Judgment Day

Judgment Day

And sometimes it's too much to bear

The dead and dying everywhere

And every day for me is judgment day

Every day for me is judgment day

Now:

The ticking of the clocked dominated the lobby, a constant, unwelcome reminder of time passing.  With every second gone the likelihood of everything working out grew less.

Cordelia sat at the computer; half-heartedly working on something, an invoice, familiarizing herself with a new database, it didn't matter.  It was just a distraction.  Something that was supposed to make the waiting easier, it never did.

Fred sat cross-legged on the stairs below the door, staring fixedly at it as if she could make those she wanted to see appear if she just looked for them hard enough.

Wesley walked through the entrance his feet dragging, head down, the beginnings of a bruise spreading across his jaw, looking considerably older than he had when he left just over two hours ago.  "We closed the portal," he said dully.

"Where's Angel and Gunn?" Cordy asked and Wesley buried his face in his hands.

I sit among my charts and maps

And hear the lonely call of taps

Like the wind across the moon

Then:

The happy clatter of cutlery filled the Hyperion's kitchen.

Wesley and Cordelia chattered cheerfully as Gunn watched Angel and Fred suspiciously.  "Why are they cookin'?" he asked with a nod toward the pair at the stove.  "He thinks warmed o-pos is gourmand and she talks about bark enchiladas."

"Angel is actually quite a competent chef," Wesley said.  "Better than myself… and if Cordelia were cooking I'd have an ambulance on standby."

"You just didn't appreciate my brownies," Cordelia huffed.  "But this is nice, like old times, before Darla, before Buffy dying.  You know, the good old days."

"Maybe even better," Wesley said catching sight of the peaceful smile that graced Angel's face as the dark haired vampire turned to take the heavy frying pan from Fred.

"Right, no more clause, no more Angelus," Cordelia sighed happily.  "Who would of thought?"

"Well the Powers could hardly punish him for being happy 'bout his girl coming back from the dead," Gunn said.  "Stands to reason that they'd take a hand."

"Yes, I supposed it does," Wesley said.  "And they're both being very mature about the new contingent."

"You mean the part where they both have to keep following their separate destinies even thought they get cuddly during the slow times?" Cordelia asked.

"Long distance relationships are a bitch, especially when they're risking their lives almost every night," Gunn commented.

"Buffy and Angel are the tools of prophecy," Wesley said pompously.  "Their lives are dictated by a higher power then their love for one another."

"Still it was nice of the Powers to let them have weekends," Cordelia said.

"They didn't have a choice," Gunn enthused.  "They couldn't let a bunch of musty, vengeance-crazed losers twist pure love into tragedy."

"They let it happen before," Cordelia said dismissively.

"Naw, the way you tell that was carnal, at least in part," Gunn argued.

"It was selfish," Angel corrected from the kitchen.  "I was happy because Buffy accepted me without reservations and that made me feel human, worthy of love.  This time I was just glad she wasn't dead, that her life wasn't over before she'd even had a real chance to live it.  I was happy for her, not for me, that's why the Powers stepped in and made my soul permanent."

"You could hear us talking about you this whole time?" Cordelia asked, mortified.

"Fred can hear the three of you gossiping like old ladies and she doesn't even have vampiric hearing," Angel replied smirking.

I pray to God that I am right

Then I send boys off to fight

And travel home in boxes far too soon

Now:

Gunn staggered slightly under Angel's weight as he crossed the lobby, but when Wesley stood to help him he glared at the other man.  "You left," he said accusingly.

"I woke up alone.  The house was gone.  I thought you were both dead," Wesley justified.

Gunn let Fred help support Angel as they waited for the elevator.  "How long'd you look for us?" he asked Wesley.  "We just left the back way."

"I regained consciousness alone in the car," Wesley said.  "I saw the house collapse into the portal as it closed. I knew you'd gone back, what was I supposed to think?"

God have mercy on my soul

For all the years that I have stole

From the men that follow what I say

Then:

"Willow, hey!" Cordelia said cheerfully upon hearing the red haired witch's voice on the phone.

"Cordy, hi.  Sorry, but this is a business type call.  Tara and I detected energy being siphoned off the Hellmouth.  It looks like it's being routed your way.  We'll be looking into cutting things off on this end, but you need to find out where that energy's going and why," Willow replied.  "Oh, and Buffy says to tell Angel she loves him."

"I'll tell him, you might as well relay similar sediments in the reverse, everyone knows it's true so I'm not yelling upstairs just to have Angel affirm that.  Sappy-daydreaming Buffy-face has like completely replaced depressed-brooding Buffy-face in his repertoire of expressions," Cordy said.  "You just take care of your end of things, we'll deal with ours and the love-birds won't have to mess up their plans for the weekend."

And may the families all forgive

The orders I so calmly give

As I march their sons into harms way

Now:

Cordelia slipped quietly into the room.  Angel lay on the bed, his torso almost mummified with bandages, spasm of agony still shaking his body despite his having subsided into unconsciousness hours ago. 

Fred held his hand tightly in hers; her lips were pressed into a thin line, her huge eyes solemn.  "We're home, not in Pylea.  Bad things can't happen here," she stammered.  "Angel wasn't supposed to be effected by the bacteria, he's supposed to be immune, that's what Wesley said.  This isn't real, I don't want him to die, he's my best friend."

Cordelia blinked back tears, "Don't worry, he's going to beat it," she said.  "This is Angel we're talking about, the guy that came back from Hell.  He and Buffy are going to fight against the End of Days together, that's what the scrolls say, and they're going to win because they're Angel and Buffy and they always win.  Then he's going to shanshu and she'll retire because there won't be any more evil demons.  They'll get some sort of painfully normal-type jobs and get married and have a lot of kids and live happily ever after just like in the story books." 

"You just have to understand, Buffy and Angel always win," Cordelia repeated, ignoring the stinging in her eyes.  "Between them they've beaten death and hell, not to mention ex's from hell and commandos from Iowa.  Of course Angel can beat some little demon-symbiote-germy-thing."

And out there on the killing floor

I hear the bloody sounds of war

And watch a thousand more souls slip away

Then:

"We need to get past the guards and close the portal before it can become a new Hellmouth," Wesley summarized, pointing to the portal site drawn in red on the floor plans they'd acquired of the building.

"We can't risk fighting them," Fred cautioned.  "The guard-beasts have a symbiotic relationship with a bacteria, they store it in venom pouches under their claws.  Very similar to a rattlesnake, only better… or maybe worse.  Better for them anyway since the bacteria self-replicate, they don't have to put the metabolic energy into making their toxin."

Angel nudged her gently, "Focus Fred."

"Right, thanks.  If one of them scratches you, it'll kill you dead.  Well after a bunch of screaming.  That is if I'm interpreting this data correctly… Alchemists…Pfft!  Couldn't keep a decent lab notebook if their lives depended on it," Fred concluded.

"I'm sure you're correct, which is why I'm sending Angel in to draw the guards away from our actual target.  As a vampire he should be immune to the effects of the bacteria.  While he has the guards distracted Gunn and I will slip in and close the portal."

"I'm the portal expert." Fred pointed out frowning.

Angel nodded, "And she's almost as good at lurking as I am.  The two of us could get in, out and do the job with none the wiser."

"Angel may I remind you who is in charge?" Wesley asked irritably.

"Yeah, but he's the guy you're plannin' to use as your cat's paw.  If he's got an idea that's better…"

"Because of his nature Angel won't be in any undue danger!" Wesley snapped.

"I'm just sayin'…"

"Wes is right, it's his game plan," Angel said quietly ending the argument.

And sometimes it's too much to bear

The dead and dying everywhere

And every day for me is judgment day

Every day for me is judgment day

Now:

"Say it," Wesley said without looking up as he heard Gunn's heavy tread just outside the office door.

"You should have gone back.  But that ain't what we're talking about, it is?  What do you expect me to say 'bout the rest?" Gunn asked.  "Wolfram and Hart were opening a back door to the Hellmouth here in LA.  We had to close it.  Both you and Angel had a plan as to how.  Do you want me to say if we'd gone with Angel's no one would have been hurt?"

"I don't know that, neither do you.  Maybe both Angel and Fred would be down if we'd done it that way.  Maybe the world would have ended cause the Hellmouth opened.  Maybe they would have pulled it off and we'd be going out to celebrate.  We'll never know."

"This is what you were talking about in Pylea;  'You try not to get anyone killed and you get everyone killed.' That's what you said.  Then you went ahead with your plan; saved the princess, freed the slaves, made a world safe for democracy… and went home the next day.  Better than half the people you led that night never saw morning, but that didn't matter 'cause you won the war."

"Well you won the war tonight too, General.  But you're already home."

"Sacrificing the few for the many.  Tactical losses.  Acceptable causality rates.  It looks clean and sensible in theory, but the reality is bodies on the ground and empty spots at the table."

"Ain't gonna second guess you, I don't know whether or not the cost could have been less, but you can't hide from this part of being the general, you're stuck with the whole package."

I write to mothers of their sons

And say they were the bravest ones

Then I pour a drink and sleep

Then:

Angel rubbed at the long scratch on his upper arm, trying to relieve the sharp throbbing spreading through his veins.

The guards, Jaril demons, were jackal-humanoid mixes with long furry limbs, sneering fang-filled muzzles and thick, discolored claws.

Angel hadn't had any difficulty in achieving his objective, he'd killed one then pack mentality had taken them.  They didn't care about anything but hunting him down and killing him. 

"That should clear things out nicely for Wesley and Gunn," Angel thought grimly.  "All I have to do now is stay alive."

Seven of the things prowled around the edges of the room Angel had retreated to, someone's idea of what a study should look like.  Angel wondered randomly if anyone had ever bothered to open any of the myriads of books that lined the walls.

The Jaril spread out, surrounding Angel.  When he tried to get a wall at his back several converged on him, snarling viciously.  Angel retreated back to the center of the room, nursing a few more burning wounds.

The jackal-things circled around him, making aborted faints toward the beleaguered vampire.

Angel stayed balanced on the balls of his feet, turning constantly within their circle, trying to be ready for an attack from any angle.

One of the beasts pressed its luck two far; Angel lunged and caught it by a pointed canine ear.  He pulled it off balance then quickly changed his grip to force its head under his arm.  He jerked upward and was rewarded with the dull crack of a spine breaking.

But even as that creature died one of its pack-mates darted forward.  Before Angel could regroup, its claws dug into the base of his skull, unloading their payload of living poison.

Angel twisted sharply, pulling his attacker from its feet as it struggled to maintain its grip.  Angel caught its arm and tossed it back into the pack.  As they sorted themselves out again, he could swear he saw grins on their misshapen, leering mouths.

A red haze of pain descended over Angel's eyes and he staggered.  At that cue the six remaining Jaril attacked.

But sleep is only filled with drums

A slice of death till morning comes

The heart of darkness where my soul can weep

Now:

Wesley took a deep breath before dialing the number.

"It is now nine am in the city you are dialing," a mechanized voice said before the phone rang.

"Hullo?" an English accented voice asked.

"Wesley Wyndom-Price here," Wesley said firmly.  "Don't hang-up."

"What, the vampire fired you again and you're crawling back?" the Council operative asked snidely.

"Angel's been hurt, infected by the venom of a Jaril demon.  How can I treat him?"  Wesley asked.

"You know the council's policy on helping vampires."

"Angel is not just a vampire, he's a warrior of the Powers that Be.  The Council was established to advise and support the Power's warriors, it's your duty to help him," Wesley insisted passionately.

"He's a bloody vampire and no one gives a damn if he dies," the Council operative replied.

"That's not quite accurate," Wesley stated.  "We care and I'll go public with some of the Council's more questionable activities if that's what it takes get you to up-hold your duties."

"Threatening the council Wes?" the Watcher asked nastily, "Very ballsy, but not convincing, you don't have the power to touch us."

"Governments tend to frown heavily on kidnapping, and given Kendra's fate, I'd expect they'll be crying for your blood.  Her parents never gave up looking for her you know; they'll be quite effective publicity tools.  Once it's know what we made of her I fear things will get ugly."

"She was the Slayer, we only prepared her for her destiny."

"She was a child and we made her a killing machine before we got her slaughtered in our imaginary war.  That's all anyone will see or remember." Wesley replied.  "I don't want to do this, but I insist that the Council fulfill its responsibilities to ALL of the Power's warriors."

"I don't have that sort of authority," The council member said sullenly.

"Put me through to Travers then," Wesley pushed.

"He isn't available."

"Find him, make him available," Wesley said.  "I don't have time to play games and neither do you."

I walk a mile in bloody shoes

And use the men that I am loosing

Watch them pay the piper for my tune

Then:

"Angel's takin' too long," Gunn said fidgeting.

"He may have led the guards completely out of the house," Wesley suggested.  "Perhaps he's waiting for us back at the offices."

"That wasn't the plan and you know it," Gunn said darkly.  "Don't try to pull that 'I need him to believe it' crap on me.  Angel's still in there and the house is goin' down with the portal."

"We have ten minutes before the spell goes into effect what do you expect to accomplish by going back?" Wesley asked.  "To be trapped with him?  I planned this to minimize the risks, I forbid you to throw that away."

"You mean you planned it to minimize the casualties," Gunn said.  "You really are a cold son-of-a-bitch."

"No!" Wesley exclaimed.  "Angel can handle what I asked of him.  He'll make it.  We'll stick by the plan.  Everything will work out.  We can't just charge in willy-nilly."

"I don't leave people behind English," Gunn said simply getting out of the car and jogging back toward the house.

Wesley grabbed Gunn by the arm.  "You can't go back there, there isn't time!" he yelled.  "If my plan got Angel killed I have to live with that, but I won't be responsible for your death as well!"

"Let me go," Gunn ordered icily. 

Wesley didn't comply.  "I won't kill you too!" he insisted.

"Shit, I don't have time for this," Gunn cursed then sucker-punched the slighter man.  Wesley's teeth clacked together with an audible snap and his eyes rolled back in his head.  Gunn gave him a slight shove as he fell so he landed sprawled across the front seat of the car then turned and started for the house again.

No guards confronted him at the door so Gunn dropped all hints of stealth and raced through the still house, jerking open doors and barely glancing inside before moving on to the next.

"Oh damn," Gunn breathed, his voice colored with shock as he stared into the study. 

A number of the guards lay like broken toys around the edges of the room, all still and dead.  Angel's body was awkwardly crumpled in the center of the carnage, his marble skin patterned with dark blood, showing through the tatters of his ebony clothing, a pool of blood formed a nightmarish halo around his head.

Angel's eyes were open, but there was no comprehension or awareness of anything but pain in them, slight tremors still shook him, but he didn't have the strength left to even straighten his limbs.

"Come on, we're getting out of here," Gunn promised, lifting Angel into a fireman's carry.

Come walk among their ghosts with me

And look through eyes to used to see

Faces who have joined those who lost the tune

Now:

Fred ghosted silently into the office; tears coursing freely down her cheeks, her expression eerily focused and calm.  Without realizing what he was doing Wesley hung up the phone.

"I need a box.  A nice box," Fred said, her hands mapping out the required size.

Wesley watched frozen by denial as she spotted a carved oak keepsake box they'd taken to storing various magical objects in.  Fred unlatched it, opened and shut it a few times to test the fit of the lid.  Then she up-ended it, dumping its contents on the floor.  Carrying her box carefully, Fred left the office.  Wesley trailed numbly after her.

Cordelia and Gunn stood at the foot of the stairs.  Cordy's face was buried against Gunn's chest, muffling her sobs.  He held her tightly, his face an impassive mask as he stared over her head.

Wesley followed Fred past them, up the stairs, down the hall through the door and then through the dimly lit and painfully empty room.

Fred set the box on the bed and carefully began transferring the fine grayish-white ashes into it.  "He can't just blow-away," she said.  "Only monsters just disappear with the day.  They put people in boxes and then bury them under heavy stones to keep their memories forever.  We have to bury him."

Slowly Wesley knelt to help her collect the ashes.  He picked up a silver ring from the folds of the sheet and stared at it for a moment then placed it gently among its owner's ashes in the box.

And Judgment Day God only knows

If man will reap the pain he sows

What will be the price he has to pay

Later:

Wesley parked the car on Revello Drive and climbed out.  He stared up at the house for a long time.

Cordelia had volunteered to do this.  She'd know Buffy best, but Wesley couldn't let her.  He'd chosen to play the part of the general, and this was how that game always ended.  This was the cost that had to be paid for the judgment he had made.

But down here in the killing floor

Among the crimson rags of war

Each day I live is judgment day

Every day for me is judgment day