Author: Jo

Feedback : Pretty please. Send it to

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; Denial Haven; The Angel Elders Mansion
You want it? Really? Gosh. Just tell me where it's going please.

Spoilers: None

Rating: NC17 for some sex, violence and torture, but in a very tasteful way, of course…

Content: B/A/A(us) alternate past reality leads to an alternate future. Follow-up to 'Ma'at'.

Summary: Angelus and Buffy are back together again, but is it forever this time? Do I need to buy a hat?

This story is told from several different points of view.

This is for Deb, who, after several months of correspondence, I actually met this summer. She's as nice in person as she is in her e-mails. Look forward to the next time, Deb.

The eighth story in ‘The Nature of the Beast’ cycle.

Author’s notes:

1. In June and December, we see what is known as a solstice (Latin solstitium - sun stand still), when the sun reaches its highest or lowest point in the sky at noon, marked by the longest and shortest days. The point on the horizon where the sun rises and sets changes each day. From the winter solstice, sunrise and sunset occur at a point further and further northwards along the horizon, until the summer solstice, when the sun reaches its most northerly point of setting and rising. It then seems to stop, and to retrace its path southwards, until the winter solstice, when it reaches its most southerly point of setting and rising, and the whole annual cycle begins again. So, twice a year the sun seems to stand still on the horizon. That’s in the northern hemisphere. I think in the southern hemisphere, it might be exactly the same, but opposite, if you know what I mean.

2. String Theory (it’s real, and you can look it up) requires eleven dimensions, with universes carried on membranes, or branes. It’s the current Big Thing in Physics, but they haven’t caught up with parasite universes yet. You read it here first. Mass Extinctions are real, too. There’s more information in ‘Pride’.

3. This series is based on altered reality. You can therefore expect people and artefacts and events to crop up at unfamiliar times and in unfamiliar ways, as the fractured time line tries to adjust. Some things just have to happen…

4. Tarot - for all you tarot readers out there, I can’t find a deck with a fallen angel as part of the major arcana. However, it was what appeared in ‘What’s My Line Pt 1’, so I’ve stuck with it. If you know of one, please tell me.

5. I’m not a Catholic, and although what I’ve written has been checked, any mistakes are all mine.

6. Poesy (or posy) - (archaic) a short motto, line of verse, etc., inscribed within a ring.

7. Calais. Legend ascribes to Mary I (Mary Tudor, Bloody Mary) the statement that after her death, ‘Calais’ would be found written on her heart, following the loss of Calais, the last of Britain’s French possessions. Those people who have made a study of Mary, and her temperament, think that this story may be, well, stretching the amount of heart she appears to have had.

8. Methods of torture - you’ll have to forgive me on this, because I’m definitely making it all up as I go along. No previous experience. Honestly. I’m just going with what would make my toes curl (and did, while I was writing it). The surgeon’s tool kit (at least, we hope that’s what it is) comes from BtVS ‘Enemies’, and thanks to Rusty for taking the time to identify some of the contents.

9 ‘The Tyger’ is the poem by William Blake that we visited in more depth in ‘Tyger, Tyger’.

10. The pose described in the portrait of the Slayer is very much inspired by that Victorian piece of erotica, ‘In the Tepidarium’, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

11. The golden crown is taken exactly from the crown of the Assyrian princess found as part of the treasures of Nimrud, and dating to the 8th or 9th century BC. It’s stunningly beautiful, and there are pictures of it on the web.

12. The golden torcs are modelled on two magnificent ones found recently in Lincolnshire.

13. In Celtic legend, the appearance of the White Hart (a white stag) is normally linked with a message from the underworld. In Arthurian legend, the Hart has a golden collar around its neck. I’ve taken liberties.


We have seen the dance of the eleventh dimension, as universes are carried in a cotillion older than time, stitched onto their branes like beads on a ball gown. We have seen, too, that universes are not all alike, that some have different ways to those of our own. That there are para-universes. Parasite universes. As the dance of the branes ripples and shifts, these primitive swirls of matter and energy reach out with the finest of tendrils, looking for their next host. They are hungry and they need to feed.

We cannot reach out and touch any of these other universes, although they may only be an inch away, but these parasites, these feeders on star stuff, on life, on the energy of the soul itself? Ah, they know how to touch. They have done it before, many times. In some universes, where contact has been close and prolonged, they have left nothing, simply a gaping hole on the brane where a richness of cosmic energy and its attendant life forms once existed. Others survived the encounter, but have been left as pale reminders of their former selves, shadows of star systems and ghosts of galaxies.

Our universe has had brushes with these feeders from the deeps, but no more than that. Yet even though we have felt only their gentlest caress for a few brief moments of time, they have swept life from this, and other, planets. From this, and other, suns. A brief caress from a parasite universe has meant a Great Dying, a Mass Extinction, for the inhabitants of Earth.

Now, one of these parasite universes has been brought forward towards our own, positioned to meet its new host along a broad front, ready to embrace it for millennia. A long, sinuous tendril has reached out, has sensed nourishment. Somewhere, in the far reaches of space, at the uttermost limits of this cosmos, that questing tendril has stretched out from the fathomless darkness and latched on to the outermost star system. Now it has started to suck. The star system has eleven planets. On three of those planets, there are creatures with sufficient intelligence to stop and wonder when their green-tinged sun ceases its movements across the copper skies, in a sudden solstice that will become permanent until the energy has been emptied from it and that nuclear furnace has withered and died; these are creatures that will feel pain and fear as the invader savours the meat of star stuff, spiced with the tang of soul stuff. These will be the first to fall. They won’t be the last.

Somewhere, in a small, private paradise, the Lady and her two consorts, the Duality, are renewing their vows to each other, rediscovering the pleasures of the flesh and of the spirit. Reaffirming their love. Exhausted and satiated by their prolonged lovemaking, they have fallen into slumber, locked in a mutual embrace. While they sleep, the cry of that solar system calls out to them even in this tiny retreat, shivering over them like a chill wind. Their dreams become restless, and they reach out to each other, pressing together for warmth and comfort, feeling the pain of creatures passing into non-existence. The three are unaware as yet of the nature of the threat. Even gods and goddesses have their limitations. All they can do is wait.


I’ve come to Los Angeles. You will not believe where I am. I’m outside a church. I’m intent on going in, as well. You should know that the Soul had more difficulty going into houses of religion than I’ve ever had. It’s all in the mind, you know – or whatever souls have for minds. After all, I’ve spent enough time eating my way though convents full of nuns. They were always my religious house of choice – you don’t get so many of them nowadays, I’m sorry to say. Churches are fine, though – you can have real fun in the confessional.

However, that isn’t my business today. Remember that the Soul came here to find a certain Father Fredericks, looking for help in exorcising an Ethros demon? And the good Father happened to have caught a bad case of a very similar sort of demon, and died from it? Well, the Soul met a nun here. She helped him with that, and afterwards, they sometimes met and talked. She got to know him. I have business with her tonight.

*Sigh*. No, I’m not going to eat her. I’ll eat you if you keep on asking silly questions, though.

I’m looking for another Father, you see. One with a very different service to offer. And no, I won’t eat him either. What is it with you? He’d be no good to me dead. I want to see the nun, because she helped the Soul, even knowing what he was. She might be able to help me find that certain sort of priest. And no, I’m not getting religion. See these fangs?

Okay, so I’m now inside the church. Told you it would be a snap. There is a sort of malaise in the air, a bit like static electricity crawling over my skin, but that’s it. Mind you, I don’t want to go throwing myself at any of these crosses. They sting like a bitch. I don’t want any more scars just yet - I’ve still got one or two lingering after my exertions over the last few weeks. They are nearly gone now, just a reminder to be more careful. I’ve been shot, stabbed, staked, slashed, gashed, poisoned, virtually eviscerated (no, not *that* sort of virtual – this sort was real enough), and a few other things as well. I’m trying to keep my hide in one piece just at the moment.

Ah, there’s the nun. I recognise her scent. I wonder if she’ll recognise me? She’s busy doing something at the altar as I stroll in, so I stand quietly, waiting. I do have manners, you know.

It’s only a few moments before she becomes aware of someone behind her. It’s late at night, so I don’t suppose she was expecting much in the way of visitors. As soon as she turns round, she knows me, despite the gloom in this badly lit old building. At least, she knows the body. She comes forward with a smile on her face, but as she closes the distance, the smile becomes hesitant, and then fades altogether. I see her take hold of the crucifix hanging from her cincture. She knows who I am. She knew the Soul for what he was as soon as she saw him. She’s got a gift, this one.

“Sister Agneta.”

“You’ve killed Angel.”

Direct, and to the point. Gotta give her credit. She’s brave, too. Well, would you take me on, face to face? She’s no spring chicken, you know.

“Not me. His *friends* did that. I’m not complaining, mind you. Seems like he’s gone for good, now.”

“How dare you come into this place?”

It’s interesting. She is very, very angry – I think she must have genuinely liked the Soul – but there isn’t a whiff of fear on her scent. She really is a tough old bird. I quite like her.

I allow her to keep the two or three strides of distance between us. I could so easily close it and finish her off – the cross would be no hindrance at all – but she’s entitled to some respect for her courage.

“I’m looking for a priest. One who will do me a service.”

She looks contemptuous and sceptical at the same time.

“What sort of service could any true priest do for a demon such as you?”

When I tell her, astonishment paints her features. There is a full minute of astounded silence, and then she breaks into true and unfeigned laughter. I can only sigh, and wait for her to stop.

It started a few days ago. As soon as I was back on my feet after the defeat of Fenrix, that werewolf godling, and his Pack, I set about remodelling the mansion. I have big plans. The mansion is just about the most impressive residence in Sunnydale – or would be if half of it weren’t semi-derelict – but it simply won’t be big enough or impressive enough for my plans. Throughout your history – and your prehistory – your rulers have built themselves grandiose halls and throne rooms. The areas where your chieftains and kings have chosen to greet rulers, ambassadors, supplicants, tribute bearers and other assorted visitors, have *always* been intended to ensure that those visitors are overawed by the power, wealth and influence of the incumbent. Even after three thousand years, you remember Solomon not only for his wisdom but also for the splendour of his building projects. Vampires have never had much truck with that sort of thing, so I’m taking a leaf from your book here. This is all a bit new to me, but I want a court that will reflect the position I’m building in the underworld. A court that the Slayer will be proud of. It occurs to me that I’m also following a little in Aurelius’ footsteps. I wonder what he will think?

Wes and Gunn have gone back to Los Angeles. Matters between us are not yet finished. I want to talk to them about bringing them onto my team. I certainly can’t afford to have them on the opposite side, and I need to settle it soon. Aurelius, Sekhmet, and the rest of his court have returned to Cairo, leaving newly vamped Lindsey with me, and I’m just allowing him to stew for a bit. He knows that he and I have a reckoning coming, and that he’s not going to be on the good end, so I’ll let him just think about that for a while. My minions are keeping an eye on him, to make sure he doesn’t run, but I don’t think he will. He’s well aware of how much worse things will get if he does.

So, it’s just the Sunnydale crowd here now, plus Oz and Nina. They are staying over for a while. Oz is catching up with old friends, and Nina is learning that there are many more monsters around than she ever suspected: that she isn’t alone.

So, despite the fact that most of our guests have gone home, the mansion is now noisy and dusty and full of architects and builders and such. When it’s done, I want Buffy to move into the mansion, but I haven’t put it to her yet, not until the place is a bit more peaceful. Less like a building site. I want to formalise our relationship, and suddenly I’m nervous of her response. Demons run on passion, and even I’m not sure how I’ll react if she turns me down; if she sends me away like she did a couple of months ago. I’m definitely reluctant to tell her exactly what the mating ceremony would entail – what it would *have* to entail – and I can’t help remembering the gelding knife I sent to Harris a couple of weeks ago. I suspect she’d borrow it, unless she considered it to be far too merciful. Perhaps I should just kidnap her and run off with her? Perhaps I should just put aside all my plans and make it her and me for eternity? No, I know. It would never work that way. We are what we are, and we have to deal on those terms. Having the Slayer as my mate will enhance my standing with almost all the different species of demons. With some, though, it will sink me beneath reproach. I don’t care. I wouldn’t care if I were outcast from the entire demon world, from my clan and from my family. She is mine. She always will be. You’ve heard of counting the world well lost for love? There you are, then.

Anyway, I’m babbling because the thought of what I’m doing makes me nervous, and I was trying to tell you how I came to be standing here in this church, allowing an elderly nun to laugh at me.

What with everything that’s been going on, Buffy and I have had very little time together since we got back from the werewolf stronghold. If truth be told, it’s years since we really had any time together. She isn’t a teenager anymore; she’s a young woman. The teenager is still there, though, especially when she’s with her friends…

Okay, I admit it. I was lurking. I was expecting to run into her in our favourite cemetery, the Eternal Rest. She still patrols, you know, and stakes more minions than I rescue. I think I’ll just have to go into the body-snatching business until she sees things more my way. So, I was lurking. What I didn’t expect was that she would arrive en masse. I just have time to get up into the protective crown of an elderly yew tree, and conceal myself in that fragrant darkness. Unfortunately, they decide to ensconce themselves underneath said yew tree, Buffy leaning against the bole, the rest lying on the soft grass; the very same soft grass that I myself had intended to lie on with my dearly beloved. If any of them looks directly up, they’ll see me, I’m sure. With her are Xander Harris and Anyanka, Willow and Tara. I carefully close down the link between my mate and me, that mental and physical link that is the result of our bond. I can never shut it down completely, but I can mute it. I don’t want her to know how close I am. Not yet. I’m still in lurk-mode.

They’ve got some of those cans of sugar-free, nutrition-free, taste-free liquid with added chemicals, and Harris takes a long swig of his and belches loudly. Oh yes, they’ve got added gas as well as added chemicals. I can tell by their individual demeanours that they have something they have been trying not to talk about, and it’s Harris who breaks the taboo.

“Buffy, you’ve got to do something about the über-vamp. You *cannot* have him running around Sunnydale as if he owns the place – which, in fact he does, of course. This time, you *have* to stake him. You can’t tell me I’m wrong on this.”

Well, I suppose if that’s my new nickname, it’s a step up from Dead Boy. Buffy says nothing. There’s the smell of guilt and self-pity rolling off her again. *Damn it* but we have been here before, and I am *not* dragging myself round this circle again! Harris is encouraged by her silence, and picks up again what is clearly going to be a rant.

“Slayers slay, Buffy, and what you mainly slay is vampires, with a few pesky assorted demons, fiends and godlings on the side. He’s got Angel’s body, but he’s just another vampire inside. He’s just another demon. He *kills* people. He *eats* people. He was torturing Riley, for goodness’ sake. He killed Jenny. Are you going to stand by while he carries on doing that? Or are you going to stand by his side, holding his coat? Are you?”

“Xander, leave it alone. Please.”

“Turn a blind eye, Buffy? Which one would that be? The blind left one, or the currently available right one? You want me to stop seeing altogether?”

“I’m sorry about your eye, Xander, but if you recall, it was a werewolf that did that to you. Another werewolf – Oz – saved you, and another demon – Angelus – saved both Faith and me, and a hell of a lot of other people, too. This is *my* business. Now leave it alone.”

“Your business, is it? When you’re obviously in thrall to evil? You want me to leave it? You want me to not say anything while you’re under his spell, absolutely helpless under his bloody thumb? And what about that *really* creepy clan master of his, Aurelius, and his even scarier cat? You gonna share Angelus with him? Or even better, you gonna let Angelus share you with him? Turn and turn about? We know every vamp in a clan belongs to the master. Oh, and you gonna let Angelus vamp you, too? So we have to stake both of you?

“Buffy, he is *evil*. Can’t you get your head around that? He’s a devil, and he can never be anything but evil. You cannot be seriously thinking about making your life with him. Demons are bad. Killing them is what we do.”

He is working up to a rage now – probably fuelled by the chemicals in that muck he’s drinking – and spittle is flying from his lips, his face red, his eyes wild. At least he is speaking what he truly thinks. The trouble for Harris, though, is that some small, dark part of him wants to be me, to be the successful alpha male that has the most beautiful women at his beck and call. Some even smaller, darker part of him just wants me. I’ve let him feel the call of a hunting vampire, and he’s taken the invitation into himself and hugged it to his most secret soul. It’s still there. It makes him hate himself, and he’s turning that hate onto me, the perceived architect of all his woes.

My mate is hunched in on herself, as if her very posture were trying to shield her from his words. I really want to just leap down and snap his neck for upsetting her, but I really, really want to know what her answer is going to be. So, I stay where I am and wait.

Anyanka puts her hand on his arm to quieten him, but he is beyond that.

“You going to join him in killing humans? Torturing them? Bathing in their blood? You going to be a vampire groupie, getting shagged by the lot of them? That’s what they do, isn’t it? You going…”

“Xander! Enough!”

My love doesn’t need to stand up to make herself dominate those around her.

“I know that you’re speaking out of concern for me, and I know that you hated Angel and hate Angelus even more. All this stuff – it’s all fanciful nonsense, as you well know. I’m old enough to make my own choices, and I have. I choose him. He won’t turn me, and he will protect me – he’s told me so often enough – and if you think he’s going to allow any one else in my bed, then you don’t understand why he killed Spike. It doesn’t matter though, because whatever happens in our life will be what we decide, him and me.

“He’s done more evil things than you and I can imagine, but I still love him, and something tells me that we are meant to be together. I don’t know why – call it Slayer sense if you want, but I know it’s so. That isn’t why I’ve chosen him, though. It’s just because I love him, and he loves me. He was evil for a hundred and fifty years. Anya was a vengeance demon for a thousand years, but you still love her. Is it so difficult for you to understand?

“A Slayer and a master vampire? Yeah, I know it’s about as off as it’s possible to be, but I don’t care. We’ll have to explore how we can get along, but we will, and how we do it will be our business.

“I’d like us to stay friends, Xander, but if you don’t think you can, I’ll understand.”

With that, Buffy subsides, and Xander stands, open-mouthed at her riposte. Much like me, really. I’ve never heard her defend me so roundly. Suddenly, Xander picks up his jacket and heads off out of the cemetery. Anyanka casts an exasperated look at the Slayer and the witches, and then follows him. The three of them don’t look ready to move any time soon. My options are limited. I really don’t want to announce my presence as an eavesdropper to that little outburst, so I’m stuck with my tree perch for a while longer.

It’s Willow who speaks next.

“He’ll come round, Buffy. He worries about you. He loves you, even if it’s just friendly love now. He’ll never really walk away. Like Angelus – he won’t either. Do you really love him? As much as you loved Angel?”

“God help me, yes.”

Her answer is little more than a whisper, but it’s good enough for me. I guess it’s also good enough to turn my thoughts from ripping Harris limb from limb, although strangely, I don’t feel much inclined to do that after my initial surge of anger. He was, after all, speaking from the heart, and with passion. I can relate to that. He was also doing his best to protect Buffy. He was mistaken in his fears, but in some ways I’m glad he had them and was brave enough to voice them.

“Are you going to… you know… be his…mate?”

“He… he hasn’t… he hasn’t asked me.”

What? We *are* mates, and I have indeed asked her. Well, told her, although it was a while ago, before I left on that fateful trip to Canada. I recall it perfectly.

I’d said to her, “For the mating ritual, I’ll have some rings made. Rings just for us. Until then, I want you to wear this one, the one that Sou…that Angel gave you, and I will wear his. I know he still has a place in your heart, and I won’t try to deny that, so long as you love me as well as you do him.”

I haven’t arranged those formal ceremonies yet, because we have been a bit distracted by other things, such as trying to stay alive, but we are mates and we will have the ritual. I felt sure she understood that, but I must make it plain to her. Straight after I’ve managed to get her on her own and make plain to her quite what an effect she has on my crotch.

“Do you think he will?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know how the clan will take to having the Slayer as a member, especially if I’m still human and still the Slayer. Although Aurelius said he was glad that Angelus and I were back together, so maybe that isn’t a problem.”

She pauses then, and even though I can only see the top of her head, I can see that she has more she wishes to confide to her oldest friend. She’s looking at the bare third finger on her left hand, where the claddagh ought to be. Mine, too, is bare. Those rings did not return with us when we were released from the Underworld, and I don’t know why that should be. If you think I’m going back to recover them, though, you can think again. She rubs her finger, just where the ring would be, as if she were missing the feel of it. I know that I do.

“Do you know what I dream about? I dream about a real wedding. A church, and a white gown and bridesmaids. Friends and family. A real, normal wedding. It’s always him, standing with me at the altar, but we’re married in the sight of God and man. Silly, I know, but we all dream about something we can never have. I dream about happily ever after, as well. When I wake up, I just don’t know how it can happen. Somehow, Angelus and I have to come to a compromise, have to work out how to just *be* in ways that the other can live with.”

The witches have moved up to kneel next to her, now, one on either side, and they each take one of her hands. It’s Tara, the quiet one, who speaks next.

“Buffy, you can work it out between you. You’re the sun and moon to him.”

I can almost feel Buffy smiling.

“Thank you, Tara, that’s sweet…”

If Tara were standing, she would have stamped her foot.

“No Buffy! It isn’t sweet; I mean it exactly. With you, he…he can be everything and anything. Like the moon, you bring out all his powers. He can be whatever he wants to be, and whatever *you* want him to be. No one else can affect him like that. If you keep yourself from him, it’s like the sun – it destroys him, and he becomes just the insane, evil demon that everyone is afraid of. I can’t think of a better way of describing it.

“Just don’t threaten his pride in front of others, and he’ll do anything for you.”

They all go into a group hug, and I feel a bit of a shiver, although it isn’t anything to do with the cold. Drusilla left last night. She said she couldn’t stay where Spike had been, until she’d found someone else to love. I could understand that, so I let her go – for now. Before she went, though, she was reading her tarot cards. She pulled out the fallen angel, and Death, together.

“Look, Daddy,” she said, “you’re falling into the Slayer, and you won’t ever be the same again. We’ll all still love you, though.”

I’d told her that the Slayer would change nothing about me, that the sun would stand still in the sky before that would ever happen, that I was master in my own house. She’d laughed at me, with that tinkly little laugh that she has. Oh well, at least she said everyone would still love me. As long as that includes the Slayer…

They talk some more, exchanging secrets. They’re like teenage girls, except these secrets are rather more adult than the teenagers they used to be would have understood. I must say I’m shocked by some of the exchanges, but intrigued as well. I didn’t think that any of them would talk about *those* sorts of things. You know what I mean. Do all girls talk like that when men aren’t around? Even when they have girlfriends instead of boyfriends? I come out of it quite well, though, and I feel very mellow as they walk off together out of the cemetery. Sufficiently mellow that when I catch up to them, I make it seem that I’m coming from somewhere else, and I give them all a hug from behind, eliciting tiny squeals of surprise, before I pick Buffy up in my arms and carry her back to the yew tree.

I then proceed to give her something else to compare notes about.

She’s given me something to think about, too. Well, more than one thing. But there is that one reason why I’m here, in this church, as the nun stops laughing and starts to wipe the tears from her eyes. She’s still looking at me in disbelief, but she does give me a name and address. It’s a priest, at another church in Los Angeles. It’s not too late to go there now. I can get there by Compline, and Sister Agneta tells me that she expects Father Jerome to be taking that office.

I’m just in time for the start of the service. When I see which church she’s sent me to, I have to smile. St Jude’s. The patron saint of lost causes. I walk in just in time for the reflections on the day’s sins, and I go to sit quietly at the back. If Sister Agneta thinks this priest will do as I wish, the odds are he’ll know what I am. So I’ll wait.

There are few enough of the faithful here. These old rituals are losing their power over you, yet you have no real understanding of the protection they can offer. As children, you see clearly. As adults, you forget your childhood beliefs and fail to recognise that there are indeed things that go bump in the night; that there are monsters in the closet. Your church has power to protect you, and these rituals are part of that protection. Your religion would stand you in good stead, much of the time – or at least its rituals would. Admittedly, a sword and a strong right arm would be even better, but you’ve mainly given those up, as well.

Now, I’m about to take the Slayer from you, too.

When the reflections and the hymns and prayers are over, the dozen or so elderly worshippers, having cleansed their thoughts of the day’s small evils, gradually file out on tottery legs, leaving the greater evil in command of their church. I could do whatever I wished, here. I could slaughter each and every worshipper and their priest. I won’t, though. I’m hungry, and I want something to eat, but there’s something I want much more. Something I’ve come here to get.

The priest has finished his duties at the altar, and he turns to look at me. He’s been aware of my presence throughout the entire service. He’s a strongly built man, but he’s old now. Around seventy, I should think. I doubt he’ll see a long and happy retirement, though. No, not because of me. Because of something I can hear within him. His heart. It’s failing fast. I doubt he’ll see another two years. He could, in fact, go at any time. That wouldn’t suit me at all. If he’s agreeable to what I want, I’d better move my plans up a bit. He gives me a nod of recognition, and then disappears into the vestry. It’s only a few minutes later when he reappears, minus his vestments, his robes of office. It occurs to me that he would normally have gone into the vestry earlier; that he waited until the entire congregation, such as it was, were outside and on their separate ways home. Perhaps he already knows me.

I stay where I am, at the back, and wait for him. He sits down in the row in front of me, well within strike range.

“Is there something I can do for you, my son?”

Ah. Is he pretending?

“I saw that you were here for the service, but you did not participate. Would it not have brought you comfort? Eased your mind for the night?”

Nope. Not pretending. He’s got a smirk on his face and he’s taking the piss. I throttle back my anger. He can’t do it dead. Well, I could make sure he did, but I don’t want it that way.

“I didn’t come for the service. I came to speak to you.”

“Would it have hurt you to participate?”

“You know it would.”

He surveys me calmly for a few moments and then, *damn it*, he scents me! His nostrils flare, he tilts his head up a little, and I could swear that he is testing out every nuance of my scent. Humans can’t do that. They simply can’t. You don’t have enough sensory power. Yet that is what he is doing. And he has no fear. None at all. Oh, he’s human all right. But surely he must be something more?

“What is your name?”


“Ah. You are *that* one. You have killed a great many of our people.”

I shrug. Well, what can I say? It’s true.

“Have you come here to kill me?”

“No. I am here because I wish you to perform a service for me.”

He looks intrigued. The Church does not accommodate vampires, for a start. Also, there is very, very little that the Church could ever do for us. There is nothing that I want, or would ever want, from your religion. Just this one thing.

“What sort of service could you possibly want from me?”

“I want you to carry out a marriage ceremony. For me.”

He looks angry.

“What sort of game is this, Angelus? You want to profane the sacrament of matrimony? You and one of your vampiresses? Get out. Now.”

I make no move to leave, and he remains where he is, righteous in his indignation.

“No. The woman I wish to marry is human. Well, mostly human. She’s the Slayer.” His response is not unexpected. Not after the nun, that is. The indignation vanishes and he dissolves into laughter. I’m getting a little tired of this. I’m still not going to eat him, but it’s becoming a damn near run thing.

He sobers up pretty quickly, though, and stares at me, in a very measuring way. He’s got blue eyes, and they are very sharp. When people get old, their eyes usually become rheumy and faded. Not this guy. His gaze can spear you at a thousand yards. He’s full of power, too. I don’t know what sort, yet, but I can feel it.

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”


“Why have you come to me?”

“Because Sister Agneta gave me your name. I could find another priest to do it, if I wanted a sot, a fraudster or an imbecile. I don’t. I want a real priest, for a real ceremony. We cannot use the normal religious trappings, but I still want a recognisable wedding.”

“The Slayer – does she know what your intentions are?”

“She’s already my mate.”

He nods slowly, assimilating something that must be a bit of a shock to his system.

“You’ve had that ceremony?”

I shift uncomfortably.

“We haven’t formalised it yet, no. But she is my mate, for all that.”

“Does she know?”


He nods again, and is silent for a moment.

“Why this? Why marriage? That isn’t the vampire way.”

“Because she has a dream of churches and white frocks. I want her to have that.”

“Angelus, doing something for another. Well, I never thought I’d see the day… When do you want the wedding to take place?”

“At the solstice.”

“Winter solstice?”

“No. Summer solstice.”

“Why then? I would have thought that you would wish the night to represent the height of your powers? That won’t happen on the shortest night of the year.”

I shift uncomfortably again on the suddenly hard wooden bench.

“This is for her. If there is anything mystic going on, it should be in her favour. Will you, or will you not, do it?”

He frowns a little, considering.

“Do you intend to turn her, make her like yourself?”

A knife twists in my heart as I give him the reply.


“Will you continue to kill?”

“I need to eat.”

He looks solemnly at me again, for a long and silent moment.

“I think I can leave that to the Slayer to deal with. Do you truly mean her no harm?”


“I shall wish to speak to her, you know?”

“I know.”

He bows his head and is silent, the first time that he has turned his gaze away from me in this conversation. It is as if he is communing with his god. Perhaps he is.

“There will be a price.”

“Naturally.” The Church has been noted for selling its favours. I can feel my lip curling a little. Although, looking around this little church, it could do with some money spending on it.

“There are two things you must promise me.”

Oh? Not money, then?

“Name them.”

“Firstly, when she is dead…”

I feel my demon face burst to the fore, and a growl rumble in my throat. I have to make fists of my hands to stop them reaching for him.

“…You know that I speak of something that you yourself must have already considered, if you are honest in your intent not to turn her. So, when she is dead, you will go to confession.”

“What! Why in the name of everything unholy would I do that?”

“Because I ask it of you – no, I *demand* it as part of the price.”

The growl rumbles a little deeper.

“What good do you think that will do?”

“That is not my business. It is the business of the priest who will hear your confession.”

I bring myself back to my human form. What harm will this do? None that I can see, and I intend it to be a very long time in the future.

“Very well. And the second thing?”

“You will perform a service for me.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“I have not yet determined the nature of the service. I’ll tell you when it’s time.”

“You aren’t serious? Do you really expect me to agree to something that you won’t specify? You might want me to boil myself in holy water. Get real.” I decide to be a little cruel, because I’ve definitely had enough of trying to be civilised. “Besides, you’d better make your mind up fairly quickly – you haven’t got all that long to hang about, you know.”

He refuses to be goaded.

“I’m well aware of my health, vampire. If I die before I specify the service, you will be free of debt. Let us just say that you will know what it is by the time the ceremony is complete, and it will not be outside the realms of possibility for you.”

“How should I trust you?”

“Because you have my word, just as I have yours. Just as I trust you now not to kill me where I sit.”

Am I prepared to do this? To give my word to an oath I know nothing about? Yet, he smells of honesty.

“Very well. We have a bargain.”

“And you have a little over three weeks. Do you really think she’s going to agree to that? You know what women are like…”


For some reason, I’m thinking of Angelus. Believe me, I try to think of him as little as possible. It’s our fault that he’s here, in Angel’s place. My fault. I should have known better. I always make mistakes. I know everyone does, but it just seems that my mistakes are more… fatal… than most other people’s. I was a failure as a Watcher, then a failure as a friend.

I have to say how surprised I was at his behaviour, though, regarding the Werewolf and his Pack. He was almost… Angel-like. I would not have believed it had I not been part of it. Nina told me all about the horrors of the fight. The whole thing sounds like demons at their most primaeval, but maybe his handling of the situation shows that he’s more rational than he’s been before. Perhaps we can negotiate with him.

You see, Gunn and Cordelia and I have decided to try and make a go of the business by ourselves. I don’t know whether Angelus will try to reclaim the Hyperion. I suppose, technically, it might be more his than ours but I don’t think ‘technically’ is going to be at all important in the scheme of things. If he wants it back, he’ll just take it. I’m sure that would be over our dead bodies if necessary.

Oh, and speak of the devil – in a very literal sense. Look who just sauntered in the door. The vampire himself. I can’t reach the weapons cabinet, but I’ve got a crossbow here – Boy Scout motto. From the office, I can see Gunn and Cordelia. They have the stakes that none of us are ever without, but apart from that they are defenceless. Time to stand up and be counted.


“Wesley. Nice to see such a… sharp… reception. Gunn. Cordelia. Do you think we might all sit down? Preferably without the sharp, pointy objects? I happen to like the clothes I’ve got on, and they don’t look better with holes in them, thank you so very much.”

With that, he stalks into the office, and sits behind the desk. Cordelia and Gunn stare at each other, then at me, clearly wanting a decision – and some reaction to Angelus usurping my office. They’re probably also wondering why I didn’t let fly with the crossbow as soon as he walked in the door. I’m rather asking myself the same question. See? I couldn’t even do that right. Well, since he doesn’t seem to want to kill us, I suppose we might as well hear him out. We trail after him, the initiative all his. He’s playing with the paper knife when we get there, but he puts it down with a smirk when he sees me looking at it.

“Let’s not waste time. You all owed Angel big time. He would never have said it, would never even have really believed it himself, but he took all of you and gave you a chance to make something of yourselves…”

“Now just a minute…”

That’s Cordelia. She hates to be indebted, so she simply never accepts that she is. I know, though, and so does Gunn. This vampire will mess with our heads, but he does it with the truth.

“Not now Cordelia. You can have your say when I’m finished. The thing is, I have plans for the future, and I can offer you all a place in those plans. Not as vampires – I’ll let you live – but you *will* swear loyalty to me and mine. I ask no more than your word. You’ll want to think about that, but I’d like a reply before summer solstice.

“Whatever you choose, this place is mine. You’ll learn that I give up nothing that is mine. Nothing. However, I have no problem in you continuing the business from here, and it will be rent-free until I have your answer. What’s more, the place needs even more work doing on it than the last time I saw it. I’ll set that in motion. Can’t bear negligent landlords.

“Meantime, there is something I need, and I’m prepared to pay for it. I want papers that give me a legal identity. The full works, top quality. I’m pretty sure that you Wes, or you, Gunn, know where to get those. What do you say?”

He reaches into a pocket and tosses a medium-sized diamond onto the desk, no doubt one of those given to him in Hylek. I expect that it’s worth around $30,000, even traded in a hurry. That’s more than enough for what he asks.

“When you’ve found someone to do it, call me…” and he throws down a piece of paper with a telephone number written on it, “and I’ll tell you what name the papers should be in.”

“Why do you want papers? That isn’t something that ever bothered yo… Angel… before?”

“That’s something you’ll find out if you’re on board.”

Cordelia chimes in, then, more bravely than I would have expected.

“We don’t want your offers or your money. And this hotel is nothing to do with you. You can’t take all three of us, so just get out.”

His smile is the most feral thing I think I’ve ever seen.

“You’re quite wrong, Cordy, on all three counts. None of you knows where your next meal is coming from, so you really do need me; the business is mine; and I most certainly can take all three of you. You’re alive now because I wish it.”

She’s about ready to flounce off to the weapons cabinet – and perhaps get all of us killed – when Gunn puts a hand on her arm.

“What’s your offer? What do you want of us?”

“California will be my personal territory. I intend to stay in Sunnydale for the moment, but Los Angeles is mine. I don’t suffer competition. I want you to clean it up, just as you have with Angel. Nothing different, for now.”

“And that’s it? For now?”

“That’s it. If I want something different, I’ll discuss it with you.”

“Why would you be working with humans, instead of killing them?” If I’m to go up against this vampire, I must understand what’s going on in his mind. What games he’s playing. He simply shrugs.

“I’ll be working with humans in Sunnydale. I’ve no problem working with you. Not so long as I have your… loyalty.”

I think he was going to say ‘obedience’. Cordelia can control herself no longer.

“Nothing, absolutely nothing, will ever persuade me to work for you, you useless piece of shit. Angel would stake you in a heartbeat if he could.”

She storms off out of the office, and runs up the stairs to the room she keeps here. I think she’s crying. Angelus simply smirks at Gunn and me from my seat. I stand up and look at Gunn.

“I think she speaks for all of us?”

Gunn nods slowly. Before he can stand, Angelus is out of the chair and blocking the doorway. Angel rarely moved as swiftly as he was able. I think he didn’t want to remind us that he wasn’t human. Angelus doesn’t care, though.

“You have until summer solstice to reconsider. Meantime, you have a paying job to do for me.”

He looks at us both, and that look is as lascivious as any I’ve ever seen. Then he’s gone. I wonder why the solstice is so important to him? And why my trousers suddenly seem so tight…


Well, that went better than I expected. I found Wes and Gunn and Cordelia to be mostly annoying when the Soul was still in residence, but now that I’m in charge? Well, they are mine. I’ll do with them as I please, and at the moment it pleases me to have them taking out the competition here. Keeping the demonic peace so far as they can. I’ll back them up, of course, and it will be one less source of demons for the Slayer to worry about. Los Angeles is too close for comfort – any demon here will feel the pull of the Hellmouth. I need to have it under my control. They’d do it better if I turned them, but Buffy wouldn’t care for that, so I won’t. They’ll come round. They both respond to strong leadership, and there is unexplored darkness in the pair of them, darkness that I can speak to. Incidentally, did you see the effect my shot of pheromones had? Neither of them has ever encountered a real, hunting master vampire. They have no idea how I can manipulate their minds and their bodies. I wouldn’t be at all averse to taking both of them, really… Mmph!

I need to concentrate. I have one more thing to do before I head back home.

Home. Now that isn’t a word that vampires use very much. Do you know, I could get used to it…

OK, one more thing to do. I have the address, and it’s not yet midnight when I get there. Someone is still awake, if the lights in the downstairs rooms are anything to go by. Let’s hope it’s him. When he opens the door, they are clearly just winding up a dinner party.

“Mr Summers? Mr Hank Summers?”

He agrees that he is.

“I need to speak to you about your daughter. About Buffy.”

He gives a small start – well, house calls, at this time of night aren’t normally good news – and I can smell a little dread and panic oozing out of him, along with the good food and wine that he’s replete with, and the brandy that he is no doubt still drinking. He’s worried about her. Good. I’ll allow him to live, then.

“May I come in?”

“Yes… yes, please do. What’s wrong? Has something happened to her?”

You don’t know how much, Hank, and believe me, your stagnant little brain couldn’t encompass it, even if I told you.

I remain silent, though, as he shepherds me in through the door, and then into a small room off the hall. It’s his study. Now, tell me, would you shut yourself away, alone and unarmed and half drunk with a complete stranger who knocks on the door around midnight? You would? You’ve obviously heard the call of a hunting vampire. Later, I’ll see what we can do about that, but just now, I’m allowing Hank to feel that very same siren song. I’m doing just enough to ensure that he and I remain here, together, for a little while. Still, I guess that he noticed my Jaguar on the street outside, and assumed that I wasn’t there with criminal intent. A dangerous assumption…

He has a genuinely worried look on his face, so I gesture to him to take a seat – there are a couple of generous armchairs in this little study. I don’t want to have to catch him if he falls – he might get the wrong idea. He really isn’t my type.

“Where I come from, Mr Summers, it is considered appropriate to speak to a girl’s father, or to the head of her family, before paying suit to her. I intend to marry Buffy. She is of age, and I therefore have no intention of seeking your permission for this. You cast off your responsibilities as head of the family years ago, and although you are her father, you have taken very little interest in her welfare. However, it’s proper that I should tell you this, since I will, de facto, replace you as head of the family with regard to Dawn, as well.”

He looks as though his jaw has become unhinged. He rallies, though, with what clearly are the first thoughts to surface through his alcoholic haze.

“I have a dinner party – important clients are here. Couldn’t this have waited for a more suitable time?”

Not the sentiments I was looking for. My mate takes nothing of who she is from this man. I don’t change, but I do allow a flash of amber and a slight hint of fang. I also allow a rush of the sort of pheromones used for cowing newly risen whelps.

“Sunlight doesn’t agree with me, Mr Summers, so this can only be done at night. I have come from Sunnydale tonight, to see you. We won’t be long here. I’m sure your guests will be impressed to know that your daughter will be marrying the man who owns half of Sunnydale, and who will own the rest before long.”

He looks interested at that. That’s something else she doesn’t take from him. He’s greedy. I’ve thrown down a challenge to his position as head of the family, and all he’s worried about is my financial standing.

“Who are you? I don’t think we’ve met before?”

For one moment, I’m tempted to tell him my old name. My human name. He hasn’t earned that yet, though. He’d better get used to the real one.

“Just call me Angelus.”

“That’s a strange name…” He sees the glint of amber again, and feels a little frisson of fear. “A good name, though. Unusual. You’d better call me Hank.”

He reaches into a cabinet next to his chair and pulls out a bottle of very good brandy, together with two glasses.

“Join me?”

“Thank you. I will.”

He pours two generous shots, and hands one to me. Then he obviously feels a need to make some enquiries.

“So, how long have you been seeing Buffy? She’s never mentioned you, never said that she was seeing anyone seriously. Still, I suppose she’s never mentioned any of her boyfriends to me.”

“I’ve been seeing her, on and off, since she was sixteen.”

“Oh? You were… at school together?”

“No. Let’s just say I look a lot younger than I am.”

“So, you haven’t proposed to her yet?”

“That would not be appropriate until I had spoken to you.”

And to one more person. Someone much more worthy of the title of father to my chosen mate. He and I have a conversation coming, but it will be far different to this one.

“She might not accept your proposal, then?”

“She will, I’m confident of that. The wedding will be arranged as she wishes. If she wants you to come, you will be invited.”

Just for a moment, I see a wistful look on his face – he perhaps has some notion of what he has missed for these last few years. Then his expression hardens into something that owes more to anger. There must be some red blood in there somewhere, then.

“Well, Buffy is of age, but you have no right to assume any responsibilities for Dawny. She’s my little girl.”

He remembers her, then? The monks were *really* good. I take a long sip of my brandy, savouring the taste, before I reply to him.

“Hank. You left your wife and daughters to starve, for all you cared. After Joyce died, Buffy had no money. None. She had to drop out of college and sling burgers to keep a roof over their heads.”

Well, briefly, until my people made her see sense and accept some of my money.

“I have come here because my own rearing would allow nothing else. But you have forfeited any right to be considered head of the family. I am assuming that role. Please remember what I’ve said. Buffy will lack for nothing, and neither will Dawn. Their futures, in that respect, are assured. If Dawn wishes to marry, it will be to someone of whom I approve. I take my own responsibilities more seriously than you clearly do.

“If you need anything, then you may ask me. You can find me at the mansion on Crawford Street, in Sunnydale. The wedding will be at the summer solstice, 21 June. Perhaps you should pencil it in.”

Just making it clear that if he’s family, then I’ve got jurisdiction over him, too, and with that I finish the brandy, and stand up.

“Good night, Hank.”

I don’t offer him my hand; I simply stroll out of the door, leaving him gaping like a fish. I enjoyed that. I just wish he had been slightly more sober – he might have given me more of an argument if he’d had his wits about him. I should have enjoyed that even more. As I turn for the front door, I see his guests – and his second wife – gathered in the main room. I incline my head graciously to them – they really don’t know how lucky they are that I’m leaving it at that – and head off into the night.

As I’m driving through Hollywood, I realise that I haven’t eaten at all tonight, and I am distinctly peckish. I pull over, and set out on the prowl. I want to get back to Sunnydale, but I do feel like having a bit of a celebration – so much accomplished in a single evening – and I start with a dealer and one of his clients. Both of them have the telltale chemical aftertaste, and so I look around for a palate cleanser.

I find a down-and-out huddled in an alley. He hasn’t been this way for long. His clothes are dirty but not yet ragged, and they were once very good. He’s newly fallen from grace. He gives himself up to me without a struggle, though, welcoming both my embrace and my fangs – almost as if I’m doing him a favour. He smells of guilt and sorrow. As I drain the life from him, his battered blue baseball cap falls off – it’s one with ‘Firefly’ embroidered in red across the front. He gives a small sigh of relief, and just for the moment, for reasons that aren’t clear to me, I’m tempted to turn him. In the end, though, I just drain him. Out of habit, I go through his pockets, although I don’t expect to find much of interest. There’s no cash, no wallet, just a fine lawn handkerchief bearing a monogram – the sort of thing that friends or family buy the man who has everything else. Sometimes, I wonder about the life stories of the people who provide me with my ongoing existence, and I wonder a little about him. Not for long though. He’s history now. Time to go home.


Xander’s outburst has made me think about my relationship with Angelus. It’s not like I don’t think about it all the time, but I mean, *really* think about it. About what I’m doing. I love him. I love him as much as I loved – still love – Angel, although in a different way, somehow. I know the differences between them only too well, yet sometimes, Angelus seems almost… Angel-like. Deep inside me, I know that had it been Angel instead of Angelus, then there would have been times when Angel would have seemed almost like Angelus. The two of them aren’t as different as Angel used to protest. They are more like two sides of the same coin, or the two ends of a continuum of good and evil: two ends that must inevitably meet in the middle. Do you have any idea what I’m talking about? You do? Good. Then perhaps you can explain it to me.

Then there is this feeling I have. You know I sometimes have Slayer dreams? Dreams with a touch of prophecy, or some such thing, in them? I dream of him, often. Most of the time, those dreams are just ordinary boy/girl dreams. Well, bearing in mind the content, maybe not all that ‘ordinary’. More sort of extraordinary X-rated half the time. Just occasionally, though, I know I’ve been in touch with the Slayer in me. I *know* that, as much as it seems to make me a traitor to my species and to my calling, we are meant to be together. It’s as if the world would fly apart if we ended this relationship. I don’t know any more than that. I wish I did, because that would make it easier for me, would help me to justify what I’m going to do. At this moment, I’m going on love and faith alone. Thinking about it, though, perhaps that’s best. Perhaps I need to have made my mind up based on the love in my heart and faith in my instincts, before I truly understand why it should be meant to be: before I understand why he is my soul mate, just as much as Angel is. Because it really has to be about duty as well as love. It couldn’t be one without the other. I couldn’t stay with him if he were to carry on as the old homicidal Angelus. No matter how much I loved him, I should have to kill him eventually. So there has to be purpose. As the Slayer, I have to be able to use him. If that sounds cold and harsh, I’m sorry, but that’s how it is. That’s why I can only be glad that I love him so much.

It isn’t all about sex, even if that seems to be one of the forces welding us together – he is after all, the hottest thing that you or I will ever fall over, and the best lover you could ever imagine. The things that man can do with… There is very much more to it than that, though. If you listen to what he says, he’s dictatorial, domineering, arrogant and overbearing. He seems to want to control everything, including me. If you look at what he actually does, though, he is continually protective of my welfare, and does everything he can to fulfil my slightest wish. All this, without ever seeming to, of course. Tara was right, I think. I *know* that I can tame this demon. Oh, not completely – he’ll never be a pet cat; he’ll always be a tiger. Do you think that the forces of good might sometimes need a tiger? A being even darker and more focused than a Slayer? Is that why we were meant to be?

Angel was a warrior for the Powers That Be. His soul was – is – that of a hero and a champion, and I loved him with everything in me. Perhaps the Powers needed a darker champion, and perhaps I do, too? I won’t wish again for his soul and his demon to be reunited – although that would be my dearest dream. Look what happened when I did wish it, and it happened: he left me and tried to kill himself. I wouldn’t put him through that again. But Soul and Demon together would balance me, I’m sure, the dark and the light of me, in a way that no human being ever could.

Whatever the answer to that, I’m going to commit to him as wholeheartedly as he will let me. We’ve been apart too much, we’ve been through too much, to take anything for granted. I know he’ll protect me – he’s the best possible protection I could have – and I’m sure my life will be longer because of it. Nevertheless, we’re in a dangerous business, and either or both of us might die on any night. I don’t want to waste any more time. I’m going to talk to him, but I’m going to talk to Giles first. Giles will be hurt, particularly when you remember the personal loss that he’s suffered at Angelus’ hands – literally at Angelus’ hands – and I have to try to make him understand. I don’t want to lose him. He’s the nearest thing I’ve had to a father for years. Even at my age, fathers are important.

Having made that decision, I feel whole, for the first time in years. I’ve sleepwalked through life as if I weren’t part of it. Since losing Angel on my seventeenth birthday, the only time I’ve felt truly whole and alive is when I’m with Angelus. Otherwise, I’ve been a whiny shadow of who I should be. Now, perhaps I can be who I’m meant to be.


I’ve just spent half the night talking to Buffy. She found me here, at the Magic Shop, just as I was locking up, so at least we had the place to ourselves. She wanted to talk about Angelus, and her relationship with him. We danced around the subject for a little while, but then she took the bull by the horns and told me that she would commit herself to the demon. Although it isn’t unexpected, I can’t say I’m happy about it. I started to talk about a demon’s needs, a demon’s physicality, a demon’s lusts, and I don’t just mean sex, and I know I did it with all the subtlety of a tea-drinking English librarian. She rescued me, as I was floundering further into the mire, and talked about their relationship more candidly than I would ever have expected.

She told me about Spike, of how Angelus found them in flagrante delicto and delivered the ultimate in coitus interruptus, and how that precipitated such a terrible reaction from the demon. She also told me how much his behaviour has changed with her, and how she believes it to be changing in other ways. How her Slayer dreams make her think that the two of them were meant to be together. How she believes that perhaps she is meant to turn him into a force for good. I have the greatest faith in her, but I’m not sure that is possible. As evil as he is, how can he ever be a force for good, without a soul?

I don’t know what his intentions towards her are. I know that he sees her as his mate – that they have, in some way, mated already. In the vampire sense, I mean, not in the purely carnal sense. That, I’m afraid, goes without saying. I don’t know how far he intends to push this. He seems to have gathered up Faith as well. Is he going for a harem of Slayers? I can’t imagine that being a happy set-up. And what about his other predilections? Angelus is not only the greatest mass murderer we might ever see outside wartime, he is also an accomplished and extremely experienced torturer. He has a well-developed taste for inflicting pain. Will he try to do that with Buffy? She says he has not, so far, or not more than she has ever wanted, and I know what she means by that. He has been assiduous in his devotion to her and care of her. Can that possibly continue?

And how will I accept any liaison with him? He murdered the woman I love. He has expressed regret, but that will not bring her back. Jenny, though, came to me in a dream and told me I must let her go. I believe that to have been a true dream, but can I do it? I have been here for the remainder of the night, with my thoughts roiling. There was no point in going home, since sleep would have been quite beyond me. So I sit here, contemplating a future in which my surrogate daughter cleaves to the Scourge of Europe for as long as he remains obsessed with her. These are unhappy thoughts.

I’ve just made myself some tea when there’s a knock at the door. It’s gone three in the morning. This can’t be good, except… well, the door is still in one piece, so maybe it isn’t someone with robbery and murder on their mind. Still, it won’t hurt to take this handy little axe with me…

Oh. Speak of the devil.


“Hello, Giles.”

Why does he call me that, I wonder? He almost always calls me ‘Rupert’, in that sneering way he has, or ‘Watcher’ in that even more sneering way. He’s used the ‘Giles’ almost deferentially, and with respect. No doubt another of his little mind games. Still, I’m sure I’ll find out soon.

“I’ve just made some tea. Would you like a cup?”

“Yes. Thank you.”

I’m really worried by this studied politeness, but I pour tea for both of us. When I bring it to the table, he’s fiddling with things on the shelves. Not in the way I would normally associate with Angelus, that is – fiddling to see what will make the prettiest sound when it breaks, or make the most mess, or wreak the most destruction. He’s fiddling as though he were nervous. I have seen Angelus in situations where he should have been terrified, but was as cool as his reputation would suggest. I have never seen him nervous like this.

I clear my throat gently to let him know I am here, although I can’t imagine that all his senses haven’t already told him so. He turns abruptly from the last object he was absently repositioning – ironically enough, an Orb of Thesulah – and comes to seat himself opposite me. Is that a bad sign? How people seat themselves around a table in respect to the other sitters is a matter of in-depth study in some quarters, you know. Sitting opposite can mean a desire for a showdown. When he speaks, he seems hesitant, unsure of himself. That’s a first.

“I was passing and saw that you were still here. I was intending to come and see you tomorrow night. I can leave it until then if you prefer. If you want to get home.”

“I’m happy to talk now. I wasn’t planning on going home, anyway. What do you want?”

He shifts a little in his chair, as if he were under an uncomfortable scrutiny.

“Giles, there’s a lot of bad blood between us. Nevertheless, there is one thing on which I think we are in total agreement.”

I cock my head in surprise – is there anything this demon and I could really agree upon?

“Buffy’s well-being.”

Indeed there is. I remain silent. This must all come from him.

He thrusts one hand deep into a pocket, and brings out a small box, which he turns around and around in those long, artist’s fingers. Then he places the box on the table and opens it. Inside are two rings. One is a simple, but heavy, platinum band. The other is a circle of diamonds and pigeon’s blood rubies, square cut, set in platinum and banded on both edges with rings of black onyx. Costly, tasteful and extremely beautiful.

“You are the nearest thing to a father that she has. Where I come from, no man would consider paying serious suit to a girl without first seeking the permission of her father. That is why I am here.”

He subsides, and for a moment, I am unable to fill the gap, because I seem to have lost my voice. Eventually, though, I find it again, although I don’t seem to be capable of saying anything very meaningful.

“You are asking me whether you can pay your addresses to Buffy?”

He grins, almost like a little boy.


“Isn’t it a little late for that. From what I understand, you’ve been paying more than addresses to her for years now, and without any need for my approval.” It comes out more tartly than I had intended.

He doesn’t rise to that, as I almost expected him to do, but simply shifts again. If it were anyone else, I’d say they were shuffling in their seat. When he speaks, I wonder if, like me, it has come out more abruptly than he intended.

“I want to marry her. Churches and frocks and things.”


I cannot believe my ears. This *demon* wants a church wedding with my Slayer? To cover my astonishment, I pick up the box and examine the rings. He becomes more uncomfortable, sheepish, even. I’ve taken the rings out of the box before I understand why that should be. The wedding band, that plain circle of platinum, is inscribed on the inside.

Anima mea

My soul.

Oh. My. I’m as sure as I can be that he never intended me to see that.

“You really mean it?”

“It’s what she dreams of.”

“You’ve already asked her?” In view of what Buffy said only hours ago, I didn’t think he had. He shakes his head.

“Not yet. I wished to speak to you first.”

He seems to mentally square his shoulders.

“I will love her as no other being on this planet ever could, and I will protect her with my life. I know those things will be more important to you than when I also say that she and Dawn will lack for nothing. I’ll make a marriage settlement on Buffy – I expect that you will want to agree the amount. I thought…” and he names an outrageous sum. Surely she could never spend half as much? “…and Dawn will be taken care of, too. She will have a suitable dowry. My… means… are adequate now. When it comes time for Dawn to marry, she will need my permission, but I will seek your views, I give you my word.”

He must be more like an eighteenth century father than he could ever have imagined. He’s almost feudal. Still, is that such a bad thing? And where did that thought come from? Of course it’s a bad thing that he should have anything to do with these girls…women. I can’t find the words to properly say that, yet, so I ask something that has bubbled to the top of my confused thoughts.

“How can you possibly expect a priest to perform a wedding ceremony for you?”

“It’s taken care of.”

Oh my, that can’t be good. No real priest would ever contemplate this. Has he delved into the darkest closets of the Church?

“An unfrocked sot of a priest, I suppose…?”

“No. A real priest who wishes to interview Buffy and make sure that she does this willingly. From St Jude’s in Los Angeles.”

The patron saint of lost causes. I can’t help but laugh, and even he gives a wry smile. It’s a smile that’s very reminiscent of Angel, and I mustn’t think like that. This vampire is nothing like Angel.

“But you aren’t a person. I mean, in the eyes of the law. You don’t have an identity.”

“Taken care of.”

Really? He has been busy.

“I’m not her father. Surely you should be talking to Hank Summers?”

“I’ve done that. Not like this,” he hastens to add. “I simply told him I was marrying her, and that he would be invited if that was what she wanted. I should have just eaten him.”

That last is said rather wistfully, and do you know, that’s the second thing tonight on which I find myself in wholehearted agreement with him? He stands up then and, after retrieving the rings, walks over to the counter. Leaning over it, he fetches out the bottle of single malt that he knows I keep there, and two glasses, holding them up in a gesture that seeks approval. That’ll be a damn sight better than tea, so I nod.

He returns with two well-filled glasses.

“Do I have your approval?”

“Would it matter if I said no?”

“Not to me, but it would to her.”

“If she says yes, then I suppose I must give my approval.” He has Jenny’s, I think, although I can’t imagine why. Nor can I imagine how I shall ever live with myself after this. I feel like running back to England, but if I do, then I leave her here with him. Her, and Dawn. True, she will have two powerful allies in Willow and Tara, and I’m almost certain some of the demons and vampires at his court hold her in high regard, although I’m equally sure that none of them will ever go up against Angelus. I believe that even Aurelius regards her with respect and affection, unlikely as that seems. With Dawn and Xander and Anya she wouldn’t be alone. Does she need me?

He seems to read something of this in my face.

“I understand if you decide to leave Sunnydale, but I would prefer you to stay here. I know Buffy will want you to. There is a place for you at my court. We will have many disagreements, I’m certain, but I also think that we can work together, if we can put aside the one action that I can never take back.”

I’m silent, drinking my whisky, and it’s his turn to leave me to speak. Now is the time for honesty. I wonder how he will feel if I say what I truly think? Will he kill me for it? If he did, would that change Buffy’s mind about cleaving to this monster? If so, surely it would be a worthwhile sacrifice? I decide to plunge in and speak my mind.

“I may act as if I have forgiven, but I have certainly not forgotten.”

“I know.”

“I would still like to kill you for what you did to Jenny.”

He doesn’t respond. What, indeed, could he say?

“If I give the Slayer into your keeping, it would be against all my better judgement.”

“I know.”

I pause for a moment, and he understands that I am not yet finished, so he remains silent. He is taking this rather well, with as much maturity as Angel would. Has Angel left something of himself inside this beast? Could that be possible? Is that what Buffy sees? And what about her Slayer dreams and senses? Is she fooling herself, or is there a deeper purpose? He has certainly saved her life time and time again. Even I have admitted to myself that he keeps her safer than I ever could. And, buried deep inside me, is the knowledge of how much he loves her. I don’t know how I know, but it’s true. I cannot imagine that fierce and passionate love ever diminishing. Yet thoughts of Jenny, unavenged, still tug at me. It’s time to make a decision, though. I cannot leave Buffy unsupported, and she won’t leave him.

“If you hurt her, I *will* kill you.”

“I know.”

“I will visit upon you every hurt that you cause her.”

“You have my permission.”

I truly believe that he means it, and that he would bare his back to the lash willingly if ever he caused my Slayer pain. Then, the balance between us changes, and he takes back control of the conversation. He is once more the master and I am… not.

The demon says, “This enmity between us must cease.”

“I know.”

“You are my possession, my responsibility, so long as you remain here. And probably afterwards, too.”

That makes me shiver, but there is no point in pretending he could ever act in any other way.

“I know.”

“You will serve me and you will serve her.”


“What is past is written in stone and cannot be changed. We must live with it.”

“I know.”

Yet thoughts of Jenny still lie heavy on my heart. He has not suffered as I have suffered.

“Then we will turn a new page, a new leaf, from today? For her?”

Jenny, my love, forgive me.

“Yes. We will.”

I have just sold myself to the devil, for the sake of a Slayer whom I love like a daughter. I hope Jenny understands, because my heart does not.

He stands up again and holds out his hand in farewell. He is cool to the touch, not unpleasant. I wonder, for one brief moment, how he feels to her, when… And how she feels to him in that same act…

And I remember the poesy, the inscription, on the ring.

Anima mea

My soul.

It is that, more than anything else, which makes me think this couple might have a future together. But if he hurts her, I *will* kill him.


I’m moderately surprised by how much I managed to achieve last night. I’m also moderately surprised that I let the Watcher live after he saw the inscription I’ve had put into the wedding ring I got for Buffy. It was an extremely private sentiment, a very personal whim. I really think, though, that this would be a sin that she would not forgive. I must never kill her friends or family, and oddly enough, I rarely feel the urge to do so – only when they are being more than normally irritating. I keep reflecting on Tara’s words in the cemetery, and I’m beginning to feel a bit like one of those dangerous fighting dogs that are always kept on a leash and wearing a muzzle. A Japanese Akita, maybe. And the Slayer holds the leash. Someone should die for that but, just now, I’m not sure who, because I think I’ve probably put the muzzle on myself. I should go out and find a really vile kill to take the taste of this… neutering… away.

But Buffy was right. We are going to have to find some accommodation with each other, or we’ll finish up with a life filled with fucking and fighting, and nothing else. I don’t mind the first two at all, but after a few decades a life with nothing else would really seem pallid compared to what we could have had. Besides, I do have broader wishes. So, I must look within myself at how I am prepared to compromise and what she might be prepared to live with. I can’t and won’t stop her slaying, either – it’s who she is, after all – so I must give her some leeway. She’s my equal, not my inferior. That’s one of the reasons I love her. Only one of them, though.

I’m off to find her now. Faith has settled into the mansion – she doesn’t seem to mind the builder’s rubble, and the prospect of cleaning up with a wheelbarrow – and she is keeping a weather eye on Lindsey. Well, she’s keeping something on Lindsey; let’s leave it at that. One day, I’m going to deliberately walk in on the pair of them, and demand some compensation in kind for disturbing me… Not that I need an excuse, you understand. I could simply insist on my rights as master here. I prefer to make it something of a game, though. It’s more fun and less pompous that way. For now, though, I’ve taken the penthouse suite at the Sunnydale Hotel. My hotel. I’ve got a couple of surprises for my Slayer there. You’ve seen one of them.

When I get to her house, she has a surprise for me. She isn’t there. Dawn, sulking because she’s not been allowed to go with her sister, tells me that they had reports of some demon fish attacking swimmers off the beach. She’s gone to investigate, and to slay it. Damn it, she’s going to have to learn that she does not go slaying dangerous things unless I’m there with her. And I’m not dressed for the beach.

It doesn’t take long to get there, and she’s easy to find when I do. She’s the one with the sword. The other one is, indeed, a demon fish, and at the moment it’s winning. I am *not* going to lose her now.

It’s a Sarroth demon. It can take the form of any fish it likes, but it generally likes the look of a sunfish. Now, these can grow to 16 feet and weigh 2 tons. They are perfectly disc-shaped, and pretty harmless. They eat meat, but only little things, because they have quite a small mouth. Not the Sarroth. In the real sunfish, the head can be a third of the body size. The Sarroth has a mouth to match that head, with an impressive array of fangs. I hate Sarroths. The body armour is invulnerable to bladed weapons, and there’s only one way to kill them. Buffy doesn’t know it, and she certainly isn’t going to do it. Not if I have any say in the matter, and I do. Damn. I had other plans for tonight.

I stride down the beach and into the sea. In the shallow water, the Sarroth is on its side, all the better to bite her, and she can’t, as I thought, get the sword to bite back. I capture her wrist with my hand – we’ll have no accidental beheadings here, thank you – and duck just in time to dodge the punch that she throws. She laughs with relief when she sees that it’s me. I’m definitely frowning, though. She has no idea how dangerous these things are.

I take the sword from her – she protests, and I’d love to shut her up by kissing her, but not with the demon snapping at my balls – and I slap her on the rump to send her back to the beach. I’ll suffer for that later, and I just can’t wait to see how…

I smack the demon hard across the nose with the sword, and that huge maw opens up. I have to time this just right to avoid those really lethal fangs. As the jaws gape wider, and in company with quite a large quantity of ocean, I dive down the demon’s gullet.

It isn’t fun down here. It’s messy, and smelly, and there are all sorts of things that even I don’t feel the need to enquire into. None of my clothes will ever be the same again. Well, silk and digestive juices just don’t mix, do they? The job is simple, though. Break through the stomach wall, hack the heart into tiny pieces, and then cut my way out through the gills. Simple’ish. These things are *really* slender, for all their size, and there’s not that much elbow room. There’s not much standing room, either, so all this has to be done at a crouch. Try it sometime. It isn’t good for the temper. Something a bit smaller than a sword would have been good, so it’s more a case of mincing and slicing than cutting and hewing. It gets the job done, though, if a bit more slowly. This particular sort of demon goo is a sickly custard yellow. You really don’t ever want to see it. When I’m done, I never want to see it again, either.

When I’m finally out, despite the vast expanse of ocean around me, the demon goo sticks like, well, demon goo. It’s in my hair, all over my clothes, up my nose – you can imagine. I stalk back onto the beach as the demon’s body washes gently out into the Pacific, to find that my love has come out of her horror at seeing me disappear into a demon’s gullet, and is laughing uncontrollably at the sight that I present. I glower at her for some very long seconds, and then I, too, see the funny side. Soon, we are both kneeling on the sand, our sides aching and our eyes streaming. In my case the sand adds a fetching textural effect to the demon goo. I have to say that laughing at myself hasn’t been a common practice of mine, but I’m enjoying it now.

Soon, like two overgrown children, we are rolling around in the sand. Apart from anything else, she’s using it as an abrasive to get the goo off, and she’s letting it into all sorts of places that the goo never originally reached, with interesting sensual effects. When I finally wrestle her to a standstill – or a lie-still might be a better description – I am aching for her in all sorts of ways. Discretion is the better part of valour just here, though, since I’ve no wish to introduce lashings of sand into our coital activities. Gently, she starts to remove my clothes, and when I move to stop her, she shushes me and carries on. Oh, well. I’m sure I’ll manage somehow.

That isn’t her intention, though; at least not for now. When we are both naked, and my desire for her is perfectly evident, if a bit sandy, she pulls me to my feet and leads me by the hand out into the ocean. Now, there is something you should know about vampires and large bodies of water. Buoyancy, for a human, is provided by the air in your bodies. As a dead man, I don’t have so very much of that, so I have to remember to breathe. Even doing that, I’ve never been a natural swimmer. She is superb. Out in the deeper reaches, she teaches me movements that a merman would envy, and all the time she is cleaning me, cleansing me, purging me of the inner stench of the demon. Rocked on the billowing waves, entwined with my mate, I can think of only one finer way of spending the night. It’s a close thing at that.

Eventually, we allow the waves to wash us gently back ashore. My clothes, heaped up with hers on the beach, are ruined but there’s nothing else for me to wear, so we clean them up as best we can. All I can say is that it’s a good job that I routinely keep a couple of blankets in the car, for emergencies, and that the hotel has a private elevator from the car park to the penthouse suite. Oh, and the suite has a really good shower. Big. It’s amply big enough for two, in fact.

As we soap each other down, I tell her at length how foolish she is for trying to tackle something like a Sarroth demon without backup. Without me. She makes absolutely no reply. I’m sure she’s listening, though. As we rinse each other off, I go on to explain to her, again at length, how, whenever she goes out slaying, I’ll be with her in future. Still, she says nothing, but she trails her fingers gently around some of the more tender spots that have recently been liberated from their coating of sand and salt. At least one of those more tender spots comes up to greet her, eager to feel more of those questing fingers.

I start to ask her if she understands my strictures on her reckless conduct, but even I can recognise by now that the sounds coming from me aren’t really words anymore. There’s the occasional hissed ‘yessss!’ and ‘more’ and ‘harder’, but the rest is no more than animal grunts and moans. A small, protest of loss escapes me when she withdraws her fingers, but they are instantly replaced by a rhapsody of lips and tongue and teeth. Oh yes, and those fingers again. By this time, I am leaning into the wall, my palms and forehead pressed against the cool wetness of the blue tiles. I am panting. Old habits die hard. When she brings me to an explosive, all-consuming fulfilment, I have no capacity for thought, no ability to remember that I have ever wanted to prohibit her from doing anything, except stopping what she is doing now. That, I utterly forbid.

When I am quite recovered, I carry her through to the bedroom and return the favour. In detail. With interest.

Eventually we are sated and at peace, me spooned around her back, my arms enfolding her, holding her warmth and her life into me. Now might be as good a time as any. Well I’m not the sort to go down on one knee, you know.

“Marry me?”

Okay, I’ve done better, I admit it, although never with that particular sentence. She’s dozing a little, though, and doesn’t quite hear.


I snuggle a little closer, my mouth against her ear. I give her earlobe the gentlest of nips.

“Will you marry me?”

I hear the sharp intake of breath, and the sudden thump of her heart.

“A…a vampire…wedding?”

“No. A priest and a church and a white wedding gown. Marry me?”

Using her slayer-strength, she forces me to loosen my hold so that she can turn over, and look me in the eye. She thinks I’m teasing her.

“I… I don’t understand what you mean?”

I release her and reach back to the bedside cabinet, bringing out the box that I brought with me from Los Angeles. These rings were made by a family of Plath demons. I’m going to try to attract one of them to my court. They’re superlative gem carvers and jewellers, and I am sure I shall want to give her many other gifts. I open the black velvet box, and hand it to her. I feel like the callowest youth, waiting for her answer.


I was angry with him for not trusting me to kill that fish demon, then horrified at what he actually had to do to kill it. When he stalked back out of the sea? I’ve never seen him look so ridiculous. Or so boyish. Cleaning him up and making love to him in the ocean was almost beyond anything. Although not quite beyond making love to him here, tonight.

I love lying next to him, you know. He’s never overheated and sweaty, like a human male. Angel took my virginity and changed me in more ways than one. He spoiled me for any male, except his two halves, physically as well as in my heart. When my demon holds me close, as he was doing just now, he brings a stillness, a calmness, to me that I seem to lack when he isn’t there. I was close to sleep, I remember that, when he said something. His voice was intense with passion, but kept low, and I didn’t quite hear.

“M..y m..?”


He snuggles a little closer, his mouth against my ear. He gives my earlobe the gentlest of nips, sending shudders down my spine. I start to crave him all over again, and I’m definitely not sleepy now.

“Will you marry me?”

Did I hear that right? What on earth does he mean? Is he asking me to be his mate? I thought he said we already were. Does he mean an actual mating ceremony?

“A…a vampire…wedding?”

“No. A priest and a church and a white wedding gown. Marry me?”

What? I can’t be getting this right. Or he’s being crueller than he’s ever been to me. I can’t believe that.

Using my slayer-strength, I force him to loosen his hold so that I can turn over, and look him in the eye. I badly need to see him, see his face.

“I… I don’t understand what you mean?”

He releases me and reaches back to the bedside cabinet, bringing out a black velvet box. He opens it, and without a word he hands it to me. There’s something very vulnerable about his expression. It makes me want to hold him and never let him go, to reassure him that I will always be his. Then I look at the box. There are two rings in it. One is a circle of alternating diamonds and deep red rubies set in what looks like platinum or white gold. They are long stones, square cut, curved into parts of a circle, and they sit between two perfectly smooth rings of some black stone, maybe onyx or jet. It is absolutely beautiful, and so Angelus. So me, as well, I think.

The other is a plain, heavy band, again platinum or white gold. It’s a wedding ring. Even I can see that. He said that he would give me a ring to wear, and that we would wear the two claddagh until he had done so. Those little silver rings were somehow lost in the Underworld and my finger has felt naked without it. I don’t know how he has felt, but I have sometimes seen him rubbing that finger, as if something were missing. Now, he has offered me his own. I feel lost for words, a little numb, even, and in this space of time before the emotions hit me – as I *know* they will – I take the two rings from the box and lay them in the palm of my hand. I can see that there is an inscription in the wedding ring.

Anima mea

I don’t know what that means.

“What does the inscription say?”

My voice doesn’t sound like my own. Neither does his, when he answers, but his eyes, those sparkling, devilish eyes, are filled with warmth.

“Anima mea. It’s Latin. It means ‘My soul’.”

That’s when I burst into tears.

He stiffens for a split second, and then hugs me close, almost tipping the rings out of my palm and into the strewn bedclothes. He strokes my hair gently and murmurs soothing words to me, nonsense words, simply giving me comfort. I can’t help it. The emotions have swelled within me until I feel my skin about to burst. I’m too full to speak. I don’t know how, or even if, it can be accomplished, but this demon, my soul mate, loves me enough to want to marry me. And he loves me enough to think of me as his soul. Never, in whatever time we may have together, could I love him more than I do at this moment. He doesn’t understand though. He thinks he’s done something wrong.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I should have thought. I should have known… You still love Angel. It doesn’t matter… I’ll get it changed… Or, we don’t need to have a wedding, if you don’t want…

His voice is gruff, as if he might be close to tears himself.

I tug at a corner of the sheet and use it to wipe my eyes. I could really do with blowing my nose, but not on the sheet. I make do with a deep sniff and swallow, and then I bring up my hand, pulling it out of his embrace to stroke his cheek. I pull his head down towards mine and give him a warm but watery kiss. When I break it, he looks confused and a little lost.

“Don’t you back out on me now, you fool. And you’ll change nothing about those rings. Do you really think you can pull a wedding off?”

That takes a moment to sink in. The smile on his face is worth waiting for.

“If you want it, it’s already fixed. No point proposing, if I can’t deliver.”

He looks a bit like a puppy that has learned a new trick. I hug him to me, just as hard as I can. If he were human, I would probably have broken several of his ribs.

“Don’t think you can wriggle out of it now – that would be breach of promise. You’d better tell me what name I’m going to have. Mrs Angelus?” He opens his mouth to speak, but I put my finger against his lips. “Not now. Tell me everything later. Everything. Do you know how much I love you, my mate, my husband-to-be?”

I then proceed to show him, in no uncertain terms. I think he gets the message, but just to be sure, I show him a second and then a third time. By that time, I’m fairly certain he understands, but I need to demonstrate it in a different way. I’m still clutching the rings. I hand the wedding ring back to him, and tell him to put that in the box, then I put the other, the engagement ring, on my finger. Third finger, left hand.

“Tell me where you got these from. I’m going to get a matching wedding ring for you – don’t think you’re going to get away without one. You are *mine*, understand?”

“Got it…”

His smile is so unlike his usually rakish smirk, and so like Angel’s, that I could cry again, but I swallow that back. He pulls the sheet over us as we lie together, my head resting on his chest. There are so many things that need to be explored, so many lines to be drawn in the sand, and accommodations to be reached, but none of that is beyond us, I’m sure. Tomorrow will be soon enough for that.


I told you I’d got another surprise for her, didn’t I? I gave it to her the next morning. Her marriage settlement. The bills for the wedding will all come to me, of course, but she’s scrimped and scraped for long enough. She needs money of her own. We had a fight about it. She refused to ‘be bought’ and I insisted that she have her financial independence. I don’t want her coming to me for money – for other things, definitely, but not for money. If there comes a time that I haven’t got it, she won’t be able to have it, but that isn’t now. When I say we had a fight, it wasn’t just words.

We broke some of the furniture. Well, a lot of the furniture. I said that, since she was now a well-to-do woman of means and since these are the days of equal opportunity, I would allow her to pay for the breakages. That made her laugh. So we stopped fighting and did the other thing. That was much better.

She was just as surprised when I told her the date for the marriage. She protested vigorously, and we almost broke some more furniture, but when I confessed that the date was chosen for her, to give her a mystical independence as well as the financial one we’d already fought about, she became uncharacteristically quiet for a few minutes, then just nodded her head and pulled me back down for more of the other thing. There was something on her mind, though. I can always tell. Eventually, as we lie snuggled up in the afterglow, she puts it into words.

“I thought vampires mated, rather than married.”

Her voice is worried, anxious.

“Yes, they do.”

“Why do you want to marry me, rather than… you know…?”

I can’t do it, just yet. I can’t tell her everything I should. I want to, but I’m too afraid. I want her safely tied to me first. Then I’ll tell her. I’d thought that the simple mating ceremony would be enough, but I’ve been thinking about that. It won’t. It won’t protect her from the plotting, in-fighting and sheer power politics of the vampire world. There is another ritual that will, though. The ritual of eternal mates is a cleaving to each other for the whole of eternity. That’s what we are, but even more so than with a normal mating, the proper rituals need to be performed if she is to have the protection she needs. It’s just that the form of it won’t be acceptable to her. I know it won’t. I’m going to have to ask her, though. Oh, don’t worry, if she doesn’t want to, we won’t do it, but that will give us a whole raft of other problems. Still, we seem to have been living our lives one problem at a time, and who’s keeping score? I prevaricate.

“We are mates, even without the ceremony. We’ve made oaths to each other and exchanged blood. After we’re married, we can talk about whether we want the formal ceremonies for a mating. It’s not important.”

It is, but I can’t say it yet. I can tell she’s not entirely satisfied with my reply, but she lets it go.

I really don’t want to dwell on the next three weeks. Anyone who has ever been involved in a wedding in any capacity whatsoever will know why. I go back, often, to the idea of just running away with her. Cowardice in the line of fire, I know. Just name me one man who hasn’t had the same feelings of terror.

The priest is true to his word, and he comes to talk to Buffy. I introduce them, and am hustled out of the door. I don’t know what they talk about, but both of them look satisfied afterwards. That may be one of the strangest things about this whole affair.

He has reached agreement to borrow the Church of St Michael for the ceremony. I know it – it’s perhaps the most beautiful in Sunnydale, outside as well as in. It stands on a hill to the north of the town – churches dedicated to St Michael, the warrior archangel, seem to be almost always on a hill, as if standing guard. He suggests that we use the exterior. There is a prettily planted garden on the approach to the church, the edges of which blend into the graveyard. There is an expanse of grass, suited to our purposes since this will not be a large wedding, and we can put an arbour there, beneath which we can be wed. It sounds perfect. He has produced a service that will not involve me getting burned by holy objects nor require me to swear oaths by any almighty god. Perfect.

The mansion won’t quite be ready for the day, so the reception will be held at the hotel, and I’ll carry Buffy off for an extended honeymoon afterwards. I’m keeping our destination a close secret. That will be just for us.

At the moment, Buffy is drawing closer to her friends and family, which is good, but she’s becoming quite coy with respect to us. I suppose all brides are like that – saving the best until the wedding night. I’m content to play along. I’ve got any number of willing bedmates, including another Slayer. I haven’t made a move on Faith, though. Somehow, that doesn’t seem…right. There’s Lindsey, though. Let’s just say that when I need to relax a bit, I’m occupying myself with Lindsey, as nice a piece of ass as you could find anywhere.

Lindsey was always drawn to the Soul, but the Soul never used that against him, as he should have. It was a weakness he could and should have exploited, rather than trying to make Lindsey want redemption. I’m not so foolish. Lindsey is Japheth’s childe, and I don’t feel inclined to bond him, to share the extras in my blood now that I have so much more of Aurelius, of Sekhmet and of Buffy than ever before. Perhaps I’ll bond him later. Or perhaps, when Drusilla comes back, she can do the bonding. He’ll be akin to my grandchilde then. Or perhaps it won’t matter. I say that, because he’s as attracted to me as he was to the Soul and he’s just as attracted to the power base that I’m building here. He can see a future that might not have some of the disadvantages of a future with the law firm.

He’s finding that he likes the pain as much as the pleasure, too. Well, some of it. He’s finding a whole new world of sensation. So, he makes a nice distraction, while I wait for my bride. Faith can amuse herself elsewhere for a few weeks.

As the day grows nearer, I grow more nervous. Just like you humans, damn it. So long as she isn’t having second thoughts… Tell me again why I haven’t simply run away with her.


I can’t imagine anything more perfect, unless Angel were to be here, too. I’ve come to terms with that, as well as I ever will. I understand that the limitations on soul magic mean that the curse can never be renewed. Three times in, three times out, and that’s it. The power of three. So now I pray for his soul, every day. I pray that it has found a peaceful haven, and that we may be reunited in the afterlife. I try not to think too much about the afterlife, though, because what I would really want is for all three of us to be together. I don’t want to be parted from my demon, and I really don’t see how any of that is possible. Still, I can’t do anything about it, so I simply pray for Angel’s peace.

As for the wedding, I have only to wish it, and Angelus ensures that it’s there. It’s making me a bit complacent, but I can’t tell you how good it is to be able to let him shoulder all the responsibilities, just for a little while. He hasn’t talked to me about it, but I know that he has his people patrolling for strangers – strange demons, strange criminals, whatever. For a short space of time, I don’t have to be the Slayer. He hasn’t killed recently, and he’s made no new minions. It’s a sort of truce. Perhaps it’s one we can build on.

I know he will never be faithful to me, and that bothers me more than I can tell you, but we’re going to have to work that out as we go along. I knew that when I accepted him as my mate. I knew it even more when I accepted him as my fiancé, but perhaps I can keep him sated enough that he won’t want to wander very often… The killing worries me more, but perhaps he knows that. Perhaps he’ll keep on compromising.

Nevertheless, I am going to love him, but I am going to use him, if I can, to create a wider peace for humanity than a single slayer ever could. That was what I told Father Jerome, and he seemed content. He talked to me for a long time, and seemed satisfied that Angelus is in no way forcing me into this relationship. That seemed his greatest worry, not the relationship itself. Yet, when I asked him, he knows exactly who Angelus is. He did tell me, though, that if I am in need of help, I should go to the Church of St Jude’s in Los Angeles. I will always find help there, he says.

I’ve stayed away from Angelus, so far as I can. No, we’ve spoken and we’ve seen each other – I haven’t stayed away like that. But I’m sleeping alone, with only my memories of Angel. I won’t be able to indulge myself like this afterwards. He always seems to know when I’m thinking of Angel, and although he has said that he doesn’t resent my love for his other half, I don’t want to test that too hard. He’s a very unpredictable demon.

Apart from that, I feel nervous, like any bride whose wedding day is almost here. Will he change his mind – he’s so very mercurial, after all? Surely not. I don’t feel anything but love and contentment coming through the link. My love for him seems to have filled every part of my heart. I once read about a Queen of England who said that, when she died, they would find the word ‘Calais’ written on her heart. When I die, I’m sure the name ‘Angelus’ will be etched into my very bones. It will be alongside the name ‘Angel’.


It’s the day at last. Or the night, rather. It’s the summer solstice, and from now on the power of the night will be growing. I wasn’t entirely selfless in choosing this night. There won’t be too many people here. Our respective households will attend, of course, including Faith and Oz and Nina. Aurelius is here as my best man. Cordelia, Gunn and Wesley have come from Los Angeles. They haven’t given me an answer yet, and I must deal with that before we leave for our honeymoon. Perhaps I’ll just give them an extension…

Buffy has invited Hank and his new wife – I refuse to name her Buffy’s stepmother – on the strict condition that I do nothing to terrify them. Even though Hank is here, he won’t be giving her away. He was a bit put out by that, but hasn’t made any trouble. Giles will have the honours, and that is much more fitting. Dawn and Willow and Tara will be her bridesmaids.

I’m just putting the final touches to my toilet, and nerves are making my fingers clumsy. This is ridiculous. Aurelius has taken over, and is tying my tie. This is so lowering. He has something he wants to talk about, and he decides that now is a good time. Now? Talking? My brain is like porridge, with my nervousness. Now is so not good. Still, perhaps it will take my mind off what is to come. Listen, I may be quite a lot older than you are, but this is still my first marriage.

“Angelus, I have a gift for you, for your wedding.”

Gift? He’s already brought gifts, I know that.

I squint down at him as he fiddles under my chin to finalise the knot.

“I’ve been without a beta for too long now. I’m offering that to you.”

What! That could be either a gift beyond price or a poisoned chalice. With my chin stuck in the air, I have to swallow audibly before I can reply. Damn.

“Why would you offer that to me? You have a number of childer of your own, all much older than me, with higher standing.”

That pains me to say, but it’s the truth. He smiles.

“None of them want it. And before you ask, you are held in sufficiently high regard that I have no doubts about doing this.”

I am? Well, now. There is another issue, though.

“What about Buffy?”

He looks positively mischievous now.

“She may have to demonstrate that her place is at your side, and that she is worthy of their respect, but I don’t doubt that she can do that. Provided you mean to go through with the mating ceremony, that is.”

Ah, there we are again. The thing I haven’t talked to her about. I tell him that.

“Hmm. I can see why you might be wary of raising it, but you must, you know. My childer won’t be a problem, but it will be up to you to deal with the other branches of the clan. And to make sure there are none who will… encroach… from other clans.”

No, I’m not prepared to explain yet. Not until I’ve tried to explain it to Buffy. I nod in silence. He’s absolutely right. I never considered myself to lack courage, but I’m yellow through and through where this is concerned.

Still, he needs an answer on the offer he has made to me. It is a very handsome offer. It will involve a lot of time and travel for me in the years to come, but it will give me power and status beyond my years.

“Thank you for the offer. I’m very flattered.”

And I am, especially having so recently challenged him for leadership, and been let off with my life. I may have been defeated, but he’s given me the next best thing.

“You’ll do it?”


With that, he smiles his pleasure, and leads me out to the car. When we get there, he checks that he has both rings – Buffy has had a duplicate wedding ring made, exactly the same as the one I bought for her. The only difference is in the poesy – after all, she needs no other soul. The one she has shines so brightly now that I’m bedazzled by it, I admit. The inscription she’s had put there made my blood run even colder when I saw it, though.

Endless like my love. Forever.

You have a saying when you feel like that – ‘someone has walked over my grave’. Maybe someone did. It’s not that I doubt her. I don’t. It’s simply that I am eternal, and she isn’t. I know that one day, in the fullness of time, she must die. That ring will remind me of it every day of our lives. Still, I wouldn’t need the ring to do that.

When we arrive at the church, the rest are gathering. The priest is there, in his vestments, standing by the arbour. It is an arch lavishly entwined with red and white roses for true love and passion, and edged with orange blossom, for eternal love, purity and innocence. She’s all that to me. We go to join the priest. I’m amazed that he seems so comfortable with what he is doing. I also remember his price. We agreed that he would tell me what service he required me to perform, and that I should know it before this ceremony was concluded, but he has said nothing. If he does not, I shall consider myself to be free of debt. Perhaps.

As I stand waiting, I wonder what the incumbent priest of St Michael’s thinks of having this alfresco arrangement in his churchyard. I ask Father Jerome. He smiles slyly, and tells me that the good priest owed him a favour.

I have not been allowed to see Buffy today, and although I’ve paid for it, I haven’t been allowed to see her dress. I wonder what she has chosen. And then here she is. Two limousines, decorated with white flowers and ribbons, pull up beside the path. Xander and Anya help the three bridesmaids, all in flattering gowns of palest sea green, from the first limousine, which pulls away so that the second can allow its passengers to alight. Giles gets out first, on the far side, and walks around to help his charge. He opens the door, leans forward, and hands her out. She is the most exquisite creature I have ever seen.

Her hair, shining even in the moonlight, is knotted high on her head, with glowing curls hanging in ringlets from the knots. Her dress is ivory silk, and she wears the silver cross that the Soul gave her when he first met her. It seems right that she should do so. If he hadn’t loved her, and she him, perhaps we wouldn’t be where we are today. She hasn’t lowered her veil yet, and I can see the breathless excitement on her face as well as scenting it in the air, even mingled with the heady fragrances from the bower. She’s holding a simple bouquet of white roses set in a variety of everlasting flowers, blue and white. I suppose the everlasting flowers signify my non-human status.

Giles helps her to shake out her dress. Xander and Anya move back towards the little congregation and the bridesmaids start to move towards her, taking up position at her back.

I know what it is as soon as I hear it. The shot has been silenced, but it still rings out loud and clear to my demonic hearing. All my senses shift to maximum and I *see* the bullet in its trajectory. It’s perhaps three hundred feet from the arbour to the car, and I cover it with the best speed I can muster. I doubt any of the humans here actually see me in motion. Yet, I’m too slow; I can never be anything but too slow. Still, I must try. I watch the bullet flying to its target, and although everything is moving so slowly that there seems to be all the time in the world, I cannot get there in time. I see her stagger from the impact, and I am too late. I watch the perfect petals of crimson and scarlet unfurl on the ivory silk. Blue blood and red blood, arterial and venous, it’s all heart’s blood from my mate. I’m there to catch her as she falls, and although I’m not in time to stop the bullet that has created those perfect red petals, I am in time to feel the second as it hits me in the back, exactly where her heart would have been had I not caught her. It almost knocks me to the ground, but I manage to keep hold of her, cushion her from the fall.

Gently, gently, I lower her to the ground, my beloved sinking towards the grass and the earth, towards the grave dust at the edge of this graveyard, until both of us are on our knees, and I am clutching her body to mine. The bullet has missed her heart by a hairsbreadth, but it will still kill her. Even if it didn’t, the assassin has made sure she will die. My roar is one of pain and rage and grief. Any vampire within fifty miles will hear it and know my loss.

Then Aurelius is there, with the witches, still in slow motion. The humans have barely moved, but he has brought these to my aid. It’s too late. Once, when she was mortally wounded, I gave her a few drops of my blood to strengthen her. Now it would only speed her end. I cannot help. But, Never give up, she would say. Never stop fighting.

“Willow. The bullet has fragmented. It had poison in it.” S

he chants and gestures. I feel the pain as the pieces of lead are pulled back out of my body the way they came. I see the bullet that has murdered Buffy. It falls, oh so slowly, down the front of her gown. Tears are chilling their way down my cheeks, as Aurelius takes my shoulder and asks something. I don’t know what it is. He repeats it, and is not pleased with my silence. He hits me, hard, across the cheek, and suddenly the humans are starting to move again and time has snapped back into joint.

“What is the poison? Tell me! Now!”

“I don’t know. It’s enchanted. It’s aimed at her, not me.”

It may not be aimed at me, but I can feel it dulling my wits.

“Get away from her.”

Never. I’ll never leave her. I’ll stay here until the sun burns me to ash.

“Angelus. If we are to save her you *must* move. Now.”

Too slow. I’m too slow.

He’s speaking to the witches, and they have fallen to their knees, in this newly blooded grave dirt. They are chanting. Whatever they are doing is not working. I can hear her heart slowing and faltering. Willow speaks to Aurelius.

“I can’t get it out. It’s as if the magic has sunk claws into her. It won’t move. We need to know how to break the spell.”

Her heart is now fluttering wildly, like a trapped bird. Aurelius can hear it, too. He hits me again, and the force knocks me apart from my dying love. He kneels down between the witches, says a few more words to them and takes both their hands. Buffy is lying crumpled on the ground in front of them, the scarlet flower on her breast opening its petals ever wider. His eyes close, and he starts a chant of his own, in counterpoint with their new one. He’s calling on the power of the Hellmouth, a power that neither Willow nor Tara knows how to use, yet. But like me, he does.

They are stopping time. That takes enormous magics, and only here, on the Hellmouth, can they buy me the time I need. Senses, of some sort, have returned to me, and I know what I must do. As the power flows into the three of them, and the bubble of time arises around them, Aurelius looks up briefly.

“Get the bastard. Find out how to undo it.”

And then the three of them, and Buffy, are a frozen tableau, reliving a dying second over and over.

It is Xander who helps me to my feet, careless of my blood, sticky against the palm of his hand. My faculties start to function again, and I feel the rage fuelling my thoughts, as it has done for so very many long years.

“Giles. Wesley. See what you can find out about the poison. If you use some of my blood, will that work?”

It is Wesley who answers. Giles is pulling himself together, but he is still too shocked to take things in.

“If we get a sample quickly, before you alter it.”

We need a receptacle, and there isn’t one. Father Jerome has now joined us, spry for such an elderly, ailing man. He sends Thomaso sprinting for the church. When my minion returns, he is carrying a chalice in his smoking hands, trying to cover the metal with his sleeves. The priest takes the chalice and murmurs a few words over it.

“Put some blood in there. It’s deconsecrated now.”

I must look askance at him, even in my extremity. His reply is impatient.

“We’ll wash it and give it back later. Hurry up.”

I slash my wrist and fill the chalice.

“Take some to Hylek and anywhere else you must.” That to Ezrafel. Then to my court in general, I nod towards the time trap and towards Giles and Wesley and Ezrafel, my researchers. “Anything they need. Anything.”

Xander grips my arm, and for now we are united in hatred.

“Don’t worry about here. Just find him.”

As the rest of the congregation recover their powers of movement, and hurry down to the stricken scene, I’m off and running towards the place where the shot came from. I doubt more than three minutes has passed since then. Whoever it was won’t have gone far. As I reach the spot, more than half a mile away, a fact that argues a trained sniper, I recognise the scent on the breeze. It’s overlaid with gun oil and gunpowder, but it is unmistakeable. I expect my fangs to drop, but find that they already have. So much for not terrifying the in-laws. I have been in demon face almost certainly since the moment the bullets started their flight. I should have killed him when I had the chance. Riley.


I had hoped that no one here would ever have to call on the power of the Hellmouth, but that was a fond and foolish hope. There is no time to grieve or mourn. Not yet. If we are quick, and lucky beyond belief, we may have to do neither. My charge, my Slayer, my would-be daughter, is trapped in the cycles of time, and we must hurry, must find out how to undo what an assassin has done. Aurelius is channelling unbelievable amounts of power to Willow and Tara. Willow is the one actually working the magic, and the magic is now working her. It’s lacing itself through her, black in her veins, her eyes dark with power. Her hair is spread around her like a black corona, motionless. She holds the darkness of the Hellmouth in the palm of her hand, and only Tara is keeping her human. I don’t know what is happening to the vampire, but he’s keeping up the energy flow.

There is nothing I can do here. Angelus’ household – the rest of us, since I am one of them now – will take care of everything here. Some of us set off to the Magic Shop, as fast as the limousine can go, carrying the sample of the vampire’s blood that we pray will tell us what the poison is, and what the magic is that stops Willow from fixing it. Angelus will find the assassin, and I have no doubt he will torture him without mercy to find out what he needs to know. Torturing a human: well, he’s done plenty of that in his very long life. He’s probably the most expert torturer this planet has ever known. What am I going to do about it, to demonstrate that we are different from demons?

If necessary, I’ll hold his coat and pass him his tools.


Riley has not been gone more than a minute or two. I can try to run him down, but my stamina is not infinite, especially wounded as I am. In the long run, a car will win. Depends how long the run is, though. His scent trail is clear, and I can follow it with ease. I concentrate hard, not because I think I might lose it – it’s much too fresh for that – but to stop me thinking about something else. Aurelius and the witches will do whatever can be done. There is no one under the sun who could do more than they. I mustn’t think about her. Not yet. I must concentrate.

He’s driving fast. I don’t need to stick to the roads, but if I’m not quick, he’ll be onto the main highway, and a long, straight run out of town. I can’t win that race. Then a small, sporty yellow car comes towards me, travelling at high speed. I position myself at the side of the road. It’s a soft top. It was a soft top. Now it has no top, and I have a stranglehold on the driver. As soon as I can, I toss him out, and the car is mine by force majeur. A quick U turn, and I’m off. It only takes minutes to catch up to his anonymous SUV. I overtake him before he realises who is in the car, then a handbrake turn puts me back on a collision course. Neither of these cars will be needed, so that’s okay. At the moment of impact, I leap onto the SUV, reach through the door to pull my prey out, and we’re rolling onto the soft verge to the tune of tortured metal. I’m protecting him with my body. I don’t want him damaged. I’m going to do all the damage myself, for as long as it takes to make him tell me what I need to know. After that, we’ll just have to see.

I strangle him into unconsciousness, and lope back to the mansion. That’s where my tools are.

I don’t actually need tools to torture someone, but I want this over as quickly as possible. Who knows how long they can keep time in stasis? When I get to the mansion, it’s silent and in darkness. Everyone else is about my business, and there’s little reason for them to come back here. That’s good. The basement is pretty well soundproof, but privacy is good.

By the time he comes round, he’s chained hand and foot, spread-eagled in the middle of the very end basement, hanging from the ceiling and shackled to the floor. This is where I keep the things that could never be classed as toys, even in the most intense encounters. This is serious business, in this part of my home. I’ve changed into a pair of leather trousers I keep down here. They’ve seen better days. They’ve seen some extremely *good* days, in fact, and are a little too bloodstained to be seen anywhere else. I’m not wearing anything else, just the trousers. The blood will scrub off me easily enough.

He takes a shuddering gasp of air as he comes round, and another one when he opens his eyes and sees me lounging in a chair in front of him. The extent of his peril becomes clear to him a moment later as he realises that he is in chains. Oh yes, and he’s naked. Instant access to all areas. I’m holding a blue roll of cloth that contains the implements I’ve decided to start with. I really don’t expect to need any more.

I get up, and walk over to him. I have a table, handily placed by his side, where he can inspect whatever I put on it in exquisite detail. I unroll my tool kit onto there. I have a large number of surgical instruments – scissors, scalpels, knives, probes, saws, shears, and the rest. It’s amazing what surgeons need to do to the human body, and how lucky you are to have anaesthetics. Luckier than Riley, any way. There are other things as well. Lots of ordinary household objects can cause intense pain, agony even, if used just right. I know exactly what ‘just right’ is.

I stand back to let him admire the view. I shift into demon face, all the better to encourage him in the belief that he will get no human mercy here. There isn’t even any demonic mercy, I promise you.

I raise one claw to his eye, and stroke across the lid, gently. He tries to toss his head backwards, but he can’t get away from me.

“I’m only going to offer this to you once, Riley. You will tell me exactly what was in that bullet. You will tell me how to undo the poison and the magic that activates it. You will tell me why you tried to kill my bride, and you will tell me exactly who else was involved. You will tell me anything else that I need to know about this assassination. If you do, I promise you a quick and absolutely painless death. I promise not to turn you; you will be quite dead, and your body will be sent wherever you wish for decent burial.

“If you do not, then I promise that you *will* tell me, sooner or later. You won’t be able to imagine the agony that I will give you between now and then, and I will make quite sure that none of it kills you. You will be my prisoner for the rest of your life. If I wish, that will be an extremely long life, and you will never know anything but pain. If she dies, I shall turn you, and you will never know an end to the pain. Eternity can be a very, very long future.


He’s terrified. The thick scent of his fear is rolling off him in waves. He remains silent, though. I select a fine needle from the table and dip it into a small glass bottle that stands open. It’s acid, and for this I need only the thinnest coating on the slender piece of steel.

“Speak, boy.”

He clamps his jaws together, as if I were going to put the needle there. No such luck. I reach up and slowly, tenderly, with utmost patience, ease the needle under the nail of his left hand little finger. An oldie but goodie. He whimpers, and can barely keep from screaming as I manipulate that needle, pulling it out, easing it in, moving it here and there.

“We are going to stay here until you tell me what I want to know. You have ten seconds before my offer expires. It will never be repeated.”

He spits in my face. Well, at least he’s got balls. For now. I’d hoped to do this the quick way, but I hadn’t really expected that to succeed. We’ll do it the old-fashioned way then. The hard way.

First, to get his nerves as receptive as possible, and his mind as humiliated as I can. Ah, something before even that. This was an organised assassination, I’m positive about that. He doesn’t have the brains to put something as complex as this together. Suppose he’s been given the wherewithal to commit suicide? He’s naked and chained. He can’t hide anything or reach anything, but you’ve heard, I’m sure, about secret agents and cyanide capsules in a hollow tooth? I’ve actually seen it. Had my entertainment cut short by it, twice in fact. It’s a damn silly idea. I mean, what if you were eating a chocolate Brazil, or a crunchy toffee? But Buffy can’t afford me to take any chances. I briefly consider yanking out all his teeth, but that tends to lead to a certain incoherence when it comes to the time for him to spill all the information he’s trying to hide. I know from experience that he’ll be incoherent enough as it is. In magic, words can be vitally important, and I can’t risk mishearing. We’ll leave the teeth; they can always come out later.

Besides, I’ve got no intention just now of depriving him of any appendage. Once you hurt something by removing it, you can’t go back and hurt it some more. That’s a foolish way of trying to torture someone. So, for now I content myself with that dinky little implement that dentists use to keep your mouth open so they can practice their own form of torture. He’s loath to open wide, but eventually he does. Of course, I open him up a bit wider than he’s comfortable with. Every little helps.

Fine. Back to the nerves then. A man’s nerves are never more sensitive than when he is aroused. That’s easily accomplished. It takes care of the mental humiliation, too. As he responds to me, I nuzzle around the big pulse in his inner thigh. When he’s pretty well at full size, I leave him, and allow my fangs to slide gently into that artery. I don’t take much, and what I do take, I draw gently from him. Vampires can allow their meals to feel pleasure or pain, as we choose. I intend for him to feel maximum pleasure. I feel him swell a little more, and just before he reaches an irreversible climax, I knot a quick, but effective, cock ring from the shoelace in my hand. It’s tight enough to give him both pain and pleasure, but it will keep his nerves where I want them. He’s about to discover the real relationship between sex and pain and pleasure, and how much more agony there is in the world than ever he thought possible.

I start with his right hand. I want it easier to reach, so I buckle a belt around his waist, and handcuff his wrist to it. Then I reach for a pretty little pair of surgical shears. They look like dainty up-market garden secateurs, but they are strong enough to cut through bone.

“We’re going to start with an easy question, Riley. One that it isn’t worth hurting for.”

I need him to start talking as soon as possible, while the fear is still so fresh and strong. Every answer becomes easier after the first one.

“Why did you shoot her?”

I take hold of his smallest finger and let him feel the pressure of the shears.


When he remains silent, I run the shears lightly around the finger, in that tender area just above the base of his nail. That slight pressure cuts down through nail and skin and muscle, and I twist the shears in a circle. The finger remains intact but the flesh is scored to that tiny bone. I allow the pain to swell, then I move the shears down a little way and score down to the bone once more. The whimpering starts again.

“You’ll need to let me know when you want to talk, Riley, so that I can adjust your mouth. If you aren’t ready to do that, you just let me know when this finger hurts too much, and you want it cut off. Until then, I’ll just keep shredding it, shall I?”

And I do.


We are working to try and analyse what is in Angelus’ blood. It would have been better to use Buffy’s, but impossible to get at with the stasis field intact. Wesley is carrying out as many tests as we have equipment for. As he finds something, I am hitting the books. Ezrafel has gone to Hylek with a sample. Faith and Oz and Nina are here, ready to run any errands or beat answers out of anyone who might have them. Everyone else is at the church, prepared to do whatever can be done to help the four trapped in time. Hank and his new wife are having hysterics, and there is no time for that, so Cordelia has actually made herself useful and taken them back to the hotel. I don’t know what they are more hysterical about – Buffy getting shot, seeing Angelus’ true face, or watching dark magic being worked.

I am trying to suppress the urge to find out where Angelus is and how he is faring. It would serve no purpose; I can be more useful to my Slayer here, researching; and finding him would only demonstrate to me just how much darkness there is in me. I can only hope that he is living up to his reputation. He has more chance of success than we do.

It has been hours now. I don’t know how long the stasis spell can be maintained, but we need a resolution soon. Apart from anything else, this is the shortest night of the year. If dawn comes, we’re all going to have some big problems.

And then the phone rings. It’s him. *Who* shot her? Good grief. Riley. It seems that Riley doesn’t know what needs to be done to break the spell. The man who cast it does, though. Rack. Damn and blast, I thought he’d left this town for good. I didn’t know he was back. He must be close, apparently, because the spell on the toxin only had a lifespan of hours before it needed to be initiated. Oh, and Angelus has an address.

He wants to go and confront Rack, but Riley has not yet told him who else was involved. Who was the prime mover in this. We need to know that almost as badly as we need the information about breaking the spell. There might be another assassin close by. I make my suggestion. We here, plus a contingent from the church, will go and tackle Rack while Angelus continues to question Riley. If we fail to get answers, we’ll bring Rack to Angelus.

He gives that the go ahead.

We need to take Rack quickly and cleanly – he’s a powerful magician. Oz researches the binding spells we will need. As soon as we are kitted up, we’re off.


I’m in serious need of a shower. I’m covered in blood, none of it mine. I now have all the information that Riley can give me, I’m sure of that. Wolfram and Hart are behind this. Riley doesn’t understand their motivation. He only knows what he thinks – that Buffy is a traitor to her calling, and that I will use her to make mankind suffer. The same applies to Faith. He knows that she is also part of my personal household. His intention was to kill them both, so that a new Slayer would be called. One uncontaminated by me. One who hasn’t felt my fangs.

When he was approached by a representative of Wolfram and Hart, he accepted their proposal as a matter of duty. I can believe that. He knows that the bullets were supplied by Rack, and must be used within two hours. They were targeted specifically at Buffy. They were going to deal with Faith later. He has no knowledge of the magic required to break the spell. I’m sure he’s telling the truth.

He’s a mess now. I’ve done nothing to him that a vampire wouldn’t recover from – eventually – but a human? He can mend from this, but he’ll never be pretty again, nor have full use of all his body parts. I’m thinking that maybe I can now go and take that shower, get dressed, and go to help my people with Rack. Riley will keep here just fine. Out of habit, whilst I’m reflecting, I wash up all the instruments I’ve used on him, and lay them out neatly on the blue cloth. I’ll leave them to dry completely before wrapping them back up. I move Riley from the centre of the room, and hang him in one of the sets of chains on the wall – he’ll be out of the way there – then swill down the floor to remove the worst of the bloodstains. The minions can finish the job later, when we all have time.

That’s when Faith comes down into the basement. She looks at the equipment I have here with some interest. Then she looks at me, and at Riley. I think I see her mouth make a little moue of distaste, but it’s very fleeting. Well, he’s a very distasteful sight indeed.

“I see you’ve been having a good time,” she says, in that sultry come-hither voice. Another time, maybe. Right now, I need to know something.


“Well, assuming what they all got between them is right, then she should be OK. They’re working on it now. Ezrafel got some stuff from Hylek, and Rack gave it up pretty easily. Question is, was he telling the truth? Everyone seems to think so. They’re whipping up the magic right now, big boy.”

She looks at Riley again.

“You done with him? He give it all up, you think?”

“He’s not holding anything back, I’m sure of that, but I’m done with him when I say I’m done.” He’s got a whole lot of pain coming yet.

She nods, pensively, as she walks forward to the table and inspects the instruments. She picks up a large pair of scissors. They’ve got curved ends, all the better for reaching difficult places, but they’re as sharp as a stiletto. She examines them as she walks around the walls, looking at the instruments exhibited there, tugging at the chains.

She turns with a smile.

“These hold a Slayer?”

What the hell does she have in mind? Or what does she think *I* have in mind? And I don’t have time for this.

“Yeah. They’re spelled. They’ll hold an elephant or stronger. Anything in them, their strength is simply channelled into the chains and the wall holding them. Look, Faith, I’ve gotta go see Buffy…”

She’s looking at me with a very strange expression on her face. She draws her arm back, and once again there seems to be that slow motion effect as she brings her arm forward with all her power, and lets go of the scissors. As they fly to their mark, turning end over end, she takes a leap forward and kicks me in the balls. As the scissors bury themselves to the pivot point in Riley’s heart, and I sink to my knees, agony burning through me, she takes another step and kicks me in the crotch again with all her strength. I can’t help but howl as my genitals suffer from that second assault, the ferocity of it carrying me several feet back towards the wall. And again she kicks me, and I have no chance of recovering before she has me manacled against the wall. Before I can even see straight, she has my trousers off, and shackles on my ankles. I know that struggling will do no good, but what else can I do? My only success is in drawing blood from wrists and ankles.

When I can focus, although the pain between my legs hasn’t abated one bit, I see that she is once more inspecting the instruments on the table. She’s also giving some very considering looks to Riley’s corpse. Well, what the hell did she expect it to look like?

It’s a moment or two before the power of speech returns to me, and it manifests in a torrent of invective, concentrating on what I will do to the stupid bitch if she doesn’t let me out of here *now*. She makes no response. In fact she gives no indication that she is even listening.

When she turns round, she is holding a small knife. It may be small, but it’s wickedly sharp. Riley would have known, because he felt its kiss. She’s holding something else hidden in her fist.

“You’ve had your fangs in me, you bastard.”

What? So what if I have? She’s my *bondswoman* now. She is mine, to do with as I choose. And she has enjoyed my attentions. This can’t be because of that? Or is it because I took Lindsey from her for a while? She needs to get used to deferring to me, and she’s got some serious lessons in obedience coming when I get out of these chains.

“You played with me in the hospital when I was helpless. You *drank* from me. Well, let’s see if I can play with you now. You and your whore of a bride.”

My roar of anger and fear resounds from the bare stone walls. Anger for me, but fear for Buffy. I cannot allow her to be left to the mercies of this vengeful trull. My fear gets the better of me and I scream a torrent of abuse and vivid threats. She is serenely indifferent.

“I’ll play a game with you, Angelus. Whatever I do to you, I won’t do to her. If you beg me to stop, she gets whatever I happen to be doing to you. It’s simple really, capisce? You take it all, and I’ll leave her alone? Deal?”

The only answer she gets from me is another string of invective. I cannot believe the sheer gall of this overblown strumpet. She looks pointedly at Riley.

“You want little Miss Pears to look like that when I’m finished? She won’t mend from that, vampire.”

I’m screaming in my head, now, unable to get away from the image in my mind. My love, agonised, despoiled and defiled. Never. But this bitch will suffer for whatever she does here. I will repay her a thousand-fold.

She walks towards me, still carrying the knife, and whatever she has in her fist. She puts the edge of the knife against my upper eyelid, and draws what will no doubt be a thin red line across it. There is no pain at first, and then the cut starts to sting.

“If you say nothing, I’ll assume you accept the deal.”

I remain silent. She opens her fist, so that I can see what she holds. It’s the other shoelace.

“Let’s start with sharp, shall we?”

I grit my teeth and wait.


It’s been hours now, and dawn is approaching. My fear for Buffy, and for Aurelius, is a living thing inside me, gnawing at the heart of me. If the stasis field still holds, as I think it must, what will happen to Buffy if Aurelius is burned to ash by the rising sun? And I think the stasis field holds because I cannot feel her, cannot reach her. The only other alternative is unthinkable. I haven’t felt her passing, though, and that is a comfort to me. Despite what has been done to me here, I’m sure I would have felt my mate’s death.

I can barely see Faith now. One eye is badly damaged and filled with blood, the other one swollen almost shut. Those may be the least of my injuries. She has a talent for this. She has scrutinised Riley’s corpse a number of times, and she has learned from what I have done. She lacks subtlety and finesse, but I can only be grateful for that.

She has applied a level of pain that I confess has had me screaming, although not as much as Riley did. I should never live that down. Since my body now seems to be one single point-source of pain, the individual hurts no longer distinguishable until she starts work on a chosen spot again, I cannot tell whether she has done any damage that cannot be repaired. She will suffer for this.

She has exhausted her interest in the little knife, and in half a dozen other instruments. She is now surveying what remains, deciding what should come next.

The pain has not been the worst of it, though. She has understood that pain can operate on a man – on a male of any species – as powerfully as pleasure. She has used that understanding throughout the night. Time and again she has ridden me, her legs clasped around my bloody waist, and time and again my traitorous body has responded, despite the most intimate and appalling hurts that she has inflicted, and despite my best efforts to refuse her. The shame of that will linger, long after my hurts have, I hope, healed. She will pay, and pay, and pay again for that.

She’s coming back over, and has something in her hand. Oh, she’s chosen that. May the Lords of Hell help me now.


I don’t think that there’s any part of my body that is unwounded. If I die, and she chooses to visit this upon Buffy, I can only pray that the others will be able to stop her. Even if I live, I may be unable to. It might take days, or weeks even, to heal from what she has done. If I can heal, that is. If she lets me live. I think perhaps she will. Her scent is confusing, but I don’t smell death on it. Perhaps she will try to disable me permanently. Even a vampire’s healing abilities have some limits.

I’m very weak now, not only from pain, but also from blood loss. Most of mine is on the floor, and I’m standing in a pool of blood and other bodily fluids. I can feel my hold on reality slipping, as my mind tries to leave this place of torment and take refuge in dreams. That is how demons avoid loss of consciousness from the most brutal pain. We slip into another world, another reality, leaving only the husk of a mind behind. Sometimes, we stay there for a long time. Sometimes, we never come out again.

She is giving one last thrust, one last twist, of her current instrument of choice. My cry of anguish is subdued and frail. Like me.

Then I am granted a small reprieve. Her phone is ringing. Her side of the conversation is terse.



You done?

Yes… here.

She puts down the gouge that she was holding and, without a backward glance, walks up the stairs and into the light of dawn. Strangely, I think I can smell tears. Then the call of that far-off reality becomes too strong to resist, and I leave my hapless body to its fate. As I do so, I wonder whether loving Buffy Summers will always be so damned painful.


We could see outside the stasis field. There was a near horizon beyond which everything that was animate was simply a blur of motion. Time did not stand completely still – Willow had left a connection, a tiny point of communication though which she could test the outside world. That was why we could see. Had she closed the field completely, it is unlikely that any one of our number could have reached us to release us when the magic was ready. A closed field would not have left us open to the sun, though.

Afterwards, I understood that those remaining at the church had, under the leadership of the Harris boy, constructed a shelter for us in case of need. That is good, because when the answer comes, so does the dawn. As soon as Willow lets the field drop, a magic user from Adras, one whom I have met before, performs an incantation, crouched down within the darkness of this makeshift tent. As she speaks, a spiralling cloud of viridian droplets rises from the wound in Buffy’s breast. At a gesture, the droplets are flung outside, to dissipate on the morning breeze.

We aren’t out of the woods yet, though, since Buffy’s wound is, by itself, mortal. The Adraste is prepared for that. Another swift incantation, and she tosses me a knife. Ah, one of those spells, then. I run the blade over the palm of my hand, as the magic user chants, and allow the blood to spill onto the grass, squeezing my fist to increase the flow, a libation and a sacrifice to the spirits of this place. She takes my bloodied hand and places it firmly over the wound as she completes her spell. Buffy will now have a few drops of my blood in her. I wonder how she will feel about that? I wonder how Angelus will feel about that? And will it be enough?

Still, it’s appropriate. She will need even more of my blood before she can be accepted into the clan.

As the magic user falls silent, Buffy’s still body – still but not quite dead – convulses, her back arching and her head thrown back. Then she gasps for air and I can feel the wound under my hand start to knit together. Between us, we have won.

Tara and Willow are still kneeling on the ground, as am I. All three of us are exhausted by the power of the magic we have been channelling, but there is too much to do to give way to fatigue. Getting out of this shelter would be a start. The magic user starts to rise, and I call out to her.

“Thank you, madame. Let me have your payment terms, and I shall settle it.”

The Adraste are strictly cash only, and sticklers for prompt payment. She inclines her head a little.

“Tell Angelus and the Slayer that they owe me a debt of service. That is my payment.”

I see her stand, and then walk forward into a small blue portal that no doubt leads back to her home dimension. A debt of service? Well, that’s a first. Speaking of Angelus, he will be anxious to know that his bride has survived.

With the help of the priest – and why he is involving himself in this, I refuse to speculate until I have more information – we make it to the cover of the church. I call for a résumé of what has happened during our time in stasis. The group have acquitted themselves well, but now there are the consequences to deal with. I issue my instructions. Amongst other things, Tara will stay with the Slayer, whose recovery is not yet over. Her wound has closed, but she is weak, and needs to heal properly. Tara is an accomplished healer. She is the natural one to watch over my adopted childe’s mate. Willow and I will find Angelus.

On the way to the mansion, I take time to assess Willow. Her mate, Tara, has been exhausted by the use of the power of the Hellmouth, but has taken no other hurt, so far as I can tell. Willow, on the other hand, will have long-term effects. The power is dark and deceitful, and seductive like none she has known before. She is still showing traces of that darkness. Before she encounters it again, she must be helped to use it, rather than let it use her. There are more casualties here than the simple shooting of a woman would suggest.

We find Angelus in the basement. Willow enters immediately behind me, and I am too late to prevent her from seeing. She is too innocent and untried for what is down here. After one glance, she is conspicuously and noisily sick. Even with all my experience, I almost wish I could join her.

There are two wrecked bodies here, and only one of them is redeemable. The corpse can wait. The minions will deal with that tonight. Angelus, my adopted childe, whom I have grown to love, is a ruin of flesh and blood and bone. The torture has, in most places, been crude and ugly, but nonetheless effective for all that. This will take a lot of healing. Willow comes forward to join me, having emptied her stomach. Her bridesmaid finery has suffered irretrievably.

“What’s wrong with him,” she whispers.

I know very well what she means. She’s looking beyond the ravaged flesh. His mind is somewhere else, and he is no more than an elemental, snarling, slavering demon.

“I will explain it to you later. He will recover.” I hope. “He has known much pain in the last few weeks, hasn’t he?”

She nods, mutely.

She is not a tall woman, so I take her by the shoulders and crouch down a little, until I can look her in the face from her own level.

“Willow, I know that you are exhausted, but we must help him. Can you do a very small magic?”

She seems to feel within herself, and then nods again.

“Will you render him unconscious? He is too dangerous to help at the moment, and I don’t want to have to hurt him further.”

“I can do that…”

She calls out a few words of incantation, and gestures to the chained wreckage of my beautiful boy. He falls limp and still in the restraints.

“Thank you, Willow.”

I stand up straight again.

“Now tell me, would a vacation seriously discommode Tara and yourself?”


When I rouse, I have returned to the edges of your reality, but no further. I am confused. I know that I have been unconscious and, as awareness of my body returns, with the attendant raging agony, I know that I am in fetters. My wrists are shackled, and I cannot move my arms. My nostrils are assailed by strange scents, all interlaced with the heady aroma of blood. And I am *so* hungry. As I struggle and rage the bonds around my arms tighten, and a voice whispers soft words in my ear. The words are meant to soothe, I think, but I must be free. I must. Otherwise I can never be rid of the agony. My mind draws away from the torment that marks this boundary of my current reality, but as it changes perspective, I see that the shackles are bandages, and the bonds around me are the arms of my clan master, comforting me back to sleep. I think that I dream.

I dream of a place where my mate and I are alone, and we are content. A place where we are free to make love, and to play: in the water and in the meadows, under the moon and under the sun, we can just be, without fear or danger. After a time, it becomes clear that there are other presences here, but I cannot see them. She is aware of them, too. Once, we think that we might catch a glimpse of them, a tall and graceful Lady and her two consorts, opposites in all things, but it might have been a mirage. Except, except that, as we slept in the soft grass one night, there was a woman’s voice, warm and thrilling.

“You have time enough for love, but make the best of it. Others are purchasing your time with their pain, with their lives and with their souls. Do not let their sacrifice be in vain.”

In my dream, my mate heard that voice, too.

When I wake again, the bonds have gone. I am still not quite in this reality, but I know that there is something I need. Something I must do. A faint scent reaches me. Her. She is not close by, but I must find her. I must. And I am so hungry.


I have brought them to my home in Cairo – Angelus, the Slayer, Willow and Tara. We have kept both Angelus and the Slayer asleep for a week, to help their healing. The witches lift the sleep, just a little, often enough for them to be fed and cared for, and they are now well on the road to recovery.

My human guests caused no little stir when we arrived. My household are well trained and resourceful, and I am well connected in other circles, but we have little to do with humans in this house – well, unless one is the main course, but even that is a rare event. There are other ways of getting blood. Still, my people have risen to the challenge, as I would expect, and are fascinated by the turn of events. Here, most of us are old enough to have learned the value of new and interesting things.

With the help of my household, the witches have cared for Buffy, and I have spent most of the week with Angelus. Even in sleep, he has been restless and… I’m not sure what word would describe it. In a human, it would be delirious, but that does not apply to a demon. It gives you a mental picture, though. Now, he is calmer, and I have business to take care of.

I have barely started to deal with matters that have waited too long for my attention when Paul, one of my senior minions, hastens in to fetch me. Angelus is awake and loose, but he is still not himself. And he will be starving, a natural consequence of the healing process. I think I know where he is going.

We hear the sound of low growling as we reach the rooms given over to the Slayer and the witches. The Slayer is still deeply asleep. The witches stand at her bedside, and a naked Angelus, trailing the rags of his bandages, in demon face and definitely not in control, is intent on passing them. Someone is going to get hurt. Willow prepares to use a spell, convinced that Angelus, in this primitive and mindless state, will do damage to her charge, or to her own mate, but I stay her hand. Let us see whether my senses are mistaken. Half a dozen of my own are here, ready to help me pull Angelus away if he offers harm to the Slayer.

He leans over the bed, sniffing at her, his fangs bared as he draws the scent in over his tongue and tastes it. He looks back over his shoulder, at the rest of us, and snarls menacingly. Then he slides into the bed and wraps himself protectively around his mate. Even out of his mind, he knows her. She will take no harm from him. She sighs, and turns to greet him, returning his embrace. He turns and snarls us away again, then lets his cheek rest against the top of her head. They can bring nothing but good to each other. I send the minions away, and prepare to stand watch with Willow and Tara. This is a perfect opportunity to talk to them about the magic of the Hellmouth.


We three are preparing to return to Los Angeles. We have reached no joint decision on whether we should continue to have dealings with Angelus.

Gunn has learned that there are many worse things than a set of teeth, and they aren’t all out on the street. He is prepared to contemplate working with the Slayer and with the humans he has met here. He doesn’t really understand who and what Angelus is. I haven’t shown him the extensive notes that I have, and I’m not sure I should. He takes as he finds, and he has found something that occasionally shows flashes of Angel, something that the Slayer loves, so can it be that bad? He doesn’t yet know that the answer is affirmatively yes.

Cordelia has a very simple view. Angel was Angel, and Angelus is Angelus, and never the twain shall meet. She has never understood that the two are different sides of the same coin, that Angel never saw himself excused of the deeds of Angelus, that he believed he carried the guilt. For her, Angel was a shiny new person who should simply stop the brooding and get on with life. She had feelings for Angel. I think she would have been happy to pick up what the Slayer could not have. She would never have understood how galling it might be to simply be second best; how painfully her withers would be wrung living with the knowledge that he might accept a relationship with her knowing from the start that he was doing so *because* he could never be perfectly happy with her. Now, she does not have that option, and we are left with Angelus, whom she views with nothing other than fear and contempt and loathing. She wants nothing to do with him.

That we are left with Angelus is my fault. I was the one who wanted to bring him back in what seemed a dire need; I was the one who failed to understand the simple principle of soul magic – that after the third time, no curse or magic in any of the planes would ever again have the power to cram that hapless soul back into Angel’s body. Angelus is free. I was the so-called friend who did this, and it will weigh on my conscience forever. I was the one who could not get past my early Watcher training. I was the one who never really trusted Angel as he deserved. I was the one who, in the meanest reaches of my soul, viewed him as something less than human, as something different. Not exactly a person at all. An object of study, perhaps. A creature who would benefit from my guidance. From my Watcher training. This, after Angel fed and clothed all of us, gave us a chance to make something of ourselves, without ever once thinking us beholden. I am ashamed. It is this shame that makes me wonder what Angel would wish me to do now. Would he want me to stake the vampire, or would he want me to support the Slayer? Work with her. For Giles has told me something of what Buffy intends.

The Slayer is the only one who truly ever saw Angel as he was, and loved him regardless. She accepted everything about him, without question, and I do believe that they were intended to be together; that perhaps they had a higher purpose.

Even without his soul, she loves the vampire, and he loves her as well as he is able – no one could ever doubt that – but she means to use him to create whatever space for mankind she can. He may crave the demonic equivalent of a throne, but she will be the power behind it. She hopes that, as part of this, the Powers That Be have given her the opportunity to salvage him, to bring him over to their side and wipe the slate clean.

I wonder if this may be the encompassing tragedy of heroes – that in the end, everything they are and everything they love must be only a tool to be used in the wars that they wage on our behalf. What do you think?

I wonder how heroes are chosen? Did their essences step forward at the dawn of time and volunteer? Or is it all blind chance? And I know I’m maundering.

Anyway, we three are divided. I suspect that Gunn and I will try working with the vampire, if the Slayer keeps him under control. I cannot speak for Cordelia, though.


The witches are little more than girls, and yet they are full of power and wisdom. And curiosity. Tara wants to know why I am helping Angelus. It’s a very good question. Love, fear and guilt. A small and weak part of me wishes to unburden myself to these women; after all, a burden shared is a burden halved, is it not? No, it isn’t. In this case, it would be a burden doubled. I have borne it for five and a half thousand years, and I would love to put it down. What good would it do, though, to tell them that on the day I was made a vampire, my grandsire, the demon Seth, did it to punish me. He gave me the choice of taking all that punishment myself, being no more than a plaything for his vengeance, or passing that on to another. I chose to pass it on, and Angelus is the recipient of that poisoned chalice, that cup of perpetual torment.

How could I tell the witches this, without telling Angelus, too? What good would it do him to know that I could weep for shame and guilt at the cowardice that allowed such a choice to happen? My sins lie on Angelus’ head. They lay on Angel’s head, too. I have sold him into slavery as the plaything of a wicked, powerful, vengeful fiend. As a toy, to be tormented, an unwitting chess piece in the games that the gods seem to play with us. We all take part in the game, but from the day he first visited my court, he was chosen for a leading role. Destined for Seth’s special attentions. The weight of a godling’s attention is a terrible thing. Mea culpa.

If he ever discovered this, he would surely slaughter me without a moment’s hesitation, and he undoubtedly has that right. But would it make him happier? Will it help him for me to unburden myself and tell him that he will always be at the whim of the fiend? That he can never look forward to a life with less pain and suffering? No, of course not.

I have put the existence of my clan at risk because the prophecies say that he and the Slayer must live in order to save us all. I have put my own life at risk because of the injury I have done him, and would undo if I could. And because I love him. Perhaps all these things are connected. Who knows? With the murder of the Seers of Hylek and Adras, we can only watch as these things play out.

And so I pass off Tara’s question with a light response, and keep my guilty secret to myself.

I have told these two as much as I know about the after-effects of using Hellmouth power. I have offered to teach them about that power, and they have accepted eagerly. I have reservations, but having once used it, they will not be able to stop themselves. They might as well learn how to handle it properly. It is the best of a bad bargain. When I have taught them all I can, I will take them to Adras, where one of the magic users can teach them what I cannot. The use of magic is related to gender. As a male, I can only help them so far. For a short time, though, when Buffy wakes properly, they can simply be three young women in a strange city. A vacation, of sorts.


I wake from the dream of the other place, a place where, strangely, my heart seems to be beating, although I am still myself. As I re-enter your reality, I find that the beating is real. I am holding Buffy tightly, and she is hammering on my chest. Her face is pressed against the hollow of my neck. As she feels me rouse, she breathes a sigh of relief.

“Let go! I’ve gotta go to the bathroom.”

I kiss her on the forehead and lift the sheet. We are both naked, except for our scars. Memory of this reality comes flooding back, and I do my best to push it away, for the moment.

“I’ll find you a bathrobe or something.”

“You know, you’d think I’d remember getting married, but I don’t.”

My heart may not beat, but it can definitely sink.

“We didn’t get as far as the ceremony.”

I pull the sheet up a little, and run my finger over her scar. It’s still pink, but I can see it will fade. When it’s appropriate, I will make sure that it fades without leaving so much as a silvery line to mark her flawless skin.

“You were shot.”

I don’t want to dwell on this, so I allow the sheet to fall again and start to turn over. Bathrobe, that’s what she needs. She stops me, and pulls the sheet back a little. This time, it’s her finger that traces some of my extensive network of ugly but fading scars.

“What happened?”

Her voice is flat, one that will brook no flummery. It’s then that she sees something over my shoulder. I glance backwards, and see Willow and Tara in deep conversation with Aurelius, in the adjoining room.

“Hey guys, you got a Buffy-sized bathrobe there?”

Saved by the bell, so to speak. I hardly recognise my voice, harsh from various wounds.

“It’s about time you two woke up.” Willow walks over with a thick white terry robe. Aurelius makes a graceful exit, calling back that he will await us all in his study, when we are ready. As Buffy pulls back the sheet and rolls off the bed, she gets a clearer view of me. She realises that the scars extend over my face as well as my body. Her hand comes up to her mouth as she sees the extent of the damage.

“Someone’s going to pay for those,” she whispers. Damn right, they are. Faith.

She holds me tight for long moments, and I know that she is close to tears. I make small, soothing noises for her, and tell her that it’s all right, we’re both all right, and we will both heal properly. These sort-of sentences are punctuated with kisses to the top of her head, the only part that my lips can reach. Eventually, she pulls away and takes a more considered look at me. Then she kisses each of the facial scars before casting me an apologetic glance as she heads for the bathroom.

I go to my own room for a shower, making do with a sheet wrapped around me, and I’m first to join Aurelius. He has blood for me, and a large tray full of dainties that will appeal to a human newly risen from their sickbed. I look them over carefully – I want to make sure that they are good, nourishing fare for my girl – and find that he has included all the necessary food groups.


I nod happily.

“Well, there’s something we need to settle before the girls come in. Neither Willow nor Tara will tell Buffy anything yet. What do you want her to know?”

I understand clearly what he means. Riley. If I don’t tell her, it will be a lie that will stand between us forever, one that might well come out since others know. Others who hate me, such as Xander Harris or Cordelia. There’s only one thing to do.

“The truth.”

“Very well.”

His voice is bleak, but he seems relieved. When the three come in, he shoos me away to one of his more than comfortable armchairs, and tends to their wants himself. Dishes of tiny slices of sweet melon, spiced fish, little bowls of couscous, slices of chicken, tomato and cucumber salad, stuffed dates, apricots and almonds, fruit juice and mint tea. It’s an eclectic mix that all three will enjoy, but that will be sure to tempt Buffy’s appetite. It works. But, as they eat, and I sip my blood – into which, I find, some of his own has been mixed – he recounts what happened at the church and afterwards. Buffy continues to nibble at the delicacies as the story unfolds, but her eyes harden when she hears the identity of the would-be assassin. She says nothing as he tells her that information had to be forced from Riley – he doesn’t go into specifics – but she watches me steadily through that part of the recital. I can’t meet her gaze. Willow and Tara clearly know much of this, but not all.

He doesn’t mention Faith, and he doesn’t mention my injuries. As he tells her about his decision to bring us all to Cairo, where he can best care for us, she cuts across him, but speaks to me.

“What happened to you?”

She has some idea of how bad the original injuries were to still look like this after almost two weeks.

“It doesn’t matter.” I jump up and walk over to the table for more blood. I’m starving. It doesn’t concern her. I’ll deal with it myself. She doesn’t need to know. Then suddenly, she’s behind me, and has turned me and slammed me into the wall. She’s almost back to Slayer strength, then. Aurelius looks on with amusement. Willow and Tara look a little flustered. They will have to get used to just how *physical* we are with each other. She presses her advantage.

“It matters to me. Tell me. I want no secrets between us.”

I pull away from her and walk back to the chair without answering her. She looks a mute appeal to Aurelius to continue. He shakes his head and looks at me.

“Angelus, only you know what happened exactly. I think you should tell us.”

I feel too weak and weary to argue. That’s the result of too much healing and not enough blood. That’s why he’s given me some of his own, discretely.

“It was Faith. She felt she had a grudge against me that she needed to take out of my hide. She’s your sister slayer, Buffy, but that won’t stop me from killing her.”

All the three girls pale a little, but it’s Aurelius who answers.

“Why would you do that?”

I look at him in astonishment.

“Why do you think?”

“She saved Buffy’s life. Why would you kill her?”

He sees what must be a look of total befuddlement on my part.

“She didn’t explain to you, afterwards?”

“No. She took a phone call, then walked out.”

He sighs, and his brows knit together in what seems to be a tic of anger.

“Why would she do that?” He seems to be talking to himself, rather than us. Then he returns his attention to his perplexed audience.

“She did what was required to break the magic holding the poison in Buffy’s body.”

He sees everyone’s look of incomprehension, and starts further back.

“Every spell must have a way out.”

The witches nod. They understand this.

“An experienced magic user will make that way out as unlikely as possible, so that the spell cannot be broken by chance, or by good guesswork. Giles had very little difficulty in persuading Rack to…”


I’d almost forgotten Rack’s part in this. Almost. I should have run him out of Sunnydale long before this, instead of thinking that I might use him.

“Yes. Rack. He gave Giles the information on how to break the spell. It was a way out that he didn’t believe would ever happen, because he based it on his knowledge of the average vampire. He didn’t understand the vampire he was dealing with. What was done had to be done to you specifically, and you had to accept it willingly. Giles had decided that it was his responsibility, but Faith had ideas of her own. She just took off for the mansion. She hasn’t been seen since Giles called her there to say the magic had broken.”

He doesn’t tell me any more, although he knows that I will ask, and he doesn’t ask me how Faith did it – I’ve no doubt he will, later, and I’ve no doubt I’ll have to tell him. Buffy says nothing either, and I know the same will apply to her. She’ll want to know everything. The witches are silent.

I’m not convinced, though. None of this came through on Faith’s scent. Except… there were tears at the end. I won’t kill her straight away, then. I’ll allow her to speak first. Aurelius is well aware of the discomfort and confusion in the room, and he turns the conversation adroitly to the girls’ plans for the next few days, before Willow and Tara go to spend a little time with the magic users of Adras. It distracts them but it is not a topic that is going to go away.

In deference to his guests, the diurnal rhythm of his palace has been overturned. In future, my mate – and the witches, if they come again – will be expected to adjust to his household’s rhythms, but for now, bowing to the need to recover, the nights are tranquil, and are for sleep.

We have separate rooms, but she comes to me. She doesn’t want to talk about what has happened to us – that will come later. She simply wants to love and be loved.

Up to now, we have always made love in whatever light was available, greedy for the sight of each other, finding nothing more exciting or erotic than the vision of the other’s passion. Just now, I cannot bear that. I want to be in absolute darkness. I have a certain self-image, and this does not include the way in which my flesh has been hacked and hewn. She will still feel the writhing scar tissue, but she need not see it. Worst for her must be the jagged scar through my right eye, running from temple to mouth. Faith took a long time to saw that wound. The eyeball has healed and my sight is restored, but the scar is taking longer. Aurelius has told me that, whilst I was…elsewhere, he has given me both his own blood and blood from Sekhmet. Without that, my healing would have taken a deal longer.

She resists me, saying she wants to see me, saying that I could never be repulsive to her, but eventually she gives way, and the lights stay out. Her vision is not as acute as mine, although more so than other humans, and darkness helps. Neither of us is in any real pain now, just the intolerable itch of healing flesh.

She decides that she wants it to be ladies first. That’s fine by me. I lie with my fists wrapped around the struts of the bed head, to give her easy access. She runs her fingers over all her favourite places, just teasing at first. Whenever she encounters a ridge that shouldn’t be there, she traces the line of it, gently, delicately, as if creating a new map of me in her head, and in her hands. Her lips close over mine, and I can barely restrain myself from crushing her to me and ravaging her. This is not about sex – or not entirely about sex. This is about affirmation of life, of love and of need. Mental need as well as physical need. My need to affirm is almost overwhelming.

She lifts a hand to my face and traces the new map that overlies my features. Her fingers come to rest on my eyelids. She knows that I can see better than I want to just now. If I cannot see her, then she won’t be able to see me. It’s a mistake that the young of all species make.

“Close your eyes.”

Her instruction to me has a peculiarly sharp poignancy, like a sword thrust through the gut, but I obey. My voluntary captivity and blindness act like an aphrodisiac, unneeded though that is, and it now is not only my healing wounds that have an intolerable itch. Still, she works her way slowly down my body, tasting and caressing and relearning every swell and curve of muscle, every slope and plane of skin.

Then her lips catch up that straining, yearning part of me, as artfully as any lover I have had, and I give myself over completely to pleasure. Her fingers, however, forbid me, circling me tightly. She teases and torments and will not give me release. She pushes me to the edge, and then denies me, over and over. I promise myself that, if she ever does this again, she’ll spend the rest of her life with her hands tied behind her back; or perhaps that will be if she never does this again. I don’t know and I don’t care, mindless as I am, and deep in her thrall. The end, when she allows it, is so wonderful that it hurts.

When it’s my turn, I pay her back with interest, with lips and tongue and teeth, savouring the sweetness of her as if she were life itself, which she is to me. As I bring her to a rapturous completion, I make her peak again by drawing my fang gently down the healing scar on her breast, lapping at the drops of blood, suckling at the wound as the flow of blood ceases, reopening the skin so that I can lick it closed again. Nothing from my fangs will ever scar her, except for the mating bite. By scoring over this wound, making it heal over again for me, not for the bullet, I have made sure there will be no scar at all to mar the perfection of her breast.

As we lie together afterwards, my cheek resting on her head, feeling the golden silk of her hair against my skin, I wonder why I should love this woman so much. She used to be my plaything; now, I might as well be hers. I used to think that she might have been created just for me; now, I wonder whether I might have been created just for her. Her protector, guarding her life with my blood and my pain. Morbid thoughts, and I try to shake them off. They have no place here. But I keep remembering a poem that she likes, one that we all know. The Tyger. She thinks of me as the tyger, and perhaps I am.

‘And what shoulder, or what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?’

Twist, as in make, or forge. And that is what she has done. She has twisted a heart for me, a heart that only recognises her as its master. She is my creator.

I told Drusilla that the sun would stand still in the sky before I allowed the Slayer to change me. I had forgotten. It does. Twice every year, the sun appears to stand still in the sky, and then to reverse its course. The two solstices, summer and winter.

We fall asleep locked in each other’s embrace. That’s where I intend her to stay. I won’t let her fall into danger again.


Shopping. There must always be shopping. I’m five and a half thousand years old, and while I have learned that there must be shopping – yes, it was the same all those millennia ago – I still do not understand it. Why must women always want to do this? Nevertheless, I have hired a guide for the three of them, who will also show them some of the more interesting places of Cairo, but Angelus and I will take them to see the more wonderful sights by night. There is little more beautiful than the Pyramids at Giza by moonlight, or the Nile from high in the desert in the Egyptian night. But first, there must be shopping.

When Doronit arrives, I suggest to the girls that they allow her to negotiate for their purchases, unless they wish to have the perhaps obligatory experience of being cheated in the souk. Thinking about it, that might do them good. She will have them back by nightfall, or when they are tired, or when they have spent the money I have authorised Doronit to spend. They objected to the money but they are still nervous of me, and a flash of amber and a small growl ensured that I had my way. Being a vampire among humans can be useful. They aren’t likely to exhaust my funds, so it will be one of the other two. My household will breathe a sigh of relief. They are finding it a strain to have the Slayer here. I think they’d better get used to it.

When they are gone, I invite Angelus to come and sit with me. He is a different demon to the one who came here looking for Spike and Drusilla five years ago. He’s a very different demon indeed to the one who first came here with Darla in 1774, thinking that he would find another Master to despise, just as he had despised Darla’s own sire. I know that he was born of rage and hate and a desperate need for love and approval. I also know that Darla told him that what we were informs all that we become. That is so. What she didn’t tell him, because I don’t think she knew, is that it doesn’t stop. There’s that cliché about the love of a good woman, but it’s a cliché because it’s true. He has met a woman with the power to influence him. There’s more, though. He doesn’t understand it yet, but he now has, from Angel, a hundred years worth of memories and emotions and all the other things that make us what we are. They didn’t go away when Angel gave up his soul, and they, too, will inform all that Angelus will become. He could never be Angel, but he is, indeed a different demon. I want a little time to get to know this one better. I liked the old one. I love this one.

When he comes, his first question is predictable. Will they be safe? I can reassure him on that. Doronit is not all she seems. She is a Sabas demon, well versed in self-defence, and very strong. Other members of her family will keep the group under observation all day. Between them, they will manage. That relieves his mind, and we sit, then, talking of small things, exploratory things. Shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings. After a while, I open a bottle of good Irish whiskey, and he doesn’t refuse. On the third glass, in a moment of quiet, as he sits picking at the scars on his hand, he abruptly changes the subject. We had been talking about something that I wish to commission for them. Portraits. Perhaps he will choose to tell you about them, but I shan’t.

“Where is Rack?”

Ah. I wondered when we would come to this.

“He is secure.”

“I want to see him.”

“To kill him?”


“We shall go to see Rack soon.” He must be satisfied with that, for the moment. He knows enough not to argue, but he will not let the subject lie for long.

He has kept his gaze turned from me ever since he came to my study. I know what the problem is. He may not be able to see in a mirror, but a vampire always has a complete visual picture of itself. That’s how demons like us can heal back the way we were, how creatures like us can manage without a reflection. Even you humans have this inner map, and you are most aware of that when you lose it. Remember when you were a teenager, and growing, beyond any hope of your mind keeping the map up to date? How clumsy you were, falling over your own feet, missing your handholds, dropping things? Only when your mental map of your body could keep up with the size and shape of that body did you regain your normal grace. Ours is simply stronger, clearer, and more visual than any human’s map. He knows exactly how he looks, and he doesn’t want others to see him. Not until he is healed. If he doesn’t look at me, his subconscious hopes that I won’t look at him. Or maybe, that he won’t have to see his reflection in my eyes. My poor boy.

“Why have you chosen to help me?”

That is how we start to talk about the large things.

“Is it so incredible that I should choose to help one of my masters?”

“You must know how much I’ve hated you…”

Do we have a past tense there?

“… and never looked to you for anything. Why do you help me, and the Slayer? Aren’t you afraid I’ll bring the clan into disrepute?”

There is a note of defiance there. If I asked him, he would say he didn’t care, that it mattered nothing to him. It does, though. Vampire bonds are strong between families, and even Angelus cannot be free of them. Again, I feel the urge to unburden myself to him, to tell him of that shameful bargain with Seth. To tell him of the prophecies that he and the Slayer will somehow mean life for all of us, instead of absolute extinction. But I ask again, what good would it do? If he knew of the weight of prophecy, he would be borne down by it. If he has no knowledge of it, then whatever he does will fulfil a true prophecy. So, I keep my silence.

I tell him, instead of Palestrina. I have never spoken to him like this, of my soul mate, but I tell him now of her life, our love, and her death, stoned by a mob because of my fang marks in her neck. As I finish my story, for the first time, he looks at me.

“Would you have turned her?”


“Would she have accepted you as a vampire? Accepted what you are and what you do? Or would you have changed?”

I know this troubles him.

“She *had* accepted me as a vampire, and I had changed, even more than when...”

No, I am not ready to talk to him about that. About my own soul. I’m almost sure he knows of it, though.

“I asked myself what I needed to keep more than I needed to keep her. I think she did the same. Without even discussing it, we came to a place where we could live with the actions of the other, the needs of the other. Even Sekhmet was prepared to compromise.”

I do not tell him that Sekhmet and I made virtually all the compromises. He knows that it must have been so. He nods, absently. I’m sure that he has decided to do the same. He will sacrifice some things, and find they are no sacrifice at all. So will the Slayer. There is something else, though, that troubles him.

“I have dreamed of a woman who looks exactly as you describe. It was the last time I was here.”

If I had a beating heart, it would have pounded. With a little prompting, he tells me about his dreams, and Palestrina’s appearance. There can be no doubt it was she. I tell him then of how I ended her life out of mercy, and how her echo remains within me. He hasn’t learned how to do that yet, with a mate, so I explain. I hope he never has to use it, although I fear that he will. And it seems that an echo of that echo has passed to him. I was sure that it would be so, and I am pleased. He has a little of Palestrina, and I have a little of Buffy, taken in when he and I have shared blood. That seems right.

I am sure of what is happening. He has taken enough of my blood and with it, that of Palestrina, to have acquired some unusual gifts. I believe he has come by some gift of prophecy. Nothing big, or earth shaking; perhaps nothing that affects others; perhaps it will be reserved only for events affecting himself and his mate. It may be rather like his mate’s slayer dreams. If he wishes, he can fuel that acquisition, give it more power, as well as gaining some other abilities, perhaps. I don’t need to explain further. He understands what I am saying.

He picks at the scars again, not really knowing that he is doing it.

“Tell me about Faith, and breaking the magic.”

“You were the key. You had to accept the pain that you had inflicted on the magic wielder – Riley – plus a large proportion more, accept it thinking that you did so in lieu of Buffy, yet without knowing the true reason why. The average vampire is never so unselfish as to suffer willingly for another. And both ends of the pain/pleasure continuum had to be called into play, at a level beyond the ability of most demons to endure. Rack clearly thought that there would never be a way out through that possibility, and he left no other.”

It takes him a few minutes to digest that. I want him to talk about it, to lance the abscess that might stop him from believing that Faith did what needed to be done, but I won’t ask him here. I’ll wait until I have him in my bed, and can trace out the scars, and draw out his pain. I’m sure that the Slayer has compassion enough to do the same. One of us should succeed.

“I don’t seem to be healing so well recently. Not as quickly as usual.”

On this, I can put his mind at rest. He is not losing his power. He has suffered some mighty injuries in a relatively short period. His body is conserving its strength. When he can go for a couple of months without being shot or stabbed or tortured half to death, his healing ability will be replenished. He’s actually healing extremely well. Vampires recover very quickly from minor injuries. Major trauma is different, and it takes a powerful vampire to recover quickly from that. Most vampires, faced with a tithe of what he has endured, would have withdrawn from the world for a while, and slept.

“You don’t mind me bringing the Slayer into the clan?”

“I will welcome her, provided she doesn’t try to stake us all.”

He smiles thinly. Well, it was a thin joke.

“You can’t have her, you know. I won’t stand for it.”

Now, how should I respond to this? He has shown his clan master open defiance. Every member of a clan is the property of the clan master, and is available whenever required. I knew this would come, though.

“I’ll stay away from her if you stay away from Palestrina when she returns. Unless we mutually agree something different, of course…”

With that downcast gaze, his smile seems shy, an unusual expression for Angelus, but I know that it is more one of relief. He knows the worth of the concession he has wrung from me, too. Buffy will not be alive when Palestrina returns. If she returns. There is a hurdle that must be cleared, though.

“Buffy has a few drops of my blood now, but she will need a little more, and I will need some direct from her. You won’t object to that.”

That is a statement, not a question. He signifies assent. Good. She must be accepted as a rightful and ranking member of this clan, if she, too, is to have the strength of the clan around her.

We have talked more, and more as equals, than ever before and I am pleased. There is something else I want to do now, while the opportunity is here. I take that scarred hand and lead him into my bedroom. Sekhmet is curled on a couch and looks up briefly as we pass. She purrs in pleasure, and it is to the sound of her purr that I strip away his barriers and devote myself to him. And at last, I make him look me in the eyes and see that I still think him beautiful. None of his wounds matter, especially since the intimate ones are now only a tracery of silver lines and do not prevent his ultimate pleasure.

When we are quite finished, we shower, and then go down into my cellars. To my dungeons. Rack is there, safely bound by spells and magics that even he cannot break. I know a trick or two.

I loosen Rack’s bonds sufficiently to make him accessible, and then stand back, ceding precedence to the one that this creature has hurt. Angelus, however, gestures me to come forward with him. For the first time, we share a meal, and even have the opportunity to play with our food for a time. It bonds us a little more, and I hope it won’t be the last. It hasn’t troubled my conscience at all. My minions will deal with the corpse later. In some ways, I am sorry that we will be unable to deal with Riley in the same way. I’m sure that it would have been much healthier for Angelus. Now, though, the mutilated carcass is simply rotting somewhere.

When the girls return, they are hot and sweaty and giggly. They are also loaded down with packages. It seems they have had a wonderful time, and want to do it all again tomorrow. Why do I suddenly feel too old for all this? When they are washed and changed and rested, we take them off into the night. The only thing that is lacking, so far as they are concerned, is that as yet no mysterious berobed nomadic Arab has offered to buy them for half a herd of camels and an unspecified amount of desert gold. I shall have to do better next time – I can think of at least four who would happily oblige. I’m not at all sure that the slave-masters would fully appreciate what they were getting, though…


We leave after another week, by which time Buffy and I are both fully healed – and scar free – and the witches are in Adras. I think that Aurelius’ household must breathe a deep sigh of relief, but everything has been perfectly managed. It’s a standard I want my own household to aspire to.

We’ve eaten in some of the best places in Cairo, met some of the best people – and non-people – in Cairo, and seen some of the more wonderful sights. The girls have given a whole new meaning to ‘shop ‘til you drop’. I’ve tried to reimburse Aurelius, but he just gave me an old-fashioned look and said he’d never had a daughter-in-law before. I pointed out that he hadn’t got one yet, and he just glowered at me until I told him that I intended to rearrange the date for the equinox. The time when day and night are equal. We’ve got a little over two months.

Then I tell him something that I’m sure I’ll get punished for, although not by him. I want to do the mating ceremony on the same night. He laughs at me, laughs until he is crying. Then he tells me I need an award for bravery. What is it about my nuptials that seems so hilarious to everyone? Don’t answer that, because I know the answer very well.

More than ever, now, I feel myself to be part of the clan, part of a family, and yet I am not restricted or defined by that. My plans are my own. Ties of blood can never be escaped, not completely. You simply cannot understand how they bind us. A vampire clan is a family such as you have never known. Oh, we love and we hate, and a family feud is a thing to write history about. But love and hate are both fuelled by the same thing. Passion. Demons have an excess of passion but like you, love can become hate, and vice versa, almost in the blinking of an eye. Look at how the Slayer and I hated each other at first. If we had not faced the trials that we have endured, who is to say that we might not have continued in that hatred? Perhaps one of us would have killed the other before we had time to understand that unconditional love could spring from the same well. Before we could understand that we were soul mates. You should do what I intend to do, and guard the Slayer well. She stands between you and Armageddon.

On the way back, I ask her to try the wedding ceremony again on the equinox, on 22 September. She likes the idea, so that’s on, provided I can get the priest. The arrangements will be a little different. She is uneasy about doing everything exactly the same, and I do not blame her for that. I don’t ask her about the mating ceremony yet, but I’ll have to do it soon. The invitations will have to go out. I just have to choose my moment. How many men have said that, I wonder? Suddenly, I feel an unwonted sympathy with just over half of humanity.

We stop off at Los Angeles, and visit St Jude’s. The priest seems genuinely pleased to see us, and the date is agreed. This time, the ceremony will be at the mansion. I’m taking no chances. He asks for a few moments alone with me, and I think I know what’s coming.

“I have the service that you agreed to perform for me. It concerns Wolfram and Hart.”

I really am all attention. The Soul had a great deal of trouble with these; I’ve just killed a litter brother of theirs who tried to take over the world, so I’m sure I’m not their favourite vampire; and now they have tried to assassinate the Slayer. They would also have assassinated Faith. They told Riley it was so that a new Slayer, one uncontaminated by me, could be chosen, but I believe it was to weaken me, to prevent me from building something that the Slayer will be proud of. Something that might even, in time, be a danger to them if only in a small way. If they think they can play me as they did the Soul, they will soon learn different. I think he sees some of those emotions passing over my face because he shakes his head a little.

“You wish to destroy them, and I confess that I would like to make that the service I require of you. I cannot, though. You will need them in the future, and so you will destroy them in a different way. You will weaken them until they cannot fight you any more. Then you will negotiate with them. You will negotiate a peace for mankind. You will be humanity’s representative, and you will enforce that peace. Will you do it?”

I argue with him. I do not want a single atom of any of them to remain in existence, but he is adamant. He is also adamant that I will need them, will use them for my own purposes, in the future, and that my mate and I will never have eternity if I destroy the three fiendish demi-gods that are the Wolf, the Ram, and the Hart. He is unconcerned about their minions – I may do as I please with them. He is certainly unlike any priest that I have met before. How can he possibly know these things?

In the end, I agree. When all is said and done, you can wreak so much more vengeance on a living godling than on a dead one. I try to forget the part about being humanity’s representative – that surely is Buffy’s job, not mine. I’ll just help her with it if she needs me to.

We don’t go straight back to Sunnydale. This was meant to be a honeymoon, and I have bought a cabin on the shores of Lake Tahoe, in the wildest, most beautiful part. It’s there that I ask her about the mating ceremony – outside, so that she cannot wreck the cabin. Fortunately, there is no living human soul within earshot. A great deal of wildlife is scared away, though. For at least four days, I have to go a long way to hunt for my meals – and hers. And a number of trees are destroyed. I have several cracked ribs that take a day or two to heal, and a very sore back. Those tree trunks were thick. The discussion isn’t over yet.


We are back in Sunnydale, and it’s less than two months to my second wedding. Doesn’t that sound weird? I need to talk to my friends, and I really need to talk to Tara and Willow. But, they are still in Adras, courtesy of Aurelius, learning to handle the magic of the Hellmouth, and it’ll be two weeks before they get back. I really need someone to talk to now, and I don’t know if I’m up to telling the others before I’ve talked it through with Will and Tara. It’s the mating ceremony. I don’t know if I can do it. Angelus has said that if I don’t want to, then we won’t. He also tried to explain why it’s a good idea, but I wouldn’t let him. That was when I beat the stuffing out of him. He made no effort at all to stop me, just tried to protect himself from the worst of my anger. I don’t know why I took it out on him like that, but I did. Must have been hormones. Or pride.

So, I’m patrolling, although I’m pretty sure he’s not made any new fledglings since we got back. Still, there might be other things, and now I do indeed feel a vamp close by, and it isn’t him.

Oh. It’s Estevan.


He gives me a courtly bow.


I’m a bit curt, because I wanted some alone time if I couldn’t have Will and Tara time. He doesn’t say anything else, so I move off and he falls into step beside me.

“I wished to speak to you about the mating ceremony, Slayer.”

“What? Did Angelus send you to plead his cause?”

I’m infuriated at the thought.

“No. He would beat me unmercifully if he knew I was speaking to you about this. I came to tell you that all the household hope that you will agree to the ceremony.”

“You’ve all been talking about me? Behind my back?”

I’m really getting angry now.

“No! I… I lurk.”

Now, where have I heard that before?

“The different sections of the household have whispered about it. They know that you two have argued about it. Some of them did not understand why you would refuse, so they have taken it upon themselves to research. There is little to find here, but in, say, Hylek, there is more. They are interested in your well-being. They are concerned that if you do not consent, you will die sooner than you should. Slayer, we do not want that. And would you mind putting that stake away, please?”

I am standing facing Estevan, and I realise that my stake is pressed against his ribs. I do move it.

He looks around and sees that we are next to a large tomb.

“May we sit down, please?”

I nod, and walk over to the tomb. I don’t sit on it though. Instead, I slide down onto the grass, and prop my back against the stone slab of the wall. Estevan perches on the edge.

“May I explain why Angelus wants the ceremony?”

“I suppose he talked to you about it? About his reasons?”

If he has, that might just put the tin lid on everything. Why would he talk to a vamp who’s not much better than a minion at present, even if he was a master vampire before Angelus bonded him? Estevan seems shocked.

“No! Of course not. But I am old enough to have learned these things. Mating itself requires no ceremony, simply for the two concerned to declare themselves mates, and to have exchanged blood in a private ritual. This applies to two vampires or in the very much rarer case of a vampire and a human. However, there *can* be ceremony, and often is, especially if one of the mates is to be introduced to a new clan, as would be the case with you. That, I believe, is what Angelus once had in mind. It does not need to be complex and is almost always used when a human partner is involved, rare though that is. It replaces a wedding for that person.

“Now, the case is altered. What Angelus wishes is to declare that you are eternal mates. Those of us with senses to tell us so all know that you have mated in this way already. You know that, should he predecease you, you must go to Aurelius, who as clan master is the only one who can prevent your own death. He can release you from the earthly bond, although we vampires believe that the spiritual bond will remain into whatever comes after this life. You will understand that there is not very much actual precedent for us to go on. Only once has this ceremony been carried out with a human and a vampire, and the ceremony for them was not the same as the ceremony for you. The vampire in that case was a new fledgling, not an old and powerful clan beta with a court of his own. Do you comprehend that much?”


I’ve never been much for doing the studying, as you know, but it’s different when it affects you in this way. I don’t know any more than this, though.

“The eternal mate of such a powerful vampire has never before been human, but even two vampires have found things to be difficult if they have not consented to the ceremony. A simple mate may be challenged in a way that a recognised eternal mate may not be. Any vampire envious of your mate and your station, and wishing to take your place by his side, may challenge you to a fight to the death. Angelus may not help you. If he chooses to do so, and we think he will, he will start blood feuds that will live on for millennia. If he does not choose to help you, to kill your challenger for you, we have no doubt that you will be able to acquit yourself well. But that is now. What will be the case when you are older? When you are forty, or fifty, or more? He will not stand by, do you think? Because, if he does not help you, you will die, and he will be forced to watch that, and to take your killer as his mate. Although again, I think you must agree that he will not do so, and that will lead to more than blood feud. If the challenger comes from another clan, it will lead to clan wars. As the Slayer, you might be pleased to think that the vampires of the world will be killing each other for thousands of years to come, or until one clan or the other is extinguished, together with all their allies, but do you think that humanity would not be affected by this? Do you wish to see him fight these battles?

“Alternatively, other vampires may covet you – you will be a powerful status symbol – and may challenge him. Do you think he will tolerate that, either? Especially since, unlike him, they would certainly want to turn you at the first chance they got. Do you think he won’t try to wipe out any such temerity? Do you think that you, yourself, will stand idly by, rather than fight at his side? And we are then back to blood feud or clan warfare.

“Only a recognised eternal mate is safe from all this. The relationship, though exceedingly rare, is inviolate, and none would dream of making such a challenge. If they were foolish, or rash, enough to do so, no one would expect them to win anything except death. There would be no consequences.

“That is just the vampire dimension. The rest of the demon world may covet you, and try to steal you. Again, though, they recognise the union of eternal mates. It will protect from all but the young and inexperienced, the most stupid or the most ruthless, and everyone will say that they get what they deserve. If any demon tries to harm you, Angelus may wreak vengeance on them to his heart’s content, and only their closest kin are likely to take offence. The same applies if any try to harm him, and it is you taking vengeance.

“Believe me, Slayer, the proper ceremony will protect you both, better than anything else can, from this sort of aggression, for the cost of your pride on one single night. And if your pride is so important to you, remember what it will also cost Angelus. You know how protective he is of you. Do you think that this is what he would choose for the two of you, if there were another option that would keep you safe?

“If you were two nonentities, you could manage as you wished. None of this would matter. You could hide away and live a simple life with none of these grand politics. You are not. You are both of you famous and infamous at the same time. You must act the part. There will be many things that both of you must do in the future within the roles that you are casting for yourselves; many things that you will not wish to do, or that you will even hate. Nevertheless, they must be done, for the sake of the greater peace. This is perhaps the greatest of those things. But, rare and unusual as it is, it is the vampire way. If you do not accept it, you will foment a world of trouble for yourselves. Others will see that this has not been a union formalised in the accepted way by the two of you, and will interpret that to suit themselves.”

He gets up from the tombstone.

“I am sorry to have been so outspoken, and I beg your forgiveness for that. I will leave you to think, Slayer, but if you wish to know more, you have only to ask me. Oh, and when I leave, you will be guarded at all times, until Angelus gets here. Those are his orders, so please don’t stake your guards.”

He bows again, and leaves. Well, what can I say? I am stunned at his revelations. I can’t ask any questions yet, because I can’t take in what he has said. I thought that Angelus wanted to declare his pride of possession, regardless of my feelings in the matter, and that was why he wanted the ceremony, but it seems that I have underestimated him. Oh, I’m sure there is some of that involved, but there is a great deal more. Still, the question remains, can I lower my pride so much? You don’t know what I’m talking about? No, of course not. Stick around though, and you might find out. If I can go through with it, that is.

I hurry out of that cemetery, because I don’t want to take the chance of getting Estevan into trouble. I don’t want my demon scenting a long pause here with this master turned minion – he might misinterpret. He catches up with me two cemeteries later.

I can feel him clearly, but he is such a consummate hunter that he takes me by surprise. To be fair, though, I haven’t made any real efforts to avoid him. He takes me from behind, coming down from a thick old yew tree, and we go rolling in the grass, play fighting, like kittens. It isn’t quite play, because bruises and scratches are involved, but it definitely isn’t serious fighting, because there is the casual brush of his hand on my breast, an accidentally-on-purpose nip on his earlobe from me. And so on. This is a terrifying vampire, scary in every sense of the word. Although I haven’t been afraid of him since our first stay on Hylek, I know my friends are. Willow hyperventilates almost every time she sees him. Yet, here he is, playing with me. I remember reading that someone once said, ‘God made the cat so that man might stroke the tiger’. I’ve got the tiger, and he acts like a kitten. I love him so.

When we are finally done, we are back under that old yew tree, and most of our clothes are on the ground instead of on our bodies. It doesn’t take long to get rid of the rest of the clothes – I have to restrain him there, because otherwise I’ll be walking home in the nude – and then we are just skin to skin, and we show each other how very glad we are that we are both still alive. It takes a long time, and we have to show each other again and again.

Afterwards, we lie cuddled together, still skin to skin. I snuggle back harder.

“This ceremony is important to you.”

I make it a statement, not a question. That way, he knows that he’s screwed whichever way he answers, and not in a good way. He does that to me sometimes, and it’s nice to get one back occasionally.

He runs his hand over me after that momentary hesitation that tells me he’s making up a lie, a really good one that he hopes won’t be found out. I’m getting to know him now. He seems to know me like the back of his hand, so it’s about time I caught up.

“If it’s not what you want, then it couldn’t matter less.”

Clever boy.

“That’s not true, though, is it? I’ve done some…” and the word that Estevan used comes to mind, “…research.”

He stiffens a little – no, not just that, his whole body – and stops the stroking. Oops.

“No. You haven’t. There’s nothing in the books that Giles will have access to. The Watcher’s Council have wanted to know about this ceremony and this mating for centuries. Who has been talking to you?”

“No one! I can find stuff out on my own.”

He bends his neck to suckle at my pulse point. I can feel his fangs.

“Tell me who it was.”

This has to be dealt with now. It will be my household as well as his, and they must be able to talk to me.

“No. What was said was out of concern for us both. You will not prevent people from talking to me, just as I will not prevent them from talking to you. None of the people in what will be *our* household will carry tittle-tattle, or will try to poison us against each other. You know this. And if any do, we’ll deal with them.

“So, I want your word, your promise to me, that you will do nothing and ask nothing and you will not punish anyone for speaking openly to me about vampire things. Or about anything else. Promise me.”

He is silent for a few moments, and just goes back to sucking on my neck. I feel his fangs scrape a little at the skin, and then they are gone. He sighs and gives his promise.

“So, it’s important to you?” “To both of us.”

He explains why, and it is exactly as Estevan described it.

“I’ll do it then.”

No sooner has he assimilated what I’ve said than he’s turned me over and started to show me how pleased he is with that answer.

Saying it and doing it are two different things, though.


We’ve settled down into wedding dress time again. I have done everything I need to do by way of arrangements, and my household will put my wishes into effect. Aurelius has sent a message that he will provide Buffy’s headdress, and she is to send him a photograph of the wedding dress.

I think now is a good time to make myself scarce for a bit. I’m going to look for Faith, and I’m going to commission a gift for Aurelius on the way. He himself has commissioned portraits of Buffy and myself. Now, these are not the sort of portraits that might initially spring to your mind, although I was pretty sure I knew what he was talking about before he even described them.

There will be a set of three. One of her, one of me, both nudes, and another of the two of us doing one of the things we do best. Erotica, for our most private rooms. Erotica for a vampire, that is. I don’t much care what you call it. Not that we need any such thing to titillate either of us, but those portraits will be a very pleasant addition to the décor. Although more personal than usual in human circles, it’s in the finest tradition of the wealthy and the noble – decadence is not the sole prerogative of demons. What? You thought that all those neo-classical paintings of sportive goddesses and nymphs, with all those acres of naked female flesh, were all about art? Really? My goodness. See me after school.

I have some sketches and watercolours with me, and I’m going to talk to the artist. Apparently he is quite toothsome – look, drag your mind off the dinner plate and work with me here – so maybe I’ll enjoy posing for him. And him for me. Not Buffy, though. He can come and paint her face from life, but I’ll be the one to make sure he gets the rest right.

I’ve also got other sketches and watercolours with me. Aurelius has many strengths and talents, but he is no artist. He has no picture of Palestrina other than the one in his head. If what he said was true, I have seen her. What I have seen, I can draw – vampires have a photographic memory, after all – and I have done that. I have seen his love, a small woman, like Buffy, with a complexion of creamy gold and eyes as dark as sin, sparkling with life. He may be buying pictures of us, but I’m buying a picture of her, for him. I think I’ll ask the artist to do me a copy, just as I’m as certain as I can be that he will keep copies of our portraits. I’m beginning to understand him a little.

I’ve had people out searching for Faith – most of my minions, in fact. A few of them have been chosen for brawn, but most have other attributes, and have been selected for those. Intelligence is a major factor, and the skills they have acquired in life. I like them to be pleasing to look at, too.

Buffy will not be happy if I continue to make more, but I need servants. No, not just servants of the bootblack, footman and butler sort. Any vampire working for me is my servant. Do not confuse their status with the below-stairs staff of humanity. When I need to make more, perhaps I’ll consider whether I can find them amongst those already on the cusp of death. She couldn’t object to those, surely? And if you ever tell her that I’m thinking of such an undemonic thing, I’ll make you very, very sorry.

So, I’ve had some of my brighter minions out looking for Faith. The werewolves have helped, too, at least, those within reach. It may not be full moon yet, but demons can always feel a Slayer, when they know what to look for. They think they’ve found her trail, and when my business with the artist is done, I expect that they will have more definite news for me.


Tara and I have just arrived back in Sunnydale, straight from Adras. I know how to do that now. The people there were wonderful, even if they were demons. We spent time with the magic users, learning how to use the power of the Hellmouth, although we’ve only scratched the surface. We’ll go back as and when we need to. There’s a standing invitation.

A lot of people were in mourning, there, because of a disaster. The Seers have all been murdered, along with the Seers of Hylek. No one seems to know who or why. The magic users themselves are all children of Seers. As I understand it, Seers have the complete gift – magic, prophecy, you name it – while most of their children only get the magic part. So, the magic users were almost all mourning the death of one or more parent, yet they were happy to help us. And, odd as it seems, they acted as if they had known about the deaths beforehand; as if they had expected it and weren’t grieving. They didn’t want to talk about, though, so we didn’t ask. That’s just how it seemed to us.

While we were there, the magic user we stayed with – she’s the same one who saved Buffy, and her name is Aleda – asked us some questions about Angelus. What were his plans, would the Slayer stay with him, would *we* stay with him. I didn’t know how to answer most of her questions, and she stopped asking very quickly. I’m still asking them, though, and neither Tara nor I know the answers yet. Will we stay with him? I don’t know. I’ve always been terrified of him, much more so than Tara. Aleda asked me if Angelus threatened one of us, could we stop him with magic. Tara felt she couldn’t, but I’m sure I could. I said so, and Aleda asked if that were true, why was I afraid? She also asked me about Oz, and whether I was afraid of him. I said no, provided I didn’t take risks when he’s a wolf. She asked me why I could not take the same view of Angelus. She’s right, and yet… Still, it seems harder to be terrified of someone when you’ve seen them vulnerable and naked, and hurt beyond belief, as we have seen Angelus. Maybe I’m not so frightened as I used to be.

Buffy trusts him. So does Oz. The important thing, though, is that Buffy is planning to spend her life with him. She needs friends, so I guess we’ll stay. We’re both in agreement on that, no matter what the cost.


Well, my business with the artist is all sorted now, and he was, indeed, a very toothsome thing. He’s also part demon, and he works much faster than most human artists. Thanks to Aurelius, he’s been working on nothing else for a while, doing the backgrounds and such, so the portraits should all be ready for the equinox. He will come to Sunnydale a few days early, and finish Buffy’s portrait, as well as correcting the others if necessary. After all, he’ll be working only from the sketches and watercolours now.

So, with free time ahead of me, I’m off to some hick town over the border, which is where my people tell me Faith has ended up. There was a colony of Nayati demons living on the more aggressive emotions, and they’ve stirred up trouble for years. Faith has cleaned the place up, and the Nayati are no more. She’ll no doubt be travelling soon, so I’d better get a move on.

There are two motels in town, and I choose the better of the two. She isn’t here. There isn’t much of this town, though, so I shan’t have any trouble finding her.

When I do, I’m on the roofs, and she’s in an alley, rubbing up against some guy in a way that’s making me feel for him. He starts to unbutton her shirt, though, and she pushes him away. It soon becomes clear why. She’s lifted his wallet. She wants his money and credit cards not his spectacular stud performance. He sees what she’s done and takes a swing at her, so she downs him with one hard blow. She starts to stroll away with her ill-gotten gains, but unfortunately he has a harder head than she gave credit for, and he’s up and at her again, taking her from behind. She reacts without thinking, purely from instinct, and punches hard, on the turn. She’s too used to hitting demons and vampires, though, and her fist goes straight through his ribcage. She pulls it out and stands, holding him upright, his blood pouring out onto her. I think it’s time to take a hand.

I drop down behind her, and I’m hit by something that wasn’t apparent from my previous vantage point. Her scent is one of self-pity and self-loathing, with a liberal admixture of rage and despair. This has gone far enough. She’ll answer to me for her crimes against me, but I don’t give a rat’s ass about this human, or any other that she’s killed. He’s still alive, but that isn’t going to last long. His wound is definitely mortal. I stroll over to her and take the weight of the soon-to-be corpse. I haven’t eaten tonight, so he’ll do just fine. She doesn’t try to stop me, or to run. She just stands and watches, a stricken expression on her face, her bloody hand still raised. I take him from behind, so as to avoid getting all those bloodstains on my clothes. When I’m done, I just drop him at the back of the alley.

When I return, she’s fingering my mark on her neck, leaving bloody streaks on her not-too-clean skin.

“Faith. Time for a talk…”

I can get no further. She whips a stake out of her waistband and charges.

“You bastard! You did this to me! You made me into this! I hate you, you and that whiny whore and her shiny do-gooder friends. You’ve corrupted them all, between you. Look what you’ve done to me!”

All the way through this panted diatribe, she’s taking swings at me with the stake. Her victim’s blood is making her grip slippery, and when she almost catches me, the stake squeezes itself backward out of her fist, lubricated by the blood. She drops the useless thing, and comes at me bare handed.

She’s good. She’s very, very good. Almost as good as Buffy. I haven’t had a workout like this in quite a while. I don’t want to kill her, but I can’t pull my punches too much, she’s just too dangerous. So, I soak up as much of her violence as I can, but I have to give some back. She’s kicking and punching – she has a really mean backhander, let me tell you – and it’s all I can do to stay ahead. You *never* underestimate a slayer.

The thing is, though, the thing that’s going to finish her and give me the edge, is that she’s angry. Lose your temper, lose the fight. She isn’t cold and calculating angry, she’s hot and fevered and definitely not thinking properly.

Even with that, I almost lose it, hampered as I am by not wanting to kill her just yet. She unleashes a particularly vicious volley of punches to the gut, and as I step back away from her, I stand on that discarded stake. It’s enough to make me lose my balance, then she’s down on top of me, and she’s beating the living crap out of me. I unleash one blow that almost breaks her jaw, and that knocks her off me. Unfortunately, it knocks her onto the ground next to her stake. She has it now, nicely covered in sand to mop up the blood, and she comes at me as I stand up. I duck away, and the stake misses my neck by a hairsbreadth, and then I land a double-fisted blow to the back of her neck.

It should have stopped her, it really should, but I seem to have pulled my punch – that particular one might well have killed her, and like I said, I don’t want her dead. Not yet.

She’s up again, and she’s lost her stake, which has to be a good thing, and she seems to have lost most of her strength. She’s ramming punches into me, but they don’t hurt all that much, and she’s chanting, “Bastard, bastard, bastard,” all the time she’s doing it. Then something happens, something seems to break inside her, and she’s still trying to punch me, but now she’s crying, in great, gusting sobs.

I capture her hands between our bodies, pressing close to her so that she can’t easily free them, and wrap my arms around her. With my arms full of crying, sobbing Slayer, I really hope that Buffy can’t see this, because I don’t think she’d be very happy, although whether she would be angry with Faith or with me I’m not sure. Who knows, with women?

Now I’m making little soothing sounds, stroking her hair, wrapping myself around her, kneeling there with her in that dirty alley, waiting for the sobs to die away. Eventually, they do.

There, in that foetid, junk-lined passage between broken-down buildings, it all comes out. She’s killed humans, profaning her sacred calling. And while she is horrified at what she’s done, some small part of her, the killer in her, has enjoyed it.

She’s allowed me to take her as my bondswoman, although how she could have stopped me I fail to understand, and she has found satisfaction and the expectation of a place in the world. Working for a demon, the most vicious of his kind, has offered her a family she never thought to have. A Slayer working for a vampire. It violates every tenet of her upbringing with her Watcher.

She tortured me to save Buffy. She did it because she felt she owed me a debt for saving her from Fenrix and his Pack, for offering her a place in my family with her sister Slayer, and she loathed herself for being able to do it, although someone had to, and she loathed herself even more because that deep, dark core of her had fun doing it.

She’s a mess, because she doesn’t understand herself, doesn’t understand that all these things are natural to her. She can’t compartmentalise the killer, the dark power that allows her to be the Slayer. In some ways, she has had to face more of her own inner darkness than Buffy has. I desperately hope that my love never has to delve this deeply into her nature, although I’m pretty sure that’s a fond and foolish hope. Buffy has at least as much of that power as this one. And Faith has had to face this alone. She’s beating herself up over something that is inevitable and natural, and now, I don’t know what to say that won’t make things worse.

The only thing I can think to do is to reach back into my memories and remember how the Soul felt about his kills, and how he learned to live with them. The answer to that last one is, not very well. Oh, yes, just as he had all of my memories and feelings, I have all of his. There are only my memories since the day he last left this body, because he is no longer here to create his own brand of torment, but I have the memories of how he felt before he went away, every little detail and every single emotion from that century of occupation. I have all of them, eating away at me like acid, the pointless regrets, the weakness, and the guilt. I just ignore those as best I can. They’ll never go away. A demon never forgets. Still, perhaps there’s something useful here, something that will let me help Faith.

“Faith, I’m a demon, and a killer. That’s my nature. I enjoy my victims’ pain, and I feel no regrets for any of it. That’s the darkness in me. I’m not the Soul. But he knew something about what you feel, and I can remember that, so listen to me. This is what Angel would say to you, if he could.

“The guy in the cemetery? That wasn’t your fault. You thought it was me there, and you did what Slayers are born to do. You killed what you thought was a monster threatening a human. The guy here? You acted on instinct, and didn’t pull your punch. You just have to live with those kills, though, because you can never take them back, just as I can never take back the killing of Jenny Calendar. And the torture? I understand that now – Aurelius has explained it to me. You did what needed doing, and you saved Buffy. But you enjoyed it, just a little bit? Well, that’s the darkness in you, in every Slayer. That’s your nature. None of you are any different, and you can believe me on that, because I’ve seen a lot of slayers. You just have to learn to live with it, and use it as best you can. You may never be able to forget these deaths. You might finish up in Hell…” I nearly say ‘with me’, but that’s his thoughts, not mine. “You can’t let that fear stop you. You have to remember that you are still a Slayer, and you have a job to do. You must not let your past mistakes get in the way of that job. Life can be hard and brutal, Faith, but you’ve got to keep walking through it, one step at a time, just doing your best, and never looking back.”

I try for something a little lighter.

“Riley, now. You might have left Riley alive. I wanted a lot more time with him.”

Her voice is wooden.

“That’s why I killed him.”

So different, and yet so alike, demons and slayers. I want to tell her that there is real artistry in a well-turned kill, and succulent pleasure to be had in prolonging that kill, in making your victim shriek for hour after hour, in draining the anguish out of them. I don’t need Angel’s memories to tell me that this would be the wrong thing to say just now. Maybe another time.

“You know, I’m a demon trying to live with a Slayer. In many ways, you’re the same. It’s just that you have them both in one body.”

I almost say, like the Soul, and me, but I realise that ours was not a happy example of co-existence, so I keep quiet about that.

“We have to adjust, make compromises. If we make mistakes, we go on and try to do better. You know, you could give yourself up, go to jail, take your lumps, and that might make you feel better. It might not, though, and in any case, I’d only have to come and break you out. Have you any idea how tedious jailbreaks can be? They just keep right on chasing you, you know.”

She’s still snuffling into my lapel, but I can tell that she’s listening, and maybe even hearing.

“I want you to come back with me. Be part of my family.”

She takes a deep breath.

“With you and B? That won’t work.”

“No. It wouldn’t. Not just now. Doesn’t mean we don’t want you as part of the family. I’ve got something to do. It’s going to be hard, and it’s going to be long term, and I’m going to need all the help I can get. I’m going to need you. I’m going to deal with Wolfram and Hart. To do that, I’m going to need power and I’m going to have to either get rid of the competition or bind them to me. I want to lay down rules for the underworld that both a Slayer and I can live with. This has never been done before, Faith. Can you be part of it?”

She’s still talking into my lapel, but it’s a bit less watery now.

“What do you want me to do?”

“I think Wes and Gunn will come on board, although Cordelia hates me, so I’m not so sure about her. I want them to keep Los Angeles clean. That’s where Wolfram and Hart are based, and they don’t know it yet, but I want them to learn everything they can about the firm and the Senior Partners. I want you to head up that operation. You can see it as atonement if you like. It’s going to be dangerous work, but I’ll be there when I’m needed, and you’ll have my backing. You won’t be alone. Ever.”

Not like Angel was, for so long. That’s the over-riding thing I get from his memories, the pain and despair of being alone with only his guilt for company. That’s what will send this girl off into madness. A dark Slayer, I can use. A mad Slayer? No way.

“Are you turning into Angel? That’s the sort of stuff he was doing, to atone, to earn redemption, wasn’t it? That’s what I hear, anyway.”

The very thought makes me scoff, and I leave her in no doubt that I am nothing like Angel. I never will be, either. I just do not want this bunch of jumped-up hell-spawn threatening me or my mate or my family ever again.

“Even if I’m not Angel, you can still act like a real Slayer, Faith. We can make common cause of this. But first, come back for the ceremonies. We want you to be there.”

I lapse into silence, still holding her close to me, rocking her gently and stroking her hair. It’s a long time before she answers me.


“All of it?”


Thank the Fates for that!

Why am I doing this? You think I would willingly give up my possession of the second Slayer? Are you mental?

I want her to come back to the motel with me – I really don’t want to lose sight of her – but she insists that she needs some alone time, and then she needs to go and pick up her gear from where she’s been crashing. She promises she’ll come, and I can scent no dishonesty on her, so I agree. She’ll get cleaned up and come on over, ready to head back to Sunnydale. She hasn’t been eating much so, since she provided my dinner, I’ll provide hers, and maybe we can both work off some of our frustrations in a very… pleasant… way. We’ll leave tomorrow night.

When I get back to the motel, it’s a trap. As I open the door to my room, the wood flies out of my grasp, and I am sucked into a blue swirling void. A portal. Shit. As I’m yanked out of my reality, I hear the sounds of wreckage in the room. I remember thinking, rather incongruously, that I hope Faith doesn’t get billed for the damage. When I get where I’m being taken, someone is waiting for me with electric cattle prods, set on high. They don’t need to score as many hits as they do, but they just keep going until darkness takes me.


Angel has been gone for too long. Oh, I know who he is well enough. I decided years ago, when I accepted that Angel was never coming back – before he actually *did* come back for a while – that I would call Angelus Angel. He hates it when I do – I’m sure he’s afraid that he’ll never have the same sort of love from me that Angel had. Silly boy. I knew, though, that this is a battle I couldn’t and shouldn’t lose. If I give way on everything, I might as well be his slave and I won’t be that. I’ll call him Angelus in public. That’s right and proper. He has a standing to maintain, and so do I. We must support each other there. But I know that if I want to survive this relationship, I must be his equal, and to do that, he needs to accept some things. Calling him Angel was the first and the smallest of the things that I chose to fight him on. Killing will be another, much bigger, thing. Small steps, but we’ll work it out as we go along.

He has been gone for too long. He has called each day while he’s been away, until three days ago, and then nothing. Tonight, I’m sending the minions out to look for him. I haven’t actually moved into the mansion yet, since the builders haven’t quite finished, but I’m there now, assessing our resources with Ixolon, Estevan and Ezrafel. The thing that has me really worried is that I cannot feel him. I open the link, and there is nothing. Absolutely nothing. I didn’t feel him die, though. I *know* that I would have felt that. I pray to any Powers that may be listening that I would feel his death and know. He may be hurt and unconscious, or he may be magically shielded in some way, and I’m going to go with one of those two things because I couldn’t bear the alternative. We know where he last was – he went to find Faith.

We are in Angel’s study, deep in discussion, when a minion knocks on the door and opens it for a newcomer. Faith.

She’s tired and travel stained, and she’s looking *old*, but all of this escapes my conscious thought. He went to find her, he’s missing, she’s here. Two and two equal I don’t know how many. She can’t tell me anything if I kill her, but it’s with very great difficulty that I keep my hands off her. She’s the first one to speak.

“I’ve come to see Angelus.”

“He isn’t here, and I think you know that. Perhaps you could tell us where he is?”

Her face crumples at my words, and she looks as if she’s carrying the weight of the world. She doesn’t wait to be asked, she just sits down in one of the spare chairs, and bows her head in what is clearly despair.

“I’ve searched that town for two days. I was sure he must be back here.”

I walk over to her and crouch by her side. Almost of its own volition, my arm creeps around her shoulders. She looks so… defeated, and I’m sure she is telling the truth. She has had no hand in his disappearance.

“Faith. Tell us from the beginning.”

She does. She’s leaving a lot out, I’m sure, but she tells us of her bargain with Angelus, and how she went to the motel room a couple of hours later. It was trashed. No, more than trashed, it was a wreck, and the police were there. She had to wait until things calmed down, but when she could get in, there was no trace of Angelus. His belongings were gone, but so was most of the furniture, and there was just the wrecked room. But, and this is a very important but, she couldn’t find any trace of vampire ash, either. She didn’t know which was his car, and didn’t dare ask – she’s still a wanted person, don’t forget – and so she had no way of knowing whether he was still in town. She hunted, though. She has hunted for two days and two nights, then eventually gave in and hitched a ride here. She’d hoped that something had gone down to separate them, and that he would be safely here. That isn’t the case, and now I’m terrified. It’s a terror that seems to make my brain work better. I call Willow.

“Will, Angelus is missing, and Faith’s here. I’ll tell you later, but do you know where Oz is?”

Will and Tara seem to have struck up an extremely close relationship with Oz and Nina. That’s really good. And yes, she knows where he is and can get in touch.

“See if any of the werewolves are within distance – it’s full moon tomorrow, isn’t it?”

I tell her where Angelus was seen, and thank the Powers it is indeed full moon tomorrow. The nearest weres will see if they can pick up a scent trail. I haven’t given them an order, but they will take it as such. After the Fenrix thing, they look to Angel as their leader, almost as their god when they are in the change. If anyone can find him, they will. There is no point in us rushing about the country until they can tell us where to look. The waiting is hard, though.

It all gets very much harder after three old and powerful werewolves have quartered the place, looking for sign of him. He went to the room, and he came out again. Much later, he went back again. That freshest scent trail goes to the room, and then does not come out. He’s in that room, or he’s very much elsewhere, and we have no notion of where to look. The weres say one other thing, though. Like Faith, they can find no trace of vampire ash. He didn’t die there. What now? Whatever can I do now? As I look around the room, everyone looks to me for instruction. I wish I had someone to look to, but I’m going to have to do this myself.


When I regain my senses, I’m in chains. Again. And I’m naked. Again. I make an instant resolution that no one is ever going to get me naked in chains again. Well, no one except Buffy, of course. And possibly Aurelius, if I can’t wriggle out of it. I tug experimentally at the fetters, and they are very, very firm. I’m shackled tightly, at wrists and ankles. No chance of fighting back, unless I can get free. I spend a fruitless hour or two trying to do just that, and my only reward is badly abraded wrists and ankles.

Whilst I’m struggling, I’m also trying to work out where I am. There’s a worrying element to the scent around here. There isn’t any. Absolutely nothing. There is always scent, even if it’s the mustiness of long disuse, of stale air and old stone. It’s as if this place were, well, nowhere. That gives me a clenching feeling in the pit of my stomach that I really could do without. It gives me a clue though. There aren’t many who could seal off a piece of nowhere, and there are even fewer of those whom I’ve pissed off in the recent past. I’m going to go with Wolfram and Hart. Perhaps I shouldn’t have killed the Wolf’s litter brother. Have they got to Faith, I wonder? Was that all just an elaborate charade? Is that why she wouldn’t come back to the motel with me?

I’m also trying to ignore the two artefacts standing next to one wall of the room. They are coffins, in some metal that looks rather like lead, standing on platforms of decorated stone. Both of them are very ornate. The thing that they are ornate with is a pattern of crosses. They are covered all over with crosses in high relief. Large ones, small ones, fancy one, plain ones, entwined ones, and ones that look as if they were designed by MC Escher. I’d swear those crosses go through more than one dimension. They certainly make my eyes want to water, although that might be the after-effects of severe electrocution, I suppose. I wonder to myself who might be in those coffins, or whether anyone is. Yet.

The other worrying thing is that I can’t see a door anywhere. It might be behind me, although I’ve craned my neck as best I can, and I can’t see anything there, either. Still, there is a definite blind spot immediately behind me, and it could be there. Couldn’t it?

Then, the wall in front of me shimmers and a party of people enter through that shimmer. I recognise two of the party. Linwood and Lilah. That pretty well answers the ‘who’, so that’s one question down. Lilah looks me up and down appraisingly, and while I might like that at any other time, it makes me feel distinctly uncomfortable now. I don’t show it, though. I just give her a leer. Linwood hands something to her that I can’t quite see, although there was the flash of metal, and she walks over to me. She opens up her hand, and the object is lying flat on her palm. It’s a coin. It’s a very tiny old coin of sleekly shining gold, an obol I think. I have no idea what she is going to do.

She runs her fingers up my flank, and even here, my body responds. Why can I not control a damned erection even in such a precarious situation as this? These people mean me no good at all. One of them, the stranger, isn’t even fully human, not that these two can ever qualify as very human. She moves her hand, wrapping her fingers around me, and there is nothing I can do, just as there is nothing that I can do about the chains. Nothing, but accept. When I get out of this, though…

When she has teased me into a very vulnerable hardness, she takes a small step backwards and lets go.

“Do you known what this coin is, Angelus? No? Well, let me tell you a story. Thousands of years ago, when the Greeks were burying their dead, they believed that they needed to be ferried over the River Acheron by Charon. They believed that Charon had to be paid for that ferry ride; otherwise he would leave them haunting the wrong side of the riverbank forever. His price was one obol. You remember all that, don’t you?”

Well, not personally. Aurelius might, though. Lilah is not the type to worry about this sort of history thing – I’m pretty certain she’s had it explained to her very recently. Where the hell are we going with this?

“In order to make sure the deceased could pay the price, the bereaved relatives would put an obol under the tongue of the corpse, and that was that. Well, perhaps not quite, because some of those obols were very special coins, and they were made for the living, not for the dead. Put one under the tongue, and it acted as a perfect muscle relaxant. Hey presto! Magic! Instant corpse. They were useful in certain situations. This one will be useful now.”

She nods to two of the brawny types that have accompanied Lilah, Linwood and the stranger into the room.

Press hard enough at just the right spot inside the hinge of the jaw, and you cannot prevent your mouth from opening. I can assure you of the truth of that. It will even work on a pit bull terrier, if you can press hard enough. The brawny types do press – rather harder than necessary, in fact – and my mouth opens. Just a little, but it’s enough. In goes the obol, underneath my tongue, and I can’t even bite her. I can’t do anything, because I have no control over any part of my body. My eyes are fixed open. I can see and I can hear and I can feel. Nothing else works. Even my jaw is slack. She runs her finger lightly over my shrunken sex, and there isn’t so much as a quiver. It’s a very good job I’ve got no sense of shame. I’m just angry. And terrified.

She laughs, a delighted little laugh, and turns to her companions.

“See? I said it would work.”

She gestures again to the muscle, and all four thugs are needed to heave the lid off one of the coffins. As I thought – or feared – it’s empty. Not for long, I guess.

At that moment, the wall shimmers again, and another body drops through. The hired muscle are onto the newcomer in an instant, cattle prods viciously deployed again and again. The newcomer is unconscious almost from the instant of arrival. When I see who it is, my heart sinks.


We might not have had the ceremonies yet, but everyone knows that I am Angel’s mate. I’m in charge. The first thing we need is everyone on the case. Messages went out to both my friends in Sunnydale and the Los Angeles contingent to meet here as soon as possible. We need a council of war. There can be no war until we’ve found the enemy, though, and I prefer to locate Angel first. I don’t want him to become collateral damage. If I can’t feel him, maybe someone else can. I have one sort of link. Aurelius has a different one, I guess, and has been using it for a lot longer. Perhaps he can feel Angel, where I can’t. I’m going to need the big guns here, because I can only think of one enemy, one organisation who might have the wherewithal and the motivation to do this. Wolfram and Hart. If I’m going up against them, I need to know.

Willow has just finished trying to scry for him, and she is having no luck. We think that means he’s being magically shielded. We’ve been there before, and I won’t tolerate it again. Will and Tara are going to rustle up some magic that might help them overcome the shielding, but that could take a day or two of research to find something that they can amplify with the power of the Hellmouth. Perhaps that’s the sort of magic needed if something from the dark dimensions has him.

Everyone is agreed I should go to Cairo, and they all think I should take someone with me. Taking a vampire would only slow me down because of the whole not travelling in daylight thing, and the fact that demons tend not to have passports. Besides, they can accomplish more trying to search for leads here than sitting on a plane. There are arguments, but in the end I go alone. I’m using the money from the marriage settlement. I know it’s early, but I’m sure he won’t mind.

When I reach Aurelius’ palace, it’s almost midnight. The doorkeeper knows who I am and admits me without question. Inside, there is an air of quiet hubbub. It isn’t the hubbub of people… beings…going about their normal business. It’s controlled panic. I recognise it instantly, because it’s exactly what I’ve left behind me at the mansion. Do they already know what has happened? The vamps in the main hall seem to melt away as I appear and then there’s only me, and the vampire coming towards me from the direction of Aurelius’ rooms. It’s Japheth.


That’s all the greeting I get.

“I need to see Aurelius.”

He frowns a little.

“He isn’t here, I’m afraid. You should have called ahead. You’ve had a wasted journey.”

I can’t deal with this. All my hopes were pinned on Aurelius being able to find my mate. My voice sounds stricken, even to me.

“When will he be back?”

“I don’t know, I’m afraid. It might be a long time.”

No! Please, no!

There are a number of stools scattered around the hall, and I need to sit down. The one I choose is upholstered with a tapestry pattern of a peacock, in life-like brilliant colours. I’m thinking about this because my brain refuses to think about the other. I must though. I’m sure the effort must be visible to Japheth, and I forget for the moment just how keen and discriminating is a vampire’s sense of smell. He comes towards me with a look of concern on his face. He knows I’m distressed.

“What is wrong, Slayer.”

“Angelus has disappeared. He’s been missing for six days now, and we can find no trace of him. I can’t even feel him anymore, but I’m sure… I think I’m sure… that he’s not dead.” It finishes up as a whisper.

If a vampire can be said to go pale, he does. He sits down on a stool facing me, his elbows resting on his knees, his head bowed. After a moment, he looks at me.

“Six days, you said?”


“Aurelius went missing on the same day. We cannot find him either.”

I am too numb to even think, now, and I barely hear Japheth’s next words.

“A message came for him, that Angelus was in serious trouble and needed him. He went out, and has not been back. He did not tell us where he was going.”

A thought tries to fight its way into my fear-addled brain.

“Sekhmet. What about Sekhmet? Can she find him?”

He is silent for a moment, as if he is debating something with himself. Then he stands.

“Come with me.”

He leads me through into Aurelius’ rooms, and into his bedchamber. I haven’t been in here. It’s… I’m having trouble finding the right words here… opulent. It’s rich and colourful, and so very like Angelus. Family trait, then.

I don’t see her for a moment. The cat is on the floor, at the foot of the bed. She looks dead. She isn’t, of course, or she would be a pile of ash. But she might as well be, for all she can tell us. I look at Japheth.

“The night he disappeared, she gave one agonised cry, and then fell into this stupor. We think that it’s sympathetic magic.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The magic being practiced on someone else – presumably Aurelius – is affecting her as well. I expect it’s to stop her finding him.”

“That means he must still be alive, then?”

“We can only hope so.”

“Japheth, how old are you?”

He turns that grave stare on me.

“A little over four thousand years.”

Unimaginable. I’ve always thought that Angel was old – not in a decrepit way, of course, but still, he’s older than the United States, so that’s fairly old to me – but these vamps are so *ancient*. I pull myself together as best I can.

“Do you have a link with Aurelius, like I have with Angelus? You know, being his direct childe and all?”

“It is not exactly the same, but yes. I do.”

They must have had lots and lots of practice over four thousand years. They must have much more skill at this than I do. I ask the question that is burning in my throat.

“Can you feel him?”


As we stand looking at Sekhmet, and wondering where to go now, I feel his cool hand clasp mine, but there is no comfort to be had for either of us.


It’s Aurelius. If he is here, how are we ever going to be found? Buffy can have no idea of what has happened here, and in any event, she has not the power to pit herself against Wolfram and Hart. Even I do not, at present.

He receives the same treatment that was meted out to me. He is strung up in chains, naked, but he isn’t left to himself, to come round from the vicious electrocution that he has suffered. The stranger murmurs a few words, and consciousness starts to return. Lilah smiles brightly.

“Thank you, Hamilton.”

At least I know his name, for all the good it will do.

As Aurelius recovers, he takes stock of his situation, and sees me. He probably thinks I am unconscious, hanging slackly in the chains. I may even be drooling. He doesn’t say anything. Lilah gives him the obol treatment, but his explanation is different. The obol is different. It will bring Sekhmet down, too. She looks brightly at me.

“We’ve only got one of those, Angelus. If we’d thought your ditzy little Slayer would be as much of a problem for us as the cat might have been, your little girl would be in a catatonic state right now. Don’t look for rescue, the pair of you. You are ours. The Senior Partners are very pleased.”

I just bet they are.

Then the lid of the second coffin is removed, and we are carried over to them. We are placed one in each, and not very gently. There are crosses on the inside, too, although not on the base. I feel the sear of their touch as we are lowered into this hellish casing.

Lilah grasps my limp arms and pulls them forward over my stomach, then holds them, crossed at the wrists, over my navel. Linwood has gone to Aurelius, behind me, so I assume that he is doing the same there. She looks at the one called Hamilton, and he nods, then moves back a little, out of my line of sight. Holding my wrists in one hand, she presses one of the crosses on the inside of the coffin. Then she repositions her grip, holding one arm in each hand, carefully avoiding the wrists themselves. I soon find out why.

There is a pressure against my back and then agony as something pierces me on either side of my spine. Whatever it is pushes straight up through my body like a sword, coming out through my navel and up through my wrists, pinioning them together. It is a pair of twin metal spikes, twined around each other. Lilah lets go, but remains, watching.

“You’re going to be here for a very long time, Angelus, until we are ready to let you out again. Both of you. Oh, and that might be ‘never’, by the way. We’ve given you something to keep you entertained during your very eternal night. I doubt you’ll be able to get to sleep. Enjoy.”

I hear Linwood whispering to Aurelius.

“Don’t think your cat will find you, we’ve taken good care that she won’t wake up again. There is no magic that will release her with that coin in your mouth.”

A terrible thought occurs to me. Have they left Buffy unaffected so that she *will* find me? Do they want her, too? If there is any god other than the dark and vengeful sort, I pray that she will not come to this hell, this snippet of the human world that is so much worse than any demon dimension.

The spike, which stands proud of my wrists, starts to move and grind against my wrist bones, and then it splits, both halves taking on an organic shape, like a vine. Each tendril splits and splits again, and then each takes its own route around the coffin. I feel each and every one of them start to slowly stitch their way through my body.

The lid is replaced, leaving me in ultimate darkness, speared by the ever-moving tendrils, and galled by the fear that my mate might end up here. Terror grows, like a beast in my belly, and I feel it start to rise and tear at my throat. I am voiceless, and I must scream.


The vamps are having a meeting. It was called before ever I arrived here, and it’s half a dozen of the most elder of Aurelius’ own childer. The rest know what is going on, but are remaining away. Japheth says they will be a second front if these elders fall. So, it’s them and me.

Japheth insisted that I stay for the meeting – I would have done that anyway – and he also insisted that I have my old room back and get some sleep. As if I could. He brought me some herbal tea to help. Vampires and herbal tea? You just never know, do you? Perhaps it did help a bit, because I did sleep, although very fitfully. I dreamed, too.

I dreamed that I was somewhere with Angel, and it was a dreadful place, but it was truly Angel, not Angelus. And then it was Angelus, not Angel, in that same dreadful place. Both of them told me to go, to leave them, not to try to rescue them. I know it was both of them, because they may look alike, but I can tell one from the other. It’s as if each of them resonates differently in my spirit. I know that Angel must be safe in the ether, waiting for me. His soul was that of an innocent, and Hell can’t touch him, of that I’m sure. So this terrible place must be a reflection of my own fears for Angelus. It must have been about Angelus, mustn’t it? Or could it have been Angel, warning me? I don’t know what to think, except that if either of them thinks I’m leaving him there, they’ve got another think coming. The dream did give me the seed of an idea, though.

These elder vamps are very intelligent. Generally, the vamps I’ve staked have been sly and cunning, and maybe even devious, but little more than teeth on legs. The Aurelians are different. Except the Master, who was as stupid as they come. Vicious, but stupid. If I understand what Angelus has told me about Nest, these vamps would agree with me on that if they were honest about him. He’s definitely the exception, though. Perhaps these Aurelians come from different stock, and are not the same as other vampires. I don’t know. When I have time, I’ll have to find out more.

Since we have nothing else to go on, they are starting with the theory that Wolfram and Hart are behind this. We have crossed one of their senior partners, and they do not seem to be the forgiving and forgetting kind. Additionally, the Aurelians seem to have upset the firm themselves. They are talking about Japheth’s recovery of the last of someone’s bones, held by one of Wolfram and Hart’s sorcerers. They managed to break into the firm’s building in Los Angeles and found the bone, but not before all hell broke loose, and that was almost literally. They lost half their number getting out, and that’s when they took Lindsey with them.

I make a call to Wesley. Apparently security has been tightened, and he’s pretty sure the same ploy won’t work again. He puts me onto Will, who has persevered with scrying for Angel. I tell her that Aurelius is missing, too, and about Sekhmet. I see some scowls around the table here, but we have to learn to trust each other.

She’s had some results from the scrying, but they are very strange. The pendant kept trying to go to L.A., but was pushed away. The effects were subtle, but she’s good at this sort of thing, and she’s pretty sure he’s there. When I tell her about Sekhmet, she has an idea. If Sekhmet is affected by sympathetic magic, maybe that magic can be backtracked. Perhaps she and Tara can whip up a spell to tell them whether the cat can see anything. My seed of an idea grows, but I don’t say anything just yet.

The vamps keep talking. Japheth is the leader, as the eldest. He told me last night that he is Keeper of the clan, and what that meant. In the absence of the clan master and his beta, the Keeper is in charge.

We’re going with the Wolfram and Hart connection, although not blindly so. Other of Aurelius’ childer, those not here, will keep on looking for other leads. But we are after the lawyers. There are lots of good ideas, but something is wrong with all of them. Eventually, they start to become frustrated, and decide to take a break. I’m pretty sure I know what they are going to do, and my slayer instincts war with my current sense of purpose. I find out later that Aurelius has strict rules about excessive killing in his home territory. They’ve fed on animals. There are plenty of horses and donkeys and cattle around, and many of those animals are in such poor condition that a few fang marks won’t be noticed.

When we reconvene, I tell them I have an idea. It’s foolish and dangerous, although I don’t say so because they can see that for themselves, but it might work. They listen politely. When I’m finished, there is stunned silence for a few moments, and then everyone starts talking at once. These may be ancient and powerful vampires, but they can still behave like a pack of schoolchildren.

They don’t like it. Well, neither do I, but none of us can think of anything better. They don’t trust me, either, and that much is perfectly clear. Well, why should they? They’ve known each other for thousands of years, and I have only met one of them before. Oh yes, and let’s not forget that I’m the Slayer. I may be Angelus’ mate, but they really don’t know my intentions here. In the end, it’s Japheth, the eldest, who turns the balance in my favour.

“We face losing Aurelius and Angelus, our master and his beta. We have lost many members down the centuries, but never will this clan have suffered such a heavy blow. It seems that vengeance has been taken on both of them for actions against three powerful demigods. If we go up against these three, they may annihilate us. If we allow them to steal these two away, who is to say that these beings would not still turn their attention to the rest of the clan as well?

“We have with us the Slayer, the most powerful weapon we could possibly choose to assist us. Who is to say that this was not meant to be? We are reluctant to trust her, and so we should be. After all we are what she slays. And yet, she has chosen to ally herself with us. There may be family… disagreements… in the future, but here and now we have common cause. As Angelus’ mate, we can either reject her – and him – completely; we can consider them outcast from the clan. Or, we can trust her and follow her lead. Aurelius clearly wishes her to be considered family. She carries his blood, and we all know it. I choose the same. I will follow the Slayer. Who will join me?”

And that is how it goes. Arrangements are made to transport the seven of us to Sunnydale. We’ve decided to combine forces. I’ve chosen Sunnydale rather than Los Angeles to start with, because I like to have that bit of distance between me and this particular enemy. Besides that, my plan requires everything to look as normal as possible. How normal is it, arriving home with six ancient vampires and a comatose four hundred pound sabre-tooth cat? Still, we do what we can.

When we get home, Lindsey has disappeared. I’m not taking bets on where he’s run off to, and why. He’s dead when next I see him. Well, deader.


These guys at Wolfram and Hart really do well for themselves. I know lawyering is high up on the list of things to do if you want to be a big earner, but this is beyond even that league. I’m here to see a woman called Lilah Morgan. Gunn is my insurance, waiting outside.

Lilah’s office is big and very expensive. I could get used to this…

“Faith. What a surprise.”

“Yeah, well, you know me. Always doing things differently.”

“Well, what things are you thinking of doing now?”

She’s got a very lawyer-like face on – she’s not giving much away – but as I tell her what I’m thinking of doing now, the mask slips, just a little. So it should. I’m asking if she wants to buy a Slayer. Well, two, but on rather different terms.

I’m offering to deliver Buffy to her, and to come over and work for the firm if they have a job for me. After all, I’m a wanted killer. They can fix things like that, make sure I never see the inside of a jail, much better than the vampire ever can. I want to be free of his influence and I’m sure they can do that, if anyone can. Well, you know what he kept saying about me. Gotta get my mind right.

Lilah is astonished and very interested, although she tries not to let on.

“Why would we want Buffy alive if, as you say, we were behind trying to kill her in June?”

“You don’t want any Slayer under the influence of Angelus, helping him, strengthening him. He’s got two now, and you want to take those away from him. I’m offering you my services if you’ll do exactly that, and I can’t see how you wouldn’t want B at your disposal. She’ll never work for you like I will, but I’m sure you want to find out how she works, what effect mating a vampire has had on her, run your tests, have a slayer lab-rat.”

“Why would you do this?”

“I want the cops off my back. I want the sort of money that I can see is just small change around here. I’m tired of being poor, of living on someone’s charity. Living off you? Well, I’m sure you’ll find some way of letting me earning my corn, something to fit my… talents. And I got to cut the vampire up pretty damned bad. I found that I… liked it. Will you have some more jobs like that?”

She laughs then, and makes a call. Three men – well, two men and one something else that looks like a man – come in and are introduced as Linwood and Hamilton. The other one is Lindsey. She outlines my plan to them. It takes a while, but they are agreed. They’ll hire me. I ask them if they want the Watcher, too. They demur a bit, because the Watcher is more of a nuisance than anything else. I remind them that if they leave him loose, he’ll contact the Watcher’s Council. Is that the sort of problem they want? They decide they’ll take the Watcher. Lilah looks at her fingernails and suggests, softly, that I might bring the other Watcher, too. The failed one. I say that’s no problem.

Then we talk details, but can’t agree on a plan. I can’t just walk in the front door with three kidnap victims. They are worried about trusting me, I can tell, and this is getting to be a problem.

“Look, if you think I’m going to sell you out, you’re insane. I’ve got nowhere else to go but here. If you don’t trust me, test me. I’m sure you’ve got stuff that will tell you whether I mean what I say.”

The four of them move to the far side of Lilah’s office for a spirited but whispered conversation. A phone call is made, and almost immediately a pair of dark-haired, and extremely spooky, identical twins come in. They both stand in front of me for several very long minutes. Then the examination is over.

“She speaks the truth.”

That was weird. They said it in stereo. They surely couldn’t have said anything else, but I breathe a sigh of relief anyway. Linwood then makes a suggestion.

“She could bring them directly into the Hole.”

“The Hole?” This sounds interesting. Lilah explains.

“It’s a small hole in reality. It’s a walled-off piece of nothing. It’s outside space and time, and everything else you think you know.”

She turns to Hamilton.

“If we keep the Slayer in there, we could use her and Angelus against each other. That could be interesting. And fun.”

“You’ve got the vampire in there?”

Hamilton looks suspicious again, but I don’t want to let this chance slip.

“Well, I was only thinking you might let me play with him again. Perhaps I was only practising last time.”

The sisters nod, and Hamilton smiles indulgently.

“I think Faith will be an intriguing addition to our payroll.”

“Talking about that, I need to have some help to get three of them here. I know some people who hate Angelus almost as much as I do, and who think Buffy is a danger to humans, now, going over to the dark side like this. They probably won’t want to work for you, but I’m sure they’ll help me get rid of her. It’ll be easier using them than trying to introduce strangers.”

“You sure you know what you are doing?”

“Never more so.”

“Fine. Bring who you like.”

“How will I bring them into this Hole?”

Hamilton fishes in his pocket and brings out a small crystal, wrapped round with intricate silver wire. He tosses it to me, and fetches out another one.

“One shot job. It’ll get you in and out of the portal once. Don’t try to use it again. Tell us when you’re coming. Right, everyone. Ready?”

He looks at me, and I nod. He holds the crystal up and calls out, “Enter”. There’s a shimmer now, in the middle of Lilah’s office. She gestures to me to follow Lindsey, and I do. It’s like walking through a very thin sauna, hot, moist, and sticky on the skin, and then we are in a large, almost bare, room. It’s not quite bare, because there are chains round the walls, and a couple of silver-coloured coffins, covered in crosses. I think I can guess who’s in there. Lilah can see my interest.

“No, you can’t play with either of them just yet. But, when we get Buffy here, who knows?”

I can’t keep the smirk of anticipation off my face, and she sees it.

“So, I just say the word, bring them here, and then the people with me can go, right?”

“Do you want them to ‘just go’? Wouldn’t you feel more comfortable if they stayed here as well?”

That’s Hamilton. I think about what he has said.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right, at that. Do I get to keep their pay?”

I get another indulgent laugh from Hamilton. We go back to Lilah’s office, and she insists on taking me out for dinner. It’s good, a proper restaurant. Then it’s back to Sunnydale for step two.


When I came back from Cairo, we all went for a walk in the Cemetery of Eternal Rest, and I told people about my plan. There were reservations, and all of them thought I was mad, but they are prepared to try it. I’m humbled by how much they must love and trust me, to do something as foolish as this. It’s been three weeks now since Angelus and Aurelius were taken. I have to believe they were taken, and that they still might be found. That he might come home again. The builders have finished with the mansion, and it’s clean and new and fit for his return. I’ll make sure he gets back to enjoy it.

Aurelius’ childer have made themselves scarce in the various crypts that Sunnydale has so many of. Willow and Tara have visited, to see if they can backtrack the trail of magic from Sekhmet, or get any idea what she can see. That was almost a disaster, because a spike of magic backlashed onto both of them. It took them three days to recover, so we won’t be trying that again. They won’t tell me how bad it was, but I think they might have almost been killed. Everything else we’ve tried has come up a blank.

Faith is here. She’s been in and out for the last week or two, sitting in on some of our meetings, and not on others. She went off for a couple of days, saying she needed some alone time, that all these vampires and demons were upsetting her slayer senses, something that I still find difficult, and even now she doesn’t seem very okay. She appears to be drifting apart from the main group. She’s very buddy with Xander, Gunn and Clethra, the junior member of the Norag contingent; all the ones who were most discontent with the plan. Perhaps the ones who were most discontent with Angelus. If Cordelia were here, it would be a matching set.

I’ve asked Faith to come and see me, to set about putting my plan into operation. Everything seems to be ready, and I don’t want to wait any longer.


B has summoned me. She’s taken to using the rooms that belonged… belong to Angelus. Time to swing into action, then. We’re as ready as we’re going to be, so there’s no point in letting the grass grow. Lilah gave me something to help, here. Well, three little somethings, one for each of them. All I’ve got to do is touch skin and we don’t even have to duke it out. Very thoughtful of the lawyers.

B is sitting in the study, and she’s got papers and plans and maps all over the desk in front of her. Much good those will be, and she knows it. I sit down and slip her a note.

‘Don’t say a word. Wes and Giles are outside. They say the mansion might be bugged. Let’s go.”

She doesn’t say anything, just gets up and slips on her jacket. We’re off. Giles and Wesley are indeed outside. It’s just that they are… incapacitated. Just like B will be in a couple of minutes. We get out into the garden, and into the little summerhouse that Angelus has had built for her. She sees Xander and Gunn and Clethra, with two bundles at their feet. She’s got no time to react, though, because I press my little gadget to the nape of her neck, and she goes down.

I look at the other three. They’re ready. I hold the wire-wrapped crystal up and say ‘Enter’. The wall of the summerhouse shimmers. Xander shrugs, hoists B onto his shoulder and stands to one side. Gunn and Clethra take a Watcher each, and walk through. I follow them, and Xander sticks a broomstick through the portal, holding it open, just like a door.

Just as Hamilton said, we are back in that creepy room. There’s a welcoming committee. The four lawyers, well three lawyers… No, let’s start again. The two lawyers, dead vampire ex-lawyer, and indeterminate thing are there, with a dozen or so thugs, each with cattle prods. They are taking no chances, then. Two of our three captives are on the floor, still unconscious.

“Where is the Slayer?”

That’s Hamilton.

“You’ll get her.” I point to the broomstick. “When I give the right tug on that, the Slayer will be brought through. Sort of like a Masonic handshake, you know.”

The lawyers start to look angry, and I hurry on.

“It’s just a precaution – you tested me. I just want to be reassured. You say that Angelus and Aurelius are here, but you’ve shown me shit. I just want to see them, nothing else. I want to know that neither of them is going to come after me for what’s going down here. That’s reasonable.”

Linwood hesitates, then nods and gestures to the assembled muscle and, four to a coffin, they take off the lids. I don’t even want to register what I can see. I’ll have nightmares about it for years. I grab hold of the broomstick and tug twice. Xander comes through the portal, followed by the half a dozen of Aurelius’ childer who came with B from Cairo.


That’s Japheth. On his word, Buffy, Giles and Wes come to their feet, and their senses. We knew there’d be no time for recuperation, so Willow’s revival spell is instant. The humans amongst us – and I’m not counting me and B here – stand in front of the portal wall, to stop anyone getting out and fetching reinforcements, and the rest of us go to work. The plan is to concentrate on the muscle, figuring that the lawyer-types aren’t going to be very much trouble, apart from Lindsey, that is. He’s staying back, though – not one for close encounters, obviously. Hamilton, standing behind the muscle, searches his pockets, looking for his crystal, I guess, but he doesn’t seem to have it. That’s good. Maybe I’m the only one with the way out.

It takes a little while, and a lot of bruises and several very severe electrical shocks, because these guys are good, but eventually we do get the thugs down and out. Most of them are staying like that permanently, because there was no time for niceties. Now it’s just the gang of four.

Buffy walks over to the coffins, and I hear a choked sob from her. Figuring that Lindsey is going to be no match for these very powerful vamps, and that the others, in their shiny suits – power suit, in Lilah’s case – aren’t important, I risk a look with her. I want to be sick again when I really see what’s in the coffins. The others are sidling over now. I didn’t think that vamps vomited, but I can tell that some of them want to. There’s a lot of silence from our team, because we hadn’t counted on this.


Did you really think that Faith had sold us out? Good. The plan worked, then. I’ll tell you about it later, but none of us were actually unconscious. The lawyers’ spell worked, but Willow had given us some protection. We were limp, but fully aware. Better prepared to get into the fray than if we had come out of a deep sleep. As soon as the men with the cattle prods are disposed of, I go to rescue my sleeping prince. Okay, and my sort-of father-in-law-to-be. I’m really not prepared for what I see. They are both in the same condition, but I only have eyes for Angelus, and the picture of him will live with me forever.

He’s naked, lying in the lead coffin, which has a design of raised crosses inside and out. There’s barely room for him, and in places, his skin is brushing against a cross. In those places, there are angry burn marks. His wrists are crossed on his stomach, and writhing silver tendrils have speared through his body and pierced those crossed wrists, fixing them together. The tendrils have then split – there may be a dozen of more – and they are threading though every part of him. Yet there is no blood.

One has gone all the way through his right thigh and part way through the left. Another has speared his shoulder, from front to back, turned to travel though his neck and throat and come out through the opposite cheek. A third has entered his abdomen, and, with a high and looping path, is stitching its way though his groin. They are in his legs, his feet, his arms, his hips, his chest, his belly; they are everywhere. All told, it looks like some obscene version of Sleeping Beauty, wrapped around and through by his own barrier of briars. Except, he isn’t sleeping. His eyes are open, and I can feel him. He is awake and in pain, but he can’t move, and I don’t know why.

The human in me wants to wail, but the Slayer in me is dismayed as well. I seize hold of one of the tendrils and try to pull it out. It’s too strong. I can’t even bend it. If we want to get Angelus and Aurelius out, we are going to have to cut them out in pieces. Unless the lawyers can remove the metal artwork, that is.

Japheth has his hand on Aurelius’ shoulder, and anger on his face.

“What is the mechanism to remove this… this abomination?” he snarls at the lawyers. He is met with silence. He stalks over to them, singling out Hamilton, and takes him by the throat.

“Tell me!”

He starts to squeeze. Hamilton takes hold of his hand and prises it away from his neck, despite everything that Japheth can do. Then, casually, he backhands this ancient and powerful vampire and hurls him clear across the room. He is knocked onto the upper edge of Aurelius’ coffin, almost landing on top of the clan master, with such force that the immensely heavy coffin is knocked off the stone platform and cartwheels backwards, landing upside down on the floor. Japheth tries to stand, but it’s clear he’s badly hurt. The other five vamps are instantly on to Hamilton, but even though they have the advantage of numbers, it’s obvious he is far the stronger. I’ve never seen anything like it. Well, not since Glory. The rest of us join in, trying to subdue this creature.

Except for Wesley. As Hamilton catches me with a blow across the breast that sends me to the floor, gasping for breath, I see Wesley from the corner of my eye, coming up behind Lilah. She doesn’t know he’s there, she’s so busy watching Hamilton knock seven bells out of the rest of us. He grabs her around the throat, and pulls out a large knife from the back of his waistband.

“Tell me how to free the vampires, Lilah, or I *will* cut your throat.”

She doesn’t believe him.

“No, Wesley, I really don’t think you will, you know. I understand you better than that.”

There is something between the two of them, and I’m pretty sure I know what it is. His next action shocks me, therefore. He draws the knife steadily around her throat, leaving a seeping red line in its wake.

“You don’t know me very well at all, Lilah, I can promise you that.”

She believes him this time.

“The ankh on the outside of the coffins. Press the ankh.”

The ankh. The symbol of life. I should have known.

I pick myself up, leaving my comrades to keep fighting the Hamilton creature as best they can, and go to Angelus. Tears come when I see him, and although I try to hold them back, one falls onto his breast. There is a look of anguish in his eyes. I can’t look. I must be quick, if any of us are to get out of here alive.

There are hundreds of crosses on the outside of the coffin. The ankh is hidden at the foot end, appearing to hang by its loop from the centre of a Maltese cross. I jab at it, again and again, as uselessly as jabbing at the elevator button. It happens in its own time. The tendrils seem to soften and become malleable, and then they pull away from my beloved’s flesh. In moments, all that is left is the spike that impales him. I need help to get him off that. And still he cannot move. What has been done to him?

Japheth is now up on his knees, and trying to go forward to help his brothers and sisters, to help the rest of us. I pull him up, and he cries out in pain. I think a lot of things are broken. There’s no time for that now.

“Japheth, help me. Quickly.”

He understands. We go to the upturned coffin that holds Aurelius, and search for the ankh. This time it is at the head end, fitted between the arms of the Cross of Lorraine, and very hard to see. Wesley leaves Lilah and comes to help us. We are only three, and our strongest member badly hurt, but we somehow manage to turn the coffin gently over, adding burns to Japheth’s existing hurts. There is a cry from beneath it as we do so. Aurelius is conscious, then, and I don’t doubt the sharp spike has hurt as he slid off it. When we have the coffin off him – and it must weigh much more than a ton – he is on hands and knees, blood running in rivulets down his body. Japheth makes to offer him his arm, but I push him away. He needs all his own blood, judging by the injuries I think he has. Instead, I offer mine to Aurelius. He looks his gratitude, and then takes a few sips, no more. There are few vamps with that sort of restraint when Slayer’s blood is on offer, especially so badly wounded as he is, and starved for three weeks. Still, there is no time. The others are losing badly, now, with the vampires trying to protect the humans, who are all bleeding freely. Hamilton seems to be unconquerable.

“Angelus still can’t move. Help me get him.” I don’t understand why Aurelius is free of the magic, whatever it is, and Angelus is not.

We leave Aurelius where he is, still kneeling on the floor, and go to the second coffin. Between us, we manage to lift my demon out. He makes no sound, not as the spike slides out of his navel, nor when we lose our grip a little and jolt him against the inside of the coffin. The odour of seared flesh reminds us to be careful in our haste.

At last he is out. As soon as the spike can no longer feel his flesh, it retracts into the lead, leaving no trace. I try to offer him my arm, but he cannot move his mouth. I open it, and press my wrist against his fangs, but he can do nothing. His eyes plead with me, and I know I cannot understand what he is trying to say.

“Slayer… look under his tongue.”

Aurelius is now coughing up blood from damaged lungs, but he has managed to make himself heard. I lift my lover’s tongue, and underneath is the glint of gold. It’s a coin, stuck to the underside. There’s an identical one on the floor below the clan master. When I take it out, Angelus stiffens for a moment, and then takes a deep breath. He may not need to breathe, but that air seems to revive him. It also revives his blood, which streams, dark red, from his many wounds. Again I offer my wrist, and this time he bites. Like Aurelius, he only takes a few sips.

Away from the fighting, Japheth has snatched up one of the bodies, and is working to pull blood from it to speed his healing. All of our comrades are hurt badly now, and only Faith and two of the vampires, Beatrice and Partha, are holding out. It won’t be for long though, looking at them. Linwood and Lilah are huddled into a corner, behind Lindsey.

It’s time for me to have another try at Hamilton. If Faith can open the door, we might get out of here, although how we will carry the wounded, and whether Hamilton will let us, is another matter. I brace myself for the charge when I feel hands on my arms, restraining me.

“We’ll do this,” says Angelus, blood still pouring from his mouth, from the wounds made by the tendril and from his damaged lungs. Aurelius, on the other side of me, continues to pull me back. They look at each other, and Aurelius nods, then they release me and leap towards the figure of Hamilton. They don’t try to fight, though. Instead, they cling to him, one on either side. Then they feed.

Faith and Beatrice and Partha get the message immediately, and they hang on to Hamilton, preventing him from dislodging the two vampires that are sucking out his life. At least, I hope they are. I see the other two tearing at Hamilton’s clothing to find somewhere to sink their fangs, since Angelus and Aurelius are occupying the good spots on either side of his neck.

He doesn’t die, though. As they drink him down and the flow of blood from their wounds lessens, and then stops, Hamilton sinks to his knees, no longer able to support the weight of those clinging to him. Still they feed. At last, he cannot support even the weight of his own body, and he lies, conscious but barely able to move. Perhaps he’s immortal, like them. Aurelius and Angelus release their hold, and then move quickly amongst the fallen, checking each one and pulling bodies over to the hurt vampires for much-needed blood. The undead have taken a lot of injuries protecting the living.

At last, everyone is on their feet, even if not very steadily. Angelus picks up Hamilton and dumps him unceremoniously into the coffin in which he himself was so recently imprisoned. He holds his hand out to me.

“The obol, Buffy. Do you have the obol?”

I must look blank.

“The gold coin.”

Silently, I pass it over. He pulls Hamilton’s mouth open. From somewhere, the creature finds strength to talk.

“You can’t do this. I am the son of the Ram. His blood is in my veins. He won’t let you live if you do this.”

Angelus appears to muse over this revelation.

“Son of the Ram, hmm? Well, we’ve already taken the brother of the Wolf, so you’ll see him in Hell. Tell your father to bring it on!”

He then thrusts the coin as far down Hamilton’s throat as he can, and presses one of the crosses on the inside of the coffin. Hamilton’s eyes seem to bulge as the spike breaks through his stomach, and the tendrils start to twine around.

“Will he die?” I ask.

It’s Aurelius who replies.

“I sincerely hope not. Not for a long, long time.”

The two of them, with very little effort, replace the coffin lid.

“His blood had a bit of a fizz in it, wouldn’t you say? He was really full of it.”

Angelus smiles in reply, and they lift the overturned coffin back onto its stone platform.

Gunn takes hold of Lindsey, and tugs him forward, clearly intent on offering him the life tenancy on the second coffin.

“No, not him. He goes with us.”

Gunn looks askance at Angelus, and then laughs, shakily. He turns back to Lindsey.

“Well, wait till Daddy gets you home. I’m thinking there’s going to be a spanking.”

Lindsey just scowls. Angelus lets his stare dwell on Lilah, and she shrinks backwards, horror written all over her face. Then he reaches out and grabs Linwood, dragging him towards the stone platform. Lilah finds some courage from somewhere.

“You can’t do that. He’s human. It will kill him.”


Just this once, I can’t disagree with my mate. In a matter of moments, Linwood is in the coffin, and Aurelius has retrieved the second gold coin from the floor. He pushes it down Linwood’s throat, ignoring the choking, sobbing gasps, which suddenly die away. Up comes the spike and its searching tendrils. Lilah is wrong. It doesn’t kill him. They heave the lid back on, and now all we have left is Lilah.


Angelus looks to Wesley, perhaps for an opinion, perhaps for a decision. I’m not sure which, although I suspect I know why.

“Better the devil you know. Let her live. If she comes after us again, she knows what she’ll get.”

Angelus grins. If there is any werewolf left in him, it is all concentrated in that grin, even though he’s wearing his human face now. He stalks over to Lilah, and not for the first time it occurs to me that if he had a tail, he would be lashing it. She stands, frozen to the spot.

“It looks like we just earned you your promotion, Lilah. Now, let me tell you how this is going to go.”

He bends his head and laps at the blood seeping from her throat, and then suckles at the shallow wound. I can see her hands clench into fists. He pulls back, and unbuttons her blouse, pulling the cups of her bra down. He pauses for a moment, and then casts an apologetic look back at me. I just nod. I really don’t think this is going to be the start of an affair. He takes hold of her breasts, and then moves to stand between her and me so that I can’t quite see what he’s doing. I wonder if that was deliberate. When he shifts again, she has blood trickling down from her nipples, which are stiff and hard. He kisses her, and as he does so, he changes. We see her struggle a little, and when he straightens, she has blood on her lips. So does he, and I’m pretty sure it’s a mixture of his and hers. Then he bends down again and sinks his fangs into her neck. His arm is wrapped around her lower back, and he is pulling her tight against his naked erection, rubbing up to her in a parody of sex. Faith moves over to me, and puts a comforting arm around my waist. I return the favour. We aren’t worried by this. We really aren’t. Really. No one else moves. I’m not even sure anyone else breathes, not even the ones who ought to.

As he pulls on her vein, I can see that she starts to fall over the edge of a climax. Faith and I both know just how devastating that can be, reaching orgasm from the bite of a vampire, and we wonder why he is gifting Lilah with this. Just as she is about to fly, though, he pulls abruptly away from her.

“There’s magic in the bite and blood of a vampire, Lilah. It can do all sorts of things. I’ve just marked you as mine, and that mark will stay with you until you die. No spell can ever remove it before then; even my death won’t free you. It isn’t the mark of a lover or of someone I want bound to me in any good way. It’s a brand of absolute possession. No vampire will touch you, except by my direct command, or unless they are my enemies, so you’d better not consort with any of those, had you?

“If I choose to call you through that bite, you will be in thrall to me for the rest of your miserable existence. And I will make sure it’s miserable, you can trust me on that. If no one here needs a whore, I’m sure my minions will love some entertainment.

“So, Lilah, do we understand each other? If you come for me or mine again, I *will* call on that mark, even if it is with my dying breath, and you *will* answer.”

Her whisper is low, her response snarled, but we all hear it.

“You utter bastard…”

He simply turns from her, glorious in his bloody, barbaric nudity.

“Does anyone have the key to get out?”

Faith holds up her crystal.

“Let’s go, then.”

We start to help each other out, the strongest supporting the most badly hurt. Lilah makes to follow us, but Angelus stops her.

“Not you. You can stay here until someone comes looking for you.”

That terrifies her.

“No! No one else has a key. *I* don’t have a key. Only Hamilton. You have to let me out.”

Lindsey digs into his pocket.

“Oops. That must be what Hamilton was looking for.”

He hands it to Angelus. We all leave that dreadful place, and by some miracle are delivered together back to the summerhouse. Just as the portal starts to fade, Angelus throws the crystal back through. I’m not entirely sure I would have done.


We stayed at the mansion only long enough to get clothes for Aurelius and me. He’s pretty much my size, so my things fit him. Then, chasing the sunrise, we moved into my Sunnydale hotel; everybody, including Dawn, Xander, Giles and the witches. We don’t know what’s bugged, but knowing Wolfram and Hart, something will be, and the mansion is prime target. With builders working there, it would have been easy.

During my time… away, my household has considered this. Estevan contacted an elder childe of his sire’s begetting, a sibling in your terms, currently resident in London. The sibling, Julian, was willing to help. MI6 has some of the best technicians and instrumentation in the world. It isn’t hard for a lurking vampire to learn which one is the best of the best. Newly vamped, and accompanied by Julian, our technician gets here tomorrow, complete with his little bag of tricks. Willow has sought help from Adras, and one of the magic users will come, too. If there is any eavesdropping device, electronic or mystical, or a hybrid of the two, they will find it. They’ll sweep the mansion, and everyone else’s homes, too, as well as the hotel, just to be sure. Then we’ll do all the L.A. premises.

We’re good for food. One of the things I own in Sunnydale now is the abattoir. We can have all the blood we need – hell, we’ve got enough to bathe in if we wanted to do anything so gross. We feel about that, by the way, much the same as you feel about humans sitting in a bath full of porridge, or baked beans, or jelly.

What we have here is good, everyday animal blood, fresh from the kill, without upsetting Buffy, but even she won’t expect me to entirely give up the good stuff, the human stuff, if I pick my victims carefully. Will she?

Both Aurelius and I are really juiced up on Hamilton’s blood. The effect will fade somewhat, but we both think that something will remain, although how much is hard to tell. The Wolf and the Ram must now both be my mortal enemies. I guess the Hart isn’t going to be so far behind, the way things are going, and that is making me think, as I lie here waiting for my love to finish in the bathroom. Why do women always take so long in the bathroom?

I am very impressed at what has happened. So is Aurelius. The clan followed the Slayer without a quibble. Buffy and Faith dreamed up a daring plan that was both desperate and dangerous, and they could take no chances that they might be overheard anywhere. Faith offered herself to the lions as bait. Willow, using the power of the Hellmouth, cast a spell on her that sank the better parts of her beneath the darkness of her recent deeds. Darkness calls to darkness. There was only enough of her other self left to make sure she didn’t give the game away, and that was how she passed the mind-reader test. She really was what she said. It lasted for 24 hours, just long enough.

She gave the appearance of teaming up with people who seemed to be malcontents – who might reasonably be malcontents, taking Xander as an example – but who actually understand that even I am probably a better bet than three demigods from Hell. Can’t think why. And so the lie was born. I’m very cross with the pair of them – they might both have been lost to me. I’m going to have to introduce them to some of my favourite forms of punishment. Buffy in chains? Mmmph…

Lindsey? Gunn was absolutely right. There is definitely going to be a spanking, although he was wrong about who is going to get spanked. Lindsey did exactly as I instructed. In the event of Wolfram and Hart getting to me, he was to go back; to pretend that he had only just managed to get away; to stay there as my mole. You see, the Soul understood him, but could never bring himself to act on that understanding. He kept preaching redemption to Lindsey, and how important it was to do the right thing. What Lindsey needed was to know his place, to have a secure future, to have a strong authority figure, not the weakling father of his childhood, and to be lovingly appreciated by the one that turns him on. Me. Like Faith, gotta get his mind right. Besides, Japheth is his sire, and he has very good blood. There’s no treachery there. If the Soul had done what I’ve done to Lindsey, a lot of things might have been very different. Family? You gotta love them.

Wolfram and Hart still don’t know that Lindsey isn’t here against his will, so that’s all to the good. Just in case.

Buffy didn’t know anything about that little stratagem, although she does now, and she is very cross, which is why, I think, she is spending so long in the bathroom. Like I said, a spanking may be in order. Can’t wait.

Everyone has been patched up now. The clan vampires have all had a shot of blood from Aurelius or me while Hamilton’s power is still running hot in our veins, to help them heal and, hopefully, to give them a bit more strength. That left us both a bit short for a time, but it was necessary. The Norags and the witches have worked together to patch and mend, and in some cases, to magic. We’re all still battered, but at least we’ve had no need for hospitals, and their unnecessary questions. Including the witches, my household now includes some really good field medics.

Sekhmet? Lilah was right. Until Aurelius was freed, no one found a way to break the magic that held her, and since we haven’t got the obol anymore, we just have to leave that one. She’s with Aurelius now. She won’t be parted from him. Neither will his childer, and there are some interesting activities in his suite. The others are comforting each other, celebrating continued life, and at this present moment, no one is alone. I can hear them all, faint, but there. Very interesting.

And that brings me back to what I’ve been thinking about. Buffy’s safety. Can I really involve her in all of this? These are powerful beings that I’ve taken on, but it’s impossible for me to stop now. She’ll be a target, too, if she’s with me. Should I let her go until things are safer? If I do, will I ever get her back? And I suppose there’s another question. After what has happened, will she still want me? Might she decide that I’m too much trouble to be around? I want what is best for her, and yet I know that means being with me. It has to do. I also know, if I’m honest with myself, that if I do let her go, for whatever reason, I will spend the rest of her life, if necessary, winning her back. I’m not above abduction, either. Listen, this is my *mate* that we are talking about here. Why am I getting schizophrenic about this?

Ah, and here she is. She has a full complement of bruises, and they are in such glorious colours, purples and mauves and pinks, and several colours that you can’t even see. They don’t detract from her beauty at all. In fact, in some ways they enhance it. Her cuts and scrapes are like red lace, just begging to be touched and caressed. My fingers itch to do that.

It isn’t my intention to make love to her; well, not fully, anyway. Her injuries may look magnificent, but she is moving stiffly, and is still in pain. To tell the truth, my own aren’t so comfortable yet. They are scabbed over, but the healing has yet to proceed further than that, and there are some in very interesting places that will hurt like holy water if I let things get too far. I can, and will, make her forget her pain for a little while, but I don’t want to cause her any more.

I hold back the sheet for her, and she pauses for a moment before sliding in beside me. She was looking at me. Really looking at me. Head to, well, not quite toe, because of the sheet. She probably got as far as groin, and back. Does she like what she sees? Apart from the angry red wounds, that is. No human could like those. A vampire would, though.

I wrap my arms around her to pull her close to me, but she stops me, holding me a little away. Her gaze continues to rake me. Three weeks’ starvation isn’t so much, but I have lost a little weight. No, it isn’t that so much, as lost substance, lost a little of my solidity, my reality. I feel greyer. Do you understand? No? Well, I can’t explain it any better.

Then, she looks me in the face, and her fingers come up to the wounds in my neck, my throat and my cheek. That tendril came through my throat and tongue, leaving speech – and other things – painful, and my voice gruff, just for now.

She strokes my cold skin, running her warm finger round those reddened circles, and her eyes fill with emotion.

“You are so beautiful,” she whispers, “so beautiful, even hurt like this. I love you so much. I almost lost you, and I couldn’t have borne that.”

Then she starts to kiss all my wounds, so gently that they take no hurt from her lips, only comfort. I let her do as she wills, as she roams over every inch of my flesh. By the time she has caressed each and every hurt, all my good intentions have flown. I reach for her hand and pull her back up my body, turning her so that she lies on her back beneath me. Her arms are flung over her head, leaving her completely open and submissive to me, as I have been to her. No vampire could resist that. Such warm and human beauty, a beloved mate, a powerful Slayer; choose any of them and it wouldn’t matter. At this moment, I am no different to any other vampire, no matter how I try, and I feel myself swollen with urgent need. The pain of the damage caused by those tendrils burns through my engorged sex, but it really doesn’t matter. My need is greater. My need to please her is greater. I can never let her go.

I caress each and every one of her hurts as she has caressed mine, turning her when I must. She seems to understand that I don’t want her to do anything here; I just want her to stay still, to remain as submissive to my wishes as she began, and she does. My fingers trace the exquisite lines of her body, and I revel in the feel of her, the softness of silk over the steel of Slayer. So beautiful. I taste her bruises and lap gently at her cuts, and then the vampire in me demands more. I won’t suppress it. She needs to know me better than she thinks she does.

I let down my fangs and run the sharpest over a partially healed gash in the centre of a purpling bruise on her hip, opening up the wound again. She doesn’t even flinch. A thin trickle of blood wells up from the cut, sharp and sweet on my tongue. I suck, gently at first, then harder, savouring the taste of the wound, so different to unhurt flesh. Then I look up at her. Her lids are half lowered, her expression utterly given over to pleasure. She’s so human, and yet so in tune with my own desires. It is that moment, and that look on her face, that spurs me to do what I do next. Will she hate me for it? I have to know.

Still in demon face, I open and taste each and every one of her hurts, as my hands caress every inch of unblemished skin. When I have touched and tasted all of her, when I have suckled and licked and aroused, I cover her with my body and gently enter. Her heat scalds my intimate wounds, but I don’t care, because the pain of her will only add to the already infinite pleasure. There is comfort in that age-old rhythm, comfort for both of us. There is something about life-threatening situations, about the near-certainty of loss that we have just survived, something that brings out our more primitive instincts, and mine are spread over my face for her to see in the planes and angles and fangs of a demon. I am at my most primitive, most elemental, and there is something I need to do; something she hasn’t seen before, probably hasn’t heard of before. Demons are creatures born of magic, and there is magic in us. It’s in my bite, in my blood, and in other things, whenever I choose. She should know this, and I choose.

Her legs are wrapped around my waist as she struggles to get closer now, ever closer to the source of her yearned-for fulfilment. Her arms are still above her head, held there by my hands clasped tight around her wrists. My lips, my harsh demon lips, reach for her soft and yielding mouth, moist against mine, and I press my claim to everything that she is, drinking down her very breath, gifting her with some from my own dead lungs in exchange. Breath and saliva, traded between the dead and the living.

I pull a little away, still not breaking my rhythm, and I see that she is crying, just a little. She isn’t sobbing, there is simply a tiny trail of salt tears from the outer corners of her eyes, an expression of joy at our delivery from the gates of hell, that we are alive and able to affirm our love here, in this bed, today. At the sight of those silvery tracks, I feel the sting of salt in my own eyes, such a foreign feeling to the face I wear. I lick her tears away gently, savouring this different essence of Buffy, and then I press my cheekbone against her mouth, letting her taste my own chill waters. She suckles eagerly on the bony ridge, and when I close my eyes she delicately runs her tongue over first one and then the other, licking off every salty trace. Breath and saliva and tears.

Now, I feel her body start to stiffen, as her climax approaches. Mine, too, is close. Not like this, though, even though this is as near to Heaven as I am ever likely to get. This time, I want something else. I pull out of her, before it is too late. Her cry of disappointment almost makes me return to that haven of ultimate delight, but I roll a little away, and let her see what I do next. I take her hand and wrap it tightly around the base of my sex, holding it there with my own. With my other hand I swipe a claw swiftly over the head, these claws that are so like human finger nails but as strong as an eagle’s talon, drawing a thin trail of blood. Not too much, Angelus, you must be careful here. I do not want her in thrall to me, at least, no more than I am in thrall to her. A few drops of my blood, even, would be too much for a normal human, would leave them as my creature, without any will of their own, but for a mate and a Slayer? Ah, that is different. Still, I must be careful.

The slash of my claw, as pain flashes through me, almost brings me on the spot, but I clench her fingers tighter, and that swell of fulfilment recedes a little. Then I turn, kneeling over her so that I am presented to her just as she is presented to me, ready for the final exchange, if she is willing. I might pray a little at this point, pray that she will understand. She does.

As I feel her lips enfold me, taking my offering of blood and searching for the final fluid of exchange, I press my mouth to her other lips, to complete what I have started. With lips and tongue, I bring her back to the peak that I would not let her ascend a few moments ago, just as she does with me. And, as we both begin that fall from the precipice, I bite down into the tiny knot of nerves that rules her pleasure and suckle on her powerful Slayer blood and her honeyed juices, each taste mingling and separating in my mouth, as she bucks against me, in the first throes of rapture. She, in her turn, suckles on my own dead seed and my dangerous, demonic ichor as she draws me inexorably into my own climax. As we drink each other’s blood and juices down, I impress into my mind and into my body my love and desire and absolute need for her, passions that pass to her in those few drops of blood, and in my own sterile semen, as they have in my breath and saliva and tears, and I know that she does the same, because suddenly the link, the mating bond between us, bursts into life and sings through us both, a glorious reverberating paean, an echo of the magic of the Universe itself.

Breath and saliva and tears, sexual fluids and blood, we have exchanged them all, and we have invoked the bond. This is a rite about the flesh, not the spirit.

The soaring song of our mating pushes our climax beyond any pleasure or pain that human or demon can sustain. It is as if there were only one body here, not two, as if we were conjoined beyond any possibility of separation ever again, in an explosion of animal gratification that is almost excruciating in its intensity. I can’t bear it, and I can’t bear to ever let it go, as it sweeps through every cell of my being, every muscle, every bone, every vein. The aubade in my blood, telling me each day of the rising sun, is swept away by this fantasia of splendour, and I would not move if dawn’s light were to burn me to ash on the spot. The thrilling rhapsody of our link tells me that she is just as transfixed by this glory of the flesh. The moment goes on and on, the pain of this pleasure burning through us with a white-hot flame, leaving something different in its wake. Then, when we can truly bear it no longer, everything fades as we sink into the welcoming oblivion of la petite mort.

When I return to myself, we are curled, head to tail, around each other. I take a moment to savour the reflection, the echo, of that utter nirvana, and then I turn, and curl up behind her, pulling the sheets over us both, waiting for her to come back to me. What we did was something rare and special for a vampire, an action so private that even a hedonistic one such as I, with my taste for exhibitionism, would never allow any other to witness such a joining with my mate. How will she feel, though? Will she be disgusted at my vampiric tastes? Will she realise that she cannot live with the things I shall ask her to do? I must know.

When she wakes, I am gripping the back of her neck in my fangs, gently so as not to break the skin. She stiffens a little, but is careful not to move, and I am sure that she is remembering other times when I have done this to her. It was right back at the start, when I thought she was my greatest enemy – and in a strange sort of way, I might have been right about that – when I took both pleasure and vengeance by raping her with the body of her erstwhile lover, and then when I almost killed her for loving him more than I thought she loved me. My arms are wrapped around her, my palms pressed against her, one enfolding a tender breast, the other her sex. She places her hands over mine, and presses down.

“I love you so much.”

I don’t need to breathe, but when she says that, I realise that I have been holding the breath that I don’t need. When I let it out it is shaky; like me. I let go of her nape and lick it gently. Now has to be the time.

“Are you sure that you want to go through with this? That you want to bind yourself to me in every way?”

There is no hesitation.


“I will hurt you.”

“I know that demons like pain.”

“That, too.”


“I can never give you children.”

My grip on her breast and her sex becomes firmer, although I hadn’t intended that.

“I know. I’ve thought about that. There’s always the sperm bank…”


Allow another man’s seed inside her? Never.

“It doesn’t matter. All that matters is you and I.”

“It might matter in days to come. I will do things that you hate. I will ask you to do things that you hate.”

“No. You won’t.”

I exhale another shaky breath.

“You didn’t hate what I just made you do?”

“You didn’t make me. Will you want me to do that again?”


“Good. That was… I… good…”

I have to smile a little. There are no human words for what we felt. There aren’t even any vampire words.

“Will you want to taste my wounds again, like that?”


“I want you to. I liked it.”

My heart is full with love for this woman, full to overflowing. She hesitates, and I know she has more to say.

“I… I know you have stuff down in the cellars that you haven’t shown me. Will you want to… you know… hurt me with that?”

The thought of what I could do to her sends a line of fire through my groin. My fingers flex a little as my imagination savours the feel of bruised and torn flesh. But I want to say no; I want to be different than I am; or to hide what I am from her. Shame on you, Angelus.


“Will you do it more than I can bear?”

“Yes… probably. No… No. Not more than you can bear.”

“I can bear a lot.”

“I’m afraid of that.”

“Will you want me to hurt you?”


“Are you trying to break off this engagement, because that’s actionable breach of promise, you know?”

I have to smile at the sharpness in her tone.

“Buffy, I am a demon. My appetites are such that you cannot begin to imagine them. If you are disgusted by them, you will start to hate me.”

There is an infinitesimal pause, and when she speaks, it is in a small, shy voice.

“I don’t think any of your appetites would disgust me. Except killing people, and stuff like that. But anything that might happen between you and me? Never. I… I think maybe Slayers are too like vampires for that to ever happen.”

Predator and prey, too much alike. Perhaps it’s so. I crush her to me, lost for the moment in the force of my feelings.

“Buffy, there’s something else.”

“You want to share me around the family?” That, too, is said in a very small voice that makes my still heart clench. I remember that Harris tried to frighten her off with that idea and, all over again, I want to kill him for it. She has remembered, and worried, and she has said nothing to me. My poor Slayer. At least I can lay her fears to rest here, and my response is instant and emphatic.

“NO! No one has you but me. No one would dare.”


“He and I have an understanding. No, he won’t call for you. This other thing, it isn’t to do with that. Buffy, I’m a danger to you. I have stirred up two demigods and the third will be along soon, I’m sure. I don’t want you to get hurt, to die perhaps, because of me.”

She is silent and still. I’m about to speak again when she turns over. I’m still in demon face, but it doesn’t seem to bother her. She takes that harsh, uncompromising face between her hands and pulls me down into a kiss, deliberately cutting her lips and tongue on my fangs. I’d like to change back to my human form, but the blood in my mouth stops me. So does a sense of honesty. She needs to be reminded what she is dealing with.

When she pulls back, she looks deep into me, weighing everything that these amber eyes can tell her.

“Will you love me, as I love you, with everything that you are?”

“More than life itself.”

“Will you trust me as I trust you, treat me as your equal, even when you hurt me, even when we fight about things?”

“Probably not, but I will try, and when I fail, you will show me the error of my ways.”

She smiles at that.

“Like you trusted me about Lindsey?”

“That was...wrong of me. I’m sorry.”

My injured voice is gruff and harsh, but even I can hear the whine in it as I plead for clemency. She hits me on the chest, catching one of the wounds, and then hugs me better.

“Do *you* want to back out? Need the money back on the ring?”

I smile at her and take her hand, fingering that ring of diamonds and rubies and black onyx. In demon face even the softest smile looks more like a predatory smirk, but I’m sure she understands.

“Not if my life depended on it. And you?”

She hesitates for a second, but not in doubt. She is finding the right words.

“In peace and in war, I will love you and cleave to you. You are mine to protect, as I am yours.”

I don’t know where she got those words, but I know that she means them. I gather her to me, and we both throw our hurts to the winds and consummate our love once again. The rite that we used before is too intense, too dangerous to her, to use often, so we do it more traditionally this time. It’s still perfect.


It is time for my contingent and I to leave for Angelus’ ceremonies. Japheth, as Keeper of my clan, has remained in Sunnydale since our escape from Los Angeles, assisting with preparations. This will be an important event.

The senior members of Clan Aurelius will be there, of course, together with our own families. This is a time of celebration for all. We will not be obvious by our presence because Angelus has learned that you can feed an almost infinite amount of vampires, in an everyday way, by simply owning the abattoir. All the tankfuls of blood that would otherwise be thrown away or, at best, sprayed onto the fields, can be put to a better use, and will be fresher than any obtained from curious butchers. This lessens our need for human blood, and makes possible both these gatherings and long term residence in one place.

Other vampires will be there, too. He has invited the representatives of other powerful clans, and some clans that show promise. None are as powerful as Clan Aurelius, and so all are flattered to be noticed in this way. They may not all be our friends, but they really don’t want to be our enemies.

There will also be demons. He has reviewed the tribes and races, and has invited those who might be useful to him in the long term. Senior amongst them, Haraeth, King of Hylek, will be there, and several of the magic users from Adras. There are no kings or queens or chieftains in Adras, but the magic users are the most senior of the chieftains they don’t have. Some of the werewolves will, of course, be there since he is now their leader, almost their god. He has sought my advice in some of this, and I have been pleased to give it. As my beta, the alliances he forms affect the clan as much as they affect him.

He thought long and hard about the humans. Those in his own household or that of the Slayer must, of course, be there. But what of others? He has settled on the mayor and the state governor, both of whom know him now for what he is, and are his creatures; and senior members of the Wiccan community. He has also invited a few humans and demons that Angel met and cared about. That has surprised me, but shows extremely good sense. He is intent on building an empire, and he has clearly learned to use occasions such as this to help him forge alliances both large and small.

How will I feel if this adopted childe of mine, my beta, becomes more powerful than I am? This has never been done before, so we are all making it up as we go along. I don’t think that will happen, although if it does I don’t expect I’ll mind. His kudos will rub off on me, although I do still have sufficient of my own. Besides, he is adding a great deal of interest in my life, a life that has lasted long enough to occasionally grow dull. You saw him give his oath not to challenge me for the next hundred years, and after that, well, we shall see. And I can still command him, should it ever come to that.

Ah, I almost forgot. He has invited Lilah, the new CEO of Wolfram and Hart, and she dare not refuse. There has been no new assault from the demigods, although we all know that they will come at him again, in time. That is the importance of the alliances he must forge. They will be with those clans and races and species that have not bowed down to the Wolf, the Ram, and the Hart and whose members prefer earthly existence to apocalypse. There are many of them.

Now that the invitations have gone out, the news that a powerful vampire is to master the line of Slayers (please don’t put it to Buffy that way) has spread like wildfire across the world. The mystical significance of it cannot be overstated. At the very least, all are curious enough to want to actually *see*.

Only the couple’s closest friends and family, and most powerful members of the various clans and races will be able to be present in the mansion for the ceremonies, and even they will fill the place to bursting point. More will be accommodated in the hotel, and other of his properties, to join in the festivities, which will go on for many nights. Far fewer, one only from each clan or race, may be present at the ceremony that will see them recognised as eternal mates, but that, too will be more of a crowd than even this rare ritual usually gets. The ritual will be at its most formal, because of the standing of these two. They haven’t told you yet? Ah. I wonder how they both feel about it?

You must not misunderstand what is happening here. You will not meet vampires and demons around every corner or in every city. These come from around the world. We are few in number, and often at each other’s throats when we do meet. A gathering like this, in these numbers, with this variety, has never been held before. Our world is changing. Whether that is a good or bad thing, only time will tell.

It has to be said that, in a few days time, one medium-sized bomb dropped on Sunnydale would wipe out the senior members of half the demon tribes and vampire clans in the world. Whether you would consider that a good thing, again only time will tell.

Oh, yes. I should mention that surveillance devices were found, of what you might call types spiritual and types temporal, and many hybrids in between. They are gone now, and Lilah has been warned in the strongest terms to do no more. I think she understands the consequences if even one little bug is found. I suspect that she will take it on herself to make sure that no one else is planting surveillance equipment in Angelus’ patch, in case it is mistaken for hers.

That has to be a good result.


In all but the tiniest universes, galaxies are like grains of sand on the beach, almost numberless. Almost. But, for those with enough time and enough patience, even the grains of sand may be counted. Grains and galaxies are not infinite in number. The loss of one diminishes the many. The loss of many may be a tragedy beyond counting.

Galaxies are beautiful things, made of stars and gas and dust. Most seem to take a spiral form, with arms trailing elegantly around a brilliant central core. It is believed that many of these galaxies twist around a mighty black hole, inexorably losing their substance into these points of no return. No one knows how these black holes came to be, if indeed they actually exist at all. No one knows how long they have been there, sucking at the life stuff of the solar systems around them. No one knows what happens to the matter and energy trapped within, although some believe that, when the universe eventually dies, these black holes will meet, and merge and form a point singularity that will recreate, in one Big Bang, what has previously been destroyed. If this is to be, then it is so far in the future that it need not concern us, yet we would be comforted by the knowledge that, like the phoenix, each universe can arise from its own ashes. If it is allowed to, that is.

From their home dimension, somewhere beyond the furthest reaches of this universe, yet only inches away, a myriad of tendrils have latched onto a myriad of galaxies. Unseen by humanity’s most sophisticated instruments, the parasite universe drains energy from our own, energy that will sustain it for ages yet to come. For this particular parasite, it has been aeons since the last feed, and it is still ravenous. It wishes to devour everything. Each tendril starts with one of those black holes, a ripe plum for the picking at the centre of so many galaxies. As that engine of destruction and creation, that duality, is sucked dry, there is no force left to command the motion of the attendant stars, and the mighty ronde that they have performed in the firmament ceases, a galactic solstice, if you will.

The tendrils pick delicately at the rest of the carcass, sucking at star stuff, life stuff and soul stuff, leaving nothing behind, not even dust. Then they move on to their next victim.

The Lady and her consorts understand the dire warnings that have been given by prophecy. They have seen what is happening in the deepest regions of space. They have seen the darkness that threatens to engulf all life, and spare none. They have made such preparation as they are able, and would give their very essences, if it would stop the annihilation. It would not, of course, and in any event, they have their own fate to fulfil. This much they know. How it may be accomplished is less clear, but will involve the Master Vampire and the Slayer, and the tormented Soul. This much is also known.

The three of them are still in their own private pleasure garden, their Eden, which, for a brief instant of time, they deigned to share with the vampire and his slayer as those two dreamed away the days of healing in the House of Aurelius. From here, they can still reach out and touch the lives of those who will stand against the darkness. They do, although no more than necessary.


The guests will start arriving tonight, apart from Aurelius, who is already here, and Buffy and I are catching some much-needed alone time. She won’t come back to the mansion until the night of the ceremonies.

When I say alone time, that’s all it is. We are sitting drinking tea, if you can believe that. I really don’t know what gets into me sometimes, now, with this woman. It’s as if those years with the Soul have infected me with the virus of civilisation. The door to my rooms is open, signifying that we aren’t in a very private clinch, although I’m thinking of changing that any second now, when there’s a knock. I don’t need to look; I can tell from the scent. It’s Aurelius, accompanied by Sekhmet. It’s also extremely unusual for a clan master to consider knocking on any door. Times they are a-changin’…

When he comes in, he has the artist with him, followed by two burdened minions. Both artist and clan master look pleased with themselves. The minions are carrying a large cloth-wrapped rectangle, which they lean against the wall. The artist looks a question at me, and I give him leave. He sends the minions away, and in a few minutes, they are back with another cloth-wrapped rectangle, which he also props against the wall. Aurelius looks quizzical, so I keep my expression as bland as possible. I know he has not seen this gift. The first piece of work, though, both my clan master and I have seen. The artist has been here for some days, now, finishing up the commissioned portraits. Knowing what he has done with these portraits, I am minded to persuade him to join my retinue. He has caught the very essence of my love, caught her to the life. Aurelius, too, is pleased with it.

Aurelius himself is carrying some wooden boxes, and he puts those down before going to help the artist to hang the portrait intended for my wall. Hooks have already been fixed in place. Buffy has no idea what is coming, and is intrigued.

“Slayer, I have some small gifts for you and for Angelus, to mark the occasions of your wedding and of your mating. This…” and he gestures to the painting on the wall, “is to celebrate your mating. I hope that it pleases you both.”

The artist is clearly a genius. The paintings form a life-sized triptych, a central panel with two side panels that can be closed up, one over the other, revealing the ornate outer casing. This, too, is a painting. It’s the sunrise over Galway Bay, and it’s this that Buffy can see. She tells us that she thinks it beautiful, and it is. She is moved when she learns that it is a part of Liam’s birthplace, and looks quickly to me, ensuring that I don’t mind this reminder of my past mortality. Why should I? What Liam was has made me what I am today. Darla was right. What we were informs all that we become.

Inside, though, the paintings tell a story suitable for a demon’s bedroom, and this is revealed as Aurelius opens up the triptych. On the left panel, I am reclining on a couch that has been casually draped in wolf skins, my naked body utterly relaxed in sated sleep. One arm is flung out negligently, my hand almost trailing on the marble floor; the other is curved over my hip, not quite hiding the part that has brought so much pleasure to my equally sated partner on the other panel. My skin, alabaster pale here, seems almost translucent, showing in places the shadowy veins that are carrying blood to my spent body, bringing renewed vigour for the next encounter. The artist has sketched this pose from life. I told you he was a toothsome piece, and I did not deny myself when I went to see him.

On the opposite panel, Buffy, too, is naked, on a couch that has a bearskin thrown over it, her body languid and lax. She is resting on one hip, turned towards the viewer, her golden hair spread in moist tendrils across a mound of silver pillows. She is not quite asleep, but her eyes are almost closed in the exhaustion of satiety. Her skin is still tinged with the rosy flush of absolute fulfilment and tiny beads of sweat give her a pearly sheen that has been perfectly portrayed. In the hand that has fallen towards the floor, she holds a small brown ostrich feather fan, which fails to quite cover her most secret juncture, simply reflecting its outermost texture. You feel that you could run your hand over her flank and immediately rouse her to sexual desire once more.

Both paintings are utterly erotic, but form only the aftermath for the central panel. Here, our bodies are a study in total abandon, tangled together in the act of love, caught at that moment when ecstasy subjugates demon and Slayer alike. I am still in human form, but subtle shifts in the paint show that I am about to morph into demon face, and I am positioned to sink my fangs into her. It is clear from the motion the artist has imparted to our coupling that she is about to bite me with her very human teeth.

The sight of that painting almost makes me come on the spot.

This is a private gift, solely for us, and anyone else will see only the painting’s innocuous sunrise on the ornate outer panel; beautiful enough, but hiding treasures inside.

I risk a glance at Buffy, to see how she is taking this very intimate gift. Her eyes are wide, and her hand is covering her mouth, trying to hide her shock. She has blushed rosily, and I know that it is an all-body blush. Still, I’m uneasy. I can smell her arousal, though, so it isn’t all bad.

We wait, all three of us. At last, she lowers her hand.

“It’s stunning,” she breathes. “It’s like one of those Old Masters.” Then she rounds on the artist. “How did you get to see – have you been hiding and watching us?”

I catch up her hands in mine before she works herself into a rage, not at the painting, but at how the poses might have been got.

“No, my love. I did the initial sketches. You can see them if you like.” I kiss her, then, so that she can taste my sincerity. She is mollified, but still slightly embarrassed.

“Will…will everyone who comes in here see that?”

“No, love. It will be closed for all except you and me.”

What? No, I’m not going to bring a string of conquests into here, well, not without her knowledge. The place has to get cleaned, though, and we have minions to do that. And there are other, perfectly innocent reasons for people to be here.

Aurelius clearly has other gifts, too, but I’ll tell you of my gift to him, first.

I indicate to the artist that he should uncover the life-sized canvas, and he does so. There is a hiss of breath from my clan master, who goes even paler than his normal colour. Once more, Buffy is intrigued.

The artist has surpassed every expectation again.

The woman is depicted against the reds and russets and golds of the Judean desert as nightfall approaches, her petite body illuminated by the last rays of the setting sun. We can only see part of her face, but her skin is cream and gold, her eyes dark and full of fire. The rest of her is swathed from head to foot in robes woven in a palette of rich, earthy reds; maroon and lake, vermilion and cinnabar, madder and damask; of the finest wool, and figured in a complicated and rich design. She wears a shawl wrapped over her head and the lower part of her face. She has a decorative headdress that completely frames her face, an intricate tracery of beads in semi-precious stones; garnet and onyx, carnelian, jasper and blood-stone, beryl and jet, all offset with shimmering pearls of white and pink and black.

She is holding one hand out in welcome, and there is no doubt, from the sparkle in her eyes, that it is a welcome for her lover.

She is exactly as I remember her, and I pray that I was right; that this is she.

The way his eyes are fixed on her tells me that it is so. It is Buffy who breaks the silence.

“She is amazing. Who is she?”

Aurelius answers, his voice harsh with emotion.

“She is Palestrina. She is my soul mate and has been lost to me for almost two thousand years.”

In the face of Buffy’s stunned silence he turns to me, and I think I can see the gleam of moisture in his eyes.

“Is this how you saw her?”


“She was warm, and *alive* and happy?”

“Yes. She held my hand and I could feel her power.”

He turns his face a little away, so that I might not see him.

“Thank you.”

Sekhmet is lying, forgotten by us all, at the side of his chair. Her gaze, too, has been fixed on the painting. Now, she gives a tiny miaow, higher in pitch than any I thought she could make, just like that of a kitten. Then she lays her head in his lap and there is the sound of purring from deep in her chest. It is almost a growl, so deep and rich is the sound. It’s the sound of love. He puts his arms around that huge head, and we leave them for a few minutes. We walk with the artist to the outer chambers, and as we do, I am holding Buffy’s hand.

We talk to the artist, give due praise for his work, and I tell him that if he stays with me as his patron, there will be commissions from all over the world, and from all races and species. He will be able to pick and choose. He is tempted, I can tell. I can also smell his interest in me, and so I put out a few come-hither pheromones. When he bows himself out, I do believe the job is done. Before we return to Aurelius, I take Buffy into my arms and hold her close.

“In this house there will always be decorum, just as there is in Aurelius’ home.” I allow my voice to become more playful. “After all, it may be technically a vampire’s lair, but it’s not a two-bit one.” She smiles. “Nevertheless, I’m not human, and I’m not… a tame vampire.”

That wasn’t what I was going to say, but I don’t want to remind her of him just now.

“I have appetites, and I can’t and won’t deny them.”

Well, not all of them. I know I’m going to compromise on some, for as long as she lives. After that? Well, we’ll just have to see. I press on.

“We are sensuous by nature. Can you live with that?”

Her hands creep down my back, and suddenly she pinches my backside, hard, startling a little yelp out of me.

“You bet,” she whispers, “but what happens in our rooms stays there. Yes?”

I nibble her earlobe. “You bet.”

It takes a little while before we go back to Aurelius. When we do, he is standing in front of the portrait of Palestrina, side by side with Sekhmet. He has his hand on her neck. He turns at our entry, and although I can smell the tears that he has shed, he is in command of himself once more.

I ring for some more tea. He says no more about the painting, but I know that he will, when Buffy has left. Instead, he picks up one of the boxes that he brought, a chunky cube about a foot on any side. The wood gleams with the dark patina of extreme age and loving care.

“I have given Angelus a gift in granting him the position as my beta, which you, my dear, will share with him. This, now, is for you. I promised to provide the headdress for your nuptials, and this is it.”

He opens the catch on the front of the box, and then lifts the lid. Whatever either of us expected to see, it wasn’t this. It’s a crown. It wouldn’t suit a monarch of today but call it what you may, it is an exquisite crown. Think of a Juliet cap - that small net ornamental cap worn by brides. I’ve even stolen one or two brides wearing such a thing. This is the queenly version.

Imagine a cap that fits snugly to the crown of the head, and has a broad, thick rim, and is all made of gold. The top part is overlapping vine leaves, with arching stems and tendrils forming a neat finishing boss. The broad rim is made of three bands of golden star-shaped flowers and perfect little pomegranates. Some of the flowers are being visited by tiny, golden bees. All around the crown, hanging from the edge are tiny bunches of black seed pearls, fashioned into clusters of grapes less than an inch long. There is a gap of two or three inches between the two parts, and spanning that gap is a circle of eight standing figures, each with four spread wings, the upper pair attached to the cap of vine leaves, the lower pair attached to the thick rim of flowers and fruits. Angels. I’ll use the word again. It is exquisite.

For the second time, my poor bride is stunned into silence, and I fill the gap until she regains her powers of speech.

“It’s beautiful. It looks old.”

“It was made almost five thousand years ago.” That stuns even me. He continues, “It was copied about three thousand years ago for an Assyrian princess, but this is finer by far.”

“Who made it?” I ask, because I have a feeling in my bones.

“I did. When I was human, I was a smith, remember.”

“Au..Aurelius.” She still isn’t comfortable saying his name. “This is a wonderful gift. It’s so beautiful, but it’s much too good…”

She gets no further, because he takes her hand and shushes her.

“Slayer, you have a unique position as guardian of humanity, and that deserves recognition. You also have a unique position as mate to my beta who, I might add, seems intent on carving out an empire of his own. Here and now, you have the authority of a queen. If my gift pleases you, then perhaps it will also remind you to use that authority wisely. Life will not always be easy for a Slayer mated to Angelus, nor for Angelus mated to a Slayer. Sometimes you must remember your role and not simply your woman’s heart.

“And besides, I rather think it will look very pretty on you.”

He looks a little impishly at me before saying, “It seemed more suitable than bloody hearts and skulls and other gothic themes. I’m sorry if you expected something more traditionally vampirish.”

She doesn’t argue with him, which is a small mercy, simply reaches out and gently touches one of the tiny clusters of grapes, which moves freely, scintillating in the light. Aurelius explains that the vines are for prosperity, wealth and happiness. Material things. The pomegranates are rather more complicated. They mean fertility, life and longevity. Sex. Blood. Most importantly, the maiden-goddess who holds the pomegranate holds power over death itself. I think that means over me. I’m going to have to have words with him. I remind both of them that the Greek maiden, Persephone, was forced to remain in the Underworld, as Hades’ wife, for three months every year. She’d eaten some pomegranate seeds after he had abducted her, and that gave him power over her. Aurelius simply smiles and points to tiny clusters of seeds next to some of the fruit.

She gives both of us a caustic glance, then goes to give him a hug. He seems as surprised as I am, and pleased, too. I give him a small flash of amber to remind him of our agreement that he will not call for her. He blithely refuses to look my way, but I can scent his humour. He’s laughing at me.

The second box is long and slim. It contains a lace veil, which cannot possibly be the work of human hands. The threads are as fine as spider silk, and this gauzy confection is figured with orange blossom. It is long enough to form a train at the back, and he shows her how to fix it to that delicate central boss of vine stems and tendrils so that it acts as both train and veil and, when it is lifted back, reveals not only the beauty of herself but the splendour of that golden crown.

The third box contains a gift for each of us, a pair of golden torcs. Heavy gold wire has been woven into a round, flexible braid that is thicker than my thumb. The ends, which hook together very cleverly, are ornate Celtic-style representations of Sekhmet’s head. They are barbaric and beautiful, and full of power.

“These are for formal clan gatherings, and whenever else you should need them. They are emblems of your beta status.” He grins at me, a feral grin that seems to speak of the cat herself. “And I think you can feel the spells woven into them.”

So I can. They amplify the power of the wearer, making them impossible to ignore. Neither Buffy nor I need such amplification, of course, under normal circumstances, and therefore he envisages a wider use for these. No doubt we will find out in time what that may be.

These are kingly gifts. I can speak for both of us when I say that we are very pleased with them. When Buffy leaves, for the last time before the night of the equinox, Aurelius and I are moved to express our pleasure to each other. That keeps us amused for several hours, before the first of our guests start to arrive.


There is power in names. More specifically, there is power in knowing names. Know the name of a thing, or a person, and you have power over them, so believed many ancient peoples. Gods believe the same thing. The true name of a god is often sacred, and may not be known by the common man, nor spoken aloud, nor may it be written, for fear of the consequences.

The Lady and her Consorts, the Duality, have been known by many names, throughout the history – and prehistory – of human kind, but no one knows the true ones. Sometimes, they have only been recognised by their functions. The Duality, for example, have been called Dark and Light, Good and Evil, Creation and Destruction. They are a duality of opposites and The Lady holds the balance between them. She is Ma’at. Without any of the three, the world would sink into chaos, lost in the waters of Nun. Take as an exemplar the parasite universes. They are each out of balance. The one that is sucking the substance from galaxies in the outer reaches of our universe has no principle of destruction. Nothing ever dies, no matter how moribund it becomes. Stars do not age and die, and there is no dust from long dead nuclear furnaces to provide stellar nurseries for new ones; there are no decaying plants or corpses to fertilise the soil of its planets; and so these eternal stars and planets and life forms must all starve. They have no option but to feed on the energy of another universe, on life, on souls, from elsewhere. Another one that we have not yet met has no principle of creation. It can only experience rebirth and renewal by stealing life from other, less moribund universes. Yet another has no balancing principle, nothing to keep Creation and Destruction in harmony. It is a pitiful thing.

Our Universe is more fortunate. Since no one knows their names, we shall continue to call them The Lady and the Duality, but we do not need a name to know what they are. In any event, they know who they are. They know their own names, and they have power over each other. Together, they are strong. Alone, they can achieve only chaos and despair.

The invader has now taken the outer ring of galaxies along fully a third of the universe’s perimeter. It has sated its immediate hunger and is now feeding at a more leisurely pace. It knows that it has thousands of years to devour this rich prey, one of the most luxuriant universes it has encountered. It is moving inwards, shearing into the galactic plane, leaving only the emptiness of space behind. The three are powerless to stop the parasite from feeding. They do not know its name; they cannot command it. Stars and planets, dust clouds and nebulae are all consumed. The loss of life is almost beyond counting. Trillions of creatures are dying: creatures large and small, advanced or primitive. Worst, though, is what happens once life has been extinguished. The parasite continues to feed, to destroy the very souls of its victims. So far as it is concerned, a soul is just one more source of energy. Philosophers have debated the matter, but The Lady and her Consorts know. Everything that has life has a soul. These souls are gone now, never to know another life, never to grow into something else. Extinct.

The Duality take their leave of The Lady, to do the only thing that can be done. Along the leading edge of the invader, Creation and Destruction work together to lay down a line of fire, complete galaxies of stars exploding into supernovae in a holocaust that is visible across the entire universe. Nothing escapes their righteous fury. Nothing, that is, except the souls of the creatures they have sacrificed. These are not out of danger yet, but the invader will take much longer to reach the underworld dimensions. With the death of their bodies, these spirits may yet be saved. Their lives have been given to the fire, so that their souls can have hope of a future.

Back in their tiny paradise, The Lady reviews the roll of those who, although they do not yet know it, have chosen to stand against the coming darkness. They are few, now, but becoming greater in number. She is sure they will be enough. Almost sure. Some of them have doubts and uncertainties and she allows them to dream, gives them something to reflect on in the years to come. We can see into some of those dreams. Few of those whom we have observed can make any immediate sense of their visions, and may never do so in this lifetime. There will be other opportunities, and this memory will stay with them.

Anya and Xander dream of the power of vengeance demons.

Giles dreams of Jenny, and she speaks to him, as beautiful and alive as she was before Angelus broke her neck. She tells him that she will see him again, and he desperately wants to believe her. She speaks to him of Watchers, of *different* Watchers, there to serve champions, whatever form those champions may wear.

Wesley dreams of strange beings, of old gods and new beginnings; and Gunn dreams of death and Slayers.

Willow dreams of The Lady, who asks her to do something. This results in a phone call to Aurelius on the following morning, the day of the ceremonies. Tara dreams of choices, and deaths that might have been or might still be to come.

Faith dreams of Angelus and her sister slayer, and of belonging. Then she dreams of Gunn and Lindsey, stretching as sleekly as a cat while she does so.

The priest, Father Jerome, dreams of the black sand, the black cliffs, and a man torn to bloody rags, huddled in a corner of a dark, dank room, waiting for another tormentor to come. A man who knows that he could say the word and his torment would be over. If he did so, though, his dark half would die, and his soul mate would be left helpless and defenceless, with no one to watch over her. He will never say the word. He’s beginning to forget who and what he is. He’s even beginning to forget his own name. It doesn’t matter. All he needs to do is remember the power of *her* name. Buffy. Father Jerome, priest of lost causes, prays in his dream. He prays to The Lady for mercy for that huddled creature, and as he does so, he sees a white stag enter the room. The man doesn’t move. After all, he is huddled as deep into the corner as it is possible to get. The stag presses its muzzle against the man’s neck and licks some of the blood that runs there. Then it is gone, but glinting on the man’s bloody hand is something new. A silver claddagh ring.

Haraeth, king of Hylek, dreams of bands of grim warriors, of barbaric totems and battle standards. Of death, and more death.

Aurelius dreams of Palestrina. In his dream, she tells him that she will come to him soon, much sooner than he thinks, although not quite yet. In his dream, she slips into the cool sheets with him and shows him that she has not forgotten how to love him.

Dawn dreams of dimensions, the doorways to them stretching outwards like a hall of mirrors, more and ever more, as far as the eye can see. She dreams of skies of turquoise and copper, of green and red; she sees earths of blue and brown and white, of green and yellow and all the shades of ochre, laid out like a tablecloth before her.

Sekhmet dreams of her lost soul mate, as he stands at the entrance to the black cliffs and beckons her on.

Cordelia dreams of shoes.


It is the night before the ceremonies, and I have had such a strange dream. A Slayer dream, I’m sure.

At first, I couldn’t sleep. Well, that’s to be expected, I suppose. It’s a *really* big day tomorrow. My spider senses are working overtime with all these strange demons in town. Apparently, we’ve got the elite of half the world’s demonry here, and maybe then some. And there’s still the big question. Should I be doing this?

I know. I’ve beaten this one to death before, but it’s as valid a question as it ever was. Am I betraying my calling? Even if I stop Angelus from killing innocents, he will still kill. He enjoys it too much not to, and besides, he needs human blood. Fresh human blood. You’ve seen some of the things that have faced us in the last few years. His blood has sustained me, and mine has sustained him, at times when we thought that the other might die. Our lives have been… difficult. But the basis of all that, of our mutual survival, is human blood. Angelus cannot do what he has done on animal blood alone, and he cannot only feed from me. I do not have enough blood for that. What am I to do? Say that I cannot save everyone? Say that some can be sacrificed to my lover’s demonic appetites? How could I live with that? Yet I feel in my heart that this was meant to be: ordained from the beginning.

I fell in love with Angel, but that is not how I feel about either of my demon lovers now. If you fall in love, you can fall out of love again. I simply love. It may be something of the heart, but it binds every part of my being. I feel them in my flesh, my bones, my blood, in every nerve cell. They are as much a part of me as my own spirit.

I remember my biology teacher telling us about the human brain: about how it is layered from the most primitive to the most… rational. This is why I am tossing and turning, and unable to sleep on this eve of my wedding to the most vicious vampire ever to have lived, the most dangerous demon on the face of the earth. My rational frontal brain is speaking to me of conscience and duty. My primitive hindbrain recognises its mate, and understands how to use him in the battles that I’m sure are to come.

Angelus is obsessed with me. I know this. Will that obsession end? What about as I age? Will he move on? Will he change his mind and want to turn me? Or is his love as deep as mine? A love that can survive age or disfigurement? He told me that the passions of a demon run deeper and darker, and much fiercer, than the passions of a human. If his passion is nearly as deep and dark and fierce as mine, surely it will never end?

It’s on these thoughts that I fall into an uneasy sleep.

Waiting for me is Angel. Not Angelus. Angel. He is standing in the sunlight in a flower-filled meadow. At first, he doesn’t speak, and neither do I. There is no time for words. There, amongst the long grass and bright flowers, we make love for what I know is only the second time, but I feel that we have known this joy many more times than just twice. He is not so different to my other demon in the way he uses both our bodies to bring ultimate pleasure.

When we are sated and at peace, he gathers me to him.

“Buffy, it won’t always be like this. We won’t always be parted. I promise.”

Somehow, I can’t speak. He seems to understand, and goes on.

“Do you love him?”

I can only nod.

“Well, he’s part of me, and I know how you love. When you love someone, you love them completely and without reservation. I suppose it was to be expected.”

I cling to him a little more, because he sounds sad.

“It was meant to be like this, Buffy. *We* meant it to be. We accepted these paths a long time ago. It isn’t too late to turn back, if you cannot bear it, but watch, now. Look, and see what you can do.”

Although I can hear his voice, his arms are no longer around me. I turn to find him, and he is gone. Over the hill, I can hear a noise, though, the sounds of fighting, and I go to see whether he is there. There are people, although none of them are Angel. There are men, women and children, their animals, their homes, their treasured possessions. Everything is being laid waste by something I could only see in a dream. A unicorn.

It isn’t the milky-white dainty creature of fairy tale. This must be almost a ton of muscle and sinew and bone, with a yard long horn. It’s as black as polished jet, with a silver mane and tail and hooves. Not white or cream. Pure metallic silver. It is killing and maiming and crushing and destroying everything in its path, and that silver horn is running red with blood. The screams of the dying echo around me, and I’m about to run into what can only be a futile battle when I hear Angel once more.

“Call to him.”

I look for Angel, but I still can’t see him.

“Call to him,” he urges again.

I wonder how to do that, but something in me knows.


The unicorn’s muscles are bunched beneath that sleek skin, as it gores through a knot of shivering, screaming people, trampling the survivors beneath its hooves. It hears me, though, and freezes.


It turns its head to me, those dark eyes wild and rolling, and then it’s galloping up the hill, head bent in the charge, ready to spear me with that horn. Faster and faster it comes, divots of earth and grass and wild flowers spraying up behind it in a dark cloud, and I can almost feel the hot breath on my face, the horn sliding through my ribs to crack open my heart.


The unicorn gives a despairing whinny, and slides to a halt, on its knees. As its hindquarters sink to the ground, the hooves flailing for purchase that cannot be found, it raises that massive but beautiful head to look at me, and I see the madness draining from its eyes. Then, it lays its head in my lap and sighs. We stay there like that for a long time, with only birdsong to keep us company. Eventually, though, I know that it is time to move on. I tell the unicorn to stand, and he does, every muscle twitching and shivering, poised for flight. I lay my hand on his withers, and he calms and steadies. Together, we walk over the hill towards the destruction on the other side. As we crest the rise, we are joined by another. This one is just as massive, just as powerful, just as dangerous as the one under my hand, but it is pure white. As we walk through the carnage, the screams and cries fade away, and behind us is only peace. Ahead is a towering wall of flame, with strange, barbaric figures moving in it. My companions tense themselves, ready to defend those behind us. Angel’s voice comes again.

“It was chosen.”

Then I wake up, feeling more refreshed than I have any right to be. I am at peace with myself and my decision, although I may never understand exactly why I should be. I just know that this was a Slayer dream, and I am doing the right thing for my calling, as well as for my heart. I’ve spent my time as a Slayer trying to save lives. Angel’s mission was saving souls. Both are important, and there must be a balance. Perhaps that is what the dream was telling me.

I think of that incredible crown that Aurelius has given me, with its deeper symbolism, and I wonder how much he knows of whatever might be to come. Aurelius is reputed to have the gift of prophecy. Well, time will tell.


Not so long ago, Aurelius told me that, from now on, I might have dreams that will speak to me of prophecy; dreams that are real if I can only understand them; dreams like Slayer dreams. I had one of those last night.

I found it hard to sleep. Well, I’m not used to sleeping at night, but there is a lot to do today, and I wanted to be fresh, rested. I am still troubled by the danger to my mate, but I have reconciled myself to that. It is here, it is done, and cannot be changed. She will be more at risk if I am not with her to protect her. So, now, I am just troubled by the fears normal to a man on the night before his wedding. Okay, maybe they aren’t quite the normal masculine fears, but you know what I mean. Will she always love me? Will she ever betray me? Will she become weary of my needs and try to stake me; or worse, to leave me? Should I keep her chained to my bed, just in case? Will my love be too fierce and dark for her? It’s on these thoughts that I fall into an uneasy sleep.

Spike comes to me. He is his old insouciant self, still my beautiful, untamed boy. Dead at my hand.

“So, you’re going to tie yourself to the Slayer in front of every demon tribe and vampire clan that’s worth a damn? You’re a fool. You should stick to your own kind. She’ll bring you nothing but misery. *You’ll* bring her nothing but misery. It will never work. She’ll stake you when she realises she can’t change you.”

He runs his hand lightly down my arm: an offer, an invitation. Somehow, I can’t respond.

“You mean to go ahead with it?”

I nod, dumbly.

“Oh, hell, there’s someone wants to talk to you, then”

He stands back, and I see myself behind him. No, not myself. Him. Angel. Just for a split second, I see two Angels, one superimposed on the other. I see the one that looks just like me, wearing his favourite shade of black. The other figure is hazy and only there for a brief moment. It’s huddled and naked and bleeding, with a range of hurts that even I would have been proud to inflict. Then it’s gone, leaving only the Dark Avenger figure. He’s such a poseur.

He stalks over to me.

“What makes you think that you are good enough for her?”

I can neither move nor speak. He grips me by the throat.

“Fail her, and I will kill you.”

Suddenly, I am free of whatever restrains me, and I leap at him with a roar of anger. The fight that follows is fuelled by eternal hatred. This is the creature that has kept me chained for a hundred years, that has denied my every need. I suppose I am the creature that has taken his life, done things that sicken him because he so badly wanted to do them himself. Whatever. It’s tooth and claw now. None of the blows leave any marks, yet every time I touch him, I touch blood. Everywhere on his body, I touch blood. My hands come away bloody and, whenever I touch his bare flesh, I feel it as I do not see it. He looks whole, but he feels torn. He fights with my own strength, though: it’s like fighting myself.

And then I have an opening. I have him on his belly, my weight holding him down, and I can stop him ever being able to torment me again. She loves him. Perhaps she loves him more than she loves me. I can put an end to that now. With a simple twist of my hands, I can remove his head. But she loves him. With a scream of anger, and frustration and something close to despair, I let him go.

He turns over to look at me, but doesn’t move otherwise.

“Perhaps there’s hope for you yet.”

He turns his head to expose his neck.

“Drink. See what waits for you if you fail.”

Almost of their own volition, my fangs find the large vein in his neck, and sink in to find what should be familiar blood, sweet with the taste of family. Instead, it is bitter with pain and sorrow and loss of hope. Something tells me that I am going to have to taste this in reality before my life is through, but not yet. On a thought, I raise him until he is sitting beneath me, and I pull my fangs free. Then I turn my head to expose my own neck.

“Drink. Take strength from me. Take what you need.” I must be certifiably mad.

He looks at me for a few moments, and then he does. I wonder what I taste like to him, with so much more of Buffy, Aurelius, and all those others who have added strength and magic to my blood. I hear Aurelius whispering to me.

“What do you actually need more than you need her?”

Then his voice is gone, and so is Angel.

I wake more refreshed than I have any right to be. I feel well and strong, but I have a sour taste in my mouth. When I look, there is blood on my hands. It fades before my eyes. I feel the side of my neck, and there is a pair of fading fang marks. Then they, too, are gone.

A strange dream, or a prophecy, I don’t know which, but I do know one thing. Spike was right. She cannot change me. Only I can do that. But only she can make me want to. Two things. I need nothing more than I need her.


Willow telephoned the mansion this morning to speak to me. She knows that I am to conduct the mating ritual after the wedding. What she said surprised me into silence for a moment. I don’t know why it should do so – everything about this pairing brings new surprises, and I should be used to that by now. I told her to make her preparations, and then I went to see the priest.

Father Jerome arrived last night, and has spent the night in the mansion. How many priests do you know who would willingly sleep in a building full of demons and vampires, especially when tribal and clan rivalries mean that half of said demons and vampires are itching for a fight? Nevertheless, he did. He is rather less surprised than I was, when I tell him what Willow said. The Goddess, the one known as The Lady, wishes to bless the union. I feel a little as if I’m in a warped version of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Of course, I can’t show any of this, because I’m five and a half thousand years old, and I have a reputation for omniscience to maintain. It’s getting harder by the day.

“Why are you doing this? Lending yourself to this ceremony? Does your God not disapprove?”

“I haven’t been struck down by a thunderbolt, so apparently not.”

“There is something coming, and the gods need help.”

I make it a statement, not a question. His eyes seem to pierce through me, and I can see him scenting me. That is very interesting. He isn’t entirely human, then. I scent him back. He smells of incense and honesty and just a faint trace of something that, even in my long life, I have never before encountered. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve a hunch it might be important.

“Gods never reject help.”

“Your God will accept the authority of The Lady, as well?”

He simply smiles, and nods. And so it is done.

It is now almost midnight, and she will soon be here. I know that Angelus is nervous, because I can feel it in my blood. He hides it well, though, and there is nothing in his demeanour or his scent to betray his nervousness to the crowd of humans, vampires and demons present in the mansion tonight, come to honour the occasion. More than humans, even, demons and vampires love a good show.

Angelus is wearing all black, relieved only by the gold torc, in stark contrast to the brilliant, festive colours worn by the crowd, and the richness of the room. He has transformed this place. The new silver drapery shimmers in the gentle glow cast by the crystal lamps, set off by rich Afghan carpets. These give warmth to the pale marble floor, the myth and magic of that ancient people knotted into every inch of the complex red and black patterns. Gorgeously coloured tapestries hang from the walls, lending warmth and life. And then there are the flowers. Stunning arrangements of green, white and red - something human, and alive, in this mansion of the dead, to welcome her.

This night is special, the night of the equinox. It is the time when day and night are equal. You could consider that the day is hers, and the night his, and they are equal, like them. She may already be his mate, but, after tonight, that relationship will be acknowledged by humans, vampires and demons alike; that is something that has never, ever been done before. His union with the Slayer will also bring the union of his retinue and hers, for all to see, and that should be interesting, considering the people who comprise those retinues.

One last thing remains to be done, and my two eldest childer, Japheth and Cormac, are here to do it. They have brought in two large wooden chests. These are beautiful and ancient artefacts, and will remain here for the bridal couple, part of my wedding gift. What is more important now, though, is what is inside those chests.

Japheth knows that Angelus will not be using his own chambers tonight. He and his bride will use her new rooms. He’s had one in particular added on to the upper level of the mansion. It’s a solar. It has floor-to-ceiling stained glass window panels all around it, and it is bathed in sunlight from morning until evening. It is a large room, intended for the Slayer and her people, and that may be why he has chosen it for this night. The bed they have had placed in there, just for tonight, is a four-poster, complete with tester and drapes, his only concession to his need for shelter from the sun. Sheer bravado.

The chests are opened at the foot of the stairs, and everyone stops talking to watch. They are full of rose petals of deepest red and purest white. The path from the decorated table, where the final ceremony will take place, to the solar is strewn with them. I don’t need to see it to know what will happen inside the solar. The finely woven bedspread and red cotton sheet will be drawn neatly back and folded onto the foot of the bed. Then a white sheet of crisp, heavy Egyptian cotton will be taken from the lid of one chest and laid over the bed. Rose petals will be spread gently over the whiteness of the sheet, heaps of them, a thick, soft, scented layer, ready for Angelus to bed his mate.

“Every good orgy deserves rose petals, right?”

There is bitterness in Giles’ voice. How will Angelus react to that? There is no time, now, surely? Midnight is almost here.


My love will be here in a few minutes. I have no fears for her safety. A hundred Hylekian guards are posted in the surrounding areas to ensure that no danger is present. Another fifty will accompany the car that brings her here from her old home. She will never live there again. Haraeth has taken it upon himself to provide security, and I am content to let him.

As I look around, everything seems perfect. She will be here soon, the last to arrive, as she should be, attended by Willow, Dawn, Tara and Anya. I know what she will be wearing – I bought it for her, again, but this time I made sure that I peeked – and the thought of her, the vision in my mind, makes me ache.

Japheth and Cormac have spread the rose petals over the bed and over the path we must tread to get there. Why rose petals? Why not? It’s simply a tradition for high-ranking vampires, I suspect as simply another means of titillating our senses. Long ago, humans borrowed it for their orgies, and we have never begrudged them that.

“Every good orgy deserves rose petals, right?”

Damn. That’s Giles. I thought we had dealt with this, but I should have anticipated. He’s thinking of other rose petals, the ones I left for him to follow to his dead lover. This needs dealing with. Now.

I pour us both a glass of wine and take him to one side, into a small, private study.

“The next time your bitterness manifests, I shall send you away.”

He starts to bristle, but I hold up my hand to silence him.

“I cannot restore your lover, and we have agreed that we must make a fresh start, yes?”

He nods, resentment in every lineament.

“I should have said this before. If there cannot be restitution, then before there can be a fresh start, there must be punishment. There is no time to deal with this now. Tomorrow, you will come to see me and we shall discuss an appropriate penalty. You are my creature, Giles, my servant, and I will brook no disobedience, no treachery, no rebellion and no resentment. For the only time, tomorrow, though, I will permit you to take retribution. That will bring an end to it. Are we clear?”

Giles looks confused, as well he might. Watchers do not understand vampires nearly as well as they think they do. In our society, there are clear rules, and here is one. I have mortally wronged one of my own. I can kill him, banish him or allow him to exact a price for that wrong. Most masters would kill him, because that would be easiest, would bring the problem to a clearly defined end. More importantly, they would not have to admit a mistake. I am not most masters, and so I choose the latter. Buffy needs this man, at least for now.


“Buffy need never know about this, Giles. Neither does anyone else. That is part of the agreement.”

He considers for a moment, then nods, sharply.

Good. We can get on with things now.

There is an imperious rapping at the outer door. I put down my glass and take a deep, and entirely necessary breath. Her father, surprisingly reconciled to what his daughter is marrying, has been allowed to bring her this far, but Giles is to give her away. That is much more fitting.

“Rupert, I think that must be your charge. Perhaps you will lead her in to me?”

And Giles does.

She is heartbreakingly beautiful. Her dress is simple ivory silk, no distracting frills and furbelows. The back panels extend into a heavy train, and she wears both the golden crown and the lace veil. Giles walks her to the table where I stand with Aurelius, who acts as my best man – who better? The priest stands behind the simple altar, which is decorated only with flowers, and the service commences. It is Dawn who lifts the veil from her face, folding back that long piece of exquisite lace. She is even more beautiful than the picture in my mind. She wears the gold torc and, hanging lower on her breast, that silver cross which Angel gave her the first time they met. Perhaps there is reason for her to remember who and what she is. In any event, it does not offend me. There is a susurration of sound as those who do not know her see her for the first time, and see the status that the clan has bestowed upon her.

We exchange rings, and we exchange vows. I have heard some of her words before.

“In peace and in war, I will love you and cleave to you. You are mine to protect, as I am yours.”

Brave words, full of meaning for this strange congregation.

She has also heard some of mine at another time.

“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.”

And then the priest pronounces us husband and wife, and tells me that I may kiss her. I’ve wanted to do that for half an hour now, ever since she arrived. I do so to the applause of the congregation. When I let her go, he leads us to the centre of the room, to stand in front of an Afghan carpet woven with the tree of life. Those who have been standing on that carpet shuffle around to find space elsewhere in this crowded hall. A minion swiftly rolls back the rug, revealing a circle outlined by a continuous silver chain. Other minions bring four engraved dishes of cobalt blue glass. One contains earth, another water, the third has a candle representing fire, and the fourth holds nothing but air. These are placed around the inside of the circle, and we step into it, hands linked. As we do, the mansion doors are thrown open, and everyone turns to look. A white stag stands outside and, in the face of everyone’s gaze, this shy and retiring creature steps daintily into the hall. It is not a type of stag that is found anywhere in this hemisphere, and it is an old and noble creature, with at least twenty-four points on its antlers. It is a king of its kind.

Head held high, ears flickering nervously, it steps towards us and enters the circle. Once there, it lowers its head. It has something hanging around its neck - a silver chain, and threaded onto that chain are the two claddagh rings that did not return with us from the Underworld. I unfasten the chain and remove the rings, returning them to what seems to be their rightful place, her finger and mine, although the right hand this time. When I move to give the exquisitely wrought chain back to the stag, it snorts in disapproval, and so I place it around my own neck. I’m not at all sure if that is significant, but it feels as if it will be.

I wait a moment for the stag to lift its head, but it doesn’t. What I have to do, I must do on my knees, in front of this entire gathering. What else would I have expected? I kneel, and the stag turns its head a little, offering its throat. My fangs slide home, and the blood starts to pump down my throat, rich and thick and full of a strange power. There is a fleeting, familiar taste. It is Angel: for a mouthful or two, I can taste the suffering, bleeding Angel from my dream, although I do not understand why this should be. Then this liquid life runs sweet and clean. There is something else, too, that I feel in my blood but cannot describe. This is a pact, a binding agreement, although I’m not at all sure what I am agreeing to. Perhaps it’s just to my mastery of Wolfram and Hart, and that seems right. Perhaps it’s more, though. Perhaps it’s my promise to love and care for this woman, and that thought, too, seems right to me. There are promises here, in return. Long life and happiness, maybe.

Too soon, the stag snorts again, and I withdraw from him. As I rise, his horn swipes against my hand, opening a long cut. He licks at the thin line of blood, taking a little of me into himself in exchange for what I have taken from him, until the wound ceases to bleed, then he watches as I pull my wife to me, and kiss her again, my mouth full of his blood, still laced with the bitter tang of Angel. She takes it from me, licking my lips clean, a slight frown between her brows as if she were puzzled by something, and then she offers him her hand. Once more his antler slices down, and he presses his muzzle into her palm, licking up the drops that seep from the wound. I do believe that, whatever the pact is, it is sealed. His bellow rings around the hall, and then he is seemingly gone, galloping off into the night.

As the minions gather up the four dishes, once more the priest leads us on to another table at the other side of the room. Aurelius steps up, and we come to the most difficult part of a set of ceremonies that will most certainly be talked about for decades to come. I told you that demons love a good show. They are certainly getting one now.

Aurelius speaks the words inviting the Slayer in to the clan, and gives his formal blessing to our mating. He then says the ritual that informs all those gathered that this is to be an eternal mating, that our bodies and spirits will cleave together until the end of time and may never be separated. I shiver a little at that, remembering Buffy’s mortality. She feels it, and understands: she holds my hand a little tighter.

There is a glass chalice in front of him. It’s Roman glass, two thousand years old, aquamarine in colour, spiralled around the outside with gold wire. Dropping his fangs, he nicks a finger and allows a few drops of blood to fall into the chalice, and then he hands it to Buffy. She knows what she must do, and she doesn’t hesitate. She drains the cup. There isn’t enough in there to harm her, but it will mark her forever, in the way that my own blood does, as an Aurelian.

She offers him her wrist, and he bites, taking enough of her blood to stay with him, further acknowledgement that she is part of this clan. Now we come to the hard part. She and I will mate, will exchange blood and mark each other in that most intimate of rites, and the most senior representatives of those here will get to watch. It’s a public mating. It has to be.

Individuals of lesser standing might not need to do this, but we are the equivalent of royalty, and some strange customs start to apply. In days gone by, when a queen gave birth to an heir to the throne, the birth was witnessed, not only by her attendant ladies, but also by men of rank and position. This was to ensure that the heir was indeed the heir, that the line of succession was genuine and intact. These men could attest that no one had exchanged some half-dead sickly princeling or princess birthed by the queen for some lusty peasant boy smuggled in earlier. I’m sure it also gave them a bit of a rush to see the royal wife in such humiliating circumstances.

Vampires don’t give birth, of course, but if the protection of the eternal mating is to apply to my wife, if she is to be considered as unchallengeable, then the rite has to be publicly witnessed, in just the same way and for much the same reasons. It must be seen – and felt – to be a true and proper mating. With Aurelius’ support, I have restricted it to the most senior of each tribe or clan present, but I can do no better than that. Members of my own household will form a sort of honour guard around the bed, to prevent any unseemly conduct. Oh yes, it’s that sort of mating we are talking about.

Aurelius walks towards the stairs, and we follow. I have her arm tucked in mine, and I have opened our link, pouring through it all my love and comfort and pride. She smiles and squeezes my hand.

Together, we follow him up that path of red and white petals, until we reach the floor above. Then accompanied by her ladies, she is led to her own bedchamber, and I go to mine. My supporters here are Estevan, Ezrafel, Ixolon and Japheth, demonstrating the mixed nature of my household, and my position in the clan. In our rooms, the two of us will remove our wedding finery and put on some loose silk robes. I’m the first to enter the solar. Women always take longer, don’t they? Ranking members of both our households have taken position well away from the bed. Faith, Giles, Xander, Wesley, Gunn, Oz and Thomaso. Lindsey has something else to do. He is looking after Drusilla. Some of these may never forgive me, as much for this duty I have given them, as for the ritual itself, but their presence will make her feel better. She told me so.

I take my place by the foot of the bed, and amuse myself by watching the observers jostling for position. Haraeth is in the front rank, and is ensuring that those around him do not press too close. He gives me a wink. I liked that demon when I first met him. I see that even the priest is here, and I find that a little hard to credit. He simply gives me a tight smile, but holds his ground, next to Haraeth. A pungent scent wafts through the open door, and although I cannot see him – and I doubt anyone else can – I know that the stag has announced his presence to me. Aurelius and one or two other vampires turn briefly to the door. They have scented him, too.

Then, the door to the adjoining bedchamber opens and my wife is escorted in by her ladies. All four of them are there, even though it was agreed that Dawn should stay behind. That doesn’t cause me a problem, although I can feel Giles purse his lips in disapproval. I cannot see, of course, because the household members have their backs to me, but I can still tell that he is pursing his lips. Well, Dawn is old enough to see this, and I’m glad to know that she has such a strong will. Buffy crosses the room to me, her bare feet whispering over the carpet of knotted Chinese silk. She stands facing me as we are divested of the crown, the torcs and the cross. Then, the silk robes are gently removed, and she is naked for all to see.

I take her in my arms, pressing her close to me, and then I catch up her right hand with mine, holding our clasped hands between our breasts. I can feel the claddagh rings pressed together by our entwined fingers, reinforcing what I am about to say. I caress her face with my left hand, the soft light glinting on the ring she has given me.

“My body to yours, we are united. Blood of my blood, we are inseparable. Spirit to spirit, I cleave to you. Final death shall not separate us, bringing only our union beyond even the end of eternity. Before my master and in sight of these witnesses, I swear this to you.”

She smiles for me, one of the sweetest smiles she has ever graced me with, and places her left hand against my cheek.

“My body to yours, we are united. Blood of my blood, we are inseparable. Spirit to spirit, I cleave to you. Final death shall not separate us, bringing only our union beyond even the end of eternity. Before this clan and in sight of these witnesses, I swear this to you.”

I pick her up and place her gently on that fragrant bed of roses, and then I cover her with my own body. I have promised her that I would do this, that the observers would not have any unnecessary opportunity to ogle her. Although it gives me a real rush to know how much these people here envy me – the scent of it is thick in the air – I am also possessive of her in a way that I have never been with any other partner. I do not want others to see what is mine, and yet I want them to see and yearn for what they can never have.

There, amongst those scented petals, I try to make her forget that anyone else is in the room. If I am to shield her with my body, what I can do is restricted, but still more than enough. The link between us is wide open and I let all my feelings of desire flood over her. A woman’s erogenous zones start with her mind, you know. I kiss my way down the line of her jaw, murmuring to her as I do so, whispered words of love. I suckle lightly at her neck, as I press my body against hers, reminding her through the bond of the passion of the flesh that we so recently shared. My hands seek out all her favourite places, and she does the same for me. I press a line of gentle kisses along her collarbone and then down to her soft breasts. In what seems like no time at all, she is giving tiny gasps of delight and pressing up against me in need. Still I devote myself to her pleasure, with lips and tongue and teeth, as well as with my fingers and the palms of my hands, feeling the lushness of her, the silk of her skin, and the moist welcome of her feminine flesh. Every movement, no matter how slight, ensures that the petals brush against our bodies, exciting the tiniest nerves, and pressing their satin curves against every point of pleasure, a thousand delicate fingers.

As the petals and my own fingers work to bring every nerve alive, I suckle gently at both the mating marks I have left on her – the one in the tender crook of her arm from the time I thought I should die in the park, and the one on her neck from our time in Fenrix’s dungeons. There is no place on her body more welcoming of my touch, more able to focus her desire than the mark of her mate. Finally, when I am sure that she is wound up as tightly as I can contrive, I thrust gently into her. She is slick, and wet and ready. She wraps her legs around my hips, pulling me down further, closer. There will be no teasing tonight. We aren’t going to give these interlopers more of a show than necessary. We have the rest of the night and the rest of our lives to look forward to. She wants hard, and she gets it. Together, we build towards rapture, and at the first signs of that longed-for fulfilment, I bite down into her neck, into the scar that already marks her as mine, and I reinforce my love and passion and ownership, impressing into the bond everything I feel for her. Her blood, flowing freely over my tongue, fuels that explosion of agonised ecstasy until it threatens to consume us both in its raging fires. The tiny part of my mind that is still functioning recognises the storm of pheromones that has burst from us, and I know that every single demon there will be drinking them in.

Reluctantly, I withdraw my fangs from my mate’s neck, and it is her turn. She must make the wound herself and take some of my blood. I cannot help her by tearing my flesh. She doesn’t bite, though, and for the moment I wonder whether her nerve has failed her. It has not. Using all her slayer strength, she flips us over without allowing our joining to falter, until she is sitting astride me, open to the view of all. The scent coming from her, and the emotions coming through the bond, all tell the same thing. The Slayer is not afraid. I couldn’t be more proud of her if I tried, and I want to slay every observer here, for seeing something that only I should see.

She starts to ride me, gently at first until she feels me swell once more to completely fill her. Then, she rides me harder, until I can feel her new climax rising through her. She grasps my hands and presses my arms outwards and downwards until we are breast to breast. She bends her head and kisses me, tasting her own blood on my mouth before slicing her tongue across my fang. I suck the offering of blood from her, and that is enough to bring us both to completion. As this second tidal wave of fulfilment rushes over us, she breaks the kiss and then moves backwards a little before biting down as hard as she can, just over my heart. Her human teeth cannot penetrate as well as mine, but she does enough. Skin and muscle parts before her assault, as if welcoming her in, and I know this will be the only scar my body has so far accepted. I feel her pouring out her love and devotion and desire and, damn it, *ownership*, into the bite and the bond. I know that the observers have had another tempest of pheromones, and they understand what she has done.

Well, we are already equals, from the moment of our first mating. It’s only fair, I suppose, that we should reinforce it this way. And then I have no more space for thought or rationality, just the utter abandon of a release centred round the indescribable bliss of having her drink from me. Not much – she has only freed a trickle of blood – but enough to give me such ecstasy as I have rarely felt before. Together, we are joined in eternity, as we should be, everyone else forgotten, until we sink down into those fragrant, welcoming petals. Eternal mates. She is mine, forever, and I am hers, in the sight of demon and man.


As head of the clan, I am in control of this ceremony. I knew that Angelus intended to shield the Slayer as much as possible – this is not a rite where I would expect any human to feel comfortable. However, she clearly has had other ideas, and is expressing them with vigour. I am glad, because it is better this way, if she is to be regarded as his equal. I can feel the level of sexual energy in this room, and it has just spiked into hot and high as Buffy takes the lead in their joining. Everyone in the mansion is now aware that the Slayer is an equal partner in this mating, and that Angelus wishes it to be so. There’s a level of demonic excitement at that that I don’t think I have ever seen before. Everything here is new territory.

Now, the mating is complete, and as the two sink into repletion, there is a deep sigh from the observers, and then a susurration of whispers. Nobody moves, yet, except for Buffy’s ladies – including a very wide-eyed Dawn – and Angelus’ supporters, who move towards the bed holding the silk robes. Buffy stands first, seemingly unworried that she has Angelus’ seed glistening on her thighs, and her ladies help her into the maroon robe, wrapping its capacious volume carefully around her. Angelus stands on the opposite side while his supporters do the same. The members of the household who have stood guard – and haven’t they had a shocking experience, although one that I think must ultimately bind them closer to our mated pair – now disperse to help with the culmination of this night’s ceremonial. It’s time for the giving of gifts.

Chairs are brought for Angelus and the Slayer, who sit as regally as any king and queen waiting for tribute from their subjects, and that is entirely appropriate. As I designate the guests to come forward in order of precedence, starting with Haraeth, the wedding gifts are given. Most of the gifts are material objects, but others are not. Some clans and tribes are rich in influence and power but poor in material goods. Their offerings are different. Some, for example, are gifts of service. All are valuable in their own way.

These gifts, though, must be looked at in another way than material value. Some are gifts of esteem from powerful allies; others are gifts of friendship from those of equal status. Yet others are from people of doubtful intent, there to mark a holding position until they decide whether to be friend or foe. All the rest, no matter how the giving is couched, are indeed tribute, pledges from those who recognise power when they see it. I believe that this is the start of an alliance such as has not been seen before. Since I learned that all our safety depended on Angelus and the Slayer, I have sensed that they would need the strength of the clan around them. Now they have more than that. They have the beginnings of empire. Life is going to be very interesting.


In the mansion, the attendants have carefully drawn the drapes of the bed around their master and mistress, heavy tapestries to protect him from the sunlight that will flood the room at dawn. Gifts are heaped on the floor, to be examined and appreciated at leisure. The festivities to entertain the guests whilst the master and mistress entertain themselves, and the sexual energy of the mating ritual that has pervaded the mansion, have had entirely foreseen consequences. Demons, vampires and even some humans are involved in all manner of couplings driven by vampiric and slayer pheromones. Aurelius was perfectly correct. Life will be very interesting for those involved with Angelus and the Slayer.

There is an old Chinese curse.

May you live in interesting times.

Within the heavily curtained bed, Angelus and Buffy lie sated, in sleep. At least, she is asleep, and he is in that hinterland somewhere between waking and sleeping, and he is not-quite-dreaming. He thinks of Drusilla, telling him that the Slayer would change him, and of his response to her, that the sun would stand still in the sky before that would ever happen. He realises, now, that for him the sun might as well be in permanent solstice. He isn’t the Soul. He will never be the Soul. But he isn’t the mad demon any more. He is different. So long as she is here, he is different. More balanced.

He has never heard of the old Chinese curse. Not yet, anyway. It will be many years before times become much more interesting than even the last eight years have been. He snuggles closer to the warm armful of female flesh that brings him such peace, and drifts off into dreams of an empire to give her in return.


Deep under the black cliffs, Angel has a brief respite from torment. He’s now suffering not from blood games, but from mind games. They are giving him visions of how many ways he can torture and kill the Slayer. In how many ways his dark half can destroy her. But he knows his name again, and they have left him in peace for a little while.

The stag has come back, its neck bloody, and it is licking his hand, cleaning the claddagh ring that has so newly appeared. He looks at the ring, and has no idea why it should be there, but when he saw it, he knew who he was and why he was in this place. As he looks at it, it seems as if someone has clasped his hand. Two other hands, perhaps, and he feels the chink of ring on ring. The stag watches him gravely. There are words, distant but clear, and he repeats them to himself, her face reflected to him in the shining eyes of the deer.

“My body to yours, we are united. Blood of my blood, we are inseparable. Spirit to spirit, I cleave to you. Final death shall not separate us, bringing only our union beyond even the end of eternity. Before my master and in sight of these witnesses, I swear this to you.”

Then it is her turn, and he hears the words of her oath.

The stag closes the distance between them, and presents its bloody neck to him. He wants to feel his gorge rise, to be disgusted at the thought of feeding here, but he isn’t. He leans forward and sucks hungrily at the oozing wounds, closing the circle.

He tastes himself and Buffy. He tastes promises given and received. And it comforts him a little.


The Lady and the Duality have watched the ceremonies in the mansion that night, then gone to the black sand and watched Angel’s soul, tormented beyond bearing, but still refusing to say the words that would deprive his mate of her consort. The Lady, tears standing in her eyes, turns to her dark lover.

“Are they strong enough?”

His smile is reassuring and warm.

“Yes. They have much still to learn and to accomplish, but yes, they are strong enough.”

When they return to their tiny Eden, the stag is waiting. Blood from the vampire’s bite still runs down onto his shoulder. At a word from The Lady, he bends his neck and allows her to gather some of the precious drops on her finger. The three of them taste it, the knowledge it carries, and the pact woven into the blood, and they know that they have chosen well. There is, indeed, hope for the future, although there is so little time. Too soon, the Duality will have to go back to the edge of the universe and fire another arc of galaxies in the hope that they can save another trillion trillion souls from the invader. The Universe will be smaller before the time is right.

They all give their thanks to the stag, and The Lady heals his wounds. Then, the three lie down together to share the greatest comfort they have to offer each other against the screams of a trillion trillion deaths. The Lady and her consorts make love, this triumvirate of equals who maintain the balance and keep the forces of chaos at bay. From their joining this night, they allow an ecstatic disruption of the balance between the powers of creation and the powers of destruction, and a tiny handful of new galaxies burst into existence on the far side of the universe, safe for the moment from the invader. A trillion trillion souls wait to populate planets that have not yet formed. Yet they wait with hope.



Thanks to everyone who has stayed with me through this story cycle. When I first wrote ‘The Nature of the Beast’, it was a stand-alone story, with no follow-ups intended. You asked for them. You wanted to know how Buffy and Angelus got together, and how he established his empire. You also wanted to know what happened after her death. I partially gave in and wrote the prequels – and I’m glad I did, because I’ve had such fun doing it. I did hedge my bets a little, though, because I said in ‘To Kill A Cat’ that it was one possible, although not necessarily *the* prequel. The cycles of time are tricky things…

Because ‘Nature’ was written as a single story, I put in a lot of things that I never expected to have to make good on, but I have tried to stay true to everything I wrote there. There is just one tiny detail that is different, and that’s deliberate – it’s to keep you on your toes!

The reason that I started writing in the first place was as practice, because I want to start writing novels, and so I have tried different styles of storytelling in this series – third person, first person, and so on, and I hope that it’s all worked for you.

What comes next? A story cycle, as constructed here, has no ending – the first story is also the last. In between, though, this series has explored their early relationship, the taming of a demon, and the seeds of his empire. ‘Solstice’ is the last in that chain of events.

As for Our Heroes, and their life together – not to mention the poor, tormented Angel – well, they’ve got seventy years before Buffy dies, and I’m sure we’d all be pushing up daisies before I managed to fill that amount of time up with stories, which is why I’ve chosen to end it here. I am also sure, however, that we will be visiting them from time to time during that very long lifetime, to find out what they get up to. After all, what about those wedding night dreams? And the three demi-gods of Wolfram and Hart? Would I leave those as loose ends, to tantalise and frustrate you? My name’s Jo, not Joss.

What’s that you say? What happens after Buffy’s death? I always said that I didn’t know where I could take it after the end of ‘Nature’, and so I wouldn’t do any sequels. Well, you’ve got me there. I know exactly where it’s going to go, now, and you have seen the shadow of the future woven into the fabric of the present. We do, after all, need to know whether Buffy and Angelus meet again, whether Angel remains trapped forever on the black sand, and whether anything can be saved from the parasite. I think you can expect to see the second story cycle in ‘The Nature of the Beast’ series before too long. Such a demanding audience….

Thank you.


31 July 2004

previous story

please feed Jo

Jo's fics