"Oh Charles! He's burning up!" Fred cried. Fred rested her hand on Wesley's forehead. He felt like a furnace.
But that didn't frighten Gunn. What really frightened him was that Wesley's eyes were staring sightlessly out at nothing. He was barely breathing now, and although the convulsions had stopped, this eerie stillness was something worse. Was he in a coma? Or was he already brain-dead?
"J-Bob's gone to call the ambulance," Lisle huffed, running to his side. "Oh man. Gosh he looks-"
"Don't say it," Gunn snapped. "Come on, man. Come on English! Wake up!" he shook Wesley, but the man didn't even bat an eyelash or twitch a muscle. Gunn was tempted to slap him awake, but he didn't -- maybe Wes had some kinda brain seizure, so who knew what damage that could do to him?
After Wesley began talking freaky and burnt the Gurnaks like two piñatas on fire, he had looked at Connor for a long time, still as a statue. Eventually, that freaked Connor out enough to begin shaking him up again, and that was when all of them snapped out of their shock and ran towards the two -- burning Gurnaks or not.
Then, bam! Wesley dropped like a stone on the floor, his eyes rolled up into his head. That had frightened Fred so much that she began to cry in earnest and J-Bob began saying something about a heart attack.
And then things got worse when Wesley started convulsing. They tried to hold him down -- Gunn yelled for J-Bob to go call someone for goodness sakes -- and try to keep his head from smashing on the floor. It was hard to hold him down. The guy was so strong. Then the convulsions passed and Wesley opened his eyes. Only he wasn't really there. There was nothing behind his eyes.
"Maybe he fried a circuit," Lisle said.
Gunn threw her a dirty look. She shut up immediately.
"Is he taking drugs?" That was Anne. She must've come down.
"Hell, I don't know what he has been doing for the past few months. Steven?" he turned to regard the teenager.
Connor shook his head. "I don't know. What are drugs?"
Gunn sighed in frustration.
Wesley was still catatonic. His eyes were staring at them unblinkingly, his mouth slack.
It was then that Gunn realised that they had a near-expert on all things supernatural in the lobby. "Lorne!" he yelled.
Lorne walked cautiously to Wesley's side, staring down at him anxiously.
"What's going on, Lorne? What's wrong with him?" Gunn demanded.
Fred took Wesley's hand in hers and looked at Lorne with fear-filled eyes.
"I saw ... I mean, I saw..." Lorne visibly collected himself and began again. "Elemental magic. He was using Elemental magic."
"And that's bad?" Gunn prompted.
"Oh yeah," he said, nodding his head vigorously. "It's not only bad, it's nuts."
"Is this why he's-" she looked at Wesley's slack face, gulping hard.
Lorne knelt down. "I think so. No one can handle Elemental magic. Not even the strongest witch. It's like drinking juiced up water spiked with LSD and cocaine and whatever drugs you guys have here. It may take them longer to die, but eventually they will die. Normal humans like Wesley on the other hand ..." he trailed off.
"No one's dying!" Fred yelled. "He just got back!" Her mouth thinned to a determined line.
"Don't worry sweetie," Lorne said quickly. "Saw something back there. He's got a future alright. Not a future I'd like anyone to have, but he's got one."
"Okay, so what can we do?" Gunn asked, his voice tense.
Lorne shook his head and sighed heavily. "Nothing. I'm sorry...I'm no healer. I don't even know if a witch doctor could help him now."
The group was stunned to silence. Then, Fred shook her head and said, "We don't say never in Angel Investigations, remember? What was it that Angel once told Wes? We're not in the business of giving up on people? We got Connor back from a hell dimension-" she shot Connor a discreet look, "-so we can bring Wesley back too."
Lorne was about to answer when a blood-curdling scream smashed his thoughts to a million pieces. They whirled around to see the female Gurnak standing at the doorway. She was shaking visibly, holding her swollen belly.
"Junior's coming soon!" she yelled, her yellow eyes wide. She raised a shaking hand to her mouth as if to stifle a scream. Then she whimpered. "Please ... please help me!"
"Er guys? Why isn't she happy-lookin'?" J-Bob asked.
"Oh-oh," Lorne said in response. At the same time he started to back away.
"Oh-Oh? What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Gunn snapped.
Everyone rose to their feet and stared as the female Gurnak began to stumble down the stairs towards them, arms outstretched.
"I need the sacrifice! I need the sacrifice!" she screamed, her yellow eyes wide with terror. "Please! He needs to eat!"
"Annie," Gunn called, reaching out to pull her to his side. She took his hand and hid behind his back while J-Bob and Lisle formed a protective circle around her. Together, they started to back away.
"No. No!" the Female Gurnak cried, clutching her belly. She doubled over and landed on her knees groaning. The groaning turned to shrieks as she clutched her stomach convulsively, digging her fingers into belly as if trying to rip out whatever thing that was in there.
J-Bob winced. "Oh gross. I've not even seen human childbirth. I'm not sure whether-"
"Oh tough guy, you wouldn't want to see this. Not in a million centuries," Lorne said. "Gurnak births are messy and did I tell you-"
The female Gurnak's eyes screams turned desperate as she fell to the floor, rolling on the ground in agony. Then an ear-piercing shriek forced them to cover their ears. It ended abruptly when she toppled to her side, still.
"That wasn't so bad," Lisle said with an audible sigh of relief.
The female Gurnak's body jerked. They jumped.
"As I was saying, Gurnak births can get a little dangerous for everyone," Lorne said, swallowing.
The female Gurnak began to slowly fold in half. "Oh-oh," Lorne said, then, looking at Gunn. "Take cover."
This time the body convulsed in earnest, legs and arms flopping wildly around. "Or rather, take weapons. Now," Lorne said, reaching for a fallen sword.
As one, the group scrambled for their weapons. But they couldn't help but watch in horror as the body on the ground began to contort into impossible shapes. The leg jerked right up to the female's head then folded into two. The head followed, twisting all the way round, Linda Blair, Exorcist style.
"Euw," Fred said quietly.
With a sharp snap, the spine snapped and the body folded in half. "Euw," J-Bob and Lisle said together with a wince.
More crunching noises followed as the limbs began to break and fold. "Junior's reeeaaallly hungry," Lorne muttered.
Without warning, the body disappeared in an explosion of fat, yellow tentacles.
He was so hungry.
"So, Joe was telling me about his assignment, and how he got it from Laura, you know, that med student?"
"No way? She's dealing in exam papers?"
"Way," said the woman. "Wait 'til the dean finds out, she'll be so expelled."
He was shivering with it now. As the two women approached the pier, Angel found the demon taking over, the fangs coming out. Gotta eat.
"So, what else have you been doing?" asked the other woman.
"Cheerleading tryouts, boring stuff."
Blood is not boring. He could smell it boiling beneath their skins.
"Hey ... is that a ... guy?" the Brunette frowned and leaned forward, staring at the tarp he hid under.
It took him a moment to realise that they were talking about him. He tried to sink back into the darkness, but he had no will to do so. He was just so hungry. It drove him mad with it. Cautiously, he looked up, staring at the throbbing jugulars at their necks. He licked his lips. The moment he realised that he did that, he wrung his hands in despair. Somehow it was important for him not to give in, but he barely remembered why.
The demon retreated.
"Hey," said the blonde. The cheerleader. "You okay?" She scrunched her forehead together. She looked cute that way.
"Hey, he's all wet. And ... damn, he's..." she wrinkled her nose. "He smells like seaweed. You think he fell from a yacht?"
They wore pastels. Bright yellow slippers with flowers on them. Flowery wraparounds. They smelled like lavender. Must focus on those ... cannot think of blood.
"He's shivering. Hey, guy, we're calling an ambulance, okay?? tentatively the blonde reached out and touched his shoulder.
The touch felt like live electricity. The smell of blood became overpowering and he lost himself. He grabbed her hand and brought it to his nose. The smell of blood...
The blonde realised that being a good Samaritan was a big mistake. "Hey! Hey! Stop that! The guy's-"
Angel felt the demon come out.
The blonde screamed.
He sank his fangs into her wrist.
"Hack and slash, hack and slash!" Gunn yelled over the yells of his teammates. The tentacles wrapped around his ankles and tried to drag him down but Gunn hacked it off before it could. Yellow goo splatted liberally around them. "How long is it going to do this?" he yelled at Lorne.
"Until it's full! Depends on its caste!" Lorne yelled back.
"What?!" Lisle shrieked as she hacked off another tentacle wrapped around her ankle.
"Well, if it's like mom and dad, he just needs one blonde. If he's like the big belugas floating above us, he's going to need lots of us. Probably doesn't mind brunettes. Or demons," Lorne grimaced.
Nearby, Wesley's body lay still and peaceful amidst the chaos in the Hyperion reception. His blue eyes stared sightlessly at the charred remains of the Gurnaks that still floated above them.
Then an eyelid twitched. Then the other.
Above, the red flames around the charred remains flared a brilliant yellow. Below, smoke began to hiss around Wesley's body. Suddenly, the Gurnak husks exploded in a shower of ashes and swirled in place, held by the fire.
Then the fire turned green.
The smoke around Wesley's body thickened until it obscured him. Then little green flames appeared on Wesley's body. They danced and crept up his pants, spreading slowly but surely to his entire body. In a sudden burst, they travelled rapidly up his legs and then his chest ... then his neck...
Wesley's eyes flickered. Flames appeared on his hair. They spread until he was was completely on fire, burning quietly while the team fought desperately with the Gurnak hatchling.
More little green flames sprouted from the floor and travelled slowly, but determinedly, towards the group of desperate people battling the Gurnak spawn. And in the riot of flames that engulfed Wesley's body, two eyes opened slowly. They widened.
They were surrounded. Or rather, they were pinned to a corner. The only thing they could do was hope for the best as the Gurnak spawn approached their corner. The only hope they had was to go out fighting hard.
Fred took his hand and simply said, "Charles."
Gunn clutched her hand tight and gave her a tight smile. "Not going to be the end, baby. We're going to hack it as long as we can."
The tentacles were only a foot away. Fred and Anne scooted as far as they could, but met with solid wall after backing away two inches.
Anne shrieked when a tentacle wrapped itself around her ankle. She tried to kick it away but it hung on.
This is it, Gunn thought. The final showdown. The big goodbye. He lifted his sword and plunged it down, knowing that he'd be the next target. He just hoped that he hacked enough Gurnak pieces before he went. And he hoped that Fred didn't have to suffer too much.
The moment his sword landed on the tentacle, something weird happened. The tentacle dissolved.
"Huh?" he found himself saying out loud as he stared at the pile of ash where the tentacle was. As his eyes travelled further, he realised that the writhing, stinky, yellow mess of tentacles were gone, replaced by a distinctly octopus-looking pile of ash. It happened so fast and so quietly that Gunn wondered whether he had imagined it all, or that he was dead and he was in some kind of hell dimension where he was forced to relive the final moments of his life again and again. But nothing happened. The pile of ash did not move nor did he feel the flames of hell licking at his ankles.
"Where did it go?" J-Bob said, echoing his thoughts.
"What the hell happened?" Lisle said, dropping her heavy sword. "It looks like it had an instant cremation," she huffed.
Realisation dawned on him then. "Wesley," Gunn said immediately, looking around.
"We left him!" Fred realised. She pushed away from the wall and ran to the centre of the hall where they left him. Her footsteps screeched to a sudden halt.
"Baby?" Gunn called, running to her side...and then stared.
"Oh no," Fred whispered.
The rest of the team stared at the floor Wesley had been ... or rather, now rested.
There was only a smoking, charred impression of a human body on the floor.
Fred gasped out loud and covered her mouth, squeezing her eyes shut. Anne wrapped her arms around her, looking away.
"Shit," J-Bob said quietly. "That stinks man ... I mean," he cast an apologetic look at Gunn who ignored him, still staring at the charred spot. "I'm sorry man," he said, placing his hand on Gunn's shoulder.
"He..." Lorne looked at his hands, reluctant to look at the smoking spot. "He must've lost control ... and combusted. It happens," he cleared his throat and rubbed his forehead tiredly. "It happens in the end for Element users," he continued and sighed. "But I saw a future..." he trailed off.
Suddenly, snow fell on them.
No, it wasn't snow. Lorne looked up. It was the remains of the Gurnaks raining down on them.
It only took moments for the ashes to bury whatever was left of Wesley.
Lorne then realised something. "Where's Connor?"
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