Title: Status Quo Ante
Author: babies stole my dingo (agilebrit)
Fandom: Angel
Rating: PG-13 (default)
Length: Short story (about 3500 words)
Disclaimer: Joss is the genius behind these characters; I am but a lowly follower. I make no money from any of this, so please don't sue me.
Feedback: Concrit adored! If you see something that can be improved upon, please let me know, even if it's only a typo.
Written for: as a backup. Request delineated at the end.
Notes: Yeah, the "no fluff" thing got away from me there at the finish, but if you want me to write angst or darkfic with no character death, you need to cut me some slack in other areas, k?
"Hello, lover."

Wes couldn't decide if Lilah's warm contralto was welcome or not. Little enough hope of me getting to Heaven, he thought. I do hope the other place isn't as warm as it's made out to be.

"Oh, don't worry, you're not in Hell," she said. He opened his eyes and looked around. White room. They did have a habit of those. "The Senior Partners have an assignment for us."

"Do they? And if I refuse?"

"You signed a contract." She lifted a still-exquisitely-groomed eyebrow. "Enforceable in perpetuity."

"I suppose I did." He stood up and brushed himself off, noticing that the bloodstain was gone from his shirt. Kind of them. "I further suppose that the Senior Partners are probably not very pleased with the role I just played in taking down the Black Thorn."

"Oh, you have no idea." She flashed him an evil grin. "That's what I always liked about you, Wes. Do the right thing, and damn the consequences."

"That penchant of mine seems to get me into all sorts of difficulties; I can't imagine why I continue," he answered dryly.

"Speaking of difficulties..." A remote control appeared in Lilah's hand, and a screen slid down from the ceiling. She pushed a button, and the scene that unfolded made Wes clench his fists. He should have been there-- "Now, now," Lilah soothed. "Wouldn't be any sense in you dying again."

"Can we--" Wes choked on the words.

"Help them?" Lilah gave him a look. "You still want to help them after Angel stole your memories, Gunn signed the papers that let the sarcophagus into the country, and Illyria killed Fred? Not to mention Spike getting all bond-y with the God-King of the Primordium." She shook her head. "You really are incorrigible."

"Lilah."

She sighed. "I can't do much. But I'll do what I can."

She pressed some buttons on the remote, and the thirty-foot-tall giant on the screen began moving in a more purposeful manner.

:-:

The dragon swooped down, screeching, and Illyria grabbed it by the tail as it went by and swung it into the wall. Planting herself in front of the rapidly-weakening Gunn, she casually killed any demons that came her way while keeping an eye on Spike and Angel.

The rain and the darkness in the alley conspired together to make vision difficult, but she could see that Spike fought with a maniacal grin. The impossible odds seemed to be to his liking. Angel was all business. He hacked off the stunned dragon's head and went looking for more.

The sheer numbers of their adversaries would soon spell her doom and that of her comrades, Illyria knew. All they could do was slow the tide, not stem it, let alone turn it back. An enormous cat tore Spike's duster from his body, leaving four parallel furrows down his back from his shoulders to his waist. He spun and took its head off with a battleaxe he'd picked up somewhere. Something else grabbed his left arm and pulled it up and out, just so, leaving it dangling and useless.

Angel was surrounded, but his sword never stopped moving. He seemed to be holding his own for the moment. Gunn--

Gunn still lived. That was the most she could say for him.

The giant was suddenly upon her. Pinning her arms to her ribcage with an enormous hand, it lifted her from the ground as she struggled, opened a portal, and threw her into it. She rolled several times and came to a stop against a wall that jolted the air from her body.

The shock of being unceremoniously picked up and tossed aside in that manner made her head spin, but only for a moment. She rose to her feet and dusted herself off. A bare bulb, high above, illuminated the room badly, showing her a twenty-by-twenty foot cell with rock walls, a single bed, a sink, and a toilet--but no windows.

And no door.

A few moments later, the air in one corner shimmered. Spike came flying into the room and hit the wall as she had, but he lay on his stomach, unmoving, once he stopped rolling. His shirt was in tatters, his left arm dislocated at the shoulder, his left knee leaking blood between the stones paving the floor and bent at an odd angle. He was wounded in several other places as well, and soaked from the rain. A lump over his ear told her why he was unconscious.

She knelt beside him. He moaned, and moved. "Sodding bloody buggering hell," he mumbled. "Am I dead?"

"Yes," Illyria answered. "But only because you are a vampire."

He pushed himself up with his good arm. Two claw marks on his face, beginning just below his eyes, extended down his chest to his blood-soaked jeans and exposed his ribs. "A little help?"

She grasped his left wrist and twisted and pulled at the same time, being careful not to pull too hard and tear his arm off. Spike flinched--"Oh, bloody hell!"--as the shoulder slid back into the joint, but he rotated it a few times and flexed his hand. "Ta, pet."

She tilted her head. "You are well?"

He grimaced. "Other than my knee being smashed, and the fact that a giant pussycat used me as a scratching post, and, oh, yeah, this knot on the side of my head...I'm right as the rain I'm wet from. How about you?"

"My dignity has been abused, but I am otherwise unharmed." An unexpected wave of grief for Wesley caused her legs to give way, and she collapsed onto the bed with her face in her hands. "How...how do you feel these emotions and not fly apart into a thousand thousand pieces?"

"Experience." Spike levered himself up beside her and wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

"You dare--" Illyria's hand curled into a fist.

"Of course I dare." She searched his face, but found no humor there. "We're both a bit thrown right now, luv. Makes sense to take comfort where we can."

"The Wolf, Ram, and Hart want us living. Otherwise we would already be dead." Spike's arm around her was...pleasant. She relaxed and leaned into him, and he stroked her hair. "Perhaps they wish Angel and Gunn to live as well."

"Not sure they're feeling too charitable right now." His voice was heavy with weariness. Almost unconsciously, she curled her own arm about his waist.

Wesley stepped into the room from out of nowhere. "You might be surprised."

Illyria recoiled against the wall, but remembered herself and recovered her hauteur. "Wesley is dead. He died in my arms. Therefore you are not Wesley."

"Actually, Blue," Spike said, touching her arm, "it is." He tapped the side of his nose. "Doesn't smell quite right, but it's him and no mistake."

"How can this be? What sort of dimension is this where death does not release one into the next world, but leaves one trapped in this place forever?" She crossed her arms. "I do not approve."

"Think how I feel." Wesley's voice was dry. "But I signed a contract. Apparently one that left me beholden to the Senior Partners well beyond my normal lifespan."

"That may be, but I signed no such contract. Nor did Spike. We should be released forthwith."

Wesley inclined his head. "Precisely why I'm here. I called in a favor, and you two are free to go."

"Not that we're not grateful and all, mate," Spike said, "but what about you? And Angel, and Charlie, for that matter."

"All of us are still under contract, I'm afraid."

Spike's frown was thunderous. "We'll just have to bloody well see about that."

:-:

As the Wolfram and Hart building came down, things that should have remained secret wafted over the city. A few trapped souls found themselves released, and several bits of arcane knowledge snaked through avenues and alleyways looking for homes.

Just before the giant seized Gunn and tossed him through a dimensional rift, one of those bits of knowledge found him. He swore. "I signed my life away for Angel's spoiled brat kid?"

Lying in a hospital bed furnished by the Senior Partners a little while later, he had time to reflect. Angel must have had a good reason, right? Right? And Gunn still had the download, after all.

A sudden thought made him sit bolt upright. He still had the download, which meant that all the legal stuff was still in his brain. Including the stuff about contracts, and the breach thereof.

He buzzed the nurse. "I need a meeting with Angel and a representative of the Senior Partners. Sooner would be better."

:-:

Angel had escaped the battle mostly unscathed until the giant grabbed him and threw him through a portal into a room that looked suspiciously like his penthouse in the Wolfram and Hart building. Someone had even considerately left a carton of blood in the fridge, and he sat sipping it while he contemplated his situation.

He'd taken out the Black Thorn. That would cripple the Senior Partners for a fair length of time...which meant that they were probably pretty pissed at him.

He frowned. If they were mad, they sure had a funny way of showing it. He was definitely in a prison, because he'd tried the door and found it locked, but this was the plushest jail he'd ever occupied. Then he remembered Lindsey's holding dimension and shuddered. If anything wanted to rip out his heart on a daily basis, it would have a fight on its hands.

Somebody knocked on his door, politely, and opened it. He didn't recognize the creature standing there. "Mr. Angel?" it asked. "Your presence is requested at a meeting."

"Is it?" Angel shrugged. "Let's find out who's pulling these strings."

He followed it down the corridor and into a boardroom, to find Wesley, Lilah, Gunn, and an unfamiliar man sitting at a table. The man stood up and extended a hand. "I'm Gordon Hicks, your new liaison to the Senior Partners."

Angel declined to take the hand, sitting down instead. "Maybe I won't have to kill you." He nodded to Wes and Gunn. "Gunn, glad to see you made it. Wes, thought you were dead." Angel had learned long ago not to freak at unusual occurances; Wes's presence at the table was a fairly welcome surprise, although Lilah's wasn't. Oh well. He could take the good with the bad.

"I called us all together because I had a funny thought," Gunn said. "Angel, you have some explainin' to do. Stealing our memories without permission, not cool, man." He held up a hand. "I get why you did it. I just think you shoulda asked, first."

"I would have, if it'd been possible, believe me." Angel didn't even want to know how Gunn had found out. He should have known that once the cat was out of the bag, it would start clawing everyone.

"I guess so. But the reason we're here is because of Connor, indirectly." Gunn shuffled some papers in front of him. "According to the contract that Angel signed with Wolfram and Hart, we'd all get shiny new offices and get to start fighting evil from within the belly of the beast. In return, Connor would get a shiny new life, with shiny new memories, and none of the rest of us would remember he existed."

Gordon leaped to his feet, obviously seeing where this was going. "You can't possibly be saying--"

"That Wolfram and Hart are in breach of their side of the contract?" Gunn sat back and crossed his arms smugly. "That's exactly what I'm saying." He lifted an eyebrow. "Tell me where they're not."

"I--uh--um--Lilah, help me out here!" Gordon sputtered.

She snorted indelicately. "You're on your own, Gordie-boy."

"Whose side are you on?"

"Mine, naturally." She turned to Wes and muttered, "He's new around here."

"Obviously." Wes grinned mirthlessly back at her. "Of course," he said to Gunn, "There is still the small matter of my demise. Have you a way around that as well, or am I stuck being dead?"

"Hey, man, you can't expect me to do all the heavy lifting around here." Gunn shook his head. "You're the one with the mystical mojo; you tell me."

"Advantages to being dead," Lilah said. "You're hard to kill."

"That's so." Angel felt compelled to back Lilah up on that point. He needed Wes, more than ever, especially since it was starting to look like they were at status quo ante with the Senior Partners.

"I don't like being dead. It feels, to borrow a word from Cordelia, icky." Wes crossed his arms.

"You get used to it," Lilah and Angel said at the same time. They shared a look, and Angel found himself actually cheering about the fact that Lilah wanted Wes around as much as Angel himself did. Maybe coming at him from two fronts would be more persuasive.

"And what about you, Lilah?" Wes asked. "What is it you want?"

She shrugged, elaborately casual. "A corner office."

Wes seemed to sag. "I see."

"I'll need to speak with the Senior Partners before anything happens at all," Gordon said, attempting to take back control of the conversation.

"From where I'm sitting, there's nothing to discuss," Gunn answered heatedly. "They're in breach, end of story. What's more to talk about?"

"What they owe us?" Wes said.

"They don't owe you anything!" Gordon pounded his fist on the table. "You wouldn't be here, walking and talking, if it weren't for them!"

"I'm not entirely sure I want to be here, dead, walking and talking."

"Well, maybe I can do something about that," Gordon snarled. He shook a knife out of his sleeve and lunged across the table, slicing it across Wes's eye before anyone could stop him.

Angel made an inarticulate growling noise and grabbed Gordon around the throat in the crook of his elbow, while Gunn disarmed him. "I am getting really tired of having to kill liaisons. Wes?"

Wes held his hand over his eye; blood leaked from under it in a steady stream. "I do believe I'm blind in that eye now. And may I just say, that hurt like bloody hell."

Lilah shook her head. "Gordie, Gordie, Gordie. Never bring a knife to a legal battle. Don't kill him yet," she said to Angel. Opening her briefcase and pulling out a thick sheaf of papers, she handed them to Wesley and picked up the knife. "This is my contract. Wes, if you wouldn't mind finding page fifty-seven, subparagraph (p), in that thing? It's toward the back."

Wes read the relevant paragraph silently, then looked at her. "You can't possibly--"

"Watch me." Lilah stabbed herself in the eye with the knife, mingling Wes's blood with her own, and Gunn and Angel watched with horrified expressions. A distant angry roaring sounded, and she smiled in grim satisfaction through a mask of red. "That's what they get for using Biblical language in their contracts. That 'eye for an eye' stuff is pretty powerful."

Gordon struggled in Angel's grip. "You bitch! You'll pay urk--" The sentence was cut off as Angel applied pressure to his windpipe.

"He's not really worth killing, and the Senior Partners will punish him enough for allowing this to happen," Lilah said. "Or should I say, causing this to happen, by his loss of temper." She stood up. "Gentlemen? We are all free to go."

Angel released Gordon with a little shove. "Tell the Senior Partners that it wasn't nice doing business with them, and to have a crappy day."

Lilah opened the door, and they found themselves outside, blinking in the moonlit Los Angeles night.

:-:

"Why is she still here?" Angel asked Wes.

They'd regrouped at the Hyperion to formulate a plan of action, and Angel had pulled Wes into the office after he and Lilah had gotten their faces cleaned up. "Because I want her here," Wes answered, leaning back in his chair. "Is there a problem?"

"I'm just trying to figure out exactly what it is she brings to the team. We already have a lawyer."

"And Charles is perfectly competent," Wes acknowledged. "However, he doesn't have the contacts that Lilah does, and she brings...other assets, as well."

Angel crossed his arms. "Look, I know you two have a history, and that was a bad time for all of us, but I just don't get why you still want the evil bitch around, not to put too fine a point on it."

"Evil is relative, Angel." Wes crossed his own arms. "I'd hate to break up the team, but this is non-negotiable." He'd failed to save her twice. Maybe the third time would be the charm.

"Fine, but she turns on us, and it's your head."

"I'm willing to live with that."

"That's funny coming from a dead guy," Angel muttered, but let it go. "Any idea where Spike and Illyria are?"

"Somewhere in LA. Want me to track them down?" Something to do, besides finding His and Hers Eyepatches, would be a welcome distraction. "And may I just say that you objecting to Lilah, while wanting the ambiguously moral God-King of the Primordium and Spike, of all vampires, on the team, is comical in the extreme."

"I didn't say I wanted them on the team. I just...want to know where they are." But Angel wouldn't look at him when he said that, and Wes knew he'd just nailed him. "I can probably find Spike. Think Illyria would be with him?"

"I don't know where else she'd go. They seemed rather cozy together, last time I saw them."

"Were they okay? Physically?"

"Spike was injured, although how badly I don't know. Illyria was unscathed."

"Somehow that doesn't surprise me. Spike always did throw himself into a fight with more oomph than he needed to." Angel stood up and shrugged into his coat. "Can you guys hold the fort down, answer the phone if it rings?"

"Phone?"

"I kept it going, just in case. And the Sanctorum spell as well." Angel quirked an eyebrow. "Sometimes I think ahead."

"I'm impressed."

"There's beer in the fridge. Help yourselves."

:-:

The street was amazingly quiet for a place that had been filled with demons just a little while before. Angel supposed that, with nothing to do, they'd vanished back into whatever woodwork they'd crawled out of.

A nearby demon bar was as good a place as any to start the search for Spike, although how he'd pay for anything he ordered was anyone's guess. Maybe in a demon bar, he'd beat someone up for their money.

Or not. Angel found him sitting in the back, staring moodily at a gray tabby kitten on his table and shaking his head. "Unlife has come to a pretty pass," he said as Angel joined him, "when I can't bring myself to pay for a bloody drink the old-fashioned way."

Angel signaled the waitress, a scantily-clad Ber'ania Demon with three horns, two of which curled around her ears, with the third curving over the top of her head. "What'll it be?" she asked around a mouthful of chewing gum.

Spike looked terrible; the claw marks on his face hadn't even begun to heal yet, and his ribs showed through the slices on his chest. Angel made a judgement call. "Quart of blood, human, and another of pig. With a shot of otter if you've got it."

"Gotcha." She spun on her stilettos and sauntered over to the bar.

"Hope you don't think I'm gonna drink the human stuff, mate." Spike glared. "I've been off it for ages; can't see goin' back now."

"You'll drink it and like it. It'll help you heal faster." The waitress plopped down a couple of glasses in front of them and eyed the kitten expectantly. She seemed disappointed when Angel handed her cash, but brightened when he told her to keep the change. "What happened with you and Illyria?"

Between gulps of blood, Spike gave him a brief synopsis of the events leading to him sitting in a demon bar with a kitten, which he'd found in an alley and scooped up as a form of potential payment, on his table. "As for Blue, she went out to get her violence on again. She's in a hell of an angry mood. The thing with Wes really threw her for a loop." The kitten bumped his hand with its head, and he absently rubbed its ears. "She's supposed to meet me back here in a bit."

Angel caught Spike up on what had happened with the new liaison to the Senior Partners, and told him about Connor. He had to order another round before he was done with that particular complicated story. "So, we're all back at the Hyperion, and I'm thinking about starting up Angel Investigations again." He eyed Spike over the rim of his glass. "Be more than happy to have you and Illyria on the team."

"What team?" Illyria slid into the chair beside him as gracefully as a cheetah. Angel nearly jumped out of his skin; he hadn't heard or smelled her come up.

Recovering, he turned to her. "I'm starting my private eye agency again. Helping the helpless. It's a decent gig."

She drummed her fingers on the table, and the kitten pounced. She grabbed it around the ribcage and held it up, while it flailed and bit at her hand playfully. "This creature defies me."

"Cats were once worshiped as gods," Spike said. "They've never forgotten it. However, that little morsel is pretty helpless. Maybe we should help it first."

The kitten lashed its tail and purred at the same time, chewing on Illyria's knuckle. "She has been brought low as I have," Illyria mused. She nodded with decision. "Very well. We will succor this beast, and the other lowly creatures of this dimension." She rose to her feet and tucked the kitten into the crook of her arm.

"Let us begin."

the end

The request:
Characters/Pairings you want the story to focus in: Spike/Illyria
Characters/Pairings you want in the story too: Wes/Lilah
Things you want: setting, timeline, quotes, specific objects... Post NFA, Wes & Lilah both dead but on Earth, a meeting in a bar, Spike suffering injuries from the battle still
Things you don't want: characters, pairings, angst, fluff... no fluff please, no character death (outside of those already dead)
Extras: highest rating, genre... any rating is fine, R would be great; I love angst and dark fic