Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.
SECTION 2 - ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL
So what happens now?
(Another suitcase in another hall)
So what happens now?
(Take your picture off another wall)
Where am I going to?
(You'll get by, you always have before)
Where am I going to?
(Don't ask anymore)
(Barbara Dickson, Lyrics and Music by T Rice and A Lloyd Webber
[I know. I know. I'm eternally sorry but the lyrics kind of fit.])
Friday, May 17th, 2002
"So have you got much stuff to pack?" Tara asked between bites of her burger. The restaurant was only a couple of blocks from Wes's apartment and he had suggested they stop for something to eat before Tara began packing, while Wes went to pick up a trailer.
"I suppose that would depend on what you call a lot. I leased the apartment furnished, but you tend to accumulate quite a lot of odds and ends over three years, especially when you think you've settled."
"And I suppose if you're anything like Giles you'll have a massive amount of books?"
"It never hurts to know about what you're up against, but actually the majority of my reference books are still at the hotel. I think it may be best if I go on there alone after we've packed the apartment. It might get a little unpleasant."
"All the more reason you should have back up. Of course, it's not like I'd be much help in a fight and when it comes to magic Willow has me way outclassed, but they don't know that. And the whole moral support thing is way more important anyway... I hope."
Wes smiled at the self-effacing woman in front of him. "As you say, moral support should be all that's required."
"And if not I can manage a couple of handy spells." Tara's mouth formed an asymmetric smile that Wes could only just make out through her hair. "So what about the stuff that demon had at his shop?"
"Well, I still have the keys. I'll probably try to get the largest trailer possible and we can always fill up any space that's left with the things from there after we've got everything else, and if that plan doesn't work, I should be able to fit in another run after I've done my stint at The Magic Box tomorrow." Wes seemed to pause as he chewed on his pizza. "Actually, on second thoughts, maybe we should go to the hotel first."
"If you're expecting trouble, it could be a mistake to go when you'll be tired."
"That's settled then. We'll drop the bike at my apartment, pick up my car and then go fetch my books."
Wes pushed open the hotel door and then held it for Tara to follow him in. Somehow she found it was impossible not to 'live-up' to the coat and she moved with a confident façade that belied her normal retiring manner.
Gunn looked up from his position at the desk. "What are you doin' back here, English?"
"You know despite what your tone would tend to imply, 'English' is not actually an insult. There's no need to let your insecurities get the better of your manners. I've simply come to collect what's mine and pass on a personal message for Angel."
Wes strode toward the office that had once been his before Angel recovered from his fleeting bout of humility.
"You can't go in there. Fred's busy working on something," Gunn insisted.
"I suspect that will cease to be a problem once I get my things." Wes's gaze lingered briefly on the woman behind the desk before shifting to confirm his suspicions. All the texts which Fred was using as references were his. Leaving those aside for the moment Wes removed a stack of books from the shelves behind the girl, testing their weight before passing them to Tara. As she turned to take them to the car, he selected a slightly larger stack for himself.
"What y'all doin?" Fred asked bemused. "You can't take all our books."
Wes steeled himself not to give ground before the girl who had so callously told him not to return to the place that had been more his home than his own apartment. He rested his burden on a corner of the desk to pull a comparatively slim volume from the shelf, dropping it in front of the girl. "On the contrary I wouldn't dream of taking all your book ." The former watcher emphasised both the pronoun and the single status of the Thomas Brothers street atlas to which it referred. "I do, however, intend to leave with all of mine ."
"B-but, how're we-." The Texan flapped in the face of this news, only to be cut off by her boyfriend.
"We'll get by. We don't need nothing of his. Just let him take them and get out."
"But the translation..."
Wes looked over her shoulder. From what he could tell, for a physics major, she had done a fine job but occasional words and phrases were incorrect.
"I think you'll find that that particular passage has already been translated somewhat more accurately into just about every modern language conceivable. Unless I'm mistaken, provided your employer hasn't thrown them away you should find a copy in every bedroom in this place."
"Someone is having some fun at your expense. That passage is straight out of the Bible."
Before Fred could protest or question him further he swept from the room with the first of several loads. When he and Tara returned for the second load, Wes was unsurprised to find that Gunn was nowhere to be seen. No doubt he was off in search of back up, hoping that Angel would gainsay Wes's claim to the volumes. He was doomed to disappointment. Since the demise of the original offices of Angel Investigations, Wes had had two years to rebuild the somewhat esoteric collection of reference materials. Some he had sourced from the various rare book dealers with whom he had connections, having them shipped from far and wide around the world. He had traced others through his Council contacts, following up leads from one old acquaintance to another as to which group members might have spare copies of the volumes in question. He hadn't reclaimed a penny from Angel towards their cost, a habit formed over his years with the Council when each Watcher was expected to maintain his own collection and took a certain pride in doing so.
As the witch and the watcher were leaving with their fifth and last loads, Angel finally made an appearance.
"I suppose it would be too much to expect you to leave us the reference materials we need to do our job?" the vampire asked in a none too friendly tone.
"As doing so would leave me unable to do mine, I'm rather afraid that even were I to be so inclined, it would."
"So, what job would that be? I only know one other employer in LA who would be interested in your particular skills."
"Very true, and a lucrative offer it was too, but after my recent experiences I decided that there were other factors that were more important than money. As you were quick to realise, working for someone else is less then ideal, so since I happen to be a licensed investigator, I shall be setting up in my own right."
"You're going to set up in competition?"
"And if I were?" Wes arched an eyebrow at the vampire, a gesture so reminiscent of his grandchilde that it seemed to Angel he could almost smell the younger vampire's scent in the air. Then, he realised that he could. It was there on Wes, faint but detectable, but the girl who was with him was steeped in it.
"That's Spike's coat. You're from Sunnydale. Willow's girlfriend."
"Former girlfriend, actually," Tara informed him, her stutter so inconceivable for anyone in that coat that even the touchy subject of Willow failed to make it appear. "Two out of three isn't bad." The blonde carried off the confrontation with a bravado that would have made Spike proud.
"You've been in Sunnydale. You're moving back to Sunnydale?" the vampire asked Wes incredulously.
"At Buffy's request," Wes confirmed. "It seems there are those fighting the good fight who can find use for my talents." He considered before he continued, knowing that at least initially what he had to say would be seen as sour grapes, but he felt it would be petty not to pass on a warning. "I've also been presented with an alternative view of the Powers That Be. It would seem that they aren't the benevolent masters we've been led to believe. In this particular case, I am told, Higher Powers simply means more powerful, not more enlightened or moral. The title of champion may be nothing more than a device to make you their pawn."
"You don't know anything about the Powers That Be."
"I know I believe the person who told me, but I suspect that it will be some time into the future, if ever, before you take this warning to heart."
Wes placed his stack of books on the lobby floor and pulled a small spiral notebook from his inside pocket. Tearing out several closely written pages, he passed them to Angel. "I trust you won't allow your bias toward me to prevent you from doing what is required with this information."
The vampire was about to tear the pages to shreds without even looking at them, when at a word from Tara, the air around him became incredibly dense, slowing his movements as if he moved through tar.
"Read it. It's important," she told him before turning on her heel and making her exit, followed by Wes, who only just managed to get out of view of those in the lobby before his supercilious expression gave way to an old-fashioned grin.
"You think he'll read it?" Tara asked.
Wes nodded, knowing just how sharp the vampire's hearing was. "That depends on whether he really is a champion, or whether it's all about his ego, doesn't it?"
Tara waited until the car was in motion and well away from the hotel before she asked, "So what exactly did I tell him was so important, then?"
Wes couldn't help but tip back his head and laugh.
"It was a nice apartment," Tara commented as the pair made their way to the car with the last of the things from Wes's apartment. "I hope we can get the house looking just as good for you."
"I'm sure, in time, it will." He smiled at the girl beside him. "And at least I know I get on okay with the neighbours. That has to be a major bonus."
"Well, it's not like we're in any position to complain about the biker type across the street, or the demon company he keeps," the blonde responded with a teasing lilt in her voice.
"Indeed." Wes shook his head. "I think if my father had ever thought that I'd end up in a position where demons would be rolling out the welcome wagon because I was moving in, he would have made sure I never left England."
"And if you'd known where you would be three years on?"
"It's tempting to say that I'd forego the whole LA experience, but it helped make me who I am today. I can't even honestly say that I regret doing what I did. Spike was right. I did what I thought was right based on the information that I was able to find. That's all anyone can do. I certainly don't regret the fact I've made new friends and I'm getting another chance to make a difference somewhere else. All in all, it's far healthier than hanging around here, taking the scraps of work that Angel won't or can't do. No, I think I can honestly say that given the choice I'd do it all again."
"That's got to be worth something."
"Yes, but without the welcome I've had in Sunnydale I might have had a far more bitter and pessimistic view of things." Wes closed up the trailer and waited for Tara to put her helmet on.
"I'm glad Buffy and Spike headed to LA when they did, then."
"As am I."
Wes waited until she had managed the kick-start on the heavy bike before he even thought about getting in his car to lead the way to 'Doc' Holliday's shop.
Wes looked at the mangled mess of metal that had once been a set of security shutters.
"Looters?" Tara asked, knowing even as she made her way into the barren interior of the formerly packed store that the odds were against such a thorough job being the work of amateurs.
"I can think of a couple of other possibilities that are more likely."
"You think Angel's people might have taken them?"
"It's unlikely they would think to conceal them if they had. They would probably just have left them all in the office for Fred to work her way through.
No, I'm fairly certain that it wouldn't be them. For one thing had that been the case, Angel would have been gloating that my texts were superfluous.
I'd say either there's a link between Sam and Holliday that the military has uncovered under interrogation, leading them to this place, or..." The watcher pushed the "No sale" button on the antediluvian cash register, noting that this was one area where not only were the shop's original contents intact, but there were also two additional items. Pulling out an envelope that was marked William and placing it in his inside pocket, he left the one with Angel's name where it was. "...Given the fact it would take several supernaturally strong beings to make that much of a mess of the shutters and he knew precisely where we were when he called, even before we found the little family notes, my money would have been on Lindsey."
"I suspect at first he was simply checking to see what had brought us here, but when he realised the mystical potential of the items here, he would be quick to appropriate anything which might allow him some sort of advantage." Wes shrugged. Maybe they could have checked back there sooner, but he couldn't help but think that given the choice between books and being there to help Dawn the other night, the girl won hands down every time.
"On the plus side, no need for a second trip now."
"Indeed. With some reorganisation we might be able to get the bike in the trailer, if you would rather come back in the car?"
The Wiccan looked at the boxes filling the front passenger seat and foot well and then glanced up at the almost cloudless early evening sky.
"Looks like the kind of day that's made for either a horse or a motorcycle to me. Besides, after loaning me his hog and his coat, I kind of feel like I owe it to Spike to make the most of them."
Wes looked at the car with its ponderous trailer and considered the not quite rush hour traffic they would have to negotiate. "You're sure you wouldn't consider a swap?" he asked.
Angel stared at the piece of paper in front of him, trying to make things make some sort of sense. He started with the notes he had made on the right hand side of the page.
Right at the top of the list in capital letters were the words "LOVE'S BITCH". As far as Angel was concerned it was well nigh impossible to dispute Spike's right to the self-proclaimed title.
Just below this, he had written "claim". A vampire claim did not of necessity preclude sexual activities with other partners. However, it did mean that since Spike had given himself over to Buffy, she would have to theoretically grant her approval for any such activity on his part and vice versa.
Third on the right hand side was simply the word "coat" though to be fair this appeared on the left hand list as well. The vampire would swear that the scent of sex, Spike and Buffy had come from the girl's very skin, and since, unknown to him, she had spent the night in the bed they had previously shared, rightly so. However, he was prepared to consider the slight possibility that his senses had been fooled because the scents were simply ingrained into the leather that she had worn.
"Buffy - bi???" was his next entry on that side of the page, closely followed by "Buffy - threesome???" And "Buffy - unfaithful???". Buffy might have changed since he and she had been lovers, but he really doubted that the changes had been significant enough to render any of these ideas as remotely plausible under normal circumstances.
Next he had written "Engagement = wedding = vow of fidelity" and below that just for good measure he had reiterated "LOVE'S BITCH."
There was one entry in the centre of the page, circled round again and again as he had contemplated all the different ways that it could potentially be significant. It read simply "Willow?"
On the left hand side of the page the word "coat" appeared again. The vampire was honestly stumped as to why this girl he had barely noticed before, except in a "Did they just say Willow's girl friend?" way, would have Spike's treasured keepsake. Unaware of its significance he had once tried to get Dru to dispose of the ancient apparel, which to a vampire's sensitive olfactory system had reeked of smoke and soot long after Dru had pulled her lover from the ruins of that church. Both Dru and Spike had been adamant that he would not under any circumstances part with it for anyone but his princess, and even then any loan was strictly temporary.
His next entry was "summer in LA". Unless it was a trophy, why would anyone alive even consider wearing a full length leather coat in this heat?
"HELLMOUTH " came next. Angel was well aware that that particular factor prevented many other ideas from being ruled out.
"Spells?" If a spell could result in Buffy trying to seduce Xander while dressed in nothing but a short coat and a pair of stilettos, then anything was possible.
This was followed up by the related comment "attitude". The girl who had arrived with Wesley seemed totally different from the one he had seen, if not actually spoken to, during her earlier visit. This seemed to make the possibility of magic being involved so much more real. Coupled with her announcement that she was no longer seeing Willow, this was doubly suspicious, considering the two had seemed almost like honeymooners in the way their eyes were drawn to each other and the simple touches and closeness they had shared scant days before.
Angel sighed. He was no nearer to discovering what lay behind this puzzle than he was to finding Cordy or Groo or even the present location of The Axis of Pythia. The difference was that he had ways to investigate this particular mystery further.
Somewhat reluctantly, he picked up the phone on his desk and dialled the number for 1630 Revello Drive.
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