Gunn woke up, in a perfectly ordinary-feeling hospital bed, with a....creature sitting on the hard plastic bucket chair down at the foot. He was glad it was that far away. In all his time -- first on the streets, then working for Angel, then at Wolfram & Hart -- he'd seen a lot of....things. But never anything quite like this. He didn't know if it was beautiful or repulsive, alluring or horrifying. Or both.
The creature seemed, somehow, to be a little bored -- if it were human it probably would have been leafing through an old tattered magazine -- but when he opened his eyes, it leaned forward. Gunn froze, but it seemed to be waiting for him to speak.
"Whoever -- whatever -- you are," he said finally, "I know I....died. I'm done making deals. So if this is some big windup to the pitch about how I can have my life back -- "
The creature was shaking its head -- at least, what looked like its head. "Oh, no, no no no," it said, in perfectly clear English. "I'm not with your former employers."
Gunn sat up, puzzled at the way nothing hurt. He looked down at himself. No blood, no wounds, not even a bruise. The hospital bed wasn't in a hospital room -- there was no IV, no call button, no ugly paint job on the walls. No walls. He eyed the creature warily. "We're not in that....White Room, are we?" Wolfram & Hart's LA branch had gone down; he knew it had. They'd pulled it down on their own heads, like Samson.
Now the creature laughed, a clear regular sound of amusement, very strange coming from its....orifices. "Do I look like the conduit to you?"
Gunn shrugged, watching it closely. "First it was a little girl. Then it was a big cat. Then it was me. Why not...." He tried to be polite. "....you?"
"Fair enough. Let me show you something." The creature stood up. There was no more chair, no more hospital bed, no more not-there-hospital-room. Gunn looked down at himself and realized he was wearing a very smart, very familiar suit. He swallowed.
"Not the White Room....right. I told you. Not interested in deals. Not anymore."
The creature shook its "head," patiently, plumage sweeping back and forth. "Who am I, Monty Hall? No deals. It's....a gift. A friend of yours petitioned for it."
"A frie -- but who -- " Gunn looked up sharply. "Cordelia?" It was his best guess, but the creature said nothing. " -- Wait. Petitioned how? To what?"
The creature seemed less confident for the first time since Gunn had woken up. "What if I told you it doesn't help?" it said finally. "What would you do if you found out that none of it matters? That it's all controlled by forces more powerful and uncaring than we can conceive, and they will never let it get better down here. What would you do?"
Gunn stared at it, fists tightening by his sides. "Don't play with me," he warned.
"The wolf, the ram and the hart have nothing to do with this," the creature said seriously. "Your friend is not with them."
Gunn relaxed, letting out the breath he hadn't realized was caught in his chest. "Really," he said, skeptical, but unable to hide his relief. "She earning her wings up there, or what?"
If the creature had been human, the expression on its "face" would have been a smile. "Or what," it agreed.
Gunn stared at it, wary again. "This isn't real, is it."
The creature shrugged -- a real, recognizable shrug, sending some tentacles in very odd directions. "No more and no less real than what you were accustomed to."
They were walking along a dark back alley, close to the water; Gunn couldn't hear it but he could smell the sharp salt tang mixed with the exhaust and garbage and smoke. The moon was a thin dirty dime in the sky, hidden periodically by raggedy trailing wisps of dark clouds. "Yeah, I caught this Twilight Zone in the reruns. Don't think so. But thanks anyw...." His words died in his throat as they rounded a corner and he saw his truck. "Hey!" he said, purely delighted for a minute, all defenses down. "My girl! But -- " He looked at the creature again, which appeared to be strolling alongside him, improbable as that was anatomically. "She real too? -- 'No more and no less'?"
"She's been restored," the creature told him. "Like you."
Gunn stood just looking for a little while, his eyes going over the truck as if he were caressing it with his hands. Finally he said, "Is she the only one who's been -- restored?"
The creature's voice was wistful, restrained. "There are....limits," it said.
Gunn nodded, expression guarded again. "Thought so. Never hurts to ask, right?" Then he looked back at his truck, his face relaxing a little. "So I get three wishes?"
"No. Just a second chance."
Gunn smiled, still looking at the truck. "Two of a kind beats dead in the rain." He glanced back at the creature. "Thanks -- I mean -- can you tell her thanks?"
The creature hesitated. "I'll try to deliver the message."
Gunn nodded, appreciating its honesty. "All right then." He started towards the truck, then turned, curious. "Where do I go? What's out there?"
The creature smiled; even given all its strange, feathery, rippling tendrils and multiple eyes, that was plain. It was a tender, even indulgent, smile. "Go find out, Charles Gunn."
"Wait!" he called after it. "What -- who are you? What's your name? How did you -- "
It turned back from rising up like a rocket launch, hovering over him, its eyes glowing and yet gentle, its multitude of wings softly and quickly beating, like a thousand flocks of birds landing. "I am Merkabah," it called to him, its voice ringing out against the tar and cement and stone and bricks. "Merkabah!" Gunn raised his arms to shield his face uselessly -- for a moment all he could see was fire -- but it was gone.
He looked around him stupidly. Alley, check; LA, check; suit, check -- his hand went automatically to his back pants pocket, and he smiled feeling the familiar shape of his wallet. "I better have enough for breakfast, 'cause I'm hungry," he said aloud. Pancakes and sausages and bacon and orange juice. For some reason it felt like a very long time since he had had any of those things. Probably, he guessed, because it had been. "Do I have to hotwire this honey?" he asked, looking up a little bit.
But the keys were in the ignition.
"And the cherubims spread out their wings on high, and covered with their wings over the mercy seat, with their faces one to another; even to the mercy seatward were the faces of the cherubims." -- Ezekiel 37:9