The Assistant


by
Witling



Part One

Basically, the world's about to end again, and this time Wesley doesn't have the language comprehension skills to stop it. There's a scroll that has to be translated in order for a spell to be cast, but the scroll's in Sayvu, a language with no known speakers on this plane. He has almost no texts; there hasn't been a demand. In desperation, he contacts the Council.

The conversation is brief, staticky, tinny. For some reason, transatlantic calls to Council extensions always are; it's as if centuries of being hidebound and intransitory have stalled even their phone lines in the early part of the century. But as it turns out, they've got someone. A specialist, or the nearest thing to it--someone who's studied with native speakers. There's an interdimensional language exchange program now, apparently. It takes a minute for that to filter through Wesley's exhausted, panicked brain. They must have upped tuition since he was in training. He doesn't ask questions, though--he hands the phone off to Harmony and lets her arrange the details. In the meantime, he buries himself in the library, under piles of vellum and paper and the occasional cured skin. At some later point, Harmony beeps him.

"He'll be here tomorrow."

"Is that the fastest you could manage?" He sits with a sheaf half-lifted in one hand, calculating as he speaks. Three days till the rifts meet. Not enough time.

"He's in Tokyo--apparently that's where the portal is, or something. In Tokyo it's already tomorrow. Or...yesterday." Harmony sounds doubtful, and he can imagine her turning to Google.

"Fine." Tomorrow will have to do. "Send him in as soon as he arrives."

"Okey-dokey, boss."

Wesley bends his head again, and tries to forget about the clock.




Some time later--tomorrow, he supposes--the door to the library opens and Wesley looks up to see a ghost standing there. Not a literal one. Just Xander Harris. He's not dead or reported dead, but for some reason Wesley thinks of him as belonging to a long-gone era. It's bizarre and disorienting to see him standing in the doorway, wearing a sloppy-looking jacket and carrying a duffel bag. He's taller now, or something. Maybe just thinner. He looks old. They all must.

"Xander." It's instinct to be polite, to stand up and shake the man's hand, ask him how he's been. Instincts like that are little luxuries he can't afford right now. "Why are you here?"

Xander raises his eyebrows and lets his duffel bag fall. "You called, I came. Or, you know. They sent me."

Wesley's brain has spent the last thirty hours in overdrive, parsing and reparsing, cutting back to mysterious roots, attempting to tease out conjugations. As a result, it simply swings free for a few seconds, and Wesley himself sits in a trance, his fingertips pressed to the table in front of him. Xander lets the silence stretch out. He's uncomfortable, Wesley realizes finally. Of course he is; there's been some kind of mistake.

"I'm sorry," he says, trying to kickstart his brain by returning to basics. "There must have been a mistake. Who sent you?"

"The Council. Noel Corrigan, actually."

"Noel Corrigan." Corrigan's in charge of staff development, isn't he? "Why did he send you?"

Looking very unsure of himself, Xander says, "The Sayvu thing? You needed someone for the Sayvu...hey, listen, if you've already got it covered, I'm happy to go grab a room at the Best Western--"

"The Sayvu thing," Wesley repeats. "No, I don't have the Sayvu thing covered, Xander."

There's another awkward pause. Xander is looking around the room, at the long tables filled with books and papers and desperate scribbles on little slips. The detritus of a man trying to build a language from the faintest impression of an outdated blueprint.

"You know Sayvu," Wesley says, because the fact is coalescing for him now. "You're the specialist they sent."

"Hey, whoah, I wouldn't say 'specialist'. I'd say, um, more like, 'intern'." Xander gives him a quick, sideways smile. "That's what Noel said, at least. And I'm pretty happy to stick with Noel on this one."

"I don't need an intern," Wesley says, trying not to get angry. It's not Xander's fault, and there's no time for anger anyway. "I need someone who can read the language, and possibly write a few lines. Can you do that?"

Xander gives him a bleak look. "Not really."

"What does that mean?"

"It means I can order two beers and a burrito, but you don't want me reading through your lease."

Wesley looks down at his hands. Carefully, he makes himself let go of the pencil he's gripping, and set it on the table. When he looks up again, Xander is looking more apologetic, and a little spooked. For the first time, Wesley wonders what he looks like, himself. He's been in here for two days. He hasn't slept. He's barely eaten.

"I'm sorry," Xander says. It's simple, plain, not glib. He's older now, and there's some hope in that. Or maybe he'll just die older, like all the rest of them.

"So am I," Wesley says, looking down at his own notes. His eyes are starting to fail; his handwriting blurs in front of him. He pinches the bridge of his nose to steady things. "Would you like to stay here in L.A. for the next few days? Or I can ask Harmony to arrange for your return to Tokyo. If you go back through the portal, you may avoid dying with the rest of humanity."

"Back through--?" Xander gives him a strange, wide-eyed look. "Uh, no thanks. I don't think I'll be doing that."

"I understand." Wesley reaches for the phone, his mind already cycling ahead to the next thing--there are companion languages, dialects he hasn't tried yet, for comparison. "There are rooms upstairs; I'll have Harmony arrange for you to stay there."

He looks down to hit the button, and notices from the corner of his eye that Xander is running a finger over one of the scrolls.

"Please don't touch--"

"I think this is wrong."

Wesley hesitates, then sets the receiver down and walks over. Xander is looking at one of the latter transcriptions, and at Wesley's notes beside it. Wesley looks at it too.

"Actually, that's one of the few things I'm fairly sure is right."

Xander's finger runs up the grammar tree on the scroll, and his other hand runs down Wesley's notes. He looks up. "I think it's--" Then he gargles.

It takes Wesley a second to realize that Xander's just spoken Sayvu, and to get past the brief, absurdly happy firing of scholarly synapses about those long-lost glottals. The world is ending, he reminds himself. He looks back down at the tree.

"Spell that," he says, frowning.




The upshot is, Xander stays. The gargle was indeed a mistake, right at the root of the tree, which has balled up two days' worth of work. Wesley needs an assistant to fetch and carry while he feverishly undoes everything he's done. Xander's capable: fast up and down the ladders, strong enough to hoist the books. He lost an eye somewhere along the way, Wesley remembers vaguely, when he has a spare second to think. It doesn't seem to cause him much trouble.

Angel and Spike get back after midnight, smoking slightly. They smell like ash and bile and burnt metal. There's dark blood in the shoulder of Angel's coat, and they both look exhausted.

"Xander," Angel says flatly, past being surprised or polite.

"Hi," Xander says, barely looking up from the book in front of him.

"Thought you were dead," Spike says, without apparent irony.

"Nope."

"Any progress?" Angel asks Wesley, already on to the next thing. Wesley shakes his head, then shrugs.

"Xander has some facility with spoken Sayvu, which is helping. But I'm still very unsure about most of the forms."

"Xander knows Sayvu," Spike says flatly, slumping back against the wall and letting his hands rest on his belt buckle. Tipping his head back, he asks the ceiling, "Did we die back there, and I just didn't notice?"

"How long?" Angel asks, his eyes dark and steady on Wesley's.

Wesley shakes his head.

"The rifts are getting bigger," Angel says, turning away. "Do something about this, Wes."

"I'm trying."

"Try harder."

He walks out, and Wesley rubs his forehead. He's beginning to feel dizzy. He should tell Harmony they need more coffee. Or food. He's afraid to eat too much; he's relying on hunger to keep him awake. But they haven't eaten all day.

"Sayvu," Spike says, pushing off the wall and letting himself fall back against it, shoulders first. "Where'd you learn Sayvu, Harris?"

"On their plane." Xander flips a page and frowns. "It was...an exchange."

"What'd they send in exchange for you?"

"Actually, it didn't work out too well." Something in his tone makes Wesley look over; he looks a bit abashed, a bit upset. Well, the Sayvu have never been considered one of the more hospitable demon races. It doesn't matter right now. All that matters is the translation.

"I'm shocked." Spike takes a cigarette out of his pocket, produces his lighter, and spins the flint without lighting it. "So you two've been in here all day reading to each other, have you? Nice work."

"Spike," Wesley says.

"Better than fighting Risgoth demons in Chinatown, at least."

"Spike, Harmony has a message for you. From R&D." Wesley glances over at Xander's table, and adds, "Xander, I need that Imroth."

"Unless they've researched and developed Risgoth repellent, I don't bloody care." But Spike shoves off the wall and takes himself off, which is a relief. Xander delivers the Imroth, then goes back to his own table and resumes conjugating. Wesley opens the Imroth to page 382, the page he already knows he needs.

They have twenty-seven hours to apocalypse, and he plans to be awake and at work for all of them.





Part Two

They make it through that one, just barely. Xander knows enough spoken Sayvu to growl and burble Wesley into the right branches of the grammar tree, and Wesley knows enough remotely-related languages to take it from there. Twenty-six hours later, his cell phone tells him in Angel's parched voice that the rifts are closed and the tissue is connecting again. Wesley looks up to see Xander hovering at the head of the long table, watching closely.

"It's all right." He puts the phone down with a bizarre sense that he's letting it float away into midair. He's days past exhaustion. "We've--they did it. We did it. It's all right."

Xander sits down on the edge of the table. He's still wearing the clothes he arrived in, in more or less the same condition. His duffel is still on the floor by the doorway. "It's okay?"

"It's okay," Wesley says again. Everything feels breakable. He rubs a hand over his jaw and feels the soft bristles. A shower would be good. Bed. Would be good. "There are guest rooms upstairs. I'll show you." It feels inhospitable to have Harmony do it, after the last two days. They almost died together, after all.

Xander drags his duffel along behind them, like a dog. In the elevator, he gives Wesley a sideways look.

"I...don't usually smell like this. Just so you know."

"Not to worry." Wesley is rank too, he realizes--his shirt feels stiff beneath the arms. "You did very well, by the way."

Xander doesn't smile, just gives Wesley a flat, expectant look, as if he's waiting for something. You can see the difference between the eyes now. The false one isn't bloodshot.

"So I can stay?" he asks.

Wesley's caught off guard. "Well...that would be up to Angel, I suppose."

"For the internship," Xander says, realizing that Wesley isn't following him. "Noel sold this as an internship, remember?"

"Of course. Well, but we're not really set up for interns, Xander. And I'm not sure what exactly you'd do--"

"Me neither," Xander says, with forced cheer. "But I figure it's gotta be better than whatever the Council would dream up for me."

Wesley pauses. He's too tired for this. And his loyalties are divided beyond meaning. "Your experiences with the Council haven't been...positive?"

Xander just looks at him. Wesley finds his gaze drawn to the artificial eye, and looks away.

"The Council has its flaws," he says to the elevator door. "Believe me, I understand that. But the fact is, we're often in crisis mode here, and we don't have time to supervise an intern."

"Okay," Xander says. "I get that."

They stand there for a couple of seconds in silence, while Wesley's brain torments him. Xander was genuinely helpful. There's no question that Wesley could have performed the translation alone; in any right-thinking world, Xander would be a hero now, carried about on people's shoulders. It's only the fact that they save the world almost weekly that makes him seem expendable. That's wrong.

"On the other hand, I could use an assistant. Temporarily. Perhaps." He's not sure why he's saying it, or what's happened to the notion that Angel should decide this matter. Xander shifts and says nothing. "You have fighting experience, as well--"

"Not so much," Xander says quickly. "The eye." He makes a quick, head-ducking gesture that conveys impatience and embarrassment. "Fucks with my ability to get punched in the face."

That calls for a very small pause, which Wesley allows. The elevator comes to a halt.

"I'm sorry," Wesley says, as the doors open.

Xander just shrugs, and waits for Wesley to lead the way. The guest rooms are down to the left, so he goes that way, feeling as if he's walking on someone else's legs. He's in no condition to make decisions, or promises.

"Bibliographic duties, then. And linguistics. Do you have other languages, besides the Sayvu?"

"A little. Here and there. Mostly the naughty stuff."

"I'll have to clear it with Angel, of course. But a temporary arrangement, say six weeks, shouldn't be hard to manage. This should do."

He stops by the first of the guest room doors, and pushes it open to peer in. It's clean and made up, unlike his own rooms, which are a disaster of abandoned glasses and paperwork. Briefly, he considers taking the next room over and simply falling face-first into the sheets.

"Looks great," Xander says, heaving his duffel through the doorway and looking around. "And...whatever you can do. I appreciate it."

"It's the least I can do," Wesley says. "Sleep as long as you like. Harmony can arrange breakfast when you're ready." He should probably say more, but he's half-asleep on his feet, so he braces a hand on the wall and rotates himself to go back to the elevator.

"Wesley," Xander says. Wesley turns back, prepared to agree to anything. A small business loan, a spare limb, fine, just for God's sake let him sleep. Xander is standing by the bed, running a hand through his choppy hair, looking sheepish.

"Yes?" Wesley says.

"I'm sorry I was such a dick to you, back in Sunnydale."

Was he a dick? Wesley has no idea anymore. He raises an eyebrow.

"I called you a lipless wonder," Xander says. He's exhausted too, Wesley realizes. Neither one of them knows what they're saying.

"I called you a berk," Wesley says, to even things out. "But not to your face."

"And when I look that up, I'll be retroactively pissed." Xander sits down on the edge of the bed suddenly, as if his legs have just given out.

"Good night," Wesley says. "Sleep well."

"Will do," Xander says, and collapses.




Part Three

During the calm period that follows, Xander makes himself as useful as he can, which is either not very useful or quite admirably so, depending on your point of view. He does minor custodial work--straightening papers, reshelving books--and filters the bulk of the mail that comes Wesley's way. He's a secretary of sorts, Wesley supposes. Considering how much of a secretary Harmony is not, it's probably a good thing he's around.

He wasn't lying about his languages. He has bits and pieces of several things, most of them human, none of them remarkable except the Sayvu. High school Spanish, a passing acquaintance with Angolan Portuguese, a smattering of a Bantu dialect. He works at getting more. When he's not chatting with Harmony or shooting hoops gamely (and with terrible aim) in the gymnasium, he sits at the long table in the library and studies. Wesley politely disguises his surprise at the sight, until it becomes so familiar that it doesn't surprise him anymore.

He never feels like he gets Xander's backstory quite in place. Xander doesn't offer much information, and after a few attempts to pry, Wesley recognizes the rebuff for what it is, and leaves it alone. He gets this much: after Sunnydale, Xander went to work for the remnants of the Council. He traced African Slayers for a couple of years, then gave that up for reasons he declines to explain too clearly. He went into Council service, took a rank-and-file job with a pension. Someone still had to open doors and answer phones, and for some reason, that's what he did.

It seems like a strange decision, for some reason. Wesley realizes that he thinks of the Sunnydale group, the former Scoobies, as celebrities. They seem larger than life, too big for L-shaped desks and rolling chairs. But even heroes need to retire. Look at Gunn and Fred, with their house in the suburbs and little Jasmine almost two now. When's the last time either of them checked in on the status of the good fight?

"Well, that's bloody depressing," Spike says, finishing his whiskey off in a single shot and signalling for another. "God, at least when you used to be an entertaining punter. Now you're just a punter."

"A punter with a 401K," Xander says morosely, rubbing his eye. It bothers him from time to time, a fact that both Wesley and Spike notice and neither of them mentions.

"So how'd you get shipped off to the Sayvu?" Spike asks. "CC the wrong person on the office porn spam?"

Xander just sits there rubbing his bad eye, the good one closed, as if because he can't see Spike, he can't hear him either. After an uncomfortable minute, Wesley clears his throat and starts, "I've been thinking of trying a new vendor for some of the incunabula--"

"It was a pilot program," Xander says, pressing the heels of his hands to his eyes and holding them there, then letting them fall. His expression is studied, as if he's taken a moment to think about this, and decided what he ought to say, rather than what he wants to say. "It was actually supposed to be kind of a cool gig."

Spike snorts and nods at the girl who gives him a new glass of whiskey.

"Noel asked me to do it," Xander says, looking at Wesley for the name recognition. "They wanted someone who had lots of experience with demons. And the Africa thing--they figured if I could handle Africa, I could handle the Sayvu."

"Funny thing about the Sayvu," Spike says to his whiskey. "It's not Africa."

"No kidding." Xander laughs without humor. "The Sayvu took the whole language exchange thing very literally. Except they were thinking less 'language' and more 'tongue'."

There's a pause, while Wesley and Spike frown at Xander, then at each other.

"Meaning what?" Spike asks.

"Meaning," Xander says, "that pretty much as soon as we showed up, they ripped out our tongues."

Wesley doesn't move. All of a sudden, his whiskey tastes sour.

"My God," he says, after the decent moment has passed. "That's--Xander, I'm sorry."

"Thanks." Xander drinks his whiskey.

They all sit there for a minute, processing that information. Wesley can't keep his brain from pointing out the obvious double horror--Xander has already lost an eye to violence. Losing a tongue as well is past horrific and well into a special, Wildean kind of hell.

"So what happened?" Spike asks finally, never one to let common decency interfere with curiosity.

Xander studies his glass, and again Wesley has the impression that he's developing his script, deciding how much to say. "We came back. The Council grew me a new tongue. Took about six months, and I still can't whistle."

"Just you?" Spike's watching Xander narrowly, like a gull scavenging for scraps. "Sounded like it was more than just you."

"There was a chaperone. He bled to death."

That shuts even Spike up, at least for a few seconds. A Fyarl demon takes the stage, and the intro to Faithfully starts up from the karaoke machine. Xander finishes his whiskey.

"And you say I'm not entertaining," he says, and spins his glass toward the edge of the table. Spike catches it before it falls, and raises his hand to the waitress again.

"This one's on me," he says. He won't meet Wesley's eye for the rest of the evening.





Xander fits into the routine, in a low-on-the-radar kind of way. Angel doesn't have much to do with him. There's bad blood there, and an apparently mutual agreement to tolerate each other in silence. Angel's busy anyway, running the business and saving the world, or select portions of it, at least. There hasn't been an actual threat of apocalypse for ages now.

Six weeks pass, and Wesley notices but says nothing. Neither does Xander. For a week or two Wesley has the sense that Xander's treading carefully, holding his breath, waiting to be sent packing. But by now Wesley can't really see doing it. He enjoys the Friday evenings at Caritas, the three of them drinking in the corner booth, talking over the week and telling stories about whatever strikes them. Spike tells good stories, Wesley has discovered. Sometimes Lorne stops by, never too busy overseeing his small business empire to spend an evening with old friends. Wesley is surprised to realize that he misses Lorne. He misses a lot of things about those days.

It would be better if Angel came too, but he doesn't. He's the CEO now, he hasn't got time to drink pointlessly and talk about what's past. Since letting Connor go, he doesn't have time for a lot of things. He's in pain, Wesley knows. But he's made it clear he doesn't want pity, or help. Or anything.




It's Tuesday, the eighteenth of May, six forty-five pm. Most memorable of days, in retrospect. Wesley looks at the clock, frowns, and puts a slip in the book he's using. Standing up makes him feel about eighty years old.

"It's late. You should finish up."

Xander looks up at the time, registers surprise, and frowns. "I'm on a roll here. I think I'll keep going."

"If you like. But we have an early meeting tomorrow, with the Waskin people." The Waskins want to donate their tablets, but only if they get visiting rights. It's a headache.

Xander frowns, glances down at the book in front of him, then makes a back-and-forth weighing gesture with his shoulders. "I'll risk it. I think I'm about to have a breakthrough on the past perfect, here."

"Fair enough." Wesley pulls his jacket off his chair and heads for the door, rolling his shoulders. "Lock up when you're done, please."

"Jawohl, mein Fuhrer."

Smiling slightly, Wesley goes out, closes the door behind him, walks down the hall, and takes the elevator up to his rooms. He heats chicken cacciatore in the microwave, and eats it in front of CNN, with a beer. He reads three chapters of a Peter Ackroyd novel. Then he brushes his teeth, sheds his clothes, and goes to bed.

Later that same night, Angel misplaces his soul.

It's not his fault--it's never his fault, Wesley reminds himself later. It's Darla's fault, or the Master's, or the Devil's, if there is one. But this time it's really just dumb coincidence. They don't find it out for almost a month, but it's actually the Council's fault.

There's been ongoing research into the souling of vampires for years now, with all practical experiments conducted in a heavily hexed coven meeting house just outside of Tunbridge Wells, England. The hexes are there to prevent any of the theoretical work affecting the real world. At eight fifteen Wednesday morning in Tunbridge Wells, one of the researchers suffers a stroke in the middle of a de-souling project aimed at increasing knowledge of the intrinsic relationship between soul and corpus. The stroke may have been enough to disrupt the hexes, or the researcher may have fallen outside the circle. Someone else may have rushed in to help. It doesn't matter. What matters is that the hexes are marred, and the spell is released into the world. And that Angel is the theoretical test model in that particular trial.

It all leads, far down the line, to more stringent guidelines and standards regarding testing procedures, but in the short run what it means is that Angel wakes up Angelus, that he leaves his apartment on the penthouse floor of Wolfram & Hart, and starts immediately for the White Room. The security videos show his progress, later. En route he meets no one--it's past midnight, the staff are all gone, and both Wesley and Spike have gone to bed.

When the elevator won't take Angelus to the White Room, he goes to the library. There are scrolls there, Wesley knows, and incunabuli and even books that, properly interpreted, would open the Room to him. There is also Xander, still on a roll with his Fyarl studies at the end of the long table.

This is where the security tapes get gruesome.

He doesn't let on that he's Angelus, right away. You have to know him well to see the little alterations, and Xander doesn't know him well. They've spent two months avoiding each other, and years before that in different hemispheres. There's no reason for Xander to suspect that Angel has become Angelus--there's no apocalypse brewing. Angel's been moody lately. Abrupt and distant. And Angelus isn't wearing leather trousers.

Knowing all this, it's still hard to watch the tapes. Come on, Wesley wants to say. For God's sake, wake up. Who do you think that is?

"Xander," Angelus says.

Xander looks up.

"I need a hand with something." Angelus walks the length of the table, his gait betraying him. If you know him well. "Think you can help me out?"

Xander's frowning, pushing his books away, rubbing at his eye. "What time is it?"

Angelus pauses, savors the moment, then says, "Late."

Xander stretches and stands up stiffly, while Angelus sits on the table and watches him do it. It's like watching a great white shark eye a swimmer from below.

"So," Angelus says. "How about it?"

"How about what?" Xander starts stacking his books, his hair rumpled, his shirt askew. "How about ten solid hours of sleep? You've got a deal."

"I was thinking more along the lines of, you scratch my back, I scratch yours."

This is the moment when Xander starts to suspect, Wesley knows. He's watched the tapes enough now--he sees that momentary pause, that hesitation. But there's no reason to be suspicious.

"My back's not itchy," Xander says. But he doesn't walk out, because he's not sure. Walk out, Wesley tells him silently. Just get up and walk out--

"That's funny," Angelus says, standing up and walking over next to Xander. "Because you look like a man who wants to be scratched."

Xander stands there a second, then makes a break for the door. Angelus catches him easily by the arm, gets a hand behind his head, and slams his face into the table.

He takes the codex off the lecturn and drags Xander down the hallway to the elevator. When the elevator still won't take him to the White Room--Wesley never gave Xander that clearance, there was no reason to--he throws a tantrum in the hallway. Xander, just waking up, takes the brunt of it.

"Can we fast-forward this bit?" Spike asks, from the darkness next to Wesley.

Without a word, Wesley hits the button and they watch in silence as the tape skips merrily through the show. Xander jerks and writhes. Blood spatters the carpet--the same blood they've both seen, the blood Wesley asked janitorial to please remove.

"Why are we watching this, again?" Spike asks, propping his feet on the console and nibbling his thumbnail.

"To find them." Wesley doesn't look away from the screen, from Xander's curled, flinching form. He feels as though he might throw up. "We're looking for some kind of clue."

"You want a clue," Spike says, getting up and flicking on the light. "He'll send us one pretty soon." Off Wesley's skeptical look, he shrugs and says, "He's a psychopath, remember? He wants to be caught."

That's too blithe for words, and not even accurate, but as it turns out, it's also right. It's not really surprising that Spike knows Angelus that well, Wesley reflects later. They have over a hundred years of family between them. Wesley could have predicted what his own father would have done in the circumstances, too.

As it turns out, Angelus calls. In the middle of the day on Thursday, on Wesley's cell phone, from his own. It's bizarre to see Angel's name come up on the screen.

"Hey, Wes." He sounds pleased with himself. "It's Angel, just checking in."

"You're not Angel." Wesley motions to Spike, who stands up and looks alert, but doesn't have much else to do. "Where are you?"

"I just had to take a little time away from the office. You know. Stress." There's no background noise--he could be anywhere. "I borrowed your assistant, hope that's okay."

"Is Xander all right? Put him on."

"Wes, hey, come on. That's kind of harsh, isn't it?"

"If you hurt an innocent--"

"I mean, I know he's not that bright, and he's not really your type, but you don't have to say that about him. I mean, he tries, right?"

Spike has better ears, so without saying a word, Wesley holds the phone out to him. Spike leans forward over the desk and listens in silence, his brow furrowed. Wesley hears a tiny, tinny Angelus-voice say, "Wes? Hey--Spike. How are things, Spike? You know, you could teach this kid a few things about Fyarl--"

"Yeah?" Spike listens intently, not saying much.

Angelus says something else that Wesley can't make out, and then Spike's eyes widen slightly. The call disconnects.

Wesley takes the phone back and stares at the screen. "What did you get?"

"He's near a freeway," Spike says. "And Harris is...alive."

"Did he talk to you?"

Spike looks away. "I heard him."

Wesley stores that away for further nightmares, and stays on target. "Did Angelus say anything useful?"

Spike shakes his head. "He's playing games. With all of us."

"I'm aware of that," Wesley says tightly. "That isn't what I asked." It comes out sharper than he means it to, and leaves an obvious silence behind. Spike keeps his eyes down, his jaw muscles tight.

"I'm sorry," Wesley says finally, dropping the phone on the desk and covering his eyes with his hand. "I'm...tired."

"Me too," Spike says. They look at each other. The phone lies silent between them.




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