Series: Angel: Afterlife
Summary: It was very late at night, on what was once again shaping up to be the end of the world.
Author's Note: The first installment in my planned Angel: Afterlife series. Post-ep for "Not Fade Away" and a sequel to my earlier story, "Curses." It'll probably make more sense if you've read that one first. Thanks, as always, to my wonderful beta, zandras_court.
Goodbye, Cruel World
It was very late at night, on what was once again shaping up to be the end of the world. Or more precisely, thought Angel, the end of his world. The rest of Los Angeles would probably go on much as it always had after this night was over.
Angel stared in disbelief at the approaching horde. Hundreds of demons--of all imaginable shapes and sizes--were bearing down on them. Above the masses, a giant dragon flapped its wings menacingly.
If Wesley were here... But Wesley was not here anymore. Would never be here again. Then again, the way things were falling out, neither would Angel. Or the others now standing beside him. At least Lorne got away clean, Angel hoped.
The rain fell heavily, washing the blood from Angel's face and hands. Like a baptism, he thought wryly. But he had a feeling it wasn't the pearly gates of heaven that were going to be swinging open for him in a few minutes.
He pushed past the others to get a better look at the titanic demon hit squad bearing down on them. Seemed kind of like overkill, really.
"Okay," he heard Gunn say weakly, "you take the 30,000 on the left..."
"You're fading. You'll last ten minutes at best." That was Illyria, her voice eerily like Fred's and yet so very much not Fred's.
"Then let's make 'em memorable," said Gunn.
Gunn deserved better than this, but it was too late for what ifs now. The cards had been dealt.
Angel took another step toward the army that had been mustered against them. He could sense Spike's presence at his side, and for once he was grateful for it. Illyria and Gunn had his back. It wasn't quite the last stand he had envisioned, but it was what he had brought them to.
He gazed out on the advancing shadow, trying to calculate how many of the monsters he'd be able to take out before they brought him down.
"In terms of a plan?" Spike said.
"We fight," said Angel.
"Bit more specific?"
Angel took another step forward. "Well, personally, I kind of want to slay the dragon."
In that last moment, before the demon horde bore down on them, Angel conjured an image in his mind of all the friends he had lost over the last few years--Wes, Fred, Cordy, Doyle.
And then he thought of Connor, his son. Here at the very end, it came back to Connor. "Let's go to work," he said darkly.
He would not hesitate or pause to bid farewell to anyone. It was far too late for that now.
He swung his sword at the nearest monster--
--but instead of biting into muscle and bone, the sword passed through empty air and the world exploded in a flash of blinding light. He experienced a momentary, disorienting bout of vertigo, and then the rain stopped.
Was he dead? He looked around him in disbelief.
He was--unbelievably--standing in a living room. A living room he recognized. The sword fell from his hand and hit the wooden floor with a clang.
Two women sat cross-legged on the floor, a cloudy black orb between them. He recognized one of them.
"Aggie?" Angel wiped the rain from his eyes, as though it would somehow help this make sense.
"What the bloody hell?" he heard Spike say beside him. Gunn was there, too, in a heap on the floor.
Aggie Belfleur slipped the black orb into her pocket and stood up. "How's everybody doing?"
"Gunn's hurt," said Angel automatically, still not quite believing that he was actually here.
Aggie moved quickly to Gunn's side. "Summer, do Angel first," she said over her shoulder. "Then the others."
"What just happened?" Angel asked.
"We pulled you out of there," said Aggie, frowning down at Gunn's injuries.
"You can do that?"
"Hey, I know you," said Spike. "You're that witch who doesn't like me."
"Practical occultist," corrected Aggie. She grabbed a towel from a laundry basket shoved behind the couch and pressed it into Gunn's wounded side.
The other woman--Summer, apparently--stepped in front of Angel. "Open your shirt."
She ripped his shirt open herself, popping the top few buttons off and exposing his chest. "This might hurt a little." She pressed her palm flat against the skin just above his heart. "Isa tyr algiz."
Angel's chest suddenly erupted in pain. "Ow!"
Summer took her hand away. Above his heart was the dark imprint of several magical symbols. They looked a lot like the symbols Lindsey and Eve had used to hide from the Senior Partners.
"What did you just do to me?" asked Angel, rubbing his sore chest.
"Protective runes," said Summer, moving on to Spike. "They'll keep you hidden from the bad stuff that's looking for you."
"Why did you do all this?" Angel asked Aggie. "I mean, how did you know?"
"Lorne," she said. "One last favor for the green guy."
Spike looked around the room as he unbuttoned his shirt for Summer. "Hey, where's the Blue Meanie?"
"Illyria," Angel remembered. "What happened to her?"
"It--she wouldn't let me teleport her," said Summer, sounding a bit freaked at the mention of Illyria. "She was too strong."
"You mean we just left her back there on her own?" said Spike.
"It was her choice," said Angel. "She never belonged in this dimension. And without Wesley..." he trailed off.
"What happened to Wesley?" asked Aggie sharply.
"He's dead," said Angel. It hadn't quite sunk in yet, the reality of those words. He tried to push it out of his mind. He couldn't deal with that now.
Summer moved on to Gunn. When she'd imprinted his blood-streaked chest with the same dark symbols as Angel and Spike she stood up and brushed herself off. "Well, this has been fun, but there's a really cranky demon army out there and I don't want to be seen with any of you people. No offense."
"Thanks, hon," said Aggie. "Keep your head down."
"You too," said Summer before letting herself out.
Angel stared down at Gunn. The towel Aggie was holding against his side was already crimson with blood. He handed her a fresh towel from the basket. "Is he going to be okay?"
"We need to get him to a hospital," said Aggie, tossing aside the blood-soaked towel and pressing the fresh one into Gunn's abdomen.
Angel looked at Spike. "Help me get him up."
They hauled Gunn out of the house and into the back of Aggie's car--an ancient orange VW van. Angel stayed in the back with Gunn, applying pressure to the wound in his gut. Spike climbed into the front with Aggie and they headed for the nearest emergency room.
Gunn moaned as the car turned a sharp corner.
"You're going to be all right," Angel said.
Gunn looked up at him. "That was tight, huh? We really stuck it to 'em."
"Unfortunately they stuck it back to you a few times," said Angel.
"Not a bad last act, though, eh? I mean, it's no Ocean's Eleven or anything."
"You're not done yet," said Angel.
Gunn smiled thinly. "It's okay, man, I'm ready."
"I'm not," said Angel. "I'm still your boss and I need you here, do you understand me?"
"Yeah," said Gunn. "I get it."
Angel closed his eyes and wished there was a god he could pray to. It was too late for Wes, but Gunn still had a chance. He had to make it. He was the last one. If Angel lost Gunn then everyone he'd ever been able to call friend would be gone. And it would be his fault.
Aggie pulled into the ambulance bay and ran inside for help as Angel and Spike hauled Gunn out of the van. An orderly and a nurse met them halfway with a gurney. Angel watched helplessly as they wheeled Gunn away.
"Come on," said Aggie, leading Angel to the waiting room.
After a few minutes a nurse came in with a list of questions, none of which Angel could answer. He stared at her blankly until Aggie got up and followed her back to the desk.
A little bit later Aggie came back and handed Angel a paper cup full of coffee.
He looked at her. "What did you--"
"I gave them a false name," she said. "Told them he was James Martin, no family that we know of. And that he was mugged."
She pressed something into Angel's hand. It was Gunn's wallet. "Where'd you--"
"Pocketed it before we left the house. Not a good idea to have his real name in the hospital's admission records right now."
"Is he going to... I mean, did they say--"
"He's in surgery," said Aggie. "It'll be a while before we know anything."
Angel stared into the coffee cup, watching the steam rise off the surface and disappear into the air.
"Is there anyone we should call?" Aggie asked.
Angel shook his head. "He didn't have any family left." Maybe some of his old crew, but Angel didn't even know if Gunn kept in touch with any of them anymore, or how to contact them.
And then he remembered the girl, Anne--the one at the shelter. He stood up. "I need a phone book," he said to no one in particular.
He found one at the nurse's station. Even though it was the middle of the night, Anne answered on the second ring. "East Hills Teen Center."
Angel tried to explain what had happened, but he found that he was stammering, and he wasn't sure he was making any sense. Anne just listened. "I'll be right there," she said finally.
He wandered back into the waiting room for lack of anything better to do. Aggie was opening a package of something pink and disgusting-looking she'd gotten from the vending machine.
She looked up at him and held it out. "Sno-ball?"
Angel grimaced. "Not much of an eater, remember?"
"Oh yeah." She took a big bite of the artificially colored coconut concoction.
"And even if I was," he said, "I wouldn't eat that."
"I don't think someone who drinks blood is in a position to criticize my dietary choices."
"I'll have one," said Spike. "If you're offering."
Aggie tossed the package to him. Then she looked back at Angel and narrowed her eyes.
He hated it when she did that. It made him feel so exposed, knowing that her empathy could sense everything he was feeling. He moved to the far end of the waiting room and pretended to turn his attention to the television, which was tuned to Headline News. There were apparently no reports of dragons in the sky over Los Angeles, not that he was surprised.
Twenty minutes later Anne showed up. She didn't ask many questions. Angel supposed she'd learned not to over the years. She sat down next to Aggie and waited with the rest of them.
After a while Spike fell asleep. Angel found his gaze wandering repeatedly to the clock on the wall. Eventually he got up and stretched, then started pacing restlessly around the room.
"It's taking too long," he said.
"Maybe that's a good thing," offered Anne hopefully.
"Maybe," he said, with no conviction. He wanted to hit something, to kill something. To be doing anything right now but waiting in this awful, plastic room in this building that reeked of blood and chemicals.
"Angel." Aggie's voice sounded oddly strained. She pointed down the hall, to where a man in blue surgical scrubs was flipping through a chart at the nurse's station.
Angel looked back at Aggie. She was staring at her lap, avoiding his gaze, because of course if her empathy had told her that was Gunn's doctor then she also knew what he was going to tell them. And so Angel knew as well, from her reaction.
He watched the doctor walk down the hall towards them. It seemed to take an eternity, each footstep stretching out in time, seconds becoming years. And then, suddenly, he was there, and talking to them.
"Are you the ones who brought in James Martin?"
Angel tried to answer, but he found that he couldn't speak. The man was covered in the smell of blood--Gunn's blood. He'd tried to wash it off, but blood doesn't come off that easily. Angel knew that from experience.
He heard Aggie stand up behind him. "Yes."
"I'm very sorry to have to tell you this..."
The doctor's words were a indistinct buzzing in Angel's head. He couldn't listen, couldn't focus. He heard a sound that must have been Anne crying. He should say something, do something, he knew, but he couldn't.
Aggie had gone to Anne, was offering some kind of comfort. More than he could muster. Spike had awakened at some point, and Angel was dimly aware that he, too, was speaking in the somber tones of condolence.
He felt someone touch his arm, and instinctively he jerked away. It was Aggie. "We have to go now," she said gently. The doctor had gone away, but the smell of Gunn's blood still lingered in the room.
"What about..." Angel was having trouble forming a coherent sentence. There were things that had to be done now, for Gunn. What were they?
"Anne's going to take care of Charles now," said Aggie.
"I'll call Rondell," Anne said.
Rondell. He had been one of Gunn's friends once. A long time ago.
"The boys'll take him home," said Anne. There were tears on her cheeks, running down her face. He wished he had a handkerchief to offer her. But it had been years since he'd carried a handkerchief. Decades. Centuries, even.
"Come on," said Aggie. "We have to get out of here. You have to get out of here."
Angel nodded and let her lead him out of the hospital.
* * *
Aggie cast a worried glance at Angel, who had done nothing in the past hour but sit morosely in a chair in her living room. He hadn't said a word since they'd left the hospital.
She'd done her best, saying all the empty, consoling things people were supposed to say in these situations, and doing the things people were supposed to do. She'd even brought him a cup a tea, but all he had done was stare at it gloomily until it had gotten cold and developed an unappetizing film on the surface, and she had taken it away again.
Spike, on the other hand, couldn't seem to shut up.
"I'm starving," he complained. "Don't suppose you've got any blood about the place?"
Aggie told herself that Spike was grieving for Gunn and Wesley in his own way, on the inside. On the outside, however, he was annoying her. "Sure," she said, "there's some O neg in the fridge right next to the milk."
Spike started towards the kitchen, then stopped and narrowed his eyes at her. "You're having me on, aren't you?"
"Would I do that?" said Aggie, hauling the last of the suitcases over by the front door.
"'S not nice," said Spike. "You should be nicer to a starving vampire. I go much longer without eating and you're going to start looking like an Extra Value Meal, soul be damned."
He finally seemed to notice all the stuff that Aggie had been piling up by the front door. "What's with the luggage?"
"I'm going on a cruise," said Aggie.
Spike ignored the sarcasm. "That's a good idea, clearing out of town. In case the big bads trace us back here somehow."
"See, I knew you weren't as dumb as you looked," said Aggie.
"Where are we going, then?"
"I'm going back home," Aggie said pointedly. "I don't know where you're going, and I don't care."
"Just gonna throw me to the wolves, are you?"
"Hey, I did my part," said Aggie. "I got you out of that alley before you turned into dragon chow. What you do now is up to you. I figured you'd go with him." She glanced over at Angel again.
"In case you hadn't noticed, he doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Blighter's gone soft in the head or something. And I'm not sticking around to babysit him."
"I don't need a babysitter," said Angel, speaking up at last.
"Glad to hear it," said Spike.
Angel looked at Aggie. "You should take Spike with you."
"He's not invited to go with me," said Aggie.
"For protection," said Angel.
"And what are you going to do?" she asked.
Angel didn't say anything.
"You need to get out of L.A.," she said.
"And go where, to do what?" said Angel bitterly. "I'm not running away."
"'Course not," said Spike. "He's got bloody principles. Rather sit around and wait for the Senior Partners' hit squad to find him than live to fight another day."
"What, exactly, are you doing?" Aggie asked. "What's the next step in the big plan?"
Angel looked away.
"So that's it, you're just giving up?" said Aggie. "Angel, you can't stay here. You know that you can't."
"I don't know anything," Angel said quietly.
Aggie could see there was nothing but darkness inside him, thick and oily and so black it seemed to swallow the light in the room around him. It wasn't a malevolent darkness; it was just empty and perfectly cold, like the endless vacuum of space.
Aggie didn't bother arguing it further; there would be no getting through to him anytime soon.
"Fine," she said. "Do what you want. I'm getting the hell out of Crazytown at sunset and you can either come with me or not."
"What about me?" asked Spike.
"I suppose you can come," Aggie said reluctantly. She grabbed her purse and keys. "I've got some errands to run before I blow town. I'll be back in a few hours."
* * *
Aggie pulled her VW van into the driveway of her house in Los Angeles for the last time and glanced at her watch. It was 7:45. The last rays of sunlight glowed orange on the western horizon.
The mini-fridge in the back of the camper contained a six-pack of Diet Mountain Dew and four tubs of cow's blood. Aggie grabbed a container of blood. The blood had been easy to find; it had come from a butcher in Chinatown. The other thing she'd needed--the harder one--was tucked discretely into the back pocket of her jeans, and she checked it nervously before going into the house.
Angel was right where she'd left him, staring disconsolately at the rug. Spike had stretched himself out on the couch and fallen asleep.
"Wake up," Aggie said, setting the plastic container on the coffee table. "I got you some blood."
Spike sat up eagerly. "You're my new favorite human." He lifted the lid and sniffed. "Cow's blood?"
"It's what I could find."
"It'll do," Spike said, carrying the blood with him into the kitchen.
Angel hadn't moved.
"You don't want any?" Aggie asked him.
"I'm not hungry," he said. It was a lie, of course. Aggie knew full well that vampires were always ravenous. She also knew that self-deprivation was integral to Angel's tenuous grasp on his pretended humanity.
"Don't suppose you've decided to come with me?" she said.
He stared at her, his eyes hard and defiant. "No."
"Suit yourself," she said. "Can you at least do me a favor and help me load the van?"
"Sure." Angel pulled himself slowly to his feet.
Aggie pointed to a box of books in the stack by the door. "That one there, if you don't mind. I don't think I can lift it." She slipped her hand into the back pocket of her jeans and nervously fingered the plastic cylinder secreted there.
Angel walked over to the box. Aggie knew she'd have just one shot at this. If he was at all on his guard, she'd never get away with it. Fortunately, he was sufficiently off his game tonight that she just might be able to pull it off. Of course, if he hadn't been so far off his game she might not have to do the incredibly dangerous and stupid thing she was about to attempt.
Angel bent over to pick up the large box. At the exact same time, Aggie slipped the auto-injector out of her pocket and jammed it into his gluteus maximus with all the strength she had.
He turned on her with frightening quickness and grabbed her arm in a vise-like grip. "What did you do?" he roared. Everything about him radiated menace.
Aggie's blood ran cold. He could kill her in a second--less than a second--and she was betting her life on nothing more solid than a hunch that he wouldn't.
"I'm sorry," she said, trying to will her voice to steadiness and ignore the pain radiating up her arm where Angel held her. "I had to."
"What... what did you do to me?" Already his grip was starting to weaken.
"I promised Lorne," Aggie said as Angel slumped to floor.
She breathed a sigh of relief and rubbed her sore arm. Guess that weird guy at the clinic had been right about the dosage necessary to knock out a vampire after all. And she'd pulled it off without getting killed or peeing herself. She was going to have a doozy of a bruise, though.
"Bloody hell," said Spike from the doorway to the kitchen. He looked warily from the unconscious Angel to Aggie. "What'd you just go and do?"
"Tranquilizers," Aggie said, pulling the injector needle out of Angel's ass cheek. "I need you to carry him to the van for me."
Spike stared at her a moment, then smirked. "You really like getting your way, don't you?"
"You think I'm gonna leave him here to get killed after I went to all that trouble to save him? Forget it."
"I'm still coming, too, though, right?"
"Good." He hauled Angel over his shoulder with a grunt. "Gah, someone needs to put fatty here on a diet."
Aggie led the way and pulled open the van's sliding door. Spike dumped Angel unceremoniously onto the back seat. She peered at the unconscious vampire. "You think he'll kill me when he wakes up?"
Spike slapped her jovially on the back. "Prob'ly not. But I still wouldn't want to be you, pet."
* * *
Angel swam gradually to consciousness and the realization that he was in a moving car--on a highway, judging by the relatively constant high speed at which they were traveling. By the smell he knew that he was in Aggie's VW van; there were still traces of Gunn's blood in the upholstery. He fought off a wave of nausea--from the blood, from the moving car, and from whatever Aggie had dosed him with.
The van's tinny old radio was playing "Already Gone" and for some reason it struck him as odd that someone who'd just attacked and abducted him would be listening to the Eagles.
His head was killing him, but he forced himself to open his eyes.
Spike, of all people, was driving the van. He hadn't expected that. Aggie was slumped down in the passenger seat next to him; her slow and steady breathing told Angel that she was asleep.
Carefully, slowly, so as not to exacerbate the nausea, Angel sat up.
Spike glanced back at him and nudged Aggie. "Sleeping Beauty's awake back there."
Aggie turned around and looked at Angel with an expression that was equal parts defiance and apprehension.
"Where are we?" he asked.
"Not sure," said Aggie. She glanced at Spike.
"Just crossed into Arizona 'bout half-an-hour back," he said.
Angel rubbed his throbbing head. "So, you're not turning me in to the Senior Partners, then?"
"God! No!" said Aggie. "I would never do that." She actually looked offended.
"But you'd stab me in the ass with a tranquilizer injector."
"It was the only thing I could think of," said Aggie.
"Bloody well made my day," Spike said.
Aggie glared at Spike, then turned back to Angel. "It was for your own good."
"Shouldn't I decide what's for my own good?" Angel said.
"Sometimes," Aggie said. "And sometimes friends do it for you when you're in a bad place and making stupid choices."
"I'm not your friend," Angel said coldly.
"Thanks for the newsflash, jackass, but Lorne is, and I promised him that I'd help you out. Again."
Angel felt a twinge of guilt. "It was a stupid thing to do. I could have killed you."
"I know," said Aggie. "Lucky for us, you didn't."
Angel briefly considered demanding that they turn the car around and take him back to L.A. Or at least pull over and let him out. Surely Aggie considered her promise to Lorne fulfilled by now. She'd have to let him go back, if he insisted on it.
But why? What was there in L.A. for him to go back to? Lorne had made it clear he wanted to make a clean break. Gunn was gone. Wes was gone. Fred and Cordy were gone. Connor was... Connor was out of his reach, as he always would be. Better that way, but it didn't make it any easier.
Angel's friends, the people he cared about, had been the only thing keeping him going these past five years, the only thing that made his existence bearable and gave it meaning. And now he'd lost them all. Everything--everyone--that had ever mattered to him was gone.
There was no reason to go back. No reason to go forward, either. He had no idea what highway they were on or where they were taking him. He found that he didn't care.
He leaned back on the lumpy padded bench in the back of the van and closed his eyes. Don Henley was still singing on the radio up front.
I will sing this vict'ry song, 'cause I'm already gone...
That's what I am, Angel thought, what they all were, the people he had loved. Gone.
All right, nighty-night.