He was tied up. Angel fought against his chains, puzzled that they wouldn't break. Usually they would -- if he used enough strength. Must be made of some kind of magical alloy.
He couldn't see Gunn. He must be tied up somewhere else.
He snapped up, and his eyes narrowed in anger when Wesley stepped into view. He looked so deceptively normal -- dressed as he was in a crisp black jacket and white shirt and pants. His blue eyes were clear, his hair neatly combed -- no one would've suspected that his screws were loose. Perhaps, until he said:
"Look at you. All tied up."
"As if you didn't have anything to do with it," he growled.
Wesley shook his head. "No I didn't."
"So what, you've come to rescue me?" he sneered.
"How perceptive," Wesley said sardonically.
"I don't believe you. You killed Mason, and now -- hell, now I have no idea what your twisted mind wants with me. Or Gunn."
Wesley didn't answer him, merely stared at him stoically. "You're involved in something much bigger than you know," he said after a while. "And they played you like a puppet on a string. Can't you see that?"
"Let Gunn go," Angel said, ignoring Wesley's rants.
Something flickered in Wesley's eyes -- hurt?
"No. I guess you can't see that. You're seeing something else, aren't you, Angel?" A pause, then, "They have him tied in another room. Upstairs. I wonder why."
"I didn't do this to you," Wesley said again, an edge to his voice.
"And I'm supposed to trust you?" he shot back.
"If you had trusted me, this wouldn't have happened."
Angel narrowed his eyes again. "At what point was I supposed to trust you?"
Wesley walked up to him slowly, his eyes unreadable. "We were friends."
"And that's supposed to be enough?"
"I thought it was."
"Yeah, I thought so too. Until you stole my son."
Pain flashed across the man's features. "I thought about that everyday. Until my heart bled. Until I didn't know what to do. Until I realised that there was only one thing to do. Be what I am."
Angel struggled from his restraints, but to no avail. "Oh yeah, and what is that? A child-killing monster."
Wesley's glowing green eyes seem to sparkle. He gave Angel a madness-tinged smile. "An elemental. A Fire elemental. What I've always been. My father thought he could take it away from me, shut it out of me with a spell. But the Elemental had a mission to complete, and it would burn itself out of me one day anyway. So I decided to help it."
Angel glared at him. "To do what? Destroy the world?"
Wesley frowned. "You really think that?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Angel growled out his words. "You killed innocent people. That family in-"
"I did not kill them." Wesley muttered. "Neither did I kill Professor Mason. I may be insane, but I have a goal. And killing innocent people isn't in the agenda."
Angel didn't buy it. "You killed a cop, a young woman and a man -- no connection to each other. Just random people-"
"Not as random as you think, Angel," Wesley sounded annoyed. "Obviously, your research skills are as simplistic as ever. And I don't have to justify myself to anyone."
"Listen to you. Going on about how innocent you are. You think I buy this hero act? You think it'll erase what you've done?!" Angel was trembling with fury, wishing he could kill the man he once called friend. However, the moment the thought left his mind, he realised how hypocritical it sounded. Those words he had just uttered could've burst out from Giles, Buffy and other countless people he had tortured and mutilated.
"No. It wouldn't," Wesley murmured.
Wesley looked embarrassed -- or guilty, he couldn't tell. But the sight of it held no pleasure for him, only disgust -- for himself. He felt it then -- a softening, a pang of guilt at causing Wesley to feel pain.
Had it come that far? That he would rejoice when a friend was in pain? *You let unforgiveness take root? You let Anger control you? Then I don't know if you?re Angel or Angelus.*
He tried to shake Buffy's words away, but found himself thinking about it. Yes ... she was right. He had no right to behave this way. It stung to admit it, but she was right. And when his eyes met Wesley's, he only saw the love of Connor stolen from him. By an act -
- of desperation by a friend who wanted to save the one person he loved more than Buffy.
Wesley suddenly shrugged, pacing from left to right. His eyes began to lose focus, and his hands became restless. It told Angel that the madness that plagued him was back again. "But I'm powerful. You know how much? I could level whole cities. Destroy evil with a thought. Rip through dimensions ..." he trailed off, suddenly biting his nails.
*Look at him. Not through hate-filled eyes. But really look at him* Buffy's voice urged.
And it hit him like a four-tonne truck. And he felt horror ... horror that all this destruction waged by Wesley ... was really for him. "You ..." his voice failed for a while, but he managed to gain some measure of control. "You ... you wanted to get to Quor-toth."
Wesley smiled, a smile of a lunatic. He was still nibbling his fingers as if it could help him focus somehow.
"It was the only way. I thought ... well, what did I think? I can't really remember, but I thought I could somehow do that... You know, rip through time and dimensions to heroicly rescue Connor from the pit of hell. Then ..." he shrugged, and his eyes went sideways as if distracted by something. "... then I couldn't." His voice was bitter. "The Powers that Be wouldn't let me. The Elemental wouldn't let me. You see, I had other important things to do." His hands fluttered before him, and Angel saw that madness had finally taken complete hold of his friend.
His friend. *Angel. You're full of shit.* Buffy muttered.
It was true then. He had caused this. His unforgiveness, his anger, had driven Wes to do this -- again, in another misguided attempt to help. He had truly driven his friend mad.
*I don't know if you're Angel or Angelus.*
And it was then that he remembered Cordelia's words. If you don't forgive him ... something bad will happen. Isn't that what she had said? Was it too late?
"Wes," he began.
"So Connor grew up in Quor-toth, and it was all for nothing," Wes continued, ignoring Angel. Bitterness tinged his words. "I was so angry at first. That I failed again. That I-I become this thing for nothing! I could feel myself slipping away, like some kind of sand on ... on ..." Wes? thoughts wandered, his eyes glazing over.
"Wes. Listen to me."
Glowing green eyes shifted to him.
What the hell could he say to him? What words could he say to make him feel better? To undone all the stupid things he'd said? "You have to stop this. Only you can."
Wes looked surprised. Then it became astonishment. Then he laughed, a high-pitched laugh of the mad. "The vampire with a soul thinks it could stop us!"
"If anyone can stop this. You can."
Wes blinked, then said, "Why are you being so nice to me?"
It was such a child-like question that Angel didn't know how to answer at first. "I realised some things," he said, knowing how lame it sounded.
Wesley's eyes searched furtively across the room as if it could give him an answer to Angel's behaviour. Then his eyes met his again. "I can't let them escape."
"The Aman-yar. That's why I'm here. Sorry. That's why we're here. They will reach their zenith tomorrow. And ... and they will use the Mother to fulfil their desires. Can't let that happen," he whispered, looking at his restless hands.
"You're calling me Wes. That's nice. For a while I thought you forgot my name. So you see... I was a fool. A pawn of prophecy once more. I thought I could use the Elemental. But I'm letting it use me instead." He shrugged. "I guess an old dog cannot learn new tricks."
"Wesley, let me help you."
"Angel," he whispered, his voice suddenly whispery and fearful. It made Angel's heart clench at the sound of it. And he wanted to make Wes feel better -- something he didn't think he'd desire again. But before he could say anything, Wesley looked at Angel with pleading eyes. They were tears in them, Angel realised.
"I think something bad is going to happen to me. And I can't stop it," he whispered, his voice so fearful, so soft that his vampire hearing could barely pick it up. Wesley then bent forward and whispered in his ear. "If that happens. You have to stop them. Promise me." Wes reached behind him and touched his chains.
Then with a swiftness that made Angel gasp out loud, the chains that had trapped him disappeared in a flash of heat. He felt his wrists for burns, but there were none. "You can stop this," Angel said again, desperately. "You can make the Elemental go away."
Wes's green eyes glowed. He shook his head angrily. "You cannot stop me. You will only die trying!" he growled, his voice rising.
Angel grabbed Wes by the shoulders, shaking him. "You can!"
"And I say to you..." the ex-watcher's voice deepened into an unnatural growl. "You cannot stop us." The green in Wesley's eyes shone brighter, and with a start, Angel realised that it was not Wesley talking. It was the Elemental.
"Let him go," he hissed, his hands tightening his grip on Wesley's shoulders.
The Elemental did not answer. It stared at him balefully, the green in Wesley's eyes growing brighter and brighter.
Steam rose from Angel's hands as they began to burn. He tried to hold on to Wesley and met his eyes, only to see a flicker of fear in the glowing depths which quickly disappeared. Crying out in pain, Angel let go.
And then he heard someone screaming and Wesley lurched forward as if he was pushed from behind. He doubled over in surprise, and when he looked up, the glowing green presence was gone from Wesley's eyes. He looked relieved. "I'm me again," Wesley said in surprise, a small trembling smile on his face.
Angel smiled and reached out for him. "I knew you could-"
The relief on Wesley's face turned into a grimace of pain. He slowly sank down, and would have fallen if Angel had not grabbed him.
That was when he smelled it. Blood. He looked down. Horrified, he realised that a sharp point of a sword protruded from Wesley's side.
Wesley's pained expression seems to say, "I told you so". Then he gave the vampire a shadow of a wry grin before it collapsed in pain.
He looked up and saw who did it, and he couldn't understand it at first. It was Fred, standing there confused but determined. Horror was on her face, but she looked justified, as if she realised she had to do it for the right reasons.
Only this wasn't the right reason.
*Something bad is going to happen to me. And I can't stop it,* Wesley had whispered.
Wesley became limp in his grasp and Angel realised that he had lost consciousness. His body slumped forward, and Angel caught it, desperately searching for a pulse. It was there -- thready but weak. Smoke rose from his wound and Angel heard a hissing sound. Like the sound of acid burning ... flesh.
Horrified, he glanced down and saw rivulets of blood spreading upwards -- not downwards like it should. He ripped Wesley's shirt open and gasped when he saw tendrils of blood snaking quickly towards his heart. The blood leaked from beneath his skin, staining his chest. Something in the sword was entering his veins -- and with horror he realised that it had to be the Element of Water, there to work its deadly magic on Wesley.
"Pull it out," he told Fred, his eyes still on the carnage.
Fred looked at him in confusion and was about to protest but Angel yelled, "Damn it, pull it out!"
"I'll do it," Gunn said from somewhere. "I don't know why you're-"
"Shut up. It was all a scam," he didn't want to elaborate because Wesley was waking up, making small whimpering sounds of pain. Damn it. It was the wrong time to do so. If Wesley wasn't in such a bad shape already, he would've tried to knock him out.
Gunn did not give any warning when he pulled the sword out. It caught Wesley by surprise, and he cried out in pain, clutching Angel's coat with bloodied fingers. He stared at Angel, his blue eyes wide with hurt and surprise, then they rolled back in his head and he went limp again.
"Wes? Wes?" he called, knowing he would not get an answer. A gush of blood was dripping on Angel's pants, where Wesley's back rested. He felt for his pulse again, and was relieved to find it there -- even if it was weaker than before. He glanced down and saw that the bloody trail had slowed down its deadly track to Wesley's heart. But more ruptured veins were appearing on his skin.
"What the hell is going on?" Gunn asked, his voice low because he realised that something bad had just happened -- even though this was what they were working towards all this while.
To kill Wes.
"I'll tell you why. In fact, I really want to," came a smooth, saccharine-sweet voice.
Lilah Morgan stepped into view and made sure they saw the retinue behind her. Four robed demons and a squad of Wolfram & Hart goons, there to ensure that nothing untoward would happen to Lady M.
"Look at all of you. It's amazing. Little chess pieces all lined up for the play. And congratulations Angel. Oh wait, Fred," she shifted her gaze to Fred, whose confusion was starting to give way to horror. "That's right. It's Fred isn't it? Who pulled the killing blow? And the Bishop takes the King!" she laughed, clapping her hands.
"You know," she said when met with stony silence, "I didn't think it would work at first. I mean, psychological manipulation isn't my forte. I don't excel in it, but my client does. So she set up the plan; and because you're so damn predictable-" Lilah sounded disappointed, "-and so damn petty, you fell for it, hook, line and sinker." Her gaze shifted to Wesley and something flickered in her eyes. Regret? Couldn't be.
She returned her gaze to all of them. "All it took was your anger and resentment towards Wesley, some burnt corpses -- thanks to the Four Musketeers behind me -- and a little girl. Frankly, I'm disappointed." And she sounded like it. There was no gloating behind her voice at all. As if she expected more and was let down.
"We know we couldn't kill the Elemental. One look and he'd fry us to a crisp. But his friends?"
Fred looked away, tears running down her cheeks. She was beginning to tremble.
"His friends ... that's another story. He'd do anything for them. He won't lay a finger on them. He'd even drive himself mad for them. Wes is such a ..."
Angel dared her with a look to say what she wanted to say.
"...loyalist," she smiled, her smile surprisingly gentle. "It's something we at Wolfram & Hart appreciate, so I'm not putting him down here," she said seriously. "But hey, it's nothing personal. Business is business."
"Who is your client?" Angel said, his voice taut.
"Ah. The mastermind. It's up to her if she wants to show herself to you."
The voice. Wesley was right. Damn you Angel. He was right all along.
Cindy came towards them, gently guided by a Wolfram & Hart suit. She was dressed in a fine, pink silk frock, with white lace ribbons tying her blonde hair in place. The picture of innocence.
"I am glad you were who you were," Cindy said giving him an angelic smile. "Or else, I wouldn't have accomplished what I have. And the Aman-yar thanks you for your cooperation." She gave him a curtsy, her blue eyes glinting with the evil he saw too late.
"I will stop you," he hissed.
"I'm sure you want to," Cindy said in agreement. "But can you stop me when you turn to ashes?"
They heard the four demons chanting. Almost immediately, steam began to rise from the floor. Fred gasped looking around desperately. Gunn reached out and held her close.
"I'm sorry it'll have to end this way," Lilah said. "We were good ... sparring partners."
"Lilah?" Cindy asked, tugging on her skirt.
The lawyer bent down and gave the girl an indulgent smile.
"I think I want a Baskin Robbins sundae. It's getting hot," she said petulantly.
"Sure. Bye guys," Lilah gave them a smile, took Cindy by the hand and walked away from them. Before they exited the warehouse, Cindy gave them a wave.
Flames erupted around them, obscuring Cindy's face. Soon, it formed a circular prison of flames so high and thick that it was impossible for them to escape. The heavy smoke reduced Fred and Gunn to coughing wrecks, writhing on the floor. The chanting stopped, and they could see through the flicker of flames, the four robbed figures gliding away.
"Angel!" Fred called out, then coughed violently.
Angel could only hold on to Wesley's bloodied figure protectively. Too little, too late.
The flames were too high, too much for him to run through. He would turn into ashes before he could cross over. And then there was Fred and Gunn, who'd probably burn to death first - and Wesley, who would not even last a second out there.
"We're trapped," he whispered.
"Not really," came a voice.
Soft, yellow light encircled them. Angel watched in wonder as the fire around them disappeared, to be replaced by the white glow. It was familiar, the glow, he'd seen it before.
Suddenly, they were not in the warehouse anymore. They were outside on the street, facing the burning building. Angel stared stupidly at the spectacle until someone came into his view. He heard Gunn exclaim something and Fred gasping. He could only smile.
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