The morning of Wesley's twenty-first birthday, Connor was fussing in his bassinet while Wesley stared down his translation of the Nyazian scrolls as if any amount of staring would alter what he'd found.
He'd decided at some point last night that there was no sense wasting time on sleep and nightmares when the three portents of the prophecy had already come true, so he'd spent yet another night at his desk. He had quite a bit of stubble forming by now, but on top of that, his eyes were red and irritated from all those hours spent staring at the same six horrific words.
At least by now he thought he knew what he was doing to do about it, which was more than he could have said last night. In the cold light of day, as Connor fussed and fidgeted not three feet away, Wesley knew that there was no sense in trying to talk about this to anyone. He was the leader of Angel Investigations; he cared about Connor as much as anyone, and more than that, he was quite certain that he cared about Angel a good deal more than his colleagues did, barring Cordelia. But Cordy was out of touch right now, and Fred and Gunn were hardly the impartial resources they'd used to be, and Lorne... Wesley wasn't sure he wanted to put any part of this burden on Lorne now that he'd taken it upon himself to resolve it.
Wesley's responsibility now was to handle this matter himself. He made his way over to Connor, wondering vaguely what it would be like if he just took the baby now and got somewhere safe. Not Fandom, nor any of his school friends' worlds - none of those places could be considered 'safe' by any stretch of the imagination. The shame factor in returning to England at twenty-one years old with his supposedly trustworthy vampire ex-employer's infant son in tow wasn't negligible, but he supposed it was either that or... well, picking a safe universe from the Portalocity catalog at random and settling down there.
Neither option sounded remotely appealing.
His thoughts were interrupted, however, by Angel's voice. "Jeez, Wes!" he said, striding into Wesley's office. "Don't you know what you're supposed to do?"
That was a rather loaded question at this particular moment in time, Wesley thought.
"You pick 'em up when they fuss," Angel instructed him, scooping Connor up out of the bassinet and cradling him in his free arm -- the other hand held a glass full of blood.
"Sorry," Wesley said, feeling suddenly idiotic. "I don't know what I was... I didn't sleep very well."
At all. He hadn't slept at all.
"Yeah, and you look like hell," Angel told him. "Not the fun one, where they burn you with hot pokers for all eternity, but the hardcore one. You know, Nixon and Britney Spears." Wesley didn't chuckle, but Angel did, smiling down at Connor.
"You're awfully chipper today," Wesley observed. Considering that Angel's room was currently charred to bits and Angel wasn't generally a cheery person under the best of circumstances, it seemed rather odd.
"Yeah, it's weird, huh?" Angel agreed. "Maybe it's the earthquake, but I barely slept and now I have all this energy. God, I could drink a horse!"
And that certainly seemed true. He was rather attached to that glass of blood.
"Speaking of the earthquake," Wes put in, "you realize we have no insurance."
"Yeah," Angel agreed. "Bummer."
"And your room is..."
"The wreck of the Hesperus," Angel finished. "Wes, I know. Don't be such a worrywart. The best thing about owning a hotel is there's plenty of rooms. I'll just move to another one until I can get it fixed." He nodded at Wesley as Connor began to cry again, heading out toward the hall. "C'mon, Connor, no fussing," he chided. "No fussing now. Say, you wanna see something cool? 'Course you do." As Wesley watched, Angel carried the baby to the weapons cabinet and opened the door, letting Connor take in all the violent instruments that his father kept around the house. "Ah, huh? You like that broadsword? That's Daddy's favorite."
It seemed to suddenly occur to Angel what exactly what he was doing, and he turned. "Wes, we gotta get this stuff baby-proofed. He's gonna be crawling in no time."
Barring disaster, anyway, Wesley thought, then promptly hated himself for thinking it. Suddenly, Angel thrust Connor into Wesley's arms with no warning, then promptly turned back around to inspect the weapons cabinet. "It's all right, Connor, it's your uncle Wes," he reassured the baby. "He loves you bunches. He's just -- English."
Right. That was all.
Feeling awkward with a child in his arms Wesley wanted nothing more than to protect, Wes was relieved -- at first -- when he heard another familiar voice getting louder as its owner approached the lobby. Then he realized that the owner of the voice was Fred, and her phone was pressed to her ear, giving her voice the sort of happy lilt that left no question about who she was talking to.
"Are you kidding me?" Fred giggled into the phone as she skipped down the bottom two steps. "Texas doesn't hate the black man. Texas loves the black man. Well, most of Texas. Anyone with a brain. What's so great about California?"
Lucky for the other occupants of the lobby, they didn't have to wonder long; the door swung open and Gunn emerged with a bag of bagels and his own phone pressed between his shoulder and his ear. "Everything," he said. "It's got the sun, the beach..."
"The earth that opens up and swallows you whole," Fred countered.
"The Lakers, the music..."
"The traffic, the smog..."
"It's got you," Gunn pointed out, smirking.
Fred blushed. "Okay," she said, snapping her phone shut and smiling up at him. "You win. Morning."
"Morning," Gunn replied, smiling right back.
Wesley couldn't help it; it bothered him. "Good to know you're using the company cell phones for such important calls," he remarked dryly.
Gunn was on the defensive at once. "Did you want me to pay for that?" he asked. Wesley swallowed a retort and was grateful when Angel interrupted them both, spinning around from the weapons cabinet to address the three of them.
"We've got to chain them up," he declared. "The weapons, I mean. Better safe than sorry, isn't that right, Connor?" He collected the baby from Wesley, pausing only to look between Wes and Connor for a moment. "He likes you," he evaluated. "I can tell."
This was it, wasn't it? "I... like him too," Wes replied, psyching himself up for this. "As a matter of fact, Angel, I was thinking -- perhaps I'd take him to the park or the beach sometime, just the two of us. I don't have any appointments scheduled for tomorrow morning."
He felt an odd jolt in his stomach as he waited for Angel to grant permission, but it wasn't as though he was surprised when Angel replied, "Sure. Count on it."
Well, then... that was that. He had license to take the baby. Not forever, certainly, but perhaps for long enough to get somewhere safe, to look through books, to begin to find a way to explain this whole situation to Angel from afar.
There was just one thing Wesley had to do first.
It wasn't difficult to track down the man who had been doing his best to make Angel's life hell for the past few months; on the contrary, with only a few calls to some contacts, it was actually unnervingly easy.
It was even easier to enter Holtz's hideaway, where Wesley stuck to the side for a moment and listened in on the conversation between Holtz and one of his... disciples before entering the rest of the way.
"I don't like it." That voice was familiar -- clearly Holtz's. The accent made it a sure thing, and the age in his voice was something Wesley rather doubted the man's followers possessed as well.
The other voice was female, much younger, and angry. "They'll learn or they'll die," she replied.
"No," Holtz said. "They're coming right along. I - I don't like the tea in these cotton cups."
The woman snorted. "They're called styrofoam," she told him. "I'll get you some china ones."
There was a clear smile in Holtz's voice when he replied, "Thank you, Justine. Are you ready?"
"Yes," came the woman's -- Justine's -- reply, but Wesley picked up on a waver in her tone as easily as Holtz apparently did.
"What is it you're not sure of?" he asked. "Is it me?"
"No!" Justine said at once. Too quickly. "It's -- these people who work for Angel. We may end up... killing a lot of them."
Holtz's voice was dry when he countered, "We may end up killing all of them."
Of course he thought that. Justine seemed uncertain. "You know I'd follow you through the gates of Hell, Daniel," she said. "But..."
"But people -- even evil people who help vampires -- are another kettle of fish?" Holtz inquired quietly.
Justine sighed. "They chose Angel," she granted, and the uncertainty slipped out of her voice, to be replaced by a more sure anger as she concluded, "That makes them enemy soldiers."
That was about enough for Wesley. Not only in their audacity -- simply in the fact that he didn't really have very much time to waste around here. "So I guess that makes it all right," he said calmly, stepping out of the shadows.
Justine was instantly on the defensive -- Wesley had rather suspected she'd be that type -- but Holtz's expression remained neutral upon seeing that his security (two teenagers standing outside the apartment whose kneecaps were likely to be very sore right now) had been breached. "Mr. Wyndam-Pryce," he said calmly. "How nice to see you."
"What the hell do you want?" Justine demanded.
"Now, now, Justine, don't be rude," Holtz chided her. "He's our guest. And in the throes of a very difficult decision, I might add."
Yes, Wesley had thought Holtz might be familiar with the prophecy. Funny how that worked out. "Would you like some apple?" Holtz offered.
"No," Wesley said. "Thank you."
Justine looked between the two of them like she'd never heard two people speak so politely to one another before. "Boss, should I--"
Holtz set a hand on her shoulder. "That won't be necessary."
They both fell quiet after that, which seemed to indicate that it was Wesley's turn to speak. His voice was very clear as he said, "I don't want to see anyone get hurt. Your soldiers--" yes, Justine, he was going to borrow that word from you, despite not being terribly fond of it himself-- "or mine."
"I share your hatred of violence, Mr. Wyndam-Pryce," said Holtz serenely. "I myself have meted out far less of it in my life than Angelus has in his."
This argument again. "Angel," Wesley corrected him. "He's not Angelus anymore. He's a good man."
"He's not a man at all," Holtz countered. It wasn't an argument at all, really, and Wesley breezed past it without much difficulty.
"Nevertheless," he said. "He has a soul now."
"Yes," said Holtz. "That he might know the pain that he has inflicted on his countless victims. A brilliant curse, I must admit. Gypsies do have a knack for creative vengeance. Where they fail, however, is the execution of justice. And that I will have."
As though there was any justice to be found in whatever Holtz was planning. "If it's a sacrifice you require, take me," Wesley said, in a brash tone that implied that he had no delusion that Holtz would take him up on it. "Angel's no more responsible for the crimes of Angelus than I am."
"Really?" Holtz asked. "Then was it your hands that held down my beloved Caroline as she was violated and murdered? That wrapped themselves around my son's neck and snapped it like kindling? Were yours the hands that clutched at my daughter as she was turned into a creature damned for all eternity?" He took a step toward Wesley then, and another. "Angelus is in his nature. The beast will re-emerge. You've seen it. You know it. That's why you're here. You're afraid he's going to kill the child."
He paused, just long enough that Justine seemed ready to interject, but Wesley knew better.
"And you're right," Holtz finished.
"Your infiltration was more successful than I'd realized," Wesley said.
"I don't need prophecies to tell me what is plain," Holtz dismissed. "So long as the child remains with the demon, it's not safe."
Wesley stuck his hands into his pockets and began to pace through the loft, saying very dryly, "Well, I must have misunderstood. Here I thought it was a simple blood vendetta. What you really want is to protect Angel's son."
"You don't believe me," said Holtz.
"Hmm, not sure really," Wesley replied. "Could be the low, scary voice that's giving me trouble."
Holtz ignored that, as Wesley had thought he would. "It's time to make a decision, Mr. Wyndam-Pryce," he said. "My army is strong and will only increase in number. Fight against us and this war will become a bloodbath."
Wesley had had it with that metaphor. "This isn't war," he said sharply. "It's revenge."
"What's wrong with revenge?" Justine cut in harshly. "It's the one thing some of us have left."
Ordinarily Wesley might have ignored the interruption, but what she said had grabbed his attention somehow. She sounded rather like Faith, to be honest. Wesley might not have succeeded as Faith's Watcher, but he'd certainly Watched her -- and he knew enough to recognize a sign or two. "Who did you lose?" he asked.
"You're here in Holtz's army, ready to kill others, to die for the cause," Wesley pointed out. "You must have lost someone very important to you."
"That's none of your goddamn business," Justine snarled, proving his point. "You're just here to stab us in the back."
Also proving Wesley's point was Holtz, who offered, "Her twin sister Julia was murdered by vampires."
Wesley wasn't surprised, but he was sympathetic -- if in a way that he was sure his sympathy would not be understood. "You lost family," he said, softly. "I'm sorry. But believe me when I say that Angel and the others that I work with are my family, and when I say I'd prefer not to see anyone hurt--" He unpocketed his hand and reached out, lightning-fast, to pin Justine's hand to the table where she'd been reaching for a knife, then bent her hand backward as she let out a strangled noise-- "I mostly mean them."
Holtz didn't move to call over any of his other followers, merely met Wesley's eyes carefully until, unthreatened but convinced that he'd made his point, Wesley let Justine go. "But I don't stab people in the back."
"You're an honest man," Holtz observed mildly, plucking Justine's knife from her and pocketing it himself. "And you can trust me."
"That's funny," Wesley said. "I don't."
"Well, your problem isn't me just now," Holtz reminded him. "Your problem is: your friend is going to kill his own child. You know you have to do something about it. You know that if you don't, I will."
It was rather maddening the way Wesley's thoughts and actions seemed to be so easily predicted lately.
"Don't misunderstand me," Holtz continued. "I won't stand by while an innocent child is murdered -- but I won't attack and endanger innocent lives unless I'm forced to."
Processing that and deeming it, while very probably a lie, at the very least acceptable for now, Wesley crossed his arms over his chest. "How long do I have?" he asked.
"I'll give you one day," Holtz replied. "You may not trust me, Mr. Wyndam-Pryce, but I trust you to do what's right. After that... everyone will get hurt."
That was when Wesley left. It wasn't for Holtz that he was about to do what he was about to do, but he needed to get back to the Hyperion and prepare. Now.
[[nfb/nfi, ooc good, wheeeeeeee. from angel 3x16 "sleep tight."]]