For the first time, he was at peace. All the grief, pain, confusion, guilt ... all gone. He felt as if he was floating in a weightless void, drifting towards an uncertain destination. No worries to be guilty about, no cause to follow or mission to fulfil. Everything was simple again, like it was before ... when he was a child of four, before his father sent a warlock to bind him.
They wanted him to see the message.
It was written on the table, out of Mason's ashes. Beside the note were two snap shots. One was a photo of Angel, the other, Gunn. And they were tied up with their hands above their heads with chains.
He could feel the one called Cindy -- but she was well-protected, beneath some kind of shields. What game were they playing?
And he realised that Wolfram & Hart knew him well. And that he would go to Angel even when he knew that it could put him in danger. He was that predictable.
But now, that didn't matter. Not anymore. The Element had retreated, shrinking away from the Elemental of Water that invaded his body. When he had felt the sword pierce his body, he had felt strangely relieved. And glad that it was all over. That the path he had set himself on would be over.
Pain flared suddenly from nowhere, and he found himself fighting valiantly to escape its clutches. Unfortunately, pain was winning.
Then came cold ...and heat, and pain so severe that it robbed him of breath. With a gasp, his eyes shot open. His body was trembling -- from cold? But he felt hot ... He found himself looking at something. A hand? Voices floated around him, but he found it hard to concentrate.
*Where am I?* He wanted to ask. *Am in hell already?*
The dark place shifted suddenly, and Wesley found himself gasping from the pain. The pain made him tremble all over, and he suspected that he was deep in shock already. *I don't want to die. Not when everything is unresolved. Not when evil is at my door.*
Then the dark place shifted a little, and he saw eyes staring down at him. He made out a face, and the face was trying to speak to him. Light suddenly flickered around him and his half-opened eyes sagged close. The voice spoke to him again, but the effort to understand was too difficult.
But he had to say something to the face. The light was bothering him -- it flickered in and out and he could see it from beneath his eyelids. Close the door so that he could sleep in peace, he thought.
"It's going to be okay," she said, brushing the hair that partially covered his eyes. "Everything's going to be alright."
The voice was familiar and it forced him to open his eyes to look at the face again. She smiled, pleased that he was awake.
"Hi, Wesley. Just hang on, okay?"
Then he smiled because he remembered her name. "Cordelia," he said, surprised.
Cordelia smiled in return, a nervous worried smile that reminded him of a time when she did the same before -- when he was shot.
"I thought you were lost," he whispered.
Tendrils of light surrounded her, enveloping her in an ethereal light that made her look angelic. That's right, she was gone for a while ... nobody knew why. Nobody knew where. But now she was back, speaking to him ... there was a time, after Connor, where he thought she'd preferred not to have known him at all. Knowing that he was wrong -- or that she had changed her mind -- eased the hurt in him somewhat.
"The light hurts," he muttered when a sudden flash of light nearly blinded him.
The light around Cordelia faded and she whispered, "Sorry."
Somehow her hand found itself in his, and he squeezed it. "I'm not," he said. He closed his eyes, letting darkness take him.
"We have to get him to the hospital," Cordelia said needlessly as she moved away from Wesley. For a moment, she stared at her bloody hands distractedly and then wiped her hands on her white dress dismissively.
When she found everyone staring at her, she snapped, "What the hell are you looking at me for? Help him!"
"Gunn," Angel said shortly and moved to Wesley's side. The vampire's face went slack when he saw Wesley pale, bloodied and unmoving. When Gunn moved beside him to help, he shook his head and said, "I'll do it."
As gently as he could, he lifted Wesley into his arms. Wesley's body was limp in his arms; he held him close -- for what little good it could do.
"I thought I warned you," Cordelia said, her voice low and quiet as she caught up and walked beside him.
Angel didn't know what to say except to walk blindly towards a destination he didn't know.
She shook her head, as if in response to his silence. "I don't blame you. I'm in no position to judge anyone. I'm not exactly spotless myself," she muttered.
"Where were you?" Angel whispered.
"In the Higher Realms. Watching. Just watching. That's all I could freaking do," her voice was heavy with distaste. "Life as a higher being isn't what it's made out to be. So I bailed out. On the condition that I lose all my powers -- and my memory of the higher realms, and that's fine by me. See ... can't even remember how I got you out of the burning whatever already," she muttered.
"Where are we going?" Gunn asked when he caught up with them.
"There's a van, not far from here. We'll take it," she said, not explaining how she knew.
Gunn fell back, waiting for Fred. When she did not follow, Gunn turned back only to see her staring at the ground, where the bloody sword was.
"I killed him," she whispered.
"Fred," he took her hand and tugged it. "Come on, we have to go."
She shook her head furiously, tears trickling down her cheeks. "I killed him. I killed him!"
He grabbed her firmly by the shoulders, and gave Fred a shake. "He's alive. There's still a chance, but we have to go. Now."
Than seemed to snap her out of her daze. She nodded jerkily and took his hand. And together they ran into the darkness.
He was trembling. Whether from blood loss or pain, Wesley was trembling hard in his arms. Angel was trying desperately to inject some warmth into Wesley's broken body the best he could - first covering Wesley with his coat, then when that didn't work - Fred's.
"Please hurry," Fred was whispering beside him. She was staring ahead at the back of Gunn's head, but not really looking at it. Her hands were in tight, still-bloodied fists, the knuckles white from strain. Her face had taken on a vacant, emotionless expression which was only interrupted each time Wesley let out an involuntary gasp of pain.
"We're almost there!" Gunn said in what must've been the tenth time. Angel only held Wesley tighter, meeting Cordelia's desperate eyes as she peered from the front seat. She and Gunn had gone through this desperate time once, when Wesley was shot by zombie cops. But this time it was much, much worse. Not only could they not stop his bleeding, the magicked sword, according to Fred, had held the Element of White Water, the antithesis of the Element of Green Fire, which was now causing havoc in the former Watcher's body. It was bursting blood vessels systematically in each organ. Sometimes, Angel could see a vein appear dark on Wesley's pale skin and then suddenly lose its shape. He was slipping in and out of consciousness, barely lucid.
"You didn't leave me," came the soft, whispery voice.
Surprised, Angel looked down at Wesley's pale face. Sweat beaded Wesley's forehead despite the chilly night. A dark vein ran from his forehead down to his neck. It looked ready to burst. His blue eyes were dilated to the point that his pupils were invisible.
"No, I didn't," he agreed, holding him close and ignoring the intoxicating smell of Wesley's blood. He could feel it seeping into his shirt, where Wesley's back rested.
Wesley blinked languorously and whispered, "I'm glad."
Angel just kept silent.
"Connor is a good boy, isn't he?" Wesley said after pausing a while to catch his breath.
He nodded, "Yeah," but couldn't stop the catch from forming in his voice - especially after his acute hearing began to register Wesley's too-fast heartbeats and wheezing breaths. He knew the sound, having heard the same noises when he drained his victims dry. Wesley was too near that end.
"Just hang on, okay?" he pleaded. AT least, until he made everything he'd done wrong right again.
Wesley smiled, as if pleased to hear what he was saying. His glazed eyes met Angel's then he said softly, "Is it behind us?"
Angel didn't have to guess what 'it' was. All that anguish, bitterness and pain between them. The sting of betrayal on both sides ... "It's behind us," he answered firmly.
The van jerked to a stop, causing Wesley to weakly cry out in pain. Angel was about to yell at Gunn when he was beat to it by the man.
"We're here!" Gunn leapt out from his side and quickly flung the van doors open. Angel did not have to be told what to do. He lifted Wesley in his arms and got down, trying to ignore Wesley's moans as the sharp movements jostled the man, only thinking of the Emergency room that lay ahead.
"We've got someone hurt here!" Gunn yelled, rushing in. This startled the sprinkle of patients waiting in the corridor - cuts and bruises mostly, though a girl held an arm as if it was broken. The shocked nurse sprang to action when she saw Angel carrying Wesley. Drops of blood followed his path and some patients stared morbidly at it.
Quickly, Wesley was placed on a gurney and wheeled to the emergency room.
"Wesley? Wesley?" Cordelia was calling. Angel shook his head, seeing that Wesley didn't really hear them. He was already in deep shock, staring at the lights above them as if hypnotised. Blood was quickly staining the white cloth of the gurney beneath him. So much blood. Why wasn't his bleeding stopping?
"He's going to be alright," he said, needing desperately to believe it.
Cordelia only nodded jerkily.
"Sir? Ma'am. This is as far as you go," the nurse said. Cordelia stayed obediently behind, but Angel pushed ahead.
"Hey! Wait!" the nurse called when Angel went ahead with the gurney.
"What is he doing here?" the doctor demanded when Angel appeared by Wesley's side.
Angel merely gave the doctor a sharp look that demanded no refusal.
Resigned, but still annoyed, the doctor barked: "Please, at least stand aside so we can do our work."
A nurse quickly placed an oxygen mask over Wesley while another nurse read his vitals. "Blood pressure 60 on 40. Heart beat 160 and climbing."
Slowly, Wesley turned, his half-closed eyes meeting his.
Angel could only watch numbly as the flurry of activity around Wesley increased.
"Doctor, his blood pressure is dropping."
A memory came -- from the few fateful days before he lost his baby to Quor-toth.
**"Angel - you're the reason we've all come together. It's your mission which animates us," Wesley had said, looking tired yet confident of his words. "We each contribute, it's true, but you - you're unique." **
The Doctor looked up from his ministrations, his expression grave. A red splotch of blood on his white coat. "He's lost too much blood. Type him. Wait ... sir? Sir?"
Angel snapped out of his reverie. "What?"
"Do you know his blood type?"
"I don't know," he answered, his tongue heavy. He had made a point trying not to know what blood type his employees had.
"Type him," the doctor told a nurse quickly.
Then he was back in another hospital room, and he was looking down at Wesley once more. But he was furious, so furious. Wes had an IV in the back of his left hand and a bandage around his throat. His eyes were closed until he came towards him. The look in his eyes -- guilty and numb at the same time -- was not enough to cull the anger from him. All he could think of was Connor. The only son he would have --
And like a slow nightmare, he heard himself telling Wes that he understood why he did it -- take Connor, that is.
**"I know about the prophecies and I know how hard it must have been for you to - do what you did. You thought I was gonna turn evil and kill my son. I didn't. It's important you know that. This isn't Angelus talking. It's me, Angel. You know that, right?"**
"Doctor, his heart rate has gone up to 180-"
**"You son of a bitch, you're gonna pay for what you did! You took my son! You son of a bitch! You bastard!"**
Wesley was still staring at him, but his eyes had glazed over.
**"You think I'd forgive you?!"**
"Ready? Clear!" Wesley's body jerked.
**"No! Never! You're gonna die! You hear me?"**
**"You're gonna pay!"**
"Time of death?"
"5.20am," the nurse answered, looking at Angel sadly.
He looked peaceful, despite the wide bloody pool beneath him and his deathly pallor. His eyes were slightly opened, his mouth in a thin, unsmiling line -- but composed and calm, as if he was satisfied at something. A smudge of blood on his cheek was the only colour on his white skin.
"Umm. Doctor?" the nurse called, giving Angel a sideways glance.
The Doctor saw Angel, who was still staring numbly at Wesley's body. "Sir?" The doctor said softly, his voice low with sympathy. "I'm sorry. There was ... he lost too much blood."
Angel didn't move.
"We couldn't stop his bleeding. The weapon must have hit an ..."
The doctor returned his gaze to the still body and sighed. Despite seeing this once too often, he still didn't know how to deal with this. How could you comfort the friends and loved ones of people who died so brutally?
He took hold of a sheet and started covering the body, but just as he was about to cover the man's face, his friend stopped him with a firm grasp to his hand. Surprised at the iciness of the grip, the doctor jerked his hand away. Composing himself, his mind quickly formulated a reason for the iciness: Shock. The man's in shock, the doctor thought sadly. Naturally. Sighing, the doctor decided to leave Angel alone. With the body.
Angel removed the sheet that partially covered Wesley's face. The finality that it symbolised ... hurt.
"I didn't mean what I said."
The blue eyes stared glassily ahead.
"I don't hate you. That night in the alley after you rescued me. I was grateful. And happy at seeing you again. But I was just being a jerk you know?"
Slowly, he closed Wesley's eyes. Now, he looked as if he was sleeping.
Angel's face scrunched up in grief. Too late. Always too late.
With a roar, he ran his hand through the wall above Wesley's body.
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