See chapter 1 for disclaimer.
It didn't take long after that for them to talk each other around to setting me free. They were hardly comfortable with keeping their old buddy Doyle chained up, even if he thought they were all lunatic strangers.
The vampire unlocked the handcuff, and good as it felt to get rid of that thing, I could've done without Angel getting quite so close to me. Alleged soul or none, the guy creeped me out.
Wesley managed to hustle Cordelia out of the room to allow me to throw on some clean clothes he'd brought in. Which were all black and too large - and, gee, no prizes for guessing whose wardrobe they'd raided for those.
My arm twinged with pain as I struggled to shove it through the shirt sleeve and Angel, looming, said, "You ought to get that looked at properly. You might have a hairline fracture."
I scowled. Aside from the fact that his low voice next to my ear had made me jolt in less-than-manly fashion, I didn't need health advice from any vampire. "It's fine. Besides, half-demon, remember. Hospitals? - probably not a great idea. One sneeze in front of the doctors and I'm suddenly the medical curiosity of the century."
Angel seemed surprised, and his expression turned thoughtful. I wasn't sure why until he mused, "You can joke about it... you use it to fight..."
I shrugged, finally managing to pull on the black shirt, which smelled of vampire and cheap washing powder. "It's a weapon. Why shouldn't I use it? I wouldn't be able to do what I do nearly so effectively without it, if at all. Not a Slayer. Don't have a head full of demonic book-learnin'. I'm all for survival and, y'know, killin' vamps - no offence - ain't exactly low risk work."
"No." I looked down, following the direction of his gaze to the pattern of bruises on my chest. I buttoned the shirt over them. He cleared his throat. "What... exactly is it that you do?"
"Oh, yeah, you think I worked for you. Right. Well, for your information, I'm a licensed PI, and this is... was... whatever... my office."
Angel gave a little cough of laughter.
I was more than a little unsettled by vamp-man trying to make like we were the best of friends. Wesley seemed aware of that too.
"Angel, would you mind...?" he indicated the door. At his undead pal's puzzled expression, he explained, "I'd like to talk to, um, Doyle here, a moment. You're too close to all this to see it objectively. Besides which, I... think you bother him."
Angel looked... faintly hurt? In any case he seemed to understand well enough, as he reluctantly left to join Cordelia in the office, and I couldn't deny my relief as the door closed behind his black-clad form.
"Nice one, Wes," I said, once he was gone, keeping my voice low. "You can stop the act, now. Tell me what the hell's really happened here?"
He blinked at me, confused. "I assure you, there has been no pretence. Evidently you still suspect I am your friend. Likewise Cordelia and Angel still believe, at least a little, that you may be the man they knew."
"And what do you think?" I asked, my voice sounding harsh to my ears.
"I think I've never met their friend. Which does not necessarily mean I consider you to be evil. But it does mean you're going to hurt them. You do hurt them, even by just being here."
"Wesley." I gripped his arm. "You're the only good thing I recognise about the world since I woke up in Wolfram and Hart's basement, and you're telling me you really don't know me?"
"That is indeed the case, I'm afraid," he said quietly. "And if, as you say, I was your friend, imagine how it must be for Angel and Cordelia, who saw your counterpart die for them. And you are not him. You have no affection for them - in fact, Angel scares the hell out of you, and don't think I didn't notice what you were playing there with Cordelia."
"Wesley?" This wasn't the man I remembered. He looked like Wesley, and talked like Wesley, mostly, but there was something very different there.
Still, a lot could change in six months and it didn't mean you had to be in another universe. I still didn't buy the explanation.
I said, somewhat desperately, "You're Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. A Watcher - Faith's Watcher. You know about 50 different languages. You crashed at my apartment for a month with a broken leg watching some of the crappest television I've ever seen. You've saved my life a few times and almost got me killed a few more. You drink more tea than oughta be humanly possible for one man, and your dad was a complete shit."
He gaped at me for a long moment before managing a flustered recovery. "I don't doubt you know some things about me from your friendship with my counterpart, but I assure you we don't know each other. I have never stayed in your apartment. And Faith went bad before I could ever truly be a Watcher to her."
I jumped up, unnerving him. "We gotta go find Faith. They're after her, that Rayne guy and Wolfram and Hart's lawyer types. They were after your Angel as well. That's what they wanted me for - a lever. I didn't understand them at the time."
"They thought you were someone else, too," he reasoned slowly.
"Yeah. Whatever. And, anyway, I gotta see Faith. I can't get a handle on all this 'til I've seen her-"
"What is this obsession with-?" he faltered, incredulous. "You and Faith? Oh, Cordelia's going to love that one." A pause, then he slowly let go of a long sigh. "You do realise, don't you, that the Faith we're talking about isn't the girl you know either?"
"Well, that's a matter of opinion. I've only got your word I'm in some crazy mirror universe. An' normally, y'know, I'd believe you, Wes, man. But given that you could well be Evil Wesley-" I left it hanging there with savage irony.
He blinked. Frowned. Nodded reluctantly and allowed, "I suppose I walked into that one." His expression grew deeply thoughtful, and I studied the lines and bruises on his battered face, trying to work out where my Wesley left off and this new one began.
Finally, he said, "Angel may not like this but, well..." He took a few steps towards the door, hesitated and looked back. Held out a hand in a beckoning gesture. "If you're up to it, let's get out of here. There's something I think it might help for you to see."
Angel and Cordelia were a lot less than keen on the idea of us taking off, but Wesley faced them down with a calm determination which astonished me and, eventually, they acquiesced.
I wasn't sure how much of their reluctance was lingering distrust of me, and how much residual protectiveness for the dead friend that I wasn't. Or maybe it was Wesley they were worried about. The man looked like a walking bruise. Whoever it was that'd worked him over, they'd been thorough. Too easy to believe that it might have been Faith.
I had to make a conscious effort not to shiver, every time that possibility brushed my thoughts.
In any case, that was how Wesley and I, both looking like half-dead survivors of some major catastrophe with our myriad cuts and bruises, ended up taking a cab across town to a run-down area of the city where big half-empty apartment blocks loomed up above narrow dark streets.
Wesley's expression was grim in the glare of the streetlights as he paid the cab driver, who took off with the haste of someone who knows which neighbourhoods it's not a good idea to hang about in.
"This way," Wesley said, and started walking, like a sleepwalker, blank and automated. I still had to fight the protests of my battered muscles to keep up.
I watched the frown lines creasing his forehead deepen into crevasses, then chasms, the further we walked.
Something had occurred here. Something bad. Something he didn't want to go back to face - but he was going.
Whatever it was that had happened to this Wesley to make him different from the man I knew, it had brought out a steel in his character I'd only ever caught the faintest glimpses of in the mildly ineffective Watcher who'd regularly drained the tea supplies in my office. No matter whether he was removed from the man I knew by a matter of universes, or by time and ensorcelled memory loss.
"We're here," he said presently, his voice reverberating around the tall, darkened street. His face had gone paper white, and the bruises screamed out all the louder against the paled background.
"Nice place," I said, uneasily, the levity an effort to break the sombre atmosphere. "Real classy..." I gave in. "Okay, what's the significance of 'here', then? So far as I can see, it's just a shabby street in downtown LA. And not the most spectacular example of such I've ever seen, at that."
Wesley didn't answer. He was staring up at a shattered window several floors above. His mouth was set in a thin line. His gaze broke and he glanced down at the pavement beneath his feet.
"There is nothing here..." he said. "Nothing. It was pointless to come. I shouldn't have brought you. There's nothing to see."
His intensity gave the lie to that. He was seeing plenty. I just couldn't fathom what it might be.
"Wes," I started, concerned.
He slumped down atop a box among a pile of junk at the side of the street. Water had pooled in the recesses between the trash, sheltered by shadows and not yet dried up from a recent rain shower. "No point going up there." Although he made no effort to indicate it, I figured he was referring to the room which had the broken window. "The police will, of course, have cleared everything away, and probably they will have sealed it off. I'll abstain from breaking the law, I think." He sounded wretched: bitter, self-mocking. "Stupid. Of course there's nothing here. What they didn't take, the rain washed away with the blood. I'm a fool."
"You're not-" I stopped. "What blood? Damn it, Wes, what happened here?"
He shook his head. "I thought I needed to come back. I came with you because I couldn't bring them. And I thought it might help both of us. But it was pointless."
"I'm sure it wasn't," I said. I reached down and gripped his shoulder, intending to pull him up and lead him away. We'd passed a shoddy little bar on the corner, it'd be good enough for my purposes. "Come on, Wes, there is no point in sittin' here, mopin', I'm right with you there. Not when there's plenty of perfectly good bars in LA that'd make much better mopin' ground. And you and I both sure as hell need a drink. Come on, let's get out of here."
But Wesley wrenched away from my touch. He overbalanced and fell to his knees on the damp pavement amid the strewn garbage, his hands resting on the tarmac, fingers outspread. He stared down at them. He was shuddering, shoulders quivering.
"She came to Cordelia's flat," he said. "She wanted Angel to come after her, so she took me. Cordelia would've been a better hostage, for Angel - I wouldn't have thought he'd search for me so diligently. But it wasn't about that. It was an old score. I'd failed her, and she wanted to take it out of my flesh."
"Wesley?" I crouched down in front of him. His left shirtsleeve was askew, bandaging showing underneath. What other hidden wounds was he carrying around with him? I wondered if his friends Angel and Cordelia even knew about them all.
"It still took him hours to find me. She didn't idle them away." I'd thought he'd finished, but then he added, a dark mutter under his breath, "At least he stopped her before she started bloody burning me."
Burning? Damn it, I'd thought she'd beaten him up - she, yeah, he had to be talking about Faith, I accepted reluctantly - but it hadn't been like that. It had been prolonged, systematic. I shivered.
I wanted to be home. I didn't want to be here, in this place where everything was turned upside down and Faith had got her kicks torturing Wesley.
"She enjoyed it," he said.
"Gal's got strange enjoyments," I said, at a loss.
A small huff that might've been laughter. "I suppose you would know. God, Cordelia..." he swept a hand across his eyes. Hell, he was laughing. Sort of. He choked on it after a few seconds. "Your world," he said bitterly. "In your world, she's the Slayer and I am her Watcher in truth, isn't that so?" The look in his eyes was a lot like amazement, like longing.
"Yeah. Well..." I shifted uncomfortably. "She still ran away from you. Turned up at my patch in LA. You came on her heels. Things sorta went on from there, and before I knew it I was making a career out of actin' as mediator and translator between the two of you."
The edges of his mouth quirked up in a smile at that image.
"The Faith I know wouldn't have done this, though," I said.
"Are you so sure?"
I hesitated. Faith had tied me in a few knots when she couldn't get her own way, but that was only playful, like. Well, mostly. And she knew I could take it. "Yeah," I said.
He nodded. "She... wasn't always bad. It didn't have to happen. She had some bad luck. Some unfortunate experiences. Maybe it didn't help, that there were two of them. It took away some of the responsibility. Made it cheaper. Easier to fail."
I bit my tongue on my lack of understanding and just settled for nodding encouragingly. But he seemed to have wound down. He just crouched there in silence, in the muck and the damp, staring into space.
"Come on," I said, after several long minutes. It was cold, and I hurt, and there was only so much cathartic wallowing a beat-up guy could stand, and a beer was always a better solution, anyway. "Let's go get that drink, Wes."
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