Author: Notmanos
E-mail: notmanos at yahoo dot com
Rating: R
Disclaimer:  The characters of Angel are owned by 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy; the
character of Wolverine is also owned by 20th Century Fox and Marvel Comics.  No copyright
infringement intended. I'm not making any money off of this, but if you'd like to be a patron of the
arts, I won't object. ;-)  Oh, and Bob and his bunch are all mine - keep your hands off!   
Summary:  Is it the end of the world as they know it?  Bob, the X-Men, and several of their
friends (?) are forced to pull together for what may indeed be the final battle. To end it all,
someone may have to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Notes:  Takes place shortly after "X2" and immediately after "Gravity".


All in all, he was surprised he’d managed to hold out this long.

Scott headed down the outside stairs quietly, garbage bag slung over his shoulder, but he didn’t understand why he was trying to be quiet - didn’t he deliberately pick late nights (and early mornings) to head out of his place to avoid running into other people?  It wasn’t a comment on the quality of his neighbors - not really - he just didn’t want to risk being recognized.

As time went on and people forgot, their ten second attention span caught by other things, he was quickly fading from memory (if he had ever been in it to begin with). Oh, he still got stares, but it was the kind he usually received for having strange headgear. He had discovered if you went shopping at twenty four hour supermarkets at or after midnight, you got almost no staring at all.  People were either too tired, or had seen a lot stranger than you.

Although it did leave him exhausted, he had learned to appreciate his late night forays. It seemed quieter at night, less hectic, save for Friday and Saturday nights, when there was an exponential increase in drunks. But Sundays and Mondays were as dead as a graveyard.  The drawback was that it had increased his sense of isolation tenfold.

It wasn’t new. If Scott allowed himself to think about it, he had spent a lot of his life feeling lonely; most of it, in fact.  Only while at Xavier’s - and after meeting Jean - had that gnawing ache gone away. Now it was back, full force, but he was trying to tough it out as long as he could. Why?  Maybe he wanted to see if he could beat it, or at least learn to live with it.  Or maybe he was just masochistic.

He had discovered some non-alcoholic ways to blunt the pain too: food and television.  It was awful, but he'd discovered addictions to bags of Sun Chips and microwave popcorn, and BBC America.  He could eat those foods and watch that channel all day. (Oh, how he loved The Office.  It made him glad no one would ever hire him for an office job. Why couldn‘t American sitcoms be that funny?)

But neither of those things were good.  He was merely blunting the pain, not handling it.  All it did was briefly distract him from the fact that he really, really wanted to go back home. And Xavier’s was home; it was the closest thing to one he had ever had.  He didn’t want to go crawling back with his tail between his legs, so he found himself trying to devise ways to go back, some pretext that wouldn’t stink of desperation and loneliness.  So far, he hadn’t come up with anything he liked.

Had he, in some way, been waiting for Jean?

It was another thing he didn’t like to think about, although he supposed he was.  But it made him question what he was waiting for - her to turn up on the doorstep, saying, “I missed you,” or “Please come home” ?  He had no idea, and it was too depressing to think about.

He did wonder how everyone was doing (Did the kids miss him?  Had Logan snapped and killed someone yet?), and he’d almost called a dozen times, but he didn’t go through with it.  Xavier would pick up his mood over the telephone, and he didn’t want him to know how bereft he felt.

But what kind of life was this?  He slept most of the day, and now spent his nights watching cable t.v., taking out his garbage, and going to the Safeway.  There were no words for how sad that was. He was beginning to understand why Logan spent so much time in bars, no matter how smelly and depressing
they were - at least, if you had to be alone, you could be alone in a crowd.

Scott went around the back of the apartment building - they tried to keep the communal dumpster as far from the apartment building as possible - when he realized he heard people talking.

He must have heard them earlier, but dismissed them as the loud humpers in unit thirty two. (One night, when he had one too many wine coolers, he considered shouting, “We know you’re faking, so will you keep it down?” but it was such a horrible thought he didn’t.  But she made the exact same noises all the time, in the same sequence. It was like a scripted performance - how could it not be faking?  He‘d heard more realism in Keanu Reeves' films.)

“- over or not?” He heard a man say.  He may have been trying to keep his voice low, but with so few cars on the road and a dead silence smothering the complex like a shroud, his voice traveled far.

“Fuck you,” another man spat in reply. He really wasn’t trying to keep his voice down.

The dumpster - for whatever reason - was kept in an ugly latticework corral (did people try and steal dumpsters?) in the rear parking lot.  He could have been seen if the men were paying attention, in spite of the poor lighting, but they weren’t - he could see their silhouettes, one of the men taller than the other by six inches, and heavier by maybe seventy pounds or so, both standing beside a slightly battered Escalante that he had never seen in the lot before.

“You want to die, you punk-ass bitch?” The taller man said to the shorter one. “Give it!”

The smaller man shifted something on his shoulder. A knapsack?  “Eat me. Tell your boss he can join you.” He then held up his hand - giving him the finger, no doubt - and started to turn away.

Scott had a bad feeling about the hostility and body language of all of this even before the big man
reached inside his coat.

He was going to shout a warning, but the man was fast; he already had the gun out.

From that point on, it was sheer instinct for Scott to do what he did next: fire a shot from his visor.

The narrow red beam slammed into the gun, sending it flying over the roof of the car, and lighting up the night in a brief flash of crimson.

Mortified, he instantly ducked behind the dumpster and dropped his garbage bag, hoping no one saw him. What the hell was he thinking?!  He was just getting past the notoriety - did he really want to start that up again?

“What the fuck was that?!” The smaller guy exclaimed. “What the fuck did you bring with you?”

“Me?” The big guy responded, perturbed. “Who’s protectin’ you?”

“What?  Like I got fuckin’ protection …”

“Good,” the big guy said, and the sound of a knife being pulled from a sheath echoed through the lot.
A big knife.

Oh, damn it.  Maybe he would be risking renewed exposure, but hell, he couldn’t let someone get hurt, could he?  He moved out from behind the dumpster, and saw the man had pulled … a machete?  Where the hell did someone keep a sheath for that?

The big guy must have seen him out of the corner of his eye, because he suddenly spun on his heels, pulling back his arm as if to throw the blade at him, so Scott shifted his aim from the machete to his chest, and fired.

This beam was wider and harder - perhaps a little too much so. The big guy slammed back against the car hard enough to make it rock, and shatter one of the side windows on impact.  The machete went flying out of his hand, and when he finally plopped face first to the pavement, out cold, Scott saw the big guy had left a huge dent in the car’s paneling. Oops.

The smaller guy with the knapsack was gaping at him. “Holy fuck!  What are you?”

Scott took a step towards him, but the guy tensed, so he stopped.  Only then did he see he had strange, compound eyes, dark bruises in his pale ovoid face, topped with spiky brown hair.  Demon or mutant? “It’s okay,” he told him, holding up his hands to show he wasn’t armed. “I’m not a bad -”

“Who sent you?” The man interrupted, everything in his posture suggesting he was about to bolt.

“No one.  I just -”

“You want it, man?  Take it.  Just don’t shoot me with the laser.” He said, throwing the knapsack at him
as he ran off in the opposite direction.

Scott caught the bag as it thumped into his chest, but it was more reflex than anything else. “Hey, wait -” he called out, but it was hardly out of his mouth before the guy had seemingly disappeared, merging into the night like a shapeshifter.  He still wasn’t sure if he was demon or mutant, but damn he could run fast.

Scott looked around, to see if the noise and light show had attracted attention, but there were no lights on that hadn’t been on before, and most of those were just the dim blue glow of television screens.  People must have heard; but they obviously didn't care.

He looked down at the tatty, khaki knapsack he was inexplicably holding, and wondered what he should do.  He could hardly give it to the robber - or whatever he was - when he woke up, but what else was he gonna do with it?  Somehow, he doubted it belonged in a “lost and found”. Curiosity got the better of him, and he decided to look inside.

He'd expected drugs or something like that (neither of the men could have been up to any good in a deserted parking lot at one in the morning) , but when he untied the knot holding it shut and forced it
open, that wasn’t what he found.  What he saw was … what the hell was that?

Scott had a feeling he'd just found his reason to go back to the mansion.



The really nice thing about Yasha was that she wouldn’t nag you to talk about something if you really didn’t feel like it.  The bad thing was, she turned that against you: if you wouldn’t talk about something,
she wouldn’t talk about something either.  So she still hadn’t told him why she was in Los Angeles, but then again, he hadn’t told her about what happened to Leonie, and some of the things after that.  Logan supposed that was only fair.

But he also supposed he was going to have to tell her something.  He’d discovered he now had new nightmares. The first was the same old one - strapped down and helpless, knives cutting into flesh, needles like lances puncturing his bones - but the second one was Leonie’s head being blown apart, again and again, with a startling crystal clarity that couldn’t have been real.

Even Yasha knew he was waking up a little more rattled than usual.  But he didn’t even know how to begin talking about such a thing.  He had a feeling if he voiced anything beyond the plain, utilitarian “She died,” he would lose it.

And why?  He didn’t know her at all; and what he did know of her he didn’t necessarily like.  So why had this hit so fucking hard?

Maybe it was because she was just a kid, and a pawn of those fucks, those stupid fucks who kept ruining what little he had of a life.  Or maybe it was because of what she represented: another life, a real one... maybe even a family.  Some signifier that he hadn’t always been this -


- nothing, this man without a past worth remembering, this tool of other, craftier people.  It gave him a momentary insight into why he sorta hung around Xavier’s, even though he really didn’t like kids, and didn’t fit in with any of the adults:  maybe he wanted to be more than he was.  Maybe he was even trying to atone for something. But what?  Could you, technically, atone for a past you couldn’t even remember?

It was usually at that point in his circular train of thoughts that Logan gave up.  It was like a koan, an ancient riddle that would never have an accurate answer.  He had to go on instinct because it was the
only thing he had that had never been well and truly fucked over.

To his knowledge.

Although it was fun in the hotel room, he realized he needed to go out and get a drink - fast - and as it turned out, Yasha knew this bar on the Lower West Side called Paranoiac’s (cute name), where Humans and demons intermingled easily, but it was not a fetish club like Akki-Netsuai (thank god … or whatever). It was just a bar, all dark wood and low amber lighting, cozy without being too crowded or too homely, and most of the people who came here didn’t even know they were mingling with demons, as they were mostly of the “passing for Human” variety.  And keeping to its “Paranoiac” name, pictures of famous “conspiracies” (JFK, UFO’s, J. Edgar Hoover, Bigfoot) hung on the walls, along with a movie poster for “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas”. Logan wasn’t sure what the conspiracy angle was there, unless it was the fact that Hunter S. Thompson - the main character of the movie - was considered paranoid.  Maybe they were just big Terry Gilliam fans.

Curiously though, after he and Yasha came in, a pair of vampires near the back stared at them, whispered, and eventually ducked out in a big hurry. They debated which one of them they had recognized, since they both had rather fearsome demon-world reputations.  Since the vamps were no longer around to ask, both of them had only their opinions to go on.

The bar had good Irish and Canadian beers, and the cigarette smoke was at tolerable levels, as was the stereo, playing what seemed to be the entire Stevie Ray Vaughn collection (not necessarily a bad thing). At some point Logan started to relax; he didn’t know when.  It just occurred to him when he was on his third pint. Weird; he felt pretty good.  There was even an easy companionship in the silences he shared with Yasha.

It was around one in the morning when they decided to call it a night and go back.  Logan was kind of amazed. He’d had a good time at a bar, and never even got into a fight.  That was a rare thing.

Considering how traffic was still pretty bad, and it was a reasonably nice night, they decided just to walk back.  And again, Logan had another weird moment of realization.  Here he was, walking down the street with his arm around the shoulders of a vampire.  It was made doubly weird by the fact that she had an arm around his waist, like they were a real couple or something.  Could they be?

The logical side of him knew this would never, ever work, not in a million years.  But it was a nice thought, even if only for a moment.

He'd resigned himself to the fact that they were in for a bizarrely peaceful night when he realized he
smelled blood.

They were walking down one of the few quiet streets, where all the shops had already closed up for the evening, stretching metal safety grating over windows and doors, making it look as if they had turned into some kind of consumer cell block. “You getting’ that?” He wondered.  No rest for the wicked, all right.

She gave him a look like it was a stupid question, and admittedly it was - she was a vampire, after all. “Yeah.  Ahead of us.”

“Alley,” he agreed.

It was between a closed-up thrift store and a cheap teriyaki restaurant, the kind that seemed to spring up in under a minute in any place where another business shut down - the modern day strip mall fungus?  A capitalistic staph infection?

(Just how many beers had he had?!)

As they slowly approached, headlights of cars from the intersection occasionally panning by, Logan saw nothing but badly dented and overflowing garbage cans; from the scent, a frequent toilet of animals and Humans alike.  But these were rank with blood.

The reek was so great as they came to the mouth of the alley, his eyes were nearly watering, and he didn’t understand how no one else walking by couldn’t smell it.

Yasha suddenly grabbed his arm, hard, and he saw she had morphed into vamp face. “Mucho bad mojo here,” she said, her overabundance of teeth making her lisp slightly.

He had a bad feeling about this place - maybe that was why. Yet still … why?  All he saw was garbage cans bracketing the sides of a narrow alley that ended in a torn chain link fence, leading to a cut through behind the buildings. There wasn’t even a would-be mugger/rapist or derelict occupying it.

But when a set of headlights scudded along the brick wall, he saw the symbols painted on it in blood.

Most of the exact shapes of the symbols were hard to make out, because the blood was fresh and still trickled down the wall, not yet dry enough to stick like it should.  And most looked like gibberish, or the characters of an obscure and ancient alphabet lost to time.

And that’s when a man appeared before them, as if coalescing from the fleeing shadows. “Be gone, vampire,” he hissed, and threw something in Yasha’s face.

“Shit!” She exclaimed, as her skin started instantly smoking and sizzling.  Holy water?

The shadow man threw some on him as well, and Logan just glared at him.

The shadow man seemed to realize he made a mistake. “Oops,” he said, as Logan grabbed him by the throat and slammed him into the wall.  He seemed to weigh almost nothing, and his flesh felt oddly malleable beneath his fingers, more clay than skin.  Logan slammed him into another wall, as this seemed
to have no effect on him, and then pinned him to the torn chain link fence at the end of the alley, one hand still on his throat.  He held up his other fist at eye level and popped the claws. “What the fuck’s the idea, asshole?  That’s my girlfriend.”

In the uncertain light, Logan could seen the shadow man actually had skin the color of old parchment, and it was covered in black tattoos , seemingly from the same arcane language that he had seen on the wall.

And the tattoos moved.  They writhed on his skin as if in pain, as if trying to escape an unseen crucifixion. And Logan noticed, as the light scudded by, that the man had no eyes at all - they had been gouged from his face.  All that was left were bloody pits, with tears of crimson trailing down his face, and with a sudden twinge in his gut, Logan realized this man had poked his own eyes out, and used the blood to paint on the walls.

How did he see what he was painting?

And Jesus fucking Christ, why was he sure this man was staring back at him?

The man smiled, the open and sharp grin of a madman, and said, “Go.”

Suddenly Logan was thrown bodily out of the alley, and into the street.

He had no idea how it fucking happened, but he had no time to actually think about it.  His backbone collided violently with a taxi driving by, and as he rolled over the hood, he slammed down onto the street … and into the path of a moving car.

A Road Ranger, actually.  He heard the driver slam on the brakes, but the skid carried the front wheels over his chest.

Until that moment, Logan had no idea how much these damn things weighed until it threatened to crush him.  Even as he felt the blood vessels in his skin pulverize and burst under the pressure, his adamantium ribcage held (he really didn’t know how; the truck felt as heavy as the world) until the wheel thumped back to the asphalt, leaving him in relatively safety beneath the carriage of the vehicle. He heard more screeching brakes, and the truck jolted as someone slammed into the rear bumper, but it didn’t push the tires back on him, and that was all he cared about right now.  Honking and cursing in three different languages followed.

Skin burning as his healing factor went to work, he realized two things: he was fucking lucky he was an indestructible mutant, or he’d be dead right now.  And some assholes actually paid for undercoating.

Then he realized he’d just left his blinded, undead girlfriend alone with some kind of crazy-ass mystical maniac.

He shoved himself out from under the truck, feeling a wetness on his shirt he knew was blood.  He had the vague impression at least one of his nipples was torn open or off (judging from the heat from healing in that specific area), but who cared?  Wasn’t a necessary body part.  As he stood up, he saw a horrified Middle Eastern woman staring at him through the driver’s window of the Road Ranger, her dark eyes as wide as saucers.  Although he scowled at her for running him over, he knew it wasn’t her fault, and added a grudging, “I’m okay.” Only then did he notice she was staring not just at the growing blood stain on the front of his shirt, but the tire track as well.

“You fucking asshole, look what you did to my car!” The cab driver shouted, pointing at the dent he had made when he impacted the vehicle. “What the fuck didja think you were doin’, dartin’ out on the street like that?!”

Logan just shook his head and started back towards the alley.  Who “darted out” back first?

“Hey, fuckface, git your ass back here!” The cabbie shouted, almost drowned out by the chorus of honks as the traffic quickly became blocked up and impassible both ways.  The cabbie was quickly engaged in a name calling contest with at least two other men.

Yasha - thank … well, whoever; pick one - was standing outside the alley, leaning against the barred window of the thrift store, hands covering her still vaguely smoking face.  Logan glanced into the alley, but he didn’t see anything remotely like the shadow man. (Would he be able to see him?  He hadn’t even smelled him before.)

“He’s gone,” Yasha said, her voice muffled by her hands. “I heard him use a teleportation spell.  Oh shit, you’re hurt.”

She must have smelled his blood. “Just a flesh wound, already healing.  How are you?”  He raised her head gently towards him, and she moved her hands away so he could look.

The upper left side of her face looked like it had suffered third-degree burns; her flesh was a raw and angry red, skin blistered or eaten away, her eyelid swollen over her left eye, which seemed to be the center of the wound. But he could follow the splash pattern of the water across her face, as it had left angry marks wherever it touched, including the cornea of her right eye, which had a white scar like a sudden onset of cataracts. “I’ll be all right,” she assured him, as he figured she was completely blind. “Holy water doesn’t kill or permanently disable, it just stings like a motherfucker.  I’ll heal.  I just need time.”

He nodded before he remembered she couldn’t see him. “Okay.  Do you have any idea what that fucker was?  His blood smelled Human.”

“I know. My guess is it was some heavy black, blood magic; must have been a sorcerer.”

“Did you know he gouged his own eyes out?”

“Did he?  Well, that confirms it then.”

He slid her arm around his shoulders, and started leading her down the sidewalk, back in the direction of their hotel.  She didn’t resist at all, simply leaned into him, as if tired.  He imagined she was actually in a world of hurt, but wasn’t about to admit it.  Here they were, the two people who had single (well, double) handedly crushed a burgeoning demon criminal syndicate in Tokyo, and a single freakazoid self-mutilator had, in no time flat, rendered them the walking wounded.  How the fuck had that happened?  “Why does that confirm it?  Do all sorcerers poke their eyes out?”

“No, but he must have made a deal with some demon.  The price for power was his eyes.”

“Who the fuck would make a stupid deal like that?”

“A man who felt he was getting such a good deal, the power would be better than any eyes could ever be.”

And considering how quickly he'd wiped the floor with them, he bet she was right.  But why the fuck had
a sorcerer been doing blood rituals in a shitty alley on the Lower East Side?  Had their interruption been timely, or had they just made something worse?

Logan wondered if they’d ever know for sure.