Never Leave in Autumn

The Angel Book of Days Challenge
Written for: Katie Wood
Requirements: Wesley and Wesley listening to music.
Timeline: Spans several years up to S4
Author's Notes: Thanks to mpoetess for the beta!


He was due at school tomorrow.

Wesley had managed to leave his parents' house a day early. He'd had explanations all ready -- time in the library to get a head-start. Time to settle in, and meet his teachers for the term.

No one had asked for explanations. Possibly, he told himself, it was that no one really cared.

Wesley took a drink of his pint and pushed those thoughts away. He was sitting at a table in a pub not very near the school. He'd dropped off his things at the dormitory, then walked off before anyone could spot him. He'd walked past three pubs to get to this one, assuring himself that he would not run into anyone from the school.

At least he'd vastly decreased his chances. He wasn't even really concerned with being seen here. All that could be said was that the place was a little rougher, and the patrons a little lower class, than he "ought to" be drinking with.

But again, he told himself, who was likely to care? He settled back in his chair, practically sipping at his drink and watching the crowd. It was early, for a pub crowd, but already he could barely tell if there were a band on the tiny stage in the corner. The noise level was loud enough and drunk enough that one could imagine there was music to be heard within it.

If one was slightly drunk, as well, Wesley told himself. He glanced down at the table at the empty glass there, sitting up a bit straighter at the surge of pride he felt. Two pints. And no one to stop him from having *three*.

Or even four.

Wesley smiled at himself, at his daring. He had money in his pocket, and he had only a fairly short walk back to the school grounds. No reason at all he had to restrain himself from having just whatever he liked.

Wesley clutched the glass in his hand, feeling the cold glass warmed where he held it, slick where the condensation had begun. Words came to the tip of his tongue, unbidden. There were three species of demon whose blood looked and tasted like beer. The only difference was the aroma -- the aroma for each was unique to the species. Not only did such come in handy for identification, but the fact of its taste came in handy for certain spells where it was necessary to imbibe said blood.

Wesley didn't expect this particular crowd to care at all. He rather doubted, in fact, that anyone would even notice if the bar began serving Veracxi blood. He would be the only one to notice, the only one who -- he said the words to himself clearly, silently -- even knew that demons existed.

And he was getting drunk. Like any of them.

He began drawing runes on the table with his finger, scattering drops of beer and crumbs leftover from previous tenants. The rune for binding, the rune to dispel. Likely they would think them pretty decorative symbols, or at the most ask if he read tarot and what would he charge for a fortune told.

They'd go home to their families, their bedsits, and such things would get lost by morning.

Wesley wished he could go with them. Wished he could finish his beer and pay the barmaid, laugh over stupid jokes and spend hours discussing football or the latest from Whitehall or Buckingham. Then stagger out into the night. Fearless.

Ignorant of the demons and the demands made of those who chased them.

Wesley took another drink of his pint, trying to make it a larger one. He'd come here to get drunk, after all; he couldn't be too scared to even gulp it down.

His hand was shaking when he set down the pint. He felt warm, and there was an unpleasantly heavy feeling to the air. Leaning back, he set his cheek against the support beam that jutted out from the wall. The crowd had grown larger, more rowdy, while he hadn't been looking.

Perhaps he'd just sit for awhile.

"Hey, lad."

Wesley looked up, found a man standing before him. Huge, the sort he'd always thought of when he pictured a dockworker, or platform worker, or some other sort of low class labourer his father had always deigned to acknowledge the existence of.

When Wesley had been seven, he'd thought about running away to become one.

"Yes?" he asked, realising the man was staring at him, waiting. Others had already long since borrowed the chairs; he couldn't imagine what he wanted.

The man looked at him, an odd expression on his face. But he was smiling, and seemed friendly. And human, Wesley told himself. This area was not known for demon activity. One reason he'd picked it for his first ever, grown-up drunk.

The man was still talking, and Wesley realised with a start what he was saying. He blinked in surprise and felt his mouth drop open.

"Well?" The man inclined his head. When Wesley didn't move, his face began to grow confused. After another moment, he said, "Look, if you aren't--"

Wesley got to his feet. It was more difficult than he'd thought it should be, but the room was really rather warm, now. He held onto the table for a second, making sure he had his balance. "We'll have to go to your place," he said.

The man nodded. "Rather thought we might." He raked Wesley over with a glance, head to toe, that made Wesley's face begin to burn. "Come on, then."

He put an arm around Wesley's shoulders, and they made their way through the crowd, towards the door. When the cold night air hit Wesley, the burning intensified rather than subsided. He breathed it in, deeply, then gave the man a smile.

The man pulled Wesley closer, and they began walking away from the pub. Wesley answered his casual question with half-lies, and knew he received the same. It wasn't the first time he'd let a strange man pick him up; it was the other reason he'd picked that particular pub tonight. Enough pints to prove that he could do it, and someone to take him home.

He made it to school in the morning, half an hour before dawn.

^^^^^^^^^^^^

He'd never actually been in an American pub before. He'd seen plenty of them, and he had been in the Bronze a few times but he understood that here, children's pubs were not the same as adult bars. The drinking age was much higher in America, and so they kept the two crowds segregated into separate establishments.

Wesley thought it all a bit odd, but he'd been dealing with much odder since his arrival in California.

The vampires, demonic snakes, and mule-headed Slayers did not even count among them.

Wesley walked rather slowly into the bar, looking around rather openly and telling himself he didn't care if he looked to be gaping like a fool. The bar was dark, and there were neon signs attached to the inside walls advertising things he didn't know if the bar was actually meant to be selling, or if it was just meant for atmosphere.

There was canned music playing from somewhere, and only a few scattered patrons at the bar. Two men in the back playing billiards, and a bored looking woman behind the bar, ignoring everyone.

Wesley had no idea if this was even a typical American bar. As long as they served alcohol, however, it would do. There was a cheap motel next door where he'd already bought a room for the night. He'd left his bike in the motel lot and walked over, confident he could find his way back and locate his room amongst the dozen identical doors by virtue of the fact his number was painted in bright, garish tones on the room key.

He headed for the bar, feeling not at all out of place. He even seemed to be dressed appropriately, he noted. His new wardrobe for his new lifestyle suited him.

He slid onto a barstool and waited only a moment for the woman to glance his way. She didn't move toward him, just raised an eyebrow. "Beer, please," he said loudly enough to be heard over the distance between them.

"Tap or bottle?"

"Bottle."

"Bud, Michelob, Coors?"

He had no idea, he realised. He'd never tried American beer before. He picked at random, and said, "Coors."

The woman nodded and moved away, returning with a bottle and holding out a hand for two dollars. He paid her and took his first careful drink of American beer.

He nearly spit it back out. He looked over at the woman, and asked, "Are the other two any stronger?" He'd heard jokes about American beer before, but he hadn't actually *realised*.

The woman was looking at him like he'd slipped into speaking Arabic. Wesley looked down at the bottle in his hand. Did he really want to drink the entire thing?

He felt his lip curl. On the other hand, he'd paid for it. It would be wasteful to throw it out.

Wouldn't it?

"You want whiskey?" the woman asked. She'd come over and was holding a bottle and shot glass. "The only thing we got stronger than the beer. Unless you want vodka. We got that, too."

"Ah, no. I mean, whiskey would be fine."

He watched as she poured the drink, and handed over another five dollars. He took a sip of the whiskey, and felt it burn down his throat. It wasn't what he'd planned on for the evening. But he was adaptable. Flexible. Willing to go with the needs of the moment.

It was alcohol, and he was going to need it to get drunk on the American beer. He took a large drink of beer, and followed it with a sip of whiskey.

All in all it was rather disgusting. But it was all he had available to him. The tiny town he'd stopped in didn't seem to have anything better to offer. He wasn't even sure where he was, only that he was in Oregon. Driving north for a handful of days since leaving Sunnydale, leaving everything he knew behind and setting out into the unknown for whatever he could find. He'd actually stayed in Sunnydale through the summer, first to recover from his injuries and then to try to assist with the clean-up. But he hadn't been needed, and eventually, as summer drew to a close, he acknowledged that it was long since time for him to go.

So he'd gone. Sold what he could, bought a motorbike and packed the remainder of his belongings into two saddlebags. It was the adventure he'd wanted, as a very small boy. Back when he'd believed in stories, and thought that his father's world would not require him.

What would that small boy think now, Wesley asked himself. Would he think it exciting? Riding a motorbike across America? Living off his savings, scandalising his parents with his leather outfit and facial whiskers?

Doubtless he would. The wind in his hair and the freedom to go and do whatever he liked.

Wesley knocked back another drink of watered down beer. He'd think it exciting until he had to sleep in yet another cheap motel room which smelled like nothing human. Until he'd realised that he couldn't ring home and ask for a wire of money to see him through the next month. Then the young Wesley would want to return to his books and his parents' side and everything that was proper, and clean, and expected.

He'd tried apologising. He'd offered himself for anything the Council wished, to be re-instated. He'd rung his father and tried to ask him what could he do to return. He hadn't been able to do it, knowing precisely what sort of things his father would have to say.

The Council had rejected his offer and left him to fend for himself. Abasing himself had done no good, and now -- now, with half a shot glass of whiskey and who knew what sort of beer inside him, he desperately wished he'd been man enough to walk away.

He continued drinking, and let himself think back to the many things he might have done. Things he could have said, if only he'd known there was nothing to lose. Things which, he hated to admit, Rupert Giles had probably said or done himself upon being fired.

He laughed at himself, for thinking he might now look up to him. Rupert himself would no doubt laugh himself sick to hear Wesley mention it.

Another shot of whiskey, another drink of beer. It wasn't nearly as bad, now. Perhaps one just had to get used to it. Perhaps it was the whiskey. He was feeling an almost pleasant buzz, enough that his shoulders were loosening and his posture was drooping a tiny bit. No one who cared was watching.

No one was watching at all.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

It was still the most disgusting human-produced liquid he'd ever tasted. He'd tried small brewery ales, and limited run beers and all manner of wine coolers and hard lemonade and god knew what else. It was all fairly disgusting, but American beer pretty much topped the list.

But it was cheaper than any of the other options. So he drank beer on tap and bolstered it with shots of whiskey so he could get drunk. It took more than a single pint and a half, now, to do the trick -- even accounting for the difference in percentage alcohol in the beer.

Wesley smiled in not-so fond remembrance of his first "real drunk" as a boy. He'd been so sure of himself, so determined to make his way and do what he liked despite his father's plans. Got drunk on barely anything at all, and ended up being exactly who his father had wanted anyway.

Now, of course, he was nothing like what his father wanted. Not that he fooled himself into thinking his father even knew. They'd stopped speaking over a year ago, conversations dwindling down over the years to nothing. Apathy and entropy, two forces always at work in Wesley's life.

Wesley drank a toast to them in sardonic silence, not caring if anyone looked over at his table and wondered what he was doing. They were all too intent on their own lives, their own drunks. He'd long since learned just how invisible one could be in a bar.

He took advantage of it, nowadays. He had no reason to want to be seen; he just wanted to be able to sit and drink and melt the voices in his head which spoke to him of things he could not change. He only drank in bars because it was too depressing to drink at home.

Not that he was trying to avoid depression. If he were, he wouldn't be drinking at all. He'd be living an entirely different life, one where he returned to England and opened a bookshop and put his knowledge to safe, constructive use and consoled himself that he was in no position to harm anyone, ever again.

He was free to do so, he knew. He'd undone every wrong he'd done -- as far as humanly possible. He'd found Angel, returned him to his family. Cordelia was still missing, but he hadn't been responsible there.

Wesley hated that he felt relief, at that. She'd been a friend of his, but thinking of her made him feel only glad that he had no guilt.

He knew he'd let go of needing her friendship. It was one of the things he did well.

But he wasn't going to leave, and he knew why. It was another thing that brought him here to drink beer and whiskey, listening to absurdly cheerful electronic dance music playing at volume enough to burst the eardrums of thirty-four demon species and severely disturb the hearing of a dozen more.

A good reason to drink here, of course. The sound pounded into his chest and skull harder than even the alcohol, but he let it surround him like a protective blanket. No one would try to talk to him in this din, no evil monsters would crash the party. He was safe, as odd as it seemed to say.

It didn't help the fact he hated it here. But he came anyway, two or three or four times a week. Always sat at a different table in a vague attempt to avoid being seen as a 'regular'. He recognised enough faces to know better, but he held onto his few remaining illusions.

He had precious few of them left. It surprised him, though, to realise how many he had once had. He'd always prided himself on being rational, clear-thinking, and feet firmly on the ground and head in the real -- if supernatural - world. But he'd recognised illusions as they'd been stripped from him, one at a time.

The illusion that he knew what he was doing, lost in Sunnydale. The illusion that he could survive on his own, lost when Angel had taken him in and given him respect.

The illusion of that respect, lost when Angel had fired them all, lost again when he'd asked them to return and had never even seen how much Wesley had needed.

Illusions lost that he could make the right choices, and trust his own judgment. Lost with Connor, in hell. Too many other things lost, to name, but they were all false and all better gone.

Wesley continued drinking, and wondered what other illusions he was clinging to and didn't recognise. He certainly hadn't known they were illusions until he'd lost them.

The really sad part was that he knew part of him didn't want to know. Didn't want to lose them. But he had faith that he would do so, eventually.

One more beer, and one more whiskey glass. He didn't bother counting the empty glasses on his table. He'd know when he had to stop else risk not making it back to his flat. He could have at least one more of each after he finished what was in front of him.

"Hey, stranger. Buy me a drink?"

He looked up at Lilah, and scowled.

She looked at the table. "On second thought, may be you've already had mine." She smiled in the way that told him he should take that as having a double meaning. He just kept scowling, not sure that he was up for dealing with her tonight.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, annoyed at thinking she might be here to instigate one of her little mind games.

"What am I ever doing here?" She shrugged casually, looking as in control as she ever did. Even when she was on her back, writhing and clawing at him, she always appeared in control.

"I'm not in the mood." He knew that wouldn't stop her, but he felt better for saying it. Laying the boundaries -- despite the fact they'd be obliterated later.

She leaned forward, shoulder forward and turning a bit sideways, presenting him with an air of confidentiality. "Of course you are. Let's go back to your place and I'll make you scream my name." She smiled. "Or anyone else's. I'm not picky."

He opened his mouth to retort, and knew there was no point. He didn't feel like playing the verbal wit game, tonight. Didn't particularly feel like taking her home and shagging her.

But the alternative was to stay here, finish drinking, and go home alone. The voices in his head hadn't gone anywhere, and sometimes -- when he was really angry or frustrated or aroused -- they did quiet down for awhile.

Wesley stood up, and ignored the look of triumph on Lilah's face. "Let's go, then," he said, knowing he was probably going to lose tonight's battle.

But that was all right. The belief that he would win was an illusion he had lost years and years ago.