Providence

It was late when he finally got home ­ barely three o'clock when he unlocked his front door and stepped inside. He'd stopped for dinner on the way home, after leaving the Hyperion later than intended.

He'd been unable to quite bring himself to go, even after almost everyone else had gone. Most had simply gone upstairs; even Cordelia had carried Connor up, instead of handing him to Angel and going home. Gunn had left soon after Fred had gone upstairs, waving them all a goodnight, then Wesley had busied himself in his office for another half hour before closing up the office and heading out.

At times like tonight he thought more seriously about the providence of asking Angel if they oughtn't all live at the hotel. There was no longer any excuse that Angel could not tolerate guests ­ and with his sudden realisation that he might need more funds than before, a pitch that it would save greatly on money would no doubt go over well. But with tonight's take, that wasn't likely to sound necessary, so Wesley didn't give it more than a fleeting consideration.

All he really wanted anyway was to avoid the long drive home, the long walk up to his flat, and the hissing sound of the radiator that only turned on when it most inconvenient. Who knew why any building in LA needed a radiator, anyhow. But even if Wesley selected one of the Hyperion's rooms that was above the fifth floor, far away from the others to maintain the illusion that he lived alone, it would make for a shorter trip to his bed.

Wesley sighed as he went into his flat, leaving the lights off as he headed for the kitchen. He didn't truly wish to live at the hotel. He just wished he could get a good night's sleep, and spend a day not feeling...so tired. Opening the cupboard, he reached in and selected a teacup by feel. The ceramic was cool on his fingertips, as he brushed the first thing he touched, then moved his hand slightly to the right to identify the larger mug he wanted. The fortune of living alone ­ everything stayed where he placed it, and there was no stumbling about looking for things someone else had put away.

He picked up the mug and set it on the counter, and began preparing a cup of tea in the darkness. He preferred leaving the lights off, at night. Despite his slightly near-sighted eyes, he had decent night vision, and he always felt more secure with the lights out. He could see into the shadows more easily this way than he could by trying to shine a light into every corner to dispel them.

Not that night vision played much part, working at night in a city like Los Angeles. Neon and florescence ruined any chance of being able to see properly ­ another reason he savored his own little haven of darkness. The one place he could control how much light he had to see by ­ a pitiful enough thing, he knew, and would admit even here in the darkness. But Wesley was a man who preferred control, despite the hundreds of ways life thwarted him on a daily basis. There was less and less control each day, fewer moments when he could sit back and predict with any feeling of certainty what was likely to occur. Not with regard to which evil the universe would throw at them, but about what would happen in-between. What filled in the cracks among the fights and apocalypses and visions.

He didn't know, and he had begun realising that he had never known. That didn't bother him, that he had never really known. What bothered him was that he didn't know, now. That he would wake up tomorrow, and not know at all what he would find. Who he would see, what would be said. There was no predictable routine in his life, and he was beginning to feel as though it were him which was unraveling, rather than the fabric of existence.

He set the mug down, filled with hot water and steeping instant tea the likes of which it would scandalise his mother to know he was preparing. But he could care less what she thought of his potables. The tea was cheap, and easy, and there were varieties enough that he could avoid the more disgusting flavours. Wesley pulled a kitchen chair away from the table, and sat down, staring out at the darkness.

In the morning, he would awaken, and go back to work. That would be his intention, at least, and there was no knowing what would happen to bugger it up. Phone call at four am? Traffic accident? Flat tyre on his bike? Too much trepidation to get out of bed?

He didn't know, and he wouldn't know until he woke again and found out. He laughed once, at himself and the lack of enthusiasm this engendered for going to bed. Instead he swirled his tea, feeling the heat seep through the mug. He didn't know if he cared to drink it, if he wanted to let it steep until it was so strong that he could simply throw it away or if he should rescue the teabag now, and let it cool enough to taste.

He left the teabag alone, not truly caring. Another reason to buy cheap tea bags ­ most of the time he didn't need the drink, just needed the something to do when he got home that made him feel as though he weren't just coming in and going to bed, then rising again to shower and change and head out again. Little enough domesticity in a cup of tea, but it was better than nothing.

Wesley pushed the mug aside, and stood up. He didn't feel like lying to himself, tonight. This morning. He was far too tired, and far too apathetic to deal with facades that no one would see. He left the kitchen, mug on the table to deal with later, and headed for the bedroom. Wesley stripped quickly, leaving his clothing on the chair, divided into a rude pile of items which needed laundering, and a careful drape over the back of the chair for things which might stand another wearing. He thought again of the brief, if vigorous, fight with the zombi Brian, and pulled everything off the back of the chair and dumped it all together in a pile.

There was a tug of interest, then, of forgoing the straight-to-sleep, and digging out one of his books on zombis. There was an interesting journal about vodoun and zombis that he enjoyed reading ­ he needed to brush up, anyhow, on something. Might as well be zombis. Read an hour each night, his father had drilled into him. Anything. Something, because it will all be useful and all be necessary and you never knew when you would need to know the thing you read last night or last week or last year.

"You cannot carry your books around with you, boy. It must all be in your head. Read. Read as often as you can, because that is the only way you will ever know."

Wesley sighed and turned on the small lamp beside his bed. Naked, he trudged back out to the living room, selected the slim book from the bookshelf, and returned to bed. It would be a late night, later now, but he would read for as close to an hour as he could.

It proved easy enough to slip into the text. Ten minutes after selecting a chapter, he was deep into the writings, thinking about the arguments for and against the theories being posited, doubting the veracity of the evidence presented, and wishing he could be there, himself, to see what it was the author had striven to relate. His fingers twitched for a pencil, to scribble things down ­ perhaps another paper, there, not for the reputable journal his father would approve of, but a journal nonetheless.

Even if no one but he ever knew, even if no one but he ever understood why he bothered. He pushed aside Lorne's words, that threatened to jolt him out of his reading. He didn't expect anyone to appreciate the complexities of genetics for creatures with no DNA ­ except perhaps the creatures themselves. Those with intelligence to read, at any rate. He hadn't even mentioned the submission of the article beyond stirring up the office once, searching for the book he'd been referencing and had misplaced. His friends had proven congratulatory, but as soon as he'd tried to explain his reasoning and his theory their eyes had collectively crossed, and the conversation had died an ugly, demonic death.

He hadn't mentioned it to Fred for reasons he hated to even confess to himself. With the lamp light burning on the page of Wixome's Discourse on Vodoun, he could risk admitting half of it. However it was she learned ­ inhaling books and research on the web and magazines like a starving man inhaled food ­ she retained and understood nearly everything she encountered, and her mind did frightening things to the information. A prodigy, or a genius, or simply so desperate for information after five years in hell that anything would have done and it was just chance that steered her towards science and away from pulp romance and soap operas. He hated to think what would happen if she saw his notes, and made an observation or two.

Wesley closed his book and chided himself for the uncharitable thought. But it was there, and it would not be unthought. He'd turned to writing articles after Fred had asked to read her way through his library at the office. The first time she'd prattled out a reference he could remember studying for weeks to memorize, he'd known. Somewhere, deep down inside him, he had known.

She might be able to absorb knowledge, but she could not steal his experience ­ Wesley had made a phone call to one of the demonic journals he'd read as a student, and soon after had submitted his first draft. It was not quite what he'd ever wanted for himself, even back when he had been an Official Watcher and respected...by himself, at least, for the title. Back then he'd have scoffed at the rag to which he now was contributing, preferring the more illustrious and dignified academic journals such as those published by the Council, itself.

Not that they would have had him. He'd known better than to prove himself against the more experienced, more refined, and more intelligent Watchers he'd known. Now he counted himself lucky to not care what the Watchers thought, or did, and was honestly grateful that he'd finally stopped feeling at a loss for having chosen against them. He'd even got over the stab of hurt when he'd found out that Buffy had got her own ex-Watcher back onto the ranks of officialdom. Theirs was a different fight, and Wesley had other concerns.

One of which was Fred. He was delighted for her, that she was making such progress with living in her home world again. It was nice to be able to discuss weighty and academic matters with someone who did not cross his eyes at the first four­syllable word. It was even good to know that should anything happen, Angel would not be left without someone who knew the contents of the library and manage the research they...rarely seemed to need, nowadays.

Wesley shook his head. The occasions it was needed, it was very definitely needed, and now was not the time for him to indulge in self-pity. He set his book aside and switched off the light. Redundancy had its place, and it was a relief to share the burdens of research with someone else who understood. Even if it meant the others learnt to turn to her, and not him, because she somehow knew more than he ever could hope to.

He'd even seen her pick up languages he'd spent years learning. She never seemed to notice how hard others worked or how much they stood to lose to her. Wesley closed his eyes, and reminded himself that none of it was maliciously done. No doubt it was all for the best, and someday he would look back and accept, just as he had his own failure and escape from Sunnydale, that there were reasons he could not deny were good ones. He'd been needed, here, and could not have remained a Watcher on the Hellmouth. Much as he'd hated it, and been bewildered by it, it had all been for the best. For a while.

He had no idea what was being set up in store for him this time. Unpredictability, such that he could not even say if it were set to occur tomorrow, or a year from now. All he could do was stand there and observe, like the Watcher he'd been taught to be.

Perhaps that was all he'd been meant to be. To serve other roles until those more suited could be set to fill them, then he could retreat once more into his proper position of observer. He had already begun to lose his authority as head of the agency, eroded by Angel's sheer presence. He had lost whatever hope he had of being Angel's confidant, once Cordelia had faced the limitations of her own dreams, and re-focused them on the good fight, and the vampire who fought them. Now he was losing his place as the one who knew, to a girl much more suited to the task. Tactless enough to blurt out whatever needed saying, and a pretty smile to soften the prattle that always sounded so stuffy coming from his own mouth.

There was never any question of being needed as a strong arm ­ Gunn and Angel had never needed him to fill that role, except when one more competent body would have done as well. That left only the one thing, for which he had been scraped and pressed into the mold. Born and bred to be a Watcher, for whom penmanship and clarity were more important than...anything.

Wesley blinked once at the darkness, then pushed himself out of bed. He picked up his glasses and the robe from the closet door, and headed into the living room. A pen, his journal, and a small light by the desk. He'd not written in his diary for days, now, and it was well past time that he did. He opened the journal to the next blank page, and dated it.

In years to come it will not matter if a man named Wesley lost his place. It will not matter that he lived only for a short time, and that his touch upon the chronicles was no more than a passing wraith. The memories will haunt him, but will not bleed upon the page. There will be no regret, and no bitterness. For what the world needs to know is not how a mortal man struggled with life, and friendship, and self-worth and love. All mortal men struggle with these things, to defeat or be defeated by them. Their stories are found in every book man has ever scribed.

What the world will need to know is how it came to be. Whatever world results from the struggles of a vampire cursed with conscience, blessed with more chances to make amends than any demon would think a right to, that world will one day ask how it was birthed. Why the Powers That Be care so much for one creature, is for them to know. The balance lies on him, and in him, and every day is a struggle to keep it so. Whatever comes of it, it will one day be asked, how did it happen?

So herein will lie the story, of how a vampire found his soul, and lost it, and was given it back in a firmer anchor than a Gypsy's spell could ever hope to create. And it will not matter who helped him, who assisted his travails and who watched from the side. The names will be recorded, but lost to time and disinterest, and the stories underneath do not need to be told.

Wesley tore the sheet out of the journal, and set it aside. He wrote one more line at the bottom, before returning to the journal and starting again. A date, and a more dispassionate beginning, telling the tale of Angel.

"And it will be forgotten what man ever loved him."