And No Good Thing Ever Dies
Hope is a good thing,
Riana wandered into Angelís office, running a finger over a few of his possessions along her path. She spun his chair around and sat in it, but it was made to his scale and wasnít comfortable for her smaller frame. Restless, she regained her feet and resumed her circuit of the room. A wall of books drew her eye, and she spent a few minutes reading a shelfís worth of titles, most of them about the mystical or metaphysical world. In fact, she had a few of the same reference books at home. She left the bookshelves and continued around the room to the low couch against the wall opposite the desk. Pulling off her ever-present messenger bag, she set it down on the floor next to the couch and sank herself onto one of the cushions. A little bit of dust rose out of the couch, but she ignored it and settled back to wait for Angel.
The door to the outer office opened and footsteps clattered across the wooden floor. A man, handsome behind small spectacles, rangy and neat, crossed the threshold into Angelís office. "Oh, hello." He walked forward and offered his hand. "Wesley Wyndham-Pryce."
Lina stood and took the proffered hand. "Doctor Lina Russo."
"Are you Wes? Angel mentioned that I should meet you."
"Ah, yes. We should?"
"Iím sorry. Iím getting off to a bad start with Angelís friends today. Angel and I are old friends."
Wesley angled away, inching back towards the desk, one hand making a surreptitious search for the wooden letter opener sitting in the middle of the blotter. As his hand closed around it, he asked, "Exactly how old?"
Lina smiled. "No offense, Wesley. Iím not laughing at you, but myself. I am here for a serious matter - life and death - but I should find a better way to introduce myself. "íOld friendí seems to have negative connotations, at least where Angel is concerned." Lina gestured vaguely to the outer office. "Cordelia already subjected me to five million watts of sunshine. You can rest assured, I am not a vampire."
Wesley peered into Linaís eyes, trying to ascertain the truth of her words. Satisfied with what he saw there, he relaxed his posture and placed the letter opener back where heíd found it. "May I enquire how you know Angel?"
"He saved my life about a decade ago. We saved each other, I think."
"How came you to be here?"
"Iím here in L. A. consulting at UCLA Medical. I was a guest star in Cordeliaís latest vision."
"You seem to know the whole cast."
"Angel saved me again last night. Iíd seen him fight once before and it was the most amazing thing Iíd ever seen, but he was incredible last night. Iíve never seen such speed." Lina focused her mind on the fight, then gave a little shake of her head to dispel the bad memories. "Angel was injured. We came back here so I could tend his wounds. He filled me in on the last decade."
"Itís been eventful," Wes said mildly.
"Understatement, Wes. More like Mr. Toadís Wild Ride." Lina approached Wesley and laid a hand on his forearm. "Angel spoke highly of you, told me we should meet. Iím glad we have."
Wesley blinked, obviously flustered. Lina stepped away and went to perch on the edge of the couch. Wesley took out a hanky and cleaned his glasses. He looked so much more vulnerable without them, boyish but with an older manís wisdom. The dichotomy struck a chord in Lina, and she felt herself drawn to him. He reminded her so strongly of her husband Lif, dead more than a decade; for a moment Lina didnít know what to say. Wes was speechless, as well. It seemed she had embarrassed Wes with the familiarity of the casual touch. That tactile stuff always did get her into trouble eventually, but thatís who she was and she couldnít change.
Wes cleared his throat, still ill-at-ease. "Have you met Cordelia?"
"We met. Sheís quite a character. She went to wake Angel a few minutes ago."
"Maybe I should go help her."
"Oh, Iím sure she can handle the task with ease. She seemed very capable." Lina infused her next words with extra warmth, trying to put Wes at ease. "Please stay. Tell me of this Lethe demon. I wish I had my grimoire but I packed light this trip."
Wes raised an eyebrow. It was clear he was intrigued. "Are you a doctor of the mystical?"
"No, Wes, Iím a pediatrician. The mystical is just my hobby."
Wesley nodded. "As you know, Lethe is the first river encountered by the newly deceased in the underworld." His tone and attitude grew more confident as he warmed to the subject. Lina suppressed a smile but managed to encourage Wesleyís lecture. Wesley drew Linaís attention to the desk where he pulled a map from a lower drawer and spread it across the surface. Lina rejoined Wesley at the desk. "This is the headwater of the Lethe, the Water of Oblivion." He tapped the map and traced a sinuous midnight blue line. All the rivers had similar markings.
A bit of memory came to surface from an old book of mythology Lina had read in her younger years. "The dead drink from it and forget their former lives - past incarnations fade into oblivion - and are no wiser when they are reborn. Yes?"
Wes nodded. "Iím impressed. It seems the mystical is more than a hobby."
"You flatter me, Wes. But youíre the real scholar, so Angel tells me."
Wes turned back to the map, trying to hide the slow flush that rose to his face. Lina focused on the passage of text that Wesley was pointing out to her, giving him a chance to regain his composure. They put their heads together and tried to decipher the strange mix of ancient Greek and Latin.
Cordelia came out of the stairway and took in the scene. Wes and Dr. Russo had their heads close together and were murmuring, suggesting possible translations back and forth, if Cordy had interpreted the scene well enough. She tuned in and heard Dr. Russo say, with a bit of satisfied triumph in her voice, "Thou shalt find to the left of the House of...Hades, and near - no - by the side of the white...white cypress?"
Wesley made an agreeable sound and took up the translation. "To this spring approach not near. But thou shalt find another, from the..." The two consulted, then Wes continued, "...Lake of Memory cold water flowing forth and there are...guardians before it."
"OK, that gave my brain a serious workout. Whatís it all mean?"
Before Wes could share his theory, Cordelia cleared her throat to announce her presence. Here was the doctor with yet another one of Cordeliaís chosen causes. Oddly enough, she didnít like this invasion into her territory any better than the other. And Dr. Russo seemed to know enough arcane fun facts to give Wes a run for his money.
"Jumped in with both feet, huh?"
"Thereís no time to waste, Cordelia. Children are dying," Lina reminded her.
"Angel will be up in a minute. Heís putting his company face on."
A look of alarm painted across Wesleyís features. "Everything all right, Cordelia?"
"Sure, Wes, you know boss-man likes to look his best." She flicked her eyes to Lina and frowned a warning.
Angel appeared behind Cordelia. She gave a start and hopped away. Angelís expression was sad and apologetic as he sidled away from her. Cordy sighed and followed him to his desk. She touched his hand and their eyes met in understanding. "Donít go all broody, Angel. Everythingís OK. If I donít have at least one life threatening event every day, I get nostalgic for the old days on the Hellmouth." Cordy patted his hand, gave him her famous 100 watt smile and turned away.
"Another scary face incident," Lina surmised with incredible insight.
Cordelia turned shocked eyes to the doctor. She looked back over her shoulder at Angel. "Sure sheís really your friend and not one of those spies from Wolfram & Hart?"
"Sheís a very good friend, Cordy," Angel assured her in a quiet voice. His eyes locked with Linaís for a moment, and he almost smiled. Cordelia just caught the wink she gave him in return. "Play nice."
Cordelia sighed again. "I have so few hobbies left these days," she muttered.
"So letís see those wounds, Angel," Lina requested in a tone that brooked no refusal. Angel opened his mouth to refuse anyway. "Why do you always waste time resisting me, Angel?" She pointed to him. "Off."
"Yes, Li." Angel stood and pulled the shirt over his head in one smooth maneuver.
Lina beckoned him over to the couch, where she was digging through her messenger bag. As Angel reached the couch, her hand bought out a mini Maglite. Focusing the beam on the gauze square, she peeled the edge of the bandage away from his ribs. Lina wrinkled her nose and frowned. "Tsk, tsk, this is festering. I donít understand, Angel. This should be healed, yes?" He nodded. "Whenís the last time you fed?"
Three pairs of eyes, wide with disbelief, fastened onto Linaís face. Cordy and Wes looked at Angel and then away. The emotion was too raw to witness.
Again, in that quiet voice, Angel responded, "Last night, when you were in the bathroom."
Cordyís gut tightened. She felt she had to come to Angelís defense, but he spoke before she could form the words.
"Yes," Angel said into the stunned silence.
Cordy couldnít stay quiet any longer. "OK, isnít that just a bit too personal now?"
"No, Cordy, Iím his doctor. And I want to help." She turned to Angel. "Iím not trying to hurt you, Angel."
"I know, Lina."
Meanwhile, Cordyís brain ticked, working overtime. Wounded, scary face and human blood. She felt around under the map. Wes lifted a book and she fished out the wooden letter opener. "You sure youíre not wearing black leather?" She twirled the letter opener in her fingers, the movements a definite threat.
Angel held his hands up, palms out, in a placating gesture. "Calm down. No leather." He met her eyes. "Iím sorry about before. You woke me out of a dream."
"A Penn kind of dream?" Cordelia asked warily.
"Time out," Lina interrupted. "Does this movie have subtitles?"
Angel took the opportunity to slip back into the black pullover, and regain his seat behind the desk.
"Dr. Russo, why donít we step out and look at the map and reference text in the other room," Wes prompted. "More light there." Wesley gathered up the map and grimoire and herded Lina to the door. Her reluctance to leave Angel was written in her body language. Wesley stepped aside to allow Lina to exit first. Lina looked back at Angel and he nodded. She stepped over the sill and Wes closed the door behind her.
Cordelia dragged a finger through the light coating of dust at the edge of the desk. She put aside the subconscious need to keep the very solid desk between Angel and herself, and went around to join him on his side. He looked up at her and then away, his hands toying with the hem of his pullover.
"Oh, God, donít give me that look. Just tell me whatís going on."
"Iím all right, Cordy."
"Excuse me, Mr. Overbite. Who was almost a tasty appetizer?" Cordy nudged Angel with her knee and he met her eyes.
"I said I was sorry, Cordelia."
His voice was so tired and resigned that Cordelia almost dropped the line of questioning, but lives depended on Angel. She had to be sure he stayed Angel and didnít slide off into Angelus. "I accept, but I still want to know whatís happening. Does it have something to do with the Lethe demon?"
His shoulders lifted minimally. "Iím not sure. My body seems to have forgotten how to heal, and Iím kind of forgetting how to control the demon - so maybe it does have something to do with the Lethe demon."
"Do you feel...um, evil?"
"If I say yes, are you going to chain me to the bed again?"
It took Cordy a few moments to realize he was joking. She slapped the back of her hand against Angelís shoulder. Angel winced. "Oooh, Iím sorry. Want me to look at the wounds?"
"Lina dressed them last night, Cordy. Iím not sure what else you can do." Cordelia schooled her face away from the sulky pattern she felt settling there, but not before Angel caught it. "Lina is an old friend, a very dear friend, but thatís all. There wonít be any leather," he promised. "Lina knows about the curse."
Cordelia nodded in acceptance. She gave Lina a positive review, however grudging. "She seems really smart. The kind of woman Wesley might go for."
Angel snorted but didnít comment about the possible romance between Wes and Lina. "So, weíre good?"
"Yeah, sure, although this conversation is getting to be a bad habit." Cordy gave a long suffering sigh. "What am I going to do with you, Angel?" Cordelia didnít expect an answer so she was surprised when Angel responded.
"Just keep being my friend, Cordy."
"Just try to get rid of me. " Cordelia swallowed past a lump in her throat. "Just not like before, Ďkay?"
Cordy walked to the office door and swung it open. Wesleyís voice drifted in. "My book collection is extensive, but the bulk of it is at my apartment."
"Wesley, isnít that line a little old?" Cordy tossed out when she came into the reception area.
Angel followed a few feet behind, but stopped just past the threshold into the reception area. The blinds werenít fully closed, and the floor was mottled by sunlight. Lina noticed Angel had stopped and moved around to the window to fix the gaping slats . He smiled his thanks, and came across the room to stand between her and Cordelia.
"I was just telling Dr. Russo-"
Wesley smiled, warm and genuine. "I was just telling Lina that I have many more books with references to Lethe, but none here. Many of them are rare and I didnít want to make the trip with them until I knew that they were really needed."
"Maybe we can all go to Wesleyís apartment," Lina suggested.
Wes darted a glance at Angel. He cleared his throat before he answered. "Well, that might be a problem."
Lina ventured a guess. "Oh, the sun?"
"No, thatís not it."
Lina sighed in exasperation. "Can we stop talking in code phrases? I just spent the morning trying to explain to a growing group of distraught parents why their children are being treated by experts with the correct and established procedures, but they are still dying. I donít have time to deal with these hang-ups you guys obviously have."
"Lina, thatís not it," Angel explained. "Wes was trying to save my feelings. Iíve never been to his apartment, and I think itís been an unspoken agreement that the invitation not be issued."
Cordelia watched the realization dawn on Linaís face. "Oh. Safe haven. I understand. Iím sorry for forcing this out into the light. Itís just that I canít stand by any longer and watch these children die without doing anything."
"Donít feel guilty, Wes," Angel told him.
The next words were spoken without a trace of emotion but Cordelia winced and Wesley looked bruised. "I donít."
A moment of deep understanding stretched among the three. Wes stood up under Angelís steady scrutiny, and it was Angel who was the first to look away. Sometimes Cordelia was surprised by Wesleyís strength.
Lina clapped her hands together in a brisk manner, like a teacher spurring her lagging class to action. "Moving right along..." She turned to Wesley. "What say you and I go to your place, look over your materials, take notes from your more fragile volumes and bring the rest back here?"
Wes cleared his throat, met his colleaguesí eyes briefly and then nodded to Lina. "A sound plan, Lina."
"Excellent. Iíll just grab my bag and we can be off."
Lina gave the three barely enough time to exchange a bemused glance, a raised eyebrow and a few words. "She certainly has a take-charge attitude. We working for her now?"
"Actually, you are, Cordelia," Lina answered, returning from Angelís office and putting the strap of her messenger bag over her head. "Iíve retained your services, so I get to call the shots." Lina looked to Angel for confirmation. "Thatís how it works, right?"
Angel nodded and Cordelia gave a resigned shrug. "Just as long as the check clears, youíre the boss."
"Iíll hold up my end if you hold up yours," Lina promised.
As Wes and Lina walked out, Cordy heard Wes say, "As long as money is involved, you can be assured that Cordelia will be dedicated to your cause."
Since Wesleyís words were not a lie - although Cordelia would like to think she would save children for free - she had no excuse to bristle and she stood watching the two of them leave in somewhat of an annoyed snit. Angel was his usual taciturn self, although Cordy noted his dour expression was like that of a father seeing his daughter off on a date with a man he found only marginally acceptable. Cordy could feel a frown pulling her face into lines and forced herself to let the muscles relax. She didnít need frown wrinkles on top of everything else. And she didnít even want to think about why the frown was there in the first place. Cordy abandoned that thought. She would leave Wesley to Lina; after all, they were two of a kind. Since that sentiment was less than charitable, Cordy frowned again and this time Angel chose to comment.
"What are you thinking, Cordelia?"
"Nothing important," Cordelia answered with a little shake of her head. "Come on, letís go downstairs and see if we can find anything - meet the scholar twins halfway." She linked her arm with Angelís and pulled him along.
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