For my lovely Sophie, who had a bad day. Set during season five of Angel.
It was a rundown building, in just about the worst part of Los Angeles.
It was a rundown building, in just about the worst part of Los Angeles.
The front door of the apartment was slightly ajar. Giles knocked on it to announce his entrance as he walked in, looking around cautiously. The room was cramped and dim, stuffed with old furniture and coated with a generous layer of dust. Someone obviously lived here – there were footprints on the floor and a stack of recent newspapers by the door – but hadn’t bothered to clean in a while. Only a slim shaft of early morning light slanting through a crack in the curtains illuminated the gloom, so it took Giles a few seconds to notice Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, sitting comfortably in an old armchair and watching him, glass in hand. The chair was one of a pair, half hidden in the corner of the room. There was an empty bottle on the carved side table between the two chairs, and another bottle still half full of a dark liquid. Giles stopped, trying not to betray his surprise.
“Wesley,” he said.
“Giles,” the other man replied, looking slightly amused. “I see you’re in town. Nice of you to let us know.” There was a slight slowness to his voice, which could be attributed without difficulty to the glass in his hand. Giles decided to ignore it for now
“I came here expecting to meet a powerful warlock,” he said. “A man I used to know, actually, who I’m told is working on something thoroughly unpleasant to bring down upon the country. I had hoped I could make him listen to reason. Or, if not, stop him.” He glanced around. “This is certainly his apartment, so where is he?”
“In the other room.” Wesley jerked his head to the right and Giles frowned at him.
“Didn’t have to,” said Wesley. “Looks like he performed the incantation wrong. Something took offence.”
Giles moved over the doorway to the bedroom and peered inside. He grimaced briefly. “Oh.”
“Sometimes these problems take care of themselves,” said Wesley. He waved vaguely at the spare armchair, on the other side of the little table. “Sit down, have a drink.”
Giles stared at him. “I should be getting on, actually,” he said. “If things here are taken care of, I have other business here in town before I leave.”
Wesley shook his head, frowning. “You’ve come thousands of miles for this, you can spare a few minutes to have a drink with an old…” He paused briefly. “…well, we could at least stretch to ‘acquaintance’, surely.”
“I admit I have no great desire to sit in a dark room and drink a dead man’s scotch.”
“I don’t see why not,” said Wesley, mildly. “Better than drinking it while he was alive. After all, he has no use for it now.”
Giles sighed. “What are you doing here, Wesley?”
“Same as you.” Wesley gestured vaguely. “Powerful warlock. Bringing down evil. Must be stopped.”
“I mean, what are you still doing here now?”
Giles glanced at the bottles on the table. “I see. Well, I’ll leave you to your…thoughts then.” He made to move towards the door, but stopped at a small sound of irritation from the corner.
"Not a moment to spare for introspection?” said Wesley. “He was a Watcher, after all. You knew that, I suppose? It could easily have been one of us in his place, after all. Could still be.”
“I didn’t come here to philosophise,” said Giles shortly. He was beginning to suspect neither of the bottles had even been started when Wesley had first arrived.
“It seems a shame though, doesn’t it?” continued Wesley, as though he hadn’t heard. “One of the few lucky enough the escape the blast at the headquarters, and he goes out this way just a few months later.”
“He had only himself to blame.”
“Did he?” said Wesley. “But what choice did he have? What else could he have done? He did exactly what we did after being so unceremoniously dumped by our employers – continued the work in his own way. He simply ended up working for the other side, so to speak. We were…” He gave an odd laugh. “…the lucky ones.”
“Some might say he wasn’t the only one who ended up working for the other side,” said Giles carefully.
“Ah, of course,” said Wesley. “Wolfram and Hart. You weren’t happy with Angel’s recent contract with them. Well if you’re intending to try and get me to listen to reason, or explain to me the terrible price such deals carry, you can save your breath. I’m well aware of the cost.” His mouth twisted unpleasantly as he spoke, and he took another gulp of scotch.
There was a long silence.
“I was very sorry to hear about what happened to Miss Burkle,” Giles said quietly. Wesley’s head whipped up, his eyes sharp for the first time.
“How did you…?”
“We may not have your company’s resources,” said Giles, “but we aren’t entirely incompetent. Willow became…aware of a powerful and ancient force arising in Los Angeles. Naturally she was worried, and so she tried to contact Miss Burkle, with whom she’s had some correspondence. Angel told her what happened, and said you were dealing with the problem in your own way.”
“Angel tried to contact you before, to find a way to stop what was happening,” said Wesley, his eyes now fixed on Giles. “He claims you were less than helpful.”
“There was nothing we could have done to help,” said Giles. He sighed. “Wolfram and Hart may not be trustworthy, but no-one wanted an innocent life to be lost, and certainly not for the sake of one of the old ones. Though I can’t pretend to understand your decision to harbour the demon after she awoke.”
“As Angel said,” replied Wesley coldly. “We’re dealing with the situation.”
“Of course,” said Giles. “This is your, ah…turf, after all. I just hope you know what you’re doing.” His voice softened slightly. “But I am truly sorry for what happened to your…friend.” His eyes wandered to the bottle on the table again. “I know how hard it is to lose someone you care about.”
“But of course you do!” cried Wesley, with a sudden almost manic enthusiasm that made Giles jump slightly. “That’s the life of a Watcher, isn’t it? Sacrifice. Losing everything you have. Stiff upper lip and fight the good fight!” He raised his glass in mock salute. “My god, what have they done to us, Giles? What have they made of us? Men who put duty before compassion? Men who always think of the greater good and do what must be done, and to hell with the people who get in the way?” He waved the glass wildly, heedless of the drops of liquid dancing inside. “I mean, look at us. What the hell have we got to show for it all?”
“We do what we must,” said Giles. “Because no-one else can. Sometimes there are…sacrifices.”
Wesley used his free hand to wave his finger at Giles vaguely. “Ah yes, you’d know all about it of course. Didn’t you lose someone too? The teacher? What was her name again? I forget.”
There was a silence, and Wesley, seeing the look on Giles’ face, shook his head contritely.
“Sorry,” he said in a quieter voice. “That was rude of me. I appear to have lost my…social filters, recently. I imagine it’s Illyria’s influence.” He squinted at the glass in his hand. “…or perhaps it’s the scotch.”
There was another long silence.
“Jenny,” said Giles finally, in a composed voice. “Her name was Jenny Calendar.”
“So it was,” said Wesley. “I remember.” He seemed slightly calmer, setting his empty glass down carefully on the table. “I never knew her myself, of course, she was before my time. And you never met Fred, did you? Isn’t that strange? I think, sometimes, about how many people there are in the world who never knew Fred, how many people to whom her death means nothing. Sometimes I pity them.” He stared blankly at the wall. “Sometimes I envy them so much it makes me sick.”
Giles sighed, strolled across the room and sank down in the other chair. A small cloud of dust rose into the air.
“It gets easier,” he said quietly.
“God, I hope not,” said Wesley.
They sat there for a long time, neither one looking at the other.
“So is this what we signed up for, Giles? Because I don’t remember it being in the brochure. Become a Watcher. Fight against the forces of evil. Watch the woman you love die in your arms.”
“What happened wasn’t your fault.”
“No it wasn’t. What happened to your Ms Calendar wasn’t your fault either, but it doesn’t matter, does it? Nothing could have been done to save them. Nothing at all. They made their choices and reaped the consequences. So what was the point?” He almost spat the last word. “What were they, in the end? Collateral damage? Necessary sacrifices for the greater good?”
“No,” replied Giles instantly. “Never.”
“My father used to talk a great deal about the greater good.”
“Have you ever seen it?” asked Wesley, bleakly. “Because frankly I’m beginning to doubt there is one.”
Giles shook his head slowly. “Perhaps not. There may not be some great all-encompassing reason for everything that happens, but I believe…I have to believe that there is some purpose to what we do. That our actions matter, that the sacrifices we’ve made, and that others have made, do make a difference, somewhere.”
“And if they don’t?”
“Then we continue anyway. As you said, what else can we do?”
Wesley gave a strange smile. “You sound like Angel.”
“Well I imagine he’s lost a fair amount along the way too,” said Giles.
Wesley nodded thoughtfully, and picked up the bottle to pour a small amount of the remaining scotch into his glass. He studied it for a moment, holding it up to the dim light, watching the reflections shatter through the dark liquid.
“I suppose he has,” he muttered. “So it goes, in our line of work.”
He sighed, raised the glass to Giles, and inclined his head.
“To Jenny Calendar,” he said, and gulped it down. To his surprise, Giles took the bottle and the spare glass so recently proffered, and poured himself a similar amount. He raised it and nodded at Wesley.
“To Fred,” he said quietly, and drank, before setting his glass on the polished table between them. Without hesitation, Wesley poured the last remaining scotch into the two glasses. There was just enough for about an inch in each.
“So what’s it to be?” he said. “To the Watchers? The greater good? To duty? Honour? To love?”
Giles considered for a minute, and finally replied: “To good scotch whiskey.”
They raised their glasses together for the last time.