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In which time runs out, desperate long shots are tried, and people find reasons to go on despite the situation.

Hope it's long enough. More coming soon. :)



Chapter Eight: Holding On

For a time there was just pain, and strange, rattling sounds that the part of him that was still aware figured were his own feeble attempts to breathe. In the darkness there was a soft, warm light, just out of reach. It promised to let him out of the pain. Just let go, fall to the light, and no more pain. No more struggle. Peace.

Funny. He’d always thought it would be something less prosaic than a white light.

He’d been here before, in this darkness, with the pain and the light tugging from opposite directions. He’d been dying before. A building exploding, a shot in the gut, a knife to the throat… just the hazards of the job, right? The other times, he’d been alone in the darkness. It had been his will, his need to continue his mission that had kept him holding on while the pain raged and the light beckoned.

This time, he was not alone. There was another there with him, a familiar presence. A warmth both like and unlike the light’s. Less transcendent, more earthy and firm, but just as comforting. Something that he preferred to the thought of eternal peace. A woman’s face was what he held on to, now, and it made resisting the light terribly easy. He had to live. She was waiting for him. Fred.

He was just barely aware of voices, of being moved, of more pain as he was jostled. As the world tipped and turned past his wide, staring eyes he saw her form off beyond the figures on which he could hardly focus. There was something wrong with her. She was wearing some sort of armor and the colors were all wrong, but it was definitely Fred, watching him. She looked concerned, and why shouldn’t she be? He was dying.

He tried to call out to her, to tell her that he’d be alright. He wouldn’t die, not while she was waiting. Nothing but a rattle came out of him. The ceiling began to move by, and suddenly she was there, walking by… the stretcher. That’s what he must be on.

Past the babble and noise, he heard her voice. Wrong again, too low, too harsh, but her voice. It was always beautiful, that voice.

“I am here, Wesley. I will not let you die again, and I will not let them take you. You will not die.

He would have laughed if he could have. He’d tried to reassure her, thinking she needed the comfort, and here she was reassuring him. So typical of her.

Suddenly her face was retreating from him, her expression annoyed. “They will not let me follow. Be strong, Wesley! Do not fall for their tricks!” He tried to reach for her, but she was gone. Shortly after, everything else faded out—pain, noise, awareness. He slept for a time.

His awareness faded in and out for a while. A woman stood over him and offered him papers. He was just able to move enough to give her a rude gesture; had she laughed as she walked out? He wasn’t sure.

Not long after that, he was moved again, a process he was only vaguely aware of. Faces and lights and sounds came in and out of focus. Somewhere along the line, the not-quite-right Fred showed up again, walking beside him. She didn’t speak, but he was aware of her, watching him silently. It was comforting, somehow.

She stayed when the movement stopped, stood at the far end of the room, motionless as people moved in and out. She was there in his dreams too, a silent figure keeping watch over him. He was glad she was there; he never wanted her to leave again. Fred, the reason the world was worth saving. Fred, the reason to stay in the world at all.

Waking fully was a slow process. There was no pain, or at least his awareness of it was dulled. He’d been drifting in and out as it was, as he was moved and different drugs were hooked up to his IV line. It was less like waking up than coming into focus. He came out of dreams into awareness that there were people around, talking, and then sunk back down again. Up and down, each time coming up a little further.

The last bits of focus came together all at once in the final moment of waking. Wesley was on his back on a hospital bed; he was aware enough to realize that he was in a hospital bed. The room was darkened, most of the light coming from a panel behind his head. He didn’t think he’d been in this hospital before; or at least he didn’t recognize the room.

There was a weight on his arm; he sat up to try to see what it was and realized that it was a head of brown hair. Fred. As he moved she stirred and lifted her head, blinking at him. “Oh! You’re awake.” She gave him a smile and his heart thumped. This was why he’d held on.

Wesley smiled back, and tried to talk, but found it difficult. Frustrating. She looked normal now, though, and her voice sounded normal too. Had it just been a dream, her presence before? Had she really been there?

“Shh, don’t try to talk.” Fred’s smile was tempered, he realized, and she held herself stiffly on the chair she sat on. “Your trachea’s damaged… you’re lucky your attacker didn’t sever your carotid entirely. Hell, you’re lucky you were at Wolfram and Hart, they found you so fast.” She sounded disgruntled at that, but of course she would.

Fred reached out to hold his hand and he took it gladly, squeezed the fingers gently. He smiled again, wishing he could tell her how happy he was to see her, how the thought of her had kept him alive. He couldn’t, though, and she was talking again, filling up the silence.

“You’ll be able to talk again, don’t worry. The doctors say it’ll just need time to heal up. You’ll have to be in here a while longer… maybe a week, maybe a little more. Not too bad, I guess.” She hesitated, and bit her lip. “Umm, so… obviously the world’s safe… Gunn got the book… Connor’s… in another dimension…” She shifted nervously, suddenly looking away.

Wesley frowned at Fred sternly, and squeezed her hand firmly. Whatever it was, she didn’t need to keep it from him just because he was in hospital.

Fred sighed, looking back at him. “I don’t want to worry you…” When he squeezed her hand again, harder, insistent, she seemed to draw up her courage. “Holtz showed up. And… there was a fight, and he was gonna let me and Connor go. I think Angel figured I could take him to Pylea myself. And I would’ve, even if I didn’t want to.” That sounded defensive, but she moved on. “And then… there was this demon. Sahjahn. He appeared from nowhere and he wanted Holtz to kill Connor, but Holtz wouldn’t and… he… the demon… opened this portal to this horrible place and said if we didn’t kill the baby he’d use it to destroy the world…”

She was crying now. Frowning, Wesley stroked the back of her hand with his thumb, and just watched her. He hadn’t meant to push her so hard. What on earth had happened?

After a minute or two, she looked up, sniffling. “Angel’s gone, Wesley.” Her voice was almost a whisper. “He jumped through the portal with Connor, and then Sahjahn sealed it up. He said… there’s no way back in.”

Shock settled in quickly. Angel was… gone? That wasn’t possible. Angel was necessary. He was supposed to be there during the Apocalypse. He was a champion of the Powers That Be. He was the driving force behind the team, its soul… he was Wesley’s friend. Wesley would have done nearly anything to protect Angel, to help him. How could he be gone?

Fred must have seen something that frightened her in his face, because she rushed to speak. “Charles got a scroll from Wolfram and Hart. They said it’ll help us get him back. I mean, they want him back too, right? That’s why they let you go. So we could do this spell. Something about the lawyer not wanting her rival to get the credit or… something.”

Wesley heard the words, but couldn’t fully process them. Angel couldn’t be gone. There had to be a portal to this dimension, some way in. When Cordelia had disappeared into Pylea, Wesley had pulled his library apart figuring out how to get her back. Surely it couldn’t be much harder than that. Lorne had contacts, and he could…

Finally, what Fred had said sunk in. He looked at her sharply, let go of her hand and then gestured. He needed to see that scroll from Wolfram and Hart. If they had a way to get Angel back…

Fred seemed to understand what he wanted. She went to a bag on the floor and lifted out a cylindrical leather case. She brought it over and opened it, unrolling the scroll inside and laying it on the bed in front of him. “I can’t make much sense of it, but it’s only partly in Latin, and I’m a little rusty anyhow.”

The scroll was mostly in Gushundi, the demonic language of choice for many spells and rituals. He scanned it and sighed. For the most part, a standard summoning ritual. Perhaps a little different, as the demon in question was somehow not connected to any one specific dimension, but not something that would open any sort of portal. He couldn’t concentrate to translate it much further than that.

“These symbols… they make me wonder.” Fred was peering at the parchment, and pointed out a series of symbols along the edges of the scroll. “They look familiar somehow, but I can’t put my finger on it…”

Wesley tried to talk again and then threw up one hand, the one that didn’t have an IV line in it. How was he supposed to communicate when he couldn’t bloody talk?

“Oh!” Fred went bag to the bag and dug out a pen and paper, brought it to him. He took them with a grateful smile and then began writing.

-Not a portal spell, sorry. Just a summoning spell. For Sahjahn, I’d wager.-

Fred read over his shoulder and frowned. “Well… dammit. Lorne’s out looking… have you ever heard of Quor’toth?” Wesley shook his head, and she went on. “Lorne’s out looking, like I said. Gunn’s watching the hotel, and Cordy’s on her way home. Maybe she’ll have a vision or… something…”

All the fire seemed to have gone out of her. She sat down, deflated and defeated. He had to cheer her up; he wrote on the pad and then showed it to her.

-Thought of you. Dreamed of you. Hallucinated too, maybe. Were you in the garage when they found me?-

Fred read the words and then shook her head. “No… must’ve been the blood loss if you thought you saw me.” She paused, and then smiled. “You thought of me?”

Wesley nodded, and wrote again. -Kept me going.- He hesitated, on the verge of writing because I love you. That wasn’t something he could say, not yet. Even if he felt that way… he was afraid she wouldn’t respond in kind. So instead he wrote, -I would have missed you in heaven.-

He received a brilliant smile for his trouble, and then she leaned down to kiss him gently. Very, very gently, being careful not to get tangled up in IV lines or jostle him or hurt him. As much as he wanted to drag her down to him and kiss her within an inch of her life—and far, far more, that would involve getting rid of the IV lines and the clothing—he responded only gently. His body didn’t really want that right now anyhow, much as his mind craved… well, the contact, more than anything. To know he was really alive and she was really there.

After much too short a time, Fred pulled away. “You should rest,” she said softly. “You need to get better.”

Wesley frowned. Hadn’t he just been resting, for a long while? But Fred was moving to collect the scroll. “I need to eat… and really… the nurse said to tell her as soon as you woke up, but I wanted some time with you.” She smiled at him, sheepishly, and he couldn’t help but smile back. “I’ll be back soon, okay? I’ll send the nurse in.”

She leaned down to kiss his forehead and he reached up to stroke her cheek. He mouthed words at her: ‘Don’t leave. Please.’ She just smiled. “I won’t be long. I promise. Rest.”

He couldn’t stop her; she left, closing the door gently behind her. Soon after a nurse came in, and it was time to get vitals and find out what he could eat with the injury, and lectures to be careful because he was still in danger of infection or re-opening the wound.

The whole time, Wesley thought of nothing but Fred.

***

Cordelia had been out dancing with Groo when the call came in. The Pylean was a surprisingly good dancer, once she’d shown him the moves; then again, he was as dextrous as he was strong, a fact that had many other benefits besides dancing.

When they returned to the hotel the concierge had a message at the desk. It was from Lorne: Trouble with Angel. Return ASAP. She tried calling and got no answer. She wasted no time in getting packed and returning home. Groo seemed to understand: trouble with Angel probably meant trouble with the whole group, and they’d need her.

The hotel seemed deserted when they arrived. Fear gripped Cordelia for a moment. Had they come back too late?

“Hello? Anyone here?”

It was a long moment before Gunn emerged from Wesley’s office, looking somber. “Hey, Cordelia, Groo.”

Cordelia dropped her packages and hurried down the few stairs from the landing down to the main floor of the lobby. “Oh, my God. Gunn, what happened? Where is everybody? Lorne left a message…”

“I know, I know. Just… a lot’s happened.” Gunn rubbed a hand across his head. “Okay, well, first of all, Wesley’s in the hospital. Some flunkie of Holtz’s slit his throat.”

“Is he okay?” A slow clenching feeling had begun in Cordelia’s gut. If that was the first thing, what else might have happened? Where was Angel?

“He’s… doing okay, I guess. Not out of the woods yet. Fred’s with him.”

Cordelia nodded. That was only to be expected; she was an expert matchmaker, after all. As Groo came up next to her and put an arm around her shoulders, sympathetically, she smiled back at him, then looked to Gunn. “Alright, what else?”

“Well… there was this prophecy, about Connor. That the world would end if we didn’t get him away, to another dimension.”

“Right, and the world’s still here, so you guys got him away, right?”

Gunn hesitated. “Sort of. Look, Cordelia, Angel…” He took a deep breath. “I guess there was this rip in space, to some awful hell dimension. Demon said he’d destroy everything if they didn’t kill Connor. And Angel jumped through, with Connor, to save everything. And… there’s no way back, and there’s no way in. I got a scroll from Lilah the Bitch Queen, but Wes says it’s just a summoning spell for the guy who made the portal.”

There was a rushing in Cordelia’s ears; she’d hardly heard anything after there’s no way back. Angel was gone. He was in some hell dimension somewhere. She’d expected to come home and find him there, with Connor, like always. Even when he’d fired them, even when he’d been at his lowest and walked away from them, he’d still been out there. She’d never doubted that if she wanted to she could go to him; she’d just been so pissed off she didn’t want to have anything to do with him.

But gone? And Connor too? That sweet baby she’d held and cooed at and loved like he was her own? Gone, forever? For a moment the entire world tipped and whirled, nothing made sense. It felt like when she’d watched Doyle die, except worse, because she knew Angel better and she was closer and there wasn’t any time to prepare. How could he be gone?

She was vaguely aware of Gunn and Groo talking through this. Groo: “Then we summon the demon, and make it tell us how to get in.”

Gunn: “Not that simple. Demon said the portal can only be opened once, and Lorne’s sources say the same.”

Groo: “Then we summon it and cut off its head in revenge for the fallen hero!” He turned her a little, putting a hand on her shoulder. “We will avenge him, princess, have no fear. Princess?”

Suddenly, Cordelia was aware she’d just been silently staring this whole time. What the hell was she doing? She was Cordelia Chase. She shouldn’t be standing around like this, she should be doing something. She wasn’t just going to give up while her friend was stuck in hell.

“We’re not gonna avenge him, Groo,” Cordelia stated firmly. “We’re going to get him back. No, Gunn, I don’t care what some demon says. I’m part demon now, too. We’ll figure something out. Hell, I’ll use that scroll from Wolfram & Hart if I have to. You guys pulled me out of a hell dimension once… how hard can it be?”

***

Time, Fred thought, was a funny thing. There was either too much of it or not enough; the psychological perception of the passage of time couldn’t actually be the way time really passed—relativity practically guaranteed this—but nonetheless, when things were going well time passed quickly, and the bad times passed slowly. Unless, of course, you were desperately searching for a way to save people from a hell dimension.

The next week seemed to slip by more quickly than any week in Fred’s memory. Her time with Wesley (who was still in the hospital) was too short, and too much time spent on trying to find a way to save Angel and Connor for the amount of progress they made. Wesley was having a rough time translating the scroll, every lead Lorne tracked down lead to dead ends, and Cordelia kept having visions that kept her and Groo and Gunn busy.

Fred felt useless. She’d combed through book after book but she couldn’t read any of the demon languages. What she could read she mostly understood, but nothing pointed in any of the right directions. Nothing about Quor’toth. Nothing she could find about opening portals without already knowing some sort of spell. That was deep, dark magic, being able to open portals whenever you wanted. Nothing they had books on. But she had to keep digging.

She wondered about how time might pass in a hell dimension. Faster, slower? When they found Angel and Connor (when, not if, never if!) would seconds have passed or decades? She’d decided that time would most likely pass faster in Quor’toth. That would spread out the pain and misery; it made sense in a twisted sort of way. The thought only spurred her to try to work faster. If she was right, Connor was growing up in hell, and they had to get him out of there. She didn’t share this with anyone else, of course. They had enough on their minds.

The hours she spent with Wesley in the hospital were the best part of that time. Even when they were sitting separately, it was nice, homey, comfortable. Well, as comfortable as things could be with all the tubing in the way. She’d been so scared when she’d first seen him on that hospital bed, and so happy when he’d woken up. She’d catch herself fantasizing when she ought to be researching, about everything they could do when she got him back home. It felt wrong, somehow, to grab onto that bit of happiness when Angel was in such misery. She couldn’t help it, though. The way he’d look at her, blue eyes lighting up like her mere presence made his day better; the way his hair curled at his temples—and then she’d cut herself off, or try to. She had too many things to focus on to be mooning over a man!

She let herself think about it when she was in her room at the hotel at night. Think about Wesley, about his eyes and his hair, about his voice. The way he’d pick out all the syllables in a word sometimes when he was being precise, the subtle catch when he was twisting words in his dry, sarcastic humor. He’d quirk little smiles sometimes, when he thought people didn’t see; the things he thought were amusing were evidently myriad and varied. And his hands… long-fingered and nimble, so delicate with the pages of ancient books, so strong when flexed around the hilt of a sword. She wanted to feel those hands on her body again, and the thought of that, of the way it felt, his hands sliding down her legs, under her shirt… it kept her occupied, for a little while.

Try as she might, though, those thoughts didn’t carry over into her dreams. The time she was asleep was the one time that seemed to stretch forever. When she wasn’t having nightmares about Quor’toth, about what Angel and Connor might be going through, she was dreaming about falling through portals. The quaking and shaking, the feeling like the world was falling away and you’d never have your feet on the ground again. She dreamed of Pylea, of being cooped up in a little cave again. She’d dream that Angel never came and rescued her and the Pyleans had killed and eaten her; she’d watch the whole thing, watch them pick her carcass clean. She’d had those dreams before, when she’d first come back from Pylea, but they’d ended months ago. It was all she could do to keep from holing herself up in her room again.

That would segue into the other dream, the one that was the same every time. Every night, the last dream, of dying in heat and pain, of organs liquefying, her body hollowed out by a fire that started in her chest. Right before she woke, just silence and black, and creeping terror, knowledge of… something. The only way she could put words to it were things from Lovecraft, knowledge of things that should not be. Every morning, that was how she woke, gasping in terror, both trying to forget the nightmare and trying to grasp whatever it was she’d known in those moments before waking.

She thought of sleeping somewhere else, wondering if the little room was driving her back into that horrible time when she’d built herself a tower to be saved from. The hospital was uncomfortable, though, and Cordelia didn’t need a roommate when she had Groo. And Wesley’s… Fred couldn’t go back there. She’d sent Lorne every time Wesley needed something. She couldn’t face the overturned furniture and the broken bits of glass. It was too strong a reminder of all they were in danger of losing.

So the week slipped away, and only the time she slept passed slowly. The nights were an eternity and the days zoomed by and relativity would have laughed at Fred, if relativity had consciousness. Sometimes she wondered. There were funny moments, though, like the time a nurse commented to Wesley about his “fiancee.” He gave her a strange look after the nurse left and wrote something on his pad.

-What was that? Fiancee? Am I getting married and I didn’t realize?-

Fred blushed. “Well, when you came in I told them we were engaged. I was worried they wouldn’t let me see you otherwise, and that way I’m sort of next of kin in case any decisions needed to be made…” She was babbling, and she knew it. “I’m sorry, it just, it was a crisis and nobody’d believe Gunn was your brother…”

Wesley was smiling. He waved a hand and gestured her down, then kissed her on the forehead. She knew that meant he was mostly teasing, and settled in to more research.

Eight days after Connor and Angel had disappeared through the portal to Quor’toth, Wesley was let out of the hospital. Fred took him back to the hotel first, lugging a box full of his things. She set it down on the desk with an “oof” and turned to smile at him. “There we go. All settled.”

“You really didn’t have to do that.” He was talking, if only a little, and carefully.

“You’re injured. Vocal chords and you’ve still got the slice on your stomach.” Fred frowned as Wesley waved a hand. “It’s still healing. You need to take it easy. Doctor’s orders.”

“Wesley! Crumpet!” Lorne came through the door, grinning. “Finally back, huh? Can he talk yet?” he asked aside to Fred. “I don’t want to put him on the spot.”

“I can talk, a little,” Wesley replied. “It’s good to see you. Where are…”

“They’re out fighting the evil. They go deal with Cordelia’s visions, I stay here and mind the fort, and Fredikins keeps you happy; works out for everyone.” Lorne smiled, but this time it was tinged with a faint sadness. “They’ll probably be covered in demon guck when they get back. Cordelia seemed pretty disgusted by the vision.”

“Lovely,” Wesley said dryly, and then stood a moment staring around the room. Then he shook himself and disappeared out into the other room; Fred could hear the clink of glass that meant he was probably making tea.

“How is he, really?” Lorne kept his voice down and looked out the double doors to the area behind the desk, watching Wesley.

“He’s… alright. He needs to go easy but physically he’ll be okay. Mentally…” Fred sighed. “Pretty much like all of us. Tired, worried, stretched thin. If we don’t find something soon…”

“I know, crumbcake.” Lorne sighed. “I’ve never felt so useless.”

“Me either,” Fred mumbled.

Before they could say any more the doors out in the lobby opened. “We are victorious!” That was Groo, definitely. Fred walked out into the lobby to see him holding a demon’s head; Gunn was grabbing up a rag to clean off his axe and Cordelia was wrinkling her nose at the head.

“Really, Groo? Do we have to keep the trophies? It’s bad enough to get this stuff all over us without you tracking extra all over the place.”

Fred watched Cordelia closely, with a frown. The other woman had been more and more agitated over the week, and especially short with Groo. She had several thoughts as to why, but she’d pretty much stayed out of it. Everyone’s tempers were frayed.

“It is the custom, Princess. The trophies are a reminder of our past battles, to give us inspiration in defeating our next foes.”

Cordelia went to sit on the circular couch in the middle of the room. “I’ve got all the inspiration I need.” She tapped her forehead. “I don’t know why you Pyleans need extra…”

Pylea. Why hadn’t she realized it before? Fred turned to rush into the office and started digging into the box that had come back from the hospital.

Lorne followed, frowning. “Fred? What is it?”

“Why didn’t I see it? These symbols…” She held up the scroll and pointed to it. “I know where I’ve seen them before. The Wolfram and Hart books, in Pylea.”

Wesley came back into the office, his eyes lighting up. “Yes, of course!” He moved to take the scroll from her. “It’s not in triptych, but… pentatrych. Five different places, all around the scroll.” He pointed to each one. “You jump from one to the other…”

The other three had come to the office door now; the place was starting to feel crowded. “Well, Wes?” Gunn was trying to get a look at the scroll. “Did my visit to the den of evil actually get us something useful?”

“I think so. Summoning, definitely…” Wesley’s face fell. “Oh, no. It’s…” He looked up. “It summons demons to fetch someone for the Senior Partners. Someone they have a… trace on.”

“Angel,” Cordelia breathed. “To bring him back, so he’ll work on their side.”

Silence. They all just stared at each other, and Fred knew the same thing was going through everyone’s heads: could they risk this?

“We can’t do it.” Gunn folded his arms across his chest. “There’s got to be another way.”

“We’ve looked everywhere else!” Cordelia glared at Gunn. “I’m sure Wesley can modify it or something, or we can track them down and bring him back.”

“How can we trust Lilah?”

“You trusted her, you brought the scroll back.”

“I was trying to save Wesley!”

The two were almost in each other’s faces. Lorne raised his hands and Fred stepped in to try and pry them apart. “Stop it! We can’t fight right now, we’ve got to… we’ve got to think about this.”

Wesley looked back at the scroll. “We can track them,” he said, “and they have to… go after their prey. Angel might be able to get away and come through the portal.”

There was really no other choice. Gunn sighed and shrugged, and said, “Fine. Let’s do it, then. Where do we go?”

“My flat,” Wesley replied. “Where the portal opened.”

“Home turf.” Gunn nodded. “Well…” He looked to Groo. “Might as well get armed up. We’re gonna need it if we have to track down demon hound dogs.”

As the two went off, with Gunn explaining to Groo what “hound dogs” were, Cordelia turned to Wesley. “You really think this will work?” The strain in her voice mirrored Fred’s own feelings, the catch of desperation.

“I hope so.” Wesley didn’t say any more, but his expression said it for him. His jaw was clenched and his brow furrowed, an expression of worry and determination.

“We have to get him back,” Cordelia said softly, and the rest of them nodded. They might be delivering Angel into the hands of the enemy, but what choice did they have? They were running out of options, and running out of time.

***

Within a few hours they’d collected the materials they’d need. It was a complex spell, but Wesley had a lot on hand. What they didn’t have they sent Lorne out to pick up; when he came back he was carrying a shopping bag and a bruise on his cheek. “Don’t ask,” he said, and they left it at that.

Fred and Cordelia had spent the hours cleaning up Wesley’s living room. He’d taken one look at the place and made a comment about laziness. The hurt look Fred gave him made him regret the comment immediately. He was feeling defensive and worried, but he shouldn’t take it out on her.

Wesley, for his, part, memorized the spell while the others gathered and prepared. If he was being honest with himself, he wasn’t sure he could pull it off. Even if he did he wasn’t sure it would work. Who knew what those lawyers might do? Lilah might be playing with them somehow. Worst, he was worried the beasts would simply grab Angel and take him back to Wolfram and Hart and they’d never find him.

Wesley said nothing about any of this; no need to worry the others. They had to take the chance they had. It was this, or condemn Angel and Connor to hell, hoping the Powers might see fit to bring their champion back someday. So he steeled himself internally and studied the spell as well as he could, given the way the pentatrych jumped around.

Finally the living room was mostly cleaned, the materials were gathered, and candles lit. Groo stood to one side, armed, waiting in case something jumped through whatever portal they might open. Wesley, Lorne, Fred, Gunn and Cordelia sat at the points of a pentagram marked out with sand on Wesley’s living room floor (his couch moved for the time being.) They, too, had weapons nearby, just in case.

“Are you ready?” Wesley looked around at the others. Each held a reagent that had to go into the central pentagon at the right moment. They all nodded, and he cleared his throat, then grimaced. This much talking, and in a demon tongue he hadn’t practiced in some time, would be hell on his vocal chords. But… he had to do it. Everything rode on him, now.

Wesley began to recite the spell. The language was strange and alien, and he could see the reactions on the other’s faces, the mixture of fascination and fear. He ignored it, though, and pushed on. They had built a fire in the center, in a large bowl. At times he gestured, and one by one the others placed their reagents in the fire.

First came standard ritual ingredients, bits of demons, strange spices. The next round brought personal items to tie the trackers to the people they were to find: one of Connor’s blankets, one of Angel’s shirts, a drawing they’d found in Angel’s apartment of Cordelia holding Connor, and a bit of leather from the hilt of Angel’s favorite sword. Then, to attract the prey to the trackers, some of Connor’s formula and drops of blood from each person in the circle. They’d debated pig’s blood or human blood, but they had decided human blood would be more potent, and the blood of friends most potent of all.

Wesley’s throat hurt from talking, and his eyes burned from the smoke. He worried that any minute his fire alarm would be tripped. Somehow, he got through. As he spoke the final words there was a great flash of light. The fire blazed up, hot and strong, there was a sound like tearing and screaming… and then, silence.

“Did it work?” Fred whispered.

As the smoke cleared, Wesley looked around. Nothing seemed different, except the charred remains of the bowl. “I… don’t know,” he replied.

They all just sat there for a few minutes, waiting. When nothing more happened, Cordelia sighed. “Well… maybe they’re off in Quor’toth.”

“Yeah,” Gunn said, “maybe…”

Wesley shook his head, finally. “We should have seen them, or a glimpse of Angel… the spell is supposed to keep its caster informed of the beasts’ progress.” He paused. “I don’t think it worked.”

The energy in the room seemed to go flat. It was late, now, and nobody wanted to talk about what to do now. They just picked everything up quietly, murmuring to each other. No one gave the others platitudes, no one tried to cheer everyone else up. It was a somber group that stood in the living room when they were ready to leave.

Cordelia looked around with a frown and then said, “If Angel and Connor are really gone… then… they’re gone.” There was a hitch in her voice, but she continued. “We have to keep helping the helpless. We’re not going to give up.” She glared around at everyone else. “I expect to see you all at work tomorrow; some of you have been slacking off. Yeah, yeah, I know, you had a good reason. But… either the thing worked or it didn’t. Now we’ve got to help the people here.”

“It’s what Angel would want,” Fred put in.

Wesley thought they sounded like people at a funeral, but he just nodded along with the others. Arguing with Cordelia would be pointless, right now. And she was right, too.

Everyone but Fred left, and Wesley settled himself down on the couch. He could feel a terrible depression settling over him, a weight on his shoulders and a tightness in his chest. He’d failed. His friend had needed him, the world had needed him, and he’d failed. How could Fred stand to look at him?

She stood there a moment, peering down at him, and then settled on the couch next to him. “You okay?”

Wesley shook his head. “I failed.” He repeated the words that had been in his head, and they hurt more now, out in the open.

“You didn’t fail, Wes. Maybe it worked. And I know you don’t think so, okay, but… you tried. Angel knows we’d all try as hard as we can. He wouldn’t be mad.”

“It isn’t just Angel, Fred. It’s… Angel is necessary. The world needed me to do this right, and I failed.”

“Maybe it wasn’t you. Maybe it was one of us. Or the thing never was gonna work anyhow.”

“Then I should have known. I’m just… a failure. I shouldn’t be in charge anymore.” His throat hurt still, he was talking too much, but he had to say it; it was like poison being drawn out of him.

“Don’t be stupid. We need you now more than ever. You’re the boss. You’ve got to keep things together.”

“But… without Angel… how can we…”

Fred cut him off, putting a finger to his lips. “I love you.”

Shock coursed through Wesley’s system and the weight lifted, though the tightness remained. “What?” he whispered.

“I love you,” she repeated. “You’re a good man, and you tried everything you could. You’re not a failure. I wouldn’t love a failure.” Her mouth was twisted into a bit of a grin.

Wesley couldn’t tear his eyes away from her face. Her eyes were wide, the pupils dilated, and somehow he knew she was telling the truth. He moved her hand from his lips and leaned forward to kiss her. Then, he whispered, “I love you too.”

She kissed him back, and the tightness in his chest melted away. Kisses were soon joined by hands, roaming each other’s bodies, pulling off clothing. The pain of failure disappeared, replaced by smooth skin and brown hair, soft sighs and gasped moans. They made love without speaking, too enthralled in each other, too desperate to forget their despair and remember why they needed to keep going. Somewhere along the way they abandoned the couch for the floor, and laughed, and kept going.

There was a moment, as Fred’s head tilted back, eyes closed and throat corded, looking as if she were in pain but gasping with pleasure, hair strewn over his carpet like strands of dark copper, that Wesley felt something deep inside him just give in entirely. He was in love with her, and she was in love with him, and there would never, ever be anyone else. She was the mission now, and he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, however long that was. And then thought fled, and there was only Fred, and him, together as one.

***

It had been years since Fred had made love to anyone, since before Pylea. She’d forgotten the warm afterglow, the way her head would fit perfectly into the crook of his shoulder. It was soon too cold in the living room to lie there, so they got up and went to his bedroom. Wesley surprised her by sweeping her up and carrying her; she giggled and he smiled and finally laughed, and they were still laughing as they fell into his bed and climbed under the covers.

They talked for a little while, resting together. Fred felt more content than she had in years. Despite the worry and pain, she was happy, and she couldn’t manage to feel guilty about that. Angel would want them to be happy. They talked of nothing in particular, pillow-talk, and it felt right.

In a little while Fred’s hands, which had been gently stroking Wesley’s chest, started moving elsewhere. “Fred,” he murmured, “I thought I was supposed to take it easy.”

Fred giggled. “This is taking it easy. You’re lying down, aren’t you?” He tried to grab her wrists but she struggled a bit, and they laughed, and soon they were doing it all over again but this time with laughter and smiles, twisting up his sheets and tossing the pillows aside.

After that time, they didn’t talk. They just laid there together, and after a little while Fred turned on her side and Wesley spooned up with her. Fred felt herself drifting off to sleep, and felt no need to try and delay the process. She was happy, terribly happy, and if she had bad dreams she’d wake in her lover’s arms and all would be well.

She dreamed of only happy things that night, though. Wesley, mostly, but also her family and friends. Better times, happy times, when the world had been less complicated. It was one night that she didn’t mind lasting forever.

***

Out in the living room, there was a flick of light along one wall. A crack appeared, and then grew, glowing, pulsing. A soft whisper of sound stole through the room and did not wake the sleeping lovers in the other room. More cracks, and then a hole, and then something stepped through the hole… something intent on its prey, something that could pick out the smells of the sleepers from the jumble of other scents in this strange new world.

The spell had worked. But in the bedroom, Fred and Wesley slept on, unaware.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
crazy_catlady
Feb. 27th, 2011 06:19 pm (UTC)
Aw, damn. I knew you were going to leave it like that. It's going good. Post more soon, please!
chaosattractor
Feb. 28th, 2011 11:10 am (UTC)
Already working on Chapter 9. :) There'll be Connor in it, no worries, and I've been looking forward to writing him so I'm super-excited about it and writing lots. :)
crazy_catlady
Feb. 28th, 2011 09:24 pm (UTC)
Yay.
skijg
Apr. 26th, 2011 02:08 am (UTC)
I just wanted to comment to say how very much I'm enjoying this story. I can't wait to see how things start to change once Connor (and Angel?) return.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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About This Journal

This is a fanfic series based on "Angel: the Series."

Rating: PG-13

Pairings: Wesley/Fred, Wesley/Illyria, Cordelia/Angel (thus far)

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