brief that it might easily have been missed. "A spell. I could see the traces of magic on me. But don't pretend that you know nothing about it. I know that Angel was responsible." His eyes snapped back to Willow. "Was it you? Did you make the spell?"

"No." Willow could make spells of forgetfulness, and had done so in the past. She saw no point in mentioning that. "I've never cast a spell on you. Somebody did, though. How do you know that it wasn't the people who told you you're called David?"

"Don't try to trick me." He had the look of a caged animal about him now; the look of somebody who wanted to make a break for freedom, or perhaps to lash out at those around him. Possibly both. His fingers moved on the stake, and Buffy, with an expression that suggested she should have done it some time ago, grabbed his wrist and twisted the weapon away. Her own strength was such that he had no chance of resisting her, but she almost snatched her hand away before she had taken the stake. It was as though an electrical charge was in his skin, and for a brief moment she thought that she saw his fingers spark with blue light.

"Now listen." She was a woman now - the leader of all the Slayers. She didn't need to take any nonsense from anybody, least of all an awkward former Watcher whom she had never especially liked. "We're trying to help you. It wasn't us who stole your memory. Giles, isn't there something you can do? Have you ever encountered this kind of spell before?"

"I'm encountered spells of amnesia before, yes. The Perilys Codex contains several chapters on the subject, but none of that mentions this kind of situation. This is hardly an ordinary amnesia, Buffy. Or even an ordinary magical amnesia. Given the special circumstances here..."

"The Perilys Codex?" Wesley was frowning, hs eyes suddenly distant. "I've read that... big book. Leather-bound. Hand-cut paper. There's only one copy known to be in existence..." His frown deepened. "How can we both have read it, if there's only one?"

"Probably because I own the only copy, and you read it in the library at Sunnydale High School." Giles pointed rather vaguely to a pile of huge books stacked on a table nearby. "It's over there. Do you remember anything else about it?"

"It's written in blood. The blood of executed prisoners of war." He had a strange flash of memory, of nearly spilling tea onto the book when somebody flounced into the room demanding... a book on cheerleading? That memory didn't seem to connect sensibly with anything, so he pushed it aside for now. "If you have the book, then Angel has access to information on spells relating to memory loss. If you're trying to convince me that you're not my enemies, you're not doing a very good job of it. Now. Where is Angel? I don't intend to waste any more time talking to you. Fight me or stand aside."

"Tempting though it is to punch your stupid head to a pulp, we're not going to fight you." Giles looked over at Buffy. "Are we?"

"No. You'll just have to go on resisting the temptation." She wanted to share a smile with him; to share the joke of their old antagonism towards the younger Watcher. Instead she looked back to Wesley. "Nobody is going to stop you if you want to leave. You've got to wake up, though. We're not the enemy."

"You're in league with Angel." He spoke it like a condemnation. She nodded.

"I guess you could call it that, though we haven't really worked together properly in a long time. If you're planning to fight us though, Wes, you might find it a little harder than you think. Congrats on the magic, and the whole not-being-dead-anymore thing. But when push comes to shove you're still a scrawny little human, and I'm still the Slayer. I could snap two of you at once."

"Great show of how we're not the enemy there, Buff." Willow sighed, frustrated at their inability to get through to their former ally. She could see the mistrust in his eyes, and understood it, after a fashion. Wesley had changed a lot since their days together in Sunnydale, and distrust was a big part of that change. She had seen it when she had visited Angel's operations in Los Angeles a few years before, and she could see it again now. It would take a lot to get through to Wesley. She wasn't sure that the three of them were in any way the right people to do it. "Listen Wes. You've felt the magic I have. If I really wanted to, I could make you trust us. Doesn't it mean anything that I'm not doing that?"

"No." His voice was cold, his eyes like ice. "I'm leaving now, and I'd advise you not to try to follow me. When you see Angel, tell him I was here. Tell him that I'm looking for him. He might as well know it."

"You're not afraid that he'll come after you?" Buffy couldn't help her mocking tone now. Somehow it was far easier to accept Wesley as the enemy than it ever had been to accept him as a friend. His gaze flicked towards her for a second, showing no fear or apprehension.

"No. I can't imagine that it would have stayed a secret for long anyway. He was always going to come after me sooner or later, if I didn't find him first. We might as well do this properly. From what I've learnt recently, it's about time that the two of us had a proper showdown. And if I kill him, I might even get my memory back."

"I'd pity you if you did." Giles went over to the pile of books that he had indicated earlier, and hauled out one of the titles. It was heavy, but he lifted it easily. He was used to hefting heavy books, and always had been. "Here. It's the Perilys Codex. You might find something useful in there."

"I doubt it, if you're willing to hand it over." Wesley turned it over in his hands, a strange memory flash dancing for a second before his eyes. A teenaged boy with orange hair. Jokes about Englishmen and cups of tea. It didn't make any more sense than the notion of books on cheerleading. He shook his head.

"Any of you try to follow me, I'll kill you. You're alive now because my true fight is with Angel. The rest of you are tarred with the same brush, so don't get in my way."

"We're alive now because you can't fight me." Willow's tone of voice dripped with meaning. Wesley shot her a sudden, sharp look.

"You caught me by surprise." His reply was measured, and there was real confidence in his eyes. "We'll face each other again, witch. You might be surprised then."

"I doubt it." There was something in his manner that unsettled her, though. Something in his confidence that was almost worrying. Willow had been told often enough that she was the greatest witch of her age. The most powerful magical human outside of the old circles and old traditions on the flip-side of society. Wesley was supposed to know that. He shouldn't be challenging her to a fight, and risking the force of her powers. She didn't want to think what might happen if she ever fought a duel again. He was already walking away though, not waiting to give her a chance to respond to his words. The gun was back in his hand, but he made no attempt to collect the other weapons that had been taken from him. Either he didn't need them, or he was confident enough that he could retrieve them by other means. The latter, she suspected. A simple parlour trick to her, so presumably he had mastered it as well, to some degree.

"Wesley..." Giles was still trying to make the other man see sense. Possibly he felt some responsibility for his former colleague, or possibly he was just worried about a fellow human being. Willow suspected that it was a bit of both. Giles had admitted more than once to a secret desire to strangle Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, but it was hardly his style to leave a man when he was in need of help. Buffy was reaching out, though, touching Giles's arm. He nodded, fell silent. Made no further move. He could see that there was nothing they could do but let Wesley go. The only alternative was violence or magic, and that was no alternative at all.

**********

He hadn't been expecting to spend much time in his hotel room, but he went back there by instinct. It was somewhere to hole up, somewhere to rest, and somewhere to look through the book that he held in his hands. The Perilys Codex, a work so large that it was as thick as both of his fists with room to spare. A book of such weight that his arms felt stiff from carrying it, and his fingers curled reflexively in their relief at finally letting the thing go. He had taken a taxi for much of the way back, but he hadn't released his hold on the book all the way, almost as if he had been afraid that it would disappear had he put it down. Even now he barely took his eyes off it, now that it had been laid carefully down on the room's one table. He should eat, a voice inside him tried to say, but he ignored the voice. He should eat, certainly, but it didn't seem important, as though it was something that he had got out of the habit of lately. Something that no longer had any importance. He felt hungry, but that was easy enough to ignore. Perhaps he had missed many a meal before, when there were books to be read? He didn't know, and it made no sense to him that it should be the case. He was a fighter, not a reader. Wolfram & Hart would have a whole department dedicated to research. That was not his field. And yet, when he sat down and opened the book; when he turned the title page and let his eyes run down the rows and rows of characters, it could not have felt more natural. More right. Turning the pages at a steady rate, he settled down to read.

The sun fell. Night came down. He hadn't slept the previous night either, for his wanderings around London in search of the house shown to him by Emily Carrington. He supposed, if he thought about it, that he felt tired, but he didn't stop to consider the feeling properly. He read, because that, it seemed, was what he did. He read a language that was not his, but that felt as natural as English. He read words that he knew, sentences that he knew he had read before, from a book that was the only one of its kind in existence. A book that had been in the possession of his enemy, but had been given to him as though to a friend. It didn't make sense and he suspected a trap, though he couldn't see the point to it. He read on, hearing the sounds of dawn with a part of his brain, but focusing the rest of his attention on nothing but words. Spells. Information. Histories. Biographies. Accounts of times past and times to come, stories of demons fought and followed; demons summoned, obeyed, betrayed, worshipped; of ancient vampires and magical battles and portals to worlds where storms had raged for all of time. Voices echoed in the back of his head as he turned the pages. Certain pieces of the text brought different voices, different pictures. Children clamouring. Requests for books. A clumsy kiss in a library. Insults and laughter and fear and futility, and none of it making any sense. He wondered if the book was enchanted; if that was the trap. False memories to baffle or ensnare him, released when he read certain passages. He dismissed the thought. If it was all part of a trap, it was one that he had seen through, so there was no reason to fear it. A simple spell told him that the book was not enchanted, anyway. He laughed at his own paranoia, and read on again, until at last his head drooped forward, and he fell asleep where he sat.

And he dreamed. Half-sitting, half-lying, with his head resting on the pages of the book, he dreamed. Of life and death, and a baby crying. Of blood on his hands, and blood on the sky, and fire all around. Of pain and fear and sunshine, and battles and weapons and monsters. Always monsters. Big, small, every colour of the rainbow. Teeth and claws, armoured skin, one head, six heads, twelve heads, eight legs, pincers, talons, fingers. He dreamed of dark spaces and menace, and spells that made his head spin. And books. Everywhere there were books. Piles of leather-bound tomes unknown to the rest of the world. Teetering piles and shelves filled to bursting, and hand-written pages splattered with ink and blood. Gold lettering that glowed, words that moved, pages that screamed and wailed. Books made of human skin, books haunted by the souls of those killed by spells listed on cursed pages. Scrolls older than civilisations, tied with ribbons of silk, or carrying the marks of long-broken wax seals set in place by scholars since turned to dust. Words in a thousand languages; words unpronounceable to humans; words and pictures and ideas and theories; histories and fictions and ancient, ancients songs. In his sleep he trembled, and whispered words that he couldn't hear. Words that perhaps no other human being could speak. Words that came from the vast database of languages inside his brain, that David Holbrook could see no point to, but that Wesley Wyndam-Pryce had cultivated almost since birth. They fell from his mouth now in irregular sentences, spouting half-formed ideas, memories, lessons and fears, and growing in volume and intensity. In urgency and speed. And still he slept, still he muttered, still he half-sat, half-lay at the crooked desk. It was almost as though he couldn't wake up.

And he dreamed. He dreamed of a man, reciting lessons and reading from books. He dreamed of shouting and punishments and lying alone in the dark. He dreamed of desperation and fear and despair, and of humiliation and hopelessness and defeat. He dreamed of pain and loss and fury and frustration, and he dreamed of knife blades and dark, dark nights when all the world was an enemy. And his whisperings and mumblings grew louder, but still he did not awaken. He might almost have forgotten the way back to the land of the living.

He was still there when the housekeeping girl arrived in the fullness of morning, failed to stir when she knocked on the door. She walked in with an armful of towels, and saw him sprawled there, muttering away to himself in a language she had never heard before. Restlessly he moved, hands jerking, shoulders trembling, sparks of blue fire flying from his fingertips; shadows rising from nowhere, to fall upon his face. She saw his gun, then, lying on the desktop, and grey as a creeping fog she fled from the room. The sound of the door slamming shut was what finally caused Wesley to awaken; to finally break free from the images inside his mind. The blue lights faded, the shadows chased themselves away. The horrors of sleep disappeared into the inaccessible recesses of his mind. He blinked long and hard, aware that something odd had happened; that something had tried to stir itself inside him. He could remember only peculiarities that seemed to fit nowhere. An angry man, too tall to be real, towering above him in a blistering rage. Teenagers, clamouring in a manner that seemed significant, and yet couldn't be. What connection could he have with teenagers? And a dagger. An ancient dagger that even now, when it was all falling to pieces in his mind, he was able to identify as belonging to the Murshan dynasty. He had thought of that once before since the amnesia had taken him, he knew, but it still held no significance. Whatever that dagger meant to him, the memory was lost now. He threw the thoughts aside. Threw all the thoughts aside. He had work to do. The rest, whatever it meant and whatever part of him it came from, was going to have to wait. Dreams meant nothing to a man with nothing left to dream for.

**********

"Nugrrggh." Coming back to full wakefulness with a sound rather like that of a champion apple-bobber drowning in a bucket of water, Lorne blinked at the ceiling, groaned, and sat up. "Ow. I must be out of practice. It's been too long since I slept on a couch."

"You don't look too bad." Spike was sitting on the hotel's reception desk, unsuccessfully attempting to smoke a cigarette. An ashtray beside him was filled to overflowing, suggesting that he had spent some considerable time in the attempt. Lorne raised an eyebrow.

"Honey, if I look even twice as good as you, I'll still look like hell. Did you get any sleep?"

"I'm a ghost. Ghosts don't sleep." Spike threw the last cigarette aside in disgust. "Damn it. I've spent the last three hours trying to contact the others, and I can't find any of them. At this rate I'm going to have to go looking for Angel. He'll love that. Us lot not able to look after ourselves without his help."

"Well we don't know if he will be able to help, do we. Until we find out what's happened to Wes and Cordy and Gunn, we're just treading water in a great big pool of nothingness." Lorne stretched and stood up. "You lot got anything to eat around here?"

"We're all dead. We don't tend to bother."

"Fair point. Not sure I could eat right now anyway." Lorne headed towards the nearest mirror, straightening his clothes as he went. "What's your best theory, doll?"

"I'm not the expert, am I." Spike watched as the big demon patted his already immaculate hair, and peered critically at his still perfect make-up. How much of it was make-up and how much was his own natural colouring, Spike still wasn't entirely sure. "We need Wesley here to sort out that kind of question."

"Well hon, what Wes doesn't know, he looks up in his books. They're not all in weird alphabets and unpronounceable languages, surely."

"If there was anything in the damn books, I'd have found it already." Spike grabbed the nearest one, and in his agitation forgot to concentrate properly. His hand sailed straight through the pages, and he swore. Loudly. Lorne winced.

"Ouch. You kiss your mother with that mouth?"

"Not in a very long time, no. And given that she exploded in a cloud of dust after I staked her, I'm certainly not about to try it now."

"Okay. That one's going in my Subjects Never To Raise Again file." Lorne tried out an encouraging smile. "We tried looking at a few books earlier. It didn't seem to get us anywhere. I fell asleep, you turned to the weirdest kind of smoking. So what? That doesn't mean we have to quit now. There are a whole lot of books left to look at, and I know for a fact that you can read the Latin ones, sugar. I saw that a long time ago. That widens the field right?" He flinched suddenly, his gleaming red eyes showing signs of clear suspicion. "And is it just me, or did the room suddenly get ten degrees colder?"

"He's a ghost, Lorne. He can't answer that one." Strolling suddenly across the lobby, her arrival as invisible as usual, Lilah was suddenly beside him. He reacted with his usual distaste at her presence, and she smiled a brief, faintly superior smile. "It's alright, I'm not here to fight. Just coming back, as promised."

"As promised?" Lorne shot Spike an incredulous look. "You've been talking to her? Her? Little Miss Let's-Not-Forget-She-Drilled-A-Hole-In-My-Head?!"

"She came by before you got here earlier. She had some stuff to say, and I figured it could be a good idea to listen." Spike was not in the mood for explanations and debate. He just wanted answers. "We don't have to trust her, you know."

"True enough. Trust is highly over-rated." Lilah flashed them both a charming smile. "Relax, boys. We might not be on the same side, but we're in the same rough vicinity this time, at least. I've been busy, as promised. And you won't find what you're looking for in any of these books."

"And you'd know, I suppose?" Spike's hostility was growing fast. He had no history with Lilah, and usually had no objection to her visits, but today he was in a mood to snap at anyone. She nodded slowly.

"Yes. And no, before you say anything, not because I'm responsible. Yes, Lorne, I'm evil and wicked and degenerate, and yes, I had a hole drilled in your head. We've been through all that before. Right now I'm here about Wesley. I'm as worried as you are."

"Not just Wes that we've got to worry about." Spike's tone was measured, even. He was watching her now with thoughtful and speculative eyes. He didn't need any kind of history with her to know that Lilah was not a woman to be trusted quickly. He was far too good a judge of character for that.

"Yes, I know." Clearly she didn't especially care. He nodded.

"Gunn and Cordy are AWOL too, remember. So whatever snatched Wes--"

"Didn't get them as well." She sounded so confident that he believed her automatically, only frowning a few a seconds later. "Honestly. Look, what took Wesley would have no interest in taking them as well. Cordelia is probably being kept out of the way. Her powers are impressive nowadays, I'm led to believe. Quite the little superior being, isn't she. That sort of thing is just what Wolfram & Hart wouldn't want in the way, which is probably why she's gone. I doubt you need to worry about her."

"Hey, we don't know where she is, and you start mentioning the W and H thing, then we're worried." Lorne folded his arms, in one of his periodic attempts to look threatening. It didn't usually work even on people who hadn't seen him on stage singing Mmm Bop - which was probably something to do with the lipstick. Lilah nodded.

"Of course. You worry then, if that's what you want. But I can't see her being in any danger."

"Being superior beings didn't help The Powers That Be, doll. They were killed in their own lair a few years back." Lorne pointed to a chair. "Sit down."

"Yeah." Galvanised into life by his companion's demeanour, Spike advanced on the former lawyer. "Sit. Talk."

"Or what? I'm dead, you're non-corporeal. And what's he going to do? Sing at me?"

"Hey!" Lorne pushed her into the chair just to make a point, though her smile grew rather than faded. "Enough with the insults. Tell us what's going on."

"That is why I came here, you know. I don't usually walk into the enemy's lair just to exchange pleasantries." She frowned. "Well, actually I do. Damn it, why are you always so hostile? I came here of my own volition, and you lot are supposed to be the good guys."

"I'm not, I'm a bloody vampire. And he's a demon. Just 'cause he happens to dress in bright red silk doesn't mean he doesn't have a bit of tooth and claw." Spike fixed her with a glare that would have intimidated many people, though he was fairly sure that it would have no such effect on Lilah. "Spill it."

"You do like making life complicated." She nodded slowly. "Fine. Look, I was supposed to meet Wes last night. He works too hard, and I've been stood up on account of a book, or a scroll, or some new archaeological discovery more than once in the past. So I did what I always do. You know, Spike. You do it. Think of the person you want to go to, and zap, you're there. Only I wasn't."

"I know. We went through this when you came by earlier. Neither of us can find Wes, and I can't find Gunn. You were supposed to be going off to find out something new." Spike wanted more cigarettes to light, but he had used up his last one. Restlessness showed throughout his aura. Lilah nodded.

"Yes, well there's quite a lot that you don't know, so let me start from the beginning, okay? Wesley and I have had our concerns for some time..."

"Wes knew something was up?" Lorne frowned. "I don't remember picking anything up from him."

"Has he sung anywhere near you recently?" He shook his head, and she nodded. "Doesn't surprise me. This was something private. Something personal."

"But he told you." Spike looked typically unimpressed. Lilah shrugged.

"I was here. You lot aren't, not always. You all have your jobs, your concerns - and Wes isn't the type to share how he's feeling. I listen, and he knows that. Besides, in this particular case I made a better sounding-board than anybody else could. I know Wolfram & Hart far better than you ever will."

"You're welcome to that kind of knowledge." Lorne had no particular desire even to hear the name of the law firm again, let alone have anything more to do with them. Lilah inclined her head in the sort of move that might have been an agreeing nod.

"That night when you were all killed - most of you - things were pretty crazy. I wasn't around then. I wasn't spending nearly as much time walking around the Earth as I am these days, but I was still aware of it. There was so much disturbance. Things happened that wouldn't have happened on any ordinary day. When Wesley was killed, I felt it. It was like being stabbed all over again. I tried to go to him, but he was kept from me, presumably by whatever it was that brought all of you back after you died. I watched, though. I saw the people who came and took his body away. Not the police, not the coroner. I wasn't sure at first, and I couldn't find anything out from my connections, but it was people from Wolfram & Hart who took it. Wesley always suspected it, too. Then recently he found out for sure when he went back to the offices to get that... that fancy whatnot that sucked all of the blue girl's weird juice out. We talked about it, and about what Wolfram & Hart might be planning. He didn't want anybody else to know."

"Wolfram & Hart had his body?" Spike shook his head. "No way. Sure, Percy can be the private type. But keeping that kind of thing a secret? It doesn't make sense."

"Makes perfect sense if you're Wesley." Lorne was staring at the floor, thinking of vibes read, and vague things felt. "He's got a lot of secrets, sugar. There's a whole part of him that he never lets the rest of the world into. Always was."

"Maybe. But this?"

"He didn't want you to know. He felt that it was his problem. Look, all I know is that he said he wanted it that way, and I respected that. It's not up to me to judge his decisions." Lilah sighed. "Whatever. It doesn't matter now. Wolfram & Hart had his body, and I was trying to find out what they were planning to do with it. All I managed to track down at first was a lot of whispering on the grapevine about some old sorcerer called Jacob. No other name. So I started looking further afield, and in darker places. I thought I was on to something a few days back, but suddenly all the doors were closed. Suddenly I was getting nowhere. I know now that it must have been because whatever was going down was imminent. And then Wes was gone. Magic leaves traces behind, and maybe it's to do with being dead, as I don't remember being able to tell before, but I could feel it last night. Powerful magic, and all wrapped up with Wolfram & Hart."

"Great." Spike turned away, wandering over towards the big front doors. "That's just bloody fantastic." Lorne didn't take his eyes off Lilah.

"And?" he asked, his voice a good deal less forceful now. She eyed him for a second, apparently appreciating the change of tone.

"I'm still one of them. Sort of. There are still things that I can do. Channels that I can go through. And there are a lot of people celebrating today, who are getting pretty loose-lipped around now. None of what they're saying is good."

"Depends on your perspective," pointed out Spike, who clearly didn't trust her at all. She nodded.

"True. Where's Angel?"

"Because we're going to tell you." Lorne was back to trying out the bluff and bluster, but Lilah still was not impressed.

"He's still in London with Buffy, yes? Oh, don't look like that. Wesley tells me things. Sometimes he needs to talk, and you lot aren't always the best people for him to be talking to. We have to get over there."

"To London?" Spike shook his head. "No way. No bloody way am I running off to Angel to ask for his help. He'll be lording it over me for months if I do that. Poncy sod."

"We wouldn't be going over there to ask for his help. We'd be going over to help him. And Wesley, hopefully." She sighed, clearly beginning to lose some of her cool. "Listen, I don't have to be here. I could have gone over there myself. They've got no real reason not to trust me. I came here because I thought it might be a good idea to bring you on board, and give you a chance to help out. I thought you'd want to help."

"Could be a trap," pointed out Lorne. She nodded.

"It could. But if something managed to blast in here and take Wesley, why resort to subterfuge now? This isn't a trap, it's a truce. Or it's supposed to be."

"Hear her out, Lorne." Spike spoke quietly now. He was still staring out of the front doors, not looking at the others at all. Lorne did not reply, and Lilah clearly took that as her cue to speak on.

"The Scrolls Of Amadarax. That mean anything to either of you?"

"Yeah. Maybe." Spike sensed their surprise, and glanced briefly over, meeting Lorne's raised eyebrow with a half smile. "Long time ago. Back in the day. There was this ancient vampire called the Master, and... well, there was sort of a family connection. Anyway, he mentioned Amadarax a few times. He lived thousands of years ago. Philosopher, I think. Can't say as I listened much. The Master was one of those bag of wind types; always talking about something."

"Philosopher barely begins to cover it, but yes, he lived thousands of years ago." Lilah got up, heading over to the shelves of books with a look that suggested she was looking for something specific. "He was a magician and a scholar, and all those other things that people used to like being in those days. Here." She pulled a book down and flipped through it, reading from a thick and yellowed page. "Amadarax, apparently born in 2000BC, but thought to have lived until at least 500AD. Not his real name, blah, blah... Greece... blah... Here we are. 'A scholar of great learning, Amadarax was the author of the fabled Scrolls Of Amadarax, writings of his discoveries and tales of his adventures, which have never since been found. Reputedly in the possession of the dark sorcerer Orjan in 600AD, but never seen by anybody before or since, the scrolls are said to contain prophecies, lessons and great wonderment, and may bestow untold powers upon the reader'. Well, Orjan was said to be unnaturally talented, but you have to take these things with a pinch of salt. At any rate, there's a lot in the scrolls, and a lot of people who'd kill to get hold of them."

"And Wolfram & Hart have them?" asked Lorne. Lilah nodded.

"I found out just a few hours ago. Like I said, there's a lot of loose lips around just now. A lot of drunk lawyers who ought to know better. I've seen the scrolls. They're written in Ancient Greek, which is hardly one of my stronger languages, but I know enough to have followed the passages that matter - the ones that concern Wesley. There was a whole section glowing like it was written in fire, so I think we can assume that's the relevant bit right now."

"And?" prompted Spike. Lilah closed the book, and slowly and precisely put it back in its place on the shelf.

"It's a spell, and a prophecy. The prophecy is fairly straightforward. It talks about the death of a great hero, and the rise of a new order to take his place. The collapse of an army of great promise, and a time of darkness throughout the world. You know the sort of language that these things are written in. There's a bit that I'm not sure about, but it's something to do with demons and monsters running rampant, I think. The usual."

"An army of great promise?" Spike finally left the front doors, wandering back over to rejoin the others. "That could mean the army of Slayers. And that could mean that Buffy is in danger."

"It does mean that Buffy is in danger. The prophecy states that the hero will be killed by a friend. More than a friend, but like I say, my Greek isn't great. There's a piece about trust and devotion. It also mentions the commander of this 'army of great promise'. That's got to be this legendary Buffy of yours - and the hero could be her or Angel. My money is on Angel. And the friend who's going to kill him is Wes."

"Wes?!" Lorne shook his head so hard that it was almost a blur. "No way. Wes is... you don't know what you're saying. Thick and thin, bad times and good, Wes has always stuck close to Angel. Even when things were weird between them, Wes has always had Angel's back. Always."

"I know that. I know more about Wesley than you think, Lorne. But like I said, the piece of the scroll that was glowing was a prophecy and a spell, and the spell was one of resurrection. There's more, too. In the prophecy, the friend who will kill the hero is duped into doing so. It's not a straightforward prophecy, that's what makes it so strong. It's all happened before, and a part of the spell is the way that it condemns others to follow the same path in the future. Like a wheel turning. Centuries ago, a great hero named Valan led a fight against a tyrant in the Far East. When he was close to succeeding, he and his lover - the commander of a vast army that would have turned the scale of the battle - were killed by Valan's second-in-command. He was found to be acting under a spell. The whole thing was supposedly the work of Amadarax. He may even have been the tyrant that Valan and his lover were trying to defeat. At any rate, the result was the collapse of the army, the victory of the tyrant, and the laying waste of vast chunks of land. Thousands died. And that's not even the half of it. Valan's second-in-command? Three days before he killed his boss, he died fighting in hand-to-hand combat with one of the enemy. You tell me that you don't see the parallels."

"You think Wolfram & Hart have brought Wesley back to life so that they can trick him into following in the footsteps of this guy?" Lorne sat down on the nearest chair. "No way. Wes is far too smart to fall for something like that. And besides, Angel is already dead. You can't kill a dead man."

"There are a lot of things that can happen to an angel. Even a half-angel, or whatever the hell he is. And as for being too smart..." For a second Lilah smiled, showing a very real pride in all that Wesley was. "Sometimes intelligence isn't enough. The right spell, with enough power behind it... and we are talking about the work of Amadarax here... could overpower just about anything or anyone. All that Wesley knows, and all the power that he has himself, wouldn't be enough to protect him from something like this. And besides, I have it on good authority that the spell is working. I know that Wes has gone to London to look for Angel."

"And we're all here just talking about it?!" Lorne jumped to his feet, clearly incredulous. "You claim to care about him, but he could be over there right now getting into who knows what. And Angel--"

"Easy, tiger." Spike sounded uncharacteristically calm. "Think about it. Whatever the hell this resurrection spell thingy is, if it's worked, he can't just zap himself over there. He's got to go by plane. Dead Girl and I can get over there in the blink of an eye."

"Yeah, sure. Lucky you." Lorne was in no mood to be calmed down. "Meantime we're still stood around talking, and all of this is going down. We should be..." He trailed off, rather at a loss. "Well we should be doing something."

"Something, exactly." Lilah met his gaze, her eyes the most honest that he had ever thought to see them. He understood then that she really did care for Wesley, despite her constant emphasis on self. "But what exactly? If you've got any bright ideas, I'd like to hear them. Getting to England and warning Angel is only half of the problem. That's not the only thing that's going on here."

"Wolfram & Hart," muttered Spike, with all the hatred of one who had been mixed up with that company for far too long. "What do you want to do? Find a way to reverse the resurrection spell?"

"I don't think so, no. We don't know what that might do. I'd like to be sure of where all of this is leading, before we make any major decisions."

"Just in case you stand to gain something from Wes killing Angel?" Lorne's voice still showed dislike, but his hostility was ebbing. Lilah smiled faintly.

"Of course I stand to gain something from Angel's... destruction, shall we say. He's my enemy, and he has been since the moment he first set foot in LA. But believe it or not, Lorne, this is not what I want. When Valan's second-in-command completed his task and killed his boss, the enchantment on him was broken, and he realised what he had done. I've seen Wesley at what I thought was his lowest ebb. I've seen him go to hell and back. But to watch him going through that kind of guilt is something that I can't do. Not even I'm that twisted."

"Maybe." Lorne sounded grudging, unwilling to allow her that much benefit of the doubt. "I just want to know where we stand. We're in this for Wes, and for Angel, and for anything else that needs looking after. You're in it for what? Love? 'Cause I'm not sure I can believe that of you."

"Neither am I." She smiled at him, in an oddly sweet fashion. "But like you pointed out, we need to do something other than just stand around talking about this."

"We need to find Charlie. He might have lost his brain upgrade, but he's still a good man to have onboard." Spike looked ready for action. Lilah shook her head.

"I don't think that's possible. No, don't argue. Listen. The plan, as far as I can gather, was to split you lot up as much as possible, to keep you out of this. All those demons, remember? All those new vampires? Gunn has been fighting a lot, and that's going to have taken its toll. If he's exhausted he'll be no more than a shadow of his usual strength. A ghost is basically just energy, and what better way to keep a ghost out from under your feet than sap its energy? You can't find him because for the time being he doesn't exist the way that he usually does, and he won't do until he can... recharge his batteries, let's say. It's all in the aura. The intention was probably to do the same with you, Spike, but something made you suspect trouble, didn't it. Something made you stop what you were doing and come back here."

"Yeah." Spike was pacing again, more restless than ever now. Wolfram & Hart had been playing them all for fools, and he didn't like it. He didn't like the way that it made him feel - exposed, almost. Paranoid. "Yeah, I suspected trouble. Always do. But there was this guy..."

"Somebody warned you?" Lilah sat down on the corner of the nearby table, suddenly all ears. Ordinarily the sight of her sitting there would have caused Spike to attempt one of his sporadic come-ons, but just now his mind was entirely on the situation at hand. He turned his back, his cycle of pacing taking him back away from the other two again.

"Not exactly. Or at least, I didn't think so at the time. Sorcerer, I think. I was supposed to be talking to him about the Broxx demons. He's some kind of expert, or... something, I don't know. Anyway, I went to talk to him about it, and he started spinning this picture, all about how the Broxx and the vampires could be a ruse. All made perfect sense, so I came back here. Too bloody late, though, wasn't it."

"Sorcerer?" Her interest was piqued, clearly. Lorne also raised an eyebrow, though his thoughts were in a different direction.

"Most of the sorcerers in LA aren't really sorcerers at all." He didn't sound confident that Spike's new contact would be of any use to them. "It's all long dark robes, and rituals by candlelight. Play stuff. The powerful ones - the really powerful ones - are all either Wolfram & Hart employees, or they're Wesley. Can't trust a magician, nine times out of ten."

"In LA, maybe. But this guy wasn't a local. European, at a guess. Sounded English at times, but the rest of the time he sounded like he might have been from further East. An all-over sort of accent." Spike shrugged. "And besides, this was no amateur. He was the real deal, or I'm a giant squid. Looked like Death. Looked like Death with anorexia, and everything else besides. I'd swear he was human, but he was old. Really old."

"Name?" asked Lilah. Spike shot her a sharp look, grinding to a halt in his pacing.

"Why? Gonna report him to your bosses?"

"No, I'm going to go see if I can find him again. Speak to him. He might know something, and right now that's more than we do." Lilah stood up, her movements sharp and fast. "You don't trust me. Neither of you do. That's fine. We're not buddies, we're not pals. Half the time we're not even on the same side. I don't much care if you never see Cordelia or Gunn again, and I don't really care all that much about Angel, although if I'm honest I think I might rather miss fighting with him. But I do care about Wesley. With or without your input, I'm going to try to help him. I think he'd do better with the two of you on board, but if not..." She shrugged. "Whatever. Fine. Just tell me this guy's name."

"Meridian." For a second Spike stood motionless, then he sighed and shook his head, and his entire demeanour seemed to change. No longer was he the picture of hostility. No longer did his attitude seem so belligerent. It was almost as if he were laying aside a fašade. "Lorne, get a plane to England. I don't care how you do it. I know you can't exactly fly British Airways. Just get to London and get on Wesley's trail. There's a house where the new Watchers' Council is holed up, and the address is in the book over there. We'll join you as soon as we can."

"Huh?" Lorne shook his head. "Back up, Kimosabe. This is not how it's meant to go. She's evil."

"Yeah, well I'm not exactly Good Guy Gary, am I." Spike picked up the address book and flipped it at his companion. "Go. We can fly Ghost Express, remember? Instant travel. We'll catch up with you as and when. Meantime, you get out there in case we get held up. We're going to go talk to Meridian."

"Then we're in this together?" Lilah looked almost relieved. Spike shot her a sharp look.

"Only thing we're in together is this building. Right now though I figure we've got more chance to get something done if we co-operate. Just don't expect flowers and a welcome from this Meridian bloke. He's not exactly the happy chatty type."

"Just lately, not many people are." Lorne sighed heavily, only in part due to his usual measure of theatricality. "Are you sure about this?"

"I'm not sure of anything. One thing I know, though - she's right, and that guy Meridian is worth talking to again. Could be he'll give us some leads, so we might get held up for a while. You can't do instant travel. You want in on this, you've gotta leave for England now."

"Yeah. In on this. Sure." Lorne shook his head. "In's easy. Learnt that a long time ago. It's out that's the tough one."

"You wanted out for good, Green Boy, you should've left LA." Spike slapped him on the shoulder, more or less good-naturedly. "Get going. Be careful on the flight over."

"Sure." Lorne turned to go, then stopped and looked back. "Be careful, Spike. Even if you decide to trust her... well there's a whole lot more where she comes from, doll."

"Can't hurt a ghost." Spike smiled briefly, eyes shining with renewed attitude. "Be seeing you."

"Yeah." Lorne nodded slowly, bright red eyes switching from one to the other of the dead pair in front of him. Finally he flashed a brief smile and was gone. Spike stared after him for some time.

"You ready?" asked Lilah in the end. Spike nodded.

"Yeah. I'm ready. Lilah..."

"What?" She sounded rather more friendly than she had before. Committed to their alliance, perhaps; or so he chose to interpret it. He glanced back to the doors, with their misshapen glass, and evidence of a powerful presence.

"How big is this? Just how far up the chain of command at Wolfram & Hart does all of this go? I've fought the senior partners once. It didn't work. Couldn't work. All about winning the battles you can, even when you know you've already lost the war - that's what Angel said. Have we already lost this war?"

"I don't know. One thing I do know, though - the senior partners didn't set this up. If they had, there wouldn't be any diversion demons, and trying to keep you out of the way. They'd just do it, and not spare you lot a thought. The way it looks, some opportunist grabbed Wes's body. Or somebody who knew about Amadarax and Valan found it in cold storage and decided to use it before anybody else could. Cyclical magic is potent stuff. By causing history to repeat, the Scrolls of Amadarax give their user a lot of power. Somebody at Wolfram & Hart is probably trying to take a short cut up the promotional ladder. A lot of somebodies, maybe. My guess is middle-management. Nasty, devious minds, that lot."

"Pot, kettle..."

"I was the most high-ranking woman in any American branch of Wolfram & Hart in the last three centuries. That's not deviousness. It's skill." She glanced at a watch that he was sure had not been on her wrist a moment before. "Now shall we go? Time's wasting."

"Yeah, I guess. We're heading for the Storyteller Inn. You know where that is?"

"Yes. Odd little place. You want to contact Angel first, and fill him in? We can spare a few minutes. He might want to--"

"He might want to do a lot of things. He's not getting the chance." Spike looked instantly grouchy. "We'll fill him in when we've got something definite to tell him. Until then, it's you and me. Right?"

"Fine." She nodded. "Storyteller Inn, then. See you there."

"Right outside the door." He straightened his shoulders, focused his mind, and prepared to transport himself. This was the one really good thing about being a ghost, in his opinion. The ability to go anywhere, at any time, more or less instantaneously. Getting halfway across town was child's play. Mind filled with an image of the place he was heading for, he closed his eyes and disappeared.

A second later, so did she.

**********

In daylight the Storyteller was all but deserted, only a few drinkers remaining in the shaded booths. Meridian was not one of them. The bartender was vague about where his moody patron might be found, but made some mention of a motel where the wasted man had apparently been seen in the past. Spike, who had been looking forward to a discussion in a sheltered booth, watched over by a bartender who liked his poetry, was not best impressed. He couldn't drink the beer that was being poured just half a room away, but his proximity to it was tantalising. Now he had to give all of that up to go to some crummy motel.

And it was crummy. Mould grew in great black stains on the outside of the walls, and inside the stench of damp and decay was powerful. If the look upon Lilah's face was anything to go by, Spike was glad that he no longer had the ability to smell. A man sat at a desk in the foyer, behind a sheet of flexi-glass so dirty that they could barely see his face.

"We're looking for Meridian." Spike spoke slowly and clearly, as though to a fool. The man gaped at him through a thick fog of smoke that Spike was fairly sure didn't come from any ordinary cigarette.

"Who?" He grinned suddenly, a toothless and unattractive gesture that was mercifully softened by the opacity of the glass. "Where you from with that accent?"

"Let me try." Lilah pushed past Spike, leaning closer to the filthy window and trying on one of her best smiles. It was the sort of smile that had won over lawyers, judges and demons alike - usually to their cost. Sure enough, it was met with an appreciative leer. "Mr...?"

"Name's Louis." He was still grinning. She resisted the urge to materialise on the other side of the glass, just to see if she could give him a heart attack. "Who is it you're after?"

"Meridian. He's a..." She trailed off, looking back at Spike. "Tall man? Short? Dark, blond?"

"He was sitting down, but he didn't look short. Dark, I'd say. Not easy to tell, though, in that light. And withered."

"You heard the man." Lilah tried to keep her voice soft and amenable. "Meridian. Which is his room?"

"Oh, him." Louis shrugged. "You don't want to waste your time on that old man. Looks like he's going to drop dead any day. Why not send your friend away, and stay and talk with me instead?"

"That's very kind of you." She smiled the sort of knife-edge smile that a more sober man might have realised held poison. "But I have business with Meridian. I think you understand."

"Business. Yeah, sure." All attempt at charm gone when he realised that there was no chance here for play, Louis pushed himself to his feet. "Room 20." He stretched idly, showing a size that had largely been hidden before by his desk. "Any trouble, I throw you out. Both of you."

"We'll remember that." Spike was almost tempted to cause trouble, just to see what happened when his non-existent arm failed to be grabbed in an attempt to eject him from the building. "No trouble."

"There better not be." Louis sat back down again, causing his chair to groan. Lilah sympathised with it.

"Come on." Not overly anxious to stay in the lobby for any longer that necessary, she led the way up a flight of dimly lit stairs. Each one creaked as though about to collapse beneath her weight. Even Spike, who technically speaking had no weight, trod carefully. An old woman sat on a deckchair on the first landing, her head wreathed in green smoke. A white clay pipe stuck out of the smoke at an odd angle, and several flies flew in dizzy circles near its end.

"I can't tell you how glad I am we came here." Spike went on up, leading the way now, quickening his pace with every step. The next person they interviewed had better have the decency to stay in the pub.

"What kept you?" Lilah was waiting for him at the top, and he blinked in surprise, looking back instinctively as though to check that she wasn't still behind him. She laughed and he glared, pushing past her with the sort of relish that came from the fact that she was one of the few people he could always be sure of touching. There was no fun in rudely pushing past somebody when you just wound up going through them.

"Nobody is supposed to see us doing that," he told her, as grouchily as he could manage. "Being dead is best kept secret. Attracts less attention."

"Perk of my condition. I'm not exactly a ghost, remember? Nobody sees me appear or disappear unless I want them to." She smirked at him, half-flirting. "You can do quite well out of death it you don't piss off the senior partners."

"You piss off everybody." He headed away down the corridor, peering at faded, crooked room numbers. Meridian's was at the far end of the corridor, the nought almost invisible, the two only half there. "Not exactly Magic Central, is it."

"And you've always lived in the finest hotels, I suppose?"

"I'm a bloody vampire. I've lived where I've had to. He seemed like something special."

"And maybe he doesn't want to advertise that fact." She knocked sharply on the door, and was only half surprised when it swung slowly open. A defective door latch was almost to be expected around here. She raised her voice slightly. "Hello? Er... Mr Meridian?"

"Come in." The voice seemed to come from right beside her, but there was still only Spike in the corridor. She managed not to jump, and instead looked over at her companion.

"You heard what he said. That's your invite, vampire boy."

"I don't need that crap anymore." He hesitated, then shrugged and stepped over the threshold. He was a ghost, after all. Wesley's mission in London notwithstanding, what could happen to someone who was already dead? After a second Lilah followed him, peering about at the room beyond the door.

"I'd welcome you, but you've obviously only come because you want something." She couldn't see who had spoken - just a shapeless dark shadow some distance away. It shifted slightly, but it made no attempt to move into the light. "You're Lilah Morgan, aren't you."

"You've heard of me?" she reacted with a mixture of pride and concern. Meridian gave a low, soft laugh.

"Oh yes, I've heard of you. The lawyer with ambition. The ruthless bitch who didn't care what she did. The evil servant of greater evil who fell in love and messed up the pattern. The universe is full of patterns, spun from all that we do. You had a very definite pattern to follow, and it was leading to power and dark magicks. What happened?"

"Nothing." She hadn't long become comfortable with admitting to Wesley that she loved him. She certainly wasn't prepared to go that far with a total stranger. And a fast-becoming-annoying stranger at that. The low laugh came again and the figure moved, coming forward towards the middle of the room, where fingers of sunlight struggled through a cracked and ill-fitting blind.

"Patterns don't break over nothing." He smiled then, and she saw long teeth catching the light. For a second she thought that he was a vampire, until she realised that the teeth were not pointed. They were merely protruding from long-receded gums, in a gaping, ancient mouth. Meridian was old - clearly far older than any human could usually expect.

"I don't care about patterns." The light shifted subtly, and she saw leathery skin and thinned hair. He was dressed in black - loose fitting garments that looked as old as he was, with gloves that covered his hands, and boots that reached up past his knees. Somehow he gave the impression that he had just ridden in from many miles away, on a horse left with the stable hands only moments ago. Spike moved forward, trying to use his greater familiarity with the withered human to his advantage.

"Listen--"

"To your requests for help? You want something from me, we've already established that. I'm sure that it's very nice to have the company."

"You don't sound very glad," commented Spike. Meridian laughed a hoarse and breathless laugh.

"You don't bring vodka with you this time. Didn't Dyas tell you that I prefer to be greeted that way?"

"Yes. But there wasn't time for niceties. You helped me before."

"No, I pointed something out to you. You weren't in time to do anything about it, so I don't see that it was really all that helpful. Why would I help you? Open myself up to the disapproval of the powers that like to think they govern this city? I prefer to keep myself hidden."

"We're not asking you to come with us, or fight our battles for us, or kill anybody important. We're just asking for information." Lilah was used to getting what she wanted, and was used to being able to always offer the right incentive. Her charms and her good looks, as well as her power within Wolfram & Hart had always been enough in the past. Meridian merely curled a grim lip in a unpleasantly rictal smile.

"Flutter your eyelashes all you want, Miss Morgan. Use your body language to the best advantage. I'm a little too old for it to make any difference. Every year a little more of my body rots away. Every year the decay grows greater, and every year I fail to die. Your undoubted attractions do little for me. I couldn't act on my feelings even if I had them."

"Then we're sorry." Spike did actually feel some sympathy for the man. Whoever and whatever he was, his life did not seem to be easy, or in any way enviable. As he had already said, though, there was not the time for niceties now. He couldn't afford to tread carefully, and watch out for the other man's feelings. "I don't see that that alters anything. You knew that something was up last night. You knew that I was being distracted with all those bloody demons. How? Did you know that Wolfram & Hart were planning to grab our friend?"

"Of course." He spoke as though his knowledge was the most natural thing in the world. As though everybody ought to know what Wolfram & Hart had been up to. "Patterns, William the Bloody. Patterns that stretch through all of space and time. Through all the worlds and all of the dimensions. Patterns. Woven into the fabric of life."

"There's no bloody pattern that says Wes is gonna kill Angel. You want to believe all that mumbo jumbo, you go ahead. Not me."

"Do you think that anybody ever believed Jason would kill Valan? You know of that story. I know that you know. Pryce is following the path that was laid out for him centuries ago in the story of Valan. There was a pattern there, and the pattern is being repeated now. Twists and turns and woven lines, telling stories of the future as well as of the past. It all comes around again. Patterns always do. Patterns repeat."

"Not this one." Spike took an angry step forward, though he stopped short of laying hold of Meridian. He was angry, but he wasn't angry enough to take risks with such an unknown quantity. "If there is a pattern, we're breaking it."

"I doubt that." Meridian's tongue darted briefly out of his mouth, licking his lips as though to moisten them. The effort did not seem to make any difference, nor did it seem likely to. His tongue looked as dry and as leathery as his weathered skin. "This die was cast before Jason killed Valan. Three thousand years ago, it began, in this dimension at least. That was when a general named Duros was killed by his most trusted lieutenant, the eve before the greatest battle his people would ever fight. Twice more it has happened since, and probably more times, in other dimensions. Patterns. Circular magic. It creates the sort of power that empires are based upon. Nobody can break that kind of pattern. To do so wouldn't save your friends. It would make everything unstable. The patterns are the basis of all our lives. You can't break them."

"You said that I broke a pattern." Lilah still spoke with the forceful voice of one used to getting her own way, but her attitude was changing now. Meridian's words had unsettled her, without her knowing why. He nodded slowly.

"The universe had you marked as evil. The pattern was clear. Life, death, torment. But you confounded expectation by changing your path, even subtly. One woman. One young woman, with no great past, no great future, no great weight upon the universe. It's not the same, Miss Morgan. We're talking about a pattern that twists and turns throughout all of time. It must come again. Pryce must kill Angel. If he doesn't he risks the very ground we walk upon. The air we breathe. The sky above our heads."

"Yeah, we get the message. It's risky." Spike turned away, heading for the window. He could see little through it, with its dangling blinds, save a dirty old alley choked with rubbish. There was a rat sitting down there, looking up at the window with bright, steady eyes, and he had no doubt that it was there to see what would happen. It had been sent by somebody or something, and the absurdity of that seemed entirely natural. Slowly, deliberately, he pulled up the blind and let the daylight flood in; let the rat see whatever the hell it wanted. Meridian, despite his obvious predilection for the darkness, did not shy away. They saw him clearly then for the first time, standing where the light was brightest, blinking in the unaccustomed glow. A tall man, as cadaverous as he had appeared in silhouette, his eyes and cheeks sunken in a face of ancient and long-dried skin. He let out a long, hoarse breath, and stretched briefly, almost as though he was enjoying the feel of sunlight upon his skin, then a shudder ran through him.

"More than risky, William the Bloody. I see the patterns. I am a part of this pattern. I see it twisting and turning its way through the fabric of this world. From the moment Duros died, the rest of us were caught up in the cycle. There is no escape."

"There will be this time." Spike stared back at the old man, deep into his cloudy, ancient eyes. "This is what I do. Bugger knows why, given how I started out, but I stop bad things from happening. Angel's a tosser, but I have to save him. Him and Wesley."

"You are a champion of the world, William the Bloody. I can see that. I saw it before we met, and I saw it long before you did. Never the same as the other vampires. Not quite. You had your pattern too, and it flowed and spun itself just the way I saw it."

"Yeah, right. Whatever. I don't believe in things being pre-ordained, so you see what you like to think you see, and I'll know what I know. I make my own decisions. They're not governed by your patterns."

"You misunderstand me, Spike. The patterns I saw were ones that you made as you went along. Your life, your grand design. Built by you. It wasn't pre-ordained, and anything that I saw in advance was simply by my own prediction, not by any great universal design. But this is different. This is cyclical magic. This is the great wheel turning, again and again, the great pattern repeating itself. You say that you want to do the right thing, Spike. You say that you want to stop bad things from happening. Stopping Pryce from killing Angel is not the right thing."

"Of course it is." Lilah couldn't take her eyes off his face, so worn and faded. He looked like a mummy, dug from the ground after thousands of years. "Wes is one of the good guys. A little tarnished maybe, but he's still a hero. And Angel is too much of a pain in the backside to be anything but a hero. How can letting one of them destroy the other possibly be the right thing?"

"I can explain it to you a thousand times, Miss Morgan. It won't change anything. Somebody sees a spell in a book. Reads a story, hears a fable. They get an idea that they think is their own, and they think that they will be the ones to profit from it. And they will be, to an extent. But when they send one man to kill his friend, the idea is not really theirs at all. The spell is not really theirs. They are following in the footsteps of others, and they are committed to the path. They are bound into it from the moment that they first read the spell. There's a scroll, yes? Anybody could find it. Anybody from a mass-murderer to a saint, though I believe it only shows itself when certain important pieces are in place. As soon as they read the words they decide to invoke the spell, and they have no choice in the matter, even though they would believe that they do. They might cast their magic at people they don't know, or at people they've never even heard of before, but they still would think it their own idea. That is how it works."

"I can't believe that." She was thinking about Wesley, on his way to London. Thinking that he had been sent by Wolfram & Hart, as part of some evil scheme, was so much better than thinking of him as some helpless pawn of ancient magic. Meridian smiled at her.

"Then don't. Try to stop it, see what happens. The universe will stand against you, because the universe needs for this to happen. Certain events, certain magicks, are like the elements that construct the world around us. They are as necessary as carbon and oxygen."

"Hogwash." Spike folded his arms, doing his best to look intimidating. He didn't really believe that it would work against Meridian, but he tried it anyway. Lilah was looking doubtful, as though she was beginning to believe what the old man was saying. Spike glared at her.

"We need to get out of here. This isn't getting us anywhere."

"And go where?" She looked sad. He sighed.

"You're acting like we're beaten already. You don't believe all this stuff?"

"It makes sense, Spike. I've heard some of it before, to an extent. This was a world of demons long before the humans came. There's magic of all kinds in places and things that you'd never imagine. Who knows what sort of forces hold everything together?"

"You want Wes to kill Angel?"

"No, of course not." She no longer sounded as convinced of that as she had before. Spike glared.

"Screw it. We're going to London."

"If you think it's best." Meridian's voice was even, without any emotion at all. Spike turned his glare onto him instead.

"And you're coming with us."

"To London?" Meridian seemed strangely pleased with the idea. "Certainly. I don't see how it can make any difference, but if it pleases you, I will come. I can transport myself there the same way that you can."

"No tricks?" Spike was immediately suspicious. Meridian shook his head.

"No tricks. Spike... I want to help you. I want you to win. I have a particular hatred for this cycle, for this pattern, that you cannot begin to understand. I want to see it crushed and fragmented, and broken forever, but then I have nothing to lose. What do I care if the world is destabilised? I have nothing left in it, save a life that I have long wanted to leave. So I will come with you, yes. But I don't know what you think I can do."

"I don't know what any of us can do." Spike looked out of the window again, staring down at the filthy alley. The rat had gone. He wondered what that meant. "I just know that we have to do something. It's what Angel would do, and Buffy, and that's good enough for me. The rest isn't my problem."

"It might be, Spike." It might have been compassion in Meridian's eyes. Spike doubted it. With all the clouds and marks of age, it was impossible to be certain anyway. He curled his own lip in a bitter smile, and wished for a cigarette. That or a shot of whisky. Preferably both.

"That's for tomorrow," was all that he said in the end. He couldn't worry about everything at once. And besides, there was no point worrying about what might happen when all of this was over. As yet it hadn't even begun.

THE END

Click Here For Parts One, Two and Four