When they'd gone to Wolfram & Hart it had been making a deal with the devil, but Wes wasn't sure who the devil was. Sometimes the devil was in the mirror, he thought. Hello, you handsome devil, he'd say to his reflection in the morning without a twitch of smile. He was a bit depressed.
And why not. The lingering loss of world peace and utter joy kept him up nights, drinking and staring out his high-rise windows or tossing and turning alone in bed. Fred belonged to another, or maybe just herself, but either way wasn't his. And he remained the black sheep of the family, unable to lighten up. Amazing, really, that Angel hadn't cut him out of the deal, even if the Senior Partners' invitation had been extended to all of them.
How much pressure would Angel have to exert if he wanted his son's kidnapper gone? Then, now, ever? Not much. A finger twitch, a button pressed, one phone call. Wes had no doubts who the main prize was; the champion. The prophesied vampire with a soul.
Meetings were fun. One frown his way from Angel and everyone fell quiet, waiting to see if the hatchet would be wrenched from its burial place and let fall. For they'd made up but not kissed. The Judas kiss couldn't be undone, and there'd never be another. Not that he'd ever looked to Angel for kisses. A furtive wank now and then, a fantasy when no one else filled his mind, that was the extent of it. Not waking hopes or dreams. Admittedly he had a history of thinking about Angel, of fascination and friendship, but time had peeled the mystique away, had made them close. With the closing of distance, awe became familiarity, and then--and now there were all these feelings, mixed and too many. Too many feelings. It made Wes tired.
This was his life when the Sunnydale crew hit town. Giles intended to rebuild the council in Los Angeles. England was a country of the past; America the present and any imaginable future. It was a smart move and interested Wes immediately. Conversations were had. Angel, speaking in the voice of Wolfram & Hart, offered to foot the bill. Wes was in charge of implementation, a project that took all his time and was a perfect fit for his skills. Angel bestowed a kind of silent approval, or at least a neutral lack of disapproval. But Angel's expressionless scrutiny didn't feel to Wes like his father's expectation of failure. The project went well.
Giles, Buffy, Willow, Xander--they all went to England, assigned the task of collecting what remained of the council's records, of scouring the ancestral libraries of its late members, which in most cases had been left to family with little or no interest in carrying on tradition after such a devastating loss to evil. The job was complicated, took longer than expected, but as the months passed progress was made, the construction of a new council headquarters began, and Team Sunnydale began fanning out across the globe to find and recruit slayers.
People came and went and were always busy, and Wes felt a renewed sense of purpose. This was a job where meaningful decisions could be made firmly and without fear of a wrong choice coming back to haunt one in some world-shaking, horrible way. Building sites, personnel hires, lesson plans. The details came naturally to him, like a new language to his tongue.
His father took to calling more often, his edged, detached manner hiding what appeared to be a genuine interest in the course of the work. The fact that it was Wes's work was probably incidental to his interest, but no matter.
Days, nights, alone. Late nights over his desk, lamp creating a ghostly duplicate of the room in the wide windows. Moments when he looked up thinking to catch a glimpse of Lilah watching him, always false, the room empty. In occasional meetings he noticed Fred and Gunn trading gazes. One night he left his office at eleven o'clock, let his feet swerve to the lab, paused at the door, and saw them, heads bent over take-out, grinning at each other. Eventually he had enough such moments to construct a proof of their renewed relationship, and he felt empty and purposeless again. A hollow man doing a job anyone else could do, no doubt much better. His father's criticisms--sometimes so passive-aggressively implied it took one's breath away, other times flat as a slap--began to chip away at him. Confidence became a facade, a shell.
Everyone else around him seemed to know what they were doing, seemed to know their role and the point of their existence. He should know his own. He had a lineage, a kind of destiny, however sidelong and round-about he'd come at it.
Angel and Buffy seemed to be an item again. He'd once had a safe, antiseptic objectivity about their romance; now, when he could reasonably have more of a concern, he felt nothing. It was too easy to watch from a distance and remain silent. His distance from them seemed huge even when he was in the same room. Could Angel, with his son lost to him, with a world of Jasmine lost, ever have perfect happiness again? Wes didn't think they were running a great risk.
Sometimes he'd watch them lost in one another's eyes and think: I should say something. But the moment would pass.
The world was a dark place and so was his heart, which felt dry and cracked. He imagined his heart to be unlike anyone else's, just as his thoughts were solitary, unique.
He got a call one day. His father had died. His father had not *only* died: his father had taken a bottle of pills and committed a cool suicide, laying himself out on his bed, covers unwrinkled, his hands folded across his abdomen and dead eyes staring at the ceiling with the certainty of attaining heaven. Why? Because his wife had died as well, earlier that same night. She'd had cancer. His father had not told him, his mother had wanted to spare him, and his father's solicitor recounted these facts and others across the telephone, across the Atlantic and thousands of miles.
Wes went to England, arranged the funerals, stood with a schooled and empty face next to their graves in the rain with an umbrella, playing his part. A small gathering, but so many of his father's peers were already dead. His mother's friends came and consoled him with gloved hands. He could feel their conventional admiration for him, the dutiful son, grieving, well-composed, so handsome, just like his father. Not that the good ladies would pay direct compliments at the graveside, but their eyes did, and he could see their mouths moving from a distance.
Polite. He'd been bred to politeness.
Back in L.A. he continued his polite course. Angel met him the night he returned, fixed gaze holding assessment or empathy. With a few halting words he told Wes to take some time off. Hands tucked in pockets, cold body dressed in a shade of black that was not funerary but chic, Angel regarded him. No move to hug. They weren't the hugging sort.
After Angel left, Wes stood in his office and became conscious of how clean Wolfram & Hart was. The cleaning women could be heard down the hall, vacuums a whisper. His desk, abandoned for two weeks, held only a short stack of documents awaiting his attention. All so tidy.
Just the thought of reading whatever was on those papers made his eyes unfocus, his attention skip away to the city lights beyond the thick glass of the windows. His attention was truant, his life was truant. Had the world always been this empty?
Three days later, three days of meetings and suffered condolences and a hard, buttoned-down fury at the world, a report crossed his desk about a local vampire court ruled by a self-styled queen of the night who was making a name for herself. He wanted to kill things; it seemed the perfect opportunity to polish his cross-bow. Buffy was somewhere in lower India searching for slayers, but Angel was just as keen, and Gunn and Faith and others.
The vampire's lair was in an enormous warehouse with a few levels underground, a warren of rooms, some heaped with rotting corpses, others holding chained victims. It went on and on. In a throne room of sorts they found the debris of a non-stop party; mattresses and throw pillows, goblets of stale blood, sex toys, muted televisions playing videos, graffiti, bodies, a few leashed and whining dogs. A long shelf ran across one wall of the room, under a set of artful spotlights. On display was a store mannequin with no limbs, a marble torso with no head, and an impaled vampire with its arms and legs and genitals cut off, skin chalky and eyes vacant, head kept stiffly upright with a collar.
Wes had witnessed some terrible things before, but it took several moments before his eyes processed what they were seeing and his brain understood. Maybe that was because he had recognized the face at once, an echo of photographs and sketches.
Next to him, Angel took a step forward into a morass of pillows, then another; Wes shadowed him. They reached the other vampire. Angel lifted a hand to palm the jaw. The creature made no response, looked dead as the marble statute next to it.
Angel would have ended its existence with a staking, but Wes caught his hand before it could connect, managed just barely to halt the blow before it reached the chest.
"You're going to kill him?"
"It's a mercy."
"You don't know that. We have the full resources of Wolfram & Hart at our disposal. We may be able to restore him."
Angel looked at the thing on the pedestal, face hard and mouth flat. "He shouldn't even be here. He died."
"Obviously he didn't."
"He's better off dead now."
"I don't think you have the right to make that choice for him."
It was a stand-off, toe to toe and eye to eye. "I know him better than you," Angel said tightly, and Wes could hear the wooden stake he held creaking in his fist. "He'd want me to end this."
"I don't know him at all. But killing him to tidy up loose ends, because it's the easiest thing to do--I won't stand for that."
They stared at each other, and Wes could feel Angel's will like a pressure against his skull. It was hard to say what you thought to someone like Angel, unless you were right on the edge. And then it was as easy as toppling over.