Lilah blinked as the flames around her dissipated, along with the walls and filing cabinets. She lifted a hand to wipe some sweat from her brow, surprised to find it no longer chained to her desk where she proofread legal documents all day (although this place had no days or nights) without respite, forced to drink her own blood whenever she missed an error. As far as hell dimensions went this one wasn't so bad, if she had been a screw-up like Lindsey things would be a lot worse, she shuddered at the thought.
"Yes it is chilly in here, isn't it?" Lilah stared at the beautiful woman in front of her. Her short blond curls framed her beautiful, perfectly symmetrical face. Her light blue dress, the same color as her eyes, shimmered against her pale skin. Her lips were the lightest pink. The room was made of marble, decorated with gorgeous fountains spouting cool blue water. Lilah longed for a taste. "Go ahead," The woman waved her hand dismissively.
Lilah wanted to quench her thirst so badly, but to do so would be a sign of weakness.
"Quite right, and the job we have in mind for you is not for the weak."
"A bit more important than searching for spelling errors?" Speaking hurt her throat and Lilah wondered why she bothered when this woman could read her mind.
"I should say so. You remember the last job you did for us?"
"You brought us our last CEO. He was a bit of a disappointment, cost us quite a bit."
"Angel can't be corrupted, I could have told you that." Lilah knew that was a foolish thing to say, but why hold anything back when the person you are talking to can read your mind? Maybe this woman would admire her guts.
"Maybe, but you still wouldn't have dared to speak if you knew who I am."
"Who?" Lilah had a suspicion…
"I am the Wolf."
Lilah clasped her wrist to prevent her hands from shaking. "It's an honor-"
Lilah received another dismissive wave. "Since before humans walked the earth we have been stuck here is this dimension, where we rule all. But what is there to rule?" She sighed "There is nothing here but what we create, or what signs itself to us. People like you come here, are subjected to the torments we desire, but none of it is real. In your world things are built, people born every day. They build tall towers and knock them down, they hollow and fill, reach and fall, it is all so… organic. We would love to have it for our own, have wanted it since it was. Yet we are trapped here, with no real power to shape the events that transpire on your earth. It frustrates us and we grow weary. Every time our agents find a way to brings us over there is a… complication. Your friend Angel is the latest in a long line."
"He is not my friend." Lilah felt she had to interject.
"Of course he is." The woman laughed. "What is a friend but someone you enjoy? Did you not enjoy fighting Angel? Of course you did," The woman didn't give Lilah time to respond. "You enjoyed pitting yourself against him, enjoyed cutting into his noble, dead heart. You enjoyed his company, you were his friend."
Lilah nodded her head in concession. "You have a unique understanding of humanity."
"Because I am not human."
"Of course," Lilah said
The cool room was starting to have an effect on her. Her skin no longer burned, her throat no longer screamed in thirst. She felt fresh and cool, like when she used to eat pistachio ice cream in her cold bath after a long day of working to bring about the end times.
"So do you want the job?"
"You're asking me if I want to run Wolfram & Hart?"
"Of course, why else would I lower myself to speaking with a lesser being? I had to make sure you were still up to the job, still… feisty." The woman licked her pink lips with her tiny pink tongue, eyeing Lilah as though she were meat. To a creature like this Lilah was sure she was little more.
"Of course I want the job, but I'm dead."
The woman laughed. "So was your friend when he took over, still is, but he continues to plague us never the less. Him, and an old playmate of ours we wish to see returned to the depths from whence it came, or better yet cast out of this dimension. They along with a troublesome improbability and a mortal who doesn't seem to comprehend mortality, killed our servants and our pets. We want them punished."
"Of course mam," Lilah's voice was calm, but she knew the woman could see the anticipation in her mind.
"We also want to return to the world."
"Yes mam," Lilah was ready, ready to serve and ready to win.
"Then I suggest you get started." The woman pointed to an oak door behind her desk that clashed with the décor and certainly hadn't been there before. Lilah started for the door, but was halted by the woman's voice as she passed by her chair. "But not your lover,"
Lilah's heart (if she still had one, she wasn't clear on how that worked) stopped. "What?"
"Angel was your friend, but not your lover." The woman offered Lilah a piece of paper, which she took. "You'll be needing this."
"We'll be in touch." The woman said as Lilah walked toward the door, reading over the contract of one Wesley Windham-Price.
"Wesley! Hi!" Harmony stood up from behind her desk and rushed over to Wesley,
Wesley tried to remember what happened. Death, that was very painful he recalled. He touched his side, feeling for the spot where the blade had entered him, cutting his liver, causing him to bleed to death in a couple of minutes. He lifted his shirt and the hole was there, but no blood. A gaping hole in his body, and not even a drop of blood.
"That looks nasty." Harmony said in her typical annoying high-pitched voice.
"I'm in hell." Wesley realized.
"Don't be so dramatic." A door had opened, the door to Angel's office. At least it used to be Angel's office. If killing your Bosses' earthly agents didn't count as quitting, it was certainly grounds for a firing. From the other side of the door had come Lilah Morgan, wearing a wide smile and designer shoes. "I've been to hell, most of the rooms aren't air-conditioned."
"What are you doing here Lilah?" Before she could answer he reconsidered his question. "Actually I don't care, what am I doing here?"
Harmony snorted. "Look at Mr. me me me, all about me."
Wesley gave Harmony a withering look, and she trudged back to her desk.
Lilah handed Wesley a piece of paper.
"This contract doesn't bind me to Wolfram & Hart after death." Yet even as he spoke Wesley felt as though he had just feasted on lead. Was it possible that through some loophole Wesley had condemned himself to serve Wolfram & Hart forever? The thought was unbearable, he could think of no greater torment.
"It doesn't say anything about life or death. 'and under the aforementioned conditions Mr. Wyndham-Price will work at Wolfram and Hart until such time as he quits, destroying any and all obligations he holds to the company and any and all obligations the company owes him.' You never quit Wesley." Lilah grinned. It was odd to see how pleased she was, almost as though she were glad to see him, glad to be near him.
Wesley pushed the thought from his mind. "So if I quit that's it, I move on?"
"To whatever afterlife you've earned for yourself, but don't be so hasty."
"Lilah nothing in this world could make me want to stay here. No hell dimension could be greater torment."
"She isn't there Wesley," Lilah whispered, if Wesley wasn't so jaded her might have heard the compassion in her voice.
"I know." Lilah wasn't sure what Wesley meant by that, that he knew she hadn't been allowed to move on, or that he thought he had condemned himself to hell.
"So why go?"
"Why stay, why even continue this conversation?"
Lilah sighed. "Because once upon a time there was a little boy who was never good enough. No matter how very good he was, he wasn't quite good enough. His daddy yelled at him, but he still wasn't good enough. His daddy locked him under the stairs, but he still wasn't good enough." Lilah spoke in a sing-song voice similar to the one used when reciting a story like The Three Little Pigs or The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Wesley stared in morbid fascination, unable to stop her though he desperately wanted to. "Daddy sent him to a special school where they decided that he was the best of all the little boys, but he still wasn't good enough. The little boy, no longer a boy, but certainly not a man, tried so very hard to be good. All he wanted was to be accepted. He thought if he was smart enough, virtuous enough, and worked hard enough, people would admire him. Maybe somebody would love him. The little boy trained very hard and was given the most important job in the world, the job all the little boys at the special school trained for, but only he got to have. The little boy was going to look after two little girls, these girls were destined to save the world. They did, but without the little boys help, because you see, he still wasn't good enough. The girls cast him aside like a rag, regarded him as nothing, because he wasn't good enough to be a hero, to be a watcher, to be a man. When those little girls cast him aside, the council saw him for what he was, a scared little boy. They to cast him aside. He was nothing, just a lost little boy. Nobody wanted him. Then one day the little boy met an old man and a special woman. They offered him a place, a family, a home. For the first time in his life the little boy was wanted. Someone thought he was good enough."
Lilah looked at Wesley, waiting for a flood of rage, but he seemed broken, unable to move his mouth or raise his eyes. "Now the question is if there is any part of you that still cares enough to want to repay that faith."
Wesley squeezed him eyes shut, blocking out the hardwood floors, the sound of Lilah's voice, all of it. He could block it out forever with two words. All he had to do was quit. "You're saying I should play both teams, that didn't work out so well the last time."
Lilah shrugged. "You averted the apocalypse, derailed a play thousands of years in the making, and destroyed one of the most powerful forces for evil in the world, what more did you want?"
Wesley laughed. "Not to watch the love of my life die in my arms while suffering unbearable agony, her insides melting while her brain collapsed upon itself." He looked at Lilah, waiting to see what witty retort she would conjure.
Lilah shrugged, a shrug that infuriated Wesley, to her Fred was nothing, and her death carried no more meaning than that of an insect. Wesley wanted to wring her neck, this woman he almost- Mustn't think about that. "Well that," said Lilah "Is just too bad. What's done is done and cannot be undone. However, that's where the advantages for playing for both teams comes in."
Wesley stared at Lilah, unable to process that last sentence. Was she implying… If Lilah was just stringing him along Wesley would stick around just long enough to find a way to send that bitch back to hell. "Are you implying-"
"Wesley," Lilah cut him off. "If you want to quit, quit. If not, I can explain your new duties to you. I'm a very busy woman, and can't stand here all day waiting for you to make up your mind." Lilah smirked, very pleased with herself.
That smirk, it was one of the reasons- Wesley shook his head. "I'll stay on."
Angel lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. Outside the portal to hell was spewing forth beasts of all kinds, endless carnage and mayhem. The flow never slowed, not even for a moment. If there was just one, one blessed moment of silence when no demons came through it could give him hope, but there was no more hope. Yes the apocalypse had been averted, yes the circle had been destroyed, but at what price. L.A. was fast becoming hell on earth, and not in a metaphorical sense. Soon the city would be overrun, while its champion lay in bed, thinking about a look. A final look shared between two friends. They were friends, through it all, no, more than that. Everything that had happened would destroy a friendship, theirs was a deeper bond, the bond between brothers, comrades in arms. They had shared the same cause, looked after one another with selfless desire to preserve each other's lives. Surely, such a story deserved a better ending than just a look, nothing more than a look.
Angel sat up, surprised. He didn't think anyone was well enough to get out of bed, much less come find him. "What is it Spike?"
The vampire lit a cigarette, the flame from the lighter illuminating his bloody hands. Angel had no idea how much of that blood was Spike's. Angel doubted he did either. "I'm not your bloody butler."
Angel chuckled, hurting his ribs. "You came all the way down here to tell me that?"
"Someone's at the door." With that said Spike headed back up the basement stairs toward the lobby of the Hyperion. Angel followed him, wincing in pain, wondering who was here to see the city's broken champion. When they reached the lobby Angel was greeted by someone he had never expected to see again. Her blond hair had been cut short, not into any style, probably to prevent it from becoming a battle hazard. She wore a long scarf wrapped around her neck that didn't match the rest of her outfit, and she was pissed.
"Hello Angel," Kate Lockley snarled "Having a nice nap?"
Angel sighed "Do I look it?"
Kate took in his injuries, utterly unsympathetic. "It appears you've failed to notice that the city is overrun, overrun with your kind."
Kate might look different, but she hadn't changed much. She regarded anything supernatural that happened in this city as Angel's personal responsibility. Truth be told this didn't deviate to far from Angel's own world view, but he found little comfort in that.
"Those weren't vampires." Spike said "Wish they were, could take um down with my right arm tied behind my back." Spike held his right arm up as evidence, cigarette smoldering between two fingers, little flecks of ash falling into the rivers of blood on his hands. "Vampires are nasty beasts, but once they're full they'll leave well enough alone. Those beasts came straight from a hell dimension, they'll kill anything. Good, evil, doesn't mean nothing to um. They just tear and smash till there ain't nothing left then move on." Spike took a deep drag from his cigarette, he'd gotten riled up. "Self-preservation is a foreign concept to them, mercy doesn't even exist where they're from. They go till they're in pieces, and when they're nothing but pulp, the next wave comes, and the next, and the next," Spike was bordering on hysteria now, a concept Angel found deeply troubling. "We beat um back and more came, they came and came, I've never…" Spike tried to bring the cigarette to him mouth, but his hands were trembling too much. He dropped it in disgust, grinding it into the tile with his heel. "Never…"
Lockley looked at Spike with something in her eyes Angel had rarely seen there, sympathy. He then realized that since they had never met Kate didn't know what Spike was, if she did she would hate him as much as she did Angel.
Footsteps on the stairs brought Angel's attention to the descending Illyria. Her lifeless eyes took them all in, processed them, but did not comprehend. Maybe Illyria was capable of emotion, or something akin to it. She had a strong reaction to Wesley's death. But Wesley was useful to her, and the reaction may have been less grief than anger, less about a loss and more about an inconvenience. The thought cut him, the idea that Wesley could be to someone, nothing more than a means to an end. "I heard an unfamiliar voice."
Angel looked at Kate to see her reaction, to his surprise there wasn't much of one. "I'm Kate." She said before returning her attention to the two vampires. Angel supposed hell on earth trumped a strange blue woman in terms of weird sights.
"I am Illyria." She said with her usual pretentious flourish.
Kate ignored her. "So you're not going to do anything?"
The suggestion frustrated Angel. Couldn't she see how hard he was trying, how much he had lost? No, he supposed not. Looking at her angel remembered what he said the last time he saw her. His epiphany as it were, that it his actions were meaningless, if everything were pre-destined, then that made his decisions all the more important. He may not get to choose the score but he could pick his plays. His life might be pointless, but at the very least he could spend it with the ones he loved. In that moment he had realized what he wanted most. Lorne had had to talk him through the shame and doubts, but he knew where he needed to be and what he wanted to have. He wanted Cordelia, Wesley, and Gunn. Now two of those people were dead and one was upstairs making what might be a futile attempt to recover from dire wounds. In an attempt to make their lives matter he had stolen them. Now Kate wanted him to fix this, when this was actually the best case scenario. Angel felt a silly grin spread across him face.
"Are you smiling?" Kate asked in shock. Angel couldn't tell if it was outrage that he could smile at a time like this or genuine surprise that a man like him, not very prone to mirth, was smiling. "What do you have to smile about?" The first one them.
"You don't know." He marveled
"Enlighten me," She snarled, voice dripping with venom.
"All of this, this is what happens when the good guys win."
Conner sat on the top of the family SUV, heart sinking lower into his chest with each passing moment. It wasn't just a traffic jam. He knew somehow that even if they walked to the city limits none of them were getting out of Las Angeles. Whatever had happened wasn't over. The fight he had fled because his father asked him to, would staying have made a difference? His head told him no, while his heart screamed yes. Coming to terms with who he was, his past, had been hard. His family, though he could tell them nothing, had supported him without question. They were incredible like that. Of course they were though, Angel would accept nothing less than the perfect family for his son. That was the hardest part. Angel was just as much responsible for his happy memories as the family actually in them, but Angel was the only one who had been forced to sacrifice something to supply them. Fighting next to Angel had felt so right. In that other life fighting had been the only thing that made him happy, the only thing. He was never happy doing anything else. Only when he had this new life, this new happiness was he capable of seeing how sad that was. When his memories were returned he did see, and with that seeing came a kind of enlightenment, a kind of peace. Now, that peace was threatened by a not unfamiliar threat. The end of the world as we know it.
Conner's musings were interrupted by the woman who remembered raising him, nurturing him, reveling in his every success, and mourning his every failure. She believed herself to be his mother and whether or not that made it true was a question that mattered less to Conner every time he thought about it. He loved her, and she him. "Conner,"
That's why the fear in her voice hurt him so. "It'll be okay mom." Conner hopped down from the car and put his hand on her shoulder. "We'll get out."
But Conner was lying, and he could never hide a lie from her.
"Anne!" Rodney burst into the shelter, his heart slamming against his breastbone with such speed and ferocity it was sure to break. "Anne!"
She came running down the stairs. "Rodney!" She stared at him, mouth agape. His face was covered in tears. This man who so seldom displayed fear, this confident, self-assured man, was crying in her shelter. She had seen him upset many times, in his line of work losing friends was a guarantee, but he never stopped caring. Yet for all the times she had seen him mourn Anne had never seen him break down. A memory echoed in her mind. Yesterday, Gunn had been here and he had asked her…
"They're dead Anne, all of them."
Anne stood still, not quite sure she understood. "Who?"
"Everyone, the-the whole gang. Demons, everywhere, it was… unreal. We fought. I fought, I rushed right at it. It knocked me down, when I woke up… Bodies Anne, they stink."
Anne rushed to Rodney, recognizing the signs of PTSD, something she had seen far too much of in her life. "Rodney you need to sit down."
"We have to get you out of here, you and the kids."
"Think Rodney, where would we go, there's nowhere safer than-"
Someone else rushed into the shelter. The boy's name was Tanny, or at least he said it was. He stayed at the shelter about once every few weeks. He usually had a few bruises when he showed up, but Anne worried more when he didn't. Rodney pulled out a machete, pointing it at Tanny with a shaking hand. Tanny froze and Rodney lowered his weapon.
"Tanny-" Anne didn't get very far in her inquiry.
"Something's going on up the street. I was passing by when I saw these…" He searched for the words. "Snakes or alligators or something, I don't know. Some kind of reptiles, they were in this building and there was screaming, something's going on. I ran by, but I saw the shelter and remembered you guys were here, thought I should…"
Anne gave Tanny a warm smile. "Thank you Tanny, are you hungry?"
He shook his head. "I need to get home, check on my ma."
"Be careful," He nodded and was gone.
Rodney looked at Anne, his hands no longer shaking. "We have to go." His voice was imbued with purpose.
"Where?" She asked.
Rodney sighed. "I hate to say it, but I might know a place."
"You ever love someone you know you shouldn't." The Pylean, a rare breed in this dimension, asked.
"Sure, all the time. But I'm kind of a… whatever the love version of a slut is. I touch people and I instantly love them, can't help it. I already love you, but I won't regret it. That's rare, it means you're special. Your friend was special to, because you knew, you knew and you loved and it hurt and you kept on anyway. He's special."
Lorne looked at the woman, well female human-demon hybrid, sitting next to him. By human standards she was very ugly. Gray scales covered her hands which ended not in fingernails, but claws. The rest of her sported the random scale or patch of them, each a drab grey. Her eyes had no irises, just giant pupils, her hair was a shocking white. Somehow in this bar Lorne had found another lost soul, creatures damned by the knowledge of their state, but unable to affect it. People like Angel could try to stop the apocalypse, most of the mortals were blissfully unaware of the true nature of the horrors befalling them, but Lorne, Lorne knew what was happening and couldn't do a thing about it. He downed the last of his seventh sea breeze, or maybe his eight, and signaled the bartender.
"Another breeze for me and for the lady…"
The bartender, possibly a vampire, went to complete their orders.
"So, who was the worst?" Lorne asked, determined not to think of Angel.
"Of my unwise loves?"
Lorne nodded as their drinks arrived.
"Gee, there were so many. I guess the worst were the ones I didn't know, couldn't help. I could only watch, powerless to touch, but loving for its own sake."
"You lost me sugar." Lorne said, though he was beginning to suspect what kind of demon she was. He tried to remember if she had touched him.
"I'm telepathic. One touch, your whole life story fills my head. I see all, I feel everything. I love who you loved, love you, feel you, it hurts, but I need it." She smiled at her glass. "I know what's coming, because you do, and though it seems severe in its… presentness, I feel the past with equal severity, because it is just as recent to me. Try to remember those days of peace, they will bring you comfort in these trying times."
Lorne shook his head, smiling despite himself. "It just makes it worse."
"I love her to." Lorne almost dropped his glass as his hands began to shake. "I know it seems disrespectful, but I saw everything you saw. I love them to, and if I were you, if I could touch them… I would. I can only have other people's lives, never my own, if I had what you had, I would run to them. I would run and hold them and do what I could happy that I could be with them in the final moments, before we learn what lies beyond the barricade." She picked up her glass, knocking back the drink in a few gulps. "I have nothing but other people's memories, a worthless education, and a burgeoning insanity. My parents are dead, I have no friends, but if I did I would run to them, for there will not be another chance." The way she spoke was odd, she seemed aware of how insane she sounded, but didn't particularly care.
Lorne put his drink down, any possibility of him enjoying it gone. "You know what he asked me to do."
"You lost your innocence to maybe save the world, after his son lost his to a killer's lie, you can hardly fail to see how relativity comes in. Your wound is deep, but I beg you to let it heal. The window is closing and this room has no doors." Lorne wasn't in the mood for cheap metaphors, but his current overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia made this one feel real.
Lorne stood up, amazed that he even could. Go back to Angel, no, not possible. Yet somehow the storm in him was starting to subside. The idea of going to him, of being there, calmed him. There he would have a place, and there if his time came he might have peace, or at least something closer to it than the tremors that had overcome him moments before. "Will you come with me?" He asked, certain she would say no.
"I always hope they'll ask me," The woman said, who must have guided many lost souls before Lorne. "They so rarely do."
Lorne offered her his arm, which she took, and they walked out. "You know my name."
The woman smiled. "Teresa,"
A present, for being so wonderful, for looking after her when mom died. That is what Nina had framed them as, the tickets. Tickets to a relaxing mother-daughter vacation that Nina wouldn't accompany them on because of a school project. What a delightful fantasy, that it was only that, that the tickets weren't really for the ark, for salvation. Why Nina hadn't gone with them even she wasn't sure. Still, there were no regrets. Her family was safe and Nina didn't care if she was rendered to little mini Nina pieces so long as that was the case. But why had she stayed? Why not go with them? It was a difficult question, one she wasn't sure she wanted the answer to. It wasn't for Angel, she knew that. Angel was great, a great friend, great in bed, just all-around great. That wasn't worth dying for. Whatever it was, Nina couldn't shake the feeling it was something… bad. She closed her eyes. She hoped demons didn't break into her house while she was sleeping and kill her, but a part of her didn't think that would be so awful. Part of her welcomed the idea. As she drifted to sleep she contemplated the truly terrifying idea that death might be the best case scenario for her. Then she dreamt.
She dreamt of a wolf with a golden coat, and blue eyes. The wolf towered over her and she, a wolf also, bowed in its presence. "Master, creator, dreamer of my existence, lead me to your will, so that I might serve you."
"In time, when all is made clear you will serve me, until then, you must seek the champion."
Nina wept at these words, which held no meaning for her. "I seek only you."
"You will find me when your worth has been proven."
"How may I prove it?" Nina begged. She scratched at her arms and chest with her claws. "If I give you all of my blood will it be proven?"
"I do not want you blood, I want the blood of the champion."
"It will be yours." Nina swore.
Before the wolf could reply Nina was startled awake by a sound coming from downstairs. She grabbed a flashlight, the power had gone out a couple of hours ago, and headed down. Nina was startled when she saw scratches on her arms below the sleeves of her nightgown. She tried to remember if any odd dream had provoked this reaction, but her mind drew a blank. Nina shined the light around the living room, where she saw an open window, but no window opener.
"Don't be afraid." The voice came from the kitchen.
Nina dropped her flashlight, but managed to suppress the scream that wanted out of her. The last thing she wanted was to ring the demon dinner bell.
"I'm not going to hurt you." The voice, a man, entered the room, picked up the flashlight, and then handed it to her. When she aimed its beam at him she saw a short blond man. "Hi," He said "I'm Oz, and I'm a werewolf to."
Angel surveyed the room. Last night he had been fighting for his life against every beast the senior partners could summon from hell to destroy him. This was scarier. The lobby was full of friends, allies, and people with nowhere else to go. Upstairs were even more people, kids from Anne's shelter, refugees looking for safe haven. Down here the fighters gathered, the people who knew what was coming and were determined to stop it. All of them looked to him. Even those that didn't trust him knew he was their only chance of surviving this. They would follow him into battle, a battle that could claim their lives. If it did, as it had Doyle's, Cordelia's, Fred's, Wesley's, the blame would be his. Awesome.
"Okay," Good start. "We can't delude ourselves into thinking this is going to be easy, this is end-times folks, recess is over." Kate responded with a derisive snort, but the others were hanging on his every word, even Rodney, even Spike. "First thing's first, that's finding out exactly what we're dealing with."
Angel considered the best possible phrasing of "I have no idea." Thankfully the lobby never had to hear it.
"I can help with that." Through the lobby doors, literally through, as they didn't open when the ghost entered, walked Wesley Windham-Price. "I have a pretty good idea what the senior partners' endgame is."
Angel stared for a few seconds, questions, so many, clamoring for space in his mind. Before he could react to this fantastic sight Kate cut right to the chase. "And that would be…"