E-mail: notmanos at yahoo dot com
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 is 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: The group searches for Xander with the help of an old - dead - friend. Meanwhile, the Organization makes an unwise
move that others will, undoubtedly, pay for.
Notes: Takes place after the events of "X2" and immediately after "Revenant".
At some point, every intelligent person had to grasp that the world was eventually going to end.
It might just be from a personal standpoint - your own death. Or it could be from a wider vista - natural catastrophe, a nuclear mushroom cloud taking out everything, demon hordes from the fifty sixth dimension overwhelming earth. Anything was actually possible, and certainly your own death was an easy bet.
Well, for some.
If you were really smart, you'd read the writing on the wall that most people didn't see, the kind that was written in a type of supernatural lemon juice, and find a way to hedge your bet. Kaya Sagawa prided herself on always seeing the writing on the wall, and always placing bets on a winner.
This man, sitting in front of her desk, was not a winner. He looked very average in all respects - average looks, average weight, average clothes, with only the solidity of his frame giving him anything remarkable. He called himself Oversight, and he was from that clandestine mutant organization known simply as the Organization. She actually admired that name; it was so bland, so generic, it clearly embraced the "banality of evil" concept and ran with it. You had to like people who weren't afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeve.
She was ordered to work with him on this, ordered from the top, but she was adept at reading between the lines, something the Senior Partners valued her for. They said she was a "natural". That was high praise. "You have to understand something, Mr ... Oversight," she explained, smiling at his code name so he didn't note the sarcasm. "Weapon X has made something of a name for himself in the Extra Human strata of Los Angeles." Extra Human, in this case, encompassed demons as well as mutants; in fact, she was just talking about demons at the moment. She had no idea if any mutants beyond his so called "friends" knew he was ever here. "He has, in fact, aligned himself with a major power broker. If you continue to pursue him here, we may not be able to help you."
The man, with his military short reddish brown hair and sun beaten leathery skin, frowned at her, his little blue eyes narrowing even further. "Is Wolfram and Hart backing out of our agreement?"
"Absolutely not. A contract with us is signed in blood." Literally in fact, but she bet this jumped up little despot didn't know that - these oh so clever military men didn't know the first thing about what was actually going on here. They thought they were the smartest, always ahead of the game.
They were wrong.
But oh, wouldn't it break their hearts to find out?
“You simply have to understand we have an existing agreement with this power that we will not violate,” she continued smoothly. “And rather than pick between you and violate a contract, we simply choose to stay out of any conflict. But please understand we will be very … displeased if you pursue this.”
Oversight leaned forward, and gave her a glare she was sure he thought was menacing. His real name was General Norman Brewer, but he was only a two star general, and the latest cannon fodder to fill the seat at the Organization. They were in big trouble, as their ranks were being decimated from the inside; a mutant named Chameleon was apparently suspected, but had yet to be caught. (Chameleon was also apparently dead, but since when did that stop anyone?) It was also suspected that Weapon X - the oh so macho man handsome and demon scary Logan - was assisting her in some fashion. He wasn’t, of course - oh, maybe he did in the beginning, but not after. As hard as it might be for them to believe, a lot of mutants hated the Organization and wanted to see it destroyed, not just Logan. “Our contract with you is a separate issue. Are you trying to dictate who we can go after?”
“Hardly. But you do have to understand that this person is not someone you can wage war against. He’s not a person at all, as a matter of fact. I’m sure you’ve heard of him - Bob?”
“Bob?” he repeated incredulously. He then considered that a moment, clearly wracking his tiny little mind; she was surprised she didn’t hear the clatter of pots and pans. “You mean the reality warper? We have telepathic blockers; we can handle him.”
She snickered derisively. What an asshole. “No you can’t. We have telepathic blockers too, and let me tell you, they do shit to a deity.”
He sat up, fixing her with a look that suggested he thought she was full of shit. “Deity? Are you seriously implying that pretty boy fuckhead is god?”
She couldn’t help but smile at his ignorance. They were an organization of idiots, weren’t they? She shifted in her plush leather chair - so much nicer than the fabric and metal one he was parked in - and subtly opened a drawer on her desk. “There’s more than one god, philistine. No wonder your little group is imploding: your intell sucks.”
She watched the lethargic muscles in his forearms jump as he clenched his fists, and he scowled so deep it looked like a gash in his leather skin. “My group isn’t so afraid of a reality warping fag that we’re creating fairy tales about him.”
She continued to snicker, shaking her head. “I should leave you to him, you know, but he’d be far too kind. We’re not getting in a pointless war with Bob before we’re ready, simply because you lost control of one of your weapons and can’t seem to get him back. In fact, I think it’d be best if the Organization ceased any activities in the Los Angeles area for the time being. We will not aid you, and without our association, you will find L.A. extremely hostile to you and yours.”
“Is that a threat?” he growled.
“No, not at all. It’s an epitaph.” She pulled the revolver out of her drawer, and Brewer barely had time to register it before she fired, putting a neat little hole in the center of wide, crinkled forehead, the back of his head exploding outward and leaving chunks of brain tissue all over her carpet. Well, she wanted to get some new carpet anyways.
Brewer’s body slid off the chair and hit the floor with a dull thud as she replaced her revolver and hit the appropriate button on her intercom. “I need janitorial in here now.”
Wolfram and Hart was the model of efficiency. Janitorial was in her office by the time she closed the drawer, retrieved her letter opener, and stood up, smoothing out her skirt. The two man team was made of one big Human named Leonard, and a bronze Frenik demon named Tojo. “I want this man dropped off at a secret military base known as Point Pacific,” she instructed them. “Just ask the Locators; they’ll give you exact coordinates. “
The two large, thick men nodded, not quite in unison but very close, as she crouched down beside the body. She pushed him over on his back and used the letter opener - actually a sixteenth century Klerik dagger, made of alchemist conjured metal - to cut open his shirt. His chest was saggy, almost concave, and she couldn’t help but be disappointed. For all Logan’s faults - and they were voluminous - the one thing that would always remain a point in his favor was his chest. Maybe it was a bit too hairy for her tastes, but it appeared so hard you could play racquetball off it - now that was a man’s chest.
It didn’t take her long to carve the letters in his chest; the tip of the dagger was supernaturally sharp, and split the skin as easily as if he was made of butter (a possibility with his physique). He was dead so he didn’t bleed, but the blood did well up just a little bit, just enough to make the words stand out on his pale flesh: Get out. There was no way the Organization could misunderstand that message.
Once she was finished, she stood aside as Tojo grabbed Brewer and hefted his dead weight like it was nothing, and Leonard held the door open for him. Before they left, she told them, “Send Sanjeev in with the carpet samples, would you?”
At least now she had a good excuse to redecorate.
Only Bob could take the news of a stolen soul as a minor setback.
While he went off to heal Logan, they discussed possible options. There weren’t many.
Willow had to go back to her body and soon, as she could only astral project for so long before her real body would start to suffer. But could they leave Xander’s body empty? They were in the hospital, so maybe they could hook him up to life support, keep his body alive until they could get his soul back (if they could) , but then Bob came back out and pointed out that would only work if he was comatose, not if he was actually dead or a soulless killing machine.
Angel glanced at his watch, and figured Bob had been in Logan’s room for about a minute. But then again, it wouldn’t take long, would it? He could just tell him he was fine and had two eyes, and that’d be it. “Mates, you’re overlooking the most obvious thing,” Bob said, so casual he might as well have been discussing the ball game. “We get a placeholder.”
They all exchanged questioning glances before Angel asked, “What?”
“We get another soul to inhabit Xander’s body while we find his,” Bob explained. At the looks they were all giving him, he added, “What? We get someone who’s already passed on to keep him up and ensouled. This buys us oodles of time.”
“Define oodles,” Marc asked. “I’m just curious what an “oodle” is.”
Giles sighed in a manner that suggested he was trying hard not to lose his patience. He sat forward, hands clasped together as though he didn’t trust them either. “Bob, the dead inhabiting the living has never worked out well.”
Scott, who had been slumping back in his chair in aggressive disbelief, now straightened up. “Wait, you’re saying the dead have inhabited the living?”
Giles scowled at the floor, so when he glanced at Scott he didn’t glare at him. Obviously he wanted to tolerate his status as a general disbeliever, if only because it essentially made his job easier. “It’s rare, but there have been circumstances in which it has happened - specialized circumstances. It’s not as common as phony psychics would have you believe.”
“If we choose the dead person who’s gonna help us out, make it someone we can trust, we should have no problem with it,” Bob argued.
Now Angel was starting to lose his patience, although part of that he blamed for being tired, and the other part for having a naturally low tolerance for Bob’s bullshit. “And how the hell do we do that? Summoning the dead is tricky enough on its own; trying to summon a specific person is like trying to ride lightning.”
Bob gave him one of his big, smart ass grins, the kind that made you really want to haul off and punch him. “Not with me it ain’t. I can dimension hop, remember? I also have a death god as a personal friend of mine. I’ll admit it won’t be super simple, but it shouldn’t be much of a hassle. I’ll find someone we can trust, and I can make sure they agree to be a part of this.” Bob shifted his gaze to Giles. “It’ll just be up to you to make it happen on the physical plane.”
Giles’s shoulders sagged and he glanced down at the floor once more, grimacing in doubt. It would be a big spell, not hard, just tricky. It was always tricky when you opened up a schism between the lands of the dead and the lands of the living; even when working with a specific target, you could let almost anything in during that time you had the door open.
“Okay, but who do we get?” Bren asked.
Bob shrugged. “Somebody you trusted in life who’s now dead, who’s had serious enough brushes with the supernatural that they could‘ve ended up with an afterlife. It’d be helpful if they were friends, if not of Xander at least of some of us, as that should make things easier to explain, as well as easier for them to let Xander’s body go when the time comes.”
So they came up with a list of names, which was a grim task, because it just reaffirmed how many friends they had all lost: Cordelia, Anya, Tara, Gunn, Wesley, Fred, Cressida, Jenny. Wesley was considered a front runner, because he could actually help them with this, what with his knowledge of spellcasting and all, and by default that made Tara the second candidate. Angel noticed Scott almost contribute a name, and then stop himself at the last minute. He did it once more before Bob felt he had a big enough pool to choose from. Angel guessed that Scott was going to throw out Jean’s name, but either thought better of it, or feared what would happen if Bob did choose her. Bren threw out Matt’s name, but then instantly retracted it. “I wouldn’t trust him to give up Xander’s body,” he admitted, with a guilty grimace.
“Is there a reason you guys got a dead pool goin’ on?” Logan interjected. He was now standing in the doorway of his hospital room, dressed only in black boxer shorts, still pulling i.v. tubes out of his arms. He ripped open his own skin as he yanked them out, but his skin healed almost instantaneously, before a drop of his blood could fully well on his skin. His skin was its usual color too; Bob must have supercharged his powers, if only temporarily. Also, his eye was back, with only dried blood on his left cheek indicating it had ever been missing.
“Yeah, this,” Bob said, and reached out and touched Logan’s arm. Logan suddenly reeled away cursing, grabbing his head like he’d just been shot. Marc stood up, but couldn’t seem to decide on whether he should look at Bob or Logan. “What did you do?” he demanded.
“Info burst,” Bob explained, with the smallest of shrugs. “He can take it. He’s about the only Human that can without their brains leaking out their ears.”
“Son of a bitch,” Logan roared, straightening up and glowering at Bob. “You couldn’t even warn me?”
Bob just smiled, a look that would have been dangerous for anyone else to have around an angry Logan. “What, and spoil the surprise?”
Logan looked like he contemplated charging him for about a solid minute, but he ultimately decided against it, probably because it never would have worked. He could only catch Bob by surprise, and there was no way an attack by Logan would be a surprise here.
As Bob laid it all out, it sounded so simple. They’d go back to the bar, where Bob had a handy dimensional gateway all ready to go (Angel already knew about that - the portal through which the PTBs all but ignored him), and Giles could set up the spell around Xander, with Willow’s help. As soon as Bob located someone who was willing to help - and he’d communicate this through Logan, because as his avatar they already had a connection (and Logan looked positively thrilled about that) - Giles would initiate the summoning spell. It had to be timed precisely, as this wasn’t a spell that could just be left open, and as soon as Willow sensed a presence, she was to leave - end the spell keeping her here - so Xander’s body would never have a moment of emptiness. With someone always in it, they didn’t have to worry about what would happen to his body - they’d just have to find who took his soul, and see if they could get it back.
Angel had the sneaking suspicion that, as difficult as all of this sounded, that would actually be the hard part.
It was quality irony that only the demons and those who spent a significant amount of time around them or other supernatural beings got to have an afterlife. Bob sometimes wondered if the Powers That Be set that up on purpose.
Demons at death were called back to their home dimensions, since Earth wasn’t technically any demons’ natural home anymore. But Humans who spent large amounts of time dealing with supernatural energies or entities - spellcasters, witches, Watchers, Slayers, fighters who didn’t bother with official names - often ended up in a kind of pocket dimension, where everybody inhabited their own universe without actually being aware of it. If the Humans had made bargains with certain demons or were killed in ritual sacrifices to a being, they could end up in the demons’ - or gods’ - home dimensions, but that didn’t happen a lot. Neither did soul poaching, where a demon or a god would grab a soul and take it back to their dimension, but it had been known to happen. Sometimes people died but remained in an odd kind of limbo, resulting in ghosts and poltergeists, usually people who were furious at their own death, or those who honestly felt they didn’t have time to be dead. You had to! be quite willful to make it work, which was why Bob was certain that Logan would have been a ghost when he died, except now that he was his avatar, he’d be going to a nice little pocket universe where he could live in peace. Angel probably would have been a ghost too, except he got turned into a vampire. And Helga would probably be the first demon ghost in existence.
Even with Degei’s help, navigating through the pocket universe of the Humans wasn’t easy. Not only did the landscape shift every time he entered someone’s personal perception zone, but there was simply no rhyme or reason to the place. It was basically a living, breathing M.C. Escher sort of universe, a Mobius strip of shifting realities, where a look out a window could give you a dozen different views at once. And he couldn’t ask if anyone had seen so and so, because no one else knew anyone else was actually there, beyond who they wanted there.
Bob had crossed about a hundred different dividing lines, a hundred different worlds, before a beautiful African savannah gave way to an equal beautiful beach of golden sand and water as blue as crushed sapphires, under a warm but forgiving sun. There was a large beach house right on the ocean, overlooking what must have been the most expensive view on the California coastline, and Bob was briefly envious. Now that was the way to make the afterlife fun - grab up the good stuff.
About twenty yards down the private beach was a man with coal black hair laying on a beach towel, browning his skin beneath the sun, wearing only blue swim trunks and expensive black sunglasses. He was pale, slight, a small framed man although by no means short, just average in height, and there was something strangely familiar about him. The man heard him walking across the sand and looked up. “Can I help you wit’ somethin’, mate?” The man raised his sunglasses, and now that Bob could see his face, he recognized him. But the man also recognized him at the same time. “Holy shit - Maximum Bob?”
Bob held up his hand in a sort of static “hi”. “Yep. Wow, I didn’t expect to see you. How’s li … er, things?”
He sat up, perching his sunglasses on the top of his head. He used to be one of the Way Station’s best customers. He didn’t actually know him - guilt kept him from interacting with him much - but Lia and Helga knew him well enough that he had given each of them his number. (Lia had balled up his number and threw it back in his face, but he knew her well enough not to take it personally.) “Uh, good, good. Y’know, I didn’t actually expect anything, but … hey. It’s pretty cool here. I guess this is payment for bein’ a messenger and all, huh?”
“A safe assumption.” He’d do, wouldn’t he? He wasn’t on their list, but that was probably an oversight.
“So what happened to you? I mean, I thought you were the big bad Belial.”
“Uh, yeah … about that? I wasn’t really just a Belial.”
He cocked his head curiously. “Oh yeah? What else were ya?”
The news would come as a bit of a blow to him, he knew that, but there was no way to soft pedal it. So he simply reverted to his pure energy form for a second, then went back to his fleshy humanoid form, wondering if he’d get it. He never saw Powers in their non-physical guises, had he?
He stared at him for several long moments, and then his mouth started working with no sound coming out. He was so shocked he’d been robbed of his ability to speak. He scrambled to his feet, and finally found his voice. “You were one of them? Shit man, did you do that t’ me?”
“God no, I’d have never done that to anyone. Believe me, I’m on earth ‘cause they kicked me out. I’m not even invited to the family reunions.”
He didn’t look terribly placated. “Well, couldn’t you have helped me somehow?”
Bob spread his hands out helplessly. “No. They’d have smacked me down and given them right back to you. I’m sorry. “
“Shit.” He dry washed his face with his hands, and took a moment to compose himself. No matter that it was old news and it didn’t matter now; it was still clearly a sore point. “So why are you here? Don’t tell me they want me for something again.”
“No. Actually, Angel needs your help, if you’re willing.” He told him what was going on, how the closing of the Hellmouth still gave something an opportunity to steal Xander’s soul, and how they needed a soul to step in for his until they could find him. He seemed rather dubious about it at first, but he knew of Xander - Angel and Cordy both having mentioned him once or twice - and he felt kind of bad for the “kid“. “Know who took him?”
Bob hated to shrug, but he had to. “There’s a couple of suspects, honestly; I’m gonna have to narrow it down.”
“I get to come back here afterward, right?”
“Of course. This is only temporary.”
He looked around at his dream beach house and perfectly ideal Pacific Ocean, and sighed wistfully. “I’m prob’ly nuts for agreein’ to this, but … ah hell. I’ve always liked a good challenge.”
“No you haven’t.”
“Okay, fine, no, but you could’ve humored me.” After a moment, he nervously scratched his neck, and asked, “So how long have I been … y’know. It seems like I’ve been here a couple hours. I know Angel had a knack for trouble, but come on, how did he get into so much so fast?”
He seemed visibly taken aback by that figure. His ice blue eyes seemed to stare holes through him for a very long moment, then he got his emotions under control. “Bloody hell. Time really does run differently here, doesn’t it?”
That was dimensional travel for you. The time zone variations could be an absolute killer.
Angel couldn’t help but think this was still a very bad idea, but he had nothing to go in its place. Yes, the hospital thing was an unworkable idea, but opening the nether realms and letting someone - and possibly other things - back out was hardly any better. Still, what was left? He was going to abide by Giles’s judgment, and he seemed to think he could do this.
While the rest of them returned to the Way Station, Scott decided to go back to his jet to scrounge up a spare pair of glasses, as well as possibly catch a nap. Logan told him he could just take off, he was under no obligation to stay, but he seemed strangely reluctant to do so. Why? He didn’t know Xander, and he apparently didn’t like the sound of any of this, but he was staying so far. It seemed like he had something on his mind, and Angel wondered if Jean - the woman he almost named but didn’t - had something to do with it. Grief could do strange things to a person, and hope was exactly the same.
Helga got Marcus to help her move some tables back, since the bar was currently closed - as soon as they got back Bob cleared the joint and declared it “closed for spellcasting” - and then Helga helped Giles draw up the chalk pentagram on the floor. Willow offered to help, but Helga just seemed to be on a roll. Willow put down the protective circle of salt and runes beyond the pentagram. They were doing everything they could to prevent the release of something other than the person they were aiming for.
Angel sat at the bar with Logan and Marcus - Logan was already on his second beer - and they had caught Logan up on what he’d missed, because he could hardly remember anything after reaching the sixth floor of the building. He didn’t realize he’d lost an eye, but when told about it, he vaguely recalled it, although he didn’t know how he lost it in the first place. The memory loss bothered him more than the fact that he’d lost his eye, but that was typical somehow. When it came to his own physical well being he had long ago stopped giving a damn, thanks to his healing factor. He’d heal or he wouldn’t, but it was of no concern to him.
While the spell was being done, Willow - well, Xander - had to lay in the middle of the pentagram, and she admitted she felt really weird about it. Also, Bob needed to get the floor swept more often. Logan paused suddenly, beer bottle half raised to his lips, and then said, “Bob’s got someone.”
“Already?” Angel replied, suddenly overcome with jittery nerves. Who did he find? Who was he going to have to face? To be perfectly honest, he wasn’t sure he could deal with someone he failed coming back for a second round. He rather hoped Bob had found Tara, because he didn’t know her at all, and he felt no sense of guilt at the thought of her death. But that was such a selfish thought that he was embarrassed by it.
Giles initiated the spell, and Angel could only watch with his heart in his mouth, worried that this wouldn’t work, and equally terrified that it would.
It wasn’t a long ceremony, just an energy draining one. The candles set in the gap between the pentagram and the sacred circle flared, their flames guttering and jumping up to three times their normal height as Giles continued chanting in old Latin, and Angel could feel … something. It was hard to explain what it was; a sensation of otherworldliness, not wrong or right, just … incorrect. Something that shouldn’t have been, a tear between realities that seemed to offend existence itself.
Laying on the floor, Xander gasped and opened his eyes wide, as if the transition itself was unpleasant (and having been forcibly ensouled himself, he knew it wasn’t exactly a fun experience), and Giles completed the spell, the candle flames shrinking and then dying completely, letting off tiny trails of wispy smoke.
“You guys are good,” Bob said, appearing suddenly behind the bar. “I missed it already, didn’t I?”
Giles leaned against the wall, sweat pouring off his face, as he tried to catch his breath. Xander sat up, gave his new body a visual once over, and then stood up slightly uneasily. “Now here I thought, from your description, he was a spindly geek. He’s actually built better than me. I feel cheated.”
It was still Xander’s voice of course, but now it had the faintest trace of an accent. Accents were personal, of course, they just went with the speaker, the vocal chords had absolutely nothing to do with it. And while Angel easily placed the slight lilt, it took him a moment to pair it with anyone on the list.
That was because they weren’t on the list. But they should have been.
Xander stared straight at him, and said, “Well Angel, looks like I’m gonna help you save some people’s asses again. Let’s hope I’m better at this time than I was last time, huh?”
Angel felt cold right down to the tips of his toes. He was glad he was already sitting, because he was pretty sure if he was standing his knees would have given way. “Doyle?” he gasped.