And No Good Thing Ever Dies
Hope is a good thing,
The outer office was dark but a small lamp burned on the corner of Angelís desk, perhaps pointing the way to the rest of the team. Lina followed Wesley through the outer room, turning aside just in time to avoid barking her shins against the same chair that caught Wesley across his. She thanked him for the warning. His wan smile was lost in the darkness but not his grunt of pain. Wes led the way to the elevator, avoiding further obstacles. Checking that Lina was well inside, he clanged home the gate and worked the levers. His mouth was a bit dry and a flutter had begun in his stomach as they descended, the noise of the ancient lift announcing their arrival to the inhabitants below.
Angel met them at the elevator and slid open the gate even before the machine had come to a full stop. He remained in the doorway, trapping Lina and Wes inside, his arms crossed over his chest. His face morphed for one brief, intense moment, evidence perhaps of his inner turmoil, but his human face reemerged without any evidence Angel had noticed the loss of control. Wes felt Lina shift next to him, but she said nothing, although Wesley realized she had also noticed the momentary lapse in humanity. Wesley spoke firmly to his innards to be still, and returned Angelís steady gaze with a calm he didnít feel. A frown creased Angelís prominent brow, and his fierce expression told Wesley he would be just as formidable an opponent across the dining table as he was on the field of combat: protective father or dangerous foe.
"And weíre so late because?" Angel growled.
Intentions were good to be back well before dark, but paraphrasing Frost to himself, way led onto way, and it was now well into evening. Lina and Wesley shared a guarded look, then replied in unison, "Research." Wesley shouldered past Angel and Lina followed suit. Angel was stiff, reluctant, and his arms remained crossed, but he let them move into the living room.
Cordy, it appeared, was more interested in flipping through a fashion magazine while coaxing lo mein out of a white cardboard container than the arrivals - that is, until she looked up. She took in Linaís changed appearance in one sweeping glance, put down her chopsticks and came to confront Lina and Wesley before they took more than a few steps. Angel and Cordelia stood abreast and presented a united front.
Cordy took up the questioning. She addressed Lina. "What happened to Anne Klein?"
"Sent her packing."
"Didnít figure you for a Tommy Girl."
"Or Sam Walton, for that matter."
"Everything I need."
Like spectators at a tennis match, Angel and Wesley looked back and forth between Cordy and Lina, but Angel put up his hands and brought the exchange to a stop. His voice was rough as he asked, "So, is this a private game or can anyone play?"
Lina gave Wesley a meaningful glance before meeting Cordeliaís eyes. "Gameís over," she stated.
"Game, set, match," Cordelia agreed after the barest pause. Looking satisfied that all was right with the world, Cordy returned to her seat, took up the container and chopsticks and resumed eating and perusing the magazine.
"Iím just going to help myself to the bathroom," Lina announced before heading off in the right direction.
Wes shook his head, bemused by the womenís short-hand, and it was obvious from the look on Angelís face that he was just as confused, with many more questions now than before. The short conversation used ordinary English phrases, but the meaning was indecipherable and more a war of words than a friendly exchange of information. He had a feeling that Lina and Cordy had settled whatever differences hung between them in some female ritual to which men were not privy.
"Women," Wesley whispered, not unlike a prayer for guidance.
"Doesnít matter how long you live, either," Angel replied in kind.
When Lina emerged from the bathroom she took a seat near Cordy. The two started up another conversation, this one no more comprehensible but friendlier. At the very least Wesley was sure the subject revolved around the latest fall styles of handbags, shoes and what color lipstick was de riguer for the season. They shelved the topic when Wesley joined them, Angel a few steps behind. Wesley pulled the evidence from his pockets. Lina reached a hand into her bag and extracted the sheaf of research, a pile made up of her notes plus those she was holding for Wes.
"Just how much stuff you got in there?" Angel asked, his tone close to normal. Wesley fought the urge to edge away as Angel leaned over his shoulder, trying to see inside and not be caught. When Wes asked the same thing earlier, Lina had closed the bag protectively and shook a finger at him, telling him the inside of a womanís bag was sacrosanct and he should breach it only at his own peril. Wesley shifted his body slightly, attempting to warn Angel off.
"I left the kitchen sink home today - all that plumbing gets heavy," Lina answered tolerantly.
"Looks like an ordinary bag," Angel mused.
"Not unlike Mary Poppinsí carpet bag," Wes ventured.
"Thatís why I wear pants with a lot of pockets."
"Oh, so thatís why you keep those old things," Cordy told Angel. "Knew it couldnít be your killer fashion sense."
Wes wasnít the only one who noticed the emphasis on the word killer, judging by the rise of Linaís eyebrows and the sudden stiffness to Angelís stance, and he wondered just what Cordelia went through here alone with a friend losing control of the demon within him. The earlier incident of scary face must have been a continuation, and Wesley could only imagine how Cordelia got through it without his support. The mood turned sober almost at once, as though theyíd been doused with cold water. One moment they were enjoying a little nerve-soothing humor, the next they were edgy and concerned.
Wesley cleared his throat, but before he could say anything to break the uncomfortable silence growing among them, Lina took control of the situation. "OK, now that weíre done with Ďhe said, she said,í Cordelia has finished eating and weíve gotten through yet another awkward moment, what say we brainstorm? The threat is mounting."
Stirred to action by Linaís candid assessment, Wesley gathered up the sheaf of papers and the evidence containers and went to spread them over the kitchen table. Cordelia snapped on the light as she entered the room with Angel.
"Thatís a fair amount of work," Angel commended.
"Hereís ours," Cordelia offered, putting down a few sheets of paper. She made a point of placing her own research over the rest, trying to arrange the sheets for maximum coverage, but everyone could see Lina and Wesley had made far more progress. The information in Angelís own volumes was scarce, the reason Wes and Lina had left in the first place. The notes Cordelia placed over the rest was unimpressive next to the number Wesley had placed first.
"Yes, good, you never know where the most important clue will turn up," Wes said encouragingly.
Angel made no excuses. He was, as Wesley knew, quite capable of research but between the disturbing loss of control, the fact that Angel was more a man of action these days, and Cordelia had only recently taken to the computer, the modest amount of research was more than he expected.
Angel broke through Wesleyís reverie. "So, what do we know?"
"We stopped by to visit a forensic pathologist friend. He analyzes blood for the City of Los Angeles, but does mystical analysis on the side. I could have done the tests myself, of course, but Paul has access to better tools and he was able to perform the analysis faster and more accurately. Time is of the essence." Wesley plucked up the vial of water. "This," he told the team, "is a sample of the River Lethe."
"Wes asked me earlier whether I believe Lethe has been incarnated on Earth," Lina interjected. "I think thatís likely."
"OK, and we know that Lethe is the Goddess of Forgetfulness," Cordelia contributed, pride heavy in her voice for knowing that fact.
"Or the first river in Hades, where the dead drink from the Ďdraught of oblivion,í" Angel added.
Wes nodded, recognizing the same quote he had found earlier in his copy of The Aeneid. "Yes, I now think itís likely the being Cordelia saw in her vision is not a demon at all, but the anthropomorphic representation of the River itself - an avatar for an inanimate yet powerful mythical object."
"Huh?" Cordy grunted.
"Just think of the being you saw in your vision as a container or a vessel," Wes explained. "That vessel contains the essence, or perhaps the very substance of the River Lethe. Our first inclination is always to classify anything non-human as a demon, but we may be dealing here with a minor deity made flesh."
"How would that happen, Wes?" Angel asked.
"Well, in theory, if enough people believe in a god or goddess, they can manifest. Also, there are ancient rituals that can call forth the deity into an avatar. Or it may be that Lethe was sent to earth to perform some task or lift a gaes by a deity above her in the pantheon. Weíll really never know, nor does it matter in the long run, in fighting her or countering the ill-effects of her manifestation."
"How do we counter the ill-effects," Lina asked, just as Angel asked, "How do we fight her?"
Wes took a seat, the rest of the team following suit, and steepled his fingers. He contemplated the research set before them for a moment before answering. "I believe the method for fighting Lethe is outlined in these pages," Wes told Angel, "and it is quite important to remove her from this plane of existence before she inflicts the Ďdiseaseí on others." Wes raised a hand to forestall Lina from voicing her difference of opinion. "However, countering the effects is a much more pressing issue."
Punctuating Wesleyís words, a cell phone sounded in a jangly ring. A few hands went questing, even though the ring tone was unfamiliar, but Lina immediately reached a hand into her messenger bag and came out with her cell. She flipped it open and placed it against her ear as she put some distance between herself and the group. "Doctor Russo here." She paused, giving her attention to the caller at the other end of the line. Wes still had a clear view of Lina and he watched her face as she listened. Her features looked absolutely stricken. "Yes, thank you for calling me. Do you need me to come in?" Her shoulders slumped in apparent defeat. "No, no, I suppose it is."
Lina flipped the phone closed and stuffed it in a back pocket. Her hands came up to cover her face, and it wasnít until Wes noticed her shoulders shake that he realized she was crying. He signaled to Cordelia to assist Lina in her grief but before Cordy could move to help, Angel was at Linaís side. Wes and Cordy watched as Angel touched Linaís shoulder. As if she were on strings attached to Angelís fingers, Lina turned and moved into his embrace. Wes could only see their profiles, but he didnít need a full view of her face to tell that Lina was in some pain; he could only assume her distress was due to the death of one or more of her patients.
Angel must have surmised the very same thing. His anger at losing an innocent released the demon from its cage once again. As Angelís head ratcheted ever closer to Linaís throat, Wes strode across the few feet separating them and prized Angelís arms from Lina. She was shaking, whether from fear or shock, but Wes knew he had to protect her. He put a hand on Angelís chest and pushed. Wes had as little success moving Angel as Cordelia had earlier in the day. A growl escaped Angelís throat and his glare was twice as fierce coming through eyes burning in a vampireís face. The glare Wes offered in return as he pulled Lina away was one of surly defiance, and just as fierce as he could manage. Cordelia moved between Wesley and Angel and laid a soothing hand on Angelís arm. She stood fast when his attention transferred to her face.
"Come on, Angel, I know youíre in there," Cordy coaxed, as if she were talking down a wild beast.
Slowly, Angel came back to himself and a certain measure of calm filled his eyes. His face was still cast in the features of his vampire alter-ego, but the voice and stance were Angelís own. Angel took a step towards Lina, but Wesley drew her away until she touched his hand to make him stop. Angel didnít meet Linaís eyes as he apologized in a voice laden with misery. "Lina, Iím sorry."
"No worries, Angel," Lina assured him, pulling a tissue from her jeans pocket and blowing her nose.
"Tell us what has happened, Lina," Wes requested in a gentle tone.
Lina sniffled and dabbed at her eyes and nose. "Two of the children and one of the EMS techs died a few minutes ago. The duty nurse who called told me they had all breathed out and then apparently forgot to breathe back in. Despite the respirators, they expired." Lina blew her nose again, then slammed her fist against her thigh. "We have to do something!"
"We will, Lina," Cordelia assured her. "We do this a lot. Weíll win."
"Come sit down," Wes directed. "I think we can all do with a cup of that tea. Do you have more in your bag, Lina?"
"No, I used the last of my travel supply at your place."
"If youíre talking about Rainforest, I have some on the shelf," Angel told them.
Wes pulled out a chair and guided Lina down with a hand beneath her elbow. "Iíll make it." He moved around the kitchen with an ease and familiarity that bespoke many long hours in residence, researching and planning. As he was preparing the tea, he watched Cordelia clear the remnants of her meal, and Angel approach Lina. He was as tentative as Wes had ever observed.
Angel stopped at least an armís distance away, and cleared his throat. "Lina, Iím sorry. Your pain just made me so angry. I - I lost it."
"I told you, Angel, itís fine." She reached out and wrapped her fingers around his hand, squeezed once and let go. "How are those wounds?"
Angel unbuttoned his shirt without an argument and dropped to his knees, giving Lina free access to the wounds. She pulled away the gauze and gasped. Wes and Cordy came to look. "Angel, did you reinjure these?"
"They were beginning to close up when I checked on them earlier today, but now they look fresh. Another piece to the mysterious puzzle."
Lina replaced the gauze, Angel buttoned up his shirt and regained his feet. The small amount of activity seemed to drain Lina, her features pulled taut by a look of great fatigue. She dropped her head to the table, cradled in her folded arms. Angel hesitated a moment, met Wesleyís eyes, then smoothed Linaís hair back from her face. She was crying again. After whispering what sounded to Wes like je míabandon, Angel stepped away abruptly and came to a stop when his back hit the refrigerator.
The whistling kettle startled Lina, and she raised her head with a sudden jerk. She stopped Wesley from finishing the preparations for the tea. "Iíll do it, Wes. I need something simple to occupy my hands." Wes handed down the Rainforest canister and stepped out of Linaís way. Shortly, the scent of steeping tea wafted around the kitchen. Angelís face morphed to human and then back to demon almost too rapidly for Wes to catch the change. Again, a thought began to form but Lina distracted him by trying to reach the cups.
"Hey, tall person," she called to Angel, "take down the cups for me?"
Angel seemed reluctant to move away from his self-imposed exile against the refrigerator, but Lina shot him a look that Wesley had come to know over the several hours they were together, and Angel responded. She thanked him as he set the familiar jadeite cups on the table. Wes and Cordy lifted the research aside, placing the bulk of it on the floor beneath their feet, making room for the tea service, then followed Linaís lead and took seats.
"That smells wonderful," Cordy commented. "What did you say it was called? Woodland?"
"Rainforest," Lina corrected. "A special tea that Iíve hooked several people on, if Iím not mistaken." She added for good measure, "Itís my favorite."
"Tea is not usually my thing."
"Try it, Cordelia," Wes prompted. "I think youíll find the taste highly pleasing." Lina poured for Cordelia, for Wes and for herself. She offered the fourth cup to Angel. "Cuppa?"
"Just donít hold it this time, okay?" Lina remonstrated. "I know for a fact you can drink other liquids - so drink up. Doctorís orders." She followed her own prescription and took a deep draught. "Weíll all slink out of the kitchen in a little while and you can have a proper meal." Lina looked around her at a sea of shocked faces, then sighed, exasperated. "Really, guys, he is a vampire."
"They know, Lina; you know," Angel told her in that quiet tone.
"Hard not to when heís come out all scary," Cordy blurted, gesturing to take in Angelís appearance.
"So whatís up with the blood-free zone?" Lina persisted. "Blood is life, yes?"
"Even if itís your blood and your life?"
"No, Cordelia, I confess that wouldnít be my first choice," Lina admitted, "but being a doctor I view blood differently. It is a staple of healing. In Angelís case, a staple of life."
From the look on Cordeliaís face Wes could tell she remained unconvinced. And he really couldnít blame her. Cordelia had been on the front line the last time Angel lost control, and she had seen him at his worst back in Sunnydale. Wesley didnít know what he thought. Intellectually, he had accepted that Angel was a vampire, had seen evidence of it many times, but...Well, Angel himself kept that side of him in constant check and was always reticent to let the demon out, even when the situation warranted its release. Angel had programmed them to shun the vampire.
"Hey, Iím here, you know," Angel protested.
Lina gave Angelís hand another squeeze, like a mini-hug. "Drink your tea," she urged.
They all watched as Angel raised the cup to his lips and took a sip. His eyes widened in appreciation and he swallowed more of the tea. Before their eyes, his face morphed and he was back to a human appearance.
"See, told you doctor knows best."
Angel reached up to touch his brow, and then the wounds. His whole body seemed to sigh with relief. His brows drew together, as if hit with a sudden thought, and he reached for the canister of Rainforest tea just as Wesley completed the thought that had started several hours before. Their hands wrapped around the tea canister at the same time. Angel relinquished the canister to Wes, but read the ingredients over Wesleyís shoulder.
"What is it?" Lina asked.
Wes handed the canister to Lina, pointing first to the ingredients, then to Angelís wounds, and finally to Angelís face. Lina narrowed her eyes and was lost in thought for a moment. Wes could almost see the wheels turning as Lina contemplated the evidence and mentally sifted through the research she herself had gathered. "No wonder I havenít been affected," she said in a relatively short period.
"Penny for your thoughts," Angel offered.
"Oh, theyíre worth much more than that," Wes replied, watching the slow blush of pleasure brighten Linaís features.
Lina shook the canister, attempting to direct attention away from her face. "íThereís rosemary, thatís for remembrance; pray, love, remember...í" she began a significant quote.
"íAnd there is pansies, thatís for thoughts,í" Wes concluded.
"Itís two, two, two geeks in one," Cordy muttered.
"Iíd say we just found the cure," Lina postulated. "Everyone says ingredients found in the rainforest can cure all ills. Iím a believer."
"Would someone explain to the cheap seats whatís up?" Cordy asked, not quite masking a hint of sullenness.
"Certain herbs are known to increase memory, stimulate brain activity and aid concentration," Wes began the explanation. "This tea," and he gestured to the canister, "a container of such simple origin to be holding the cure for dozens, has a mix of several such herbs."
"Oh, you mean stuff like ginkgo biloba, right?"
"Yes, that herb and many others."
"I still donít get how we can fight this. I mean, you canít bash someone over the head with better memory."
"No, I daresay that would inhibit better memory," Wes said with just a dash of humor.
"So, whatís the plan?"
"Well, somewhere in those notes is a list of all the herbs known to aid memory. I suggest we fashion scapulas from the most powerful of the herbs, and bring them to the hospital. If we hang them about, itís sure to ward off further incursions of memory loss."
"Yes," Lina agreed. "And I think a whomping big vat of Rainforest tea is in order to feed to the children, and anyone else who seems to have forgotten their name or what day it is or which way is up." Lina opened the canister. "Thereís not nearly enough in here to do the deed. We need to find a place that sells this tea."
"May I suggest that the tea isnít necessary, only the ingredients."
"Yes, Wes, I realize that, but you got any stores around here that sells loose allium sativum, calamus root and goto-kola?"
"Most likely an herb store in Chinatown," he replied.
"Fine, letís go."
"Lina, we will, but we must also address the problem of how to subdue Lethe."
"Cure first, Wes," Lina insisted.
"I should come with in case there are more vampires," Angel offered.
Wes, Lina and Cordelia all replied at once, "No!"
"While we will definitely need you, Angel, I suggest you drink more of the tea to buffer against the inimical effects Lethe generates," Wes added, "and Iím afraid I must insist."
Before Angel could offer any resistance, Cordelia told him pointedly, "You have to, Angel. We canít fight Lethe, her vampires and you."
Angel made no vocal response, but just raised his cup to his lips and drained the remaining tea.
"Cordelia, you should have another cup, as well. Lina is saturated with the herbs, and Iíve had a fair dose myself today. You and Angel should finish the pot. We canít afford to lose either of you."
"What will you and Lina be doing, Wes?"
"We are going to cure the patients," Lina answered instead.
"Weíll go and get the herbs from Chinatown, perhaps stop at the Flower Mart to get a few rosemary and pansy plants, then on to UCLA."
"Youíll need to work quickly."
"We will. Iíll work out the proportions of herbs on the way to the hospital."
"I didnít know doctors went in for herbal cures," Cordelia said dubiously.
"Luckily, I interned in a hospital near to New Yorkís Chinatown, and I was exposed to the community there. I know a fair share of herbal lore." She gave Wes an admiring glance. "And what I donít know, Iím sure Wes can fill in."
Wesley felt a flush climb from the neck of his pullover, but he squelched the emotion before it got a good hold. He didnít think sheíd still think well of him, after that debacle of a dinner theyíd shared earlier, part of the reason they were so late returning. But that was a thought for another time. "Iíll be of whatever help I can, Lina," Wes assured her, adopting Angelís quiet tone. He hoped he sounded confident, as well.
"What do you want us to do, Wes?" Angel asked.
Even though Angel was the leader of the group, he seemed content to follow Wesleyís lead in this case, perhaps unsure of himself so soon after losing control. Wes didnít miss Cordeliaís raised eyebrow of disbelief, but when he looked over at her, she gave him an encouraging nod. Wes swallowed, feeling the pressure of command. Angelís unwavering gaze helped to steady him, and he went on to hand out the assignments with greater confidence and less diffidence than heíd felt before.
Lina shifted, restless, beside him. Her body language had movement written in the tense lines on her face and the way her fists clenched over and over. Time meant more lives lost. Wes spoke as quickly as he could while still imparting all the knowledge he could.
"In that pile of research is a way to fight Lethe," he told Angel, gesturing to the papers ringing the kitchen table. "I suggest you concentrate more on the classics: The Aeneid; Shakespeare; Greek mythology. Keep in mind that Mnemosyne is Letheís natural counter. You may be able to fashion a spell to summon her. But take great care, for Mnemosyne is a Titan. When you have found the way to fight Lethe, join us at the hospital. Lethe knows there are so many vulnerable souls there for her to ensnare, Iím sure sheíll return."
Angel nodded, showing his understanding of the situation. "Good luck."
Wes turned to Lina, but she was already walking to the elevator while throwing her bag across her shoulders. Wesley hurried to catch her up, and as the elevator slowly rose, he called down, "To us all."
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