Chapter Fourteen – And It Burns, Burns, Burns

Disclaimer: All Angel and Buffy properties belong to Joss Whedon and his associates. No infringement upon their rights is intended. This story is set in an alternate Season Five of Angel. Details from the canon run may appear from time to time. Italics indicate thoughts, and bold indicates emphasis. Title references "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash. Other songs featured "Temptation" by Diana Krall, "Stupid" by Sarah McLachlan, and "Precious" by Depeche Mode.

Lily spent her evening wining and dining. . . herself. She sat at a table in the West Restaurant gazing over the city. She tried not to think of another dinner on a rooftop as she munched her way through her spinach artichoke dip, and she dutifully chased her cherry tomato around her salad as the couple seated behind her began talking about their visit to the Hollywood sign. She moved onto her steak and counted the ways in which her life had become pear-shaped. I so hate my life. In the last week, I've had a glass globe explode in my face, I've been drugged, I've nearly died by spell, and I've been wooed by men who will no doubt break my heart as soon as they have it. Oh and I've got a shark-toothed demon who thinks we need to be best buds because I know "how to put my alpha in his place." Sheesh.

"Can I offer you some dessert, miss?"

Lily looked up at the waiter who waived a tray of delectable looking deserts at her. No sense in saying no to chocolate and cheesecake. "I'd like one of each, please."

The waiter smiled, "Valentine's Day eve blues? I totally understand."

"Wait, what did you say?"

"Valentine's Day. It's tomorrow."

Lily paled.

"On second thought, I think I'll skip dessert. I'm suddenly feeling ill. Can I have my check, please?"

"What? No, wait," the waiter said as he saw his nice tip slip away. "I didn't mean you should..."

Lily interrupted him. "It's okay. It's been a bad week" With a wan smile, she held out her hand for the check. The waiter placed the slip of paper in her hand and walked off a bit confused. Lily added a generous tip to her tab, signed the slip, and headed back to her room.

Of course, it would be Valentine's Day tomorrow. What could be better? I pledge my love and then get my heart broken. Sounds so much like China when I was 18. Lily stifled a sob as she put the keycard in the door. Tomorrow. Tomorrow I tell Wesley and Wesley only, and this nightmare will be over.

At 6:00 a.m., Lily woke to the sound of her iPod which she had plugged into the hotel's clock radio.

"Dutch pink and Italian blue
He is there waiting for you
My will has disappeared
Now confusion is so clear
Temptation, temptation, temptation
I can't resist
Temptation, temptation, temptation
I can't resist"

Lily moaned as she fumbled with the controls to stop Diana Krall from singing. I hate the universe.An hour later she was the picture of the career woman in blackor a professional mourner.

The clerk at the desk was kind as she made arrangements for Lily to get a cab to work.

"Have a lovely Valentine's Day, Ms. Rose."

Lily tried not to flinch as she picked up her bag. "Thank you. You too."

The cabbie was quiet on the subject of Cupid's day; his radio, however, was not. She kept it together through a string of incredibly sappy love songs, including one that sounded as though its only lyric was "baby." As they neared Wolfram and Hart, Lily found her eyes beginning to water as Johnny Cash began to praise and bemoan his love:

"Love is a burning thing

And it makes a fiery ring

Bound by wild desire

I fell into a ring of fire."

The cab pulled to the curb just as Johnny paused to catch his breath; Lily tossed a wad of bills to the cabbie in an effort to avoid the mariachi trumpets and the back-up singers. She could still hear Johnny as the cab pulled away: "The taste of love is sweet, when hearts like ours meet."

I am not going to make it through this day.

Somehow she made it down to her office. She booted up her computer, opened Word, and began to work on a document. Wesley wouldn't be in for another couple of hours; she'd be safe until then.

Upstairs, Wesley paced in his office. Periodically, he would pick up the handset to his phone to make sure the line stilled worked. She said she would be out of touch but still...Wesley's thoughts trailed off as he remembered finding Lily unconscious in her apartment. Just as he was about to dial her cell again, Wesley heard someone open his office door. He turned to see a rumpled Spike standing in the doorway. He looks terrible. Did he sleep in his clothes?

Spike sat down in one of the leather chairs facing Wesley's desk. He took a deep breath before speaking. "She's in the basement, Wesley. It needs to end to-day. One way or the other. She's not going to make it much longer."

Wesley looked at Spike carefully. He seemed tired, resigned. "How do you know that? She's been out of pocket for 24 hours."

"I just know." Spike lit a cigarette. "Where's Angel? We need this thing settled. I've set up the sparring room. He and I should be able to ..."

Fred entered the room carrying an Erlenmeyer flask with a hissing purple liquid in it. "I did it, Wesley! I was able to follow Giles' instructions and make the elixir." She pulled up abruptly as she noticed Spike was in the room too. "Oh, I didn't know..."

"It's alright, Fred. Giles, huh? You finally called in the big guns?" Spike smirked half-heartedly at Wesley. At least I can trust Rupert. Man knows more about spells than is healthy, if truth be told.

Wesley took the flask from Fred and placed it on a clear space on his desk. "Actually, he called me. He was quite angry. Said Lily had called in a favor, a big favor. One she'd never have asked for unless she was in danger."

Spike snorted. "Falling victim to a crazy, half-cocked spell that makes two vampires fight over you might make a girl feel in danger."

"Yes, well, he demanded to know what was going on." Wesley took his glasses off. "He has so much experience – direct casting experience – and she needs the help so badly..."

"No one blames you for using Giles as a resource, Wesley," Angel said from the doorway. He too looked the worse for wear. The spell was beginning to take its toll on all of them. He nodded to Spike and sat in the office's remaining chair. "What do we do?"

Fred looked at the three men and felt out of place in the increasingly crowded office. "I'll head back to the lab. Maybe get some things together in case..." her voice trailed off as she made her way around Angel and towards the door.

Wesley caught her eye and nodded. If this doesn't work, there may be more than one casualty.

"What do we need to do, Wesley?"

"First off," he began.

Lily rubbed her eyes and checked her computer's clock. It was nearly 10. Surely Wesley is in by now. She picked up the phone and dialed his extension. After the fifth ring, the phone went to voice mail. Lily sighed as she returned the receiver to its cradle. Where could he be? Maybe he got the nerve to ask Fred to breakfast. She smiled briefly at the thought that her friend might take a shot at happiness. She rubbed her eyes again. Oh, joy. The beginnings of a migraine. Maybe if I splash some cold water on my face. Lily moved slowly but steadily down the hall to the bathroom as bright colors began to swim before her eyes. The rising nausea so distracted her that she didn't hear the phone ringing away on her desk.

Wesley slammed the receiver down. "Damn! She's not there." The spell would work better with all three present. Still I'll make do with what I have. Wesley began sweeping materials into desk drawers. He needed an uncluttered space to represent the new beginning. He'd sent both Angel and Spike to prepare for the cleansing. Each had been given a special lemongrass bar of soap and strict orders to wear light-colored clothes made of natural materials, preferably linen. Satisfied that his desk would pass muster, Wesley gathered his own materials and headed to the showers downstairs. He too needed to be fresh for the coming ritual.

Lily trudged back to her office and collapsed on her couch. While the idea of splashing cold water on her face had been a good one, her nausea decided it would set the agenda for the day. Her throat felt raw, but she didn't think she would pass out. I wonder what it's like not to feel ill. I'm pretty sure this is not what's meant by lovesick. Lily closed her eyes and placed the damp towel she had brought back from the bathroom across her lids. She breathed deeply for a few minutes in an effort to regain some control.

Angel was the first one back to Wesley's office. He noticed that nearly everything had been removed from the desktop except for the flask of purple liquid. Angel leaned over the flask and took a sniff. He hoped they would not have to drink whatever it was.

"Oh good, you're back." Wesley said as he came in carrying a Bunsen burner and a ring stand. "I'll just finish setting up while we wait for Spike." He moved the flask away from the center of the desk and put the burner in its place. Then he carefully arranged the ring stand so that the flask would be suspended over the burner's flame.

"And the burner is for?"

"What? Oh, we heat the elixir with it and the two of you breathe in its fumes while I chant the cleansing spell. Giles and I are fairly certain that this will purge your systems and release you from the spell."

Spike came in as Wesley was finishing his explanation. "Fairly certain? You instill me with such an underwhelming sense of confidence, Wesley."

Wesley chose to ignore the comment and instead attempted to dial Lily's extension once more. It was nearly noon, and they were running out of time.

Lily heard a distant buzzing and groped around searching for her alarm to shut it off. Instead she found the remote control to her stereo. Half asleep she pressed the "on" button and was greeted with the sound of Sarah McLachlan: "How stupid could I be? A simpleton could see. That you're no good for me. But you're the only one I see."

"Aaaargh!" Lily threw the remote at the offending stereo.

Her assault resulted not in silence, but in cranking up the volume and changing the channel.

"Things get damaged. Things get broken. I'd thought we'd manage. . ." Lily cut off the song as she yanked the power cord out of the socket. The stereo tipped forward and crashed to the floor, sparks flying. Lily kicked the offensive object for good measure. I am so done! She made her way to the elevator.

Spike and Angel stood at either end of Wesley's desk. It had taken some time, but the elixir was now bubbling away. The steam rising from the flask smelled of burned rose petals and irritated Spike's eyes. His hands clenched the edge of the desk as Wesley began the cleansing spell. Wish I'd kept reading Latin. Can barely understand what he's going on about. One phrase made sense though.

"Amor omina vincit," intoned Wesley. The liquid began to bubble up the neck of the flask. "AMOR OMNIA VINCIT!" Hot liquid and and steam flew everywhere dousing Wesley, Spike and Angel as the last syllable of the spell faded. Angel and Spike slumped to the floor unconscious while Wesley collapsed into his desk chair, exhausted but awake. As soon as he got his bearings, he moved to check on the two men.

In the basement, Lily angrily punched the button for the elevator. I don't care what happens. I've got to tell Wesley and then maybe, just maybe, get my life back. So intent was she on punishing the elevator button for not instantly summoning a car, Lily didn't notice the purple vapor coming from the vents.

"GAH!" she huffed as she jammed her finger into the call button one last time. The vapor did its work, and Lily, like the men in Wesley's office above, slumped to the floor.

After several minutes of attempting to use smelling salts to wake up two men who don't inhale, Wesley finally managed to bring Spike and Angel around. Time to see if this was all worth it.

Minutes later Angel sat in a chair rubbing his brow as his mind ran through the events of the last week. Things were a bit fuzzy, and he still wanted to throttle Spike, but he wasn't entirely certain that had anything to do with Lily. Spike, for his part, had managed to stand and make it to the door. He stood there leaning against the door frame, warily watching both Angel and Wesley. Wesley pulled open his middle desk drawer and removed a sheaf of papers and scanned through them.

He cleared his throat, "Yes, well. We followed the steps precisely, so," Wesley turned his attention to Angel, "Angel, what are your feelings toward Lily?"

Angel looked up, "Lily's a . . ." Angel paused attempting to verify if what he was about to say truly reflected his feelings. "She's a friend. I care for her in much the same way that I do Fred."

Wesley felt relief wash over him. He turned to ask Spike the same question, but Spike had slipped away as soon as Angel finished speaking.

"Wesley, if I did half of what I remember, I owe that girl an apology..."

Spike moved quickly across the foyer to the elevator. He needed to see Lily. The elevator doors whooshed open as soon as he pressed the call button. His mind raced as the elevator dinged its way down to the basement. Clearly the spell worked; Angel's no longer in love with Lily, and I don't feel the urge to kill him whenever he says her name. So why do I still. . . The doors of the elevator opened suddenly cutting off his train of thought. Lily fell through the threshold of the elevator car and landed with a soft thud. Spike pulled her into the car before the doors closed again and bisected her. She awoke just as he was propping her up against the wall of the car.

"What?" Lily cried. She was startled to see Spike inches away from her. Wait, what? One minute I'm pushing the call button the next everything's black and then I'm here. "Damn it! Another blackout." she muttered. She looked up at Spike. What's that on his shirt? Is it blood? Her heart began to race. "What happened to you?" she asked with concern. Spike looked down at his shirt which was covered in sticky elixir.

"Angel and I just. . ."

Lily's eyes widened. "Oh no. No, no, no. Is Wesley upstairs? I've got to talk to him. I couldn't bear it if you . . ."

Spike grabbed Lily's hand as she tried through repeated pushing to make the elevator go faster. "Take a breath, love. We're fine. Wesley's upstairs."

"Thank God!" Lily began to mutter to herself. "I can tell Wesley and then no more fighting and then we're done!"

Spike started to tell her that Wesley had already broken the spell, that he and Angel were no longer affected, but something made him stop. He walked over to the elevator's control panel and pulled the stop button. The elevator lurched to a halt, and the lights flickered. Lily grabbed the railing on the side of the car to steady herself.

"What did you do that for?"

"Tell me." Spike made his way toward her. "Tell me who you chose."

Lily looked at him with a mixture of panic and dread. "Please, Spike, don't ask me to do that." She bit her lip. I will not cry, I will not cry.

Spike moved into her space placing his arms on either side of her head. "TELL. ME."

She inhaled deeply. She wanted to say no. She wanted to lie, but she was just so tired that the truth came tumbling out.

"You" she said, "I chose you, William."

Spike jerked his hands away, turned 90-degrees and punched the wall. " I knew it," he growled. "He won again. . .wait." He paused and turned back to Lily. "Say that again."

"I said I chose you. That I'm in love with you, William."

Before she could take a breath to tell him to start the elevator, he was in front of her again. "Good." He leaned in and kissed her, startling Lily with both his passion and his tenderness.

Mmmmm. Feels so good. Wait, why's he kissing me? The spell should be over. I told the truth. He shouldn't. . .unless. . .

Lily gently but firmly pushed Spike away. "Why are you kissing me? The spell should be over."

Spike smiled, and those V's appeared again. "Spell was over before you said anything, love. I tried to tell you." He gestured at the stain on his shirt. "This is what cleansing elixir does to linen apparently."

"You mean it's over." Lily took a moment to take that in. I do feel better, no nausea, no headache. "But you didn't answer my question. Why were you kissing me?" She narrowed her eyes. If he's just thrilled that he beat Angel at something. . .

Spike reached behind him and pushed the stop button back in. He pulled Lily back to him, and his mouth hovered over hers, "I kissed you because I wanted to. I've wanted to since New Year's. And you know what?" Lily shook her head, too surprised to answer. Spike's smile deepened, "I'd like to do it again. If you like."

Lily looked into his eyes for a moment trying to decide whether or not she was being played. "I might," she said slowly.

Spike heard the elevator doors open behind him. He bet that Wesley at the very least was behind him, probably worried about what exactly he was doing. "Tonight?" he asked softly.

Lily wiggled out from his embrace and whispered as she passed him on her way out of the elevator, "Maybe."

He turned to watch her leave. As he'd expected, Wesley was waiting for her outside the car. Spike chuckled as he watched her walk away. Maybe had never sounded so much like yes before.