Clockwork

Warning: Death story, sorta but not exactly.

Wesley opened his eyes, awakened by the flight attendant's announcement that they would soon be landing. He leant forward, raising his seat to the appropriate, upright position. A glance out the window showed that the airport was not as near as the announcement would have lead one to believe.

He yawned and fought off his slight grogginess by mentally reviewing what he had to expect. Sunnydale. Two Slayers. One ex-Watcher who would be doing his best to make things difficult. A Council of Watchers safely back in England trying to watch and review his every move.

A prophecy that he would have to do his damned best to avoid triggering.

He looked out the window again and saw that he could make out the cars on the highway below. They'd be on the ground soon; then he'd have to contend with the airline losing his luggage, the hotel losing his reservation, and the man on the sidewalk who wanted to mug him.

Wesley rubbed at the spot which should have been aching, but wasn't. The dagger was gone--had never been there. He sighed and tugged at his shirt collar. He'd always hated suits, and would be glad to get to his hotel and be out of it. There was very little in his luggage that he wanted to wear; first item on his list of things to do was go shopping.

There were other things that 'ought' to be done--but Wesley was tired, and his mind, if not his body was convinced he'd just died at the hands of the wizard, Vale. He wanted to check into his hotel without breaking the would-be mugger's arm, and sleep for a week.

Unfortunately, he did have to show up at Sunnydale High School's library in the morning. He thought--briefly--about skipping it, but he knew he would not do so. There were many things to be completed, and ignoring his duties as a Watcher would not get them done.

He felt the plane begin its actual descent, and Wesley glanced out the window again. So many lives down there, so many people going about their lives. All moving into the future at the rate of one second per second.

He flexed his hand and saw smooth, unscarred skin at his wrist. It would be a long, long journey from here.

***

Wearing a much more comfortable pair of cotton trousers and a pullover, Wesley entered the high school building. A satchel was slung over his shoulder, containing the sort of items a brand-new Watcher would be expected to have. A blank journal for the beginning of his new assignment. A few well-polished and unused stakes. A copy of The Slayer's Manual.

He also carried two daggers, and a copy of Roche's Compendium. His copy had been destroyed in the fire at Angel's apartment a year from now; he wanted to finish reading it before then. It was thick, and in a dialect he still hadn't quite mastered, so he was not convinced he'd be able to. But he intended to give it a try.

He found the library easily, wending his way through the crowd of children on their way to class. He recognised none of them; he didn't expect to see any of Buffy's friends. But he made note nonetheless of the faces he did see as he walked to the library.

He hadn't decided exactly what he was going to do when he arrived and found Rupert waiting for him. He recalled with ease the angry, unkind words they'd exchanged before. Wesley knew that things were different, that what they each thought important, was not. He no longer felt the same things he had when he'd walked in the first time, fresh from England and totally unaware of what he was doing. The words he'd spoken then were no longer ones he believed in now. But he didn't know what he ought to say in their stead.

He rather supposed he'd simply do whatever the hell he felt like doing.

Wesley pushed open the left door to the library and walked in. He didn't immediately see Rupert, but he was caught--as always--by the subtle tinge of power from the Hellmouth not 20 feet away from where he stood.

"May I help you?"

Wesley turned and saw Mr. Rupert Giles walking out of his office, book in hand and looking mildly confused. Polite--but that would change as soon as Wesley introduced himself.

He stepped forward, hand outstretched. Rupert took it, expression only changing when Wesley said, "Wesley Wyndam-Pryce."

Rupert didn't drop his hand like he'd grabbed a dead fish--not quite. But Wesley ignored his reaction. He understood it--and dear god, he didn't blame the man.

"I'd like to get one thing clear, Mr Giles," he said firmly. The other man's expression hardened.

"Would you, now?" His stance changed; Wesley rather expected to find Buffy behind him, the way Rupert was so protectively barring Wesley from going any farther.

"You and I both know the Council is staffed by insufferable pricks, and we also both know that a Slayer isn't a tool to be used up and thrown away." He remembered Faith's look of betrayal the first time he'd dared visit her in prison. He remembered how she'd offered no argument the second time he'd visited her to ask for her help.

Rupert was still looking at him with suspicion. Wesley continued.

"I have no desire to come between you and Buffy; I rather doubt she'll stand for it, anyhow. But I do wish to take my place as Faith's Watcher. She needs someone devoted to her, rather than treating her like the stepchild that nobody wanted."

He hadn't actually planned this, as Faith wasn't his primary concern. But he did rather like her, and she did deserve better than the Council had treated her before.

Rupert narrowed his eyes. "I'd like to see your papers, if I may."

Startled, but not showing it, Wesley reached into his backpack for his wallet. He handed it over and waited as Rupert opened it and examined the ID there. When he gave it back, Rupert said mildly, "You're not at all as was described."

"So you're wondering if I shanghaied the real Wyndam-Pryce and took his place?" Wesley raised an eyebrow. The accusation didn't worry him. Didn't surprise him in the least. It might have amused him, in fact, if he'd really cared about such things as anyone's opinion of him.

"Well..." Rupert shrugged, and he almost smiled.

Wesley gave him an easy smile, as though he wanted to make friends here. "I imagine they don't know me very well." It was true, if not for the reasons Wesley was implying. But Rupert was relaxing, and the defensive stance was gone. The angry, defeated look was also vanishing from his eyes.

"You do know they won't allow me to remain Buffy's Watcher?" Rupert said.

"I can't imagine how they'll find out--or what they could do about it if they did." Wesley moved towards the table and set his satchel on it. He'd won this round, he could tell. Rupert had accepted him, and they would work together as Watchers. The two Slayers might or might not make the same mistakes they had before. The Mayor might or might not reach his Ascension, and might or might not be destroyed. Any of them might be killed this time. Any of them might survive.

None of that was Wesley's concern.

He undid the straps on his satchel, and took out his copy of Roche's Compendium and sat down at the table. He flipped the book open to page 320 and settled in to read. Buffy would be by in a little while--but she was Rupert's concern. Now, and always. Faith would be around a bit after her, and Wesley supposed there was no reason to plan out his conversation with her, either.

*** "He what?" Buffy asked. Wesley had been ignoring her conversation with Rupert as much as he was able. He'd missed most of it, but knew the gist. Rupert had filled her in, and now she was being predictably confused.

"Ask him yourself."

Wesley glanced up and found Rupert and Buffy watching him. He leant back in his chair and waited for a direct question.

"You're not replacing Giles?" Buffy had her arms folded across her chest, mirroring Rupert's earlier protective stance.

"I am," he corrected, and was amused to see Buffy grow alarmed. "I'm replacing him for Faith," he added. "She needs her own Watcher. As you need yours." He sighed, and closed the book, rubbing his nose. He hadn't got very far at all, and he doubted he'd have a chance to return to it until quite late that night.

"I do all right," Faith said, from his right. She'd come in only a few moments ago, but had stopped before approaching them at the table.

Wesley said mildly, "You need to learn better control."

That brought her closer, a look of surprise on her face. "I what?"

He had both Slayers facing him, now, with belligerent attitudes. He stood and picked up his satchel, removing the dagger from it. He tossed it at Faith; she caught it easily. She gave him a shrug, obviously not impressed by his attempt to prove his words. He gestured at the wooden target hanging near the weapons-cage. Faith shrugged again and pulled her arm back; just before she made her throw, Wesley stepped into the path of the dagger.

"What the hell!" Faith yanked her hand back, losing her balance and tumbling forward into Wesley. She regained her balance, then shoved her hands angrily against him, the dagger falling with a clatter to the floor.

Wesley caught himself, remembering the one time Faith had spoken to him of what she'd done. A Slayer brought death, but this death would haunt her--even after she'd redeemed herself. No matter how many lives she'd saved, Wesley had seen that death in her eyes.

"What the fuck are you doing?" Faith shouted, raising her hand to hit him in the chest. She held herself back, settling for glaring at him, threatening to do more.

"As I said. You need to learn better control." He crouched down and picked up the dagger, then put it back in her hand. He felt her fingers close over it, no doubt by reflex more than any desire to hold it. He kept her hand in his and lifted it.

"You must be able to stop any blow, as well as complete it. You are an excellent physical fighter, Faith." He saw a glimmer of something in her eyes, as he said those words. He knew what she needed, knew what she wanted. "Now, you need to add to that. We'll work on it this afternoon, during your drills."

He spoke quickly, leaving no room for doubt that she would do exactly as he said. He watched as Faith stood there, considering him. He knew, a moment before she nodded, that she had accepted him and his right to instruct her.

Perhaps she'd be saved from her mistake tonight. Perhaps not. But Wesley felt he lost nothing by trying.

Her life wouldn't affect the prophecy one way or the other.

***

He walked, having not yet bothered to get himself a car. He'd only been in Sunnydale a few days, and he didn't want a car anyhow. The local motorcycle dealership had nothing he wanted, so he'd decided to take a taxi down to Los Angeles and go to the same dealership where he'd previously bought his bike. This weekend, perhaps. Faith would enjoy having the day off, despite only working with him for less than a week.

She'd responded well to his training, accepting his direction without argument. It helped, he was sure, that he required only a few hours a day--and the rest of the time she was free to do as she liked, before patrol. It might have also been that he'd got a motel room next door to hers, to provide her with some necessary supervision.

She'd not killed the Mayor's assistant, that first night. According to Buffy, she hadn't even come close.

Right now Wesley was walking up the long driveway to the mansion where Angel was living. It was still an hour until sunset, and he knew that if he lost his nerve, he would walk away before facing the vampire.

It wouldn't stop Angel from knowing he'd been here, and wouldn't stop the questions once the sun went down. But he could, if he chose, put this off just a while longer.

Wesley didn't stop until he reached the front door. He didn't knock; Angel opened it as soon as he stepped onto the porch.

"Who are you and what do you want?"

"I'm Faith's Watcher," he said. He didn't know why he'd withheld his name. It was...odd, talking to Angel. Talking to an Angel who didn't know him.

Angel didn't look appeased, but he nodded, slowly. Wesley knew he could smell Faith's scent on him; they'd dueled that afternoon and despite a shower, he knew the vampire could still detect her. "What do you want?"

"I'd like to ask you about the Mortician Enclave, if I may."

Angel looked startled. The need for research was totally fabricated, of course. Merely an excuse to get inside. He'd picked something obscure that he knew Angel was familiar with, from a point in Angel's history that wasn't...quite...as fraught with emotional land mines as most of the rest of Angelus' life.

"They due to be attacking, soon?" Angel asked, not moving away from the door. There was no suspicion in his tone, but Wesley knew Angel. He knew that if he said or did the wrong thing, the door would be slammed in his face and there would be no more conversation this evening.

"I've no idea," he said. "But there was a long-standing debate about whether or not the Head of Clan, Rofersher, was in fact a lush."

Angel blinked at him. "A what?"

"I'm sure you know the meaning of the word, Angel." The name slipped out easily, and Wesley heard all the things he knew Angel could not. He reminded himself not to be familiar with this man. He was a stranger to Angel, now. More than that, he was suspicious of humans and human relationships. He hadn't tried making himself a part of human society until moving to Los Angeles and having his world invaded by Cordelia and Doyle.

Wesley kept his face impassive and waited.

"You wanna talk about Rofersher's alcoholism?"

"He drank alcohol?" Wesley asked in honest surprise.

"Well--yeah, but that's not what made him drunk. Mortician clan members drank white chalk. Ground up and mixed in with the alcohol." His hands moved in a grinding gesture--as though he'd once upon a time prepared such drinks, himself.

Wesley found himself smiling in amusement, and changed his expression to one of academic interest. "Chalk? Plain chalk?" He thought about what he knew of the Enclave. "That would explain the peculiar trading they were known for. But why not simply live near chalk deposits that they could mine themselves?"

"I..." Angel paused. "You wanna come in?"

Wesley smiled. "Thank you." He stepped across the threshold, as Angel stepped out of the way. He made a slight show of looking into the interior. "A large bit of space," he commented.

"Thanks. The owner's gone...for a couple of decades. I didn't kill him," he added quickly, stammering over the words.

"I didn't think you had. I do know about the soul." Wesley said the words as kindly as he could.

He thought about Angel's soul. How hard Angel had fought. How much pain the soul had caused him, how much more losing it had created. He looked at Angel as the other man moved past him. Angel looked eager for company, already saying something more about the Rofersher's drinking habits, and why the Clan lived where they did.

Wesley followed him for only two steps, his hand already coming out of his pocket where he'd been holding the vial tightly. He flicked off the stopper with his thumb and threw the contents onto Angel.

Angel froze as the spell took hold. His eyes didn't widen, but the look in them conveyed surprise--then anger. Wesley could tell that the vampire was struggling to move.

The spell would wear off in about half an hour. More than enough time for what Wesley needed to do.

He took another step closer, wondering if he mightn't have made a mistake in creating the potion strong enough to prevent Angel from speaking. When he'd made the potion, he'd decided on full-strength. Cowardice, on his part. He hadn't wanted to hear whatever Angel had to say. Even though Angel wouldn't know him, wouldn't understand… Wesley had given in to that one small fear that Angel could, somehow, talk him out of this.

He drew the stake from his jacket pocket, and saw the fear in Angel's eyes.

"I do know about the soul, Angel," he repeated, finding himself suddenly desperate to give Angel some little comfort. Not that this Angel would accept it from him. "This isn't about that. I know you've become good. That you fight for the right side. I do know all that."

He read the question in Angel's eyes; he didn't need to, to know what Angel would be asking.

"I am sorry. But the prophecy states very clearly--that you play a very important role in the Apocalypse. Er, not the one this spring, actually," he added. "A later one. But this is when I came back, so this is when I've got to--" He couldn't say it, despite knowing he would be able to do it.

He wondered if the Angel he knew would hate him for what he was doing.

Wesley took one more step closer and tilted his head ever so slightly. He placed a kiss on Angel's unmoving lips.

It was completely unlike any time he'd ever kissed Angel before. Perhaps it was simply that this was not his Angel. Perhaps it was the spell immobilising him.

It didn't matter. Wesley drew away, feeling the grief he'd felt ever since he'd woken on the plane approaching Sunnydale. "I am sorry," he said again. "But the prophecy clearly states that it does not matter which side you are on."

He drew his hand back. "The only way to avoid it, is for you to not be a part of it at all."

Wesley brought his hand forward, barely feeling the strength he used to push it forward.

It landed squarely in Angel's chest, and he disappeared in a flash of dust.

Wesley stood there, unable to move. The dust was frozen in the shape of Angel--still caught by the spell. Wesley whispered a word or two of magic, and the spell ended, leaving the dust to fall gently to the floor. He felt nothing that he hadn't already been feeling. Despair. Hope.

He closed his eyes and drew the pistol he'd purchased the day before. He'd debated this part--whether to stay here, whether to use it. But he was tired, and once Buffy discovered what he'd done, she would no doubt call for his head on a plate.

Mostly he just had to know if, this time, he'd finally done it right.

He raised the gun and fired.

When he opened his eyes, he found himself sitting in the airplane, listening to the flight attendant ask them all to raise their seats and lock their trays into position.

Wesley put his head into his hands and tried to breathe deeply.

The End