Rating: NC 17
Pairings: Wesley/Lilah, Buffy/Angel, (minor) Fred/Gunn
Timeline: Set before/during/after the finales of BtVS S6 and AtS 3.
Summary: If you're going to hell, might as well enjoy the ride.
Warnings: Language, sexual situations, violence, character death
[she says: the epic to beat all my stories, a Wesley fic of immense proportions. Dark, no happy endings, and a rollercoaster. Because sometimes, you can beat destiny.]
Prologue - The Last Temptation
The book lay on the ground, a fine sheen of dust collected on the cover. He hadn't moved it since he tossed it all those weeks ago. He hadn't moved anything.
More clutter and shattered bottles dry of their liquor rested in his sink. Medicine mirror yanked apart, new regimen of meds staring back at him. Did not need to see his reflection. The image was not him anymore.
Someone more damned than he.
He walked away from the neat rows of half-filled bottles patiently waiting for him. He'd return eventually. He always would.
It wasn't his fault. Was his fault. He could never decide.
He had heard about Connor's reappearance through Fred.
Fred. What a silly, hopeful girl.
*"Hi Wesley," her nervous twang began, "I just wanted to...Connor's back! From Quath Tol! He's older now. A teenager! I just wanted - needed - to let you know."*
Wesley remembered cutting her off at that point.
So what that Connor was returned safely to Angel? Why did it matter anymore?
*"I think, perhaps, you should leave. Now."*
It was still his fault.
And he was sick of taking the blame for it.
He sent her packing with that cold comment, watched the hope die in her startled brown eyes.
No one else had contacted him after she left. Not even Wolfram and Hart.
The book still lay there.
He was damned to Hell. Damned by a misguided attempt to save the one person that mattered most in his friend's life. By friends who shunned him - unless he could provide some help for the latest mess they'd find themselves in - without even wanting to ask why he had done it.
Of course, they'd only see themselves as selfless.
He scrubbed his face. The prickly beard remained. He hadn't bothered to care about it. Because he'd have to look at himself in the mirror. And the reminder - the memento - of all his troubles was still there. It would be there forever.
*"I'll kill you! You hear me! I'll kill you!!! You took my son!"*
Wesley had studied all about destiny and prophecies. He also remembered well the tales of Greek tragedy. People's attempts to defy prophecies only brought the pain more quickly in the end. The terrible fall from grace, yes, Wesley remembered those stories well. He just had never thought his story would be the same.
But his life had always followed the same pattern.
Wyndham-Pryce: the brilliant scholar. Through hard work, he made it through Council training despite his outright fear of monsters. Able to store vast amounts of knowledge in his head, he was regarded highly. But in the end, it was only useless.
He was fated to be a screw up.
Knowledge does not equal seeing.
He thought he was doing a good job for once. Felt he had grown up in the past four years and managed to make something out of a child his father declared, often after a great deal of scotch, "worthless." And now, he was still nothing.
But he would always be needed. When the new crisis sprung up at A.I., some intermediary of Angel's would show up, sob story in full effect. Trying to tug at his heartstrings, voice filled with urgency. And because he was Wesley, he would help them.
Wesley always did the right thing. Always.
Not once would they bother to listen to his tale.
Maybe Lilah would slink back in, viper eyes challenging him to decide. Haughty tones and snotty words, the very presentation of simply knowing more than he, and perhaps this time, he would listen.
This is where all his work has led him.
The road to Hell.
Better to rule in Hell, than serve in Heaven.
But it was not his choice anymore.
Either way, it was all for nothing.
He picked up the book. Reopened to the very first canto. He knew the words, knew how the story really ended. But it was not his tale. He had no guide to show him the way, to save his soul.
He walked his path alone.
Turned to the first blank page. And dialed the neatly printed number left just for him.
"Lilah Morgan's office."
Difficult still for him to work his voice. Thick gravel grating as he said, "This is Wesley Wyndham-Pryce."
"Oh." Recognition of his name. He was expected. "Just a moment...sir."
It was added on grudgingly. Soon, it would be used with reverence.
He'd make his own destiny.
Part One: Master of Infinite Space
Lilah smirked as she accepted the paperwork from Files and Records. Wesley had come around much quicker than she had assumed he would. It didn't matter though. She was prepared.
Skimming through the pages, she made her way up the elevator back to her office. Just another day at work, just another client. And soon, he'd be a part of their team.
A dark jacket's back was turned from her, staring out the window. She doubted he was actually looking outside to the view most of the associates would kill for. She had killed the best for the view.
"Mr. Wyndham-Pryce," she remarked, settling down her paperwork next to her bar as she fixed herself a scotch. "Have you come to discuss Wolfram and Hart's offer?"
Broken chuckle. He turned around; his clothes were rumpled but quite clean. He had shaved that nasty beard he was sporting before, yet it only made the nasty gash on his throat more noticeable. "We don't have to pretend with politeness, now do we, Lilah?"
Setting down her drink, she answered, "Certainly not. So, let's talk dental plans - that is what you want to talk about, right?"
Catching the flicker of annoyance in his eyes, she carried the file over to her desk, sarcastically answering her question as she sat down, "Of course not."
Settling across from her, he stared at her. His eyes seemed blank. Broken.
She wouldn't have to try to set up that vamp attack on Justine then.
Which left more time for real work.
"Come now Lilah, I know you cannot wait to mock me. 'Why are you here all alone? What, none of your friends tried to stop you?'" His mock-voice was quite annoying. Especially because of the grating and broken whisper he took to when imitating her.
Frowning, she shook her head. "Frankly, I don't give a damn about that. The Senior Partners see you as an asset and think you'll make an effective part of the team. Would you like to be shown to your office?" She expected him to be surprised at that.
Instead, he did the exact opposite.
"Not at this moment, no. I wanted to make sure we have the deal firmly defined. You see the last two groups I was involved with tended to cast me out at the last and worst possible moment, often when I tended to be in, well, you must know the story, Lilah. After all, getting my throat slit for all my troubles certainly isn't the only reason I'm here." Changing topics and his reflective tone, he looked straight into her eyes and said, "I'd like for all of the details to be drawn out before we begin with this arrangement."
Again smirking, she took out the specially prepared contract out of the file and handed it to him with a pen. "Would you like to look that over with a lawyer?"
Ignoring her sarcasm, he adjusted his glasses as he read it. "'Continued contact with members of Angel Investigations must be fully and completely reported on?'" Looking up at Lilah, a bitter smile formed his face. "Of course. But I certainly doubt that shall occur. 'Full expertise on demonic lore?' Certainly."
He read the rest without a sound. Without further comment, he signed the document.
A carefully plucked eyebrow rising in surprise, Lilah replied, "I'm shocked you signed it so quickly."
"Oh, it's only my immortal soul. I shan't miss it."
They'd even gone to the trouble of arranging his office supplies precisely the way he wanted them.
Ignoring the false atmosphere of his former office, he picked up one of the several rare volumes lying on his desk. It was incredible. The collection of Wolfram and Hart rivaled the complete works of the Watchers Council.
Of course, these works tended to lean towards creating rather than *stopping* chaos and apocalypses.
Quickly reading the Guh-shundi, he was surprised by the completeness of the text. According to the records of the Council, the works of the Guh-shundi soothsayers had been mostly destroyed.
This was not so.
When he got to a part foretelling of the "signs," he promptly shut it. He'd had enough with prophecies. Had enough with trying to understand them.
Blearily looking at the clock resting on his desk, he realized it was nearly eight o'clock at night. Shutting the book, he retrieved his jacket from his chair and left the office. He'd be able to study another day.
"Mr. Wyndham-Pryce, are you in need of another tome? Do you need me to fetch you another?"
Turning to the worried face of a Miss Evelynn Westminster, he shook his head in disagreement.
"Fraid it's time for me to be going home, Miss Westminster. Good night."
Still, her clipped British tone flickered in fear. Wesley was amused that he had been given a secretary, one in her early twenties at best. Her eyes and voice were often filled with fear and wonder. A poor intern that had selected this law firm for its notoriety and not for its actual purpose.
She'd be dead in less than a year - at best.
Making it down to the lobby, he noticed Gavin Park exiting as well.
Gavin had politely said hello when he first saw Wesley in the hallway earlier, polite if that's what unhanded threats and a display equivalent of a pissing contest were. Like Wesley was there to compete against Gavin, or anyone at the firm.
After glaring at Lilah, who had accompanied him to one of the "small libraries" for a while, he sneered at the both of them, "Linwood's not going to stand for you bringing in a spy for this company."
As though Wesley had anyone left to tell his secrets to.
Getting into his car, he debated whether or not he actually should go home. What was waiting for him? Perhaps Angel had gotten into another scrape and there were messages on his answering machine. Perhaps Connor was trying to kill him. Wesley had studied the little information of Quath Tol and learned any creature there was surely to go mad. If they managed to survive the horrors there.
And Holtz must have raised him.
Holtz. Made a deal with a man out for vengeance, tried to do the right thing and all he got was-
Shaking off his anger, Wesley started his car and left the building behind him.
It didn't matter anymore.
He only had to be concerned about himself now.
And damn them all to hell.
Unlocking his door, he was shocked to see Buffy in his apartment. Well, shocked was a word that was lightly explaining his reaction.
Still, his voice was broken.
Looking up from the book she was studying in her lap - *the* book. Dante's Inferno, she got up, a nervous look on her face. "Hi, Wesley. Um, it's been a long time."
Trying to get out all the questions that were flying in his mind, he walked into his apartment, shutting the door as he asked, "How did you know where I lived - and how did you get in?"
"I called Giles. He had your number and address from when you needed him to confirm something...right? He didn't tell me what it was about. Probably some stupid prophecy, right?"
Lowering his head a bit to keep his scar from being visible, he agreed. "Quite right."
"And you leave your key above the door jamb?" she scolded. "Like it was really that hard to find." She handed back over the key to him; his face still clearly stunned that she had gotten in.
Wesley reminded himself to stop being idiotic by leaving his spare key there and to get new locks.
Didn't want any more intruders coming into his home.
Even if it wasn't really his home. Just a place he resided in.
"I have a problem. Willow. Remember Willow?"
Wesley's mind flickered over to the last memory of her. Worried face and her standing in the lobby. Coming to bring the news -
And she had brought Buffy back.
He wondered if Buffy was actually happy about that. Looking at her, she seemed to be fine. Her hair was much shorter from the last time he had seen her, but then, it had been almost two years since he had last seen her. And he then recalled that she despised him.
So why was she here?
"Miss Summers - I'm sorry - Buffy, I don't quite understand. Why are you here? And not talking to-"
He couldn't say the name.
"*I'll kill you! You bastard!*"
A flash of something in her eyes, and she hugged herself. Wesley realized she looked much thinner and older since the last time he had seen her.
"I don't think he would like to see me. We decided that we can't, you know?"
Oh yes. Selfless Angel and his decisions.
But then, Wesley never really knew the whole story between Buffy and Angel. Deciding to be a little more vague, he replied, "I understand. So, what is it that you require, Buffy?"
She looked at him closely this time, an odd look of fascination and surprise on her face. "Wow. You really look different. I mean, not in a bad way - just different. But still with the Watcher-ness. It's hard to explain. Tara - she is...*was* a friend of mine - she..." Pausing, she looked straight into Wesley's eyes, a glimmer of a tear in her eyes, as she finally choked out "She died. She was murdered by this. His name was Warren. He'd been giving me trouble, all these stupid idiotic schemes and he's dead now too. Willow killed him. I don't know what's happened to her. She's - the magic's taken her. I don't know what happened to her - I know, but she's going after these other two guys that worked with Warren. Maybe you remember one of them...his name is Jonathan. He was in my class in high school."
"I'm sorry, but I don't recall the name."
"It - it doesn't matter." A brief laugh that sounded suspiciously like a half-hidden sob. "The reason why I need your help is that there must be some way to stop Willow. She's disappeared. Giles is on a flight back, but he said we need all the help we can get. And she must be gathering power for something." Looking down at the ground, she said softly, "I think she's going to destroy Sunnydale. The magic, she's become it. From all the work Xander and Anya found in the magic books about what she did, it'll kill her. I can't - I can let her destroy herself. But if I can't stop her, I have to stop her from destroying Sunnydale."
Her voice broke at that moment, and she choked back a sob.
Wesley was stunned. Moments ago, he would've kicked Buffy out, telling her she didn't need his help, nor would he give it.
Moments ago, he wouldn't have cared.
The moments had passed.
But he couldn't.
"I'm sorry Buffy. I cannot help you."
Glassy, wet eyes locking into his face, searching for answers. "What? But Wesley, I need all the help I can get. I wouldn't be here if..."
"I know, Buffy. I know. But I think you should go talk to Angel. Being that I am no longer an ally of his." He tilted his head up and allowed her to see.
A question he still went over in his mind.
"I don't know if you should hear it from me. But unfortunately you must. We've had our own share of difficulties in L.A."
Getting up, he rifled in his kitchen for a bottle of whiskey. Coming back with two shot glasses, he poured one, offering it to Buffy.
"No thanks. As for problems, I'm not surprised." Defeated sigh. "What did Angel get himself into now?"
Biting back his comment of 'Darla,' he explained after a bitter swallow of alcohol, "There was a prophecy," acknowledging her groan as she finally took a drink, he continued, "Unfortunately, we were unable to prevent the event. Or understand what it was. Darla...Angel..."
"Darla's alive?" The surprise in her voice was dull. Whatever had happened in Sunnydale had rendered her in shock.
"No longer. She - it's a long story. One I was only given second-hand information about. Suffice it to, she gave birth. To Angel's son. His name is Connor."
She quickly finished her drink, making a face as the alcohol burned down her throat. "And when the hell was Angel going to tell me this?"
"Probably didn't even cross his mind." Getting up, he looked out the window, the L.A. smog blocking out most of the stars.
"So, is that it?"
"No. Another prophecy came to my attention. The father will kill the son."
A blank voice.
"It was false. I tried to keep Angel from killing the one person he loved the most. I failed. My throat was slit. I was left for dead. And Connor was taken. He's come back from a Hell dimension. According to Fred, he's grown up. Fred - she's a member of the group now. You should go to them. Perhaps they'll help you. If you...pay."
"I see." She was silent for a long stretch of time, probably trying to gather all the information he had just divulged. Wesley didn't think she'd be able to understand. He barely did. "You don't want to help me. People could die, Wesley."
"Then why are you here instead of trying to save your town?"
Shrug of her shoulders as she got up. "I need help. All the help I can get. And I don't have time for this. You don't want to help me? Fine. I can't...I don't have time."
"None of us ever do, Buffy," he said as she opened the door.
Turning around, she angrily shouted, "And what the hell is that supposed to mean? You want to talk about time, Wesley? I'm running out of it! I can't stop Willow - I don't know how! She's slipping away - I can't let anyone else I love be destroyed. I won't let it happen. I came here because I thought you'd help. And because the last thing I wanted was to have to deal with Angel. There's-"
"Too much there."
Stunned look and a momentary silence. "Always." Broken, pleading voice. "Please Wesley. I need all the help I can get."
Moving over to a discarded piece of paper and a pen, writing as he spoke, he firmly said, "I am sorry, Miss Summers, I cannot help you."
Folding the piece of paper in his hand as he shook hers, he concluded, "I'm not going to help anyone ever again. Goodbye."
"Goodbye." A hollow, confused tone. And like the phantom voice she used, she too disappeared.
And he was alone.
What had he done?
"So the infamous Slayer - and not the psychotic one, showed up at your apartment?"
Lilah had such a fucking annoying voice when she really wanted it to be. All venom and confidence oozing out of her. But the veneer she hid under was cracked.
Another time and Wesley would've been repulsed by what he saw. Now he felt nothing.
"Yes. Apparently problems in Sunnydale. But one of the few things I learned in my brief position as Watcher there, was that there are always problems in Sunnydale."
"Of the Apocalyptic nature?"
Wesley couldn't wait to wipe the nasty smirk off her.
Eye roll. "You're a part of the firm now, Wes. Have to share all your tidbits. Secrets don't last in this company. Most likely they'll get you killed."
"Oh really? Well, then I can tell you for certain that I told Miss Summers to look elsewhere. I doubt she will. She's always been a stubborn sort."
A single sound spoke more than any of the other comments Lilah had made. They had information on Buffy. They had a lot. And they knew.
But they didn't know a damn thing. And he wasn't about to help them learn anything, either.
"Yes, now I'm off to review that prophecy you wanted to me research. Goodbye."
"Wesley, just remember: they may have wanted you to be a part of the law firm. They may have thought you'd help us will our plans. But they also know what you really are. Don't make them or me have to take you down like the weakling you know you are."
"As always Lilah, your threats are exactly like your personality. Cold and a bit too perfected. If you like being such a cold bitch, take your act on to someone else. I'm tired of listening to it. And you can tell them if they want to threaten me, they should do it to my face. I'm tired of being handed warnings from second-rate villains. A villain that wouldn't even have a cushy job if newly handed lawyer hadn't finally decided to leave the city."
The look she gave him as he departed echoed in his mind.
Desire. Or something close enough to it.
He'd keep her barbs and smirks and lock them all away.
And have something else. Even if it would've disgusted him ages ago.
"Good morning Mr. Wyndham-Pryce!" came the tilted chirp of Evelynn.
"Ms. Westminster," Wesley barely acknowledged with a nod. "Everything I need in my office?"
"Oh yes sir!"
"Splendid," he commented, sarcasm oozing.
Walking into his office, he noticed what a perfect, lovely day it was. He wished otherwise. Messages and memos scattered on his desk, requests for translations, and more reference to prophecies. He dryly noted there was a lot of interest in Connor.
A name Wesley would prefer never to hear again.
Wesley had thought of taking the boy away, staying with him, raising him. Not a father, nor an uncle, merely a guardian, protecting the child from the one person he should never fear. His father.
But it was all a lie.
The prophecy was not true; he had been duped, quite badly. And he certainly paid the price, but of course, he had to pay more. Because he wronged Angel. And the people he thought were his friends left him suddenly without a second glance.
Cordelia hadn't even gone to see him.
But Wesley clamped down on that irrational surge of rage as he began piecing together his plot.
It was all so terribly simple. Angel Investigations was crumbling apart; they needed a person of expertise in demon lore and one that could speak several languages.
And as Fred had turned to him, eventually, they would show up again at his door. And ask for his help. And they would have no idea.
He'd have to stay away from Lorne, though. Singing or not, he doubted that someone like Lorne would miss the signs pointing to Wesley's different state.
But that would be easy.
He doubted that he would ever have to see Lorne again. Nor would he want to see him. A nasty knock out tended to brew seeds of discord.
Ms. Westminster rushed into his office, eyes wide. "Mr. Wyndham-Pryce? There's a - thing outside - it needs a translator..."
As she spoke, in glided a sleek, dark demon dressed in heavy robes. Settling in the chair in front of Wesley's desk, the being spoke in a harsh tone.
Immediately translating the demonic language, he replied, "I spoke to Lilah about my meeting with the Slayer. There was nothing of importance to Wolfram and Hart. A slight Apocalypse, but that will be taken care of soon."
The being nodded and commented in a succession of short clicks and hard grunts.
"The report is completed and was sent to Lilah."
More sliding out of its seat then getting up, the being left without another word.
His secretary, standing there as though frozen, replied, "Sir...?"
"Oh, don't fret, Ms. Westminster, they just want to make sure I'm doing my job. What better way then to have a demon known for its brutality to deliver the message? Now why don't you go get yourself a cup of coffee?"
A nervous smile and she said, "Thank you."
No, there would be no thanks for him. Nothing was left for him. Save his last idea.
He wasn't sure if that was a good or bad thing.
And more and more, it was becoming good.
While things were growing worse.
A while ago, he would've been repulsed by what he was doing. Now, he didn't care.
This was all he had left.
As his telephone rang, he didn't think of a cell phone lying too far away from him to be answered. Of the taste of stained, dying copper in the back of his throat and the wheezing broken coughs he tried to breathe out as he silently begged for someone to help him.
For him to live.
And he didn't give a fuck anymore that he was going to hell. Because he tried his best. And now, the best was going to be his worst.
Part Two: Bound in a Nutshell
It was raining outside and Lilah entered the pub, soaking wet. Her hair, always meticulously styled, was now flat and drenched to her skull. The matching jacket of her costly suit had turned a darker shade of beige due to the water damage. She had the appearance of a drowned rat.
Another image Wesley would amuse himself with after another *pleasant* encounter with his personal Wolfram and Hart babysitter. Lilah was always on his trail, always making sure she had an idea of what he was doing, where he was going. And she couldn't leave it well alone. Wesley wondered if she had gotten up in the ranks at Wolfram and Hart mainly due to her ability to toss nasty one-liners.
Draining the remnants of his whiskey, he said without looking up, "Lilah, how interesting to see you here."
"Ah Wesley," she smirked, grabbing some paper napkins to wipe her soaked outfit. It was a futile venture. "What a surprise. You. Drinking. Tell me, does it actually make any of the pain go away?"
Yes, Wesley really needed to focus on the image of her drowning in the rain to sate his rage. Grimacing a bit as he looked at Lilah, skin flushed and wet, no longer perfectly smooth via foundation and other skin care products, but real, he replied, "There'd have to be pain for it to go away."
Bitter laugh. "How noble." Changing topics rather quickly as she pushed some of her sopping locks out of her face, she asked, "Been avoiding your phone messages?"
"No." He didn't need anymore prodding from her about A.I.'s severed bonds with him.
"Really? That's interesting - say, why don't we have a drink? I'll be right back."
It had been nearly two days since Buffy Summers had come to him to ask his help. Since there had been no reports of Sunnydale mysteriously disappearing or the world ending, it seems that she had succeeded in stopping her friend. Or killing her.
Wesley didn't care enough to find out, either way.
"This round's on me."
A bottle of the best Irish whiskey in the house. Filling his glass, she said, as she lifted hers to her eternally smirking lips, "Cheers."
He said nothing as he downed it. It irritated his throat; his recuperation wasn't going quite as fast as it normally did. The doctor was worried but didn't bother to scold him about his drinking. Even though he had come into the clinic reeking of alcohol. As long as Wesley could pay the bills and the price of medication, it wasn't the doctor's business to care.
A blank, empty statement. Only Lilah could fill it full of the hateful glee she possessed.
Silence. Wesley didn't have anything to say. He didn't want to think. To remember.
Large innocent brown eyes surrounded by dark frames. Small little nose and an upturn to her lips. She always looked so happy. So fragile.
And no one had told him.
She was dead.
"Angel's disappeared, as well as his seer, Cordelia. Connor tried to leave Los Angeles, but Gunn and Fred managed to intercept him at a private residence. One that you have been to before."
"Holtz's place." The memories came to him far too easy. A deal made that only ended up damning him to this wretched pub, sitting with a human being that lost whatever essence would've made her human, and a bitter taste in his mouth left over from a wound that would never heal properly swirled around his mind and he couldn't take it anymore. Yes, he knew the place well.
"Hmm. Isn't that just so funny? You tried to save Connor by making a deal with Holtz. An idiotic deal, but an attempt nonetheless. And the kid grows up, a kid with powers no one's ever seen before on a human except for the Slayer, of course. The son of Angel and he kills one of Angel's allies. Pretty brutally too. There was a lot of gore and blood involved. Your other - what can I call him? Friend? 'Gunn,'" she said with a repellent air to the words as though the name was so beneath her, "Barely made it. He's in the hospital. When he wakes up, the doctors will tell him they couldn't save her. I'm sure he'll be all broken up over it. Losing the people you love tends to do that. Cheers."
She tipped her glass to him and finished her whiskey.
He didn't drink. Staring into the amber liquid, he wondered how Gunn would feel. Wesley had never lost anyone he loved. Not really. His mother and father were still alive.
There was no one he'd ever truly loved. He had a couple of old girlfriends, but it never was anything more than an excuse for a warm body in his bed. It was merely a bland companionship: a woman who had similar qualities and would enjoy him endlessly talking about the latest book he had just read in some rare and difficult language or listen to him blather on about his recent accomplishments as a newly trained Watcher.
It wasn't love.
Virginia. Yes that had been something, but she hadn't been someone he'd imagine himself with forever. She wasn't able to accept that someone had to go out there and fight darkness, even if it meant death, because it was the right thing to do. She wouldn't tell him that though. He had to finally admit it; he had to realize that she would never be able to accept him and his duties.
He had to leave her before she left him. And before they got trapped pretending what they had was actually real.
Nothing was real. Especially love.
He remembered occasional glasses of whatever alcohol he had around, drowning in them, thinking of what he lost after he had broken up with Virginia.
He should've lied. Should've closed his eyes to her eyes that no longer had love in them, and allowed the desperate clinging desire she had for him win out instead: a longing to let the lie last a bit longer. She stayed because she wasn't the type to leave. She wasn't the type to admit to herself that she was with someone she would never understand. Why did he have to go out and fight - why did he indeed? She would've left eventually. Lies never last. They fade, as does everything.
As does the life of a young woman that he sent away with stern words. A young woman bearing the weight of the world on her shoulders with a broken, beating heart carrying an erratic rhythm.
Virginia would not understand why Wesley was doing this either.
But Wesley saw the truth. He knew it all along. To be in this war, a part of this mission, one would always be alone. There was nothing but brief moments of comfort, an occasional drunken stupor, and a mindless fling with someone else who had a life of their own that was eating away at their soul.
Fred had died. And he, it wasn't *not* caring, but it was something horrifyingly close. He wondered if he would be able to mourn her properly, but for now it was only coldness. A blank gray where he would otherwise be feeling ill and awful. Even in Pylea when he had planned an attack that would kill many men, he still had that reaction, that coil twisting in his stomach, making him feel worse. Making him feel human.
But now only coldness.
A coldness that he had felt since he translated the damn scroll.
"*The father will kill the son.*"
He finally spoke. "You have no idea where Angel, one of your most important projects, is?"
"Nope." He'd call her tone cheerful, if he didn't think that someone like her could actually possess the ability to be happy. She'd probably be happy when she was able to dance on Angel's ashes.
"You certainly sound quite distraught about that."
"Oh, I don't worry. The Senior Partners will use all our resources to find that bastard. And then, they'll scald Linwood for his stunt at the Drive-In."
"I think you mean scold."
"No, I meant scald. When you go against the direct orders that the Senior Partners have set up, you tend to get punished severely. Linwood was annoying them anyway. Not even able to drive Angel crazy. Not even able to get him to kill *you*. Of course, if you died, that would ruin their new plans. Linwood's been temporarily removed from his position."
"And I'm sure it will soon become permanently."
"You're catching on quickly for someone who used to play for the other team."
"I was a part of the Watcher's Council. They too ran a tight, merciless ship. At least, whenever they weren't bogged down by their bureaucratic nonsense."
"Temper, Wesley," she warned, incredibly amused by his dark bitterness, "Don't want you to get stuck on the past. And besides, you have a new, sparkling future to look forward to. You've been summoned to the White Room tomorrow."
"Really? Am I supposed to care?"
"Probably not. You didn't even shed a tear over the girl you spent so much time obsessing over."
"I get over things quickly when a person tells me that I ruined everything and it's all my fault." Acid bile rose in his throat and he ignored it. "Besides, why should I care?"
"You're repeating yourself."
"As everyone tends to do."
She had been eyeing his scar for quite a while. He had ignored it. "Justine died too. I'm sure you would've love the honors-"
"I have no taste for revenge."
"Right. Only the whiskey, then? Because I thought joining the people aimed to make your former allies' lives miserable would be a message you were aiming for revenge."
"You misunderstood." Damn them all. He made his choice. And he was going to take it all the way through. Even if he had to sever every human feeling, every pain, every regret he had left. His soul was damned, so why not strip away his humanity as well? It dulled the void.
Made it all so much clearer and easier.
"Do you think they'll bury her here or back home?"
Lilah was god-awful at small talk.
"Possibly home. She did have parents."
"Right. I wonder if Gunn will allow you to go to the funeral. Or, if you'd actually attend, since you're playing Mr. Bad Ass all of a sudden." Getting up from her seat, clothes still wet and skin still slick, she flashed her always-annoying grin, "Been nice chatting with you."
"Oh, there was something I wanted to go over with you," he said, finally removing himself from the seat he had inhabited since sunset.
Confusion mixed with some sort of twisted satisfaction. "Yes?"
"I wanted to tell you to shut the hell up."
Nasty frown but just before she said anything, he grabbed her, tightening his hold as he kissed her. Roughly.
It tasted like stale alcohol and salt and the fresh rain on her skin had grown foul.
Running a hand through damp hair, he demanded, "My place."
And the cold, unfeeling stare back at him was probably an identical mirror to his own face. Hiding her surprise, she icily agreed. "Okay."
And as he walked out in the rain, not bothering to pull up his jacket, to even try to stay dry, he didn't think of long brown hair and nervous smiles and faltering twangs of a sweet Southern girl he thought he might have loved.
He thought of musty books and ink-blood stained papers, and babies becoming vicious killers, and friends that vanished just like raindrops shattered dispassionately on the ground. No longer noticeable, but still just there.
And he couldn't see them anymore.
Lilah stayed the night, nude and unashamed in his bed. Wesley had gotten little sleep. How could her warm body be so cold against his?
A pity fuck or just a plain old fuck?
It certainly hadn't dulled the recent information. He was due for his appointment at the White Room in two hours. It was still raining.
"Yeah." His voice was always the worst in the morning, more like a broken echo than a real voice.
"Nothing. Get out."
"Sure, be all sweet to me now."
Her sarcasm was wearing thin. But he doubted he'd ever get to shut her up.
Turned back to her from his spot at the window. He was already dressed for another day at Wolfram and Hart. "Let's not make this anything, Lilah. Not leverage, or pity, or sympathy, or anything. Just. A. Fuck."
"Of course, that's all it is. But that? Was great." Knelt in his bed (he'd have to burn the sheets), flipping her now dry hair off her shoulders. "Want another round?"
Trying to keep his face as neutral as possible, but unable to hide the loathing, he said again, "Get out."
Searching for and finding her clothes, she dressed quickly. "You may think that you can write this off as some moment of weakness, Wesley, but you wanted it. Me. Losing everything you once cared about and who do you turn to? Or should I say, who do you slam against your bed, fucking mercilessly until you can't take it anymore?"
"You, Lilah." He reached for her again. And he again tasted the death and blood on her lips. She was certainly a part of Wolfram and Hart. Ruthless. And so inhumane.
He wondered how many people she had purposely and inadvertently killed. He did not wonder if she cared.
Lilah was incapable of that.
He ripped off her blouse, not caring if he ruined it; he was sure she could afford a replacement. Pushed up her skirt. Nothing underneath. Wound his fingers in her hair and pulled her head back, demanding that she *see*. She stared into his eyes.
Her own eyes were drugged with lust and rage. It was a mixture of both and the combination disgusted him. But she was there. And she would always be.
Now, he would decide how she would be there for him.
Slammed her against the wall and was amused by her moan of pleasure mixing with a groan of pain.
Began removing his clothes when her greedy, finely manicured hands just unzipped his fly and released him.
"C'mon Wes, just fucking do it."
Positioned her and angled one of her legs around his waist and slammed hard into her. She gasped a scream, voice momentarily rendered in shock.
Taking a gentle path of kisses across her cheek, closer and closer to her ear as he kept his pace brutal, felt her insides hot and soaking and yielding and his broken, faded whisper against her ear, "Now, how'd you like to know what it feels like to have your vocal cords ruined till all you have left are scratches and sputtering sounds?"
Not waiting for an answer, he pulled out, bruising her lips with a kiss neither passionate or merciful, thrusting hard up into her center. Moving a hand down to manipulate her aching clit, he felt the pressure building inside her.
Her eyes weren't shut but they were hazy and it was clear she was somewhere else, climbing up some wonderful pinnacle and she was about to fall over and she wanted it, she wanted it badly.
And he stopped.
Snapping out of her haze, she looked at him, now still and managed to mumble, "What..."
Before he started again, pushing harder and faster and increasing the pace while removing any feeling, he looked at her and said, "This is it."
Anything he felt for her was gone, spiraling down instead of up and he was disgusted and there were no innocent woman with sweet brown eyes coming to his apartment asking for help, instead there was only rain dying as it landed; and alcohol, a warm body that froze him; and her inhuman, horrible promise of a future of chaos -of order.
He didn't know anymore, didn't care what their future plans were, all he knew was that he was spiraling down and she was taking him because he needed a fucking guide and she was fucking him and he was fucking her and it was all so pathetic and vile and necessary that he could scream.
But she did instead.
And he found himself coming, coming to a black, empty state of nothingness and for a moment he was at rest. But not at peace.
This was it.
Lilah sagged against him and he would only have to move back a little and she would fall. But he was tired too and so he rested against her, allowing the warmth that was like ice to sate him for the moment.
Her skin was soft but not gentle-soft. Moisturizers, most definitely, expensive brands to momentarily dissuade time from ruining skin, from decaying it into the wrinkles and creases of the future. His slightly prickly cheek was against her smooth one. He'd have to shave.
He didn't allow this closeness to be gentle or appear caring. No, not that all. Or even as some admission that this was really happening. It was simply a smooth cheek, cut hard, that he rested his face against. Was this where he was always going to end up?
It was soft enough. So he allowed the few worries he actually had left in his soul to be comforted by that. Oh yes, it was soft enough.
Wesley and Lilah had silently agreed to leave for work at separate times. Lilah went back to her own apartment to wear something that "wasn't torn and shredded" while Wesley had walked into work with cleaner clothes after a heartless rut in his previous attire.
She was now outside his office, annoying poor Miss Westminster about the appointment.
"Listen, I'm taking him, so you inform him again to get his ass out of his office. *Miss* Westminster."
Lilah had just a ruthless edge to her. Yet that was all she was. All edges. Soft, but there was no real gentleness. Wesley didn't need that anymore, anyway. It reminded him of other things.
Waiting just a moment longer as Lilah finally snapped, "I don't care that he locked his office door, I'm getting in there!"
Opening the door, he commented, "Lilah, lovely as always."
She tossed her now perfect hair as she straightened up and replied, "Wesley. You're almost late. I don't think that would be a good idea."
"Oh, yes, it would be terrible. Shall we go, then?"
A pucker of her lips that seemed to be an amused grin, but he was sure it was just an annoyed tick.
She took him to the elevator and unfolded the slip of paper handed to her by one of the executives. Proudly punching in the sequence, she mumbled, "Now I get to know the combination."
"I beg your pardon?"
With what passed for a sweet look, she said, "Something involving Angel." The dark look Wesley gave to her indicated his disinclination to hear more about it.
As the elevator car finally stopped, she said dryly, "Welcome to the White Room."
And white it was. The light was bright and harsh. It was so clean and the air was not fresh or stale. It was clinical. Like a hospital. Without the air of impending death. Well, not the air of the dying. Wesley was sure that deaths had occurred on the too clean floors.
"You're two minutes late. I'm not surprised."
A voice came out from the white where no shadows could be. Entering the room from somewhere else, was a beautiful woman, no more in her earlier twenties at the latest.
Lilah was unable to hide her surprise. "You got older."
The woman was wearing a simple black dress as though she was going to a funeral. Her lackluster, plain brown hair was tied back. Hands crossed in front of her, she stated in an odd elderly yet completely childish voice, "Aging holds no barrier against me. I can be a child or a dying man; it doesn't matter. What does matter is who you want to see."
And this person? Demon? Had chosen the form of a young woman. Going to a funeral.
*Brown innocent eyes and hope and death and now they were empty and lifeless.*
Wesley wondered what Connor looked like now that he had grown up.
"You were summoned here for two things. Lilah can leave now."
The woman turned her dull gray eyes at Lilah's defiant form and enunciated slowly, "Your life was spared the last time you were here. Should I test Wesley as well? This time I'll make sure he completes my task."
Lilah left the room in a hurry, causing Wesley to wonder what exactly happened to frighten her.
"You helped the Slayer. Normally, I'd say that's quite a nasty trick you played on us."
"I didn't help her."
"Do not lie. You did. You gave her a binding spell that managed to restore the balance in her friend's power. It made her *good*. That's an offense I would normally punish. Severely."
The small piece of paper.
A meaningless spell, rarely used, for the person it was cast on would have to have an enormous imbalance in her system for it to work. And most witches and other spell casters knew how to maintain a cohesive balance even when performing a series of powerful spells. Willow must have gone completely mad for that spell Wesley had handed to Buffy to work.
And she must have channeled dark forces indeed, for her to further that insanity.
"Are you terribly angry?" he asked without any measure of caring.
Her pale face broke out into a smile that reminded him too much of a demonic grimace. Of death. "Oh, not angry at all. You restored order."
"Yes, well, Sunnydale is one of the most powerful hellmouths on Earth. I'm sure you have plans for it."
"Our plans do not include the Slayer's home. For the moment. Sunnydale is an annoying place, isn't it? So many Apocalypses had to be averted. It was very fortunate that the Slayer became the protector of it. It would have ruined my plan."
"You said 'ours' before."
Walking up to him, he realized she was the exact same height as…*her*. "Does it matter? What's ours is mine and you are mine. And ours. You brought order for the moment. Now…I have to discuss with you a very simple request."
"Don't lie anymore. You know the truth. You stupid fool, you knew it all along. We've found Angel. He's been sunk to the bottom of the ocean. By his son. It's fitting in a way. We won't save him. That's your job."
"Gather whoever you want. The Slayer. Angel's associates. You'll be given any materials or resources you need to get him back. In a week's time, I want him freed."
"Angel deserves some time alone, don't you think?"
Wesley hid a grin. To think of Angel, trapped. Alone. In pain. It was now a thought that gave him - not pleasure, but something unusually reminiscent of it. "And you have no idea where Connor is, do you?"
"We have leads. But he is not important for the time being. Goodbye Wesley Wyndham-Pryce."
And with that, she exited somewhere else.
Returning to the elevator, he remained silent throughout the ride. Even though Lilah was showing signs of anxiety that she wanted to ask, something held her back from saying anything.
As the door opened, she finally spoke.
"You don't have anything to say to me?"
"No, Lilah, I don't. I have work to do. Goodbye."
And with that, he went back into his office. And worked until sunset.
Buffy stood in the empty hall of the Hyperion Hotel for an hour before she finally left. There were a few phone messages, but the people seemed to be perspective clients. No Angel.
Buffy hadn't gone to the hotel after speaking with Wesley. She had taken the small slip of paper back to Sunnydale with her, had help from Anya, and managed to secure (to bind that terrible power) Willow, until Giles came.
And Giles had gotten a source of pure magic from a coven he'd been working with in London. He hadn't explained it all, but together, they all managed to strip away the layers of poisonous magic corrupting Willow.
It was clear to all of them that Willow had been corrupted by her own ambitions. By grief. By vengeance. She tried to absorb all the magical powers that a human could touch. However, she couldn't handle it; it had driven her power-mad.
She almost destroyed them all.
Willow was now halfway mad with grief and the other half of the time was spent trying to understand what happened. Her mind was nearly gone.
And Buffy had to escape. At least for a while. It was all just too painful.
It was too hard to see Willow wandering aimlessly in the house, sobbing or stuttering, "Tttara...died?"
So she came here. To Angel; who she hadn't seen since a brief visit after she came back. Angel, who she was sure wouldn't ever want to see her again.
Angel, who still was in her thoughts. Even when she didn't want him to be.
Spike had disappeared. She frankly didn't care. After the - *attack* - she didn't want to see him again. She'd kill him.
She had wasted three years by not killing him. By believing that he could - never. He wouldn't ever - she was sure that he wouldn't.
And he did.
She was a fool.
Dawn, she promised Dawn that she would be there for her. Really there for her.
The only thing she hadn't promised to Dawn was for Buffy herself to be happy. To be there for herself. Buffy didn't want to lie anymore. She didn't want to deal with it.
She promised to show Dawn that there was hope in the world, when she didn't believe in that anymore. But it didn't mean that she could fake a smile and convince Dawn that fantasies were real. That Dawn could do anything she wanted.
Giles was currently taking care of Willow. Buffy had seen his eyes after Willow woke up from the removal of her powers. Giles blamed himself for what Willow had done.
Buffy had seen that haunted look in her eyes everyday since she first became a Slayer. Now, it was so pronounced that it was impossible for her to escape it. And now, she could spot the same look in an instant on someone else's face.
Jonathan and Andrew had escaped. But Warren had been murdered. Viciously.
Willow had crossed the line.
The line that Buffy had crossed, for good intentions, but it had destroyed her all the same.
Buffy wondered if Willow would ever be able to come to terms with that.
If Willow would ever be in a state of mind that she could understand what she did.
Giles had told Buffy all about the conversation he and Willow had before he left. He said he was a fool; that he only managed to make the situation worse by leaving.
Buffy simply smiled, a pale and faded imitation of a smile that once was true, and told him that it wouldn't have mattered. She hadn't been able to help, nor Xander. There was nothing Giles could do.
Except be there.
No, she wouldn't start blaming him. She wouldn't blame anyone. This horrible fact - what Willow had done and her inability to stop it before Willow destroyed herself - Buffy couldn't avoid it anymore.
Willow could've destroyed the world if Buffy hadn't stopped her. And now, Willow was shattered. From all the research they'd done, it was clear: Willow's mind was ruined. She'd never *be* Willow anymore.
But then, Willow lost Tara. That would've destroyed her anyway. But if she hadn't tried to use magic to soothe her pain, Willow might still be ok. Still be Willow.
She'd never be able to handle any kind of magic again; the power would be too unstable and would kill her.
And Buffy wasn't even sure that Willow would want to be herself again.
To deal with the truth, the real horror of living, that was too much for some people.
Willow now stared back at everyone with blank eyes. That was when she was most coherent. Other times, no, Buffy couldn't think about it. It hurt too much.
Hugging herself, she continued on her walk along the grim-looking streets.
She had to thank Wesley. Wesley, who refused to help her, yet handed her the key in stopping Willow.
He had changed so much. Gone was the stuffy, impossibly pathetic Watcher. He was much - he looked like he had gone through a lot. His scar...
Buffy didn't need to ask questions. She too had gotten scars from battle. Unconsciously, she touched the lingering scar on her throat.
Knocking on the door, she heard a rushed and muffled "Just a moment!"
As the door swung open a shocked Wesley declared, "Buffy! Ah, I wasn't expecting you."
"What? In the way I just suddenly turned up again? Umm, can I come in?"
"Uh, now's not a good time."
"What, you have a hot date or something?" she joked. Her comment was met by silence. Surprise then realization in her eyes as she quickly said, "*Oh* sorry, I'll leave, but I just - Angel's missing. I mean, did he move or something? He's not, um, there. There wasn't anyone at the hotel."
"Wesley?" A woman's voice came from the apartment. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Nothing, Lilah. Get back in bed." Buffy tried to hide her shock at the authoritative tone in his voice.
"Sorry. No." Whoever was his date seemed to be kind of bitchy.
"Lilah." He again commanded, voice becoming a dark growl.
Okay, now this was creeping her out.
"Ruin my fun. We'll just have to make plans for later." She smirked at him as she entered the living room space, dressed in a very rumpled and expensive business suit. Teasingly running a perfectly manicured nail across the scar on his throat as she left a hard kiss on his lips, she said, "Later." Turning to Buffy, her face became serious, but the eyes seemed cold and calculating, as she said, "Good luck."
*"Good luck?"* Buffy repeated the words in her head but they still didn't make sense. Turning her confused gaze to Wesley, she said, "What was that?"
"Buffy, it's a long story. And it's not important," Leaving the door open as he walked over to a new stack of musty-looking books and assorted papers on his desk, he said, "Well, it's terribly important, but not for the moment. You have questions. About Angel's disappearance?"
"Yeah. I mean, if it's none of my business..."
"Oh, Angel's business is always everyone's else business." Wesley was unable to hide the loathing as he spoke while he carelessly flipped through the book that was on top of the stack. "He is currently residing in the bottom of the ocean."
"God." Unable to say anything or to honestly convert her panicking thoughts into words, she stammered out, "Is he - he's alive right?"
Buffy wondered when her feelings for Angel would finally die. When it would stop hurting.
"Do you know what happens to a vampire when it is starved?"
"Yeah." She tried to hide the tremble as Spike's voice slid across her memories, the constant playfulness, the mocking. The cold, desperate emotion. No. She couldn't let herself think about it.
Shutting off the memories, she said, "Living skeleton."
Faint ghost of a Watcherly smile on his lips. "Quite right. Fortunately, Angel hasn't been trapped for too long, but if I don't find him..."
"You? What about Cordelia? Or I thought he had other people helping him."
"Cordelia has disappeared. I haven't been able to find her. Gunn - he also worked with Angel - he's in the hospital. He was badly wounded in a fight. Another - she was killed in battle."
"What about Angel's son? He must be upset about his father." Buffy could barely choke out the words.
Grimly, Wesley stared at her. "Connor is responsible for Angel's predicament."
"Oh." There was nothing Buffy could say. She didn't know anything really. She didn't know Angel anymore. She was out of his life.
"I didn't really want to ask you this, you have your work in Sunnydale, of course, as well as," he paused, as though he was thinking of how to properly word his thoughts. "How is Willow?"
"She'll be fine. What you gave me, it helped. A lot." All a lie. She'd gotten so used to it.
"Good." He stared directly into her eyes and she understood: he knew she was lying, but he didn't mention it. "I may need your help. I - there are some spells I can cast to find and rescue Angel, but they involve someone with a connection to him."
"And since his son is out of the picture," she attempted to joke. Curiosity getting the better of her, "Why you? I mean, you said-"
"What I said, it still stands. I am no longer a part of Angel Investigations. However, Angel has a mission."
"Yeah," she replied, voice distant. "Whenever they have a mission, you have to make sure they're there to perform it."
"I'm sorry. If you have objections..."
"No. I don't. I was just thinking out loud. I'm sorry." She was.
Sorry that she promised her sister that she wanted to live in the world again. That she would say yes because it was Angel and still - she loved - not him. She couldn't. The memories. She was in love with the past. When she was happy. When she had hope. "What do you need?"
"Well, the final spell is a tad difficult. To cast it, we need to perform a very taxing ritual involving the summoning of an ancient power-"
"Wesley, just tell me what you need from me and I'll do it."
Looking into her tired eyes, sensing the defeat, he suddenly seemed to retrieve a boost of strength, and said very sharply in a confident Watcherly tone, "Why? Why help, Buffy? I know that Angel meant...*means* a great deal to you. But you've had your own troubles to deal with. You don't have to help me. Nor should you convince yourself that it's your responsibility. Buffy," he said, voice fading as his vocal cords cracked under the pressure, "of all the thing you've been responsible for, Angel, as he is now, is not one of them. You can leave this instant and just forget about what I told you. I shall handle it."
And was it so terrible that for a fleeting second that Buffy considered doing just that? Just walking away, finally burying the past that was hovering beneath her skin, thousands of tiny little shards imbedded inside her? She needed to get them out, she had to, but it was all that was left. Just broken memories and dead dreams.
She took a step back, but as she did, she shook her head. "No, Wesley, I have to do this. It's my job." And she attempted a weak smile but it was really a broken grimace as she said, "It's Angel."
"Yes," Wesley said darkly, gathering his books, he agreed, "It's always Angel."
She had no idea what was in store for him. Nor would she ask.
"Always," came the faint whisper from her lips.