DISCLAIMER: Angel and BtVS characters and concepts belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, etc.
Just borrowing, no profit, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Of course, they jumped up and apart like somebody had set crucial portions of their anatomy on fire as the door crashed back and I staggered in. The gal - and, hell, had this universe nabbed all the attractive leggy brunettes? - reacted minimally, straightening in her chair and, a few heartbeats later (okay, several of mine) deliberately rose, an indefinable but hard expression on her face that I didn't much like. Wesley, on the other hand, fell off his chair in a spluttering heap.
Well. Not... fell off, exactly. The chair tipped as he jerked in his surprise, spilling him out just in time to avoid him going down with it when it smashed backwards onto the floor. Wesley caught himself on one knee.
I stared at the two of them, quite too astonished for words. No kidding this was an alternate universe.
Wesley picked himself up, along with what bits of his composure were still salvageable. "It's not what it looks like," he said quickly, pushing his glasses more firmly onto his swollen face with an unsteady hand.
I stared at him blankly a second more, turned to appraise the woman, who bore the appraisal with a smirk - and I definitely wasn't warming to the bird, for all that the packaging was superb - then back to Wesley. A snort of laughter escaped me, despite the lousiness of the day. "There's no cause to be all modest, Wes. Sorry about, you know, the interruption. I can go out, run round the block a few more times. How long'd you like? Ten minutes? Fifteen?"
Wesley choked and started to turn an odd colour. I looked between he and the woman, suddenly concerned. I knew Wesley's sexually-embarrassed reaction. It had provided me endless hours of entertainment baiting the stuffed shirt. This wasn't it.
He cleared his throat and pointed at the woman - not in a fashion that showed any particular affection or regard, either. "You don't know her?"
The woman and I exchanged a further glance. She looked vastly amused. She tossed her shiny hair like a shampoo commercial and presented me with the straight solid line of a jaw that had nothing delicate or demure about it beneath all the gloss.
"No," I said. "I don't know her. And unless someone gets around to makin' some introductions, I guess I'm not going to any time soon."
"Ah." Wesley swallowed visibly. His voice, when it came out was a ghost of a rasp. "This would be Ms Lilah Morgan. Of, ah..."
"Of Wolfram and Hart," the woman finished. She took several smooth steps, swaying her hips as she crossed the room to me, and extended her hand. She waited a few seconds before she withdrew it with an unconcerned shrug. "I can't blame you for not trusting me. After all, my firm's had you kidnapped from another world, beaten up, assassins set on your trail... I can see how that might hurt the trust."
"No kidding," I said.
Lilah Morgan of Wolfram and Hart lifted one side of her mouth, bunching up her cheek in a partial smile too sly and smug to condescend to being a whole one. And to think I'd actually thought... Wesley and this woman?
"I'm not working with Ethan Rayne and that idiot Mercer," she said. "If that helps. You're not my project. In fact, besides a mutual employer, your troubles are nothing to do with me - so far."
Behind her, Wesley was shifting on his feet, and looking like he didn't know what to do with his hands.
"Ms Morgan..." he said finally, weakly. "Would you like that cup of tea now?"
"Tea?" I said blankly. "Yeah, Wes. They try to kill us, but that doesn't mean we can't get all civil and English with them."
"That's not--" He paused. "I think we may be interested in listening to what Ms Morgan has to say, Doyle."
He and the lady lawyer exchanged a glance I didn't much like, and I started wondering what had been said before I'd arrived on the scene.
Lilah nodded, and conspiratorially leaned in towards me - she had to lean, she was almost as tall as Wesley, which was a good few inches on me - and stage-whispered, "I'm here because I think I can help you. Isn't that, well - something?" The sparkle in her eyes and the mischief in her grin, though not what I'd grown to expect from bloody Wolfram and Hart, did absolutely nothing to assuage my concerns.
Wesley got us sat down at the table, and then, nervously avoiding all the daggers that were being glared around, went off to make tea. I picked at a scratch on my arm that was scabbing. Lilah pretended disinterest and polished her nails against the hem of the short business skirt hitched almost indecently high on her thighs by her long, crossed legs.
I had to avoid looking at those legs. Too long, and I'd be a goner. The woman's body was a carefully honed weapon.
Wesley came back, then, and set a tray down with three neat teacups and saucers on it. The giant wuss. He poured out the tea, still being careful with his right arm. And I'd almost forgotten that the guy had been brutally and systematically tortured not more than a week since, among everything else.
Lilah evidently followed my gaze. "I neglected to mention, Mr Wyndham-Pryce, how very remarkably good shape you seem to be in, recent events considered."
Wesley's expression hardened. "Ms Morgan--"
"Lilah," she corrected."I heard what she did. I hadn't anticipated finding you in so collected a state."
"Lilah," Wesley said. It was almost a snap, which surprised me. Though his next words were instantly calmer again. "I'd really rather not talk about it. If you please, the subject at hand."
"Yes." She backed it up with a sharp nod, clued in that she was going to get nowhere on the torture issue. God knows, if Angel and Cordelia couldn't prise a reaction out of him, the bitch lawyer who'd probably had a hand in siccing Faith onto him in the first place couldn't. She turned her gaze direct onto me, and said baldly, "I have Rayne. After I've talked out a few things... I think he could be persuaded to co-operate. In short, I can get you out of here."
I almost spat out my first mouthful of Wesley's tea. My brain replayed the guy who snatched us, saying, *"We're bringing them in now, Ma'am."*
"That is where you want to be, isn't it? Home? The world you belong? Whatever the good and plenties may want. Say I can get Rayne to reverse his incompetent spellcasting."
"Why would you?" I asked when the choking had ceased. "I just spent hours giving your goons the runaround, and now you want to *help* me? Unless getting cosy with Wes here has given you a sudden change of heart--"
Wesley cleared his throat irritably.
Lilah sighed daintily. "The snatch was a mistake. Violence always is when there's... room to negotiate. I always preferred talk, anyway - cuts down on the mess, and these shoes cost more than you'd see in a year."
Considering what my firm earned in a year, that didn't exactly take Prada, but I got the picture. "And you think you can negotiate with us? How is our mutual friend, anyway? Not too scorched around the edges, I hope?"
She looked amused. "He'll survive. I needed Rayne, shouldn't have gone for the two-for-one. I apologise for that. It was crass of me."
"Yeah." I rubbed at a bruise and scowled. "And I say again, why in the hell would you want to help me?"
"Why wouldn't I?" she countered. "Lee Mercer and his pet sorcerer screwed up big time. Not only have they not gained any leverage over Angel, they've provided him with his dead ally miraculously resurrected. Or... whatever." She shot a look at Wesley and I filled in the fact he'd spilled all about the whole parallel realities theory to her already. "But excuse me if I fail to wave banners saying 'Go Team Evil' for this fiasco. They screwed up. When screw-ups happen in our firm, everyone tends to feel it. Some of them not for long. On the other hand, though - they made a mess. I clean it up, they lose points with the upper echelons back at the office, I gain them. It isn't a difficult equation."
"You're gonna throw in with the enemy to screw over your co-workers?"
"In a nutshell." She nodded brightly. "Of course, not particularly helping Angel, either. He doesn't want you to go. But the two of you...?"
She leaned back in her chair, picked up her cup and saucer, and looked between myself and Wes, twirling the cup in her hands. "I think we all know in which course of action our best interests lie."
She kept on smiling between us. Me, I looked very sharply at Wesley, and Wesley looked away.
I might have said something then - like, exactly what had they had chance to talk about before I walked in on the conversation - had the spike of excruciating vision agony not chosen that moment to embed itself in my brain and demonstrate once again that the PTB at least were indifferent to that trifling matter of my being stranded in a parallel universe, and not big on making allowances.
I staggered when the vision hit and lurched forward, my hands going down hard on the nearest flat surface, which rocked furiously, not helping the feeling of nausea that was naturally attendant to the images being poured into my brain like boiling oil.
Next thing I was aware of was the hand under my arm holding me up. Wesley, peering down through his spectacles in concern. Lilah, of course, hadn't moved. She continued to observe archly from her seat as I shook my head, swallowed, and asked Wesley if he had anything in the way of a half decent whisky. Or a godawful whisky, for that matter. I wasn't all that inclined to be fussy.
Wesley looked disapproving. "Shouldn't we go help Angel and--"
I coughed sharply and his voice died.
When he turned to Lilah Morgan, the sound that came from his mouth had a much harder edge to it, "Ms Morgan. We will give your proposal due thought, but I really must ask you now to leave."
She stood up without complaint. I was unable to drag my eyes away from the smooth motion of her legs as she glided over to him. She fished in-- what I realised after a wide-eyed moment must be a breast pocket in her expensively tailored blouse. And drew out a business card. When she extended it to him in a slim, elegant hand, it looked more like a proposal. The slight stroke of her fingers across his as he took it (swallowing, his eyes crawling over everything else in the room and doing acrobatics trying to avoid hers) was practically indecent.
"I wouldn't dismiss," she said, the tip of her tongue creeping out to edge across her lower lip, "Anything we've talked about here out of hand."
She turned to me, smiled, and transformed almost to a demeanour of indifference. "You do want to go home, don't you? Ethan... well, let's just say you probably won't get any other opportunity. Turns out he's not exactly Golden Boy with one of the senior partners for some business he and his chaos-cronies were involved in back in the eighties. Once they get a hold of him..." She laughed. "The clock's a-ticking, boys."
With that, she tossed her hair back and stalked out of the door, leaving a slam and a powerful blast of over-scented air behind her.
I looked over Wesley's shoulder at the business card in his hand.
"Only you could look that glum when the hot chicks are pouncing on you with their phone numbers," I said. But my heart wasn't in it.
Angel wasn't exactly on hand to give us a lift, and Wesley claimed he didn't have a car, so that statement kind of made me wonder precisely what we were doing as we headed down to the parking outside his apartment block after safely watching Lilah Morgan's figure retreat down the street and turn the corner at the end.
"Maybe we should follow her?" he suggested, breaking my line of thought. "Angel has, after all, dealt with a great many visions--"
"You follow her," I sniped. "I'm the one who gets the bumper family-sized headache if I chose to ignore these things, and I'm not looking forward to experimentation as to whether the powers will make any allowances for the broody guy already being here to deal."
I may have been imagining the touch of wistfulness in Wesley's gaze as he'd watched Ms Morgan turn that corner. But I doubted it.
We descended some steep steps to the vehicle berths. Wesley headed straight for motorcycle in the corner, drawing out keys from his jacket.
"Wesley? That's--?" my voice degenerated into a mangled splutter.
Wesley turned and squinted at me curiously and asked me if I was 'quite all right'. I could practically hear a handful more of my cherished preconceptions about His Uptight Britishness shatter.
Of course, neither of us was in much of a state to be riding a motorcycle. A very uncomfortable journey later, which was largely spent getting far more familiar with Wesley's anatomy than I'd ever counted on getting, we pulled up outside the art gallery where I'd seen the demon attack taking place. We gingerly unwrapped from each other and disembarked with much mutual wincing.
There was a police cordon and a crowd already there. As for Angel and Cordelia--
"Can you see them?" Wesley muttered, straightening out a kink in his back as we joined the ranks of interested spectators. Some amateur linebacker jostled him and, looking pained, he touching his fingertips to his injured arm before withdrawing them hurriedly.
"You tell me. You're about a foot taller'n I am," I retorted.
"Well... there is your demon heritage... perhaps some kind of enhanced vision..." he meandered lamely.
"I could maybe sniff them out," I allowed irritably. "If I was about to turn all spiky-face for an audience of about two-hundred. Yeah."
"Ah." He peered around, stretching his skinny body to see over the heads of a crowd all trying to do the same. He pointed cautiously down to our right. "There's something of an alleyway down that side there. If they were making a surreptitious escape, that would be the way they'd go. Unless, of course, they left by the sewers."
"If Cordelia's with him?"
"You know her so well after so short a time," he mused sarcastically. "Except - what makes you so sure that she is with him?"
"I..." I had no real answer to that.
"Hmm. Maybe it has something to do..." Wesley briefly paused to make apologies to the couple he'd just pushed his way past "...with the fact... that you're both really the same seer. In a manner of speaking. Her visions are, after all, yours. They're not supposed to exist twice in the same reality. There's a connection between you."
"Hey! I'm spoken for. I can't have 'connections' existin' between me and strange women! Faith would kill me--" I shut up. Mentioning Faith in front of this Wesley still seemed rather bad taste.
We made it through the last straggles of the crowd and broke into a run to round the corner of the alley. It was narrow, and there wasn't anybody in sight. The wall of the gallery facing onto it had no windows or back doors.
The sound of female cursing emanating from behind a dumpster lifted my flagging spirits.
On the other side of the dumpster, I skidded to a halt, faced with a Cordelia and Angel draped in thick goops of... brilliant orange slime?
Cordelia was batting Angel's hands away. He'd evidently just hauled her up through the open sewer grate from the tunnels below the gallery. He proceeded to nudge the grate closed with his foot while Cordelia's litany of "Ew, ew... don't touch me... don't even look at me... ew..." changed to a low keening wail and something about her shoes.
"Cordelia?" Wesley ventured. "Angel - dear God, what is that stench?"
Cordelia hiccupped to a brief, ominous silence and glared at him. "Eau de stinky sewer and dayglow demon slime, dumbass," she snapped. "Ew... oh, God... I can't believe this... orange is so completely not my colour... Look at me! No, don't look at me! I'm clashing!"
Wesley tentatively extended a clean handkerchief, oblivious to the frantic waving hand motions of Angel where he hunched into the shade of the dumpster.
She jumped back. "Get that away from me! Don't even think it. I oughtn't need tell you I've more demon-slime-cleaning experience than you'll ever have, buddy, and right now demon-slime-cleaning-guru say..." She hung her head and sighed morosely. "I'll see if it'll chisel off once it's dried."
Wesley tucked the handkerchief wordlessly away. He glanced meaningfully at me, then he asked, "Why did you come with Angel, Cordelia?"
She looked surprised. "They're working on the sewer junction Angel needed to use to get here, and it's broad daylight. There wasn't much other option if we wanted to stop the tourists from being demon-kibble and Angel from being toasty." She narrowed her eyes. "Why?"
"No reason," Wesley said hastily. He looked worriedly and contemplatively back toward me. I wondered if her thought it might be dangerous for either or both of us, this shared visions deal.
"So," Angel said, clearly reaching in desperation for a change of subject. "What have you guys been up to?"
Wesley sighed. "A rather interesting morning, as it turns out. A most agreeable breakfast, a little research that I'd been meaning to get done for weeks... visit from one of out friends at Wolfram and Hart..."
Angel's eyes stopped rolling and his head shot up. "Wolfram and Hart were at your place?" He scanned Wesley's form intently. "Are you all right?"
"He's fine," I said. "They sent some luscious lady lawyer to sweet-talk him. Me, on the other hand - I got the requisite ugly goons. Which, sadly, is very much par-for-the-course with my luck."
"Lilah Morgan was at Wesley's place?" Angel said, and Wesley nodded. I smirked at Angel. The Broody One had been pretty quick on the draw in joining the dots from my description.
"Mm," Wesley agreed. "She offered us a deal. Apparently she'd rather undertake some damage control to make Ethan Rayne send Doyle here back to his own world than allow herself and rest of her Wolfram and Hart colleagues - but chiefly, I imagine, the former - to feel the senior partners ire for Mercer's failure."
Cordelia snorted. "As if we'd fall for anything that bitch tried to pull."
"I think she was sincere," Wesley said quietly, and something tightened inside my own chest, because until that moment I hadn't really allowed myself to give any credit to the offer, considering its source. But if Wesley-- "And she may also have been right when she claimed Ethan Rayne to be the only chance for Doyle to return home. The spell - all the variables - only he knows exactly what he did before. It's unlikely that another mage would be able to reverse it. Certainly not quickly or cheaply."
"It's unlikely that it's not a big, glaring trap," Cordelia said. She swung around on me, looking more than a little wild in her coating of orange slime. "It's too dangerous. You should stay here. It's not... terrible here, is it? After all, you have friends. People who want you around. And you do good... you could do good here. Help us with our helping the helpless, huh? Just like you did b--"
"*I didn't*," I said sharply.
"Doyle," Angel began. He didn't seem any more happy than Cordelia. "I - we - realise you want to return, and we'll help you all we can, but... you have to bear in mind it probably will be a trap. You may be setting yourself up to be disappointed."
"Either I am or you are, yeah?" I sneered. "Let's face it, you're not exactly impartial." I broadened the sneer to cover Cordelia, who managed to look shocked, which I hadn't realised she could do. "You act like you care, but you'd both like to see me stranded here."
Angel opened his mouth again, but Wesley interrupted sharply.
"Perhaps you should tell me where you left the car so that Doyle and I might go bring it around." He gestured towards the crowd they were still trying to disperse and the police tape beyond the mouth of the alley. Wesley raised his eyebrows and added mildly, "We *could* continue this conversation somewhere we're not likely to get picked up by the police for hanging suspiciously around the scene of a crime..."
"Whatever," Cordelia snapped, and shot me a look that made me absolutely sure I hadn't heard the end of this conversation. "Let's get out of here. All of us." She included me with an airy wave of her hand that sent a few droplets of orange ooze in my direction.
Considering the sullen possessiveness that I could read on Cordelia's slime-smeared face, Lilah Morgan was looking better all the time.