Betrayer

Betrayer

By Regala Electra

Rating: NC17
Pairings: Wesley/Lilah, Buffy/Angel, (minor) Fred/Gunn
Summary: If you're going to hell, might as well enjoy the ride.
Notes: Set before/during/after the finales of BtVS S6 and AtS 3.
Warnings: Language, sexual situations, violence
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 else.

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.

Waiting.

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.

Selfish bastards.

Of course, they'd only see themselves as selfless.

Self-righteous.

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.

Worthless.

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.

Perfect.

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."

"Goodnight!"

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.

"Buffy Summers?"

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.

Silence.

"What happened?"

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."

"Oh."

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.

"Possibly."

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."

"Ah."

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.

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.

Angel's son.

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.

Save this.

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.

"Fred died."

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.

"Hmm...you up?"

"Yeah." His voice was always the worst in the morning, more like a broken echo than a real voice.

"That was-"

"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."

"What?"

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."

"What?"

"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."

"What?"

"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."

"A week?"

"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.

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.

Part Three: Were it not that I have bad dreams

There was a warm body next to him.

Wesley was only in the stage just before being awake and immediately following being truly asleep. He had being staying in that phase for longer periods recently.

He could hear the steady breathing. He didn't listen to a muffled heartbeat. There was no heartbeat, of course. Her icy heart wouldn't make a noise, even if he could hear it.

In, out, in, out.

She slumbered easily; Wesley was not envious of that fact.

It was this time that he used to recognize what he was doing.

To accept.

He was making a terrible mess of it all.

He had tried to save Connor and Connor had been taken. The young child had grown up and was now apparently a cold-blooded killer with a taste for torture. How wise was it for him to torture a vampire with the promise of an eternity of solitude and afflict a man, proud of himself as a warrior, with the agony of seeing the death of his lover in a fight?

It was brilliant.

He murdered Fred.

Wesley realized that he would've been sickened by the actions of young Connor another time, long ago.

Now, it was only a begrudging admittance of the boy's skills and a realization that he may become another obstacle in the way to his goal.

His path. His mission. That was all he cared about.

And he'd use them all.

It would be easy to blame the influence of Wolfram and Hart. That place with its not-so-hidden promises of Wesley's most desired wishes. An attractive secretary that was smart and sweet, that was going to be his final test. He knew that they'd give him the choice. Her life or his dedication to their dark purposes.

And Wesley knew that he would choose the latter.

It wasn't dedication, nor love, that was driving him, God no. That had been two other lives he led, when he allowed himself to be swayed by his emotions. Nor was it for vengeance or just to spite the people that betrayed him.

It was for him.

It was so terribly simple and that was the monstrous part of the matter. He was going to do horrendous things and he didn't care.

He was going to murder innocent people if they got in his way.

And now, at this very hour when nothing was clear and everything was no longer murky, Wesley wondered if he was betraying himself. Was this all that his life had been leading to? Years of Watcher training used to help the very people enabling the demonic world to thrive?

And for him to bring the Slayer into his own twisted game, to use a person granted with powers intended to protect the world from darkness, only to have her work for darkness in the end.

A game, a game, it was all a game. A lie. Nothing but things that were tangible. Oracles that told the truth, which was a lie. Nasty lawyers that outright loathed him, riding him hard and telling him to just fucking stop because it was too good and it was just too much.

Seers that walked in the work with a blind eye turned to all the pain.

Powers that did not ensure peace, or aide their warriors, instead allowed darkness to corrupt all the hope and joy of humanity.

A twang of an accent and vicious insults blaming him alone, when in reality, it was all of their faults.

Guarded comments and sobering talks with a petite Slayer that briefly made him guilty for what he was doing and was going to do later.

The sting of alcohol burning his throat even though he shouldn't drink. Against the doctor's orders and all that.

And to think that he'd once been unable to hold down a decent size of alcohol. He was sure he'd be able to drink anyone he met in a seedy bar under the table. He was sure that he would do that, if someone actually dared to come near him. But he was always alone at the bars. No one came near.

Cheap whores out on the streets, desperate for someone to see them, but they don't really understand that, no, they don't, he chided himself. Because why would they be prostitutes if they realized that they just wanted someone to notice them?

People rarely look anymore.

Look at all the pain in the world. It's gone beyond bleeding and the wound's rotting, the Earth is damned but no one wants to accept that.

There's nothing left.

Wesley had spent too much time in books, in reading symbols and lines and making sense out of it all. When in reality, he should've shoved the book off and said to hell with the rest, he had to go out and look.

And see.

And now there was only a gray room with blank walls and rumpled sheets. A covered window that hid yet another rainy day, and it had been raining for a long, long time.

He didn't even have to look anymore. He had seen too much.

In some cultures, to see All would only drive one mad.

He did not think he was going insane. Why would there be such bleak clarity if this indeed were his growing insanity? No, he only wished he was going insane.

That would make things easier and things can never be easy.

That would spoil the game.

Tonight was the night that Angel would be freed. Nearly two weeks after his meeting with Buffy (he delayed the time frame, saying he hadn't the proper supplies for the spell) and he was going to pull up the box which held a creature that swore he would kill Wesley the very next time he saw Wesley.

Revenge, so easy for the world they did not live in.

Where trying to save a child would be given a hero's reward. Where stealing a child from his loving father would end in the villain's gruesome death.

Where those two things were not one and the same.

Angel had sworn to kill him and now Wesley would save him.

Angel, who would probably still kill him, even after Wesley had freed him.

That was the kind of loyalty Wesley knew. The kind of loyalty that Angel provided. The kind of loyalty that Wesley would never again accept. That Wesley had left.

It was all so horrendously ironic.

Angel could not offer forgiveness because Wesley had done the disservice of betraying him. And forgiveness was not in Angel's, or any of his other so-called friends, self-possession.

To forgive was a divine act, was it not? And none of them, none of them, could be counted among the ranks.

He had read information that would've shocked him ages ago, when he was freshly out of the Watcher tests, gloating that he knew better than the elder Watcher, and proud because he had completed something which his father was sure he would fail.

He read of the former accomplishments of Wolfram and Hart, of the atrocities committed and he didn't even blink an eye.

When he was younger, that kind of knowledge would have made him ill in his stomach.

Oh yes, he could read a bit, even do superbly on the tests, proudly declaring his superiority that he had mastered all this tough knowledge in a short amount of time.

Such a joke.

"Ah, son...you did a sufficient job there."

That was the best compliment his father had ever paid him. Possibly the only one his father had ever given him. And he had done it in front a crowd. God forbid the man tried to ever say anything without the benefit of an audience.

Because it was all a lie.

Lilah finally raised her head, the long night spend in bed causing her hair to be terribly rumpled and messy. Without a word, she began hunting for her clothes. After a couple of times of attempted conversation out of "Get the fuck over here and fuck me now" she had stopped talking to him outside of making snide comments, what passed for sex talk, and business-related information. This phase they had become accustomed to: walk into either one of their apartments or a horrendously seedy motel, wake up and leave.

She slowly woke up, turning her eyes to him as though expecting something different. The just awake Lilah disturbed him; for a few seconds he could see the woman before Wolfram and Hart. And he didn't like to think that there was anything besides her as she was now.

As she put on her shoes, she said darkly, "You know you can't make a mistake. If the Slayer finds out - or Angel-"

Cutting her off, he said in a tone that led for no further commentary, "They have no idea. And they never shall."

She made a face as though she wanted to add something, but she instead left.

It had been two weeks of the same thing. Empty nights in bed, not alone, but empty nonetheless. After Wesley had informed Lilah that the Slayer was going to help save Angel, Lilah gloated, claiming that this would just be more poetic justice.

"You've seen the file. I know you still have that bookish desire to go read everything we have recorded about Angel. And the Slayer's on file. Tragic romance, blah, blah, whatever, but this will be perfect. The Slayer unknowingly working for Wolfram and Hart? That'll be just another thing to drive Angel over the edge. Or maybe he'll be so happy that his precious Slayer saved him, that the pesky soul will be ripped away."

Wesley hadn't informed Lilah that Angel had stopped thinking of the Slayer as a part of his life. It was partly out of some begrudging allegiance to Buffy. She had agreed to help him, when she didn't have to. Because it was Angel.

The poor girl.

She's still in love with him, Wesley thought as he got up and showered. Unfortunate, but it can't be helped.

Love, he assumed, cannot be stopped when it's worked its way into a person's heart. He was lucky that it had never happened to him.

Yet still, her love for Angel could be a great barrier. If she was willing enough to save Angel, would she be wise enough to see what was truly going on?

He just hoped she wasn't going to be an obstacle in his plan. She could ruin it all.

Or she could help it flourish.

***

He shouldn't have come. But he had an hour to kill for lunch and being that he rarely ate now, only when he needed to have something counter-act all his drinking, he had found himself driving to the hospital that now had a patient by the name of Gunn. So, he was here.

The hospital staff had told him that visiting hours weren't until a bit later, but he flashed his best attempt at a worried smile and very kindly told them in a shocked voice that his friend had been attacked when he was on a business trip, and he simply must know what happened, and could he see him, and...

It was quite easy to break his voice at the proper moment, for that extra bit of sincerity needed. Especially since he was lying through his teeth.

The nurse on duty took pity on him and led him to the room, telling him he could only stay for a short while.

Wouldn't be that long anyway.

Gunn had only recently awakened. One leg broken, bruises all over his body, and half of his side bandaged (he'd come in with severe internal bleeding, Wesley read as he looked at the chart). He was a wreck.

Squinting, as his eyelids seemed to be too heavy for his normal gaze, Gunn dryly choked out, "Wes - Wesley?"

"'Fraid so," he said wryly, placing the chart back into its spot. Taking a seat next to him, looking at the wall Gunn must have been staring at since he'd woken up, he commented, "Hospital walls are far too depressing for my tastes. Of course, when one's in a hospital, it's not for a good time, now is it?"

Gunn remained silent.

Trying to offer some solace, he said in a softer voice, "I heard about Fred. I'm-"

"English, don't even bother," he wheezed, "I don't want to hear it."

Wesley snapped out of the faade. He couldn't pretend anymore. "You'll listen now," he said coldly, "Gunn, I've been here too. I nearly died. But that doesn't matter. You didn't bother to see me when I was released, nor did you contact me afterwards, except to beg for my help that one time. Just for Fred's sake. And Fred - I heard what happened, and I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Connor, I don't know him, you must know him better, but I've recently been able to procure some data, this child - you have no idea what's in store. What he's capable of. Angel's - Connor has seen to him. He's still alive. But sometimes being alive isn't exactly as wonderful as it sounds. Connor's imprisoned Angel somewhere no one can reach him. Supposedly. I'm going to rescue him tonight." Gunn made a noise, either of surprise or disbelief, but Wesley ignored it as he continued, "Cordelia's disappeared. So, that's all I wanted to tell you."

"Why?" Gunn had closed his eyes while Wesley spoke; hiding whatever emotions he was going through. A blank face to hide the pain. The possible rage. It wouldn't help. He opened them up now, slightly glassy, but in complete focus.

"Why what?"

"Wesley, Fred - he killed her. I could hear - I still - the screaming." Gunn closed his eyes again and kept them closed as he forced out, "I'm sorry that I didn't try to talk to you."

"What happened, Gunn?" He did not add, "What happened to our friendship?" He had let it slip away as well.

"We tried to find Connor," he wheezed the pain overtaking him as he spoke. "Cordelia and Angel, we couldn't find them or figure out what happened, but when we went to Connor's room, Fred found something - a scrap of paper with an address - she's smart, y'know? So we realized that Connor had run away and I can't even remember anymore. We found Connor." Voice turning grave, he said, "Connor wasn't happy to see us. And that chick Justine was with him. Before we could figure it out, he attacked. Us."

"And he killed Fred." Wesley continued staring at the blank wall, voice neutral, unable to allow any feeling to cross his tone or his composure.

"Yeah. He killed her. Justine, I was busy with her, she's dead too." Dry cough and Wesley handed Gunn a glass of water. "He just...split. And I ain't going after him. I've lost too many people trying to do the right thing. So good luck with saving Angel. I - I think I - good luck, English."

Wesley tried not to scoff at the last comment. Like he could save anyone.

Patting his arm, Wesley said in a ironic tone of comfort, "I'll leave you now. Wouldn't want to be a bother."

And he left without another word.

***

The noise struck him first.

There were too many screams buzzing around his head for him to realize how many were screaming.

It was a dark, blank room, empty and fathomless.

Fred's lithe body lay on the black ground, legs and arms bent unnaturally. Her dark hair was splayed out in an obscenely beautiful manner and cold eyes stared upwards, eyes that saw nothing.

Blood was now pooling around Wesley's feet. He stood there, immobile, only able to turn around to view more and more of the room.

Gunn was still alive, facedown. A knife in his back protruded upwards, its polished black handle shining from some light source he could not find. Yet the blood from multiple wounds eventually mingled with Fred's as Wesley watched his former friend, dying, but he would live.

He would be living and still dying.

A pale faded arm touched his elbow, he tried to turn, but it stopped him. It was too strong. Keeping his eyes on Gunn, he watched as Connor walked out of the darkness and pulled out the blade. He wiped it on the palm of his hand, showing Wesley the dark stain.

Cold blue eyes staring back, as the son of his former ally Angel said, "You killed them."

Attempting to deny that he was a part of this horror, he stammered out, "N-No..."

Connor was instantly upon him, pressing the stained blade against his throat and again simply repeated in his cold, emotionless voice, "We killed them."

"Yesss..." Wesley found himself hiss.

"What are you doing?"

He gasped as Buffy appeared on his side, her grip on his arm still strong. There was such a powerful aura around her, as though the darkness itself feared to make her a part of this room. Deadly cool eyes, a detached sense of liveliness in her voice, "You can't do this anymore."

Connor looked distastefully at her and then, adding pressure to his grip, "You have to finish it."

And as Buffy, still holding his arm, reached out for the knife with the other, Wesley breathed a shallow breath of relief.

Yet she only pressed harder. "You're going to kill everyone. Does that bother you?"

Connor, challenging him, asked, "Does it matter?"

He pressed his bloodied hand against Wesley cheek, marking him.

He was forever a part of this.

Forever.

And then, something large loomed over them all, a shadow.

A horrible, ghastly whisper, "You betrayed us all."

But he couldn't. He wouldn't.

The screaming grew louder and louder.

Simultaneously, Connor and Buffy said, "Ignore it. They always have to make noise. You shouldn't listen. It'll only make it worse. Stop listening."

But Wesley couldn't help it. He had to pay attention -

And more and more bodies were on the floor.

Two sets of dead, unmoving eyes stared implacably back at him.

"Ignore it," their bleak voices rang together.

Ignore it ignore it ignore it ignore it ignore it ignore it ignore it ignore it ignore it

There were no bodies on the floor.

No the blade was not digging into his throat, the bloody taste rising in his throat.

And no, he couldn't feel the wet blood on his cheek drying into his skin, forever a stain of this cold pain...

But he couldn't do it anymore. He had to pay attention to it all.

"You're sleeping on the job? No wonder why you got fired before."

Raising his head from his desk, he dryly said, "Lilah, how nice to see you."

"Liar," she replied with a dark grin. Sauntering over to his desk, she said, "Aren't you and Buffy the Slayer supposed to go retrieve Angel now?"

Looking at his wristwatch, he commented in an uncaring tone, "Yes, perhaps so. Well, I'm leaving then. The report on my visit with Gunn is here." Handing over the neat copy, he said, "Now I'm off to save Angel."

A fierce grin and she said without any warning, "Don't fuck up."

Daring to peck a meaningless kiss on her cheek, thereby ruining her makeup, he sarcastically promised, "Ah, of course not."

There was no room for mistakes.

Or time to dwell on nightmarish dreams. Which he hoped was not a portent of the future.

He'd had enough of dealing with signs.

***

Buffy shivered as she tightened the jacket she was wearing, hoping it would warm her. The night was incredibly cold and windy, which was kind of odd since it was summer.

She was standing in the back of the boat, staring at the water over the starboard side. Wesley was busily drawing intricate runes on the floor of the commercial boat, which he had declined to inform her how he had gotten it. She doubted that it was a rental; she could see a company having a huge problem with stained symbols on their boat.

Glancing at the ones Wesley was busily sketching, she noticed that she only recognized a few from spells that Willow had cast.

She immediately shut down that train of thought before the pain overcame her.

"I'm ready to begin." His voice was soft, but Buffy could hear the slight hint of trepidation.

"Okay."

"Please stand in the middle."

As she stood, Wesley directed her to look downwards.

He began the ritual in a language she had never heard before. Not in Willow's spell casting or any of the demon lore Giles had spoken in to explain a point. It was harsh and yielding at the same time and as his feeble voice grew stronger with each word (she assumed they were words), she felt a coldness shoot into her heart.

And the thought screamed in her before she was able to bring it to a halt.

She had to get out.

Leave the space. Leave now and it would be okay. She could feel the coldness growing and she stopped breathing.

It felt like damp earth and death was around her and she lifted her head to see Wesley chanting, but instead saw the rotten wood surrounding her.

She was alone again. And rotting away.

She was dead.

And life was forcing its way back into her.

Before she screamed, it changed, cool, gray metal now her walls. It was all she knew and all she would ever see again and her memories suddenly collided together and disappeared in a blinding haze. She knew nothing, she had only been here, and was alone and would always be alone.

And she was so hungry. Darkness swallowed her vision and she could smell cool death.

And the taste of copper in the back of her mouth.

The taste of stolen life.

She shut her mouth, trying to keep the screaming from coming, from having the taste leave her again.

It had to stay. Stay, with her.

She didn't want to be alone anymore.

She was desperate for it to stay.

And the noise stopped.

All was silent.

There was only one thing that she could feel now. Pain burning, horrible pain shooting through her body. She had never felt anything quite like it. It was as though every cell of her body was being ripped apart and crushed together at the same time.

"THERE!!!!" She found herself shrieking.

Darkness enclosed rapidly over her and she didn't fight it.

She saw nothing.

There was only peace.

Death.

***

"Buffy? Buffy? Are you awake?"

Fluttering vision and she focused on the grim appearance of Wesley. "Did - did it work?"

As he helped her stand up, she was momentarily dizzy, he said, "See for yourself."

An enormous metal casket stood on deck. There was grime on the outside and the glass window on one of the sides was covered over.

"That's..." She was unable to find words. Looking at the boat, the iron chains used in the water for retrieving stuff from the bottom of the ocean still dry, she asked, "How did you get it on the boat?"

"The spell," he said simply. "It was taxing, but it seems your connection was strong enough to not only raise this box from the bottom of the ocean, but to also bring it onboard."

He didn't mention the invocation of demonic gods used to ensure that would happen. It would only worry her. He was sure she had had enough of magic.

As she walked around it, looking for the places it was attached, she tried to rip it open. It didn't even loosen under the strong grip of her hands. "How...what are we going to use to open it?"

"A flame-thrower is always a popular choice."

Grimly checking where it had been sealed, she said, "Give me the flame thrower. I'll have to melt these bars and try to pry it apart."

As the sparks flew, Buffy watched as though it was some slow motion movie, the links around the bars melting. Quickly shutting off power, she watched as Wesley took a crowbar and loosened the bars.

A slight creak and they were close.

Working on the top, Buffy saw everything coming faster and faster, as though a movie reel was being sped up.

Until finally-

THUD.

The lid hit the deck. Hard.

And he was inside, constraints binding him.

Angel.

He had thinned considerably since the last time she had seen him, but he wasn't looking too bad. Her fears of seeing a living skeleton were completely forgotten. It was such a silly fear too. His cheeks were sunken and skin paler than ordinary.

Barely whispering, she said haltingly, "Angel?"

Eyes suddenly snapped open and it frightened her nearly as much as seeing Willow with her blacked-over eyes.

They were wild. Insane. Completely amber.

This was not Angel.

It couldn't be.

He made a fierce growling noise and went to move, but he was firmly bound in his restraints.

Wesley, who had disappeared into the cabin for a moment, returned carrying a pint of blood and warned, "I wouldn't get too close. Over several weeks without nourishment will make an ordinary vampire insane in his hunger."

"Yeah," she hollowly agreed, backing off.

Snarling, Angel tried to get out of his restraints and grunted in a barely human voice, "Let me out!"

Wesley, no fear apparent in his face from Buffy's view, walked easily up to him and held out the offer to Angel's face.

Greedily, he slurped it up, quite messily. But it didn't offend Buffy. She had seen much worse. And done even worse.

"C'mon Slayer, you know you want to you."

Shaking it off, she said softly, "Angel? Do you remember us? It's me, Buffy. And Wesley."

Wesley was staring straight into Angel's face. He gave no indication of what he thought.

"Don't bother Buffy. He's halfway mad right now. Give him time."

She retreated back to her position overlooking the black waters. She did not turn her back to Angel though. She had learned the dangers of turning one's back to a vampire. Instead, she kept herself angled slightly, yet did not look at him.

That was Angel now.

Wesley took a step towards her and a gesture of understanding, but he backed off before he touched her shoulder.

And they steered the boat back to the docks.

***

When Wesley finally told her that he needed to use drugs to sedate Angel, Wesley could see that she didn't want to be there anymore. Whatever she had seen when undergoing the spell to raise Angel from the ocean, it had been quite disturbing. She was still very pale and her eyes were distant.

But he had to do it. Angel had reverted to the basest of vampric states and he didn't doubt that Angel would try to rip out his throat when he released him.

They managed to carry him into Wesley's car, being careful to add a pair of magically enhanced handcuffs (just in case), and they silently drove to the hotel.

She had taken out her stake hidden up her sleeve, knuckles white from gripping it.

"There won't be anyone there to watch over him."

It had been the first time Buffy had said something since they docked.

"No. There won't."

And he didn't let himself think about it. He too had been left, for dead, for worse. He had been lying alone in a hospital bed and was forced to realize that no one would come. That he was alone.

Angel could deal with the pain. He could even regain his sanity.

He could heal.

Wesley wouldn't.

He cast a sideways glance at Buffy and promised, "I shall look after him."

He couldn't let Angel - no he wouldn't let him get the better of him. He had made a deal. And he would keep it.

"I should," she struggled for the words, "Help."

Help.

A half-hearted offer at best.

"You've done a lot tonight." After another long pause, he added hesitantly, but with sincerity, "Thank you."

And she surprised him, by laying a hand over his on the steering wheel, saying, "I had to. Thank you for letting me. But I would have - I had to."

But of course. They all had agendas. He simply couldn't let anyone know.

Couldn't make a single mistake.

He briefly gripped her hand in a half-hearted, unintentional handshake as he removed it from the steering wheel.

Carefully stretching the tense muscles on his neck, he tried not to think of the dream he had today. The dream of the knife - he felt the coldness on his neck. Ignoring it, he parked in front of the hotel.

Silly dreams.

They didn't mean anything.

Turning to Buffy, he asked, "If you could pick up some clothing of Angel's? Or perhaps I should..."

"He's not saying here?"

It was a risky move. If Angel realized what Wesley was doing - but no - Angel wouldn't be in a position to understand anything. He'd seen to that. Trying for a hopeful smile, he said to her, "I think I should look after him at my residence. It's smaller, you see, and it would be for the best."

Yes. For his best. Buffy nodded weakly as she unbuckled and got out of the car.

Watching her retreating back, he looked at the mirror to the reflection of Angel in the back of the car that was not there and said, "Always...the best."

Yes, this was going to be perfect.

As he made sure she was inside the hotel, he dialed a number on his cell phone.

His dream was not a nightmare or an omen. It was merely the truth.

Part 4 - Yet But A Shadow

Guildenstern - Which dreams indeed are ambition, for the very substance of ambitious is merely the shadow of the dream.
Hamlet: A dream is but a shadow.
Rosencrantz: Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a quality that it is but a shadow's shadow.

Lilah sat on the edge of her bed, towel still draped around her damp body. After a long stretch of silence as she held the phone in her hand, she finally said, "You're going to baby-sit Angel? What next, Wesley? Are you going to tell him everything? Beg for forgiveness and hope he takes you back?"

Ok, so sometimes she couldn't handle stuff that pissed her off.

Sneering at Wesley before he could say anything, "You want to be an idiot? Fine. I could just let it slip that you've been doing more than working for Wolfram and Hart...I'll see to it that Angel rips you-"

An oddly calm, yet vaguely annoyed voice cut into her threats, "Lilah, do shut up. Whatever you think, do not for a minute think that I am stupid enough to try to go against the Senior Partners, especially after the agreement I signed. The magics invoked to secure Angel from the bottom of the sea were quite dark and any imbalance in the spirits would negate the spells cast."

"Ugh," she groaned, annoyed, "All this talk about magic bores me."

"To put it simply, as you always need it, I can't simply revoke my binding agreement to Wolfram and Hart. Nor would I want to. Lilah, what did you think, I would leave Angel off by himself while he's half-insane? You tried that last year and it didn't work. What you want is something different. An alternate to a half-mad Angel. Besides, the way Angel currently is, he wouldn't be able to protect himself from sunlight, let alone aiding the firm in their End of Days mission."

Lilah cursed under her breath. What she really wanted was the fucking vampire dead. He'd been a thorn in her side and she longed for him to be ashes. But no, the Senior Partners and their orders about the vampire left no loophole for Angel to "accidentally" turn up dead. And she was tired of it.

And now, Wesley, who had been given a lot of information about the inner workings of the law firm, was going to play nursemaid for the one thing that was bent on destroying their work. Maybe she shouldn't have pushed to take up the project of bringing Wesley onto the team.

But, as she thought fondly of their past encounters, she decided he was a good enough fuck for her to deal with more of Angel's constant bullshit.

"Whatever it takes," she snapped, "Don't mess up."

"I was never intending that, Lilah, dear," he patronizingly snapped back.

Hanging up on him without a goodbye, she ran a hand through her wet hair. This was beginning to piss her off. If Wesley tried to break the deal...but he wouldn't. She had seen his reaction to Fred's death. And the tape from the hospital records...they'd been sure to make sure the hospital was monitored...that had shown him...he didn't care about them.

He didn't care about anything anymore.

And he was completely in the hands of Wolfram and Hart. He was their puppet.

Angel Investigations was now completely ruined.

She smiled at that. It would look good on her reports of the ruined alliance between Angel's simpering friends (currently one was dead, another MIA, one in the hospital, and the other working for them) and Angel, the company's most aggravating nuisance.

Linwood's position - she'd be perfect for it. One of the youngest partners of the company to move up to such a prestigious position, she thought, and all because of one vampire.

One single pain-in-the-ass vampire.

Perhaps all the ruined plans for Angel and all the times he'd manage to screw with Wolfram and Hart were going to finally pay off.

***

It smelled like blood. His body screamed for it.

Take it, take it all, rip it all open and drink down the sweetness...life, death...immortality...

Take it and rule.

Live. Die. Forever.

It was unbearable. He was lying on something soft (bed?) but he did not want to be there. There was something bright out and the small beam from a side of an open space (window?) irritated him when he tried to move on the softness that he lay on.

Whatever it was outside, he didn't want it to be near him. It burned.

A voice was speaking and the words, mostly nonsensical to him, washed over as he unintentionally listened.

"I'm afraid that the spells I used have permanently damaged him. The effects were only supposed to be temporary," there was a note of regret there, "But it hasn't subsided at all. He recognizes nothing. Only blood."

Yes. Blood. Life. He needed some now. Now. But he could barely move...his body was too tired.

He felt like there were bruises over his body, but there was not a mark to be seen.

He didn't look.

"I'm thinking of raiding the blood banks and picking up some human blood, the animal blood hasn't managed to sate his hunger. And perhaps the human blood will manage to snap him out of this state he's in."

As the voice finished speaking, he was shocked by a new scent coming into the space he was stuck in.

There was Another.

"I don't understand Wesley. It wasn't that long that he was without blood and I thought you said it would be okay..."

"I hoped that it would be. Apparently, I was deceived. The magic invoked was strong enough to cast him out of the ocean, but the side effects may have scarred his psyche. I wasn't aware that it would happen. But I've researched further. If he's fed and if I use human blood, he may be able to regain his sanity."

"Only human blood..." Another's voice said. He liked Another's voice. It was...female. He recognized it, but the scent of her blood, so...so wild and pumping harshly under her skin...that was what he really cared about.

He remembered it. He had tasted her.

She tasted good.

The wanting overcame him and he made a soft whine, as the sense-memory of her blood was a ghostly taste in his mouth.

"No," the one (male?) said harshly. "He'd kill you. This is not like that poisoning. His mind and spirit have been ruined."

"But I have to..."

The very barest of a whisper, "You do not have to kill yourself. Not for him."

"But I...I...the spell...it took me there. To where Angel was - I have to...you don't know how much pain he's in!"

"Buffy, please..."

Buffy. It was Buffy. She was important. Important. He couldn't remember why.

Attempting to mimic her name, he growled out, "B-buffy?"

A soft gasp, "Angel?"

But before she came closer, he heard a struggle and she did not come closer.

"He may try to..."

A long pause and she agreed with a sigh, "Yeah."

They left him.

It was hard for him to see.

There was great darkness and that was all he knew.

And then he opened his eyes.

And laughed for a long time, silently to himself. He wasn't there anymore. It was gone. He was free, free of the metal and the coldness and the darkness and the silence.

He still made no noise of recognition.

He wanted blood. Now. And there was fresh scarlet drops now like rivers pulsating in their veins and he wanted to tear into delicate flesh and suck down, drink it all, and it would be so good and he would be full and never, never the pain again.

He would be free.

Yet he could not move.

A hiss emitted from his mouth, as suddenly an image of cold blue eyes, empty yet full of loathing.

His son.

The pain, the ache, the anger, the hatred...it came back in flash, a memory twisted with smiles that didn't mean anything and a word, a word that didn't mean anything to a child he loved...

"Dad."

"Connor!"

And another name. Hers.

Buffy.

But he did not say it out loud again. It would not save him now.

He was so hungry.

***

Wesley was staring at Buffy as she sat across from him. She had gone only for a short while after their argument, coming back with a packed bag. She told him that she wasn't about to have Angel causing damage in his state.

She wanted to help.

But he was still refusing to allow her to use her blood to replenish him

Tiredly going over the argument, "Yes, while Slayer blood does have mystical properties, it also will not keep Angel from simply killing you."

"I can stop him."

Biting back his response of "like last time?" he remained calm and said, "Not if he snaps your neck. Which, he may do...unintentionally."

She went to argue, but stayed silent. Eyes cast downward, staring at her coffee, she asked, "Then what are we supposed to do?"

"Watch over him. That's all we can do at the moment."

"So we can't do anything."

She had no idea.

One move and they could change everything. Looking at her hands clutching the cup firmly in her hands, the signs of tension in her posture, he suddenly wanted. To tell her. It was so simple. Just tell her that he had used her because she was the best and most likely link and that he had filled her of all the emotion of Angel at the time he was imprisoned.

And his other plans. Of not bringing Angel sanity, but more insanity. Of a devil's deal gone horribly wrong and that he still couldn't bring himself to care.

A price he promised he would pay, but it was all a terrible lie.

He could tell her. She was the Slayer and she'd shown in her the ability to forgive. But that was another time and now did not offer him the easy out.

There wasn't any time for him to ask her to forgive him for his sins.

And he did not want forgiveness. He didn't need it. Didn't want it.

Couldn't have it.

He had to go through with all of his plans. Even though he was going to destroy so much. The dream returned in a flash and he remembered the looming shadow. Yes, he would have to betray them all.

He would not tell her.

She had finished her coffee and began speaking in an almost distant voice, as though what she said didn't matter, "I tried to deny it. So many years and you know, it was getting better. But still...Angel. I don't think I'm in love with him anymore. That would be pathetic, wouldn't it? Loving someone after he left you and told you it was over. Giles wasn't happy when I told him that I was going to be in L.A. for a while. I finally had to tell him that it wasn't his responsibility. I may be the Slayer, but..." she sighed and finally looked at Wesley with tired eyes that no longer held the same energy in them that they had when he had first met her all those years ago (it felt like an eternity away, now), "I'm being selfish, right? I shouldn't be helping Angel."

Even though he knew it would only make his situation more dangerous, he took her hand and said, "Of course not, Buffy. I may not agree with what you want to do, but I am glad that you are here...you've almost become a..."

"Friend?"

Wesley ignored the sick feeling in his stomach. "Yes. Exactly." He hoped she didn't notice the pale echo of his agreement.

"It's nice to have someone to talk to. Someone that isn't an evil demon," she snapped her mouth shut, a flash of anger appearing in her face, and shook her head briefly before, "It isn't worth it. Never mind. I haven't been able to really talk to someone for a long time."

"Neither have I."

He couldn't ignore the ill feeling now. He actually felt bad. Well, this was just going to put a damper on his next step.

Feed Angel Buffy's blood.

***

She was very soft. He remembered that fondly. And she was sweet, even though there was a touch of the outside, of smog and dirty streets, clouding her delicate skin.

It was Her.

He made a sound that was not as animalistic as it had been before; it was a moan. Trying to gather the softness in his arms, he took in the fragrance underneath...blood.

Pounding, living heat. It had been too long.

Shivering against her softness, he dared to nuzzle into her neck as he rolled her over so that they lay side by side.

He hadn't forgotten her. Even in the worst moments, when gray darkness was all he could see, whether his eyes were opened or closed, it didn't matter. He still knew of soft flesh, that he shouldn't desire, shouldn't still want, yet did.

There was no cold darkness here. No silence as her strong heartbeat thudded against his still body. This was peace. What he had been forsaken to touch, to know...to feel.

This was what he would never give up again.

He could smell her excitement, tinged with nervousness. He could taste it even better.

He had to.

And he grazed a single fang across the gentle glow of the too sweet flesh.

She made a soft, keening noise as his mouth gently fastened on a spot of scared tissue, barely drawing any blood. Just the tiny taste of coppery-nectar.

He had marked her. She was his. Always. Forever.

So warm, he was cold and he liked her warmth. She was quite hot and it was so good that he had to get closer, closer, and had to feel all of her.

He needed more.

More.

It had been too long.

As one hand held back soft tresses that felt so nice, so soft, in his fingers, the other ventured over slims curves and dips, exploring the soft little thing by him and he wanted, needed more.

He tangled his hand into her hair - she was here and she wouldn't go.

He wouldn't have to go in darkness again. He was safe.

Safe.

No metal boxes and coldness and nothing else but her and her slowing breaths and was there something...

Wrong?

No, no, it was perfect as he brought her closer, because she had to get closer and never leave him. Stay.

A soft, very soft gasp, and a whisper he did not listen to.

"Angel..."

He had to continue, to have the hot flesh close and nuzzled his face against the thundering pulse, teeth gently breaking skin and the heat, the essence, pouring into his mouth...

It was perfect.

He continued to drink, to feel her warm body responding to him - yes, he remembered this longing.

She was moving more against him and for a moment he thought she was trying to leave him.

He kept her even closer, tightening his grip.

She wouldn't leave again. He wasn't going to leave her.

Together forever. Forever.

Perfect.

He did not hear the faltered screaming.

Did not feel the struggling.

Did not hear the silence.

There was no recognition of something being wrong. Of coldness.

Of death.

Until the body grew cold.

Unlatching his mouth, he cuddled against her, trying to wake her up. She stayed motionless.

Confused, he reached a fingertip out to the open wound, her mark.

The little remnant of scar tissue was not there.

There was no mark.

Only a gaping wound, still oozing blood.

He opened his eyes and saw her. Looked at the pale, broken, bleeding body.

It was not Her.

Dark hair tangled and spread over the white of the sheets. Bloodshot gray eyes. They were open and unfocused. Dead.

Not Buffy.

It was someone else.

This couldn't be.

Some sort of new nightmare...a dream. It had to be. She wasn't dead and he hadn't...couldn't...

Shouldn't...

Wasn't in his nature.

Touched his mouth and felt the still wet drops of blood remaining. No fangs. He wasn't a monster. No such thing. Wasn't a monster.

There's no such thing as monsters.

Shards of broken recollections suddenly came back to him, all unfocused, but they were there.

A monster.

He smelled blood and he found himself loving the scent. But, no.

No.

He had fed from her. A human. A living being.

Wasn't living anymore.

He realized there was someone standing in the doorway.

Struggling for words, his mouth bloody (the taste of the woman still stinging his mouth...he could now taste the fear and shock...there was no passion and love), he said, "W-Wesley?"

A long, cold stare, and Angel could feel the revulsion from him.

"You killed her."

And he shut the door promptly after that comment.

She wasn't Her and she wasn't soft and warm and there was no scar.

She wasn't Buffy. Buffy. Sweet smile that was rarely seen and tired eyes that showed she'd been through it all. Stronger than most and she had an air about her. Buffy.

But this wasn't her.

The body was limp against him, as he still held her, but it was clear to him that her body had been slightly broken. The ribs were crushed.

He broke her.

The door opened again.

Holding several white towels, Wesley said in a gravely quiet voice, "You'll need to clean up. It's possible that the fresh human blood was able to counter the effects of the spell."

A spell? He didn't remember. Yes, there had been many spells - curses - attempts to rip apart the universe if necessary. But they were fragments and hazy details. The thoughts were there in his mind, but he couldn't see them as a whole.

Effects of a spell.

There were always prices to magic, a particular memory chided at him. And for a second he was back in cold steel, locked away amid darkness.

A cold, dead body in his arms.

"I - I killed her." No. He couldn't have. This was just another nightmare, another ill memory.

Yet it was so clear. The already rot of flesh...she was dead now and just another corpse. Life had left her. No, it hadn't. He had stolen it from her.

The dark stains on the sheets.

And Wesley was here, waiting, holding towels, with a look on his face that Angel could not read.

It was so cold.

He had killed her.

Cold.

Like a dark box he was strapped in, with the constant damn silence screaming and memories coming upon him constantly until it was as muddled and dark as the outside he couldn't see...

"Yes, I'm afraid you did. I had asked Miss Evelynn Westminster, an associate of mine, to drop off a book I needed. But she must have arrived early. I hadn't given her a key - I had put a spare on top of the door jamb - I should have taken her advice and stopped leaving it there, but I had forgotten..." He paused, and Angel took a better look at him.

Though his face was clearly shaved and his clothes were neat, his face looked much older. New wrinkles that Angel hadn't remembered seeing before.

A pillow.

"I'll kill you!"

No. He couldn't have done that. He wasn't - was a monster. He had tried to kill him. But why? Why...

There was no answer.

"I had stopped off for a bit." Angel knew where, as well. The stench of alcohol was unmistakable. "She must have heard you and checked in..."

"Oh God..." The word came to him before he even thought of its meaning. God? He had forgotten who was God. Or if he mattered.

There was no God.

Angel left go of the body and moved away from it.

Gently pressing down on the young woman's wound, though it was useless, Wesley continued in his dull, emotionless voice, "I...she won't be missed. We won't have to notify the authorities,I can take care of it..."

Why was he trying to heal the dead? It wouldn't work. He had closed the woman's - Westminster he had said - eyes.

"The authorities," Angel managed to choke out, still in shock. "I thought..."

He didn't want to let himself accept what he thought.

He thought it was Her.

Buffy.

He was dreaming of drinking from Buffy.

Killing her.

The nauseous feeling was deeply seated in his stomach now, and even if vampires couldn't get sick, he had never felt worse.

Monster.

"That it was someone else?" Wesley's voice sounded different. Not deeper, but darker. Thicker. There was an inquisitive tone and as Angel looked harder, he could swear he saw nothing in Wesley's eyes but a blank pretense of sympathy.

"No!" He protested, trying to hide that feeble part of him that screamed, 'yes!' "No. I was - I wasn't awake."

Still wrapping up the body in towels, now stripping off the sheets as Angel got off the bed, moving to sit against one of the walls.

This couldn't be real.

Finally, as Wesley gathered the sheets containing the body, he said in cold, dispassionate voice, "You haven't been awake for a long time."

Angel slammed his knees into his chest as he cradled his arms around him, rocking silently.

It wasn't helping.

This couldn't be happening.

He couldn't have.

He was a monster.

Wesley handed him the last clean towel. "I'll take care of the body."

He left, carrying the large bundle over one shoulder as though its weight was meaningless.

Trying to stop shaking, to soothe the parts of him that felt disgusted and another darker part that still was hungry, he peeled off the pants that he was only wearing, exiting into another room.

There was a cracked mirror over a sink.

Nothing to see.

Turning on the water, he tried to make it as hot as possible. To stop the ill coldness in his body, the strange clawing of something inside him to go out and taste more. To kill.

He had to forget.

Forced his head under the faucet as the stream hit him with the boiling heat. Cells of his skin protesting the onslaught, but he ignored them.

Opened his mouth to the hot water, burning away the taste of dying blood, of the screams flavoring the taste. Washed away it all, hoping for a moment that it would be enough.

That he wouldn't have to remember.

He tried to leave his thoughts, his constant replay of an idle dream turned horrible reality.

The sound of water hitting his body.

Still, too silent.

He heard a noise distantly as he showered.

"Wesley?" came a female voice, attempting to keep her volume low.

Getting out, still dripping wet, he wrapped the towel around his waist.

And froze the second he saw her.

It couldn't be.

He had killed another and this wasn't - couldn't be real. Another dream. Another one and he was still in the shower, because this couldn't be happening. If he sunk his jaws into her, whom would it be that he was killing?

Because it looked like Her and it had to be lie.

She turned to him: blonde hair, hazel eyes. Older, but still so beautiful and it was like a frozen moment, but it wasn't a nightmare or stained red on white sheets and dead eyes staring up at the nothingness. It was something beautiful, but he didn't remember he had ever been able to see such beauty except in her.

It was something else.

A dream.

"A-Angel?" she managed to say in her shock.

Without warning, he slammed her against the wall. God, she smelled the same but he had been deceived before and he wasn't going to be fooled again. He crushed his mouth against hers, because even if it was a lie, it was better than the truth, the horrors.

The constant darkness.

The memory of the place he had been imprisoned in, the cold gray, and the place he hadn't escaped yet.

Groaning slightly, he ran his hands over her, not caring that his towel fell, that he was naked to her. She was here and it was a fucking dream, another nightmare, but he didn't care because there was a dead body and another life he had taken, but he wasn't going to let that stop him.

Because the promises and dreams of forever were a lie and why those things were attached to her, he did not know.

And she was kissing him back and he swore he tasted salty wetness mingling with her sweet taste that was slightly bitter now.

He ignored it, because this wasn't real and he was too tired of trying to see.

He couldn't see anymore.

Unfastening her pants, she suddenly regained control as she protested, "We can't."

He didn't care. But she pushed him away and he felt her strength, she was stronger than him, he was the weak one, so he tried to focus on her, tried to see.

This wasn't real and he could and he would.

"I - this is just another dream," he told her, not caring that it was nonsense to try to tell her that.

"Angel," she said weakly, touching his face with warm fingers that couldn't be real, but he remembered so fondly, "This isn't a dream. I-"

She didn't say anything else. Instead, she brought him back to her, allowed him to remove her clothing, and made soft noises, demanding that he stay with her.

Like he would ever refuse. He wouldn't leave again and this was but another dream and there was no reason why he shouldn't rip open the scar tissue that wouldn't be there when he woke, but he didn't.

Instead, he found himself inside, back to a warmth he hadn't been since a long time ago - there was a day somewhere, but it was just another broken shard of a dream - and cried out for the insane rightness and wrongness that it brought at the same time.

But she was with him and wouldn't leave again and there wouldn't be the truth when he snapped out of it, because he was pumping wildly and fucking her and screaming and forgetting of cold gray coffins and eyes filled with hatred and pillows and bodies struggling, but he was a monster and this was his life and he would do as he damn pleased.

And as he felt the ripped remnants of the world he was barely a part of begin to finally tear and break away, he cried out the one word that had started him on this path, the one word that would not save him, no matter how much he wanted it to be true.

"BUFFY!!!"

***

"I'm glad you came," he said to her as she took a seat in the pub, not meaning a single word of it.

Rolling her eyes at his politeness, she snarked back, "Oh, whatever you want. After all, murdering your team members is always looked fondly upon. Actually," she said, after a brief moment of consideration, "Sometimes it is. Still, good little secretaries are hard to come by these days. Secretaries that don't ask questions."

"I didn't kill her." A brief pause to finish off the whiskey he had been staring at while he waited for Lilah.

"Sure, Wesley. You just sent your nave secretary to the place you were storing an insane vampire. Wise move," she congratulated him, as she tipped the spare shot glass he had set for her. Leaning over to him, she asked, only halfway interested, "So, was this the brilliant plan you had set up to try to challenge Wolfram and Hart? Because I always knew you still had an inkling to go back and play with the good guys, but I didn't think you'd fuck it up so badly that you'd end up asking me to help get rid of a body."

He shot her a dark look as he replied sarcastically, "I had to go with the alternate."

Eyes widened in surprise; she wasn't expecting him to admit that he'd been screwing with Wolfram and Hart. "What?"

"That plan wasn't to come back and play for the other side again," he said idly staring at the stains on the tabletop. "Frankly, I've had enough of them. But as Angel does bear importance in the upcoming End of Days, I had wanted to..."

A brilliant grin full of hateful glee. "You wanted to hurt him."

He shook his head. Even though it was partly true. "What I wanted was to have never translated that prophecy."

"Hmm," she muttered, disappointed, "'The father will kill the son.'"

"Oh heavens no," he exclaimed. "The first one. Shanshu. If I had never translated that - well, perhaps I wouldn't have ended up in that hospital two years ago, or perhaps I'd be dead. Both are two alternates that would have saved me a lot of trouble."

"Oh, poor you," she sarcastically chided. "You have the weight of the future on your shoulders."

"Lilah, you are such a-" he took one of her perfectly manicured hands into his, and said, "You are completely wrong about that. I do what is necessary. What Angel did by killing her - it's the catalyst. Yes, his mind will be restored to how it normally is, but he has murdered an innocent woman. He may not want to become sane. And you'll find that this Angel will be more susceptible to whatever Wolfram and Hart wants to do with him. Though I suggest patience in his case. Whatever doesn't kill us, makes us stronger."

"Save me the fucking platitudes," she snapped as she yanked her hand away from his. "I've been working for Wolfram and Hart longer than you; don't assume that-"

"You have no idea what you're doing?" He didn't even bothering hiding his grin. "Wouldn't dream of it, Lilah dear."

She seemed to clamp her mouth, as though trying to keep whatever she wanted to say to him from coming out. Finally, she said, "So why didn't you try to get rid of the Slayer, instead? As amusing as it was to have her being used as the embodiment of the demonic powers used in freeing Angel, I've read her files. She tends to get pissed off and violent when people mess with loved ones. And she didn't like you when you were her Watcher."

He let out a rare and full laugh, agreeing with Lilah, "God, she despised me. Well, I can certainly understand why. I was a complete prig back then. But things change."

"Hmm, yeah. Stuffy Brits become unstable bastards sporting nasty scars." She smiled at his dark look. He hated when she made light of his scar, but that didn't stop her.

Scowling, he agreed, "Quite right. But icy bitches always remain the same."

"Aww, how romantic. Don't flatter me Wesley, I may fall in love with you, or something completely sad like that."

"That, I doubt highly, Lilah."

"So why didn't you let Angel take a bite out of Buffy?"

"You've read the records. You know about a Slayer's blood."

"Yeah. It's powerful. Whatever."

"More than that. It saved Angel, once ago. I had argued with Buffy about her allowing Angel to feed from him when I told her the spells had rendered Angel insane. Buffy wanted to save him again. I had planned for her sacrifice but it couldn't be."

"Why not?"

"Because then, she'd be dead. And no, she can't die. She's died already. And come back."

"Yeah. I know."

"Buffy cannot die. I won't allow it. Not because I want her to live, but because I don't want Angel to regain his senses. Losing her, her sacrificing herself for Angel, that is what can give Angel a form of desperate sanity. Which I assure, you, do not want."

It came to him, unbidden; the memory of choking as a pillow smothered him, the yelling, the promise that he would pay.

"You know this is me, right? Not Angelus. Angel."

A desperate sanity.

Yes, Wesley knew it all too well. Which is why he couldn't allow Angel to gain the same dead calm as himself, the cold calm that was all that was driving him to complete his plans.

Choking, choking, he couldn't breath - worse than lying facedown in grass, bleeding, wasting away, because he knew as the white pillow gave way to darkness, that he wasn't going to be saved, that he was damned and that the screaming would ring in his eardrums forever.

Wesley ignored it all as he made a false tender touch on Lilah's soft, but always harsh, face. "Thank you for helping me to get rid of the body."

"Oh, it wasn't a problem. She was insured."

He grinned slightly, amused at how cheerful Lilah seemed about the unfortunate Ms. Westminster being insured. "Perhaps I should explain in small words, for your benefit, why what is happening now, is going to help both of our careers." Ah, talk about Lilah moving up in the ranks. The perfect seduction technique.

Moving one of her hands underneath the table, she asked, "Why don't you educate me?"

Reaching for icy cold lips that he felt nothing for, he promised, "Be glad to."

***

Buffy tried to grasp of sense of what just happened. But when she did, she had to come to terms with several facts. She was lying on the floor completely nude. She had just had sex.

And Angel was with her.

She had slept with Angel.

So she stayed awake, holding the stake in her hand, hoping that, even though logically it all pointed to it, that she hadn't done this.

She couldn't have done it.

Her body, completely sated, begged to differ.

But she had just had sex with Angel.

Her mind was slow to grasp the concept.

While she lay on the ground, she had run all the possibilities of when Angel woke up. So many scenarios, and not a single one convinced her that this really happened. Because it had to be some horrible dream or nightmare.

Some horrible reality.

"You belong with me, Slayer, in darkness."

And, what she denied since she woke up in a cold, decaying coffin, could she really deny it anymore?

That she wasn't supposed to have happiness and peace, and just comfort.

She had left her friends (the sister Buffy had promised she'd show the world to) to go take care of Angel, because it was Angel and she had to.

But that was a lie.

It was what they all expected. She was supposed to be in love with Angel forever, because that's why Riley drifted away and finally left. Why he went off and found someone else, because he did deserve love and not a false pretense that she offered.

She wasn't allowed to say it out loud. Because that would be foolish, little girl dreams trapped in her heart, but she couldn't bear them anymore. Too many years and too much pain, no she didn't dream of Angel saving her, of Angel coming back to her.

Of Angel loving her.

Because it was just a foolish dream and she wasn't going to try to let them stop her from (not living) existing.

Leaving her again for her own good.

But that didn't matter anymore. She didn't love him. She couldn't. And it could be easy to say it was just denial speaking, but it was true. She had gotten older, had to watch her friend destroy herself, and had become hardened to everything. Nothing was going to hurt her anymore.

She didn't love him anymore. And for a moment, she thought of just staking him while he slept because Angel shouldn't know the truth, he shouldn't look at her, still thinking she loved him because it was all a lie.

And the sick thing was that she could do it and no one would care. Oh, Angel died, so what?

She'd been told that she still cared for him, that a part of her would always be his and she was sick of it. Sick of feeling because it was all a pretense anyway, because she couldn't let herself be torn apart anymore.

Because it always ended up being about Angel. And she wasn't about to let him break her heart again.

She was going to make sure that it would never happen again.

And then he opened his eyes.

"Buffy? You're here."

Buffy had never had a good track record with doing the sensible and real thing.

So, she sat up a bit, formed a weak, concerned smile as though she was unsure Angel still had his soul (she could see the truth just by looking at him, but it was easier to pretend, to show fear instead of the moment of gratefulness that swept through her as she realized his soul was intact, that he was ok, but that was so much easier, the false fear), "Angel, are you...you?"

Brow furrowed as though he was trying to piece together what happened. Recognition in his eyes and for a mere second Buffy could've sworn she saw a moment of horror, but it flickered away. "I didn't think it was real."

And before she could say anything, she found herself in a tight hug, his cold body against her own and for a brief moment, a flash of coldness tore at her and a panicked scream rose in her throat. But she was able to temper it and to regain herself before memories of a bathroom floor flooded her vision and screams echoed in her ears.

He was sobbing. He didn't cry tears, but his body wracked with sobs, and Buffy couldn't help but feel for him, even though she didn't love him and she couldn't-

But she did.

No matter how many times she repeated the lie, it never worked. A part of her would always, but that part was growing weaker by each day.

And would someday fade away.

She dared to kiss him, to taste him and confide in him how she felt, knowing how dangerous it was.

Yet as soon as it began, she stopped, taking his face into her hands and saying, "You're not there anymore. You won't ever be there again. There's no pain here. No cold darkness. It'll be okay, it'll be okay, it'll be okay."

And yet, it was not okay.

The darkness had crept into the both of them without their permission and now they would have the same memories plaguing them. Yes, the spells Wesley had used were too powerful. When she didn't pay attention, when she let her thoughts wander, they rested on the taste of dead earth and rotting wood and waking up gasping for breath when it was sacrilegious for the dead to dare such a thing. And then, the cold darkness of the solitude as there was nothing and everything screaming in her mind and it was too fucking silent.

Neither of them would ever escape because there was no way out.

"We should get dressed," she said, looking for her discarded clothes. "I should call Wesley. To tell him that you're okay now."

"He knows."

"He knows," she echoed back. "Oh. Good. Maybe we should, I mean, that can't ever happen again."

"Yeah," he said, still sitting on the ground, staring distantly at her. "It can't."

"Angel, it's been a really difficult year," she shut her mouth. Why did she still have the desire to tell him everything?

It didn't matter to him. From the little Wesley had told him, he had more important things in his life. His son. His son, who tried to kill him. And knowing Angel's obsession with saving lost souls, she was sure he'd go after his son as well.

Finally buttoning her blouse, she walked into the kitchen, asking, "Do you, um need to eat?"

"What?" he muttered distantly; not paying attention. He was still sitting on the ground. She had looked before at his body of course, but her mind had been elsewhere. A too pale back and his tattoo. His muscles were tensed and he had brought his knees to his chest, curled up, head hanging down. Harsh shake of his head, and he said, voice shaking full of pain, "I'm not hungry."

"Mmkay," she mumbled through the stale crackers she was chewing. Wesley had a fridge that was well stocked, if someone wanted blood or alcohol. There was nothing to eat except some tea crackers left, forgotten, in one of the cupboards.

She sat on the sofa, watching Angel as he finally got up and slowly searched for clothing. She had left a fresh set of clothes on Wesley's dresser before, despite the hidden opinion in Wesley's eyes that it would be quite a long time when Angel would be of enough mind to actually dress himself.

And now, he was better.

This was no miracle.

Fully dressed, he took a seat next to her. Finally, he spoke. "I was - I lost my mind. I don't know why - it wasn't like anything else. But it was like everything too. And then, there was this..."

"Wesley, he told me about this spell. We didn't know what it would do to you. We wouldn't have done it if," she sighed, and added, "I don't like magic. Only ends in badness."

Willow.

When she had gone out patrolling before (it had become a habit she couldn't break), she had called Giles to tell him what she was doing and to find out about the current situation in Sunnydale. No Apocalypses, but he had made several observations on Willow's situation.

"I don't think we should hope for Willow to regain her mind, Buffy. We should only hope for the best."

The best. There was no best.

Only more and more pain, and the feeling of a cold metal bullet in her chest. The sight of a body, not her mother (but that vision still haunted her), of a friend that had supported her at a horrible moment ("Don't forgive me!"), lying on the ground.

Rotting.

Willow was luckier than all of them. Insanity was a blessing. Especially since the memories weren't always coming back to haunt her.

She sometimes was able to think Tara was somewhere else and she'd be home soon.

Before dark.

"I'm sorry about before," Angel said, snapping her out of her thoughts.

"What?"

"About - I shouldn't have."

"Fuck you, Angel," she snapped, tired that he was trying to do the better thing by fucking apologizing for something that they both needed and would always still be wanting. "Don't even try to apologize to me. At least, not about that. So, you named your son Connor, did you?"

He visibly flinched but said in an even tone, "His name is Stephen now."

"Great." But she snapped out of her immature attitude and finally said, tiredly, "Forget it. I - it isn't my place. We'll find him, Angel. He'll.."

He wouldn't be okay.

Angel didn't know.

But instead of telling him, because she wasn't a part of that aspect of his life, she took his hand and promised him, "It'll be okay."

Neither of them was listening to her words. They both knew it was a lie.

***

When he arrived in his apartment, Buffy and Angel sitting on the couch, for a brief second, he had a sudden thought freeze his already cold insides.

"They know."

But that simply couldn't be. Nobody knew what he was planning. Not Wolfram and Hart, no one.

And they wouldn't figure anything out until it was too late.

Buffy turned to him, eyes wide and guilty as though she had been caught doing something wrong. "Wesley. Hi. Angel - he's-"

"Better," Wesley said with a weak smile, trying to appear sympathetic, when really, he secretly hoped the 'better' was 'worse.' "I know."

"Yeah, Angel said..." she trailed off, unsure of her words. Standing up, she said, "I, maybe I should be going soon? I have to go back to Sunnydale."

Back to a place with a friend with a broken mind and a life of solitude. Yes, Wesley understood.

"Yes, well, I was expecting that. It is better that you should go home to take care of your friend, Willow."

A brief look crossed Buffy's face, something like sorrow and a flash of anger, but she hid it under a blank veneer soon after.

She moved to get up and Angel, who had been silent since Wesley arrived, suddenly grabbed her arm and said in a panicked voice, "You're not leaving?"

Before Buffy could say anything, Wesley moved closer and said in a harsh tone, trying not to make it too obvious to Buffy, "It is better this way, Angel. She has a life to lead in Sunnydale. And we have a mission as well."

"I remember," he said, letting go of Buffy's arm.

"No, I'm not talking about that," Wesley replied, a brief flash to their forgotten purpose. Help the helpless? A foolish, idiotic mission. If they couldn't help themselves, they may as well suffer. There wasn't anything left to hope for. "I'm talking about Connor."

"Angel's son," Buffy whispered more to herself, as she refastened the backpack she had brought for her stay.

"Yes, well, I was fortunate to find a consultant position at an agency dealing with...well, our line of work," he explained, wondering when they would be able to see through his shoddy lie. "And we may be able to find Connor. Before he does any more harm."

"Connor - he hurt someone?"

Trying not to roll his eyes at Angel's confusion, he said in a grave voice, "Fred, he killed her."

And for a moment, it seemed that Angel didn't remember anything, or he didn't believe that it had happened. "God," he mumbled. "She's-"

"And Gunn is still in the hospital, after attempting to stop Connor." Adding an afterthought, "Though I doubt he'd be happy if you called on him, I don't think he wants to - he loved Fred. It's better if you gave him time."

Gave him time by never contacting him again. Always, the price for fighting against darkness was greater than the benefit of defeating darkness. Pain. The loss of loved ones. Insanity. Never, ever a break. It was a sad thing to do the right thing.

Which is why Wesley didn't care anymore for it.

As Buffy put on the too-heavy backpack on her lean shoulders, she patted Wesley's arm as she left, saying, "Contact me if you need whatever, ok?"

She didn't even look at Angel as she said, "Goodbye Angel."

Nor did she stay to hear his barely audible, "Goodbye Buffy."

Another thing he could be fortunate for. No messy past to ruin his plans for the future. Yes, his past was full of many things - stay in the darkness where he can't find you, the stench of alcohol -

stinging wounds he had to hide - don't let them see your bruises - I'll kill you! - brown eyes that wouldn't ever see again - the blood soaking into the ground - oh God, please, someone help me! - a child he had to take away, the father will kill the son and life's just so fucking funny and he's about to be the punch line...

But he hadn't ever had the same kind of pain that always haunted him like Buffy did.

And, for a moment since he translated that damned prophecy, he was very grateful.

Because it gave him some leverage.

A chance.

He needed only one.

Only one thing left to do.

And he would never have to be in pain ever again.

Part Five: Madness, yet there is Method in't

Angel had stayed on his couch almost all night as Wesley tried to sleep in his bed. But thoughts of Ms. Westminster in his bed, of Angel killing her, had only made him uneasy (him, uneasy, he had willingly sent the young woman to her death, came the whispered thought), so he spent most of the night looking at Angel, or staring outside his window, not really seeing anything in the darkness.

He wasn't wearing his glasses, and it was a bleary world indeed without them. Two pieces of glass and everything was much clearer.

He was going to find Connor.

He had to. Angel's son, but it wasn't just that, it was the fact that he was one of the most powerful human beings living, a human that was born of two beings that were demonic in origin. If the Watcher's Council ever found...

Well, they'd take an interest in him for sure. He remembered their fine collection of specimens, it wasn't only vampires that the Council studied, no there had been assorted demons. Demons that had been dissected.

The powerful reek of formaldehyde and alcohol, dank rooms with rows and rows of bottled and neatly labeled specimens - well, it was paradise for a young Watcher, wasn't it?

To be able

The End

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