And No Good Thing Ever Dies
Hope is a good thing,
The ride to Wesleyís apartment was uneventful, and they sat quietly side by side. Halfway there, at a stoplight, he glanced away from the road to meet Linaís eyes. "You were quite forceful with Cordelia."
Lina sighed. "I know. Iíll apologize later, Wes. Iíve become my own worst nightmare in recent weeks - an administrator - and itís throwing my people skills out of whack."
"You were right to be firm," Wes told her with a strength he rarely showed. "Our dirty laundry shouldnít preclude our helping you in a timely fashion." Wes faced the road as the light turned green, but he made sure his body language indicated he was still open to conversation.
"Cordelia and I are having a pissing contest - quite a civilized one, all things considered - but a pissing contest all the same," Lina explained. "Weíll work it out in time. I wonít let it preclude me from doing anything I have to in order to save the lives of everyone affected by this disease."
"Yes, our Cordelia can be quite territorial." And those were the last words Wes spoke until he reached his apartment and pulled into the curb opposite the entrance.
"Here we are. Right this way, Lina." Wes opened the car door and handed Lina out. He gestured towards the entrance and let Lina precede him up the stairs. He guided her to his apartment door with a light touch at her elbow. They both stopped as Wes dug the keys out of his jacket pocket and fit the proper key into the lock. He swung the door open in mute invitation. Wes felt Linaís eyes study him for a moment, then she stepped across the threshold. After Wes had joined her and closed the door, she rounded on him.
"I admire caution, Wes, but I can assure you I am a real girl."
Wes heartily agreed. He swallowed and would have commented had he trusted himself to speak. As Lina stepped away, Wes realized she took his silence as acceptance at last that she was who and what she said she was. He watched Lina explore his space with darting eyes and questing fingers. She stopped before his bookshelves as he surmised she would. Wesley joined her there.
"Iím sorry, Wes, itís a bad habit Iíve picked up lately - another one, that is - to prowl around a new space. I suppose Iím territorial, too."
In Wesleyís experience all women were, but he thought discretion the better part of valor and kept the observation to himself. From the small smile and the twinkle in her eye, Wes had the impression Lina knew just what he was thinking, but whatever was running through her mind remained unvoiced as well.
"Wes, where can I change?" Lina patted her messenger bag. "I spent the entire morning in this straitjacket." The sparkle in her eyes turned a bit wicked. "To use the old clichť, Ďexcuse me while I slip into something more comfortableí."
Wes felt some heat rise to his face, but he laughed when Lina raised her eyebrows and rolled her shoulder, an amusing caricature of a seductress. He jerked his head with a roguish wink and led the way to his bedroom. "Step into my boudoir." And he bounced his own eyebrow once or twice, catching her playful mood.
Lina took the door from his hands, sashayed inside and formed her lips into a loverís kiss. "Be right back. Donít go away now." Wes was left standing on the other side of the very solid door, his face burning, listening to Linaís incongruous giggles. Wesley gallantly waited until the door opened. A new woman emerged, no less lovely but so much more...herself. Wes didnít know how he knew, but he realized this demeanor - sneakers fastened with strange curly laces, broken-in jeans, ponytail captured by a colorful hair elastic and a well-worn Pooh tee shirt - was so much closer to the real Lina. He found himself liking this very different woman as much, if not more, than the very formal and polished woman who presented herself at the offices. She was somehow more accessible, a woman with whom he would stand a chance. Wes examined that last thought. Romance was a terrible complication on the job. Heíd try to avoid the pitfalls. Yet it was difficult to concentrate on the business at hand when Linaís eyes sparkled with mischief, her gamine figure exuded a wholesome appeal and her clean, fresh scent wafted around him.
"I hope I didnít keep you waiting too long, Wes. I think better in my casual clothes." Lina dropped her messenger bag beside the couch. She didnít wait for a response, though Wes wanted to assure her the end result was worth the wait. "And I offer my apologies for earlier. Itís still with me even after all these years. When Iím stressed I giggle. All these parents are depending on me, the childrenís lives are in my hands, and Iím having serious doubts I can help in time."
"Iíve no doubts you are an extraordinarily capable and gifted doctor, Lina. Angel, Cordelia and I are here to help you. Weíll save the children."
"Thank you, Wes. I believe you all are equally as capable and gifted. Time for business, yes?"
Wes turned to the bookshelves and selected several volumes, suggesting others Lina might want to begin searching. They took the books to the couch. Wesley provided a pad and a pen, and Lina started making notes almost at once. After an hour, Linaís sheaf of notes rivaled Wesleyís. He picked up her notes and skimmed the many pages. It appeared her training as a doctor came in handy. She could read long passages without losing her place, she retained much knowledge and was able to distill the information into its simplest form without losing the substance. Wesley told her as much, and she spared him a smile of appreciation, but continued on with a lengthy passage written in Greek. Wesley lost track of how much time passed. They conferred over the more obscure bits, worked separately when the information was easy to glean. If the circumstances werenít so dire, Wesley would have found the extended research session enjoyable.
Lina called a halt to the research after several hours. "Break time, Wes." She stifled a yawn behind her fist and stretched.
"Shall I brew us some tea?"
"Do you have food in the house?"
Wes blinked, confused for a moment at the non sequitur. "Not food, as such, no," he replied, chagrined at his lack as a host.
"Then Iíll handle the tea, you go out and get something from the local deli. Deal?"
"Iíll go directly," Wesley agreed. "The kitchen is right through there." Wesley gestured off to Linaís right. "Help yourself to anything in the cupboards - just be sure to read packages. I have the makings of several spells in the cupboard next to the icebox and some of the herbs are rather noisome. Wouldnít want eye of newt tea."
"You and me both."
They shared a chuckle, then Wes grabbed his jacket and headed out. He returned within the half hour. The scene he arrived to was quite domestic, with the low table in the living room set for a proper tea. He hurried to the couch at Linaís impatient gesture, realizing he had been standing at the door, still and staring for several minutes, and started emptying the bags. As he unpacked, Lina spread napkins, unwrapped cold cuts and pickles and opened salad containers. When Wes removed the final item, he slipped out of his jacket. Lina plopped down on a pillow she placed between the couch and the table.
"Cop a squat," Lina suggested, making her meaning clear by pointing to another pillow placed on the floor across the table from her seat.
Wes followed suit. For several minutes there was much paper rustling and bread crusts cracking under a knife as a sandwich was made, pickles sliced and coleslaw spooned onto plates. "Cuppa?" Lina didnít wait for a response; she picked up the pot and poured some tea out for Wes.
"Thank you, Lina." Wes inhaled the brew. "This is unusual. Not one of mine."
"One of mine," Lina confirmed. "Rainforest. My favorite."
Wes took a sip, made an appreciative noise and took a deeper draught. "Quite good."
Lina nodded, already sinking her teeth into a roll filled with turkey, Swiss and coleslaw. Her sandwich looked so tasty that Wes made a duplicate and started right in.
"So, do you believe Lethe has manifested on earth?" Wes asked around a mouthful of sandwich.
"No? You have another theory then?"
"I meant ĎNo, no talk of business while we eat.í"
"Ah." Wes wiped a few stray crumbs from his upper lip, then took another swallow of tea. Respecting Linaís moratorium on business talk, Wes changed the subject. "Where did you find this tea?"
"A friend in med school. She found it through mail order. Got me hooked. I like other teas, but this is the one I come back to time and again. I think I may have hooked Angel on it a decade back since he now stocks it in his kitchen."
"Speaking of that, you mentioned briefly how you met Angel, but Iíd like to know more." Lina nodded. "What was Angel like back then?"
"Pretty much a mess. Living on the streets, drinking the blood of vermin." Lina gave a delicate shudder, setting her ponytail a-swing. "Yech." She freshened her tea from the pot and offered to do the same for Wes. He held his cup to the pot. They both took a sip.
"What year was this?"
"1995, or thereabouts."
"Hmmmm. And you say you saved each other?"
"Iíd like to think so. He seemed more alive when we parted than when we met."
"I daresay youíre correct, Lina," Wes confirmed. "Shortly thereafter he moved to Los Angeles, met the Slayer-"
"Buffy," Lina interjected.
"Yes, Buffy. And he began to fight the good fight."
"So Angel told me last night."
"Did he also mention..." Wes pulled off his glasses and peered through them at the nearest light source. Satisfied they were clean enough, he fitted them back on his nose. "...the darker times?"
"Youíre not telling tales out of school, Wes," Lina assured him. "He told me about the horrible surprise Buffy received on her birthday that next year. Heart-wrenching really."
"Devastating for all involved. Angelus is a terrible force to reckon with. I hope those days remain in the past." Though spoken lightly, the words carried great import and warning, which Lina seemed to comprehend.
"From your mouth to Godís ears," Lina fervently agreed. "Just between you and me, I try not to show it, but Angelís scary face - well, it scares me."
Adopting the confessional air of her tone, Wes leaned forward and replied in kind. "Me, too."
The two finished up their lunch. Wes cleared off the low table, stored the leftovers in the icebox or cupboards, as appropriate. Lina added a few more leaves to the pot and topped off the hot water so they would have fresh tea throughout the rest of their research session. Once sufficiently brewed, she poured them both fresh cups. Wes enjoyed the tea; the warm brown liquid seemed to aid his concentration. He felt restful yet alert, and better able to absorb the material at hand. Something about that last thought was significant, Wes felt, but it was fleeting and he lost hold of it as his eye lit on an interesting reference to the Aeneid.
An hour later Lina interrupted their research session once again. "Ugh, I have writerís cramp," she announced, flexing her hand. "And I think Iíve crammed just about all I can in this middle-aged brain of mine, medical training or not."
Wes considered her words. He realized his own back was cramped and his vision was blurry. "Up for an outing?" he asked.
"I agree weíve gleaned as much as possible from these volumes. I suggest a field trip for some practical knowledge."
"UCLA," Lina surmised.
"Yes. And then back to Angel Investigations."
Lina was already rising, a hand reaching for her messenger bag. "What are we waiting for?"
Activity at the hospital parking lot was subdued, as if the very ground had a sense memory of the prior nightís attack and had not quite recovered. Although this had been the scene of great malevolence, Wes couldnít feel any evil vibes, only a sense of anticipation. This lack of activity was good news for Wes and Lina, for it meant fewer prying eyes and trampling feet ruining any evidence. Just as Wes was applauding their good luck in his own mind, an ambulance pulled up to the entrance, lights flashing and sirens blaring. Emergency doctors and nurses spilled through the entrance, but once outside, they seemed to lose focus and they off-loaded the patient in a kind of a slow dance. The EMS technicians rushed around, chivvying the hospital staff to greater speed, and once back inside, normal speed resumed.
Wes and Lina shared a look. "Very interesting," Wes commented. "Lasting effects of Lethe?"
"Possibly." Lina turned, taking in her surroundings in a slow arc. "I donít feel freaky, though. You?"
"Not at all. I would speculate only animate objects are affected."
"That may be. Iím usually sensitive to stuff like this. I donít feel anything out of the ordinary but those emergency workers were definitely affected. Looks like the disease is spreading."
"You still believe this is a disease?"
"Whatever it is, it is progressing rapidly." Linaís face pulled into a worried frown. "I should check on the children. I was here for several hours this morning, but I didnít have a chance to get away to spend time with the kids. Iíll meet you back here in 30 minutes."
"Do you think thatís wise, in light of what we just witnessed?"
"Iíve been here several weeks, Wes, and I havenít been affected."
"All right," Wes agreed, against his best judgment, "just be careful."
Wesley watched Lina run up the stairs, and his eyes stayed locked on her even as the sliding doors opened like a giant maw and closed again to swallow her. Wes shook his head. Heíd been a rogue demon hunter too long. He turned to gather what empirical evidence remained of the attack. There wasnít much beyond some unusual moisture that seemed resistant to the drying effects of the sun, and the ashy remains of a few of the vampires Angel had dusted. Wesley removed a vial and a bag from his pockets, scooping some of the liquid into the little bottle and sweeping a bit of the dust into the baggie. He closed both, making certain they were both secure before returning the containers to his pockets. Taking out a magnifying glass, Wes moved more into the shadows and continued looking for anything atypical. He was so engrossed he took no notice of time passing until he realized the sky had darkened. Wesley straightened and spied Lina, then realized she had been trying to get his attention for several minutes.
Speaking at once to allay the concern for his welfare he saw on her face, he asked, "Ah, Lina, how are the children?"
"Just as I feared, Wes. The disease is virulent and the children fail at a rapid pace. Also, quite a few of the hospital workers are farther along than the children, and they werenít even ill yesterday. I fear thereís little time left."
"With the research weíve done today, the evidence Iíve gathered here and the knowledge you bring to the mix, Iím sure we shall devise a cure in time. Donít let hope die, Lina."
"íAnd no good thing ever dies.í"
Lina gestured in a wiping motion, discounting her words. "Just a quote, Wes. Are we ready?"
"Yes, letís go. It would be best to return to the office before full dark."
"Lead the way, Wes."
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