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In This Fateful Hour

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It is to be like this, forever and always. Lilah would live and die and suffer in small moments, trapped in sticky amber memories and the white flash of realization. The Senior Partners, those old allies of Lilah’s, they watched her writhe with all the amusement of 15-34 year old males catching a glimpse of a new reality series before going back to whatever they were doing besides worrying advertisers.

Advertisers, who were in fact, more hellish than the Partners, pandering endlessly for demographics that didn’t matter. They would say the loop of Lilah’s most unspeakable moments were stale, that they were in danger of losing male teens and the urban audience. Could she perhaps get jiggy with something? Or adopt a sassy best friend?

Lilah suspected that maybe, just maybe, the moments of lucid, adult identity were meant to be their own torture, a stream of non sequiturs meant to distract from the inevitable knowledge of what was coming.

Death had restored so much of Lilah’s memories, of the way things had truly been from beginning to end. But just when she was on the verge of making connections, of thinking more than thoughts about advertisers and subliminal product placement, she would fall under. Deep under, in the world that would have been if she hadn’t wished it away, where she was fourteen and trapped. Never and always, amen.


Always Dad standing there, teasing. “Mr. Tibbles is in grave peril,” he said, holding the stuffed puppy over the railing. “His life is in my hand, Lil. You have to be nice to me or he’ll fall.”

(Lil? Who’s Lil? Why does she feel like me?)

“Give him back!” she shrieked, embarrassed. He wasn’t supposed to come home and see her hugging Mr. Tibbles. And she was so awkward anyway, in her Wonder Woman t-shirt and short shorts and rainbow belt. Beauty was two awkward-as-hell years away, years that never came. “Give him back NOW!”

He grinned, and dangled it just over her head. “Try to get him,” Dad teased. They’d only been playing. Lilah didn’t want Mr. Tibbles to fall, and besides, she had a good jump. Maybe she’d try out for basketball instead of trying to be a cheerleader like Mom wanted.

{Where are we? Why does this seem so familiar? I’ve had this dream before.)

Mid-jump, Lilah felt this rush of energy, like she’d suddenly been turbocharged. And she panicked, overcontrolled, and hit Dad anyway. Fell into him hard and he didn’t catch her. They were both knocked back, wood railing splintering and falling around them.

She lived an entire life in one point seven-five seconds.

(Oh God oh shit oh shit oh shit oh god my god no, I’m so scared, Dad be okay, please don’t be dead.)

Lilah felt the breath whoosh out of her. “Dad?” she asked, looking down at her father, whose eyes were unfocused and not blinking. “That hurt. Are you okay?”

(Be okay. Who are you? Why are you always in my dreams? Why am I so afraid for you?)

“Dad, can you hear me?” she said, sounding confused as she scrambled off him. He was breathing. Maybe he had a concussion. Of course. Anyone would, from falling like that. “Dad? I’m going to call 911.”

They were very unhelpful. She knew not to move him. It had been in an Afterschool Special. Or something on TV; Lilah forgot. They would be there shortly. Lilah told them she didn’t need to keep talking to them, because she wasn’t hysterical.

“I should watch my dad,” she said flatly. “Please come fast.”

She was clumsy all the time. It hadn’t knocked the railing out before. Hadn’t killed anyone before. But before, she hadn’t been Wonder Woman. Lilah very calmly walked over to the coffee table, thinking about the time Jimmy Tenura had said girls couldn’t be martial arts fighters. She took a deep breath, lifted up her fist, and brought it down as hard as she could into the coffee table.

(I remember this…it felt just like this. Having this new power. I’m so afraid. Why am I so afraid for her? Why am I so afraid for me?)

The legs collapsed and the veneer was cracked now. Mom would be very pissed off; it was solid oak. Lilah didn’t care. Curiosity satisfied, she sat next to Dad.

“The ambulance is coming,” she said, folding her arms around her knees. “You must have absorbed the shock from the fall. The doctors will fix you. I’m so sorry, Dad.”

(Something bad is happening. Something bad is about to happen.)

Watching the breathing get shallower and shallower, Lilah buried her head in her hands, trying not to cry. “Oh, God,” she whispered. “Let this not have happened. Oh, God, let this be taken away from me.”

It never is. (Let it stop, oh please, let it stop, I don’t want to see her cry a…)


In Rome, Buffy sat up in a cold sweat. “Oh God,” she said, shivering. “Let this not have happened.”

Moonlight fell across the bed, and the sheets were rumpled and twisted from Buffy’s more-than-nightmare. She got up on bare feet, and padded into the bathroom. Andrew was snoring on the couch, holding his plush Master Shake doll close, and Buffy closed the door on him. How she’d ended up with Andrew as a permanent housemate was beyond her. Giles needed to trade Dawn back soon. Buffy knew her sister seemed to have the best bond with Dana, and that she’d managed to interpret some of the quasi-prophetic ranting Dana did at odd intervals, but Andrew was damned annoying.

Especially now that he was straight and Dawn was questioning. That was also like some kind of impossible opposite-verse where up was down and Johnny Depp was ugly. Buffy sighed, got herself a glass of water, and looked in the mirror. That had been the third time she’d had the same weird dream, and it just got sadder and creepier. That sad, dark-haired girl, the fall, the whole weird of the accident. And then the way she sat there next to him, like Buffy had with her mom. Waiting. Hoping.

The phone rang before Buffy could go back to bed, and before Buffy could get the phone, Andrew had answered it. “Ciao,” he said in his best suave Italian voice. “Oh my God, Kennedy! Hi!”

Only Andrew could be such a Valley Girl. Buffy took the phone from Andrew with an annoyed grunt. “Kennedy, it’s like, three thirty in the morning in Rome,” she said. “What’s going on?”

“Who the hell is that Slayer, Buffy?” Kennedy asked. “Willow’s going crazy, trying to figure it out. Every Slayer in South America is having these dreams. One of the girls is so uptight about it that we’re taking her off duty for a month.”

Buffy sighed. “I don’t know, Kennedy,” she said. “Willow doesn’t have any way of identifying her? She’s from North America, obviously. I’m guessing western US. Send a team up there.”

“Oh, yes, let’s send Slayers to the war zone,” Kennedy said dryly. “Assuming we can get them across the US border and into California anyway, where your big stupid ex refuses to deal with us because it’s his war.”

“Like you said, Kennedy,” Buffy snarled. “She’s making people crazy. We kind of sort of have to find her, or it’ll be worse than being stuck in a terror-war-zone.”

Kennedy paused. “Sorry, Buffy,” she said. “They’re freaking me out. I’m scared something bad is happening to her.”

Buffy realized her free arm was wrapped around herself, and she was still sweating. “I dig,” she said. “I’m scared for her and for us, too.”


Anne’s arm was comfortable and comforting where it was, thrown over Gunn’s waist possessively. The sun blaring in their eyes let her know that it was about noon; time for them to get up. Most people had been awake since just before dawn, because there was no use in going out after dark anymore unless one was suicidal.

They were the last protection against the darkness, literal and physical. And Anne wasn’t sure that protection was holding out. Gunn had been so wounded that Angel had taken him off active duty as long as he could, despite his own crippling losses.

That had been four days.

“Time to wake up, isn’t it?” Gunn asked quietly. She hadn’t realized he had been awake.

“Afraid so,” Anne said. “Let me see the bandages.”

Gunn groaned, struggling into a sitting position. “If I’d known getting hurt meant I had to be poked and prodded by you every morning, Annie, I wouldn’t have gone and done it,” he said.

Anne chuckled, pulling out her squeaky metal box of medicine. “Now you know,” she said. “So don’t get hurt again.”

She changed the dressings, putting the old ones in the sack to be washed; they didn’t have any to waste. So many people had been hurt and killed in the original attack on the city, and the President had declared Los Angeles a disaster area, maybe even a complete write-off. Anne wasn’t sure; they were filtering the radio broadcasts that got into the city. Also, she was trying hard not to make waves by knowing how exactly the world had taken Angel’s last stand.

If she did, she’d just end up arguing with Charles, and she didn’t feel like doing that. Times were too hard to waste friends over philosophical differences, especially when they were only getting worse.

“No problem,” Gunn said, squeezing her shoulder. “I appreciate that you stayed.”

Anne tried to smile at him, but it fell flat. Where was she going to go, exactly? She’d gotten the kids out; there had been enough Concerned Americans to do that much. But nobody had much use for a shelter owner with no past, no name, and a background check away from complete humiliation. Charles would watch her back and she’d change his bandages. They’d pretend that the world wasn’t going straight to Hell, and that all their hopes and dreams hadn’t been steamrollered in the name of Making A Stand, oh no.

“I appreciate that you come back,” Anne said, and Gunn looked down.

“I know it’s bad, Annie,” he said, staring at his hands, such big hands. Anne suddenly remembered that Gunn had lost his friend, the English guy. Wesley, the one who’d been shot before. How did you handle loss like that? How had any of them not gone crazy? How had they not all gone crazy? “I don’t know what else to do, you know? Angel always was the guy. He had the mojo. He knew what to do.”

“And now, I guess not,” Anne said.

“We fucked up,” Gunn said, still staring at his hands. “We got obsessed with big pictures and big symbols and it was a mistake. And I swear, Annie, if I’d known…well, if I’d known a lot of things, I wouldn’t have joined in. Don’t think Angel would have, either.”

Anne pressed her mouth against Gunn’s shoulder, holding on tight. “I know, Charles,” she said softly. “I know.”


Watcherworld Central couldn’t have been more different than the old Watchers’ Headquarters. It was a garishly new, modern building, glass and steel and light, nestled unremarkably in the suburbs of London. There were elaborate security systems, magical scanners, a sanctuary spell in place, and dozens of young Slayers and Watchers buzzing around, training, whichever Scooby who was in town assuring anxious parents…in short, it was cheerful, effective, and to Dawn’s mind, boring.

She had two major duties in London; one was to baby-sit Dana, who’d fallen off the wagon recently when it came to the crazy, and the other was to work on her prophecy knowledge. Giles had proudly said that she was the next generation of translator and interpreter for the world, and Dawn actually liked that future. She’d liked it even better once Giles and Roger Wyndam-Pryce had had their fight (or row, as they’d call it) and she’d been allowed access to the manuscripts. Manuscripts smelled wonderful, and Dawn could almost feel the magic humming in the inked words.

Today, she had important stuff to do. Buffy was freaked about these dreams she was having of a Slayer who was apparently off the radar somewhere and sending out a mystical distress signal. Problem was, Willow had done every locator on her known to man and demon, and nothing doing. They couldn’t find her, like she didn’t exist on this plane. Hence, Dawn’s job was to see if there was anything prophetic while Giles calmed nervous parents and scared Slayers about their off-the-radar Slayer.

Hinklemann stopped her and almost patted her down for pens, though Dawn had since recognized that this wasn’t unique to the Watchers, or an old man being mean to a young girl. The freak-o woman at the Huntington had repeated fifteen times that pens and manuscripts didn’t mix, and Dawn had become resigned to pencils and PDAs to do research.

Two hours later, she’d gone over Widstoe’s Miscellany five times, with the net effect of finding very little on a missing Slayer, and the most interesting person she’d never heard of. Someone who went by the title Calamity.

“Come to undo all things,” Dawn read, still not sure what to make of the woman in question.

Her phone went off, and Dawn answered it. “Hello?” she asked quietly.

“Dawn?” Giles asked. “How is your research going?”

“Weirdly,” Dawn said, tapping her stylus against the edge of her Palm rapidly. “Have you ever heard of Calamity? Supposed to undo all things, starting with her destiny. It’s not much of a lead, but it’s what I’ve got.”

Giles paused. “It sounds almost familiar,” he said. “We need you back at the dorms. Dana’s had another seizure and she’s babbling about Hell and night and you’re the best at getting her to explain things.”

“I know,” Dawn said. “Are you going to recall Andrew? Buffy seems a little pissed with him hogging the couch. She and her boyfriend can’t do so much making out with him around.”

“Which is precisely why…but yes, Andrew will be back in London this evening, and tomorrow, Willow and Faith will be coming in,” Giles said in that stuffy tone that alarmed Dawn.

“Things are bad, aren’t they?” she asked.

“Quite disturbing, yes,” Giles said. “If you’ve found a lead in this Calamity person, it’s better than we’ve done lately. See you in about twenty minutes?”

“I’ll be there,” Dawn agreed.


They were making Wesley watch. Lilah wasn’t sure what was more horrible — knowing that it hurt him terribly, or the embarrassment she felt about the misunderstanding. If she could just explain this had never been possible: it had all been a fever dream bred out of septic sewer wounds, a regurgitation of her id’s worst nightmares.

“You have to push,” the white-hatted nurse who looked like Darla said, sinking her fingernails into Lilah’s wrist.

“Screw that,” Lilah said, and was punished with fingernails drawing blood, burning like fire in a moment that was already pain. “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re trying to do.”

“If you play along, it’ll hurt less,” Dr. Angel said, gloves on and a smirk on his face. “Push.”

“Go to…Heaven,” Lilah growled, slapping at Darla as another contraction wracked her. “This is all a construction based on my pathological fears. Motherhood, abandonment, pain, humiliation. For all I know, it’s not really We–”

Nurse Darla sank a rusty hypodermic into Lilah’s arm, depressing the plunger of noxious green ‘medicine’ with sadistic glee. “We need you to cooperate,” she said. “Now, I know you know how to open those legs, and aren’t you ready to be a mommy?”

“God, no,” Lilah said hazily, feeling very heavy suddenly and cold. It didn’t hurt, but the knot in her stomach reminded her that it was never good when you were drugged in Hell. “Resistance…it’s not so futile, is it?”

Dr. Angel ran a blue-latex-gloved finger up and down Lilah’s arm with a lascivious smirk. “We have ways of making it useless,” he said. “The sooner you give up, the easier it will be. You’ll just be one of them, and it won’t hurt so much.”

“Liar,” Lilah said, trying to pretend the haze wasn’t overpowering. If she was supposed to fight it…she wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. Instead, she’d sink, let them try again. Vary her tactics until she could get to Wesley with what she knew.

This place was going to burn.

“True,” Dr. Angel said. “But you won’t remember that you were ever anyone. That there was ever anything except the pain you so richly and fully deserve.”

“It’ll be agony, beginning to end,” Nurse Darla said chirpily. “And for you…selfish, opportunistic individualist you are…to know that once you might have had a name? Will keep you awake those two minutes you could sleep in a month.”

“Mmm,” Lilah said, the answer coming to her in a gentle wave of dangerous sleepiness. Of course. This place ran on pain, and she was willing to bet the individualized pain that came out of breaking the masses was worth a hundred of those drones’ collective. Otherwise, why not just wipe everyone’s memories and set ’em on fire? More cost-effective that way. “You’re making me sleepy.”

“Are you sleepy, dear?” Nurse Darla asked, stroking Lilah’s hair. “You ought to sleep, and then you’ll have a perfect little baby waiting when you wake up.”

Lilah smiled, a dopey-looking smile. Perfect, huh? It would probably eat her head, or she’d have bled to death on the floor by the time she was supposed to wake up, the final memory being that dreadful squall. “I think I will,” she said. “I have a dream to dream.”


Dana screamed. Big sister always screamed now, because they were trying to drown her. They were trying to make the spark in her go away. Hide the truth. A needle in her arm. Once she had a name, and he’s watching now. He’s watching and it’s worse because she could deal with her own problems. She asked for this; she traded it away.

He didn’t. He didn’t and it was her fault he was here.

“The baby’s coming,” Dana said to Dawn. Glowing Dawn, something more than nothing. “His head is big. Big like Big-Head Angel. She can’t scream. They took away her vocal cords.”

“Where is she?” Dawn asked.

“Hell,” Dana said. They kept asking where she was. Big sister thought they were all fucking stupid. So stupid that if she could, she’d kill them all for stupidity. “The real Hell, not just the metaphor.”

“Does she talk to you now?”

“Not talking,” Dana said, pacing back and forth. “I just know, and she knows you. Useless Watchers. Worse than fucking Angel. The baby’s coming, the baby’s coming, it’s not real. Wesley, don’t watch!”

Dawn, who had been resigned to another session of Dana screaming out an interior monologue to some pretty scary nightmares, froze. “Wesley?” she asked. “Wesley Wyndam-Pryce?”

“Who else? Do I know any other Wesleys? I wasn’t going to have a baby. I was bleeding to death. It was a hallucination. Wesley, please don’t cry,” Dana moaned. “I have a fever. I’m burning up.”

Tentatively, Dawn tapped Dana’s forehead with her hand and snatched it back before the schizophrenic Slayer could bite. Dana was right; she had a fever. “I’m going to get Giles,” she said comfortingly. “He’ll take care of you.”

Their imprisoned (former) Slayer had known Wesley. Had slept with Wesley. Regularly enough that pregnancy had been an option. Except Wesley was dead now. Dawn thought about that. Wesley was dead. He couldn’t be watching…unless Dana was right.

Giles was going to be pleased to hear about this. Well, not pleased, but excited. They had leads. They had all sorts of leads.

“I can’t do this much longer,” Dana pleaded. “Please help me. I can stop them. Please. Please. Please.”


They couldn’t do. It was part of the contract that bound Heaven, Earth, and Hell in order and relative workability. They couldn’t change things, because that wasn’t the way it worked. She could see everything, understand it in a second, and put things together that wouldn’t have been possible during her life.

It was really pissing her off. She glowered at her partner, whose ethereal blondeness was another irritation on her less-than-heavenly spirit. “Don’t you ever get annoyed by this? It’s like, totally unfair,” she said.

The blonde angel shrugged. “Free will,” she said laconically. “I’d always found it superfluous, myself, but that’s the rules for you.”

“But they don’t have all the facts,” she said, frustrated. “It’s important that someone helps Lilah, for example. And while that’s a phrase I never expected to hear myself say? It’s important. Fate of the universe important. And what do we have between ourselves and darkness?”

“A crazy girl, the Slayer’s younger sister, and a couple that’s not yet a couple?” came the answer. “Don’t worry. I’ve seen worse odds.”

“But…Angel!” she said, glowering at the images she’d seen. “There’s the problem. What are we going to do about Angel?”

A moment of silence. A grimace. “That, I don’t know,” the blonde admitted. “I’ll tell you when I can see an answer.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Wesley Edmund Wyndam-Pryce, aged thirty-five. A rebel against the eternal order of Wolfram and Hart, the Powers that Be, and their jointly-held realm, mortality. A rebel, a liar, and a betrayer.

“For these sins, you are condemned,” a radiant woman in white told him. She looked something like Fred, and at the moment, Wesley wondered when it would kick in to the torturers that Fred was the least of his woes in the pit. Fred was beyond the Powers and the Partners; Fred was free. He hadn’t betrayed Fred as he had everyone else, pleading with the God-King to let him die in her arms, believing he would go to his own rest.

He was covered in blood. Connor’s, oddly, was not the blood upon his hands (unfortunate lad that he was); Hell judged him lightly for his betrayal of Angel and left it to lacerate his stomach. It was Lilah who hung like a millstone about his neck. Her peculiar distress at knowing he was watching her had been evident; it was as if she blamed herself for what he, Wesley, so richly deserved.

Nobody deserved to face the underworld alone. Wesley had left Lilah without even a word of solace. Had left her to roast in the pit, defenseless, while he pursued Fred with all the passion of a clean slate. Angel’s damning gift, the gift he had traded Wesley’s eternity for.

“Does the prisoner have anything to say?” the woman in white asked. She was a handsome woman, with intense green eyes and a permanent worry line in her brow. “Any defense he dare offer this court? Would you care to make complaint against the champion, Angel?”

Yet another special torture. They had sworn up and down that if Wesley condemned Angel with his own testimony, denounced him before the Powers and the Partners, and cursed him as a traitor that his falsely-bound soul would be free. Knowing how futile Angel’s plans had been, and how selfish, Wesley was tempted. Deeply tempted, and the betrayal inherent in that temptation burned like napalm in his gut.

“I am falsely held,” Wesley said. “Yet I will trade my servitude for Lilah Morgan’s contract.”

The woman laughed derisively. “You are legally held, if under unusual circumstances,” she said. “You accept Angel’s authority still, so his contract binds you. Unless you choose to denounce Angel’s authority and renounce him as champion and employer, you have nothing to trade for the Morgan woman. And you assume that your soul would requite hers.”

“One soul for another,” Wesley said weakly. “A fair trade.”

“Your destiny is useless to us now; your life is ended and it is fulfilled,” the woman said. “Give us a Champion and we’ll give you Calamity. Those are the terms.”

Wesley reeled. “I can’t,” he said, his stomach churning. “I can’t.”

“Then we’re adjourned,” the woman said. “Until the next sentencing.”


Roger Wyndam-Pryce hadn’t learned any lessons from his son’s death; if anything, he’d used it as an excuse to fall more deeply into melancholy hatred for the Watchers. Rupert cordially despised the man, who’d been so instrumental in his punishment for his youthful follies, but it was nothing compared to Dawn’s lively antipathy for his vague answers to her earnest questions.

“But your handwriting is all over this journal,” she said, waving the thing in his face. “You have to know who she is. You know you know.”

“If your theory is correct, young lady, it is entirely probably that I do not,” said Roger precisely, sipping at his tea. Elisabeth Wyndam-Pryce hovered outside the library. She’d seemed much more inclined to listen to both Dawn and Rupert and their desperate need for information about the possible missing Slayer, who’d even had a possible tenure.

“Wait,” Dawn had said after hours of grueling research, holding up a slightly charred book. “Look. August 13 and 14th, 1983. Femi Abdullah died on the 13th in Zaire. Apparently, the next Slayer was supposed to be in California, and it looks like her Watcher might have made preliminary contact with the mother?”

Giles had furrowed his brow at the entry, which was in familiar handwriting but was unknown to him. “August 13, 1983?” he asked. “Femi Abdullah died on the 15th. There was no Slayer in 1983 from California.”

“I’ve got a diary right here that says so,” Dawn said. “Look.”

Indeed, it had been made by RWP about the young Slayer, LM, who was in Fresno, California. Mother distraught — LM pushed father? Situation delicate — bring female Watcher, WWP should not accompany original team, will have to broach SD move carefully.

“I would have remembered,” he’d said lamely. “Roger had me doing much of the scutwork those days as penance. I do not remember this girl.”

Neither, apparently, did Roger, who was given no choice but to stare at the entries of August 13th and 14th with all their cryptic messages. At best, Giles remembered it as about the era that Roger had been at the zenith of his power, before his sudden downfall and Quentin Travers’ takeover of the council. Perhaps something had been altered; perhaps this long-forgotten girl had nudged reality two degrees without realizing the consequences.

“You must be joking,” Roger said at last, looking up from his glasses. “You wish me to remember an incident twenty-one years past, and remember what Rupert does not, that no living man has any recollection of? I fear, Miss Summers, that you’re chasing a phantom in a desperate attempt to prove your own worth.”

Dawn’s mouth fell open slightly, and Giles stood, knowing that Roger was to prove useless in finding the missing Slayer. He had not been close with Wesley; he wouldn’t know the names of his lovers. They would have to call Angel to ask and hope that Wesley had been dating her openly, which would seem likely enough…except the woman was in Hell. Lord knew what she had been in life.

“Miss Summers has no need to prove herself to you, nor to anyone,” said Giles, nodding dismissively. “She’s provided us invaluable information, which you, with all your vaunted experience, have not.”

He and Dawn excused themselves, only to walk into Elisabeth, whose eyes were red-rimmed as she quietly walked them to the kitchen.

“We thought there was a girl,” said the woman in a dead voice. “It was to be Roger’s first active Slayer, you see. The fulfillment of several prophecies. Instead, we found ourselves entangled with a vicious little strumpet who’d accidentally killed her own father in a temper, and all of our timelines wrong by a dozen years. It nearly killed him. It was the end of his leadership of the council.”

Dawn perked up with excitement. “What was her name?” she asked.

“Love, I don’t know,” Elisabeth murmured. “Roger wouldn’t tell me. He gave her over to Wolfram and Hart, who promised to clear up the mess without a word to the council.”

“He did what?” Giles asked. “Elisabeth, please, please tell me it’s not so.”

Elisabeth chuckled bitterly. “They were already there, Rupert,” she said with a throaty sigh. “The girl’s uncle worked for them, and Roger made a fool of himself, insisted that she was indeed the Slayer, and nearly got himself arrested. Wolfram and Hart graciously offered to protect him. That poor child. You think they tricked her?”

“I think she traded her destiny for her father’s life,” Giles said. “And I think when she lost that destiny, she gained a worse one. One that might be tied to your son.”

Elisabeth blinked. “You think Wesley knew her?” she asked. “And honestly, Rupert, what do you think it matters, if the girl’s dead? She’s got no more destiny to speak of, and for all you know, she died years ago.”

“I know. I think at best, she’s been dead twenty years and this is her warning to the Slayers,” Giles said, looking down. “But I suspect it’s quite a bit more than that. Whoever she was, she changed reality and lost her birthright. In fact, she never had it in this timeline. She changed destiny, but she didn’t evade it.”

“And now she’s in Hell, stirring up more trouble,” Elisabeth said. “I don’t envy you your next task, Rupert.”

“Finding her?” he asked.

“That’ll be simple,” she said with an elegant snort. “But I wonder how, exactly, you propose to save a damned soul from a destiny that no one knows or understands.”

Giles gazed up at Elisabeth Wyndam-Pryce. That, indeed, was a very good question.


“We have to DO something,” she said, stalking back and forth in front of her view. A hundred faces swam into relevance, talked over each other, and dissolved. She could understand anything and everything just by thinking of it, but there was nothing she could do. No chess piece to move. “Authority be damned. It’s not like I don’t know how stupid the Powers can be; remember, I’ve done this before.”

“We can’t do anything substantial,” her partner said, stopping her dead in her tracks. This was the first time doing had even crossed the other’s lips. “It would undo reality. We can’t wing down like avenging angels, we can’t enter the Wolfram and Hart-controlled areas of Hell, and we can’t communicate directly with the sane.”

This staggered her. The physical limitations of being an angel, instead of an ascended being, were ultimately dreadful. A purified, immortal existence, but with no ability to do or affect. No one could see or hear you, no matter where you went. She sighed, thinking of the impossible situation, when another face swam into recognizable state.

“Should we set up the Thorazine drip?” Andrew Wells asked. She’d known him, once upon a time. Tucker’s brother. He was talking about Dana, the insane Slayer, and it hit her.

“Dana,” she said. “We help Dana help Lilah. It’s not substantial. We help them hold on. Wolfram and Hart is cheating, so we’re not. We’re merely proving that one cannot be tested beyond what she can bear.”

The blonde angel laughed. “A neat bit of sophistry, Cordelia,” she said, breaking another rule and causing Cordelia to gasp. “If we’re going to cheat, let’s also give up the stupid rule that angels are all anonymous and equal in the sight of the Powers.”

“It’s like Animal Farm,” Cordy agreed, grinning at Darla ruefully. “Some animals are more equal than others. So…it’s rebellion, then?”

“To quote a dreadful blind Puritan I knew in times past, all is not lost,” Darla said, “The unconquerable will and courage never to submit or yield: that glory never shall his wrath or might extort from me.”

She looked down at Dana, a grimace crossing her pretty face. “This is gonna suck,” Cordy said with a sigh. “But what else can we do?”


(It could be so easy to sleep forever now. If only they’d shut up.)

Wake up. (Can’t.)

Wake up. (Won’t.)

Wake up. (I gave up the first time! Why should I have a destiny now? I gave up! Let me give up.)

(“Hello, Wolfram and Hart, Hell Division,” she said cheerfully. “This is Lilah Morgan, junior partner emeritus. How may I serve you today?”)

Wake up. Wake up. You’re still in there. Come back.

(“A report on the new front of the war against Angel? I’m on it,” Lilah said, sounding like the PTA version of herself. “Let me get a coffee and this’ll be the best recommendation I ever made!”)

They tried to drown you. You’re awake in there. Come up, the baby’s gone away. You have to wake up. You have to wake up, you’re the only one who remembers the way it really was. You’re the one to do this now.

(“I have a headache,” Lilah said, smiling brightly at Lindsey and Lee. “Give me twenty minutes, okay?”

They are so cheerful, clever, and efficient; the chosen ones of Wolfram and Hart Hell. They get to do whatever the Senior Partners want, no worries, no waiting. Once he’s processed, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce — he must have meant something to her once — will join them, and it’ll be wonderful wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful. And wonderful again, after all that whooping!)

You told me to remember. I did. I held on for you. Don’t drown. Don’t take me with you. They took away the pain, they made you forget. They’ll take Wesley.

Remember? You don’t get headaches when they empty you out. You’re not empty. There’s something left.

(Lilah stared at her hands. She couldn’t remember what had happened yesterday, whatever yesterday was. But today, she’d known, instinctively, that her job was to come in to work, and with her old team, find new and creative ways to stop Angel. Not that Angel was very effective against Wolfram and Hart, but the sooner he was dead, the sooner the prophecies could be ignored or alternately fulfilled. Lindsey and Lee had been so happy to see her.

That wasn’t right. They hated her. They would have never willingly…followed her.)

Yes. Be careful. They’re listening for us. They’ll torture you until you’re so much meat if they catch us here. They’ll come with needles and lies. We can save him. We’ll throw them on their ears, all the devils, and open the floodgates.

(Something about that drug yesterday had really done a number on her. The green goo Darla had shoved into her arm. Lilah rubbed it absently. Probably something to mellow out middle management. They didn’t need particular individuals, of course, but they needed that class of talent, and if they spent all their time raving and screaming like the rabble, nothing would get done.)

Almost there. Hold on. We’re doing our best.

(“Lilah, babe, we’re needed,” Lindsey said, poking his head into the office. “If you’re woozy, go see the nurse. She gives out the stabilizers.”

“Stabilizers?”

“Hell is very disorienting for the dead human,” Lindsey said. “Wolfram and Hart uses them to keep us from falling apart.”

Lilah smiled. Oh, yes. She remembered now. More than she could say. “Do we take them every day?” she asked.

“Three times a day,” said Lindsey, grinning. “Come on, we’re needed.”)

Don’t forget. Remember. Remember. Remember. We can’t help you.

(Lilah followed Lindsey into the hallway. This really wasn’t any better than the dead baby dead daddy torture extravaganza. Everything was so vanilla and pointless, and they were good little drones. On soma, even.

“Do you think they ever stop needing us?” Lilah asked Lindsey pleasantly, modulating her tones to match that cheerful bland robotic tone in Lindsey’s voice. This was going to be the performance of her life, and she’d had a few Oscar-worthy ones before.

“Not an option, babe,” Lindsey said lightly. Of course not. He couldn’t even imagine it. Poor bastard couldn’t imagine anymore. He was needed. He belonged to Wolfram and Hart. This was their eternity.)

Dana slumped against the floor. So tired. So tired it didn’t even make sense anymore. She just knew that they had to stay awake or worse things would come. They were with her, but for how much longer?

What did time matter to an angel, anyway?


Angel had moved his HQ back to the remains of the Hyperion, which was still in good enough shape. Spike and Illyria stayed there, and Gunn had planned to, but as long as Anne stayed with him, he’d stay with her and ride his bike to the hotel. Usually, it worked out, took about twenty minutes. It had taken an hour today because of a bus on fire and some wounded to take care of.

The fun never stopped in post-apocalyptic LA.

“You are late,” Illyria said upon arrival, gesturing at the office, where Angel stalked back and forth, clearly yelling about something.

“Flaming bus,” Gunn replied with a shrug. “What’s up with Fearless Leader?”

Spike snorted, walking in with a bucket of fried chicken and a couple bottles of beer. Gunn accepted the food gratefully, sitting down on one of the dust-and-blood-streaked couches.

“You ever hear of some bird called Lilah Morgan?” he asked. “Angel’s having an enormous row with Rupes and the Bit cuz they’re claiming that Wesley’s last dead girlfriend’s got a big-time destiny and we’ve got to help her.”

Gunn gaped at Spike, chicken temporarily forgotten. “Lilah? Used to run Wolfram and Hart, slept with Wes, helped take Connor the first time, Lilah?” he asked. “The Slayers want us to help her?”

They all grimaced, thinking of Angel’s overriding rule in the fight: if anyone was involved with Wolfram and Hart in any way, let them burn. Illyria shrugged carelessly.

“She was almost a Slayer,” the Old One said. “Apparently, she maintains some power, which Angel claims is good for only death and sorrow. They were very interested in her every quirk.”

Gunn snorted. “Lilah would be stirring up a fuss post-mortem,” he said, cracking open the beer. “They thinkin’ this has anything to do with Wesley? No more ex, so bye-bye planet?”

“You’d know better than we bloody would,” Spike pointed out, gnawing on a leg. “And the evil queen was satisfied by Percy?”

“In ways you’d never want to know about,” Gunn said, walking to Angel’s office. “Yo, Angel? What’s up? Anne wants me to help out with the neighborhood today if I can. She’s worried about some of the orphans.”

Angel looked up, and Gunn was sad at how old Angel was looking these days. There was grey at the temples, and that look in his eye. Could creep a man out, if he didn’t know that Angel was all right.

“Go ahead,” he said dully. “I’ll need you in a couple of days. Dawn and Faith are coming here to make their problems my problem, and I want you to keep an eye on them.”

The implication rather staggered Gunn. So now Angel was paranoid about Slayers? Maybe Illyria had something about Angel’s non-first-name-basis with lucidity these days. Of course, if Gunn had lost everyone in three days, he’d be calling him Mr. Lucidity, too. But Angel had to keep it together, because otherwise, they were screwed.

Besides, with everything possible now, Gunn couldn’t rule out that evil lawyer bitch might have a big-time destiny to help them out.

“And if they’re right that the evil dead’s important? What then?” Gunn asked.

“In the unlikely event? We go from there,” Angel replied. “Get some rest. They’ll be here soon.”

Gunn nodded, thoughts swirling in his head. He wandered back over to Spike and Illyria, who were finishing off the rest of the chicken without apology to him, who actually needed to eat.

“Is it just me, or has he been crazy lately?” Gunn asked. “We didn’t exactly do our mamas proud when we took out the Black Thorn, yo. And maybe just me, but if the Slayers are trying to find a way to help ease the Apocalypse, I say go Slayers.”

Spike nodded, lifting his beer bottle in salute. “He doesn’t much like being wrong, you know,” he said. “Thought it was his destiny to show he believed in good and freedom and all the things Wolfram and Hart stood against. Turns out it wasn’t that simple.”

“Will he improve from this melancholia?” asked Illyria. “For this one is correct. Angel has been erratic since the loss of his loved ones, and the failure of our assault against Wolfram and Hart. We may have to consider him an unreliable warrior if it continues.”

Spike shook his head. “Love, once we find another enemy to attack, he’ll snap out of it,” he said. “Angel likes to be certain, that’s all. Not a crime.”

“But not helping us, either,” Gunn said, sitting down heavily.


Dana screamed, waking Andrew out of a light doze. She’d been screaming or sleeping for two straight days, and when anyone tried to wake her, she screamed louder that she had to remember or the whole world would burn up. With Dawn on her way to California to figure out what the hell was going on and if there was any way to salvage Lilah Morgan without dimensional-hopping bloodshed, watching Dana had fallen to Andrew. Giles was busily finding more clues, comforting parents, et cetera, and the Slayers got tense when they were near their crazy sister.

She babbled. She babbled more than anyone Andrew’d ever met, which was surprising because he counted himself quite the chatterbox, really.

“No, Nurse, I’m fine!” Dana said in that false-glad voice. “I appreciate the concern.”

Lilah’s life — and by osmosis, Dana’s — pretty much sucked. Andrew figured that Lilah Morgan, lobotomy version, was a cheap knock-off of Mary Tyler Moore. Real Lilah, as far as he could tell from Dana’s raving, was angry, tired, and ready to kill. She swore a lot.

“Get out of my way, bitch,” growled Dana, pacing back and forth. “I just need to know where he is, and I will be DONE playing ball. And you fucking idiots can go back to being controlled by IT.”

“It? Like in A Wrinkle in Time?” Andrew asked. “Heh. That’s funny. I remember those books. They were good books. I liked Charles Wallace a lot. What about you? Who was your favorite?”

Dana turned her head slowly, her eyes narrowed in a way that the mad Slayer had never managed on her own. Andrew’s skin shivered, because it was so creepy, watching someone else look out of Dana’s eyes with so much purpose.

“I don’t remember,” she, whoever SHE really was, said. “Stop distracting us, unless you have something useful to say or do. Maybe you can whip up a spell to get me through to Wes and out of the hive mind.”

With that, Dana shivered, moaned, and fell to her knees, curling protectively around herself. “Can’t talk. Have to remember,” she cried plaintively. “Have to get out of here.”

Andrew’s brain was now stuck on Madeleine L’Engle. Wasn’t like there was much else he could do, and the idea of creating spells reminded him how he had written his first spell back when he was thirteen. Probably because the two had been related.

“There was the cool part of the third book where they did a spell, remember?” he asked, not really talking to Dana or Lilah, but if they were listening, he was giving them food for thought. “I mean, spells are really sort of concentrated belief. The word just kind of shapes it through a person’s mind, calling on power. Like, do you remember that whole thing in the third book? I made a spell out of it once, and it kind of worked.”

Dana’s head rose from its huddle, her eyes practically glowing. Andrew slid away a couple of steps. Possession gave him the heebies, and made his throat ache in sympathy.

“What was that?” Dana-Lilah asked. “I only kind of remember. It was a while ago, and I didn’t use the books to make teen-angst spells. You’ll have to share.”

Andrew blinked. “Well, it went like, okay. In this fateful hour, I call on Morgoth with his power — Morgoth being the demon I wanted to raise,” he said. “I can’t remember. I just remember how Tucker said it was like the Hail Mary. Hail Morgoth, full of grace–”

The room shivered. Dana’s eyes went wide. “Pray for us now, kid,” she said in her uncanny voice, the one that was and wasn’t hers. “I don’t care what you do. Pray for me to walk through a wall and find Wes. Whatever. Do it.”

“And what if I screw up?” Andrew asked, realizing he wasn’t being asked. He was being told, and he couldn’t figure out a reason to refuse.

“Then we’re all doomed and demons will use your bones for cornmeal,” she said with chilling indifference. “Don’t fail. Focus the little light within, and pray, Andy.”

Andrew shivered. “And then what?”

“Hell hath no fury,” said Dana-Lilah, smiling. “You’ll see.”


The little nerd had done it. With Dana’s strangely substantial help, and Lilah’s, and whatever it was that had attached itself to Dana, but the little nerd had actually broken the illusion of solidity that Hell managed to imply in its inhabitants. The words of the funny rune aching in the base of her skull, Lilah pushed against the constructed reality.

If magic was words shaping desire into an event by calling power, Lilah could do that. She could understand that. “Open,” she said, hand against the black glass walls of the cell. “Open up, damn it.”

The glass became fog. And there, crouched in a transparent closet, was Wesley. She’d walked out of the womb of Wolfram and Hart, and oh, look, they’d clothed her in illusion. Great. Fabulous.

Lilah pulled off the closet door easily. Interesting. The torture, as ever, was in the torture victim’s own mind first. Hell’s reality had a distinct dependence on belief and fear, and those were so easy to exploit.

“I didn’t mean it!” Wesley shouted, clearly still trapped in his own fantasies. “Let me out! Let me…my God, is that really you?”

“Are you all right?” Lilah asked, quite aware that she was drenched in blood, sweat, and alien goo while wearing a hospital gown, and Wesley’s clothing looked like some pervert’s fantasy of British boyhood. Barefoot, bedraggled, and hearing the faint echo of her mad sister-in-arms’ voice rising in triumph, Lilah nodded to Wes, offering him a hand up. He took it with both hands, clearly trying to prove her solidity to himself.

“Am I…?” Wesley asked, stretching out his limbs from the dreadful confinement of the dark closet. He gave up and sighed. “I have always underestimated just precisely what a magnificent woman you can be.”

Lilah smiled at him, pushing back her hair with a hand stained with dried gore. “I have my good days,” she said casually. “Want to go somewhere with me?”

“Anywhere,” Wes said simply. “Where are we going?”

“To turn the tide,” Lilah said, striding ahead. “Also? We’re going to talk as we walk about this thing we had. And about things in general.”

He nodded solemnly, and it struck Lilah that she really had been quite a bit in love with him. That they had both lost something vital during that horrible year Angel had altered the world as it was really and would always be. It couldn’t be easy to think about Fred, for example, and the uncertainty of his supposedly true and eternal love for her. So much based on Angel’s lies had to be shivering and shaking right now.

“Do you know, there is very little I regret between you and me,” Wesley said. “But I wish I’d known how injured you were when I let you send me off.”

“I wasn’t pregnant,” she said quickly.

“I know,” Wes said. “But what I meant was…you let me walk away as a token of good faith. And I betrayed that. You deserved better than for my shame to overcome my decency.”

“True,” Lilah said. “You weren’t kind, at the end. But I don’t blame you. I blame circumstance, and mostly? Angel.”

She expected him to mount a defense of his icon, but Wesley simply looked thoughtful. “Angel has so much to answer for,” he said.

The Dana in Lilah’s head…or was she simply the most visible of all those Slayers who had been dragged into her head by that scream of pain and the shock of being part of a larger destiny again?…shuddered at the thought of what was to come with Angel. It couldn’t be helped, Lilah thought.

“How are we going to change anything here?” Wesley asked.

Again, the smile of triumph from Lilah. “To quote a big dumb pretentious action movie? There is no spoon,” she said.

 

Chapter Text

Illyria, God-King, Old One, the glorious and terrible and eternal, was troubled. Deeply troubled by the shifting events she was entrapped in, woven into as easily and as thoughtlessly as humans always behaved. There were no more armies, nor prayers, nor simple paths to destruction. The death in Los Angeles had left her uneasy, not calling for more of it.

Worse yet, she feared for this world’s weak champions. Some crucial part of the vampire Angel had broken when they had retreated from the suicidal attack on Wolfram and Hart, leaving him searching for vengeance. Illyria approved of vengeance, and his was just and righteous, but his humanity faded by the day as he dreamt of making them pay. For Cordelia, for Wesley, for Fred, for every innocent who lay upon the street.

His son. Wolfram and Hart had not feared to strike back against them, and their first response to Angel’s insouciant rebellion was to crush the boy, and the werewolf woman who had shared Angel’s bed, in those first terrible days of blood and death. Their bodies had lain at the door of the hotel, eyes staring an eternal rebuke to Angel’s great stand.

He had gone mad, Illyria realized, as he stared at the two young things come to aid him. He could no longer see a great battle between good and evil; he could only see the body of his son and those who would not kill every last living soul involved in that death, Angel had no time for.

“How’s the interrogation going, pet?” Spike inquired, peeking at the office. “Angel seems a bit shaken by their arrival.”

“Angel has gone mad and this worsens it,” Illyria said. “He lost his son and his lover and his last true friend. There is nothing left for him but vengeance. And they bid him help an enemy.”

Spike grimaced. “I suspect you’re right,” he said. “Don’t know what to do about it. He’ll take them all out now, and he won’t hold back.”

“His madness may prove fatal to us all,” Illyria replied. “And you may not find it so, but living is sweet to me. I would not care to die if I could live.”

“Now you’re sounding like Charlie,” Spike said. “Of course, that bonny blonde lass he’s taken up with might be the reason he’s back among the living, don’t you think?”

Illyria nodded sourly, gazing at the two girls. One was ancient; the green aura that spilled from her as familiar as breath. The Key, made flesh. Had she lived so many years to see that? The gate to all and every world, permanently closed to Glorificus and her madness? Illyria had slept so long, and every day brought fresh reminders of the strangeness of her waking.

Still, while she was not fond of this world, she preferred it to death. There was at least interest in this plane, and if what the Key was telling Angel was true, it was about to get more so.


“He can’t go crazy,” Cordelia said, pacing back and forth.

“Face it, cutie, he’s nuts,” Darla replied, looking at Angel. “It makes everything fit. He did everything for our son. He joined Wolfram and Hart. He sacrificed everyone he loved, for the safety of his son. And Wolfram and Hart murdered him without even a parley.”

Cordelia looked over at Darla, whose eyes were surprisingly bright. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “About Connor.”

“He was born unlucky,” said Darla. “I can’t tell if what I’m feeling is sorrow or pity. What a life. What a terrible life. It would’ve been better if he’d died before he was born. For everyone.”

Shaking her head, Cordelia offered her best comforting smile to Darla. “You can’t think that way. If the best thing was never to have pain, then we’d all be better off not even existing,” she said. “We do. We know trying to change what is just makes it worse, thank you very much, and we’ve got a crazy champion on our hands.”

Darla nodded, the shadow of her pain heavy on her face. “I think we let it play out,” she said. “It’ll give us a chance to make alliance, anyway. Lilah’s moving fast. Faster than I thought she could move, but damn, she loves that man of hers.”

“She does,” Cordelia agreed hungrily, remembering how it had been to love like that, unwisely and wholly and in a way that made things possible. “I think she’s got her feet under her now, and come on. The girl’s power-hungry. The idea of raising Hell to knock it over so gets her juices flowing.”

“More than just Lilah,” Darla agreed, something hungry in her voice. “You can’t tell me there isn’t a certain appeal in it.”

Cordy snorted. “You’re kind of a bust as a higher being, you know,” she said. “Anyway, it’s not our destiny to be a new Lucifer. We’re rebel angels on the make; we don’t get names.”

“Nope,” Darla agreed, eyes on Lilah and Wesley and their uncertain descent from the adamant tower. “We just get to be at a certain place at a certain time.”

“And shake up some heavenly chaos,” Cordelia added. “Just in case you forgot that detail.”


Wesley was really rather awed at the saga as it developed. Dana, Dawn, even Andrew’s ridiculous little spell. “Calamity? They named you Calamity?” he asked. “That’s remarkable.”

“Why’s that?” Lilah asked, pausing to hurl a spell or two at the troops rattling at her. “What the Hell are you all babbling about anyway? I pushed destiny. I was never a Slayer, even though I was supposed to be in another version of things. That’s not remarkable.”

“It’s never happened before in a way we could know about,” Wesley replied. “But it’s more than that. Calamity was a figure most major prophecies stepped around rather carefully. Most scholars didn’t believe she was a single figure; a current school believed it was Buffy Summers and her people. But if it’s you…the mind rather shies away from the possibilities.”

Lilah gave him a sideways glance. “Because I’m evil?”

“Because you’re in a rather unique position,” Wesley said. “You undid eons of prophecy with that damned amulet you got from Lindsey. You created the Angel merger with Wolfram and Hart that undid the Circle of the Black Thorn. Other people do your dirty work, but you provide that push that leads to the unthinkable. And now you and I are in Hell.”

“With knowledge of why Wolfram and Hart stays here,” Lilah added. “They run on the pain. The fear of it and the belief that it causes. What you believe down here has a heavy impact on reality, which is why magic works more reliably.”

The mild throat-clearing had them both jump and turn, and Wesley looked like he was reaching for a shotgun that wasn’t there when Lilah realized it was Holland.

“Tell your boy to stand down, Lilah,” Holland said. “We wouldn’t want your ain true love to end up in isolation, would we? He doesn’t seem to have the same iron backbone you do when it comes to torture.”

“Holland, cut the crap,” Lilah said. “We’re leaving. If you put us back in our cages, I’ll get out again. It’s not nearly as difficult as you make it out to be once you know it’s all in your head.”

Holland chuckled, running a hand over his hair. Lilah remembered how much she’d always hated him. All of the others had been out-and-out hateful, sexually harassing her for the thrill, being old-boys-network, whatever. Holland had always made her feel like the daddy she’d lost was back, and trying to help her slightly incompetent ass.

“You know that none of your challenges will be legitimate until you can prove you’re not Wolfram and Hart property,” he said. “So not only do you have to leave the main offices, you’re going to have to leave Wolfram and Hart’s demesnes. For anyone in your form, that’s impossible. So if you can cross the border between this and the rest of the shadowlands? It’s inadvertent proof that you’re not here legitimately, and that all your claims of a badly fixed destiny are true.”

Lilah stared at him in complete confusion. “Thank you,” she said. “That was very helpful, Holland.”

Holland smirked. “Don’t screw up, Morgan,” he said affectionately. “Being one of their robots is not terribly enjoyable, and I suspect you’re going to have an army if you can just get out of here.”

He left as quietly as he’d arrived, and Lilah and Wesley both started moving faster. “Do you think we can imagine guns?” Wesley asked. “Weapons of any sort would be useful.”

“How are you going to use a gun in the shadowlands, lover?” Lilah asked. “We just keep moving, and remember they’re all as powerless as we are.”

“I don’t like those odds,” Wes replied grimly.

“Odds? You gotta be kidding me,” Lilah said, thinking of what kind of weapon they could manage. “This is our hail Mary pass on a fourth and ten. We’re doomed. Screw the odds.”


Spike cornered Dawn while Faith and Angel and Illyria were discussing the best way to handle Dawn’s request that Illyria help her cross the dimensions to find and extract Lilah and probably Wesley from the grasp of Wolfram and Hart. She was eating, and she knew better than to let the greedy bastard pick at her plate.

“Why the rage for Angel, love?” he asked her as she ate, slapping his hands away. “He did what he thought was best.”

“No, he did what he wanted,” Dawn said. “And it’s screwing the universe hard. And now I have to go rescue the bitch from Hell, literal, to stop the bad guys from winning by default.”

Spike stared at Dawn. “That’s really the plan?”

“The lady knows things the rest of us do not,” said Dawn. “I listened to Dana rave for a long, long time, Spike. This is the darkest hour. This is the turning point. If we lose the Slayers, we’re screwed. And I keep coming back to the weird of this Lilah woman. Why would Wolfram and Hart go to so much trouble to divert the Slayer line and strip any hint of her destiny? Why did Drusilla let her leave the wine cellar? Why did Cordelia kill her? Why did Jasmine say it was more important that Wesley and her got groiny than Wesley stealing Connor in the big cosmic sense of things?”

“Put it like that,” Gunn said, sitting down. “Your point’s made. Hell bitch had a way of being in the right place at the right time.”

“When she was raving, Dana said she was too important to destroy,” Dawn said, looking away from Spike’s shocked expression. “That Hell would be overthrown, and that the banner would ride high. One marble knocked out of orbit knocking back.”

“And Angel?” Gunn asked, glancing over to where Faith, clearly frustrated, had slammed the door behind her. He wasn’t quite sure why Faith was along — though if he was going by looks, it had more to do with Dawn than duty, and Dawn didn’t seem to mind that one bit.

“I’d prefer he stayed here, but what’s he going to do? If he doesn’t help, Wesley stays stuck in Hell, right?” Dawn asked, clearly unaware of the depth of Angel’s grief. “It should be okay, shouldn’t it?”

Faith sat down noisily. “Maybe if we get him some Paxil,” she said. “So how long has he been like that?”

“Since Wolfram and Hart killed his werewolf girlfriend and his only son,” Spike said. “When do you bloody well think, Faith?”

Dawn looked away. “That’s awful,” she said. “Why didn’t you guys tell us that before? Buffy would have come.”

“We didn’t know at first,” said Gunn. “Reality shift and all. Made it hard to understand just what was going down. He told us everything, though — once he figured out we didn’t get it.”

Faith whistled. “This whole thing sucks,” she said. “Can we just start over? Undo things?”

With a dry little laugh, Dawn slapped her notebook on the table and opened up to a well worn page of notes. “That would seem to be the point of the rescue,” she said. “To undo things. Remember?”

“Point taken,” Faith said, smiling lasciviously at Dawn.


Dana knew she could let go now, but she didn’t want to. She had been so strong, there with big-not-sister. Watching the way people jumped when she spoke, didn’t force pills down her throat, didn’t soothe and coo and lie and hurt her.

“Where are they now?” Andrew asked, sitting in his little black chair, listening intently to everything Dana had to say. Little geek man. Dana liked him more now, because he listened. He wanted to know the story. He wanted to follow in the fateful hour, and had even made magic words for them. Dana kept thinking in terms of them, even though Lilah didn’t and didn’t want to.

She didn’t even understand how Dana was still attached, because she was free now.

“They’re reaching the bottom of the tower,” Dana said, trying to see. She didn’t get to see much; just flashes. “It’s a long way left to go. It could take forever, but it won’t.”

Dana didn’t talk about the brambles, the thorns, the fire, or the mass of damned souls, burning, being shepherded around for torture, or the flocks of crows. Murders of crows, with long black beaks and glinty eyes.

“They’re damned souls,” Wesley said in his soft voice. “They say I should go with them.”

She knew that already, didn’t want to hear him say that, and Dana was shut out again, thinking about the ravens, shrieking and hooting.

“What’ll it be like, once she gets to the other side?” Andrew asked.

“More war,” Dana said. “But their power will be broken. How can you fear Hell when you know it’s not really real?”

Andrew’s fingers were in his hair, ruffling his head restlessly as he considered that. “Like, whoa,” he said. “It’s not real?”

“Not exactly real,” Dana said. “Virtually real. Real by default.”

He shuddered, and it took him a minute to realize it was with relief and not fear. “I’m afraid of Hell,” Andrew admitted. “Because I deserve to go there.”

“It’s very hot,” Dana replied, staring off into the nothing which was now a field covered in ravens, watching her with beady eyes. Was she going to give Wesley to them? She had to. It was the only way he could get across, once she’d made it through. “And dirty.”

If she made it through. The heat, rising in waves, and the exhaustion she suddenly felt made Dana feel ill. So much left, and Wolfram and Hart holding her soul at the center of the adamant tower.

Dana clasped her hands together, and started saying the magic words Andrew had made up for them, and then added a few of her own. “Don’t give up. Don’t give up. Help is coming.”


Almost time to go.

“You cannot follow us unless I will it,” Illyria told Angel grimly. “As you are the leader, I will accede to your request, but only if you swear to me it is for honorable purposes.”

Dawn didn’t like this at all. Illyria, so far, had vetoed both Spike and Faith for their little expedition into Hell. Meanwhile, Angel was getting the okay? Angel, who kept saying the name Lilah as if it were poison-tipped? She got they had bad bad blood between them. But nobody was asking him to invite her to dinner and be best friends forever, and he was supposed to be bigger than this.

Angel was always supposed to have been bigger. Buffy loved him still, and Faith talked about him like he was her guru, which Dawn guessed he kind of sort of was. And now even Spike followed the Angel line, and Dawn couldn’t help it. She saw Angel, and she saw someone she didn’t particularly like, even knowing he was a sad and broken man. It didn’t help that every bit of evidence she showed him was waved off because she was little Dawnie, and it just made her angrier and angrier to watch him walk all over everyone and nobody else even notice.

The flaw of being a bratty younger sister, she supposed. And liking people who had every right to hate Angel.

“I want to make sure Wesley’s all right,” Angel said. “Honorable enough for you?”

“Acceptable,” Illyria agreed. “Dawn? Does this appease you?”

“Sure,” said Dawn. “I just want us down there as soon as we can be.”

Gunn had went to get his girlfriend Anne, because he’d agreed to ‘hold down the fort’ when Illyria and Angel left. Anne was blonde and pretty, and she was pretty damn sensible and nice. For some reason, she’d been taken aback that there was a Dawn Summers, but Dawn didn’t have time to worry about it.

“Give me your hand,” Illyria said, standing in the middle of the lobby between Dawn and Angel. Dawn stuck her palm out and Illyria seized it in two iron-hard hands before taking her fingernail and drawing it down. Dawn yelped, and yep. That was blood.

The words of the spell were in the old language, guttural and incomprehensible and Dawn glanced up to see Gunn, looking, well, kind of wistful. Fred had crossed dimensions, she remembered, and this maybe reminded him. Poor Fred.

And then poor nothing. Dawn was not, and Illyria was not, and Angel was not. They were not, and then they were elsewhere. Illyria’s blue eyes glowed as she surveyed the forbidding territory. “This is familiar,” she said. “The center of Hell is not far, and it is there your token would have to go.”

“Why’s that?” Dawn asked, glancing over at Angel.

“All oaths are unmade there,” Illyria said. “It is the place of cleansing and great deeds. The Senior Partners used that place to unmake the Old Ones’ order, and now, it will be done to them.”

She had a fierce, almost joyful smile on her face, and Dawn tried to smile back. It was revenge moving everyone here. Angel hovered behind them like a man in a nightmare; he was back in Hell, now, and stuck with a task he would have rather not had.

“This place smells really bad,” Dawn said as they walked over the featureless plane. “I guess that’s part of the hellishness, huh?”

“One feature, yes,” Illyria agreed. “We’re very close.”

Angel looked up. “One of us should wait out here. In case there’s an ambush,” he said.

“Not you,” Dawn said before she thought about it. Angel looked at her and shook his head. “Hey, you’re not so much the fan, you know?”

“I’m the one we can spare,” Angel said. “If anything goes wrong, you and Illyria can go back to LA and get reinforcements, or get people out of here. Don’t fight me on this, Dawn.”

“His strategy is sensible,” Illyria said reluctantly. “Come. I wish to find Wesley among the damned who wait on the other side of the hill.”

Angel looked up. “He’s here?” he asked.

“I feel him near,” Illyria said, half-dragging Dawn along. “This business will be done soon.”

Dawn gave Angel one last, lingering look. She hoped the ache in the pit of her stomach was only butterflies at being in actual Hell with only two revenge-crazy beings along with. She hoped it wasn’t the knowledge that Angel was about to snap.

That would be a good thing. Yes.


Prophecy, contract, and common sense all rang through Lilah’s head in order as she tried to ignore the sense of impending indifference slowly crawling up her spine. Holland had told her that if she could walk out of Hell, the contract was null and void, and Lilah’s challenge to Wolfram and Hart would be legitimate. Given the masses of damned souls following along like flocks of ravens, including, somewhere, Wesley, Lilah tended to think she had a shot. That was before the good guys were chipping in because of her almost-was of Slayerhood.

Common sense added that after her rampage down the adamantine mount, it was smart to get as far from the Senior Partners as possible. They probably wanted to gut Lilah for the next millennium to make sausage for the cafeteria, before getting down to business.

Wesley had promised to be waiting at the border, and she had no reason to doubt him. She hadn’t realized how much she’d wanted him with her until he was gone. But the Dead traveled fast. She traveled fast. When a thorn had grown through her foot, she pulled it out, licked the blood off (never let a demonic dimension have any of your blood — too many bad rituals to be done) and kept walking. Some awed random whispered about some stupid prophecy or other; Lilah was getting used to it.

The problem with prophecy is that once you believed it, you twisted everything to make sense within it as you saw it. She didn’t believe what Wesley and Dana’s friend had said: that this was her destiny. If it was? Well, it beat an eternity being the brainwashed Den Mother at Wolfram and Hart Hell.

After all, with destiny, the impossible turned possible. Lilah remembered Connor’s birth as an example of that. Maybe they were right.

Maybe they weren’t.

Angel stood less than twenty feet in front of the tree that symbolized the end of Wolfram and Hart’s outright dominion over the area. He didn’t hold a weapon; he didn’t have to. The Senior Partners were even better than Lilah had thought. Of course Angel would think it was his duty to delay Lilah until he was sure she was worthy. Just long enough to try to drag her under, which would drag Dana with her…and lead to a chain reaction. Misplaced outrage and years of grudge exploding into a drain on the Slayers and the end of everything.

“Shouldn’t you have an entourage with you now that you’re the big man?” Lilah asked, standing just out of the reach of his arm. “No. Don’t answer that. Let’s go talk whatever you’re here to talk about about six feet from here, and you can even choke me if you want.”

“Good try,” Angel said, folding his arms across his chest. “I knew I needed to keep an eye on you. I don’t know how you convinced Dawn and Illyria that you were some kind of hero, but when I heard that, it was all I needed to know. And then Wesley…how could you write a contract that brought him here?”

“Do you think I had a choice?” Lilah asked. “I didn’t write the contract. I even warned you, Angel. You didn’t listen to me. And that’s not the issue. The issue is, I have a job to do, and that’s to take over Hell and look at this rather dusty system we have, where the label outweighs the deed.”

Angel shook his head. “You think you’re God now?”

“I think God’s not a part of this discussion; it’s time to stop relying on sky-daddies and monsters under the bed, and big words and big gestures,” Lilah said. “Was your big gesture worth Wesley’s life? Or his soul?”

He wanted to knock her across the valley. Points to her. “Don’t talk about Wesley. You could have stopped this. You didn’t,” he repeated. “And I’m not going to let someone like you rewrite the rules.”

“I’m right there with you, Angel,” Lilah said. “But turns out, I’m the candidate. So let me pass or admit that you don’t care about the good fight anymore. You just care about you.”

To her surprise, Angel shrugged. “Nice speech,” he said. “But I tried your way. And now you’re going to learn the consequences for your way. For what you did to my son.”

A wave of staggering indifference broke over Lilah. So this was the way it ended. Whatever.

 

Chapter Text

The specter of indifference floated before Charles Gunn, and for once, driven by the weariness and hopelessness of the war he was fighting, he embraced it.

“I want my world back,” Gunn said, staring at the fire and brimstone as it flared from the floor of the Hyperion and faded away. “I’m sick of this. Of the war that doesn’t end, of Angel getting crazier, of all of it. Why is it so hard to do good?”

“It’s not hard,” Anne said, looking at the scorch marks on the floor with unwilling eyes. “This isn’t about good or evil, Charles. This is about power and ruling and dominion. I mean, come on. When you agreed to the crazy plan, did you really think it was going to lead to good?”

Gunn looked away, lost in his own lines of denial, hope, and rationalization. “I thought it would lead to something better. Thought maybe people would be free to do more good without Wolfram and Hart cheating,” he said.

“Charles,” Anne said, her hand on his chest. “Forget Wolfram and Hart. Forget Angel. Unless you’ve done good with them, and then maybe we’ll think about them a little.”

“Money and power are sometimes good for the helping,” he pointed out.

“They are,” Anne agreed. “But there are other ways. What we’re staring at, right here right now? Is your past. It’s time to say good-bye to it. To let go. Someone has to keep building. When they come back, you’re going to have to tell them.”

“You know,” Gunn said, looking at the floor. “I think you’re right. Can’t change the situation by staring at the ground, can we? I think I know a place where we can set up. There’ll be people looking to regroup, rebuild. They’ll need us.”

Anne squeezed his hand. “And we’ll be there. For those we can help.”

She didn’t say it. She didn’t have to. Most of Gunn’s friends probably weren’t going to be on that list.


There wasn’t time for his ranting. Lilah could feel her resolve drain away, bit by bit by bit, and it had taken everything she had, probably everything Dana (poor brave foolish Dana) had, and so much more just to reach this point. The gray was moving in. She didn’t care as much, and she couldn’t get through to Angel. Not an iota.

“Why won’t you leave me alone?” Lilah asked, the words strangely hollow. “Please, just let me cross. I’ve got to help. It’s got to be me.”

“You?” Angel asked, sounding like he thought everything was immensely funny. “You are dead and in Hell. All you know how to do is ruin things.”

Ruin things? Ruin things? Lilah’s hand flew out and caught Angel across his arrogant mouth as the pain registered in her sprained and aching wrist. A white-hot burst of pain exploded across her brain, graying things just a little further as she bit down on her lips. She had come so far to fail.

Just like always, right? But Lilah wasn’t going to flame out without telling Angel exactly how she felt. Not this time.

“Tell me one thing I’ve ruined by overthrowing Hell. Name one city I’ve leveled out of spite for a deal I took. Describe for me the son I drove mad. Name me one person I love who I led to their deaths,” Lilah said, standing firm. It was so close. She was literally two steps away from ending this.

“Not my job to know every sin you’ve committed,” Angel said.

“It is if you’re condemning me,” Lilah replied. “Get out of my way, Angel. I am going to undo my contract and undo this order, and you are not going to stop me when I’m this close.”

He glared at her. “I know that you screwed all of us,” he said. “That you didn’t have the guts to do what you’re condemning me for doing right now.”

Lilah snorted. Of course, he would blame the state of the world on a scared fourteen-year-old’s decision. Not him for taking Wolfram and Hart. Not him for starting the last great war. Not him for anything.

It hadn’t been until after she was sent back to Hell forever that Lilah realized how much she hated Angel, and how much she didn’t care if he was good at heart. He had called her what was wrong with the world; right back at him. And Lilah didn’t care how much they all loved him, or how small a person it made her, she hated Angel. She wished him dead, though now? She’d settle for him getting out of her way.

“So is that why you’re here? To remind me this is all my fault?”

“To stop you from making the world worse,” Angel said. “You don’t change. You’re not going to change anything except who’s sitting in the big chair.”

“You got any proof of that?” Lilah asked, a spark of Dana’s madness flaring red in the back of her head. Poor kid; there had to be a way to turn off that slight connection they still had, for her sake if not Lilah’s own. “No, because it’s NOT TRUE.”

“I don’t have any proof you’re not playing us, either,” Angel said. “And we all know how well your Wolfram and Hart deal worked out.”

“So I guess we’re at an impasse, then,” Lilah said, feeling a wave of indifference wash over her. Fine, then. She wasn’t going to do this; she wasn’t going to have every person spit on her because she’d done wrong.

“Looks that way,” Angel said.

“Looks can be deceiving,” a third party put in, and suddenly Angel had flown back about twenty feet. Just enough time for Lilah to scramble across the boundary between Wolfram and Hart and the rest of the shadowlands, and to put her hand on the rock that was the very center of Hell. “Break the contract already, Lilah.”

“I, Lilah Morgan, being formerly of Wolfram and Hart Los Angeles,” Lilah said quickly, pulling together ritual phrases out of thin air, “Do release myself from my contract and all hints of my former destiny, and claim further that I, not they, will henceforth order Hell and its domain, and that I challenge them as is set down by the ancient law.”

An enormous wave of energy — very bad CGI-looking, Lilah thought wearily — ruffled her hair as it raced out, sort of like a giant fax of I QUIT being sent back to the Senior Partners, restoring her soul to her beaten, bruised, and still dead body. Dana had been shaken loose in that shockwave, and Lilah hoped the crazy Slayer was all right. After all, she’d been pretty helpful.

“Nicely done,” said the person with her. “That sent a tremor through things.”

Lilah looked up and snorted. A blonde and a brunette looked back at her apologetically. “You’re late,” she said, looking at her bare legs with disgust. “Stop to get a manicure or something?”


Darla had Angel, who’d crossed the border as if it didn’t exist, restrained, and it was Cordelia, impossibly beautiful, striding over the nightmarish landscape to where Lilah waited, streaked with blood, grime, and various effluvia. Sweet-smelling white flowers were blooming beneath her feet, and even the hordes of waiting rebels were holding their breath at how clean she was. Lilah realized, belatedly, that she had a smile on her face, and the pain from crossing Hell into the shadowlands had lessened.

“Hi,” said Cordelia. “You look, well, not fashionable.”

“Walked through Hell,” Lilah replied with a shrug. “I don’t recommend it as a spa treatment.”

Cordelia half-smiled, and then sighed. “We need to talk about what you just did,” she said. “You realize that you’ve got a destiny, right? To run the rebellion?”

“It’s a revolution, and I wasn’t that interested in heavenly choirs anyway,” Lilah countered, sitting down at the table that had appeared out of nowhere. “Doesn’t really matter now. I crossed out of Wolfram and Hart’s control, and as long as Big Broody doesn’t try to destroy me, I’ll win.”

They both glanced over to where Angel was struggling manfully against the one small hand Darla had placed against his chest. After a shared chuckle, Cordelia nodded.

“That’s part of why we’re here,” she said. “You’re right that you’ll win if you keep fighting. You’ve been right about a lot of things, even if you are Calamity for Heaven and Hell. Which, hey, sort of freaked me out at first, but then Darla helped me get over it. Besides, you’ve always been good with the sneaky yet successful plans.”

“And I did this one while I was being, oh, tortured by the hosts of Hell,” Lilah said with acid irritation. “Get to the point. What are you going to do with Angel?”

“Take him with us,” Cordelia said. “He’s dangerous on the mortal plane, and I kind of hate the idea of Angel in Hell. I think you do, too.”

“You think wrong. I want him a big ash pile,” Lilah said. “But out of my hair’ll do. There’s a war to fight, and if he’ll be useful to you, you’re welcome to him.”

Cordelia chuckled. “You’re so kind,” she said. “We want him. And we want to help you. In fact, Darla and I…and a few others who would be better off left unnamed…are thinking this new crusade? Might lead to better conditions everywhere.”

Lilah got the hint. “So you take our superfluous champion, I continue to wage the war in Hell, the Slayers do the real work in the real world, and you guys will make some trouble in the elsewhere?” she asked. “Could be we have a deal here, Chase.”

“Sounds like we do,” Cordelia said. “Oh, look. Finally.”

Wesley was charging up the hill, with Illyria and Dawn behind him. Lilah smiled at Cordy. “Look, it’s my band of loyal assistants!” she said. “Right on time to watch you take Angel away so I don’t get blamed for him being gone.”

“Always thinking, aren’t you?” Darla asked irritably before turning to the rest. “How nice of you to join us.”

Wesley looked from Lilah to Cordelia to Darla and Angel. Dawn looked appalled at Cordelia’s sparkling cleanliness next to their own ragged states, and Illyria was gazing at Darla with something resembling sheer hatred.

“Interesting time for a trade, isn’t it?” he asked, sitting down next to Lilah.

“His fault,” Lilah replied. “Not mine.”

“I wouldn’t be so certain about that,” Wesley replied, looking at the women that surrounded him. “In a very real way, this is all your fault.”

“And not just in a bad way, either,” Dawn agreed, sitting next to them.

Lilah looked at the knot of people heading their way, and this time, her perennially collected expression had a bit of terror. “And that’s so many forms of wrong,” she said.

“So wrong it’s right, even,” Dawn said. “You ready for it? Cuz I backed you against my sister and my possible girlfriend, so I’d prefer you not be wrong, okay?”

Angel, Darla, and Cordelia were coming, and there wasn’t any more time to wonder if she could do this. She’d put herself in charge of a civil war in Hell; if she failed, there wasn’t going to be anyone else. “Okay,” Lilah said. “I won’t be.”

Cordelia smiled at they joined the group. “Famous last words.”


“And then they took him to heaven,” Dawn said to finish the story, sprawled against Faith’s mattress, sounding a little dazed by the thought. “Once Angel finally understood, he was glad to go with.”

Okay, so that wasn’t exactly true. Angel had been of the opinion that Darla and Cordelia were under some kind of devious spell, or were possibly not Darla and Cordy. Nobody, except maybe Lilah, had taken it personally, because Angel was definitely crazy. But boy, Cordy had gotten hellaciously pissy over that comment and had swelled up with her possibly divine majesty.

Illyria, being a former divinity, had gotten a kick out of that, and Angel found himself outnumbered. So, still suspicious, he had agreed to go, promising to come back if he was needed.

Darla had smirked at Lilah as they left. “Do make sure that doesn’t happen, darling,” she said. “Have a lovely time ruling Hell.”

“Have a good time with the vampire King Lear,” Lilah had countered as she, Cordelia, and Angel walked off and disappeared between one step and the next. Just like in a fairy tale, Dawn thought. Except true.

Faith stared at Dawn, and shook her dark head in surprise. “Christ, Dawnie,” she said. “This is nuts. I mean, I was kind of down with Lilah, crazy anti-destiny person? Even down with her and Wes deciding to tear the mother down in Hell. But Angel? Angel letting the crazy get the better of him and getting dragged off to fight in Heaven?”

“I know,” Dawn said languidly, stretching out. Faith stroked her side with her fingertips. “Buffy’s going to freak.”

“On so many levels,” Faith replied, draping herself over Dawn and looking up with a hopefully salacious glint in her brown eyes. “Are you recovered from the Hell-trauma now? Because once we get to London, we won’t have time for anything, and I think that would be a waste. After all, when I found out you asked for me to come with, I figured you might be– well, plotting a seduction. Or to be seduced.”

Dawn snickered. “You’re such a ho,” she teased, wrestling Faith with tickles. “That’s one of the reasons I dig you. No shame, no pity, just a love of the sex.”

“Look who’s talking, kiddo,” Faith replied, blowing on Dawn’s exposed belly. “You’re so trying to get yours first and deny it was your devious plan all along.”

“I’m greedy and evil like that,” Dawn agreed, brushing her mouth against the top of Faith’s head. “But very flexible at the end of the day.”

Faith chuckled. “Flexible’s good,” she said. “Let’s see how far you bend.”


“Will you tell me the story again someday?” Andrew asked Dana, holding her hand as she finished what she had seen. “I like hearing you tell it.”

“You were here for most of it,” Dana said, winking. He liked her. He liked her and this was good. The angels had told her it was good, big sister had approved. He could be her friend. They needed friends, Andrew and Dana.

“Yeah, but I like when other people tell stories,” he said. “It makes them more dramatic, you know?”

“Dramatic,” Dana said. “Sad. Not dramatic.”

Andrew grinned. “Sad can be dramatic,” he said. “But no more sad tonight. Buffy’s in town, and she’s excited to hear you’re better. So come on. We’ll go get dinner with her.”

Dana shook her head. Too many people made her uncomfortable, and she didn’t want to be uncomfortable. Not when she was almost right in her head, when the songs almost played only in one direction.

“You go,” she said. “I can’t.”

“Are you sure?” Andrew asked.

“Very sure,” Dana said, curling back into the safe corner of her room as he gave her a regretful look and left, closing and locking the door behind him.

Oh, what a dream it had been. All of it, bright and dark and bloody and pure. She’d liked it so much, living in someone else’s head. Hearing thoughts that didn’t crack and reflect, that Dana almost wished she could go back.

But she couldn’t. And there was Andrew. And she would tell him the story again, and he would say the magic words.

Life could be good. Life could be better.

Dana curled up tight and fell asleep, thinking of that possibility.


Hell was a varied and interesting place once one was no longer a prisoner, Lilah decided. Sure, it was much less pleasant than, say, California or a Third World slum, but the people made up for it. She also was no longer sure exactly what constituted Hell; it seemed somehow inappropriate to call the land of the dead that. Shadowlands, as Holland had dubbed it, seemed better.

But she’d think about it later; Wes was finally waking up after a long draught of some healing potion one of the natives had presented her for him when he wouldn’t calm down. They were in the tent she’d taken to using as her headquarters as the leader of the revolution, and he looked at her, at first with confused, uncertain eyes.

“Better?” Lilah finally asked. Wesley nodded. “Good. You look a little more rested now. And see, I’m no longer covered in blood and green goo, so I’m thinking distinct bonus.”

“I’d have to agree,” Wesley said calmly.

“Are you still upset about Angel?” she asked. “Why?”

Wes looked at her quickly, and then glanced away, sighing. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I think it was wrong.”

“Why? Everyone else agreed it was the only way, Wes,” Lilah said, stung. “Is it because he has a dick? Because by my count, he screwed you over hard, lover. He erased your memories and rewrote reality, treated you like a traitor at every opportunity, sent you to die…he brought Hell to Earth, and almost ended any chance of stopping it. Why are you so damned loyal to him? Let me guess — you don’t know.”

Wes set his mouth in a hard, stubborn line. “He was a good man,” was his response.

“Just not a good friend, a good father, or a good champion,” Lilah said waspishly. “And Cordy and Darla have given him a chance to be the hero he could be. So what else is there to say?”

“I dedicated my life to him,” Wesley said. “He was a hero. Don’t you think that possibly, just maybe, it’s hard to accept that I wasted my time with Angel as much as you think I did?”

Lilah bit her lip. “I don’t think you wasted your time,” she said cautiously. “But I also don’t know if I can handle having a partner who spends all his time thinking of me as a bad substitute for Angel.”

“You want me to believe in you,” Wesley said, looking up at the woman who had, while held under potent mind-control spells and put through torture, had managed to undo Hell to fight Wolfram and Hart. And had succeeded in creating an alliance between the three planes, possibly for the first time ever. “I do.”

“Do you blame me for what happened to him?” Lilah asked, looking suddenly quite vulnerable. “Or to you?”

“No, I blame myself,” Wesley said, sparking a retort in Lilah’s eyes. “And before you say a word, I understand you don’t believe I should blame myself. That doesn’t prevent it.”

She nodded, and Wesley was again reminded that this was a remarkable woman, just a little dangerous, and always burning with the emptiness that had come from denying her own destiny the first time. And Wesley understood that better than Lilah knew, and was willing to protect himself — and everyone — from that danger.

This was his penance and his reward; he didn’t deserve Fred or a choir of angels or eternal peace — yet. Instead, he got Lilah, a war that could save the world to lead, and hope that he could, at last, put things right. It seemed, at last, exactly what Wesley deserved.

“I know,” Lilah said at last, setting a hand on Wesley’s shoulder. “But we can only blame ourselves for so long before it gets in the way of better things.”

Wes stood up, things simple for once. He pulled Lilah close and kissed her, surprised at how glad he was that he didn’t push her away or ask about Fred in a low growl, or do anything except wrap her arms around his neck and kiss back.

“This is one of the better things,” Wesley said, his hand on Lilah’s back.

“Yes,” Lilah agreed, resting her head on his shoulder. “It is.”


Angel didn’t like admitting it, but seeing the big picture had cured him, fairly quickly, of most of his conceits. He hadn’t single-handedly undone the universe, nor had he done particularly well by it, for a Champion. More than that, he didn’t accept Connor’s fate. In the back of his head, he still thought there was something more that could have been done. Still could be done.

But he had to admit, what he was seeing was more hopeful than anything he’d felt for years, since before Connor had been taken and set him down the path to near-madness and destruction.

“It’s a new start,” he said, looking at Cordelia, who smiled at him. “They don’t realize it yet, but it’s true.”

“Score one for the guy with fangs,” Cordy replied, linking her arm with his. “Nothing’s easy to see down there. It’s the big plus of being up here. Understanding. Getting to see how it’s not that bad, after all.”

“With the unfortunate negative of not being able to do much,” Darla said crabbily. “Of course, in a revolution in praxis, it’s the symbols that matter. Like the Paris Commune.”

Cordelia, apparently still as historically unaware as most twenty-first century Westerners, nodded cheerfully. Angel grimaced at Darla. “The Commune?” he asked. “Darla, maybe let’s hope for more success than that.”

“We don’t have to be successful for ourselves,” Darla said grimly.

Angel stared at her. Slowly, he nodded. “And we probably won’t be,” he said. “But this time, it’ll matter.”

The three of them turned away from Hell and Earth, and toward the Higher Realms silently, finally resolved.

It was a long fight ahead.