Title: Sentencing Author: Gyrus Rating: R, for strong language, suggestive images, violence, and animal abuse. Summary: Warren gets his final reckoning. Written for the Buffy/Angel Lyric Wheel. Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters and nobody paid me to write this. What was I thinking? Note: Thanks to Chuck for the inspirational lyrics. Warning: This story is rather longer than the Lyric Wheel guidelines request, but I couldn't find a way to tell it in fewer words.

--

Warren couldn't remember how he got into this room. It didn't look familiar; the floor was beige linoleum tile, the walls off-white plaster, and florescent lights buzzed overhead. Two rows of benches, all empty, faced the front of the room, where there stood a sort of tall, three-person podium. It looked very much like a courtroom, except that instead of tables and chairs for the prosecution, the defense, and the accused, there was only a single wooden chair that sat directly in front of the podium.

What'll you bet that's for me? Warren thought.

The moment Warren had the thought, he suddenly found himself in the chair, stuck to it as though by a powerful electromagnet. What was more, the chair seemed to be stuck to the ground; no matter how he wriggled, he couldn't even knock himself over.

It didn't matter, anyway. In moments, he could hear people -- no, demons, he realized as he turned his head to look -- flooding in through the rear doors and taking seats behind him. The courtroom was suddenly filled with sound of a dozen inhuman languages and a great variety of footsteps -- the clop of cloven hooves, the click-click of sharp-nailed toes, and the slither of tentacles over the linoleum floor as the creatures made their way to their seats.

The side door opened and two creatures in black robes entered. One was a tall, slender, ochre-colored demon, clearly male, while the other was a blue-skinned, black-horned female who was a few inches shorter than her counterpart but still half a foot taller than Warren. Unlike the male demon's robes, which were buttoned all the way up to his neck like a priest's, the female demon's were open almost to her navel (assuming she had one), exposing the inner one-third of a rack the likes of which Warren had never seen even in his luckiest free-cable-porn finds. He stared wide- eyed for several seconds until he realized that the she-demon was looking right back at him. Warren quickly averted his eyes to his shoelaces.

Great, he thought. I'm going to the rockpile for sure.

The two judge-demons took their seats on either side of the three-person podium, leaving a gap in the middle. Another demon entered from the side door, wearing a tan uniform and a silver badge a trident logo stamped on it.

"All rise!" the demon shouted. Everyone stood up except Warren, who was still glued to his chair. "Eternal Court Part One Million, Two Hundred Thirty-Four Thousand, Eight Hundred and Sixty-Three is now in session! The Honorable Warren T. Mears presiding."

Warren felt a rush of confusion, and then an electric surge of hope. Maybe he wasn't the defendant; maybe he was the judge! Perhaps he had been so good at being a supervillain that he'd been promoted! Why not? He'd earned it, hadn't he?

His elation turned to puzzlement, however, when the side door opened again and in walked yet another black-robed figure. Except this one was...himself.

Robes flowing, Other-Warren strode to the podium and took his seat between the two demon-judges. He banged a gavel on the podium; a few white sparks flew from it.

"You like that?" Other-Warren said, grinning at Warren. "That Klingon gavel in Star Trek VI was so cool, I just had to borrow the effect. Man, ALL the even-numbered ones were great, weren't they?" Other-Warren glanced around the courtroom, seeming to remember that he had a job to do, then banged his gavel again. "All right, let's get this show on the road. Warren T. Mears, you are here to assist in the determination of your sentence."

"Sentence?" Warren asked, eyebrows raised. "I haven't even have a trial yet!"

The demons in the gallery laughed, as did the two demon judges. The female's breasts shook with her laughter, drawing Warren's eyes again despite his fear and confusion. Once more, she looked sharply back at him, making Warren wish he could get out of his chair so he could crawl under something and die.

Once the laughter died down, Other-Warren said, "Oh, you've had your trial, Sparky. A twenty-year trial."

"Who the hell ARE you?" Warren demanded. "Why do you look like me? What kind of mind job is this?"

"A pretty good one, don't you think?" Other-Warren replied. "After all, who's better qualified to judge you than you?"

"You are NOT me," Warren said testily. "For starters, I would never do something this cheesy. A trial with demons in the gallery and me as the judge? Could you BE less original?"

"Like I said, this isn't a trial," Other-Warren replied coldly. "This is the last stop. And the courtroom is just a format, something your little human brain can wrap itself around."

Other-Warren sat back and spoke in a louder, more official tone. "Now, before we pass sentence, we need to clear up a few details. When did you decide to become evil?"

"Wait a second! Who said I was evil?" Warren cried.

For the first time, the tall, male demon judge spoke up. "You did," he said in a voice like a log being dragged through gravel. Then, suddenly, his voice changed to that of Rack, the magic dealer Warren had asked for help when Willow was after him. "'What were you, a band or something?'" Then the demon's voice shifted again, this time sounding like Warren's. "'I thought word traveled in the underworld. You know, we were evil!'"

The demon judge sat back and Other-Warren spoke. "By your own admission, you're evil. So let's get back to the question: when did you decide to become evil?"

"W-what makes you think I decided it?" Warren said, thinking fast. "Maybe- maybe being on the Hellmouth MADE me evil, did you think of that? I mean, I did some stuff that no undergraduate engineering student should be able to do -- I mean, the robots, the freeze ray, the DIABLO 2 cheats that make you invulnerable and give you nuclear weapons -- how could anybody just come up with that stuff without some kind of evil mojo warping their brain?"

"Hmm," Other-Warren said, nodding. The female demon-judge leaned over to him, exposing about a yard of cleavage in the process, and whispered something in Other-Warren's ear.

"All right, let's get an expert witness in here," Other Warren said. "The court calls Ted Buchanan."

A man emerged from the side door and stood up in front of the courtroom.

"Who the hell is this?" Warren demanded. "He looks like that guy from THREE'S COMPANY."

"Mr. Buchanan," Other-Warren said, turning to the man. "Can you tell us why you're here? In Hell, I mean."

"I built a robot that killed my wife," the man said. "She left me when I was very ill, so I made a robot version of myself to bring her back to me."

"By force?"

"Yes. I was dying, and I thought if I could create a strong, healthy version of me, then maybe she could love me again."

"But she didn't."

"No. It turned out, she hadn't left me because I was sick; she left me because she just didn't love me anymore. I'd changed as my health got worse, got caught up in self-pity, started resenting everyone who was better off than me. But I let myself believe otherwise, because I was too selfish to let her go. So the robot kept her there, even after I was dead. And when she died after years of captivity, he found another wife, and another, and another, because I'd programmed him to never let go."

"And this robot, that could walk and talk and that appeared human in every way -- you built it in 1957, is that right?"

"Yes."

"How did you do that? They hadn't even invented the microchip in 1957."

"I'm not entirely sure, but I.something in that town inspired me, drove me. Anywhere else, I was smart, but in Sunnydale, I was a genius."

"So the Hellmouth supercharged your intellect. Is that what you're saying?"

"Yes, I suppose so."

"Did it also make you evil?"

"No."

"Did it give you the idea to kidnap your wife and keep her with you against her will?"

"No. That was my idea. I realize now that the Hellmouth inspired me because I had evil in my heart. It just helped me bring it out."

"All right. Thank you, Mr. Buchanan, you can go now."

"Hey!" Warren shouted. "Don't I get to question him, too?"

Other-Warren turned to the female demon-judge, who leaned over and whispered in his ear again. Then he turned back to Warren. "You may cross- examine the witness," he said.

All right, Warren thought. You want courtroom drama, that's cool with me. I've seen enough LAW & ORDER reruns to play that game.

"Mr. Buchanan," Warren said, "would you have been able to commit any of the crimes you just described if you hadn't been living on the Hellmouth?"

"Well, no, but-"

"Just yes or no, Mr. Buchanan," Warren interruped.

"No," the man sighed.

"No further questions, your honor," Warren said smugly.

"Fine," Other-Warren said, "then I'll redirect. Mr. Buchanan, would you have ended up in Hell even if you hadn't lived in Sunnydale?"

"Yes."

"Why? You couldn't have built your robot anywhere else. Your wife or those other women would never have been harmed."

"It wasn't what I did; it was the fact that I never even considered anybody's well-being but my own. I didn't build Ted for my wife -- I built him for me. He was an extension of my own ego. Wish I'd figured that out while I was alive."

"Very well, Mr. Buchanan, thanks for coming in. Baliff, please take Mr. Buchanan back to his torment." A demon dragged the unhappy-looking man away.

"W-what's his torment?" Warren asked.

"Reading over application forms at the Infernal Patent Office," Other- Warren answered. "For all eternity."

Oh, God, Warren thought. A government job. Anything but that.

"All right," Other-Warren went on. "We've established that your being here is your own fault. Let's get back to the issue of when you decided to be evil. Would you say this was a recent decision?"

"Oh, yeah, yeah, very recent," Warren said, hoping he might at least earn some leniency and maybe not end up in a mind-numbing clerical position for the next billion years.

"Was it when you decided to target the Slayer?" Other-Warren asked.

"Um, yeah that was it. Just a few months ago."

Other-Warren leaned forward with a wicked grin. "Oh, Sparky," he said, "lying to yourself is what brought you down here in the first place. Don't start up again now."

"W-what are you talking about?"

"April, Warren. The girl you built to satisfy your every selfish, pathetic sexual impulse."

"That had nothing to do with the Slayer!"

"You know," Other-Warren said, leaning back in his chair, "if you had just wanted to build yourself a fun, brainless little sexdroid, that would have been one thing. But you gave her real feelings, Warren. You made her love you, without any thought to what that might do to her or to anybody else. And then you just ditched her."

"I didn't-"

"You ran away like a wuss and waited for her batteries to run out. But she followed you, and then the Slayer had to take care of her for you because you wouldn't accept the responsibility of doing it yourself. That was why you set your sights on Buffy, champ -- not just because she learned all about your sad sexual fantasies when she met April, but because she saw how weak you were. And you couldn't handle having yet another woman know that about you."

"Gee, thanks for the insight, Doctor Freud," Warren said, anger beginning to overwhelm the fear. "Next, why don't we talk about how my mommy didn't love me?"

"Ooooooh," murmured the demons in the gallery, as if they had just heard a fourth-grader tell his teacher to fuck off.

"Because you already know she didn't love you," Other-Warren responded, shaking his head slightly.

The anger drained from Warren's face, and he looked blankly at his other self.

"Not as much as she loved your sisters, anyway," Other-Warren went on. "But you could have learned to live with that. Plenty of people grow up without love and don't choose evil. So let's talk about when you made your choice."

"Look, I don't know-

"Better yet," Other-Warren said gravely, "let's see it."

The courtroom went quiet. Warren couldn't hear a single sound from the demons sitting behind him.

"Turn around," Other-Warren ordered gravely.

"No," Warren said dully. He had a sudden sense of dread; fear spread like a million tiny needle-pricks through his entire body. "No, I don't want t-"

"Turn. Around."

The legs of Warren's chair squealed against the floor as the chair slowly rotated all by itself, forcing Warren to face the back of the courtroom.

There were no longer any demons in the gallery. Instead, there were perhaps a dozen children, all eleven or twelve years old and dressed in Halloween costumes -- devils, zombies, Axl Rose -- staring at him in total silence.

"Remember them?" Other-Warren said. "More to the point, remember him?" He pointed to a boy in the middle of the group who was the same age as the others but smaller in stature, even compared to the girls. He wore an elaborate robot costume made from cardboard boxes and aluminum foil. A single antenna rose from a silver cap on his head.

The benches disappeared, and suddenly the children were milling around and chatting animatedly with one another in a suburban living room as they snacked on potato chips, green punch, and little Halloween-sized Chocolate Hurricanes. Everyone was having a good time except the boy in the robot costume, who stood awkwardly by the wall, watching the others. They scarcely seemed to notice him.

After a few minutes, the boy left the room through the glass doors that led out to the rear patio and a large swimming pool. There was no one else there, so the boy just stared at the water in the pool, watching the way the moonlight interacted with the tiny motions of the water.

From his chair, Warren saw two other kids come out through the glass doors and walk up behind the boy. Warren wanted to shout some sort of warning, but his voice was caught in his throat.

"Hey Mears," one of the boys said, "you wanna go for a swim?"

The kid's eyes went wide, and he tried to run, but his costume was too cumbersome; the boys grabbed him easily and hurled him into the pool. The child thrashed as his cardboard costume became waterlogged, slowly pulling him under. Warren watched in horrified fascination as the boy struggled for nearly a minute under the water, ripping off pieces of his costume until he could swim upwards. The boy broke the surface, sputtering and gasping. Then, using a thrashing, inefficient doggy-paddle, he managed to get to the edge of the pool, where one of the boys who had pushed him in grabbed him by the collar of his t-shirt and hauled him out again, ripping the shirt almost in half in the process.

Gulping air, the boy got to his feet to the sound of laughter. There were now about ten kids on the pool deck. One of them was Traci Smith, a popular girl whose house this was. Surrounded by her friends, she giggled hysterically at the sight of the wet boy, who was only just realizing that he was very nearly naked; in the California heat, he hadn't dared wear more than a t-shirt and shorts under his costume. Now the shirt was in shreds, revealing his bony, pale torso to everyone.

A woman -- Traci's mom -- hurried out of the house and tried to help the boy inside, but instead he ran, dashing through the gate that separated the front yard from the back and taking off down the street, out of sight.

Warren found himself remembering how much effort he had put into that robot costume, which he had made with no help from anyone, and how little effort it had taken for someone else to ruin it. But much more than that, he remembered how humiliated he had been at being bullied, stripped, and chased away in front of Traci and all her friends. He'd always had a little bit of a crush on Traci, and now.she'd LAUGHED at him. He had almost drowned, and she thought it was funny.

Suddenly, the scene froze. "Any comments?" Other-Warren asked.

"Yeah," Warren said, "Yeah, I have a comment. You saw what those kids did to me, right?"

"I didn't just SEE it," Other-Warren said. "I'm you, remember?"

"So how does this make me evil?" Warren demanded, pointing at the frozen tableaux. "THEY did that to ME!"

"I know," Other-Warren said with geniune sympathy. "I know they did. But...look."

The scene shifted. It was several hours later now; there were no kids by the pool, just a few abandoned plastic cups and some wet pieces of cardboard and aluminum foil laying on the deck. A cat wandered aimlessly through the mess, sniffing here and there. Then a whisper came from over by the gate.

"Tsktsktsktsktsk. Here, kittykittykitty."

The cat looked up and saw the boy standing just behind the gate, reaching his arm over it to put his hand at eye-level with the cat. He was holding some fish-shaped cat treats.

"Come here, kitty," the boy whispered.

The cat trotted over to the boy, sniffed at his hand for a moment, and then began devouring the treats. It never even noticed the jar that the boy held in his other hand until he suddenly hurled the contents at the cat.

The cat screeched and ran, but it was too late. Its fur was smoking, and by the time the cat got even halfway to the back door of the house, the acid was burning into its flesh. The cat screamed and screamed, clawing desperately at itself.

Warren, still trapped in his chair, closed his eyes to the sight. He was grateful when the sound stopped.

"You were a clever little chemist," Other-Warren said. "But you didn't have to do that."

Tears of sadness and rage were beginning to leak out between Warren's closed eyelids. "I was only at that party because my mom wanted to get rid of me, and she knew Mrs. Smith," he said from between his teeth. "I didn't belong there, and the other kids punished me for it. So what was I supposed to do after that? I had no power, no friends, nobody who would have helped me. Revenge was the only option."

"Let me tell you what the other option was," Other-Warren said. "You could have done nothing. You could have decided that revenge wasn't worth doing what you did. And then, in a few more years, you could have left home to start a software company and make a bazillion dollars with that great big brain of yours and forgotten all about the assholes you knew in Sunnydale. All you had to do was let it go."

"Let it go? Easy for you to say," Warren spat.

"No, not easy. But I said it to you over and over for years, and you never listened. You just had to be in control, especially where girls were concerned, and you kept going farther and farther, from torching the cat, to tormenting the Slayer, to attempted rape, and then to murder, and to hell with everyone and everything else. And now, to Hell with you."

Other-Warren straightened up in his chair. "Warren Mears, I hereby sentence you to an eternity in the Fire Box. This court is adjourned." He slammed his gavel down, showering the podium with sparks.

"What? No!" Warren cried as the huge demon-baliff grabbed his arm and dragged him out of his seat. "You son of a bitch! You think you're so fucking righteous? You're nothing! I've always ignored you, and I always will!"

Other-Warren, heading for the side door, turned to look at him.

"I know," he said sadly. "Goodbye."

The baliff dragged Warren to a door opposite the one where the judges were filing out and handed him off to a tall demon with metallic skin.

"Hi," the monster said. "I'm Skip. I'll be keeping an eye on you."

The creature pulled Warren into a room containing a large, transparent box. It opened a door in the box and hurled Warren inside, where he landed on the floor next to another young man.

"That's Billy, your cellmate," Skip said. "Play nice."

And then Warren burst into flame, and his screaming never ended.

--

Dave Matthews Band Last Stop Fire The sun is well asleep

Moon is high above

Fire grows from the east

How is this

Hate so deep

Lead us all so blindly killing killing

Fools we are

If hate's the gate to peace

This is the last stop

For raining tears

War

The only way to Peace

I don't fall for that

Raining tears

You're righteous, so righteous

You're always so right

Go ahead and dream

Go ahead believe that you are the chosen one

Raining tears

Oh no

Gracious even God

Bloodied the cross

Your sins are washed enough

Mother's cry

"Is hate so deep

Must a baby's bones

This hungry fire feed?"

As smoke clouds roll in

The symphony of death

This is the last stop

Scream

Right is wrong now

Shut up you big lie

This black and white lie

You comb your hair to hide

Your lying eyes

You're righteous, so righteous

You're always so right

But why your lie

Go ahead and dream

Go ahead believe that you are the chosen one

This is the last stop

Here there's more than is showing up

Hope that we can break it down

It's not so black and white

You're righteous

You're righteous

You're righteous

You're always so right

There you are nailing a good tree

Then say forgive me, forgive me

Why

Raining tears

This is the last stop

Here there is more than is showing up

Hope that we can break it down

It's not so black and white