"What the hell is she doing here?" Like some unrequested alarm call, Angel's voice rang out across the hotel lobby, making Wesley jerk suddenly awake. He groaned. Sleep. Sleep was clearly what was required here. He didn't want to be awake.
"Wesley!" Angel, on the other hand, did want him awake. And he wanted it noisily. Wesley tried groaning again, on the off chance that his comrade might get the hint, but the sharp clap of shoes on the lobby's hard floor told him that the vampire - angel - former vampire angel - angelic former vampire now sort of vampire angel... damn it, whatever the hell he was - meant business. Wesley opened his eyes and stretched.
"Hello Angel." He said it pleasantly and as innocently as he could manage. "Can I do something for you?"
"Yeah." A hard finger pointed at him, only just refraining from making contact. "You can tell me what she is doing here. Again. She's the enemy, damn it, and you're... setting up camp in here with her or something. Like... lovebirds."
"Setting up camp? Wouldn't lovebirds be building a n--" Wesley caught the beginnings of a fearsome glower, and wiped away all traces of levity. "We were... that is..." He sighed, and looked down at his companion, sprawled beside him on the couch and studiously feigning sleep. "Lilah..."
"Tell him I'm asleep, and staying that way until he's in a better mood." She smiled, stretching luxuriously and managing to entangle her legs with his in the process. He coloured, and sat up immediately.
"Er... well we, er..."
"Wes, I don't give a damn about your relationship. Well I do, but I'm not going to go interfering in that. You're old enough to screw up whatever the hell you want. But I do care about you bringing one of the enemy into our headquarters, and letting her get comfortable. Now what is she doing here?"
"Helping. Or she was." He stood up, trying to work some of the kinks out of his back, before remembering that, now that he was dead and a ghost, technically there shouldn't be any kinks to work out. He tried to convince his back of that, but it didn't seem ready to believe it. "We were out late last night fighting a Morz demon. It was on its pre-breeding season feed, so it was pretty nasty. When we'd finished we came back here for some reason. Possibly to boast. I... suppose we fell asleep."
"You took out a Morz demon last night?" Angel was impressed. "They're the big blue ones, right? With the horns?"
"Three pairs of horns. Yes. Fascinating pattern on the back of each beast, each entirely unique, and..." He smiled slightly. "And probably only fascinating if you're me. Sorry. It was a hell of a fight, Angel. We were tired."
"Yeah, okay. Whatever." Angel couldn't quite stop staring suspiciously at the woman still sprawled on the couch. Lilah Morgan, former chief executive of the Los Angeles branch of Wolfram & Hart, was somebody it was best not to look away from. She had a nasty habit of getting up to almost anything at the drop of a hat. "Congratulations on the Morz, Lilah. I won't bother asking why you wanted it dead, given that it was probably your employers who helped it get into this dimension; but thankyou. Now get the hell out of my hotel."
"Sure, boss." She got to her feet, leisurely and teasing, making every movement an obvious flirtation. "Whatever you say."
"And if you've done anything to this place. Planted anything, or--"
"In my sleep? Angel, I enjoy your paranoia and your suspicions, really I do. But quite a good deal of me was wound around Wesley, and several other bits of me were underneath him. I really wasn't in any position to go sneaking around the room planting bugs, or spells, or... mini demons or something." She leaned over, kissing Wesley gently on the forehead. "I'll see you later. Try not to let him get wound up anymore. If he explodes it'll probably screw up any number of prophecies."
"Behave." He smiled distractedly at her, but didn't wait to watch her disappear. When she vanished into thin air, he was already going to join Angel by the door of the hotel's office. Angel glared at him.
"She's evil, Wes."
"So were you, once."
"Before I got my soul back, yeah. She's got a soul. She always did. She's evil."
"Yes." He couldn't really deny it. Lilah herself certainly wouldn't. She professed to care only for herself, she was completely unprincipled, and she didn't care who knew it. She had chosen to work for Wolfram & Hart, and despite having been dead for more than a year, she remained in their employ. About that at least she didn't have any choice - Wesley had tried to free her from her contract, but it had proved itself to be tamperproof. There was no escaping from the terms of a Wolfram & Hart contract. Their lawyers were amongst the best in the world - probably in several worlds. Nonetheless she seemed to have few regrets about the way that things had turned out for her, and seemed happy enough with the circumstances in which she now found herself. She was untrustworthy, she was dangerous - and yes, she quite likely was evil. Angel was right about that; Angel was frequently right about all manner of things. It was just that Wesley couldn't quite seem to keep away from her. Death hadn't managed to separate them. Maybe nothing could.
"Do we have a mission?" he asked, in an attempt to deflect Angel's powerful glare. The vampire nodded.
"Cordelia has come up with something again, yes. She's not clear on all the details, but that's not much of a surprise." He scowled. "Just once I'd like to go into a job with all the information up front."
"Quite." Wesley remembered only too well the days when their alliance had been in its infancy, when they had been forced to work on the snippets of information gleaned from Cordelia's erratic visions. Now that Cordelia was a higher being, there were all manner of powers of light and darkness surrounding them in their after life - and still they had only little things to go on. Cordelia's hints no longer came from soul-destroying visions, but whoever guided her still seemed disinclined to give her access to anything really useful.
"You know anything about a guy named Lox?" Angel pulled a piece of A4 paper from his pocket, and handed it over. Cordelia's unmistakable handwriting was scrawled across the page, entwining itself around itself and largely failing to be legible. Wesley rolled his eyes.
"You'd really think that an angel would have better handwriting."
"It's not so bad." Angel had taken to defending Cordelia at the slightest sign of an insult, whilst still attempting to deny that there was anything going on between the two of them. When one was hard to find the other inevitably was too - when they had been missing they invariably returned together - and they spent a large amount of their time gazing at each other and exchanging silly smiles. It all spelt 'relationship', even to somebody as generally blind to such things as was Wesley Wyndam-Pryce; but Angel and Cordelia still vehemently denied the charge. Possibly Angel didn't want to admit to being happy, just on the off chance that his old curse might catch up with him and steal away his soul; or possibly he was just trying to shut Spike up. His fellow vampire never missed a chance to tease or annoy, and a budding romance was the perfect target for his jokes.
"It's not the worst handwriting I've ever seen, no." Deciding that it was best not to argue with a vampire in love, Wesley studied the piece of paper whilst hiding a smile. He could just about decipher something about a demon, but the rest seemed to involve a mouse and a branding iron. He assumed that he was reading it wrongly, but didn't rule out the possibility that this latest case might involve some very small demons with an odd approach to farming. "Lox. Yes, I've heard of him. He's a demon deity, of a sort, in the way that human royals have been worshipped as gods in the past. He rules a race that originally came from a small dimension similiar to our own. Somehow his entire race crossed over, in 1952 by all accounts. I've read articles that suggest it was the exploding of a hydrogen bomb that triggered an overlap between our dimensions, and presumably weakened the barriers between them." He caught sight of the telltale glazing of Angel's eyes, and reined in his instinct to waffle. "Many of them have died since, anyway. I suppose they haven't bred enough to keep up their numbers, and there are thought to be hardly more than a hundred or so left. Lox is still their commander in chief, and his followers are all extremely loyal. He's a supreme ruler, in the old Dei gratia sense."
"Evil? Good? Wobbling about between the two?" It was, of course, the simple things that most concerned Angel. The blacks and the whites rather than the hues in between. Wesley shrugged.
"Opinions differ. As far as I know he's a totalitarian ruler, and his loyalties are to his people alone. Nobody seems to think that he's evil as such, but if you get in his way he'll kill you."
"Because that doesn't sound at all evil."
"Yeah." Wesley shrugged. "Shades of grey, I suppose. At any rate, his reputation is rather better than a lot of demons."
"That's probably a great consolation to the people he kills." Angel nodded. "Alright. Cordelia seems to think he's building something. Gathering something maybe. Can you think of anything that he might be after?"
"Anything specific? No. But like I said, he's the leader of a dying race. There's less of them all the time, and he's used to a lot of power. Maybe he wants to raise his profile, or increase his power base. Merge his people with some of the other demon tribes. Since the death of the Archduke Sebassis there's something of a vacuum in the leadership of the demons in this city, and there's quite a scuffle going on amongst all the various creatures trying to fill it. It looks as though a lot of smaller names are going to wind up carving the Sebassis Empire up between them, and Lox has as much chance of taking a piece as anybody else."
"Then why did Cordelia get his name? Why not any of the others? Is there any chance he could take over the whole city? Become a leader as big as Sebassis was?"
"Lox? I doubt it. He's strong, and he's charismatic - as demons go - and he's certainly intelligent. But he doesn't have the influence. Not enough of his fellow demons take him seriously, outside of his own tribe. They wouldn't accept his authority."
"But he might have delusions of grandeur?"
"It's possible." Wesley referred back to the sheet of notes, and Cordelia's largely illegible handwriting. There wasn't anything terribly important there - inasmuch as he could see. No doubt it was all the usual sort of thing - rough descriptions of places, jumbled instructions for navigation about the city that were usually only of any help with the addition of a detailed A To Z map, and at least half a dozen born and bred natives to help out with the difficult bits. Cordelia's powers seemed destined to be forever frustrating. "I'll see if I can track Lox down. I have a few informants who should be willing to tell us something. I'll drop by and speak to Gunn, too. It's possible that some of his street people might have heard something."
"Thanks, Wes. I'll go do a few sweeps round the streets myself." Angel never tired of saying such things during daylight hours now that the sun was no longer fatal to him. "Walk down a few of those sunny streets, and see if there's anything useful there. Stand in a patch of sun, maybe. You know."
"Yes." Wesley had to smile. "I'll speak to you later then. Oh, where's Spike?"
"Who knows." Angel shrugged. "Who cares? He took off late last night in some car he stole. Apparently he's not at all discouraged by the fact that he loses corporeality on a fairly regular basis. One of these days he's going to take a corner too fast and his hands are going to go straight through the steering wheel. I wouldn't mind if he could kill himself, but if he starts decimating the local population I'll..." He glowered. "Well, not kill him, obviously. But something painful."
"He's not too foolhardy, Angel. Now that he has a soul..."
"Wes, he's had a soul for as long as you've known him. Have you ever known him not to be an aggravating... I'm trying really hard not to say bastard."
"And I appreciate the effort, believe me." Wesley shrugged. "No, in all honesty I've never known him not to be annoying, even when he's trying to be nice. But in fairness to him, at least he does try."
"Wesley, he's out there now in a powerful, souped-up sports car. It's the middle of the day, and as far as we know not everybody can see him. What do you think is going to happen if people start reporting a speeding car without a driver? Or if he gets pulled over and decides to go all invisible? And what happens if his feet suddenly lose corporeality and can't work the brakes?"
"Fair point. Can't Cordelia do anything?"
"She can transport him back here, yeah. That's not a lot of good if he's speeding away at the wheel. Good way to mow down a few pedestrians before the car stops."
"Yes. Fair enough, not a great plan." Wesley tried to smile encouragingly, but he knew from experience that it was no good. Angel always took Spike's misdeeds personally, and never failed to let the younger vampire wind him up. It was like some bizarre symbiotic tangle of irritation. "I'll see you in a little while, Angel. Report back in an hour?"
"Sure." Angel nodded his head and disappeared. After a moment, a faint smile still playing about on his face, Wesley followed suit. Illegible case notes and lethal associates or not, it was good to be busy again.
The hotel garden was in full bloom, as it always seemed to be these days. Wesley rather suspected that Cordelia had used some kind of angelic intervention to keep it flowering. Certainly he didn't remember the trees, plants and shrubs ever being quite this exuberant, quite this colourful, in the past. He wished that he could smell the scent of the flowers, but had to be content with just the sight. Ghosts couldn't smell - that was just one of his limitations.
"Hi honey, I'm home." It was Lilah of course, appearing out of nowhere, and looking confrontational and insulting and challenging and flirtatious all at once, in her usual way. She ruffled his hair, then sat down on the wall and pulled him down next to her. "You know, a gentleman would pick me some flowers."
"Only if you were a lady." He considered trying it anyway, but decided against it. It was always a strain to affect the corporeal world, and somehow a failure to do so was always doubly frustrating - to say nothing of embarrassing - when Lilah was around. She pretended to pout.
"You're not a very considerate host."
"You're not a very welcome guest. Angel's right, you know. You shouldn't be here."
"You really do love to hold that 'evil' thing against me, don't you. You know, evil is only a relative term."
"No it's not."
"Lilah... did you have a reason for coming here?"
"Other than to annoy you?" She smiled at him, with a fondness that was mostly genuine. "Lox. You're interested, right?"
"What do you know?" He was immediately suspicious. Lilah had a remarkable gift for turning up at just the right moment, with just the right information - though usually she had the information only because she was in some way involved with almost every nefarious plot going on within the city limits. It made her information all the more reliable, but it made her all the more dubious as an informant. It also made her offers to help out that bit more strange.
"I know where you can find him. I know what he's up to, more or less. Actually I'm rather surprised that you don't, all things considered."
"All what things?" She was digging for something. It showed in the warm twinkling of her eyes.
"All kinds of things. Wes, honey, you do know that your big green friend didn't die that night? That one of you actually managed to keep on breathing?"
"Yes." Wesley smiled faintly, but there was a sadness behind the smile. "I know. I was glad. Of all of us, he deserved to carry on."
"And you haven't thought to visit him? At all?"
"I can't." Now he was really wondering what she was fishing for. "He wanted out. Lorne's impartiality was always very important to him, and we'd caused him to lose it. Somebody was prepared to grant his wish to get it back, and to be clear of Angel. If any one of us tries to find him, we're instantly transported back here to the hotel." He paused, eyeing her suspiciously. "Are you saying that Lox has something to do with Lorne?"
"Lox and Lorne. Sounds like a cough medicine."
"Lilah..." He scowled just enough to let her know that he wasn't in the mood for her games. "Just tell me."
"All work and no play, Wes." She sighed. "Okay. Whatever you want."
"Manners." She edged closer to him, entwining her fingers with his, one of her usual deliberate ploys to try to distract him from full attentiveness to the issue at hand. "Lorne likes running night-clubs. They're not easy to set up, you know. Wolfram & Hart had a hand in a few, and I can tell you that they're expensive ventures, at least at first. I don't know how he set up that first one of his, especially so soon after arriving in this dimension. Anyway, I guess he needed investment, and Lox maybe knew a good thing when he saw one. Either that or he's into protection racketeering, though I haven't heard anything like that."
"It's not usually Lox's style. He doesn't go for the seedier side of life."
"That's the way I've heard it, certainly." She smiled expectantly, as though awaiting thanks; but he deliberately ignored her.
"I wonder how well Lorne knows him. How involved they are."
"Do you know why you're being put on Lox's tail yourselves?"
"I have an idea, and no I'm not planning to share the details. Besides, you claimed to already know. You're not getting anything out of me."
"I do so love how you trust me."
"And always we come back to that. Do you have to keep holding it against me?"
He sighed. "You're eternally signed by binding contract to the service of my enemies. It's not an easy thing to overlook."
"I don't make a big deal of how you're eternally faithful to my biggest enemy. Angel really doesn't like me, you know. But do I make a big deal out of it?"
"Frequently." He disentangled his hand from hers, and took hold of her shoulders instead. "Just talk to me."
"There's not a lot more to tell. Lox is very often at Lorne's club. Apparently you can't go there... which is interesting, but not entirely unexpected. I guessed that something of the kind must be stopping you from visiting the jolly green giant."
"Don't joke about Lorne." He turned away from her, lost in thought, and she pouted.
"Oh, right. Honestly, you drill a hole in a guy's head and suck out part of his brain, and suddenly no one will forgive you."
"It's not up to me to forgive you for what you did to him." He stood up, beginning to pace. "If Lox is at this club, how are we supposed to get to him? We can't go anywhere near Lorne."
"No, but Lox has got to leave sometime. And anyway - so you can't get near Lorne. Didn't you ever wonder if he could get near you?" He frowned at her, and she shrugged. "Hey, it's only a theory, so don't go shooting me down in flames, but it's possible, right? This spell or whatever it is was set up to protect Lorne - and I'm guessing you knew that, or you'd have tried to get around it yourself. You're probably powerful enough by now to do that."
"Maybe." He stopped his pacing. "You think that if it's for his own protection that we're not allowed to visit him, it might only work one way?"
"It's just a theory, Wes." She smiled at him gently, in one of her off-putting displays of courtesy and consideration. "But I think it's worth testing don't you? Now I'd go down there myself and suggest that he drop by here for a visit, but we both know what Lorne thinks of me. He'd go back to his home dimension rather than go anywhere on my say so."
"Not entirely untrue." He frowned at her. "Why do you care? Is Lox working against Wolfram & Hart?"
"Lox is Lox." She shrugged, apparently indifferent. "He works for himself and his people, never anybody else."
"Meaning you tried to get him to work for you, and couldn't?"
"Meaning..." She smiled. "He's eight feet tall, with teeth that would put Dracula to shame. Of course we wanted him on our side. You know he can crush a human skull with his hands?"
"You've tested him?"
"Not intentionally. We were trying to recruit him, and I think we got him a little pissed." She shrugged. "It was only one of our accountants, so it was no great loss."
"I hope he appreciated that."
"Shouldn't think so. Weasly little fellow. There's not many like that who appreciate that the office looks better without them in it." Her expression changed to one of faint distaste. "Although, for the record? Brain matter stains. Not like blood - a good detergent can get rid of blood these days. But brain matter? Forget it. I had to replace the entire outfit, as well as some miscellaneous office furniture and haberdashery."
"Haberdashery?" He had the feeling that he was going to regret asking. She nodded.
"Curtains. There was splattering."
"Ah." He nodded slowly. "Right. So, a telephone call then."
"To Lorne? I'd guess so. It's possible that you won't be allowed to contact him that way either, but I could make the call. If I start singing straight away, he'll know I'm on the level, right?"
"You're never on the level."
"He'll know I'm not planning to suck anything else out of his head, then. Does his song reading thing work on dead people?"
"It works on vampires. Technically they're the reanimated dead, so it should work on you too. You'd really let him read you?"
"Why not? Look." She stood up and went over to him, taking both his hands. "Lox is up to something, and I want to stay on top of it all. Wolfram & Hart know what my position is regarding you, and they've made no objection to this little piece of co-operation. It's all innocent enough, in a... completely un-innocent sense. Lighten up, Wes. We can be on the same side on occasions, you know."
"I know, and I find it positively terrifying." For now, though, it did all seem to make sense. "You know the number of the club?"
"Yes. I also know the address, fax number and URL. Lorne's pretty good at self-promotion."
"I think he has dreams of Hollywood super-stardom. It all kind of goes with the territory." He smiled gently, and nodded. "Make the call. Ask him to come here. And sing something by Barry Manilow." He grinned at her expression of dismay. "It'll help to get him on board. Trust me. Sing a few bars of Mandy, and he'll listen a lot more readily."
"Manilow." She winced. "The things I do for you, Pryce."
"I know." He began to guide her back into the building, to where the nearest phone awaited. "And I appreciate it. Now make the call."
Lorne was happy. He thought he was happy. He enjoyed himself more often than he didn't, which, as far as he could tell, was a reasonable definition of happiness. He had a club, which no longer got trashed on a regular basis by Angel and his friends and enemies. He had returned to a life providing sanctuary, allowing the members of every race of human and demon on Earth to get together in peace and safety, without judgement, prejudice or disapproval. He sang, he listened to others sing, he employed live bands, and he coyly courted show business agents who wanted to know what he looked like beneath his "make up". Life was good. Life was the way he had always wanted it to be, ever since getting sucked through the portal that had dropped him into this world, this city, this opportunity. This place of music.
So he didn't know what to think when the telephone rang, just as he was mixing his third Seabreeze of the day, and a horribly familiar voice began singing Manilow's Mandy right into his left ear. He winced, assaulted by unasked for images of past misdeeds and probable future ones, as well as by a very clear picture of the canary in question in bed with a decidedly under-clad Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. Lorne didn't know whether to laugh, wince, or enjoy the scenery with that one, but he brought the concert to an immediate end nonetheless.
"Okay! Okay, okay, okay. Man!" He waved his free hand around as though she could see it, and recognise the meaning of the gesture. "Enough, please! My ear drums don't deserve the torture, and my brain certainly doesn't. What the hell do you want? And whilst we're on the subject, why is a dead woman phoning me up anyway? Don't you have creepy houses to haunt, and chains to go and rattle at people?"
"I'm calling on behalf of--"
"Wes. Yeah, I know. I caught the charming imagery. And incidentally, if that's really what you're hoping to do with him the next evening you get alone together... well honey, you're more imaginative than I gave you credit for. Put him on."
"Can't." She shrugged, smiling at her end of the receiver. He could hear the smirk in her voice, and scowled at it - as much as Krevlorneswath of the Deathwok Clan ever scowled. "There's a magic thing. Barriers. Spells. You wanted out, and I'm guessing something took you at your word."
"It did?" He frowned. "Is he... I mean, did he... They all died, Lilah. I got that from a very reliable source, who happened to witness everything. They're all dead. And if Wes is talking to you, given where I'm pretty certain you ended up, then I don't think that I really want to know about it. That boy doesn't belong in hell. And why is hell on the telephone, anyway?"
"I'm not in hell. Wes isn't in hell. The telephone isn't in hell." She rolled her eyes, shooting a meaningful glare at her companion. "Look, Lorne. Wes wants to talk to you, but he can't get near you. None of them can. We're hoping you can come to us. At the hotel, okay?"
"Us? There's an us now? You're an us?" He took the telephone away from his ear and stared at it for a moment, then returned it to its proper position and sighed. "Is this a trap?"
"Because there have been traps before. Nasty ones, with chairs and ropes and drills and... I'm not planning on going there again."
"I'm wearing a terrific suit right now, and I'm not getting it creased by your minions and their heavy-handedness. Or their ropes. And bloodstains would not look good on this silk."
"It's not a trap. Didn't you see that when I sang? I don't have any minions, and I don't have any evil plans."
"Well sugar, that's a lie right there. Seer, remember? And this Seer just Saw, so don't go into the innocent little girl act. We both know how false that is. But you're right, I didn't see anything that looked like a trap."
"Then you'll come?"
"To the hotel?" He hesitated then. He was happy, wasn't he? His life had been great since severing all ties with his friends. There was no longer any conflict of interest, any being torn in ten different directions at once. He would do, and had done, anything for Angel. Anything at all. That simple fact - that complex, multi-layered loyalty - had left him confused, sad and hurting. Not without reason had he told the vampire that it was all over between them for good. And yet... Once again he lowered the phone, and once again he stared at it. This time it wasn't for any kind of comic effect.
"Lorne?" Lilah's voice floated up to him faintly, though the receiver now rested on the bar. He sighed. "Lorne?"
"Yeah." He put the receiver back up against his ear, and tried to gather his thoughts. "Is Angel there?"
"Not at the moment, no. He's out wandering the streets. Either he's looking for information or enjoying the fact that he's not flammable anymore, I don't know."
"He's not there, then." That made things difficult again. Did he want to see Angel, or didn't he? Was he sorry that the vampire wouldn't be there? Lorne had never quite worked out just how he felt about Angel, but he knew that those feelings were by no means simple. They certainly weren't simple now. He nodded his head, tired, confused, but not sure that he wasn't still happy. Happier, maybe? He sighed. Who knew? It was all a hell of a jumble. "Alright. I'll be there as soon as I can. Just make sure that there's a drink waiting when I arrive." And he hung up, swallowed down the Seabreeze in one quick mouthful, and drew in a deep, deep breath. It was funny how everything could change in two minutes. He wasn't sure of anything now.
Spike wandered in off the streets just after noon, bearing a six pack of beer and a copy of Classic Rock Magazine, a cigarette dangling idly from his lips. His hair seemed spikier than normal, his long leather coat more battered, and his entire demeanour more studiously based on the stereotype of seventies punk rebellion. He growled a greeting at Wesley, raised his eyebrows appreciatively at Lilah, and hurled a can of beer at each of them. Wesley's passed straight through his hand, and bounced away across the floor.
"Pussy," muttered Spike around the cigarette. Wesley just glared.
"I can't drink it anyway, Spike," he pointed out. "And for that matter neither can you. Is there some particular point to this ritual?"
"No, not really." Spike spat the cigarette onto the floor, and ground it out underfoot with some considerable enthusiasm. "Wishful thinking, maybe. Same as the cigarette. Can't taste it, can't smell it. I can try to suck in the smoke, but it's not like I've got any actual lungs to fill up."
"Or pollute and destroy," added Wesley. Spike glared at him again.
"I appreciate the beer, anyway." Neatly cutting off whatever insult Spike had planned, Lilah opened her can and took a long pull. "There are benefits to being a reamimated corpse, you know. Evil, magical Wolfram & Hart contracts aren't always a bad thing."
"Evil Girl's got a point." Spike threw the rest of the cans onto the reception desk, then slumped scowlingly into the nearest seat. "Wolfram & Hart know how to look after their dead employees, which is more than Cordelia does."
"Any time you want to jump ship and join the enemy, I'm sure you'd only get encouragement from Angel." Wesley went to fetch the can he had failed to catch, and made a few experimental attempts to pick it up. It didn't work, so he levitated it instead, using his ever-growing magical powers to move it over to join its fellows on the counter. Spike laughed.
"Angel loves me really. We have that father-son thing that... clearly you wouldn't understand." He pulled out a packet of cigarettes, and lit up for a second time. "Although technically he's my grandfather, so he's supposed to be kindly and loving, and give me candy and stuff." He shrugged. "Where is the big ponce, anyway?"
"New case. He's out looking for information." Wesley headed over to the nearby cupboard, where a stock of alcohol left behind by Lorne still dwelt. Several dusty bottles of vodka stared back at him, but there was little left to mix with it. He remembered all too well the demon's insistence on the importance of freshly squeezed grapefruit in his Seabreezes, and there didn't seem to be any fresh anything in the hotel these days. Over on his chair, Spike laughed loudly and with sarcasm.
"Looking for information?! Bollocks. He's out there standing in the sunshine, telling passers-by how great it is not to burst into flame. He always was a poser, and these days he's worse than ever." The vampire's amusement caused him to lose concentration, and the cigarette dropped neatly through the bottom of his mouth, falling through his legs and landing on the seat of the chair. "Bugger."
"You're a ghost, Spike. Don't be such a wuss." Lilah smiled sweetly in the face of his furious glower. "Hardly going to burn to death, are you."
"Children, please." Wesley left the vodka pouring several measures of itself into a glass, and went in search of a mixer. There was blood in the fridge, of a vintage that he could only guess at, as well some orange juice that he was fairly sure Cordelia had bought recently - if higher beings actually needed to buy their orange juice, that was. For all he knew there might be a special grove of orange trees in the higher dimension, which were cultivated for the special use of angels. He sent some over to join the vodka in the waiting glass, and had it mix itself. Spike, leaving Lilah to prevent the fallen cigarette from setting fire to the chair, wandered over to take a look.
"That magic thing is still working, then," he observed, in the sort of tone of voice that suggested he might be thinking of asking for lessons. Wesley shrugged.
"It helps," he said, going back out into the lobby by walking through the reception desk. "Corporeality still eludes me much of the time."
"Yeah. Bummer." Spike's lack of sympathy was legendary. "I used to be into magic, you know. In my early vampire days. Dru's idea."
"You had the patience to study and perfect the art of magic?" Wesley was sceptical. Spike smirked.
"Hardly, mate. I had a life. Well, a death, or an unlife, or whatever. Had better things to do than pore over old books and chant things in dead languages, anyway. You should try it. An eternity of near youth to enjoy, and you're spending it in your own personal library, reading books that even the Victorians thought were boring."
"And yet oddly enough it's me and my boring pastimes that have the ability to seal you up in a pocket dimension for the next two hundred years." Wesley went over to sit beside Lilah, caught between wanting to keep his distance from her, and enjoying the chance to flaunt his relationship in front of Spike. "Which is the highbrow way of sticking my tongue out and making 'nyah nyah' noises."
"Screw you," shot back Spike, cheerfully enough, and flung himself back into his chair. Lilah had successfully extinguished the flames, but a few wisps of smoke still drifted up from the seat. The guilty cigarette lay on the ground, doing its best to ruin the flooring. "Although at a guess that's already being taken care of. Which is pretty weird even by my standards."
"Pocket dimension, Spike. Two hundred years."
"Cordelia'd be pissed off with you. Needs me around, doesn't she. Hence the whole ghost thing."
"Cordelia would understand. Given how regularly she banishes you to help out Andrew, I think it's safe to say that she doesn't consider you a hugely important part of the team here." Wesley smiled triumphantly, and Lilah rolled her eyes.
"Do you two ever shut up?"
"I do." Spike leaned back in his chair looking superior. "It's just Percy here who likes to babble. Confidence issues. Stems from his childhood. English public school, you know how it is."
"Shut up, Spike." Wesley started to get to his feet, but Lilah pushed him back down again.
"Grow up, the pair of you. It's worse than the old conference room, being stuck here with you two. At least the Wolfram & Hart crowd killed each other instead of just sticking to insults."
"Great. I leave the sanctuary of my club for you guys, and what do I get in exchange? Arguments, enmity and bloodthirsty nostalgia." The loud voice of Lorne came from the direction of the hotel doors, taking them all by surprise. "You guys really know how to throw a welcome party."
"Lorne!" Delighted, Wesley bounded to his feet, crossing over to the door and completely failing to shake the demon's hand. Lorne looked momentarily flummoxed by the Englishman's lack of physical substance, then shrugged and tried to pull the ghost into a hug anyway. His arms went straight through Wesley's body, and wound up more or less hugging themselves.
"Hey, Wes honey." There was real affection in the demon's melodious voice. "How you been?"
"Dead, mostly. You?"
"Oh, you know. Not dead. Which is the way I prefer it." He shrugged. "Not the heroic type. Big, dramatic struggles to the death have never been my kind of thing."
"We were worried about you, when you said goodbye like that."
"Yeah, well." Lorne shrugged, looking awkward. "Things were... as things were. You know. I had to make a decision."
"I know." Wesley, who had long ago sold his soul to Angel, and had suffered for it a thousand times over, understood that not everybody was capable of that kind of commitment. Not everybody needed to make it, for not everybody was driven by the need to atone. The need to serve. "Angel understood your decision. He respected it."
"Yeah. Maybe." Lorne's eyes trailed away, unable to meet Wesley's all of a sudden. Leaving the team had been the only decision that had made any sense to him at the time, and in all honesty he didn't regret it. He couldn't. But the mention of Angel, as always, made his head and his heart start to argue about everything all over again. To defuse the situation he looked past Wesley, and smiled over at Spike. "Hello."
"Hey." Spike was busy lighting another cigarette, never being one to admit defeat. "Thought you'd buggered off."
"Don't you have something you'd rather be doing, Spike?" Trying not to sound too exasperated, since that would only inspire the vampire to even greater feats of annoyance, Wesley shot him a half-hearted glower. "A car you'd like to be crashing? You could always go and find Angel, and spend the rest of the afternoon helping him."
"True." Spike shrugged. "But I couldn't be bothered. What's going on here, anyway? Green Boy goes off claiming that he doesn't want anything to do with us anymore, and now here he is trying to pretend that he's not looking for Angel. He's not here, mate. Went off to ponce around on street corners in the sunshine."
"So I hear." Lorne walked down the steps, managing as always to look as though he were making an entrance on stage. "We need to talk, apparently. About something important."
"Yes." With an effort Wesley picked up the drink he had prepared, and handed it over. "Just a screwdriver, I'm afraid. We didn't have much in the way of ingredients."
"That's fine, pet." Lorne smiled his thanks, then sat down on the sofa. Nearby Spike was trying to blow smoke rings, and failing completely. Being a ghost was rather a hindrance when it came to tricks involving oxygen. "So what is it, Wes? And why is You Know Who involved?"
"Hey!" Spike lost control of his cigarette again, and skidded about on the seat trying to pat out the flame with his suddenly insubstantial hands. "I've got a name, you know."
"I don't mean you, sugar. I mean the Evil Witch From The Hell That Has No Name. Or Wolfram & Hart, as others call it." The bright red eyes sparked with as much ill will as they could - which wasn't usually very much, though Lorne was generally prepared to make exceptions where Lilah was concerned. "Otherwise known as Her Over There."
"Oh, right. Lilah." Spike smirked with his usual measure of glee. "Otherwise known as Wesley's Bit Of--"
"Pocket dimension, Spike. Two hundred years." Wesley's glower was fiery blue. "One click of the fingers, one quick sentence in Latin. I mean it."
"Ponce." Spike was glowering like a sulky child, though he made no effort to challenge the other ghost's claim. "Fight like a sodding man, can't you?"
"Possibly. On occasions." Wesley made a fist, and passed it through the back of the nearest chair. "But apparently not today. Anyway, Lorne's right. We called him here for a reason. If you want to stay here and listen to all of this, fine. But shut the hell up, alright?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Spike folded his arms, doing his best to glower and look tough, whilst sitting on a seat that was still smouldering gently. "Just bloody get on with it."
"I'd be delighted." Wesley sat down next to Lilah. "Okay. We need your help, Lorne. And I'm sorry that we didn't get in touch until now, but honestly it was because we didn't know where you were. We all tried looking, but we couldn't get close. Some kind of magic spell."
"Yeah, honey. Evil Girl already explained all that." Lorne was frowning at him in confusion. "How can you be sitting down on a chair that you just walked through?"
"It's a ghost thing." Wesley shot him a look that clearly said Shut up and listen. "You know a demon called Lox, yes?"
"Yes..." There was a wariness in Lorne's bright eyes now. Wesley had seen it before, during the days back at Caritas, when the demon had thought that he was being called upon to betray a confidence. "What about him?"
"We don't know. Not exactly. Cordelia has received some kind of an alert about him. Apparently he's up to something, and we have to find out what. And stop him, presumably, if he needs stopping."
"You wouldn't be wanting me to tell you things I don't want to be telling you, would you?" Lorne was frowning, though not with anger. "Lox is a friend, Wes. And I don't just mean that he's a client, or something like that. He's a friend. And even if he wasn't, there's still that little thing called confidentiality. I don't break that for anybody, honey. Not even for Angel."
"I know." Wes smiled gently, showing that he understood the demon's commitment. There was something about Lorne's impartiality that appealed to the side of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce that remained forever clothed in murky layers of grey. "Look, we just want to find out what he's up to. You know how it works with Cordelia. How she knows some things, but not everything? For some reason she's been alerted to something that's going on with Lox. We can't not investigate, even if he's the best friend you've ever had."
"Sure." Lorne frowned again, looking from one to the other of them. There was deep thought etched into the fine lines of his warm green face, and Wesley felt for him. So too did Spike, who had always understood what it meant to fall between two camps. He threw his packet of cigarettes over to the demon, and followed it with a can of beer.
"Keep your beer, Spike. Thanks, but it doesn't quite hit the spot, you know?" Lorne took out one of the cigarettes, though, lighting it slowly with what looked like a diamanté Zippo. "This is why I left you people behind. I'm not pointing fingers, and I'm not laying blame, but Wes... you should know better than this. I expect it from Angel. He never understood. But you? Lox is a great guy. I left Wolfram & Hart that night with nothing but the suit I was wearing, you know that? I left everything behind. Didn't dare go home in case there was something waiting for me. Didn't dare go to see any of my friends. For all I knew my greatest friends were dying right there and then, and I couldn't stand to see it happen. So I left everything behind, and I decided to start anew right there and then. Get back to all the things that used to matter, before Mr Tall, Dark and... Captivating... got in the way. Lox was there, Wes. When nobody else could be, Lox was there. It's thanks to him I've got a club again. A nice, big, shiny club, with better anti-violence spells than ever before. Life's good, at least for those of us who managed to hold onto it. So I'm sorry. I ain't singing that tune, sugar, if you get my meaning."
"Yes." Wesley looked down at the floor, nodding his head slowly. He understood. He sympathised. He had seen the torn look in Lorne's eyes too many times in the past to fail to understand now. When he looked up again, Lorne was pouring himself another measure of vodka, this time without a mixer.
"I could do with some firewater," commented the demon, as he wandered back over, bottle in hand, to sit back in his seat. "At least that stuff really lets me drown my sorrows."
"You got that many sorrows to drown?" asked Lilah. He glared at her.
"I don't expect you to understand things like loyalty, glamour puss. Or about doing what you think is right. And is somebody finally going to tell me what the Queen of Tartarus is doing here anyway?"
"She's been keeping Wesley warm," smirked Spike. Lilah shot him a poisonous look.
"I'm here because Wolfram & Hart are also interested in Lox, and because for the time being at least, they think that their concerns and those of Cordelia's team are actually the same. Lox is looking for power. For some reason he suddenly thinks that he's got a chance to muscle in on the action in this city. Something has boosted his confidence."
"Not asking for betrayals, man." Spike who sympathised perhaps more than anybody, managed a gentle and consoling smile of the kind that most people would never have believed him capable. "We just want to talk to the guy. You don't have to tell us anything about him. If you know anything, you can keep it to yourself. We just want to speak to him."
"You do, huh." Lorne drained the glass of vodka, and refilled it again immediately. His eyes scanned over the group, skipping neatly over Lilah, and focusing only upon Wesley and Spike. He was clearly caught in indecision. "You just want to talk to him?"
"If he's your friend, and you really think he's alright, talking will probably be all we need to do." Wesley didn't add that Lorne had included all manner of dubious types amongst his friends in the past, so it was no great proof of Lox's good nature that the Pylean professed to like him so much. "We don't know why Cordelia was pointed in his direction."
"I suppose it can't hurt." Lorne nodded slowly, his eyes oddly watchful through the drifting smoke from his cigarette. "Alright. You can come to the club. Or... can you come to the club?"
"Maybe, if you've invited us. Or maybe Cordelia can arrange something. It's worth a try." Wesley nodded. "Alright. If that's the deal."
"It is, honey, and you'll have to take it or leave it. At the club there's nothing that you can do to hurt him. I'm not saying that I don't trust your word, but if you were to suddenly decide that you disapprove of him, I don't know what might happen. Once upon a time I'd have worried about him and you, but you're dead now. No offence, but I don't need to worry about you now. I just have to worry about him."
"Then the club it is." Wesley wondered if he should add that there was no way of knowing if Lorne's spells would work on a group of ghosts and pseudo-angels. He was confident that he could negate the spells anyway, now that his magical prowess had developed so very much. In the end he said nothing of the kind, for there was really no need to disturb Lorne still further. Instead he stood up, smiling the way he had once smiled at nervous human clients. "We appreciate it."
"Yeah." Lorne drained the glass of vodka once again. "You'd better. And you'd better appreciate my position, too. It gets around that I'm willing to help you, my clientele might well start drifting away. It took time for some of them to trust me again, now that my reputation has been tarred with the Angel brush." He winced slightly. "Not that I'm sorry about... Not that I regret... Well you know. You guys are my friends. You always will be, and I'm not sorry that we spent all that time together. But a lot of my old customers didn't take too kindly to me joining Team Angel. I've won them back. I don't want to lose them again."
"We'll be discreet," promised Wesley. "We don't want to draw too much attention to ourselves anyway. It's easier, if only a few people know about us."
"Sure. Kills our own reputation if people know we're dead." Spike flashed Lorne an easy grin. "Makes us look less than infallible, if you get my drift. Plus it can be hard to get people to take you seriously. I don't know if it's deadism or just ghostism, but demons are generally less scared of somebody who doesn't really exist."
"I've had ghosts do karaoke." Lorne smiled, looking carefree again, though his eyes still held shadows. "They exist. I wouldn't be able to read their auras if they didn't." His expression changed suddenly, as he came to his final decision, and he stood up in a rush of sudden action. "Alright. Tonight, at nine. The club is called Haven, and it's on twenty-first street. You won't miss it, not if you know it's there." He paused, staring at the empty glass in his hand, though not making any attempt to refill it. "But Wes, listen. If you're going to be coming down there, then there's something you really have to..." He trailed off. From very close by the sounds of singing were drifting towards them; an untrained voice that didn't easily carry a tune. It sounded like Gypsy Rover, mumbled with enthusiasm and good cheer. Lorne winced. He recognised the voice, he recognised the aura, and he recognised the way it made his insides churn. Angel.
"Hey guys." The vampire threw open the front door, bounding in with a bright smile and a swing in his step. "No luck on the street particularly, but a few people suggested we should be looking at the night life if we want to--" He broke off, dark brown eyes meeting bright red ones; a wince crinkling the edges of his face. "Lorne. Hey. I... I didn't think..."
"Neither did I, Angel." Lorne's expression had turned guarded and strange, his eyes showing the turmoil he couldn't hide. He smiled faintly, though it wasn't a comfortable expression. He had come here against his better judgement, but had managed to stay true to himself; had managed to cling to his principles. Now here was Angel, and he was suddenly afraid. All Angel had to do was ask. All Angel ever had to do was ask. It would all be over then - the club, the impartiality, the life he had just won back. All that Angel had ever needed do was ask.
"You come here for a reason? Are you staying?" Suddenly grinning broadly, the vampire was coming towards him with a hand outstretched in greeting. "Where did you spring from all of a sudden? It's great to see you. Really great."
"Yeah." Lorne's eyes shifted restlessly, as his innards did much the same thing. "I've got to go."
"Now?" Angel faltered, looking suddenly unsure of himself. "Is everything okay? Do you need our help with something?"
"Leave it, huh doll?" Lorne smiled at him shakily, wanting suddenly to be out of the building, speeding through the streets behind the mirrored glass of his customised Jaguar, and putting as much distance as he could between himself and the Hyperion hotel. He wanted to be back in his club, where he was master of everything - except, perhaps, for his own screwed up feelings. "I'll, er.. I'll see you."
"Yeah." Angel turned to watch him leave, obviously a little hurt, but Lorne didn't trust himself to stay long enough to put the vampire's feelings at ease. He didn't trust anything at all during those few moments that it took him to put down the glass and hurry towards the door. He had escaped once. He had managed once to turn his back on Angel, and walk on into a new life. Only now was he realising just how precarious that new life truly was. One word - that was all that it would take. One word, and he would stay here in the hotel forever. It wasn't until later that he found himself wondering if he was running from the chance of that word being spoken, or from the fear that perhaps it wouldn't. He didn't stop to think about it. Turning the radio up very loud, he lay down on his bed and stared up at the ceiling. Music, just think about the music. Music made sense. It was just where his world met Angel's that it all fell apart.
Haven proved to be easy to find, just as Lorne had promised. Set back from the road, and up a short flight of stairs, it had a large blue sign outside that shone down onto the white steps, making them seem to glow. The effect was oddly ethereal, and certainly enticing. Spike looked about at it all with approval as they mounted the stairs.
"Yes. It's certainly very effective." Wesley led the way up the steps, partly because he was eager to see what kind of clientele Lorne had collected for himself this time, and partly because he was half expecting Lilah to turn up, and wanted to be the first to see her. If Angel spotted her first there would be fireworks, and of the not-so-pretty kind. She was keeping a low profile for now though, apparently trusting Team Angel to do the investigative work for her. It was odd to think that she must therefore be confident of getting the information later, one way or another. Either that or they were being watched by Wolfram & Hart all the time. Both options were unsettling, to say the least.
"Very nice." Angel sounded awkward, but then night-clubs always tended to inspire that reaction from him. It was the level of exposure, Wesley thought; he had seemed to take forever to relax at Caritas in the old days. He had been acting oddly all day, though, clearly thrown by the sudden arrival of Lorne. Wesley had tried to explain it all to him, and it seemed as though the vampire had understood - but you could never be sure, with Angel. He could be so singular, and had never really seemed to appreciate why Lorne had felt that he needed to leave them all. It was impossible to know if he understood now why the demon would find it hard to be back amongst them again.
"Sorry I never saw this Caritas place, now. A special night-club where vampires are welcome? Cool." Pushing open the doors, in a merry flaunting of the fact that he could, Spike led the way inside. "Anybody feel themselves in danger of being zapped back to the hotel?"
"There's no danger of that. I thought I told you that already?" Stalking through the doors after him with all the bearing of royalty, glowing white dress alive with the complex lighting inside the club, Cordelia looked about with apparent excitement. Lorne had definitely landed on his feet. A massive dance floor framed a central stage, where waiting instruments showed that a live band played at least on occasions. A second stage against a side wall bore all the accoutrements of karaoke, including a massive orange demon clad in sky blue leather, belting out Night Fever to the delight of the crowds. The dance floor was alive with whirling, twirling bodies - every colour, every texture. Furred, scaled, hairy and hairless; clothed, unclothed, two legged, four legged, six armed, two headed - a breathtaking celebration of the diversity of life in the City of Angels. Overhead the lights swirled and throbbed, recreating the disco effect of the seventies, and clearly designed to match the mood of the current song. They slowed to a more uniform, natural colour as the song came to its end, and Angel chose that moment to lead the way through the clapping, cheering throngs towards the bar.
"And there's some kind of anti-violence spell on the place? Neat idea." Spike was looking about in evident interest, and doing his damnedest all the while not to slip up and walk through anybody. Such things were embarrassing, and some people found it offensive. Different cultures had differing approaches to ghosts.
"It used to be just that demons couldn't hurt each other over at Caritas," explained Cordelia, beginning to sway appreciatively as a new singer launched into Living La Vida Loca. The lights flashed out a rough approximation of sun on an Acapulco beach, and Angel reached the far side of the dance floor with a sigh of obvious relief.
"Why can't Lorne run a nice quiet restaurant somewhere?" he muttered, keeping his voice low. Cordelia slid an arm though his.
"Because he's a six foot, bright green demon, who's never quite got his head around the word 'subtle'?" she asked jokingly, and steered him into a seat at the bar. He smiled.
"Hey, the guy's got style." Spike sat down on another stool, and looked longingly at the array of bottles of alcohol, none of which he could begin to enjoy. "Okay, this is just plain cruel."
"You didn't have to come, Spike." Angel ordered a beer for himself, and a glass of white wine for Cordelia, in the hope that they would come under less scrutiny from the bartender if they were drinking. The drinks arrived a few seconds later, borne down the length of the bar by a three foot tall blue demon with a head that appeared to be little more than a ball of fur. It stepped into Wesley's legs, squeaked a torrent of its native tongue in obvious mortification, and began bowing profusely. Angel wasn't sure whether to try to console it, or just to laugh at the sight of a fuzzy blue creature trying to apologise. Wesley spoke to it, apparently in its own language, and it squeaked in surprise, before baring a set of previously hidden and extremely impressive fangs, and running away in a blur of bright blue. Cordelia choked back a laugh.
"What was all that about?"
"Cerus demon." He shrugged. "They have a very complex social strata, and a lot of rules governing their contact with others. I think it needs to go and check the phase of the moon to find out what's its next step should be. Either a purification ceremony, or the ritual sacrifice of a bean plant. Apparently it all depends on whether the moon is waxing or waning."
"Vegetarian sacrifices?" Spike stared after the little blue demon. "With teeth like that?"
"Upsetting my employees already?" Sounding perfectly composed, in extreme contrast to earlier, Lorne emerged out of the whirl of dancing patrons with a red-lipped smile. He was dressed in a suit of a deep royal blue, with a shirt and shoes that matched the red of his eyes, and a new flash of blond to highlight his perfectly gelled hair. Glitter shone in his eye-shadow and in his hair gel, and the hand that held his ever present glass flashed with a glint of jewellery. A silver ring, by the look of things, bearing a ruby that sparkled the same shade as his eyes. The whole effect was dazzling, and he knew it. His smile was almost as bright. "Hi guys. So what do you think?"
"It's very..." Wesley smiled faintly. "Cheerful."
"It's alright, my little wallflower. I know it's hardly your scene." Lorne gestured with his free hand towards the massed clientele. "Worth looking at though, right? You could write a hundred theses with that lot as research."
"True." They shared a smile. Spike, who was once again attempting to suck upon a smouldering cigarette, nodded his head.
"It's pretty cool. Never really dug the karaoke thing myself. More a live music fan. Plus the disco thing tends to leave me cold." He shrugged. "But this is cool. Nice work, man."
"Aw, that's sweet of you." Lorne beamed at him. "I'd offer you a drink on the house, but..."
"Yeah." Spike's eyes trailed back to the rows of bottles. "Not bloody fair, is it."
"Sing us something raucous later, honey. Make yourself feel better that way." Lorne perched on a stool nearby, apparently taking a moment to compose himself before turning up the wattage on his smile as he directed it towards Angel and Cordelia. "And look at you two! And you are a 'you two', right? At last? Congratulations. You deserve it. Some would say it would have been better if you'd got it together when you were both still alive, but I guess later is better than never." His eyes shone. "It's good to see you again, Cordy. And looking... wow."
"Hey, wow yourself." She gave him an impulsive hug. "You look out of this world."
"It's a natural talent, honey." He returned the hug with real warmth. "I really never thought I'd ever see you again."
"Never say never in this world. I've learnt that." She sat down next to him. "Life after death isn't so hard to believe when you're sitting in a night club full of creatures from other dimensions."
"Touché, sweetie." He waggled his glass at the bartender for a refill, though it was the bartender himself who delivered the drink this time. The little blue Cerus demon still had not reappeared. "Now, you lot have business with a friend of mine, I believe."
"Yeah." Angel stood up, trying not to look too eager to get talking to Lox. Whatever Lorne had told the others about being friends with the other demon, Angel himself was not so quick to believe good things of a creature that the higher powers had apparently seen fit to warn them about. "Where is he?"
"In my place. I have rooms here." Lorne's eyes drifted towards a door at the other side of the room. It was not easy to see it through the crowds and the flashing lights, but it appeared to be emblazoned with a shining star, and Lorne's familiar, slanting signature. "You're all welcome there, but there's something you really ought to know first."
"We know, Lorne. You trust Lox, and that's great. Maybe he really is a good guy." Angel smiled as reassuringly as he could with his mind so fully on the mission. "We just want to talk to him."
"That's not what I mean, Angel. Listen, the night that you all... well the night that you all died. Wesley... I tried to tell you this earlier, but I let myself get distracted, and you really have got to know before you go in there." He broke off, for the door to his inner sanctum was opening, and he knew that he was about to run out of time. "Wes, honey, listen to me..."
"I am listening, Lorne." Wesley, who had been watching the dancing crowds, turned his head back towards the worried demon, eyes lingering upon the opening door on the way. "What do you--" He stopped. Lorne closed his eyes momentarily, and shook his head a little sadly.
"I'm sorry, Wes. Really sorry. You deserved some forewarning."
"Yeah." The shape of the woman coming through the door was familiar. Everything about her was familiar - even the weirdness, the oddness, the alienness of her. The peculiar, jerky movement of her head, the way that her body was at once both right and wrong. Even before the bright lights picked out the sheen of blue that decorated her face and hair; even before she was close enough for him to see the details of her appearance, Wesley was sinking onto a barstool, and wishing that the world would swallow him up. She was beautiful, and horrible, and she made the bottom drop out of everything. She was the end of everything, to him at least. The architect of his madness. Illyria. The walking corpse of the woman he had loved.
"Wesley." That voice. Fred's voice and not Fred's voice. It cut deep, like the murderous knife of Cyvus Vail. Somehow she had come over to join them, without any of them noticing her approach. "It is... pleasurable to see you again."
"Lil, honey. Go annoy the customers for a bit, yeah?" Watching Wesley nervously, Lorne tried to steer Illyria away. It was pointless. Nobody could ever tell Illyria what to do. She frowned at him, and her eyes fixed themselves back upon Wesley.
"You are... functioning correctly? I witnessed your death, and there was... I believe it to have been grief. Then there was fighting and death." She scowled suddenly. "You were supposed to be my guide in this new world. You left me."
"I..." He had always been half mad, with grief and confusion, during their conversations in the past. He had recovered since, to some degree, blessed with a new start; but suddenly the past was crashing hopelessly down around him.
"Nobody left you, Blue." Spike had always enjoyed a fairly good relationship with Illyria. Of all of the gang he had known Fred the least, which perhaps helped a little - though even he had had time to come to love her as well. "It's called death. Tends to bugger up everybody's plans."
"We thought you'd been returned to the Deeper Well." Wesley shot Cordelia an accusing stare, but had he been in a clearer frame of mind, he might have seen from the look in her eyes that she had thought the same. There were higher powers at work; higher powers that seemed to enjoy keeping their secrets. Looking worried, Lorne gently insinuated himself between the ancient demon and his faltering friends.
"We should go to see Lox," he said, trying to keep his voice light. "He's waiting, and he has things he'd probably far rather be doing than getting interrogated by a gang of spooks. Stay out here, hey Lirry? Mingle."
"Mingle?" Her sharp eyes frowned at him, and he smiled nervously. She was no longer as powerful as she had once been, but she was still many times stronger than him, and possessed who knew what abilities. He had taken her in because she needed somebody, in this alien world, though he had loved Fred as much as anybody. It hurt to see Illyria in her stead, but Lorne was always the last to judge anybody. He wouldn't turn anyone away.
"Yeah." He managed a shaky smile, rather dimmer than his usual thousand watt grin. "Mingle. Chat to the crowds. Take a turn up on stage." It had been intended as a weak joke, but it made them all remember the evening when Fred had sung at Caritas.
"I wish to talk to Wesley." There had never been any point in trying to make Illyria do anything. Wesley's eyes sought out Angel, looking for some overdue support.
"We, er..." As thunderstruck as the others, Angel had to struggle to galvanise himself now. He had loved Fred more than had anyone save Wesley, and had taken her death extremely hard. Circumstances had prevented him from giving full vent to his feelings at the time, and he had struggled to deal with Illyria. Seeing her again felt like drinking a shot of Holy water, and he decided not to deal with her now. Instead he grumbled out a simple order, dodging the issue as best he could. "We have to talk to Lox."
"Angel..." Wesley knew better than anybody that Illyria would not just give up, but Angel didn't care. He didn't want to think about this now. Suddenly angry, for no really logical reason, he grabbed Wesley's arm, and pushed him forcibly past Illyria, past everybody, and on towards the door that led to Lorne's rooms. He left Spike to deflect the indignant demon, offering her a cigarette that she didn't understand, and babbling about how she had come to be at the club. She frowned at him, imminent violence simmering in her eyes, but presumably she had learnt that the spells protecting Haven could have unpleasant after-effects for anybody looking to cause trouble. She settled for glowering at him instead, before eating the lit cigarette and following on in Angel's wake. The door closed as she approached it; slamming shut with a noisy finality. It seemed to confuse her, and she frowned for several moments, before disappearing. Clearly she was planning to follow the others to their rendezvous with Lox. Spike scowled.
"Bugger." He didn't want this. Like everybody else he had hoped never to see the infernal demon again. He wanted to glower and lash out, and give in to his mean and moody side just as Wesley had done - but Spike was a practical man. Spike understood the world in ways that Wesley perhaps never would; so instead of indulging in his anger, the vampire wandered into the shadows beside the bar, and disappeared. He wanted to follow the others too. There wasn't a whole lot of point in remaining behind. He wanted to know what was going on as much as anyone.
The demon Lox was an impressive sight by the reckoning of any culture, no less so for his current, slightly debauched sprawl in a bright red armchair, in a room decorated to look something like a Las Vegas showroom. Eight feel tall and coloured a pale shade of red, he was almost entirely hairless, save for a scattering of thin white curls on the top of his head. His large eyes were a pale, watery blue, sharp behind an expensive pair of designer reading glasses, and his long teeth gleamed so white as to delight any dentist who might dare get close enough to examine them. He was dressed in a set of long robes, pale yellow in colour, and sleeveless to best show off his large, muscular arms. Had he been human, he might have been a film star or a politician - as a demon he looked naturally regal. It was suddenly not at all hard to imagine him trying to replace the Archduke Sebassis.
"Ah." He stood up as the team arrived, nodding his head graciously to Lorne. "These are your friends?"
"Yes." Lorne, rarely one to stand on great ceremony, treated the aristocratic demon just as he treated everybody else - with warmth, respect and a kind smile. "This is Angel, Cordelia, and Wes. There's another of them, Spike, but he stayed back to distract Illyria."
"I did not find him very distracting." Walking into the room, eyes immediately fixing themselves upon Wesley, Illyria spoke rather sharply. "The club has never been very accommodating for the kinds of diversion that I enjoy."
"Illyria!" Lox was obviously pleased to see her. "Sit down. Have a drink."
"I do not find alcoholic beverages to my taste. In my world, if one wished to become intoxicated, one drank the flaming blood of the Zaxtra beast." It might have sounded like a boast, but for Illyria boasting was redundant. She didn't care what ordinary mortals thought of her - all life, after all, was an irrelevance in her eyes. Lox laughed.
"The Zaxtra beast. Now that would make a good centrepiece for a dinner table. I'll remember that." He turned his attention back to Lorne. "My apologies. You were saying?"
"Angel. Cordelia. Wesley." Spike appeared in the middle of the room, and Lorne didn't miss a beat. "And Spike. They want to talk to you. They're investigators, and they think that you can help them with their... inquiries."
"They do?" Lox sounded benevolent, but uninterested. "I've heard of you. I've heard impressive things."
"Really?" Angel did his best to sound modest, but it was always gratifying to be told such things. Lox was looking past him, though, his eyes fixed instead upon Wesley. "The Geographical Distribution Of The Moracx, wasn't it? And rather a good piece on the parallels between the languages of various demons from the Xin Dimension. I was particularly impressed by the section on the way that certain demon languages have changed since relocation to Earth. The incorporation of a number of American idioms into my own people's language has annoyed a good many of my older fellows." He nodded, and extended his hand. "It's good to meet, you. Pryce, isn't it."
"Yes." Wesley managed a successful handshake, though the level of concentration clearly showed in his eyes. "You read a lot?"
"As much as I can. I've not noticed much from you in the last couple of years, though. Rumour had it that you'd become a man more of weaponry than of the written word."
"Circumstances changed." Wesley looked faintly uncomfortable. He didn't like to be reminded of how far off the rails he had gone in the last years of his life. Lox nodded.
"And now I hear that you're dead. Tell me, does that make it easier or harder to meet those publishing deadlines?"
"Easier." Wesley had to smile, though only faintly. "Just harder to type."
"Ah." Lox smiled back. "Right. So tell me, Angel, what does your team want with me? If it's to help Pryce with some new research I'm happy to oblige. If it's to do with your famous selfless struggle to bring goodness to the hearts of our neighbours, then I suspect that you're on your own. And if you're planning to behead me on the grounds that I'm a soulless demon... well let he who is without sin."
"I have a soul," Angel couldn't resist saying. Lox nodded.
"I doubt there are many people or demons left in America's Underworld who aren't aware of that fact. I merely meant that we all have our vices - demon and human. You have devoted yourself to protecting the latter at the expense of many innocents amongst the former. Am I suspected of something, Angel? And am I permitted to defend myself, or do I just get summarily executed?"
"Not in my front room. I just had the decorators in." Lorne folded his arms, looking determined. "We're all friends here, right Angel? The spells might end at the door, but keep up the spirit of the thing. No violence."
"It's okay, Lorne. I'm not hurting anybody." Angel's eyes flickered backwards and forwards between Lox in front of him and Illyria off to his side. It was hard to decide just which of them was the more unsettling. "It's pretty simple, Lox. We were warned by the higher powers that you were up to something. They don't make warnings like that for no reason. It turns out that Wolfram & Hart are suddenly interested in you too."
"Ah." Lox managed the by no means simple task of smiling sardonically around a mouthful of inch long teeth. "Well if Wolfram & Hart are worried... I'd heard that you worked for them these days, but Lorne here persuaded me that it was nothing to worry about. Was he wrong?"
"We don't work for Wolfram & Hart." Cordelia put on her best and sunniest smile, which was enough to disarm most species. "Some of us never did. We're just interested to know why they're suddenly investigating you. We have a, er... acquaintance... who works for them." She tried hard not to look at Wesley in case he blushed. "See, a couple of months ago nobody knew who you were, and now it's like everybody does. Which isn't unusual in this town, especially if you have a good agent, but kind of is if you're a demon." Her smile bounced back out again. "No offence."
"This conversation bores me." Pacing restlessly about, Illyria managed to walk straight through Wesley, and frowned at him in obvious confusion. She began to circle him curiously, head cocked on one side.
"Hey, Lirry? Go help out behind the bar or something, yeah?" Beaming at her in a way that clearly said 'Don't atomise me,' Lorne wilted visibly under the force of her answering frown.
"You told me to avoid the 'bar'. You said that I was scaring away the customers." Her expression clearly said that she didn't care one way or the other. Illyria could find anything boring. "Why is Wesley insubstantial?"
"You've only just noticed?" Spike grinned broadly. "The boy's been insubstantial all his life." Wesley opened his mouth as if to speak, but the blond vampire was quick. "And naff off about the bloody pocket dimension. No way would you do it with Cordy watching."
"Hey hey! Children!" Lorne was waving at them, trying to attract their attention. "Lox has things to do, you know. Important things. He's an important guy. Can we deal with this later?"
"Sorry Lorne." Wesley had the grace to sound apologetic, though Illyria had no notion of having done wrong. She scowled around at everybody.
"Lox will not tell you what he is involved in. Lox does not believe in telling the truth to other races." She made a few experimental passes through Wesley's body with one hand, frowning all the while. Angel glared.
"Get her out of here, Wes. I'm sorry, but I need to talk to this guy."
"Yes." Wesley looked agonised at the suggestion, and didn't meet Angel's eyes, but he nodded anyway. "Come on Illyria. We'll, um... find somewhere to talk."
"I would like to talk with you." Her head was cocked on one side again, eyes bright and searching. "But Lox would like you all to go away. He does not want to talk to you."
"Lirry honey, go with Wes. Be a good little destroyer of worlds." Lorne shot Lox an anxious smile. "Sorry. She, er... she gets a little fixated, especially about Brits, apparently." He smiled gently over at Wesley, his eyes far more sympathetic than anybody else's had been. "The blue door, Wes. It leads to my back room."
"Right." Wesley wasn't sure if it was possible for a ghost's heart to break, but it certainly felt as though his would like to. Did he even have a heart anymore? Surely that had remained in his body, wherever that now lay? He wasn't sure of the semantics, but thinking about it was infinitely better than thinking about Illyria - and, by inescapable association - Fred. The parasitic demon was looking expectantly at him now, though, obviously eager to get him alone to talk things through. Feeling the eyes of everybody upon him, he followed the blue-tinted nightmare across the room.
"Well that was... interesting." Lox still seemed jovial. "I like Illyria, but she has an oddness about her. Somehow you're always glad when she's gone away."
"Yeah." Angel wasn't sure what to say - none of them were. The passing of Illyria through their lives was like a wrecking ball blasting its way through everything. It always had been. Dragging his mind back away from thoughts of Fred, the vampire forced himself to focus on the present. He was good at that. Distancing himself from his feelings was second nature. "Look, um... we've got to talk, Lox."
"Of course we do." The big demon smiled pleasantly. "You're worried, you say. You have to make sure that I'm not up to something you'd disapprove of. Just to make sure that I'm allowed to live." Angel began to protest, but Lox stilled him with a wave of one hand. "No, it's alright. You have your duty, Angel. I have mine. I protect my people. I defend my clan. I do what I can to strengthen our position and reinforce our chances of survival, because something in this dimension of yours - of ours, now - is detrimental to the health of many of my kind. No doubt your friend Pryce could elaborate further. If all of this is reason for you to worry, Angel, then fair enough. But remember that if I was a human trying to save his family against the odds, you'd help me. Because I'm red and have big teeth, I don't get that support." His warm blue eyes switched over to point at Lorne. "You're lucky he's never turned against you."
"Hey. Hey hey hey. Come on guys!" Stepping forward, arms outstretched, Lorne tried out one of his favourite showman's grins. "Now we're all friends here, right? So none of that nonsense about killing each other. I told you, Angel cakes, Lox is a friend. And Lox, honey, Angel is one of the good guys. Angel is the good guy. He only kills the evil types. Right cream puff?"
"This isn't about killing anybody." Angel was beginning to wish that they had never bothered coming to the club. Talking to Lox was getting them nowhere. "This is just about knowing what's going on in this city. Who's on which side, and who is getting up to what. It's my job to make sure that the wrong people don't get hurt, so when I get leads, I have to follow them up." He rubbed at his eyes with one hand, beginning to feel the strain. If there was one thing worse than stroppy demons, it was stroppy demon royalty. It was not easy to do his job whilst having to simultaneously stroke a princeling's ruffled feathers. "Look... what are you up to, Lox?"
"Trying to build alliances, Angel." He said it as though in answering the question he was granting some great favour. "My people are dying. Just at the moment there are a lot of tribes hoping to win something from the fall out surrounding the death of Sebassis. A lot of candidates trying to push themselves forward to fill that vacuum. Some of them think that I can help them, and if I can get help for my people in return, then I'm not going to refuse. That's what you've no doubt been alerted to, Angel. My involvement in the rush for a part of the Sebassis Empire. I don't want any of it for myself, but I am a part of the struggle." He folded his arms, and sat down on the arm of the easy chair. "So. Do I get staked? Beheaded? Chopped up into little pieces?"
"Now we already covered this ground, guys. Not in my front room, remember?" Lorne looked back to Angel. "Play nice, hey sweet stuff? A favour for an old friend."
"What do you think, Cordy?" Angel wasn't sure that he liked the sharp look in Lox's watery eyes, but the demon was good at telling a story. Spike made a face.
"I think he's telling a load of old hogwash," he said loudly. Angel glared at him.
"When did you change your name to Cordy?" he asked. Spike met the glare with a powerful one of his own.
"Since I knew that you wouldn't be asking me what I thought. He's lying, Angel."
"Spike, be nice." Smiling hopefully, Lorne turned to Cordelia. "Come on, Cordy. Play fair. Have I told you how great you're looking tonight? Sparkly white really suits you, princess."
"I know." She smiled back at him. "But you don't need the flattery. This all sounds plausible to me."
"Like hell it does!" Spike seemed exasperated. "Look I know my opinion doesn't count for much around here, but I'm a good judge of character. I always have been."
"Sure, Spike. That'll explain why you thought your mother would make a good member of our gang all those years back. And why you think Wesley is still some public school prefect."
"Don't go bringing up my mother." Spike looked hurt. "Cordelia, we all know Angel drawers is a proper tit, but you've got brains, right? You can tell that Prince Charmless is lying?"
"I think he gets the benefit of the doubt for the time being." Cordelia looked around at the others, distracted by Spike's indignant boggling, and Lorne's sudden flurry of air kisses. "We have other avenues to explore, after all. Like all the other people who are trying to take over from Sebassis. There are some nasty names involved in that little power struggle. The sort that are really likely to set the danger klaxons ringing."
"Thankyou my dear." Lox's smile was utterly charming, and utterly convincing. Cordelia found herself smiling back at him through sheer instinct, but Spike merely rolled his eyes.
"Fine. Whatever, go your own way. Look, if we're getting out of here now, I'll go get Wes."
"Tell him he can take as long as he likes back there, doll." Lorne looked concerned beneath the relief at this sudden loss of interest in his friend. "I'll stay out of there this evening. If he wants to talk things through with Illyria, or just stay in there on his own, whatever. He's welcome."
"Yeah, I'll tell him." Spike didn't sound interested. He just disappeared, choosing to travel by his own power rather than trying to open the door. Angel glared after him.
"I swear he gets worse."
"He has much anger about him." Lox shrugged his powerful shoulders. "It's the way of things with some people. Perhaps we're all like that sometimes." He laughed. "All of us except Lorne, anyway."
"Hey, I have my angry days too, sugar." Lorne looked over at Angel. "You're really satisfied with all this, big guy?"
"Yeah, I guess so. For now at least. We might have to come back and ask some more questions another time, but..." Angel shrugged. "It does all make sense. If this guy has your backing, then I guess it's okay." He smiled rather awkwardly. "We should really be going now, but... listen Lorne..."
"Yeah, I know." Lorne looked awkward too. "Open house, right? Or open hotel, anyway. Maybe, Angel cakes. Maybe. We'll see."
"Yeah." There was a lot that was still unspoken between them - a lot of awkwardness, about that last night together, about favours performed, duties done and battles fought. About Lindsay McDonald. Angel sighed. "Come on Cordy."
"Sure." She nodded at Lox, and smiled over at Lorne. "Be seeing you, Lorne."
"Well here's hoping it's not on business, princess." He waggled his green fingers in a cheerful little farewell. "Bye. And take care." He was still waggling his fingers after they had gone, disappeared in a way that he found most disconcerting.
"A nice enough pair," observed Lox. "Everything alright, Lorne?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah." Lorne's mind was in distant places. Dwelling on memories, and thoughts, and wonderings. "I was just thinking. If I'd stuck with them that night, I'd be a ghost now too - always supposing some higher power thought I was worth bringing back from the grave. Makes you wonder."
"I suppose it does." Lox clapped him on the back. "You miss them, don't you."
"Yeah." Lorne remembered being torn in so many ways; having his beloved impartiality stripped away in pieces by somebody he could never turn away; somebody to whom he had never been able to say no. Somebody who still occupied a very big part of his thoughts. "Sometimes. I guess."
"Well maybe you'd better try thinking of something else for a while." Lox was looking at a pocket watch pulled from some hidden niche in his robes. "It's time for your turn on stage, and we've got customers willing to pay to hear you sing, buddy boy. So get going, before our profits start to dip."
"Sure." The idea of singing always brought Lorne's spirits bouncing back up again. "See you later tonight?"
"I'll be around." Lox patted him on the shoulder. "Go get 'em, superstar."
"Hey, you bet." And with a broad grin, Lorne headed off for the waiting stage. Lox waited behind for a moment, watching him disappear along the corridor, hearing the cheer as he went through the doorway that led back out onto Haven's main floor. Lorne's arrival was always greeted with joy by his regulars. They were always hoping that he would get up on the stage to sing. Lox smiled at the sound. It meant happiness, fulfilment - and money rolling in. And with his robes swinging gently around his ankles, he headed off to join in the fun.
A heavy, lingering silence had fallen as soon as Wesley and Illyria entered Lorne's back room. Wesley looked around at the space, eager to look at anything that wasn't blue and Fred-shaped. It was a bigger room than the one they had just left; a library of sorts, filled with shelves bearing CDs, DVD-As, sheet music, music encyclopaedias, and books on the history of instruments, composers, and various musical genres. Lorne was a true convert - something easily seen in the gleaming baby grand piano in the middle of the room, the equally shiny pair of guitars standing next to it - one electric, one acoustic - and the bright brass saxophone that lay on the room's sole chair. There was a sequinned jacket thrown over the back of the chair, coloured black and blue, and reflecting all the light that had blazed into life the moment that the twosome had gone through the door. Wesley had turned the lights on with a wave of one hand, and Illyria had seemed impressed. Magic no doubt counted for something in her world, but Wesley just remembered how delighted Fred had been with his increasing powers, and decided that he didn't care for Illyria's opinion.
"I wanted to talk to you, Wesley," she said in the end. He nodded, reining in his temper. There was no point in shouting at Illyria. He had been on the receiving end of her anger more than once in the past, and he had no particular desire to see it unleashed again here. She might not be able to hurt him anymore - though that in itself was unpredictable - but there were too many things in this room that he had no desire to see damaged. It was a pleasant image, thinking of Lorne sitting in here and learning to use the instruments, or reading about them whilst his favourite music played. He wasn't going to get Illyria angry. Not until he could be sure that he was the only one being hurt.
"What did you want to talk about?" He couldn't quite meet her eyes; couldn't lift his voice above a sullen mumble. It was like being a prisoner, and confronting one's gaoler to hear their demands. She was frowning at him, cocking her head on one side, and he didn't need to look at her to know that.
"You went away." Her tone was accusing. "You were to be my teacher, Wesley. You were to make yourself available to me at all times."
"I died. You were there. You know what happened."
"Yes." She moved closer. "But you came back. You are here now. You did not go away to the place where the spirits assemble. Why did you not come to find me?"
"Why the hell should I?" He was angry then, and looked up suddenly to meet her equally furious gaze. "I never asked you to come into my life, Illyria. I never asked to know you, or to see you. We both know who I'd rather have here with me. Dead or alive."
"Fred is gone." Her voice was sharp. He could almost have hit her, although he knew that it would have no effect. Even if he were alive and fully corporeal - even if he was as strong as Angel - he would not be able to hurt Illyria. "She cannot return to you. I have told you that more times than I care to count."
"You don't say." He turned around, looking at the other end of the room instead, back towards the blue door that had led them both in here. Her hand passed uselessly through his shoulder, and he smirked. She had been trying to spin him around, her haughty self-importance demanding his attention. She had never thought of him as her equal - she never would. Nobody was her equal, in her eyes.
"You should have returned to me," she said, clearly angered by her inability to touch him. He sighed.
"I thought you were gone. We assumed that you had been returned to the Deeper Well. Plus we were prevented from getting close to Lorne, and you were with him." He rubbed his eyes, and sat down on the piano stool. "Look Illyria, I'm really not in the mood for one of your strops. Now you said that you wanted to talk, but if it was just so that you could sulk about me giving you the cold shoulder, hard luck."
"I do not always understand your meaning." Her head cocked on one side again, and clarity flickered into her eyes. He winced. She had cross-checked his words with Fred's memory, no doubt in order to learn what he had meant by a phrase like 'cold shoulder'; and the thought of it made him ill. Fred's memory, Fred's experiences, so much that was still Fred - and yet wasn't. It was all inside Illyria somewhere, but Fred herself wasn't with it. She never would be again. "I did not want to talk about your cold shoulders, I wanted to talk about this place, and what happened to you the night that we last met. I wanted to talk to you about the experiences I have had since then. The many things that I have seen and heard in this place. This 'club'. The strangely loud green one makes sounds from his mouth that are not unpleasant to me, but many of the people that he calls 'customers' make sounds that I cannot believe are pleasant to anyone. It is a strange place."
"I'm sure it is." He forced a smile. "It would take forever to explain music to you, Illyria. You must have had forms of it in your world, and what we have now isn't so very different. Lorne is the one to talk to about it, not me. As for the rest... new experiences are a part of life. You're alive. You can't expect every day to be the same. Life just doesn't work that way."
"You are not pleased to be with me, Wesley." She had no doubt assimilated his words, but her mind was already set upon a new track. He sighed. He had almost forgotten how tiring their conversations could be.
"I'm not delighted, no. You know why."
"Perhaps." She knew, but didn't understand. He probably couldn't expect her to. Fred's life was nothing to her - all life was nothing to her. His own, apparently, had some greater worth, but he had no real idea why. "I... apologise for your discomfort."
"If it will make you happier, yes." She didn't understand when he rolled his eyes at that. "Wesley... would it make you happy if I was to tell you about Lox?"
"Lox? He's telling the others all about himself now. There's no need to worry about him."
"He will not tell the others the truth. Lox is not like most of the creatures I have encountered so far. He has a duplicity about him that I would once have considered to be of great worth. In my world I could perhaps have made use of him, but in this world he bores me. You wish to know what he is doing?"
"I would like to, yes." He eyed her suspiciously. "Why would you want to help?"
"Because I am a part of the team, Wesley. I wish to be of use." She frowned. "I do not know why."
"No, neither do I." He nodded. "Alright, Illyria. You want to help out. So what is Lox up to?"
"He wishes to take over the Sebassis Empire, and more of the world beyond that. He wishes to make this world his, for the good of his people. This dimension is cruel to him, and he wishes to ensure the survival of his race. He will do anything to ensure that."
"Lox? Lox is a Xash. The other demons in the city would never bow to his authority. He's the leader of a dying race, and nobody takes him seriously. He might grab himself some pieces of the empire during the free for all that's likely coming, but to take over the whole lot? He hasn't got a hope."
"He does." She didn't like to be contradicted, or to have her word mocked. "He knows who I am, Wesley. He knows where I come from, and about the powers that are mine by right. He believes that he can control those powers for himself, either by taking them, or by restoring them to me. He knows that they were removed from me, and he knows where they were stored. With those powers, Wesley..."
"With those powers he could destroy the whole world before he really knew what was happening." Wesley jumped to his feet, aghast. "He could obliterate half of this dimension if he handles it all wrongly."
"Well that figures." It was Spike's voice, coming from behind one of the shelves of books and CDs. "I knew he was up to something." Startled, Wesley glared at him.
"How long have you been hiding there?"
"Long enough to hear what's important." Spike shot him a half-amused look. "Keep your stubble on, Percy. I wasn't eavesdropping. I just came to tell you that the others are leaving. They're happy that Lox isn't a threat. Oh, and Lorne says you can stay in here as long as you like. He's worried about you."
"That's nice of him." Wesley didn't sound particularly touched by the gesture - just defensive, and cross with Spike. "Lox has convinced the others that he's trustworthy?"
"Yeah. And there's no way Angel drawers is going to believe otherwise. You should see him at the moment. He's so determined to mend bridges with Lorne, he'd probably give Lox the okay if he was sitting out there chewing on dead kids. I don't know that I can get him to listen. Maybe you can."
"Maybe." Wesley didn't feel particularly inclined to try. There was great danger in Lox's motives - he saw no reason to disbelieve Illyria, since she had no reason to lie - but he felt so drained that he couldn't inspire himself to act. He just wanted to be alone. Let Angel make his own mistakes - sometimes that was how it had to be.
"You will now fight Lox?" asked Illyria, completely failing, as usual, to appreciate his desire just to be left alone. He nodded slowly.
"I suppose so. We'll have to."
"Poor Lorne." Spike sounded genuinely regretful. "He really likes the guy. He's trying to get out of the fighting evil game, and where does it take him? Right into the figurative arms of a guy who turns out to be the enemy. He might never forgive Angel for killing Lox."
"Lorne forgives everything." Wesley was thinking about the night he had hit Lorne, knocking him down so hard and so completely that he had risked causing serious damage. It had all been to aid in the kidnapping of Connor, and Lorne had been the innocent victim caught in the middle. He had forgiven Wesley long before anybody else, and without even thinking about it. For Lorne there had never been any question that the forgiveness might not be granted.
"I will kill Lox for you," announced Illyria, although the declaration rather begged the question as to why, if it was something that she felt needed doing, she hadn't already done. "I shall rip off his head with one twist, and throw his body parts into great fires."
"That's nice, Blue." Spike restrained from rolling his eyes. "But maybe just a little too much at this stage. Maybe later."
"As you wish." She looked back to Wesley, frowning at his evident distraction. "And now I wish to discuss music, and the customs of this place. I wish to discuss the customers, who come here as enemies and yet do not kill each other. I wish to discuss the process of... 'karaoke'. It interests me. Is it a common custom amongst warriors in this world?"
"Hardly, love." Spike was smirking, trying not to laugh. "Listen Wes, I'm going to try to catch Angel. He ought to hear all of this. I'll leave you to your debriefing."
"Yeah. Thanks." The prospect of being left alone here, with Illyria, made Wesley's heart feel heavier than it had in some time, but he knew that Spike had to leave. He was right, and Angel did need to hear Illyria's story. The sooner they started their move against Lox, the better. There seemed to be real sympathy in Spike's eyes when he left, but it didn't really register with Wesley. He barely even noticed when the vampire left.
"You are not happy." Illyria sounded accusing. Wesley didn't look at her. "You are often not happy. Spike referred to whisky when you were like this before, but it does not make the customers here unhappy. Often they mix it with blood. Would you be happier if you were to mix your whisky with blood?"
"Well I've never tried it," his voice almost cracked, so dry did his throat seem to be, "but I'm guessing that no, it wouldn't make me happier. Besides, I'm dead now. I can't drink whisky anymore."
"And this makes you sad? Do you miss the whisky?"
"Maybe." Her innocent question made him feel even worse. Just how much had he relied on the damned stuff during those last days? Just how often had he been drunk, or partly drunk, during his dealings with Illyria in the past? Slowly he sat back down on the piano stool, and ran one hand through his hair. Illyria came to stand beside him, staring down with her usual impassive expression.
"I am... oddly pleased to see you again, Wesley. It was strange to be in this world without you."
"Thankyou." He wasn't sure that it had been intended as a compliment, but he responded to it automatically, unsure what else to say. Her gaze was unending, unwavering, and he had to drag himself back from his torpor in order to deal with it. "What is it that you want, Illyria?"
"I wish to talk to you, Wesley." She seemed to have said that a dozen times so far today; more perhaps. He found himself nodding, dragging himself back from the auto-pilot setting that had been governing his actions for most of the time since he had arrived at the club. She had helped, after all. And he was responsible for her, in an odd and twisted way. She trusted him more than anybody else, and genuinely did seem to need him. Had he not died, he would still have been spending all of his time with her; he knew that. He would still be teaching her, and listening to her, and hating her and needing her, and not understanding any of it any more than she did. There was no real reason why he shouldn't listen to her now. Not if she really wanted to talk.
"Alright," he said, forcing himself to pay proper attention. "Karaoke, the club, music. Just tell me what it is that you want to know." He didn't know how many of her questions he would be able to answer, but then he never did. He never had. Long gone were the days when she had merely wanted to learn the days of the week, and the months of the year. There were inevitable questions still to come that he dreaded. For now, though, he could deal with karaoke. It was at the very least emotionally neutral for him. Folding her arms, she stood in front of him, making him feel like a suspect being interrogated by an overbearing police officer.
"I wish to understand this new music," she demanded, odd eyes glinting in the bright light. "In my world we had drums and some instruments with strings. There was... banging and chanting. It was used to tell tales, summon spirits and cast magicks. Is that what this 'karaoke' is used for? And what is this 'disco' of which Lorne speaks? This 'Aretha', and this 'Elvis'? Do they tell the tales of the exploits of brave warriors, and heap praise upon masters and rulers?"
"Not exactly, no." For a second Wesley smiled, amused by the culture clash. "What did you do in your world that was just for pleasure? Not for magic, not for conquest or for glory. What did you do when you just wanted to put your feet up and relax?"
"Why should levitating my feet be relaxing?" She frowned at him. "If I understand your meaning, you wish to know what I did between battles. Between my wanderings from dimension to dimension, and from world to world. There was torture and execution, and there were songs praising my glory that I would listen to when all of the prisoners were dead."
"Delightful, I'm sure." He nodded slowly. "Well I suppose it's the same thing, in a... very loose sense. It's all just music to listen to. For... fun. It's not about glory anymore though. More about love, really, and when it all goes wrong. Except classical music and opera, perhaps. They're often about glory and brave warriors and things. And torture and death and things like that too, on occasion. You'd probably love Wagner."
"I do not understand your inference. Is Wagner a song?"
"Never mind." He reined in another sigh, but still found that he was smiling, faintly. It was a smile that had no origin in his heavy - if nonexistent - heart, but it was better than being totally disconnected. "We'll, um... we'll come at this from a different tack, perhaps."
"As you wish." Her head cocked itself on one side as she regarded him intently. "Exactly what is 'Bluegrass' and 'Blues'? Is there some special significance to the colour? Is this music written by others of my race, or are there humans who are also coloured blue?"
"Umm..." Wesley shook his head very slowly, feeling sanity begin to drain itself away. Terrific. This was going to be a very long conversation.
Wesley left the club long after the others, finally slipping away and leaving Illyria staring fixedly after him. He half expected her to follow, but was glad when she didn't. She remained unpredictable, then; confusing and confused; and as he wandered out into the street he tried not to think about her. He didn't transport himself straight back to the hotel, although he wanted to be away from Haven as soon as possible. He didn't transport himself anywhere. He just walked, needing the time alone, and wishing that he could feel the cold night air, and the breeze on his face.
Illyria had been a surprise. A big surprise. Losing Fred had been perhaps the worst day of his life; watching Illyria trying to take her place had done such terrible things to his head and his heart, and had left him a physical and mental wreck. He hadn't known how to deal with it, and death had been no great burden, when that had been the life he had been leaving. It had been a struggle to accept that he was being awarded a life after death, when Fred could have no such thing; when he was facing an eternity without ever seeing her again. Believing that Illyria was gone had made it easier, though. Being without Fred was far more bearable when he was also without her killer. Without that constant reminder of Fred's face, and Fred's voice, and Fred's death. Now it had all come back, and the healing that had come with his death seemed stripped away from him, and left in pieces on the dance floor of Haven.
Nobody seemed to see him as he walked through the streets. That wasn't unusual, in LA, where nobody ever really noticed anybody, but it made him feel invisible; made him feel like a ghost. Made him feel insubstantial, and dead, and unimportant. It was a feeling that fitted his growing depression, and matched his sinking sense of self worth. Everything was shook up now, but it was easier to walk, and let the feelings fester, than to deal with them properly. If Wesley Wyndam-Pryce had ever truly known how to cry, he had forgotten a long time ago.
"Hey, Wes. I've been looking for you." It was Lilah, snapping into existence out of thin air, and running a hand through his hair in gentle greeting. He didn't acknowledge her. He wondered how she had found him, wandering through random streets. He didn't know where he was himself, but apparently she knew enough to be able to come to meet him. He hadn't realised that he had long ago ceased walking; hadn't noticed that he had been standing in the same place now for nearly an hour.
"Go away, Lilah." He was huddled up against a cold that he couldn't feel, head lowered to shelter his eyes from a wind that he hadn't even noticed. Nobody was walking by, anymore; no more citizens of Los Angeles, hurrying on with their lives, and failing to notice the anguished ghost in their midst. At some point he had wandered down an alleyway, come to a dead end, and stopped there, foiled by geography. Lilah took his hand.
"Not now, please." He really couldn't deal with her games and complications just now. He wanted to be alone, or thought that he did. It was easier to be alone; he had learnt that much years ago.
"Believe it or not, I just wanted to find out if you were okay." She was looking at him with genuine concern in her eyes, but he didn't notice. He wasn't even looking at her. He was looking at Fred, laughing inside his mind, and making plans for a future that they had never been able to share. "Wes, come on. I heard what happened."
"How?" That much did interest him. How was it that she always seemed to know what was going on? She shrugged.
"Perk of the job. You know what Wolfram & Hart are like. I get all kinds of inside information. Nothing escapes their attention."
"If that was true they'd know everything. They don't. Were you there?"
"No." She made a face, obviously annoyed to have been caught out. "Well yes, okay. In a sense. I need to know what's happening, Wes. How am I supposed to know whether or not you're going to keep me in the loop?"
"Why the hell would I keep you in the loop? You're the enemy!"
"Exactly." She smiled at him, gently enough. "I didn't follow you, when you went off with Illyria. I thought you deserved to be alone. I really was only interested in what Lox had to say."
"And I don't believe him, but it doesn't matter. My employers seem satisfied, for now at least. They've got bigger concerns than what he's up to. Everything is still pretty messed up thanks to you and your team and your nihilistic little last day on planet Earth."
"Now there's a shame." He felt angry, he felt hurt, he felt who the hell knew what else, and he wanted to be sharp and snappy with everybody. Everybody wasn't there, so Lilah had to take the brunt of it, and he didn't know whether to feel guilty about that, or angry about it, or to hate himself even more for going down that road again, but she was still just smiling gently. Her eyes showed real concern, and made him feel all the more angry. She was supposed to be the evil one. At least if she was being evil he had less reason to feel bad about being cold with her. She let her hand snake up his arm, and gently brush the back of his neck in an almost-hug.
"I offered to dress up as her once," she said, in a voice so soft that he almost didn't hear her. "But I'm not offering to paint myself blue just to grab your attention."
"What?" He was confused now. She shook her head.
"I didn't mind losing you to her so much when she was alive. Now that she's dead and gone, and there's a crazed blue demon in her place, I did think that perhaps things would be different. But they're not. I'm still losing you to her, aren't I."
"Losing me?" He was struggling to assemble her words and meanings, separating all the pieces from the morass of complications inside his head. "I don't love Illyria. I just... I... I don't know."
"It doesn't matter if you love her or hate her, she's still right in the forefront of your mind. Right where Fred always used to be. I know that you're upset about the Texas Toothpick having died, Wes, and I'm right there with the sympathy. I even feel for you now, having to look at her body and knowing that there's somebody else living in it. But the rest? Look at me, Wesley. At me, not at whatever images you've got floating around in front of your eyes right now. Do you want to spend this evening alone in an alleyway with memories of a woman you're never going to see again, do you want to spend it alone in an alleyway with an head full of the egomaniac demon who killed her, or do you want to spend it with somebody who can actually make things hurt a bit less? Your memories of Fred can't touch you. Illyria can't touch you, even if it is somebody's dead body that she's walking round in. I can touch you. I can make you feel better. I can even sympathise, and empathise, and understand some of what you're feeling. Self pity is an addiction, Wes, and you're better than that."
"Maybe." He wondered if, given her death, and her connection to the powers of Wolfram & Hart, Cyvus Vail's mindwipe had ever affected her. He had never quite had the courage to find out. Would she be telling him that he was better than anything if she knew how he had betrayed Angel? Or would she applaud and make him feel even worse still? He rubbed his eyes, and thought about what she had just said. She had a point. Fred was gone, and wasn't coming back. Illyria was... definitely not what he wanted, even if she had been available. All the same, comfort in the arms of Lilah smacked of the past, and a time he had tried to put behind him. Whatever they had had together since his death had meant to be better than that. Less dysfunctional than that. He didn't want to go back to anger and self-hatred, and everything else that had gone hand in hand with that experience. It wasn't fair to Lilah for a start.
"Fine." She sounded almost hurt, which wasn't something that he heard often from her. Evidently she was taking his long period of thought as a rejection. "Whatever, Wesley. Spend the rest of eternity standing in this alleyway regretting everything, if that's what you want. I thought you'd snapped out of all of that since you died. I thought this relationship had actually come to mean something. I guess I was wrong. Not for the first time, where you're concerned." She turned away, and he thought that he saw a greater sadness in her eyes than he had ever seen there before. Lilah wasn't supposed to get sad. This wasn't the way that this worked. He reached out, grabbing her wrist and turning her back round to face him. "What?" she asked. She sounded angry, and maybe a little upset.
"Relationship," he echoed, managing a smile that didn't quite complete itself. "You called us a relationship."
"Yes, I did, didn't I." She smiled too then, though she still seemed upset. "I'd give you a dollar bill, but you'd never manage to take it. Wes..."
"No." He was coming to a decision, though it wasn't an easy one. "Lilah, I... I don't say sorry easily. You may have noticed that. I... don't do a lot of things easily. And... well you genuinely are evil, which really does complicate quite a lot of things. But don't go. You're right, Fred's gone. I don't know that I ever really believed that before, but the truth is that if she wasn't, she'd be here now. She'd have been brought back just like the rest of Angel Investigations were. But she wasn't. I'm not sure that that makes things any easier, especially where suddenly having Illyria turn up is concerned, but... but I'm not choosing her over you this time. Really there'd be no point, would there."
"Not unless you want to spend your death the same way you spend the last bit of your life, no. You actually are allowed to be happy, Wes. Believe it or not, it is permitted."
"Maybe." He looked away, though, and his face closed over again. "Just probably not tonight."
"Fair enough." She pulled him over to the side of the alley, where a blocked up window stood above a jutting out sill. They sat down there together, in the darkness, with the muted sounds of an oblivious city going unnoticed some distance away. "Did I ever tell you about my mother, Wes?"
"Your mother? No, I don't think so. We've never really done the family thing."
"Didn't think so. About ten years ago she was diagnosed with a degenerative illness. A mental condition something like Alzheimer's. At first she still recognised me, even when she didn't know who anybody else was anymore, but nowadays she doesn't have a clue who I am. I go to visit her, and it's her face and her body looking back at me, but it's somebody else who's inside it. The personality and the memory - most of it - belong to somebody else now. It's not the same thing as having the person you think you can spend the rest of your life with suddenly being destroyed by a demon, and I'm not going to pretend that it is. But in a sense it isn't all that different. See, I may be evil - and I may be a lawyer - but I do still have some understanding of feelings. I even have emotions on occasions you know. I just try not to let anybody else know about them."
"Touché." He smiled faintly. "I'm sorry. And that's nearly a world first, so you should try to have that little moment framed."
"Just as soon as Wolfram & Hart develop the technology, I'll do just that." She held his hand, and smiled at him in the darkness. "You don't want to be with me tonight, do you."
"I don't think it would be fair to you if I was." He felt bad for that, but to his surprise she smiled.
"Good. That means we're really making progress. Once upon a time that was the last thing that you'd have thought about."
"Yes." He had the grace to look distinctly abashed. "Not that you were a lot better."
"Me? I was having fun. Working off frustrations. Trying to earn you an impressive reputation amongst your neighbours. It's different now."
"It would appear so."
"Are you sorry?"
"Twice in one evening? You must be kidding." He laughed slightly. "Damn it, Lilah. All the women in Los Angeles. All the dead women in Los Angeles - and there do seem to be a fair few - and it has to be you."
"No you're bloody well not."
"Of course not. I'm evil." She stood up, still holding his hand, but not exerting any pressure. Tonight they would not be leaving together, and that seemed to be fine with her. "Goodnight, Wes. I know you're going to be far from cheerful tonight, and I know you probably want to give in to that, but don't spend too long brooding. It's not always good for you. Go back to the hotel. Read your books, argue with Spike, do whatever it is that you do with Angel. Throw a party, stake some vampires, slay a few dragons. Okay?"
"Okay." He gave her hand a squeeze. "Goodnight. And thanks for understanding."
"Don't mention it." She let go of his hand and gave his hair a quick ruffle, knowing how much it annoyed him when she did so. "See you tomorrow then. 'Night." She flashed him a quick, broad smile that seemed to set his heart beating faster, even though that was supposed to be impossible now, and a moment later she was gone. He smiled in her electrically-charged wake. Damn it but the world was a complicated place. A screwed up, miserable, heart-breaking place that ripped you up and burnt you to ashes - and a weirdly beautiful, optimistic place that could set you back on your feet almost without you noticing it. Into which of those two extremes falling in love with an evil dead woman fell, he didn't know - but he wasn't supposed to be worrying about such things tonight. So with a little smile, and a little frown, and a very great deal of confusion, he left the alleyway and struck off into the night. He still wanted to take the long way home. Walking seemed to suit his mood tonight.
Angel and Cordelia were gone when Wesley arrived back at the hotel. Spike was sprawled on his back on a couch, clearly still trying to blow smoke rings, but understandably still failing at the first hurdle. He couldn't even inhale the smoke. He opened one eye as Wesley came in, then slowly sat up.
"Spike." Wesley wandered over to sit beside him, rather surprising himself by doing so. "The others out investigating?"
"Looking for more leads." Spike shrugged. "Tried telling them. Silly sods wouldn't listen, 'cause what do I know, right? I'm just Spike." He ground the cigarette into the carpet, then sighed loudly. "Gotta stop doing that. Angel's gonna kill me when he sees all the scorch marks."
"That supposed to be funny?"
"What?" Spike had a smile in his eyes.
"Angel's going to kill you?"
"Oh." The smile came fully to life. "Yeah, I thought it was funny. Lighten up, Percy."
"Shut up, Spike." He wasn't in the mood. Somehow, with Lilah gone, most of the grouchiness had come back, and Spike's legendary games were the last thing he wanted to be dealing with. He rubbed his eyes with the fingers of one hand, then sighed. "I want to sleep for a century."
"Think you'll feel better when you wake up?"
"Need a drink?"
"No." He shook his head slowly. "I've been so happy lately. All that soul-searching crap was gone, and everything seemed to be going so well. And then that bloody psycho-Smurf comes back into my life. My... oh, you know what I mean." He stared over at the door, half wishing that Lilah would appear, even though they had agreed that it wouldn't be right to be together just now. "Bloody Illyria."
"Take it from one who knows, Pryce. Death, time - they don't heal anything on their own. You've got to help the process along." Spike smirked at the look in Wesley's eyes. "What? I'm not allowed to have insight? Well screw you, Percy. I've been there, you know. And dying, and being dead for a hundred years, didn't help half so much as... well, as having to deal with it all. I did the whole "Facing My Feelings" thing. Buggered off and got myself a soul." He shrugged. "Bit drastic, maybe. Helped, though. And the rest of it. Being brainwashed by the First Evil isn't something I'm recommending especially, but it helped me get over some old issues with me mum. It's all about dealing, mate. Not hiding." He frowned, when to the surprise of them both, Wesley suddenly burst out laughing. "What?"
"Sorry." The Watcher struggled to control himself. "It's just you, confronting your feelings." He began laughing again, and had to struggle to speak. "Sorry. I just... sorry."
"Oh, get stuffed." Spike scowled, but soon found himself smiling too. "Well, it cheered you up, I suppose. Miserable sod. Were you always so damn sulky, or did that come with Wolfram & Hart?"
"No, that came..." Not from anything that he could truly explain. Spike didn't know about Connor. "From a lot of things."
"Yeah. Another bloody emotionally stunted public school pri--" He broke off. "Well, whatever. We have other things we need to think about right now."
"We do?" The laughing had subsided, and felt a long way away now, but Wesley did at least feel better again. The depression that had caught hold of him after Lilah had left seemed to have lifted. Spike nodded.
"Yeah. Gotta decide what we're going to do about Lox, haven't we. Angel's still being a right prat, and Cordelia... well, I don't pretend to know what makes her tick. Why any 'higher power' would choose an airhead to be an angel - or whatever the hell she is - is beyond me."
"She's not an airhead. She just... thinks things out a bit differently to the rest of us." Wesley frowned. "What's your point?"
"My point is that Angel's a pillock. He won't listen to me, and you wouldn't speak to him earlier. Too busy moping. Lox could blow up the whole bloody world with Illyria's powers. They might be safe in that pocket dimension of yours, but that gadget that sucked them out of her can spit them right back into her again. Betcha. We're all space dust then, right?"
"If he can't find a way to contain them safely, then certainly a considerable region of the city, or even the state, will be looking pretty... space dusty, yes. Even safely contained, that power has the potential to obliterate..." He shrugged. "Possibly the planet. Possibly more than that, I don't know."
"And right now, Wolfram & Hart have that gadget."
"Yes. They won't give it to Lox, but he can probably take it. I'd guess that he's got insiders working for the LA branch, and that's where the Mutari generator is stored. The local offices are all up and running again now."
"Yeah, I've seen the building. Big and shiny and just like the last one. Exactly like the last one. Probably grew out of the ruins of the old one, like some evil beanstalk clone."
"You bring a whole new meaning to mixed metaphors, don't you." Wesley sighed. "Yes, alright. We have to do something. Do you know where Angel is?"
"No. Tried finding him, but I couldn't. Could be he's somewhere magical. Figures, if he's talking to people who are after the Sebassis Empire. Explains why I can't centre in on him."
"Yes... That doesn't help us, though, does it."
"You got any ideas?" Spike could see the spark of thought in his fellow ghost's highly changeable blue eyes. Wesley nodded slowly.
"Yes, I have. Somebody has to stop Lox from getting his hands on the generator, and the best way to do that is to get it ourselves. We should never have allowed Wolfram & Hart to keep it, anyway."
"Didn't exactly have much choice, mate."
"We should have thought of something. You know, it was Hamilton who gave me the idea of doing that to Illyria in the first place. I always rather suspected his motives, but I thought it would be okay as long as I had guardianship of the device. I didn't expect to be dead a few weeks later."
"Not your fault."
"It was hardly unforeseeable, Spike! I should have been more careful, and I probably would have been, once upon a time. No, it was an oversight, and there's only one way to rectify it."
"You're planning to break into Wolfram & Hart and get the bloody thing, aren't you!"
"I'm the perfect candidate for the job. I can walk straight in there. Angel can't. He has a physical form, at least of sorts. He'd set alarms off everywhere, but I can just walk through it all."
"Yeah, and then walk straight through the bloody generator, too. How the hell are you going to pick it up and carry it out? It won't go through the wall."
"I'll think of something." Wesley idly levitated the remains of Spike's last cigarette, as though to give an indication of his intentions. "Being a ghost is a big advantage when it comes to breaking and entering."
"Yeah, and bugger all else. Wes... I might be annoyed that I can't get Angel to listen to me about all this, but straight now - is it worth listening to? Before you go bursting in there to steal this thing, is Illyria telling the truth?"
"Why wouldn't she?"
"Well... she wants her powers back, doesn't she. She was pretty pissed at you for taking them away. What better way to get them back? And assuming she is telling the truth, it could still be a trap. She could be in it with Lox. So he wants this bloody widget. How's he planning to get it? Planning to get you to go in and snag it for him, maybe?"
"Illyria is telling the truth. About everything. And she's not working with Lox. Why would she? He's just another mortal to her. A total nobody. What she went through with Hamilton might have cracked her confidence a little, but if she thought about it at all, she'd still go in there and get the generator herself. Or try to. She wouldn't even conceive of getting somebody else to do it for her. She'd never believe that anybody else could do what she can't."
"Yeah, fair point. Hardly lacking in ego, is she." Spike nodded slowly. "Okay, so you want to go in there and try to get this thing. Keep it from Lox, and Wolfram & Hart, and whoever. Do you have a plan at all, or is it all just 'deep breath and hope for the best' stuff?"
"I have a plan." Wesley sounded defensive. Spike smiled.
Throw a party, stake some vampires, slay a few dragons. "Go in, get the device..."
"And get back out again. Great plan, Perce."
"You have any better ideas?" Wesley's temper was still short, and Spike relented a little. As he saw it, the poor guy was sensitive enough at the moment without teasing to cope with as well - and with good reason. He shrugged.
"Not really. Want some company?"
"You want to help?!" Wesley was amazed. He and Spike had had a workable relationship in the past, but they had certainly never been friends. On the contrary - Spike seemed to have latched onto the Watcher as a target for insults second only to Angel. "Why?"
"Because it needs doing, you berk. Look, I'm coming, Pryce. Just you bloody try to stop me."
"That shouldn't be too difficult." Wesley was silent for a moment, then nodded his head. The assistance might turn out to be welcome. "Alright. You can come."
"I'm sodding well coming anyway." Spike stood up. "You want me to have one last look for Angel first?"
"No, he'd only want to come along, and I don't think that's a good idea. I'd rather keep the element of surprise as long as possible."
"Fair enough." Spike nodded. "Now, then?"
"You're really sure you want to come?"
"Yeah, I'm sure. You probably don't need to be alone in this." Spike fixed him with a particularly disconcerting glare. "Now?"
"Yeah." Wesley nodded, finally caving in. "Yeah. Now." And together they disappeared.
"Are you sure that Wolfram & Hart don't have any ghost detectors in the building? It's not like they didn't know about me before, when I wasn't solid... before." Spike seemed restless. Wesley could sympathise, for there was an inherent weirdness to being inside the building again. They had all come here to work, mostly for different reasons; had all come to regret it, again for all manner of reasons; and had all wound up damaged by the experience. Wesley hated the sight of the building; hated the grandiose lobby, and the big flight of stairs; the jaunty reception area, where humans and demons were entertained before being shown to their lawyers. The offices possessed a corrupting influence, that still seemed tangible even now that he himself was not.
"They shouldn't know that we're here. We have no physical presence, and if I've got this right, we shouldn't be visible." They were standing in the lobby, testing their invisibility by waiting to see if they were noticed. There were psychics on staff after all - people who really did stand a chance of realising that there were ghosts in the building. Psychics, magic spells, magical barriers - any number of alarms and failsafes that protected the staff, the building, and the priceless items in the vaults. Nobody said anything, though. No urgent bells rang; no security guards shouted out bellicose warnings. Spike even wandered deliberately into the path of several bustling lawyers and their secretaries, but nobody looked surprised, or swerved out of his way, or even blinked at his sudden appearance. They just walked straight through him, and showed no realisation that they had done so. In the end both men were satisfied, although neither of them was even remotely relaxed.
"Horrible place." Spike kept looking about him suspiciously, with a particular wariness, apparently, towards the floor. "Being non-corporeal around here wasn't a whole lot of fun. Psycho bloody ghosts trying to suck me into hell."
"He's gone now, Spike."
"The scars run deep, you know. I'm traumatised."
"See a psychiatrist. Either that or go back to the hotel." Wesley was not in the mood to be sympathetic. This place had enough metaphorical demons in it to make him just as uneasy as Spike. "You knew where we were coming."
"Yeah." Spike was beginning to wonder why he had volunteered. In recent years he had become quite the team player, and at times like this it bothered him greatly. Life had been a lot easier when he had never volunteered for anything. Oh for the days before his soul came back - before the chip that had started this whole, bothersome business. At times he even regretted ever having heard of Sunnydale. "You okay?"
"Me?" It never ceased to surprise Wesley when Spike had one of his thoughtful moments. It was somewhat off-putting. Even Angel, the eternal good guy, didn't tend to think of other people's feelings as often as did Spike. He certainly never gauged their state of mind as accurately, if at all. "Yes, I'm alright." And trying not to think about Fred, falling into Lorne's arms at the top of those stairs. Trying not to think about the office upstairs where she kissed me for the first time. The office where the memory of her sent me mad. He shrugged, and smiled without much conviction. "I'm fine. Can't say that I'm happy to be back, though."
"Tell me about it." Spike's sharp eyes scanned the massive lobby. "Okay. Where are we making for?"
"The vaults. They're protected by magical spells that will prevent us from walking in, but I can probably handle those."
"Probably?" Spike looked distinctly unhappy. "Great. What happens if you can't?"
"If I don't get the spell right, and we walk into the vault... I don't know. Possibly we'll be atomised. I can't really say, never having tried it."
"You're a pretty encouraging bloke, you know that?"
"I'm not here for pep talks, Spike." Wesley ran a map of the building through his mind, hoping that the new offices were as similar to the old ones as they appeared to be. "Stick close now, and keep your eyes peeled. The ordinary employees won't know we're here, but I don't know about the unordinary ones. Or the clients. Or the Senior Partners, if they happen to be around. They'll certainly know that we're here, if they happen to look - and if anybody is going to be pissed off at us, it'll be them."
"Ain't that the truth." For intangible beings that nobody ever seemed to have seen, let alone spoken to directly, the Senior Partners were an inescapable part of life within the firm. Their presence hung over everything, with the very real threat of menace. Nobody knew who or what the Senior Partners were. Nobody knew where they came from, how old they were, or if they even had a physical form when upon the Earth. They had chosen intermediaries in the past, as strange as they themselves, but that was all. No direct contact, with anybody it seemed. Spike was of the opinion that intermediaries were hugely preferable to a personal audience, and had no wish to be summoned to meet with the Senior Partners himself. Somehow being dead and a ghost was no reason to suppose that he was free from the threat of harm from such beings. If indeed they were beings. He was happy never finding out. "Which vault are we heading for?" he asked eventually, anxious to get this over with as soon as possible. Wesley shrugged.
"There are several. I know which one I put it in, and since everything else appears to be the same, we should try that one first. It could have been put downstairs in the big vault though, and if so that will present a problem. It's a tough nut to crack."
"Great. Well lead on then." Spike looked about at the various creatures milling around them. "I don't know how long this invisibility thing can last. I'm used to being seen. Usually everybody can see us."
"Just don't think yourself visible." Wesley led the way up the stairs at a run, unhappy about using his ghostly powers to transport himself around a building where spells might be in place to prevent such things. "And try not to touch anything. The last thing that'll help us is if bits and pieces suddenly appear to be moving themselves around."
"I'm not a bloody idiot, you know." Spike followed him up the stairs, running straight through an enthusiastic looking young intern in the process. "You figured out how we're going to get the generator out of the building, yet?"
"One thing at a time, Spike. I don't know how we're going to get it out of the vault, yet."
"More fool me for asking." The vampire caught up with the Watcher, running alongside him up the last of the steps. "We heading for your office?"
"To the vault in what used to be my office, yes. That's where I put the generator. Aladdin's Cave, Fred called it. There's a lot of stuff in there that I'd like to take with us. Carvings, statues, books, scrolls."
"Fascinating, I'm sure." Spike was not particularly enamoured of old relics. Wesley smiled faintly.
"And a golden idol with ruby eyes. Worth a fortune. Several fortunes."
"We could take that with us." Relics might not be interesting, but priceless ones had a definite appeal - even if one technically had no further use for money.
"One look into its eyes and death is instantaneous. Proximity to it, once it's out of its lead lined box, causes insanity, blindness and bloodlust." Wesley smirked at the vampire's crestfallen expression. "It's evil, Spike. That's why Wolfram & Hart have it."
"All the same - I'm sure we could find somebody to fence it to." They reached the door of Wesley's office, and Spike slowed to a virtual standstill. "Think they've got themselves a new you?"
"Could be." Taking a deep breath that wasn't really a deep breath at all, Wesley stepped through the door and into the room beyond. The familiarity of the place was a shock, even though he had been expecting it. The building really had been replaced exactly. Even the furniture was the same, although the pieces that had been damaged during his lifetime no longer held their scars. He almost went to examine the desk, to see if it still bore the scratches from the time when Illyria had thrown it, and him, against the wall. Spike's emergence from the door brought his mind back to the issue at hand, though, and he headed instead for the wall that hid the vault. It was easy enough to walk through it, into the corridor beyond, where voice-activated inner doors, protected by many different passwords, kept so many fascinating relics safe from thieving fingers. Not that that had kept one such relic from the hands of the cyborg facsimile of Roger Wyndam-Pryce, but a vault was only ever as secure as the man who kept watch over it. Wesley remembered that day only too well, and once again cursed the place for its many unpleasant memories. Too much had gone on in this damnable building - far too much - and far too much of it remained, inexorably, a part of him. It all made it extremely hard to concentrate.
"Now what?" asked Spike, looking about with interest. He had never been in here before, never having had any particular interest for the eclectic collection of bric-a-brac in the Wolfram & Hart vaults. He certainly had never paid any particular mind to those pieces that Wesley chose to keep close by him, for Spike could not help but be dismissive of the Watcher and his interests. Unless Lilah counted as an interest, he mused to himself. He was definitely anything but dismissive of her. But then she wasn't a dusty old thing that was stored on a shelf. At least as far as he knew.
"Now we walk through the wall and see if the generator is still in there." Wesley sounded properly enthusiastic, and motivated to the full, but didn't actually take a step forward. Spike rolled his eyes.
"What's keeping you then?"
"Like I said." The Watcher eyed the vault walls with obvious suspicion. "If we walk in there we'll be hit by a supernatural barrier."
"Which will kill us?"
"You do know that you're already dead, don't you." Wesley looked exasperated. "No, it'll... well yes, technically I suppose it'll kill us. Atomise us, or..." He shrugged. "I told you, I'm not clear on the details. It's just something that I remember reading in the old book templates. I called up a building schematic when we first came to work here."
"You would." It was Spike's turn to regard the walls with suspicion. "Okay. You said something before about using spells to get in. You can do that, right?"
"In theory." Wesley was beginning to look like a clockwork toy that needed another wind. He had been acting on pure adrenalin since first getting the idea of retrieving the Mutari generator, but now the adrenalin was beginning to wear out. Always supposing that it had ever existed in the first place. In the strictest sense, ghosts weren't supposed to produce adrenalin - but then in the strictest sense ghosts weren't supposed to do a lot of the things that they did. Spike, unable to restrain himself, slapped his fellow ghost on the back of the head.
"Ow." Glowering, Wesley rubbed the back of his head. "Yes, in theory. I've never been killed, brought back as a ghost, and then obliterated by supernatural means before. It's not something I do every weekday and twice on Saturdays."
"And there's no call for sarcasm." Spike approached the nearest wall. "How many vaults are there here? There's, what, nine doors?"
"Nine doors, nine vaults. I always used this one here, and had the door fixed up to respond to a certain password spoken by my voice only. I'd very much doubt that either the password or my voice count for much now, but if the generator is still up here, I'd guess that this is the vault it's in. The entire building has likely been replaced by magical means, so everything will have remained exactly where it was before the roof caved in."
"Yeah. Unless somebody's come in here, and thought: 'Well that bloke Pryce turned out to be a right lousy employee, so maybe we'd better see what he's been squirreling away up here. Oh look, there's that Mutari generator. Let's put that downstairs. That'll piss him off if he ever comes back here as a ghost to steal it'."
"Shut up, Spike." Wesley ran a hand through his hair, obviously trying to focus. "Alright. The vaults are protected by spells designed to prevent entry by supernatural means. That means that I can either circumvent them, or cancel them out."
"And for those of us who don't speak Stiff-Arsed Watcher?"
"I can either sneak past the spell or kill it." Wesley nodded. "Killing it would be safer for us, but not necessarily for anybody else in the long run. I don't want to leave the vault vulnerable. We may not owe Wolfram & Hart any favours, and there's a lot of stuff in their vaults that I'd rather they didn't have - but that doesn't mean that I want a lot of other people to have it instead. Things could get messy."
"Hell of a one for procrastinating, aren't you, Perce." Spike folded his arms, regarding his companion with an expression of obvious anticipation. "Come on. Magic. Before somebody realises we're in the building."
"Yes, that's sort of the drawback." Wesley was rubbing his hands together and flexing his fingers, apparently warming up for the sorcery. Spike put out a stiff arm, catching his fellow ghost on the chest.
"Yes. It's impossible to perform magic in the building without somebody knowing about it. Ghosts might not set off the sensors, but spells certainly will. We lose our element of surprise with the first 'hocus-pocus'. Metaphorically speaking, of course. I've never actually used 'hocus-pocus' in a spell."
"Yeah. Metaphorically speaking. Course." Spike looked even paler than usual. "So what'll happen then - in theory - when you do your thing? We get into the vault, get the generator... and how long before the hordes of hell are called down upon us?"
"Hordes of hell? It'll probably just be security."
"Yeah, but given what most of the security guards look like around here, I stand by my earlier exaggeration. How long?"
"From the alarm sounding? Three minutes perhaps. Enough for us to get inside, and see whether or not the generator is in here."
"But not to get out of here; find a way to make a solid generator walk through walls alongside us; get out of the building; and put enough space between it and us that we won't suddenly be boomeranged right back here before you can say: 'This is a bloody stupid plan, Wesley!'." Spike fumbled for one of his cigarettes. "Next time I volunteer for something, shoot me."
"I wouldn't light up in here, Spike. There are smoke alarms and a very sensitive sprinkler system to help protect the artefacts. Even if nobody notices my magic, you setting off the fire alert system is sure to make at least half the building realise that there's something going on."
"Oh, brilliant." The vampire threw the unlit cigarette at his companion. "I resign as your glamorous assistant, Percy. From here on in, you can do it all yourself."
"I was under the impression that I was, anyway." Wesley turned his back. "Now shut up. I've got magic to do."
"Yeah, 'cause it's always a good idea to bring down the hordes of hell on your head."
"If they're less argumentative than you, Spike, they're welcome." Beginning to frown in concentration, Wesley spread his fingers and closed his eyes. "Now shut up. If I don't concentrate we'll be obliterated by the barriers long before your hordes of hell come pounding on the door."
"Yeah. Great." Rolling his eyes heavenward, Spike turned away and began to pace. It looked distinctly as though there was heroic stuff about to occur, and as far as he was concerned, that was Angel's department. Let the wuss with the silly hair come here and get obliterated by supernatural barriers, or captured by the ravening hordes of hell. Spike would rather put his feet up and see if there was anything on TV. Behind him, though, Wesley was already underway with his spell, and it was patently too late to be worried about the details. The vampire turned, watching with an ironic eye. The chanting was all very familiar - he had seen Willow do such things in the past. Latin, of course, half of which he could understand, with a sprinkling of some other language underneath. Sparks, in a paintbox of colours, flickering from Wesley's fingertips, and crackling about on the surface of the wall - that was new. Spike didn't remember seeing anything like that from Willow before. It was almost attractive. Wesley took a step back, shaking his head as though momentarily stunned, then spat out a stream of guttural words and began to advance. His frame shimmered and sparked like the lights that danced on the wall, then with a blur of blue light, he vanished into the vault. Spike frowned.
"What'll it look like if you get obliterated by supernatural barriers?" he asked loudly. There was no answer. "Percy? If you made it, shout. If you didn't... you're a stupid sod."
"Just get in here, Spike." Wesley's voice came clearly from the other side of the wall, and the vampire scowled. Everybody was always ordering him around. He hurried through the wall as quickly as he could, and tried not to think about supernatural barriers, and whatever it was that they might do to him if the spell failed. A moment later he was through the wall, and in a metal room lined with shelves and cubby holes.
"I didn't hear any alarms going off," he said, somewhat optimistically. "Maybe they didn't notice your hoo-dah."
"Oh, they noticed it. This is Wolfram & Hart we're dealing with, not Shyster Associates." Wesley was turning in circles, staring about at the collected treasures. There were carved idols, beautiful and hideous; scrolls he had pored over during eager after-hours study, before life at Wolfram & Hart had become too much; there were jars bearing the ashes of long dead demons; priceless vases decorated with ancient lettering telling the tales of forgotten heroes; and everywhere there were weapons. Swords, spears, daggers, halberks, lances, muskets and boomerangs, not a single one of them ordinary and unadorned. The decoration was beautiful; stylised and random; simple and ornate; reserved and bold - Spike might have stopped to marvel, had he not been counting under his breath all the time, thinking about the three minute estimate that Wesley had made, and wondering how long it would be before they were found here together. Where the hell was that bloody generator?
"There it is!" Wesley was scrambling over, and for the most part through, a pile of boxes at one side of the room; crates, new-looking, and still unopened, that made his brain sing with possibilities. What had he ordered, during those last days? He had been out of his mind so much of the time that he didn't remember; couldn't imagine what those boxes might contain. Now was not really the time to think about it, though, and it certainly was not the time to find out. Instead he reached up past them, to the shelf where the Mutari generator stood. His hands passed straight through both shelf and generator, and he scowled. "Damn it!"
"Yeah, because that wasn't predictable." Spike scrambled over to join him, fetching down the chunky piece of machinery with the minimum of fuss. "Now what? Can you open the door?"
"Spike, if I could open the door, would we have come through the wall? Given what it took to make it safe?" Wesley scratched his head, looking from the generator to the wall and back again. "There's a way to do this."
"In under eighty seconds?"
"Hmm?" The Watcher clearly was not paying full attention, and Spike swore under his breath.
"Eighty seconds. Screw that: seventy-five. That's how long it is until your three minutes are up. After that we've got security to worry about, and I'm not betting on invisibility helping us out much."
"Invisibility." Wesley looked up at him and frowned. "That might work."
"Invisibility? We can stop people seeing us, Wes - although maybe I should remind you that that's pretty unreliable - but what do we do with the big chunk of alien machinery? If it's floating around on its own, people are going to notice something."
"What? No, I didn't mean that." Wesley was pacing urgently, obviously thinking hard. "You talking about invisibility made me think of something, that's all." He frowned. "And it's not alien machinery. Unless, of course, you take 'alien' at its most basic definition, and--"
"Forty seconds, Wes. Go ahead and waste time. It's not like we don't have buckets of it or anything..."
"Yes. Of course." The frown came back to Wesley's face, concentration showing powerfully in his focused blue eyes. "Hold it out. Right out, at arms length."
"If you're going to do something complicated, I want to know about it. I don't want your aim going all wobbly, so you wind up doing something weird to my arms."
"My aim is never 'wobbly'." For a second years of character development fell away, and Wesley sounded as superior and insufferable as he had in the days before he and Spike had ever met. An instant later the moment had gone, and Wesley's eyes were warm again. "Invisibility is one of the traits of ghosthood. Some of the time, anyway. Well what's another?"
"Wasting time?" asked Spike, who was beginning to despair. Wesley glared at him.
"Transportation. We can go wherever we want, instantaneously. I think I can make the generator do that. A short distance only, perhaps, but I can get it out of here."
"Very nice. Now I can hear footsteps. Can we get the bloody hell out of here?!"
"Footsteps?" Wesley, apparently, was surprised by the notion that there might be guards on the way, and Spike seriously considered hitting him. Not that it would help, but it would certainly make him feel a little better. He settled for growling obscenities under his breath, and hoping that, if they were about to get consigned to some ghastly level of hell for being caught in the vault, he might at least get to see Wesley sent there first. That would give him some small measure of satisfaction; some small degree of vindication.
"Hold the generator still." Absent-minded professorisms gone, Wesley was a sorcerer again, hands outstretched, fingers glowing with blue light. Spike's eyes widened, and holding the infernal machine at arm's length, he tried not to cringe too noticeably. If there was one thing more worrying than having a spell aimed at your chest, it was having it aimed by Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. He might be a perfectly competent magician, but he inspired all the confidence of a drunkard behind the wheel of a juggernaut.
"I hope you know what you're doing, Pryce." Doing his best not to quake, Spike watched the glowing fingers twitch. Again he heard Latin; again he heard a smattering of languages that he couldn't recognise or understand; then there was a bright, bright flash of red and white, and he was standing once again in Wesley's old office. The generator was still in his hands, and he blinked in surprise - surprise and not a little new respect. He saw something else, though, and for some reason couldn't help a small smile.
"That went better than expected." Wesley wiped sweat from his eyes. "Come on. There's a back door hidden in the wall. It might give us a good head start."
"It went a little too well if you ask me." Spike looked around at the office, which was now stacked full of the entire contents of the vault. The scrolls, the idols, the crates, the vases - all lay around them, lining the walls, and effectively blocking the hidden entrance to the office's secret escape route. Wesley looked annoyed.
"Blast?! Can we walk through the door, or are there supernatural barriers there as well?" Spike was momentarily distracted by the rattling of heavy hands on the door knob, then ran over to the place where a false wall hid the tunnel. Wesley shook his head.
"I don't think I can teleport the generator again so soon. It took a lot out of me just then."
"Yeah. Not surprising, since you decided to bring all the rest of this junk with us as well!" The door rattled furiously once again, and Spike spat more obscenities under his breath. "Brilliant. You know, I always wanted to end my days in some punishment dimension, being torn six ways from Sunday by the Senior Partners' pet hell beasts."
"You might be about to get lucky then." Wesley looked nervously over towards the door. "Okay. Think Angel."
"Think Angel. When I'm caught in a difficult situation, sometimes it helps to imagine what Angel would do." Inspiration, though, was apparently not in abundance tonight. Spike scowled.
"Angel would glower broodily, look all dramatic in that daft bloody coat of his, and fight his way through the enemy without getting so much as a hair out of place. Then he'd go back to the hotel, and Cordelia would patch up his injuries and tell him how sodding heroic he is. Why the bloody hell would you want to take a leaf out of Tall Dark And Boring's book?"
"Because he always gets out alive." Wesley's eyes strayed back to the door, which was rocking dangerously on its hinges. Spike shot him a disparaging look.
"Despite him being dead since 1753?"
"Get out, Spike. Drop the generator and get out of here. You can do it without too many difficulties if you leave that thing behind. Wolfram & Hart will probably know by now that you were here, but once you're back at the hotel they won't be able to touch you."
"Yeah? And what'll you do?" Spike was fond of insulting Wesley and his abilities, but he couldn't help respecting somebody who was prepared to stay behind. The Watcher shrugged.
"Fight my way out?"
"With your famous ghostly handguns I suppose?"
"I was planning on my ghostly shotgun, actually. It's got a bit more clout."
"Yeah, but Wolfram & Hart know that you've got it. If they know by now that I'm here, they know that you're here too - and don't forget that your buddy-buddy Lilah knows all about your guns. That means the rest of the firm does too. And don't go trying to insist that she'd never tell. Course she bloody would."
"You think they might be prepared?" Wesley looked rather unnerved by the suggestion. "That's hardly fair."
"The odds are supposed to be stacked against the heroes, mate. You should know that by now."
"Yes..." The door gave another violent wobble, and almost burst from its hinges. "They're quite enthusiastic, aren't they."
"That door is going to cave in any second now."
"Looks like it."
"You're not leaving then?"
"No." Spike set the generator down on Wesley's desk, then picked up the nearest sword from one of the piles of weapons that had been magicked out of the vault. "Not yet, anyway. If what comes through that door is anything other than security men, I'm out of here. Humans I can handle. Ravening hordes of hell and I leg it."
"Fair enough." The door gave another almighty leap. "Ready?"
"I'm ready, yeah. I can actually pick the weapons up." Spike brandished the sword, managing to look not remotely threatening. "Are you ready?"
"I think so." There was suddenly a gun in each hand, apparently plucked from the ether, and bringing with them a new, steely glint to their bearer's eyes. A second later the door burst open, and the room filled with sizeable men - all dressed in heavy body armour. Wesley winced. "Though on the other hand..."
Suddenly things didn't look so good.
"I take it we're visible now, then," queried Spike, as the six security guards fanned out around them. The biggest guard, whom Wesley seemed to remember was called Saul, levelled a gun straight at the blond vampire.
"Very visible," he mocked. Spike raised an eyebrow.
"You know we're ghosts, right?"
"Yeah." Saul didn't seem too bothered. As he came closer, Spike could see that the gun he held didn't seem quite right. It wasn't the ordinary weapon brandished by guards elsewhere; it was longer, more sleek, and seemed to have some kind of attachment. Whatever it was, it looked like a glowing green light bulb fixed beneath the barrel.
"Come quietly," Saul spoke with absolute confidence in his ability to get what he wanted. Nearby Wesley lowered his own guns, and they disappeared from his hands.
"Very sensible." The guard standing nearest to him flashed his own weapon. "We were issued with these as soon as the alarm sounded. They fire an energy charge that'll disrupt your energy field almost completely. I'm told it's not pleasant."
"Translation?" asked Spike. Wesley answered him without taking his eyes off the guard who had just spoken.
"Think of it as a temporary exorcism," he supplied, voice quiet, cool and steady. Saul laughed.
"So give it up and come with us. There's a lot of people who want to talk to you." He looked around at the room and its jumbled contents. "Just what was it that you were after, anyway?"
"This and that." Spike easily matched Saul's confidence and swagger. "Wes here thought he'd left his car keys on his desk, and personally I always feel that you can't have enough gruesome carvings decorating a home."
"You came here to steal something." As though a switch had been thrown, Saul was no longer all swagger and thuggishness. He spoke with ice and authority, for all the world as though he were suddenly the mouthpiece of some other, disparate being. "What did you come here to steal?"
"Why not ask us yourself?" Advancing slowly, Wesley was watching the guard with curious eyes. "Why use this poor sod's voice instead of your own?"
"Very clever, Mr Pryce." Saul's eyes snapped over to stare at him, though they did so without life; without spark. The security guard seemed nothing more than a vessel now. "Do you know who I am?"
"I have an idea." Wesley circled the guard cautiously, rather expecting to be shot by one of the others. "Why the human skin?"
"You don't expect to see any of us in our natural form, Mr Pryce? Nobody on Earth ever does that. We have many forms, many servants, many go-betweens - but none see us. Death opens some doors, but not all."
"Fair enough." Very, very slowly, Wesley began to back over towards Spike. The vampire felt like backing away too, but he stood his ground, sword in hand, until Wesley was standing beside him. He scowled then, and gave the sword a quick brandish.
"Senior Partner?" he asked. Wesley shrugged.
"Looks like it."
"So are we screwed?"
"Right." Spike eyed Saul's body, which was now smiling sardonically. Whoever or whatever was inside it would do anything to find out why they were here - he knew that as soon as he saw the curl of the unfortunate guard's lip. "So do we give in?"
"I should." Saul took a step forward, and the rest of the guards followed suit. If they were bothered by their leader's sudden possession, they gave no sign of it. Rather, they converged around him now as though ready to display their loyalty. Spike looked back at Wesley.
"Are we allowed to kill them?" he asked. Wesley's eyes were hard.
"We may have no choice. You ready?"
"Ready for what?" There was no answer, and with no idea of what Wesley meant, Spike began to panic. "Ready for what?!"
"To fight." Wesley's fingers twitched once. There were no sparks this time, no glow, and no mumbled words of an audible spell, but Spike could feel a crackle in the air. Saul began to growl. Wesley gave the slightest, tightest smile - and at once, like creatures come to life, the weapons strewn about the floor leapt into the air.
"Alright!" Utterly delighted, Spike fell back a few paces, watching the weapons leap and dance. One or two of the guards fired their guns, but the weapons fired light rather than bullets, and the suddenly scything swords, the hacking axes, jabbing spears and spinning daggers deflected the beams more or less by accident. Only Saul stood his ground then, showing a disdain for the weapons that only a man possessed by an inhuman power could show. He didn't flinch when a knife nicked his elbow, but the other guards did, turning immediately to flee for the door. Saul's jaw tightened, ad with a wave of one, stiff arm, he caused the door to slam shut. The guards piled into one another, fighting to make the door open, but getting nowhere at all.
"Will you kill them, Mr Pryce?" Saul was smiling again, expression arch. Wesley showed no reaction, but the weapons, unconcerned for the welfare of potentially innocent human guards seemed to renew their assault. The muskets clubbed at Saul, the other guards tried using their guns to fight back against the slashing swords. There were daggers stabbing at their ankles, and halberks hurling themselves at the closed door. One of the guards began to jabber in terror.
"They'll all die." Saul, still oblivious to the weapons threatening him on all fronts, stared fixedly at Wesley. "Do you want to kill them all?"
"They made the choice when they took the job." Wesley's eyes were cold. A sword slashed at Saul's arm, and an axe buried itself in someone's unprotected leg. Spike winced at the sight more than Wesley did, as the guard fell back against the wall, trying to protect his head from the deluge of apparently maddened knives. The other guards were all firing their guns now, shooting pointless beams of light at the rain of enchanted weapons, blasting helplessly at anything that moved. Once or twice they tried to shoot at Wesley or Spike, but always to no avail. Only Saul remained still, refusing to move, blood running down his arms and his head, and dribbling down the sides of his shoes. Wesley had no idea how many times the man had been hit, whilst making no effort to defend himself. Whatever it was that now possessed Saul, he had no care for physical injuries, nor yet for the body he controlled. If he was hoping to shame Wesley into calling off the attack, though, he was trying his psychological tricks on the wrong man. He seemed to realise that in the end, when a second guard went down under the assault; when fists hammered at the door from the other side, and Wesley gave no reaction; when the secret door at the other side of the room burst open in a shower of dislodged obstacles, and many of the weapons swerved away to attack the new arrivals. Whatever Wesley was feeling, he was not afraid to use his potentially deadly force against the woefully under-protected humans. A tiny smile showed on his face when Saul's expression changed to one of sudden, absolute rage; but by then, such was the mad skittering of the weapons, it was hard to see anything at all.
"We have to get out of here." Impressed by the display and the distraction, Spike was nonetheless still grounded in reality. Wesley's powers might be keeping them from getting shot, but they were not assisting in any escape; not getting them and the generator out of the building. This was a stop gap, and as far as Spike could see, a dangerously temporary one. Why shouldn't somebody at Wolfram & Hart find a way to counteract the spell? Spin a new one? End it all with a lucky shot that made it through the barrage undeflected? It had to happen sooner or later. That something would happen was inevitable.
It came with a new wave from the secret door - four or five men with swords, who fought back against the airborne weaponry. Wesley's magical arsenal had no real direction, and the enchanted swords could not neatly parry and thrust. Again and again they were smashed to the ground; again and again the heavy axes were slowed, or swerved from their mark. Then came more men, with axes of their own, with shields; one with a massive shotgun that blasted several weapons to pieces. Spike tried brandishing his own sword anew, but no matter how satisfying a weapon three feet of sharp blade could be, it was missing that essential something when ranged against an increasingly active enemy. He shot an urgent glance over at Wesley.
"Just fight." The strain was showing on Wesley's face; he was throwing more bric-a-brac against the enemy now. Vases hurled themselves across the room; idols leapt about the floor, or flung themselves like hammers. Books spun this way and that, chopped out of the air by the security guards, in a rain of tattered paper. Seconds later a beam of light from one of the doctored guns hit the desk just inches from Spike's leg. He flinched.
"Run for it, Spike." Wesley seemed unwilling or unable to take his eyes off Saul, and he spat the words out from between clenched teeth. Spike shook his head.
"On my own?"
"If we both go, this stuff will be hidden where we'll never find it. I won't take the risk on Lox not finding it either." Very slowly, Wesley raised his hands a little way, each one now glowing with a powerful blue light. A ball of fire was in each hand, spherical and growing in size. "When I throw these, run."
"Angel can't lose two of us." For a second the sharp blue eyes flickered across to Spike, then snapped back to Saul. Saul's own eyes had narrowed, and almost immediately he began to walk forward. There were knives stuck all over him now, and wounds from swords and axes ran his blood onto the floor, but he showed no discomfort or distress. He was like a corpse reanimated, and gave no reaction when a sizeable book bound in leather and wood slammed into the side of his head. He merely carried on advancing, and left bloodied footprints in his wake.
"Get ready, Spike." The balls of light in Wesley's hands were now too bright to look at, white and blue and still growing in size. Spike didn't protest any longer. He knew now that there was no point - that Wesley wouldn't listen to him anyway. He thought about finding Angel, finding Gunn, finding anybody who might be of use, and getting them back here, but didn't really believe that he could do so in time. A second later Wesley threw the balls of fire, the room erupted into a stinging blaze of bright blue light, and for the first time in a long while, Spike was glad that he was a ghost - that the magical force knocking guards over backwards, and blinding Saul with upswept spatters of his own blood, could have no effect on him. When the explosive force had died away, the room was left flooded with a brighter light than before, whiter now, and enough to make Spike want to close his eyes.
"Come on, Pryce!" He grabbed Wesley's arm. "Forget all this. Leave. We'll worry about Lox another time."
"You're mine, Pryce!" Saul's voice was guttural, inhuman, his walk the lumbering lurch of a zombie as he came closer. Spike was quite certain that, had he had any, his blood would have run cold.
"Wesley! Come on!" He pulled on the arm, refraining from using his vastly superior vampire strength only through respect for the other man. "We have got to get out of here. Now stop your damn light show tricks. I can hardly see a bloody thing!"
"No more tricks." Wesley ducked as a beam of light from one of the guns shot past him. "Not my light. Too bright, too white. This is--"
"You're not leaving here." Saul made a grab for Wesley, but his hand went straight through the ghost. He seemed to have forgotten his gun, or perhaps had decided that the fight was now too personal for such weapons. Wesley took a step back, and began fumbling for the Mutari generator.
"So that's it." Saul seemed more confused than triumphant. "All this for that? Well you won't leave here with it."
"He can't bloody pick it up, so that's pretty much a given." Spike took the device himself. "Wes, we can't walk through walls with this, and there's no way we're getting through either of these doors just now."
"We may not have to." Wesley was turning away, but Saul grabbed for him again, and this time his hand caught the ghost's elbow. Wesley looked over at him with pity mingled with the shock in his eyes. So Saul - the real Saul - had finally died, his injuries at last too great. Only the force possessing him kept him up now - not that it mattered much, when his fingers were gripping hard, and an inhuman strength was dragging Wesley closer into a vicious hold. Spike clubbed at Saul's hand with the generator; clubbed at his arms and his back, and finally tore Wesley away through sheer brute force. They both stumbled away, shrinking back from more deadly beams of light, more attacking guards, and the constant threat of Saul's inexorable advance.
"The window." Wesley gave Spike a push. "Just get to the window."
"No!" Saul came faster, reaching out once again. Spike smashed his hands away with the generator.
"What bloody good is the window--" he began, but Wesley gave him another hard shove, and finally giving in to the pressure, Spike began to run. Only then did he notice that it was the window that was the source of the bright light - a white radiance that filled the glass. There was a figure just visible through it. A white, glowing figure standing in thin air on the other side of the window. Spike felt a rush of hope and relief. Behind him, Saul was reaching out for Wesley again, and a beam of light hit the wall far too close to both ghosts for comfort. There was far less airborne weaponry now - too little for Spike's liking - and Saul was getting closer, and the beams of light more numerous, and Spike was running for the window and not really sure what would happen when he reached it.
"Can we fly?" he yelled at Wesley, even as he was leaping into the air and hurtling towards the glass. Just millimetres ahead of Saul's grasping fingers, Wesley choked back an unexpected laugh.
"Does it matter?!" He was leaping then too, and the white light was getting brighter, and Saul's fingers were brushing Wesley's arm - and then the glass in the window was gone, and the ghosts and the generator were passing easily through the gap. Alarms were ringing, and warning lights were flashing, and Cordelia was looking distinctly less than impressed, and all that Spike could think about was how the hell he was supposed to not fall when he was holding a very real, very solid metal generator. He got his answer when he realised that he was falling, and that Wesley was too, and that they were an unsettlingly great distance above an extremely uninviting sidewalk. In a white hot blaze of light they fell, until the floor of the hotel lobby stopped them with a sudden, powerful jolt, and the blistering light slid quietly away. Impressed, delighted, and extremely relieved, Spike grinned in childish glee.
"That was bloody fantastic!" he cheered, with considerable satisfaction. By the looks on their faces, though, Cordelia and Angel were rather less pleased. Spike was unmoved by their seriousness. An eleventh hour magical flight from an enemy's lair was something to be celebrated in his opinion, even if Angel was looking as sour as a barrel full of lemons. He was a killjoy; that was his problem. Some people just didn't deserve excitement.
"Wes, are you sure this is a good idea?" Eyeing the Mutari generator with distaste, Angel flashed his friend an unhappy look. "At least it was safe at Wolfram & Hart. We don't have anything like the security here to keep it from being stolen."
"I'm sure that Cordelia can find somewhere for it. Probably somewhere far better than Wolfram & Hart's various vaults." Wesley was caught between defensiveness, and conviction in his own actions. "Look, Angel, I know on the face of it, it seems foolhardy..."
"Foolhardy? No, Wes. Foolhardy would be walking into Wolfram & Hart to get it in the first place." Angel shook his head. "What the hell got into you? We discuss things. You're not supposed to go off on your own anymore."
"Yes Angel. Coming from you that makes perfect sense. After all, you've never gone off on your own and done something dangerous." This time Wesley held his gaze, and Angel was reminded, somewhat uncomfortably, of the years of change. There were times when he still treated the Watcher as though he were that same, unconfident man who was clumsy in fights and crumbled all too easily under pressure. At such time those level, cool blue eyes were rather unsettling. He nodded.
"Yeah, okay. So maybe sometimes I go off on my own..." Cordelia shot him a sharp glance and he capitulated. "Alright. So it's double standards. But I know my own abilities, and I worry about myself far less. And at the end of the day I'm the boss here, so--" Again Cordelia shot him a sharp glance, and he scowled. "Sort of the boss. I'm... boss in a sense of... It's my hotel!"
"Yeah. Great leadership there, boss." Spike folded his arms looking testy. "Look, Percy here made a judgement call, and it happens to be one that I agreed with. We got the information from Illyria, we couldn't make you listen, and Percy had a point when he said that we'd be better off going in without you. You'd have set the alarms ringing all over the place, whereas we... well, as it happens set the alarms ringing all over the place. But silent alarms, at least at first. Which is progress."
"Spike..." Angel wasn't really in the mood for arguing with his old associate just now, but Spike, as always, didn't care.
"Stuff it, Angel. Eventually Lox was going to get this generator. He must have thought he could do it. His whole plan rests on it. If he thought he could get it from Wolfram & Hart, we couldn't take the risk of leaving it there."
"So instead we bring it here." Angel sighed. "Well, it's done now. It's here. Cordy?"
"I can maybe hide it in another dimension, I guess." She sounded typically vague. "I mean, I know I can hide the TV remote in another dimension, when Gunn's all set on watching the football, so I should be able to do the same thing with this."
"Great." Angel picked it up and handed it to her, ignoring her scowl. "In the meantime, I suppose we should have another talk with Lox."
"He's not going to admit to anything." Dumping the generator on the reception counter, Cordelia looked for something to wipe her hands on. "He acted like our best friend before. Why would he change just because we've found another reason to be suspicious? His story will be good."
"Maybe because he'll be telling the truth?" Angel was beginning to suspect that he sounded like a fool for still giving Lox the benefit of the doubt, but he wasn't yet ready to throw himself wholesale into a story told by Illyria. "Can we really believe all of this stuff? Using Illyria to take over a demon empire? It's all... kinda farfetched."
"Which bit of it?" asked Spike facetiously. "The dead vampire turned proto-angel trying to protect the world, or the dead magician turned ghost who's just stolen a piece of demon equipment from a firm of evil lawyers run by monsters?"
"Shut up, Spike." Angel's tone was deadpan, but his eyes showed that his patience was running rather thin. Cordelia smiled, though.
"I don't know Illyria as well as you do, Angel," she said gently, "though I was watching most of your dealings with her. But what reason would she have to lie?"
"Know her? I don't know her. Wesley spent practically every waking hour with her - and he had a lot of waking hours back then - and I doubt he'd claim to know her." Angel shook his head. "I just don't trust her."
"I do." Wesley spoke quietly now, though whether that was because the subject had turned to Illyria, or just because he was having one of his more retiring moments, Angel wouldn't have liked to guess. "There's nothing to distrust, Angel. She has no reason ever to lie. Don't forget what she is. Even without the powers we took from her with the generator, she's still more powerful than most creatures on this Earth - and she believes herself to be many times more powerful than that. She holds us in very low regard. She gives us no more thought than we give to the microscopic creatures that surround us. We're less than that to her. She has no reason to lie."
"Yeah." Angel nodded slowly, accepting the point. He knew that Illyria was everything Wesley said and more; it was just not in his nature to accept the word of a demon he did not know or truly understand. Her being amongst them in the first place was reason enough for him to distrust her; and the means by which she had come to be amongst them only deepened that distrust. If Wesley himself was prepared to look beyond that, though... He sighed. "Alright. Forget confronting Lox. We'll let on that the generator is here, and then see what happens. If he comes here to get it, we can grab him, and maybe prove to Lorne that Lox isn't the good guy he makes himself out to be. I'm sorry, but I'm not going to just take Lox out. I won't trust Illyria that much, and I won't hurt Lorne like that."
"Okay." Wesley nodded. "Fine. So how are you going to spread the word?"
"I'll go to Haven." Angel looked extremely uncomfortable. "Lorne won't mind me dropping by, and he'll probably like hearing about what we've been up to. If he's with Lox, so much the better." He sighed wearily. "I hate using Lorne that way, but it seems like the best way to get the message across without arousing anybody's suspicions."
"Hey, don't look so low. Lorne will understand." Spike sounded confident, but Angel was far less so. He shook his head.
"Lorne won't understand. Not really. Do you think he cares about who gets control of the Sebassis Empire? I'm not even sure why we do. It's not like Lox will ever be the instrument of Wolfram & Hart that Sebassis was. Lox isn't going to join any shadowy organisations like the Black Thorn, or co-operate with the Senior Partners. He's not the type. I'd guess that's why Lilah's been put onto this case; Wolfram & Hart don't want somebody like Lox getting too big for himself when they know that they can't really control him. Well maybe we should be hoping that he does get too big for himself."
"I'd agree, perhaps, if he hadn't set his sights on using Illyria." Wesley was looking at Angel with obvious sympathy. "You know what could happen if she gets even a part of her original powers back. Lox is a fanatic, Angel. He might be nicer than Sebassis, but I'd doubt that he's any more trustworthy. He wants his people to be powerful, and he'll stop at nothing to push their agenda. For all his nice smiles and his charisma, he's really little more than a racist."
"He doesn't like other demons, I don't like other demons." Angel shrugged. "It's hard to paint him in that bad a light, Wes, but you're right about not letting him use Illyria. Beyond that, I'd rather see the Sebassis Empire get split up among a whole lot of demons, and weakened in the process; but if it has to go to one leader... we won't see a better one than Lox."
"So maybe we can persuade him to do this without Illyria? Maybe he'll listen to reason about what will happen if he tries to give her back her powers?" Cordelia looked back to the generator, lying innocently beside her. "Surely he doesn't want to see Los Angeles get blown off the map?"
"He probably thinks he can control how much of her powers she gets." Wesley joined her beside the device, eyeing it with distaste. "And of course it's possible that he doesn't know the full danger anyway. If he only knows about her original powers, and the generator itself, from listening to her talk, he might not appreciate the risks. She's unlikely to have mentioned that bit. He won't listen, though, if you try to tell him the truth."
"You think he's that blinkered?" asked Angel. Wesley nodded.
"He's famous for it. He's convinced Lorne, I suppose, but then Lorne is famous for seeing the good in everybody. Lox is working for him because that night-club is likely to be raking in the money. Even demons need money, especially if they have agendas that they want to promote. If he didn't need that, he wouldn't even give Lorne the time of day."
"He's a good actor, then," observed Spike. It was Angel's turn to nod.
"He does what he has to do to help make his people stronger. That's all that he cares about." Wesley managed to lift the generator, brandishing it like the weapon it could all too easily become. "Try to tell him the truth, Angel, and you'll see. He won't listen to you. I'm not even sure why he listened to Illyria. Possibly he didn't. Possibly she's not the one who told him about all of this. It probably doesn't matter one way or another."
"If I've put the whatsit in another dimension, does it matter anyway?" asked Cordelia. Angel smiled sadly.
"If the 'whatsit' can get put in another dimension, it can get taken out again. If it's hidden it can always be found. If it's destroyed, the powers it sucked out still exist, and there might still be a way to get them back to Illyria... There's no way to be sure that Lox can't go through with his plan - beyond convincing him to abandon it - unless we take him out of the picture." The situation was clearly distasteful to him. "At the very least, this is leading to a confrontation, and I'd rather have it over sooner than later." He sighed, looking very much as though he would rather be doing something else. "And so I'd better not put it off any longer. Get that generator somewhere safe, Cordy. As safe as can be, anyway. I'll get over to Haven right away."
"I'm sorry, Angel." Wesley wasn't looking at him directly, but the Watcher's face was still visible. He looked tired and regretful, and clearly still considered Illyria, and everything about her, to be his personal responsibility. Angel nodded.
"So am I." This would likely take some serious explaining to Lorne, once it was all over, and he only hoped that he would be given the chance to get that explaining done. With a sorry smile and a slow step, he headed for the door. It was better to get this done before he changed his mind.
Angel returned in the light of early dawn, bearing a bottle of beer in one hand, and a drunken swagger that seemed very much out of sorts with his newly angelic status - though each new day seemed to bring more ways for him to appear anything but angelic. On his other arm, dressed in a suit of sunset red, with the snow white froth of lace bursting from each cuff, was Lorne. He was wearing a royal blue fedora at a jaunty angle, and a set of mirror shades with star-shaped lenses, so presumably he was in Clandestine Mode - if a bright green demon could ever be clandestine, even when not dressed in a rainbow of silk and lace. A glass of something was in his free hand, its contents catching the light in tandem with the rings on the fingers wrapped around it, and the sparkle of the drink, the jewellery, the mirror shades and Lorne's own smile brought a whole new shine to the room. Wesley found that he was smiling, without quite knowing why.
"We have a visitor," announced Angel, with a slight slur to his voice. Spike rolled his eyes.
"He's bloody drunk! You're supposed to be working, Angel."
"Oh, don't blame him, Spike honey. I may have got a little over-enthusiastic with the sloshy stuff earlier." Lorne swayed over, Angel's weight on his arm giving him a stumble of his own that matched Angel's tipsy one. "Anyway, it doesn't matter. It's not like he had to pop himself off home or anything like that. I gave him a lift in my car."
"You have a car?" Wondering how a demon went about getting a license, to say nothing of insurance, Wesley went over to look out through the front of the hotel. Sure enough there was a car parked beside the sidewalk; a Jaguar, long and sleek, and coloured a familiar shade of green. Lorne beamed happily.
"Isn't she a beaut? Custom paint job of course. I call it Tincture de Pylea. The paint-sprayer called it pea green, but what the hell does he know? He thought Aretha was a kidney complaint."
"Right..." Spike caught Wesley's eye. "So, er... did the two of you come here alone?"
"Alone?" Lorne looked confused. "We need anybody else?"
"We just thought it might be nice to see Lox again." Wesley smiled smoothly, and added a quick shrug to look as innocent as possible. "Last time there wasn't really much of a chance for us to get to know him. With the accusations."
"Aw, that's sweet, honey. It's good of you to make the effort." Depositing Angel on a couch, Lorne handed his glass to Cordelia, then headed over to completly fail to pound Wesley on the back. "Thanks. No, Lox has other things to do right now. He always heads off soon as it starts getting light. He's a busy guy, you know."
"Yeah. So I've heard." Despite the concerns that he still had, Wesley couldn't help sharing the Pylean's infectious smile. "Are you sure you're not as drunk as Angel? I didn't think alcohol affected you, but you seem... wobbly."
"Just drunk on good company, blue eyes." Lorne sat down on the nearest chair. "There any herbal tea around here? I seem to have caught the bug from Lox."
"Fred liked it. She kept some next door." Wesley held up a hand to forestall the apology, then clicked his fingers and made a mug appear on Lorne's lap. "No milk, I'm afraid."
"It's better without it." Lorne's grin came back out for an encore. "Wes, honey, I'm impressed. You've come a long way since the old days levitating paper clips and ink bottles in your office."
"Looooong way." Angel lurched to his feet, staggering over to join them. "Right into another dimension. Where things are hidden." He held his finger up to his lips. "Ssh. Secret."
"You're a bloody disaster area, you dimwit." Spike caught hold of the other vampire to help him keep his balance. "Never could hold your booze."
"Ha!" Angel drew himself up to his full height, and wobbled alarmingly. "I'm Irish. Of course I can hold my booze. I was drinking other people under the table when you were just a tiny little mouse-headed pipsqueak in a pram, William."
"Hey, children children children!" Lorne leapt up, wriggling his way in between the pair of them, and trying to avoid spilling his tea in the process. "Is that any way to carry on? Now play like nice vampires or I won't go letting you drive my car."
"Huh. Angel only drives black anyhow." Spike turned away, for once having the moral high-ground, but not looking particularly happy about it. "I just can't believe you got drunk, Angel. With everything that's going on at the moment. And you went over to that club on a mission. You ever call me irresponsible again, mate, we're gonna be having words."
"Oh, don't be mean to him, Spike." Lorne guided Angel back down onto a seat. "Lox was playing games, I guess. I had to leave them alone for a while to give a reading to a pair of Graf demons, and you know what that lot are like. With the weird lingo? Took me forever to translate, and then they didn't like what I was telling them. Angel was just supposed to be drinking beer, but I think it got spiked."
"By Lox?" Wesley's voice was neutral, but when his eyes locked with Spike's, they were hard and icy. Lorne shrugged.
"I'd guess so. He's just having some fun, that's all. His people place a lot of importance on things like alcohol consumption, you must know that, Wes. The whole macho bit, right? Everybody gets their drinks spiked, the first time they drink with a Xash. It's tradition."
"Yeah." Wesley answered him with only half his mind on the conversation. "Cordelia, is everything ready?"
"The generator is hidden away, yes. Are you expecting trouble?"
"I'd imagine so. Lox hears where the thing is, and then by a strange coincidence, suddenly Angel is barely able to walk, let alone fight. We have to be ready."
"What are you talking about?" Sounding faintly nettled, Lorne tried to catch hold of Wesley's arm, but of course failed to do so. "Wes..."
"I'm sorry, Lorne. There's a lot going on that you don't know about yet." Wesley threw a look over at Spike. "Get some weapons out. Cordy, I want you back wherever that generator is. I doubt that Lox will be able to find it, let alone get to it. But I want a line of defence there anyway, and you're the strongest we've got."
"Hey! If there's going to be a fight, surely we should have the sober angel with us!" Spike paused on his way to the weapons cabinet, rather flummoxed by Wesley's orders. Cordelia shook her head.
"I have powers, Spike, but I can't use them against Lox unless he directly threatens Lorne. The rest of us aren't mortals, so he can't really hurt us. I wouldn't be allowed to blast him."
"There's going to be blasting?" Lorne was shocked. "Wait. Cordy, honey. You can blast things?!"
"Sort of." She looked over at Wesley. "You're sure you want me gone?"
"None of the rest of us can go to whatever dimension you've stuck the thing in. It has to be you. Besides, if you can't use your powers, you're of limited use to us here anyway. No offence, Cordy, but you're not our greatest fighter. You never were."
"Fighter. There's going to be fighting?" Lorne was becoming increasing agitated. "Come on, guys. I hear talk of blasting, and fighting, and Lox. What is it that you people are setting up, and why am I suddenly thinking that I should be very, very angry? Angel, honey..."
"Angel didn't do anything. He just wanted to spread the word about something we have that other people might want." Wesley didn't have the inclination to be gentle just now, and his words rattled themselves off with a hard edge. "Now we just need to find out if anybody comes looking for it."
"It's a trap for Lox." Lorne was not happy. "You set him a trap, and you used me to do it."
"We didn't set a trap. When Angel went to Haven, he didn't really believe that Lox was the enemy. We still don't know for certain that he is." Wesley shot a look over at the slumped vampire, who was trying to protest his innocence and failing dismally. "Listen Lorne. Somebody wants to charge up Illyria again. She told us as much. We just have to make sure that whoever it is doesn't succeed. You know what could happen if she gets her powers back?"
"Besides her getting all scary again? With the time thing, and the bit where she wanted to kill us?" Lorne nodded. "Yeah, I know. Big bang and bye bye Los Angeles."
"Bye bye half of California, probably." Wesley nodded. "Nobody used you, Lorne. Just your club. I'm sorry, but we wanted to get the word out on the street, that's all. Now we've got to--"
"Something's coming," snapped out Spike, from the other side of the room. Wesley frowned.
"Vampire hearing, Wes." Angel pushed himself up to his feet as he spoke, testing his balance, and trying not to look too ill. "He's right. There's somebody coming. Footsteps. Lots of them."
"Lots?" Wesley groaned. "Great. He's bringing his whole army with him?"
"Sounds like... twenty of them." Spike gave a shrug. "Can't be sure. Gets hard to estimate once there get to be more than around five pairs of feet. How many Xash are left?"
"The last figure I heard was around one hundred and thirty. More than a third of them are too weak to be of much use these days. Twenty could well be a fair chunk of his able manpower. Angel, are you sobered up yet?"
"I'm getting there, Wes. Slowly." The vampire shook his head slowly from side to side, testing his balance. "I don't feel like I could fight a puppy right now. Whatever Lox - or whoever - slipped me, it was good."
"Forget the soft soap, doll. If you think Lox is one of the bad guys, say so." Lorne's red eyes could hold an impressive glower when the moment called for it. "So what'll it be? Beheading? Or are we back to guns, like the last time?"
"I don't plan to kill him." Leaning on the back of the chair, Angel wobbled uncertainly, looking distinctly green. "I wish I was a ghost too. Then I couldn't have just drunk... whatever it was I just drank. Believe it or not, we've got nothing personal against Lox. Compared to a lot of demons in this city, he's virtually one of the good guys. But we have got to make him understand that he can't give Illyria back her powers."
"Or he's a threat to everybody." Lorne nodded slowly. "I understand. Mostly. Sort of."
"Really?" The voice came from the top of the stairs, where Lox quite suddenly made his entrance. Spike and Angel had heard the direction of the approach, but to Wesley and Lorne it was a shock to see him inside the hotel, and they both spun around in surprise. He seemed to like the stir that he had caused. As usual he cut an impressive figure, with his flowing robes and majestic bearing, this time with his people as an honour guard behind him. There was an axe in his left hand; one with a long handle and sizeable blade, that gleamed in the bright light of the lobby. "So you 'understand', do you Lorne?" He began to walk down the stairs, his eyes never once leaving the Pylean refugee. "What is it that you understand? The terrible things that Angel made you do? The way that he made you deny your instincts? Deny yourself? Do things that you never wanted to do? The way that he left you - the way that all of them left you? I found you. I was your friend. I have never lied to you. What is it that you understand, Lorne?"
"What's the axe for, Lox?" Angel wanted to walk over and meet the demon half way; to confront him properly. Instead he had to stay where he was, gripping the back of his chair like a helpless old man unable to stand unaided. "We're all dead. There's no need for weapons."
"You've armed yourselves." Lox nodded at Spike, who was crossing over to meet Angel, carrying a pair of lengthy swords. We have a right to defend ourselves."
"We only plan to fight if we have to." Angel took one of the swords, but didn't lift it, or attempt to hold it threateningly. "We can't let you take that generator."
"And I can't let you stop me." Lox was smiling, the expression charming despite the huge teeth that it couldn't help but emphasise. "My people are dying, Angel. I need that generator. I need Illyria. Her powers will change everything. Revitalise us."
"How will Illyria's powers stop your people from dying?" asked Wesley. Lox looked over at him, the angle of his head haughty, and his eyes blazing with a sudden indignation.
"When your people are dying you don't stop to examine the details. Her powers make her supreme. She can do anything. Change time. Anything. I will not believe that her powers and her strength; to say nothing of the position of power once held by the Archduke Sebassis; will not find my people the means to heal themselves. I do what has to be done, Pryce."
"I thought they were wrong about you." Lorne looked betrayed. "So what was I, Lox? The means to get at Illyria?"
"Hardly." For a second Lox looked sad, then he shrugged. "I'm sorry Lorne. You're not Xash, so ultimately you're not important. But no, you weren't a way to get at Illyria - it wasn't until I had met you that I even knew about her. You were a means by which to get money. And you were a friend. I've learnt to be mercenary, though, and that's the way it has to be."
"I stood up for you!"
"Keep out of the way, Lorne." Trying to compensate for Angel's current shortcomings, Spike strolled over, positioning himself halfway between Lox and the Pylean. He held up his sword. "Angel doesn't want to kill you lot. He's nice that way; plus he doesn't want to go upsetting old Lorne here. But me? I'm not nice. So get the hell out of here, or I'll see to it that your race gets depleted a whole lot more."
"You think that you can fight us? All of us?" Lox shook his head, and sauntered closer. "We are twenty. You are four. Lorne won't fight; at least not to kill. And Illyria walked through Pryce earlier. Is that a man that I'm supposed to be frightened by?"
"Quite possibly." Wesley shot his cuffs, and the guns were suddenly in his hands again. "These are as real as I'm not; and believe me, they shoot very real bullets. You may be big, Lox, but you're not armour plated. Bullets like these will harm you. Leave."
"No." The demon's eyes surveyed the room. "The shiny one. Cordelia? She's missing. So it's her who has the generator?"
"Does it matter? That's kinda the point, Lox; it's not here. There's no way for you to get at it. That means there's no reason for us to hurt you. So leave." Angel wished that he didn't look so wobbly; so lopsided and incapacitated, but he clung to the back of the chair with one hand, and the sword with the other hand, and did his best to look like a figure of authority. Lox was unimpressed.
"What kind of a fool do you think that I am, Angel? I have the means to find her, wherever she is. I have a sorcerer, and his magic can find wherever she and the generator have hidden themselves. Perhaps we will be able to follow her there, and perhaps not; it shouldn't matter. Once we point the way, there are others who will follow. And besides, I think that you and she will co-operate."
"You do, huh." Spike was not one to be swayed by empty words. "Why's that? 'Cause us being dead removes a whole lot of your bargaining power."
"You're dead, Spike." Lox's eyes were calm, and carried no trace of whatever he might have been feeling. "Lorne isn't. You'll give me what I want, or he'll die."
"Then I think that means that the talking part is over." Crossing the room with the briskness of step and singularity of purpose that were so much a part of him these days, Wesley met Spike at the foot of the stairs, to form a barrier before the intruders. "We were prepared to let you leave unharmed. We still are. But only if you leave now. Right now."
"Which we can't do, quite obviously." Lox looked away, nodding once. Immediately his people spread out around him, coming down the stairs, moving fast, vaulting the banisters to avoid the two armed ghosts and reach the lobby. One of them, his robes white, was clearly the magician. It showed in his bearing, and in the way he stood out from his companions.
"Get the hell out of my hotel!" Angel took a step away from the chair, and lurched wildly. His head spun, and his stomach spun with it. Lox laughed.
"You're a brave man, Angel, and a fine warrior. I've heard all of the stories. But right now you're nothing special. We have you outnumbered. We hold all the cards." Two of his men converged upon Lorne. "You'll do as I ask. You'll get me the generator. I don't want to hurt Lorne... but then again, I won't be hurting him. It'll be my men who'll be slitting his throat; or whatever it takes to kill a Pylean."
"Oh great. Beware Xash bearing gifts, huh." Lorne began to back away uncertainly. "This is absolutely the last time I trust someone who offers to buy me a night-club. Or it probably is, anyway."
"Stay away from him." Wesley turned, pointing his guns at the two demons. "You're a dying species, and personally I have no desire to kill you off any quicker."
"Try, Mr Pryce." Lox was smiling with a measure of smugness that was at once both infuriating and unsettling. "Just try. We're prepared."
"You are, huh." Spike's eyes met with Wesley's, and they both shared a moment's understanding. It only took a moment, then, to make their move. Spike went wide, running, slashing with his sword to try to turn the Xash away from Lorne, only for the white-robed sorcerer to unleash a yell that seemed to make the very air vibrate. Spike's sword bounced off a glowing, steel grey barrier that suddenly surrounded his target, and he fell back with a shout of surprise.
"That's bloody cheating!" he exclaimed, to anybody who cared to be listening. Lorne, paling slightly, tried to dodge the two demons who were racing for him, but they were both too fast. As one grabbed for him, Wesley fired one of his guns, and the bullet zipped off the glowing barrier, clanging loudly when it struck Spike's sword. The vampire swore.
"We are protected. Give us what we want, or Lorne will pay the price." Lox came closer. Wesley glowered, then with a yell of some strange spell, fired his gun again. The glow that surrounded Lorne's guard snapped out of existence, and with a scream of pain the Xash fell to the ground, a bullet hole neatly marking its path through his head. Lox came to a dead halt.
"No." His eyes snapped over to Wesley, bright and hot in their grief and disbelief. "You will not kill my people!"
"Then call them off!" Wesley raised the guns again, ready to break the barrier of any Xash that seemed about to cause more trouble, but already the sorcerer had resumed his chanting. Wesley turned to fire at him, but with a burst of light, the sorcerer was suddenly halfway up the stairs. There was a crystal in his hands, shining brightly, and Wesley could sense the power it possessed; sense the strength of the spell within it, even though he was standing some distance away. He spat out his spell once again, firing a string of shots off at the sorcerer, but the magical barrier protecting the demon held firm. The ricochets of the wasted bullets rang out around the room, grazing walls, scarring furniture, hitting a Xash in the leg and dropping him to the ground. Wesley swore in irritation at his uselessness, and began to head up the stairs.
"Hey!" Seeing that Lorne was once again under attack, Spike raced in with his sword whirling. Again and again the blade bounced harmlessly off the Xash, but he continued attacking anyway, beating a pointless tattoo upon the impregnable air that covered the demons. Nearby Angel was trying to join in the fight, trying to beat a path through to rescue Lorne, but unable to make any headway at all.
"The crystal will summon your shining white friend back from wherever she's hiding herself. The spell is designed to trace the passage of supernatural energies, and it will focus on the last person to have left this place by such means." Lox was practically growing in size and stature with each arrogant word. He looked up the stairs towards the sorcerer. "Cordelia will be brought back here, we shall know where she went, and we will find the generator. We will bring it back here, by our means or by yours. Co-operation on your part might make it rather more pleasant for everybody."
"You're not getting that generator." Angel slashed at Lox with his sword, almost falling over with the force of the weapon's rebound from the protective glowing shell. Nearby Wesley was chanting, an almost manic gleam in his eyes, whilst Spike fought a hopeless battle to free Lorne from his captors. He couldn't manage it. Already one of the Xash had the Pylean in a stranglehold, and was holding a long knife horribly close to Lorne's neck. The Pylean struggled desperately, and Spike could sympathise. He had heard tales of Lorne's ability to be beheaded without ill effect, but there was no telling what damage a ill-placed knife might do to his singing voice. Lorne couldn't free himself, though, and Spike could not help him. He fought on, but the crystal was glowing more brightly, and Angel was barely able to stand upright, and Wesley's maddened chanting was getting them nowhere. Only Lox seemed happy, mocking Angel's hopeless attempts to fight him.
"I'll have Lorne killed," he warned. "Just give me the generator, and he'll be safe."
"You could blow up half of the country with that thing!" Truly afraid that Lorne might be about to die, Angel put all of his remaining strength into one furious blow with the sword. It did no good at all, and he almost collapsed. "Illyria isn't stable. With her powers back she could wipe the West Coast off the map. You have to understand, Lox!"
"Lies, or exaggerations. I will give her back her powers, and she will be grateful." Lox looked up the stairs, where the glowing white crystal was now hovering in the air, moving gracefully to the last place where Cordelia had stood before leaving for the hidden dimension to guard the generator. "So near. We will bring Cordelia back, and she will fetch us what we want. Will seeing Lorne already dead persuade her? Or should I have my sorcerer try to use his powers against you, Angel? Would that work any better?"
"Stop that sorcerer, Wesley!" Heading after the crystal, Angel slashed at it with his sword, but it seemed always to be out of his reach. The sorcerer's work he was sure, and he glanced over to see Wesley drawing back one arm to send a blistering ball of heat and blue light straight at the Xash magician's head. It was deflected by the barrier, but some of its force sank through, lighting up the white robe with a gleaming tincture of blue, and making the sorcerer stumble slightly. The crystal wavered, but remained out of reach, and with a warning growl, Lox started after Angel. There were further Xash converging upon them, converging upon Spike, and the crystal was growing brighter and brighter. Wesley's voice was rising in volume, and so was the voice of the rival sorcerer; there was a crackle of heat and energy in the air as both magicians flung their spells at each other, each of them trying to weaken their rival. Wesley's voice rose above the din once, briefly, and for a second the glowing grey barrier flickered. Spike's sword found a mark; stabbed an arm; caused a flood of purple to burst from a pale red arm, and Lox, spinning around in a heat of utter fury, roared out the order for Lorne's execution. There was a scramble to carry out the order; a last desperate struggle from the Pylean; and a last desperate spell from Wesley. Angel's voice rose above the tumult in a plea that went unheard, and for a horrible second Lorne was gone from view behind a cloud of red. The Xash were impervious to everything save the need to obey their ruler, and it seemed as though Lorne was lost. Angel was too far away, and could do nothing anyway, and Wesley was pinned down in his desperate struggle against the sorcerer. Even Spike, usually so energetic a fighter, could not force his way through the magically protected soldiers to be of any use. He was almost ready to give up, or at the very least to resort to angry yelling and petulance, when with a crash of splintering glass, the doors burst open and Illyria strode in, eyes hot and bright, gaze flooding the room with her arrogance and apparent anger. Without preamble she stormed into the midst of it all, grabbing Xash, breaking through the magical barrier by no more impressive a means than sheer brute strength. She threw the demons like unwanted toys, breaking a neck here, smashing a skull there, until Wesley yelled at her to stop. She curtailed her more violent tendencies then, but still she hurled the creatures about, tearing a path through them to free Lorne, to send the Xash sorcerer running for cover, tipping the scales of the battle through her mere presence. Angel whistled in relief, summoning up his reserves of struggling sobriety to smash the glowing crystal with his sword. It burst apart in a rush of turquoise light that faded to reveal Cordelia, standing in the middle of the lobby and looking very confused.
"What the-?!" she began, but didn't get the chance to finish. With a scream of rage, Lox hurled himself at her, shouting words in his own language that could only have been exhortations of his fury and determination not to be foiled. Running with all his might, Angel got to Cordelia before the furious demon, and swung up his sword as a barrier. His head was spinning, but his arms didn't let him down. Neither did his furious scowl.
"Get out of here, Lox," he demanded. "This is over. Enough of your people are dead, and I don't think either of us wants the number to rise. Don't let me see you here again."
"Lucky." Lox's face was contorted in hate, an expression that did not suit his usually more gentle appearance. "You were lucky. I would have won. If it hadn't been for Illyria, I--"
"Which says it all really, wouldn't you say?" Wesley was standing nearby, with one leg rather disconcertingly in the middle of a broken table. "If she's prepared to fight you, I think it proves that she won't help you to get what you want. Powers or no powers, Lox - she wants nothing to do with you."
"Perhaps." The anger on Lox's face didn't fade. "But there are other way to get what I want. I won't stop looking. I can't. My people are all that matter to me. All that matter. And I will make them strong again." With a clap of his hands he left, his people following him in a ragged line. There were too many of them left behind, spread out over the floor, and Angel could not be glad of it. The satisfaction of the win did not seem so great tonight.
"You okay?" he asked Cordelia. She nodded, turning away to examine the pieces of the crystal he had broken. Wesley left them alone, although in many ways he would have preferred to stay with them. At least then there would have been moral support during the inevitable confrontation. He could see her, standing nearby, watching him with those inhuman eyes. She would come to him sooner or later, because she always did. Something within Illyria, or perhaps within him, meant that she always gravitated towards him. It wasn't something that he especially wanted to think about.
"Wesley." The voice made him want to shrink away, whatever associations it had once had. She was coming closer; her self-possession, her strength of stride, her blueness, all emphasising that she was not the person she looked like. "You are uninjured?"
"Well I've not got any deader." He frowned at her. "How did you find this place?"
"I followed the loud green one. He led me here. I wished to speak with you, but the battle helped to straighten my mind somewhat. I think that battles are good for making things straight inside heads."
"You needed to talk?"
"I wished to discuss things. I wished to discuss Lox. Perhaps it no longer matters." She frowned at him, head cocked on one side. "It was enjoyable to defeat the Xash, even though our goals were the same. I want my powers back, Wesley, but Lox wanted to use them himself. Once I would not have been so angered by the actions of a mortal."
"It's different when it's personal." He tried out a smile, which of course wasn't returned. "But then I suppose that doesn't mean anything to you."
"You think that I should be affected by his intentions towards me personally." A glimmer of a frown showed on her face. "That is irrelevant. The actions of a mortal cannot harm me, or have any consequence for one such as me."
"Is that so? A mortal took your powers away, Illyria."
"I know." She stared at him, without malevolence. "That has not been forgotten."
"Somehow I didn't think it had. So much for friendship."
"Friendship?" The word didn't seem to mean much to her. "At times it is not easy to understand your meaning, but there will be many occasions when we can discuss such things if necessary. I have fought here tonight. It was enjoyable. This body has feelings of gladness that you are still functioning, Wesley. We will visit each other again."
"We will?" He wasn't surprised by her announcement, although he would rather she hadn't made it. She fixed him with her disconcerting blue and white gaze.
"We will. You are my guide, and that cannot change. For now, though, I will return to the night-club and consider things. I feel that this has been a good night."
"I'm glad." He smiled at her slightly, as usual having no real idea of what he was feeling. "Goodbye then, Illyria."
"Goodbye, Wesley." She stared at him rather disconcertingly for several moments, then nodded her head sharply, as though content with something that she had seen within him. "I will see you soon." With that she disappeared. He sighed. I will see you soon. The words didn't exactly fill him with delight. Trying to prevent his shoulders from slumping too noticeably, he turned away and headed for some place where he could shut the others out, however temporarily. Angel looked lost and confused as well, he noticed, but he didn't go back over to lend his support. He wasn't sure that it was what either of them wanted just now. Over on the other side of the room Angel was thinking much the same thing, as he watched Wesley wander away, and tried to think of a way to test the waters with Lorne. The Pylean was standing nearby, staring at the dead bodies. His expression was unusually unreadable, and he didn't look up when Angel approached.
"I'm sorry, Lorne." Joining him in looking at the dead bodies strewn around them, Angel was suddenly glad that Lox himself had escaped unscathed. "I really didn't want anything like this to happen. I know... I know you think it's what I do, and I guess you're right, but..."
"Yeah." Lorne looked away, clearly not wanting to see the dead bodies just now. "Whatever. You guys did what you felt you had to do, Ange. I know that. I've got eyes and ears, big guy. I can understand it without having to like it."
"I really am sorry." Angel had rarely felt so bad after killing anything, and not knowing where he stood with his friend only made things worse. "We couldn't let him hurt you, and I--"
"Leave it." For a second Lorne's voice was sharp, but he softened immediately, and gave a sad smile. "You think I want to change you, Angel? 'Cause I don't. I want you to always be just the way you are; and if that means that there's always going to be dead things in your wake, so be it. I never wanted you to stop doing what you do. I just wanted to stop being a part of it."
"But Lox was your friend."
"And probably still is." Lorne smiled. "He wanted to make his people great. He didn't want to blow up Los Angeles, or hurt me, or tear this place apart. Maybe he's evil. Maybe he isn't. Hell, I don't know. And you know something, sugar puff?"
"You don't care?"
"I don't care." Lorne beamed happily. "And that's what I love about me, Angel pie. Same as your you-ness is what I love about you."
"I think that made sense."
"Sure it did." For a second Lorne wasn't sure how to continue; then abruptly he turned his smile up to full dazzle, and clapped the vampire on both shoulders. "I should be going. I have a club to clean up."
"Yeah." Angel looked rueful. "And I have a hotel to clean up."
"No rest for the wicked, doll."
"Are we really so wicked?" Angel asked the question with a certain measure of sadness, wondering if that was really how Lorne saw him. His answer was a bright and sparkling grin.
"Honey, I know I am. And I have high hopes for you, so don't disappoint. Anyway." He kissed his be-ringed green hand, and waggled the fingers. "So long, sweet thing."
"Bye, Lorne." Angel followed him to the door, watching with a gentle smile as the demon put on his fedora and shades, ready to go back out into the street. "Be seeing you?"
"Sure." Lorne frowned behind the sunglasses, still not altogether sure where he stood on this whole issue. He was still all too well aware that it would only take Angel asking him to stay; just one word, and Haven, his new life, everything, would all be gone. He was glad when Angel didn't ask, but he knew that he was still waiting for him to. He probably always would be. "Bye bye big guy. Come sing for me some time soon."
"Not likely." They shared a smile, and then Lorne was gone, scuttling away across the sidewalk to the green Jaguar that awaited him at the roadside. For a second Angel smiled at the anything but clandestine figure, doing its best to be unnoticeable; then he turned back to the room and its waiting mess. Lox's people seemed to have an inordinate amount of blood between them; and it was purple, which in his experience stained terribly.
"Come on, people. We have work to do." He called them all over from their respective resting places - Spike sprawled on a couch; Wesley standing in a distant corner, trying not to look too torn; Cordelia delighting in the ever fresh cleanliness of her shining white outfit. Illyria had disappeared, although Angel didn't remember seeing her leave. He didn't especially care. She wasn't hugely welcome in his hotel; she had never really been a part of his team. She wasn't what mattered.
"Lorne okay?" asked Spike, who for some reason that Angel wasn't clear on, had a cigarette between his teeth. Ghosts weren't known for their ability to breathe in smoke, but then Spike had never been entirely sane in his opinion. The origins of several small burn marks on the floor of the lobby were beginning to become painfully clear.
"Yeah, Lorne's okay. I think. He was smiling a lot when he left, and he's still calling me weird sugary confectionery products, so I guess he's okay."
"Lorne always lands on his feet." Cordelia looked around at all the purple blood and the fallen bodies. "Do you really expect me to clear this up, Angel? I'm wearing white!"
"Magical, impervious to staining white. So yeah, I was thinking of getting you to help." He pointed to the door of the cupboard that held all of their various cleaning products, and she scowled and went to load up on supplies. "Anything special we have to do with these guys, Wes? I mean, do they need dismembering or something?"
"No, they're dead. They do need disposing of quickly, though. They decompose quickly at sea level."
"Great. Putrefying corpses are always fun to scrub off the furnishings." Spike stared unhappily down at the dead demons. When he had thrown in his lot with the Hero Department he had never expected it to lead to the polishing of floor tiles and shampooing of assorted cushionery. Didn't being a hero mean never having to do the vacuuming?
"Sooner it's done, the less likely it is they will actually be putrefying." Angel hoped that he sounded more resolute than he felt. "I hope they won't hurt the flowers, if we bury them in the garden."
"Well I don't know about you, but I think that fertilising the flowerbeds was well worth bringing me back from the dead for." Spike grabbed the nearest body, and hoisted it over one shoulder. "Anybody wants me, I'll be trying to bury him. Can't promise I'll be able to hold a spade, though. Can't tell you how sorry I am about that."
"Get lost, Spike." Angel also bent to pick up a couple of the bodies, then headed off after his grandsire with the purple-dripping burden. Only when he had gone did Cordelia clap her hands to make the rest of the bodies disappear, and taking his cue accordingly, Wesley muttered a quick spell to clear away the blood and the gore. The two old friends smiled at each other then, and Cordelia shrugged.
"Well if they will keep forgetting who they're dealing with, it serves them right. Want to watch some TV while we're waiting for the penny to drop?"
"Yes, why not." Wesley had never been much of one for watching the television, but in the earliest days of his association with Angel Investigations, he and Cordelia had often watched the murky wonders of daytime TV. It had been a way of passing the time between cases; of occupying the hours when Angel was asleep; of bonding when they had barely known each other. It suddenly seemed like the kind of thing that would be fun to do now. By the time that Angel and Spike had buried the three demons, and wound their weary way back into the hotel to continue the work, Cordelia and Wesley were sprawled together on a couch. The television burbled gently to itself in its corner, but neither could hear it. Comfortably leaning on each other, happily rediscovering their shared past, they had both fallen fast asleep.
It was night again before Lilah turned up, all smiles as usual, despite the uncertainties of their last meeting. Wesley was sitting on the roof of the hotel, a favourite place where the two of them often met, and he greeted her with a warm smile as she sat down beside him. Theirs was an increasingly genuine relationship; an increasingly real, mutual one, even if neither of them knew where it was heading. Lilah smiled fondly at the dark-clad figure beside her, and took a moment longer to enjoy the simplicity of their comfortable silence before she spoke.
"Did you get things sorted out?" she asked. He frowned at her.
"You don't know? I'd have thought that you'd have heard all about it by now."
"I didn't mean all of that. I know that you stole the Mutari generator, and that it's hidden somewhere where you seem to think it's safe. And I know that Lox has backed off. I meant about Illyria."
"Oh." He nodded. "I know how I feel about her, if that's what you mean. I think I always did. She may look like Fred, but that's as far as the resemblance goes. I was perfectly happy with the thought that she'd gone back to the Deeper Well. I don't want anything to do with her now."
"So you're telling me that if she asks, you won't go running off to be with her? I know what that face does to you, Wes. What that body does to you."
"These days all it does is make my stomach churn." That and make him think of whisky. Even the sight of Illyria was enough to bring the taste of strong alcohol to his mouth; or the memory of it, anyway. Taste no longer existed for him. She smiled then, and nodded slowly.
"I think I believe you."
"Idiot." She leaned in close beside him, and stroked the back of his neck. He might have pushed her away once, but values were different after death - or maybe death had mellowed him. He didn't know. He just knew that he wanted her beside him tonight.
"I'm sorry about last night." He leaned back, partly into her embrace, and partly against the wall. It was easier to look up at the moon, then, as pure and white as ever it was likely to look through the dull Los Angeles air. "I had a lot on my mind, I suppose."
"You always do." She ruffled his hair. "There's more in that mind than in almost any other. You should have--"
He frowned. "Should have what?"
"I was going to say, you should have left your brain to science. I'm sorry Wes."
"For rubbing it in that I'm dead, or for rubbing it in that I don't have a clue who I left my brain to? It's alright, Lilah. I know that Wolfram & Hart have my body. I know that they have plans for it. It's no big secret."
"It's supposed to be." Her hand fell away from his head, and she looked away. "I've tried, Wes. Really. If I get the slightest hint of what they're planning to do with it..."
"Then you won't tell me. You mustn't. They might never let you out of hell again, then, and I'd rather have you here. Besides, you have your theories; you've dropped enough hints about that. I have theories too, now. Lots of them."
"Something has changed, hasn't it." She reached out, gently taking his face in one hand, and turning him towards her. "What do you know?"
"Nothing. Exactly." His eyes turned themselves away, although his face still couldn't. "When I was in the vault at Wolfram & Hart - my vault. There were weapons in there. Lots of them. Ones that I'd collected, ones that were there anyway. And one other. A knife."
"Oh?" She was trying to look as though she had no idea what he was talking about, but it was clear that she had guessed. He nodded slowly.
"It was the knife that I was stabbed with. The knife that killed me. Cyvus Vail's knife. They could have bought it from someone, I suppose, but I'm not fool enough to believe that. That knife was in my vault, and there were boxes there too. I didn't get to see what was inside them, but I'm willing to bet what was in the biggest. I was just a few feet away from my body last night, and I never knew it. Never even thought about it at the time. There was the knife, and there was the fighting, and there wasn't really time for anything else."
"Then why not go back and get it?" she asked him. He shook his head.
"There's no getting back in there again. Security will have been stepped up, and they'll be on the look out for Team Angel particularly. I wouldn't stand a chance."
"Yes, I know. Lilah, you've been dropping hints all along that you think they plan to somehow bring me back to life - or reanimate my body, anyway. And yes, I'd rather have the damn thing myself. But it's impossible now. Probably always was." His eyes clouded over, and she saw the sadness that he couldn't hide. "All my life I've expected the good times to be short, and to get swept away by bad things. It's what's always happened. For the first time since... since a trip to the ballet several years ago... I'm happy. Really, honestly, happy - but I've never expected it to last. So if it doesn't, I'm prepared. That's my life, Lilah." He reached up to brush some hair away from her eyes, and smiled faintly as he did so. "Good times never last. Not when you come from the places I come from. I haven't said anything to the others. Angel would worry, and would probably want to launch an attack on Wolfram & Hart... Which is nice, quite honestly. I like knowing that he'd want to do that. I can't let him, though. What's going to happen will happen, and I just have to hope that as few people as possible will be hurt."
"Sometimes I think I was wrong to keep clothing you in all that grey."
"You weren't wrong." He laughed then, and it sounded genuine enough. "Listen to us. It's a beautiful night, and I for one can't feel the cold. We should be enjoying it, and instead we're thinking about terrible things that we don't yet even know are going to happen. Change the subject, or I'll be forced to go in search of cheerier company."
"A spell is still a spell. Can you go to Lorne now? If you can't that means that you'll either wind up playing gooseberry to Angel and Cordelia, or sitting in the lobby downstairs arguing with Spike. Neither sounds like much fun to me."
"I could always go and hunt vampires with Charles. I'm getting quite good at staking things again. It was hard getting enough force behind the stake at first, since I usually have to levitate the blasted things, but last time I tried it I only nearly staked the one innocent human. Although admittedly I nearly staked him twice."
"You're not going anywhere." She settled herself against him, and joined him in staring up at the moon. "Life's weird, isn't it."
"Weirder than death?"
"I don't know. Are you happy, Wes? Really?"
"Really?" Idly he stroked her hair, and smiled to himself. Sprawled on a roof, dead as a doornail, unable to touch or feel a thing - except others who were dead. Lost in a relationship with a woman as evil as any he had ever encountered, unable to trust her, and quite sure that she was a part of whatever foul scheme that Wolfram & Hart must have for him and his friends... It didn't sound like happiness; but he knew that it was.
"Yes," he told her, and meant it. "I'm happy." Perfect happiness, a little voice inside him said, and he smiled at the irony. Perfect happiness could be a dangerous thing. Resting against him, Lilah nodded in satisfaction.
"Good." She sounded content. "You deserve that much, for however long it lasts."
"I wish I knew how long that might be." He smiled idly, and stared up at the murky clouds now moving in to cover the moon. He didn't really need to wonder. He could almost see the pieces falling into place; feel the ripples beginning to flow through the city's ever troubled aura. Change was coming; change was always coming.
But this time it was coming for him.