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Disclaimer: None of these characters are mine. If they were, I’d look after them better. No money will ever be made from this fic.
Distribution: The Angel Texts Blood Roses; The Angel Elders Mansion You want it? Really? Gosh. Just tell me where it’s going please.
Rating: NC17 for a bit of sex, some of it implied non-con, some bad language, but mainly for violence and horror of that type you would have to associate with Angelus. And, as the adverts for ‘The Day after Tomorrow’ tell us, ‘Contains Extended Scenes of Peril’.
Content: B/A/A(us) alternate past reality leading to an alternate future. Follow-up to ‘Pride’.
Summary: Angelus and Buffy still aren’t on speaking terms. Angelus is not taking this well. In fact, he’s being as bad as bad can be. The seventh story in 'The Nature of the Beast' cycle.
This story is told from several different points of view.
For Rusty, for gifts of needful things. Thank you, my dear.
1 Colour vision - A duck does indeed see a greater range of greens, at least, than humans. I don’t know about the rest of the spectrum.
2 Bast, or Bastet, is an Egyptian goddess, depicted with the head of a cat. She was patron of the sun (originally, although with the coming of the Greek dynasties this was changed to the moon), cats, women and secrets.
3 Ma’at was the goddess who personified the concepts of truth, justice, order, the right way of doing things and balance in the Universe. To the Egyptians, the world was made up of dualities, such as darkness and light. Seth, for example, was the dark god, to be placated, but not viewed as evil in himself. His tools were phenomena such as thunderstorms and desert sandstorms, and he was the opposing force to Osiris, his brother, who was associated with the light. Ma’at kept the balance between such dualities, preventing the Universe from sliding into chaos.
4 The language of flowers, can be very complex, but fascinating. The meanings used here are accurate, to the best of my understanding.
5 Picture of Dorian Gray - the famous ageing portrait in Oscar Wilde’s novel.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Newton’s Third Law
Two creatures sit at the ornate gaming board. We have seen them before. There is the creature of smoke and shadow, of dark crystalline edges. Then there is his brother, his opposite, the creature of mists and rainbows, the planes and angles of his body sparkling in an unseen sun.
The board in front of them has pieces scattered over it. In one corner stands a warrior with the body of a winged lion. In the opposite corner stands a woman, with a laurel wreath on her head. A man reading a book stands between them. In a third corner stands another male warrior, with torn and broken wings. All of them are surrounded by demons. Besieged.
A woman comes to join the two brothers. Usually, such perfect beauty as hers creates a person of forbidding, if not terrifying, mien. In her case, it inspires love and trust, and comfort. Perhaps we should beware of those feelings. She is The Lady. We have seen her before, too; or perhaps we will see her in days to come. Who can tell, in the cycles of time? She greets the two warmly, with a kiss. They are her lovers, her husbands, her soul mates.
She frowns a little as she peruses the placement of pieces. Her hand moves hesitantly towards the man holding the book. The Watcher. The creature of darkness reaches for her and stays her movement. She looks a question at him, then asks it.
“The witches are begging for help. They don’t know what to do. They understand that what has happened is wrong.”
“We cannot interfere. If we do, none of us will survive. Not us, not them, not any of this world. At least, no one more complicated than an amoeba. We must allow events to take their course.”
“But he has not fulfilled the trust. If he does not speak to the Slayer, tell her what he knows, the balance will slide further away from true.”
“It was you who taught us the danger of unnecessary interventions. You who made us see that our actions have equal and unexpected consequences, reactions over which we have no control. We must wait.”
She smiles in satisfaction, and withdraws her hand, but only until it rests against the dark one’s cheek. Perhaps he has a cheek.
“What do we await?”
“One is coming who has understood the disturbance in the balance. He will do what is necessary.”
He sorts amongst the litter of fallen pieces by the side of the board and produces a figure of a man accompanied by a large sabre-tooth cat. He doesn’t place it on the board yet, although he will. Soon.
Meanwhile, his brother selects two other pieces – a fierce dragon and a second woman with a chaplet of laurel around her head. In her case, though, the chaplet is falling, forever frozen in motion as it slips away. Another Slayer. Flawed. He places both pieces close to the warrior with the body of a winged lion. Angelus.
The Lady selects a piece. A woman, carrying the world in her arms. Herself. She gives the piece to the creature of light.
“I must go for a little while. You will need this before I return, I think. If so, place it for me.”
He nods, and then she is gone.
My name is Estevan. This culture appears to be incapable of handling names of more than two syllables, but they know now not to call me Steve, or Stevie. Well, not if they want to live, that is. So they call me Evan. He is the only one who calls me Estevan, but he is rooted in a different time. So, my name is Estevan, and I am irrevocably bonded to him, to Angelus, of the House of Aurelius. I, and my childe, Thomaso. I did not seek this bonding, but I am not sorry for it. Not even though things are more complicated than you would expect in a vampire family. Very much more complicated. Not even though I was a master vampire, and am now no better than a minion. Things will change.
I am a little over 130 years old, and I am from Spain. Roughly translated, my name means ‘passion’, and this bonding has not taken that away from me. I love my captor. Who wouldn’t?
You humans live such a short time, and you forget things. He ravaged Europe for one hundred and fifty years, and yet most of you never knew about him. Those that did died of old age or illness or accident, and those that came after never knew. The memory of him vanished. But we never forgot. He rarely came to Spain, but I saw him once, from afar. I was only a few years old, and my sire and I had moved to Toledo. We saw him hunting, from a distance, and my sire made sure I didn’t get close enough to attract his attention. She told me later that Angelus would kill any vampire found in the same territory that he was hunting. He could never suffer competition. But I had had those few glimpses of him, and I never forgot the sight of him. That, and his scent. He smelled of power, and passion.
I expect you would call it love at first sight, although love is a strange thing to ascribe to a demon. Our feelings do not manifest themselves as yours do, yet we do have them. They are fiercer and darker than anything you know, but they are there, and they rule our lives. Humans never bother to learn the vocabulary of other species, and so you would have no words to name or describe any of our emotions. Nevertheless, love is probably the closest of the words that you would understand, and so we will use that. Yes, I love him.
And now I am on an errand for him, an errand that I fear we will all regret. If it would do any good, I would toss the message that I bear into the ocean, and follow it myself, eternal prey for the sharks. But the failure of his messenger would become known, and would shame him. I cannot do that.
If I were Spike, I would have ranted and argued until he gave in. Perhaps he would have given in. But I am not. Thomaso and I are still minions, of lowly standing within his pride. He would kill me for daring to question him. And I can think of no other course than to deliver the message: the message that was written in anger and in passion. To Aurelius.
I know that I have betrayed the trust left with me, but it is for the best. It must be for the best, don’t you think? After the debacle with Glory, Angelus went into the Underworld to bring Buffy back. Without him knowing, Willow and Tara implanted part of my consciousness into his so that I could act as a lifeline to guide them both back. So that I could make sure that my Slayer returned. A being – one of the Powers of the Underworld, I suppose – charged me with telling her what had happened, with making sure she knew that he had wanted only her forgiveness for what he had done to her before her death. Telling her that he loved her beyond anything else.
I kept silent, and she sent him away, not knowing anything of what had happened. That must be for the best. I am her Watcher. How could I deliver her back into the arms of that demon? How?
I have spoken to all those involved – Willow, Tara, Xander, Anya, Dawn and Wesley. All those involved, except Ezrafel. He is with Angelus. We will never tell Buffy. She will not know that he brought her back. Only I know the full truth, anyway. Willow and Tara were wrapped in the spell he had given them to send his spirit after hers. The rest of them simply saw their bodies. Him kneeling, with her lying across his lap, a tableau of some blasphemous pietà. Dead one minute, not dead the next. They all saw the stigmata on his body, but they do not know how he came to be wounded. Only I know what happened, only I know what he felt, what he offered, what he *suffered* for her. And it’s best if I don’t tell.
Willow and Tara have argued with me. They believe that I am wrong, but they have not the confidence in themselves to go against my will. Good.
Dawn is unhappy but is swayed by her worries for her sister’s welfare.
Anya, strangely, is angry with me, and has only reluctantly agreed to what I have decided.
Xander and Wesley will follow me willingly enough. Xander hates Angelus even more than he hated Angel. Wesley simply fears him, I think, although when I watch Wesley, and the way he looks at Angelus, perhaps it’s more complicated than that. I wonder if I should worry about that.
And so, I hold them to my purpose. The relationship between my slayer and the vampire is over. She will be able to kill him, now. It’s for the best.
I’m on my way out of Sunnydale. I don’t know where I’m going, and when I’ll be back. Where *to* is not important. The only thing filling my mind is where *from*. Who from. Her. If I cannot have her, I cannot stay near her.
I don’t feel rage. I don’t feel pain. I don’t feel love or loss. Not at the moment. All I feel is numb. I’ll feel them all soon enough, though, and it’s best for her if I’m as far away as possible before any of those feelings come back. I remember what I did to her last night. How much I hurt her. If I stay, that will only be the start.
I remember my oath to her. ‘…I will cherish and protect you in every way known to human or demon kind. I will never leave you or abandon you, and we will face together everything the future brings to us.’ The Soul abandoned her, then renounced her. I’m doing the same. I thought I was better than him, but apparently not. Not in this, anyway.
I drive for a long time before I realise where I am headed. Los Angeles. Habit, I suppose. Do I want to go back there? Is there anything there for me? Not really. Is there anything for me anywhere else? Not really. What does it matter, then? I have my cell phone and Estevan can contact me on that when he has finished the errand I sent him on. The errand to Aurelius that will possibly see the end of me. Just now, I really don’t care.
It’s on these thoughts that I see the car wreck ahead, well off the road. A human would have missed it in the dark. Should I stop? Why not? There might be something to eat and I seem to remember skipping breakfast. As I pull up opposite the crumpled car, I see what crumpled it. A demon the size of a house. With wings. One of those that came through the portal, then. There’s a body by the side of the car, and a young girl losing the battle with the demon. I can feel her in my blood. She’s a Slayer. Damn. Buffy was dead for a while. I knew that another Slayer would be called, and I should have felt her before I got this close. In my defence, I *have* had a lot on my mind.
I hop out of the car and cast a quick glance at the body of the Watcher. He’s not quite dead and he looks to me for help. Then he recognises what I am. He’s very far gone, but he tries to lift his sword. It’s no contest. I break his neck as easily as twisting the top off a jar. The sword will be handy, so I pick it up. It’s a good one, and I’m comfortable with the heft of it.
The girl has almost had it. She’s young and relatively untried, and this is a big powerful demon. Think of a dragon. It isn’t one, of course – there’s no such thing. But it looks exactly like that. The only mercy is that it isn’t breathing flames, just spitting poison. If it kills this slayer – as it will in a few moments – the only person left to deal with it will be my slayer. It will kill her, too, without me there to help. I’d better take a hand. My slayer has only just been recovered after facing down a godling. She isn’t going to go out to an overgrown lizard like this.
I walk over to the beast, and as I do, all the rage and hate and loss and pain break over me, like a waterfall. Here is something to kill. Good.
I’m up its back like a leopard up a tree. The slayer is unconscious now, so I let down my fangs and claws, and drop the sword. The black cloud of rage that has wrapped itself around me has made me feel primitive, drawing out every ounce of my demonic nature. I don’t want to chop this thing up with a weapon made by man. I want to rend it into pieces, tooth and claw; to tear into its flesh the way she is tearing into mine. I want to stamp onto its body the signs of pain and anguish that she has stamped onto my spirit. And I do.
When it’s over, most of the demon’s wounds are to the throat. Not that it has much throat left, now. My wounds are everywhere. It had claws, it had barbs on its wings and tail, it had teeth the length of my forearm. I’ve felt them all. It doesn’t matter. It’s dead now. I should feel better for that very, very messy kill, but I don’t. I just feel tired. She’s still unconscious, so I manage to drag myself over to the watcher, and drink down what is left of his blood. It’s hard work, and not very tasty, but it will do for now. It will make sure I heal quickly, and it will get rid of the taste of demon’s blood from my mouth. I was beyond caring during the fight, but it tastes like battery acid now. I take a few minutes to pick pieces of scale and flesh out of my teeth, and while I’m doing that, I contemplate this extra slayer.
What to do with her, though? I could just leave her here – I don’t think she got a good look at me, so even if she survives, she couldn’t tell Buffy. Or I could kill her while she’s out cold. Buffy will never know.
Who am I kidding? One look at that demon, and at the Watcher, and Buffy will know exactly what has happened. Why should that matter to me? Leave it at that. It just matters.
This young slayer is badly hurt. She took some killing blows, and I think she has internal injuries, but she’s also been bitten. I’m not familiar with this poison, but I don’t think it’s looking good for her. I’m feeling distinctly queasy myself, from its effects. I can do one of two things. I can find a motel room to hole up in for the day, but I really think that she will be dead by evening. Or I can drive for Sunnydale as fast as this car can go. I might get there before sun-up – it’ll be tight – and get her to a hospital where they *might*, and only might, be able to save her. Or I might not get that far, and end up as a pile of ash. Seems a fair risk. Anyway, the body of this demon needs dealing with. Let’s see how fast a Jaguar can go.
Tara and I are unhappy at Giles’ decision not to tell Buffy about what Angelus has done for her. We were shocked, of course, when we knew that he had hurt her so much. We saw everything – Tara and I helped to clean up her wounds, after all, even the most intimate ones. She didn’t say a word the whole time, but we knew that something must have gone terribly wrong between them for him to do that to her. He’s everything that has ever been written about him, but he hasn’t ever allowed himself to hurt her like this before. Perhaps it was only a matter of time, but I don’t think so. Oz trusted him. At least, he trusted him so far.
And Spike is missing. She won’t say a word, but when we cleaned her up, she was covered with vampire ash. I’m afraid of what might have happened, so Tara and I will go to his crypt later, and see if we can find anything out.
And look at what Giles had then done to him. The poisoned arrow that almost killed Angelus, and almost lost us Buffy … I wish that I knew what had happened when they were in the Underworld, but I guess no one knows. You are supposed to forget when you return, that’s part of the spell. So that everything stays in balance. The Underworld is meant to be one of the Great Mysteries. We all know she died, that he went after her and brought her back, but I don’t suppose that anyone knows anything else. Still, surely she should be told that much? We have agreed to Giles’ demand, but I don’t think he’s being rational about this. So, we are praying to the Goddess, to see whether she will give us guidance. I’m not hopeful – even the kindliest Powers seem to want you to sort things out for yourself. Still, we’ll try.
Another thing that puzzles me is why we feel that we have to stick up for Angelus. He’s a terrifying, evil vampire, and I’m scared to death of him. But… And that’s a big But, I feel that I owe it to him to deal honourably with him. Why? Like I said, Oz trusted him, so perhaps it’s a leftover from then. I really don’t know, but I’m sure time will tell. I wish Oz were here now – there was some connection, some respect, between the two of them. Oz would be a big help.
Goddess, hear our prayer…
Cell phones. The Soul once described them as the invention of a bored warlock. I might even bring myself to agree with him. Certainly you shouldn’t try to use one whilst racing the sun at 155 mph, and feeling queasy from some dragon poison. Even I’m having a small problem with that. The slayer is strapped into the front seat – I don’t want her waking up behind me. Certainly not until I know whether she’s aware of what I am.
She’s breathless with fear. I’m pleased to have that effect on her, but I don’t know why she should be. I’m substantially in her debt, and in any event I want her and her girlfriend as my retainers. She’s quite safe from me. Quite.
“There’s a very large dead demon to be disposed of.” I tell her where to find it, and how big it is. “Get over there and get rid of it – I’d stick it into another dimension if I were you. It’ll take all week to cut up. But whatever you do, you won’t tell the Watcher how you know.” I don’t really know why I don’t want Rupert to know. It’s unreasoning, and probably impossible for her. But I don’t.
She’s a quick study, that one.
“And you’ll find the new slayer in Sunnydale Hospital. There’s no rush.”
Well, there might be, but I’m less keen on saving this second slayer than on getting that demon out of sight. I’d like to avoid actual witch-hunts…
“Deal with the demon first, or it will be extremely conspicuous come first light.”
Which isn’t very far away. I can feel the damn sun rising in my blood. This is going to be nip and tuck here.
“New Slayer? Have you…”
“Yes and no, in that order. She was trying to tackle the thing after it downed her watcher. She’s unconscious just now. The demon that bit her was poisonous – you’ll need to look for an antidote. Rupert might be able to help, but I don’t know what sort of demon it was. I doubt the medics can handle it. Gotta go, Willow.”
Time. There’s never enough time. Ironic that an eternal being such as I would say that.
I’m a genuine creature of the night. The day holds much less interest for me. I’m up and about for much of it on a regular basis, of course, but the night is my milieu. Your eyes only allow you to see in shades of black and white and grey at night. I see colours. And I see more of them than you can. During the day, the strength of sunlight bleaches out some of my colour vision, allows me to only see what you see, for the most part. Nine colours in the rainbow, but apart from that, it isn’t a lot different. At night, though, I see in a richness of colour that is denied to you. What? Well, even a *duck* sees more colours than you do. Evolution has not always been kind to you.
And on that thought, here comes the sun. And there’s Sunnydale Hospital. Told you it would be nip and tuck. Good job there’s an underground car park, or I’d have to go to the trouble of breaking the car out of the pound after it had been towed from the front entrance. You don’t honestly think I’m going to pay a towing fee, do you? In my town?
They’re a bit surprised when I carry her in from the car park, but then she’s taken from me, and I’m left to make up some details. Which I do.
Why am I doing this? Saving her life? Why didn’t I just drink her down, along with her Watcher? Well, she’s full of the demon’s poison for one thing. I’ve been poisoned enough just lately thank you. I wasn’t prepared to take the risk of having more.
Other than that? Let’s just leave it there, right?
They don’t know what to do with the girl. Her physical hurts are bad, but less so than the doctors think. She’ll mend from those, given the chance. They’ve taken blood tests, for all the good those will do. I can smell the poison even from where I’m lurking, and I’ve no idea what it is. It’s that that might kill her.
It’s some little while before Buffy and her followers arrive. The witches are looking drained, so I’m sure they’ve been successful in disposing of the dragon. I don’t need to know any more than that. These people have successfully disposed of a great many corpses in their time. Not all demons turn to dust at the end of a stake, after all.
As she passes where I’m hiding, I see Buffy pause. She doesn’t know that I’m here – she hasn’t had enough experience of using the bond between us – but she feels me. With a shake of her head, she moves on, catching up to her friends and the Watcher. It’s Buffy who stops at the door to the other slayer’s room; Buffy who recognises her for what she is; and Buffy who mounts guard on the door whilst Ripper takes blood samples of his own. The witches and the Watcher take their leave – no doubt to work on the poison – leaving Buffy and the Harris stripling to watch over the second slayer. Presumably they are guarding her from me. Foolishness. If I wanted her dead, would I have taken the risk of bringing her back here: driven all that way, so close to sunrise?
Then I remember that they don’t know who brought her in. Perversely, some part of me wishes they did. That *she* did. That really is foolishness.
Still, they stay there; Buffy can sense me, I can tell, but she doesn’t understand that I am so close. When she is practic… it takes a while for a human, in those rare circumstances where a vampire chooses a human mate, to become adept at understanding the bond. We have been apart for most of the time since we became mates. She has had little chance to learn. That will com…that is all the better for me, now.
As I watch from my hiding place, my emotions are in turmoil. I want her. I want to be with her. I want to feast on her until her life drains away. I want to feast on her forever. I want to rend her into pieces, to excise her from my life as you would excise a cancer. I want to throw myself at her feet and beg her forgiveness.
I need to know whether she still loves me. I need to know whether she *can* love me. All of me.
I find myself wishing that I had my pad and pencils here. It would be… soothing… to spend some time sketching her. I haven’t done enough drawing since I first returned after their night together, the night that brought me back. I’ve been too busy. The Soul loved drawing but would rarely indulge, since he knew that I love it, too. Since when has selfishness been the sole prerogative of the evil?
When nightfall comes, I leave to feed and freshen up. When I return, I bring my pad and pencils with me. I draw them from life, although I could draw them from memory. I have pictures of the new slayer – none of them knows her name yet – of Buffy, Xander and Anya, all sitting with her. They haven’t talked much. Then Xander, heedless of all consequence, says to my slayer, “How could you? How could you ever have thought to have a relationship with that beast, that… that murdering monster? Look what he did to you. Look what he did to *her* Watcher. To *Jenny*! You going to let him eat half the population of this town just so you can get groiny with him?”
He subsides a little then. He doesn’t tell her any more of what I did. He doesn’t balance his accusations. She says nothing. Nothing. The scent coming to me is pure self-pity. I wait for the scent to change, for other feelings to emerge in her. All I get is self-loathing. Was my devotion to her so unwelcome? Were her feelings for me so fleeting? So *juvenile*? Something snaps in me, something fragile and precious, something that may never be found again, and I start to draw.
When they both leave the room – he to fetch coffee, she to make sure the immediate corridors are clear for him – I slip in and leave the drawings on the bed. I’m burning my boats now, in all sorts of ways. I just have time to get back to my hiding place before she returns.
Xander brings back coffees to find the drawings on the bed: there’s one of the new slayer, comatose; there are pictures of themselves, separately and together. Buffy hasn’t even picked them up yet. She’s as white as one of these hospital sheets. She’s concentrating on the drawing I left in a hospital envelope just for her. It’s from memory. It’s her, naked, strung up in my chains, waiting for the lash of my whip to fall. This is who I am. Deal with it.
I am making my way slowly to Egypt. He will be angry with me for the delay, but I am hoping that he will reconsider the message that I am taking. I shall call him before I enter Aurelius’ territory; give him the chance to change his mind. He will be angry about that, too, but that is my decision.
When I get back to the hospital the next night, I’m only just ahead of the Watcher. He’s talking to one of the medics, who’s clearly not impressed with the new Slayer’s chances of recovery. They can’t find what’s wrong with her beyond the immediate injuries. The Watcher is nodding and agreeing, but I can smell the impatience on him. He wants the medic gone. He must have something.
He does. When the doctor leaves, Rupert joins the witches, and they start to ready the room for a spell. And just to show that you can mix ancient and modern, he’s got a syringe full of something. When it’s all over, all they can do is sit back and wait, but I can tell that there’s a change. I can hear it in her heartbeat and scent it on her skin. She’s turning the corner, although I guess she’s still got a long walk back. I’m pretty sure she won’t come round tonight, so I might as well go about my own affairs. I’ve had time to think, and I’ve changed my mind. I’ll stick around Sunnydale for a while.
When I get back to the mansion, I summon my retainers. To be honest, I’m surprised they are still here, after my long absence, more years spent in the grip of the Soul. Estevan is off on an errand for me, and Ezrafel is still skulking in Hylek after I sent him away, but the rest are here. Except Dru. And Spike, of course. He’ll never be here again. Damn.
It’s Ixolon, the Norag, from the clan that tried to steal my mate, who reports to me on what has been happening in my prolonged absence. He and Ezrafel and Estevan have done well. They knew of my plans and have followed them through. I left a triumvirate in charge when I left on that ill-fated journey to deal with the Kahlavi cult. It’s still a triumvirate, but a very different one. Still, Ixolon, Ezrafel and Estevan have been loyal and they have indeed done well. It seems I now own a whole bunch of real estate and corporate entities in Sunnydale, all legitimately purchased, and I still have most of my diamonds and several million bucks in the bank. My new assets? They are almost everything that’s important in this place. I now own hotels, including the best one in town, most of the leisure activities, profitable companies and up-market developments. It really is my town, even in your sense of the word. I am pleased with them.
I don’t want to examine too closely why I planned this spree of acquisitions, and why I’m going to press on. Vampires don’t need extensive holdings. I’ve spent most of my life living on the proceeds of whichever murder was the most recent. Once the family is dead, you can take over their house for a while. There are usually plenty of assets to liquidate if you need cash. New clothes? Well, you just pick someone your size, with your taste in clothes, and make sure you’re careful not to spill any blood. When this started, it was because of her. Something to offer her. And it probably still is, although I’ll be damned for it, and whether I’ll ever be able to make her a present of it all is another matter. Still, might as well carry on… Perhaps it will take my mind off the turmoil of my thoughts. I’m feeling schizophrenic again. I want to hold her and love her and protect her. I want to ravish her and kill her, and then wait for her to rise so that I can ravish her some more. I want to teach her everything I know about pain. I want to protect her from the hurts of the world.
I am so fucked up.
My people’s efforts have spread only a little further than the borders of town, but they have made a contact in the Governor’s office. The Governor is a guy who really likes to put it about. He’s mine, or will be very soon. There may come a time when I can use a bit of weight in high places. Not for much – the real power lies in the underworld, not in the petty world of politics, and the underworld is where I’m going to hold sway – but I want to cover all the bases here. I’ll deal with Sunnydale’s mayor, too. The authorities in this town will be mine. Meantime, there are other things to be dealt with here. I’m going out for a night on the prowl. See what’s what.
The new slayer has been unconscious for three days now. I can’t keep watch over her every hour of the day, but eventually, Willow admitted to us who had brought the girl in. Him. He’d killed the dragon – I don’t know what else to call it – and brought her in, instead of leaving her there. I don’t know how he managed to do it; well, I could see *how*, of course. Most creatures that breathe and make vocal noises tend to have more throat than that. But how did he find the strength? It would have killed a Slayer. And why? Having tired of one Slayer, is he going to trade in for a newer model? She’s certainly different. Dark haired. *Sultry* is the only word I can think of to describe her. Fuller than me. Perhaps he wants more of a handful? Well, you know what I mean. Me? Jealous? Never.
Apparently the Watcher was beyond help. I’m not comfortable that he drank him, but after hearing what Willow and Tara had to say about the demon, I’m guessing he needed the blood. I’ve never seen anything like it before. It must have been one of those that came through the portal. Are we going to be plagued with a mass of foreigners now? We’ve got enough on with the ones already here.
But, if he brought her in, it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll harm her now. Does it? I don’t know any more. I don’t seem to know *him* anymore. If I ever did.
There was what he did to me before I went to meet Glory – and I still don’t understand how I came out of that dive off the tower alive and in one piece, and in his arms.
Now there are the pictures. Drawings.
I’ve known for a long time that Angel is, was, a talented artist. I realised afterwards, when it was too late, that some of the drawings in his old apartment were his. I don’t know where they are now – I guess Angelus will have destroyed them – but I have more recent experience of his skills. Remember? When he was taunting me, he would leave me drawings of my mother, my friends, and myself asleep. He left one for Giles as well: a drawing of Jenny, peaceful in death.
It seems the artist in him is back. Is that a bad sign? Does Angelus only draw when he’s in a manic phase? Does he have manic phases, or has my infidelity with Spike, and Spike’s death, done something to him? I don’t know. But my Slayer sense is telling me I’d damn well better find out because it could be important. If he’s back to the mad creature he was when Angel and I first… when I let him out, then we are all in such trouble. But at least we have a second slayer here. I doubt whether I could do what needs to be done. I still love him, after all. Well, you knew that, didn’t you? I love him as much as I love Angel. I’m a disgrace to the line of Slayers, I know. Sometimes I hate myself for it. But I can’t help it. I don’t think his feelings for me are quite so…friendly, though. Not any more.
I don’t know what to think. Well, I *do*, of course, but I think you know what I mean. Tara and I have been to Spike’s crypt. It’s the first chance we’ve had to go there. We were exhausted after dismembering the dragon. We didn’t have enough strength left to put it into another dimension, so we sank it into the Pacific. If any of it comes up, it’ll be just one more mystery of the sea. Then we had to analyse the poison and find an antidote. It took more magic to do that, and of course there was the spell to activate the antidote once we got it into the new slayer.
We got to the crypt at last, though. There were Spike’s clothes in a heap, and Buffy’s clothes in another heap, and a lot of vampire ash. So we tried something new. Some time ago, Tara found a spell for seeing events that have already happened. It needs to be something that carries a lot of emotion, enough to leave some traces, and you need to be soon enough after it occurred. We tried it. I don’t think we’ll be trying again in a hurry. Apart from the fact that it took enormous amounts of magic, and that we were both puking for about an hour afterwards from the taste of it, we saw what happened. Because of the passage of time, it was faint, and grainy, like a really old black and white film, but we saw.
We’ve decided not to tell, unless we have to – that’s Buffy’s responsibility, not ours – but Angelus has reason to be angry. It does *not* excuse what he did, but we could see why a demon like him would have done it. Killed Spike when he and Buffy were… How could Buffy…? With Spike? We don’t know if anything will heal this rift. We don’t know if anything *should*. But if he went into the Underworld to see if she was safe, to bring her out if she was not, then he still cares. No. ‘Cares’ is nothing like the word. I don’t think there *is* a word in any human language for the fierceness of his passion.
We’ve folded up Spike’s clothes and made everything neat and tidy, although I really don’t know why. He isn’t coming back, after all. And we’ve brought back Buffy’s clothes for her. Knowing her, though, she’ll probably just throw them away.
I just pray that Angelus doesn’t go back to the mad thing that terrorised us not too many years ago.
Slayers are very useful things to have around, you know. Oh, I don’t mean that’s all that Buffy is – a useful thing to have around, although she is. Buffy is *mine*. My mate, my possession, my responsibility. Mine.
No, I’m talking about the other one. The spare. I can make use of her if I can just get her mind right. I don’t want to turn her. A vampiric Slayer might be a bit much even for me to handle, (I’m not even going to *think* about why that doesn’t seem to be the issue with Buffy) and I’m not prepared to risk it. I’m not prepared to risk Buffy coming off second best in a contest between those two, either. Not if I think *I* might have a problem. No. I’m thinking that I might play to the darkness in her. There’s a lot of it. I can smell it.
The antidote they’ve given her has worked – I can sense her healing powers at work as I stand here, in her doorway – but she was extremely ill, and it will take some time for her to fully recover. Several days, I think. At the minute, she’s far too weak to move. All she can do is lie and watch me. There’s no one else here at the moment, and if I’m quiet, we shouldn’t be disturbed for a little while.
I stroll into her room and sit by her bedside. She can’t speak, so no point asking her name just yet.
“Hi. I’m the one who brought you in.”
She knows that. She’s recognised me and her eyes look grateful. She can see I’ve been in a fight, too, but she’s confused by how fast I’ve healed. Just a few old scratches and bruises left. She looks as if she’s trying to speak, to ask me something about what happened, who I am. Let’s resolve that confusion. I put my finger gently to her lips.
“Shh. Don’t try to talk – you’re too weak.”
There’s something that has just come into her eyes. Doubt. I take her hand in mine, and she tries to pull away. She can feel that I’m not as warm as I should be, and maybe, at this proximity, her attenuated Slayer senses are starting to kick in.
“My name’s Angelus.”
She gives a start of recognition. At least her eyes do. So, the Watcher’s Council have caught up with me, then. That could be fun.
“I’m your worst nightmare,” I tell her, in strictly conversational tones. “I’m really good at rape, murder, removal of body parts; anything that generally terrifies any one in my territory. I’m the power on this Hellmouth, and I think we’re going to get along just fine.”
With my right hand, I start to trace the outline of her face, and then the outline of her body beneath the thin covers, just as a lover might. She tries to squirm away from my touch, and she opens her mouth to call out. She’s too weak for any of that, though. The poison has almost paralysed her. Good. A Slayer, completely helpless and at my mercy. Just where I want her. Imagine the kick that gives me. I cut off the thought that I wouldn’t like Buffy in this condition at all…
I lean over and kiss her, gently, just tasting her tongue with mine. She tastes spicy and rich. Not like Buffy, of course, but good. Now I slip my right hand just under the covers, to her breast, and amuse myself with what I find there. She’s just as sensuous as she looks, and cannot resist my touch. Her expression tells me that she’d like to vomit. Whilst I’m doing what I’m doing, I trace a little line of kisses down her cheek until I reach the throbbing, beating pulse in her neck. I lift my head to look at her, and shift into demon face. She looks as if she’s going to have a coronary, but from anger, not fear. Delicious.
I move back to that pulse and slide my fangs gently into her, two tiny wounds that should be healed in hours, and taste a little of her blood. Not too much – she’s very weak, still. Her blood is still tainted by what has been done to her – the poison and the antidote – but the rich, spicy musk of her is heady. She may be horrified – appalled even – by what I am doing to her, but she’s also aroused and intrigued. As I said, delicious. Not a patch on *my* Slayer, of course. And Buffy is *my* Slayer, I realise, as I taste this ersatz replacement. I’ll have both of them, but Buffy is mine forever, no matter what she thinks. She’s going to have me – all of me, everything that I am – whether she likes it or not. That might be fun, too.
I lick the tiny wounds closed, adding to the horror that this girl feels, and then I stand.
“You’re in this town, Slayer, and everything here is mine. Don’t forget it. I’ll see you real soon.” Then I turn and leave. I’ve got other things to do now.
The Slayer is put on this planet to protect humanity. All of you, good and bad alike. She does not differentiate, so long as you are human. She does not use her powers against any of you. And yet some of you are as soulless as I am. And some of you are just as evil as any demon.
You know that the Hellmouth attracts demons. We can feel its power from all over the Earth, and we are drawn to it. If we are near enough, almost inevitably it will reel us in like a gaffed pike. It takes a strong demon indeed to master its power. A demon like me.
It has the same effect on humans. For those who are as ruled by evil as we are, it holds the same attraction. It perhaps cannot reach out as far – or possibly your senses are simply too blunted to feel it from far off – but it does call to you. You don’t really think that so many people come to California just for the sun? And we have some undesirables here in Sunnydale. Oh, they’ve always been here. As I said, it isn’t Buffy’s job to deal with them, and Angel could have done, but he refused to do anything that would displease her. In any event, he was too busy brooding over his previous track record in the murder department to want to add to the tally. I’m not so nice. If I’m going to live here with my mate, then this place gets cleaned up. My way. Just say I won’t brook any competition, because that certainly is true. It doesn’t have to be for any other reason.
I’m starting with a gang who are collecting protection money. Some of my new holdings have paid in the past, and they are now trying to put the squeeze on me. *On me*! That’s where I’m off to now.
My name is Ixolon, and I am a Norag demon. I have been in the service of Angelus for over three years now, and yet I hardly know him. For almost all of that time he has been absent from his holdings here. He has been…other.
I, and my companions, entered his service as part of the repayment of our debt to him – the debt incurred because we unwittingly stole his mate and sold her into service in Hylek. That has turned out rather well for him, of course, but the advantage he reaped does not wipe out the debt. He would have been within his rights to kill us. And in any event, rights would not have mattered to him. A demon such as he? He would have slaughtered us, and our entire clan, for revenge. But we offered to be useful to him, and so we sold ourselves into his service.
When he…changed…we wondered whether to leave. I discussed the dilemma with the rest of my clan, all of whom may owe service to him in the future, and we were agreed. We have skills to offer, skills that have helped us to earn our living. We can find things. Things that would otherwise remain lost. Over the millennia, we have accumulated debts that are owing to us for just those services. We are not quite eternal like the vampires, but our lives are very, very long, barring accident or misadventure, and some of the eldest of us have an enormous accumulation of debt owing to them. We called in some favours. Big ones. The word was that a great destiny awaited this particular vampire. Or a crashing fall, the like of which has not been seen since the fall of the Archangel Lucifer. No one could be certain which it would be. In the end, it was the fact that we had given our oaths that made the difference. We stayed. Now he is back. I hope that we made the right decision.
We have done our best to put his plans into place, such of them as were within our power. It has not been easy. We are able to walk in the daylight, as men. With our clothes on, there is nothing to distinguish us from humanity. But we aren’t human, and the Slayer may be Angelus’ mate, but she has had her eye on us. Therefore, we have been unable to settle some matters that we would have preferred not to leave for him. Protection racketeers, drug dealers, murderers, thieves. And almost all of them are human. We have dealt with many of the undesirable demons. Angelus had made it quite plain to us that *nothing* is to threaten any resident of Sunnydale. Nothing, that is, except him.
I understand that he intends to remedy our shortcomings in that area.
Well, that was bracing. There’s this strip joint. I didn’t own it when I came in – but I believe I do now. It’s been the base for the protection rackets. I’ve just called for a visit. To introduce myself, you understand.
They were, of course, pleased to see me. Saved them the trouble of making a call. The levy on my properties has been 7 ½ % of gross takings. They want to increase that to 10%. Wanted. They’re past tense now. They thought I was just another human, a bit more bravado than most, but someone who would knuckle under at the first sign of tough talking. They learned the error of their ways. And they found out the hard way that bullets don’t kill me – just make me extremely testy. A testy, bullet-riddled vampire is bad enough, but a testy, bullet-riddled vampire nursing a three-day hard-on, and who’s bottling up a killing rage? My, my. What a mess I’ve made. Lovely. I’ve drunk my fill. Well, from the ones who were intact enough to make it worthwhile, that is. My wounds are painful and need attention, but there’s something to do before I leave here. I’m sitting in this room of beautiful death, doing something soothing. I discovered I still have my sketchbook and pencils on me, and so I’m drawing the scene in front of me. It’s black and white on the page, of course, and the scene in front of me is in glorious colour. But I think my drawing will be a more than adequate reflection. In places, it’s more like an anatomical sketch. The exploded version.
Angelus is back and he is injured. I have some skill with battle wounds, and I have summoned Silene, one of my Norag companions, to join us. Angelus understands that it would be better to remove the bullets, rather than leave them in place – there are at least half a dozen, from what I can see – although I’ll bet that he is not a long-suffering patient. Hence Silene.
She’s an extremely attractive demon. She, too, has some experience of battlefield injuries – we Norags are a small clan, and have often had to fight for our existence – but her role will be different here.
There is a long table in the kitchen, and I have persuaded Angelus to remove his clothing and stretch out on that table. I can now see seven entry wounds, all of them at the front, as you would expect of him. The ones in his thigh and his hip have exit wounds, so I have five bullets to find, one in his chest, one in his liver and three in his abdomen. This is going to hurt. He was initially inclined to just try and dig them out with his fingers but this will be better. We will be seen to be of service. Also, what I have planned will hurt less.
I have a small first aid kit ready, and here comes Silene.
She sways into the room like the siren that she truly is. She was chosen as one of the two to accompany me here in the hope that she might prove alluring to Angelus. He visibly appreciates her charms, but has yet to turn that appreciation to anything more…concrete. We had not understood how monogamous he had become in his relationship with the Slayer. Still, life is long, and it will be longer still before Silene shows any signs of ageing. Who knows what may happen in that time?
She stands on his left, so that I can work on the chest wound on his right. As I am poised to probe, she runs one well-manicured hand down the uninjured side of his chest and bends to kiss him, her hair a shining blue-black curtain hiding me from him. Even a powerful vampire such as he is likely to plunge like a gelded colt when I probe for the bullet, and four strong men might not hold him down. One woman – or demoness, in this case – will. It would be better if it were his mate, but he is attracted enough to her that his pride will hold him still. That will make my work easier, and less painful. I can see that the kiss is having the desired effect, and her hand reaches over his wounded abdomen to find the part that, despite his pain, has come up to greet her. She strokes him gently, and he gives a shuddering sigh of pleasure. It is time for me to set to work.
Ixolon has proved to be a competent first aider, although you might well guess that first aid for a demon probably means something different than first aid for a human. What he lacks in surgical experience and finesse he more than makes up for by a serious quotient of guile. Using Silene to keep me quiet – well, I ask you. Mind you, she demonstrated absolutely no lack of experience and finesse – quite the opposite, in fact – in her own…manipulations… shall we call it? It took him over an hour to dig out all five bullets, then clean and dress seven wounds, and she kept me hanging on the edge of that precipice without even once letting me fall over. Compared to that, the agony of a few bullet holes is minimal. Only when they got me back up here, to my own rooms, did she finally make good on those promises and give me relief.
But it really was no relief at all. As I lie here, I’m still achingly hard for the one who stalks my every waking moment, and haunts my every dream. Buffy.
I remember when I was human. When I was Liam, all those years ago. He had a fondness for poteen. Well, often it was all he could afford. And some of those moonshiners made a very good liquor indeed. What? You thought those mugs he was always waving around were filled with ale? Don’t be stupid. He’d get a skinful, you know, and then wouldn’t remember anything for the next month. I could do with some of that now.
My mind is racing, and how am I expected to get some sleep and heal? Thoughts of her are running through my head, the times we’ve shared together – and not all of them in bed, although just at the moment, those are particularly attractive memories, and particularly futile. And memories of our parting, in that dizzying moment when we were released from the Underworld, when I held her warm and living body in my arms again. When I thought I should never, ever let her go. When I would have been prepared to admit that the Soul might not be such a bad sort after all, after he had helped me win her freedom. When she threw everything I had done for her back in my face.
I remember every moment of my time there, too, although somehow I’d always thought that you wouldn’t be allowed to. I’ve never before met anyone who *remembered* firsthand a visit to the Underworld. Why should I be able to?
It’s a long time before I get any sleep. It should have been longer.
Buffy is chained in a crypt. She is naked, except for a covering of ashes. Vampire ashes. Spike prepares to take her whilst Drusilla looks on, encouraging him, then singing her ridiculous ‘run-and-catch’ ditty. Spike is in demon face; he runs one claw gently down the line of her jaw, down the side of her neck, along her collarbone, then down the valley between her breasts. He dislodges some flakes of ash as he does so, and smiles a small, feral smile.
“Sire wasn’t so tough, was he? He could never replace *me*!” His claw starts to dig into her golden skin and a small drop of blood blossoms from her.
The claw digs deeper yet, as he draws it down her belly towards her sex. The skin parts, gently, reluctantly. The muscle follows. There is a hiatus, a brief suspension of time, and then her belly splits and releases a monster, a werewolf of sorts, fully-formed, mouth agape, strings of bloody saliva hanging from its teeth. It starts tearing at her flesh as it struggles to be free. Drusilla laughs with glee, and Spike joins her. My beloved screams. Her scream mingles with mine, as I wake from the nightmare.
I am angry and confused. I don’t *have* nightmares. I *am* the nightmare. What is *wrong* with me?
And why a werewolf? Well, I suppose we both have a werewolf connection after that time that Oz bit me, and she licked the wound, but that was resolved, and certainly hasn’t preyed on my mind. What has she done to me? She’s made me weak, that’s what she’s done. This has to stop.
I return to the hospital in the small hours. The new Slayer is mending, but still has almost no strength. She is asleep when I arrive, and it’s the work of a moment to clamp my hand over her mouth. She’s strong enough to bite, but that doesn’t matter. It’s only pain, and it will pass.
I turn her head and snuffle around her jugular. She really, really hates that, so I continue doing it for a few more minutes. Let her anger and her fear build – her blood will be all the tastier for it. Then it’s time. I sink my fangs in very, very slowly – I want her to feel me penetrate every strand of muscle, every cell wall, feel me violate her slayer-stuff – and start to drink. It’s such potent stuff that I could get lost in it, could stay here sucking in the richness, until she was no more than a dry husk. I don’t want that. She’s much more use to me alive. But I do mark her as mine. Oh, not as my mate, or anything like that. I have one of those, and this Slayer may be very good indeed, but she can’t hold a candle to mine.
No. This one is simply mine. My property. I’ll break her to the bridle, make sure she comes to hand. The mark will warn others not to touch this one unless they *really* want trouble. And I’ll drink enough to set back her recovery a little, to keep her here for another day, maybe. The taste of her rage is delectable, and particularly so since it is spiced with arousal. Her body is quite beyond her control, and it is responding now only to me. Then, as I intended, she comes, and it’s really, really hard. There is little sign of it in the inert flesh lying on this bed, but the explosion of it into her blood is as distinct as sherbet on the tongue. I draw on her vein very, very gently, prolonging her fall into bliss and then, just as bliss is turning into something darker, I withdraw. She will never have experienced anything like that. She’ll have to come back for more. She may not know it yet, but she really is mine.
Looking back, I can see that the next two or three weeks are a surreal pastiche, patches of my life with squares of others stitched in, and a different reality glimmering in the joins. I’m almost two different demons. I remember how it felt when I first returned after that century of imprisonment by the Soul, the madness pounding through my blood. I still want to make Aurelius suffer for the things he did to me whilst he held me captive in Egypt, but I have understood since then that he brought me back to some measure of sanity. Now, I am once more beginning to feel the way I did after my first release. Sometimes I am in control, but at others… It would be so easy to give in to it, to just be as much the demon as I can possibly be. To regain that clarity of purpose. To get some peace. Why do I not do that? Why do I not make this town – and her – suffer for the slight done to me? Perhaps I will. That part of my fabric is frayed at the edges, and the pieces cannot hold. I can find no respite from her even in sleep. Each day, I have the nightmare. The same nightmare. And each day, it grows a little sharper, a little more real…
I’m leaving quite a pretty trail of carnage behind me. Bodies – and body parts – strewn liberally across town. I have drawings of them all. Ixolon’s first aid skills have been put to good use, and I’m sporting quite a collection of half healed wounds. Bullets are so damaging, and even drinking as much human blood as I am, they take a few days to heal. Never mind. My town is considerably freer of the worst of the competition now. Human and demon, if I don’t want them on my side, then I’m making away with them. The demons I leave for her to find – if I’m cleaning up the town for her, she and her retinue can fill a dustbin or two. Besides, you could, I suppose, consider these to be a prenuptial offering. Gifts to my intended. And she *is* my intended, whether she knows it or not. One way or another. A demon would love my offerings. And slayers do have the darkness of a demon at their core. Oh, yes, I’m afraid they do.
The humans I just leave where I kill them. The authorities have always been singularly stupid here, but even they are getting a bit twitchy. They’ll be mine soon, along with everything else. I’ve told you – this will be my town, and a thriving metropolis it will be, too. A place fit for my Slayer and me to live. My mate, my slave, human or vampire. I don’t know! Stop asking questions, if you know what’s good for you.
I don’t kill all the humans, though. I need to seriously reinforce my base of minions. The way I’m going, I’ll be offending some people. I might well have to defend my patch.
In between my forays to clean up the place, I’ve been stalking the Scoobies. Including the new Slayer.
They all catch glimpses of me, from the corner of their eye, although I’m gone when they turn around. They feel me, often, the hairs on the backs of their necks screaming in warning. I’m never there. Someone brushes against them, and it might be me. I have all the time in the world. I can play this game for as long as I like.
I have a lot of fun with Harris. I remember what he said at the hospital – demons *never* forget – and I pay a little special attention to him. He may hear a whisper from behind him, although no one is there when he turns round. Sometimes it’s a silken touch on the back of his neck, or a hand stroking him where he least expects it, in the middle of a crowd. He never sees me, but he knows who it is. And he responds with the most delectable aromas of fear and arousal and denial. He hates me because he envies me. He wants to *be* me: at least, he wants to be the handsome, debonair and darkly mysterious character that none of the women can resist.
And let me tell you this: something in his cramped little soul *wants* me. Something that he’s afraid makes him a pervert, but just makes him a normal human in close contact with a hunting vampire. You catch more prey with honey than with vinegar. He denies it but it is still there, every time he feels my touch, the scent of it flooding from his every pore. Before I’m finished with him, he’ll beg me to stop, to carry on, to do it, to spare him, to hurt him, to give him ecstasy that he has never known. I’ll do it, too. I don’t think I want to kill him, not yet. I’ll just kill him inside, and remake him as I wish. He’s easy meat, so he’s at the top of my list. The Watcher is at the bottom. Let him suffer by watching what I do to his little troupe of white hats, as I take every single one away from him, because now I understand what he has done.
I started with the witches, you see. Willow and Tara. I went into the Magic Shop the back way, and heard them talk to Giles. I was surprised by what they said, but it explained a lot. They were both angry with him. He hasn’t allowed anyone to tell Buffy what happened after she took a dive from that tower. She doesn’t even know that she died – she thinks I simply caught her. All she really knows of me since I came back to Sunnydale – since I came back to the world, even – is that I killed Spike, and I tortured her. They think she should be told that I tried to make amends. It seems I have some friends.
I’ll send her something that will try to explain. When she’s had time to think about it, I’ll see her myself. Make her understand. Make her remember.
When I get back to the mansion, I sit down to write to her, to tell her how I feel, to tell her what happened. But the words won’t come. Any words that do are simply inadequate to the task, as if my pen were simply sliding away from the words I need. This is not something I had expected. The Soul certainly managed to get tongue-tied most of the time he was with her, but me? Words have always been one of my weapons. Why can I not use them in my own defence, now?
The why doesn’t matter. I simply can’t. Even if she were here in front of me, I’m not sure I could do it. Is this something to do with the spell of the Underworld? That I can remember it but never speak of it? That sucks.
And yet, the Being that I met there, he told me that ‘others would tell her’. I don’t know what that means, although he seemed certain that it would happen. I must hold on until then, hold on to something that she might still be able to love. And I must try to make her remember. And love me again.
It’s then that I recall something, something that isn’t words, which hopefully can be made clear to her without encountering the spell. It’s old-fashioned, but there will be records. I’ve already sent some gifts to the others, with messages for them, which I’m sure they will understand.
Something for the witches, to say that I know they are loyal.
For Dawn, to reassure her sister that for her sake I would never hurt the girl.
There’s something to tell Anya that, if she throws in her lot with me, I will protect her from her demons, since she is now only human.
There’s something a little less… friendly… to Xander, to warn him to stay away from my girl.
And there’s a special gift to the Watcher, who is keeping my mate in ignorance. A reminder of what I do to those who cross me.
I’ve sent something much more personal to the new Slayer. Well, several things. To let her know she can never be free of me now.
I’ll send my mate a gift that will speak to her. The witches will help her to unravel it. I know it. And I’ll make it as plain as I can, as plain as this damned hex will allow.
And I’m wondering where the devil Estevan is? He should have been in Egypt long before now. Has he failed? Has he run away? No, he wouldn’t dare fail me and live. I still have his whelp, Thomaso, here and there are a great many ways in which I could make the youngster regret his sire’s defection. I’m very inventive. Estevan knows this, and is devoted to Thomaso.
So, where the hell is he?
I have delayed as long as I dare, but I have now reached Syria. My next stop will be Port Said. I can expect to be discovered there. If I am not, I shall proceed to Cairo and deliver the message I carry from Angelus to Aurelius. But first, I shall telephone Angelus, and make sure that he still wishes me to do that. It is, after all, a message of death.
My name is Thomaso. We have not spoken directly before, but I believe that you are aware of how I – and my sire – came to be in the service of Angelus. My sire does not speak of it to me, but I often wonder what his feelings are in the matter? To become a bondservant when one has been a master? That cannot sit well. I am less affected, since I was only three when we were taken. I am irrevocably tied to my sire – that is how vampire relationships work – but I would have it no other way. I have another tie, now; one that supersedes even that most fundamental tie to Estevan: the bond to Angelus. That bond has not chafed much during the years that Angelus has been something else, and somewhere else. But now he is back. What will our lives be like in future, I wonder? It is his business that I am upon now. I am in Willy’s bar, checking out the gossip. Willy says nothing new is happening, other than Angelus, and I am inclined to believe him. I’ve given him a big enough bribe to buy even Willy.
So, I’m taking the time to have a glass of blood – Willy supplies some very fine product, provided you threaten him enough or bribe him enough to get the stuff that he keeps under the counter, rather than the stuff on open sale. And I’m listening to the gossip. I’m about to leave for the mansion, to report back that everything is quiet, when a pack of four demons stroll in. They’re new in town, new enough that I can still smell the foreign scents of another city on them. Willy hasn’t lied – this time.
I learn later that they are called Andrej demons. They hunch over the other end of the bar, and examine the under-the-counter stuff. I suspect they’re also looking for what Willy keeps in the way of self-defence. I have a bad feeling about these four. They’re more or less humanoid. Their skin is rather too leathery – and reddish-brown in colour – and their hair takes the form of quills, a bit like a very neat porcupine. They’re also a good head taller than most humans, and built like football players. They aren’t dumb, though.
One of their number orders drinks for the pack. Surprisingly, it’s milk. Oh, well, builds strong bones and teeth, I suppose. They’ve certainly got those. As Willy hands them the glasses, the leader asks, softly (although not so softly that everyone in the place can’t hear), “We’re looking for the big cheese in town. He in here?”
Willy immediately points at me, sitting minding my own business at the far end of the bar – thanks, Willy – and tells them, no, the head honcho rarely comes here, thankfully, but one of his minions, Thomaso, is. They move over and cuddle around me in a *very* friendly manner. Up close, they smell of fish. It quickly becomes apparent that Willy’s isn’t the first place they’ve been to do their research. They already know some things.
They’re polite enough to introduce themselves first. I expect they want Angelus to know exactly who they are.
There’s Kemal, the leader, and his friends Mabry, Fulke and Ozni. They work for their own big cheese, Dukker. Some of the organisations that Angelus has… annexed… over the last few weeks have been Dukker’s. These four are here to open… negotiations… I suppose you might call it. They know who I am, and they know why I am a minion of Angelus. They want to see whether I will turncoat, but they are bright enough to be subtle about it: subtle enough to call for another glass of blood for me, any way.
“Thomaso. Ah, we heard how you came to *join* with Angelus. It must be nice to be a small cog in a bigger operation, rather than just you and your own sire, fending for yourselves. He around too?”
“No. He’s out of town.” If they know about me and Estevan, I’m sure they know he isn’t around at the moment.
“I suppose you were lucky that he didn’t kill the both of you.”
“I suppose so.”
“He’s putting himself about a bit in town, isn’t he?”
“I suppose he is. That’s his way. He can’t abide competition.”
“He wouldn’t be open to sharing, then?”
“You’d have to ask him that.”
“Would he let us get that far?”
“I don’t see why not.” Well, I do, but I’d like to get out of here alive. Alive’ish, anyway.
“How many does he have working for him throughout Sunnydale?”
Ah, here’s a crunch question.
“Three Norags, a Hylekian, Estevan, me and a couple of dozen minions, at the moment, several of them no more than fledglings. I think he’s intent on building his forces, though. He hasn’t been back here long, and the numbers were run down whilst he was gone. It will take a little time to turn some more reliable minions. The people in the businesses don’t yet know who they’re working for. They have no loyalty to him.”
They are pleased with that answer, I can tell. I’m waiting for the next question, though, and I’m not disappointed.
“And the Slayer?”
“They’re estranged right now. He doesn’t tell me personal stuff, so I don’t know exactly why.”
“So she wouldn’t fight on his behalf? She or her friends?”
“Shouldn’t think so, but I’ve hardly ever spoken to her. Remember I’m just a minion now.” My voice is petulant. Good to remind them about that. Remind them how resentful I might feel at a demotion from much-favoured childe to lowly runabout.
A wad of bills thick enough to choke Willy appears in his fist.
“And you’d tell us if the Slayer were to… become less estranged? Or if he turns some extra muscle, enough to make a difference?”
I hold out my hand for the cash.
“Where can I reach you?”
He gives me a cell phone number – and the cash.
“Is there a message you’d like me to take to Angelus for you?”
“Tell him that Dukker feels there must be some misunderstanding, and wishes to see what sort of resolution can be reached. He’ll call on Angelus tomorrow night, if that suits. We’ll wait here for a response.” I’m not to let Angelus know I have a direct contact by phone, then. Right.
There are lots of things I wish. I wish I weren’t the Slayer. I wish I hadn’t lost Angel his soul. I wish I knew why things had gone so terribly wrong between me and Angel’s dark half. I wish I knew why I ever thought they could possibly go right. I wish I had the strength to kill him. Perhaps Faith will do better. Perhaps that’s why she’s here, now. Perhaps the Powers know that this is something I must fail in.
I wish I didn’t still love him.
He’s spent the last few weeks stalking us. I think it’s worse than when he first reappeared, all those years ago. In the Bronze, several times I’ve felt him behind me, his fingers on my spine. Then he’s gone, unseen.
In cemeteries, when I’ve been on patrol, I’ve felt him in the shadows. I thought at first that he meant to rape me, as he did when he first came back. But he hasn’t. He’s just lurked. Shadowy stalker guy again. And it always seems to me that stalking alongside him is Spike’s shadow. All my fault.
Now there are the gifts again, just like last time.
He’s sent a dead rabbit to Anya; a gypsy tambourine to Giles; a gelding knife to Xander (and didn’t *that* get a reaction). Tara and Willow got a bunch of sunflowers. And he’s sent me a picture. It’s in watercolour pastels, and it’s signed with an A. He’s done it himself.
It would be beautiful if I had received it in any other way, from anyone else, at any other time. But I know there’s a message here for me, and I’m sure I won’t like it. Like the ‘gift’ to Tara and Willow, it’s a flower arrangement.
Now, we’re here in the Magic Shop, while Willow tries to find what some of these things mean. He knows that Anya hates rabbits. He must know what the reminder of anything gypsy would do to Giles. I won’t even think about the gelding knife. But why the flowers? Well, it seems that Willow has found it now. She’s coming over to me with the picture. Everyone else is watching, waiting.
“It’s the language of flowers, Buffy. That’s what the message is. This arrangement, each flower says something different.”
Then she explains. The arrangement is centred around red tulips. Those are for reclamation of love. There are calla lilies, which she tells me stand for magnificent beauty, or perhaps pride. The anemones mean forsaken, the trailing tails of amaranth are immortality and the feathery leaves of rue are for contrition. The ears of golden wheat mean the riches of the continuation of life. The vase is twined round with honeysuckle for the bonds of love, and with periwinkle for happy memories. There are red wallflowers for fidelity, and sprigs of yew for sorrow. Lying on the table at the front of the vase is a huge begonia bloom on a branch of myrtle. Dark thoughts on wedded bliss.
How do we know what all the flowers are? He’s taken the precaution of listing them on the back.
All I have to do now is understand it, but my first impression? I’ve hurt his pride, and he’s going to come to reclaim me, and turn me, and make me very, very sorry that I have forsaken him. I’d rather die.
Willow and Tara seem to think I’m wrong, that there are different interpretations for this arrangement of flowers, but it speaks clearly enough to me. I ask Giles what he thinks, but he just has an unreadable expression on his face. I’m going to go with my first thought, then. Xander thinks I’m right. Well, given his gift, I suppose he would.
The sunflowers that Angelus sent to Willow and Tara? They mean loyalty. Perhaps he’s warning them that they have been disloyal to him. Why? Willow and Tara are the ones who tell me that perhaps I should talk to him, hear what he has to say, give him a chance to explain. They don’t mention Spike, but he’s there, behind every sentence. They weren’t the one in Angelus’ chains, feeling his fangs and his whip, though. And all the rest.
Dawn? He’s sent her a silver cross, just like the one that Angel gave to me. Why? Is he telling her that even that won’t keep him away?
Faith? Every day, he’s sent her a drawing. Each one is of Faith herself, and in many of them she is doing something personal or intimate. They are shocking, even to Faith. She isn’t like me, you know. We’re sister Slayers, and have a bond, that’s for sure. Otherwise? She’s tough and streetwise and openly sexy. And she’s a lot more experienced at that side of life than I am. But even she is shocked at these drawings. Shocked, very unnerved and, I think, a bit turned on. Correction, a lot turned on. But she’s angry, too, and says that now she’s back to full strength, she’s going to come on patrol with me. And kill him. Even though he saved her life.
Estevan has just telephoned from Syria, apologising for taking so long, and asking if I have more instructions for him before he enters Egypt. I knew what he was really asking. Have I changed my mind?
I cannot, of course. I would lose face, and I can’t do that. I have my pride. So, he’s off to Port Said now, then Cairo.
I’m expecting Dukker to come and ‘negotiate’ over the way I’m putting him out of business here, but not for another couple of hours. If he’s honourable – and that’s a very big if – I may have to make some concessions. So, I’ll need to stay sharp. I’ll just go for a stroll, I think. Check on my women.
Faith and I have patrolled most of the cemeteries, and we’re now in the Eternal Rest. This one has particular memories for me. It’s the one where I lost myself to a demon. Not Spike, although I was selfish enough to hope that he could fill a gap, could help me try and find comfort in the touch of my mate’s childe. Not my souled Angel, my knight in armour. My other demon. My nemesis. I’m a disgrace. I must have been stupid, to think I could ever tame him. Now we have to kill him, before he finishes off this town. Xander was right about that.
He’s leaving a trail of blood and body parts behind him. It’s as if he’s challenging me, daring me to come and stop him. He’s killed so many, and I’ve done nothing about it. It has to stop.
If he’s going to be waiting anywhere, it’ll be here. I know it. I feel it in my… in my *blood*. That fits, I suppose. Where else would I feel him? We’ve split up, Faith taking one side, me the other. If he comes, it will be for me, surely? And I can’t bear to let Faith see me cry as I do what I should have done years ago. Or, perhaps, see me fail altogether.
There’s a guy just ahead. He looks a bit like my demon, but it isn’t him. Although I can’t make out his features, I can see he’s the same build, the same colouring. But I can’t feel him in my heart, my head or my womb, like I can feel *him* when he’s near, when I allow myself to feel. And I certainly can’t feel his teeth at this mark on my neck, like I can feel *him*. It really is a mark of ownership. Yes, I do indeed feel him in other places than my blood. I’ve given him everything, handed myself to him for complete and utter possession. More fool me. I can’t think how I let things get so far, so out of balance. How I could sink so low.
I don’t know what this guy’s doing here, but it isn’t safe for him. He’s seen me, and he’s turning to talk to me. Well, unless he’s got a gun, he’s in more danger than I am. Even with a gun, if Angelus sees him talking to me, alone, here, at this time of night, he’ll be dead.
I can see B on the other side of this cemetery. She doesn’t say much to me, but she’s eating her heart out over that demon lover of hers. That’s the thing about demons, I guess. They’re pretty damned hard to resist. And this one has had his teeth into her, just like he’s had them into me. He’ll die for that. She doesn’t think that she’ll be able to kill him, although she’ll try anyway. She won’t have to. I’m going to do it for her.
I can still feel his hand running over my body, his fangs sinking through my skin, the *unbelievable* orgasm when he drank from me. B’s had a lot of time with the sonofabitch, time that I have to say I envy. I’d really like to get me a piece of his action before he’s dust. But it’s too dangerous. And I don’t think she’d forgive me, anyway. She might not forgive me for dusting him, let’s be honest. Oh, she’ll say she does, but in her heart? I don’t think so.
Damn me! He’s over there. He’s walking over to talk to her. Goddamn him. I’m going to get the bastard now. This is the last time she’ll have to see him. And the last time I’ll have to wonder about the touch of him, the feel of him against my skin, the whisper of his fangs tracing a path down my throat… Whether having him inside me is anywhere near as good as having his fangs in me…
There’s plenty of cover here, lots of big old tombs, and some trees, I can easily sneak round behind him. This stake I’ve got is as sharp as they come – sharp enough for him, believe me. Just a bit further… Got him! Straight in the heart.
I’m watching my women from the shelter of a familiar mausoleum, and what has just happened must be a gift from the Lords of Hell. The new Slayer has just killed a human. He was talking to my mate, and I could tell from his scent that he had evil on his mind. I don’t care about the evil part, but I do care that it was my mate he had designs on. He was going to die sometime tonight. Or perhaps tomorrow, or the next night. Or next month. He was a well-built guy. Maybe he’d have lasted a long time chained to the wall of my dungeon. He wouldn’t have enjoyed what I was planning to do, though.
And now the new Slayer has spoiled my enjoyment, deprived me of a plaything. Still, I can’t hold that against her. I like that she protected Buffy. Of course, she didn’t intend to protect her from a human. She may be a rather more mixed-up slayer than mine is, but she still doesn’t kill humans. She thought she was killing me. Gotta give her full marks for effort. A for effort, E for attainment, I’m afraid.
I suppose I’d better take a hand. They won’t know how to dispose of an actual corpse. And I haven’t fed yet. If I’m expecting company, I need to eat. I much prefer meat on the hoof, so to speak, but he’ll do.
“Hello, lover. Slayer.”
The fight has gone out of the pair of them for the moment, it seems. Buffy is staring in shock at the corpse. The other one is looking defiant, but I can smell the horror and adrenaline. You have no idea how difficult it is to keep myself under control. Down, boy. This is a delicate situation here. I’d prefer it to be knight to the rescue, but who knows how this will end? I make myself comfortable perched on a nearby headstone, but out of staking reach, just as a precaution.
“I’ll take care of the stiff, don’t worry about that.”
I might as well be talking to myself. No response. So, I wait a bit longer before I try again.
“This guy,” and I stir the body a little with the toe of my boot, “had bad intentions towards Buffy. If you hadn’t killed him, I would have. It’s no big deal.”
Buffy rouses herself to look at me. There’s disgust and loathing in that look. Well, that’s not very promising. I can see her tense herself for action. She’s really off her game. She never telegraphs her moves like that. I’m going to have to take a hand in her training. And then she launches herself towards me. I just have time to fling my arm up in front of my most vulnerable area. No, not there. My heart.
“This is all your fault…” and the stake is in my arm. Before she can free it to strike again, I give her a backhander that sends her flying. She lands hard, winded. The other one is on me in a heartbeat. Two Slayers to one vampire? No fair. It’s a good job that both of them are rather distracted. A quick turn, a small sidestep, and I have the new Slayer pressed back against me, with my fangs against her throat. I take some deep draughts before Buffy can get back on her feet – just enough to slow this one down – and while I’m doing that, I run my hand over her lush body, enjoying her curves, and turning her on. Told you. Got to get her mind right. Then I fling her towards my mate. They cannon into each other, and both go down again. The new one is crouched down, clutching her neck, and Buffy puts an arm around her. She raises her head to me, utter contempt written all over her face.
“What? Two Slayers to one vamp? She was going to *dust* me. All I’ve done is take her out of the game for a little while.”
Well, not quite all. I’ve reinforced my mark on her. I go towards them, meaning only to pick up the corpse, but the new Slayer rises to her feet, *throws* her stake at me, and runs. She isn’t really running from me, you know. She wasn’t afraid of me. She’s running from herself – that’s who she fears. I can tell. But she’s got a good right arm, and her stake has sunk in, close to my heart. That was a near thing.
It hurts, but I can’t afford to be distracted because Buffy stands up, stake in hand. She still carries spares. That’s good. I wonder whether anything can be retrieved tonight, and it occurs to me that my mate may not appreciate that I drank from another Slayer in front of her. Although, looking at her frozen expression, that might be the least of my sins.
“The next time I see you I *will* kill you,” she spits, and then she’s off after the other Slayer. Well, I guess that didn’t go so very well, did it? I rip the stake out of my chest, and when the blinding agony lets go, I set about clearing up. I empty the corpse – and its pockets – and head for a dumping ground. My arm and chest are throbbing, and I remember that I now have a hole in the sleeve of my coat. Damn. I really liked this coat. Oh well, I suppose I can go and steal another one tomorrow.
I have brought Dukker to Angelus, as arranged. The demon could well pass for human, at least at a distance, or in a poor light. He’s shaved his head, and with the loss of those quills? Well, from a distance, he just looks like an ugly human. He has come with half an army, which he’s sure will do the trick. He clearly believes in negotiating at the end of something sharp and pointy. He’s bragging about how he’ll either sweep Angelus out of his own house at the end of a broom, or keep him as a pet. I think we all know what that means.
He’s certain that I told his people the truth about the size of Angelus’ forces. I think he’s probably done his homework well. Angelus has a couple of dozen minions plus the Norags. Dukker has come with six bodyguards plus fifty well-armed soldiers. He calculates that in excess of 2 to 1 are fair enough odds. These are all brawny demons, too. I’m due for another big payoff when this has gone down, if I’m loyal to Dukker. I’m not yet worried that he means to kill me – I think he may want me to lead the Slayer into another of his traps. Leave the Hellmouth clear for him.
He leaves the soldiers out of sight of the mansion. I suggest a secure place to him, close enough at hand to rush in whenever he gives the word, out of sight of anybody, plenty of cover. He approves the site, but still decides on another spot. He doesn’t quite trust me yet. I suppose that’s to be expected. I was frisked when I arrived at the rendezvous, after all. And not gently.
So now, he and I and his six bodyguards are entering the mansion. Angelus is there to greet us, with Ixolon, one of the Norags. None of the minions is in view. The atmosphere between them is cordial enough, although everyone remains standing. All I get from Angelus is a frosty glare. Dukker probably thinks that Angelus has gone soft. He’s sure that the vampire can smell my treachery and yet he hasn’t killed me.
Dukker declines the drink that Angelus offers him – afraid of being drugged or poisoned, I suppose. Even Angelus wouldn’t stoop to that. At least, I don’t think so. They start with the usual small talk – you use conversation starters like the weather, the journey, any mutual acquaintances, that sort of thing. Demons like us use different things. It’s still small talk.
Then they move on to the rather larger talk about Angelus’ actions with respect to Dukker’s business interests, although I’m not really concentrating on what they are saying. In accordance with my instructions, I’m on the alert for the least sign of aggression, of forces sneaking up on us, of traps being sprung. So far, there’s nothing. And I know that this conversation is merely a preliminary to the carnage that is to come. Dukker has no intention of a peaceful settlement, and wants Angelus taken by surprise. I don’t know what Angelus has planned. It’s maybe an hour or so before the crunch time comes.
Dukker thanks Angelus for a full and frank discussion, and then, straight into alpha mode, warns him to give back what he has taken. Further, Dukker himself will be taking over the Hellmouth. Unless Angelus wants to be tossed out with the trash, he should leave town immediately. All his property should be made over to Dukker as compensation for Dukker’s losses. As he says this, I see Dukker’s hand go into his pants pocket, to press the pager button in the pre-arranged signal to his army of heavies. He waits, then, for Angelus’ reaction, and for back-up.
Angelus stalks over to the weapons cabinet and brings out a couple of broadswords. He tosses one to Dukker, who catches it deftly.
“No,” he says. “You’ve lost your properties here, and if you want mine, well…” He shrugs slightly. I can see that he winces as he does so, and I wonder what has happened. Is it something that will affect the outcome tonight? Weaken him? Give Dukker the edge?
“If you want mine, I’m afraid you’re going to have to fight for them.” He stands a little way away from the mobster demon, looking as relaxed as if he were simply settling down for an evening with his family. I can see Dukker’s hand in his pants pocket, and I imagine he is frantically pressing the call button to bring his troops. The room is charged with tension.
A dozen minions have come to join us, standing alertly at each exit; except they aren’t minions, they are Hylekian soldiers. The six heavies move forward to stand close to Dukker. Well, at least they look as if they mean to earn their pay. And then there is the sound of a large body of men – or demons – tramping up the drive. Dukker looks immensely relieved, and drops his guard with the sword. The door opens, and Clethra, one of the Norags, comes in, followed by a Hylekian carrying a sack. The Hylekian spills the contents of the sack over the stone-flagged floor. That’s going to take some scrubbing out. It’s a pile of hacked-off penises. Pardon me? Many of your cultures have carvings, paintings or other ancient records of the victors in war counting the dead by body parts – hands, feet, heads, penises, they’ve all been used. It’s best to use something that only comes in the singular, then you don’t double count, particularly if warriors are to be paid per capita. Or decapita. Demons are the most ancient of races. We still observe some of those ancient ways.
There are fifty, at a guess, all covered in bright blue gore. Proof that the army is dead. And proof, looking at the mess on the floor, that we should all be pleased about that. You *really* wouldn’t want to be on the wrong end of one of those, I can assure you of that. They are definitely not human. Or anything like it.
A nod to the minions-cum-soldiers, and swords are produced as if by magic. There’s quite a lot of frantic activity in which Angelus, his soldiers and the sack-carrying Hylekian are involved, but not me, since I’ve never yet learned to use a sword. I soon learn about evasive action, though. In only a few minutes, Dukker’s bodyguards are… let’s just say ex-bodyguards. Real bodyguards are more…together. Dukker looks wildly round for a way out, but there are none. Angelus strolls over to him and pushes the tip of his sword up to that leathery throat.
“Take your coat off.”
I can see Dukker struggling with himself. He wants to run, but he daren’t. He wants to fight, but he daren’t. He wants to fall on his knees and beg for mercy, but he knows he’ll get none. Only strength might get him out of here in one piece, and he hasn’t enough of it. I’ll give him his due, though. He tries to fake the strength. After a few moments he drops his coat.
“Strip, and bend over the back of that couch.”
The instruction is given casually, intimately, as if there weren’t a dozen of us in the room. There is no indication that anyone here should leave. I didn’t think that Angelus was one for spectator sports. I wonder if he is going to bind this demon as he bound my sire and I, or whether he just wishes to humiliate him. Whether such binding will work on another demon. Listen, I’m five. How much do you think I’ve had time to learn?
Up until now, I have been staring fixedly at the floor, but I risk a glance at Angelus’ face. His eyes are glittering with a madness that I really don’t want to see any closer. I wonder whether he’ll be satisfied with whatever fate he had originally determined for Dukker, before he knew that the demon was planning an invasion of his home. He’s not been the same at all since he came back, you know. Before, he was hard and wild and passionate, but now he has an edge to him, an edge of pure darkness. I’ve heard what he was like when he ran with Darla and Drusilla and Spike, heard about his viciousness then. And I’ve heard what he was like when he first came back in the mid-nineties, insane, unpredictable, bent on destroying the world. Looking at him, I think he’s going to be worse now. I don’t know how much worse, because the darkness in him seems to grow day by day. Sometimes, for a little while, it lifts. Then it comes back, worse than it was before. Sometimes, I’m afraid.
Dukker must have decided that his best chance is to comply. I think he figures that, if Angelus were about to kill him, he would have just done so, and maybe got his jollies by screwing his dead body. I know what other demons think about vampires. I suspect they simply don’t think enough. Dukker strips, and I can see just how different his form actually is from a human, although the basic physiological functions are the same. I can’t imagine Angelus getting much pleasure from that. I risk another glance at Angelus’ face. His lips are pursed in a little moue of distaste.
Feet dragging a little, Dukker bends himself stiffly over the back of the couch. My master positions himself behind, still holding the sword. He rests his hand lightly on the nape of Dukker’s neck, then runs his fingers soothingly down the base of the ridge spines. The palm of one hand caresses the external gill covers above the hips, making Dukker shiver. Angelus appears to be wrapped in thought, uncertain even. Then, shockingly, he lowers the tip of the blade to Dukker’s anus. He gives a little shove, and the demon cries out in surprise and pain. Blue blood trickles onto the floor. Angelus pauses for a moment, enjoying watching, I think, the demon struggling with himself, trying to decide whether to accept whatever punishment is coming, or whether to simply try to run. Angelus settles the matter. He thrusts the sword hard, burying it to the hilt, giving the blade a few vicious twists. The demon does not die easily, but he does die. Eventually.
You’re shocked? You’ve done that to kings, you know. You still do it to animals caught for their pelt. Why would you expect Angelus – a demon – to be better than you? Besides, other demons need a demonstration of what happens to those who lack honour in their dealings with this particular master vampire.
And now there’s just me left. Angelus comes over and claps me on the shoulder.
“Well done, my boy. Very well done.” He’s really pleased with me, I can tell. Perhaps that will mean an increase in status for my sire and me, if Estevan manages his errand with credit, as I’m sure he will.
I beg your pardon? You thought I would betray Angelus for money? Apart from the fact that I like my testicles exactly where they are, thank you very much, I had a career before Estevan turned me. I was an accountant. Who do you think has been keeping the books? If I had wanted money, I could have taken millions while Angelus was… away. I might well have betrayed him for revenge, if my sire had wanted that, but he has given no sign of wishing to be free of our bondage. I did wonder if we had backed a loser when Angel was…restored, but we have stayed, and I am glad, on the whole, that we have done so. Angelus keeps a firm rein on the bridle, and his plans for the future have always appealed to me. Since the loss of the Slayer we have this problem of his increasing…instability is perhaps the word, but perhaps Ixolon and Ezrafel will know how to handle that. Perhaps my sire will. Perhaps the Slayer will come back, and oddly enough I want that, because he’s different when she’s around. I can only hope.
The Hylekians? Angelus has an estate in Hylek, remember? You don’t think he’s without warriors there, do you? We sent word to Ezrafel, who’s currently managing the Hylekian estate, and he sent these. My information for Dukker? He only asked about the Sunnydale forces. If Angelus has taught me anything yet, it is that the truth is always your best weapon.
Nayati, captain of the squadron, intrigued and a little shaken by the brutality of this unexpected execution, makes his obeisance to Angelus.
“With your permission, lord, my men will remove the bodies. Our king still has the garden of carnivores and carrion eaters inherited from his predecessors. This meat will feed them for a while.”
Angelus wrinkles his nose a little as he fastidiously picks up a stray penis by his thumb and forefinger, careful to avoid the spines. The huge testicular sac is still attached. He tosses it to me.
“Get someone who knows how to preserve that properly, together with that thing’s skin and head.” He nudges the fallen body of Dukker with his boot. “They can go on the trophy wall.”
His next instruction is to Ixolon. “Send the rest of the corpse back to his henchmen with a message. Tell them I very much regret that their boss expired of… haemorrhoids. Yes, haemorrhoids, during his very cordial visit here. I extend my sympathy to his dependants. I am sure that they will not hesitate to contact me with any needs they may have. I shall pay them a visit in the near future if they decide to remain in his business.”
He’s silent for a moment, and no one moves a muscle. Some of us in this room need to breathe, but they are trying very, very hard to do it quietly. Then he turns to the captain. His expression is much more normal. “Yes, Captain Nayati, with that proviso, please do; and take these – parts – with you as well. My compliments to His Majesty, of course. Thank the men for me – they did well. Did we lose anyone?”
“One man dead, four wounded. All four will recover.”
“The dead man had dependants?”
“A wife and two young children.”
“I will review arrangements when I am next in Hylek, but tell Ezrafel to take care of the family. They must want for nothing. Your men are to be paid a bonus,” and he names a sum, “as soon as possible. You are to receive double that. The men may keep anything of value that is found on the corpses, although if there is anything you feel I should know about, you will show it to me first. You will be responsible for equitable division. You may give a larger share to any who particularly distinguished themselves if you feel it appropriate. I shall have whatever you find amongst Dukker’s effects. Is there anything else that I should give consideration to?”
“No, lord. You are very generous.”
He makes a deep obeisance again. I am still a youngster, and I am trying to learn from my sire, and from Angelus. It seems to me that men – even if they are demons – will fight better if they know that their loved ones will be taken care of in the event of their death or disablement. And he has been generous with them and possibly defused trouble. His own soldiers have been with a bunch of corpses for a while now. They’ve probably looted the bodies already. He has legitimised it, rather than punished them, and given the captain the authority to distribute the loot fairly. I think he’s a natural leader. I intend to learn as much as I can from him.
I can’t recall seeing a taxidermist on the books, but there is an undertaker. Perhaps it’s time that the undertaker learned a little more about the owner of his business. I guess that Angelus might well like Dukker’s head on the wall, as his adversary, but I imagine he wants a complete demon, with quills in situ. I think the captain and I can arrange a little scalping party. Or similar.
Angelus trusted me when I came to him with my account of the meeting in Willy’s. He even let me keep the money. He trusted me to play my part properly. Most master vampires, being long on suspicion and short on intelligence, would probably have killed me, just to be on the safe side. Or worse. He’s different, though. He’s bound me to him a little bit tighter, hasn’t he?
He’s sent everyone off about their various errands now, and I’m about to leave for mine when he appears in front of me. I must have been lost in thought, although he does move very, very quietly. He puts one hand up to my face and strokes his fingers down the line of my jaw. It’s as if he’s trailing cool fire down there.
“You have done very well indeed,” he says softly. “Your errands can wait until tomorrow. When you go, you will broker a deal with the rest of Dukker’s empire, and we’ll talk later with Ixolon about what I want from it. For now, though, come with me. I need something to take away the taste of another betrayal.”
I don’t know what he means by ‘another betrayal’, but I do know that for the next eight hours, he doesn’t have cause to give it another thought.
We’ve met before - I remember you, of course. Well, here’s a pretty pickle. My people have just picked up a vampire called Estevan. One of Angelus’ pride. Apparently he was sitting quietly at the docks in Port Said, waiting for them. And he’s brought me a message.
It is very formal, a sheet of old-fashioned parchment, bearing Angelus’ bold script, rolled up inside an ornately carved bone holder. After his last visit to Egypt, I thought that the boy was done with grand suicidal gestures, but apparently not. He has followed all the proper forms within this clan, and has issued me with a challenge. He’s challenged me for leadership. That’s a fight to the death, and he can’t possibly win. Not unless I let him.
Now, here’s the rub. I’ve had my eye off the ball for the last few weeks – I only arrived back home last night. My people haven’t been able to find me, to update me on everything that’s been going down in this dimension. And because I was… elsewhere… I haven’t felt anything, as I would normally expect, with matters as screwed up as this. When I left, Angel was still ensconced in Los Angeles and the Slayer was having some difficulties with a godling. Now, Angelus is back, he’s dusted Spike, he and the Slayer are at each other’s throats, and the world is going to hell in a hand basket. I’m not sure even I can sort this.
You don’t understand? No, I’m not surprised. Let me explain.
I’ve been visiting the Adrasti, the most accomplished magic users in the known dimensions. They also have Seers who are almost as good as the Hylekians, and I didn’t want to go to Hylek for obvious reasons. Word of that would have got back here. To him. And I didn’t want that.
All my life I have collected prophecies, trying to sift truth from the ravings of madmen. Unfortunately, they are often both the same. And I have some small gift that way myself. Oh, not much. Just enough to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up sometimes. They’ve been doing that a lot of late. I needed to know. The price was steep, but at least I have some idea now.
Prophecy is a funny thing. Sometimes, you take a certain path because a prophecy says you will. Had you not known about the prophecy, you would have done something different, and so it becomes self-fulfilling. Only by knowing about the prophecy can you fulfil it. Some of them, as you know, are just plain lies, traps set for us by opposing powers, meant to make us do certain things, to mortgage our futures by our actions. Yet who is to say what is false? Truth can come through unwitting liars and schemers, just as well as through seers and pitiful lunatics.
All of them are double-edged blades. You cannot tell how they will cut. They can be fulfilled in the strangest ways. Prophecies are things to be avoided, then, you might think. And yet, just occasionally, there is one that is an essential guide to the future. An essential guide if there is to *be* a future. Now is a case in point.
The Adrasti were clear. There are many prophecies about an important nexus point in the future. All of them contradict each other. Just now, it is impossible to be certain which are true, which are false, and which have meanings so twisted that no one can predict how they might be fulfilled, or their warnings heeded. The only things they have in common are Angelus and the Slayer. Oh, and unless things go exactly right, then on this world nothing more complex than an amoeba will survive. The same thing applies to all the other known worlds in all the known dimensions. Including the Adrasti’s home. That is why they have offered to continue working on the problem. For free. That is so unprecedented that it’s a worry in itself.
As I sit here, alone except for Sekhmet, I weigh up my options. There aren’t many viable ones. The formal contest for mastership is a fight to the death, and Angelus knew this when he issued his challenge. I am *much* stronger than he is because I am so much older. The contest might be closer if he has been drinking Slayer’s blood for a prolonged period, but even then I have no doubt of the outcome. Age is strength for a vampire. He’s reached a quarter of a millennium. Sounds old, doesn’t it? I’m five thousand years old and change. My ‘change’ is older than him. It’s no contest, really.
And yet Angelus must survive if the earth – and all the rest – is to survive. The hell dimensions are affected too, by the way, so any of us who die won’t escape whatever is coming. And the Adrasti don’t know what that is.
So, for the sake of my immortal soul and demon both, and for the sake of my lost love, who is somewhere in the dimensions of the dead, Angelus must win, so that at the proper time he can somehow save us all. But I have waited two thousand years for Palestrina to be returned to me. It is my belief that she will return in another thousand. I must be here, waiting for her. She must be able to find me. And the Adrasti say that we both have our roles to play in what is to come. It’s impossible to square the circle, but somehow, I must try. And I mustn’t tell Angelus what I have found. Any self-fulfilling prophecies are almost – almost – certainly the wrong ones. There is only one path through this mire, I’m told. All the possibilities of the future run into a single nexus, and only one comes out. I wish anyone could see which one it is.
Faith has disappeared. I can’t find her. After the horror in the cemetery, she just ran. We’ve hunted everywhere, but she’s a slayer too, and she knows how not to be seen. I won’t give up, though. It was a mistake, surely? It was a mistake and it can be made right.
I have to give up on Angelus, though. He started off by raping me, then he made me love him. What sort of sick relationship is that? Just to prove his true colours, he tortured me and was, I think, about to mutilate me. What he was doing on that building site, why he caught me when I leapt off that tower to close the portal Glory had opened, I’ve no idea. Why he killed the dragon-demon and brought Faith back here – I’ve no idea.
But you can’t keep a demon down, can you? He’s slaughtering his way through parts of Sunnydale. Some of his victims are – were – demons, but a lot have been humans. It can’t go on. I *have* to kill him. The stake will go through my heart, too, but it’s the only thing to do.
And he *drank* from her. He *caressed* her body and he drank from her. I’ll kill him. I’ll keep that picture in mind as the stake slides home. He drank from her. My mate…
I’ve spent the last few days doing some more cleaning up of my town. It’s a hell of a lot safer than it’s ever been before. Soon, the only thing to be afraid of here will be me and mine. Buffy will be pleas… I am, of course, not doing this for the Slayer. This is for my comfort and convenience, and because I own this place. Tonight was something different for me, though. I went to visit the Mayor. I have photographs of some of his predilections. A lot of people might well disapprove.
He was surprised to see me. Well, when someone comes in to his private suite on the sixth floor, through the exterior window, just as he’s in the middle of one of his predilections, it’s apt to surprise anyone. We have come to an understanding. He will work for me when I want him to. Oh, I’m not particularly concerned with the petty political affairs that you humans worry about, and I’ve made that clear. I won’t be an overly demanding master, but he had better deliver exactly what I ask for when I ask for it. And I will deliver some things to him. A diamond every now and again, perhaps, and something to help his predilections occasionally. He was very agreeable when he got over his surprise. And so easily bought. He was very… accommodating, too, even though he’s always been the one doing the plundering. I do so love being first. First and worst, in my own little way...
But now I’m making time for something important. It’s been too long since I saw my girl. I need to make sure she understands who she belongs to. Not to that whiney soul, and not to that fornicating childe of mine. She belongs to me. There’s some small part of me gibbering and shrieking, telling me to go on my knees and beg her forgiveness. Some infection left over from the soul. I think it’s better if I show her how demons do it.
So, it’s time to pay a visit to my faithless beloved.
I sit in the tree outside her window for a few minutes before entering. She’s asleep. She isn’t getting much rest, though. I feel a strange sympathy for her as I remember my own increasingly disturbed sleep. Slayers get slayer dreams, threaded through with the mumbo jumbo of prophecy. I wonder if that’s what’s happening now? She’s tossing and turning and muttering something that I can’t quite make out. She’s wearing nothing but her skin, and as she settles from one more violent bout of thrashing around, I can see the moonlight glimmer on her tattoo. It is the same as mine, except that where mine holds the letter ‘A’, an Alpha, hers holds an Omega. Alpha and Omega: the beginning and ending of everything. Completeness. My hands can already feel the silken warmth of her skin, the welcoming fullness of her breasts, the softness of her, overlying muscle with the strength of steel. And I want her.
And then she wakes. She knows I’m here. She’s out of bed in a heartbeat, careless of her nudity, and she throws open the window. Before I can take advantage of the open entrance, she’s holding a loaded crossbow. The quiet thwack and hiss tells me it isn’t loaded any more, although I don’t need those clues, because the bolt is sticking out of my chest. It missed my heart by a hairsbreadth.
“Stay away from me. Stay away from Faith. And stay away from the rest of my friends. I’ll kill you if you harm any of them.”
Then she slams the window down and I see her reload the crossbow.
It’s with the greatest difficulty that I force back the rage that is screaming through me. Screaming for me to bring her to heel, to punish her for what she has just done. To take her and chain her to my wall where she will spend the rest of her life – or the rest of my existence, I’m not sure which – feeling the weight of my anger and the inventiveness of my punishment. This time, the madness comes so much closer to the surface.
Snarling, I try to wrench the quarrel out, but it’s a barbed one and it sticks in my flesh. I only succeed in detaching the shaft – a weakened attachment; my, but she’s learning some new tricks – and I throw it onto the ground. I need something to kill, if it isn’t to be her. And I *want* it to be her, need it *not* to be her.
Next on my list of would-be competitors is a cartel of drug suppliers. When I’ve finished with them, the previous massacres look like some minor domestic injuries. I spend a long time with my sketchpad and pencils before I go home. Ixolon takes one look at me and summons Silene again. He’s a crafty old demon. This time, when they’ve finished, I take Silene to my bed. She has certain interesting… differences …from humans, and I take full advantage of them. Perhaps I’ll be able to sleep without the nightmare tonight.
No such luck.
But the nightmare is different this time. And I know something I didn’t know before. Faith. The new Slayer is called Faith.
The Slayer is chained. She is lying naked, on her back, chained to a catafalque that has been draped in purple and white velvet. Her golden hair spreads like the finest spun flax across the pillow. I don’t know why she should be on a catafalque, because she is very much alive and giving me a ‘come hither’ look that has its fist wrapped tight around my cock and is not going to take ‘no’ for an answer. Not that I would ever deny her anything…
I bend over her, my hand running tenderly up her flank and onto her gently straining ribcage. I must have chained her here, although I don’t remember it. I bend further over and taste the honeyed sweetness of her lips. The pain takes me by surprise, pain in my back, pain in my heart, and then my ashes are gently sifting down, dark against her golden skin. Yet I can still see. But I can’t touch.
Spike is leaning against the wall. He has a stake in his hand. Drusilla sits a little way away, murmuring words that I can’t quite catch to her doll, Miss Edith. She looks at Spike.
“Take her, my Spike. You’ve spiked our Daddy; now spike the nasty Slayer. Spike her!”
I’ll kill her! He’ll wish for the same grace when I’ve finished with him! And yet I can’t touch. And he should already be dead. I killed him, didn’t I?
Spike is in demon face; Buffy turns that ‘come hither’ look on him and I can smell his response. He runs one claw gently down the line of my mate’s jaw, down the side of her neck, along her collarbone, then down the valley between her breasts. He dislodges some flakes of my ash as he does so, and smiles a small, feral smile.
“Sire wasn’t so tough, was he? He could never replace *me*!” His claw starts to dig into her golden skin and a small drop of blood blossoms from her.
The claw digs deeper yet, as he draws it down her belly towards her sex. The skin parts, gently, reluctantly. The muscle follows. There is a hiatus, a brief suspension of time, and then her belly splits and releases a monster, a werewolf of sorts, fully-formed, mouth agape, strings of bloody saliva hanging from its teeth. It starts tearing at her flesh as it struggles to be free. Drusilla laughs with glee, and Spike joins her. My beloved screams. Her scream mingles with mine, but only in my head. Nothing I can do affects anything here.
But I feel something rise within me, something so unreasoning, so primitive that even I fear it. I remember sitting in the tree outside Buffy’s bedroom after Oz had bitten me. The sheer elemental rage that I fought then is the same that I feel now. Is the werewolf blood coming to claim me, after all this time? I do know one thing. Once this thing rises, it will never, ever stop. And the world will burn.
Then a warm hand covers mine, and a voice whispers to me.
“None of this is real. Not yet. Some might once have been and some might yet be, but not now.”
My claws are digging into my twice-dead hands, and I can feel blood streaming out of the gouges. I manage to bridle my rage long enough to look at the woman by my side. She is tiny, like Buffy, and yet she has a strength in her, also like Buffy. Not Slayer strength. Something different. She is dressed richly, in deep, vibrant reds. She has a shawl, the colour of old blood, wrapped around her head, and it covers the lower part of her face. I can only see her eyes, as black as sin, but sparkling with something that looks like love. I feel that I should recognise her, that I have known her all my life. But I have never seen her before. Yet I think of the Underworld, and of that scintillating catacomb of tunnels. The *feel* of this tiny creature was wrapped around me then, strengthening me, succouring me. She was there. She was there with me. And she was there again, during that ordeal in Egypt, under Aurelius’ lash. She was there in the tree, with me, as I fought down the werewolf. I don’t understand.
She raises a gentle hand to my face.
“Remember how you were when you were first released from Angel’s grip? You are in danger of falling back into that madness. You must not. If you do, everything will be lost. Everything. You are straying from the path, and you must not. Forces are working against you and you must not allow them to interfere. There is still time to find the balance, but not too much.”
Then she is gone.
I turn and see the werewolf creature ripping into the flesh of my beloved traitor as Spike’s fangs pierce her neck. Her scream echoes with mine as I wake, shaking, from the nightmare. Again. My claws have gouged almost all the way through the palms of my hands, adding to the pain of all my half-healed wounds, and I am as ravenous as a new fledgling. Breakfast, then. Something ordinary. A quick, clean kill.
There is something to do first, though. My pad and pencils are to hand. They are the means by which I can exorcise my own demons – a demon haunted by demons; what a richly amusing irony – and I start to draw. I have several drawings when I am finished. They are all of Buffy. Her friends are lying dead. They are still recognisable, even though they are piled into a heap, their bodies dismembered and torn. Buffy is lying naked on top of the heap of ravaged flesh, uncaring, turning that ‘come hither’ look onto the viewer, onto me; pleasuring herself in one; reaching out to the viewer, to me, in another. And in the third, I am taking her violently, as though we were the most elemental, mindless demons, amidst the ruins of her friends. And she is in an ecstasy of pleasure. I’m hard as a rock just looking at these, with lust thickening my blood. If you want to understand the single most powerful reason behind my trail of cruelty – behind any demonic cruelty, really – look no further. This is an instant stiffener that would speak to the spirit of any demon. These drawings are such that I want to frame them and hang them on the wall. They depict scenes that I, Angelus, take pride in - my complete victory over the Slayer and her ragbag of hangers-on; my utter degradation of her; her complete devotion to and subjugation by one of the most vicious creatures ever spawned by Hell.
And they make me want to vomit. This isn’t how I want her. I want her warm, and willing and exactly what she is. The Slayer. I’m very troubled as I go out to find something to eat. Amongst other things, I’m troubled by what I am becoming.
I spend some time looking for Faith. I don’t want her running out on me. I have plans for her. The physical effect that she has on me – on any vampire – is nowhere near as strong as the effect my mate has, but it’s strong enough to let me know I’m close to her. When I find her, she’s hiding. No, not that sort of hiding. It’s the predator-in-her sort. She’s watching somebody.
It’s somebody I recognise. I slither up to her and settle myself down comfortably. She gives me a sharp glance, but doesn’t run and, more importantly, doesn’t try to stake me. I told you she wasn’t afraid of me. She’s watching a brawny, brain-free soldier type, and a few of his equally lacking friends. He’s one of the humans that the Soul really hated, and definitely considered killing. Slowly and painfully. Like I said, perhaps not such a bad sort, at times. Not that I want him back, you understand. Not ever.
*What* is he doing in my town? And just what is he up to now? He and his friends have encircled a vampire. One of mine. He’s a good, OK bad, from your point of view, loyal minion. Dale. The last remaining member of the high school football team vamps. It was his turn on the rota to fetch the bags of blood from the butcher. It pays to stay on top of little things, you know.
All the quasi-soldiers are armed with bandoliers full of stakes, but they also have four-foot long sharpened staves. Long distance staking. I’m thinking about how best to rescue my minion, when I see something that turns me cold. Colder.
Riley presses forward, and slams his staff into Dale’s belly. Dale crumples to the ground, in agony for certain, but not in immediate danger since the staff has penetrated his stomach, not his heart. That will hurt, but it will mend. No one makes a move to finish him off; they just stand around watching. In the space of a few heartbeats, my minion starts to writhe and scream. The torture continues for long minutes, Dale’s agony growing all the time. I give in to my instincts – he’s *mine*, dammit – and start to rise, but Faith pulls me back down. And then it’s too late. He dusts.
All that is left is some ash and the staff, lying on the ground. It looks different, though. The part that was buried in Dale’s body now has two rings of clawed extensions protruding outwards from the length of the staff. The claws curve into each other, like two hands, fingertip to fingertip. And they are long enough to have reached his heart. Riley has come prepared. I suspect he’s come prepared for me.
Well, let’s see whether I can surprise him.
Riley picks up the staff and the little group moves off. I want to follow them, see where they go, but I also don’t want to lose track of Faith.
“Faith, I’ve got room for you at the mansion if you want to move in.”
Well, she might! Although I do wonder for a moment how Buffy might feel about that. Still, one thing at a time. She snorts a laugh.
“Don’t get your hopes up, vampire.”
She’s intrigued, though. I can smell it. She knows where I am, I suppose. And I do *not* want to lose sight of soldier boy. I reach across from where I’m crouched and gently touch my mark on her neck.
“Come whenever you need to.”
She has a strange look on her face. She hates me and yet… Yet she’s mine, and something in her knows it. And I think she wants to find out *everything* that Buffy knows about vampires. Everything.
It isn’t hard to track down soldier boy. They’re staying at an anonymous motel on the edge of town. A quick scout round tells me that there are just the four of them. We should be able to handle those, although I daresay I’ll lose a few minions on the way.
Then I’m off to the mansion, for reinforcements. When I get there, Estevan is back. Apparently he was lucky enough to happen on an unscheduled night cargo flight. Smugglers. I now have me a plane, and a hold full of contraband. It’s all drugs, so that will go into the Pacific. Why would I want to encourage you to shove that muck into your veins? It muddies the taste too much, and certainly I don’t need the money. But the plane is good. The pilot will be rising soon, as well. Estevan didn’t miss a trick.
He also has Aurelius’ reply. It’s pithy, and to the point. It tells me to be there at the next full moon. That’s a bit more than two weeks away. Time to deal with a few things first. I don’t want to take either Estevan or his childe Thomaso on an errand that might get them both killed – they’ve proved themselves to be much too useful – so I tell them to take the rest of the night for themselves. What? I can be sensitive to the needs of others. I gather a dozen minions, and we head for Riley’s motel.
I lose seven in the end, but Riley’s three friends are dead. And Riley himself? He almost wets himself like a frightened terrier when I grab him from behind and he feels my fangs at his throat. I throttle him into unconsciousness, and head back to the mansion. For some reason, Beethoven’s arrangement of the ‘Ode to Joy’ keeps running through my mind, and I find myself humming it as I carry my beefy burden home. Well, I’ve always loved the Ninth, ever since that stunning performance when Darla and I…mmph! I get shivers just thinking about that. It would have been even better if it had been with Bu…
Two nights ago, there were reports of bodies found in one of the motels. Three bodies found, one person missing. I’ve managed to get into the morgue now, and find that I knew the three dead men. They were friends of Riley. Giles has established that Riley is the one missing. I have a dreadful feeling I know who did this. And I might know where he is. I remember Parker. When Angelus was…disciplining…me, just before my leap from the tower, he brought me a present. Something else to teach me not to be unfaithful to him. Parker’s balls and dick. If he did that to someone who turned out to be a one-night stand, what will he do to Riley? I have to deal with this.
It’s the height of the afternoon, we have hours of sunlight to come, so I’m on my way to the mansion with Xander. I want Xander to stay outside while I look around, but he absolutely refuses. I’m worried for his safety, but if Riley is there, someone will need to get him out while I tackle Angel. Angelus. I shouldn’t need to remind myself who he is.
There isn’t a problem walking in – everyone seems to be sleeping, and the door isn’t locked. He’s so arrogant. One day, someone will just walk in and torch the place. Serve him right. I’ve thought about where to look. I think I really know the answer, but I try somewhere more pleasant first. Our – his – rooms.
They are empty. I’m turning to go when I see Xander staring at something on the bed. He’s gone as white as a sheet. One of my sheets, that is, not these blood red ones that my demon prefers. When I get there, I can see why. It’s a leather folder in which Angelus keeps his drawings. I’ve seen some of them before – innocent ones, not like the ones he baited us with when he first came back. But I’ve never seen anything like these. Xander moves to close the folder but I stop him. I sit down on the bed – my legs don’t seem quite so steady any more. There are dozens of drawings of the spate of deaths we’ve had recently, demon and human both. They are grotesque depictions of torn-off body parts, bodies with guts hanging out, heads with frozen expressions of agony and fear. And a great deal more.
They may be superb drawings, but they are very, very bad. The demon that did this, that *drew* what he had done, seems to be something entirely different than even the demon that tortured me only a few weeks ago. But there is worse. Much worse.
The top three drawings, the ones that caught Xander’s eye, are of me. Me, lying naked on a heap of body parts. The body parts were my friends. In one, I’m doing something appallingly personal; in another I’m welcoming someone outside the picture, someone who’s clearly looking at the picture. They are bad enough, but the third almost makes me puke. I’m rutting with Angelus on that heap of death, ecstasy all over my face. My hair is caught up in what seems to be Willow’s half-clenched fist, and Xander’s almost severed hand seems to be trying to caress my breast.
They are unbearably sick. Is this what he sees in his head? Is this what *Angel* used to see in his head? How could he bear it? No wonder he sometimes turned into Mr Broody Guy.
But Angelus has been tender with me, has been gentle. And until he found me with Spike, hasn’t actually tried to do me harm in a very long time. I’m almost sure that he wasn’t drawing like this before. Is he going back to the mad creature that terrorised us when Angel was first…lost? No. When Angel had his soul ripped out by me. I thought that level of insanity was gone for good, but it looks like here it is again. And I’m babbling in my head, because I don’t want to look at Xander, I don’t want to look at these drawings, and I definitely don’t want to look at the monstrosity that drew them.
Riley. I must focus on Riley. I bet he’s in one of the basements. This place has good, spacious basements. All the better for torturing people, wouldn’t you say? Perhaps, with luck, *he* won’t be there, only Riley. No, I never have that kind of luck. If he isn’t with Riley, he would be here, in these rooms. And I think that’s why I came here first. I wanted to see him. That was then.
I have soldier boy chained to my wall. Unusually, I haven’t done that much with him yet. I’m still trying to decide. Oh, we’ve had a few games, some of which he sort of enjoyed, although he tried not to. He’s a virgin in one particular respect, I can vouch for that. He was, rather. Not any more.
I never thought he had much in the way of balls, so I’ve looked to remedying that. They’re a bit larger now. Well, swollen would perhaps be a better description. Stretched is good as well. He’s tried to tell himself he’s hated everything that I’ve done to him in that respect, but I’m too good at this. He may have hated it in his head – which was the whole purpose, really – but his body has been more… shall we say ambivalent? The more I hurt him, the more I can make him love it.
And he really did love-hate the times I’ve drunk from him. He’s got a lot of fang marks, some in his more delicate places. A few bruises here and there, such pretty colours. Again, I can see more colours in them than you can. But it’s really just been games so far. Games to get inside his head. I’ve got plenty of time with him. I’m not in a rush. He killed my minion in a way that was quite beyond the pale. Worse, he’s had his hands on my woman.
He never understood what she saw in Angel. Just occasionally, he couldn’t get it out of his head that she was a necrophiliac, screwing an animated corpse. It turned him on a bit, you know, but he never understood it. He’s understanding it now. I’m tempted to keep him with me for the long haul, spend years teaching him how pleasurable pain can be. It’s his pain and my pleasure now, but I can see by the crumbs of ecstasy I’ve given him that he’ll be an apt pupil. And just maybe, when I have the Slayer back where I want her, in my bed, I’ll need something – or someone – on whom I can vent all those things I won’t want to vent on her.
But could I keep him as my dirty little secret? No, I couldn’t. Not in this house. She would find out, and then there would be hell to pay. Somewhere else, perhaps? That might work. Somewhere well away from here.
Whilst I mull over whether to keep him or kill him, and how best to make him suffer for all his offences, I’m looking at one of the staves that he brought to town. It’s a very nasty, very cunning piece of work. It feels as if part of the mechanism is magic. That sort of greasy feel to it. As I’m trying to see how it works I hear someone coming down the stairs. I don’t need to ask who it is. I don’t need to look. It’s *her*. And the Harris stripling. When I turn around, she has a sword in her hand. He has a crossbow. He aims it at me – not that he’s fast enough to actually hit me – but she stops him. Her eyes are on Riley, and she’s curling her lip in disdain.
“Get Riley out of here and into the daylight – you might need the crossbow. I’ll take care of…other things.”
What does she mean ‘other things’? Am I just ‘other things’ now? And does she think that she can just waltz into here and take *my* plaything? Apparently yes. As I move to stop Harris, she lands a backhander to my jaw, and battle is joined. I throw the staff into a corner, though – I prefer that not to be part of the mix.
There’s a flurry of kicks and punches, and I’m definitely getting more than I’m giving. Seeing her again, I just want to hold her, feel her warmth next to me, take her up to our rooms and rediscover what we had before. I don’t want to hurt her – I’ve done enough of that already. Except in a good way, of course. I only want to contain her until she tires herself out, although that won’t be such an easy thing; she’s always had plenty of stamina. And she has the sword. There are a whole host of weapons down here, but I would almost certainly damage her badly if I used one. I won’t do that.
She doesn’t seem to have quite the same scruples. I already have several deep gashes to my arms as I try to fend off the sword. She is really, really serious about this. Her face is hard, her expression frozen, and she is radiating anger like the heat from a small nova. I have to get the sword off her. Maybe, if we are just down to normal hand-to-hand stuff, I can make her see sense. Make her *feel* sense. Okay, make her senses feel. She looks really, really hot, when she’s white with anger. And the scent of her is delicious. Rage, and lavender and contempt and Slayer and arousal.
I think it was the scent of her that distracted me. Either that, or the sight of Harris and soldier boy standing on the stairs, Harris trying to get a shot in with the crossbow, hampered by having to help soldier boy to stay upright. But I’m going with the scent. Because I suddenly feel the chill of cold steel sliding between my ribs. She has thrust so fiercely that the point of the sword is stuck fast in the wall behind me. The hilt is standing proud of my chest, just below my heart, and agonising pain rips through me, but I must get it out. I cannot move until I do. I throw myself forward, and feel the point free itself, but the pain that results is unspeakable. You won’t have any idea what it feels like to be impaled. It’s something I thought I was becoming rather too familiar with, but at this point, I don’t know what is to come.
She spots the staff in the corner of the room, just as I fall to my knees from the force of my effort to get the sword out of the wall. I grasp the hilt and brace myself to pull it out, but I’m not quick enough. She has snatched up the staff and goes for the kill. I can see it in her face, as the staff is thrust down with all her considerable strength, straight towards my heart, that most vulnerable organ that will now be the end of me. I suppose it was the end of me from the moment I laid eyes on the Slayer and loved her.
I wish a lot of things, and what I most wish right now is that, just once more, I’d got her into my bed. Just one more time to feel her rubbing that silken skin against me, like a cat in heat, to breathe in her perfume of desire, and to taste her sweetness. To make her happy.
They say your life passes in front of your eyes at the moment of death, and there certainly seems to be plenty of time to remember that first sight of her at Hemery High, when she bounced down the steps sucking a lollipop. The Soul and I were both lost that day, although it took me longer than him to admit it. When I went to fetch her back from the Underworld, I had to choose – my life or hers. It was never in question that I would choose to save her. What would there be left for me, here on Earth, without her? And then I was permitted to go free, to leave with her. Perhaps it was only ever to be for a short time. Perhaps that time is now up. No matter. I would do it all again. Having once seen her, I would love her all over again. Although perhaps I would try not to hurt her so much. Then we might have a future together.
And still the staff is descending, and I remember Dale, and how he died, and I bend over backwards a little to give her a quick, clean kill, and at the last moment she pulls her punch. She can’t do it, and the staff slides into me like a hot knife through butter, just below the sword.
Then I start to truly know the meaning of pain.
I *feel* the elongated claws break out of the body of the staff and tear through everything in their way. Then I *feel* what I couldn’t see when I watched Dale die. The claws don’t just close together. They do it by spiralling around the staff, like a screw. They shred everything they come into contact with – lungs, spleen, liver, stomach. And they are closing in on my heart.
I can think of nothing except the tearing, burning ogre of pain in my upper body. I cannot stop the howl that rips from my throat. The scream that stops her in her tracks as she runs to join the two men on the stairs. She has heard me scream before – we’ve been through a lot together, after all – but she has never heard me scream like this. *I* have never heard me scream like this.
She turns, uncertain. She has impaled me on a sword and a staff, both of which she expects will cause me agony and piss me off, but neither of which should cause my death. But there was death in that scream, and she knows it. And still the screw turns, the two sets of claws drawing closer and closer, my heart in the centre of them. Under that onslaught of pain, the haze of madness fades a little more, and I feel a new clarity. Things need to be said: things that should not be said before onlookers; things that I am in no condition to say – or even to think – now. I must do my best, for I have only a minute or two, and it can only get worse.
“Buffy…please. I’m sorry for everything.”
Another scream rips out of me, and I’m sure my throat muscles have torn with the force of it. No matter, so long as I can finish. What I have to say is life and death for her.
“You will need to go to…”
Swallow it down. Get the words out. There is no time for screaming like a woman. But I can’t stop it. Precious moments are wasted.
“…Aurelius. He will help you. After I’m… Go…Aurelius. Estevan will…take you.”
And truly, even for her, I can manage no more. She stands for a moment, confused, then kneels by me, her hand on my cheek. Just the touch of her, and the madness seems to completely drain from me, as if a festering wound has been lanced. Too late, it’s all too late. She looks back at the men on the stairs. My sight is coloured with the red haze of final death as those rings of claws move closer and closer. But I see the look of undisguised triumph on Riley’s face. She sees it too. And I see her run back to him, her hand grasping his arm tight enough to leave bruises. More bruises, overlaying some of those I’ve already given him. And the odd fang mark.
“What have you done?”
Her voice is harsh with fear, but he mistakes it, I think.
“I’ve done you a favour. I’ve done what you couldn’t do, and killed him.”
She doesn’t understand, but she needs to. Suddenly, despite the discrepancy in their height, her arm is shoved against his throat, pressing him hard against the wall, choking him. Xander tries to pull her off, but fear has lent her strength. Even in my extremity, I can smell it. Not for much longer.
“What have you done? Tell me. NOW.”
His answer is almost lost in my new howl of anguish.
“The staff will make sure he dies.”
She races back to the pile of staves by the wall and picks one up. In a moment of desperation she hits the point of the staff hard against the floor. The claws extend and start to rotate. She is horror-stricken. The men cannot contain their satisfaction.
I am curled around my pain now, praying for death to come quicker. I don’t know why I am still alive. Unalive. Whatever word you want to use… She kneels by my side and grasps the staff, ready to pull. I offer a prayer of thanks, although I’m not sure who I’m thanking, and wait for death to give me peace. But she realises what will happen, that pulling the staff will simply sink the claws into my heart and dust me. So she pulls out the sword instead, and I realise why death has been slow. The blade of the sword had caught the rotating spikes, and prevented them from closing. Now they are free, and moving.
Desperation gives her both strength and ingenuity. Xander has come down the stairs, and is trying to pull her away from me. She pushes him off, hard, and then casts wildly around the basement, looking for something. She finds what she needs just over my head. Chains. She unknots them, and drags me up to my knees. I cannot hold back either the tears of pain or the new scream. And in the middle of it all, I smell the lavender, that soothing, calming herb, wrapped around the scent of her terror. The lavender she uses will forever make me think of her, even when I am in whatever hell I have earned through my love for her. And I can smell her tears, hot and salt and frantic.
She rips my shirt off, raises my hands above my head, then clasps the manacles around my wrists, and I can make no sense of her intentions. It has to be said, though, that I am quite beyond sense now, other than the burning, ripping, killing agony. It’s about to get worse.
“Kneel up! GET UP ONTO YOUR KNEES!”
Her voice brooks no disobedience, and I try. I really do. In the few heartbeats during which I manage to remain upright, she grasps the chains above her head and lifts herself off the floor. Then she places her legs one on either side of me, and stamps down on the staff. She must have gauged her thrust carefully, because the staff doesn’t snap. My ribs do, though, and the staff sinks a little lower. I thought I might be finished with screaming, but I’m wrong. There’s noise, hot and urgent, and now *more* pain, as I draw breath to scream, because of broken ribs mangling lung tissue that the claws have missed.
She stamps down again, and more ribs go. I feel something wet streaming down my arms, and I smell a new source of blood. The manacles are deep in my flesh, and I can’t even feel it for the horror of the pain in my chest.
And again. This time it’s my breastbone that goes, as she angles her kick to take the staff further from my heart. I can only see now in shades and shapes of black and red and another crashing tidal wave of hot agony overtakes me.
And again. But she has a problem. She has broken through bone, but my flesh isn’t tearing. The muscle and skin is elastic, and will not allow the staff to break free of my rib cage. The staff has no sharp edge to cut through. By now, I don’t care who’s watching. As she picks up the sword, I beg her.
“KILL ME. NOW! PLEASE… FINISH IT…”
The last word trails off into another incoherent scream. But she won’t. She thrusts the sword back in – she needs to manipulate it because it catches in the moving claws – unleashing a torrent of sobs and curses from me this time. Now she’s hanging from the chains again, stamping a bloody path down my body as the sword cuts through skin and muscle and fat and whatever of the viscera is left to cut. And then she kicks the staff down that same bloody trail. When she is satisfied that it is low enough that the claws cannot reach my heart, she comes down from the chains, grasps the end of the staff firmly and yanks it out.
Demons are built to withstand pain. There are a number of ways to make us unconscious, but not through pain. Kneeling on the floor of that basement, seeing her yank out the staff, the splintered remains of the claws hung with ragged pieces of my liver and lungs, my stomach and my intestines, *feeling* my lacerated body being eviscerated in this way, I set a precedent. Although I am screaming still, I sink into the blessed darkness of oblivion.
I rouse briefly some time later. I don’t know how long. I’m chained to a table, and I can still smell lavender, although that must be in my head. It is a second or so before the absoluteness of the pain hits me, time in which I see Ixolon standing by me, his hands and arms red with blood, and Estevan and Silene reconstructing the rings of claws from the bloody fragments that Ixolon has extracted, trying to see whether they have all the pieces out. There are others behind me, but I cannot see them. Silene turns to Ixolon and shakes her head. Ixolon plunges his hands back into me, his fingers groping. I cannot control myself. I feel my face change, my fangs and claws drop, as another scream bursts from me, and I bunch my muscles just *so*, and the chains snap. Ixolon doesn’t move, but others do. Shapes rush from behind me, positioning themselves at my arms and legs, ready to hold me down. But they look at someone else still behind me, and then fall back, out of my sight.
The scent of lavender grows stronger. Has Thomaso started using that? One of the minions? I hadn’t noticed. Then it is mingled with the sharp odour of fear and the salt of tears, as two tiny, warm hands grasp my shoulders from behind, and a commanding voice penetrates my agony.
“Angelus! Stop it. Ixolon needs to do this. Stop making such a fuss!”
And I do. Though mainly because I pass out again, it has to be said.
I remember other brief moments of awareness, but in each of them, the pain is so crippling, the suffering so beyond comprehension, that I decide, on the whole, to leave the entire business of consciousness to those who are actually alive. But each time, before I fade back into oblivion, there is the scent of lavender and Slayer, and the feel of warm hands on my naked and bloody shoulders. And, once, the gentle splash of hot tears.
I find afterwards that it took four hours to find the splinters, during which time they had to force open my ribcage and manhandle every piece of viscera within a twelve-inch radius of the entry wound. Even then, they missed some and had to phone Willow and Tara to get a spell to call the splinters out. Will my debt to the witches never end? But that’s a small price to pay. There is a bigger one when I rouse for the next time.
I am in my bed, without chains, but with the kind of agony that could only result from having been torn apart by wild horses. And she is gone. Of the two hurts, that is perhaps the worst. Thomaso is sitting by me, dozing a little, but he is instantly awake. I cannot move – not that I really want to, when I remember that movement might make the agony even worse. I don’t know how it could possibly be worse, but I definitely don’t want to find out. Thomaso pulls down the top sheet a little, and I see that I bear a strong resemblance to a mummy, so tightly am I wrapped. Thomaso opens a thermos flask. He brings some blood over and helps me to drink.
It’s Slayer’s blood, my mate’s heart’s-blood, and it’s still warm. Why he hasn’t drunk it, I don’t know, but he has already proven himself to me. His standing has just risen again. It might have been fear of me that safeguarded her gift, but his face tells me that wasn’t the only reason.
I know that I must drink, or I shall never heal, but I can’t imagine what structures are left for this precious blood to pass through. Perhaps just bathing the tissues in it will be enough? It might have to be. And then I’m too tired to worry, and I give myself back up to the darkness.
I don’t understand myself any more. Or perhaps I just never did. After everything that I have suffered from that demon, I couldn’t kill him. Even after seeing those terrible drawings, I couldn’t do it. I meant to. When I saw Riley, I really meant to. And it seemed to me that Angelus asked for it. The sword would hurt badly, I know, but when I picked up the staff he simply leaned back to give me the best shot at his heart. And I couldn’t. I thought he must have known that.
Then when I saw what happened with the staff, I knew why he gave me a clear shot, and I stopped thinking and just acted, as if my own life depended on his. Xander is disgusted, and thinks I’m mad. Riley is disgusted and thinks I’m betraying everything I should stand for. I can’t disagree with either of them, but it doesn’t change the fact that I couldn’t kill him.
After I had sent Xander and Riley away, and after I had found Ixolon – and the others – by the simple expedient of standing at the top of the basement stairs and yelling at the top of my voice, we managed to get him up into the kitchen, and chained him down so that Ixolon could work. We’d got no anaesthetics, you see, and what would we get at such short notice that would work on a vampire anyway? After we’d looked at the staffs, we decided that every scrap of wood had to come out, or they might work their way into his heart. It doesn’t take much wood to kill a vampire, and this weapon was spelled. We both knew it.
I stayed, and I’m glad I did. He came round part way through and snapped the chains. He would have killed Ixolon, but I managed to calm him, somehow. And then he kept rousing, and the look in his eyes… I can’t go back. I can never go back, but he has saved my life so many times that I guess I owed him that one.
There’s something he said though. Well, two things. He said he was sorry for everything. People don’t lie when they are dying, not even demons. It doesn’t change anything, but at least he said it.
And he told me to go to Aurelius. Why would he say that? I asked Estevan and Thomaso, and I asked Ixolon, but I just got a wall of silence. I think they know, but they aren’t saying. Why? What are they hiding? Well, perhaps not Thomaso. He’s maybe too young, but the others? I think they know. I’ve told Giles everything. If I didn’t, Riley or Xander would, but I suppose it’s right that he should know anyway. He pursed his lips in disapproval in that very English way that he has, then he polished his glasses rather too hard. And then he went to try and find out why I should have gone to Aurelius if Angelus had died.
Something has changed between Giles and Angelus, and it happened after the fight with Glory. Before that Giles hated him, and was very open about doing so. Now, when Angelus is mentioned, which isn’t often, he gets a very shuttered look, as if I might read something in his face that he doesn’t want me to see. After I came back from the mansion, I thought that Giles might have been the one who called Riley, who brought him here. But I don’t think that’s right. I think Riley just followed the bodies. No, it’s something else that Giles doesn’t want me to know. That means I have to find out what it is. As well as understanding what Angelus was trying to tell me.
It’s been over a week now, and I haven’t been back to the mansion. However, Estevan and Thomaso make sure that one or the other catches me somewhere on patrol each night, in case I want to ask how he is. I never do. Ask, that is. I want to, though, every time. I’m sure they know it.
I’ve got a lot to think about tonight. I’ve just left Giles. He’s called in some favours, and thinks he’s found what Angelus meant when he told me to go to Aurelius.
In those very rare instances where vampires have mated humans, there are one or two cases recorded where the vampire has died first. The human hasn’t lasted long afterwards. He thinks that there may be some element of magic involved in the bonding process, something that fuels the grief of the surviving human and simply eats away their will to live. Aurelius is head of the clan. Perhaps he knows how to avoid that. Angelus has never said much about him, but I got the impression that he hated him.
So, he thought he was going to die, and his last wish seems to have been to find a way to save my life by getting help from his enemy.
And then there’s Willow. She caught up with me on my way out to patrol tonight. She’s been following up all the Sunnydale bodies. Apart from Riley’s unit, Angelus seems to have been taking out all the crooks, the drug dealers, the gangsters, the racketeers and the general lowlifes. He’s been, in his extremely terminal and very messy way, cleaning the town up. I can’t approve – after all, a lot of the people he’s killed were humans, and there are *rules* for dealing with human criminals, most of which don’t involve the death penalty – but it isn’t quite the mass murder of innocents that it seemed to be at first. Are there other things that aren’t exactly what they seem?
And now there’s Faith. Someone saw us in the cemetery. There’s only a vague description of Angelus and me, but they have an identikit picture of Faith and it’s pretty good. And I can’t find her to tell her. She’s still here, I’m sure – sometimes I think I can feel her. But she always gives me the slip. Perhaps I’ll have better luck tonight. At least I don’t have to worry about Riley any more. He’s gone back to wherever he was before he tried to do my job for me. I’ve warned him not to come back. I think that Angelus might make sure he kills him next time. I really don’t understand why he hadn’t done more damage to him. I’m just grateful that he didn’t. But I’ll make my own displeasure felt to Riley if he comes back with more of those staves. When I kill Angelus, it will be quick and clean. I can still hear his screams when I sleep, and when I wake up, I’ve been crying.
But I still won’t go to see him. It has to end.
I am very concerned for Buffy. She has told me about the rescue of Riley. She’s also told me about the heinous drawings that she found at the mansion. After her discovery of those, I am more than surprised that she not only didn’t kill Angelus, but that she actually went on to save him. I disapprove of Riley’s methods in general – kills should be quick and clean, otherwise we are no better than those we hunt – but I can’t find it in me to disapprove of his methods in this one particular. I wish that the vampire had suffered even more pain for the harm that he has done me, despite the fact that he later tried to get Jenny back for me. I can still see her corpse in my bed. I had to get a new one you know. I could never sleep in that again.
But for one reason I’m glad Buffy didn’t kill him – yet. I don’t know how deeply they have mated. She hasn’t talked to me about that. But they *have* mated, she tells me. At least, they’ve exchanged blood and vows, so I expect that’s the same. I’ve managed to get information from someone who owes me in a big way. Information that’s come from the Watchers’ most secret archive, that only the most senior members of the Council have access to. Stupidity. The people who need this information are those of us out on the front line.
In this case, the information relates to a human who has been mated by a vampire, and where the vampire dies before the human. There aren’t many cases, but there are some. I have told her the gist. But not all of it. Where they are mated for a lifetime, the human, no matter how strong, seems to simply pine away.
But, there is one case of two human lovers, centuries ago. The woman was turned by a vampire, but would not abandon her human soulmate. To try to protect him from her new clan, she bonded with him in a vow of eternal mating – the only such human/vampire mating that we know about. Shortly afterwards, she was killed by the Slayer, and he disappeared. No one knew where or why. People tried scrying for him, but they never found anything.
The Watchers have researched this ever since. They have even tried to duplicate the event, but could never force the vampire subject to initiate the eternal bond. However, the general consensus is that the magic that binds eternal mates sends the human partner, body and soul, to follow their lover to whichever hell demons go to. Have they bonded in that way? Dear God in heaven, let that not be it. I could not allow that to be the ending for her. If the vampire dies first, I must kill her immediately. Only in that way does it seem she might be able to escape eternal damnation. I won’t tell her, but I *must* now research a way to break the bond between them. I *must*.
I’ve healed as well as I’m going to heal in two weeks, and so here I am, on the appointed day, in Cairo. Aurelius’ palace is two streets away. None of his family has accosted me since I arrived in Egypt. I know the way, and I’m coming of my own free will. They don’t need to fetch me. But I’ve felt them watching me. It’s that larger bubble of personal space, you know. All of my senses reach further than yours, including the hairs on the back of my neck. I won’t insult them by noticing their presence, though.
I had hoped to be in much better condition than I actually am for the ordeal that is to come. I’m pretty much healed, although I’m still in some pain and the scar hasn’t quite faded. I’m not back to full strength, though. Not quite. It was a while before the blood had any real effect. Until my stomach healed – rebuilt itself, rather - it simply pooled in my abdomen, and Ixolon had to aspirate it out several times. He’s turning out to be a very useful acquisition, in more ways than one.
Still, it’s probably all moot now. Even on the very top of my game, I really don’t think I could take Aurelius. Now, when I’m at about 90%? What do you think? I’d never live down the sneers and sniggers if I backed off, though. So I won’t.
The doorkeeper knows to expect me, and I am shown straight into Aurelius’ presence. Just like last time. Nothing else seems to have changed, either. Aurelius is holding court in a very informal way. All of his childer are here, and half a dozen vamps I don’t know. Representatives of the major families that are no longer headed by a childe of the clan master, perhaps? I’m sure I’ll find out eventually. If I live so long.
“Angelus!” He comes towards me, smiling warmly and holding out his hand in greeting. He’s never been one for the bear hug approach. Sekhmet strolls over and rubs her cheek against my hip. And you think *you* have a problem with cat hair?
“Let me introduce you.” And he does. I’m right. The half dozen that I don’t know represent families with major territories in Britain, Eastern Europe, France, Afghanistan, and China. Oh, and Florida. Like the others, they are here to welcome the new clan master, or congratulate the ongoing one, and watch the loser’s remains being swept out of the hall. There are other families not under the direct control of one of his childer, and not represented here, but they are smaller. These are the big ones. The contest is tomorrow night. Meanwhile, we will all wear this civilised veneer, and drink Aurelius’ rather fine Australian wine. He used to drink French, but never let it be said that he isn’t adaptable to new developments.
When I understand what the sleeping arrangements are, I almost shift into game face. Remember what I wished for when I thought my own final end had come? Well, he seems intent on getting his version of it. Arrogant son of a bitch! I could just stake him in his sleep. I won’t, though, and he knows it. Believe it or not, there is honour amongst demons.
And damn me if I don’t have the nightmare again today, when he finally lets me sleep. I am a ghost, ashes of a dead man, trying to pull the werewolf out of her, to stop it devouring her as it is born, and as I feel its fangs on my incorporeal arm, I wake to the echo of my own screaming, to find that Aurelius is holding me close, whispering soothing nonsense words into my ear, and Sekhmet has jumped up onto this huge bed, and is gently patting my face with her paw.
When I can get over the horror of it I find a whole new horror to worry about: their concern and sympathy. This is so embarrassing. Really. They both have to die.
I have friends who live not many miles from Sunnydale. They aren’t part of the Watcher’s Council – they have more affiliation to the group called The Coven. These friends are responsible for…acquiring…many of the rarest books that I have. They have stayed close so long as Buffy and I are here, although we rarely meet or talk. It’s best for them if they appear to be only what they are – dealers in rare books and incunabula – rather than people who know the current Slayer’s Watcher.
They have just been in touch, though. There is trouble that they fear may be coming our way. Big trouble. Some extremely powerful demon-fiend-godling, they don’t know exactly what, that came out of the portal. The portal that Buffy closed when she died… I do know now that Angelus killed something that looked like a dragon, something that also came out of the portal – Willow can’t keep that sort of secret, even for fear of Angelus – but it seemed that wasn’t the worst. The creature in the north is gathering power, and they suggest that we try to deal with it before it acquires too much. Before it feels ready to come to the Hellmouth.
Buffy will go with Xander. I want to go with her, but we don’t know what we are facing, and all my research resources are here. I need to stay. Logically that is the best choice, the only sensible choice. Besides, someone needs to look after Dawn. But I have a bad feeling. I have tried to locate Faith, but cannot. I don’t think she’s left town. There are some police reports that I’m very afraid are about her. But if a slayer doesn’t want to be found…
Even worse, I find that I am unable to get away from the thought that Angelus, her mate, is nearby if things go badly. *Why* should I find that a comfort, when I know what he has done to her; when I know what evil he is capable of? Perhaps it’s because I know how much he loves her. I’ve experienced it, don’t forget, when I rode as a passenger in his mind. The memory of that still haunts me. I *want* to break the bond between them. Why should I think of leaning on it now? Has he made me as mad, as schizophrenic, as he is? Or, perish the thought, has being in his mind created some sort of bond between him and me? That could be the worst of all. I will keep thinking of Jenny. That will help me.
The civilities are over now, and we are ready for the contest. It’s held here, in the main hall of Aurelius’ palace, and it’s to the death. All vampire clans have that in common. Never leave a fallen enemy behind you, when it comes to challenges for the leadership. It’s so important that it’s part of the code. It’s also in the interests of a beaten clan leader to work to a code that leaves him or her dead. The alternative, to be kept alive at the successful challenger’s pleasure – and *for* the successful challenger’s pleasure – is unthinkable, even for a demon.
The room has been cleared of all furniture, not only to make the fight less destructive, but also to remove absolutely anything that might be used as a weapon. Bare hands only. This goes back to our most primitive selves. For the same reason, we fight naked. Nowhere to hide a stake, a poisoned ring, some magical powder. Nothing, except muscle and bone, fang and claw.
The observers are all on the balconies, behind the ornate screens that form part of the normal architecture in Cairene houses, no doubt crowding for the best view. Only two other beings are here, in this room. Sekhmet and the Keeper.
Sekhmet is here as the progenitor of our entire clan. If it isn’t a clean fight, if there is any attempt at cheating, she will kill the offender. Even if it’s Aurelius. Her cushion has been placed on Aurelius’ throne, and she will sit there during the proceedings.
And the Keeper? Most clans have one. An elder vampire, outside the power hierarchy, who keeps the annals of the clan, who interprets clan laws, and who officiates at events like this. He’s the referee and master of ceremonies, if you like. Most clans need a Keeper, to maintain continuity and tradition. As older vampires die, their knowledge is lost with them. The line of Keepers maintains that continuity outside the power structure. Not that being Keeper isn’t a position of power. It’s just a neutral power, and is recognised as such. It’s a bit like the old storytellers used to be in ancient human cultures.
The Keeper is a much less necessary role in this clan – we still have Aurelius, you see, to remember the history and interpret laws. He made all of them, after all. The Keeper is his eldest childe, Japheth.
Stripped, I am conscious of the angry, knotted scar that still trails across my ribcage and down my belly. There’s a matching one down my back, but I’ve never seen that, of course. Another few days and they will be gone. But not yet, and the flesh still pulls. I’ve had my fill of premium human blood, though – fresh from the source this evening – and they’re healing at least as well as can be expected. Damn Riley. This morning, in his rooms, Aurelius wanted to know about the scars. He can tell a liar a mile away, so I told him the truth. He was silent, but I could see that he was worried. No doubt anxious about how widespread these new weapons are, and how to combat them. He’s always taken clan leadership very seriously.
I’ve left some letters in my bag. For Aurelius, for Ezrafel and Ixolon and Estevan. For Buffy. You need to come to a contest like this on top of your game and full of confidence, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.
Now Japheth is speaking the words that will start this contest, and retiring to stand beside Sekhmet. He may be the referee, but he needs to be out of harm’s way.
You will never have seen a contest like this, between two powerful vampires. If you were here, you still wouldn’t be able to see that much. It’s fast: faster than the human eye can generally follow. And the two of us are powerful enough to use all the surfaces. Floor, walls, ceiling. We can’t defy gravity; we just make proper use of the laws of motion.
We start by circling each other, looking for the first opening. I see one, and land a backhand blow to his jaw. That was an error – he *left* that opening for me. He ripostes instantly with a blow of such power that I think for a moment he’s crushed my skull. I crash into the wall, but there is no time to check for broken bones, and I just manage to push myself up and off the wall before he can pin me to it. His claws graze my shoulder as I do so, and he has drawn first blood.
I manage to keep out of his reach for a few moments, until my head has stopped spinning, but that’s all the respite I get, and then we are trading blows again. And it isn’t just blows. This fight is tooth and claw. And anything else that will do damage. A kick in the side cracks one of my ribs, but my elbow in his face snaps his nose. Second blood to me.
I’ve come in search of B’s vampire. Don’t ask me why. Cops have almost caught me at least three times this week. The last time, I had to beat several of them up to get away. It wasn’t hard, but they’ll come better prepared next time. My choices are fairly simple. I can give up the Hellmouth and just leave. I can give myself up to the Watchers for whatever sort of terminal retraining they dole out to murderers like me. I can give myself up to the cops for a lifetime stretch in the company of a prisonful of skanky women. If B gets herself killed, I’ll probably be the one and only Slayer, and I’ll be locked up. Or I can give myself up to Angelus. No matter what I’ve done, I’m still a Slayer. That pretty much rules out options one to three. I thought maybe I’d try the vamp. See what B saw in him. Maybe still sees in him.
And there’s this damned mark on my neck. It itches whenever I think of him, which is often.
So, I’m here, in broad daylight, entering the mansion. Not everyone is asleep. A demon is coming to greet me. He looks human, but he isn’t. My Slayer sense tells me that much. He looks friendly, though. Well, at least he’s smiling. And he isn’t showing his teeth.
“Slayer. I am Ixolon. Angelus said that we should expect you.”
Sonofabitch! Did he indeed?
“I want to see him. You gonna wake him, or shall I?”
I think I see amusement in his eyes. Do demons feel amused? Well, Angelus does, I gather, so I guess others do, too. I’ve never really thought of any of them as being more than animals. That’s not true, though, is it? I get that now.
“Neither of us would dare do that, Slayer. But the question is moot. Angelus is not here. We have a room prepared for you, though. If you follow me, I’ll show you.”
And just like that, he does. This feels *really* weird, but hey, if I’m getting free board and lodgings that’s a plus, right? And the vamps are real handy for when I come to stake them. I ask him where Angelus is, but he either can’t or won’t say.
He shows me round, and the place seems pretty well organised. And, surprise, surprise, there are no grisly bodies hanging in the larder, just neat stacks of blood bags in the very large fridge. Is this big bad master vamp all mouth and no trousers? Surely not? I heard enough from my Watcher about Angelus, when the Council found out he’d surfaced again and was on the Hellmouth. At the time, I was young enough to have nightmares that I might have to face this vamp, and crazy enough to want to smack down with him, mano a mano, to prove I was better. Here I am now, in his lair – does he call it a lair? – and who’d a thunk it? But if I want to save B and me from him, where better to do it than from the belly of the beast, so to speak? And what if I don’t want to save us? Same goes, I guess. I don’t seem to have much choice anyway, except door number four.
Perhaps I’ll have different nightmares here. Not the one I’ve had every night for weeks. The one where I feel my stake slide into vampire flesh, only it isn’t. It’s alive and warm and human and the body flops over and the face is just a guy. And I don’t know how to save myself. I doubt the answer’s here, but I don’t know where else to look.
It seems as if we have been at each other’s throats for hours. And at every other body part. His fist buried in my gut, my fist in his throat. His fangs tearing at my collarbone for the very big artery under it, my claws tearing at his thigh, for the equally big one there. Blows to my kidneys, as painful for me as for you, blows to his solar plexus, still debilitating for a vampire. My body is sporting a rainbow of bruises. I’m pleased to see that his isn’t looking much better.
And blood. We are both bleeding from a number of wounds, both major and minor, and I have a very large one where he almost got his fangs round my throat. A long rip in the flesh was the price of that bit of sheer carelessness. There’s blood spatter all over this white marble room now. If I’m going to go down, it won’t be easily.
So far, there has been nothing for the Keeper to do. There are no rounds in this contest. No pauses, or respites, no out for the count. Just ongoing violence until one is dust. There’s been no cheating, either. Well, I’m not going to get torn apart by that Hellcat, and I certainly don’t expect it of Aurelius. Besides, he doesn’t need to. Even I didn’t appreciate the strength of this vampire.
If I were human, and needed to breathe, I should be sobbing with exhaustion now. Little rivulets of blood are running down my arm from a parallel series of gashes made by the slash of his extended claws across my biceps that has left bloody muscle hanging in shreds. More blood is running down the inside of my thigh from where he almost managed to tear my balls off. Those gashes go down to the bone. He’s a dirty fighter. So am I.
He has blood running down the side of his face from where I almost took his eye, and from gashes made by my own four claws, running from hip to hip where I tried to eviscerate him. For a moment, until his skin closed a little, I did indeed see the pinky-purple gleam of intestine through the gashes. Our bruises simply run into one another, and we are covered with scratches, scrapes, gashes and bites.
He’s winning, though.
And then, as I’m running up one of the blood-smeared walls, I turn my head to judge my descent, and I do not believe the opening that he leaves me. He must be more tired than he seems because there is no recovery from this. Using the momentum from my descent, I somersault over him and have my arms under his, my hands linked at the back of his neck. My fangs are ready to sink into his throat. There is a collective rustle and sigh from the balconies, as the clan prepares for a new master. And I hesitate.
I don’t know why I do. I never know why I do. I am not one to hesitate over the kill. Yet I do. Something inside me is beating against my breastbone, screaming silently that he must not die. That if he does, I will be lost too. A pair of night-dark eyes fills my field of vision. And that momentary hesitation is enough. He breaks my hold, and shows me no mercy. We’ve already been battling for over an hour, but he steps up his ferocity, and I don’t have enough response. I try. I try with every ounce of strength in me, but he just has more. He’s no bigger than me, but he’s older and faster and stronger. It’s rare for the clan leader of any clan to be anything but the oldest vampire, and it isn’t going to change for Clan Aurelius. Not today.
I hold out as long as I can, returning as much of his fury as I am able, and neither of us is thinking with our brains now. This is sheer, elemental rage, as fist smacks against flesh and bone, as claw rips into skin and muscle, as fang slips in to draw as much blood as possible. A fight between vampires is a ballet of movement and flight, and ours has been that. Now, though, it’s about sheer, raw power.
In the end, he has me face down on the bloody ground, his fist wrapped in my hair, and his fangs in my neck. Despite my thrashing around, he takes sufficient blood to be sure that my challenge is over. He ceases drinking long enough to get the words he wants from me.
“Do you submit?”
I remain silent, thinking of the chance that I had, the chance missed. He yanks at my hair, pulling my head further back.
“Do you submit?”
The words are louder, now, more intense. And there’s a clear feline growl in there. I think of Buffy, and of all the things I have left undone, especially with her. I test my strength, seeing whether there is just a little leeway anywhere, any sign that I can break free. There is not.
“Just finish it.” His hold on my head is so tight that I cannot say more, but I manage to angle my neck so that my throat is better exposed. Then I just lie there, and wait for the end. There is nothing else I can do.
“Say it!” He loosens that grip just a little. “Say it, damn you!”
“I submit.” Never have I said more bitter words.
He sinks his fangs back into my throat and takes a lot – enough to almost drain me. Then he sits back, his entire weight grinding my crotch painfully down onto the marble of the floor. His hand is still wrapped in my hair, pulling my head back so that my neck is at snapping point, and the gashes along the front of my throat open wide, the little blood left in me sheeting down from the wounds. And he roars. A demonic and feline roar of kingship, of ownership, of triumph, of territory defended, of challengers vanquished, of balance maintained. I try to console myself that at least I have acquitted myself well, and wait for the coup de grace. It doesn’t come. Instead, he lifts himself off me, and I can feel how wearily he does that, still with his fist in my hair.
“Get onto your feet.”
Ah. Some *special* ending for me, then. Something salutary, perhaps, to persuade other vamps that it isn’t worth even thinking about challenging? But that isn’t how it’s supposed to go. A quick, clean death: that’s the law. He makes the laws, though. It seems to me that he’s making a new one here.
I stagger to my feet, with as much dignity as I can muster. I have no more strength than an infant, now, and all I can do is stare at Aurelius, and keep my expression impassive. And he’s quite a sight to stare at. So am I, I suppose. Looking at him, I think that I have put up a very good fight indeed. He’s a mess. His face is a mask of blood, from his broken nose and from the flap of skin that I ripped off next to his eye. One cheek has been torn open, and through it I can see the glint of enamel from his teeth. Judging by the fang marks and rips, I’ve scored a few hits around his neck, and his body is a huge purple and green bruise, underlying the liberal coating of gore and mangled flesh. I can see that he has several broken ribs, and the white gleam of bone shows through in several places. I had a second go at eviscerating him, and almost made it that time, too, so that his abdomen is a lattice of gouges and gashes. Both of us are standing in puddles of blood.
His wounds are healing as I watch, the process powered by his strength and by my blood. Mine aren’t healing, of course, and the need for fresh blood almost overcomes me. It’s a hunger that has the bite of years of starvation, the grip of centuries of addiction and the edge of absolute need. Only by exercising every last ounce of willpower can I stop myself from falling to the floor and lapping up the spilt blood like a dog. Anything else would be entirely beyond me. But there’s blood on the floor, his and mine…
Japheth walks over to us, and makes an obeisance to Aurelius.
That single word acknowledges the outcome. There would be no point in trying to continue the fight, even if I could. The clan would turn on me and kill me. The outcome is beyond question. The Keeper has called time on the contest, so to speak, and confirmed my submission. I await my fate, barely able to stand, overwhelmed by the smell of spilled blood, but I’m damned if I fall to my knees now.
I wonder what will happen to me. Surely, I will be killed, if not sooner then later. Sooner might be very preferable to later, although I suppose that whilst there’s life there’s hope. What then? Will I be condemned to the black sand? I remember my last sight of it, as I walked away from the Underworld with Buffy silent behind me. I remember that unknown sinner running from the attacks of the Furies, and I remember my own suffering at their… well, not just at their hands, that’s for sure. At their hands and fangs and everything else. Is that what awaits me? If it is, I found my way out once. Could I do it again? I’d have to try.
And so I wait, as he changes his grip, stands behind me, his arm tight around my throat, ready to sink his fangs into my neck again, to take back every drop of Aurelian blood from me. I wait. What else is there to do?
Buffy called last night to say that she had arrived in town. She isn’t staying with my friends – that would call too much attention to them. She and Xander checked in to an anonymous motel. She was intending to go and reconnoitre. No more than that. We had very little information, and she was to see what she could discover, and contact me, so that I could do whatever possible to help her. So that I could find out what she faced. She was going in daylight. It’s now midnight, and she hasn’t called. I’ve phoned her, but the phone is switched off. I’ve called my friends. I thought they might believe me to be panicking for nothing, but they don’t. They went to the motel, and found neither Buffy nor Xander. They only found an empty room. All their bags are still there, but they aren’t.
I’m inclined to go there myself, tomorrow, but if something could take Buffy down, it would undoubtedly take me. And who would look after Dawn then? I’m sure Buffy would thank me for leaving her sister alone in the world, apart from a useless father who might not even know she exists. So tomorrow, I’m going to ask Willow and Tara to scry for me.
Angelus’ challenge is over, and we have both survived. My plan continues to work. At least, I’m still the one in charge. I was never really in doubt about that, although for one small moment, when I was distracted, I thought that I had blown it. I was not so worried about losing, as about how to keep both of us alive. There’s no point if he’s dead. My small gift of prophecy tells me that we are on the right path, although I could be fatally, abysmally wrong. Still, Palestrina’s echo in my blood seems content. It isn’t her, of course, but it is something *of* her.
Angelus has fought exceptionally well, especially considering the dreadful injuries he recently sustained. I have warned my people of the weapon that did that to him. Anyone who comes against us with that staff will be killed without hesitation or mercy, and used as an object lesson to those who would send such dreadful instruments of death. Hunting us with fire, or sword or stake is fair. After all, we hunt you. But this is barbaric.
When he told me about it, though, my fear was not for the clan. It was for him. We had almost lost him, lost our hope of future survival. You, me, every single being on this planet and on all the rest. *I* had almost lost him. I’ve come to love this vampire as if he were my own childe.
His scars remain, which is good. By the time the contest started, everyone present knew what had caused those. Knew that he was still not properly healed, and yet had come to make good his challenge. Had not tried to weasel his way out of it. Put that together with the way in which he met the punishment that I meted out to him the last time he was here, for his perceived crimes against the clan whilst he was Angel, and my people have developed a healthy respect for him. And they like him more than they did the arrogant youngster they first knew. That will make this easier. I may be clan master, but if they turned on me, I could not defeat them all. I must, when all is said and done, put the interests of the clan before all else. Fortunately, although they don’t yet know it, Angelus *is* the future of the clan. According to the Adrasti he – with the Slayer - is, in some unknown way, the future of everyone and everything in this and other dimensions. I suspect it’s better if he doesn’t know that yet. But, he has to be around to do whatever it is he’s going to do. And, I may be over five thousand years old, but I don’t want to die. Not yet.
So, I stand here, holding him in a grip he cannot break, and he stands as haughtily as he can, disdain written all over his face, waiting for death.
“Angelus. When you issued your challenge to me, under our ancient law, you knew that failure meant death?”
“Yes.” His voice is steady, but I’ve taken so much blood from him he’s ready to fall over, should I let go.
“Tell me, where had you been immediately before you did that?”
He is silent. He doesn’t know what I want him to say. He doesn’t know what *he* wants to say. I prompt a little. Very well: a lot.
“You went into the Underworld to fetch your mate back from death.”
Weak as he is, he stiffens perceptibly.
“How…?” My grip on his throat tightens. “Yes.”
There is a shocked murmur from the balconies. I doubt that any one there would dare the Underworld, and none of them are cowards. None of them.
“Were you successful?”
There’s another murmured ripple from above. They are very intrigued now.
“Keeper. Remind us what we know of those returning from the Underworld.”
“Very little, Master. There are few accounts of such a thing, and none detail what happened in the Underworld. But, without exception, those who journeyed there and succeeded in coming back have been mentally unstable for some time afterwards and have not been considered responsible for their actions.”
“And remind us of those parts of the code pertinent to that situation and regarding a mastership challenge.”
“That the clan master must accept any and all challenges to his or her leadership, with the exception of any who are considered by the clan to be unfit to lead at the time of making the challenge.”
It isn’t about being disliked or disrespected. It’s about being fit to lead – sane enough and intelligent enough. It isn’t just the strongest, with us. Drusilla, for example, could never be judged fit to lead. Not by any sane vampire.
“Thank you, Keeper.”
I can hear the rustle of excited whispers from the balconies. Vampires love drama as much as anyone else, and it’s been a long time since we had drama like this. In fact, it was Angelus’ last visit. That was rather dramatic. Is he always going to make me bend the rules to breaking point for him? Of course he is.
“I’ve no intention of executing someone who made a challenge in that frame of mind. But you will submit to me. If you challenge me again in the next century, I’ll simply have your head. Do you understand?”
He bares his fangs. “You cannot restrict me so.”
“Yes. I can. I can kill you now, if you prefer. Or I can break your neck and keep you helpless for the next hundred years. Or I can simply cage you for my pleasure and anyone else’s I deem fit. I’ll take your word, but I *will* have your compliance.”
He tries to struggle, but he has no more strength than a dying human.
“You will regret this. I promise you that.”
“Oh, I doubt that. Now, do you understand and do I have your word? You have five seconds before I break your neck. I may snap your spine for good measure, too.”
“You have my word.”
His reply is hissed, rather than spoken, although that might just be weakness rather than resentment. I doubt it, though, because he waited every last nanosecond before answering me. I would have had to do it, too.
He’s looking angry and confused. He’s also going to fall over any moment now – he needs blood, and quickly. Showing weakness will never do. I turn necessity into a virtue, and sink my fangs into his throat, tearing him painfully and emptying out as much of his remaining blood as I possibly can. He doesn’t make a murmur. Good boy.
When I can’t draw any more, and he is as white as the marble on the walls – those bits not red-spattered, that is, I turn him round and, pressing his face into my neck, I let him drink, briefly. I’m remaking him again, giving him more and more of my own strength, because he’ll need it. I give him only a little for now, enough to keep him on his feet. He can have a great deal more, later, when we are alone. Whilst he’s drinking, Japheth calls for the minions, and two of them scurry in, carrying flagons of premium blood, newly let. It’s still at blood heat, in fact. At my gesture, one of them takes a flagon to Angelus, who is starting to reel. The boy is stubborn and full of pride, though. He really doesn’t have the strength to both hold himself up and lift the flagon, so he puts one hand on the minion’s shoulder, using that to take his weight. Then he is able to drink.
He needs the strength of the clan around him for the future, and we have made a start.
Giles. I gotta phone Giles. I hurt. I hurt everywhere. I couldn’t protect her. I couldn’t help her. I think they just left me for dead and I don’t know how long I’ve been out. I can’t *see*, but I think it’s night because I can’t feel the sun and that means she’s been gone for hours. I’ve felt my way all around here and there’s no sign of her. Phone, where’s the damn phone, I gotta find the phone. Call, damn you Giles, so I can hear it. I’ve failed. I always fail. I’ve got no super powers, just human powers, and I’m a failure, always have been. Phone, where’s that damn phone, all I can feel is sand and rocks and spiky plants and things that crawl and I’m *scared* but she’s not here and that *thing* must have taken her, and they left me for dead, and the one that left me for dead was *Oz* and if she’s dead now it’s all my fault…
The senior members of the clan are filing into the hall. I have no clue what is going on, except that I am still alive. Just. I need more blood inside me in order to heal, and I desperately need to wash this blood off the outside and to tend to my wounds, and I’d really like to put some clothes on, but I’m alive. I’m also in serious danger of falling over because I’m so weak – Aurelius almost drained me and only gave me a little back – but I’ll stay on my feet as long as I need to. It certainly won’t do to show weakness here. I have been humiliated enough as it is.
When everyone is gathered, Aurelius turns his attention back to me again.
“Angelus, I think we would all like a small demonstration of your loyalty. A token.”
They what? If they want me to go through all that again, like last time, I’ll go down fighting every last one of them first…
He must have seen my look, because he laughs out loud. Then he pauses for a few moments, head down in thought and abruptly strides over to where I’m almost standing.
“Will you do as I command?”
Now is definitely not the time for irritating him, but I can’t help the flash of amber that I feel in my eyes. His face remains neutral – almost carefully so – as he waits for my response. What am I to gain from this game? I am about to tell him exactly what to do with his commands, and risk the consequences when, perversely, I decide to run with this, to see where it leads; to see whether there is anything here that I can profit from. I won’t say the words, though. I simply nod. Damn me, I’m so weak that this simple movement almost topples me over.
“Françoise. That troublesome family you were telling me about? I know you were going to deal with them, but I think we’ll ask Angelus to do that, see what he comes up with. He leaves with you the night after next. We’ll settle the details tomorrow. Meantime, I think some cleaning up is in order.”
He takes me by the upper arm, and pulls me out of the hall, into his private chambers. There’s a huge shower in there – all mod cons in an eighteenth century palace – and he lets me fold up, gently, onto the floor. I’m really too far-gone to stand any more. He turns on the water, and as the hot needles of spray start sliding down my skin, he kneels in front of me and gathers me to him, pressing my face against his neck.
And I do. There is power in that blood, and he allows me to take as much as I need. Not as much as I want, though, because I want it all. I can feel myself starting to heal. I’ll be fine within a couple of days, with his blood inside me, particularly if he allows me to feed from him more than this once. There, in the shower, he is the one who plays the servant, the lover. He washes me clean of the blood and gore, cleans my hair, and rinses the suds away, all with an incredibly delicate touch. He dries both of us on the huge towels, regardless of the fact that some of our injuries are still bleeding. Then he helps me up and summons a minion to tend our wounds.
It’s Ahmed. Remember Ahmed? He was my last childe. He is still with Japheth whilst they hunt down Palestrina’s missing bones. Only one to go, he tells me, then he can join me. I remember what I saw in him. Perfect bone structure. Dark, expressive eyes. Skin like golden silk. He’s very beautiful, and he may be perfectly behaved – Japheth has done a good job – but I can tell he’s still full of mischief. I’m looking forward to getting him back. He says that he and Japheth will be leaving almost immediately. It has taken them a long time to hunt down that last bone. Sorcerers who don’t want to be found, especially when the hunters are a pack of vampires intent on bloody revenge, are *really* good at hiding. But Japheth’s family have this one spotted now, and are only waiting for him. Aurelius will be happy, I think.
Between the three of us, we soon have the worst of our wounds covered up, but they will soon be healed. Even my scar from the staff is visibly fading. Aurelius’ blood is full of more power than I dare dream about. Ahmed goes, and leaves me alone with my clan master. I think that, perhaps, all either of us wants to do at present is sleep for a million years. Then there’s a rumbling purr at my side, and Sekhmet is rubbing her face against me. She offers me her throat. She has *never* done that before. Her blood is even more powerful than Aurelius’, and the heat of it, powering with his through my veins, is the most incredible rush. I feel invincible, and can tell that all my wounds are closing. I wonder why Sekhmet is doing this, and then I get the suspicion that they know something I don’t know about what is to come. When I pull back, he is smiling down at me, a warm and genuine smile on his human face.
Xander has been found. Buffy has not. Xander is in a bad way. Apart from all his other wounds, both his eyes are damaged, and he will almost certainly lose the sight of the left one. He tells us that they were trying to locate the demon’s lair when they were attacked by a huge pack of wolves. Werewolves. And it wasn’t even full moon. The change for these creatures wasn’t complete. The one that attacked him, he recognised as Oz. The man he thought was his friend left him for dead in a gully. I’m trying to hope that Oz knew who he was and tried to save him, but I’m very likely to be wrong. Xander hasn’t been bitten, though.
There is no trace of Buffy anywhere. The tracks lead up into the hills, and simply disappear on stony ground. I’m trying to keep going with my brain, but my heart is screaming. She was like a daughter to me. Is like. Is. Present tense. We need another slayer or a certain va… Another slayer. There is another one. Faith. And I cannot find her either. At least, I couldn’t. I’ve been to Willy’s tonight – the bar of last resort, I suppose – to see if there’s gossip concerning her whereabouts.
It’s said that she is with Angelus. It is believed that she is still human. Those two statements seem to be mutually contradictory, and I won’t try to tell you how amazed I am. I thought that Buffy was the one he had designs on. Obviously any one will do. No. I must not allow my hatred of him to colour what I know. I *know* Buffy is the one he has designs on. Has he given up on her willingly returning to him, and he’ll settle for the other Slayer? But if so, why hasn’t he turned Faith yet? If he hasn’t, that is. Or does he just want both? I wouldn’t put *that* past him. It is also said that Angelus is out of town at present, on unknown business. So, I’m here, at the mansion, now, waiting for the door to open, to see if Faith will help. There is a sisterhood of slayers. Surely she will help, no matter what else has happened. And I’m praying that the gossip at Willy’s is correct.
You know something now of our vampire society I believe? But you have primarily heard from the males of our kind. What would we do without them, I ask myself? But they are just like all men of all species. They talk tough, they act tough, but get a hold on their balls, and they are like lambs. Comparatively speaking, of course. Everything is relative.
I am Françoise. My territory is France. Why do you think I took this name? Vampires do not necessarily observe the territorial boundaries that humans impose, but countries usually choose those that are defensible – rivers, mountains, coasts, that sort of thing. The same principles apply when vampires choose boundaries, and I have chosen most of France. I have lived long and my boundaries are good.
Aurelius summoned me to Cairo. When I heard why I – and others – had been summoned, well, I can only say that I looked forward to a very, very interesting match. We were all sure that Angelus would lose, because he is so much younger, and none of us were able to understand why he would have issued the challenge at all – it almost seemed like a death wish. But we knew that Angelus is very strong. After all, he survived an ordeal that no other vampire has survived before. Was pushed past limits to which no other vampire has been tested before, at least not in this clan. If a younger vampire were to succeed, it would be him.
And after the battle, when we learned that he had been to the Underworld… We had heard rumours, nothing more, that he has mated a slayer. The Slayer. She must have died, as slayers are wont to do. And. He. Fetched. Her. Back. None of the rest of us would have tried that. We were *very* impressed.
Not that any one of us wants to lose Aurelius. Between us, we have met a number of clan masters, and he is far and away the best, for a lot of reasons. Even if we didn’t all love him, he is still the best. And Clan Aurelius is much the most successful clan, no matter what yardstick you use. Oh, we have our share of lunatics, vicious monsters and the tragically foolish, but on the whole, we are a better class of vamp. A *different* class of vamp. And no one ever accused any of us of being *stupid*. Well, with the exception of Nest, the idiot with the fruit punch mouth, but that goes without saying.
So, we had no wish to see Aurelius ousted, but neither did we wish to see Angelus die. He’s too much fun. And crafty old Aurelius has managed to keep both of them alive and with honour intact. How *does* he do it? We were shocked to see the scars of Angelus’ recent encounter with a new weapon. When they were both cleaned up, and their wounds tended, he allowed us to examine closely the damage, whilst he described in more detail the magical staff that had done this. He was also prevailed upon to tell us how the staff was taken out. He was proud of the Slayer, you know. He didn’t say it, but we could tell. Hell, even a *human*, with your stunted senses, could have understood that.
You may think it strange that none of us resented the pride he took in her, or felt that it was odd. The Slayer is far from human herself, you know. Predators in other species often try to exterminate each other to preserve their own hunting territory, and the stock roaming it. Lions will kill the lesser predators such as leopards and cheetahs. But sometimes, just sometimes, the predators are equals, and a different relationship can evolve. There are animals that are the offspring of lions and tigers.
She’s a predator, and she will try to exterminate those of us, we other predators, hunting in her territory. When she meets an equal though… And the rest of us look on with interest.
My brother Eudo, who is much brighter than his happy-go-lucky attitude would suggest, has been asked to find the sorcerer or witch involved in making these new weapons. He’s carried out tasks like that for Aurelius before, and is well trusted. Eudo does not have a large territory to maintain. He and his mate roam around Monaco with their two childer, and they do well enough there. He and his family will carry out this task for the clan, and I will look after Monaco until he returns. Perhaps Angelus will look after it with me, for a little while.
And that is where our present errand comes in. Eudo told me just before I left for Cairo that I have a small family of Aurelians who have moved into Marseilles. It’s a very cosmopolitan city with a great many transients. Ideal territory. And it’s mine. If they wish to stay, I want them to submit to me. Would want. It’s in Angelus’ hands now, the task given to him by Aurelius. I wonder what he will do? If he is successful in the task, he could place himself as head of the family there, and claim Marseilles by right of conquest. He could steal it from under me. And I could do nothing about it if I chose not to fight it out with him.
You see, there’s more going on here than meets the eye. Some of us are agreed that Aurelius wants Angelus as his beta, and is testing him to his uttermost limits. Every family has an alpha male and an alpha female. The male is not necessarily the head of the family – that might be his alpha female. Vampires are equal opportunity families, you know. The second male in the hierarchy is the beta, and supports the alpha when necessary. Likewise, each clan has an alpha – the head of the clan – and each clan has a beta. The beta is ready to take over leadership in the event of anything happening to the alpha – at least until proper challenges are dealt with. And the beta supports the alpha by carrying out a lot of the dirty work. The clan has been without a beta for thirty years – none of us really wants the job. But we need one. I wonder if Aurelius thinks we don’t know? I doubt it. He’s too canny, and too good at reading us.
As Aurelius’ beta, Angelus can claim any territory from any other family if he’s strong enough to hold it, and if he wishes to be uncivilized about it. He would win himself no friends, but he could do it. And he’s definitely got an edge to him at the moment.
We arrived in Marseilles last night. We had fun, and lots of it.
We tasted some of the local Marseillaise, and very nice they were, too. On the whole, that is. We started with a couple of youngsters – about fourteen, I should think – going home together. Mine was a virgin boy and extremely toothsome. The other one smelled like a virgin girl, but Angelus must have scented something different. He suddenly seemed to hesitate, and I began to feel that my hospitality would prove to be at fault. He did drink, but seemed to get little pleasure from it. Perhaps the girl was not so innocent, or perhaps she was one of those who had stuffed her veins full of crap. But I didn’t detect it.
Anyway, our next hunt was much better. We found a pair of criminals, on the job. They really do make the easiest prey, you know. They are usually already in concealment, after all, and that saves all that snatching and dragging. And their blood is spiced with so much sin. Angelus found these much more to his taste.
He is an incredibly good lover, and we had… fun. He is affable, expansive, and ready to spend some time on holiday when his task is completed, to spend time with me. I really want that. I have no mate at present, and whilst I’m not looking for one immediately, the prospect of spending time with someone as hot as this? Definitely. And who knows what the future might bring. He’s pretty much a rising star, I do believe. Even if he stays with the Slayer, there may still be opportunities.
Some of my people met us here this evening, and he went out with one of them for a couple of hours to locate the lair. When he came back, he was in high good humour. He sent a couple of my minions on a… shopping… expedition. Alright, let us say ‘acquisition’ expedition, since no money will change hands. And Yves told me about their foray. They found the lair, and he says that, almost immediately, Angelus laughed out loud, and all the way back here, he had a grin on his face.
We will enter the lair tonight, as soon as the shopping list has been filled. Yves believes that there are perhaps thirty vampires in that lair. There are six of us, including Angelus. I had heard that he could be impetuous, but this seems madness to me.
What happened out there, tonight?
I may be a Watcher - *the* Watcher at the moment – and used to mortal combat of both the physical and mental variety with the massed ranks of the supernatural, but I am still only human. And I am filled with human fear. Buffy is still missing. I have found Faith at the mansion, and she is still living, for which I am profoundly grateful. Wonders will never cease. She may have a price on her head from the human forces of law and order, but she is still a slayer. Now that she knows that her sister slayer is missing in action, she will go after her tonight. I have said that I will go with her, despite my dilemma over Dawn’s future welfare, but Faith has resolved that problem. She is having none of it. She says she works best alone. She knows where to start, where Xander was found.
So, I sit here in the Magic Box, examining my more esoteric books, trying to find something to help us, while she prepares. As if I haven’t spent all the time since we heard of this rising threat researching, trying to find something that will be useful. This last minute effort won’t help. But what else can I do? How else can I be of service? To either of them? And I really don’t want my thoughts free to worry about what I’ll do if Faith doesn’t come back. About who I might turn to then.
Her quiet entrance has startled me.
“Faith. Have you got everything you need?”
“Weapons? Money? Cell phone?”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to come with you? Someone else? Willow?”
“Nope. I’m good. But… if the worst happens, tell Angelus. No one at the mansion knows where I’m going, or what’s gone down. He’ll need to know.”
Damn. Damn and blast, and I wish that I might fall on my sword before ever I do that. But I wonder whether I will, whether in the most dire necessity that would then exist, I might turn to a monster for help? If I did, I might fall on my own sword afterwards, though.
“What about transport?”
“There’s a bus all the way there. Like I said, I’m good.”
And with that, she is gone.
I remember staring after her for a very long time, and my thoughts must have drifted rather, although I don’t know quite what I was thinking, but I am startled for the second time this evening. This time, a stranger stands in the doorway. My immediate impression is that he’s in his mid-twenties, tall, dark-haired, and very… poised. Comfortable in his skin. Possibly even charismatic. And he hasn’t said a word yet.
“Can I help you?” It’s very late for customers here, desirable ones, at least.
It isn’t a question. He knows who I am.
“May I come in?”
“Please do.” Doesn’t matter who – or even what – he is. This is a public place no invitation needed. Oh, and I’ve got an assortment of smaller weapons in the drawer in front of me, just in case. He strolls in, looking every inch as if he owned the place, and gestures questioningly to a chair at the other end of the table from my own. I nod – if he has any violence in mind, it’s harder to do from a sitting position.
He sits. I thought that very little had the power to surprise me any more. It’s amazing how wrong you can be.
“I am Aurelius. There are things that we need to discuss.”
Aurelius? Oh, my. This is the oldest vampire on earth today, so far as anyone knows: the oldest by a long chalk. No one knows how old he actually is, but it’s speculated that he might be almost as old as mankind. No wonder he radiates so much power. His presence here – what in heaven’s name can it mean? As my brain struggles for comprehension, I fall back into tried and tested habits.
“Would you like some tea?”
Angelus has me confused. We are outside the lair, which seems to be in an abandoned warehouse – so very déclassé, don’t you think? We are out of sight of the residents – up on the nearby roofs, in fact – and it is almost dawn. I understand that Angelus wishes every vampire to be back here from their nightly hunt, so that we can deal with the nest as a complete family, but must we spend the whole *day* in there? My clothes are extremely expensive designer wear – or would be, if I had paid for any of them – and who knows what sort of dirt and grime there is in such a shabby lair.
Yves was correct in his assessment of numbers – there are about thirty, give or take one or two. We are still six. I have asked Angelus if I should call in reinforcements – I have loyal family members not too far away – but he simply smirked and shook his head. Ah, now he’s signalling us to move. As we approach the entrance, he is in the lead. He is carrying a heavy satchel over his shoulder, a stake in his left hand and a sword in the right. I am a little behind him, also with a sword and a stake, and each of my four minions has a crossbow, loaded and cocked. We have orders not to kill unless imperative, though. If possible, this is a mission of dominance, not extermination.
We reach the doors, and pause very briefly, as if drawing a collective breath. He nods to me, in game face, and I pull the steel barrier aside. Then we enter.
Not without opposition, it has to be said. The nest are completely taken by surprise, but two of them, quicker witted than the rest, rush towards us. Angelus simply lashes out with the stake, and then swings the sword in a fast and level arc, taking the second fledgling’s head. Both are dust. Before the others can react, he gives a short coughing roar, the menace of a tiger facing down rivals. That stops them for the briefest moment. And he never stops or slows – all this time, he is stalking down the centre of the huge but dilapidated interior, towards a throne-like chair, whilst my minions and I walk at his back, covering the others with our weapons. This family has a female Master – vampires are all about the strongest and the most powerful, not the most male – and she is sitting on the throne. At first, she was as surprised as her minions – they are all minions here, there are no childer – but now she has an odd look on her face. Calculating, I think would be the word.
She holds one hand up, very white, with long, long nails in a French manicure, and her minions stay where they are, confused and alarmed but alert. As he strides down the seemingly never-ending length of this space, he reaches into the satchel, and brings out a pair of manacles on a lengthy chain. There is a rumble of sound and a rustle of movement all around us, and again he gives that cough of warning. Stay. Back. The woman on the throne licks her lips.
Then he is on her, the stake and sword discarded on the floor, the chain slung upwards onto an overhead girder, and the manacles locked around her wrists. He is holding her down while he secures the fetters, which hook into each other so that her wrists are fixed together. He reaches for the neckline of her dress, which is passé, very décolleté, layers of red gauze printed with huge black and red roses, and he rips downwards. She is wearing nothing underneath. I might have known.
He turns her, pressing her hands over the back of the throne, and kicking her legs apart, so that she is presented to him, helpless. He himself does not disrobe, simply unfastens his zipper, wraps one hand into her long black hair, yanking her head back, almost to snapping point, and then he is into her in an act of dominance that perhaps some of you share with us. He takes her hard and painfully, his hand still wrapped in her hair, whilst the other claws cruelly at her breasts and between her legs. Soon, blood is dripping from her lacerations onto the throne, and then, with another roar, he sinks his fangs into her neck and drinks deeply. She screams, but not in pain. Everyone can scent her as she comes in an orgasm of brutal pleasure, shaking from the force of it.
He won’t let it end, though. Still, he forces himself into her, thrusting with every ounce of his demonic strength, and still his free hand leaves gouges in her flesh. Her breasts are gored and torn, her pubic mound, unseen beneath the curve of her body, has received similar attention, and blood is streaming down her legs. She shudders as I see him reach a little further to sink those claws into her clitoris. Several times, he drags his fangs down her back, leaving deep, redly-seeping furrows to mar her whiteness. Then he bites hard down into her neck again, this time marking the other side. Again she screams, her anguish-pleasure even louder, greater, longer than before as he roughly draws on her veins, taking deep draughts of her blood.
I had heard about this side of him, but I have not seen it in the days we have been together. Oh, I like rough sex. All vampires do. But not like this. This is all about him, about dominance and possession. She should get no pleasure from this. But she does. I prefer what I have seen of him. Mainly.
This time, he allows himself release. His roar of triumph is not very different to Aurelius’. Unseen, you could mistake one for the other. Interesting.
When he has emptied himself into her, he rests for a moment, both hands now on the small of her back, taking his weight. She is pressed down into the seat of the throne, her shoulders straining against the chains, and the manacles digging into her wrists. He flips her over. He cannot push her to her knees – the chain is too short for that – but he forces her to crouch as low as she can. Then with his seed still spilling down her thighs, mixing with her blood, he thrusts his crotch into her face.
“Clean me up – properly!”
She does so, with some avidity. When she has done it to his satisfaction, he refastens his pants and uses her shredded dress to wipe the body fluids from the seat of the throne. He sits down and thrusts his hand into her hair again, pulling her head back so that he can stare into her face. She returns the stare, and utters the first word that she has said in the time that we have been here – ten minutes at the absolute maximum.
Ah. I had never seen her before. Now I understand. So do the others here, and there is a diminution of the killing tension. The change is palpable.
Tea? The Watcher is facing me, knows who I am, and he offers me *tea*?
“Thank you. It has been a long journey.”
Best to remind him now that if he displeases me, he might hold certain other temptations for me. He should walk carefully. He bustles about in that very English version of the ritual, and I consider why I am here. The Adrasti gave me as much information as they could, but mystical foreseeing is rarely clear and never certain in its interpretation. What they saw, and recounted to me, as it directly concerns my reason for visiting the Watcher, resembled nothing so much as a giant gaming board. They saw Angelus and the Slayer, cornered as far apart as possible, Angel in the third corner, all of them besieged by demons of the most elemental kind. And there was a man who could only be the Watcher, standing between them, a bridge, or a barrier. No one knows how, or why, or even whether these interpretations of the figures they saw are correct. I must do the best I can with what I have.
I spent weeks in that dimension, struggling to understand, and I have tried to exercise my own small powers in seeing how matters can be amended. They are not powers that I was born with, I’m sure. They are powers stolen from others, taken into me with their blood. Such stolen powers can surely never be wielded as they were by their original owners. They are merely reflections, echoes. But they have to be sufficient, because they are all I have. And I have tried to see what these things mean. I am here to open the lock. The Watcher holds the key. I must make him use it. I have given Angelus a task, to keep him away from Sunnydale for a while. I don’t want him privy to this meeting. I don’t want him to even know about it. This is between the Watcher and me.
He settles himself back down and pours the tea. I get no nourishment from it, it is of absolutely no value to me, but it makes a pleasant drink. And it serves other purposes, as now. It gives time for him to think, to gather himself, and for me to do the same, should I need to.
“I have come, Watcher, because you have not done as you ought.” It’s a vague opening, but he gives an instant start. He’s good – most humans would have noticed nothing, but I saw. And the flood of scent gives him away.
“Why do you say that?”
“We have not Ma’at, Watcher, and it must be restored.”
“Ma’at? The cat goddess?”
I almost sigh. This is an educated man.
“No, that is Bast.” He looks confused. We cannot make progress until he understands this.
“Ma’at was the Lady of Truth to the people of the Pharaohs. You will forgive me if I express what I have to say in such old-fashioned terms. I am, after all, a vampire of my times.”
He looks sceptical at that, and covers it by taking a sip of his tea.
“You will, I am sure, have seen pictures of her with the feather of Truth in her headdress. That is what her name means – truth. But she was far more than that. She represented what was right, what things should be. To creatures like you, the world is a duality, morally and ethically. Sin is punished, and purity rewarded. Ma’at is the reality in which all of that is grounded. And although you might not recognise it as such, the Universe is a perfect balance of dualities. It is a rational, ordered place. Without Ma’at, all of creation will perish, swallowed up by the waters of Nun. By chaos. Even the Gods worshipped Ma’at. They had no wish to see the world destroyed.
“The Universe is neither ethical nor moral, it simply is. A flower, a rock, an ocean, a planet doesn’t know ethics or morality. It simply is. A thunderstorm isn’t good or evil. It is what it is. But to keep it that way, there must be Ma’at. There must be order. There must be balance. Duality must be in harmony. We must observe the right way of doing things. There must be truth. What do you have to say, Watcher?”
His face flushes, and I can see that I have touched a very, very raw nerve. I have, more easily than I had dared to hope, come to the heart of the matter. I must now find just what that matter actually is, and what may be done about it.
“You are telling me that because I haven’t told Buffy what happened in the Underworld, the Universe will fall into chaos? Ridiculous.”
I understand the reference to the Underworld, of course, but I have no idea what the rest means, and I cannot tell him that, or I will lose control of this meeting.
“Yes. Ma’at is out of balance, and every day we slide a little further into chaos. I cannot say yet when it will become too late. Perhaps when I find out, it will *be* too late. You must act as you know you should.”
There is a spike of anger from him, sudden and sharp, acrid in the nostrils. It is spiced with fear. That makes him emphatic, and prevents him from examining too closely those things that he is revealing to me: things that, ideally, he might not wish to reveal.
“I must tell my Slayer that she owes her life to that vicious beast? I must forget everything I saw in his mind, the horrors, the corruption, the sheer black-hearted evil, and remember only what he felt for her? How he fought and would have died for her? That he and Angel finally fought together to win her life? I must tell her how he sacrificed himself for her? Would have stayed down there in that dreadful place, in her stead? That he *loves* her and would undo every single hurt he has ever done her if he knew how? And yet he remains a murderer, a torturer, a beast that is the antithesis of everything that she holds dear. He’s almost as insane as Drusilla! You haven’t seen the trail of blood and body parts that he has left behind him here in the last few weeks, but I suppose you are as bad as he is. You couldn’t care less. You probably enjoy the depravity as much as he does. How should I hand her over to spend her life with *that*? I may have been charged to tell her, but I cannot, and will not!”
He is breathing heavily now, his lungs almost sobbing with emotion, and I use these precious moments in which he tries to calm himself to sip my tea. That is to hide my own astonishment. If I sift what he has said carefully, I will be able to deduce much more, but even the most superficial interpretation would have taken my breath away, if I needed to breathe.
“You must. It is Ma’at. It is the right way of doing things. And I tell you this, Watcher. I have seen the waters of Nun. They are rising. You must fulfil your charge.”
It sounds good, while I have chance to think. *Who*, I wonder, would have charged him with such a thing? Who, or what? And it seems clear that he went with Angelus. How? Why? Why did Angelus not say? And if he did go there, why does he remember? That is a critical part of the magic of the Underworld. Those who travel there remember nothing of their stay. Yet he does. Does Angelus? I should have asked more questions of the boy. The trouble is, my people seem to think that I am omniscient, and I don’t wish to disabuse them… Pride. I have too much pride, sometimes.
And Angelus is painting the town red. Literally. He hadn’t seemed to be so unbalanced to me, but the mere fact of his suicidal challenge is an indication of the stress he must be under. If he needs straightening out again, I must see to it, before I let him return here. The Watcher has fought down his anger now, and responds to me.
“No. I won’t. And don’t you bare your fangs at me. If you kill me, she can never be told.”
I am impressed by his nerve. This is a very unusual Watcher. It is true that I have put on my game face. It is much more demonic than the ones that he will have seen before. As we age, our demon face ages and matures, from the softer more infantile features of our youth to the harsher planes and angles of the mature demon. A little like the picture of Dorian Gray, I suppose. It’s a process that never stops. We never lose the ability to revert to our normal human form whenever we wish – well, most of us. Nest was an exception, of course. Remember how, when you pulled a face, or looked miserable, your mother would say to you, ‘Your face will stick like that one day’? Well, his sire should have told him that more often. Or made him stronger. She spoiled and indulged him, and you saw the result.
And he is right. I may threaten this Watcher, but I cannot kill him. He is part of what is to come. I sit back, and resume my everyday face. And I wonder just what I will have to tell this man in order to restore Ma’at. I barely have time, though, to collect my thoughts, when two young women hurry in. The red-haired one starts talking excitedly, before she realises that he is not alone.
“Giles, we think we’ve found what it…”
She sees me and trails off. I know what they are by their scent. Witches. He doesn’t introduce me and, since this is his place, I do not show up his discourtesy by introducing myself. Besides, I might learn more if they don’t know who I am…
We are all silent, in a very *measuring* way. Into that silence comes a tiny sound that the humans certainly won’t hear. It’s the scuff of fur and leather on floor as a sleek black cat pads into the room. She takes a look around and then instantly launches herself at one of the witches, wrapping herself around an ankle and digging in with all her claws.
At least it brings to an end the silent standoff. A cat’s claws can *really* hurt, as I know from experience. Sekhmet has, from time to time, punished me in an equivalent but larger scale fashion.
“Ouch! Miss Kitty! Stop it.” The witch is trying not to hurt the cat whilst disengaging her. The other two go to help.
“Why has she started doing this? Oh, come on Miss Kitty. Stop it, you’re hurting.”
In the end, it is the cat who decides when enough is enough. She releases the witch, and then trots over to me. One lithe bound and she is on my knee, her forepaws wrapped around my neck as she rubs her cheek against mine. Cats always recognise their own.
The witch – she must be the one called Tara, I think – needs attention. Her wounds are bleeding. The Watcher fetches water and disinfectant, and I hold onto Miss Kitty. She’s a very wise creature. She has helped me.
When the wounds have been tended, the Watcher moves over towards me.
“Thank you for calling by. We won’t take up any more of your time.”
“It’s no trouble at all, Mr Giles. And I do believe these young ladies need some help with their cat. Was there another cup of tea left in that pot?”
The Watcher almost audibly grinds his teeth at my brazen refusal to leave, but he obediently puts the kettle back on and makes tea for all of us. Miss Kitty has inspected my eyes, ears and nose, and pronounced herself satisfied with my health. She now starts to sniff at areas that are not mentioned in polite society and I distract her by pulling her ears a little. She licks my finger, taking in my taste. She finds that she can trust me, and she settles onto my lap and watches her possessions with interest.
I can tell that the witches are a little disconcerted at the lack of introductions, but they don’t question. It is Tara who asks what they both want to know.
“Did you say that you could help us find out why Miss Kitty makes these vicious attacks?”
“Miss Kitty? Is that her name?”
“Miss Kitty Fantastico,” she replies, shyly.
“And you think that she is being vicious?”
“You saw her. She attacked for nothing. And she hurt me. My ankles would be covered in scars if…”
She trails off, unwilling to disclose that they magic them away. At least, that is my assumption.
“Tell me about Miss Kitty Fantastico. Did she do this as a kitten?”
“No. And that was such a surprise. Her mother was running wild, and Miss Kitty had never been handled, so you would expect her to scratch, but she loved us from the start.”
She becomes very animated, talking about her beloved cat, and I see the affection with which her girlfriend is looking at her. I can also see the sour expression on the Watcher’s face, so I keep mine carefully neutral. There are many little anecdotes - I love the story of the laundry and I tell her so. We all laugh together, although the Watcher is struggling. I suspect that this wise young cat has been caught up, right from her first adoption into this family, in the magic that wraps around these two young women. No cat is an ordinary creature, but I think she is more extraordinary than most. Miss Kitty certainly thinks she is.
Then Tara tells me about the change. The witches recognise that, with all their duties, they were spending less and less time with Miss Kitty. They tried, but she was alone for much of the day. Miss Kitty started hunting things. Her first kills were brought home dead, but then she started bringing live prey to them – rats, mice, birds, lizards – and was told firmly that she should not. She started going with them when they accompanied the Slayer and again was told that she should not. She took to lying in doorways, and on the front doorstep, so that people fell over her, and was told to find somewhere else to rest. The final straw came when she brought in a small Kathor demon, quite dead. She was scolded for that – the women, terrified that their pet might have been hurt, put too much of their fear into the anger of their words to her. After that, she started attacking their ankles.
This is a better opportunity than I had hoped for. I summarise.
“So, Miss Kitty is wild, but allows herself to be tamed by you? She sees something in you that speaks to her? And at first, she has all your love and attention, but then you have to leave her alone for large parts of the day?”
“She watches you. She smells you. She tries to understand what you have been doing, what takes you away from her? And she marks you, more and more, by rubbing her head against you, smearing you with her scent, her signs of ownership?”
They both nod vigorously.
“She proclaims to the world that you are hers, and that anything that hurts you will have to reckon with her.”
“She does?” They look sceptical.
“Yes. That is how she thinks of you. She starts to hunt, to find a way to help you. She knows, after all, that you yourselves are hunters; that you must be the best hunters that you can, for you are involved in a dangerous game. She declares her own territory, warns off other predators, keeps down vermin. She brings home first her dead kills, so that you can see what she is about. She might even think that you will be interested in eating them – you are to her in place of her kittens, you know. Then she brings home live prey. Since she has realized that you spend time yourselves hunting dangerous prey, she wishes to teach you everything she can about hunting.”
They wait, trying to understand.
“You scold her for this. She doesn’t comprehend why, but thinks that she has not understood her role in your lives, or you in hers. She doesn’t know what you want of her. She starts to go with you, so that she can better understand. So that she can adapt, if necessary. So that she can become what you want her to be, or teach you what you need to be. And so that she can keep you safe. She is scolded for this, too, and you continue to spend less time with her, excluding her from your lives. She is becoming confused.
“She tries something else. She knows that you do dangerous things. She may be only a cat, but she has been touched by your magic, and she is bonded to you. You are hers, to protect. She starts to guard the entrances to the rooms where you are, and to your home. Anything coming for you must get past her first. You are not pleased with her for this.”
“Then she meets something that really does threaten you. Regardless of the danger to herself, she enters the fight for you and slays a demon. She brings it home to show you. To warn you in case there are more. You scold her, and seem to reject her.
The witches start to look alarmed, and, for the first time, the Watcher seems to be taking an interest. He knows that I am telling them something born of my own experience, giving them an understanding that they did not have before, but he suspects I am also going to talk about more than just the cat. He is correct.
“Now, she has no idea of her place in your life, or what she needs to do to please you and to protect you. She isn’t even sure whether you still love her. She hits out at you in her distress. That is when the ankle biting starts. Perhaps she is testing herself, to see whether she can stop loving those who have rejected her, but I think that she does it because you have hurt her, and she loves you. She does it to test you. What part of her do you love? You didn’t seem to love her enough when she was trying her hardest. Perhaps you will love her when she is as bad as she can be. Perhaps she is trying to see whether you *can* still love her, love all of her, everything she is, let her have a role in your life, as you have a role in hers. Can you truly love the duality of her nature, as a devoted companion and a consummate, obligate killer?
“It will be much more complicated than that, but if you understand this much, then you can solve the problem, with a little effort.”
The two of them have now caught up to the Watcher in their understanding, and I see something that I did not expect. Sympathy.
The red-head, Willow, says, “So that is why he is… why Miss Kitty is so aggressive?”
“Events are different, so the logical analogy is not exact, but it is a good working model, yes.”
The Watcher is sitting hunched in his chair, his chin sunk onto his chest. I hope that my work here is done. I feel my companion close behind me, and stand up to go, putting Miss Kitty gently on the floor.
“It was an… interesting… discussion, Mr Giles, and I am pleased to have met you. I hope that the next time we meet it will be in pleasanter circumstances. Please heed my words. I should not like us to have to revisit this same topic. Ladies… I take my leave of you. Tara. Willow.” I, at least, will show that I know who they are. “I thank you for the services I believe you have rendered to my adopted childe. Deal with Miss Kitty more on her terms, and the ankle biting will cease, I promise. Oh, and there is no need to tell Angelus that I was here. Good night.”
The witches are now openly gaping, because they start to understand what I am. And they have seen my companion. I turn to leave and find that Sekhmet is sitting quietly in the doorway, waiting for me. Miss Kitty knows who she is, and is rubbing against her, marking her as her own. She has a huge heart, that cat. The difference in size and offensive capability is laughable. Sekhmet smiles at me, amused, and bends her head to her distant relative. Gently, she wipes her cheek along Miss Kitty’s back. The local hooligan cats will think several times before squaring up to her, at least for a while, until the scent wears off. I stroll out with my Sire, leaving behind me an astonished silence. Perhaps I’ve taken so much of Angelus’ blood in recent years that some of his characteristics are rubbing off on me. I do so love to make an exit nowadays. No, I’ll be honest. I always have.
The Lady sits quietly on the ornate little chair that is reserved for her very occasional visits. Across the table from her, the senior of the Hylekian Seers puts away the instruments of her trade. The casting is complete, and both women … beings … are agreed. Nothing short of catastrophe awaits unless they take the right actions now.
“There can be no shrinking from this, and it must be done now.”
The Lady nods her agreement. The Hylekian Seers are the best in all the dimensions. By tomorrow, there can be none left. The Adrasti Seers are almost as good. They, too, must be disposed of. No other prophets or seers exist in this time who are good enough, or have enough power, to be a danger. Just the Hylekians and the Adrasti. That is bad enough.
“All the necessary information is now available to those who need it?”
The Hylekian pours more tea. “Yes. Only one piece remains, and that will be put in place tonight.”
“There is no other way?” The Lady knows and respects each of these Seers. She loves this woman.
“No. If we are moved to live in another dimension, we will be found. If we stay here, even if we seclude ourselves under the King’s protection, that will bring war to this plane and we will be found. We cannot run far enough or fast enough to correct the balance. Only if Ma’at is restored can anything be saved. After tonight, those concerned must be guided by nothing except their own instincts, their own powers. That is the only route to Ma’at. Nothing else succeeds. Nothing. In all other possibilities prophecy piles on prophecy and they are paralysed by doubt or they take the wrong path. There is no margin for error here, none at all. There must be no Seers in our two worlds. No other species represent such a danger, but after we are gone, you and the Duality are the only ones who can ensure that there are no others, unforeseen, on other worlds. Not for more than a hundred years. Without us to teach the new generation, there will be no new seers in our two home worlds for centuries. Yet we will be where and when we need to be, with all our powers intact, not diluted by the travails of other existences. My Lady, much as it pains us both, this must be.”
“Are the others prepared?”
“Yes. They will follow where you lead. The ones who have been prepared come for them tonight.”
The Lady smiles, and touches her hand to the old woman’s brow. “I shall be waiting for you to join your brothers and sisters. I promise, it will only hurt for an instant. And I thank you.”
A moment later, she is gone, and the Seer waits for her next visitor. Whilst she does so, she puts away The Lady’s chair. It won’t be needed again, but she will not allow it to be defiled by this creature’s hellish profanity. She has other things to do before he comes, and those tasks, too, she finishes. He arrives punctually.
He is handsome, a young man, younger than she expected, and yet older in corruption than she cares to think. He is flawed. Weak. She has watched his progress, as she has watched the progress of others. He doesn’t know her, but she knows him. She knows what waits for him back in the city called Los Angeles. He stands politely on the doorstep, waiting to be invited in.
“Come in Mr…?”
He does not give his name, just walks into her house and stands quietly by the table: the table where her casting is done. Despite his patient stance, there is an air of restlessness about him, of almost manic energy. She closes the door and crosses the room until she is standing by her own chair. She motions him to sit in the solid, workmanlike piece of furniture that has replaced the Lady’s more delicate chair, and she does likewise. She takes out the tools of her trade – the ones that are left, that she has not burned so as to put them out of his reach.
“There is an Apocalypse coming. There are things we need to know, and you are said to be the best Seer in all the dimensions. I can pay you well.”
“Payment is unnecessary. I give you this information freely, with the single condition that you act on it, exactly as will be foretold.” She knows he’ll do that anyway.
He looks surprised at that.
“What about others? Have there been others asking about it? What have you told them?”
“I have told them only what they needed to know, and none of them will know what I tell you. You have a special role to play.”
He looks mildly pleased by that. She dislikes him intensely, but then he won’t be what he currently is for very long. He is due for some changes. Changes for the better. In the long run.
She reads for him. She tells him what he needs to hear. No. She tells him what she and The Lady need him to know. Some of it is even true. As she reads, she sees many other things, some of which make her want to laugh out loud, and some of which make her want to cry. She tells him nothing of these things. It is knowledge that belongs to others, not to this man.
Then she is done. She sits back from the last reading of her life, and waits for what is to come. He has made notes, and he tucks these away into his coat pocket. He rises, his hand still thrusting his papers into his pocket and steps away from the table. That brings him nearer to her. Suddenly, there is a knife in his hand, and then it isn’t. Now, its hilt is standing proud of her breast, in a spreading stain of scarlet, and The Lady was right: it does, indeed, only hurt for a moment. As her sight darkens, she hears him say, “Thank you, Seer. Oh, and the name’s McDonald, Lindsey McDonald, of Wolfram & Hart. If it makes your death any harder, let me tell you that all your other seers are dead now, in Hylek and Adras. There’ll be no one to provide guidance to Angel ever again.”
She almost smiles, that this creature has done so thoroughly exactly what was needed. It would never do to let him see her triumph, though. She knows that he will ransack her house, but he will find nothing. She has disposed of it all in one way or another. There will be nothing to mislead the champions, nothing to prevent them from guiding creation out of the coming holocaust. She hopes.
And then she is crossing an area of black sand, towards some towering cliffs. Far in the distance, she sees a cluster of dark figures, bent over a paler form, curled up on the ground against their attacks. Suddenly, the paler figure rises to his feet and tries to run away from the horrors that have been tormenting him. He has no strength, though, bleeding as he is from many wounds. She knows who he is, why he is here, and her heart cracks at the thought of what he will be forced to endure. But it is necessary. There must be Ma’at. His sacrifice will be weighed in the balance, and will make the difference between life and death for creation. Or at the very least, for this corner of it. For these dimensions.
Unable to watch his suffering any longer, she turns her back to him and trudges through the shifting sand to the black cliffs. When she arrives, she finds a darksome passage. Undaunted, she enters, and finds The Lady waiting there for her. They greet each other warmly, these two who have known each other for a very long time indeed. The Lady leads the Seer through the passage and into the heart of the cliffs: into that crystal chamber of light. There are many, many tunnels here, and we have seen some of them before. Now? The Lady leads the Seer to a small, separate chamber. Around the walls, which glisten in delicate shades of green and purple and blue, the colours of oil on water in the sunlight, are niches. Each niche contains a crystalline form of coruscating light, filled with colour, and radiating power. Each one is the life force, the soul, of a seer. Everything they were, everything they still are, everything they might be, their power intact. They are dreaming. One niche is empty. The Lady embraces her friend, and then the niche is no longer empty. The chamber is complete.
Without a backward glance, The Lady leaves the chamber and walks out towards the black sand. She has another errand to perform here. There is something she must do first, though.
I dream of Palestrina often, although not many of my dreams are like those I have had today. An echo of her is with me always; when I am awake I remember her, as clearly as if her portrait were hung on my wall, but it sometimes seems that she can push through the barrier between us when I dream. It is as if we meet in a dream reality that is hers and mine alone. At these times, she is more real. Today is one of those rare times.
Angelus returned last night from his task in France, and I am well pleased. He could have taken Marseilles from Françoise, but he didn’t. Almost certainly, his restraint was for selfish reasons, but he will learn the advantages of retaining allies, of having others who have obligations to him. He isn’t stupid.
I summoned him to my bed this morning, and he was less well pleased about that. He and Françoise have been discovering each other, and I think they had hoped to discover some more. I have precedence, though.
Like all vampires, I will rut with anything, if needs must, although it is many centuries since I was put in the position of needs must. If I cannot have Palestrina yet, I will have the brightest and the best among my clan. My own childer are always firm favourites, of course, but Angelus is one of the most seductive vampires I know. I’m happy to consider myself seduced – and to return the favour. I do know he has no complaints about what he finds here.
I have come to love him. He has always hated me with a passion, ever since I branded him as mine, since I remade him a little in the sight of Darla and the clan masters, since I put my mark on his shoulder. I would like to think that his feelings now were more…ambiguous, but that might be putting it too strongly.
Up until now, when I have called for him, he has always responded to my touch – he is too sensual a creature not to – but there has always been a core of restraint. I have always had to lead, and he has obeyed. Today, though, he has offered, and I have followed where he led. I am still the dominant partner – my position requires nothing less – but I have given myself over to the feel of his hand on my skin, stroking; the touch of his mouth, murmuring words of desire; the insistent pressure of his body, in an invitation of submission. I have lost myself in him, and he in me.
When we at last fell asleep, I dreamt of Palestrina. She came to me as I last saw her, dressed in robes of the richest, most vibrant reds, with a shawl the colour of old blood, warm against her creamy skin, wrapped around her head, hiding all but her eyes. She has eyes as black as the Egyptian night, sparkling with mischief and with love. Despite the fact that I was sated and content, I wanted her, more, even, than I have wanted her before. How I shall survive until she is returned to me, I cannot imagine.
It doesn’t do to have the clan master unable to control himself, even in sleep, so after the first dream, I sent Angelus back to his bed, and then I gave myself over to her. The minion doing the laundry will find nothing unremarkable – just a few extra stains, unnoticed amongst the remnants of the day’s other passion. I shall be as close to my soul mate as is possible with the unrisen dead. And Angelus, that master of self-control, will not know my weakness. Angelus offering himself freely, and Palestrina almost real. Today is a day to remember.
I’m in that crypt again, with the altar draped in purple and white. Deepest purple, almost black. Purest white. This time Spike and Drusilla are not here, although I can hear them talking somewhere, and I know that there is not much time. My mate is stretched out naked on the altar, the chains digging in to her flesh, reddening the skin beneath. I do not want that.
I reach over her and, breast to breast with her, release the manacles. She shudders with desire as my skin catches her nipples. I move down the altar to release her feet and cannot resist tasting her femininity, feeding on her need.
The alter is large enough, and I do not try to move her, simply run my palms gently over her golden skin, caressing her flanks, feeling with my fingertips every rise and fall of bone in her rib cage, thrilling to the softness of her breasts.
She looks at me, that ‘come hither’ look that now, more than ever, has its fist around my cock, and there is love in her smoky eyes. There is something else there, too, something that I can’t recall having seen before, something *old* and powerful. It beckons me on, and I lean towards her lips. Then I am kissing her with all the passion I have ever felt, and her legs are wrapped around my waist, and I am sliding into her, the prodigal come home.
I feel my desire rising even more within the heat of her embrace, and she urges me on, her need matching my own in every respect. And then we are lost in each other’s arms, lost to the world, lost in everything except the moment and the orgasm explodes within us both, and I’m slipping away from myself and…
I’m awake, my shout of ecstasy echoing across the tiled room, and damn me, but I’ve had a *wet dream*! When the hell did I last have a wet dream? Never, as a vampire. Never have I lost so much control.
What is happening to me?
I’m back at Aurelius’ palace, and after that lapse, can only be grateful that I’m in my own room, and not in Aurelius’ bed. I’ve been there, earlier, his partner in a day of strangely affectionate joining. Despite my resentment of being forced to submit to him, he has never left me unsatisfied. He has always given me the most exquisite pleasure. I am an extremely good lover, the best, really, and so I should be at two hundred and fifty years old. Think of the experience I have. Then, try to imagine the expertise of a vampire twenty times my age.
I have never treated him as a lover, though, never opened myself to him of my own free will. I have obeyed him implicitly, and I have met his every wish. I have been the recipient of his attentions. Tonight, I remembered his care of me after our combat, in the shower and afterwards. I wanted something different. I wanted to exert myself to please him. Let’s not dwell on why, I just did, alright? Afterwards, I was content to stay there, locked within his eternal embrace, but he was restless in sleep, and let me go. I thought it odd at the time, but I can only think myself fortunate now. It wouldn’t have done for him to see this. Whilst I clean myself up, I’m wondering what to do next. There are so many options.
I have sent Drusilla back to Sunnydale, and made no claim on Marseilles. Oh, I did consider it, and I did think about leaving Drusilla there to hold it for me. But it’s too far away, and would be more trouble than it’s worth. I decided to hand it back, and Françoise was pleased with me for that. That may be useful to me in the future. Well, she was pleased with me in other ways, too. We’ve had fun, and I wouldn’t mind staying for a longer holiday with her. That is one of my options. She threw out some extremely subtle hints that she is currently without a mate, but I didn’t pick them up. I’m a prime candidate, obviously – well, you didn’t expect me to show any false modesty, did you? But I already have a mate. She is another of my options.
For days now, I have felt a change in Buffy through the link that we have. The link is weakened by distance, and attenuated by lack of renewal, by our own emotional distance, if you will, but it remains. It will always remain. Always. Unless the clan master casts her off, that is, but even then, it cannot be broken, simply weakened enough to allow her to survive my death. She has largely succeeded in cutting herself off from it, not allowing me access to her, but I have felt something. And that something has changed.
She must be facing difficult times or hard choices. She is full of anger, just as she was before I left Sunnydale, but now it is tainted with fear. My people would have contacted me if there were anything happening in Sunnydale, anything untoward, so she can’t be in any real danger. Still, I feel uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s time to go home.
I’m wondering if that might be a problem with Aurelius – he seems to want to keep me around, but last time I was here, he kept me for months. Now, I’ve got things to do. I’m not staying for that long again. It’s not yet sunset, although not so long away, but it’s impossible to set off now. However, the more I think about it, the more I believe that Aurelius has had quite enough of my time. Tonight, I leave for home.
There’s a rustle of activity, and that change in the air that tells us some one is at the door. A minion approaches Aurelius and bows low before whispering something so quietly that no one else can hear. Aurelius looks startled, and it takes a lot to startle him. The emotion is very fleeting, though, and he now wears that urbane expression that you use to greet people whose business with you is unclear but quite possibly unwelcome. There’s another waft of air from outside, the sound of hurrying footsteps and in comes … well, well, well. It’s Ripper.
He’s very crumpled in appearance, both his clothes and himself. He’s clearly been travelling non-stop, and hasn’t even taken time to freshen up. I can feel something rising up from the pit of my stomach. It’s an unfamiliar feeling, and I can’t remember the last time I felt it. Panic. This is about my Slayer. My mate. I hope that I manage to suppress any sign of that in my face, but it’s even harder to keep back my demon countenance.
Aurelius has wiped the surprise off his face and is greeting the Watcher cordially. Ripper stops in front of him. His expression is so curdled that he looks as if he’s about to go into a demon face of his own.
“I haven’t come here to make trouble. Willow scried out where to find you. I need to speak to Angelus. Alone. Please.”
Colour everyone surprised, but me most of all.
“You may speak to both of us.”
Ripper nods, and Aurelius leads us into his own chambers. One of the rooms in that spacious suite is a cosy den with comfortable, over-stuffed armchairs. As we seat ourselves, he calls for a minion, gives his instructions in an undertone, and then sends him on his way.
“My servant will return in a few minutes. Perhaps we should wait until then.”
Small talk would normally be the order of the day, but the Watcher has none. He does have a death grip on the arm of the chair, his knuckles white with tension. He is radiating fear, but not fear of us – it would be a grave mistake to think that. He is clearly many miles away in his thoughts, oblivious to the splendours around him, and the panic in me ratchets up a little more. OK, a lot. But I can still feel her. She isn’t dead. She isn’t dead. I want to keep saying that, like a protective mantra.
So, no small talk, and we simply look at each other.
Then, the minion is back, followed by another. He has brought fresh fruit juice, tiny sticky sweetmeats, stuffed dates, finger-sized slices of melon. Mint tea. And a basin of steaming, citrus-scented water, with hot moist towels, so that Giles can clean himself up. I can’t imagine where he got them so quickly.
As the minions leave, Aurelius tells Giles, “Please, refresh yourself as we speak. Nothing there will cause you harm, you have my word.”
Giles looks surprised at that reassurance, but takes a towel and wipes it over his sweaty, slightly begrimed, face. Under cover of that act, he lets out a small, tired sigh. I think he forgets how good our hearing is, but we do not remind him. When he speaks, it is into the towel, his face covered and downcast, as if he cannot bear to see what he is doing.
“Buffy is missing. Faith went to find her, and now she is also missing. I have nowhere else to turn.”
The growl comes from me, quite unbidden. So does my mantra. She isn’t dead. She isn’t dead. I can still feel her. She can’t be dead. Can she? I remember that crystal cavern in those hollow hills in the Underworld. Those passages where I found her when she died. I found her because I could feel her. The link was still there. Let this not be the same. Please let this not be the same.
I feel some difficulty with my fingers, they are stiff and won’t respond. When I look down I have shredded the upholstery, and my claws are caught in the rags.
I’m fighting for control, now. I must not appear out of control in front of a human. *This* human, who, if my mate and I are to be together, must be part of my own court. She will never accept it otherwise. She isn’t dead. I didn’t go through all *that* for nothing! I must keep control.
But, oh, the madness is rising. I want to rend and tear and rage and howl. I want to slaughter everyone and everything standing between my mate and me. And I finally understand something. Buffy is my sheet anchor. She is the one that holds me in check, who gives me a purpose other than destruction. She makes me something…other… I don’t know how or why, I just know that it *is*. You had better hope that I get her back quickly, and that she lives a long, long life. Without her, the world will most certainly burn. And you along with it. Word of a demon.
I force myself back into my human form. Giles still has the towel over his face. I haven’t been out of control for long, then.
“Ripper.” It’s good to remind him of who he can be. I might need that. He looks up, letting the towel fall to his lap. His face is haggard, his expression desperate. He must be, to come to me.
“Ripper. What was she doing when she went missing? Tell me everything.”
He gathers himself with an effort. He knows that he is no use to her if he goes to pieces. He has held himself together so far, and he can do it a little longer. So can I.
He begins to talk. Sometimes he pauses for a few moments, and eats or drinks from the tray by his elbow. He isn’t stopping for refreshment, though. He’s pausing to gather his thoughts, and absently helping himself as he does so. His mind is only on her and what might have happened. Knowing this, I manage not to rip the sweetmeats out of his hand, not to smash the jug of fruit juice against the wall, not to grasp him by the throat and force him to speak more quickly.
We hear what he says. There were werewolves, outside the period of full moon, werewolves acting in concert, Oz amongst them. Surely not? Neither of those concepts is likely. Unless…
Aurelius has remained silent all this time. I look to him.
“I fought a dragon a few weeks ago. It was a demon the size of a house, a primitive thing but very powerful. It had come through the rift in the dimensions. The one opened by that godling, Glory.” The rift that Buffy closed with her own life, I want to say. The rift that killed her, and sent me after her into the lands of death.
“Is it possible that something else has come through, something that has control of the werewolves? That can force an incomplete change on them outside the full moon?”
As he considers his answer, I consider something else. When Oz bit me I was, for a short time, almost beyond control. I was in the grip of a rage so overwhelming, so unreasoning, that I was in danger of becoming simply a primitive, elemental demon driven only by my lust for the kill. I enjoy the kill, we all know that, but not like that. And not only the kill. Then I mastered it. Mystical tests showed that I had converted the matter and energy that was the werewolf infection into an increase in power for me. But something remained. Something that other werewolves would recognise.
Since returning from the Underworld, I have on occasion felt that same rage trying to rise within me. I think it has fuelled my actions sometimes. I think it is wrapped up now with my own rage that my mate is missing. Is it the same thing that has enslaved this planet’s werewolves? Is this the same influence that I feel, trying to summon me to join them, but diluted, controlled by my own demon? (‘Or the unknown sloe-eyed woman,’ something inside me whispers.) Can this help us?
Ripper knows most of this, but Aurelius, so far as I know, does not, and so I tell him. I don’t mention the woman, though. I don’t want them to think I’m having hallucinations. I know that I will go to where she was last seen, and I will be able to track her. I know that I will face anything that might come between her and me. Everything within me is screaming to go and do that *now* but I cannot, of course. Sunset is not yet on us, and I am no good to her dead from overexposure. I will most certainly go tonight, but it would be helpful to have some idea of what I might be up against. Aurelius seems to come to the same conclusion.
“Angelus, you and Mr Giles will look at maps now, and make sure that you know where you are going. You will tell whoever is here to start researching with the resources available here. Mr Giles, you will be assigned a bedchamber and you *will* get some rest, since you will be no good to Angelus or the Slayers if you are dead on your feet. You may join the research team later. Angelus, you will ensure that the Watcher has everything for his comfort.
“It is a pity that almost all my childer have left after our gathering. Japheth would have been particularly useful, but he had other pressing duties. I think enough remain, though. I am going to see if I can find other help elsewhere. I shall be back before daybreak. You will not leave here until I have seen you again. You may use these rooms, both of you. Angelus, I leave you in charge of the operation.”
Without a further word, without giving either of us a chance to respond or question, he has left the room. I hear him in the great hall outside, telling his people to look to me for instructions, and then there is nothing else to do but get on with it. We follow him into the hall, to find astonishment and much interest. Françoise is still here and she has a particularly smug look on her face, as if something had happened that she expected – I must ask her about that later – but right now, we have work to do.
Angelus has given us our instructions. We were concerned that Faith had left the mansion, but he had warned us that this might happen, and not to stand in her way. She must be here of her own free will, so we have not gone out to search for her. It seems now that things are a little different than we had supposed. He could not take the time to explain much, but we know his mate is also missing, and we know that Faith has gone after her. We know where. Now Estevan, Thomaso and I, Ixolon, will go with almost all the minions to her last known whereabouts, to see what we can see. To find safe shelter for when he arrives. It is almost dawn in Cairo, but we have the night before us here. We are under strict instructions to do nothing, unless we find either of them unguarded and immediately rescuable. Or unless they are in real danger. Then we are to do whatever is necessary to save his mate, at the cost of our own lives if necessary. He will be here as soon as possible. We are to take weapons and supplies – he will need fresh blood, so we have found a couple of human muggers in the park – and meet him there.
And now Ezrafel has returned from Hylek. He is in a state of great agitation. He can be a bit of an old woman at times, but I have never seen him like this. He won’t tell us what is wrong, but clearly something has hit the fan over there, and I sincerely hope it isn’t going to impact on what’s happening here. I have a feeling that we are in as much trouble as we want to be right now. More would definitely not be a good idea.
Angelus did not say to do so, but I have contacted the witches. They will come with us. Xander Harris is still an invalid, but he and Anyanka will move into the Slayer’s house and ensure no harm comes to Dawn. And I have contacted his – Angel’s – old friends in Los Angeles. Wesley and Gunn will also meet us. He may be angry with me, but it seems to me that more muscle and more brainpower can only be good. I know he hates to be indebted but we’ll worry about that when his mate is safe.
And he may kill me anyway, for not knowing that his mate was missing. That is an unforgivable lapse on my part.
Getting there from here was always going to be the problem. It is a long journey, and we have no time to lie up during the day. I do not believe the solution we have come up with. Despite the exigencies of the situation, I rather think that Giles is enjoying that part of it. Or would do, if he had the emotional capacity to think about it. We are going on a plane ride. Well, a couple, actually. Giles will be the passenger. I’m in the coffin. Seriously. Someday, someone will suffer for that solution to the problem of the sun. Trouble is, I’m not entirely sure who it was. The time has passed in a bit of a haze. I suspect it might have been my suggestion. That shows how desperate I am.
Aurelius has wonderful contacts here and lots of money. We have all the necessary papers and tickets at the drop of a hat. Only a science fiction solution of instantaneous transportation would get us there quicker.
We have found some crumbs of possibilities. There is a primeval original werewolf. A legendary deity, if you will, from whose loins – or slaver, perhaps – sprang the race of werewolves. There is some evidence that such a creature is not entirely imaginary, but was banished to another dimension ages ago. Buffy died from facing up to a godling from another dimension. It seems possible that another one came through before the rift could be closed. A dimension of godlings? Now, there’s something that doesn’t bear thinking about. This time it’s my turn to face one. I’d like to think it was something more everyday than that, but this is the best we can do. I’d also like to think that Aurelius will come up with some other possibility that might be more manageable.
Nevertheless, my people are on their way now. We cannot take weapons with us. Nothing that might be detected by x-ray or other security searches. We cannot be detained and we cannot risk getting the coffin opened in sunlight. My people will take enough weapons and supplies for me and for the Watcher. But something capable of taking out two hunting slayers? I’m entitled to be a bit concerned.
Now I can hear Aurelius’ voice. Wherever he went, he didn’t go through the front door into the daylight, nor has he come back that way. Everything here is as ready as it can be in the time. His people have done well. I have fretted at the delay, but I know, in the long run, the time has been well invested. So does Rupert, but the loss of a whole night? It hasn’t sat well.
A minion has just been in with blood for me, and food for the Watcher. It’s the last meal, perhaps, and strange that we should be having it together. Now another one comes with more blood and Aurelius is hard on his heels.
He looks even more dishevelled than Giles did when he arrived. Aurelius has been travelling hard and fast. I would never have believed it, from what I know of this vampire, but he smells afraid.
He closes the door behind the departing minion and just stands for a moment, eyes closed, leaning against the upright timber, as if in need of support. Then he visibly pulls himself together.
“I have been to Hylek and to Adras. Every one of the Seers is dead. Murdered in their homes and their Sanctuaries, and without a struggle. Hacked, burned, or stabbed. All of them. I’ve travelled to as many dimensions as I can access and nobody knows anything. There is talk, though, of a werewolf progenitor, the original demon, who once lived here and wants the Earth back as his own. Fenrix. He is missing from his normal place, as are his most loyal demons. The Pack.”
He moves away from the door and sits down. He’s always measured and elegant, always in command of himself. Not now. His words were hasty, tripping over themselves. His hand is shaking. Only a little, but it is something I haven’t seen before.
“He’s no longer just a demon. He’s at least as powerful as Glory was, and possibly more so. And every werewolf on this planet will answer to him. They will have no freewill. If it is him, if this is what you face, he might be more than even you can handle.”
He lapses into silence for a moment, and I am not insulted. Not even that he should have said that in front of a human. I know it is only the truth. I tell him that our own researches had thrown up the same possibility, although with less information. I tell him of our plans. He can find no fault. It is almost time to leave for the plane. The hearse will be here any moment.
“You should let me fight this battle for you. I am stronger than you.”
I am astonished at this. So is the Watcher. For a single instant, I am almost tempted. Not because I fear going up against a godling, although I do, not because I fear death, although I do. I am tempted because he might have a better chance of saving my mate’s life. It cannot be, though. If he wins her freedom, he can claim her. As the head of the clan, he has a claim on her anyway, although he will exercise it over my sifting dust, but if he goes for her? She will be his, and the whole clan would know. I must be prepared to share her. Never. Faith, possibly, but Buffy? Never. Besides, this is my job, and he knows it. My silence is his answer. I can see the Watcher make a move to protest, and I silence him with a flash of gold.
“I wish that I could come with you.”
He cannot even do this – we dare not try to take too many coffins.
There are a few moments of silence and he seems to have forgotten the presence of Giles, sitting quietly out of the line of his sight. Aurelius rises suddenly, all fluid motion and offers me his hand. I take it and stand to face him, and he seems calmer. He closes the distance between us.
“You will need all the power you can get. Sekhmet’s blood is fresh in my veins. Drink us both. Take as much as you want. If you drain me she will revive me. Drink.”
I am astounded. That he should offer me this so freely is one thing. He has fed me before, and allowed me to drink deeply, but with this offer, he is placing his life in my hands. He knows that I’ve wanted to kill him for centuries. I could do it now, weaken him until he could not defend himself, drain him dry, and then finish him. But that he should do this in front of *Giles*? A human? Still, it is too late now.
I morph, and then I drink very, very deeply. I never want to stop taking this blood, this elixir that is more powerful than Slayer’s blood, as potent as the strongest magic. I can see Giles, from where we are standing. He has not moved from his chair. I had expected contempt and disgust, but the expression on his face is one of simple gratitude, and I am surprised. I suppose he knows that, evil monsters though he considers us to be, in this we are on the side of the angels. We are doing everything possible, humanly or demonically speaking, to save his Slayer, his surrogate daughter. For that, he doesn’t mind what he sees. He’ll just worry about the consequences of it later. In that, he’s not unlike me.
I don’t quite drain Aurelius dry, but when I am satisfied, as full as I can hold – and almost flying on his power – he is as white as marble, and almost unable to stand. I hand him my untouched glass of blood, and he gulps it down. That steadies him a little. A minion knocks and calls out that the hearse is here, and the coffin is being unloaded. It is time. Everything that we need to take is in this room. I see Giles tense himself, ready to stand and gather his baggage and mine – I can’t take anything inside the coffin – when Aurelius does the most surprising thing of all.
Where he finds the strength from, I really don’t know. Perhaps it is from fear, because his eyes are full of it. He slams me against the wall and thrusts his forearm into my throat to hold me there.
“You and Buffy will come out of there alive, do you understand?”
His voice is a snarl. Despite his fear and his blood loss, he is the alpha male here, and there can be no doubting it.
“No matter what it takes, you both come out of there alive. You do not sacrifice yourself for her, nor does she for you. *Do you hear me*? If you fight him and you cannot beat him, then you yield. You *submit*. You do whatever it takes until we can come for you. You stay alive. If he wants you as a fucktoy, you *let* him. If he wants to fuck your mate into the ground in front of you, you *let* him. You can have your revenge later. You must both come out of there alive. Do. You. Understand. Me?”
He has morphed into his demon face. His chest is heaving with emotion. I have never seen him like this, and I experience a sharp twinge of fear. Hormones are flooding out in his scent, and making me feel like a whipped puppy. He means to dominate me in every conceivable way. And he is doing it in front of Giles. I try to reassert myself. I’d rather die than yield to a werewolf godling. He sees that in my face. He grips my shoulders and slams me hard against the wall again. Whatever is fuelling him is giving him a strength he shouldn’t have.
“If you die, you are no use to Buffy. None whatsoever. You *must* live. If she dies, you recovered her once and you can do it again, perhaps. But only if you live. Do everything – everything – you need to do to get both of you out of there. If you assess the situation as impossible, you will wait for us to come. If you decide to fight, you will not die. You will SUBMIT if you cannot beat him. You will yield and be whatever you must be, for as long as you must. That is your sacrifice. Do. You. Understand?”
He’s right, of course. I am no good to her dead. If I die without freeing her, she will die, too, or face whatever you might call a fate worse than death. But that’s the thing. In the long term, nothing is worse than death. If she remains alive, if she endures, so can I. I’ve done it before for her. And if her soul is too damaged by anything that might have happened to her, I can turn her. That would be my real sacrifice, because I love her as she is. Human. Warm and breathing and alive, soul and all. But I can make her happy as a vampire, that much I do know. We must just stay alive. If it comes to it, I must make myself yield. If it comes to it. So, I’d better make sure that it doesn’t, hadn’t I?
And perhaps I should know why it’s so important to him to save both me *and* the Slayer. That question can wait until later, though.
I cannot nod because of his grip on my throat, and I cannot speak for the same reason. We stand there, a frozen tableau, for long seconds. It is, surprisingly, Giles who breaks the deadlock. Giles, who has been standing quietly, and nodding approvingly at Aurelius’ words. He walks over, and gently tugs at Aurelius’ arm.
“Let go. He can’t answer you.”
Something snaps within Aurelius then. Whatever has been holding him up loses its power, and he buckles at the knees. Together we catch him, and help him back to his chair. His head is sunk on his chest so I crouch down beside him, where I can look him in the eye again.
“I give you my word.”
He nods, satisfied.
“I’ll follow as swiftly as possible, and bring reinforcements. Just stay alive.” He has no strength beyond a whisper, but I hear him well enough. I also hear a frantic whine outside. For some reason that I cannot explain, I lift his hand to my lips and kiss his fingers, in the old-fashioned gesture of subservience and fealty. And love.
Then I let Sekhmet in, call the minions to bring more blood for him, and climb into the waiting casket.
I don’t know how long I’ve been here – I think somehow they kept me unconscious for a while, and anyway I can’t see daylight. I’m in near total darkness all the time, except when they open the door. Where’s here? I don’t know. I know where I started off, where Xander and I started off. Some little town north of Sunnydale. We came up against far more than I could handle. A werewolf is tricky at the best of times. There were about a hundred. We had no chance. The last thing I remember, Xander’s body was being tipped into a gully. It looked like his body.
When I finally awoke, I was here, wherever here is. The immediate here is a cell of some sort. The walls don’t quite go all the way to the top, but there are really strong bars fixed all around. I’ve tried moving them, but I can’t. It doesn’t help that I can’t get a foothold on anything. The walls are pretty sheer and the only furniture in this cell is a couple of sleeping shelves, low to the ground. Even standing on one of those, I can’t reach the bars. So I’ve tried pulling the bars out, but I’ve had to do that while hanging from them. Doesn’t actually work. You can’t get enough purchase.
The door is heavy steel. When I first came to, I tried kicking it down, but firstly that didn’t work, and secondly, a pack of these things came in and battered me into unconsciousness. And I couldn’t even fight back. They have a magic user. If they want to come near me, he just puts a spell on me so that I can’t move. Doesn’t last long, but it lasts long enough. I haven’t stopped trying, but I think I have to try a different way. I just don’t know which way that might be, yet.
Then three days ago, I think it was, they got themselves the second slayer. They brought Faith in, as unconscious as I had been, and as beaten up. She came round earlier in what might still have been today. I suppose I’m grateful to her for coming to my rescue, despite all that’s gone down before. What I feel most, though, is fear. And despair. Who is there to rescue us now? What do they want with us? Why are they just keeping us here, fed and watered and untouched? Why haven’t they killed us? Or done something that might be worse? You hear about a fate worse than death? Staying here might well be that.
I’m actually pretty grateful for the untouched part. These guys are *gross*. And that doesn’t even begin to describe them. They are werewolves, of that I’m sure, but they are in wolf form even when it isn’t full moon. Almost wolf form. That’s the problem. They seem to have been caught in mid-change. You know, like one of those low-budget horror films, where they use a man in a rather nasty suit? That’s pretty good compared to these. There’s a big bad here, too, but I haven’t seen him. Her. Whatever. I’ve just heard them talking. It’s something that sounds like Fen Ricks, and it came over when Glory opened the portal. It’s their god, their ancestor, their First. They have to obey it; they have no choice. It’s in their blood. Just like they can’t control themselves at full moon. I think we are in very serious trouble. So might the world be, if we can’t get out of here. Demon gods? More Firsts? No thanks.
Will they turn us? Will they kill us? Will they trade us off to some big evil in another dimension? Will they just keep us here to satisfy other appetites? I don’t know. I don’t know and I just keep going round and round in my head, with thoughts like bath water circling the plughole. Except mine won’t go away. They just keep going round and round and driving me mad. Maybe I’ll finish up like Drusilla in the end. That *would* be a fate worse than death, wouldn’t it? Speaking of Drusilla, I wonder, for only the millionth time, where Angelus is? I wonder what he will do when he finds out that I am missing? Or whether he’ll care enough to do anything at all. After all, I almost killed him the last time I saw him.
There are voices outside, and Faith is just waking up from a nap. She is still badly bruised, despite her Slayer healing power and spends as much time as possible sleeping, giving her body the chance to heal. Now I can hear the magic user mumbling outside the door, and neither of us can move a muscle. The door is pushed open – it’s heavy, and it sticks, and even for a demon it takes some shoving – and speak of the devil. The extra light behind him hides his face for a moment, but I would know him anywhere. Angelus. Now I *am* in complete despair. How did they capture him? And who is left now to get us out? I won’t go to him, though. It’s over between us. It’s over.
When we arrive at the spot where Xander was found, we have a few hours of night left, so we start to follow the trail that Estevan has found. I’m assuming for now that Buffy and Faith are together, and certainly Faith’s fresher scent overlies Buffy’s, surrounded by many musky odours. Werewolves. Pardon me? The journey in the coffin? If you don’t wish to be detached from your teeth, please don’t ask about it.
There is no cover out here, and the vehicles that we have all crowded into – small lightproof box trucks – can’t get anywhere near these rough, rocky trails. Ixolon is off searching for something more suitable but, to be fair, he can’t work miracles. It’s dangerously close to sunrise when we find the end of the scent trail. It’s only Estevan and me here at present – we needed to move very quickly – and the building that he takes me to catches me by surprise.
It’s a fortress. There’s no courtyard, no moat, no drawbridge, but it’s a fortress just the same. It looks to be built out of granite. There is a barbican, a towered entrance, with a massively thick gate, and no other way in. It’s built into a cliff, and looks as if part of it might actually extend into the cliff, but we can find no trace of any access. The cliff is useful, because there are a series of small caves – otherwise we might be digging graves to spend the daylight hours in – but the only access appears to be through that massive steel door. There is nothing to burn, nothing to undermine, nothing to climb over or through. We cannot find a sewer entrance or a water pipe. Nothing. Nada. Rien.
A phone call to Giles elicits the information that a long time ago, a group of lunatic fringe religious ascetics built themselves a sanctuary out here, and this seems to be it. You have to wonder about those ascetics. He and Willow have checked for building plans as well as they can from Willow’s laptop, in their motel, but there’s nothing.
I’ve even thought about blowing the place up, or at least the gateway, but we don’t know where the Slayers are being held. There are rooms in that barbican. We might kill them. So that’s Plan B.
There’s only one way in, and I’m going to have to take it. I tell Giles, and he doesn’t like it, but he likes the thought of leaving Buffy in there a great deal less. Estevan will wait here until everyone else catches up. Including Aurelius. I have a plan. I’ve told Estevan, and he really didn’t like it at all, but he didn’t have a better one.
I will go in. My reason will be to challenge this Fenrix. I hope I have enough residual werewolf for that. I’m going to challenge him for his position, and I’m going to try to stay alive. If I lose, and am alive, maybe I can get the girls into a safe place for when the wrecking crew arrives with the explosives. I’ll just have to do the best I can.
I arrive at the door – I doubt that a single individual, turning up at the door is going to have a problem actually getting in – and my hunch proves correct. They don’t even seem surprised to see me. Ugly? I’ve rarely seen anything quite so bad. The thought of these things getting their hands on my mate almost makes me vamp out.
I tell the doorkeeper, through a tiny grille in the door, that I am looking for Fenrix. And the door opens, just like that. I enter, and I am surrounded by monstrosity. Yet for all their ugliness, for all the fact that they look as if they have been caught midway through the change, these creatures are strong and swift. They have enough wolf shape to give them wolf characteristics when it comes to movement. Enough of them could take me down.
They come sniffing around. That’s probably because they can smell residual werewolf. And I catch a familiar scent. Oz. Two scents, in fact. The Soul helped a girl called Nina after she’d been bitten. She’s here, too. They number in the hundreds, I think. They must have come from all over the continent, if not further.
Then one, more manlike than the others, comes to escort me to Fenrix. If the place is a fortress outside, it’s worse inside. Tiny barred windows which will let in little daylight – actually, that might make it ideal for vampires – small rooms, all of them defensible. Until we get to the main hall. This is one space where they can all meet. Again, small, securely barred windows at the top of the smooth granite walls – a sort of clerestory – with a gallery running all around, near the top. I’m sure from the layout of those windows that this hall lies partly within the actual cliff. It has electric lighting, which is something of a surprise. There must be a generator of some sort although how it’s powered I currently fail to understand. The light illuminates the gloom enough to cast shadows that wrap themselves around the end of the hall, almost like living things. I don’t need the light to see my host, though. When I do, I almost wish my eyesight weren’t as good as it is, that I had put off seeing him for a few more moments.
My plan will fail. I am certain it will fail.
What is in front of me is a huge creature that, like those I have already seen, appears to be caught in mid change. His features are partially humanoid and partially lupine. He’s as ugly as a nine-day dead corpse. But, and it’s a very big but, he has grace, strength and power. And he’s about four or five times my bulk. His teeth are almost as long as my hand, and he has claws that belong on a raptor rather than a canid. He’s currently reclining on a very large sort of day bed, but I can see by the sleek musculature that he is no big pushover. Still, the bigger they come, the harder they fall, yes? I’m wondering whether those jaws allow him speech, or whether I’m going to need an interpreter, when he surprises me by speaking in my head. It must be a flaw of mine, this ability to be surprised.
Dogs do have expressions, don’t they? This one is definitely grinning.
“Why have you come here, Angelus?”
Ah. That could be a problem. How does he know who I am? More importantly, *why* does he know who I am? Still, let’s hope that I’m correct in my assumptions on werewolf conduct. Assumptions based on some fairly hefty reading matter back at Aurelius’. And on a feeling in my blood.
A thought strikes me first, though.
“When you speak to me like that, can all these hear, as well?”
I gesture around at the assembled werewolves. There are at least two hundred around the edges of that hall. Maybe more. I can’t do a more accurate count because my attention is on the demon in front of me.
I risk a look around. They do seem to be hanging on his every word. I’ll chance it.
“You have some property of mine.”
“Yes, I know I do.”
Ah. Again. Really not liking the sound of this. He goes on.
“If they had not come to me, we should have had to go and fetch them.”
*Definitely* not liking the sound of this at all.
“Well, perhaps you might explain to me why you’ve done that.”
If a smile on a wolf can become more wolfish, his does.
“Two Slayers, Angelus. Isn’t that a bit greedy? Well, no reason why I shouldn’t tell you. I intend to master this planet. I do not want Slayers running around getting under foot. And if I kill these, I’ll just have to find the next one, and the next. So long as these are alive, there will be no other Slayers. So, I shall keep them. They are your mate and your servant. Oh, yes, I know what they are. I would have known even without being told.”
If I had ears that pricked up, they would.
“Who told you?”
He does laugh, this time, and out loud. It sounds breathy and strange.
“A litter brother of mine. You came across some of his minions in Los Angeles. He sent one of them here, and we had a very interesting talk. A Lindsey McDonald. He was extremely helpful.”
Damn. I think the Soul should have killed Lindsey long ago. If I get out of this, I most certainly will. As slowly and painfully as I can devise.
“You know, I really don’t think I can permit you in my territory any longer.”
His eyes glitter dangerously.
“I beg your pardon?”
In the language of squabble, saying ‘I beg your pardon’ to something that you’ve heard perfectly well is around Defcon 3. I’m rattling him. Good.
“Fenrix. Before your court and your retainers; before your pups and your mates; before your friends and your enemies, I challenge you for leadership of your clan. You will contest with me for the right to rule. I hereby lay my challenge in the sight and hearing of all. Now, answer.”
That’s a fairly all-purpose formal challenge amongst demon clans. It should work. It’s the sort of thing that keeps a challenger’s head on his shoulders before the actual contest, too. Make a public statement like that, and if he doesn’t behave properly, he risks losing face, being considered a coward. He snarls and bares his teeth. That definitely isn’t a smile.
“The man said you would come. Said that you would do this. How dare you challenge me at my own hearth, you putrid piece of rotten meat? I will tear you limb from limb. I will hang your hide on my walls to dry. I will make a necklace of your teeth. My retainers shall feast on your living body. Tomorrow, at noon, when all are back, you will feel my teeth crunching your bones.”
So, he hasn’t fought a lot of vampires, then? Not up on the whole returning to dust concept? Still, it was a fairly all-purpose reply, so perhaps he knows more than he let on. We’ll see.
“We should set the terms of the challenge. I am not familiar with were protocol, and perhaps it isn’t the same as vampire protocol.”
He laughs again, and it isn’t at all funny.
“Unarmed combat, to the death. I think we are both the same.”
I must be mindful of Aurelius’ instructions. Not because they are his instructions, but because he was right. I must live to protect Buffy.
“I make you an offer, Fenrix. My quarrel with you is that you are here, in my territory, and that you have stolen my property. You have not been in this dimension for a long time. I will allow that the man from Wolfram & Hart might have misadvised you. If I win, I do not demand the death penalty from you, unless you leave me no choice. It will be sufficient if you swear yourself to my service.”
His roar almost shakes something loose. Like the roof.
“YOUR SERVICE! How dare you, you pathetic lump of dead meat…”
For just a moment, he is lost for words.
“That doesn’t have to be a one-sided offer, Dog-boy. If you win, I’ll do the same.” For as long as it takes Aurelius to get this place blown up.
He gets a crafty look.
“You will enter my service willingly? You and your women? You will abase yourselves to me, you will perform absolutely any service I instruct, and your women will bear my pups willingly? You will swear to that?”
Well, that’s a motivational speech if ever I heard one. It’s really motivated me to rip his throat out. And I daren’t even think what power might lie with a werewolf pup born to a Slayer.
“That’s right.” Buffy will kill me if she knows. Faith might, too.
“Very well. Those are the terms. Noon tomorrow. Take him away.”
“Well, first I would like to see the Slayers. Make sure for myself that they are alive and undamaged.”
His lip curls in a snarl again, and the breath on that thing is almost a weapon in its own right. Then his mood changes, and he laughs.
“You may see them. More, you may spend your remaining hours with them.”
Well, that’s a turn up for the books. Things are starting to look better already.
And so I’m taken down into the bowels of the cliff, to a row of dungeon cells. They clearly aren’t used very often, because the doors stick. Outside one, a magic user is chanting, although I can’t understand the words of the spell. The guards wrestle the door open and wait for me to walk in. They don’t seem to be afraid of the Slayers escaping, and I soon see why. They are immobilised by the magic. That had better not last for long. Then the door shuts behind me, cutting off most of the dim light that had illuminated the corridor. A little seeps down from the solid bars on top of the walls but I can still see the Slayers better than I think they can see me. That might be a good thing.
The girls are sitting on the only two sleeping benches, and giving me frosty looks. Guess it will be the floor for me tonight, then. I take my coat off and lay it on the floor, then ease myself gently down.
Silence. I remember another time.
“This *is* a rescue, you know.”
I explain what I have done. Well, most of it. They don’t need to know the thing about pups just yet. And I’m careful what I say. I’m sure that there are guards listening, all too ready to report back to their godling. I get mixed signals back. There is relief, and fear in equal measure. They haven’t seen him. I’m oddly pleased about that. The fear odour would be stronger if they had. But they hold themselves aloof from me. Faith is frankly interested, but she recognises that Buffy has the superior claim. Clearly, Buffy still hasn’t forgiven me, despite what happened back at the mansion. This is going to be a very long night. Perhaps it’s for the best. I’ll need all my strength tomorrow.
I turn my back on the Slayers and lie down on the floor. It isn’t comfortable, but at least it’s dry, with straw of some sort. I’ve had worse. As I lie there, trying not to think of the two behind me, and definitely trying not to think of my mate, so close and yet so far, it occurs to me that I didn’t see either Oz or Nina up there. Still, there were a lot of bodies. I might have missed them. But I don’t think so.
It’s strange, isn’t it, how in a room that is about twelve feet square, occupied by two Slayers and one vampire, I should be wrapped in a feeling of cosmic loneliness.
He’s lying in front of me, his body still and calm. Mine is anything but. My last sight of him was that terrible time in the mansion, as I held him down and Ixolon took his body apart bone by bone and organ by organ. I remember trying not to vomit at the time, and thinking rather hysterically that at least I got to know him inside and out. Madness.
We haven’t seen the demon that he is going to fight, but the guards have taken pleasure in taunting us from time to time, and have described him. I doubt they were exaggerating. Besides, Angelus is subdued. Not cocky as he ought to be.
And there is the link. I’ve tried to shut it down, but something always leaks through. The feeling that is coming through now is… resignation, I guess. I think he’s maybe bitten off more than he can chew this time. We’re going to die. Or he is, and we won’t, which might be worse. If this is to be our last night alive, why am I on this bench, and he on the floor? Why aren’t I in his arms? Even if I didn’t still love him, surely it would be natural to take comfort from each other? I look across at Faith, and she is awake. She’s eyeing me curiously. Do I want to go to him with someone else here? Why not? We’ll all be dead and it won’t matter one bit. It occurs to me that if I do not go to him, she will. That clinches it. No one else lays a hand on my demon.
He’s asleep, I think, as I climb off the shelf and lie down behind him. He’s wearing a silk shirt, black, with some sort of pattern that I can’t quite make out. It’s one I haven’t seen before, I think. His hair’s different, too, to how it used to be. And I’m babbling again. I know I’m babbling in my mind, trying not to think about what I’m doing. I spoon up behind him and slide my hand around his ribcage, feeling the exotic coolness of that unknown shirt beneath my fingers. His body stiffens for a second, every muscle tensing, and he gives a tiny sigh. I think he’s awake. His hand clasps mine.
He’s never said my name like that before. Longing and pain, for sure, but he sounds as if he’s given up, as if he’s warding off a haunting dream. All that, in a single word. And yet, somewhere in my heart, I have heard that before. Maybe in a dream.
I snuggle up to him, feeling his strength, lending him my warmth. He always loved my heat, but I much preferred his coolness, that feeling of sun-warmed marble. No other man was ever the same, even just to touch. If this is my last night, then I want it to be here, with him. I can pretend that Angel’s soul is here, too, so that I can have both my lovers. It’s a balance, isn’t it? Darkness and light, good and evil, predator and prey, Slayer and Demon. Can’t have one without the other.
And then he pulls away from me, just a little, although he still has hold of my hand. I feel a lump in my throat. Does he hate me so much? But he finishes the movement. In one graceful turn, he has rolled over – none of that hitching around and pulling clothing that got stuck, and fidgeting to get right; just like a cat, first he’s on one side, and now he’s on the other. He takes both my hands in his for a second, then releases them and wraps his arms around me, pulling me tight against his body.
And then he’s kissing me as if he is starved for me, famished for me, as if he can never get enough. And I’m kissing him right back.
I’m back in that crypt with Spike and Dru and Buffy, but this time, it’s me chained and naked on the purple and white altar. Almost me. The Soul is also in residence. I don’t know which of us is in charge.
The fetters are tight. I’m spread-eagled, and I can’t move a muscle. Buffy stands in the loose embrace of Spike’s arms, but as I watch, she gently disengages his clasped hands and walks over to me. When she reaches me, she’s holding a stake. She places it on my stomach, and then runs her hands over my ribcage. My body, every muscle in it, stiffens in desire, in defeat.
That single word contains all the longing and desire and pain and yearning and despair that both the Soul and I have felt since meeting this woman-child.
And then the stake is in my heart and my ashes are sifting gently down on to the deep purple velvet. As I fade, I hear her say ‘It was the only way to save you’. And I’m suddenly awake. There are still hands on my ribcage, my own covering hers. Her heat burns through the silk of my shirt, her body is melding into mine. A lump comes to my throat. I wasn’t sure I would ever feel her warmth like this again. I pull a little away and turn over. There are two women in this cell, but I don’t need to see her to know whose hands these are, whose body this is. If I were blind, I would see her.
Without any apparent voluntary movement on my part, I am kissing her, my lips speaking all the words that I cannot. Not yet. Not past this lump in my throat. And she is kissing me back, as if she were starved for me, famished for me, as if she can never get enough.
I want to strip her naked, leaving the ragged remains of her clothing scattered along with mine. I want to take hours revealing just a single inch of her. Here, in this place, I’ll settle for something in between. But there is something to do first.
I shift myself so that I am lying above her, between her thighs, my forearms stretched alongside her head, taking my weight. She has lifted her legs, wrapping them around my waist, making this all the more difficult. I *need* to remove the barriers between us, push into her, come home where I belong. But I must do this first. And I must ignore the fact that there is another Slayer in this room, who will hear every word. Who will know my weakness. Not only a Slayer, my bondswoman. I must ignore her because this needs to be said. There may never be another time. And I remember Aurelius, ignoring Giles, because he had to. Because there might never be another time.
I have said the right words so many times in my head, and in so many different ways. I can’t remember a single one.
“Buffy. I am a demon. I have no conscience, no cause for restraint. What I want, I take. I took you, and I hurt you.”
She’s about to speak, but I silence her with another kiss.
“No. Please don’t say anything yet. Let me finish. I killed Spike. I regret that, but I cannot undo it. I punished you, took my anger and my pain out on you, and I regret that more than anything in my very long life, but I cannot undo it. But I couldn’t finish it. I couldn’t hurt you any more. I was freeing you when Giles came, freeing you so that I could beg your forgiveness. So that I could do whatever it took to earn it. To win back your love.”
I still cannot tell her about the Underworld. No words will come, so I start somewhere else, ignoring Faith’s gaze burning into my spine.
“I made you a vow. I told you that I would cherish and protect you in every way known to human or demon kind. That I would never leave you or abandon you, and that we would face together everything the future brings to us.”
Just for a moment, I cannot continue. We are lying here, in exactly the same position as when that vow was made, but how much distance has come between us since then. How much heartache and pain for her, how much despair and longing for me, for the Soul, even, wherever he is now. She brings one hand up to my face and runs her fingers lovingly across my features. I bring the demon to the face. She doesn’t flinch.
“I broke that vow because of weakness and pride. Because I was too weak to prevent others from tearing us apart, and too proud to humble myself, in front of others, and in front of you. Too weak to let Spike live, and to beg your forgiveness at the start, when I should have done.
“I cannot promise not to hurt you again. I cannot promise that I will be different. I can only promise that I will try. And I promise I will never break that vow willingly. I will love you and protect you and cherish you. If you will let me.”
I do not tell her that if she will not, then I am lost. That I will punish this world for the lack of her, and we will all burn.
She is silent still, and my unbeating heart clenches. Is it too little, too late? Her fingers roam over the harsh planes and angles of my face, then brush over my lips. I open my mouth just a little, to suckle at her fingers – I don’t mean to, but my flesh simply responds to her as it wills. She hesitates for only a heartbeat, then her finger is in my mouth and is pressed down onto my fang. Drops of blood fall onto my tongue.
“I’m always and forever yours. I forgive you, if you will forgive me.”
I cannot, cannot stop. I don’t care that Faith is here. I don’t care that there are guards outside. I kneel up, bringing her with me. As gently as I can, I lift her top, sliding it over her upraised arms. My hands are shaking with the tension of not ripping every garment off, but she needs her clothes. And I am trying not to hurt her.
In moments, though, she is naked, and my shirt has joined her things on the floor. I lay her back down. I don’t want to take the time to finish ridding myself of my clothes, so I lower my zipper and tell myself that it will be enough. Then I feel another pair of hands unfasten my boots, and there is air on my naked feet; another pair of hands tugs at my jeans, and I am flesh to flesh with my beloved. Faith is back on her sleeping shelf, leaning on her elbow, watching.
Vampires aren’t shy, and it seems that my love can put aside her scruples, too. She knows Faith is there. She doesn’t seem to care. I bend my head to the softness of her breast, allowing my cheek, my harsh demon’s cheek, to rest there for a moment, knowing that she now has me caged and confined more securely than ever the Soul did, and yearning for every second of that captivity. Then I resume my human form and start to pleasure her.
I am prepared to take my time, to ignore for as long as I can what is now my own painful desire, but she has other ideas. She once more wraps her legs around my waist, pressing her lush wet heat against me. And I almost fail her again. I almost spend myself, at that single, simple touch. I fight for control, and she seems to understand. She remains still, letting me recover. I know now that neither of us can wait, that she needs no more preliminaries, that like me she cannot bear the separation of our flesh, and as soon as I have some measure of control, I press forward into her, feeling her open for me, welcome me, draw me home, to the only paradise I shall ever know.
If Faith thought to see some demonstration of the art of lovemaking consonant with the experience of a two hundred and fifty year old vampire, she must have been sadly disappointed. I manage to hold on long enough to feel my mate fall over the edge, but the fluttering of her womb, the powerful muscles of her orgasm, the blood that she draws from my back as her nails dig into me, all these combine in an unstoppable tidal wave of desire. A few quick thrusts, and we are both gone. I will do better by her before we sleep, but now was everything we needed. La petite mort takes us both.
The Lady steps out onto the black sand. Her lovers are, unusually, both there. They are watching the soul of Angel being tormented by the Furies. She stands with them for a few moments, feeling within her the potential, the seed, that she took from Angelus, in his dream within the crypt. Palestrina, or the echo of her in Aurelius’ blood, helped by capturing Aurelius’ full attention, so ensuring that The Lady found Angelus alone, rapt in a dream of his own and ready for her. It is better so. Those dreams are his, the beginnings of a sort of prophecy, one that will never lie to him if he can but understand it, a gift from the blood of Aurelius and Palestrina. But the dream that she has stolen is different. More real. Just a wet dream to him, but she has been there with him, and something of him now remains within her. She will give life to his seed when it is time.
“He is strong,” the dark one says.
“Is he strong enough?”
The creature of light takes her hand.
“It would be better if the other would pay at least some of the price with him. Easier, to share the burden between them. But he is strong enough.”
She thinks of the other one, Spike. He is curled up in the black cliffs, trying to sleep eternity away. He wants nothing to do with the black sand. She sighs at what that means for Angel.
“Will there be enough left over? Enough to give them what they need?”
“How badly must he suffer for that?” The dark one looks concerned.
The Lady stiffens her resolve. “As badly as he must. Their need will be great.”
The other two bow their heads in acknowledgement. The Lady speaks nothing that they do not already know. Angel is here for a purpose, although he is not aware of that. He is paying the price. Not the price of the past. That is unimportant. He is paying the price of the future. He is restoring Ma’at, so that there will *be* a future. And now he must pay more. There must be something left over in the balance, for The Lady.
“Is there something now?”
The dark one nods, in answer to her question. The moment of sacrifice, when Angel took the place of his dark half, was worth a very great deal in the balance. He knows what she must do, what she has already done. So does his brother. They don’t have to like it, though. He murmurs a few words and Angel is gone from the sand. He nods to The Lady again and she turns and walks back into the black cliffs.
She finds a room there, anonymous and bare, and smiles a little. Her lovers are jealous and have offered no comforts. There is nothing, except the torn and bleeding body of a sinner, curled up tightly against his pain. He lifts his head, and his dark eyes are filled with suffering. Before he can focus his gaze on her, she dons the outward vestment of another, and walks naked towards him.
At last he sees her.
“Buffy…” It is no more than a whisper.
“Yes, my love.”
He struggles a little against the thought. When he speaks, his voice is harsh, roughened by his screams of agony, the words laboured, slow to come through the pain.
“You aren’t here. You can’t be here. You’re alive, this is just an hallucination…”
She reaches out and strokes his face, runs her fingers down his neck and over his torso. As she does so, his wounds heal. The outward ones, at least. She can allow him that much. She presses him onto the floor, until he is lying on his back, and then she straddles him. He is too weary, and in too much pain, to take the initiative, so she will.
She leans over him and whispers, “I will come to you when I can. I will give you surcease when I can. Never forget that. When you lose everything else, hold on to that. I will come. You are eternally beloved. Never forget.”
She presses her lips gently to his, and he responds. Her hands explore the arch of his ribs, the clean line of his collarbone, the shallow cleft of his breastbone. Her fingers play around the lobe of his ear, the line of his jaw, the masculine lump in his throat, lingering longest over the sensitive nipples. Hesitantly at first, and then with greater confidence, his fingers trace the same paths on her body.
Soon, there is more for her to play with. She shifts her position a little backwards, and traces the swell of his abdomen, the rise of his hips and the firmness of his thigh. Then she moves her hand across his belly towards his swollen sex, hardening with every gentle stroke of her fingers. He moves to roll them, to return the favour of arousal, but she stops him.
“Later. For now, let me.”
He sighs, from the depths of his pain, and nods gratefully, sinking back to the floor. She needs no more arousal, anyway. She rises a little, positions herself, then slowly, gently, joins with him. His eyes close in pleasure and she begins the age-old movements that will tell him he is loved. That will give him release. That will replace his pain with pleasure. When it comes for them both, it is more than she expected. It is overwhelming, a tidal wave of love and passion. La petite mort, even for a goddess. She and her lovers have chosen well.
She stays with him for the space of a day. A day, in this place where time is what her husband wills it to be, not a day in that dimension of clocks and suns and moons and stars. That is all she is allowed. Not by her lover, although he – both of them – will be pleased when she returns. It is all she is allowed by Ma’at. By herself.
They make love often. As his strength returns, he exerts himself in every way to ensure her pleasure. So does she, for him. It will be a long time before she is allowed to return, and so he must have something to hold on to, to bear him up, in the torments to come.
When she leaves him, he is asleep, at peace. She places one last kiss on his cheek, and murmurs one last word in his ear.
Then she is gone. He won’t be returned to the black sand just yet. He must now pay for what has happened, for what will happen. He will awaken somewhere much worse, and she almost cannot bear it.
We’ve made love several times now, each time more pleasurable than the last. That is how it always is between us. Each time better, more perfect, just *more*, as if there could never be an end to the increase in rapture. Yet each time is perfect in itself. Do you think it is possible to die of too much pleasure? Sometimes I wonder.
I feel completely replete, fulfilled, at peace. It’s a peace I haven’t known for a long time. Not since that ill-judged trip to end the Kahlavi cult, when the Soul was restored to me, and perhaps not even before that. We are cuddled together like puppies in a basket, recovering from our last coupling. When she is able to breathe normally again, Buffy looks me squarely in the eye.
“Are we going to die here?”
“No. I won’t permit it.”
She chuckles, because she thinks that is just my normal bravado.
“Can you beat him?”
Can I lie to her?
“I’m going to do my best.”
She hears the lie though, and is serious for a moment.
“If this is it, if this is the end, I want you to know that I love you. I love Angel, and I love you. Both of you. Forever. I want to be with you, forever. Whatever comes after this life, I don’t want us to be apart. Will you try to stay with me?”
That’s impossible, of course. I can never avoid the black sand, or worse, and she must never know about its pain. But I shall have to try.
“I will move heaven and earth, if I must, to make a place for us.”
She knows I mean that, and is satisfied. In that way, at least. Her hand roams downwards to see whether I’m capable of satisfying her in a different way, again. She’s insatiable, but I’m up to the job.
As I run my hands over her silken skin, as I taste all the flavours of her, I know that this might well be the last time. I haven’t told her of the shameful but necessary bargain that I have made. If I lose, and we survive, she may never forgive me. I have chosen for her. Have I that right? I shake off those thoughts with a visible effort that is not lost on her, and devote myself to her ongoing delight. Perfect. It must be perfect for her.
This time she insists on being in control, and I let her. I look up at her, as she rides her coming orgasm, her lip caught between her teeth in the burgeoning rapture of the moment, and think that I may never see a more perfect sight if I live for a hundred thousand years. Longer.
Her eyes fly open as my fingers tug at her nipples, enough to send her crashing into that wave of ultimate gratification, and she sees Faith. I’ve known about Faith, but Buffy has been too absorbed in us, too rapt in pleasure to notice. Faith has been painfully aroused since our first joining, and is now taking her own steps to find release. Buffy closes her eyes again, and rides the wave. I ride with her, and it is as if the very atoms of our being have wrapped themselves around each other and have given themselves up to the chemistry of annihilation. Our cries must echo through this entire edifice, and I don’t care.
It takes long minutes to recover our senses from that absolution, but when we have I know what I must do. Faith is finished with what she was doing, although I can smell that she is still frustrated and in need. With Buffy cuddled under my chin, I start as I mean to go on. With honesty. I tell them what I have done, and why. I keep my voice low, against eavesdroppers.
The tale isn’t long in telling, but when I am finished, they are both absolutely silent. Faith is the first to break it.
“So, the cavalry are out there but can’t get in, and you’ve sold us all into slavery to buy them time?”
I admit that is a pretty fair summary.
“And all three of us might spend the next however long being screwed into the ground by a whole pack of werewolves?” That’s Buffy’s contribution. I allow for the possibility.
Astonishingly, neither tries to stab, beat or geld me. Buffy, after a few moments of thought, simply holds out her hand to her sister Slayer, an invitation to her.
“Well, then, you’d better give her something good to remember, hadn’t you?”
It is much later, and I am lying on this heap of straw, a sleeping Slayer on either side of me, their hands clasped together on my stomach. I don’t actually think that this will lead us to a ménage a trois, but a vampire can dream, can’t he?
Faith tastes different to Buffy, and she makes love differently. Her body is more voluptuous. Different. At the behest of my beloved, I gave Faith an experience she could not have imagined, even from watching us. I exerted myself to please, to give her something of pleasure to remember if the rest went down the pan.
The feel of her breast against my palm was erotic, appealing, but it wasn’t Buffy. The taste of her was like honeyed spice, something I could have lapped at for hours, but it wasn’t Buffy. The welcoming silkiness of her, as I slid home and showed her just what delights vampire stamina can bring, was exotic and wonderful, but it wasn’t Buffy. As I made love to her, devoted myself to her, I needed another touch. I reached for Buffy’s hand. For a moment, there was nothing, and then I felt it creep hesitantly into mine. And so I made love to Faith like that, handfasted with my mate. Neither of them seemed to mind.
My inner senses tell me that it’s almost noon. They will be coming for us shortly. We are fully dressed, now, sitting together on the straw. The sleeping benches are too small and narrow for comfort, and we seem to need to be together for the moment.
Faith frowns a little, then clears her throat.
“B, you know what we gotta do, don’t you?”
Buffy turns a wide-eyed gaze on her, uncertain of her meaning.
“He’s got a big fight here,” she continues. “He needs all the strength he can get. Our turn to give him something back for last night, maybe?”
We both understand what she means. I still have the blood of Aurelius and Sekhmet hot in my veins, although it is faded a little with time. I tell them that. They both look intrigued – I suspect that we are going to have to have a chat about the clan at some point in the future – but unconvinced. Buffy takes up the baton.
“You mean that a couple of shots of Slayer blood won’t help you? Won’t give you an edge?”
It certainly would, and I can’t deny it. I’m trying to be noble, though, and I make the mistake of hinting at this. They treat the hint as it deserves, I suppose: with derision. Faith is first. She pulls aside her shirt and angles her neck to me.
“Come on, big boy. Just don’t kill me yet. You can save that for if you don’t kick his ass into next week. Not that I have any real uncertainty about that, mind you.”
I look doubtfully at Buffy. Her only reply is to place her hand on her collar, ready to pull it back for me. Two Slayers to one vamp? No fair. I lean into Faith’s neck and gently, delicately sink my fangs into the throb of her vein. I have tasted her before, and she is equally delicious now. I try not to take too much, but her hand on the back of my head prevents me from pulling back, and so I continue to drink. I know what different levels of blood loss do to a person, even a Slayer. I know that she only lets me go when the dizziness hits her, at the point when, if I take more, she will not be able to stand. She’ll want to meet her fate on her feet. As will Buffy.
I lick the tiny wounds closed, and walk over to the door. There is a jug of rather dubious water there. I make her drink it. At least it will put volume back in her veins.
Then I turn to Buffy. She has her throat open to me, waiting. I kiss her forehead and whisper to her, “I love you,” and then my fangs are buried in her neck and as I drink I stamp my possession, my ownership and my love into the bite. This will never diminish, never wear off, never be overridden by another. This mark will tell every demon in existence that this Slayer is *mine*. Forever. Even the werewolves. They can never corrupt it. I pray that it will be a comfort to her.
I am already flying on the blood of my clan and the blood of a Slayer, but, as the hot, saltsweet liquid flows into me, the essence of my eternal mate, I know that I can beat this creature. This gift of hers will give me strength. It must. I feel as if I am exploding with power, as if my skin is too small and crabbed to hold me. And then all those separate powers within me seem to mingle and join. A pair of night-dark eyes, their own power gleaming within their depths, flashes across my vision, and I know this is her doing. The mystery woman. The whole becomes much more than the sum of the parts, and I will *tear this demon to pieces*.
I feel Buffy pushing at me, and realise I am in danger of forgetting myself, of taking too much, and I pull back quickly. She sways a little, and I catch her body, holding her to me.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
“I’m okay. Okay. Just give me some of that rat pee.”
Faith gives a sultry chuckle and passes the water jug over.
I’m as ready as I’m ever going to be.
And incidentally, I’m pleased to note that I have given both my women two more extremely erotic experiences. I’m good at that. I’m very, very good.
They come for us shortly afterwards. I think Angelus must be really flying. I’ve never seen him look quite so … I don’t know what the word is, or even if there *is* a word in English. Maybe in vampirese, but not English. Faith and I are not at our best, but that doesn’t matter. Our fate rests on him.
They do the magic bit before they open the door. It doesn’t affect him, though. Two guards come in and they have what I can only describe as wolfish smiles.
“Good show you gave us last night. Wowee, but you lot were hot. I guess Fenrix will want to see something like that pretty often. Or *do* something like that!”
The bars on top of the walls. Damn. I can’t move, but I can see Angelus. He’s perfectly calm, but there is death in his eyes. If he wins, they are dead. I think Faith and I will help.
They are carrying shackles, which they throw to Angelus.
“Put these on the girls.”
The look on his face has them back-pedalling a few steps.
“Hey, no chains, no see. Put those on, or they don’t get to come up with you.”
He looks at us. I can only speak with my eyes, and I hope my look mentions something about gelding knives if he leaves us down here. I think it does, because he smiles, and puts the shackles on us. A collar, manacles and ankle chains, all with a single chain running through them, and all with as little freedom as possible. Unless they are going to carry us, we’ll be taking teeny-tiny steps.
Eventually, even with teeny-tiny steps, we get there. I almost wish we’d stayed in the cell.
It’s a huge hall, with this monstrosity at one end. It’s all bone and muscle and sinew, with fangs and claws thrown in for good measure. If Angelus really is going to fight that… I can’t even think about it.
There are two or three hundred werewolves in the hall. It’s so huge that they don’t make it look crowded at all. We are led to a line of stone pillars at the monster’s end of the hall, and chained to convenient rings, one to a pillar. Think they’ve done this before, then? Faith and I are about six feet apart. Angelus is standing as easily as if he were in his own home. I don’t know how he does it.
A big old wolf comes through the door we came in by, and there are some others following. Is that OZ? In chains? Oh crap. There’s another one as well. Is that a female? They bring them down past Angelus, and chain them to the next pillars down the line. Then I hear this voice in my head. It’s that *thing*. Oh, this is so gross!
“You had friends here, Angelus.”
“I’ve met a couple of werewolves. Didn’t know they were here. They done something to upset you?”
“Yes. They tried to sneak out. Have you got friends outside, vampire?”
“Not locally, no.”
“Well, no matter. When you and the Slayers are no more than the instruments of my pleasure, your friends will not be important.”
“Stop daydreaming, dog-boy, and let’s get to it.”
The thing laughs, this horrid, breathy sound, and then it tells Angelus to lose the clothes. For a moment, he seems to be speechless, but then he shrugs, and strips. All the scratch marks have gone. You know, the ones from last night.
He leaves his gear in a corner, then stands, with legs apart and arms outstretched for a moment. He sees my confusion.
“No weapons, no secret knives, poison darts, nothing. Just flesh and bone and fang and claw.”
I nod my understanding, and then the thing gets off its cushion. It’s even bigger than it first looked, those talons clacking on the stone floor and its thin, bristly pelt and pink skin glistening in the dim light. I think we are in such trouble here. All the others start to file out, and I soon hear them above me. I hadn’t noticed when we came in. There are stone-built galleries high up the walls, all the way round. The werewolves are up there, out of the way, leaving the floor clear.
They start to circle, eyeing each other up. I can look at Fenrix with a warrior’s eye. He’s going to be harder to beat than Glory, and I never managed to do that. Angelus makes the first move, almost faster than I can follow. He leaps for Fenrix’s back, but the beast is just as quick. Angelus lands on his feet though, and darts out of reach. And so it goes, for a little while, Angelus and Fenrix, feinting back and forwards, looking for an opening.
Then Angelus thinks he has one. He manages to get a hand to the beast’s neck, and tries again for its back. If he can once straddle it, he should have the advantage. But he can’t get a secure enough hold, the beast rolls, and lashes out. Angelus is thrown against the wall – if he hasn’t got broken ribs from that, I’ll be surprised. Worse, though are the four parallel gashes running from shoulder to hip. They are deep and damaging. First blood to Fenrix.
Aurelius should be here tonight. He’s really pulled out all the stops. He’s managed to charter a decrepit Russian cargo plane – those people will do anything for hard currency nowadays. I hear that Angelus has his own plane now – just a small one. They’ll change into that after dusk and be here within the hour. There’s a small airstrip not too far away. The box vans are going down to meet them. I never thought I’d be glad to see the arrival of vampires. I don’t understand why Aurelius should be concerned about Buffy, but for the moment, it is enough that he is. The rest can wait until she is safe. If some of the vampires should die in this rescue – if a certain vampire should accidentally get staked, for example – that would cause me no heartache. Except… except…
I had a dream last night. It was about Jenny. Oh, I often dream about her, about finding her body in my bed, left by Angelus in a fit of spiteful whimsy. But last night was the first night that she’s spoken to me. She was lying on the bed, as usual. Her head was lolling at an unnatural angle, her dark hair spread across the pillow, her eyes wide and staring, also as usual. And then it was different. She was… whole, healed, alive. And in my bed. I can see her there now, if I close my eyes, hear what she said…
“Rupert, I’m glad I can see you at last.”
“Jenny? Jenny? Is that really you?”
I sit on the bed, largely because my knees are trembling. She reaches out her hand – her *warm*, living hand – and cups my cheek.
“Yes, but I can’t stay. I’ve come to tell you something, and you must listen. You must listen and understand.”
I try to speak, but she shushes me.
“You have to let me go. You must support Buffy in what she does, and you cannot do that unless you let me go. You must, do you hear?”
I try to deny, but she puts a finger to my lips. She tastes of wine and roses.
“Let me go. There will be a time, but let me go now. Let me go.”
And she is nothing more than a corpse in my bed, and I wake up with the chill of tears running down my cheeks. I have no powers of prophecy, no fey ancestor, no seer’s gifts, but I know that this was not just a dream. You can’t be a Watcher and not *know*. That was Jenny. But I do not see how I can do as she asks. She is telling me that I must work with the vampire for the sake of my Slayer. But he murdered my lover. How am I ever supposed to forget that? How do I get over it? It isn’t even as if he were Angel, resouled again. He is still Angelus, the murdering monster, and I have seen what he has done to my Slayer.
And I have seen him bring her back to life.
Perhaps it would be better if I returned to England. Perhaps she will do better without me. Once we have her safe again, her, and Faith.
I wonder what is happening, up there in that fortress?
They seem to have been fighting for hours, but it probably isn’t more than forty-five minutes. That’s long enough, because this is an unfair contest, which the werewolf has no intention of losing. Angelus cannot get a secure hold on it because its body has been oiled. That’s what I saw glistening. His hands simply slide off whenever he grasps hair or skin. He has no chance. He’s rubbing the oil on his palms off onto his body, but that creature doesn’t have hands made for grasping. It has a pawful of talons as long as my hand, and it’s slashing him to pieces. There’s no referee, though, and no one to cry foul, so he’s just doing the best he can.
Angelus’ body has stopped trying to heal itself, husbanding his strength. It’s doing just enough to try and stop blood loss, but the rest is simply gaping wounds. He’s got a lot of those. I recognise what Fenrix is doing. It’s been aiming to cut down his mobility, and it’s doing pretty well. He has slashes on his chest and stomach and back that would have killed a man. Worse than that, though, as far as fighting is concerned, are the others. The slashes across the major muscle groups interfere with the way he can move, and he has those on both thighs and both upper arms. He’s been cut to the bone. His left hand is almost useless since the creature ripped away all the tendons a few minutes ago. Now it’s had its teeth into his calf, and it’s torn a huge chunk out. It’s going to eat him alive.
He’s left some wounds on it, but not enough. Not nearly enough.
Oh, god! Now it has its teeth into his shoulder, and it’s shaking him like a rag doll. He’s managed to get hold of its ears, and he’s forcing it backwards, and still backwards, and it’s taking every ounce of strength that he has, but it’s still coming backwards towards Faith and me. I can see the strain, see the veins stand out on his temples, see every single muscle in his body separately delineated as he calls on everything that he has to push the beast back. If he can’t get its teeth out, he’s lost.
Now its backside is pressed into my pillar, but it sidesteps a little, and he keeps pushing it. It comes to bay against Faith’s pillar, and I think there’s just this one chance. Faith sees it, too. I move away from the pillar as far as I can to make sure no one can see her, although she’s hidden by its grotesque body. She hangs onto the chains, although she’s still white with blood loss, and I can see she’s got little enough strength, then she lifts her shackled feet, and there’s just that little bit of chain between the shackles, and I see her place it just *so* as Angelus and the godling push against each other in this trial of strength. If she’s not quick, it’s simply going to bite his shoulder off altogether. Now the chain is in place, and she yanks her feet backwards, and she has the bastard by the balls.
It lets go of Angelus with a yelp, and out of instinct turns round to see where the pain is coming from, and Angelus is on its back now. He has his arms wrapped around its neck, and his legs around its chest. It can’t shake him off. It’s running around just like a maddened dog, but he’s hanging on for dear life.
Now, he’s pulling its head back and he’s sinking his fangs into its throat, and he’s gulping down the blood. Can he hold enough to weaken it? At last it starts to quieten, to slow, and he stops drinking.
He’s true to his word, and I would expect nothing else.
“Do you yield?”
I hear nothing in my mind but a flurry of animal growls. He yanks its head back a little further.
“Do you YIELD?”
Nothing but frantic snapping and clawing, but it can’t shake him off. To drive the point home, he takes some more deep draughts of blood.
“The clan is *mine*, you cheating bastard. Do you acknowledge that? Speak, or I’ll slit your throat.”
“NEVER! You will never rule my people, vampire. I’ll have your hide on my wall. Kill him. Kill him!”
There’s something of a scuffle up on the galleries, but nothing comes down to help.
“You had your chance. I kept my word.”
With that, he leans over, and rips out Fenrix’s throat. It doesn’t take long for the beast to die, but it does make a dreadful mess on the floor. The sounds of fighting are moving away now, as the body of the uber-werewolf sinks to the floor, and Angelus sinks with it. I don’t care what’s happening up in the gallery, the screams and growls fading into the background. I only care about what has happened to Angelus. He has run out of strength. Looking at the creature’s blood, I doubt whether it’s done him the least bit of good. It’s nothing like earthly blood, but black and oily. I’m starting to hope it hasn’t poisoned him, as he sits slumped on its dead back, too ill or too exhausted to move.
He always hates being called that. Perhaps it’ll spark a response. And it does. Wearily, he stands up, staggering a little as he does so. Then he comes over and releases me from my chains. Faith is next, and before he collapses completely, he frees the two chained werewolves. They aren’t werewolves any more, just two naked people. Nakedness is the least of anybody’s worries at the moment. Angelus is on hands and knees, too weak to stand, but still trying to be master of the situation. Still trying to wrap everything up. Damn him, Faith and I will get that done.
“Don’t let them get out…”
Oz nods to him, and sets off at a sprint, to see what is happening with the others. The woman hangs back, a little diffidently.
She knows him, then?
He shakes his head.
“He’s… not here any more, Nina. Buffy will explain…”
By now, I’m kneeling at his side. He looks very bad indeed, and I have no more blood to give. Neither does Faith.
Just then, we hear howling and screaming. Oz comes back, at a run, and slides down next to Angelus. I notice that he ducks his head a little, like he might to an elder and better, and I wonder about that.
“Too late. Fenrix’s Pack has gone, off into the hills. A lot of the human weres are dead or injured, but they are all in human form, anyway – no chance of chasing that lot.”
I don’t understand. “Fenrix’s Pack?”
“Yeah. When he came over, he brought his Pack of about 50 with him. The rest of us are Americans – well, mainly Americans – but they are the biggest and strongest.” He looks at Angelus again. “I can feel you, man. So can everyone else. Not sure The Pack will bow to you, though. He lost, and they know it, but I don’t think they’re ready for a vampire as their Alpha.”
That’s the most I’ve ever heard Oz say in one go. Angelus is losing his battle to stay conscious now, but he squeezes my hand, and I know I have to ask something for him, get more information from Oz. I can only think of one thing. “
Are they wolf or human?”
“They never change from what you saw. That’s their permanent form.”
Angelus squeezes my hand again, and I rack my brains. It isn’t easy doing this after you’ve lost a few pints of blood, you know.
“We can’t leave them running loose in his territory – in mine, either. We have to round up every single one.”
None of us are in any condition to make good on that suggestion. Then Faith remembers the cavalry outside.
“I’ll go get them.”
I nod gratefully. Angelus rallies a little at that.
“East. Cave. Estevan. Not far. He’ll tell you where…”
And then he’s unconscious, and Faith is gone. There is nothing here to help me. I send Nina and Oz scurrying off to find anything that might do for water and bandages, and to organise the human werewolves. I’m too tired and weak to think of anything else. So I cradle his head in my lap, and hold his hand, until the cavalry comes.
The second Slayer had found her people by the time I and mine arrived. The journey from Cairo has been acceptable. Certainly not so irritating as Angelus’ travels have no doubt been. When I arrive, there is general pandemonium about what to do, and the Slayer is dropping from exhaustion caused by blood loss. I draw her and the Watcher to one side, and they tell me the essential points of the tale. The rest can wait. Angelus has slain the godling, but the godling’s Pack are loose. I doubted him, I really did, and now I feel a soaring pride in his achievement. But that, too, must wait. The Pack must be exterminated. Then comes the sting in the tail. Angelus is badly hurt and Faith fears for his life.
It takes only minutes to organise the pursuit. Most of our fit forces are demons, and they are in any case the best suited to hunting this Pack. All the humans will go to the fortress with supplies and medicines, together with the three Norags, who have good battlefield medical skills, in the charge of Thomaso and myself. Estevan is already up there, waiting to show us the way. I have two childer with me, Françoise and Emilia. They will coordinate from here the paired teams of vampires who have set off in search of the pack. Everyone has weapons and each pair has a cell phone. First to find them will call for the rest, and – let the slaughter commence. They set off for the hunt, about thirty of them. Sekhmet has gone with them. She will be needed more there than in the fortress, I think. And I will see whether my worst fears have been realised.
The rest of us set off for the climb. Faith is at the end of her endurance, but insists on returning with us, and so I carry her. That surprises a lot of people, although I do not see why it should. Her slayer healing abilities will kick in during the ascent, and she may be useful. Estevan meets us near the top. He had seen the Pack set off earlier, from the shelter of his cave, and his information is relayed to Françoise. Then we enter the fortress.
I can smell the dead and dying from outside the place, but it is like a charnel house inside. Naked men and women are doing their best to save the wounded, comforting the dying and moving the dead. Angelus has broken the spell, then. I was sure he could do it. Almost sure. I prefer to forget that scene I made in front of the Watcher.
Those with me want to help but, by tacit agreement, the Watcher and I keep them close to us, until we see how our own are fixed. I follow the scent trail for both of them into the enormous hall, larger by far than mine. Dwarfed at one end, in front of a set of huge pillars, and a grotesquely oversized day bed, are the two that I seek. Buffy is kneeling on the cold stone of the floor, and Angelus is lying naked and supine, his head cradled in her lap, his limbs sprawled loosely in apparent unconsciousness. He is badly hurt. The only reason I can be certain that he is actually alive is because he is here at all. He looks dead. Deader. But at least he isn’t dust.
Next to them, quite dead, is the were-god that he came to slay. The reek of its blood is utterly nauseating, rank and oily. I am afraid to think that he might have drunk some of it.
I understand straight away that the others with me cannot help, and so I send them to do what they can for the others in this terrible place. The Watcher stays, a disapproving presence at my shoulder, casting a disturbing shadow over the couple on the floor. Within a few moments, though, his presence is quite forgotten. I kneel down beside Angelus. The Slayer does not know who I am, of course, but I know her. Angelus and I have shared her in his blood. I would recognise her anywhere.
“Slayer. I am Aurelius. Can you hold his head up a little?”
She looks surprised, but doesn’t question. I think she knows what I am going to do. I roll up my sleeve, ready to press my wrist to his fangs, and I gesture to the pooled blood on the floor.
“Did he drink any of that?”
“Pints of it. As much as he could, I think.”
May all the powers of the universe have pity on us! I haven’t enough blood in my body to wash that much of this poison away. Still, we must do what we can. I try to make him drink. He shows the first signs of awareness since I entered the room, shaking his head a little, and trying to resist me. Buffy tries to hold him still.
I push my wrist against his mouth again, and this time he tries to say something. It’s very faint, but clear to me.
Not yet. What does he mean, not yet? Why?
“Slayer. Use the link. Find out what he is doing.”
“He said ‘Not yet’. He is doing something. As his mate, you have the link with him. Quickly, now. Use it. Find out what he is doing.”
She is confused. She looks so young and lost that I can see how she completely ensnared Angel. Angelus’ obsession is harder to understand, but no less real for that. But has he not explained to her about the link? I shall beat the boy unmercifully if he lives!
“Open yourself to him. Feel him, as you feel the sun on your face, welcome him, as you welcome the cooling breeze on your body.”
“I’m sorry, yes, of course. I know how to do that.”
She closes her eyes, and remains still, a small smile playing on her lips. Exhausted, ashen from blood loss, she is still utterly beautiful. I missed it before, because of the worry she wore on her face for her injured mate, but there is a strength in her, a power that will bear her through any defeat. I see now that Angelus could never resist her.
She gives a gasp, and her eyes fly open.
“He’s holding them. He’s using the power of Fenrix’s blood to hold the pack together and in one place until they can be killed. They’re too far away, or he’s too weak, for him to recall them, but he’s holding them!”
Sonofabitch! That’s my boy!
We don’t know where they are, but they can’t have gone too far. There is only one thing to do, and so we do that. We wait. Two things. I tell the Watcher to fetch some bandages and I bind up Angelus’ wounds while his mate comforts him. Then we wait.
Whilst we wait, I dip my finger experimentally in the dark, viscous ichor that passes for blood in this godling. It is caustic, and little strips of skin start to peel away. As quickly as I wipe it off, she sees me, and there is an unfathomable look in her eyes. She can’t fool me, though. I know what it is. She’s wondering whom to sacrifice, if push comes to shove. Those humans who will die to this Pack if it isn’t exterminated down to the last member? Or him?
And we wait.
Gradually, the tumult around us eases. I will need to hear the story to be certain of the details, but my reading of the scents and sounds tells me that the human werewolves are, on the whole, ready to throw themselves at the feet of the saviour who has rescued them from thrall, despite the terrible price paid, the lives lost to the alien demons. Few of the humans were here willingly. All had been brought in the way that Angelus is now holding the Pack: by the imperative in their blood. And when Angelus took over that imperative, they were released. The Pack tore into these defenceless, restored humans, before running headlong from this place in a bid to escape their new clan leader. But you cannot run from your blood, and it is that which rules them.
The dead are taken away to the coolness of the dungeon area; the wounded are treated as best we can. There are few of those. Generally, you either escaped the Pack – or not.
Someone has had the wit to phone down to those few left at the base. They will find somewhere suitable in the nearest town and steal sufficient clothing for the restored human weres. It may not be pretty but it will be here before dawn.
The Watcher has given up his vigil and gone to find his other charges, confident that, for the moment at least, Buffy will take no harm from me. Still the Slayer and I wait. We are silent. There will be a time for talking, but it is not now. In any case, she is lost in her thoughts, kneeling there, with her mate’s head in her lap, and his hand clenched tightly in hers. She has a lot of soul searching to do, I expect. Or perhaps she is lost in the link. Yes. I think that is where she is. And I am ready to ignore his wishes, ready to give him blood if I feel that he is in too much danger. I think I’m close to that when, at last, it is over.
Both of them give something suspiciously like a sob, and then Angelus starts to heave and retch. As our first real task together, the Slayer and I hold him on all fours, whilst she instructs me to do something I haven’t had to do in a very long time. I stick my fingers down his throat. The gag reflex is still working very, very well.
When he is done, there is a pool of black ichor beneath him, heavily streaked with red. Membranous pieces of flesh, large and small, float on the surface.
“We need water.”
She nods, and sprints off to see what she can find, whilst I nurse my bitten fingers and hold him up, out of that reeking puddle.
When we have him rinsed out, and he has vomited up that black blood and a large part of his stomach lining – and I have more bitten fingers – I feed him. The Slayer watches me with absolute fascination, and no fear or disgust. That pleases me, although I should expect no less. I don’t give him too much – that might make him vomit again and would weaken me: not desirable in this current fragile alliance. What I give will be sufficient, though. Now he needs time to sleep and heal. I pick him up and together his mate and I hunt for a suitable place. Eventually we find a room that might have been used by the ascetics as a communal room. There is still a table, and several large couches, slightly mildewy and definitely stale, but better than anything we have so far found. We lay him down on the least noisome. She has brought his clothes, and together we get them on him. When we have finished, she says that she will tell the others where we are.
“Thank you,” she says, simply. I can tell that she means it, though.
“You are welcome. I am pleased that you and he still…” I pause, unsure how to finish that sentence, but I wish her to know that I do not disapprove of his relationship with her.
She nods. She understands. “I didn’t expect to be grateful to him for fighting the good fight. And to you and your people. If those things had spread out, I don’t know how many humans would have been killed before we could stop them.”
What to tell her? I decide on what I believe Angelus would tell her. The truth.
“He didn’t do it for that, my dear. They were in his territory, in possession of something that was his, and he could not permit that. I simply helped one of my Masters.”
She gives me a withering look, and goes off to seek the others. I pull up a chair next to my charge, and wonder which offence she will punish me the most for: my lack of charity with respect to Angelus’ motives, or that ill-advised ‘my dear’. No. There could never be any doubt that Angelus would be obsessed with her.
The others come in, in dribs and drabs. The witches are exhausted, having spent all their energies healing the wounded. Their smiles are contented, though. They may have seen some terrible things, but they have saved many lives.
They all help themselves to the supplies that have been brought up from our base and sit, weary but elated, around that shabby table. I know them all, now. There is the Slayer, of course, with her court of Giles, Willow and Tara; Faith, Ezrafel, Estevan and Thomaso from Angelus’ court, with the three Norags; and Wesley and Gunn from Angel’s family. What will happen to those two, I wonder, now that Angel is no more? Surprisingly, we are joined by two werewolves, who are introduced as Oz and Nina. I recognise Oz. Angelus’ blood carries a very, very faint tang of his scent.
They are all conscious of my presence, but I will give them their due. There is no fear haunting that rather dismal room. As their hunger and thirst becomes assuaged, the Watcher turns to Buffy.
“What happened, Buffy?”
She doesn’t tell them everything, that much is clear. She and Faith share secret glances that are secret only to some of us in this room. I, and the other demons here, can smell Angelus all over Buffy and Faith. It’s very interesting, but entirely to be expected. Three hot-blooded warriors, the night before a life-threatening battle? The only surprise is that they were allowed to spend the night together – and that the Slayer permitted another to couple with her mate. It’s good that she has learned to do that. As much as he may be devoted to her, Angelus will not, cannot be faithful. His family also requires his attentions.
I will exact all the details from these two later, but for now, haltingly, she tells of the bargain made. She uses only the vaguest terms, enough to make them understand that they would have had a critical part to play if Angelus had not defeated Fenrix. After all, the life of a Slayer is fraught with danger. She may need them to be the cavalry again, and they must learn that neither the Slayer nor the Master of Sunnydale will give up their lives easily, or in a fit of bravado, if they have forces that can come to their aid. They will do what needs to be done to endure, to wait for rescue.
Then she tells of the battle, and I am proud of him. All three of them, if truth be told.
There is a certain understandable smugness from Angelus’ people, but the Watcher looks very sour indeed. Now is the time when he should tell what he knows. I am sure of that, although I don’t know why. He has prevaricated for far too long. There will never be another time. If he fails now, we will be on the wrong path. Memories of the Underworld will remain, will colour future behaviour, and every step taken will carry us further away from Ma’at and closer to our extinction. I shake off the fey moment with some difficulty. It is my responsibility to bring him to a sense of his duty.
He cannot ignore my presence now. He looks at me and I gaze back at him, my entire being radiating reproach. He holds that gaze for long moments, but Sekhmet has always been a much more formidable exponent of the art of outstaring than he is, and he quickly sinks his head into his hands. He knows what he must do. Still, he stays silent.
“Watcher. You must speak. Had you done so immediately, you would have spoken only to the Slayer. Now the balance has been disturbed further. In order to right it, you must speak in front of all these. That is your sacrifice, the price necessary to restore Ma’at. Do it.”
It’s like speaking to a dog, you know. It isn’t the words you say, it’s the intonation in your voice.
Still he remains silent, but there is a change in him. He is marshalling his thoughts and words now. That is good, and I do not speak again. The others are looking from him to me. Buffy is, as you would expect, completely mystified, and is about to speak when Willow clasps her hand, silencing her. The Slayer looks to her friend and Willow shakes her head. When Giles is composed, he tells a tale that astounds everyone there. That includes me, and you can take it from me that it needs a very great deal to astound me after all these years.
“Buffy, when you fought Glory, and dived off the tower into the portal, Angelus leaped after you. He couldn’t catch you until you had passed through the portal, and when he did, you were dead. He broke almost every bone in his body on landing, but he insisted that Willow and Tara send him after you, into the Underworld. Even if he couldn’t bring you back, which was his intention, he wanted to make his peace with you, to beg your forgiveness for killing Spike and for torturing you. Unbeknown to him, Willow and Tara planted part of my consciousness into his mind, to act as a lifeline to guide one or both of you back out. They meant to put a small, unaware part of me into him, but unfortunately, we were all a bit pressed and they made a mistake. My full consciousness was planted right in the centre of his.”
If the Slayer looks shocked, the Witches are appalled at what they have unwittingly done. Everyone else is dumbfounded. I suspect that things will get worse.
He goes on to tell of the Underworld, of the black cliffs, of the search for her soul, of the bargain with the dark creature that Angelus could contend for the Slayer’s release, of his efforts to bring back Jenny as well, for Giles’ sake. He tells of the dark creature making Angelus choose between returning the Slayer to life, or returning from the Underworld himself, and how it was no choice at all. It could only ever be her. Of Angelus’ fight with almost every demon he or Angel had ever killed, and his courage and prowess, but also of his inability to vanquish them completely until Angel had joined with him (‘Together you are strong’). And he tells of their return, Orpheus leading Eurydice, and the joy in Angelus’ heart when he was allowed to go with her. He tells of the dark creature, charging the Watcher himself to tell the Slayer what had happened, because Angelus would be unable to.
Everyone is rapt in his tale. It is an epic one. Some of them wish to disbelieve, unwilling to equate the level of sacrifice with the creature they think they know. But they cannot. They begin to understand that even demons are not one-dimensional beings, that we are at least as complex as humans, even though we occupy the opposite end of the spiritual continuum. Tonight, something is born amongst the humans. Something weak and fragile. Something that can be strangled at birth, by any of us. Grudging respect. Not liking, not even close. But respect. If it can be nurtured, it will do very well for now.
“Giles. How could you keep this from me? You *knew* this had happened. How could you not tell me? How many of the deaths in Sunnydale have been down to you? How could you…?”
I don’t know her, but even I can tell that she’s working up to a rant, and a possible split with the Watcher. There are, indeed, deaths on his hands, but I can see why he did not do differently. Then there is a faint stirring next to me.
His voice is weak, but coherent. He is awake. How much has he heard, I wonder? And what difference will the Watcher’s narrative make? I don’t know.
She comes over to him. I doubt that, for the moment, anyone in that room has the power of movement left to them, except her. She crouches by him.
“Thank you.” Her voice is soft, full of renewed love.
And then I know that he went into the underworld for her, and came back out with her, and the rest is forgotten. The spell of the Underworld is restored. She must know that much too, because she is kneeling next to him, holding his hand and kissing him in a way that everyone in this room is just going to have to get used to.
We have been back in Sunnydale for a few days now, and I’m pretty well recovered. I’ve lost half my minions to The Pack, but I can soon make more. Instead of returning here with us, Aurelius had a call from Japheth, and went to Los Angeles. He’s come here now, though, and will spend a few days before returning to Cairo. He says he wants to get to know people, and that’s made a number of them uneasy. Wes and Gunn are here for a visit, too. The Soul chose well. I can use them, if they stay.
I’ve been out taking care of business, and Aurelius has just arrived. He has Japheth with him, and someone else. As I enter the mansion, it occurs to me that, with all the coming and going, I might need to get an extension built. I’m certainly going to set about remodelling the place. My people did some of the essential work while I was… gone… for a couple of years, but there’s a hell of a lot to do. I want somewhere fit for the leading demon I intend to be; and somewhere fit for my mate to live.
Aurelius and Japheth are waiting for me in my hall. It’s Aurelius who speaks first.
“Angelus, we come to make you an apology.”
Oh? Then Japheth chips in.
“My family recovered the last of Palestrina’s missing bones, but we did not manage to do it without loss.”
“Ahmed was lost to us. Dusted. I am sorry. I come to make reparation for his loss.”
I am disappointed. I had looked forward to Ahmed’s return. He was a very tasty dish indeed. You need to understand that there will never be another mate for me other than Buffy, and no one else will ever share Buffy’s bed. That I cannot tolerate. However, I have…other…needs and even a Slayer will not have the stamina to keep up with me. In any event, sex is used differently in vampire families than human families. For you, sex is about reproduction, and no matter how you wrap it about with pleasurable experience, most of you see anything else as abnormal. For us, there is no possibility of reproduction by sex, and sex is used to exert dominance, to show status, to punish, to reward, to teach, to bond and to simply enjoy. Gender is no issue at all, for us.
I regret not being able to school Ahmed. I regret not having his sloe-eyed beauty to decorate the mansion, and his simple guile to amuse me. Still, there are forms to observe.
“It is no matter. I can make another.” Perhaps. I suspect that Buffy may have something to say about me making new childer. Still, this is my house, and I shall do as I please.
“I have something as compensation for you. The people who had the bone were the people who killed Ahmed. I have taken the one who actually delivered the fatal blow, and turned him, as a gift to you. You will be able to bond him, if you wish, or destroy him as you see fit.”
I’m very interested now. I feel much more… benign… since Buffy and I reconciled, but I do love S & M and I don’t want to introduce my mate to too much of that too quickly. There’s always Drusilla, of course, but another toy would be gratifying. Take the edge off me so I don’t damage Buffy – well, not more than she wants, anyway. I wonder what sort of toy they have chosen for me, and whether he can ever live up to Ahmed’s promise.
“Let me see him.”
Japheth nods, and walks over to open one of the doors. He calls to someone who comes into the room and stands for inspection.
Well, well, well. They have made a spectacularly good choice. He looks more than somewhat green. I think he knows that a little retribution is coming. A lot of retribution, actually.
Perhaps there is justice in the cosmos. No, not justice. Balance. What would Aurelius call it? Ma’at.
Okay, so I can be shallow. Sue me.
As The Lady walks through the black cliffs, she sheds the outer appearance that she adopted for him, the borrowed features falling away one by one, the flesh fading, until she is her own self. She finds a chamber, newly appeared, waiting for her. The crystalline walls here are different to those we have seen before. They are a rich midnight blue, spangled with snowflakes and stars, huge clusters of them moving in a stately dance across the firmament, in patterns that might fascinate a child. When she leaves the chamber, a crystalline shape, a potential, a power, waits in one of the many niches. It is alone. It is the first. Perhaps it is dreaming, whatever *it* is. As she drew it from her body, she marvelled at its beauty, a thing of light and dark, the union of the Slayer, the Soul and the Demon, enabled by her, in perfect Ma’at. She knew it must be so, and she is pleased.
Her lovers have waited for her. She joins them, and twines her arms through theirs. It is time for her to renew her vows with them, to let them cleanse the touch of another – no matter how beloved – from her flesh. First, though, there must be agreement.
“I shall go to him every Lady Day. You will make sure there is enough left over in the balance?”
The other two grimace at what that means for the soul they must torment. They are terrible, each in their own way. But they have never been as terrible as she. They both make the same response.
She smiles, and the moment passes. She knows a time and a place that they all love, a time of moonlight and sheltering trees, a place of gently rippling waters and soft, yielding grass. She takes them there and they stay, freed of the cares of the world, for a little time.
29 May 2004
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