Summary: A certain Englishman confronts the head of the Contracts
Department at Wolfram & Hart and issues a challenge--which is
accepted. Ninth story in the "Slayer Central" series.
Disclaimer: All of these characters remain the property of their
owners/creators. . .I'm just borrowing them for a spell. . .
Rating: PG-13, for themes.
Time Frame: A few days after the events in "Fair Warning," and
following the post- "Chosen" events described in "Slayer Central" and
the following stories in the series. (spoilers)
Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) to let
me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might
want to see what else you've got.
Fred walked down the main staircase of the Hyperion, humming to
herself and looking down to see who was in the lobby. She spotted two
familiar figures, and was about to call out to greet them when she
blinked in surprise and stopped in her tracks. Her eyes narrowed and
she stalked over to where Gunn and Willow were sitting. She stood
there glaring until Willow looked up and called out, "Hey, Fred:
To Willow's surprise, Fred ignored her and continued to glare at
Gunn. After thirty seconds had passed, Gunn looked up, raised an
eyebrow, and said, "Hey, Fred--what's going on?"
Fred blinked again, and her voice was level and controlled as she
asked, "Charles, what exactly do you think you're doing?"
Gunn seemed to consider the question for a moment before looking down
at the game board sitting between him and Willow, after which he
looked up again and replied, "Well, let's see: I'm sitting here with
Willow, there's a chessboard between us with pieces on it, and we're
moving the pieces around. I don't know--maybe we're planning a
Willow winced at the sarcastic tone in Gunn's voice, but Fred wasn't
backing down. "Charles, I must have suggested we play chess fifty
times since I first came here, and you never once said yes."
Gunn nodded. "Well, yeah--you would have kicked my butt halfway to
Fred looked down at the chessboard and noticed that Gunn's half of
the chessboard was missing more pieces than Leon Spinks was missing
teeth. "Charles--Willow is kicking your butt. What's the difference?"
Gunn shrugged. "Yeah, but everyone else is out doing stuff except the
Slayers, and I can't spar with them without getting trashed. Willow
doesn't spar, but she does play chess. I'm bored, and I thought I
might as well learn to play better. Got a problem with that?"
Fred's lips tightened a bit, and her tone was icy. "No--no problem at
all." She visibly dismissed the matter and asked, "Everyone's out? Do
you know where Wesley went? I need to go over some of the
transcription reports with him."
Gunn started to speak again, but Willow cut him off: "He went out
earlier. He didn't say where he was going, but he said not to wait up
Fred frowned. "He's turned his cell phone off--I really wish he
wouldn't go off alone like that." She composed herself and asked
quietly, "Could you tell him I need to speak with him if you see him?
Fred left the lobby, and Willow and Gunn both watched her leave with
concerned looks on their faces. After she was gone, Willow turned to
Gunn and gave him a dirty look. "Gunn, I know you and Fred have
issues, but don't use me to win battles with her, even petty ones
like this." She moved a knight. "Checkmate."
Gunn frowned at the board and acknowledged the defeat before looking
back at Willow. "Sorry. I really wasn't trying to piss her off by
playing with you, but she acts like we're still together sometimes--
she doesn't get to guilt me any more."
Willow smiled to show there were no hard feelings, and she looked
back at the doorway. "Think she'll find Wesley?"
Gunn shook his head. "If Wesley doesn't want to be found, she won't
find him. English is damned good at getting lost when he wants to."
He reached for his pieces and asked, "Another game? Best five out of
* * * * *
(The following is a previously unpublished section of the private
journal of the Head of Personnel of Wolfram & Hart Interdimensional
It had been a slow day--only one major interview with a new employee,
and it was a demon. Naganis demon, to be exact, and they're never
much trouble to sell on the benefits of working for us: easy food,
major medical, and a talisman that turns all iron pyrite within fifty
feet of them into 24-carat gold. There's nothing like the smile of a
Naganis covered in gold dust as he rips the spine out of some hapless
human who thought he was home free. . .but I digress.
I'm sitting at my desk and finishing off some paperwork when a bright
red flash caught my attention. When I looked up, I saw a dark-haired
human male wearing a suit. I recognized him immediately, having seen
his name and face pop up in dozens of files relating to employees and
temps we had retained over the years. I noticed that he was making an
unpleasant face and I perceived his problem. "That ritual does go
rather heavy on the brimstone--not pleasant for humans;
unfortunately, it's the only way to get you straight here without
going through my staff, so I assume the discomfort is worth it." The
Englishman nodded curtly, and I stood and greeted my guest. "Welcome
to Wolfram & Hart, Personnel Department! I must say, I'm surprised to
see you here--I would have assumed that your new responsibilities
would preclude your showing interest in employment with the main
office here, but a man of your talents could certainly obtain a good
deal for himself--"
"Sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not here for a job." The
Englishman's voice was polite, but cold.
I raised an eyebrow. "Really? That ritual shouldn't have worked
unless you had legitimate business here with me--and it certainly
wouldn't have worked if you were here to do me physical harm." I
examined him minutely and saw that he was carrying no weapons.
Satisfied, I frowned and added, "If you don't have any business here,
I really am quite busy--"
"I'm here to discuss one of your employees--Lilah Morgan." The
Englishman locked eyes with me and spoke in a level, intense
voice. "I wish to get her released from her contract with your firm."
"Ah." I shouldn't have been completely surprised, I suppose, but this
particular method of approaching the problem had caught me somewhat
unprepared. "Miss Morgan's contract contains the standard perpetuity
clause--I would have thought the incident with the break-in at
Records at the Los Angeles offices would have made that perfectly
clear to all involved. Her contract is binding and will remain so.
Now, if there's nothing else--"
"Article V, Section 3, Clause 8--'The Employee may secure the
services of a champion to challenge the contract in a judicial duel
with the designated champion of The Firm. In the event that The
Employee has been detailed to an assignment with a third party, the
third party may exercise these rights on behalf of The Employee." The
Englishman reached into a pocket and pulled out a document, placing
it in front of me. Angel's flowing signature was quite familiar to
me, and I did not waste any time challenging its authenticity. "I
believe you'll find that everything is in order, Sir--I hereby
challenge Wolfram & Hart for the contract of Lilah Morgan, and agree
to face your designate at the agreed-upon time and place." My visitor
remained calm, though a note of smugness had entered his voice.
I read the document just to be thorough--everything was correct down
to the last detail. * Damn that idiot Reynolds in Contracts--that
romantic streak of his was bound to screw us sooner or later * I
nodded and replied, "Everything is in order--I am aware of your
abilities in combat, Englishman--you *do* realize that the firm has
access to beings who far outmatch you at any weapon you should
choose? What makes you think that I won't choose an impossible
opponent for you? Really, wouldn't it be better if you accepted the
impossibility of the situation gracefully and left Miss Morgan to her
contracted for and richly deserved fate?" I smiled confidently and
waited for his response.
The Englishman nodded slowly, and I had started to relax when he
chuckled. "That might have worked with someone not used to dealing
with your kind--but I was forced to deal with the bureaucracy of the
Council of Watchers for far too long. You are a bureaucrat, and as
powerful as you are, you are working with a limited budget. You can't
afford to dedicate a massive amount of resources to the task of
protecting the contract of Lilah Morgan. As my friend Xander Harris
would put it, you can't afford to pay for a free agent to face me, so
it's going to have to be the veteran third starter--maybe the second
starter, if you've had an inexpensive year."
The bastard knew damned well that the year hadn't been inexpensive
for us. Repairing massive damage to a Los Angeles skyscraper,
replacing the entire staff, and then giving that whole enterprise
away would have been a substantial hit to even Microsoft, and even
*our* financial resources weren't *that* vast. I was pretty much
stuck with a long reliever; fortunately, our bench is a tad better
than that of the San Francisco Giants. I kept a poker face and
replied, "I assume that swords will be the weapon of choice?" He
smiled and nodded once, and I continued, "Very well, this will be
your opponent." I waved my right hand and spoke a single command
word, and a blue-skinned figure of heroic proportions appeared next
to my desk. It recovered quickly and looked over at my visitor,
baring three inch fangs and stroking the hilt of the great scimitar
strapped to its back as he towered over his would-be opponent. I
smiled and commented, "Where are my manners? Englishman, meet Ali the
Decapitator. He's served the firm for fifteen hundred years, and he's
only failed to win one duel. . .fought some fellow named Roland to a
draw." The Englishman raised a respectful eyebrow, and I assumed my
most convincing manner as I added, "Is it really necessary to pursue
this farce, Englishman? You have a successful career ahead of you,
and your efforts are bound to be important to helping the new Slayers
adjust to their lives, even if the central role in that area will
belong to others. Why not quit while you're ahead?"
My visitor remained implacable. "I believe we need to agree upon the
formal terms and stakes of the duel--a formal written document which
I am capable of reading would be appropriate."
I inclined my head--he was determined to force the issue, and he had
the right to do so. I was going to make the best of the situation. I
gestured, and a short document appeared on the desk. It was neatly
printed, and written in Old English, and Old French, and Latin, and
Modern English (some bits of jargon just demand it). I smirked as the
Englishman reached for a ballpoint pen, then made quick, slashing
marks and scribbled a few words in certain spots. Forty-five seconds
later he tossed the document back to me. "Acceptable with these
I read the document; obviously, the mixture of languages hadn't
hindered him in the slightest. Impressive. I noted the changes and
was nodding through all of them when I spotted one that I wasn't
going to accept without some haggling. I looked up and
commented, "You aren't staking your soul on this? Are you going to
screw around, or are you going to play the game like it's supposed to
The Englishman snickered. "I'm staking my life on this battle. Given
that you've been so effusive about my importance to the cause,
removing me as a factor in that cause should be reward enough for you
should I lose." He set his jaw and intoned, "This fight will be to
I smirked--he wasn't getting off that easily. I looked at him and
replied, "Acceptable, but with a twist: either party may yield to end
the duel, and the other party must accept the yield and cease
hostilities on the spot if at all possible." The Englishman raised an
eyebrow, and I added, "If you yield, or fail to accept Ali's yielding
to you--your body and soul will become the property of Wolfram &
My visitor--to his credit--remained calm. "And if Ali yields, or
fails to accept my yielding to him?"
I shrugged. "We're haggling here--name your price."
I felt a chill as the Englishman leaned forward and hissed, "All
Slayers currently residing at the Hyperion, and any who come there
while either I or Buffy are still alive are to be off-limits to your
recruiters forever." He glared at me and snapped, "You'll have to
make do with the ones we don't get to first, and who we can't get
away from you."
I shrugged with a casualness that I didn't really feel and scribbled
a few words on the document. He leaned forward, read them, and nodded
before asking, "So, is this where I sign the document in blood?"
I snickered. "Surely a sophisticated man such as yourself knows that
old chestnut is to wow the tourists." I offered him a fingerprint
pad. "Sign on the first line, and leave your thumbprint after it." He
did so, and blinked in surprise as the signature and thumbprint
turned crimson. "Far more sanitary, wouldn't you say?" I placed my
own signature and thumbprint below his, then looked up again and
commented, "The terms of the agreement call for us to choose a
location for the duel mutually acceptable for both parties. Is there
a place you'd like to suggest?" I was prepared to hassle him on this
provision as well, just to prove that I wasn't a soft touch.
He looked at me, nodded once, and replied, "The main training room of
Wolfram & Hart Los Angeles, within a Guarantor ritual circle fifty
feet in diameter."
I blinked, unable to hide my surprise. It wasn't precisely the first
place and terms I would have suggested, but it was close. He would
have no place to hide from his larger and stronger foe, and the
Guarantor ritual--which would note violations of the agreed terms of
the duel by other party and document them for purposes of penalizing
violators--would facilitate a last-ditch plan I had for dealing with
an unexpectedly good performance by my adversary. "Agreed. The duel
will begin in three hours, local time--would you care to rest here
before matters begin?"
The Englishman smirked. "Thank you, but no. I have preparations to
make." He looked over at Ali and inclined his head, then pulled out a
familiar talisman and spoke a single word before vanishing in crimson
Ali looked at me and rumbled, "He looks unimpressive--you cannot
actually be concerned that I will not prevail?"
I looked at my champion and replied, "He has a remarkable history of
prevailing when he should not have, and his skills have grown in
recent years. We are going to discuss contingencies, my friend, and
you will not like some of them. I would suggest that you perform
sufficiently well to avoid the necessity of their employment."
The lesser djinn nodded, and I began to explain my plan.
* * * * *
Ali and I arrived in the training room first--it was deserted at that
late hour, and the lighting was dim. I handed Ali a bag of diamond
dust, and he took three steps forward before turning to his left and
beginning to sprinkle the dust in a wide circle. Five minutes later,
he had returned to his starting point, having traced a perfect circle
fifty feet in diameter. He returned to my side and handed me the
somewhat-depleted bag just as a familiar figure stepped out of the
shadows. He had changed his attire--he was wearing a long trenchcoat
and had exchanged the formal slacks and shoes for more casual
versions suitable for fighting. I didn't bother to try to see what
weapon he had chosen--I knew from having tried just after he left
that he was shielded against divination spells. Young Miss
Rosenberg's work, no doubt--and quite formidable. I called
out, "You've been watching too many TV shows, Englishman--are you
ready to proceed with activating the circle?"
The Englishman nodded and stepped to the center of the circle, and
Ali did likewise. Ali leaned forward and placed a copy of the
agreement for the duel in the exact center of the circle, then
followed up by putting a small green stone on top of it. His opponent
placed an identical stone next to it, and both straightened and
shouted out a single word in Sumerian. The paper and stones vanished,
and the circle flashed with green light. Ali intoned, "It is done.
Neither of us can withdraw now, without forfeiting."
The Englishman nodded, stepped back ten feet, and replied, "Best news
I've heard all day." He opened his coat, and reached behind his back
to pull out a long, curved blade. I recognized it instantly and had
to exercise every ounce of control I had not to curse aloud. I forced
myself to remain calm, and managed a friendly tone as I called
out, "I had not been informed that you were aware of the existence of
that weapon--not your blade of choice, if I'm not mistaken"
The Englishman smirked. "It will serve." The Masamune rested easily
in his right hand, which was protected by a leather glove--as was his
left hand. I stared at the blade in fascination--it remained the most
magnificent weapon I have ever laid eyes on in over a thousand years
on this job. How unfortunate that its purpose was diametrically
opposed to my own. The weapon--being in the presence of the beings it
had been constructed to oppose--was emitting a faint orange glow that
only accentuated the flawless surface of the blade, and Ali--who had
not seen the weapon before--was staring at me, wondering at the
expression on my face.
I frowned at him to get him to get his mind on the fight, and I spoke
again: "You realize that the act of using that blade with intent to
kill triggers a curse that makes its wielder a berserk warrior doomed
to fight demons until he is defeated? Not exactly a fate that I'd
think you'd embrace, Englishman."
My adversary shrugged. "At need, I would have; however, I must thank
you for the detailed nature of your files on this object--they proved
most helpful. Who says that a bureaucracy can't come in handy?" I
repressed another curse, realizing that our own files had warned him
of the danger the blade posed to him. He raised his gloved left hand
and smiled, "It comes in handy to work with a witch who knows the ins
and outs of curses and how to defend against them."
I sighed. Heads would roll over this miscalculation--I would just
make sure that none of them were mine. Intelligence was supposed to
keep me posted on who had access to such weapons, and someone had
failed to add the Englishman to the list. This promised to be a most
costly mistake--but I still had an ace in the hole, and there were
qualities of the blade that he could not possibly take advantage of.
It occurred to me that there was one more card I could play. I smiled
and asked, "Would you like me to summon Miss Morgan here? After all,
it's traditional for the subject of the judicial duel to witness the
battle that determines her fate?"
The Englishman looked at me, and shook his head once. Oh well, worth
a shot to distract him a bit--even if he doesn't love her. I frowned
and called out, "Begin!"
In a flash, Ali had drawn his blade and charged at the human. The
great scimitar came whistling at the unprotected skull of Ali's
opponent, only to be gently deflected by what looked like a casual
parry by the Englishman, and a quick counterstrike nicked Ali and
drew a line of orange ichor. Ali howled in pain and retreated as the
Englishman moved forward with a wicked smile on his face.
In spite of the stakes involved, I watched in fascination, enjoying
the experience immensely. I knew the Englishman had at times doubted
his abilities with the sword, but he was performing magnificently--to
the point where I knew that he had somehow learned about the weapon's
greatest enhancement--the ability to boost the strength and agility
of the wielder substantially for a good period of time. Even more
remarkably, he had learned how to adjust for the enhancement. Double
the strength and reflex speed of a typical swordsman, and he will be
thrown off his game for a significant period of time while learning
to use the new abilities in performing the maneuvers he has been
trained for. The Englishman was showing no signs of awkwardness--he
attacked with every bit of the speed and strength that the weapon was
granting him, and Ali was feeling the effects.
Ali was a master swordsman with centuries of experience and
formidable physical capabilities of his own, and he was not above
throwing a shoulder or even a simple punch to the body for the effect
it would have on his opponent. I am positive that I heard two ribs
break on the Englishman, and a vicious punch to the Englishman's left
shoulder left that arm dangling. It didn't seem to slow him down,
though, and the Masamune continued to slip through Ali's guard,
wounding him repeatedly. My champion was starting to slow down, and I
sensed that he would soon receive a deathblow if I did not intervene.
I moved around the ring until Ali could see me, then nodded once.
Ali's face twisted in anger and humiliation, but he composed himself
and began attacking again. After the Englishman had adjusted to the
new sequence and began to counterattack, Ali's guard opened up--
leaving his head open for a decapitating strike. The Englishman did
not miss the opening and began to bring his blade around with a one-
handed stroke meant to end the battle fatally. As the blade passed
the human's right ear, Ali dropped his blade and shouted, "I YIELD!"
It had been one of my better plans, I thought. The Guarantor Circle
operated very literally--Ali had yielded while--in theory--the
Englishman had time to stop before the killing blow was struck. In
practice, of course, the man was locked into his attack and his
reaction would be too late to stop the blow from being struck. Even
better, the last minute surrender might well distract the Englishman
enough to prevent the blow from being fatal--meaning that I would
have the Englishman's body and soul, and still have Ali for the next
time I needed him, though he'd be a bit less confident the next time.
This wonderful plan was thrown right out the window when the
Englishman's arm twisted abruptly in mid-swing. As the last syllable
of Ali's surrender echoed through the room, the course of the blade
was deflected upward as the Englishman released the blade, sending it
flying off a hundred feet to imbed itself in a wall. The remarkable
feat was not without cost--I could see his face twist with pain and
realized that he had sprained his right shoulder. Ali's eyes widened
as the man swayed, then turned to the lesser djinn and bowed
slightly, "My compliments to a worthy opponent."
Ali looked ready to rip his head off, and I suspect he would have if
it were not for the Guarantor Circle--which would default to a fatal
penalty for any violations now that the duel was over--and his own
sense of battle honor. He gritted his teeth and bowed. "My
congratulations to a worthy foe." Ali turned away and left the
circle, vanishing in a puff of smoke. He was *not* going to be easy
to deal with for a while.
The Englishman left the circle, swaying, and I waited patiently for
him to reach me. He did so, and stated simply, "I call upon you to
observe the terms of our agreement."
I sighed sadly and replied, "It does seem inevitable. Very well." I
snapped my fingers and a familiar contract appeared in my hand. I
opened it to a certain spot, and crossed out a few words, and
substituted a name, after which I initialed the change. The document
flared crimson, then went dark again. I folded the contract and
placed it in the pocket of the Englishman's trenchcoat, as he was in
no condition to accept it himself. I looked at him for a moment and
could not restrain myself any longer. "Englishman, how in the name of
the Burning Hells did you do that? Ali's timing was perfect--you
should not have been able to divert that blow."
The Englishman smiled, though he was clearly on the verge of collapse
from overextending himself. "I anticipated the tactic--you obviously
didn't want me dead, and you didn't want me to win. Once I started
winning, Ali's tactic became a logical choice. I waited for him to
open his mouth, then reacted. If he had said anything other than 'I
yield', I would have had a serious problem."
I laughed involuntarily, and the Englishman raised an
eyebrow. "You're not angry?"
I laughed again, this time more ruefully. "Of course I'm angry--but
learning just how devious you can be was worth losing the contract of
a minor employee, and the ability to recruit potential employees that
would be unlikely to enter our service in any event." I bowed to him
and commented, "If you ever want to negotiate to work for us, my door
is always open. I'll guarantee the terms will be attractive to you."
The Englishman laughed weakly. "How flattering, but I think I'll
decline." He coughed, and added, "If you could bring her now, I'll be
"Of course." I snapped my fingers again, and Lilah Morgan appeared in
front of me. She was dressed in her business suit, and her expression
made it clear that she had been busily engaged in processing
paperwork, since she had no need for rest or food, and she was
required to work whenever able. A fitting fate for this one, but the
Englishman had other ideas. I smiled at her and commented, "Well,
this is your lucky day. This Englishman has just fought a judicial
duel and won your contract away from us. Your fate is now in his
hands, and your connection with us is now ended." Her eyes widened in
shock, and I smirked once before turning and giving the Englishman
one more respectful nod before gesturing and leaving them there. A
worthy opponent, but one with darkness issues. I suspected that one
day in the not-so-distant future, we would have another shot at him.
* * * * *
Lilah stared at the spot where the demon had been, then turned to the
swaying figure who had liberated her. She walked up to him, pulled
the contract out of his pocket, and turned to the operative language,
which she read repeatedly to be sure it was real. The man in front of
her blinked, and she shook her head in sheer disbelief before
whispering, "Are you completely out of your mind?"
Rupert Giles smiled weakly. "Quite possibly, Miss Morgan, but I
wouldn't worry about it at the moment. Help me retrieve my sword from
the wall over there, and I'll explain while we go to the lobby to
meet Willow and Gunn."
Lilah nodded slowly, and Giles leaned on her as they went to pull the
Masamune from the wall.
* * * * *
Wesley sat up in bed: someone was knocking at his door. He had been
working hard on the library adaptation, and had decided that some
serious down time was appropriate, particularly given his growing
unhappiness over the situation with Lilah--which he did not feel at
liberty to discuss with any of his friends. He had turned off his
cell phone, and gone off to his apartment--which he was still keeping
though he slept most nights at the Hyperion. Fred had come by wanting
to know where he had been and to ask some questions about the work
they had been doing, but he had pleaded exhaustion after minimal
input. Fred was the last person he needed to see right now. He had
fallen asleep, the image of Lilah as she showed him that burning the
contract was futile haunting him in his dreams.
The knock came again, and Wesley stood up and put on a robe,
irritated. "Fred, I realize that you wish to get this project
completed, but I really need to rest now. I wish you would--" He
reached the door, unlocked it, and pulled it open, and stared in
shock as he saw who was on the other side "--respect that."
Angel, Gunn, Faith and Willow were standing in the hallway next to
Lilah and Giles--who looked as if he had been beaten badly. There was
silence for several seconds until Willow snorted in irritation and
stepped forward, leading Wesley into the apartment and leaving room
for the others to follow. Fortunately, Angel's invitation to enter
was established, for Wesley was too surprised to speak. He looked at
the intruders in turn, and finally he was able to find the words for
what he was feeling: "Good Lord, Rupert--what happened to you? Why is
"Well, it's a funny thing." Lilah replied, looking at the other
occupants of the room and shaking her head in disbelief. "It seems
that your old buddy Rupert and his friends decided to get together
and free me from my contract with Wolfram & Hart--and they didn't
bother to tell you about it. Seemed weird to me too, particularly
when the Head of Personnel teleports me to him and I see Rupert here
has been beaten to a pulp. Not exactly something you see every day."
Wesley stared at her, then turned to Giles and was about to say
something when he saw just how beaten up the Watcher looked. He
paused, then turned to Angel and asked quietly, "Angel--I suspect I'm
going to be thanking Rupert and the rest of you in a few moments, but
I would like an explanation as to how this happened, and why my
participation was not requested."
Angel looked uncomfortable, and Willow broke in: "Wesley. . .we're
your friends, and we knew that this whole situation with Lilah was
hurting you a lot. Giles had the idea of reading the contract
carefully and seeing if there were any outs in it, and we found the
trial by combat clause. We decided that it was the best bet, and we
came up with a plan to stage the duel and give our side the best
chance of winning. We didn't tell Lilah because under the contract
she can be forced to answer questions truthfully, or even to
volunteer any information of interest that she comes across, and we
didn't want her spilling the beans to the higher ups at Wolfram &
"Yes, I understand that--but why didn't you tell *me*?" asked
Wesley. "I had a more substantial stake in this than any of you, and
I am quite capable with any number of weapons--"
"Wesley, you've progressed remarkably in the past four years with the
sword--I was very impressed." Giles spoke slowly, and Wesley took a
moment to appreciate the praise before the Watcher added, "But I'm
still better--aging or not. Our theory was that Wolfram & Hart would
only commit someone who was by their standards a moderately talented
bladesman to act as their champion, and that having the more skilled
fighter on our side would not result in a more dangerous opponent
being chosen." Giles winced as he straightened, then added, "There
was one more factor."
Gunn stepped forward--he was holding the Masamune in its
sheath. "English--we called those experts in and had the blade
identified, and we didn't bother to hide it. We figured that if you,
me, or Angel showed up to make the challenge, the higher ups at
Wolfram & Hart would know that whoever it was would probably be using
the blade, and they knew what it could do, and they knew that we
could find out what it did--they weren't watching Giles the same way,
or so we hoped. Willow checked it out--it's a nasty demon slaying
sword that can also pump up the speed and strength of the bearer.
Unfortunately, it also has a curse on it that turns the user into a
berserker who is forced to kill any demon he can find until he dies
from exhaustion or just getting killed."
Wesley nodded and turned to Willow. "Which is where you came in, I
Willow flushed slightly and replied, "I enchanted a pair of gloves to
protect the wielder from the curse, and I used a couple of moderate
enhancement spells to help Giles learn how to fight when he was
stronger and faster. Plus, I cast a cloaking spell on him to keep
Wolfram & Hart from using divination spells to observe him as he
prepared for the duel. Oh, and I prayed a lot. Couldn't hurt."
Wesley sighed. "Rupert--sit down before you fall down and tell me
exactly what happened."
Giles eased himself gently into an armchair, and began to speak
quietly. The others listened, fascinated by the account of Giles'
duel of wits with the Wolfram & Hart executive, and then with the
account of the fight itself. At the conclusion of the story, Giles
chuckled slightly and commented, "There are certain advantages to
fighting evil opponents--you can take advantage of the fact that you
know they'll try to cheat."
Wesley nodded. "As the American saying goes--'You can't cheat an
honest man.' The demon insisted on putting the clause in that could
lose you your soul, and you just waited for him to take advantage of
it and thereby lose by your anticipation of it. Well done indeed."
Giles nodded painfully in thanks, and Wesley turned to Angel and
asked quietly, "Angel--I understand Willow's motives, and Gunn's and
Rupert's motives are fairly discernible as well, but why would you
want to help Lilah? She's never caused you anything but misery."
Lilah perked up, interested in the answer. Angel blinked and looked
over at Wesley, and was silent for a moment before replying, "Wesley--
we've had our rough patches over the years, and I don't intend to
rehash them now. I'll be honest and say if nothing was at stake here
but my past with Lilah and the feelings that it provokes in me, she'd
have been chained to that desk until the building fell down." Lilah
smirked and Wesley frowned and nodded as Angel continued, "But I know
what it's like to care what happens to someone you probably
shouldn't, Wesley--and I don't want to contribute to your suffering
that kind of misery. I can live with Lilah sliding out of her
contracted-for fate if it will spare you pain that I can help."
Wesley blinked, and was too overcome to speak for a moment. Angel
smiled, and Wesley took a deep breath and turned to Faith. "What's
your role in all this, Faith?"
"So far? Not much. Giles isn't exactly thrilled at the thought that
Buffy might find out he risked his immortal soul to help Miss Evil
Dead Lawyer over there, so I'm going to help him with a cover story."
Faith grinned, and Wesley raised an eyebrow as she continued, "Giles
is going to check into that hospital that W & H runs, and I'm going
to tell Buffy that we got jumped by ten vamps while doing recon in
MacArthur Park. He's banged up enough to make it believable, and no
one outside this room other of the guys at W & H will know
differently--and they're probably a bit embarassed to blab about it.
As far as everyone else is concerned, you had that duel with the big
blue guy and won Lilah's contract. Buffy will probably chew you out
for being an idiot--but she's on shaky ground to criticize people
about dumb things done in the name of romance."
"Buffy will not be thrilled that Giles supposedly got hurt on your
watch, Faith." Wesley was concerned, and his expression betrayed it
as he stepped forward and squeezed her arm. "I don't want anyone
being harmed or made uncomfortable by the fact that they helped me."
Faith inclined her head at Giles and commented, "A bit late for that,
Wes." Wesley winced and nodded in agreement, and Faith
added, "Besides, Giles will be feeding Buffy a line about being
caught off guard and not doing so well in the fight, making it harder
for me." She looked at Giles, and he nodded. Faith looked back at
Wesley and elaborated, "Giles isn't going out in the field any more--
he thinks he's slowing down and doesn't want to be the weak link. Of
course, after hearing the story about the fight tonight I think he's
full of crap, but I'd just as soon have him out of harm's way, truth
be told. I'd like to get Xander to take it easy, too--but I think
we'll need a bit more in his case. An elephant tranquilizer gun,
Everyone but Lilah laughed, and Wesley asked Faith quietly, "Then you
did this for Giles? I can understand that, Faith: we've still got
unresolved issues, I know."
Faith flinched, then met Wesley's gaze firmly as she replied, "I
*would* have done it for Giles, if he had asked me--but I'm trying to
pay off old debts here, Wes. We both know what I did to you, and it
makes me feel damned good that you're willing to be in the same room
with me, much less consider me a friend." Wesley smiled gently as
Faith continued, "Besides, I'll let you in on a little secret--I went
to see your ex to grill her about her intentions about Angel. While I
was there, she nearly ripped me a new one about what I had done to
you--I liked that. Made me almost forget that she hired me to murder
Angel a few years back." Lilah was squirming uncomfortably at Faith's
words, and Faith turned and speared her with a lethal look as she
Wesley smiled again, then saw that Lilah was holding a familiar
document. He reached out and took it from her, then turned to Giles
and asked, "Now what?"
Giles held out his hand for the contract, and Wesley gave it to him.
Willow stepped forward and put a pen in Giles' right hand, and pushed
an end table next to him for a writing surface. Giles leaned forward
and wrote briefly on the document. There was a crimson flash of
light, which soon faded, and Giles lifted the document towards
Wesley, who accepted it. "You now control her contract, Wesley. She
is bound by it to obey your instructions as long as they are
consistent with the duties described in the contract, for the
indefinite future. The magic sustaining her form is permanent in
nature, though it could be disrupted with other magic. The other
alternative would be to destroy the contract--that would free her
from her obligation and immediately release her soul from her
"Where would her soul go?" The question, surprisingly enough, came
"I'd go where the weight of my deeds in life would have taken me if
there was no underlying contractual obligation that sent me
elsewhere." Lilah's voice was dry. "If you've read Dante, you know
that I'm not looking at hearts and flowers here."
Wesley raised an eyebrow. "You're acting as if you're already being
sent away, Lilah. We can discuss your future existence at length
before making any decisions. You don't have to--"
"Don't I, Wesley?" Lilah looked composed, and more than one person in
the room wondered how much of that composure was due to her undead
state as she moved away from the others and continued, "Wes--I'm
dead. I know enough about this little group to know that the whole
having relationships with dead people thing is *way* into the Very
Bad Idea zone. I'm just not going there. Oh, I could stick around,
try to help you guys out, do the making amends thing. . .but most of
you don't want me around--why would you? And there's one thing that's
most important of all." Lilah straightened, and the others were taken
aback by the ferocious pride in her voice as she added, "I've done a
lot of things that would horrify most human beings, and I don't feel
terribly apologetic about most of them, but there is one thing that I
will *NEVER* be if I can do anything to prevent it." She paused, and
concluded--intentionally looking directly at Angel as she did: "I
won't be a hostage, Wesley, and you've let them know you care about
me--I'm a vulnerability to you, and I won't allow that to go on."
The room was silent. Only Willow noted Angel's discomfort as the
others watched Lilah, and Wesley walked forward, reading the absolute
determination in her eyes. He sighed and asked, "Are you sure? The
alternative is Hell, after all."
Lilah shrugged. "I told you that I knew what I was signed on for--you
got me a better deal, but I'm still willing to accept the fate I
sealed for myself with my actions. It's what I'm about, Wesley--let
me finish on my feet, not on my knees."
Wesley blinked, then nodded once as he turned away. Lilah called
out, "You know, a seriously romantic good-bye kiss is traditional in
situations like this."
Wesley turned back and replied with a rueful smile, "Yes. . .yes it
is. How unfortunate that we're not about that sort of mawkish
Lilah walked forward, nodding, and moved up next to Wesley before
smirking and commenting, "On the other hand, the peanut gallery
certainly paid the price of admission--it would be a shame to
Wesley blinked, and his eyes were sad as he whispered, "Yes, it would
indeed." He reached out at the same time as Lilah, and they embraced
as their lips met in a kiss.
After a very long time, Lilah pulled away and smiled at Wesley,
commenting, "There's something to be said for not having to breathe
after all." Wesley chuckled, and Lilah turned away and
whispered, "It's time, Wesley--you know what to do."
Wesley nodded and walked over to the coffee table, where a large
ashtray was sitting. He pulled out his lighter and lit the contract
on fire, holding it over the ashtray to prevent hot ashes from
landing on the carpet. He turned and locked eyes with Lilah, ignoring
the flames creeping up towards his fingers as he whispered, "Good-
Lilah looked back at Wesley, her gaze never wavering--her eyes were
dry. Abruptly, a white flash of light left her body, which turned
gray and collapsed into a cloud of ash without making a sound. Faith
stepped forward and forced Wesley to drop the flaming contract into
the ashtray before his fingers were seriously burned. She led him
gently to the couch and said simply, "I'm sorry, Wes."
Wesley bowed his head in muted grief, and his friends moved to
console him--except for Angel, who gathered up Giles and headed out
for the car and the hospital bed waiting for the Watcher.
* * * * *
Lilah opened her eyes, wondering what sort of hell her deeds had
doomed her to. She blinked, and stared in horror at the sight that
met her eyes--she was in an office building, with people passing by
her and not acknowledging her presence. "Fabulous!" she shouted,
glaring at the gleaming walls and floors. "All hells lead to me being
chained to a damned desk for eternity!"
"Perhaps. . .but things may be better than you think, Lilah." Lilah
whirled and saw a short man with dark hair watching her with an
amused expression. He smiled at her bewilderment and commented, "Not
exactly Dante, but it'll serve."
Lilah's eyes narrowed, and she was about to spit out several curses
when she blinked again and asked, "Do I know you? You look familiar--
" Her mind abruptly took her back to a file she had reviewed for the
last time over three years ago, just before she had consigned it to
the "dead" pile. She stared and whispered, "Francis Doyle?"
"In the flesh--well, not so much that these days, but you get my
drift." Doyle chuckled and asked, "A bit surprised not to find
yourself burning in the Pit, are you?"
"A little," Lilah admitted, noticing that Doyle's taste in clothing
had not improved any in the afterlife. She frowned and asked, "So
what is this place, and why are we both here? Maybe I don't
understand the system, but it seems like you should be in a better
place than me, given our respective resumes."
"I suppose the nuns would have called this place Purgatory, though
it's a lot nicer than they made it sound." Doyle's tone was
thoughtful, and he beckoned for Lilah to follow as they walked down
the hall. "Some souls are on the cusp between good and evil, or they
have to work through some issues they have that keep them from
ascending to the higher planes of being. I'm here because I still
care about what happens to Angel and the others, and I serve as an
intermediary to the Powers when it serves Their interests. As for
you. . .well, you avoided a fiery fate by the skin of your teeth, my
dear lady. Your willingness to remove yourself as a threat to Wesley
and the others, and to face your fate with dignity and honor--those
are elevated emotions, my dear, and enough to convince the Powers to
let you have a shot at moving up in the scheme of things--if you're
up to it."
Lilah rolled her eyes. "Let me guess: I get to do good works for
fifty or sixty eons in this place, then maybe if I'm really good and
eat my vegetables, I get promoted to heaven--is that how it works?"
Doyle shrugged and chuckled, and Lilah glared and snapped, "Screw
that--I don't do good works, and I don't grovel. How do I get out of
this chicken outfit?"
Doyle shrugged and pointed to a door with a red sign marked "Exit."
Lilah stormed over to the door and opened it--and stared in sheer
terror for fully a minute as a vision of roaring flames and countless
beings being tortured in horrible and creative ways transfixed her.
At length, she was able to step back and slam the door shut.
Doyle was standing next to her. "Ready to listen?"
"Oh yeah." Lilah replied emphatically as she followed behind the
smirking half-demon, nodding and listening intently as he spoke.
As always, comments are welcomed and desired