Sub Rosa I : The Planby Wolfling
The knock on his door should've surprised him.
Given the time -- somewhere amongst the hours where very late morphed into very early -- it could hardly be a social call. Give his current status as persona non grata with his so-called friends and colleagues, a visit pertaining to work was only slightly less unlikely than the social call.
But Wesley wasn't surprised. He had, in fact, been lying awake, staring at the ceiling, waiting for such a knock. He'd done the same thing last night and the night before that -- not falling asleep until dawn lightened the shadows in his room. Waiting for the knock he somehow knew would be coming.
Now that it had, Wesley was caught between the conflicting desires to open the door and face whatever happened, or to go back to bed and hide under the covers, pretending he wasn't there.
Another knock, hard enough to shake the door in its frame, decided him. If he didn't answer his visitor was more than capable of breaking the door down. The only lock that would keep him out was the deinvite spell Wesley hadn't been able to quite bring himself to casting.
Part of him had wanted Angel to still be able to enter here, despite the risks; the same part that had been waiting for the knock at the door in the dead of night.
But despite his conflicted feelings, he wasn't completely suicidal, Wesley picked up his crossbow before opening the door.
He had to admit though that he wasn't sure how much use it would be. Nothing short of a killing blow would stop Angel if he chose to attack, and Wesley was uncertain if he could actually kill Angel just to save his own life. The whole point of this mess, after all had been to protect Connor and Angel both; killing the vampire now would make his failure pretty much one hundred percent.
Wesley firmly put that thought out of his mind.l Hopefully the threat of the crossbow would prove deterrent enough and he would never be faced with the decision.
Crossbow firmly in hand and raised, Wesley stepped forward to open the door.
As he had surmised, Angel was standing there, caught in mid knock, hand upraised to tap on the wood.
For long seconds they stared at each other, frozen. Wesley was waiting to see which way Angel was going to jump and Angel...
Angel was apparently doing the same thing because when he did speak it was with a curt gesture at the crossbow.
"You going to use that?" he asked in an inflectionless voice that gave no clue to why he was there.
"Only if you give me no choice," Wesley replied, wincing as much from the sound of his voice as the pain of speaking. It was so rough and hoarse that the words were barely distinguishable amidst the unintentional background growl.
He wasn't even really supposed to be speaking yet, but he was damned if he would appear like a victim in front of Angel, scared speechless.
Angel showed no reaction to his voice and his only reaction to Wesley's words was a brief nod. He took a step across the threshold, Wesley automatically taking a step back to keep the same distance between them.
"You haven't deinvited me," Angel said, tone almost conversational.
Wesley shook his head. He let Angel draw his own conclusions from that; it wasn't worth straining his voice over. Especially when he wasn't sure he knew the reason himself.
Angel stared at him, expression unreadable for so long that Wesley had to fight the urge to fidget, or to start babbling despite his voice.
When it became apparent that Angel wasn't going to say or do anything until he did, Wesley croaked, "Why are you here?"
It was still a few seconds before Angel spoke. "I've been thinking," he finally said, taking another step forward which Wesley automatically matched with another back.
Angel sighed. "I'm not going to attack you, Wesley."
Wesley just stared at the vampire, not moving any closer and not lowering his crossbow. He wanted to believe that, but the memory of the pillow pressed into his face, cutting off all air was far too fresh for him to let down his guard.
Angel nodded, as though reading Wesley's thoughts. His eyes dropped to indicate the crossbow. "Okay," he said. "If that's how you wanna play this. But I came here to talk. I think we both know I could've broken your neck by now if I wanted to." He paused as if expecting Wesley to answer, but Wesley just kept watching him. When the silence stretched out and started to become uncomfortable again, Angel finally resumed speaking.
"As I said, I've been thinking. About what happened and who was responsible."
Wesley couldn't totally repress the instinctive flinch at those words. He may have had the best of intentions when he had taken Connor, but he had broken the silent promise he had made to himself, and to Angel unknowing -- namely to keep Connor safe -- even from Angel himself. He had let his guard down and lost the child, delivering him to Angel's worst enemy. That broken promise was the responsibility that weighed heavy on him, *that* was his failure that made it difficult to meet Angel's gaze.
But Angel was still talking. "I tried to stop Holtz, to rescue Connor; I failed. I have to live with that. Of course I never would have had to live with it if you hadn't taken him in the first place." The look he gave Wesley then was full of so much cold anger that Wesley had to fight the urge to take another step back.
Remorse, fear and denial all warring for the upper hand amongst his emotions, Wesley tried to apologise, feeble though it may be. "Angel, I--"
But Angel overrode him, continuing to speak as if he hadn't heard. "If you hadn't taken Connor, none of this would have happened. You did it, Wes. That makes it your fault. You took him out of the hotel. Nothing's ever going to change that. You were up to all hours researching that fucking prophecy. You were looking for a loophole, weren't you?"
Wesley blinked; surely Angel had to know this already. They had found his journals and every thing he tried, every path he'd sought, was detailed in there. It hadn't made a difference in Angel's feelings before; why would it now?
Before he could ask, Angel was speaking once again. "I also remembered, right before the earthquake, you had started to tell me something." Angel met his gaze squarely. "You were going to tell me then, weren't you? About the prophecy? About Connor?
He paused and Wesley, caught and held by the vampire's eyes, realised that Angel was waiting this time for him to answer.
"Yes," he said, remembering the relief at making that decision, so strong it had left him positively giddy. "Except I'd realized that it wasn't true. You would never hurt Connor. The prophecy *had* to be wrong, no matter what the evidence. I was going to tell you, but - "
"The earthquake hit," Angel said. And I started acting - Hell, acting like my old self again. You saw that. I didn't. Couldn't. I was too wrapped up in it. All I could see... All I could feel.... Connor was beginning to smell like *food*," Angel's voice all but cracked on that last word, confession obviously costing him. When he continued, it was quieter, tired. "You did what you thought was right. You were trying to protect my son."
The acknowledgement of his intentions didn't make Wesley feel any better. "I failed," he pointed out, the words sounding even more disturbing in his gravelly voice.
"Yeah, you did," Angel agreed immediately, tone once again hard and uncompromising. "You owe Connor for that -- you owe me for that."
"Yes." Wesley stared at Angel's chest, not quite able to force himself to look at Angel's face, meet his eyes.
"I'm glad we understand each other on that point. Because you're going to help me. I'm going to take down Wolfram and Hart once and for all and I'm going to use you to do it."
That proclamation shocked Wesley into looking up, half-expecting to see that this was some kind of sick humour, but Angel's expression was deadly serious. "M-me? How could I help you bring--" He broke off suddenly, as it all fell into place with a flash. "You think they're gong to try and recruit me."
Angel nodded. "With your Watcher training and the experience you've gained since then, plus all the inside information you could provide on me and Angel Investigations, they'd be fools not to." He caught and held Wesley's gaze, his own hard and unwavering. "And you're going to let them."
Wesley could see where this was going -- him on the inside of Wolfram and Hart, gathering information and deciphering weaknesses and filtering back to Angel. "They won't trust me," he warned.
"Not at first. They'll test you. You'll have to earn it, make them believe they own you." The bare ghost of a smile graced his face. "Just don't forget who really owns you."
Wesley frowned, the magnitude of what Angel was demanding sinking in. "That could take a very long time."
"I'm a vampire," Angel said with a shrug. "I've got time."
"It won't be easy," Wesley pointed out.
Another shrug from Angel. "Penance never is."
Penance. Wesley flashed on the feel of the knife at his throat, the sight of his would be murderer taking Connor from him, delivering the child to a fate worse than death. He'd failed to protect Angel's son. There was very little Angel could ask of him now that he would be able to deny -- perhaps not even his soul.
Sighing, realizing he'd already decided, Wesley lowered the crossbow. "What do you want me to do?"
Angel gave him a brief approving look that affected Wesley no matter how short its duration. After what had happened he thought he'd never see such a look aimed at him again.
"For the moment, keep doing what you're already doing -- let them see that you're alone and bitter, ripe pickings as far as they're concerned." Angel's eyes glanced over Wesley assessingly. "Maybe start going to bars. Let them see you drinking alone."
Wesley nodded; he could do that. Even the drinking wouldn't be too hard to fake; there had been more than one time in his life that he'd been perilously close to climbing into a bottle; if it wasn't for the prescriptions he was still taking, this time he may have actually done so.
"And if...when they approach me?" he asked.
Angel smiled a tight grin. "Don't seem too eager. Make them seduce you."
An involuntary unpleasant shiver ran down Wesley's spine at the thought of anything having to do with seduction and Wolfram and Hart in the same sentence.
Perhaps Angel saw it because he clapped a hand to Wesley's shoulder. "You can do it," he encouraged in a false cheerful voice. "You've shown you're good at hiding what you're really thinking." Angel gave him another of those tight smiles, his grip on Wesley's shoulder tightening painfully. "Someone who can betray his friends with a smile should fit right in with Wolfram and Hart."
Wesley winced inwardly as the words hit their target, though long practice at hiding his feelings kept how deeply they'd wounded off his face. Apparently despite Angel deciding to use him instead of killing him, forgiveness was still a long way off, if even possible. He judged it to be even less likely to salvage anything more than a bare working relationship. "Do I look like I'm smiling?" he asked, letting some of the pain and all of the regret show in his eyes.
"No, you don't," Angel admitted. "And that's good. Regrets are easy. Making amends is the hard part. This won't make us even -- I'm not sure anything will -- but it's a start."
Wesley accepted that with a small nod. It wasn't everything he wanted, but it was, as Angel said, a start. And it was far more than he had expected.
"We'll work on a way to keep in touch," Angel told him, turning to go. "But for now, I'll contact you when I'm sure the coast is clear."
"What about the others?" Wesley asked. "Cordelia, Gunn, Fred?"
"They don't know and we're going to keep it that way. The fewer people know about this, the less chance of your getting found out." He gave Wesley a look. "Besides, you should be used to not sharing."
Wesley lowered his eyes as the words once again hit home. He tried not to second guess himself, to wonder if things would have turned out differently if he had confided in someone, but every now and then the question would flit through his mind regardless. He did know, given the choice he wouldn't have isolated himself so thoroughly.
It was ironic that to do what Angel demanded of him as recompense, he would have to isolate himself all the more thoroughly.
Irony, he decided, sucked.
"Were there any other questions?" Angel asked, startling Wesley out of his thoughts.
"I...no." None that the could or would answer at any rate.
"Good. I'll be in touch." Angel turned and headed for the door.
"Angel," Wesley called out and the vampire paused, though he didn't look back. Somehow that made it easier for Wesley to continue. "I'm sorry."
For a long moment Angel remained frozen. "I know," he finally replied, still without turning around. Then he was out of the door and gone, just one more shadow in the night.
Wesley stood where he was, ears straining for the non-existent sounds of Angel leaving. The vampire could move as quiet as a dream when he wanted.
Indeed, if Wesley had been a little less certain of his hold on reality, it would be easy to dismiss the entire visit as nothing more than imagination. But he hadn't sunk so low yet that he didn't trust his senses.
Feeling suddenly exhausted as if all his sleepless nights were catching up to him at once, Wesley put the crossbow away and wearily made his way back to bed.
Once there, he closed his eyes and drifted, part of his mind already beginning to catalogue what he would need to do to make himself as tempting a target for recruitment as possible.
What Angel had asked of him was dangerous, not only physically but to his soul, and very very difficult if not impossible. It would be a daunting task even with support and Angel had made it clear that Wesley was totally on his own.
Any sane person would be approaching this with trepidation, even despair. But Wesley found himself looking forward to it with something very much like enthusiasm. He knew there was no way to make up for losing Connor, but Angel asking him to do this, Angel *trusting* him to do this....
It proved that he could regain at least some of what he'd lost. Angel asking him to do this meant Wesley could still hope.
Hope to regain his friends, his place. Hope to regain the work he wanted to do, the life he wanted to live.
And to keep that hope alive Wesley was prepared to do whatever it took -- even bring down Wolfram and Hart single handedly.