Between the Lines

Between the Lines

Author's notes

Project Paranormal
Season 1
Part 8

Summary: This story starts the day after Dark Star’s ‘Devil’s Hill’. Now that Buffy and Angel are a couple, can Angel and Giles overcome their past? Will Angelus reappear? And can you have a story that has sex, Angel in chains and Angel ripping Ella’s trousers off, and still rate it a 15? Read on.

Buffy looked down at her sleeping lover, and wondered why his brow was knotted in a slight frown. She’d never really had much opportunity to study him like this, and she’d expected that he might be relaxed in sleep. As still as death, perhaps. He certainly wasn’t relaxed at the moment, although he was completely motionless. No rise and fall of his chest, no sound of breathing, no slight movements of any sort. It should have been unnerving, lying next to one who was as still as a corpse, but somehow, it wasn’t. It was… restful. Peaceful. And then she thought that she had no right to assume that he might sleep easily. If there was one person in the world who might have nightmares, it was him.

Angel. Her once and future lover. Well, he certainly had been her lover once, and only the once, in the fullest sense of the word, but now they had every hope that he might be again in the future. It just hadn’t happened now. There’d been no present tense. Or maybe there’d been too much tense; perhaps that was the problem.

Last night, she’d made the decision to move in with Angel, and she was glad of that. She hadn’t done it simply because she’d found out that the Coven had brought him back without the happiness clause. She had done it because she wanted it. She needed it, and so did he. A bird needs air to fly, and they needed each other if they were ever to get out of the dust. If the two of them were ever to find any peace and happiness in the battlegrounds of their lives, they could only do that in each other, and that was true now, more than it had ever been. Now, they could have each other, in every sense of the word; but not, it seemed, yet.

Angel had been incredulous when she told him. She’d been too angry with everything outside this room to do more than simply blurt out an account of her visit to the witch, Gladys, and her subsequent confrontation with Giles. Then, his incredulity had become something much more complicated. Those complicated feelings had been shoved out of her sight almost as quickly as they had revealed themselves, but she sensed that there had been anger there, matching her own. Why had he not been told? Why had he been left without the comfort he could only find in her, whilst in the claws of his own misery and loss?

The other emotions she thought she’d seen on his face were ones that were much less familiar. Chief amongst those was hope.

They’d clung to each other amidst these revelations that had tilted their hitherto uncomfortable world askew, revelations that had allowed the shapes of futures to click into different positions, like the tiles on some godly management toy. ‘Decide to say yes’. ‘Ask how many worlds must be annihilated to fund it’. ‘Buffy and Angel are Go’.

Last night, though, their first night together under the new rules, might just as well have been a night under the old rules. She thought that Angel might now have hope, but what he hadn’t yet found was belief. She thought that perhaps she hadn’t yet found belief, either. Then, too, there was Giles and a house full of slayers only a few yards away. It would have been like trying to make love with your parents in the next room. And so, they had held on to each other, getting used to the feel of flesh on flesh again, reopening memories of what they had done in the innocent springtime of their relationship, memories imprinted into nerves and muscle and skin, but no more. It didn’t matter – or not very much. The rest would come later. With belief.

***

Angel was enjoying something that he thought might become one of the great pleasures of his life. He was lying absolutely still, pretending to be asleep, whilst his lover watched him and watched over him. He would love to do the same to her as well, but today was her turn.

He knew that he had disappointed her a little the night before, and he regretted that, but he also knew that she would forgive him what must surely be the very essence of performance anxiety. It wasn’t something he’d ever suffered from before, but now… And she, also, had been too tense to enjoy what should have been an occasion of delight and wonder, and absolute pleasure, and so they hadn’t pressed it. Better to wait. He would make it worth her while.

What she couldn’t know was that the residual fear, engrained into his very psyche, of becoming Angelus again hadn’t been the only difficulty for him. Oh, he wasn’t worried about the Watcher and the slayers a few yards away. Some part of him – and it might not even have been Angelus – would have relished the knowledge that every person in the house might hear the ecstasy they could bring to each other. That had been a factor for her, but there had been something quite different for him.

Buffy’s scent was… wrong. It was as if something had fundamentally changed: as if something deep and dark had sunk its claws into her, and now nested within her. It seemed familiar, and yet not. Several times in the last day or two, he had seen her rub her temples. She never suffered from headaches – well, not unless it was from a residual battle injury – and he was worried. He tried to rationalise to himself that it was just that – a battle injury after the melee at the hill fort, but his senses told him it was something more. He offered a small prayer to whichever deity might listen that the events at the hill fort had done nothing to permanently harm her. In any event, he would watch her carefully to see how she was doing. If he became more worried, he would talk to Giles.

Meanwhile, he would simply enjoy being the object of her scrutiny.

They stayed where they were until late in the afternoon, catching up on the sleep they both seemed to have missed for whole lifetimes now. He was the first to wake, this time, and he took his turn to watch her. Her body was utterly relaxed against him, her face smoothed and carefree. He’d wondered, occasionally, in those early days when he’d first had some hopes of a life with her, how they could adjust to being together in very practical terms, taking account of his whole creature-of-the-night persona. He remembered now how little store she’d ever put in being able to go out into the sun, and he had to acknowledge that a slayer was ruled almost as much by the night as he was. If predators pursued nocturnal prey, the predators tended to be nocturnal, too. Almost certainly, she’d move her body clock back a bit, and he’d move his forward a bit, and all would be well. And in all the days to come, they’d have plenty of ways of keeping occupied until the sun went down.

When they eventually rose, they somehow managed to share the tiny shower cubicle without breaking it, even whilst indulging in some very pleasurable play. Then it was time to eat. Angel’s larder had blood for himself, but nothing beyond a half-eaten packet of biscuits for Buffy. Time to brave the house.

Martha had left a huge pot of beef stew and dumplings, with masses of crisp carrots, buttered new potatoes and minted peas, followed by a pink and gold rhubarb crumble and custard. Angel smiled his approval. That would do Buffy good. The younger slayers, on the whole, eyed the pair up with interest, and not a little jealousy. Few of them would not have swapped places with the blonde. Making things harder for Angel was the fact that at least half of them were in the most receptive part of their cycles – all these girls, living in such close proximity, meant that their cycles were converging. The demon inside him was practically salivating. Perhaps that was the cause of what happened next, or perhaps it wasn’t.

Giles had evaded every effort at eye contact from either Angel or Buffy, and every nuance of his body language radiated disapproval. As the girls cleared away the dessert dishes, Angel stood from his position close to Buffy, but a little away from the table.

“Giles. Could I have a word, please? In private.”

All eyes focused on him. Buffy’s were worried; the others were frankly interested again. He felt self-conscious, but this had to be done. Giles pushed back his chair, and led the way to his study. Once inside, he closed the door firmly, and turned to the vampire, his voice cool.

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry for Lucy’s death, and I know you blame me for it. That, Giles, is unfair.”

Giles tried to interrupt, but Angel held up his hand.

“No. I’ve listened to you, often. Just this once, I need you to listen to me. We are all to blame for Lucy’s death, and none of us are. Her death was caused by the fact that she was made a slayer when she shouldn’t have been. I caused her death by activating the Devil’s Hill Stone, although I didn’t know it. You caused her death by taking so few of the girls to what was clearly a major gathering of demons, and you should have been better prepared. We all caused her death by not knowing that the Stone would deal with the demons with or without us. All of us and none of us are to blame.

“Secondly, you blame me for Jenny’s death. You are right to do so, and it’s no more than I do myself, even though *I*, the soul that we all seem to think is the essential us, wasn’t there at the time. Even though you, yourself, have told the girls that a vampire isn’t the person it was before. I can’t make those distinctions, as well you know. But, you should remember that the Kalderash themselves killed her by putting that stupid clause in the curse. They killed her again by sending her to Sunnydale without telling her what she needed to know. What I needed to know, if everyone were to be kept safe. Nevertheless, it was these hands that broke her neck and I can never bring her back, much as I might wish to. But remember, Giles, when you look at me, that it was Angelus who killed her, not my soul.

“Now, that simply wasn’t the case when you killed Fred. You had your soul when you did that.”

Giles had been silent up to now, but he started to expostulate until Angel once more held his hand up.

“NO! Let me finish. You did kill her, you know, although you might prefer to remember it differently. The God King Illyria had taken her over, and you wouldn’t speak to Willow for me. It didn’t matter that Fred was one of the most innocent people you could ever find. It was me asking, and I was CEO of Wolfram and Hart. The answer was a simple no, and you killed her. Then again, so did Knox, who planned the whole thing, and so did I, even with my soul, by choosing not to let the God King infect tens of thousands of other innocents instead. You may have had your reasons for what you did, but at least mine were good ones.

“But things happen, Giles. If Illyria hadn’t killed Fred, and then decided to stay, we would never have been strong enough to stop the Apocalypse. So perhaps, sometimes, things happen for a reason. I can’t yet find any reason in Lucy’s death, just as I can’t find any reason in Jenny’s death, but if everything that stands between us hadn’t happened, maybe I wouldn’t have been strong enough to fight the Apocalypse, either.

“In the end, it doesn’t matter. What does matter to me, and I think it matters to you, is that Buffy has made her choice. I know that you and she have had issues, too, from those last years in Sunnydale, and they sometimes come bubbling back to the surface, but you need to get over those, and I’m sure you will. Whether you can ever get over the issues between us, I really don’t know. I have to say that you would be a better man than most if ever you could. What matters, though, is that whatever is between you and me should not affect Buffy. She loves you like a father, and I know you love her like a daughter. Neither of us wants that to change, which means you’ve got to let go. We have to learn to live with each other.

“It doesn’t have to be at close quarters. If you prefer, Buffy and I can leave. We don’t have to stay in England, and she can come to visit you whenever you want, stay for as long as she wants. You don’t have to see me.”

That was more words than Angel had strung together in a very long time and, for a moment, he thought that maybe Giles had taken some of them in. Or, looking at the man’s expression, that maybe Giles would stake him. Then, without a backwards glance, the Watcher stormed out of the study. The slamming of the door bounced a fragile Roman glass bottle off the delft shelf, and only vampire reflexes saved the precious artefact. Vampire ears heard Giles’ car start, and the spraying of gravel as the accelerator was floored, although a deaf man could hardly have missed it.

In the study, Angel stood silent and still for long, long minutes, wondering whether he’d just made a terrible mistake. He stayed there until the door opened, and he felt warm arms encircle him and hold him close.

It was an hour before Giles returned, and in truth Angel had expected him to stay away for much longer. Conversation at the house had been stilted, to say the least, with most of the slayers itching to know what had happened, and opting to hang around and await events. Amid the whispers and exchanged glances and nudges, they seemed to find ‘Eastenders’ and ‘Emmerdale’ an acceptable way to pass the time, TV soaps that made Angel ask himself whether mankind might indeed be doomed. Buffy hadn’t bombarded him with questions, and Angel speculated whether perhaps she’d sensed that this was something she should stay out of, no matter how curious she was. That was so out of character that he wondered whether he should worry even more about her.

When Giles drove back into the courtyard, Angel went to meet him, with Buffy close behind. The young slayers didn’t follow, of course, but an amazing number found it necessary to go somewhere that incidentally offered a good view of events. Giles stood by his car, his back to the house and the couple, and then they saw him square his shoulders, and turn towards them. He tossed something to Angel. When the vampire deftly plucked the glittering object from the air, he found that it was the keys to Giles’ Landrover.

“I’d like to borrow the Mini, Buffy. The owner of Gothic Image, the bookshop in Glastonbury, has let me know that they have an interesting book that’s come their way. I’ll go and pick it up. Meanwhile, there’s a private address in Chester where a house clearance has thrown up an old statuette. It was offered to an antiques shop where the owner is an old friend of mine. He specialises in silver and porcelain, not the occult, but he thinks it might be an active idol of Granath, the zombie god. I know you’ve had some dealings with him, Angel. Perhaps you and Buffy could go there, see whether there are any signs of activity at the private address, and bring the idol back here.

“If you drive up tonight, you could stay over tomorrow night, and come back the night after. I expect the budget will run to a couple of nights in a hotel.”

It was an olive branch, and it was taken as such.

Giles’ friend was affable and kind, but definitely no expert on the occult. Although he could see why the man might have thought of Granath when looking at it, Angel considered the ‘idol’ to be no more than a piece of African bronze art, almost certainly from Benin and quite valuable. They decided to take it to Giles anyway, just in case. There was no sign of any zombie activity at the private address where it had been kept for the last fifty-eight years and of that Angel was absolutely positive.

There wasn’t any activity of the more personal kind, either. They stayed at a different hotel each night, and neither proved adequate in the sun-proofing department, leaving Buffy to sleep alone in one of the twin beds, and Angel to drag the bedding from the other into the bathroom, and spend his own day lying uncomfortably in the bath. Despite everything, though, the time away, time spent alone with each other, had seemed like the most precious gift, and they returned happy and contented.

****

Just as she was about to ring the doorbell, Angel put his hand on her arm to stop her. She looked at him, questioning, but his smile told her everything she needed to know. She put her face up, and received her reward, a kiss that was long and satisfying. He pulled her tight, as if he meant to make of them one being in one skin. They would be more demure around Giles, wouldn’t rub his nose in the fact that they were a couple, and so they needed this last piece of each other.

When they parted, he rested his forehead against hers, and then pulled back a little, that same smile on his face. It was one she’d rarely seen since those first heady months, but which graced his features rather more readily now. It spoke of happiness. Happiness tinged with something else, but happiness nonetheless. Neither of them saw the figure at the breakfast room window, wearing a smile all of her own.

When Buffy eventually rang the bell, it was Ella who opened the door to them.

“Place seems quiet?”

“Yes – the girls are out for the night. Part of this ‘let’s get a life’. They’ve gone to the cinema.”

Ella looked at Buffy’s incredulous expression.

“Oh, John and Martha are with them, chauffeuring a couple of hired people carriers, and incidentally making sure we get them all back. So, don’t worry, Giles hasn’t run mad. He’s in the study with some musty old books he picked up today.”

“Musty old…!” Buffy smacked herself on the forehead. “I’ve left that statuette in the car…”

“I’ll get it…”

“It’s okay, Angel, shan’t be a sec…”

As Buffy ran back to the car, Angel started to shed his coat. As he did so, they walked down the hall from the courtyard entrance to the open study door. Giles had a huge book on his knee, and was just opening it. He turned to greet them, with a boyish grin on his face – one that he got with every mysterious and new book or artefact that came his way. The book fell open, showing nothing but blank pages, and then everything seemed to Angel to happen in slow motion. Ella was pulled into the study, and seemed to shimmer momentarily into a glassy, insubstantial figure. He felt Buffy behind him, as his entire being seemed to be pulled out of the here and now, and towards something other. Only vampire reflexes allowed him to throw his arm backwards, catching Buffy under the ribs and tossing her down the hall, away from the danger, the package she had in her hand crashing against the dining room wall.

“Giles…” he screamed, but there was no time for more. Everything went dark.

****

It took several seconds for Buffy to get back to her feet. She couldn’t ever remember Angel hitting her so hard, even when he’d been… No. Not even then. The pain of that blow overrode memory for an instant.

“Angel! What the…”

She didn’t finish. She stood in the study doorway, looking at Giles. He was sitting in his battered green leather chair, a huge, closed, book on his knee. When he raised his head to look at her, she could see that his face was ashen, the face of a man in shock. There was no one else in the room.

“Angel?”

He didn’t reply. She crossed the room to stand in front of him.

“Angel. Where’s Angel?”

She got hold of his lapels and shook him.

“Giles! Where’s Angel? Where’s Ella? GILES…?”

His voice was a shadow of a whisper, and she had to strain to hear.

“The book…”

He started to open the book, and memory forced its way past her fear.

“NO!”

She slammed the book closed against his fingers, remembering that tugging at the centre of her being. Whatever it was from, Angel had saved her. As usual, he hadn’t managed to save himself.

“No, Giles. It almost had me, too.”

He looked up, and the look on his face was only too familiar to her. It was the lost look he’d had when he’d found Jenny dead, and before he’d found thoughts of vengeance. She let him go, and ran her hands briefly over her face.

“We’ve only been back together for three days, and you’ve got him locked in a book, already! It just isn’t fair!”

Focus. She must focus. All too readily, she remembered the Moloch Book. It seemed like a lifetime ago, but that dreadful robot that was the only body left to Moloch almost stood in the room with them. It occurred to her that she might think better if she didn’t have to keep concentrating on making her legs function, so she flopped down into one of the other chairs.

“No scanning of the book, Giles. I want Angel back. All of him. Not one single piece missing or altered. And you want Ella. So, how are we going to do it?

****

It seemed that he was spinning forever, but forever is, of course, a relative term. Eventually, he was spewed out of whatever had him, landing hard on the dusty ground. He didn’t need to see or feel to know that he was showing the vampire. He did, however, need to feel to see just how much of the vampire he was showing, shrugging the half shed coat back on in order to free his hands. As he fingered the ridges and planes of his other face (your true face, a voice whispered) it was a relief to find that it was no more than he showed at home. He’d remembered Pylea, but it wasn’t as bad as that. He hoped. At least he was himself inside, his usual conflicted, psychic-baggage-ridden self, admittedly, but nothing worse.

He picked himself up and saw what had thrown him here. It looked a little like a tornado, a vortex of sorts, but it was a vortex of colour and light. And then it was gone. A tiny remnant remained, though, high in the heavens, like an extremely compact rainbow. On the other side of where it had been, Ella lay unmoving.

He ran across to her, but as he reached her she curled into a ball with her back to him. He saw a flash of something that might have been her hand, as she tucked it in, and it looked… odd. He put his own hand on her shoulder, and she flinched. He wasn’t at all surprised, looking at the hand. It wasn’t very different. It never was: just different enough. It was the hand of a vampire, not a man. He gritted his teeth.

“Ella. Ella. Please, don’t be afraid. It’s just me. I… I can’t seem to change back. I won’t hurt you. Please. We’ve got to get out of here, and I’m not sure I can do it alone.”

Ella curled a little tighter, and then a sigh seemed to escape her. A sigh of resignation, he thought. She straightened a little, and then turned towards him. It was Ella, and yet it wasn’t. Her face was more triangular, sharper boned, her eyes larger, more almond shaped, still startling green, though, and her skin had a slight bluish-grey cast. Her hand was longer, even more slender. So was the rest of her. It hadn’t been so very long since he had seen a more extreme form of those features.

“You’re a faerie.”

This time she definitely sighed.

“About ten generations ago, on my mother’s side. All witches have faerie blood, somewhere.”

This intrigued him enough to ask a question, despite their current predicament.

“Does Giles know?”

“Not yet.”

“Oh.”

****

Giles had brought the book over to the garage flat. He was going to open it, and he didn’t trust it in the same building as Buffy. She’d been safe, thrown by Angel to the end of the hallway, but he was going to take no chances. Like Buffy, he, too, remembered the Moloch Book. The demon could be retrieved by reading the pages of the book. He prayed that this one worked in the same way.

He tugged an armchair round to face the window, the heavy drapes tucked back against the wall. Buffy stood in the upper hallway window immediately across the courtyard, framed in the light. At the least sign of distress from her, he would close the book.

Close it as he had closed it before, but too slowly that time. Much, much too slowly. As if time had been parsed into its tiniest shards, and each shard had become a separate, living thing; as if his limbs had been weighted with lead and, chained with stupor and shock, he had watched those shards fly past him, unable to stop them. Unable to determine whether the shards were time or space, or his beloved Ella, disappearing onto the pages of the book, followed by the shards of the vampire. And only then had he managed to close the book.

He sat in the chair and turned the massive volume until it was straight on his knees, the aged red morocco leather still supple under his palms. There were some slight signs of charring on the spine, as if the book had been rescued from a fire. The front cover was tooled in silver, carrying a design of silver stars. It was the constellation of Orion, stretching to all four corners of the book. A single word of four letters was impressed in silver onto the cover, just where Orion’s chest would be. He couldn’t read the alphabet in which that word was written, and yet it seemed familiar, as if he should know it.

A pad of paper and a pen lay on the arm of the chair. If he couldn’t read the pages straight off, he would copy the symbols, so that they could find them, translate them, without needing to open the book again and endanger anyone else. He took a deep breath, and turned back the front cover, his eyes riveted on Buffy, not the book. She was still at the window, unharmed.

The first page carried nothing but the word from the cover, four arcane letters. Carefully, he turned that back, to find a blank page. Once more, he looked over the courtyard, as he opened the next page. Still, Buffy stood in the light.

Page after page was blank, until he had opened about half of them. Then, there was writing on both pages, instantly recognisable as the alphabet in which the title was written. He glanced back at the window. Still safe. When he looked back at the book, the writing had faded, was still fading, and then had gone. There was nothing but virgin paper, no sign that ink, or any other organic fluid, had ever touched it. All the other pages were the same.

****

He’d no idea where they were. It was dark, and without moon or stars, yet he could still see well. Demonic night vision was useful at times, after all. The horizon seemed… odd, but he’d need a little more light to check out why that was. The land around was rocky and dry, covered in dust. Further away, there was sparse, scrubby vegetation, but nothing here. Nothing within a large, scoured circle except rock and dust. He looked up and understood why.

“Ella, we need to move away from here. If that vortex comes back…”

He left the words hanging, but she could see what he meant. It might kill them if they weren’t already dead. He held out his hand to her, to help her from the ground. She made no effort to take it, just looked at it for a long moment. Embarrassed, he pulled his hand back and stuck it into his coat pocket. He was a demon, damn it, and he was showing it. Why would she want to take a vampire’s hand?

Ella looked up at him, seeing the vulnerability written across even his demonic features. She’d been surprised that he would want to take her hand when she knew what she must look like, and now she had wounded him. She got to her feet, a little unsteadily, and tucked her hand into his arm.

“Silly boy.”

His smile was relieved. Together, they moved back to the thicker, undamaged scrub.

“What now?”

He looked back up to the small, misshapen rainbow, and his voice was uncertain.

“I think we need to get back up there. I think that’s where we came in, and I really hope the door opens both ways. You’re a witch. Think you can do some magic?”

Indeed she was a witch, but as she felt down within herself, witchiness seemed to be conspicuous by its absence. Everything else seemed to be in place and functioning, including a huge quotient of unalloyed terror, but of witchiness and magic, nothing. She tried a small spell, one that all beginners could manage if they had any power at all. She saw a small flower bud on the nearest shrub, and she asked it to open. Nothing.

She called on the spirit of place, opened herself to the power of the earth on which she was standing, the air that she was breathing, the life that must be all around her. Nothing. Oh. Dear.

“Um, Angel… Maybe we need to be a bit further away from the vortex. It’s just that… I, I don’t seem to have any magic just at the moment.”

His expression was startled, to say the least, but obediently he led her away to find some more favourable ground. She hoped.

****

The study was littered with open books, and ancient texts were strewn over every available flat surface. Currently, Giles was clambering over the stacked possessions in his bedroom, searching out more arcane materials that he hadn’t expected to need. Buffy heaved another outsized volume from the shelves and sat back down to read. Focus. She must focus. But, all the while, she kept thinking that they never seemed to be granted any time. Whenever they made peace with each other, whenever they managed to just be, the universe seemed to crumble around them. It was so unfair. She’d lost him too often, though. Not this time, not if she could help it. So far, they’d found nothing. Nothing about books whose writing disappeared as you looked at it, and nothing about the strange script on the cover of the book.

And then she heard Giles give a shout from the rooms above, and heard him hasten down the stairs.

“Buffy, the girls are back. I’ve just seen the headlights coming up the drive.”

More people who could be put in danger by this wretched book. As he entered the room, she saw that he had a leather belt in one hand. Swiftly, he wrapped the belt around the book, and buckled it tight.

“A bit… ah, belt and braces…” his smile was tight, grim, “…but it will at least stop it falling open accidentally.”

She nodded, and then the courtyard door opened, and the house was repossessed by the gaggle of slayerhood. There was a lot of chatter, and raised voices, but none of it sounded like excitement or merriment. Any description would have to include the word ‘serious’. Buffy and Giles exchanged glances, and then headed into the hall to find out what else had gone wrong.

John and Martha were shepherding their charges back in, and few of them seemed unharmed. Most had blood evident somewhere around their person, although none seemed seriously injured. Nothing that being a slayer couldn’t handle. Buffy could have screamed with frustration at the distraction, and looking at Giles, it seemed clear that he felt the same way. This had to be dealt with, though.

The girls had gathered in the kitchen, which doubled as a first aid room when necessary, and were lolling around on every available surface, as Martha ran hot water and got out the first aid box.

“What happened?”

Giles’ voice was smooth, controlled, and Buffy wondered how he was managing to do that. It was John who answered.

“The cinema… There was an invasion of… something. Some things. I don’t know what.”

His soft West Country burr was roughened with worry. Half a dozen of the girls started talking at once, but Giles quietened them. Elaine, who had become something of a leader amongst them, took up the story.

“We were just watching the film – the cinema was packed – when something brushed past my foot. I thought at first it was a rat, but when I looked down, it was a tentacle. It might be different up in Yorkshire, of course, but we don’t tend to get things with tentacles in cinemas. Big tentacles, at that. Rats, I’ll grant you, but tentacles, no. Then it got hold of Sadie. We had to clear the cinema, so Vi yelled ‘FIRE’. Laura found the fire alarm, and that was that. By the time the thing had materialised, everyone else was outside…”

“Materialised?”

Buffy could see Giles switch into Watcher mode, even though it cost him a real effort.

“Yes, I think so. Or grew, very, very rapidly. It finished up about half the size of the cinema, not counting the legs… tentacles, I mean.”

“What happened to it?”

“It was giving us a pasting, to be honest, but we’d yelled fire, so it seemed a shame to let that go to waste…”

“The cinema?”

“It would be insured, wouldn’t it?”

****

There was no more favourable ground, not at least that they could find, and at last she acknowledged the unwelcome truth.

“Angel, I can’t do magic here. Absolutely nothing. I’m trying to understand why, see if we can do something about it…”

She paused, aware that his attention had shifted.

“Ella, can we talk later?”

“Trouble?”

“Yeah. There are things coming towards us from most directions… and I think I need to find shelter.”

“Sunrise?”

“Not exactly. At least, it doesn’t feel the same, but something…”

“You’re no good to me as crispy crackling, so, lead on MacDuff…”

Angel smiled at the misquotation, and looked around. The dark bulk of a nearby small cliff face seemed to have some darker shadows. Caves, if he was lucky. Hollows or depressions if he wasn’t, but vampire claws were as good for digging earth as rending flesh. He could, if necessary, make a small but serviceable shelter.

When they reached the cliff, they could see that it was small, only about thirty feet high, running for as far as they could see in the darkness. Unfortunately, it was also sheer. Daylight was coming, he was sure, and so were other things, things that might be as dangerous to Ella as the sun was to him. He put out a hand to stop her as she unhesitatingly sought out the first foothold.

“No. I’ll give you a piggyback – it’ll be safer.”

So, with Ella clinging to his back, he made a leap up the cliff, and in two bounds was standing on a ledge in front of a cave mouth, narrow but high enough for them to walk into without stooping. Inside, the cave was small, but opened out into a rounded space that would enable him to avoid any direct sunlight. It was as good as he could have expected. Even better, it was unoccupied.

****

There had been a small – or not so small, actually – difference of opinion but, unusually, Giles had won. He had left an unwilling Buffy in charge of the girls, and he was off to see the Coven. It was late, he knew, but this really was an emergency, involving one of their own members. The Coven had seemed to value Angel, too. Buffy had wanted to come, but she accepted, eventually, that someone had to stay and make sure that the cinema crisis was properly resolved, and that someone should be her.

When he’d left, she had asked him, with a look of quiet desperation in her eyes, not to be long. She’d said, “Giles, I remember a hell where a day here lasted a hundred years there. And… Angel never told me exactly how long he was in Acathla’s hell, but it certainly wasn’t only three months…”

He knew what she was saying. Apart from the trauma to their missing, Angel might well come back physically unaltered. Ella might not. And the night wasn’t getting any younger. He’d been to Hilda’s house, but it was empty. Now, he was on the way to Mildred’s. Mildred lived alone, in a rambling, dilapidated old house that was rather isolated. He knew that the Coven, when they were carrying out some of the more serious magic, would often do it here, where there was ample room for all of them to work. He hoped now might be one of those times. And he hoped someone slightly easier to talk to than Mildred might be available.

When he got there, the house was in darkness, but there were a number of cars in the adjoining lane. Good. Not just Mildred, then. He recognised Hilda’s Astra Estate car; it was very functional, although her choice of turquoise had always amused him.

With the belt-bound book beneath one arm, he hunted around the front door area, and eventually found the bell push underneath a mass of winter-flowering clematis. He was relieved to hear a buzzer sound inside the house. There was no reply, though.

He tried two or three times, and then resorted to hammering on the door. Still no reply. He walked back down the path, wondering whereabouts the witches might be working. Then he resorted to shouting.

“Hilda! Hilda! Are you there? It’s Rupert Giles. It’s *really* urgent. Hilda!”

A light snapped on in one of the upstairs rooms, and he waited patiently for the door to open. Most of those here were elderly women, who might not be too spry in getting to the door. Instead, though, he heard a window open overhead. He stepped back a little, and saw Mildred, peering out. Even allowing that the light was behind here, and the position not flattering, he thought she looked exhausted. Her voice was spirited, though.

“What do you want, young man?”

“I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour. I need to speak to Hilda, urgently.”

“Impossible. We have important matters to attend to and I can only be spared for a few moments. Hilda can’t be spared at all. Go away.”

She started to close the window, and he felt panic rising in his throat.

“No! Please! I need help.”

He brandished the book.

“This is a demon trap, or something like it. Ella… It’s got Ella.”

He thought, even in the dim light, that she turned grey.

“What happened?”

“I, I just opened it, and it took her. Her and Angel. It nearly took Buffy too…”

He trailed off as he saw Mildred’s face. He thought she might be having a heart attack.

“It took the creature? The vampire?”

“Yes.”

There was a full half-minute of silence, which he had the sense to understand he shouldn’t break, as Mildred fought with herself.

“Can’t you people keep anything safe? Hold up the book.”

He did so, and she leaned from the window to get a clearer look. Her face was now filled with infinite sadness.

“We have lost other witches to that book. We thought it forever lost or destroyed, and it would have been good riddance. None of them have ever come back. We cannot help you. You must take it away from here, before you do even more damage. We cannot help. You must look for a way yourself. Or they must find a way out. There is little enough hope of that.”

He heard a voice, faint and quavering, from another room. From somewhere else, at the very least. Mildred turned towards the speaker.

“I’m coming. Hold steady.”

She turned back to him.

“We have our own dangers to face. I cannot stay.”

As she pulled the window to, he called out to her.

“But, if I’m to find anything, I don’t even know the name of the book. Help me with something…”

“Dee’s Duat.”

And then she was gone.

****

Well, he’d thought the cave was unoccupied. It turned out that a tiny crack in the rock at the very back had held a whole nest of spider-like creatures. They were all dead now, leaving Angel sucking a bitten thumb, while Ella kicked the bodies out into the daylight. There had been no dawn and no sunrise. Simply, it had been night, and now it wasn’t. She stood in the entrance, looking back the way they had come. She could still see the remnants of the vortex, high in the sky. She was grateful for that, and so was Angel, when she told him.

He took his coat off, and rolled it into a pillow, then gestured for her to make herself comfortable on it.

“What about you?”

“I don’t need much sleep. I’ll just sit here, and make sure I can avoid the sun whenever it moves around here.” Or whatever causes the light, he thought.

She lay down, trying to get as comfortable as possible. Camping out had never been her thing, but she was afraid she might be doing quite a lot of it now. She had a really bad feeling…

“Angel… Where do you think we are?”

“I don’t know.”

He didn’t, but he’d caught a glimpse of the horizon, and he knew that she had. It had seemed to curve upwards, in all defiance of natural laws. He hoped that it just meant that natural laws were different here, but he really didn’t think so.

“Angel… How do you feel? Do you feel as if you’re still, you know, you?”

“Yes, yes I do. I can’t change back to human, but otherwise, everything is much the same.”

Almost everything. Just something, niggling at him, as he sucked his thumb.

“About… about my magic. It’s tied to the earth. Everything I can do as a witch – and every other witch, as well – it’s because the power is provided by the land, and by everything on the land. I think that, either this place is nothing to do with our Earth, or the land is so corrupted, or so weakened, that there is no power for me to draw on. I’ve always been able to feel the power, even when I was too young to know what it was. I can’t feel anything here. It’s the emptiest feeling I’ve ever had. If we need magic to get out of here, I can’t do it.”

Angel had pretty much come to that conclusion already, but he saw one flaw with the argument.

“Ella, if there’s no magic here, why am I still walking around? Why aren’t I dust?”

“You’re a demon.” She almost felt him flinch, but he said nothing. “Your power is part of what you are. I have the ability to use power from elsewhere. Your demon simply has power in itself. It doesn’t need power from anywhere else. Demons and witches are different.”

“Then why are we both here?”

“I’ve no idea.”

They were both silent for a little while, and then Angel told her to try to sleep a little. He knew that she would soon start to get hungry and thirsty. He knew that he would, too. He didn’t want to sleep, though. Apart from the unknown trajectory of the sun, he was afraid of his dreams. He didn’t know how long they might be here. If he started to get hungry, he might start to wonder what witch-cum-faery blood might taste like. He needed to be in control. He wasn’t going to kill another of Giles’ girlfriends.

He tried to get a little more comfortable back in the shadows, and to ignore the throbbing in his thumb. It was like a bee sting, only more annoying, and he wondered briefly whether toxin had been involved, but then, as Ella’s breathing started to slow and steady, he felt his own consciousness start to slip away.

****

When Giles got back to the house, the slayers were in bed, catching a couple of hours sleep after the evening’s trials. Except Buffy. She was in his study, poring over books. She was red-eyed, but not, he thought, from reading. He affected to ignore that. He was honest with her about what Mildred had told him. He was old enough not to want to bear the entire burden himself, and she had been through enough to be able to see right through him if he tried to lie.

On the way home, he had decided what to do. He knew of one group of people who had been involved with a demon trap book once before. He would see if they knew more now than he had known then.

He put the book carefully out of the way, and asked Buffy to make some soup and sandwiches and a large pot of tea. It had been a long night, and was likely to be an even longer day, but she was right. Time might flow differently, wherever their loved ones were, and there wasn’t a moment to lose.

She was about to bridle at his request, but when she saw that he was going upstairs, in search, she presumed, of something, she held her peace and went to the kitchen. The time alone had been instructive, if only about herself. If Angel didn’t come back, it would be Giles’ fault. He might as well have murdered the man she loved. That was the thought that had dogged her. Now, she thought she might understand more viscerally Giles’ feelings about Jenny’s death, even though it hadn’t been Angel who had done that terrible deed. Jenny had been Angel’s fault, and Angel would be Giles’ fault, and they would both have to live with that. By the time she’d finished in the kitchen, the sandwiches weren’t very pretty, and she really didn’t care.

She’d assumed that Giles was back to poking around his stuff in the main bedroom, but he didn’t. Instead, he opened up the trap in the ceiling and pulled down the loft ladder. There were more things up here; things that he hadn’t been able to bear to part with, but that he’d hoped he would never have to see again. One of the boxes up here held Jenny’s belongings, those that he’d kept. He opened up the cardboard box, and saw the few things that were left of her. No time. There was no time for introspection. She would have been furious if he’d left another girl to die because he couldn’t act quickly enough. He found what he was looking for. Her address book included web addresses. He hoped that some of her techno-pagan group were still around.

****

Dreams. His dreams were always strange things. Darla had said that they held horrors, and she had been right about that. There were the horrors that he had done to other people, and not only in his century and a half as Angelus. Then again, there were the horrors that had been done to him. He had told Buffy that he didn’t remember his time in hell, but he’d lied about that. He already carried the burden of the memory. It would do no good to burden her, too. And finally, there were always the horrors that he still wanted to do. Those were things that he often dreamed about.

Strangely, this day’s dream wasn’t one of those horrors at all. It was worse. He dreamed that the Coven were mistaken in telling them that the happiness clause was gone, and this was therefore a forbidden dream that might bring horror to them all, as he turned to take Buffy into his arms. For just a moment, he saw green eyes in a triangular face, with blue-grey skin, and then it was his own lover, smiling for him. She pressed herself against him, from the very tip of her toes to her forehead, every inch of her imprinting itself into his skin. And then he did what he’d only done once, to her knowledge. The silken feel of her hair on his shoulder, the slide of skin on skin, the perfume of her, all filled his senses to completion. He felt the throb of her pulse beneath his fangs, smelled the sweet richness of her blood; and there was the slick sweat, and the soft sighs, as his fever dream mounted…

****

Giles sat at the computer in the study. He had become more familiar with this new-fangled devilry in recent months, but he still hated the plasticness of it. Buffy had drawn a chair up behind him, but he had laid on her a severe stricture to stay quiet. This would be hard enough as it was. He took a long drink of tea, and typed in the first address.

It was close to noon, and the forty-seventh address, before he got a reply that didn’t say ‘Undeliverable Mail’. It was from an address in Mexico, the addressee simply called ‘Ata’ in Jenny’s book.

I remember you, Rupert. We were in the Circle of Kayless for you. We miss Jenny, too. What can I do this time?

“Do you know anything about another book, Dee’s ‘Duat’?

The computer sat idle for a few moments. Giles wondered what was happening at the other end.

Do you have it?

Yes.

Don’t ever open it. You should destroy it.

It’s too late for that. It has Ella, my girlfriend, and Angel. You know Angel?

Again, the reply seemed long in coming.

I know of Angel. I am sorry.

You know this book? What can we do?

We have tracked this book. So far as we know, nothing that goes in ever comes out. Nothing. I understand why it took Angel. Why Ella?

She’s a witch.

I know of nothing that can help you.

This time, the pause was at the Westbury end of the connection. Buffy thought she saw the tiny slump of defeat in Giles’ shoulders, and she put her hand onto his shoulder.

“If they can’t help us, tell them to tell us what they do know. We’ll help ourselves, then!”

He straightened his shoulders, and typed.

What do you know about the book?

It was constructed by Dr John Dee…

The Philosopher to Elizabeth I?

Yes. We believe it was commissioned by someone, but we don’t know who or for what specific purpose. It’s speculated that the Queen herself paid for it, as an assassination tool for those in power whom she thought might not be entirely human, but we don’t know…

How do I know whether this is the same book?

Does it have the constellation of Orion on the front?

Yes.

And the name ‘Duat’ in the Enochian alphabet?

Giles smacked his forehead with the heel of his hand.

“Enochian alphabet! Of course…”

Yes.

Then you have the book.

Can you tell me more?

There are no actual records of this book ever changing hands. There are simply records that at some point in time, it belongs to someone, and then it belongs to someone else. Giving the book seems to have been a secret thing. Elizabeth I had it in the 1560’s. It’s mentioned as being at Topkapi, as a possession of Suleyman the Magnificent, when he died in 1566, and then it was back with Dee in the 1570’s. In 1584, it went to Russia, to Ivan the Terrible, we assume via the Muscovy Company. He died the same year, although we don’t know if that’s related. It came back to Dee that year, and we don’t know who had it after his death, nor for the next two hundred years, but Catherine the Great got it in the 1790’s. Napoleon seems to have brought it back in the retreat from Moscow in 1812, although how he found it is anybody’s guess. We assume that it was then looted with the rest of his possessions after Waterloo, but there’s no trace of it, until 1999, when it was in the Watchers’ ‘Most Secret’ library. We thought it had been blown up and destroyed with the rest of the Watchers and their Headquarters.

Thank you. Is there anything else?

No. We will try to find more information. We’ll be back in touch if we do.

And the connection was cut.

“Giles, what does all that mean?”

“Very little, except that the wretched book seems to have been used as a demon trap across the world for over 400 years.” “Will they… will they know anything about what’s going on? Are they, you know, not conscious of anything, or are they facing a 400 year old collection of demons?”

Buffy’s heart was pounding with fear for Angel. He had no weapons with him, nothing to help him survive. But with Ella, surely they’d be all right? Surely… Giles was no less fearful, and he couldn’t hide that just now.

“Buffy, I’ve no idea. None at all…”

****

When Ella woke, it was to see Angel standing perilously close to the cave entrance. To the light.

“What time is it?”

“About noon, I think.”

“Don’t vampires always know?”

“Yes.”

“So, you only think?”

He was silent, so she got up, trying to stretch the kinks out of her back as she did so. She was bending over to ease muscles in her lower back that were just a sharp stab of pain, when she saw him move. He held out his hand, into the light. Nothing happened. He moved forward a little further, until the light fell onto his face. Still, nothing happened. No smoke, no flames, no charring, no seared flesh.

“Angel…”

She was frightened now. It had always been a strong possibility that the book had taken them to another dimension, but this seeming confirmation of that frightened her more than she had expected. He turned away from the light and came to stand by her.

“We’re in another dimension, aren’t we?”

“No… no, I don’t think so.”

“I saw you. I saw you not burst into flames. Vampires do that in the sun, don’t they?”

“Ella, there is something very strange about this place. I think it’s nearly noon, but I don’t know. Whatever time it is, there has been no change in the light. No change at all. Do you understand what I mean?”

She shook her head.

“From morning to noon to night, the quality of light changes. The sun casts shadows, which change in shape and direction as the sun moves from east to west. There are no shadows outside, and the source of light hasn’t changed. It’s everywhere, and nowhere. There was no actual sunrise, remember? I bet there isn’t an actual sunset, either. It’s as if a light bulb has been switched on and off.”

“So, you’re saying there isn’t a sun out there?”

“There’s… something. You’re right. A vampire can’t stand the direct light of the sun, but we can stay in shadows, even on the sunniest day, without being harmed. Moonlight doesn’t hurt us – in fact moonlight is good – and yet moonlight is only reflected sunlight.”

She understood that. The Moon reflected light from the sun back to the dark side of Earth, as if it were a mirror.

“You think the light out there is like moonlight?”

He shook his head.

“Not exactly the same. It stings. It doesn’t seem to raise actual burns, but I don’t think I’d like to be out in it all day. It just stings, as if I were getting a sunburn – well, I assume that’s what it feels like. I think… I think that this is a cut-off corner of our own Earth, but we only have borrowed light from the sun.”

“Why would borrowed light not be damaging to you?”

“Listen, you may well have research witches – in fact, I know you do – but we don’t tend to go in for research vampires. We’re more… practical experimentalists.”

He grinned a little shyly, and she laughed out loud, despite her fears.

“Well, Mr Practical Experimentalist, what else did you see out there?”

Instantly, he became more serious.

“There are a whole bunch of very nasty looking demons at the base of this cliff. I suspect they came looking for us. And I don’t like the look of the horizon.”

She went to see for herself. There were perhaps forty assorted demons, and none of them looked as if they’d come with a welcome card and an apple cake. Then she saw what he’d meant about the horizon. The glimpse she’d had last night had been right. The whole arc of it that was visible from her vantage point curved up until it disappeared into the haze that was the sky. She had no doubt that these were the boundaries to their captivity. It was like being in a bottle.

“Oh, dear. That doesn’t look good… And neither do our companions down there. Angel, we can’t stay in this cave until…”

He finished the sentence for her.

“…until I’m hungry enough to eat you? No, we can’t. Stay here. I’ll be back shortly.”

And then he’d swung himself up from the top of the cave entrance, and was gone. He was, as promised, quickly back.

“We’re on some sort of highland, it’s quite big. There’s a building towards the centre – we might find help there. And I think we’d better go quickly – our friends down there have more friends coming to join them. I really don’t like the look of any of them.”

Out on the ledge, he tossed her to the plain above – as a sort-of faery, she weighed about as much as thistledown – and then followed her up. Unlike the scrubland below, this higher ground was green and fertile. And there was, as he had said, a building on the summit of the rising ground. It was timber framed, and reminded Ella of the pretty black and white houses that survived in some of the older, more picturesque, towns. And it was surrounded by gardens. She hoped that was a good sign.

****

The slayers all trod softly that day. They carried out whatever chores needed doing without being prompted. They made some lunch, and took sandwiches and tea into the study when it was clear that neither Giles nor Buffy were coming out. And they asked if they could help. Sarah, who was much better with computers than Giles, started surfing the net looking for any information on Dee’s ‘Duat’, on the Enochian alphabet, or on the question of demon or witch traps in general. Others searched in books and texts. Giles started making telephone calls.

It was Sadie, going back upstairs with a couple of books that were almost heavier than she was, looking for a quiet place to get to work, who made the unwelcome discovery. A small, tentacled creature was climbing the bedroom wall. When Giles saw it, he was irresistibly reminded of green tripe. A quick but thorough search produced an identical creature, hidden inside one of the girls’ backpacks. These two had been accidentally brought home from the cinema. Giles prayed that there were no more.

They were carried down to the kitchen, wrapping their suckered tentacles tightly around arms and wrists with a grip so strong that it was painful to unwrap them again. Giles had planned to execute the creatures there and then, but Buffy stopped him.

“Giles, this may sound stupid, but Angel and Ella are alone in there. If… if they are conscious, shouldn’t we send them a message? Tell them we’re trying to get them? Can’t we send these through the book? They must be demons of some sort or another…”

The desperation in her eyes had been deepening as the day had dragged on, and he’d seen her rub her temples often, as if her head ached. It was now almost evening, and they had nothing else to show for their efforts. It was a stupid idea – how on earth would Angel or Ella find those little creatures? – but it was clearly something that she needed. And what harm could it do? In the end, two pieces of orange plastic were fashioned into little weatherproof bags, and messages written on white plastic, cut from a detergent bottle, were inserted. The bags were then securely attached to a tentacle, one to each beast, and the slayers sent out of the house. Giles opened the book very briefly, but that was all that was needed. The creatures were swallowed, as if they had never existed.

****

They met no menacing demons or other dangers, as they made their way towards the distant house. It was as if those low cliffs kept away everything that entered the book. Everything except them, and that might be a cause for concern.

The sunlight had been a low-grade misery for Angel, as they pressed on into what he felt sure must be the end of the day, although there was no sign of dusk. He’d tucked his hands into the sleeves of his coat, but his face stung as if he’d been splashed with acid. There was some relief as they passed through a belt of cool and shady woodland, and then they emerged into a vista of perfectly tended orchards and gardens, redolent with the scent of roses, lavender and sweet rocket.

A red brick path led up to the house, and on either side was a small lawn studded with jewel-bright flowers. As they were about to step onto the path, Ella put her hand on his arm, and gave him pause.

“I feel a bit like Hansel and Gretel. Has the wicked witch got the oven stoked up for us?”

She smiled as she spoke, but he could see that it trembled around the edges. He bared a fang.

“Not exactly Hansel and Gretel, are we? And anyway, they kicked the witch into her own oven, as I recall. My family were never big on foreign fairy stories. Deep breath, and let’s go.”

The doorknocker was in the shape of a fox’s head, and made a noise much louder than expected. It was only a moment before the door swung open, but the being who greeted them was not at all what they had expected. If, that is, they’d expected anything at all.

****

As night fell, it was acknowledged that they had to take a break. Giles and Buffy could barely see, and certainly couldn’t concentrate. They agreed to allow themselves three hours sleep, and then they would all review, over a meal, what they had found. Martha came up to the house to cook for them, leaving the slayers free to continue with the research.

John came up later, bringing news that they could all have done without. He’d been to tend to the horses, a job that the girls normally did, but tonight it was all hands to the pump, and so he’d taken the job best suited to him.

“Something’s attacked Windsor. He’s been cut up badly. We’ll need the vet.”

The shock was palpable.

“Something like a big cat?”

That was Nureen, who came from a part of the world where this sort of thing might be an everyday occurrence. John shook his head, slowly, then gave his considered opinion, in his slow Wessex burr.

“I reckon not. There’s tales of black beasts, but I think that’s all they are; tales. No, I can’t rightly say it weren’t a human with a knife, but it looks more like claw marks to me. Something about the size of a bear, I’d say. Celoso has something on his back hoof. Yellowish blood, I’d say. I reckon he kicked whatever it was. It’ll be wounded, then.”

A meat-eating beast the size of a bear, wounded, at large in Wessex. That was all they needed to crown this particular day. It was Elaine who took charge.

“Sadie, get the vet up. Say we think it’s one of those gangs that have been killing ponies. Vi, Rona, Laura, go look at this blood and see if you can find this thing and kill it. John, when they’ve seen it, clean up the horses – will Windsor live?”

“Oh, aye. He’s got some slashes down both haunches – I reckon it came at him from the rear – and he’ll no doubt scar, but unless it had poison, he’ll live.”

Elaine had chosen the three girls least suited to research, and although they’d done their bit, they were relieved to have something physical to do. They headed for the large cupboard in the utility building, and started to choose weapons. Something to hit. Something to kill. Something to make them forget their anxieties over Ella, of whom all the girls were fond, and Angel, about whom they all had teenage fantasies. And to help them deal with the despair in their sister Slayer’s eyes, and the pain written all over Giles’ features.

****

The low, arched wooden door was opened by a teenage human. To Angel, it smelled like boy, but his appearance was androgynous, as if his body hadn’t quite decided what to be. His humanity was beyond doubt, though. He looked about fourteen. His welcome was effusive, and he had clearly expected them.

“Come in! Come in! The night doth come on apace, and there will be monsters abroad soon. You have made good speed. Come in, quickly…”

With matching looks of confusion, they went in. He ushered them towards a large dining room, the black oak table almost groaning beneath the weight of food.

“Come. I have provender ready for you, for you must hunger and thirst. Let me take your cloak, good sir. My lady, here be the most easeful of the chairs. Please to take it.”

He was like a force of nature, pressing onto them glasses of water, goblets of wine, and plates for them to help themselves to the meats, pies and other dishes on the table. They were both reluctant, though, remembering that there were many places where eating or drinking anything would condemn you to remain there forever. He seemed aware of this, and tried to reassure them.

“You come here as friends, I can tell. Naught here will harm you. My word hath due weight here, and I swear this to you.”

Ella, her stomach growling, looked dubiously at Angel. He shrugged.

“So far as I can tell, it’s the truth.”

Ella looked at the boy in front of her.

“Can you help us to leave here?”

He looked discomfited, but answered anyway.

“Mayhap.”

Will you help us to leave here?”

His discomfiture grew, but then he looked at her eagerly.

“I had rather you wished to stay, but I will not keep you here by trickery, madam.”

As satisfied as she could be, Ella fell on the food, starting with a glistening, golden-brown goose. It melted in her mouth, but only in a good way.

“Mmmph… Angel… it’s delicious…”

Angel was hungry, but there was nothing here to sate that. Their host noticed.

“Sir, is there naught here to please you?”

“I… well, you may have noticed, I’m not actually human. None of this can nourish me.”

“Tell me, then, and I shall make shift to provide.”

The word seemed to stick in Angel’s throat, and it was Ella who replied.

“Blood. He needs blood.”

Their host seemed not at all perturbed.

“I have hares bleeding out to be jugged tomorrow. Canst eat that?”

“That will be fine.”

Within moments, he was back, with a pewter jug of hares’ blood.

So, it was over blood and goose, and game pie and roast pig and marchpane dainties and fruit, all washed down with Madeira wine, that they introduced themselves to each other. Their host was called Martin, and he wanted them to stay. It was Ella who argued their case.

“Martin, we have people outside, people at home who love us and will grieve for us if we don’t return.”

Martin’s face fell, and a tear slid down his cheek. Then he put his hand up to Ella’s elfin face and stroked her bluish skin.

“You look like my mother. There was no one to grieve for us. Tell me of your loved ones, and I shall see what may be done.”

“We’ll gladly tell you,” said Angel, “but will you also tell us your story?”

“Aye, and gladly.”

And so it was arranged. They would spend this evening exchanging stories. When Ella and Angel had told Martin something of themselves and their world, he told them of his.

“My mother was a great lady, wed to a lord of England. Yet this was not enough to prevent her from being accused of witchery and heresy when she was with child. And yet, my father loved her, and couldn’t bear to see her burn. He went to our sovereign lady, and begged a favour.

“Now, Elizabeth was minded to help him, since I believe she had an eye for him, and preferred him not to be trammelled with a wife. So, she asked her magician to help. She was minded that he build a chest into which my mother would be put, and this be cast into the sea. I think that she had been reading of Danae and Perseus. But John Dee had compassion for my mother…”

Angel interrupted.

“John Dee? Doctor Dee?”

“Why yes. You know of him?”

“He’s a very famous philosopher. He was the Queen’s Philosopher. Queen Elizabeth, that is. Elizabeth the First.”

“And has there been another Elizabeth since then?”

“Yes, Martin. Elizabeth the Second reigns now. There have been four hundred years in between the two.”

Martin’s face was comical.

“Four hundred years? I knew it to have been many, but not so much as that…”

He was quiet for a moment, and they urged him to continue.

“Dee, yes, Dee had compassion for my mother, for he could see her for what she was. He told my father that he had this book, which he would use to make a trap for both of us forever, so that we might not burn. He called it ‘Duat’, because it would be an eternal underworld for us, where he promised her we could live in peace and plenty.

“He made this house and furnished it with all the things we should need. And he tied the earth magic to us – to her, when she first came here, and to me, when I was born. There was enough to sustain our needs.”

“Where is your mother?”

Martin did not answer Ella’s question immediately, and when he did, there was profound sorrow in his young voice.

“She died when I was fourteen, killed by one of the wildest demons to be trapped here.”

“And you’ve stayed fourteen ever since?”

“Aye, for I know not how I should look, if I am older. Nothing changes here, you see, except by my will. Angel, might I look like you?”

“No!”

The reply was forceful, as Angel recalled the harsh demonic features that he was now showing.

“Then I know not, and I must remain as I am.”

“Are there no other humans here? I know some witches have been trapped in the past…”

If nothing changed in here, nothing grew old, except by Martin’s will, then Ella thought that perhaps her sister witches could be rescued. That hope was soon dashed.

“So they have, but none have survived. Some were killed by the demons, but some made it to here, and I aided them when they asked me to show them how to escape. None succeeded though, for finding the way out is perilous indeed, needing the greatest good fortune and a sturdy heart. And learned people outside, who care. I would rather that you stayed here, than died as they have done.”

“Martin, are you here alone? With no friends? No one else but demons?”

As he asked the question, Angel couldn’t rid himself of his mental images of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. Many scholars believed that Shakespeare had based that play, and its character Prospero, on John Dee himself, but now he wondered whether there had been whispers about this lost witch and her unborn son, about the exile that had been prepared for them. His heart went out to the boy.

“I have friends, of a kind. Not all the demons here are cruel and brutish. You would meet those, if you stayed.”

“Are you not in danger all the time?”

“No, never. I have learned how to control each demon that comes here. I study them, in their dreams.”

Angel recalled his dream in the cave, and would have blushed if he could. He felt a small prickle of resentment at that invasion of his most private self, but it wasn’t the first time it had been done. Still, the boy, no matter how capable, shouldn’t be left here.

“Will you come back with us?”

Martin looked wistful.

“I wish I might. But you said yourself that I am over four hundred years old, sustained only by the magic here. I fear that I would not present too pretty a sight were I to come back with you, and all those years heaped themselves on me.”

There might well be truth in that. There was no way of knowing. There was something Angel could do, though.

“Do you have paper and pencil here?”

“The pencil I know not, but I have pen and ink, as well as paper.”

That would have to do. He thought of taking an ember of wood from the fire, for charcoal, but charcoal smudged easily, and these might have to last a long time. The materials were fetched, and while Ella and Martin talked, Angel drew. It seemed like centuries since he’d had to use a quill, and to remember to keep sharpening it with a penknife. It probably *was* centuries. The ink was unforgiving, but his hand was sure, and he’d finished by the time they’d drunk all the wine. Each portrait had a name, and each was signed with his own flourishing signature.

Martin and Ella looked at the sketches, black ink stark against the creamy-brown paper, and it was Martin who read the names out.

“Doyle. Wesley. Gunn. Drogyn. William. Connor. You draw them all as if you can see them. These are good friends of yours?”

I *can* see them, thought Angel. Photographic memory. I see them all the time. He thought that perhaps something of this must have shown even on the demon’s face that he wore.

“They were the best. They gave their lives to save others.” I managed to save Connor, though, wherever he is. He’s better without me…

“Then I shall keep them here, and look on them often. You will give me portraits of yourself and milady?”

“Perhaps tomorrow. It has been a long day, and it’s late now.”

So Martin showed them to their rooms and left them to sleep until they should be rested. When Angel looked out of the casement window, he thought he saw movement outside, then realised it was Martin, slipping off to some other part of his demesne. Off to meet the friendly demons, perhaps. Quietly, he opened his door and crossed the hall to Ella’s.

“Ella, are you okay?”

She opened the door.

“Yes. Do you think we are safe?”

“Probably, but keep a chair pushed under the door handle. If anyone tries to get in, I’ll hear that.”

She nodded gratefully. But there were no beasts in the night, only dreams of separation and loss. Nightmares, for both of them.

****

It was dawn when the three hunting slayers got back to the house. They were battered and bruised, and covered in golden ichor. The demon, though, was dead. It had been a large, reptilian creature, with the bite of a crocodile, and armour plating to match. Its weapons and armour had been of no use against three slayers who desperately needed to hit something. A small copse of trees just beyond the stables covered a small but deep sinkhole, and the demon’s body parts were now at the bottom of that. The vet who had stitched up Windsor’s wounds had almost seen them returning with the dismembered corpse, as he left. They’d been lucky.

The house looked as though it had been ransacked, which was probably a fair description. Every text in the house had been searched for clues, and left in abandoned heaps. They’d started with the most useful ones first, but now the slayers were having to content themselves with volumes such as ‘The Legends of Vishnu’.

Everyone was tired, and fratchy, and those in the house were not a little resentful that they hadn’t had the physical release of being able to go and kill the demon. They got their first real break as Vi and Rona and Laura were being patched up. The computer announced receipt of new mail. It was from Ata. The techno-pagan group had found a transliteration of the Enochian alphabet.

When Giles checked, the word ‘Duat’ was indeed revealed to be the four symbols on the cover of the book. Now, if only they had the words on the pages inside. Giles took the book over to the garage flat, leaving the slayers out of harm’s way, and carefully checked it. Every page was blank. At least, he tried to console himself, they were one step forward, even if only a tiny one.

He sat on the edge of the bed, his head bowed. So far, he had not permitted himself to think about where Ella – and Angel – might be; whether they were aware; whether they were in danger. The dam of his thoughts still held, mainly, but the trickle of fear threatened to become an overwhelming torrent. He couldn’t allow that. He had to stay focused. With fear came mental paralysis. Ella was a witch, and a very powerful one. She would be safe. Angel would lay down his life to make sure that was so. No matter what stood between them, Giles understood Angel well enough to know that. Provided, of course, that Angel was still Angel… What if… what if the magic had separated soul from demon? What if that slippery soul had been set free, leaving only the vampire? Sighing with frustration, he buckled the belt around the demon trap and went back to work again.

****

Angel was the first down. Breakfast had already been laid, including a small jug of blood for him. It was poultry, but it would do. Martin was outside. Despite the discomfort, Angel went to join him. The boy took him to a seat beneath a thick arbour of clipped holly.

“There need be no fear of monsters here, Angel. Those who are my friends will not come into this pleasance without my invitation, and will remain in the outer garth. In truth, though, they prefer nighttime visits. Those who are too fierce yet for that remain in the wilderness, and may not come up.”

“Why did you let us up – how did you know it was safe to do so?”

“Because Mistress Ella looks like my mother, and I could sense no harm in her, and because I shared your dream. I am sorry for it, because it was unmannerly, but…” He looked Angel in the eye. “It was a passing strange dream…”

He trailed off, and Angel did not want to pursue the matter.

“Martin, I want to thank you for your hospitality, but we need to understand how we might leave here.”

The boy nodded silently.

“Are you sure you won’t try to come with us?”

When Martin looked up at him, Angel could see that the boy’s stormy grey eyes were filled with tears.

“No. What I have here is not much, but it is still better than death.”

He looked back down at his lap. For the last century, Angel had considered himself to be the most miserable creature on the planet. He thought, now, that he had been mistaken. There’s always somebody worse off, and it didn’t come much worse than the exile to which this boy had been condemned, for no fault of his own.

“Wouldst thou do something for me, before leaving?”

“If I can, then of course I will.”

“A drawing of each of you, to go with the others.”

Angel’s hesitation was almost painful.

“I can draw Ella, certainly, but I have no reflection. I cannot see this face – I have never seen it, and it’s so long since I saw my human face that I cannot remember it clearly.”

He remembered all too well the face that he’d seen in Pylea, the full expression of the demon. He could draw that blindfolded, but he wouldn’t. When Martin looked up again, his face was positively mischievous.

“Ay, but thou canst see it. And that is how you shall both escape, by the Grace of God. I can make a reflection of what is or has once been. You shall see your face, and draw it for me; your friends cannot read you out of the book because the letters on the pages that are you are no longer visible to them. But, like your human face, if they can be persuaded to look in the book, they shall see the letters that used to be there, when it swallowed you. They shall see that for as long as I can hold it. If they speak the words, and if you are at the door, then you may depart.”

With that, he stood up, and started walking slowly back to the house. On the way, he stopped at a rose bush that Angel recognised. It was a very old one, pinkish-white petals unevenly striped with brilliant red, the colour of new arterial blood. Rosa mundi. Martin snapped off a seed head, and was still toying with it when they reached the door.

Angel dare not think as far ahead as to hope that Giles would open the book, and so he concentrated on Martin’s request. Ella was breakfasting when they went back into the house, and he drew her just like that, informal, smiling, a piece of fresh bread in her hand. He drew her elfin features, although he could have drawn her human face from memory, but he knew that Martin would like to have this reminder of how his mother had looked, here in this place of exile.

Then Martin gave him a hand mirror, before sitting down and closing his eyes in concentration. Excited, Ella came to look in the mirror over Angel’s shoulder. Gradually, an image formed. It wasn’t clear and strong, it was a ghost of an image, but it was sufficient. It was his demon face. Not the one from Pylea, for which he gave silent thanks, but the one he wore on Earth. It was interesting: worse than he wanted, but not as bad as he had feared. Then the image wavered and changed, and became human. He’d had a very brief glimpse of this in Pylea, and on one lost day, but now he could take in the details of his face. He hoped he wouldn’t forget, because with the loss of the Shanshu prophecy, he was sure that he wouldn’t see this again.

Ella held the mirror for him, and he drew. As he did so, Martin remained still and silent, eyes closed, hardly breathing. When he was done, he called to the boy, and handed him the portraits. In return, Martin handed him the seeds from the rosa mundi.

“These are the only things I know that can make a ladder to the gateway. I can make them grow swiftly and much enlarged, but it will not be a pleasant climb.”

There was a moment of heavy silence, and then Angel said, in failing accents, “Not Jack and the Beanstalk…”

****

Back in Westbury, now that they had the alphabet, the focus of activity changed to finding a spell – any spell – that would return the writing to the pages of the book. Everyone was aware of the dangers presented here. If they found a spell, and if Giles could transliterate and read the pages, what would they get back? Ella and Angel? Or four hundred years’ worth of trapped demons? That didn’t bear thinking about, but provision must be made. Half the slayers had gone to get some sleep. They’d change shifts after lunch, and continue like that for as long as necessary. That way, everyone would be as fresh as possible, ready for a fight.

Although he was almost reeling with fatigue, Giles went to see the Coven. All they needed was a spell. Surely the witches could give him that much? Doubt ate at him – if they had been able to help at all, surely someone would have contacted him by now? Were they all still involved in whatever deep doings he had found them at, the last time he came for help?

Whatever they were doing, they weren’t at Mildred’s. Nor were they at Ella’s, or Hilda’s, or Gladys’s. He had no other contact addresses. At the moment, he and the slayers were on their own. When he got back home, the slayers had found a ragbag of assorted spells that might possibly do the job. Or might do something entirely different. Bearing in mind Angel’s particular requirements, they would give them all a try after sunset. Meanwhile, they kept looking. A couple of the slayers, though, started to prepare weapons.

****

Martin assured them that this was the only way –the magic of this tiny enclave of land responded to him and him alone, and he could use it to enhance but he could not create. An enhanced version of this rose was all he had to offer to reach the gateway to their prison. He had a warning for them.

“Take care. There is a new demon here – two of them, in truth. Something that came through after you.”

The same thought came to Ella and Angel both, and it was Angel who voiced it.

“Is it human?” He wanted to say, Is it Buffy, looking for us? Looking for me?

“Nay, it is nothing like human, but more than that I cannot tell.”

And then the time had come to make their farewells. He reassured them that, when the rose had touched the gateway, they could reach through, to affect the book, to try, in some small way, to attract attention. He would return the writing to the book, and hold it for as long as possible. If his strength failed, he would recuperate as quickly as possible and try again.

He didn’t tell them that if anything else came through the book, the opening gateway would kill them. They would simply be dust, circling amidst its light and colour. He didn’t need to tell them, because they remembered all too clearly that barren area of dust and broken stone where others, Ella’s sister witches, had tried the same thing.

As he waved them farewell from the door of his house, he called out to them before they stepped off the path and into the outer part of the demesne.

“Can you tell me something?”

They turned and waited.

“The Spaniards were massing a huge fleet when my mother was trapped in here. She worried at it for years, at not knowing what had happened.”

1588, Angel thought. The Armada. A thought came to him, a memory of something he had seen: the medal struck by Elizabeth to mark the occasion, and the inscription on it.

“God blew with His wind, and they were scattered.”

“Truly?”

“Truly.”

He watched until they were too diminished by distance to see. Then he went indoors and watched in his mirror.

They had decided to travel back to the gateway during the day, despite Angel’s discomfort. It would be better to arrive back in their world in darkness, for who knew where the book would be? Discomfort was better than incineration.

When they reached the limits of the highlands, the demons that had assembled below their cave had now dispersed. Angel knew they weren’t too far away, though, the scent of them still thick and heavy on the still air. Martin had had no weapons. If Angel needed any, it would just be tooth and claw, the weapons that he carried every day.

He helped Ella down the little cliff, and they turned to face the phenomenon in the sky, the compact little rainbow that held the promise of home, or of eternal imprisonment. Or death. As they set off, Angel a little in the lead, Ella felt something slide past her ankle. She looked down, and before she could even cry out, a pinkish tentacle had wrapped itself firmly around her leg. Another found her other ankle, and pulled so hard that she fell over.

Angel was with her in an instant. Something had taken up residence in their cave, something huge. Half a dozen tentacles waved from the cave, looking to clasp the prey more firmly. The two around Ella’s legs were now wrapped from thigh to ankle. He gripped her around the waist and pulled, hard, but all he succeeded in dislodging was the creature from the cave. It came out of the entrance like a cork from a bottle, seemingly taking forever to squeeze through a gap that must surely be far too small for its body.

So far as either of them could tell, it was similar to an octopus, although an octopus bore the same relationship to this as a goldfish does to a shark. It was about the size of a small family car, excluding tentacles. There were a lot of those. And there was a lot of beak. Its mouth was a huge, horny, snapping beak that would cut either of them in half with just one bite. Its fall from the cave was leisurely, slow motion, as it walked down its tentacles until it reached the ground.

Angel had been tempted to see whether he could free Ella by ripping off or biting through the confining tentacles, but there was no time for that. The creature was on them, and the end would be swift if they didn’t move soon. He was decisive. In the blink of an eye he had pulled off her shoes.

“Take off your trousers. Quickly.”

“This is no time for a last bout of rumpy-pumpy!”

“Just take them off, now.”

She looked at him in bewilderment, and then undid the fastenings on her trousers. Instantly, he had his arms hooked under hers, and pulled, hard, tugging her legs free of the material, and free of the tentacles stuck to it. He half carried her as they ran over the stony ground, running as fast as she could go until the demon was far behind them. Then he allowed her to get her breath back, helping her to a large boulder where she could sit for a moment, and put her shoes on.

“Ouch!”

When she inspected the sole of her right foot, there was a large splinter of wood in the ball of her foot.

“I’ll get it – just keep an eye open for anything else we don’t want to meet.”

He knelt down in front of her, wordlessly handing her the shoes with one hand as he lifted her foot with the other.

“What’s this?”

When he looked up, she was holding a small orange plastic bag, tied around part of a tentacle. He had ripped it away with her shoes. He concentrated on the splinter of wood as she tore into the little bag, only looking up again when he heard a muffled exclamation. Silently, she handed him a square of white plastic, with a message inscribed on it.

‘We won’t stop trying to get you out. Hope you find one of these two little messengers.’

He turned it over.

‘Love, Buffy.’

His sigh was just the tiniest bit exasperated, and his words almost inaudible.

“‘Little’ messengers. Thanks, Buffy.”

Ella stood up, clad only in shoes, a shirt and her underwear. Angel was in a perfect position to personally attest that her legs went all the way up to her neck. Perfect… An image of Giles sprang to mind, and he wondered how the man was taking this current predicament.

He stood, and shrugged off his coat.

“Put this on.”

“I’m not cold.”

This sigh contained rather more exasperation.

“Ella, if Giles knows that you’ve been running around in your underwear with me, he is going to seriously freak. He’s going to have my guts for garters. As often as he can. Now, put this on. Besides, it’ll give you a little protection if we get hit again.”

“What about you? The sun…”

“I’ll manage. Just think of the opportunities for Buffy to rub in a little after-sun lotion…”

They both laughed out loud, as she put the coat on. That was when the demon hit. It had tusks, not unlike a boar’s, but in keeping with its size. Its size was about that of a bear, and it had claws to match. When he’d killed it, ripping out its throat and then holding on to it in its death throes, his clothes were torn and he was sporting a number of bloody gashes. He refused Ella’s offer to tear up part of her shirt as bandages, and they travelled as fast as possible towards the gateway.

****

They were planning as if they might have to fight a war. If everything went well, they might. Who knew what would come back? The cars had been taken from the garage, leaving the big double bay empty. The book would be placed in the back of the garage. Distances had been carefully measured, and a line of plant pots across the courtyard marked the closest known safe approach for the slayers, when the book was open.

Weapons were stacked under the verandah, ready to hand – swords, stakes, crossbows, axes, even quarterstaffs. Anything and everything. Just in case. Even if the worst were to happen, no one expected it to happen now. The spells they would try were simply to reveal the wording on the pages. Giles would then need to find the right pages, and transliterate them from the Enochian alphabet to the normal everyday Roman alphabet, before he could read the words and release the… release whatever he was reading. Maybe. If that was how this book worked. Still, they were taking no chances. With Buffy at their centre, the slayers stood behind their terracotta line as Giles started the first of his incantations.

****

They’d met three other demons before getting to the gateway site. So far, Angel had managed to prevent any harm coming to Ella, but he wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep it up. Obedient to their instructions, Ella sowed the rose seeds in a hasty circle underneath the shimmering rainbow, and Angel allowed some of his blood to fall on each. The result was instantaneous. Briars started to grow, wrapping around each other as they climbed into the sky.

Ella and Angel looked on in dismay. They had expected giant briars that would carry them safely upwards. These were far too flimsy for that. Not until the entwined stems had almost reached the gateway did they start to thicken to the girth of a man’s thigh. Leaves and flowers flourished all the way up what was, to all intents and purposes, a ladder of floral razor wire. A sound behind them alerted Angel to the approach of something large; a group of five demons. He would have no chance against them, in his wounded, weakened state, but Ella could not make the climb. She would be torn to shreds. He told himself again that he wasn’t going to be responsible for killing another of Giles’ girlfriends.

“Get up on my back – I’ll give you a piggyback up there.”

“Angel, you can’t you’re wounded.”

“Yes, I can. I’m fine.”

Well, he wasn’t but they’d be even less fine if they stayed where they were. And if they got back, he would recover from whatever the thorns did to him. Ella would scar.

“At least take your coat – it will give you some protection.”

“No. You’ll be more exposed if they catch us.”

He would brook no more discussion, and so he started the climb with Ella clinging to him. Before long, he was leaving a trail of blood behind him as the thorns tore at his flesh. That seemed to spur the demons on. From what he’d seen of them, they were reptilian in kind, and had armoured skin. Presumably the roses weren’t bothering them at all. Wasn’t that always the way?

It took longer than he had hoped, although less time than he had feared, to reach the top. Ella scrambled over him, and reached up into the rainbow.

“There’s something solid here,” she exclaimed.

“A door? Can you knock?”

“No. It gives when you push, softer than wood. I think it must be paper.”

“Well, make as much noise and disturbance as you can, and let’s hope Buffy doesn’t send us any more messengers. And do it quickly – we’ve got company.”

So Ella started to shout and scream and to pummel the sky with her fists. Angel waited for the first of the demons.

****

Watching in his mirror, Martin swallowed back his frustration. He had an oath to keep, and he would make it good. It had to be possible. He just needed to concentrate harder. He closed his eyes, and did just that, sweat trickling down his temples as he drew on the magic contained in everything around him.

****

The last spell did nothing. The first fourteen spells had done no better. No. It wasn’t entirely true to say that the spell had done nothing. Giles thought that he had seen the pages rustle a little, but there had been no writing. Frustrated and heartsick, he closed the book, buckled it and carried it back to the study. Perhaps if they did some more work on that last spell…. Perhaps if he contacted the techno-pagan group again… Perhaps if the Coven were suddenly available… Perhaps pigs might fly…

There was an air of dejection among the slayers, all of whom were clustered together. He realised that they were clustered around Buffy. Lost in the miasma of his own sorrow, he had, for a moment, forgotten hers. She had known Angel so much longer. They had continued to love each other through such disaster and despair, and at last it had seemed that they had overcome all obstacles. They’d had a future together. To lose him now to a stupid accident, one that had been his fault… He should have been more cautious. He didn’t know how he would face Buffy if…

Squaring his shoulders, he called to them all to follow him, and to start looking again.

****

He could see that Ella was becoming exhausted. Her footing was precarious at best, and she had hammered and shouted with all her strength. Angel was in more serious case. He had defended their position against two of the demons, and they had made the long fall back to the ground. They had seemed crocodilian, or maybe more like alligators. He remembered how to tell the difference, a piece of wisdom imparted by a drunken big game hunter, just before the hunter became the hunted.

Crocodiles can chop your leg off with a single bite. Alligators have to grind it off. Right. Some kind of hybrid then, since they’d tried both…

Now, though, it was suddenly night. Predator of the shadows though he was, it was harder for him to see the remaining three demons, who had split up to approach from both sides as well as the centre. They intended to overpower him together. Whether they would eat him, he wasn’t sure. He was pretty certain they would eat her, though.

Ella looked down at the man defending her. He was badly wounded. There was nothing left of his shirt, just a few rags clinging to the cuffs. She could see the glistening blood, little rivulets over most of his torso. She knew his legs had also been badly clawed and bitten. He couldn’t hold them off much longer. She redoubled her efforts to attract attention, but deep inside, she was beginning to come to terms with the thought that she might meet the same fate as her sister witches. But not yet, if either of them could help it.

****

There were eight toilets in the building – or in the complex of buildings, if you counted the one in the garage flat. It was therefore unusual for any one to have to go to the garage flat, but just this once, all the others were occupied. Hoshi found that she really didn’t want to wait, and so she went across the courtyard, and let herself into the flat.

This flat was occupied by a vampire. The bathroom, therefore, only had a small mirror. After all, what use would a vampire have for a mirror? It was almost certainly that that saved Hoshi. As she opened the door, she felt a faint tugging at her centre. As she opened the door into the tiny bathroom area, the tugging became almost irresistible. Before she fled, though, she had caught sight of the mirror. There were words in it.

****

Angel had done the impossible, and now all five assailants lay crumpled at the foot of this tower of thorns. Unfortunately, this had attracted attention of the worst sort, and more demons had started the climb, hyenas called to the kill. Many more stayed at the bottom, leaving the field clear for those with armour plating.

“Ella. I don’t think I have the strength to take out any more. There’s only one thing to do. When they get up close, I’m going to take them down with me. That should buy you some time.”

Her heart almost stopped. He meant to throw himself to his death, his body a weapon to dislodge the attackers. That couldn’t be allowed. Not only did she mean to get Buffy’s boyfriend back safely, but Angel was just too important. The Coven didn’t yet know exactly what for, but they knew more than they had. It was imperative that he get back.

“No, Angel. That I won’t permit. We get out of here together, or we go down together. Understand? Besides, you’ve got a whole new life out there, now you and Buffy are back together.”

The smile he gave her was bittersweet. She was a woman of tender emotions, and she couldn’t bear to look at that smile. Hilda had wanted to wait, to make sure that they continued to love each other for all the right reasons. Ella needed to help him, though, to give him some reassurance. She consigned Hilda’s strictures to the dustbin of disregard, as Gladys had done before her.

“Angel, have you and Buffy, you know… made love?”

“Ella!” His voice was shocked that she should ask such a question.

“I didn’t think you had.”

It was something she’d been sure of. She realised that she had stopped pounding on the sky, and resumed, her arms leaden with fatigue. She’d never complain about painting a ceiling again – if she ever got back into a position to complain… When she could do no more, she turned back to Angel.

“Why don’t you believe that the Coven have done what we have said we’ve done?”

“What… what do you mean?”

She could see she didn’t have his full attention, as he sized up the approaching opposition.

“Angel. Look at me. The Coven enabled you to be brought back, through Connor. That’s a bright boy you’ve got there, you know. You should be proud of him.”

A shining spear of pain lanced through him as he wondered whether his son were alive or dead, happy or … not.

“Why would you do a thing like that?”

“You used to get messages from the Powers that Be. Sometimes, so do we. We don’t know how or why, but we do know that you are important to the future. We made absolutely sure that the spell was right. The Kalderash had never performed that spell before, but they knew right from the start that they’d made a mistake. That’s why they had you always watched. Everything else they said was just post hoc rationalisation. They screwed up. We didn’t.”

He glanced up from his vigil.

“Why didn’t you tell me? Or Buffy? Or Giles? You *didn’t* tell Giles, did you?”

“No, I didn’t. Angel, we didn’t tell you because we wanted to be sure that the two of you hadn’t moved too far apart. We didn’t think that you would mistake sex for love, but it was possible, after all these years of denial. Somehow, it was important for us to know that. And for both of you to know that, too. Gladys shouldn’t have blurted it out the way she did but I think she saw that the time was right. We would have told you, before much longer, and I’m glad you didn’t have to wait.”

“Ella, what does it matter, just now? Why are we having this conversation?”

“Because even *I* can smell the fear on you when you think about Buffy. And because I shared your dream, along with Martin.”

“You what?”

“Just lose the lack of belief. The Coven knows what it’s doing.”

She went back to pounding, fired up by the adrenaline of anger.

****

Hoshi was almost incoherent when she reached the house. As soon as she understood, Buffy started to run, but Giles called her back.

“No. Hoshi said that something was trying to pull her in. Better let me go.”

In the bathroom, he thought for a moment that Hoshi had been mistaken, but then characters started to appear, faintly in the glass. Enochian characters. They flickered and changed, pane after pane, and then settled down to what looked like a small sentence. There was pen and paper in the flat – well, there were books, and they had paper in them. He jotted down the characters on a fly sheet, duplicating just to be sure, then took the stairs two at a time in his rush to get to his study. When he had finished the transliteration, he turned to the door, to find the entire slayer complement watching him, Buffy to the fore.

“It says, ‘Look in the book.’”

Buffy and the girls were banished to a spot outside the house, where they waited in a fever of anticipation. In the study, Giles leafed over one blank page after another. Then he came to pages that weren’t blank any more. More haste, less speed, he kept saying to himself, as he wrote down the letters. They faded and strengthened before his eyes, and he didn’t want to lose them again. There were four pages of characters and, tired as he was, he couldn’t afford to make a mistake.

At last, the copying was done and checked. The transliteration was slow at first, then progressed more rapidly as he became familiar with the ancient alphabet. At last, he had the words that he hoped would bring their loved ones back. He winced a little at including Angel in that phrase, but ruthlessly squashed down the uncharitable thought. Then, he carried the book back out to the table in the empty garage, flicking on all the lights so that the slayers would have clear targets in the gathering dusk.

Everyone readied themselves as Giles opened the book at the inscribed pages and placed it on the little table, then retreated with his transliteration. He picked up a crossbow, taking up his place halfway between the slayers and the garage. He heard the rustle of movement as the girls adjusted their positions, clearing him from their line of sight, and their line of fire.

When he started to read, it was in a voice of authority, never once stumbling over the Latin text.

****

Angel and Ella were besieged on their thorny tower. He had retreated upwards until he was standing almost back-to-back with Ella, but demons were approaching from all sides. His vision was blurring from blood loss, and because of a blow to the head just now from his opponent’s mailed fist. The end was pretty damned well nigh, and he was desperately trying to find a Plan B when he felt something start to tug at his centre. As he felt himself start to fragment, three opponents scrambled onto their small platform and threw themselves towards the embattled pair. He wrapped himself around Ella, huddling her within the cocoon of his body. Talons dug into his back, ripping muscle that was trying to become other, forcing from him a roar of pain. His bared fangs were within a hairsbreadth of Ella’s neck as he covered the back of her head with his own. And then there was more pain and darkness and falling…

****

Giles felt as though time had stood still. One moment the garage was empty, save for the small table and the book that it bore. The next moment, two bodies materialised. One was a vampire in game face, fangs bared as a full-throated roar rang around the courtyard. He was half-naked, and covered in blood, and had his body wrapped around the other. Around Ella. Those fangs were almost at Ella’s neck, where already a tiny trickle of blood ran down.

Ella – he thought for a moment he’d seen some emerald-eyed, withy-slender grey creature, but that must have been a trick of the re-embodiment process, because he could see that this was *his* Ella…

… about to be drunk by Angelus.

Slowly, oh so slowly, he lifted the crossbow, released the trigger and watched the bolt fly. There was a noise behind him, but he couldn’t find the mental space to take it in – all he could see was the vampire standing over Ella, fangs at his lover’s neck. There was some sort of clicking noise as another bolt went wide, ricocheting from the garage wall and clattering to the floor. He never saw Buffy throw herself at the slayer next to her – Laura – who had given a cry of distress and also released her crossbow bolt. Buffy’s weight ensured that the bolt went wide, but Giles’ flew true. The noise behind him grew louder as the vampire, demon-quick, turned them, just as the bolt slammed into his back, sliding deep between the ribs just beneath the heart. Ella’s frightened face peered back, around the vampire’s bowed body.

“Nooooo….Giles, nooooo…”

A weight struck him, knocking the crossbow from his hands and pitching him forward onto the gravel. As he fell, he saw Elaine, who had cried out, who had tried to stop him from firing, and who now was hovering on the brink of transparency as her figure seemed to shimmer in the gloom.

Then Ella broke away from Angel’s protective embrace, and slammed the book shut.

****

Buffy allowed Elaine and Hoshi to help her clean Angel up, extract the arrow, and tend to his wounds. They did that in the garage flat. Another of the slayers brought blood across from the main house. Buffy then gently, but firmly, ushered them out, and neither she nor Angel were seen for the next two days, as she cared for him while he healed. Giles went over on the evening of the first day, but Buffy said not a word, simply closed the door in his face.

Ella slept in Giles’ room. Giles slept in the study. Beyond saying that Angel had saved her life over and over, Ella refused to speak of what had happened until such time as Angel, too, was present.

After forty-eight hours, Giles went back to the garage flat and tried again. Buffy would have closed the door in his face again, but Angel stopped her. He’d clearly just risen, his torso bare except for bandages, his hair still tousled from sleep. He gave his mate a hug.

“Buffy, do you think Giles and I could have a few moments alone?”

Wordlessly, the Slayer grabbed her jacket and headed for the door.

“I think Ella would like a word – she’s still here.” Closing the door on his words, Giles turned back to the vampire.

“Angel… I… I made a mistake.”

“You thought I was Angelus.”

“Yes.”

“Then you didn’t make a mistake.”

“But it was. I almost killed you.”

Angel would have spoken, but Giles held up his hand to silence him.

“No, let me finish, this time. This should have been said a while ago, but I don’t know if I could have. Perhaps I still can’t… I…”

He took off his glasses, and started to give them a characteristic polish, completely oblivious to what he was doing as he sought for words.

“…I look at you, and what I see is Angelus. I don’t know if that will ever entirely change. I still see Jenny’s body on my bed; I still feel pain in my fingers when the weather is damp; I still see the darkness that you and yours brought to Buffy – I see it in her eyes, whenever I look at her. The girls here think that I should get over myself, I know. I suppose that if some of them really knew what had happened, lived though what you did, they’d just stake you on sight. But, Buffy loves you, you’ve saved the world, and it isn’t that easy.”

Again, he stopped the vampire from interrupting.

“Ella won’t talk about what happened until we’re all there, but she has told me that you saved her life again and again, and for that I almost killed you. Angel, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t know whether we can ever be friends, as I once thought perhaps we could; I don’t know whether I can ever truly get past those memories; but I want to try.

“You and Buffy and I, with the slayers behind us, are needed just now. There seems to be a heightening of paranormal activity. Normal authorities aren’t equipped to deal with it. We are. But we can’t do that properly if we can’t trust each other. I want to see if we can get some of that trust back, the trust we had before any of us knew about the happiness clause. Before Angelus.”

He paused and waited for a response. He knew that he’d made things difficult for Angel on many occasions, but he wasn’t quite prepared for the vampire’s silence, or the depth of his concentration. Giles wondered if this had all come too late, so what Angel at last said came as something of a surprise.

“Giles, I want you to be ready to kill me if you think that Angelus has ever broken free again. I want you to give me your word.”

He continued, in the face of Giles’ shocked silence.

“Ella says the Coven are certain they’ve removed the happiness clause. I’m going to test it. To the full. We need to know, to be absolutely sure. He won’t kill Buffy, although I’ll take precautions. No, he wants her alive. And I don’t want Buffy to have to kill me. I want you to do that. Say yes to that, and provided I’m still me then I say yes, too. I want us to try to be friends.”

There were mountains of words that needed saying, yet neither man could find any more. For the moment, they contented themselves with that oldest of gestures of friendship, a handshake. Then Giles handed something to Angel. It was the key to his flat in Bath.

****

Tales had been told and experiences exchanged. Nothing had been held back by those who had been on either side of the book, except for one fact. The dream, shared by Ella. That was not mentioned again.

The next night, Angel and Buffy went to Bath. As they tidied up, ready for bed, he pulled her to him and ran his fingers through her hair. He was silent, looking at her as if he might never see this sight again, as if he were trying to drink down a lifetime’s worth of her. Then he let her go. A small tear gathered in the corner of her eye. He caught it with his thumb, just as it started to fall, and sucked off the salty liquid.

“What was that for?”

They had talked, en masse, about what had happened, but they hadn’t yet talked about each other, about the sheer terror of loss that they had endured. She needed to do that, but even more, she needed to hold him; to be skin to skin with him. She needed to reaffirm their existence as a couple, and she thought she had sensed his need to do that, too. Still, she allowed herself to put into words the formless dread that had haunted her thoughts since Angel had disappeared into the book.

“You left me. You left me alone and I thought you were dead. I thought I was going to be alone again, forever. Promise me. Promise you’ll never leave me alone.”

She knew it was foolish even as she said it, but she needed this. To find each other after all this time, and then to so nearly lose him… Unthinkable.

He was silent as he felt the shape of future grief trying to unfurl, like the fronds of a fern. Without the Shanshu, the best that he could hope for would mean that she would be the one leaving him alone, although if the Powers were merciful, it wouldn’t be for many years yet. He tried to lighten the moment.

“You mean if I get staked, I should haunt you?”

“Twenty-four seven. Promise me. You’ve left me before. Promise you’ll never leave me again.”

He gave her the vow by way of a kiss, first. When she broke for air, he gave her the words she wanted to hear, a vow that seemed imprinted into his very blood.

“I’ll never leave you. I promise.”

All good vows should be sealed with a kiss and this one was no different. After that, he had one thought, and one thought only.

“Stay here for a moment. I’ll be right back.”

Confused, she nodded. She walked over to the window, uncertain, wondering if tonight would be another night in which they were unable to completely lose themselves in each other. Adrift in her thoughts, she only half saw the sudden meteor shower, bright enough for the mass of shooting stars to be visible above the background light level of street lamps. There was a glimpse of moving colour that, further north, might have been the faintest aurora, although surely this was too far south for that, and then her attention was claimed elsewhere. She missed the next shower of meteors, brighter even than the first, and the flare of colours, green and red and purple, from the nascent aurora. Instead, she heard him moving around in the bedroom, and some muffled, metallic noises. Then he was back. Gently, he took her hand and led her through.

There were manacles on the headposts and footposts of their bed. Not delicate things – these were the ones that they had brought from Wesley’s apartment, when they weren’t entirely certain which vampire was back.

He put his finger to her lips when she tried to speak. And then he silenced her much more effectively by putting his lips to hers. The kiss went on for a long time.

“Buffy, I’m afraid. I’m afraid that the Coven are mistaken, and I’m afraid of what might happen here tonight, but I can’t go for my whole life being afraid. That’s what has come between us since we found out…”

It wasn’t entirely true, but his other fear seemed to be groundless. He thought that the alien scent that he had detected on Buffy was fading. He hadn’t seen her rub her temples all night. He really believed that everything would be fine tonight.

“I want you, more than anything else I’ve ever wanted. Buffy, I’m going to let go completely. I’m going to indulge every happy thought that comes to me. If… if it all goes wrong, get out of here and go to Giles. Let the slayers deal with me. Don’t try to do it yourself.”

She started to protest, but then subsided. There was no time to be wasted in useless remonstrations; not now, when there were so many other things to do with the time. She shoved his warning to the back of her mind, but she knew that if the worst came to the worst, no one would kill Angelus. She would make sure, as only the Slayer could, that the Coven did something useful about it.

Besides, she had a good feeling about tonight. So did he, as was very evident when he pressed against her. She wasn’t about to jeopardise that. So, she let actions speak louder than words, and was rewarded by his sharp intake of breath. He broke away from her and, with his normal cat-like grace, he stripped off his clothes and lay on the bed. She fastened the manacles securely.

“Would he kill me – if he got loose?”

“No. Not for a long time. And then not permanently.”

She nodded, and then looked at the lover that it seemed the Powers had granted her. Slowly, she took off her own clothes, giving him a show that they’d been afraid to indulge in before. He clearly appreciated it. When the last of her underwear came off – and how she wished she’d worn a prettier set – she paused for a moment, contemplating her actions. Then she reached over him and unfastened the manacles.

“Buffy…”

“No, Angel. Not this way. If it’s going to happen, it’s likely to be tonight, this first night for us, after all these years and all this pain. If you’re manacled, though, I think you’ll never be sure. You’ll never quite know. And neither will I.”

She ran her fingers down his throat and smiled at him.

“Let’s give it full throttle, Angel. Let’s make it a night to remember, and see if Ella and Gladys really were right. Let’s see if we can make each other forget a hell of a lot of stuff that no one should ever have to remember – like whether they’re likely to lose their soul.”

He rolled them over, careful to keep his weight from crushing her and started to obey her instructions. It would be a very long night, but the practical experimentalist vampire eventually had to admit that the Coven had, indeed, been right. And then he decided that perhaps just one more experiment was warranted; perhaps if he did this, it would test the boundaries a little more; or maybe just like that

THE END
16 May 2005

Author’s Notes

1 Gothic Image really is a bookshop in Glastonbury. It’s a great place to visit, and it has a website, too.

2 ‘Lead on MacDuff’. A common misquote of a line from Macbeth: Lay on, Macduff; And damned be him that first cries, ‘Hold, enough!’

3 Duat – The Egyptian underworld, where human souls went after death. Those who knew the magic passwords could ride in the sun barque of the god Ra, who passed nightly through the twelve hourly divisions of the Duat, where the less fortunate souls resided. Each night, the god would slay the demons that had been consigned here, using sun rays, and knives which were flames of fire. Ra’s human enemies – those who hadn’t worshipped him – were consigned to torture in the Duat’s lakes of everlasting fire. There’s a lot more and it’s very interesting.

4 Dr John Dee – A fascinating man who was Philosopher to Queen Elizabeth I. Amongst many other things, he was said to have put a hex on the Spanish Armada, which is why they were destroyed. What I’ve said about him here is true, except that Dee’s Duat is entirely my invention.

5 The Enochian alphabet was used by Dee as the language of angels.

6 Danae and Perseus – an Oracle warned Danae’s father that her son would kill him, so he locked her up in a bronze room. Zeus took a fancy to her and visited her as a shower of gold, resulting in the birth of the hero Perseus. Her father then locked Danae and baby Perseus in a chest and tossed it into the sea. Inevitably, it came ashore, and the two were saved.

7 Fratchy – irritable, cross-tempered. Think of scratchy in a person…

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