To Kill A Cat

To Kill A Cat

Spoilers: BtVS season 2. Angel never got his soul back. Oz isn’t a werewolf - yet.
Rating: NC17 for some non-consensual sex and language. There’s a bit of violence too.
Content: B/A(us) Alternate future reality
Summary: Remember Angel series 1 ‘The Ring’? Well, what if other people were after a really good fighter? A possible (although not necessarily THE) prequel to ‘The Nature of The Beast’.

Buffy huddled on her knees in the bronze-clad doorway of a crypt in Sunnydale’s Cemetery of Eternal Rest. She would be better if she cried. She knew she would. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t cry, and she couldn’t move. She couldn’t think, either, beyond the endless circling of her thoughts around what had just happened to her. Her shirt and bra hung in shreds from her hunched shoulders. Her panties, a scrap of black lace, lay yards away, torn and useless. His cold seed was even now leaking down her thighs. She knew that could be washed away. She knew that the claw marks on her breast would soon mend without a scar, thanks to her slayer healing abilities. Not so the claw marks on her soul. She didn’t think she would ever be rid of those.

He was back. Not Angel. Never Angel, not ever again. Angelus. My fault, she thought, all my fault.

When she had first lost Angel…Lost Angel, such a feeble euphemism for murder by soul-ripping-out…When she had first loosed Angelus on the world again, he had spent weeks tormenting her. He had left her dead roses, covered in maggots. Headless birds on her windowsill. Drawings of herself and her loved ones in sleep, or in attitudes of death. And he had murdered Jenny, just as she was trying to recover that abused soul. As a Slayer she had been a failure. She should have killed him. There had been plenty of opportunities. She couldn’t. He was a monster, but he still wore the flesh of her lover. She had realised that it might never be her stake in his breast, that another slayer would have that task. Which meant that she would have to die first.

And then he had disappeared. He and Spike and Drusilla had simply disappeared, and no one knew where they had gone, or why. After a few days of his absence, she and Giles and her friends had crept into the mansion in full daylight, armed to the teeth. Her heart had clenched in the main downstairs room when she saw the evidence of vampire dust, lots of it. All the other rooms were empty, though. Empty of everything, including his belongings. They eventually found the movable furnishings and other gear neatly stored and locked in the basement. But his clothes were gone. Nor was there any trace of Spike or Drusilla. She could only conclude that he had left, but even Giles had no idea why he might have abandoned the Hellmouth.

Only one thing had remained in the main room, a huge figure, carved out of a single block of stone, with a sword thrust through it. Giles had eventually identified it as the demon Acathla, capable of swallowing the earth into a hell dimension. After a great deal of research, Acathla had been put through a stone crusher and was now graded limestone chippings scattered over several miles of highway. They had hoped that it would be enough.

And she had gone on with her life. Half-life. Whatever.

Not long ago, she thought inconsequentially, next-door’s cat had come into season. Her owner should have kept the cat in, but hadn’t, and on one of her nightly patrols, she had come across the yowling animal in this very cemetery. The female had been surrounded by several toms that had kept approaching her, trying their luck. They had all been rewarded with a face full of claws for their efforts. However, one of them, wilier than the rest, had approached her from behind, sniffing her to make sure she was ready. She had whirled round, snarling at his attentions, and he had sat back, washing himself. When the next, less experienced, male approached her from the front, this wily tom had leapt onto her back, grasping her hard with his teeth by the scruff of her neck, hard enough to drag the skin of her head tight, subduing her with his weight and mating her. Once he was finished, he had leapt back as far as he could before sauntering away, but she hadn’t flown at him, all teeth and claws. He’d left her rolling in ecstasy.

Buffy wondered if cats and vampires might be related.

She had been on patrol here tonight, and the night had been a quiet one. Then she had felt that tingle that told her a vampire was near. A special tingle. *That* vampire, and hadn’t that been a shock. She had heard and seen nothing, but she had found herself face down on the grass, his full weight bearing down on her. That longed-for hated voice whispered “Hello, lover” in her ear before his mouth gripped the back of her neck with just a hint of fang, and her wrists were bound behind her back, held securely by his leather belt. In a heartbeat, her panties were ripped off and thrown away, and he was mating her, like an animal. He made absolutely sure that she reached peak after peak of pleasure before allowing his own release. When he was done, she had heard the sound of a zipper closing, he had retrieved his belt, then leapt away from her. She didn’t move. He said, “Thanks babe. See ya soon,” and vanished into the darkness whistling a jaunty tune. Just like the cat, she thought.

Now she was here, in this doorway, the mental replay on loop. It was a long time before she was able to wrap the shreds of her shirt around her, and head for home. Not until she was in her room and saw, hanging on her dressing table, the cross that Angel had once given her did the tears come. Then they wouldn’t stop.

***

Angelus tossed down the drained body of the high school quarterback and headed for the mansion. It had been a reasonable night. A damned good fuck and a good feed - the boy had fought, which made it all the sweeter. And Buffy…He gave a little shudder of remembered pleasure at the thought of how, even constrained as she had been, her slayer-strong muscles had squeezed her hot little quim, milking him until his legs had lost their strength. And she had hated what he had done to her, what he had made her feel. Good. He found that he was as hard as a rock again, and stepped up his pace to find Drusilla. Or Spike. Either would do, for the moment.

***

When Buffy met with Giles and her friends the next morning, she was abstracted, and they could tell that she had been crying. A lot.

“He’s back,” was all that she said, but they instantly knew whom she meant. That explained the crying, then.

“How do you know?” asked Giles, gently.

“He was in the Eternal Rest. He…he was behind me. I didn’t get chance to kill him. I’m…I’m real sorry Giles.

Giles refused to allow himself the luxury of personal emotion. That could wait until Buffy and the others had left. Right now, he smiled for her and put a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“Are you OK, Buffy? Did he hurt you?” Stupid question. His very existence must lacerate her to the core.

He was the nearest thing to a father she had, and she wanted to wail her hurt to him, to tell him how her soul felt shredded and soiled, and how her heart hurt. But if she did that, Giles would simply take his weapons bag and head for the mansion. And he would die.

“I’m fine. It was just a bit of a shock.” That was one way of putting it.

“Did he say anything? About where they’ve been? Or about Acathla?”

“No. I don’t think he wanted a chat. He…he just wanted me to know that he was back. Well, now I know.” Indeed she did.

Giles smiled at his charges as they hurried off to class, but as they disappeared from sight, his face became grim. How, he wondered, to stop the bastard from killing his slayer as well as his lover?

Angelus had, in point of fact, intended to find Buffy for a ‘chat’. He had been consumed by fury the night before when he and his family had returned, to find Acathla missing. Traces of scent still hung in the air, and he knew who was responsible. But, as the saying goes, the morning had brought counsel, and he had decided that perhaps, just perhaps, he could have more fun on earth than in hell. Perhaps losing Acathla was no bad thing. For weeks now, he had felt less inclined to destroy the world than he had done when he emerged, at last, from the nauseating grip of the soul. He had rediscovered things that he still wanted to do and he was more inclined to take pleasure in things that would disappear if the Earth went to Hell. There was a lot to be said for Earth as it was. So he had shelved the chat and simply taken his pleasure.

He did it again, two nights later. And again five nights after that.

After the first week, Buffy was distraught. She really didn’t want to have her friends patrolling with her - that made them too vulnerable if Angelus decided to attack. But he only seemed to attack when she was alone. So most nights, she let them come.

After two weeks, she was beside herself, waiting for the next assault. And she could tell no one. Each time it had been the same. He came up behind her with no warning; or he dropped out of trees; or slithered from behind a mausoleum. She never knew, except for that last-second tingle, that he was there. He was the supreme predator. And each time, he had thrown her face down on the grass, subdued her with his weight, bound her hands with his belt and mated her. Rutted with her. Each time he would make sure that she climaxed once, twice, three times, as often as possible. Then he would leave her where she lay, and saunter off. Just like the cat.

It was Friday night, two weeks after his return, and he had found her alone again. It had to stop. She would have to find a way to deal with this. But right now, she was huddled in the mausoleum doorway again, waiting to see if tears would come this time. She remembered the first time - the only time - with Angel. Her Angel, not the thing that had stolen his body. She remembered his tender passion, so unlike the brutal sex that had just taken place. That was when the tears came, scalding hot, burning her face but leaving her shame uncleansed. At long last, she got up, tucking her shredded panties, as blood-red as the new wounds on her soul, into her pocket, and made her way towards the cemetery gate. But she was distracted, so she did not see the weighted net that enveloped her until it was too late. She was entangled in its folds, and although she fought with all her strength, she couldn’t get clear. Then there was a sharp pain in her upper arm - a needle, perhaps - and she was falling into darkness.

***

The first intimation that something was wrong came when Buffy’s mother rang Willow early the next morning to see whether Buffy had stayed overnight with her. Several phone calls later, and the police were summoned. No one had seen Buffy since she left the Bronze around 10.00pm the previous night, alone. But the police had other things to think about than a hormonally rampant teenager who didn’t get home on time. So it was Giles, Xander, Willow, Oz and Cordelia who took up the hunt.

They checked the cemeteries. They checked all her patrol routes. They checked areas not on her patrol routes. They searched mausoleums, warehouses, abandoned buildings and empty houses, of which there was a plethora in Sunnydale. They checked Angel’s old apartment, still empty. Then they checked them all again. The only thing they found was her favourite stake, the one she had inherited from Kendra, lying by the gateway to the Cemetery of Eternal Rest. Nothing else at all.

The police were now interested, and not knowing what they were dealing with, were checking the unlikely places, trawling ponds and such. After 7 days, the only likely place that Buffy’s friends and Watcher hadn’t checked was the mansion. That was next on the list. They met that Friday night, in the Library, to find a strategy to beard the lion in his den, a strategy that would still give them all a hope of coming out alive.

***

Angelus lay on his bed after his latest encounter with Buffy. Damn, but she was hot. He had made her come three times that night, and she had hated it. Her despair had scented the air like an aphrodisiac. Her body was his, and recognised its master now. Whether she wanted to or not, he could play her like a violin, and wring the sweetest music from her.

He had shadowed her every night for the last two weeks, since that first delectable fuck. With that, he had wiped away every trace of Soul Boy from her body. He smiled at the memory. He had shadowed her and her annoying friends, drinking in the delicious aromas of her sorrow and her fear. The times when he had taken her again only made him want her more. Such a desirable plaything.

He liked to rape, and he liked to hurt. He also liked his women to be willing, though, and idly, he wondered what it would be like with Buffy, if she were willing. As she had been with Soul Boy. He felt a stirring at his groin just from the thought of it. Tomorrow was Saturday night. She would be out late at the Bronze, and patrolling even later. Perhaps he’d have a change, then, and see if she could be made willing. He fell asleep dreaming of his latest toy.

The following night, she didn’t show. He searched all the cemeteries, but there was no sign that she had been there. He wasn’t too worried. He knew that he was getting under her skin - perhaps she had decided to lay off for the night. He had no need to forego his pleasure. Drusilla was always available.

On Sunday night she still didn’t show, and he felt a stab of frustration. Again he had searched the cemeteries, following her usual route, memorised by heart from her time with Soul Boy. He’d even picked up a couple of newly risen fledglings and sent them off to find Spike. She always knew where the fledges were due to rise - she kept an eye on the obituary columns. She should have been there to stake those two. She was his toy. She should be there when he wanted her. And he was very horny. Still, there was always Drusilla.

On Monday night, he climbed the oak tree outside her bedroom window, and saw Joyce weeping on her daughter’s bed. That got his attention. He moved to Willow’s house and stood outside the French doors that gave access to her bedroom from the roof. She was sniffling in her sleep. Not good. Had Buffy run away, he wondered? Surely she had more spirit than that? It was one of the things that drew him to her. In the pre-dawn hours, as he mulled over what might have happened, Drusilla came to him. He took his pleasure with her, but it was a perfunctory affair, simply to relieve his needs. She went off, pouting, to wait for Spike’s return.

On Tuesday morning, he took the tunnels and sewers, if with rather more distaste than Soul Boy would have done, and ensconced himself within the stacks of the library at Sunnydale High School. Unusually, Giles was pottering about achieving nothing, as if his mind were on other things. The scent of worry was thick around him. That gave Angelus pause for thought. The librarian might look like a bumbling Englishman, but he was Ripper still and should never be underestimated. The Harris boy came in and Angelus felt his lip curl. Even the soul had resented the stripling. The boy was tired and fearful.

“Hey, Giles. Got the search patterns for us?”

The librarian searched through his desk, eventually producing a slim sheaf of papers. Whilst he was doing so, the boy picked up a stake lying on the table. Angelus recognised it. Mr Pointy, Buffy had called it.

“She has to be somewhere. She wouldn’t leave this behind. We should go back to Eternal Rest.”

“Xander, we already have. There is nothing more there. Whatever happened, it happened there, but there is nothing more to learn from the place.”

The boy’s face almost crumpled into tears, then he got hold of himself. “There must be. There has to be something we missed.”

Giles sighed. “Very well. We’ll start straight after last class. There’s a copy of the search route for each of you. Pairs again. Willow and Oz. You and Cordelia. I’ll take all the cemeteries, including Eternal Rest. I’ll go there while it’s still light, I promise, and spend as much time as necessary. You’ll have tranquillisers again in case you find any vampires. Take them alive and we’ll see if they know anything about her disappearance. Meet back here at midnight.”

Disappearance? His plaything had disappeared? His possession, gone without his permission? The growl almost escaped him. Had she run away? Not if these two were to be believed. Then *where* was she? He slipped quietly back into the tunnels and returned to the safety of the mansion to brood over that question.

Drusilla came prowling round, but he sent her to Spike’s bed. There were more important matters to sift here.

That night, he shadowed Giles on his tour of Sunnydale’s many cemeteries. He could have told him that Buffy was in none of them - he’d already searched them twice - although the man wouldn’t have believed him. But something was there in the Cemetery of Eternal Rest. Giles, true to his promise, had thoroughly searched the area around the gate, on hands and knees, until dusk fell, and Angelus, arriving in time to see him move off to the next cemetery, could smell where he had been. He smelled something else, as well. A faint trace of his own seed, and a tiny drop of ageing blood. From Buffy. The growl that broke from him was instinctive and menacing. Someone had hurt his plaything. That was not allowed. He cursed himself for missing that and decided to follow Giles in case the Watcher turned up anything else he had missed. There was nothing else. When he got back to the mansion he told Drusilla not to bother him.

On Wednesday night he started asking questions. No one knew anything, or so they said. A pair of Hechler demons thought they had seen the Slayer on that Friday night, huddled in the door of a crypt, but they had been on their way to a tryst, and hadn’t lingered. Just before dawn, a Trihoth demon who seriously wanted to keep all his arms attached to his body said he thought that he’d heard someone tell Willie the Snitch that a deal had gone down to remove the Slayer from the Hellmouth. When Angelus got back to the mansion, he locked his door against Drusilla.

On Thursday, he went looking for Willie the Snitch. He had a bag with him. Willie wasn’t in his bar that night, but Angelus found him just before dawn. The first Willie knew of the vampire’s interest in him was when a large pair of hands snaked around his throat and throttled him into unconsciousness. When Willie came to, he found that he was tied up, sitting on the floor of a crypt, and an angry vampire was pacing up and down in front of him. Willie made a little noise of distress. It’s never a good idea to show weakness to a predator. Angelus crouched on his haunches in front of the man, vampire face to the fore and pressed one claw over the man’s eyelid.

“Where is the Slayer?” he hissed.

The human blustered. “How should I know where the hell she is? She leaves me alone, I leave her alone!”

The pressure of the claw against the eyelid increased.

“I dunno nothing!” Willie shrieked. The smell of urine was now rank in the air. Angelus sighed. Then he got up, opened his bag and silently showed Willie the instruments in there. Willie fainted.

***

Angelus was trapped in the crypt until sunset, although that was not unprofitable. Willie told him a lot. Without much persuasion at all. As soon as the sun sank below the horizon he partially throttled Willie again until he slumped into unconsciousness, slung him over one shoulder, grabbed his bag, and set off for the library. When he arrived, he saw that Giles and the annoying teenagers were deep in discussion. He slid in, unnoticed.

“Evening, Rupert.”

Five shocked faces turned towards him. There was a collective intake of breath, then each of the humans scrambled to find a weapon. Giles, as expected, was first. He had a crossbow.

“Fire that and you’ll just hit Willie.” He hitched Willie’s unconscious body over a little to cover the whole of his own heart. Just a precaution. Never underestimate Ripper.

“And this worries me because..?” The trigger mechanism of the crossbow clicked as it was cocked.

“Willie knows where the Slayer is. Thought you were looking for her?”

Giles’ nostrils flared and his lips went white. “If you have hurt that girl in any way…”

The threat remained unspoken, but Angelus didn’t need it spelled out for him. And he didn’t mind. He respected strength, and Ripper showed that.

“Not me, Rupert old boy. She’s been sold to the Hylek dimension. I presume you want to get her out?”

Everyone held their breath. After a very long moment, Angelus tossed Willie onto the floor.

“Shall we sit down and talk about it?”

***

When Buffy came back to consciousness, she almost wished she hadn’t. Her mouth was thick and dry, and tasted of nothing she ever wished to be able to identify. And everything *hurt*. But it was only a matter of seconds before her better-than-human reflexes kicked in. She remembered everything, so she didn’t move a muscle - it was safer that way until she had an idea of what she was facing. It had to be Angelus. He had kidnapped her. But why would he wait to do that? Why not just carry her off earlier that night, when he had had her helpless, completely at his mercy? Perhaps it was just his sense of whimsy.

She wasn’t tied up. That was a good start. She was lying on something soft, with the fragrance of oranges. That couldn’t be bad, either. She could detect no sound or movement. Good. Very, very slowly, she opened her eyes just a slit. Unfortunately that wasn’t so encouraging. She was in a metal cage. A *strong* metal cage. As she reached out with her senses, she realised that her clothes were gone. Well, not entirely gone, but…different.

Gingerly, she opened her eyes all the way. The cage was situated within a roofed colonnade at one end of a large, enclosed arena. It looked very Roman. At least, it looked rather like the Roman arenas she’d seen in the movies. Both the sandy floor and the tiers of seats were completely empty, as were the other cages that she could see in her part of the colonnade. She lay on a thick bed of vegetation, resembling soft brown hairs. But she didn’t think it was hair - it definitely smelled like plant.

She stood up and looked dejectedly around, not missing the fact that she was dressed only in a leather loincloth and a leather bandeau around her breasts. Only one thought came immediately to mind. .

***

There was definitely a frisson in the air of the Library that night. All the humans could feel it. To Angelus, it was simply the intoxicating fragrance of teenage terror. He sat at one end of the table, relaxed, leaning back in his chair and smiling faintly. Giles sat at the opposite end of the table, scowling. The teenagers were huddled up at that end, leaving as much space as possible between themselves and their psychotic guest. Willie, slowly coming round, was in the chair next to Angelus. Sitting wasn’t really the word. Puddled, perhaps, was.

The silence was crisp, with the sharpness of knives. Giles was the one to break it.

“What do you know about Buffy’s disappearance; and where is she?”

“I only know what Willie told me. I think we should wait until he…recovers himself. If you had come to me earlier, we wouldn’t have wasted so much time.” His voice was gentle, chiding.

Xander couldn’t restrain himself. His snort of derision coincided with a peak in the pheromone of terror that he was putting out. “Why would we come to you Dead Boy? You had something to do with this, I know you did. What have you done with her, you bastard?” His voice was becoming shriller, as he worked himself up. Giles’ nostrils flared again, and Cordelia put a comforting hand on Xander’s shoulder.

Angelus smiled more broadly. Those two would make such a tasty treat. When he had time.

“Now why would I send Buffy to the Hylek dimension just when we were…getting to know one another so well.” His smile broadened again. Well, there were more teeth in it. He pouted a little, for Giles’s benefit. “Getting *on* so well. Okay, *I* was getting it on, but I made sure she had a good time, too.” Giles had to throw himself half across the table to restrain Xander, with help from Cordelia. The boy’s face was white, with anger this time, not terror. Delicious.

“Oh look, Rupert, Willie seems to be back with us.”

Willie had, indeed, come round. He took one look at the struggling teenager, another at the thing in the chair next to him, and tried to bolt. He still hadn’t fully sorted out control of his legs, though, and Angelus had merely to place his hand on Willie’s shoulder and press him back onto the chair seat.

“Sit!”

The menace contained in that single syllable would have kept a dog attentively sitting for a week. It had the same effect on Willie. Unfortunately, as a dog will urinate with fear, so did Willie. Again. Angelus’ nose wrinkled fastidiously, but he decided not to mention it to the humans. Not out of concern for Willie’s feelings, but because he didn’t want them to waste time cleaning it up.

Giles and Cordelia had now managed to persuade Xander back into his seat, but his eyes glittered with unshed tears. Giles was coldly furious. None of them had understood Buffy’s recent behaviour, the way in which she had tried to distance herself from them, the desolate look in her eyes. Well, Giles rather thought he understood now. He promised himself that the thing in front of him would die. But not before he had given up to the Watcher every last piece of information that would help them recover Buffy.

“What is it that Willie knows?” he asked, his voice icy.

Angelus prodded Willie in the arm, none too gently. “Come on Willie, tell the Watcher, or he’ll rip out your spleen and feed it to you.” His voice was playful.

Willie whimpered and tried to cower away from both Watcher and vampire at the same time. The best that he could achieve was a protective huddle.

“Don’t hurt me! Don’t torture me again!” he whined. There were several gasps from the other end of the table.

Angelus cocked an eyebrow. “Torture you Willie, I haven’t *touched* you. Well, not much. Now, tell the Watcher, or I’m afraid I’m going to have to get the bag out again.” He finished with a growl for emphasis. He noticed with some enjoyment that the teenagers were trying to put even more distance between themselves and him. All except Xander, who sat stiff as a ramrod, glaring at him. Interesting, thought Angelus.

“Shut up, Angelus.” That was Giles. “Now, Willie, the sooner you tell us, the sooner you can leave.” It was the greatest incentive Willie could have. He told them all there was to tell.

He didn’t know the whole story, but some demons had met in his bar a couple of weeks before. Two were Hylekians. The other two were robed and cowled, and he had no idea who or what they were. The Hylekians had bought all the drinks, and the group had placed themselves in the most shadowed corner. They were clearly negotiating something, and hard bargains were being driven on both sides, with some loss of temper, but Willie had heard nothing. The Caaracal demons on the next table, though, had remained after the four had left. Caaracals have *very* good hearing. They had also been slightly tipsy. The next time one of them had come to the bar, he had told Willie that things were going to change around here soon, because the Slayer would be going for a little one-way trip to Hylek, in exchange for rather a lot of Hylekian diamonds. The Hellmouth would be available to the strongest.

He knew nothing else, except the identity of the Caaracal demons. He told them that, as well.

For the first time since the start of Willie’s recitation, Angelus let go of his shoulder.

“Is that absolutely everything Willie?”

Willie nodded vigorously.

“Are you quite sure? You don’t want to make me ask you again.”

Willie wasn’t sure whether the required answer was a nod or a shake, so he tried both on general principle. When Angelus continued staring at him, he nodded and shook with rather more vigour. Eventually the vampire seemed satisfied.

“Don’t even think of leaving town, or I will find you, and I will use every single thing in that bag on you. For a very long time. Go.” Willie looked as if he was going to be sick, but he went. Quickly.

“Why are you telling us this?” Giles was barely restraining his anger now. “Do you expect us to believe you?”

Angelus was coolly amused. “Why, Rupert, I’m so disappointed. I never lie. You think that Buffy’s in the mansion? She isn’t, I assure you, although you may come and inspect the place for yourself.” He held up a hand at the sounds of incredulity from the humans. “You have my word that no one will harm any of you whilst you are under my roof. Even though you broke in to my home and stole my property while we were away. Where is Acathla, by the way?” He didn’t wait for an answer to that. “Of course, all bets are off once you’ve left my roof, but you knew that anyway.” The smile was positively shark-like now.

Strangely, Giles did, indeed, believe him. He weighed whether or not Willie was telling the truth and had very little doubt that he had been. That meant they were in real trouble, without any notion of how to help Buffy. He tried to ignore the despair that was whipping through him. If he gave in to it, he would be of no help at all to his charge. He needed to understand something though.

“Why are you helping us? You surely want the Slayer dead?”

Giles thought he was the only one to notice the strange look that passed across Angelus’ face, so fleetingly that Giles himself almost missed it. There was a heartbeat of hesitation before the flippant answer.

“Let’s just say I’m perverse. I like a bit of fun in my life. A hot little Slayer goes down very well…”

Nobody could restrain Xander. In the blink of an eye, he was out of his chair, and flying at the vampire, Mr Pointy in his raised fist. And in another blink of an eye, Mr Pointy was buried to the hilt in Angelus’ shoulder. In the third blink, Angelus was on his feet, Xander crushed back against his chest, the vampire’s fangs grazing the boy’s jugular. The others were frozen in attitudes of astonished dismay, not daring to move in case the tableau before them descended into tragedy.

“Don’t push me *boy*. I haven’t fed since last night.”

Cordelia moaned.

Carefully, Giles moved towards the vampire and his captive.

“Let Xander go. Please.”

To everyone’s surprise, especially Xander’s, Angelus did. Having pushed the shaking boy back towards his friends, he tugged the stake from his shoulder. He could still smell Buffy on it. Lavender, vanilla, and Slayer. And his own rich and powerful blood. A heady mixture. He made no move to give it back.

It took him only a moment to decide his course of action and issue his instructions.

“I’m going to see the Caaracals. If you ever want to see the Slayer again, you will have to find out all you can about the Hylek dimension and in particular, how to get there. It would also be an extremely good idea to find out how to get back again, don’t you think? Meet me here at midnight tomorrow with the answers.” He whirled round and was gone, leaving a stunned silence in his wake.

It was a long moment before it was broken by Willow’s tentative question. “That’ll be me and Cordelia for surfing the net, then, Xander on food patrol, Oz and Giles on books, will it?” Nobody disputed her division of labour, and they got on with their assigned tasks. It was so much easier than trying to understand what had just happened.

***

Buffy had gone from despair to anger. It felt like a good move. Someone, a man who looked human if you ignored a very slight tendency to scaliness round the edges, had been to see her. He spoke English. He made it very plain that she had been brought here to fight demons. The problem was that she was to fight them in the arena, for entertainment and on behalf of the rich and powerful patrons in this part of the dimension. With an audience. Even now, unconscious newcomers were being brought to the cages around her. One body, one cage. All of them looked big and muscular so far. None of them looked like her captors. They were shipping in gladiators. And she was one! She had refused, but the man had pointed a small weapon at her. The pain that had followed had been in a league of its own. She guessed she’d fight until she could find a way out of this. They would have to let her out of the cage to fight. Surely the rest couldn’t be too hard for a slayer? Her mind skirted around the problem of what she would do after fleeing the arena, and shied violently away from the issue of where the arena might actually be in relation to Sunnydale. That could come later. One problem at a time. Small steps.

***

Angelus found the Caaracals’ lair without difficulty; after all, they had no reason to think it necessary to lie low. When he had finished with them he was liberally coated with demon blood and the floor was liberally coated with demon body parts. It hadn’t been particularly necessary to massacre them, but it had helped ease his rage. Not only had his chosen plaything been taken to fight in the Hylekian Games, without so much as a word to him, but she had also been sold to the Hylekians by a group of unidentified demons who claimed they owned the Hellmouth. *His* Hellmouth. He’d positively known that he shouldn’t have let Drusilla persuade him to take the family on vacation. It had been bad enough staking most of his minions before they left, although that had had to be done. He couldn’t take them all, and there was no telling what trouble the rest would have got into with him gone. It was even worse that they had run into Aurelius, head of their clan, in Egypt, and been detained at his pleasure. He gave a rumbling growl of anger at that memory. But to arrive back and find that a whole tribe of demons had designs on his Hellmouth, and to boot had sold his possession into slavery in the mistaken belief that she was the only obstacle to them? Insupportable.

On his way back to the mansion, he took down a courting couple, their teenage hormones almost tangible on the night air. By the time he had drunk his fill, his rage was back to manageable proportions. He went home to clean up, get his wound dressed - damn that boy, who would have thought he had *that* in him? - and mull over what he had learned. And to consult his own library.

***

By nightfall no one was very fresh. Sleep had been viewed as an unnecessary luxury. Xander kept up the food runs, and sugar highs were the norm now. They had all been grateful that it had been Saturday, and there had been no classes to interrupt their activity.

Oz had proved to be an adept researcher, but the information simply didn’t seem to be there. Giles had eventually conceded a level of defeat about the Hylekian dimension, and had contacted the Council. From them, he had learned about the Hylekian Games, an event held every seven years, with the various factions vying to demonstrate their power through the prowess of their gladiators. And it was important to the power structure in their society over the coming seven years, because it was a winner-takes-all scenario. It was their way of choosing a king - or queen - for the next seven years. The owner of the last gladiator standing got to have it all. Now he could see why Buffy had been an attraction. The problem for this dimension was that she wasn’t dead, or at least he prayed she wasn’t, so no new slayer would be chosen. He, and the teenagers in this room, were the only ones who stood guard over the Hellmouth. Grand.

Willow and Cordelia had had a little more luck on the travel plans. They had found some extremely obscure spells for travelling between dimensions, and one for finding objects lost in other dimensions. Willow was currently trying to find a way to combine both, with advice from other Wiccans. Cordelia was still hunting for all things Hylekian.

***

Angelus was confident that the others would follow his instructions, despite their hatred for him. Buffy was simply too important for them to forego his help. There was a temporary truce. It was for that reason he had let the boy go. A demon’s reputation will stand or fall on how he keeps his word. The truce had been unspoken, but it had been there, nonetheless, and he was always true to his word.

His library did not contain a great deal pertinent to either Hylek or travel to it, although he had memorised what there was. He was now going to find out more about those who threatened his mastery of the Hellmouth.

By 10.00pm, Willow thought she had the spell. The only real problem was that it couldn’t be tested. It would have to be right first time. She had built in as many safety precautions as she could, but who really knew? This could be a complete disaster, but at least that couldn’t be worse than the current situation. Could it? She needed two things now to make her preparations complete.

“Giles, I need to go over to Buffy’s to get something of hers. I thought of using Mr Pointy, but Angelus took it.”

Giles looked up from what he was doing. “Go with Xander, then. Do you know what you are looking for?”

Oh, yes. She was absolutely positive. Much better than Mr Pointy. Something that owned Buffy’s heart, that would draw her inexorably back to this dimension. The claddagh ring.

“Yeah, I know what to get. Um…who’s going to fetch her back?”

“I am, of course.” Of course it would be Giles. He thought of Buffy as a daughter.

“OK. I need something of yours. Something that means so much to you that you might return from Hell to get it back.”

Giles looked at a ring on his finger. “No problem.” His smile was gentle.

When they met again at midnight, the preparations were ready. What they weren’t ready for was the entry into the library of three vampires. Angelus had brought Spike and Drusilla. Of the eight beings in that room, only one looked remotely comfortable. Angelus.

“What the…” Giles started to splutter. The teenagers crowded close to him. Spike and Drusilla looked sullen.

Angelus sighed. “While I’m gone, you are going to need help with the Hellmouth. Spike and Drusilla will do that.”

“What!” The expletive was collective.

“Shall we sit down?” They all did.

When he regained the power of speech, Giles tackled the first issue that needed resolving.

“What do you mean, ‘while I’m gone’?”

Angelus looked mildly exasperated. “Well, someone has to get her back. You don’t think that anyone else has a better chance of that than me, do you?”

“You’ve got no chance at all, because that’s already decided. I’m going.”

“Rupert, Rupert. I thought you were brighter than to think with your madly beating heart. It is, you know - beating away ten to the dozen. I can hear it from here.” None of the humans cared for the thought of that. He continued, “You can’t surely expect to be able to rescue a gladiator - and probably one of the top gladiators - from the Hylekian Games with a few library books and the odd admonishment?” He knew that was unfair - Ripper was an accomplished fighter. Just not accomplished enough, if the need arose. And he enjoyed needling him anyway.

The ensuing argument didn’t last all that long. Even hating the demon as he did, Giles was honest enough to admit to himself that the vampire would make a better rescuer than he, if only he could be trusted. Angelus clinched the matter, though.

“Think of it this way, Rupert. If I fail, you’ll still be around to make the next try.” Giles conceded, but with a poor grace.

“Erm…” That was Willow. Giles tried to put his anger aside - Willow was frightened enough as it was.

“Yes, Willow?”

“The spell was done for a human - I’ve tied it to you. I’ll need to rework it for a vampire. And I’ll need some help.”

“Then get on with it!” That was Angelus. His temper was close to snapping point. There were too many delays here.

Giles looked at Willow’s frightened face, the slight tremble of her hands, and pushed his chair back from the table. He stalked over to the vampire lounging at the other end of the table, stopping only a hand’s breadth from him.

“Don’t you dare speak to Willow like that! She is doing magic beyond her years and beyond her previous experience, and she’s doing it for Buffy. She is only too well aware that she might not get things right. We all want Buffy back, although God knows why you do, and if you screw this up by frightening her into a mistake, I will kill you where you stand.” He was shouting, now, and leaning closer to that pale, smirking face. Angelus stood, slowly, and leaned forwards himself. The two were almost nose to nose, now. Oh-oh, thought Oz, as he put his arms around Willow. Too many alpha males, not enough room. He could almost smell the testosterone oozing down the table.

It was Cordelia who inserted herself between the two as they stared each other down, pushing the men apart.

“Buffy can be a real pain in the ass, but that’s no reason to leave her stranded in this other dimension thing. Now get your asses in gear and help Willow! Now!”

Everyone held their breath. Well, those that breathed, anyway. Spike looked as if he were being royally entertained. Angelus chose to be amused. He turned to Willow.

“What needs doing, Willow?”

“I need to change the identity that the spell recognises, and make sure you arrive in a place of safety. I don’t think it will take long, but once I’ve rewritten it, I need to check it with the people who’ve helped me. I might need to change the incantation to bring you back. I’ll start now.” She moved over to the computer, and everyone else resumed their seats. The tension and testosterone remained.

Angelus then broached the matter of the Hellmouth.

“A cult of demons, the Kahlavi, has decided to take control of the Hellmouth. It will give them power to do things they can’t otherwise do. They want to rule the world, and with the Hellmouth power, they can pretty much do it. Neither you nor I want that, I think.” He was looking at Giles. “You can’t manage on your own.”

He rose from his chair and walked over to Drusilla. Turning her a little, he took her chin between his fingers and thumb and forced her head up, making sure that she was looking him in the eyes.

“Daddy will be very cross if you have damaged any of these people before I come back.”

“Yes, Daddy,” she whined.

Then he looked at Spike. His tone of voice was soft, but the words were steel.

“You will help them, you and Drusilla. There is a truce between these humans and us until this is finished. Do you understand me?”

Spike was the first to flinch. “Yeah, right, got it.”

Angelus was satisfied. He turned to Giles.

“Is that correct, Ripper? There is a truce?”

Giles weighed the question carefully. A truce with a demon? Three demons? Killers, all? And why did this demon want Buffy back? He hoped that it was simply the residual obsession that had replaced Angel’s love. For now, that reason would have to do. And he would do anything to get Buffy back unharmed.

“Yes, there is a truce. Until Buffy is back.”

There were shouts of protest. Xander was at his most vehement.

“Giles! Are you insane? You’re not thinking of sending this…thing…to get Buffy. No! A truce with Jenny’s murderer? I don’t think so!”

Cordelia had a more pragmatic grasp of what was at stake, though. She dug her nails into Xander’s arm. He didn’t feel a thing. She dug deeper.

“Ow! Cordelia…”

None too gently, she turned his face to hers.

“Xander. Nothing else matters at the moment, except getting Buffy back. Nothing! It’s all on hold until Buffy is safe back here. Do you understand?”

He flung away from her, still in a towering rage. Long moments passed. Cordelia stared at Xander’s back. Oz moved to stand by Willow. Giles looked as if he wanted to be sick. Drusilla had a faraway look on her face, and Spike just looked bored and impatient to get away. Angelus was barely holding his temper in check. They needed to be getting on with things. Who knew what was happening with his possession? She had been in Hylek for eight days now, so far as he could tell. The games had probably started.

It was his low growl at the thought of someone else damaging his plaything that brought Xander back to the group. He looked tired, defeated.

“I understand. But when this is over, all bets are off.”

Cordelia gave him an encouraging smile.

Angelus gave a curt nod. “Very well. Giles, what have you learned about Hylek?” Giles gave a competent summary of their findings. Angelus scowled. He really didn’t like the sound of anything that he heard. This was going to be one bitch of a rescue.

He paced for a moment or two, assimilating what he had learned, then walked over to Willow, who was deeply engrossed in her work.

“Are you finished yet, Willow?”

She hadn’t heard him approach, and thought that her heart would burst through her ribs, it was pounding so hard with fear.

“N..not quite. I’m almost there. Maybe 15 minutes.”

“Very well. I’ll be back shortly. I need to feed first.”

“Damn it, no! I won’t allow that.” That came from Giles.

“Rupert, I’m off to rescue the damsel in distress. I don’t know how long I’ll be gone or when I’ll get to eat again - demon blood is no help. Would you prefer me to be snacking off the Slayer?”

Giles’ mouth pursed into a moue of distaste. He turned on his heel and marched out of the library. He could not sanction this, but the vampire did, indeed, need to feed. Damn.

Angelus left the building and quickly found a couple of vagrants and a well-satisfied mugger. They would do - it was not a gourmet meal he was looking for, after all. He just needed to be as well fed as possible.

When he returned, Willow was ready and Giles was back.

“Willow, do you have the spell yet?”

“Yes.” It came out as a breathless squeak. She was terrified of him.

“What do we need to do? Make sure that I thoroughly understand everything. The last thing we need is a screw-up.”

Willow could feel herself start to hyperventilate. She closed her eyes and took a few moments to calm herself.

“I have a spell to find Buffy.” She picked up the claddagh ring. Angelus had an odd look on his face. Willow continued, “This ring means everything to Buffy. The spell will use this, and her feelings for it, to link it to her physically. It will take you with it. I’m going to do a conjuration so that the ring will exist in a split state, a duality. One state will exist in Hylek; the other will exist in this dimension. You will be in possession of the more solid Hylek counterpart, and you will have a spell to bring both existences back together here. Give the ring to Buffy as you do the incantation, and she will come back with it. If something goes wrong, if you fail, our counterpart here will disappear. That’s how we’ll know…”

She paused for breath, ready to ask Angelus what object she could use for him, when Giles continued smoothly.

“If you hold Buffy’s hand, you will be brought back too, but you must not lose contact with her, otherwise you will stay behind.” Angelus would be alive, rather than dead, or as much as those statements applied to a vampire. That would be his repayment for rescuing Buffy. His banishment from this dimension would be Giles’ revenge.

Willow frowned. She knew exactly what Giles was doing. She wondered whether Angelus did, too. It seemed to her like a breach of the newly-declared truce. Someone had to be honourable here. Humans were more honourable than demons, weren’t they? Surely, dealing with Angelus must wait until the truce was over? Yet, how could she gainsay Giles?

She turned a clear gaze on Angelus. “Do you still have Mr Pointy?”

He pulled the stake out of his pocket.

“Give it to me.”

He handed the stake over, saying not a word. His stare, though, was intense. She turned the length of wood over in her hand. It was heavily stained with Angelus’ blood. Would blood bring a vampire back? Perhaps it would be enough.

“The claddagh won’t fit on your finger, and you don’t want to lose it. Can you push it on to here as firmly as you can? I don’t think Buffy needs to wear it - just holding it should do.”

Angelus gave her as close to a genuine smile as he had ever given anyone in his life. He knew exactly what had happened here. The Watcher had tried to strand him; despite her fear, the witch had given him a way back. That was an honourable act. He owed her a favour. He would not forget.

But he said nothing, just took both stake and ring, and pushed the ring up the slim point of the stake until it was firmly embedded in the blood-stained wood. He needed something else, though. He pointed to her necklace, a Wiccan symbol pendant on a strip of leather.

“Give me your necklace. Please”

Silently, she handed it to him. He returned the pendant itself, then tied the leather thong tightly around the top of the stake. He hung the makeshift pendant around his neck. It was Spike who spoke everyone’s thoughts.

“Living dangerously there, aren’t you mate?”

“Perhaps, but I need to have my hands free. OK, Willow. What else?”

“My spell will land you a little way from Buffy, in the nearest available cover. I didn’t want you dropping straight onto her and killing her with the fall, and I didn’t want you landing in sunlight. The real problem is, the whole thing is powered by the moon. It seemed safest, you know, with you burning up in sunlight…It’s full moon tonight. The return spell will only have power to bring you back at full moon in Hylek. Any full moon night will do, it doesn’t have to be the next one. But I haven’t been able to find out the periodicity of Hylek’s moon. I know it has just one, and I know it waxes and wanes. That’s all I know.” That was a long speech for her, especially when the auditor was their mortal enemy. She sat back, shaking.

Angelus frowned, as he thought about that. The witch had done well in the time allowed. Better than well, really. It couldn’t be helped that one piece of information was missing, important as it was.

“And the incantation to get back?”

She handed him a piece of paper. He read the incantation. It was simple, and he had it committed to memory in a second, but he still pocketed the slip of paper.

“How long will your preparations take?”

“About five minutes - just candles and herbs and stuff.” All the humans helped with the preparations, anxious to get this over.

The spell was simple enough. Angelus stood in the centre of the circle of fragrant candles and sharp-scented bowls of burning herbs, his fist wrapped around the ring embedded in the stake. Willow chanted, and then he was simply gone. A stake with a ring embedded in it lay in the centre of the circle, the ring glittering in the moonlight that played over that part of the floor. Willow prayed to the Goddess that Angelus still had his version with him. There was an exchange of glances amongst those left, as they wondered whether the truce would hold.

***

Buffy was readying herself to go into the arena again. She had already won three bouts, each with a different sort of demon. They hadn’t been fights to the death, but she wondered if that would come. She’d been told that the first seven days of contest were for preliminary bouts, to test the strength of the gladiators, find which ones were fit to go, so to speak. This was the seventh day.

She still hadn’t found how to get out of the arena. Oh, she’d tried. The walls were high and smooth, up to the tiers of seats, but she’d managed to get a hand on the top, only to discover that an invisible shield barrier covered the whole floor of the arena. The harder she’d tried to break through it, the greater the pain. Her…keeper?…had explained later that the barrier would keep all life forms inside. The Hylekians were no fools. They had no intention of permitting pressed and reluctant gladiators to escape. She was wasting her time. The barrier would stay in place during the entire period of the Games. These had been known to go on for months. Great.

So, it was her turn again. Quarterstaffs this time. She wondered about her friends and whether they were trying to find her. She wondered about Angelus, and how much he had had to do with her abduction. She owed him. Big time.

***

When Angelus came to, he was lying amid stone rubble. He could tell by the bruising to his shoulder and the ache in his head that the stone was rubble because of him. Ouch! His arrival had demolished a half-height wall. He was inside some sort of structure - it looked like stables. The door was open, and he could see that it was daylight outside. Different time frame, then. Oh, that could be fun. He moved carefully to the door, stuck his hand out into the sunlight and waited for the reaction. And waited. Nothing happened. Gingerly, he walked outside. Nothing. He breathed a sigh of relief. That would make things easier. He could see that the arena was not very far away. By the sounds coming from it, the day’s proceedings were already under way. He tucked Mr Pointy carefully under his shirt, dusted off the remnants of stone rubble, assumed his demon face, and strolled off to the arena.

Entrance was free. Angelus grinned. Bread and circuses; keep the masses happy. Same the universe over, really. The gatekeepers scrutinised him carefully, but allowed him in. When he got up to the seats, he saw that although most spectators were clearly Hylekian natives, there was a smattering of others. No vampires, though. He wondered if that might be significant.

Then he saw what was happening in the arena. Buffy was fighting a large, strong but lumbering demon with quarterstaffs. She was clearly winning, and her opponent was retreating as fast as he could. That’s my girl, thought Angelus, proudly. Then he scowled. She was wearing entirely too few clothes to be seen out in public. She was his property, and was not to be gawped at by the likes of this crowd. Just wait until he got her home…

He shook his head, bringing his mind back to the task in hand - getting her away. He could see the cages where the gladiators were presumably kept. Most had leather screens pulled over the front - the occupied ones, perhaps? If she were kept in there, and they were the same as the empty ones that he could see, he rather doubted that he could get her out without a key. He wondered why she hadn’t made a break for freedom, but was pleased with her good sense for not doing so. Where would she go, in this strange land? If she had run and hidden, she would have been the devil to find, magic not withstanding.

He wandered around the back of the seating area, assessing the arena, weighing and discarding options. He had almost come to the conclusion that the best way to free Buffy was to wait until the arena emptied then find someone with a key to the cages. He had no doubt he could force the unlucky demon to open up. But first, he must establish the phase of the moon. He didn’t really want to be on the run, with what might be a recalcitrant Slayer, in unknown country for a prolonged period.

Then his plans were completely forgotten. The crowd had started booing the Slayer’s opponent for cowardice, and were throwing stones into the arena. Stewards were trying to stop them, but it was a lost cause. One stone, thrown particularly hard, hit Buffy on the temple, causing her to stumble and fall, disoriented. The other gladiator saw his opportunity and was now closing in to finish the fallen girl. Angelus, not knowing whether this was a fight to the death, took no chances. He didn’t even stop to consider. He leapt over the top of the wall onto the sand of the arena floor, sprinted to the combatants and broke the demon’s neck with one easy movement. The barrier had been no barrier at all. It had been conceived to keep gladiators in, not to keep enraged vampires out.

There was pandemonium. Handlers ran in from all directions with nets and staffs. They also had the small pain guns, but Angelus could not have recognised those yet. The crowd were on their feet, shouting and gesticulating, those at the back standing on the seats to get a better view.

Buffy, by this time, was back on her feet, if swaying slightly. As her vision cleared, she saw before her the being that seemed to be the architect of all her woes and her temper snapped. She hit him, hard. Then she hit him again and again, with her fists and her feet, and any other part of her body hard enough to hurt him. All the time, although she was not aware of it, she was chanting, “Bastard, bastard, bastard, bastard…” And all the time, he was simply absorbing her blows, blocking them where he could, but otherwise simply going with the punches. Not hitting her back. Not trying to stop her.

This was a new development in gladiatorial combat for the handlers, but the crowd was fascinated. So nobody tried to stop it. On and on she went, beating every part of him that she could, with as much power as she could. There was real venom in her blows, real pain that she visited on this creature that had caused her so much. Why wasn’t he fighting back? Never mind the reason. Just hit him, and hit him again. Finally, she kicked him very hard in the genitals, and he went down with a gasp. She ran back to the dead gladiator and picked up his staff. It was the work of a second to stamp on it and break off an eminently usable stake.

She sped back to Angelus, who was now curled around his private world of hurt, cupping his wounded parts. She threw herself down astride his chest, shoved him onto his back and raised the stake to strike.

It was then that he spoke, in the pained tones of one who has been grossly put upon. “Are we quite done here, Buff? Because this *is* a rescue, you know.”

“What!”

***

They were both in Buffy’s cage. If she had thought it small before, it was positively claustrophobic now. He was stretched out on his side on the floor, leaning on one elbow, watching her, while she sat in the furthest corner of her sleeping pallet, as far away from him as she could get. The keepers were in a huddle further down the colonnade. Another contest was taking place in the arena, but he couldn’t see what was happening. The keepers had rolled a screen over the front of the cage before retiring to their huddle - gladiators were obviously supposed to come fresh to their opponents, unaware of their strengths and weaknesses. Foolishness.

When she had tossed the stake away in confusion, the keepers had moved in and tried to separate them. Angelus had simply swept her up into his arms and refused to put her down. After a brief struggle, beating his face and shoulders with her fists, she had decided to be pragmatic for the moment - a rescue attempt, even if abortive, from her mortal enemy was surely better than captivity here. She whispered to him about the barrier, and how they were trapped. He had sighed, then looked around for a way out. There were none that he could see. Oh, good. Trapped in an arena with a bunch of gladiators. Just what he wanted.

The keepers had tried beating him with their staffs. He had growled and snapped at them. They had used the pain guns, and he had howled with rage and pain, then, still carrying Buffy, had kicked out at one of the keepers, breaking his wrist. He had dropped the little pain gun. When the angry vampire made no move to attack the rest of them, they had shaken out their nets and herded him towards Buffy’s cage. He’d had no option but to let them. At least they hadn’t been separated. If he could keep it that way, the cage wasn’t a problem. The magic would simply magic them out of it. He hoped.

As soon as they were locked in the cage, he had put her down and she had retreated into her corner. He lay down, stiff and sore from the beating he had taken from her (just why he had permitted her to do that, he didn’t wish to reflect upon), and watched her whilst listening to the debate going on further down the colonnade. That was fascinating. He didn’t understand the words, but he thought he got the drift. Some of the keepers had rushed off, then come back clutching books and scrolls. There was heated debate, with much arm waving. He was pretty clear that they were checking the rules to see whether two gladiators were allowed to fight together. Because that was what he had just allowed himself to become. He would have to prevent them from taking Mr Pointy. He *had* to keep possession of that stake. It was their only chance of getting back. Well, *his* only chance. He was sure that, if he failed, Giles would come for Buffy, and he was under no illusions about whether that rescue would include him.

He didn’t want to discuss their business while the keepers were in earshot, so he simply lay there, watching her. Watching the curve of her cheek, the swell of her breast, the way her hair lay curled against her neck. Drinking in the scent of her. His possession. The arena had been warm in the sun, but here, in the shade of the colonnade, it was cooler, and the sun was sinking. She was trembling a little. Well, he could do something about that. He stood up and stripped off his leather jacket, leaving him dressed only in a wine-red silk shirt, and black leather trousers. He took the few steps towards her and draped the jacket over her shoulders. She shrank from him, but nodded her gratitude all the same.

He was about to return to his chosen spot when one of the keepers broke away from the group and strode towards their cage. He didn’t come close enough to be snatched.

“You have presented us with an unusual situation, and it has been necessary to consult our records extensively. However, we are all now agreed.” He looked directly at Buffy. “When you were purchased for the Games we did not know that you were part of a mated pair.” Buffy’s gasp of indignation alerted Angelus, who took her wrist and gave it a warning squeeze. “Had we known, we would have purchased both of you.” Now it was Buffy who covered his large hand with her smaller one and squeezed in warning as the furious growl erupted from him. “With mated pairs, it is not only allowable, but mandatory for them to fight as a team.” He looked directly at Angelus. “Your unorthodox entry to the Games, and your killing of a combatant in a non-lethal contest, do not prevent us from applying that mandatory rule, and are viewed as understandable actions in the circumstances. The error is considered to have been ours. Therefore, our decision is that you will join your mate as the property of the House of Orbath, and you will be permitted to fight together in furtherance of the interests of that House. Other contestants in The Great Game will from now on, of course, field multiple opponents against you, as is only just and fair. Larger quarters will be made available to you shortly.” He scrutinised Angelus again. “You are a vampire, yes?” Angelus nodded. “We have few sources of suitable blood, but whatever we have will be made available. Fight well.” He turned on his heel and left.

Angelus waited for the explosion. He wasn’t disappointed.

“Mated pair!” she spat, “What does he mean ‘mated pair’? I’d rather mate a rattlesnake than you!” She was clearly working herself up to a tirade, and, with all his aches and bruises, he didn’t feel up to that in the small cage. He grabbed both her wrists and held on.

“Listen!” he hissed, “Just be grateful that whatever they think keeps us close together.” The glare she directed at him would have put Medusa to shame and finished off Perseus in a nanosecond, shield or no. He sighed. “I’ve got the ticket out of here. You do want to come, don’t you?”

He felt her struggle with herself, but eventually her shoulders drooped, and she nodded in acquiescence.

“Wait until everyone has left for the night and I’ll explain. Tell me, what phase is the moon?”

“What?”

He sighed again. Had she always been this difficult? Of course she had - that was one of the things that appealed to him.

“Just answer the question.”

She furrowed her brow in thought. “Just past full moon.”

Damn.

It wasn’t too long before the keeper returned, with a crew of demons manhandling a cage identical to the one they were in. The crew would fit the two together, then simply release the centre panels and slide them away, making a double size cage. The keepers needed adjustable cages. One never knew what the House representatives would find for the Games. But this pair was special. He should have seen it, even when they just had the female. Anyone should have seen it. What had those foolish representatives of the House of Orbath been about, leaving the male behind? Dolts! Not only was it extremely rare to get a mated pair of warriors, but a Slayer and a master vampire? Never before. And what a team they made. They would be magnificent together. Why, the male had even crossed dimensions to find his mate. What would they not do for each other? They were his charges, and he was filled with certainty that, together, they would defeat everything that the Great Game would throw at them. His demon heart swelled with pride.

The cage was quickly fitted. Buffy was alert, looking for a chance to run, Angelus was sure, but he held her wrist tightly. Until the next full moon, there really wasn’t anywhere to run to. A larger sleeping pallet was provided, and the crew were done.

“Are you hungry, vampire?”

“No. I shan’t need to feed until tomorrow.”

“Very well.” The keeper looked at Buffy. “Your supper will be provided as usual, then.” He reached into the bag he was carrying and drew out a small bundle of leather, which he passed through the bars to Angelus. “Here is your clothing for the arena. You will put this on and give me your own.” Angelus shook out the bundle to reveal a loincloth.

“What!”

***

As evening deepened into night, he could see that the moon, indeed, was just past full. He wondered how long a month might be, here. The way things were going, it could be half a year… Buffy had eaten, and now lay curled on the pallet. She had made it perfectly clear without using any words at all that Angelus would trespass on that pallet at his peril. He had explained to her about the properties of the ring, and had seen her face close down, her expression impenetrable, her eyes as hard as diamond. It had made her look even younger and more vulnerable, and he was surprised to find himself wanting to hold her. But he hadn’t.

Now, she was asleep, her back to him, and he lay a little way away, watching her again. Watching the rise and fall of her shoulders as she breathed, the slight twitching of her muscles as she dreamed. The moonlight silvering her golden skin. Listening to the slow, steady sleep rhythms of her heart. Savouring the scent of her. There was only a faint trace of lavender and vanilla now, but the rest was pure Buffy. It was as he dwelt on her delicious fragrance that he noticed a new scent. Tears. She was crying in her sleep.

He moved towards her and stretched out on the pallet, spooning behind her, his right arm and right leg thrown possessively over her, his hand cupping her left breast. She fitted him perfectly. Mine, he thought, savagely. He held her close and whispered soothing nothings to her until her tears stopped. Then he just continued to hold her close, feeling the softness of her hair on his face. He didn’t notice for a moment that she had awakened, until she spoke, softly.

“Why do they think we are a mated pair? All you’ve ever done is rape me.”

What to tell her? The truth, he supposed. He looked at Angel’s claddagh ring on his own hand. For some unfathomable reason that he did not wish to examine, he had never yet removed it.

“When Angel gave you the claddagh ring, he didn’t tell you all the truth. He said that it was for friendship, and could show that your heart was given, but back in his day, the claddagh was a wedding band. That was how he thought of you - as his mate, his wife. He knew that you wouldn’t know that, but even so, he committed himself to you for life. A life commitment for a vampire is a serious matter. And that marriage was consummated. I was there at the time, this body was there at the time, so I suppose the Hylekians just picked up on the residue of that.” He didn’t really know why the Hylekians had considered Buffy to be just as committed, but it did no good to question that.

Buffy lay in the arms of the demon, feeling his strength around her, his cool chest pressed reassuringly against her back. She wished to God that she could wake up and find that her Angel had been returned to her by some miracle. And she remembered when Angel had given her the ring. How could she ever forget? As luck would have it, she had already known the deeper meaning of the claddagh, although she hadn’t told Angel that. Before her calling, she had read about it in one of the fluffy novels she’d occasionally indulged herself with. She’d thought it incredibly romantic, and it had stuck in her mind. On the night that he had given it to her, he had obviously not meant to tell her the whole, but she had still made vows of eternal love in her own heart. Her life expectance as a slayer might be short, but the commitment was just as serious as a vampire’s. She hoped that this demon never found that out - he would twist it to his own advantage, use it as another thorn to prick her with.

So the demon and his Slayer fell into a troubled sleep.

***

It had been 26 days. Giles and the teenagers, sat in the library, not knowing what else to do. The beringed stake still lay on the floor where it had appeared when Angelus had left the dimension. During the day, it simply vanished, but as soon as moonlight fell on that spot, it reappeared. And its solidity waxed and waned with the moon.

Willow broke the silence, and said, for perhaps the 26th time, “I guess the moon might not run to the same cycle there.”

Everyone else nodded moodily. They were tired, and they were hurting. They were fighting a running battle with the Kahlavi demons, with cult members moving into town in greater and greater numbers. The demons were good fighters. Astonishingly, Spike and Drusilla were holding up their end of the truce. In fact, they were the ones who generally did the hardest of the fighting. They were the only ones with sufficient strength, after all. That was what they were doing now. The group here had done as much as they physically could, then gathered in the library, as they did every night, for a brief vigil. And to pray to any god that would listen. They sat, silently, determined to wait for a little while longer. Hoping that the moon in Hylek was even now waxing to full.

***

It had been 26 days. As a pair of warriors, they were unbeaten. The contests were for real now. Death in the afternoon. Admirers had sent pieces of pagan jewellery, gold and silver and precious stones, as tokens of appreciation of their skill. They had been allowed to keep those. Indeed, they were expected to wear them, and they did. The keeper had initially tried to remove Mr Pointy from Angelus, but when the vampire, crossing his fingers for luck, had explained that it was a religious devotional object in his clan, the keeper had simply bowed and walked away.

And they had found something that he could eat. Horse. He’d had much worse. At least it was living, fresh blood. Twice each day, they would lead a different horse to the cage, and allow him, under armed guard, to come out and feed. Buffy was pleased, because the horse could afford to lose enough blood to meet his needs, and still live.

Buffy and he had come to some sort of truce in the cage. They didn’t needle or snipe at each other. Well, not much. When she cried in her sleep, she allowed him to hold her and soothe her. Otherwise they slept separately, even if they were only separated by inches. He had wanted to fuck her since the moment he had first arrived in the arena, but he didn’t. Not because he was put off by the other demons watching - vampires weren’t shy when it came to sex, after all - but because she would be. And for some reason, he still wanted her to be willing in their next encounter. So when the need became too great, he’d simply brought himself off as discretely as possible, and waited for the moon to change.

The night before, though, something different, something new and unwelcome, had happened. When he had finished feeding, a different keeper had told him that he would be taken somewhere else for an hour, but would be returned to his mate at the end of that time. There was no escape, so he had allowed himself to be shackled and escorted to a small, bare underground room where he had been pushed to his knees and his shackles attached to bolts in the floor. The chains were short enough to keep him on his knees, whilst still allowing some movement. A broad strip of leather was tied over his mouth. No biting, then. The guards had left, but the keeper stayed, seating himself on the room’s only furniture, a chair tucked into a corner alcove. A few minutes later, two Hylekians had entered, a man and a woman, richly clad. The man had given something to the keeper. It might have been money, but Angelus could not be sure. He thought he knew now what was happening here. He knew it had been common practice in Roman arenas. Why should it be different here? The rich paid for time with the strong. The keeper would stay to ensure that neither gladiator nor client was harmed. The couple moved towards him, the woman to his front, the man to his rear, and together they loosened the fastenings of his loincloth.

When it was done, he felt soiled. A vampire will fuck anything, true, but only the sire has the right to take a vampire without their consent. Anything else, be it by male or female, is rape and punishable by death. The vampire’s family would hunt down and kill any offender. As the keeper sponged him down, removing traces of his own and the other man’s seed, the woman’s secretions, he knew that it wouldn’t be enough to wash away how he felt. Aurelius had been preferable to this. The keeper told him that he and his mate could expect many such encounters. Others had asked for them, but the rules on hiring mated pairs had been unclear. A properly processed codicil had been added now, and the demand could be met. Angelus could never allow Buffy, his property, to suffer such defilement. He would defend her to the death, and he knew it. Or he would negotiate, and give his own body in place of hers. If he went willingly, without restraints, perhaps that would be enough. When he was returned to the cage, he refused to speak of what had happened, and lay apart from her, needing to be cleansed, yearning for a familiar touch, waiting for the moon to change.

She was amazed at the restraint that he was showing, but preferred not to question it. Or discuss it with him. And for her part, she affected not to notice what he had done for sexual relief. She wondered what had happened to him the previous night, when he had been taken away for an hour. He had brusquely turned aside her question, but she had sensed the anger roiling through him. And something else that she couldn’t quite identify. In a human, she would have said vulnerability, almost as Angel had been vulnerable, but how could that apply to the soulless demon that he was now? So she didn’t try to press the matter and had left him alone. At present, it was enough that they had fallen into the beautifully matched fighting style that she had had with Angel, and that they were still alive. Had saved each other’s lives over and over. And although she longed for home, she wondered just how she could kill this demon who comforted her in the night and saved her life in the killing arena. She, too, was waiting for the moon to change, but for her the waiting was hope and pain entwined. She wondered what it was like for him.

Their keeper approached their cage now. There were still armed guards when he intended to open the door, but they were easier in their relationship since it had become clear that the pair were not thinking of immediate mayhem and escape. He carried something with him.

“May I enter?”

Well, that was new. Angelus looked at Buffy, who acquiesced. Angelus nodded to the keeper.

“Today you will have a very important contest. All the minor houses have been eliminated now, and the major houses are represented by only the very best of the chosen warriors. You will meet a pairing from House Rohath, and they will be difficult for you. Since we have moved into the final stages of the Game, it is usual for competitors to wear symbols of the House they represent. I have come to do that.” He held in his hands an inkpot and a brush. “Who will be first?”

Angelus went first. He lay supine on the pallet as the keeper started his work. It was immediately clear that the demon was a talented artist, something that Angelus himself could appreciate. Deftly, using minimal lines to maximum effect, he used the blue ink to sketch out two stylised dragons coiling over the vampire’s torso. Stylised, elongated wolves twined around his arms and legs, and his wrists and ankles were encircled by thick intertwining bands of thorned vines. On his right cheek was drawn the spiral of eternity. It could easily have been mistaken for pure Celtic art. Angelus was impressed.

Whilst the ink dried, the keeper repeated the designs almost exactly on Buffy.

Then he returned to Angelus. “Onto your stomach please.” The vampire did so. The wolves on his arms and legs were completed. The keeper then turned to Angelus’ back. He felt the demon’s fingers run lightly over the tattoo.

“This is beautiful work.”

“Thank you.”

Then the brush started work again.

“The designs on your front, as you face your opponent, are for the House of Orbath. The design on your back is for you, to spur you forward.”

“What design have you done?”

It was Buffy who answered. “A cat. A beautiful big cat.” As if she needed a reminder, she thought.

The keeper then returned to work on Buffy. As he did so, he kept glancing at Angelus’ back. When he had finished, he invited Angelus to look. It was beautiful. On her right shoulder blade, he had perfectly reproduced Angelus’ tattoo. Except for one thing. Where his lion’s paws held the letter A, hers held the letter Omega. Alpha to Omega, he thought. How very mythic. Padding across her back was the sinuous figure of a leopard. They were, indeed, a matched pair.

The keeper stood silently, apparently admiring his handiwork. Then he raised his eyes to Angelus’ own.

“You should be wary of one of your opponents today. He has a talon that he can extend from the heel of his palm. This talon contains a venom that weakens other demons. I tell you this because in your case, the effect is more severe than in any other race of demon. It will prevent you from healing your wounds. It will be possible for you to bleed to death if you are injured. This is a thing that you should know.” He looked at Buffy. “The venom affects only demons, not humans, even those who are slayers. The other competitors know this; you did not.”

He turned and left the cage without a further word. Angelus and Buffy looked at each other in surprise. Never before had the keeper offered information about opponents. Buffy voiced both their fears.

“This sounds really bad. You’d better watch yourself, Angelus.” She tried for flippant, but missed the mark. “Let’s face it, you’re my ticket home - can’t lose you now after you’ve cluttered up my cage for this long.”

And there was another first. Never before had she called him Angelus. Usually, she didn’t call him by any name at all, but if she needed to attract his attention in the arena, she *always* called him Angel. Just to annoy him, he suspected.

Not long after that, the afternoon’s Games started. By the time the announcer called out for the Slayer and the Master Vampire, the Mated Pair, fighting in star position, the sun was getting low in the sky. They both had hopes that tonight the moon might be full. Last night, it had looked to be close.

When they entered the arena, Angelus was holding her hand. Buffy wished that the occasion weren’t so deadly. He might be her mortal enemy, but as a warrior, she loved to see him fight. He moved with lethal feline grace that was the more clearly displayed for the lack of clothing other than that simple loincloth and the pagan jewellery. She had learned the play of every muscle. He performed a deadly ballet of motion, and he was beautiful to watch. She did not realise that he loved to watch her for exactly the same reasons.

They could see why the keeper had thought their opponents would be difficult. The first one was introduced to the crowd as the Trigon. It was a they, and they were hive demons. They were three beings who acted as one. For the purpose of the Games, they were considered to be a single opponent. They were big, and very strong. Great.

The second was simply introduced as Gigas. The Giant. It was. Angelus squeezed Buffy’s hand when he saw it. They were going to have trouble with this one. It was massive, with two dangerous-looking horns on its head. Its claws were daggers. He guessed that might be the one with the venom. Oh, good.

This was not going to be pretty.

Angelus, Buffy, and Gigas, were unarmed. Weapons would be thrown in to the arena later, usually at a difficult moment for one fighter or another. That seemed to add to the entertainment value. Starting with unarmed combat made for a longer contest. More of a crowd-pleaser. Bread and circuses.

The Trigon were a different matter, though. They had a natural weapon other than teeth and claws. Extending from one forearm each had a long length of hardened tendon and scaly skin. It was an extremely effective bullwhip. Great.

The Trigon were the first to approach, with Gigas holding back, waiting for its partners to weaken the vampire and the Slayer. Despite her protests, Angelus wrapped himself around Buffy and positioned them so that he took the fall of the lash. He would not scar; she might. *Nothing* other than himself was permitted to mark his property. For long moments he simply endured the pain, then came the opportunity he was waiting for. One of the whips tangled around his legs. Before it could be freed, he held it fast and yanked it towards him. The owner, of course, could not let go, and followed the whip. He dragged the demon close to his chest and with a burst of vampiric strength he tore the whip from its anchor at the wrist. But not before he had seen the Trigon raise its other palm, from which a foot-long dagger of bone protruded. The dagger was pointed at his heart. It seemed as if it happened in slow motion, but in truth, the action was almost faster than the human eye could see. He had one hand full of Buffy, and one hand entangled in the whip. He could do nothing. He felt a sharp, piercing pain in his chest, and then the talon was withdrawn. Roaring his fury, he released Buffy and wrenched both hand and dagger from the Trigon’s arm, then pushed the demon to her to deal with. He didn’t think that she had seen, but she had. Her face was shocked. No time for any of that now. He turned to face the other two. This time, it was his chest rather than his back that took the brunt of their lash.

Gigas saw that it was time to make a move. When he and the Trigon had entered the arena and learned the identity of their opponents, they had decided to concentrate first on the vampire. Take him out and the slayer’s emotions would surely prevent her from fighting well. She would be easier meat. Roaring in challenge as it came, it pushed through the remaining two members of the Trigon and shouldered into Angelus. It was much more massive than he, and he went down. He was up in a moment, though, grabbing Gigas’s clawed hands in his own and leaning into what was now essentially a pushing match. It couldn’t last, but he needed to give Buffy time to deal with her demon. She did, crushing its throat. Then she leapt onto Gigas’s back and used the whip from the dead demon to throttle the monster. The Trigon, unable to lash at her without hurting their partner, concentrated their efforts on Angelus. Again, he simply endured the pain. He was in game face, calling on every ounce of strength to give Buffy time to succeed. He might have made it work - even Gigas needed to breathe - but neither he nor Buffy noticed that the weapons had been thrown into the arena. When the Trigon stopped flogging him he knew something had happened, and looked around desperately for them. If they attacked Buffy…But they were halfway across the arena, sprinting for the pile of swords that had appeared. ‘Swords’ was probably the closest word, but these were like sharpened chain saws, broad-bladed, sharp-pointed, with large razor-edged teeth running the length of the blade on both sides. They would do enormous damage. And he couldn’t let go of Gigas. If he did, it would drag Buffy off its back in a heartbeat. Two heartbeats later she would be dead. Never. Not so long as he could raise a finger to prevent it. His possession. His responsibility.

“Buffy - go get a weapon,” he gritted out. But she knew that her stranglehold on its throat was all that was preventing Gigas from overpowering him. Once it was loose…

Then it was too late - the Trigon were racing back towards them. Buffy, having seen the danger, was desperately yanking on the whip, but Gigas’s neck was massive and tough. It suddenly reared its head backwards, impaling her shoulder with one of its horns. She cried out, but kept on tightening the garrotte. And then the Trigon were back. Pain seared through him as one slashed at his side with its sword, tearing a gaping wound. The other rammed its sword through the small of his back. An eighteen-inch length protruded from his stomach. The sword stuck as the Trigon wielding it tried to rip it out. Angelus roared in agony. The sword wouldn’t move.

He could see what must be done. Gritting his teeth against the pain, and before its partner could take another slash at him, he pushed back against the Trigon, driving the sword further through. The Trigon, taken unawares, let go its grip on the weapon. Angelus released Gigas’s hands, and leapt for its head. His leap was angled to drive the sword, which now protruded two feet from his belly, deep into the eye of Gigas. And it did. He felt its razor claws tearing at his ribs in its fury and pain.

“Buffy…” he gasped, as Gigas howled in agony. She knew what he wanted. She leapt onto his back, driving him further down. Then she took hold of the sword hilt and shoved. Angelus cried out again, but the sword penetrated Gigas’s brain, and the demon fell to the bloody sand.

There were still two members of the Trigon to finish. One was racing back to the weapons pile to replace the sword left in Angelus’ body. The other was approaching them warily. He was pinned to Gigas, unable to free himself. Once again he gritted his teeth.

“Do it.”

She placed her foot onto his back and gripped the hilt. His scream echoed around the arena as she yanked the sword out. He fought to remain conscious as he watched his partner, but the venom was taking effect. His demon was weakening, fainting, unable to do what needed to be done to heal his wounds. Shit. Buffy saw, and knew that he was in serious trouble.

He didn’t think that he had ever seen her in such a deadly rage. She faced the first Trigon and had beheaded him in seconds. The other fared no better, the sword left jutting from his chest. And the contest was over.

She returned to where Angelus was slumped across the head of the dead Gigas. She tried to stop him - he was losing so much blood - but he struggled to his knees. Then she wrapped her arms around his head and pressed him to her abdomen. He put his own arms around her and allowed himself to just feel the soft warmth for a moment, a few seconds of comfort in the midst of his agony. Her blood, from the wound in her shoulder, trickled over her belly, and he lapped at it, desperate to taste her before what he thought might very well be his end. Even from so small an amount, he felt the power coil through him, easing his pain a little, giving him some of her strength. But she had little enough to give; he could feel her legs trembling with fatigue.

Then they both became aware that the crowd were roaring their approval. They had never heard such acclamation. At least someone enjoyed it, Angelus thought grimly. He saw the keepers coming towards them over the sand. And in that same moment, he also saw that the setting sun had dimmed enough to reveal the moon standing pale and high in the sky. The full moon.

He staggered to his feet and, with the last of his strength, swept Buffy into his arms.

“Take hold of the stake,” he urged. She looked puzzled, so he turned around.

“Look.”

She saw, and she took hold of Mr Pointy, wrapping her hand around the claddagh ring. The other arm was hooked around Angelus’ neck. Balancing her weight on one arm, he took hold of the stake with his other hand, grasping it above her fist, on the part where his blood had stained the wood. Then he recited the incantation, and prayed that it would work. They were gone before the keepers reached them.

***

The teenagers were about to bid Giles goodnight after another fruitless vigil when there was an explosion of light from the beringed stake on the floor. What followed left them all breathless and speechless. And aghast.

The game-faced vampire stood where the stake had been, holding Buffy in his arms, her face pressed close to his shoulder. They looked as if they had been painted in blood and ink. Both seemed to have full body tattoos. Both were dressed in skimpy loincloths, and in Buffy’s case, a skimpy bandeau around her breasts. They wore heavy pagan jewellery. And there was the blood. There was so much blood. Blood everywhere, fresh blood and clotted gore. A pool of blood was forming at Angelus’ bare feet. His chest was covered in lash marks, but there must be something worse than that. Blood was flowing down the front of his left thigh, from somewhere beneath Buffy’s body. More blood was pouring down his right side from a wound beneath his ribs. There was a deep, penetrating wound in Buffy’s shoulder, but that couldn’t account for anything like the amount of blood sliding onto the floor.

Neither of them seemed able to speak, and Angelus could barely stand. The teenagers were frozen in horror, and it was left to Giles to approach the stricken pair.

“I’ll take her.” He held out his arms for the Slayer.

Angelus started to hold her out towards the Watcher, then, before Giles had time to reach for her, he withdrew the gesture and held her close once more. He looked searchingly into her eyes, then turned and walked unsteadily towards the door. They could see then the dozens of lash marks that covered his back, the deep claw marks over his ribs and the gaping slash in his right side. But the worst was the dreadful hole torn in his lower back, from which blood was flowing freely. The wound must go all the way through, they realised. There was no sign that any of the wounds were healing.

They stood shocked into stillness as the vampire walked out of the library. Xander was the first to move. He looked at the others.

“Well, we’re not going to just let him walk out of here with her, are we? He’s in no condition to put up a fight. Come *on*!”

It was Willow who took hold of his arm and pulled him back.

“Leave them. He won’t hurt her.”

“What? Are you insane?”

“If she had wanted to stay here, he couldn’t have stopped her. He can’t hurt her, he’s too weak.”

Xander opened his mouth to expostulate, but this time it was Giles who stopped him. He looked to have aged ten years in two minutes.

“Leave it, Xander. Willow’s right, he won’t hurt her. She’ll come back tomorrow, I’m sure.” Yes, he was indeed sure. Giles had never considered himself as having prescient moments, but he seemed to feel one now. The vampire had looked as if he was walking away to die.

***

They hadn’t spoken. Halfway to the mansion, Angelus could go no further. He fell to his knees, still cradling Buffy to his chest. As he sank to the ground, she freed herself from his embrace and sat, nursing his head in her lap. She wondered if she were quite mad. But this demon had taken this agony upon himself to save her. She couldn’t desert him until that debt was repaid. She held her wrist to his mouth.

“Drink!”

He looked at her, his gaze barely focused. His cheeks seemed to be sunken, and his eyes dull. Then the demon faded away, and he was left with only his human face. If anything, he looked even closer to death. Panic thrummed through her. He couldn’t die now! If he was going to be dusted, it shouldn’t be like this! She repeated her instruction, urgency harshening her voice.

“Drink!”

But how could he, with only his human teeth? She lifted him a little, and pressed his mouth to the bleeding wound in her shoulder. Relief flooded her as she felt him suckle. She knew, though, that drinking from her wound simply wasn’t going to be enough. He was losing blood much too quickly. She prayed that she would be allowed to discharge her debt to this demon, to give him his life back. She refused to contemplate why that seemed to be so important. Then she felt a change in him. She was afraid to look down but when she did, he was back in game face.

He pulled away from her. He was still ashen.

“Drink!” She reinforced the command by pressing her wrist against his fangs. She felt him bite down and draw from her. But it was over too quickly. He couldn’t have taken as much as a pint before he released her wrist.

“More.”

“No.” His voice was weak, but she thought she saw some colour come back to his cheeks. She thanked God for slayer blood. She tried again, but he was adamant. “No. You’re wounded. You can’t spare it.”

She swore, then looked round at where they were. In the park. A thought came to her.

“Stay here. Don’t even think of moving, mister.” She sprinted away on legs that were only slightly unsteady.

The loss of her touch was unbearable. For some reason, he didn’t want to die alone. He could feel the demon struggling as if trapped in a sticky gossamer spider shroud. It had no control of itself, as if it were fading in and out of consciousness. It couldn’t heal. It really was possible for a vampire to bleed to death. He was doing it now.

But he could also feel her blood, trying to work within him, to restore the demon. He hadn’t dared take more, but he hadn’t taken enough. It might well have been enough whilst he still had more blood in his body. Now, though, he had almost bled out. There was not enough fluid in his veins to carry the Slayer’s blood to where it was needed. Unless he got blood in very large quantities, he would, indeed, die. And soon. He was only alive now because his heart was still and silent in his chest. If it had been pumping the blood round more quickly, he would be dust.

She was gone no more than ten minutes. Never since her calling had she run so fast. She could see from a distance that he was still exactly where she had left him. She had been unable to find a mugger or a junkie, although she had looked. She would deal with the implications of that later. Not now. She hadn’t dared spend more than a few moments searching, though, as she sped on her way to her goal. Something that she remembered from her patrols. She had found what she was looking for. She ran faster, tugging that something behind her. A horse.

She didn’t know whether her blood had the power to help him. He had seemed a little better after drinking from her, and that had given her hope. When she reached him, she saw that the bleeding had slowed. She felt a frisson of fear. Perhaps it had slowed not because he was healing, but because he was running out of blood. Could a vampire truly bleed out? Looking at him, she feared that the answer was staring her in the face. He couldn’t last much longer.

She tethered the horse to a park bench. Angelus was a big man, but fear lent strength to her tired muscles. She managed to get him to his feet, taking virtually all his weight as she guided him to the horse’s neck. She knew the horse would feel very little pain, but took hold of the head collar just in case. Angelus managed to do the rest.

When he was finished, he had taken seven or eight pints and that fresh, living blood was sweeping Buffy’s blood around his body. He could feel the power of slayer’s blood working within him, supporting his own, reviving the demon, freeing it from the deadly embrace of the venom. Just in time. He was almost able to stand by himself, and the flow of blood had slowed to a trickle. The wounds, still ugly, were at least starting to close. With her help, he was able to get on to the horse’s back. The horse staggered, weakened now, so she spared it her own weight, and led it slowly towards the mansion.

When they got there, he was still unnaturally pale, even for him, but he looked stronger. Together, they entered the mansion, leaving the horse to find its own way back to its stable.

They went straight to his rooms, and into the bathroom. There, in silence, they stripped off and washed the dirt and the blood and the memories from each other, kneeling in the shower because he was still too weak to stand unaided. Perhaps surprisingly, he had a large first aid kit, and in silence they tended to each other’s wounds. Buffy was surprised to notice that, where the inked designs on his body had been damaged, the wounded skin was returning complete with the colour of the ink. Would they both remain tattooed for life? Or would it simply wash away with time? Well, they’d find out soon enough.

Bandaging complete, she helped Angelus lead her into his bedroom. In silence, holding the bedpost for support, he pulled back the crimson cotton sheet and stood back for her. She climbed onto the bed and under the covers. He followed. In silence she curled up, and he curled around her, one arm and one leg thrown possessively over her, his mouth buried in the crook of her neck. Mine, he thought, as he relaxed into sleep. Buffy tried not to think at all as the darkness enveloped her.

They slept until the following evening. Angelus was first to rise. He lay for a moment savouring the feel of the naked girl in his arms, the clean, fresh smell of her. And the pounding of her in his blood. He knew that he had been as close to death as he wished to come, and that it was her blood that had brought him back from the brink. She was in his blood forever now, even if she hadn’t been before. Reluctantly, he let go of her, and got up. He walked over to the telephone and dialled Willow’s number. He had them all committed to memory. She answered on the second ring.

“Willow. Bring a set of Buffy’s clothes to the mansion, will you? And some orange juice.”

“Angelus! We thought, I mean…erm…what sort of clothes?”

“Anything. Whatever you want. She can’t go home in a loincloth.”

Willow’s sigh of relief was audible. “I’ll be there in half an hour.”

He crossed the room to where she still lay sleeping and he sat down on the bed, stroking her cheek, tracing the blue spiral that was inked there. His golden girl. His obsession. Buffy. She woke, and smiled at him. It seemed to him that it was a smile of love, until she remembered who it was she was smiling at.

“Willow will be here in half an hour with some clothes for you to go home in.”

“You’re letting me go?” she whispered.

He continued to trace the spiral. “You aren’t a prisoner. And your mother and your friends need to know that you are OK. You know where the bathroom is.”

He got up, gathered some clothes for himself, and walked from the room, leaving her, for reasons she couldn’t fathom, feeling bereft.

By the time she had showered, Willow had arrived. Giles had driven her, but he remained outside. Angelus took the orange juice from her, and poured out a large glassful. He motioned to Willow to follow him, and climbed the stairs to his rooms. Buffy was wrapped in a towel, drying her hair. He handed her the glass and the carton.

“Counteracts blood loss,” he said simply, then turned back to Willow. He was amused to see that she was staring at the bed, at the rumpled sheets and at the indentations made by two heads on one pillow. She was blushing furiously and her knuckles were white as she gripped the bag she had brought. Gently, he prised the bag out of her hand and gave it to Buffy. Then he left them alone.

As he descended the stairs, he saw that Giles was standing in the doorway. His face was a frozen mask of hate, but at least he wasn’t holding a weapon.

Angelus waited for him to speak.

“I shall never forgive you for murdering Jenny, nor for what you have done to Buffy. But I think I must thank you for saving her life. I don’t know what happened there, and I don’t know why you did it, but I don’t think she would have survived alone. For that, I am in your debt.”

He spat the words out as if they were acid, but Angelus had no doubt that he meant them. He simply nodded.

After a few moments he said, “I’m a demon. To her I look like Angel, and I know that she hopes the soul will return and give him back to her. But you and I both know that Angel’s soul is lost and gone. I’m not him. I will never be him. But she is *mine*, and I will not permit her to be hurt. Of that you can be certain. Not by humans, not by vampires, not by other demons. Only I have that right.”

Giles shivered slightly at the implications of that statement, and the vehemence of it; he wondered, what was to become of them all? Had any other slayer in history, or even in prehistory, ever had a guardian demon as fierce as this one? As her Watcher, as her surrogate father, what should he do? What *could* he do? His hatred for this vampire was a white-hot flame in his heart, but he could somehow feel the shape of the future, and it included this…thing. He looked in the vampire’s face and saw only truth and absolute conviction. Their gazes locked, each assessing the other’s commitment to one golden girl.

Then the spell was broken as Buffy and Willow came down the stairs, silent, but otherwise like two normal teenagers.

***

Buffy didn’t patrol for the next week, whilst her injury healed. On the day after she had left the mansion, a note was delivered to Giles. It was from Angelus, saying that the Kahlavi cult were being dealt with by him. They would be no immediate threat to the Hellmouth, and his negotiations would be helped if no one killed any more of them. He would let Giles have further news when there was news to give. And he understood that the truce between them was now over.

Giles showed the note to Buffy before he told the others. Buffy’s lips tightened, but she gave no other response.

Nothing more was seen or heard of Angelus for the week that Buffy remained off patrol.

***

It was Friday night, again, and Buffy was back in the Cemetery of Eternal Rest. She was standing in front of the mausoleum. That mausoleum. She was remembering those terrible occasions and wondering whether the claw marks on her soul had perhaps eased a little. She thought they might have.

And then she felt that tingle. That special tingle. *That* vampire. Before she could even turn, she was face down on the grass, subdued by his weight, his hands clasping her wrists, holding them down to the ground. “Hello, lover,” he purred in her ear.

She had never believed that hearts actually broke, but she believed it now. She had heard and felt hers crack. She didn’t try to move. She supposed she still owed him a debt, and anyway, she didn’t think she had it in her tonight to fight him. Tomorrow, perhaps, but not tonight. After all they had been through together, she had hoped that he would…would what? Show more respect, perhaps? She didn’t know. But she should have remembered that vampires and cats were definitely not respecters of people. And nothing would ever change. This was a demon, not her beloved Angel. Oh, he wore Angel’s flesh, but that was all. She should have known.

It was several moments before she realised that some things had indeed changed. He hadn’t bound her hands. He hadn’t ripped her panties off. And he wasn’t gripping her neck with his teeth. Instead, he was gently licking the pulse point in her neck. Nuzzling her, like a large, affectionate cat. Rubbing his cheek over her jaw, as if marking her with his scent. The sensual feel of his tongue on that sensitive skin in her throat was enough to flood her with heat. He would surely smell her arousal. He did, and smiled.

Then his weight was gone from her back, and he swept her up into his arms. Taken by surprise, she didn’t struggle. He looked at her, his eyes dark and unfathomable. She thought that she was beyond being surprised by him, but what he said next showed her she was wrong.

“You know, there were a great many things that I wanted to do to you whilst we were in that cage. I thought we’d start tonight, and see how many we got through by Monday morning.”

“What!”

He grinned. He looked almost boyish when he did. He also looked like a complete rake.

“You need a vacation. This weekend is it.”

He started to walk towards the mansion, still holding her to his chest. She could see that the spiral of eternity was still inked on his cheek, as it was on hers.

“I’ve sent Spike and Drusilla away on an errand. They’ll be gone for at least a week. I’ve got food in for you - proper human stuff, four food groups and all - and we can send out for the rest. You can telephone your mother and Giles when we get there, and say you are staying with a friend. Apart from that, you are MINE.”

He bent to kiss her mouth, raised so alluringly to his. She turned away.

He stopped. He looked at her face. For once, he couldn’t read her. He felt a small thrill of fear.

“Have you fed tonight?”

No point trying to hide what he was. “Yes. I picked off a couple of muggers in the park on the way here. They’ll keep me going most of the weekend. I’ve got some bagged blood for Sunday, so I won’t have to go out.”

She frowned and beat at him with her fist. “And you want to kiss me with a mouthful of blood? You can just make sure you clean your fangs first, mister! I’m not kissing you until you have!”

He threw back his head and gave a shout of pure laughter. She was going to be so difficult. That was one of her attractions. But she was going to make his life so damned interesting. He didn’t know what the future held with her, although he was positive that he would have fun finding out. And he would never, ever be bored. To think that in his madness he had nearly thrown it all away on Acathla…

He gripped her more tightly, and they started off again for the mansion, the Slayer and her demon. She wrapped her arms around his neck, entangling her fingers in his silky hair. She wondered if she would be damned to Hell for trying to see the bigger picture, cast out of Heaven for all eternity for saving this demon and permitting him to continue in his evil. For not killing him. But she thought of the cat again, as she felt the ripple of muscle under his shirt. And then she thought that, after all, there *is* more than one way to kill a cat.

THE END

Go on to the next part of the series, Tyger, Tyger.

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