TITLE: The Reality of Absence
AUTHOR: Katarina "Katta" Hjärpe (head_overheels@hotmail.com)
RATING: PG for gore and hints of slashiness
NOTE: This is the first story in an intended Birthdayverse series.
SUMMARY: Angel loses a friend. Gunn finds one.


The images struck with such force he was thrown to the floor. He fought the pain to try and make sense of the grey shape he saw. It had no detail beyond its outline and didn't seem alive at all, but he had a vague feeling he recognised it.

As the pain faded and he started to get a grip on reality, he heard the faintest of whispers: "Feels awful, doesn't it?"

Doyle? But Doyle was dead. Yet Angel was sure he had heard something, and although the pressure in his head increased he struggled to remain in the vision. Only it wasn't a vision anymore, it was something else...

And there Doyle was, kissing Buffy.

"What are you doing?"

The two of them untangled from each other, and Doyle stared at him. "What are *you* doing? You're not supposed to be here. The vision's over."

"I thought I heard your voice." His head hurt - and, since that was where he seemed to be, the whole world hurt, pulsating in great red waves of pain. "Why are you kissing Buffy?"

"I don't know, it's your mind. But if you'd rather I didn't..."

Buffy disappeared. Or rather, the world changed to engulf the place where she had been.

"Where did she go?"

"Where she always was."

"Is it a riddle?"

"Only if you make it one."

Angel clung to the one thing he knew for sure. "You're dead."


"So why are you still here?"

"I'm where I should be. Still on your mind." Doyle sat down on the sofa like so many times before, but he didn't kick his feet up like he used to. It added to the impression that he was more serious than he had ever been in life. "No, as I said, you're the one who shouldn't be here. Your mind uses this place to tell you things. So do the Powers, now. But it's hardly safe for you to wander around here all on your own."

That part Angel did understand, but he wished he hadn't.

"This isn't real, is it?"

"Now you get it. This is all in your head, there are people out there who need you, and staying here is dangerous to both you and them. Not to mention that your head must be pounding like a bongo drum by now. Be off with you."

"No. If this is the only place I can talk to you, I don't care if it's real or not. I'm staying."

"Listen, Angel, if you were meant to be conscious of your subconscious mind, you wouldn't have one!"

"I don't care." His stubborn refusal was in part a way to punish Doyle, who was looking seriously distressed by now. It didn't matter how he looked. He wasn't real anyway. "You died."

"Yeah, that tends to happen when you're being burnt to a crisp." There was a nasty tone to Doyle's voice now that made Angel flinch. "Fine. If you won't listen to me, I know just who to call."

And Darla sunk her teeth into newborn flesh, causing the baby to cry and Angel to turn his head away in despair. There was nothing he could do to stop her, but he could stop watching. If none of this was real, he could leave any moment.

He came to himself on a cold floor, more empty and lonely than he had been before. It was a while before he realised he was tied up.


Wesley was getting quite used to the smell of blood, urine and excrement, but now there was a slight tinge of rotting flesh as well. It seemed he was dying, then.

And the female of the species truly was more dangerous. It was an interesting observation that he would have noted down if he hadn't been pinned to a wall. At first, he had attempted to get loose, only to find that this didn't only cause unbearable pain, but was likely to cause fatal bloodloss. Now, he was beginning to cherish that option. Only question was if he still had the strength.

The demon had long since left, carrying its dead mate. Now there were only humans, and even they stayed mostly upstairs. Probably trying to avoid the smell.

They were arguing again. He didn't understand much Korean, but managed to make out enough words now and then to get the gist of what they were saying. "The guy in the cellar stinks. Can't we just kill him and throw him out?" "Why bother? He'll die soon anyway." "What do you think the police will say if they find him?" "What would they say if they found him after we killed him?" "Does nobody care that it's a very expensive spear he's stuck on?"

Wesley chuckled weakly. It was a very expensive spear. People had killed for a lot less. He wouldn't blame them. He just wished they'd make up their minds soon.

A curse of some sort ended the shouting for this time, and Wesley expected the sounds to die away as the people returned to their home. Instead, footsteps proceeded down the stairs, and through the mist of sweat in his eyes he could see a face.

"You won't tell anyone about this, you hear me?"

He wondered why the man bothered to threaten him, but nodded anyway. Perhaps they'd ease his death a bit. The man leaned over him and grabbed hold of the spear.

He was aware of nothing else until he was being lifted off the ground on a stretcher by some people he had never seen before but was quite confident were paramedics. And that blinking thing over there was the top of an ambulance, which meant he was outside. But he had no idea how he'd come to be there.

Apparently, neither did the paramedics, because they kept asking questions. Questions with answers that definitely infringed upon those things the man inside had told him to keep quiet about. Not that he had any reason to oblige, but since he *had* been let out of the cellar when he had been certain they would kill him, maybe staying quiet *was* the best option.

Before he could solve this moral dilemma he passed out again.


"And do I get fifteen thousand for the horn? Fifteen thousand - it's a rarity!"

Barney stopped and sniffed the air hesitantly for a moment, before turning to his assistant, whispering, "Is something burning?"

The smoke coming from the waiting objects answered that question. Cursing to himself, Barney walked over to stop the fire.

"Who the hell put the vampire that close to the window?"

A burning fist shot out and hit his face.

"I did," said Angel, shaking what remained of the ropes from his wrists. Before the sun had reached the window he'd been forced to sit still watching the auction, and it had put him in a very bad mood. He took great pleasure in grinding the face of each sleazy auctioneering demon into the floor, starting with the little creep who'd gotten him into this position. By the time he had cleaned the place out, he was grinning.

Until his gaze fell on the table with yet unsold items. Each one of those things signified a dead creature. He could have been one of them if it hadn't been for the fortunate timing of sunlight. And all because he'd been overpowered by some demon who would never have stood a chance against him if he hadn't been... unconscious...

If he hadn't stayed in the vision. That was what it all came down to. If he'd left when he was supposed to, he could have averted Barney's attempt to capture him. Sure, things had turned out all right anyway - for him. But he'd seen the Maiden with Urn before the auction had started, and he couldn't pretend that he didn't recognise it. These were the people he was supposed to help. The people he had failed.

He made his way back home in low spirit, and sat down in front of the TV set without turning it on. Could he have made a difference? That was what visions were for. So he could have. He should have. But what? He couldn't ask the Oracles, they'd been pretty impatient last time. The only person he could ask was the one who'd warned him about this to begin with. But he wasn't about to waste another vision. Maybe if he tried hard to think about what he had done last time, he'd be able to do it again.

He searched his mind for the place where the visions resided, but found nothing. His mind was as conscious as it had ever been. Closing his eyes didn't help either, that just made him sleepy. It had been a tough day. All days were tough days now, that was the agony of survival. Once again, his eyes drifted shut. He'd just close them for a moment, maybe he'd feel better later.

In his dream, Buffy was wearing a red denim dress and sharpening a stake that she put away when he came in.

"I thought you might come."

"I'm looking for Doyle." That much he remembered, even in his sleep.

"No, you're not." She stepped up to him and put her arms around his waist. "You're here to have sex with me."

"We mustn't."

"Of course we must. We do it all the time here. Don't you remember?"

He did. There had been nights when that was all he dreamed of. But he couldn't get past the stubborn feeling that there were more important things to be done. "I need to speak to Doyle."

Her smile indicated that she found him just a little bit stupid. "If it was Doyle you wanted, he would be here, wouldn't he?"

She was right, of course. That was the crux of it all. "If I could have loved him..."

"If you could." There was deep compassion in her pretty face now.

"He would have lived."


"But I couldn't." Nor could he fight the merciless logic of the dream. He had selfishly wanted to get rid of his guilt, but that wasn't how things worked, was it? "What can I do?"

"Whatever you want." She smiled at him as if she had given him a present. "Here, anything is possible."

"But I can't stay here forever. Can I?" Seeing her face, he suddenly knew that he could. No one would stop him. It was his choice. If he wanted, he could stay here, where he was allowed to love Buffy, and where Doyle wasn't dead. And he did want it, his mind and body screamed for it, but he knew that it would cause people to die. Because the people he were supposed to help weren't in here, they were out there.

The sounds of honking horns outside woke him up, and he rolled over onto his stomach. He'd gotten the answers he wanted. There was no point in getting up.


One of the main reasons Gunn hated hospitals was because you had to be pretty damn lucky to get help in time. He had been sitting in the waiting room for half an hour now, too busy trying to make James's blood stay in his body to yell at the doctors as much as they deserved.

"Hey, nurse, you plan on waiting until he bleeds out?"

And miracles do happen, because the woman stopped to take a look at James, whose face was taking on a greenish hue.

"Yeah, we'll have time for you in a minute..."

The doors were flung open as a group of paramedics brought in a guy on a stretcher. The nurse glanced at them and turned back to Gunn. "Maybe two minutes."

Although he was ready to hit something by now, Gunn had to admit that the guy they had brought in looked bad and smelled worse. Whatever had happened to him, it had been a while ago. If he hadn't been moving a little, Gunn would have assumed he was already dead.

"White male, approximately 30, left arm penetrated by unknown object, humerus fractured, wound severely infected. Dehydrated, blood pressure 75 over 30 - we're talking definite amputation."

"Looks like we'd have to wash him first," the nurse replied. "Is that UG he's covered in?"

Gunn only partly listened, still too occupied with James to care. The term "UG" caught his attention - he knew from previous experience that it was an acronym that the staff used for "unidentifiable goo". Usually, it meant that a demon was involved somehow. He looked at the guy with a bit more interest, trying to figure out if the attacker had been a new demon or one he knew how to kill.

The guy looked back, and his dazed eyes slid from Gunn to James, who was holding a cloth to his neck with shaking hands.

"Vampire," he said weakly. If he said something else, it was drowned in the other sounds as the doctors took him away.

Gunn sat up straight. A guy coming in, apparently wounded by a demon, who recognised the signs of a vampire attack. Of course, he could be out of his head from pain and talking nonsense.

"We have a doctor free for you now."

So Gunn followed James to the long awaited help, but his thoughts were still on the man who had been wheeled away.


Even in his dreams, Angel couldn't find peace anymore. He hadn't had any visions lately, and his sleep was disturbed by feedings. Although they reminded him of things he used to do they were not memories. He was making up new murders in his dreams.

That didn't disturb him half as much as opening the morning paper and seeing the murders described there. Every detail was right, and it made him wonder if he was going mad, had somehow committed those murders and then convinced himself they were dreams.

Another possibility, only slightly more comforting, was that since he'd used the visions to work his dreams, maybe the Powers That Be were now using his dreams to work the visions.

In either case, he needed to find out more about the murders, particularly to learn how to stop them. And so for the first time in over a week he left his apartment during office hours to meet actual people.

He felt strange stepping into the police station, seeing how nothing had changed since last time he'd been there. The everyday reality of it all made him feel as if he had suddenly turned into a dream figure himself. Kate Lockley, sitting at her desk, was far too normal a person to come to with something like this.

She saw him coming and stood up automatically. "Hi. I didn't expect to see you so soon."

He did his best to ignore the "after" implied in her greeting. "Hi. Uhm... I need your help."

"Sure. Sit down." She gestured at a chair, and didn't sit down herself until he had. "So, what's the problem?"

"Those murders they write about in the papers... I dream about them."

The tension in her face eased a bit as she gave him a wry grin. "Yeah? Join the club. You don't think they give me nightmares?"

"They're not nightmares. I enjoy them."

"Oh." Was that worry in her face, or just disgust? "Well, I can understand why that would disturb you, but I still don't see what I can do about it."

He had come in there fully prepared to be frank with her, but now what he had to say seemed highly improbable even to him. Perhaps it would be better for all involved if he just mumbled "never mind" and left. But he didn't. He had no one else to talk to.

"I dream about them before they happen. Or while," he corrected himself. "I'm not sure about which."

Her expression changed at once. Obviously she couldn't believe him.

"Listen, I'm not crazy. I saw it happen. The old man, the woman and the child. He puts crosses on their faces, then he drains them of blood, and I saw it before I heard about it. Before you throw me out, the newspapers didn't say anything about the draining so how could I possibly know?"

It seemed like forever before she let go of his gaze, and he was convinced she'd think he had lost it and would have him see a shrink. But she shrugged unexpectedly and opened a drawer. "Well, the times are no secret," she said, browsing through some papers before handing him one of them.

"Thank you." He eyed the papers and did some quick estimation of the dates and times in his head. The result wasn't encouraging. "While. I get them *while* they're happening."

"Does that make a difference?"

"The whole point of the visions is that you get enough time to save the victims!"

She stared at him. "You get visions of murders a lot, do you?"

"Just once before all this. That time I was awake."

"Not much to establish a pattern, then."

"Doyle had them before." The name seemed unnaturally loud, even with all the noise from people working.

"Contagious clairvoyance?" She tried to sound flippant, but the fear gave her voice a hard edge.


"Then what's to say I don't get it?"

He pondered that. The whole workings of the visions were still quite a mystery to him, and he doubted he'd ever find out much more than "they come, they hurt, they demand solutions". But he very much doubted you could get them just from hanging around someone. It had taken a lot more than that to transfer them from Doyle to him.

Before he realised what he was doing, he had leaned over and kissed Kate. Her eyes widened in surprise, and he felt a sharp pain in his lip. She had bitten him.


"What was that for?"

"I don't know. I'm sorry." What ever could have possessed his mind to make him do something like that? Sleep deprivation, probably. This course of action wouldn't have made any sense even if he wanted her to get the visions - which he most certainly didn't. "You didn't feel anything, did you?"

"I felt you kissing me. If you were expecting any strange stirrings in my utility belt I'm afraid I'll have to let you down."

"Utility belt?"

Her face turned pink. "Never mind. Listen..." There was a moment of hesitation, and Angel had time to wonder why she seemed so ill at ease when he was the one who had behaved strangely, before she continued: "I'm sorry about your friend. And it only makes sense that you would be... troubled. So maybe the best thing for everyone would be for you to just go home and rest."

"And dream about the murders?"

That made her flinch. Good. If she belittled this, they would have a serious problem.

"I dream of them while they happen. Has it occurred to you what that might mean?"

She looked down for a second, but then raised her head again, meeting his eyes. "You may not be dreaming."


"But Angel, what do you want me to do about it?"

"Lock me up."

She started to shake her head, but he stopped when he grabbed her hand.

"Please. Say I have confessed. If I'm not the killer, you'll find out soon enough."

Her eyes didn't leave him. "And if you are?"

"Then I should be stopped."

It seemed like forever before she nodded. "I don't think you did it. But if making sure puts your mind at ease a bit, I'll do you that favour."

He gave her a relieved smile. "You wouldn't have any cells without windows, by any chance?"


Since Wesley didn't know anyone in Los Angeles, and hadn't contacted any of his acquaintances elsewhere, he didn't expect visitors. He'd spent the past hour thinking about his new motorcycle, because if he mourned enough over having to sell it, he wouldn't have to mourn anything else. And that was how he intended to go on spending his day.

But here was a young black man whom he had positively never seen before in his life, and according to the nurse it was his second cousin Charles.

Why anyone would make up such a lie for the benefit of his company was quite beyond him.

"Hey," the young man said as the nurse left. "You don't know me. I'm Charles Gunn."

"Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. So, you're my second cousin?"

"I had to say something."

Wesley waited patiently for an explanation that didn't come at first. Charles Gunn was looking at his face. That was the normal place to look at people, but something about the steadiness of that gaze was quite unnerving. It took a while before Wesley realised that it probably was so that he wouldn't risk looking somewhere else. The thought of that made his chest hurt.

"How can I help you?"

"I was here the other day," Charles Gunn said. "Well, not here here. Down at the ER with a friend. He had a neck wound. I was taking him to a doctor."

Neck wound. Wesley straightened up a bit. "Go on."

"They brought you in on a stretcher while we were sitting there. You diagnosed my friend just by throwing an eye at him. Diagnosed him correctly, too."

"I see." Caution prevented him saying more.

"So how come you know about them?"

He wasn't up to telling some stranger about Watcher business. Or even ex-Watcher business. And to use the phrase "rogue demon hunter" in a situation like this would be utterly pathetic. "I hunt them."

"Really? Me too." Charles Gunn grinned and stopped looking as if just being at a hospital would somehow damage his health. He finally sat down, letting his long legs stretch out into the room. A moment later, he was serious again.

"You been doing this for long?"

"Just a few months. But I've prepared for it most of my life."

There was an extended silence. No one brought up the subject of what he was to do now. The bare thought made his arm hurt something awful. It didn't help that he told himself that it wasn't there. So instead he tried telling himself that of course it was there, that was why it hurt, and in the long run everything would be all right.

"Maybe it's time for me to go. You must be tired."

"I suppose I am."

"So... my gang's down at East Hills. If you ever need a hand... I mean..."

Wesley had to bite his cheek not to laugh. His eyes filled with tears.

"I'll let you know." He found to his surprise that he didn't want Charles Gunn to leave. He'd enjoyed a bit of company.

"Bye, then."

"Goodbye, Charles."

Charles Gunn stopped in the doorway and smiled a little. "It's Gunn. Charles is just..." He grimaced. "Pansy."

"Oh. All right."

He watched Gunn leave, and his heart sank. His presence had been more than just company. Nobody had smiled like that at him for longer than he could bear.

And he was barely more than a boy. There was no getting around that. Oh, Gunn was very old for his age, in many ways quite like a Slayer. But still too young in other ways, unaware of his effect on people as Cordelia hadn't been, even though he must be older than her.

Wesley certainly had a way of getting himself into unfortunate situations. Still, he appreciated this turn of events. At the very least, Gunn had given him something pleasant to think about.



Angel woke up from yet another disturbing dream, and that was the one thing his mind held on to. He didn't know if the face he had seen was real, but it made sense. Penn had always been a traditionalist. The murders fitted his act - provided he hadn't changed it in the past two hundred years. And why would he? It wasn't as if the guy had any imagination.

But he couldn't know for sure. What he had seen hadn't been an ordinary dream or a vision, that much was certain. It might be an effect of the bond he had to Penn as a sire - or it might just be another piece of statics from the borderlands of his mind.

He had avoided returning there, but the possibility always remained. After the last couple of dreams, he thought he knew the way even awake. Problem was, when he went in, he wasn't sure he ever wanted to leave.

Maybe if he held on to something. Not stopping Penn, because he couldn't be sure that belonged to the outer world. But Kate would go through unnecessary trouble if he remained inside his own head. And in a town like this, a cop who researched the inexplicable had enough trouble as it was.

So with Kate on his mind he dived in, and he shouldn't have been surprised to find her there.

"This is the guy," she said, showing him a drawn profile of Penn. "He'll kill again. He killed tonight."

"He did?"

"Of course. He will keep killing until he finds you. That was why he came here."

"To kill?"

"To find you." She drew circles around Penn's face, wider and wider. "He's calling you, but you don't answer."

"I didn't know."

"You knew. You just didn't listen."

"I listen now."

"Go out there. Find him and stop him."

"I will." Then he remembered that even if his mind was firmly by Kate's desk, his body was still locked in a cell. "I can't."

"Oh, I forgot." Her expression changed to a cynical smile. "You're stuck. And dawn's coming soon, isn't it?"

He wasn't too sure of the hour, but he suspected that she was right. With all the time he had wasted, there was no chance of finding Penn before the sun rose. His guilt and confusion had bought Penn another night of murder.

"Sucks to be you, doesn't it?" she said sunnily, pinning up the drawing of Penn's face on the wall. The grey pencil lines pulled together in a triumphant grin.

Watching Penn gloat was more than Angel could stand, and so he hurried to leave his mind, waking up in a cell only dimly lit up by night lamps.


Kate was standing outside, and for a second he thought he had failed to return.

"He's killed again."

"You said."


And then he knew that this was real. But so were the dreams, that had told him the same thing.

"Let me out. I know who the killer is."


"Hey, Gunn, there's a guy out there to see you."

Gunn welded the last spike onto the axe and then looked up at Alonna. "What guy?"

"White, snotty looking, missing an arm?"

"Oh, him." Gunn rose from his position on the floor and brushed the dirt off his butt. "He's a demon hunter," he said by way of explanation.

"Really? Because he looks more like the kind who gets eaten by one. Hell, it's already had a wing."

"Shut up, Alonna."

Heading outside, Gunn had to admit that there was a certain accuracy in Alonna's statement. Even dressed up in leather, Wesley wasn't a likely person to turn to with supernatural problems. Desolation fitted better on the face of the victim than of the saviour.


"Hello." If Wesley had worn a tie, he would have straightened it. "I was wondering if you would be interested in purchasing a motorcycle."

"A motorcycle?" Okay, so he sounded like an idiot repeating it. If Wesley said motorcycle, chances were that he meant a motorcycle. But he hadn't exactly expected the guy to show up on his doorstep and try to sell him a bike.

"Yes. I... have one, that I intend to sell."

Gunn had a strange feeling he was missing something vital. "Where would I get the money for that?"

"Quite. That is a problem." No grown man should ever look as embarrassed as Wesley did at that moment. "I should probably get going, then."

"We could find a buyer for you." That was Alonna, who had stepped up behind him. Whatever this conversation was really about, she seemed to understand it better than he did. "If you need the money."

"I do, actually." His relief was unmistakable. "And I don't know many people in this town, so if you would be kind enough to assist me I'd be much obliged."

That was even stranger. Though Wesley might look a bit down at the moment - who wouldn't - it was pretty clear he had better breeding than a race horse. But Alonna seemed to have expected it.

"No problem. It might as easily have been one of us."

That was when it finally clicked in Gunn's head. Wesley was standing here looking like something the cat had dragged in, which meant the hospital had kicked him out. But they usually kept loaded people as long as they possibly could, which in its turn meant that he didn't have enough money to pay the bills - and had to sell the bike. Damn.

"We'll find you that buyer," he promised. "As a business deal. We help you now, and maybe one day you'll help us with what you know about demons."

The way Wesley's face lit up was almost religious. "I would be honoured to assist you."

"Same here." He found to his surprise that he actually looked forward to meeting the guy again.

Alonna kept her face kind for until Wesley had left. But when she turned to Gunn her expression was a lot less charitable.

"What?" he said, defensive even though he didn't know what he had done wrong.

"Who was that?"

"I told you, he's a demon hunter. I met him at the hospital when James was hurt. Will you stop looking at me like that?"

"I'm just surprised to see you suddenly show such a lot of respect for some demon-eaten white guy."

"What? You heard him. He's broke... and crippled. What would you have me do, throw him out? Besides, you were the one who suggested we find a buyer for his bike."

"I'm not arguing that." She crossed her arms. "But I can't help but wonder if you'd been as helpful if it hadn't been a demon taking that arm of his."

He turned to go inside. "That doesn't make any sense."

"Sure it does. I know you. The closer you can get to an actual victim, the better."

"Alonna..." It wasn't like her to be this callous. "I saw him come in. He could have died from that wound."

"Well, sure. That's what's so great, isn't it?"

"Man, there's just no talking to you today."

"Fine." She hurried past him and blocked his way going in. "I talk, you listen. Why do you think he's selling that bike? Because he needs the money, sure. But I'm willing to bet it also has something to do with the fact that he can't ride it. Hell, even getting dressed must be a real party for him now. So, I'd just appreciate it if you gave that some thought next time you rush head first into some vampire nest."

She had some crazy ideas about him, but her concern was still genuine, and he pulled her closer, kissing her softly on the forehead.

"Don't you worry, little sister. I can take care of myself."


"Bus full of schoolchildren, Penn? You really think I was going to fall for that?" Angel watched Penn closely. Odd how this was real, and yet it felt pale and artificial compared to the world inside his head. As if Penn and his victims didn't even matter.

But there was Kate, splashing holy water into the killer vampire's face. And she at least was still real, even if Penn acted like a tired old novel he'd read a thousand times already. If Penn killed her, she'd be just as dead as when the story had originally been written.

He could see that Penn didn't understand. Not what had happened to Angel, not why Kate should matter in the least. Not even how worn out his own act had become. So he grasped the one thing he did understand - that Angel was the enemy now. If he hadn't been so dangerous, it would have been pathetic.

Actually, as Angel slammed Penn to the ground, he came to the conclusion that it was still pathetic. It would be even if Penn killed him, which was beginning to look like a definite possibility.

Of course, unlike Penn, he wasn't foolish enough to forget Kate. She was standing there now with a broken board in one hand, and he knew she was willing to use it if she got a chance.

Use it on both of them, maybe.

And then there was no maybe, because Penn held him fast, and the only way for Kate to finish this was to destroy them both. He stopped fighting, waiting for her to do it. Last year he had been killed, and that had singluarly failed to meet his expectations. But this time there would be no centuries in Hell. Just a simple dusting. He found himself looking forward to it.

When she finally made the blow, he was surprised to find the makeshift stake hitting him too low, the thrust travelling up at an angle from his stomach to Penn's heart. He'd expected a better aim from a police officer.

"You missed," he said, uncertain if this made him sad or happy.

Her face mirrored his uncertainty. "No, I didn't."

A pity. Two hundred and forty-eight years was really too long to live. Almost ten times longer than twenty-five.


The bike was beautiful. Gunn was no expert in the field, but even he could tell that much. Seeing Wesley's face now that they were standing in a gravel yard discussing at what price he was going to part with it almost made him feel guilty for participating in all this. He knew Jack was a decent guy who'd offer a good price, but he still wished Wesley would stop looking as if he was being taken away to be hanged.

"Five thousand good enough for you?"

"It's fine."

For a rushed deal like this, five thousand was a good price, and Gunn knew it. But he couldn't get past the pain in Wesley's eyes. This was way more than just a bike. He knew how deep a piece of machinery could get to you if there was nothing else to cling to. And so he interrupted. "Hey, this shit is almost brand new. You got to be able to offer at least ten."

"In a store, maybe. But if we're talking fast money - not a chance."

"It's really all right," Wesley started, flustered, but Gunn wouldn't let him into the conversation.


"Six. And even then it'll have to be an instalment purchase."

"Seven. Half of it ASAP."


It was all over within half an hour, and Gunn grinned at Wesley's dazed look. "He'll bring you the money. Trust me."

"I do, actually." He swallowed hard. "You didn't have to do that."

"Oh, no problem. You should have the best price you can get. Besides, next time you'll be helping me. A bit of demon know-how, that kind of thing, right?"

"Absolutely." There was something decidedly odd about Wesley's expression, almost as if he was hiding something.

Which was ridiculous. The guy couldn't ever bargain.


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