Cometh the Hour

Cometh the Hour

Spoilers: BtVS season 4. Angel didn't get his soul back in season 2. Oz didn't get to be a werewolf in season 2. Do not get me started on who sired Spike - it's exactly as it says in this story.
Rating: NC17 for sex, some of which is non-consensual, and some bad language. Some of the thinking is from Angelus' point of view and it's, well, demonic.
Content: B/A(us) Alternate past reality leading to an alternate future, which is where we began, in 'The Nature of the Beast'. Keep that in mind.
Summary: The follow-up to 'Tyger, Tyger'. If you haven't read that, it might be best if you do.

Author's notes

****

My name's Angelus, and I'm a demon. But then, you knew that. After so many years of being chained and caged and suffocated by that nauseating soul, I just can't describe how good it is to be free. Like coming back from Hell would be for you. Or for the soul. The soul is *never* coming back here, let me tell you. They say 'cometh the hour, cometh the man'. I may not be a man, but I've definitely come. In more ways than one. Well, a lot more ways than one. Double entendre. Hard as it is (see, I've done it again), just leave the sex aside for a minute. I'm back. And I'm hungry. Hungry for everything. Blood, sex, and power. Those are the only things that matter. Everything else follows from those things.

Have you ever wondered what it's like to be me?

No?

Liar.

Never wondered about the thrill of the hunt? The pleasure of the kill? The feel of that hot, fear-spiced blood hitting the back of your throat? Mmmph...makes me hungry just to think about it. Never thought about what it's truly like to be a vampire? All those extraordinary senses? All that physical power? Or what it's like to be *with* a vampire? Fucked by a vampire? Drunk by a vampire? Of course you have. You wouldn't be human if you hadn't. Prey animals are always fascinated by their predator.

Me, now, I've nothing of humanity in me. And let me tell you a secret. Neither did the soul. He wanted everything I want. He enjoyed everything I enjoy. He just wasn't man enough or vampire enough to go for it. Guilt kept getting in the way. Well, I'm a guilt-free zone now. And I'm going to have it all.

Blood, sex and power.

Blood? Keep the butcher's brew that the soul used to make do on. Let me tell you, Sunnydale has the widest variety of blood you could ever want. Young and innocent (not a lot of that, so I leave that for special occasions), rich, poor, drugged, corrupt, happy, afraid, miserable, angry, drunk, and oh so many more - every variation you can possibly think of, here on the Hellmouth. And, perhaps best of all, rampantly hormonal teenagers. Lots of them. Did you know that every person's blood tastes different, not only from every other person, but also from how they tasted yesterday, or will taste tomorrow? A skilled vampire, like me, can change the taste, while I'm drinking. It depends on what I'm doing to them as they die. On how long I keep them alive before they die. Pain and pleasure, it's wondrous what those two emotions will do to the taste of blood.

Buffy may be the Slayer, but you don't think she's going to cramp my style, do you?

I remember the last group of teenagers I took down. I think it was a quarter of the High School football team. They were high, they were adrenaline-fuelled, and they fought me, hard. At the end they were terrified and in pain. They were delicious. No need to remember the reason I chose them. No need to tell Buffy...

Sex? I've got sex. Real, red-hot sex. Vampires have often been involved with humans before. Just occasionally, vampires have been involved with slayers, although that is very rare, and the names of the lucky bastards who did it are a mantra to vampire-kind. NEVER has a vampire been involved with a slayer like my Buffy, and NEVER has a slayer been so enslaved as she is. So far as I know, no vampire and slayer have ever been mated before - and believe me, I'd know. She's one of a kind. So am I. No point in false modesty, is there? And, of course, there's always Spike and Drusilla, when we get back. Separately or together, I don't mind. It'll be whatever I feel like at the time. But I'll never share her, of course. Any vampire who touches her, who encroaches on my possession, my plaything, is dust. Any human male who touches her, who sullies my mate with his grubby, sweaty fingers, will pay for that insolence in pain every day for the rest of his life. And I'll make sure it's a very, very long life, chained to my wall. I'm a master of pain, believe me.

I've got money. Although that isn't quite the same as power, it gives you a good start down the road. Not that I didn't have money before, although *he* would never let us use it - and it might be hard to reactivate century-old investments. I'll have to get some lawyers on to that. Anyone know a good law firm? But the money I've got now makes that investment look like chicken shit. 5,000 blue-white diamonds of the first water. Average them at 30,000 bucks apiece - some of these babies are *big*. That's a cool 150 mill. Although I'll need to spread out my selling if I don't want to flood the market. No problem. And the estate here? At a conservative estimate the income is worth 10 mill a year, if I use the local proceeds to buy things that are highly portable and highly marketable back in our dimension. And cheap here in Hylek. More diamonds, maybe. Or other gems. Platinum is readily available here, too. And other things. Decisions, decisions.

Power? Well, I'm coming to that. I'm Master of Sunnydale. The Hellmouth is mine and mine alone. The rest of California won't be far behind. It's the seventh largest economy in the world, did you know? Oh, I don't want to be Governor, or some other half-assed politician. I'll just take over the underworld. That's where the real power lies, no matter what you humans think. We rule you. Nothing happens without our permission. Anything that we want - well, we get it. With money, the Slayer, the power of the Hellmouth, and my own particular talents, all the underworld powers of California will be mine in months. After that? I'm the Big Bad Wolf and I'll just eat it all up. The Northern Hemisphere will be my territory, I think. That's where all the real power is. The rest is hardly worth bothering about, but I'll see how I feel.

It's nice to lie here and plan, under the sun of a different dimension, with my pet Slayer ready to take care of my every need. She still loves the soul, she said so on the battlefield when she thought I was he, but she'll come to love me more than she ever loved him. I'll make damned sure of it. She'll forget him. She'll forget him quicker when I stop her calling me by his name. I've held my hand so far because she was so close to death. She's better now - every one of my senses tells me that - so no need to hold back. She'll learn. Me? Don't be stupid. Demons don't love. We *own*. She is mine. Nothing touches my property.

We're very territorial, did you know? Not just for living space, but for everything on the space that we claim. Rather like the master of a pride of lions. We'll fight to the death for our property. It's all mine. Nobody touches anything I've claimed. Not without my permission. She's top of the list. At the moment. I might tire of her, I might not. She'll be whatever I want for as long as I desire.

It's been a good day so far. We've made lo...fucked in bed, in the shower, on the floor, up against the wall, in the shower again. Then we came out to this jewel of a lake, sapphire-blue, set in green and purple hills. We fucked in the lake and we fucked out here on the hillside. I think I fucked her into near unconsciousness, that last time. In fact, it was such a thorough fuck that I feel a bit somnolent myself. I've got a lot of time to make up, you understand. I've held back in the arena of sex, lately, as well. I want her warm and willing. I want her addicted to me in every conceivable way. Oh, I could just as easily have taken her any way I pleased, whenever I pleased - she can't resist me, you know - but I want her willing. And it's what *I* want that counts.

Right now, I'm thinking that I want to fuck again. Hard and fast and now. Oh, I can be tender, when I want. When it serves my purpose. You've seen it, so you know I can. But it's what I want, and when I want. Right? What's that you say? That lamentable scene in the hospital? A momentary weakness, that's all. We vampires do not like to be deprived of any of our possessions, and I certainly didn't want to lose my prize slayer. And I was tired. I know I've been back for a year now, but it's been action packed. Even a vampire can get tired. And for some of that time I was almost as deranged as Drusilla. Just look at the whole Acathla incident. Why, in the name of everything that's unholy, would I want to get the world sucked into *his* particular Hell? A loser like that? It would have served the Rom right, though, for putting that curse on me, but it would have been the devil's own job getting back out. I'd have done it, mind you, when I came to my senses. The devil? That's me.

And Egypt. That took up a lot of my time. And energy. I have a score to settle with Aurelius, the head of my clan. I'll do that when the time is right. He'll see me take everything away from him, just before I dust him. The clan will be mine.

There are some others who'll see what's coming, too. Some demons here who know what I did to House Vermald, and who have made themselves scarce. I'll find them. You know what I'm talking about. I can wait. In fact, waiting adds to the pleasure - my pleasure - as it adds to their fear. My suffering here may not have lasted long in terms of time, but they'll pay it back a hundred-fold. Starting with that corrupt Council. Word of a demon.

House Orbath? They were honourable and they kept their word, held to their bargain. We are allies, now. On the estate, here, I'm subject to them. I hold it at their pleasure. That's right and proper, and how it was agreed. On my world, perhaps I'll let them have territories at my pleasure. Something in Western Europe, perhaps? What goes around comes around. There aren't many of them left, after the civil war, but they hold the throne. Haraeth is ruler of Hylek for the next seven years. In my opinion, it will be for a lot longer than that, provided he does a half-decent job. The war has almost wiped out the House structure and what the war didn't kill, the Vermald assassins did a pretty thorough job of - we didn't rescue that many from the dungeons. It will be at least a generation, perhaps more, before the structure is workable again. Who knows, maybe they will never go back to how it was before. That's their decision, and only time will tell.

House Demeral? They are one of the good guys - my sort of good guy, that is. Perhaps I'll give them some territory, too, to hold in my name. Britain? Japan? We'll see how it goes. It's good to have allies you can trust, who cleave to you because of shared history, loyalty and debt. Orbath, Demeral and Aurelian, we all owe each other for the last few weeks. That'll be good enough to last a lifetime, is my guess. An immortal lifetime.

Whilst I've been musing, I've been playing. Guess what with? And whose? She's awake now. See you later.

***

My, my; things are galloping on apace. We've come back from our secluded mountain glen. I'm not going to tell you what you missed. That's mine to know about, yours to imagine. I'll just say it got a bit rough - and I do like it that way. Right in the middle of things, she called me Angel, and I lost it, rather. She's felt my fists before, but not like this. This was punishment, not battle, and caught her by surprise. To ram the lesson home, so to speak, she got it where she didn't expect it, and she didn't get to come. Well, not for a bit. She'll learn, and I'll have fun teaching her. Pain is almost as important to a vampire as blood, you know. It's the demon in us. Hah-hah. Of course, it wasn't that much pain, as a first lesson. Just a touch. By my standards, anyway. And I kissed it all better afterwards. In a manner of speaking. Like I said, I want her willing in every way. Enough! I'm getting hard as a rock again, just thinking about it.

Anyway, we came back to our house - the best way to describe it is as a moated manor house; that'll give you the picture. There was a message from Haraeth. I should probably call him Orbath now, and I will, in public. That is as it should be. But he owes his throne to me, twice over. It'll be Haraeth in private. Seems that he's decided to have an advisory council, and not the one that ran the Great Games. He wants Buffy and me as members. Buffy backed off that - feels she's more of a doer than an advisor. Good girl. Knows her limits. She'll still sit on it though, at my insistence. She has to learn about power, if she is to rule as my Consort. That is what I intend for her, after all.

***

Loving a demon is never going to be easy. Yes, I have to admit it, although I haven't told him yet, except for that day on the battlefield, when I thought I would die. I don't think he heard, though. At least, he's never brought it up, and I'm sure he would have. It's what he wants, I think. I love this demon. My demon. He isn't Angel, and he'll never be Angel. I wish he were. Every night, I pray that Angel can somehow be restored to me, and every morning, I wake up wishing that he were with me. But all I have is this demon wearing his flesh, and yes, I love him too. Somehow, in some way that I don't yet understand - may never understand - it's all him, Angel and Angelus. It doesn't mean I don't still want my Angel, but perhaps I can never have him again. I hang onto everything of him that I can. I remember every word, every expression, every touch, every taste of him; every feel of his skin against mine. Everything. And I treasure those memories. I'll let none of it go, ever. But he's not here. His alter ego is. He's mine, and I'm his. He's said nothing yet about our status as mates, but there is something very real between us. I know it. I feel it in my blood.

Does he love me? Can a demon love? What is love, anyway? He'll cherish and protect me, I know that. He can be very tender, when he wants to be; very...Angel-like. Unlike Angel, he'll try to dominate me in every conceivable way, and he'll try to use my status as Slayer to his advantage. But he won't deny what I am.

He gets off on pain. I'm going to have to learn how to deal with that, deflect it where I can. But I'm the Slayer - I'm not exactly normal myself. And he will never, ever let me go. Not unless he tires of me, then he'll probably kill me. But until that day, I can use him, just as he will use me. I'm going to have to stop thinking of saving individual souls, and think of the greater good.

I can never kill this demon. Leaving aside the fact that he's Angel, he's very strong. I really don't think I *can* kill him. So, for the sake of the world, this is better anyway. I can try to control him. It will take time, but I think I can do it. And I'm the only Slayer who has the slightest hope of doing so. I must remember that.

And I know that he isn't as secure in himself as he would have us all believe. I told him today that I'll be starting at college after the vacation. He wouldn't even let me finish. He raged at me, and absolutely forbad me to go. But here's something I've worked out, and can use in the future. He's at his most brutal when he's afraid. I felt it in him. Fear. He's afraid of what will happen if I'm out of his territory. He knows Mom wants me to go to UCLA, and he can't bear the thought of me being in LA. So I admitted to him that I had decided to go to college in Sunnydale. What else would I do? That is where the Hellmouth is. That is where I have to be. He took that as a victory and made up for his earlier rage, then. Just how he did that is something I don't intend to share with you.

We had another problem, though, today. He beat me and...punished me in other ways. I still hurt from that. It was fear again. I called him Angel, and I'm sure he's afraid that he'll never have the same sort of love from me that Angel had. Silly boy. But this is a battle I can't and won't lose. If I give way on everything, I might as well be his slave and I won't be that. I'll call him Angelus in public. That's right and proper. He has a standing to maintain, and so do I. We must support each other there. But something tells me that if I want to survive this relationship, I must be his equal, and to do that, he needs to accept some things. Calling him Angel is the first and the smallest of things that I can choose to fight him on. You can't talk things like that through with a demon. You just have to fight them until they give in. I will win, so I guess I'm going to have to take my lumps - and give him some back when I can. Small steps. And it makes me feel that Angel is still around somewhere. I need that.

What if I do, somehow, manage to get Angel back? He'll remember everything the demon did. Everything *we* did. Will he be able to live with it? Will he be able to forgive me? I really can't think about that. Not unless that hour ever comes.

***

Haraeth gave me the information about the new Hellmouth, just as soon as he had wrung it out of the court astrologers. Almost literally. He's a good boy, that one.

And the sheer nerve of it! Remember I had a run-in with the Kahlavi cult when they wanted to take over my Hellmouth? And how we settled our differences after I made them see things my way? They are the bastards who are going to open a new one. I have two reasons to go after them now - opening a Hellmouth, and breaking their agreement with me. If I'm going to rule most of the known world - and I *am*, trust me on that - the underworld needs to know that I'm a demon of my word. Our treaty contained certain dire consequences for any party breaking their word. I like dire consequences when I'm visiting them on somebody else. We've got a few weeks yet - they'll be gathering at the specified spot, just over the Canadian border, whereas now they're scattered all over. I'll wait until the gathering, and then do a bit of visiting. I don't think I'll take Buffy, just in case there's any jiggery-pokery at our Hellmouth while I'm gone.

We have to leave Hylek for a while now, but I like it here. We'll be back before long.

***

My daughter and her ... boyfriend ... are back from wherever they've been to. I can't like it, of course, but she seems happy. Happier than she has been in a very long time, anyway. Happier than since...Angel...went away. I cried at night while they were gone; cried for her, for me, for the lost Angel as well, strangely enough. I can't do that now she's back. Mothers have to remain strong. She's told me about the Games. I can only feel relief that she didn't tell me before. They say ignorance is bliss, and in my case, it was true. I know she hasn't told me - will never tell me - all the truth about this or anything else, just the edited highlights, but I'll never know blissful ignorance again, will I? One thing I now know is the truth about that pagan artwork all over her body - he has it too. When I first saw it, all those weeks ago, I thought she'd been tattooed, and almost went out of my mind. Then, when I realised it was just surface ink, she told me it was a practical joke that had gone wrong - it was supposed to wash off, but now it would have to wear off. And it is. She tells me that's because the Games have ended, and the need for these body paintings has gone, so they will go too. She's wearing long sleeves to hide them, but I can see from the spiral on her cheek. And on his. They tell me that's the spiral of eternity. Fitting, I suppose, although I wish it weren't. And it is wearing off, so perhaps that's a sign to me of hope for the future. I know I'm clutching at straws, but what else do I have to clutch at?

We're getting things ready for her start at college the week after next. I wanted her to go to LA, where her previous friends and our family are, but she said no. She has to stay on the Hellmouth, she said. That's her job. Maybe so. But I don't think he would have let her leave anyway, and I'm afraid that was just as important to her. I'll just have to keep thinking of ways to put some distance between them.

Tonight, she's off to the Bronze with her friends, so I'm going off to the movies and dinner with one of mine. Girls' night out.

***

I have a little job for Willow the Witch. I'm already in her debt. Twice. There's something I want her to do for me, so that will make it thrice. There's magic in numbers, you know. You believe in magic, don't you? You've seen Willow do it, dammit! Well, three is a particularly powerful number. It's the number of creation. It represents the special moment, the carpe diem, the 'goddamit *that* was the moment' feeling. It stands for the magic itself, and for the spark of life. It's also the number of completion, which is why so much of magic has to be said in threes. It's the shortcut to infinity. As I said, powerful stuff. Not to worry, we're just talking about the burden of debt here, but you need to be careful of threes.

Come to think of it, I already owe Willow for three. There were the two spells to get us back from Hylek and, so far as I know - and I *would* know - she's kept her silence about...well, you know what about. As I said, you need to be careful of threes.

So I'm here, knocking at her bedroom doors which, so very handily, lead straight out onto the balcony. I don't need an invitation, of course. I've been in here once - or at least the soul has. That's good enough for me. I'm just being polite. I am, you know, sometimes.

She opens the door and stands there, rather flustered. You may have noticed that Willow flusters easily, although she always comes through in a pinch.

"Um...Angelus...er...hi. Erm."

"May I come in?"

"Erm."

Enough of being polite.

"I don't need an invitation, Willow. Remember?"

I push past her. Oz is there. I notice that his hand is bandaged - perhaps that's why he's here on a Friday night, instead of playing in his band somewhere. I haven't interrupted anything, not that I would have minded, of course. Vampires aren't shy about sex. I think I've said that before somewhere. But I have no reason to hold them up if they want to push things along. I might want to sample her some time, but that can wait. I won't enforce droit de seigneur. Not on these two. They've helped me, and I can't say that for a lot of humans or demons. So I come straight to the point.

"Willow. I'm already in your debt for three favours. I need another. I want you to use your hacker skills. Find me the best possible firm of lawyers to retrieve my investments. My *past* investments. I'll deal with future ones, but I need to be able to access those I made...before."

There's something in that room that's bothering me, but I can't immediately place what it is. A scent. It'll come to me.

Willow may be diffident, but nobody ever accused her of being stupid.

"Oh...oh, my! You had investments before the Rom..?"

She reddens, thinking she's said something to upset me. On another day it might.

"Yes. By my reckoning, they're going to be worth collecting. I need a lawyer who can deal with a hundred-year gap. Can you find me one that has a big success record at shady deals in this kind of area?"

The scent is distracting me, now. I know it, I just can't place it. She gives me the best answer I'm likely to get from diffident Willow.

"I'll try."

Good enough. I smile my thanks to both of them and leave. I think I'll go for a prowl, and see what the night has to offer. It's almost full moon. That brings back memories... Town centre, I think. It's Friday night. I'll look for some one who's had some fun.

***

I am so angry. My girlfriend was only half an hour late for the movie when she rang to say she wouldn't be coming. Domestic crisis. Thank God for mobile phones, I suppose. I'd taken a cab down here, and there isn't one to be had for love or money now. It's still quite early so I decided to take a shortcut through a couple of alleys to see if I have better luck a couple of streets over. That's been a mistake, I see now. The alleys are deserted except for me and this...thing. It looks like Angelus when he turned himself into a vampire to prove to me that they exist. Uglier, though. Even more brutish. So perhaps this is one of his...get? Is that the right word? Well, I doubt it will matter soon. He's bared his fangs, and he's coming for me. I can hear the scream ripping out of my throat. Please, let someone hear.

Oh, my. Someone did hear. Him. I've never seen anything like it. Angelus drops from the roof of a three-storey building, as if he were stepping off the pavement. Like a cat. He takes the thing from behind and sinks his fangs into its neck, drinking from it until it stops struggling, then he picks it up and snaps its spine across his raised knee, as if it were no more than a dead branch. Then he finds a sharp piece of wood lying near a dumpster and he stabs it in the heart. It simply explodes into dust. Is this what Buffy does, I wonder? My tiny, delicate daughter? Well, presumably not the drinking part. But the rest? The killing? Of course she does. This is when I really begin to believe. Now he's coming towards me. Is he going to finish what that...thing...started?

No. He's offering me his arm, but I seem to have lost the power of movement.

"Joyce," he says, in a mildly chiding tone. "What are you doing in a place like this? I would have expected the Slayer's mother to know better."

He lifts my hand, and tucks it firmly into the crook of his arm. He draws me out towards the lights of the beaten track. Somehow, he finds one of those elusive taxis as if it had been waiting just for him. I expect him to leave me then, go about whatever business I interrupted - I'm terrified to think what that might be - but no; he gets into the taxi with me, and gives the driver my address. When we get out, he pays for the taxi, although I try to. He looks mildly annoyed as I do, so I put my money away. I really don't want to make him angry. Then he walks me to my door.

"Is Buffy in?"

"No...she's gone to the Bronze with her friends."

"I'll look her up there, then. And Joyce, none of my women puts themselves in danger like that. Please don't go near dark alleys. Just in case, you'll have an escort from now on. One of my minions will follow you any night when you go out. Oh, and you shouldn't expect Buffy back until late on Sunday."

And with that, he's gone without waiting for an answer, as if he had never been here. I have to be thankful for his arrival. But just what did he mean by 'his women'? Providing me with a permanent escort? And kidnapping my daughter? Insufferable! I hope Buffy knees him in the groin. No, he'll only hurt her if she does. And yet, she doesn't seem afraid of him, the way the rest of us are. Perhaps it's like having one of those big fierce dogs that are fine if you master them, show them you are leader of the pack? No, I'm pretty sure it isn't like that. Whatever, she seems able to manage him. Thank God.

***

I have a surprise for my girl. Well, two of them. I'm sure she'll like them, especially when she finds out that one of them is me. When I get to the Bronze, I see that she's dancing with Xander and Cordelia. Willow and Oz aren't here. Bet I can guess where they are. My investments have waited a long time; they'll wait a little while longer for a bit of teenage lust. I'll need to grab a bite at some time during the evening, but the vamp I've drunk has taken the edge off my hunger, at least. I just need something fresh to top it off. Later will do.

I know she feels me coming, but she doesn't show it until I slink up behind her, my arms wrapped around her waist and my body moulded against her back. Just the sight of her has made me hard, and I rub against her. She purrs in pleasure. She's halfway to being a vampire already.

We spend an hour just dancing and hanging out. I'm amused at Xander. He's filled with anger and outrage. He'd be such a tasty treat but, sadly, I'd better pass on that. Buffy really wouldn't appreciate it. Cordelia has a more measured approach. Maybe she'll drum some sense into him. But she's not drumming much else. I can tell that he's still a virgin. That only increases my amusement. And that makes him angrier.

When I've had enough, we say goodnight. I'm taking her back to the mansion. We haven't spent time there together since our stolen weekend. I'm going to steal another one, now. Forget the snack. This is more...pressing. I'll send Spike out for something in a bag. He'll take the piss, but a taste of my fist will shut him up. Vampires drink bagged blood more commonly than we let on. I just prefer not to.

When we get back to the mansion, Spike and Dru have come back from hunting. He grumbles at being sent out again, but does so. Wonders will never cease. And I don't forget my words to Joyce. Spike will also make sure the minions set up a rota for escort duty. The one I staked? He wasn't one of mine. He belonged to another clan that I've tolerated here. I'll take care of that when I've finished this weekend, and not before.

When we get up to my rooms, I tell her what happened to her mother tonight. She looks pale and shocked, and wants to leave, but I hold her. Firmly. I tell her what arrangements I've made for her mother's protection and she slaps me! Me! She then starts to give me a tongue lashing, starting with my character and antecedents, and dwelling at length on the insufferable nature of my highhandedness. She's beautiful in a temper. I let her rage for a while, watching her prowl back and forth across the room like the lioness I keep comparing her to, savouring the aroma of her anger and her arousal, and then I shut her up by pushing her onto the bed and giving her a different sort of tongue lashing of my own. All I get from her then are mewls of need. I don't let her come, though. Not yet.

I'm a damned good lover. The best, really. And my girl is one hell of a fuck. The fuck of a lifetime, actually, even one as long as mine. Together, well, what can I say? Eat your heart out. When I go to Canada to sort out this traitorous bunch of Kahlavi, I'll likely be away a little while. Before I go, I'm going to fill her life with pleasure. She's beautiful, but never so beautiful as when she has that look of breathless rapture as she enters orgasm. Then, I never want to stop looking at her, and I never want to stop bringing that look to her face.

So, I bring her gently back down, then make her climb that peak again. And again. And again. Until she's clawing at me in her need, and her pleasure is just about to turn to pain. Then I finally relent and let her reach the summit. My reward is that look on her face. Not that I can see it from where I am, of course. Never mind, I'll see it many times during this weekend, and in the long hereafter. We're only into openers, now. I haven't even undressed her yet, I just shredded her panties in my impatience. They were only two scraps of lace and two pieces of ribbon anyway - they couldn't possibly be called panties. Just the way I like them.

When I've finished feasting on her - only for the moment, you understand - I clean her up and draw her gently to her feet. She's having a small problem with her legs, which are none too steady. Good. I hold her close, so that she doesn't fall, and so that she can feel what's coming to her before too much longer. I think she likes what she feels.

When she's steady again, it's time for my second surprise. I take her to a wardrobe next to my own. It's for her. There's hardly anything in there yet. I want her to choose her own wardrobe. I'll advise her, of course. As my Consort, there are certain...expectations. She'll have the pleasure of choosing, though. I've started her off with one thing. A black dress. It's simple, and it's long. It's décolleté, with a deeply plunging neckline to show her off to advantage, and it's cut on the bias, so that whilst it drapes in elegant folds, it also clings to every line and curve of her, and moves with her like a second skin. And it's in silk, that most wondrous fabric. Not that dreadful thin stuff that passes for silk nowadays, and not the heavy bombazine beloved of Victorian dowagers. A nice, medium weight silk that reflects the light and accentuates the whole of her. Every demon in Hell can slaver over her, lust after her, envy me. She is mine, and none will dare to touch her, except me.

When she gets the dress on, it's breathtaking. Or rather, she's even more breathtaking in it. If I had to breathe, I'd be having trouble now.

There's something to go with it. I've had it made for her. A high, ornate choker of garnets and jet, with lacy loops of tiny jet and garnet beads forming a tracery at the base of the neck. Hanging from the centre is my blue-white diamond, in a pendent setting of white gold and surrounded by small black diamonds. I fasten it around her slender throat. Even I'm having trouble with the breathing now. I want to rip everything off her, but she clearly likes it, so I don't.

"That's the first part of your wardrobe here. I want you by my side for important occasions. I want the community to know that you are my Consort. We'll go to a modiste, you can choose some dresses and all the other bits and pieces, and we'll take it from there."

My voice doesn't sound as if it belongs to me. It's roughened and husky with lust. I'm sure my eyes have turned to amber and I don't know how I'm keeping my claws off the front of the dress. I want to ravish her in its rags, she wearing nothing but that trumpery bit of jewellery. But she likes the dress.

She reaches out her little hand and presses it just where it will do most harm to my self-control. My chest tightens another notch.

That dress is going to come off her in the next fifteen seconds, one way or another. I unzip it with hands that are almost steady, and she steps out of it. I leave the choker, though. It's like drops of blood at her throat. For a vampire, that is one hell of a turn-on, I can tell you. She's got nothing else on but her skin. I can wait no longer, and I scoop her up and toss her onto the bed. It's my clothes that get ripped off instead. Dammit, I liked that shirt.

It's afterwards, long afterwards, just as the sun is starting to rise, and we are drifting off to sleep - for a while - that I notice something. I'm curled around her back and I trace my fingers over the blue wolves entwined around her arms, the spiral of eternity on her cheek, and the prowling leopard on her back. She has more wolves around her legs, just as I do, and dragons on her stomach, but just at this moment I can't see those. The wolves, the spiral and the leopard are all visibly fading. One thing isn't, though. The copy of Angel's tattoo. Of MY tattoo. That is as fresh and crisp as the day Ezrafel drew it. He said that the drawings would fade, unless we wished to keep them. Has she wished to keep that, and why? Is it for me? Or for her lost love? If it's for him, I might just have to kill her. I doubt it would end there.

***

We've made love for hours. He calls it sex, or fucking, but the way he fucked me? It's making love. I may not have much experience to go by, but it's almost what Angel and I had. Would have had, if we'd had time for more than one night together. As morning broke, I fell asleep in the arms of a demon, feeling warm and safe and cherished. When I wake up early in the afternoon, though, I know I am in trouble. They say that prey animals can smell danger. As the Slayer, I may be a hunter, but my species is still a vampire's prey, and I can smell danger. If I want to end up as more than a brief, damp squeak, I need to be very careful indeed. I can tell that he's awake. His finger starts carefully tracing a pattern on my back, although I can't tell what. I move to turn over, to face him, but he holds me steady. His arm is like the arm of a marble statue, hard and unyielding. I can't see them, but I'd hazard a guess that his eyes, his face, have that same quality. Hard as stone.

He must be able to scent my fear - I can't hope to fool him - so I try to distract him. I wriggle backwards. He's hard there, too. Somehow, though, everything feels different. More threatening. Nevertheless, I reach around and start to stroke him, just as I know he likes it. And he does. But the hand that has been tracing patterns on my back reaches down and clasps my wrist, hard enough to grind the bones together painfully. I don't struggle, though. Now is the time to submit. I wait for him, and try to calm my racing heart. A predator, wired for the hunt, might go into a killing frenzy out of sheer instinct if faced with a helpless prey oozing the pheromones of fear. How many cat owners have lost their beloved moggy to an equally beloved pet greyhound? It's in the blood. When he speaks, his voice is light and teasing, and has that edge of madness that it had a year ago. Dear God. I think I'm in such trouble, and I have no idea why. Whatever made me think I could do this? Could tame this most vicious of all demons?

"It isn't fading, Buff. Why not? The others are."

"What?"

Not the best response I could have mustered, but my brain is still a bit sleep-fogged, and I have no idea what he's talking about. He releases my wrist, which starts throbbing in agony, and goes back to tracing patterns on my back.

"Do you like it so much that you wanted to keep it?"

I have it now. The tattoo. My response is pure instinct, not thought out at all. A shriek of womanly indignation.

"Not fading? That shyster keeper said it would all fade. Everything, except what we wanted to keep..."

My voice trails off as I realise what I've said. The meaning of what he's said. Not fading? Shit. I try not to remember how hard I've been praying for Angel's return, how hard I've been husbanding every memory of him. Look where it's got me. I try to concentrate solely on the world as it is.

"Well, I *do* like it. I just didn't realise the magic would take that so literally." I say that with some asperity. It's the truth after all. He gives a low chuckle that sounds just a little more...normal. Please God. I wish the thing away, as if it might suddenly start fading under his nose. No such luck, of course.

"Do you like it for me, babe? Or for him?"

Ah. There we have it. What was I saying about the relationship between his fear and his brutality? I think we're seeing an example in spades, here. And if I lie, he will know. Those damned vampire senses. He'll literally sniff out a lie before I've finished it. Only the truth, then. Carefully selected.

"Both of you."

I feel his body stiffen, and I think my life probably hangs by a thread, now. If I look round, I believe that I'll see the vampire face. Certainly, his fingers feel...different.

I sigh, and press on. Dear God, let me be making the right decisions, here. For all our sakes. If he murders me, I suspect that the insanity will return and Sunnydale will see a bloodbath. Perhaps more than just Sunnydale. And he might not only kill me.

"You know I love him, and always will. I can't stop that, just like you can't stop drinking blood. It's part of who we are."

I feel him shift a little behind me, and I'm certain now that the vampire fangs are close to my neck, reaching for me. If he were warm and breathing, I would feel his hot, moist breath on my nape, smell the rankness of predator on his exhalations. I hurry on, without seeming to, I hope. Try not to show fear, little animal.

"I love you too, now. I told you that, on the battlefield, when I thought I was going to die. I needed you to know, but I think you didn't hear me. I don't know whether you want me to love you, or whether you'll kill me because of it, but there's no help for it. I do. I love you as I loved him. And I'm yours. You know I'm yours by blood. I'm yours by choice, as well, now. So I guess part of me wanted to keep the tattoo for both of you. But you're the one I'm with, you're the one I choose to be with. Anyway, I didn't know it wasn't fading. I can't see that bit." I allow myself to sound a bit querulous at the end. Well, how many times do you gaze at your shoulder blade, for goodness' sake?

He says nothing for several very long minutes, and I remain silent, but then his fingers start to move over me again. This time, they feel less like claws. When his mouth touches the nape of my neck, it's his human lips I feel, and I shudder with pleasure as well as relief. I think I might survive this day.

Then he's turning me over, and kissing me as if he were starved for me. And I for him. He makes love to me then - and it *is* making love, there cannot be the least doubt of it - with fevered desperation. Something has changed, and I don't know what. But I think it might be a good thing.

***

I almost killed her. There is, of course, dead and dead where vampires are concerned. I'm not sure which it would have been, but it was almost one of them. I would have...regretted...that. The world would have felt the weight of my regret, believe me. But passion rules me as much as it rules you; more perhaps; passion is certainly ruling me now.

I have lain here all morning, anger roiling through me. I was sure that she had kept the tattoo because of her feelings for the hated soul, and for hours, I've wanted to tear her to shreds and feast on her remains; or fuck her to death, making her come again and again in her own blood, die screaming my name in ecstasy; or perhaps chain her to my wall and spend the rest of our eternal lives showing her every nuance of pain I've ever learned; or chain her to my bed and spend the rest of our eternal lives making her love me. I've visualised every one in exquisite detail. One of them and all of them. How I've kept control I don't know.

I hear the change in her heartbeat as she starts to rouse from sleep. Still I can't decide which of the variations to visit on her. I continue to hold her with my left arm. Her neck is lying in the crook of my elbow, my forearm across her breasts, my hand lying loosely over her right shoulder. She's so tiny. It would be so easy to...No! That would be too quick. With my right hand, I start to trace the outlines of the tattoo. And now she's awake, although still a little drowsy from sleep, drugged by satiation from our recent couplings. She tries to turn over, but I can't and won't look at her face. Not yet. Not until I've made my mind up what to do. I tighten the grip of my left arm, holding her firm against my chest. She feels her danger, somehow. Slayer senses, perhaps? Human instinct, maybe? More likely, I think, she feels me in her blood. She's my mate, and it is this that tells her of her danger, although she might not yet understand the power of our bonding. Whatever, now I can smell the delicious aroma of her fear. My predator instincts kick into overdrive, and my control starts to slip.

Now she's trying that oldest of feminine tricks. She presses backwards, her lush rear end enveloping and caressing the erection I've had through all my tortured musings, the erection that long since ceased to be pleasurable and has caused me exquisite pain for hours. My control slips a little more. Perhaps I'll settle for fucking her to death, making her come in her own blood...No! No decisions, not yet. I keep up the soothing rhythm of tracing the tattoo, concentrating on that, trying to ignore, as I have for all these hours, the pain of my desire.

Her fear spikes upwards. It's my blood in her, my enslavement of her, warning her of her danger. I remember that bead of blood on her lips, on that night in Hylek, my blood; the unexpected bead of blood that completed the circle of mated bonding, bringing about my enslavement to her. I remember how I thought of killing her then to end that enslavement, and now I'm hanging onto control by a thread. One more little push, and my passion will make playthings of us all.

And then she reaches backwards with her free right hand and starts to stroke me. For a moment, everything stops, times ceases for me, and I just AM. I'm nothing more than a hungry erection and I want to fuck NOW. If I do that, it will be in her blood, and I'll drink her down, impaled on my cock and my fangs, and the world will burn.

I fight, as I have never fought before, to hang onto that thread of control. And time starts to run again. With the hand that has been tracing the tattoo, I reach down and grasp her wrist, pulling her away from me before it's too late. I know that I'm hurting her, badly, grinding the bones of her wrist together. If she were truly human, her wrist would have been crushed beyond repair. I can't help it though. I'm still fighting for control and I have no capacity for exercising restraint elsewhere. Long minutes pass before it's safe for me to speak. She doesn't try to move, and I feel her absolute submission. That helps.

I hardly recognise the voice, when I do speak, but I know where it comes from. The edge of madness. Does she understand the danger we are all in, I wonder?

"It isn't fading, Buff. Why not? The others are."

"What?"

Insolence! That's no answer for me, her mate, her lord and master! I'm back to fighting for control, so I release her wrist and go back to tracing the pattern on her back until I can speak again.

"Do you like it so much that you wanted to keep it?"

Her reply surprises me and, strangely, ratchets down my struggle for self control by a notch.

"Not fading? That shyster keeper said it would all fade. Everything, except what we wanted to keep..."

She trails off there, realising what she's said. The ratchet works the other way now and I try to think of some of the finer things this world has to offer, the reasons why I shouldn't destroy it. They all taste like ashes.

"Well, I *do* like it. I just didn't realise the magic would take that so literally." Her tone is sharp and acerbic. Typical Slayer Buffy. And she doesn't smell of a lie. I find that I can take a small step back from the edge, and, unbidden, a small laugh of relief rises to my lips. It's only been a small step, but any amount of release from the grip of that madness has to be welcomed. I have just enough control now to press on. Only just, though.

"Do you like it for me, babe? Or for him?"

She fully realises her danger now. I can sense it in her blood. In my blood.

"Both of you."

I stiffen, involuntarily, and take a large stride back into that grey cloud, back to the very brink. The smallest thing now, and we'll be lost. I've fully morphed, and my claws are ready to rip at her heart, to tear that traitorous organ out of her body and eat it before her dying eyes.

"You know I love him, and always will. I can't stop that, just like you can't stop drinking blood. It's part of who we are."

That's it. I shift behind her, bending my head to reach her, my fangs opening to embrace her neck, above the jewelled choker, those bloody drops of stone, to sink into her carotid and draw the life from her. I'll turn her, and she will feel my anger for eternity. She will know pain that she has never dreamt of, even in her wildest nightmares. For this betrayal, she will know agony for every second of forever; she will never be free of it, never be free of me and my revenge. Fear has been pouring off her in waves, but now it's replaced by acceptance. She knows what is coming to her, what she deserves. I close my golden eyes as the pain of her betrayal lances through me. In a second, it will be done.

"I love you too, now."

What? I will myself to absolute stillness, my fangs still poised, not quite touching yet, but so close that I can taste the salt of her sweat on the air between us.

"I told you that, on the battlefield, when I thought I was going to die. I needed you to know, but I think you didn't hear me. I don't know whether you want me to love you, or whether you'll kill me because of it, but there's no help for it. I do. I love you as I loved him. And I'm yours. You know I'm yours by blood. I'm yours by choice, as well, now. So I guess part of me wanted to keep the tattoo for both of you. But you're the one I'm with, you're the one I choose to be with. Anyway, I didn't know it wasn't fading. I can't see that bit."

I am absolutely motionless, as only a predator can be. Only a predator that almost made the worst mistake of his life, for whom disaster has been averted by the merest sliver of a hair's breadth. As the grey fog of madness recedes, I step away again from the precipice, moving back until it is a pencil line in the distance. Thoughts skitter around my mind like cockroaches. Thoughts of what I had planned to do to her, what I would have done to the world. What I would have done to me. Thoughts like a sea of corruption, a tide of foulness, washing up against the base of a lighthouse, a beacon of hope, a radiance in this hellish darkness. A beacon made up of three intertwined elements. I told you, beware the power of three.

She loves me. I can smell the truth of that on her. I can feel it, like a pounding in my blood. I've known it for a long time, without knowing it, if you take my meaning. I think I've known it since that first stay in Hylek, long before she saved my life that night in the park. But it was in the park that I should have recognised it. Foolishness. Shame on you, Angelus.

I love her. I've known it for a long time, and I haven't had the wit to recognise it. I've felt it, like a fever in my blood, and it has driven so much of what I have done since I returned. It has been my lodestar, my guiding light. It will be my damnation. It is this love that forms the pillar of strength around which the other two elements entwine. No matter what else, I love her. Even though demons cannot love, I do. I'll be damned for eternity, but I do. With every fibre of my being. I don't know what this means, how it will manifest, whether it will temper my behaviour towards her, or whether loving the Slayer will end up killing her, or killing me, but I do know that just as she is enslaved by me, I truly am utterly enslaved by her. And I would have it no differently. Though it means that I will suffer the torments of hell forever, as a recusant and an outcast, whilst that slippery soul will spend eternity in the aether with her, yet I would have it no differently.

She loves Angel. I am surprised to find that I will let her. I just want her to love me more. I don't want her to stop loving that spineless creature. She isn't fickle; she is more steadfast than that. Once she loves, she loves for eternity. If she can love him for eternity, perhaps she can love me for eternity, too. If she ever stops loving him, perhaps she will stop loving me. Then the world will certainly burn.

I understand now how entwined the three of us are. I think.

Slowly, I close my jaws. It takes an enormous effort to change back. It's never been as hard as this. I swallow back the taste of her and I allow myself to truly feel, to be, to just bask in her. And I have control again - except in one important area. Everything that has happened, every passion that I have felt, am feeling now, is concentrated in one exquisitely painful area. If I don't do something about that, I'm going to come where I lie. I press my lips to her neck. I want to reach for her pulse point, to suckle it, to feel the life pounding through her, but I daren't. That would put the seal on my lack of control.

I turn her over, and I kiss her as if I'm starving for her - which I am. She returns the kiss with the same fervour. I want to worship her body, offer her the adoration she so deserves, silently beg her forgiveness for the horrors I have almost perpetrated, but the worship must be fleeting or I shall disgrace myself.

I suckle at her nipples a little, and feel the jolt of desire that runs through her body. There is no time for more. I will make it up to her later, but now, I cannot. When I was first turned, Darla delighted in exerting the authority of a sire over me, in showing me how absolutely I was in her power. One of her favourite games was to suck me and fuck me with every ounce of her vampiric strength and endurance, and with one hundred and fifty years' worth of experience, for entire nights at a time. And not permit me to come for entire nights at a time. Without even the aid of a cock ring. Young, inexperienced vampires have as little control as young, inexperienced human males. I learnt control at the hands of the harshest taskmistress - memories of her punishments whenever I failed make me shudder even now. It is only those lessons that have so far prevented me from spending myself all over my beloved. But Darla never had her hand around my heart, as Buffy does. And even Darla never had this grip on my balls.

Silently vowing to do whatever is necessary, to abase myself in whatever way will ensure her greatest pleasure for the rest of this weekend, to bring her to raptures she has never even dreamed about, for her own sake and as penance for the haste I am now in, I plunge into her in one long, smooth stroke. She opens for me, welcomes me, clenches down on me as if she will never release me. I bite through my lip in my efforts not to let go, to hold out just a few moments longer. I feel the blood leaking from the wound, and the smell almost finishes me. Then, she raises her head and kisses me. When she tastes the salt of the blood, she suckles on it, exactly as I would have done had it been hers. And I am gone. My orgasm explodes from me with a power I do not believe I have ever experienced in all my years. I am mindless and lost. I am caught in the darkness of la petite mort. It is many seconds before I realise that, far from being left unsatisfied, she, too, is in the throes of rapture. My blood has brought her to completion. She is truly my mate in every aspect. Everything between us has changed.

I don't realise that I am in game face until she presses her finger against one of my fangs, drawing just a few drops of blood, which she allows me to suckle. And I am lost again, drowning in her velvet depths, our passion feeding off each other's. We cleave to each other as we fall, together, down into a welcoming darkness.

When I recover myself, I am utterly and completely spent. You know that vampires need no recovery time. At least, I don't. I am a demon, with complete control of this dead flesh that I inhabit. I just need to think that I want it, to allow my flesh to do it, and it is there for me, ready and willing. Not now. I am completely sated and drained, satisfied as I have never been before. I can sense that my beloved is the same.

I am sprawled over her, but there is something I must say, so I stay where I am, holding her fast. As I wait for her to come back to herself, I feel every inch of her skin cleaving to me and I think of my darkness pressing down on her light, trying to extinguish it; my cold, dead flesh draining her heat. Then I realise that I am wrong, that something different is happening. The chill of the tomb is being dispelled by her warmth, her living, loving warmth. She has already started to warm my still heart, and now her flesh is warming mine. It's only temporary, of course, but I wonder what other effects she will have on me. I can feel the smile on my lips. I *know* I'll enjoy finding out, even if she does have to drag those changes, kicking and screaming, from me.

And now she is rousing, and claims my full attention. She is flushed from our mating, and her full lips are smiling with that particular sweetness of the well satisfied. Her golden hair is fanned out across my pillow and she looks like a wanton, willing lover. I want to see her like that forever. But I will not, and a small icicle of fear lodges itself in my heart. I realise now that I want her always with this warmth, this spirit, this *life* that seeps into even my cold bones. I will keep her with me for the rest of her life, but I will never turn her. I refuse to even contemplate what will happen...after. Let the now be enough for now.

She raises her hand to my face with a look of love that any man of either of our species would impale himself to earn. It is only as she touches me that I realise I am still in game face. She does not care. I must be squeezing the breath from her, her tiny body engulfed by my larger one, but she seems not to care about that, either. She strokes my roughened brow, and I can feel the waves of love coming from her. I must say it now. I will leave my countenance as it is, so that she will truly know who speaks to her. I take her face between my hands, careful not to mar her with my claws. We stay that way for a moment, gazes locked, and the word is forced from me as a groan.

"Buffy..."

***

The depth of his need was clear, even to me in my inexperience. What surprised me was the depth of my own. He plunges into me, and I want to take him further and further, until I no longer know which is his flesh and which is mine. I raise my head to kiss him, to have the unique taste of him, and I see that his bottom lip is bleeding, although I don't remember it being cut. I suck his lip between my own, tonguing the blood off, savouring the richness of even those few drops. He doesn't stop me, and I am too far gone myself to wonder whether it will...change...me. It tastes of cinnamon and power and Angel.

As I suck on the tiny wound, seeking more, he shudders, then howls his fulfilment. The feel of his seed within me triggers my own, and as I enter the first throes, the last thing I remember is that the face I have kissed is the face of the vampire. I need to acknowledge that I love the demon as well as the man. I raise my hand and press my finger to his sharpest fang. A little blood wells up and I smear it against his tongue, allowing him to suckle on my finger as I did on his lip. Then we are both lost, again, in bliss. I have no words to describe it.

When I come back to myself, his body is still resting on mine. I raise my hand to touch his face, the face of the demon, and love sings through me. He takes my face in his hands and speaks my name with a groan.

"Buffy..."

I want him to know how truly his I am. With vampires I am sure that actions speak louder than words. Instinctively, it seems, I know what to do. I lift my legs and lock them around his waist, not a request for him to enter me - I know that we are both too sated just now for that - but a gesture of submission, opening my body to him for his pleasure whenever he should choose. Without breaking gaze, I stretch my neck, baring my throat for him. He gives something between a sob and a groan, but he doesn't move. I wait, for whatever it is I know he wants to say.

***

My Consort, my mate, my beloved. She lies beneath me, her body open to me in invitation, her neck offered to me in submission. It makes me want to roar in triumph. This woman, this Slayer, is displaying her acceptance of anything I might wish to do; has opened herself for me, and only for me. For the moment, I am overwhelmed. I am used only to the demonic emotions, which mainly spring from anger and from selfish desires. The demonic thrill of possession and of mastery over this wondrous creature is thrumming in my blood. Different emotions are also coursing through me. Human emotions, yet still ones that I am not very familiar with. The man I was, Liam, was not used to the finer feelings. I'm not sure how to handle all of this. A trip to Canada will be good, I think, despite the enforced separation from my beloved. It will give me a chance to get some...perspective.

But there are still things I need to say.

"When you told me you loved me, there on the battlefield, I heard you." I stroke her throat with my thumbs as I speak, lightly, delicately, as if I were preparing to accept her offering. The choker glistens almost as temptingly as her skin.

"I thought at the time that you were hallucinating, that you believed me to be Angel. You were so close to death..." My throat closes and I cannot for the moment continue.

She remains still whilst I swallow past the lump in my throat at the memory of that terrible moment.

"It was you who didn't hear what I said. You faded from consciousness too quickly. I asked you not to leave me. I said that I loved you, and that I needed you." I still the movement of my hands, and both she and the world seem to wait, breathless, for this unnatural declaration to be completed.

"And I swear to you, by all the powers of light and darkness, by every god in every dimension, that I love you now and forever. You are mine, for eternity. I will never be him, not ever again. I am only and always a demon. But I love you. You will stand by my side as my Consort, and I will cherish and protect you in every way known to human or demon kind. I will never leave you or abandon you, and we will face together everything the future brings to us."

There. It is done.

There is a moment of stillness and the word 'forever' seems to echo mockingly around the room. The sliver of fear in my heart makes itself felt, and I know that, since I will never turn her, I will feel that shard in my heart every day for the rest of my life. I must learn to live with it.

She brings her hand back to my face, wraps it around the back of my neck and pulls me down for a kiss. She whispers only one word. "Beloved." When the kiss breaks, I move aside, and we curl together, sated and at peace. There are many things that we will need to work through in this most extreme of pairings, but none of them are beyond us and they can all wait. We sleep until evening.

When we awake, it is because someone has knocked on the door. Spike enters the outer room and stops to look at us, a sardonic expression on his face. I know that we are curled together like kittens in a basket, but he'd just better damn well get used to it. He's going to see this a lot. Buffy is awake now, as well, and a lot less comfortable about Spike than I am. Well, she's going to have to get used to it, too.

He walks forward, into the bedroom, clearly trying out certain introductory phrases in his head. Spike is so transparent. Eventually he decides just to plunge in to what he has to say.

"You might want to get up now - there's a delegation of Norag demons, come to pay tribute and make peace with you."

Really? Who are the Norag, and what do they want with me? Why do they think I am at war with them? Still, homage and tribute make a good introduction. We'll meet them, Buffy and I. I tell Spike to keep them occupied for half an hour, and we'll be down. I can get ready more quickly, but Buffy might appreciate the time. I know how women are.

I feel different, somehow. Demons are driven, you know, creatures of appetite. Oh, we feel satisfaction, for a while, when we've had our fill of a particular appetite. But there are always other things to do. Everything in our existence is about meeting our own desires, always thirsting for something else. Now? I feel...contentment. Peace. Is this, I wonder, how Soul Boy felt when he handed our body over to me? If it is, then he felt...good. I'm waiting for Buffy to have her shower - she needs more time afterwards than I do. I think I'll pop in there and torment her a little, put an edge on *her* appetite for later...

That was nice. I still feel...happy. That's the only word I can find to describe it. It isn't a demonic feeling, let me tell you. I've still got all of those but, now, there's more. It won't change any of my plans. I just feel more...amenable. How interesting the future is going to be!

***

This day has been really weird, and it isn't getting any more normal. I didn't realise that he had food in for me, but he has - just some quick snacks, anyway. Apparently dinner out was on the agenda for tonight, but we have demons first. I've put my hair up, using some black combs that he borrowed from Drusilla for me, and I have the black dress, the choker and some very classy black shoes. Nothing else. My underwear got shredded, remember? The outfit he bought for me doesn't seem to include underwear and, by his smirk, that was deliberate. Now we are descending the staircase to the grand hall, my hand on his arm. I hope I don't trip and spoil the effect!

The three demons are robed and cowled, although the cowls are pushed back. I don't remember these ones. We remain standing to receive them. They have some boxes with them. Tribute? Spike does the introductions, in a rather casual manner that I can see annoys Angel. The one called Ixolon comes forward to speak on behalf of the group. He bows deeply before he speaks.

"We come before the Master of the Hellmouth in supplication, seeking your forgiveness and your blessing on our humble clan."

Uh-oh. Forgiveness? I don't know how mellow my lover is feeling, but forgiveness doesn't often feature with him. I wonder what for? He asks them. There's only a slight edge to his voice.

"The Kahlavi cult tricked us into selling the Slayer to the Hylekians. We had no idea that she was yours. We come to make such amends as are possible."

What! It was this bunch that... I want to take them apart myself, but then I remember all the good things that have come from that kidnapping. Perhaps we owe them rather than the other way round. My anger disappears - more or less. Not so with my demon. He's still on first instincts. My lover is filled with rage, and a growl is rising from him. Well, at least they get the merit of making the confession. If he had had to hunt them down - which he intended to do - they wouldn't have got this far into their explanation. They are hurriedly opening up the boxes.

"We were paid 100 Hylekian diamonds. We have sold 4 and much of the money is spent, but we offer to you the 96 that remain, together with as much of the sale price as we have left. $35,000."

Two of the boxes are opened, now, one containing the wonderful, glittering jewels. I didn't realise that diamonds come in different colours, but these do. The other box contains cash. Bundles of crisp, new notes.

"What makes you think that these will make reparation for what you did to my mate, my Consort?"

His words are cold and icy, and all the more deadly for that. But at least he hasn't killed them yet.

"They cannot, my lord. They are merely to show that we will not profit by our error. We hope that our other gift will show you the depth of our repentance."

Ixolon takes a small box from one of his comrades. He comes forward gingerly and opens it. It contains a not very attractive ring, in rather an old-fashioned setting, but Angel's gaze is riveted to it. So is Spike's.

"We have the Gem of Amara, my lord, and we make a gift of it to you. We hope that you might consider this as our reparation."

He reaches for the gift. He sees that I do not understand its significance. As he puts it on, he turns to me.

"It makes a vampire invulnerable, my dear. Sunlight, stakes, it doesn't matter. Nothing can kill me whilst I'm wearing this."

He seems pleased. Oh, my.

***

The Norag demons have, indeed, given me a gift beyond price. If they are able to find magical artefacts such as this, then perhaps they can find more.

"Your gift is pleasing to me, and is accepted. So is the tribute. But your sin against me was a mortal one, and if your clan wishes to live, this does not end your debt to me. How many are there, in your clan?"

"Less than 50, my lord. We have never been numerous."

"You will select three of your members to be attached to my court. They will do my bidding. Once they have been accepted by me, you will not change them for other individuals without my express approval. Your service to me will last for 50 years, one year for each member of the clan. After that, if the alliance has proved useful to both parties, it may be continued at my discretion. Should they prove unfaithful or unsatisfactory, I will kill first them, then the rest of you. Is that clear?"

"May I have a moment to confer, my lord?"

I incline my head graciously. You see what I have just done?

They have pre-empted my anger at their taking of the Slayer. They knew that I would eventually find them, so they have come forward of their own accord. They have told me who bears the blame for Buffy's abduction whilst accepting their part in it. This shows wisdom and courage that I can put to use.

They have brought me just about the best present you could imagine, in the Gem, and have indicated, by bringing tribute, that they have placed themselves in the position of my vassals, subject to my will. I have further tied them to me for 50 years. But to do so will also be seen by them as a reward. They are the first to pay homage to me, and they will have seniority at court. They will have prestige and influence if they can carry it off. And after the 50 years, they have a shot at a different sort of alliance. I don't think they can believe their luck. They'll pick the best and smartest to come here. They won't want to waste this chance. And if they don't live up to expectations? I don't think you need me to answer that, do you?

Mind you, they escaped by the skin of their teeth. They took my woman and my first thought was to slaughter them. But Buffy... The scent from her is, well, pleased, as if she had just met old and valued friends. That held me for a moment. And I think of all I have gained from their sin. Things might have been different, had I not gone to Hylek to look for Buffy. I will be generous.

I'm not sure Buffy understands, yet, just what has happened here. She is such a great warrior, with so many other...desirable...qualities that I tend to forget how young she is, how unschooled in diplomacy. I'll explain it to her later. She must learn, and I am confident that she will.

Ixolon accepts the deal with some alacrity. The three will be here in two days. I take my beloved out for dinner. We are going to the best that Sunnydale currently has to offer. I'll make sure that it has much more in the years to come. This will be an important city instead of a hick town. It should be. I'm here.

You know, I rather like this new state of mind. Had this happened a day or two ago, I would have killed the demons out of hand. Now I have something much more useful than some corpses. I told you I was feeling more amenable. Still, I have a score to settle yet with the Kahlavi cult. Their debt to me has increased considerably. I intend to collect in full. With interest.

***

I've enjoyed this night. I'm still feeling...mellow. Buffy, too, enjoyed her meal. I can eat human food, so I did. Aged beef, very rare. It made a change.

After that, we came back here and satisfied other...appetites. So now, we are back to kittens in a basket. I am curled around my lover, as she lies drifting off to sleep. But there is something wrong. It is to do with the Gem of Amara. She has said nothing, but she does not need to. She is worried, in her capacity as Slayer, about invulnerable vampires, and those same vampires moving around during daylight hours. Even me. But others as well, if I choose to lend out the ring. As if I would be so foolish.

Well, strange as it may seem, I have no intention of using the Gem often. I don't need to. The night is my milieu, and I am more comfortable there. Most of those I shall be dealing with are also more comfortable at night. The Gem will be useful for other times. And for protection when I need it. Besides, I don't want word of this leaking out until my position is more unassailable - I'd spend all my time fighting off every vamp in the hemisphere if they knew I had the Gem.

I leave our bed and search through a drawer in the dresser. Mr Pointy lies in there, still stained with my blood. Next to it is a fine but strong silver chain, a beautifully worked figaro, onto which is threaded the claddagh ring that Soul Boy gave her, the one that I have recently removed from its place on the stake. It is still a little deformed, but not much. Next to it on the chain is the claddagh that he wore.

It doesn't take much thought, really. There is a time for compromise. A time for giving, rather than taking. This is that time, that hour. I haven't yet told her that I no longer resent her love for Angel - well, not as much as I used to, anyway. I can kill two birds with one stone here. I'm a demon. I can only tolerate so many unselfish acts in a day. I take the Gem off my finger and thread it onto the silver chain. I take both claddagh off the chain and put his back on my finger. Then I return to the bed. She has roused a little. I fasten the chain around her neck and slide her claddagh onto her finger. Her left ring finger, of course.

"When I return from Canada, you and I will have a mating ceremony. You *are* my mate, and I am yours, but the ritual has been a bit flaky, to say the least. We will do it properly. There are some auspicious days for these rituals in the next few months."

Not that I'm superstitious, you understand. Never. It is just that some days are auspicious. Right?

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

"I know you're worried about how I'll use the Gem. I want you to know that you can trust me, so I'm giving it to you as a pledge. You will be guardian of the Gem. I'll ask for it whenever I need it, but you will be its keeper."

I seem to have said something that's made her all warm and fuzzy and emotional. I'm definitely going to take advantage of that, right now...

***

I let Buffy go back home on Sunday. I'm still feeling happy, though. I'll drop by her window later, when my business is finished. First, I'm off to see the Aventi clan. Remember the stupid fledgling who almost took Joyce out? Time for me to tidy up that loose end. I know where they live.

What a dump. They're a disgrace to vampiredom. I knew they'd fallen on hard times, what with me being back and all, but will you just look at this joint?

I'll just sit in what looks like the master's chair, and wait. I don't think they'll be long. They aren't staying out hunting much in case I find them out in the open. They think they are safe here. Foolishness. Ah! Here they come.

There are six of them. I have enough stakes.

***

Well, that was bracing. The four minions are gone, dusted. I have the childe at my mercy, my stake pressed to his silent heart, and the head of the clan, Estevan, is definitely far too fond of him. He's going to give in. I'm going to let him. I'm going to take Estevan and the childe Thomaso, into my service. In more ways than one. Estevan first. I've come prepared and I handcuff Thomaso to some convenient ironwork. He can watch. I explain what crime I am punishing. They both look a bit sick. Still, they aren't dust. They should be grateful for this more...amenable...side of me.

There are a number of ways to deal with survivors from another clan. In your tribal wars, you kill them, enslave them or ransom them. We're much the same. I'm going for the enslavement route. For us, it doesn't quite mean what it does for you, but it's a close enough description. I've had my eye on these two for a while as brighter than the average. I offer them that alternative or the stake. They choose to live. Both of them are good looking enough to serve me. They will start as minions, but they will be able to work their way up. Why will I be able to trust them, these two who are no better than conquered enemies? They'll have my blood, after all. This isn't going to be the same as making a childe, but it will bind them to me just as surely. Watch, and learn.

Estevan has stripped for me now. There need be no preliminaries or preparations. This is not a lover's tryst. This is a bonding, master and servant. He bends over the arm of the chair. Good boy. I enter him in one swift thrust, and it's all he can do not to cry out. He's *very* tight. He's about a century old, and I guess it's been most of that time since this was done to him. The boy watches, wide-eyed. He's next.

I ride Estevan hard, and as I approach my peak, I slam my fangs into his neck, and drink long and deep, draining him as thoroughly as I safely can. His blood is good, better than I had expected. Old and powerful. Nothing like mine, of course, or like any other Aurelian. Not bad, though. He hasn't struggled, much; he knows I'll drain him dry if I'm not pleased with him. At last, I've taken as much as I think is necessary. I reach forward and offer him my wrist. He takes it, and drinks. That's when I explode into him. Let me tell you, absolutely nothing gets me off like being drunk from. And being drunk from whilst enslaving a master vampire? I let out a roar of triumph, and he is mine. My bondservant.

The whelp is next. He pleases me, too.

When I am done, they are both weak and hungry. They need blood. I've given them as much of mine as I'm prepared to - enough to remake them as vampires, enough to make them mine, not enough to make them any stronger than they were before. I'll bring something fresh for them, then they can sleep it off and join me tomorrow night.

I feel pleased with myself. Not only have I got a couple of top class minions who have potential for much more than that, who are tied to me in ways that you could not possibly understand, but there is one less clan operating in Sunnydale. Buffy will be pleased with me for that.

I've left them a couple of muggers I picked up in the park, after drinking my fill, of course - is *anyone* still stupid enough to go through the park after dark? What with the vamps, the demons and the muggers, I'm not sure any ordinary humans have a chance of making it out alive! Although it has to be said, I'm going back through the park. The night in Sunnydale has nothing more dangerous than me; I'm off to see my woman; the full moon is riding high; I've got a belly full of blood, and all's right with the world.

I'm in the middle of the park when I smell something. I recognise it instantly. It's the smell from Willow's room, when I last saw her and Oz. It's...oh my. Now I know exactly what it is. It's been a very long time since I last came across that scent. It's Oz and it's werewolf. And it's coming from the same person...being, whatever. I don't think little Willow knows. I wonder whether Oz knows, and I remember that bandage on his hand. I'm damned sure Buffy doesn't know. Here's a pretty pickle! I think I'd better take a detour and investigate. This is my town, and I really don't want werewolves operating around here. They leave far too much mess behind them.

Then I see Oz, and he's definitely gone through some changes. He's an infant at hunting though, and he's going to make a mess of it. I guess this is his first. And he's after some more of the football team. I've already had grief from Buffy about that. I've had to 'fess up to her why I turned so many of them in one night. They were doing something that she definitely wouldn't approve of to a couple of unwilling girls, right here in this very park, so I exacted revenge for her. My sort of revenge though. I enjoyed them, as they had been enjoying the girls, then I turned them, so I could enjoy them some more. She's staked the lot of them now. Shame. I wasn't going to tell her about it - I don't want her thinking I'm going to act as her proxy or her white knight, in any way whatsoever - but at the time that she was putting her question she kind of had me by the balls. Literally. So I told her. She's got Slayer strength, remember, even if she was just teasing.

So, I can't let Oz take any more of the team, or I'll be in serious shit. I'll be even deeper in it, I think, if I let Oz get hurt. The trials of being a master vampire, I ask you...

I'm behind Oz before he knows it, and before he can spring. He's no match for me, of course, so I take him down and...shit! He's *bitten* me! Me! What effect do you think a werewolf bite has on a vampire? What do you mean, me tell you? How the hell should I know? I was born in Ireland not the damn Carpathians. I knock Oz over the head, heft him over my shoulder, and set off for the mansion. My goodwill is rapidly evaporating. It isn't just that I have a werewolf bite, nor that I have a werewolf to deal with now; I'm missing time with my woman here.

When I get back to the mansion, Spike takes the piss, just as you would imagine. In fact, he's howling with laughter, and he simply doesn't see my fist, the one that knocks him clear across the main hall. That shuts him up. We manage to rig up some of the chains (if you don't want to know, you shouldn't ask) to form a collar and harness, and get Wolf Boy securely fastened to the wall. A vampire can't tug those chains loose, so he won't. It's all a bit Heath Robinson, but it'll do.

Now what? I'm not so worried about Oz. What's done is done, there, and he's a werewolf for life. What about me, though? Spike has seen the teeth marks in my hand and started to laugh again. I'm too tired to hit him, this time.

Then just to put the seal on this evening, the one that started so well and is now degenerating into farce, the hostages arrive. The three Norag demons.

***

I'm laughing so hard that if I were a human, I think I'd piss myself. It's not really funny, though, and I soon sober up. A vampire bitten by a werewolf. I don't remember that being done before. Perhaps it's just never been recorded, which might not be a good sign. Usually weres stay well away from us, but this one's just a baby, with no more sense than a puppy. And now we've got demons. It's that Ixolon, come back with two of his buddies, holding to their word. My sire is not in his most receptive mood.

"Don't just stand there gaping, make yourselves useful!" he snaps (yeah, that is exactly the right word). It's just at this moment that Dru chooses to come back from hunting, and she goes off into gales of laughter as well, until tears are running down her face. Can't be too serious, then. I have to admit that she's mad as a March hare, but she'd never let anything bad happen to her Daddy if she could help it. And I think she'd have one of her visions, if it was going to be all doom and gloom.

He pulls himself together with a visible effort - only because of the demons, I think.

"Spike. Get the wolf fed. See what you and the Norag can find out about the bites. Dru, you help him. I'll be back later."

And without another word he storms out of the door. Off to see his ladylove, I suppose. She's changed him, has that one, although I don't know if he knows it yet. Something happened on Friday night. Oh, he's still the old Angelus, who can take the skin off my back while whistling a merry tune, but he's different. More. Not more anything, really. Just more. I like it, although I'm damned if I'll tell him. And the Norag should like it. Their skins would have been decorating his trophy room, not many days ago, for what they did to one of his.

I send one of the minions out with one of the Norags - they need to find their way around town, might as well start now. The minion couldn't believe his ears when I told him what to look for. You see, ol' Spike likes his body arranged the way it is. I think it might get rearranged if I bring the wolf a human to eat. That's a change I'm not too keen on in the Sire - he's starting to get picky about who we can eat. Slayer-whipped, that's what he is, but you won't catch me calling him that to his face. We've got all that money from the Norags - he thinks I don't know where it is, but I do - so I could send the minion out to get as much steak as the wolf can shove down his gullet. I won't, though. I can have more fun than that.

I set the other two Norags on to Angelus' library - I was never one for research, myself. Learning by doing, that's my style. Dru and I go upstairs for a bit of mutual learning by doing. And we're in the middle of a particularly intense piece of doing when all hell breaks loose downstairs. Bloody hell!

When we get there, Dru and I are back to hysterics. The wolf is going frantic at the smell of blood. The minions are tripping over themselves trying to catch the wolf's dinner. The Norags look bemused. There's a lot of blood spatter. There's a lot of other, rather more smelly, spatter. Angelus will be displeased. I'd better take a hand. Here, piggy, piggy, piggy... Hell's bells, I can't do this for laughing.

***

I'm sitting in the tree outside my lover's window, watching her undress, letting the sight of her assuage the fear and the anger that is running through my blood. I've told you before that anger is innate to demons. Not like this. Oh, I've known rage such as you humans can barely imagine, but I am always in control, and my rage does not make me irrational. Now is different.

I can feel my blood boiling, filled with the rising red tide of ungoverned, unreasoning rage. My veins itch with it. My fangs are down, and I cannot control my appearance. This has *never* happened to me since I was a few days old. Darla made sure of that. But I have always been strong, always able to control. Not now. I look at my beloved, and I can taste the hot, sweet spurt of her blood in my mouth, feel her torn flesh under my claws. I can taste the tender meat of her, melting on my tongue. I am not *safe*. Not even for her. I should leave here. But if I do, wherever I go, I will destroy everything I find. The need to destroy is pounding through me, the heat of my rage burning through my flesh. My claws are shredded and gory, stained with my own blood, as I clench my hands around the wood of this bough, splitting and splintering it in an effort to restrain myself. If I stay, she will hear me, I'm sure, and I cannot think of what might happen. If I go, I will do things that will seriously piss her off, and that she might not forgive. I must cling onto that, as this dark cloud of madness tries to steal my sanity.

And yet something else is happening. Something is rising within me to challenge this rage. I cannot describe it. I do not know what it is. It is not me, Angelus, and it is certainly not that puling man-child, Liam.

Just for a moment there, I wondered if it was some residue of *soul*, something of Angel that was left behind. But I shared this body with that ridiculous whining spirit for a century, and I know every tint of his thoughts, every shade of his emotions. Everything. It isn't him. And what help could he be, indeed? So, what is it? There is nowhere else for me to go until I can master myself. If I lose this battle, she will die. So will everyone and everything else. And I will die in the ashes of the burning world. I *must* master myself. I do *not* want to tear the red, bleeding flesh from her golden body, feel the hot, thick blood drip down my jaws, feel the gush of slaver at the taste of her. I do *not* wish to crunch my teeth around the whiteness of her bones, feel them splinter in my teeth, savour the sweet marrow that they contain... No! I will stay here until I am safe. Until she is safe with me...

It is a long time before I can retract my fangs; before I can look on her as anything but meat; before I can override the urge to tear into her most tender places and feast in truth on her silken flesh. But whatever else came to my aid has done its work. I am almost a vampire again, with only a vampire's rage and desires. These I know. These I can master. I can only pray to the powers of hell that that *other* rage does not return, does not catch me unawares. That my demon self is strong enough if it does.

Predators can stay still and silent for hours, waiting for prey to come along. Ambush hunting, it's called. Even Soul Boy loved to sit here, watching her. Half the time she never knew. She doesn't know I'm here. We are mates. We can sense each other. But I'm better at this than she is. Even in that uncontrolled state that almost brought me to disaster, I could still hide from her senses. When she gets more experienced, I won't be able to do it, so I'll take advantage of it while I can. I think I've been here for about an hour, and she's ready for sleep now. She doesn't think I will come to her. Not much longer, and she'll put out the light. She's wondering why I've left her alone for the night. Her mother's out, so we don't need to go back to the mansion. Just a little while longer, and I'll introduce her to things that go bump in the night. Give her a thank you for anchoring my sanity tonight. Meanwhile, I just love watching her. Must be the only thing Soul Boy and me have in common.

***

I lie in the dark, and I'm lonely. I don't know why he hasn't come to see me tonight. I miss him so when I'm not with him. I used to think that Angel and I are soul mates. I still think it, in fact, and I will never be persuaded to think differently. Strangely, though, I feel the same way about my demon. How can a demon be a soul mate? And as with Angel, I feel that I've known him forever, *will* know him forever. Do you think that could be true? Do you think that we get more than one go round? More than one shot at life? I wish I understood more about what happens... afterwards. Somehow, I think that Angel or Angelus, it's all him. I don't know how that could be, but I just think it is. Don't you ever feel certain about things that you can't really know about, but you do? That's how I feel.

Slayers never get to live very long, you know. The hereafter is therefore a matter of some concern. We just never seem to get chance to look into it. We find out by doing, mostly. But, you know, I get the feeling that, with Angelus by my side, my chances of a longer life have improved considerably. Do you think I might be right? If Angel and Angelus could be with me together, I think my life would be as happy as it could possibly be. I don't feel as if I'm betraying my sister Slayers. It just feels right.

What the...Get OFF me, where are my weapons...Oh. It's him. Dear God, I should have felt him coming.

I put the light back on - I've been starved of the sight of him for twenty-two hours and seventeen minutes. I want to see him.

He looks beautiful to me. His face is gentler than I've been used to since he lost the soul. Have I done that? I hope so.

I see that his hand has been bitten and I ask him about it. He gets the slightly sheepish and slightly shifty look that I've learned means he doesn't want to answer because the answer doesn't help his macho image. It looks like a dog bite, although that seems most unlikely, and it's fresh, still bleeding. I bring his hand to my lips. I'd planned just to kiss it, but I find myself sucking at the puncture wounds, drawing on the tiny drops of blood.

He rips himself away from me! Why would he do that? He sees my look of hurt and comes back to the bed, settling himself behind me so that I can lean against his still and silent chest. So peaceful, so right. He has his hands resting on my stomach, his left hand clasped over the injured right one, and won't let me look again. I thought that he would want to make love, but he seems content just to sit, for the moment. I can feel his desire, though, in the small of my back and the depths of my blood. He whispers a few endearments, and I whisper back. Then he talks about something that has been on my mind.

"I'll have to leave for Canada soon. I may be gone for some time. Something around 10 days if I'm lucky, 2 to 3 weeks if I'm not. I need to spend some time in Hylek before I leave - maybe a week. Will you miss me?"

"Between settling into new accommodation, settling in as a freshman, and keeping Spike, Dru and your minions from dining off the entire town in your absence, do you think I'll have time to miss you?" I say airily. I suddenly don't want him to know how empty I'll be while he's away.

He sees through me, though, and chuckles. Then he becomes serious again, and I feel him shift slightly behind me. He's uncomfortable about something.

"You aren't going to stake Spike and Dru while I'm away are you? Feel free to stake the minions if they get out of line, but Spike and Dru?" That wasn't what he was going to say, I'm sure. This is one of those conversations where we keep fencing around each other, looking for the right opening.

"Well, I've seen plenty of chains up at the mansion, I guess I can keep them around until you get back." I remember something he said - he rarely says things without a purpose, this one. "What do you mean out of line? Have you given them a line to stick to?"

His arms tighten around me. His answer is bit mumbled.

"Yeah. I've put strict limits on who they can kill. Spike thinks I'm Slayer-whipped although he daren't say it to my face."

"He's damned right you're Slayer-whipped..." I try to turn around to face him, but his arms tighten and hold me still. I remember Friday night. Should I be worried? I don't sense that I should, but...

"I'm your Consort, aren't I? I guess there are some...expectations...of what I should do? Am I responsible for anything in your stead, or is that Spike?"

"Who do you want it to be?"

What sort of answer is that?

"I think I'd have to be responsible. But the minions had better damn well stay in line or Spike will be vacuuming them up for you!"

"I've got more responsibilities now."

What! Please don't let him have been out making another childe. We've never discussed this so far, but I don't want him turning people. Please let that not be it.

"Tonight I've dealt with the Aventi clan, the ones responsible for the attack on your mother. The minions are dead, and the master and childe have become my bondservants. And the three Norag demons have arrived. I was also thinking of asking Ezrafel to come back with me from Hylek, to take a position at court, liaise between us and our Hylek estate."

Well, he has been a busy boy. I still want to know where he got the bite. A small trickle of blood is coming from under his hand. He ought to have healed now.

"I guess I can deal."

He nuzzles my neck, and my spine tingles with pleasure. He must be able to sense my arousal, but he doesn't move.

"What...what would you do if anything happened to me?"

Full-blown panic sleets through me. Even the thought of losing this man, for that is what he is to me, is more than I can bear. I struggle much harder to turn around, but again he denies me.

"Well?"

"I...I don't know. I'd have to carry on, I suppose, sacred duty and all. But I'm not going to let it happen!" I'm really fierce about that.

He's nuzzled up to my cheek, and I feel his face break into a smile. He whispers something, so low that I'm not sure I heard right. It sounded like "My lioness."

"Would your sacred duty involve staking Spike and Dru?"

He's serious about this, so I give it some thought. Part of my mind is gibbering in fear, but another part sees the need to reassure him. He's never seemed worried about dealing with the Kahlavi cult before, but no way do I want him up there worrying about what's happening down here. I must make him believe that all will be well in his absence. He won't be able to afford any distractions. And he's building an empire here. Just a few building blocks for now, but everything starts with just a few bricks. I'm part of it. Could I make it work without him? Can I truly act as his Consort, and use what he has made for my own Slayer-purposes. I think I can. Maybe. I can try, at the very least.

"Not if they'll live by the rules I set them. But you aren't only worried about them are you? You are the Master of Sunnydale, and you're worried about all those who consider themselves to be tied to you, to be your property. Aren't you?"

He's silent for a few moments, then, "Yes."

"Is that the vampire way?"

"It's the Aurelian way. Somehow, we tend to be a bit different to your average vamp."

You can say that again.

"Are you going to teach me everything I need to know about being your Consort?"

"Yes."

"Then I guess I'd better act the part, hadn't I? They'll all be under my protection while you are away. Them, and any other lost lambs or stray dogs you happen to take in before you go."

I feel his body stiffen behind me.

"You didn't get bitten by a DOG did you?" If he did, I'm going to laugh, I know I am, and his pride might not take that well.

There is a very long silence now. Something important is happening here.

"Angel, you asked me to trust you. Now I need you to trust me. What's wrong?"

The silence stretches on. Then he tells me. Oh, God.

I turn around using sheer Slayer strength, and I cup his face with my hand.

"We'll look after Oz, and I'm going to make absolutely sure that nothing will happen to you. We'll get Giles on it as well as the Norags. And Ezrafel - he's a scholar. I. Will. Not. Let. You. Be. Harmed. Do you understand?" He must understand and believe.

The look of love that he gives me is so pure, so much like Angel that I cannot believe this demon does not have his own soul, or at the very least part of Angel's. There is nothing of evil in that look. Nothing.

I want to make love to him now. I want to show him, with every cell of my body, that I love him and that he is mine to protect, just as I am his. But we need to muster our forces over the bite and over Oz. Giles. We have to call Giles.

And Willow. Oh, God, Willow...

***

It's Thursday night and the gang's all here. Some of 'em don't want to be, but they've come. The Slayer has laid down the law on behalf of the old Sire, and here they are.

When he got back on Monday night, I thought I would be a goner for sure. There was pig's blood and pig shit all over the mansion. Not much pig, though. Between us, we eventually got the little porker within reach of the wolf, and he fell asleep with a full belly. The Sire was definitely not amused - I guess you had to be there, really. He made me clear it all up. Now is that the way to treat your beta male, I ask you?

Dru and me made up for it afterwards, though. He'd gone up to his rooms, and I hadn't liked the look on his face at the time, so we went to see him. He stank of slayer. I don't like it, but I think I'm going to have to get used to it. Dru curled her lip, but didn't say anything, so maybe she sees something that I don't. Then again, whoever does see something that Dru sees?

He's worried about the werewolf bite, I can tell, but he didn't say anything, even afterwards, when we were all curled up together, just like it used to be a century ago. I think I've said it before. I do not want to lose this family that I've been given back, after all this time. I need him, just as much as I need Dru. I'll be damned if I lose him to a werewolf!

But it seems that on Monday night, all the slayerettes were mobilised, together with Angelus' resources. The Keeper had been summoned, and he was searching the scrolls and texts in Hylek. The House of Orbath, when they found out about their pet vampire's predicament, started scurrying around like spiders in the bath.

Since then, Wolf Boy has been let out during the day, but back here in chains for the two remaining nights of the full moon. He's had steak to eat. The Sire has put an absolute interdict on any more livestock in the house. I argued that would mean that humans should stay away too, but he looked down that patrician nose at me and his eyes promised a very painful time indeed if I persisted.

And we've all been hunting through the texts, trying to find out if the Sire will need to have a basket for three nights a month. I asked whether I should get the large economy pack of flea powder, and got a backhander for my concern.

So here we are at Thursday. Apart from me and Dru, we've got Sire and Slayer, the redhead and Wolf Boy, the Norags, the Keeper, a young cousin of Orbath who brought with her a Hylekian who claims to be a shaman, and the Watcher, would you believe. Oh, and the Harris boy is here, too, with the cheerleader, but I reckon all they'll be good for is snacks afterwards. Like I said, the gang's all here.

The minions are being kept away from this. That includes the two new minions who turned up on Tuesday. I recognise them. The Sire's been bonding, then. That's not something I've known him to bother with before. I wonder why he's doing it now?

We've got a ceremony going on just now, and I'm bored. Dru is fascinated. She seems to be in one of her saner moods. We've got blood from Wolf Boy and blood from Angelus, side by side on a crystal plate. The shaman is doing whatever it is that shamans do, and Witchy Willow is helping him. Everyone else is doing as they're told - do this, do that, chant this, chant that, slash this, slash that. I hate rituals. I'm bored.

So I'm people-watching.

Harris wants to stake Angelus. Well, that's a given, I suppose. The stripling is still infatuated with Buffy, and the thought of her giving herself to a demonically animated corpse is more than he can stand.

The Watcher would like to visit on Angelus every single torture he can imagine. I never realised the depths of his hatred until tonight. I wonder why he's helping, then? You'd think he'd settle for having a werevampire he could shoot at the next full moon, just one more rabid dog. There wouldn't even be a body to account for.

Hell's bells, we've finished at last. That's only taken a little under three hours.

The Sire is explaining it to me, 'cos he knows I haven't a clue, but I'd need Noddy language, and all I'm getting is physics. It's about matter and energy. A human body is possessed by a demon as matter, which becomes energy when it enters the body. Or perhaps it's the other way round. Anyway, Angelus' resident demon has somehow taken care of the werewolf possession, although the shaman is vague on how, and thinks that something else has helped. He's not prepared just now to say what that something else is, but between them, the demon and his helper have made sure the matter has turned to energy, which has had to go somewhere. It's simply increased his strength. Permanently. They can't find any other effect. Lucky bastard. Oh, there will be one effect? Do I detect a future full of baskets and flea powder, after all? No such luck. Werewolves will still detect their energy in him, and will permit him to act as one of their clan. The Aurelians have always been a bit different, I know, but this?

What now? Angelus is asking about the effect if someone drinks any of his blood, even a single drop, or if he bites them. Hey now, that has definitely brightened up this boring evening. The Slayer is looking defiant. She's drunk from him recently, I can tell. I wouldn't mind having her on a leash three nights a month. I must look hopeful, because Angelus has raised his lip to me, exposing a fang. I don't know whether that's vampire or werewolf, and I'm not sure whether he knows, either. OK, shutting up now.

I do not believe it! We are all sitting back down and the ritual is starting *all over again*! It's Wolf Boy's blood and Slayer's blood on the table now. Bloody Hell, don't tell me this is going to take another three hours. Back to people-watching, then. Harris and the Watcher look as if they've eaten acid. Don't like to be told what their little slayer gets up to with the Big Bad Wolf. And I don't mean Oz.

Well, that's all I bloody need. The shaman doesn't have all the right words in English. Soul won't do. Neither will demon, although he seems to think that's the closer of the two. What he's trying to explain is that Angelus had already changed the matter/energy thing when she took that blood from him (I'm getting hot under the collar thinking about that!) and it was in the wrong phase to infect her. But the energy had to go somewhere. So, as I said, that's just what I need. Like Angelus, like Dru and me, she has something, some darkness, at the core of her that can change the energy, and the super-strong Slayer is now a bit stronger. Well, I'll be getting me some of that energy before long, I guess. Angelus always did like some blood play in moments of passion. He didn't offer, the other night, but he will. He'd better be careful who tastes his blood from now on, though. They are going to keep looking into it, so I'd better get me some soon, in case they find a way to control what he passes on.

The silver? Don't worry. They've checked that out. It's just an ornamental metal for him.

But this unknown factor is worrying Angelus, and the shaman too, although Dru seems unconcerned. I'll trust her instincts. But the shaman is going to take some of Angelus' blood, some of the Slayer's blood, some of Dru's and mine, and do some more work back in his home dimension. Wherever that is. As I said, the Aurelians have always been a bit different to other vampires. Looks like we might be even more different that I thought.

It's interesting to think that the Slayer is more like us than you might have thought. She has something like a demon at her core. Not quite, but something like. I bet both the Watcher and the Keeper will start looking into that, but I think the Keeper will get more pleasure out of it than the Watcher. He looked sick at the thought. Anyway, it'll make it easier doing business with her!

***

I can't describe how relieved I am. Ezrafel's researches suggest that, just occasionally, a vampire is bitten by a werewolf. When that happens, the vampire is overcome by ungovernable rage. I can vouch for the truth of that. There is no credible record of a vampire surviving that initial period, but there is a rumour that one once did, and became almost invulnerable. It was as if he had been given the powers of the gem of Amara. Half a sentence, in one scroll. Nothing more, and it was probably not even in this dimension. But the rage was truth enough. I am a powerful alpha demon, and I have no false modesty about my own personal abilities. But how I am alive now, and how I stopped myself from mindlessly ravaging everything around me and incinerating myself in the ashes, I truly do not know.

I do not believe I have any added invulnerabilities. Sunlight and holy water still burn me - I've tried them. If you think I'm going to test the effects of staking or decapitation, you're madder than Drusilla. In fact, Drusilla is the biggest comfort to me right now - she clearly does not believe anything to be seriously amiss, and she always knows. She has the sight. Her insanity may prevent her from understanding, but her powers affect her emotions. She just thinks it's funny.

I would somehow have managed three nights a month as a werewolf if it had come to that, but I have to confess that I was terrified when Buffy took those few drops of my blood. To visit that possession on my golden girl, that would be heinous, even for a vampire as evil as me. Mind you, she would have made a beautiful werewolf...

And I could tell that Dru and Will were hurt when I didn't offer them blood the other night, in my bed. They thought I was displeased with them. I wasn't - well, not much. I would have loved to see the pig, although as the Master here I had to put a stern face on. No, it wasn't that. I was afraid of what my blood might do to them. Unless I can get the right assurances, I may never make another childe again. I may never bond another vampire either. I'm going to have to be careful, until I know for certain. I cannot risk passing on that rage. At least it seems as if Buffy is safe with my blood, but I will wait for further news from Hylek before I allow her to taste it again - before I taste her, too. Well, wouldn't you? I would be the monster you all think me if I did otherwise. They have said that there is no werewolf essence, as such, left in me to pass on in my bite, but can we be sure? Perhaps I should try with some test subjects, human and vampire. I'll speak to Ezrafel, and when I come back from Canada we will set that up. It will make me easier in my mind. Until then, I will only bite those who are food, and they will all die.

Everyone who doesn't live here is getting ready to leave now. Giles has proven himself to me. He hates me, and I can't argue with that, but he will work with and for me if his Slayer needs him to do that. I will do the same. Orbath and Ezrafel have proved themselves again, and Ezrafel will be coming back shortly to join my court. The slayerettes are of no importance, other than Willow and Oz. Oz will spend three nights of each month here, chained to my wall, until we can sort out more permanent secure accommodation. I shall make sure that he is safe.

We've all said our thanks and goodbyes, but Oz and Willow are lagging behind a bit, and I walk over to them. She's nervous, as usual, although Oz is more laid back. Also as usual.

"Angelus...erm...I, er, looked at law firms for you, and found this. They cover all sorts of law areas and they hardly ever seem to lose."

She presses a piece of paper into my hand and turns to leave. I stop her by the simple expedient of placing my forefinger under her chin and lifting it so that she must look me in the face.

"Thank you Willow." I look at Oz, then look back at Willow. He knows that I'm not at the moment intent on trespass.

"Willow, you need not be afraid of me. You will take no harm from me," I tell her gently. "I am even more in your debt. You may ask of me whatever you need, whenever you need it." I mean what I say.

She's still terrified of me.

"No, no favours needed. You...you're looking after Oz, that's more than enough. Thank you."

And she flees. Oz gives me a nod, werewolf to vampire, and we understand each other.

I look at the piece of paper Willow has pressed into my hand. It has a company name and address on it.

Wolfram and Hart, Los Angeles. I'll look them up as soon as I get back from Canada.

Buffy has remained behind, too. It has been a difficult few days for us both. She takes my hand, and I let her. She leads me to the stairs, and up to our rooms, and I let her. I let her do everything else she wants as well. Then it's my turn. It's a long time before we fall into a comfortable sleep.

It's my last full night with Buffy before I leave. She spends Friday with her mother, although I drop in for an hour or two through the window. Then, on Saturday, she moves into her college dorm room, with Willow. I visit on Saturday night, to check the place out. I need to make sure there is nothing here to threaten my mate. I don't like the campus, but there is nothing that presents an obvious threat. I suppose it's just that it will keep her away from me more than I would like. However, I'm a firm believer in education, even for women (before you fly at me, remember what it was like when I was brought up as a human, and admit that I've moved on). Buffy is my Consort, and it is right and proper that she should be well educated. When she has finished here I'll take care of other things, such as introducing her to the wonders that are to be found in the rest of the world, and how to rule an empire. I have a great deal to teach her, and not just in the erotic arts, I'll have you know.

She will visit the mansion each evening whilst I am away, and either Spike will patrol with her or a minion will shadow her. The Norags and Ezrafel will generally make themselves useful until I am back, as will the Aventis. Most of the other minions will come with me. What? You thought I was stupid enough to take on an entire cult alone? Spike, Drusilla and Buffy would have come too, but I would not permit it. I need Spike and Dru here to guard the Hellmouth and to guard Buffy, and I need Buffy here to continue with her education and keep a rein on Spike and Dru. A sort of triumvirate. The power of three.

And now I am on my way to the Canadian border with a dozen of the strongest minions. The plan is really very simple. We will allow the cult to finish gathering, then the minions will surround them, to prevent them disappearing off into the Canadian hinterland, and I'll take it from there. Information has it that there are no more than a dozen to twenty of them. It'll be a walk in the park.

***

My name is Lindsey McDonald, and I'm a lawyer. I work for a firm called Wolfram and Hart out of Los Angeles. Most of my work is done in the office or in the courtroom, but this job is different. I've been given it because I'm bucking for promotion. There's a saying. 'Cometh the hour, cometh the man'. It means that, when circumstances at a particular time require a special sort of person, the right man will come forward and fill the gap. Wolfram and Hart need someone like me, and I intend to step right on forward. I'm going to be the man.

This case involves a vampire. We aren't the sort of law firm that won't deal with clients just because they are demons, or dead, or some other trivial inconvenience like that. If they can pay, and if they'll do exactly as we say, we'll sort out their problems. Our Senior Partners are something other than human, after all.

There is some conflict of interest over this particular vampire. There is a prophecy about him. It says he will be important in the forthcoming apocalypse, but it doesn't say how, or on which side he will be fighting. The Senior Partners want him alive and demonic, and were rather distressed to learn that he was given his soul back in 1898, since when he has been carefully avoiding his demonic nature. They were naturally pleased to hear that he had lost that soul a year or so ago, and was bidding fair to redefine the word 'demonic', but have been less pleased to find that he has declared the current Slayer to be his mate and his Consort. They have been even more displeased to find that his demonic nature has been rather...tamed...of late, presumably by said Slayer. They don't like that one little bit. He's the most vicious demon that ever stalked the face of the Earth. A real power in the making. They want their boy back and hungry. They don't need him yet - we've got a few years - but if we want the vicious demon back in all his glory, we need to get to work now. After all, it's not something you can do in a day. We intend to keep the Slayer occupied with a few problems of her own while we sort him out. He's my project.

We have clients of longstanding, though, rather powerful ones, who want a contract taken out on this vampire. They want him dusted and out of their way. The Senior Partners don't. I don't want the Kahlavi taking their own independent action against him in defiance of the Senior Partners' wishes, and so I have spent several weeks in negotiations trying to broker a deal. We have it now, and I'm about to put it into practice.

He's spent a week or so in Canada, waiting patiently for the Kahlavi cult to start opening a new Hellmouth. They are gathered now. They know where he is, the trap is set, and is about to be sprung. I have two demons with me who will do the springing. And a whole cohort coming through a portal as we speak - they will take him in the rear. I really do have a surprise for him.

***

I'm following the group of Kahlavi towards a small cave entrance. I'm not entirely lost to all sense of personal safety so, after waiting for a while, I send one of the minions in. He reports that there is no sign of them in the first couple of hundred feet. That's all I asked him to scout. The cave opens up considerably beyond the cramped, narrow entrance passage, which runs for about twenty feet. Once inside, I see that we have a substantial cave with two main tunnels running further back beyond this first hall. It's dank, with water dripping all around, and is a thoroughly unpleasant place. The scent of the Kahlavi clearly continues towards the tunnels. We start to follow, and there is a commotion behind me. My mind screams ambush, and it is. Then there is no more time for thought.

The Kahlavi are pouring back out of the tunnels, with crossbows that they weren't carrying earlier. A lot more demons are coming through the entrance behind us. We fight, but in short order, all the minions are dust, and there is only me. I'm completely surrounded by crossbows, so I stay where I am. I hope I can get out of here alive, but I must wait for my moment. How did this go so wrong?

A new demon scrambles in to the hall from outside. He chants. Shit. A magic-user. As he finishes his chant, he waves his hand negligently towards me, and I am thrown backwards into a small recess in the darkest corner of the main chamber. As I start to rise, he chants again, and I realise how much trouble I am in.

My legs and arms are broken. They will heal, certainly, but without blood - and I'm not at all sure I'm going to be getting a quick supply of that - they will only heal slowly. The healing process for such major injuries will generate a bone-deep hunger that will undoubtedly cause me some difficulties. The worst, though, is that I am cramped into this small niche, in which I couldn't stand even if I were able, and I cannot fully lie down. And I cannot get out. There is a barrier, a magical barrier of some sort, and I cannot get out. I feel a growl of anger rising. I am helpless and impotent and trapped, sitting in a tiny cell, amid a continual runnel of icy cave water, on a floor of thick mud. A man is coming forward to speak.

"Angelus. My name is McDonald, Lindsey McDonald. I'm a lawyer with Wolfram and Hart. I've been looking forward to meeting you."

I decide to brazen it out.

"You didn't need to go to all this trouble. I'd intended to come to your offices anyway. The firm comes highly recommended for what I want."

"Sorry," he says. "I'm afraid we have a prior contract - two, in fact - that would preclude us representing you in any way. My...clients...want you out of the way for a bit, so we're going to let you stay here. In cold storage, so to speak. No-one knows you are here, no-one will find you, so you're my prisoner really."

I am terrified at what has come to pass, but I cannot let him see my fear. I roar my defiance at him instead, but he laughs in my face.

"Do that as much as you like, Angelus. It won't get you out of here any quicker. The Kahlavi will keep a regular eye on you, and I'm not an unreasonable man. We'll feed you, although not very often. I know a vampire can't starve - quite. If you're a good boy, you'll get a virgin to drain, but only once a year on this day. A sort of anniversary present. It'll keep body and demon together for another year, and you'll be so much less trouble like that. We are going to use you, you see. You've got a big future with us, if we can get you into the right frame of mind. Not for a few years yet, but you'll keep. You won't enjoy it, but you'll keep. You'll see me again when I decide to release you. That won't be until we are ready, and it might be a long time. I've got a last gift for you, though."

With that he waves me a jaunty farewell, and stands back to make room for another demon. I must try to delay, to get him to change his mind, to negotiate.

"What about the new Hellmouth?" I ask, trying to keep my voice unafraid.

He laughs. "There is no new Hellmouth. We just made the Hylekians think there was. You've been well and truly suckered. The mighty Angelus! It was like taking candy from a baby. You were much too concerned about the Slayer to properly analyse what was happening. I like you like this, on the floor, at my feet. Let's get on with it."

That last is to the demon, who starts to chant. A different chant, this time.

There is *nothing* that I can do. Recriminations are no good. This has been planned for some time. I want to rage and storm, but my broken limbs and my dignity prevent that. If they are leaving me alone here, there *has* to be a way out. If they could get me into a trap, there must be a way out. I will wait until they have gone, and see what I can do.

And then I understand. Pain spears through me, exploding in my gut and I feel the shackles and the cage cramping me, confining me, the darkness descending. I know that I howl in fear and pain. I think I probably cry. And then I do rage and storm, and beg and plead. My responsibilities will go unfulfilled and that hurts. But Buffy, my golden girl, my eternal love; I swore that I would never leave you, never abandon you. And I will. I am lost. Still I beg and plead, then rant and gibber, but it does no good at all. This body is curled into the smallest ball it can make, shivering and trembling in pain and memory. Buffy my love, my heart, remember me...

***

My Sire isn't back yet. He said that he would be away for possibly two weeks, three at the most. He's been gone for a month. Dru has gone into one of her almost catatonic states. Unless she's feeding, she lies on our bed weeping and calling for her Daddy. The Slayer is worried, although she tries hard not to show it. I can smell her, though, the scent of her fear. We have an uneasy truce, demons and humans, but no-one here would dream of going against my Sire's expressed wishes. Demons and humans are working to maintain the balance of the Hellmouth. Between us, we are still having a hard time. Some organisation is operating around Sunnydale. It's new, and it seems to be taking demons of all sorts, even the neutrals. We all have to be extra careful. I wish he would hurry home. I miss him.

***

Hungry. Hunger screaming through blood, clawing through belly, gnawing into bones. Hunger, making a mindless ravening animal of me.

Darkness, all around me, nothing but darkness and bonds that cramp and confine me...darkness can't stop it, darkness won't keep them away...

Pain. Everything is pain. My world is nothing but pain.

Buffy.....

***

He is missing. He has been gone for two months now. She misses him. Some of the rest of us miss him, some of us do not. I cannot help but rejoice, for my part. I have never forgiven him for killing my lover, Jenny.

She says that she knows he is still alive. She has a bond with him, through their mating - I cannot contemplate such a revolting pairing, such a sickening act, without wanting to stake him, although that would be too easy a death. She is a beautiful girl, full of life, the daughter I have never had. I cannot imagine her coupling with a demon wearing the cold flesh of a corpse.

And yet she loves him. And from what I have seen, he has come to love her. They have started to build something here that may show that she is the best Slayer there has ever been. They have started something that may tame the minions of Hell on Earth. I must support her in whatever she wishes to do. She is my responsibility, but she is his. And she has this bond. It tells her that he is still alive, although she feels pain through it, and has done for weeks. But she cannot sense where he is. Is he still in Canada? Or is he somewhere else. We do not know where to start looking. And even if we did, we could not.

Matters have progressed apace here, since he left to deal with the Kahlavi cult. An organisation is capturing, and experimenting on, demons of all sorts, even harmless ones. We don't know who or where they are.

Oz has been forced to remain in the mansion. Even outside his time of change, he has been hunted down three times, and only escaped by the merest luck on two occasions, and by Spike's intervention on the third. Unfortunately, Spike was taken while saving Oz. He was missing for days, but has come back to us now. He is damaged. He can no longer hurt a living human being in any way. He says a chip was put in his head to control him. It is from him we know that experiments are taking place. I can't say I mind Spike not being able to kill and maim, but I do not like the sound of experiments. That smacks of Government, and, since they are after demons, perhaps it also smacks of the military. We could all be in trouble if that is the case, because whoever is working on this is bound to be incompetent. They cannot possibly have the centuries and generations of experience that we can call on. They will be flapping around in the dark, and something will get loose. God help us then. We cannot leave Sunnydale to that, even to hunt for her lover.

And she really does miss him. Joyce tells me that she cries in her sleep on the nights when she comes home. Willow, who is her roommate, says nothing, but Willow always looks worried now, and not just for Oz. I suspect that she is trying to do magic to locate the vampire, but clearly she has had no luck. It is something I never thought to see, but demons and humans are working together to maintain the balance here. Even so, we are losing.

I hate to say it, but we could do with Angelus back.

***

Huuunnnggerrr. Bloooooood.

BUFFY............

Things in the darkness with me. Pain without end. NO, please, make it go away!

Huuunnnggerrr. Bloooooood.

BUFFY............!

***
It has been three months and I can bear it no longer. I can feel that he is alive. I can feel that he is in pain, and that is with me always, but the feelings are damped, dulled, and numb, as if they are wrapped in cotton wool. Willow thinks that he has been magically hidden from us. She has tried scrying, and cannot find him. It has been all that we can do to maintain the balance here, and for that I thank Angel's foresight in bringing to his Court the Norags, the Aventi and the Keeper.

I thought at first that whoever is kidnapping demons must be on the side of the good guys, but I have changed my mind. Spike says little, but he is suffering in a way that is difficult to imagine. It would have been much kinder to stake him. We have found others that have been experimented on, tortured, and then released. Some were neutral demons, some not, but we have had to kill them all, out of mercy. They begged me to do it.

And I am afraid for my mate. If he were here, captive, would I know? I cannot find the people who are doing this here, so I will start with Canada. Ezrafel has been back to Hylek and been given the location of the new Hellmouth. That, by the way, hasn't opened, so Angel must have succeeded. Tomorrow, Giles, Spike, Dru, Ezrafel and I will set off for Canada, and see what we can find. The rest of our people, the demons, anyway, have been taken to Hylek, to our estate. They may not be safe even in the mansion with the rest of us gone. Willow will continue to try and locate him magically. She will contact me if she has the smallest success. Mobile phones are a wonderful thing.

Our party is a strange one, but there are reasons. Giles, we need for his experience and knowledge. We are hoping that Spike and Dru and I will somehow, between us, be able to sense him. Ezrafel will simply not be left behind. He is strong, though and we may need that in the days to come.

It is almost Christmas. Snow has fallen where we are heading. The journey will not be easy. I wonder if I have waited too long.

ANGELUS...My love, my heart, I am coming. Give me a sign.

***

Thirst. Blood. Hunger. Darkness. Pain.

Thirst blood hunger darkness pain.

Thirstbloodhungerdarknesspain.

Thirstbloodhungerdarknesspainthirstbloodhungerdarknesspainthirstbloodhungerdarknesspainthir

BUFFY..........

***

We are exhausted. We have searched these forests for over a week, and there is no sign. We have to almost carry Drusilla; she seems to be in a trance most of the time. It is a pity that we can get no sense from her, and that she hasn't had one of her visions. Or if she has, she isn't telling us about them. My Slayer is at the point of despair, although she hides it with manic activity. I'm finding it hard to keep up with her.

And now we are lost in the forest. The snow-bound forest. This is very dangerous. Spike thinks he knows where he is in relation to the camper that we have rented for this journey, but he thinks that we will have trouble getting there by dawn. We are looking for shelter.

If all else fails, Ezrafel can take us to his dimension. The problem then would be that, because we do not know exactly where we are, he couldn't bring us back here to either retrieve the camper or continue the search. So we will leave that as a last resort. We have about an hour. I'm trying to work out what day it is. It's probably New Year's Day. I wonder if that will be significant. Only of a change for the worse, in my cynical experience.

And now Drusilla is coming out of her trance, and she is sniffing the air, like a bloodhound. She is struggling against Ezrafel, who is holding her up. I go to help him and we set off in the direction she seems to want to go. It's as good as any at the moment. I see glances being exchanged between Spike and Buffy. Buffy tells me that they are both sensing something, something weak and frail, a tenuous lead in this tenebrous place.

We see a tiny cave entrance at the base of the hillside. It is blocked by snow, and we would not normally have noticed it, I think, except that some small animal must have used it as a den, and has trampled the snow. Hopefully small. There is a path leading to it, hard to see except from the right angle. Why would he be there? Well, even if he is not, it might serve as shelter for the vampires during the day. Small and not so small animals of the Canadian wilderness should not bother them.

We scramble through the tiny passageway, and come into a larger cavern. The torches we carry serve only to emphasise its size. It is dank, with icy water running down the walls. The floor is muddy and slippery. No wonder the little animal didn't stay here. Drusilla has collapsed into a weeping heap, again, and Spike is trying to quieten her. He has reason. I think I can hear a voice, chanting a litany, almost too soft to hear, a voice that sounds almost worn out, repeating one word again and again.

"Nononononono."

At first we can find nothing, but Ezrafel takes Dru back from Spike and pulls her to the side of the cavern, back towards the entrance. Spike and Buffy stand in the centre, trying to hear.

Then Spike gives a cry, and runs to the darkest corner. I turn my torch in that direction, and suddenly see what I take to be a bundle of rags. But it can't be, because the sounds are coming from it. Dear God, what has happened here?

Spike reaches for the bundle, and then is suddenly pulled up hard against the wall. There is a small, shallow niche there, not large enough for a man to stand up in. Spike is dragged down into a crouching position, although by nothing that I can see. He appears not to be able to move. What the bloody hell is going on here?

Ezrafel sees what is happening, and stays where he is with Drusilla. She is now calling for her Daddy, another never-ending litany. Buffy and I move carefully towards the back corner, where Spike is. He is making himself as small as possible, crouched down, reaching for the bundle on the floor. I can now see that it is about man-sized. He doesn't seem able to move it because there is no room for him to manoeuvre. Nevertheless, he has seen enough. He throws back his head and howls in grief.

Buffy has reached him now. I try to call her back, but she is too quick. She is crouched down in the corner, and the mysterious force seems not to have affected her.

"Spike. Is it him?" she asks.

He looks at her. "You know it is. You can feel him, too."

"Let's get him out of there, and see what's wrong." That's my bright idea.

Spike turns a withering look in my direction.

"I can't, you pillock. This is some sort of magical vampire trap. There's a barrier," and he demonstrates, holding his hand about 3 feet from the back wall, and moving it upwards to a height of about 4 feet, "and we can't bloody well get out."

Oh.

Between them, they find that they can turn Angelus onto his back, Buffy from outside the trap, reaching through, Spike from his crouched position. I hear a sharp intake of breath from Buffy. Spike just says, "Shit." I move closer. I am appalled.

Angelus is haggard and grey, with sunken cheeks and hollow eyes. He looks as if he hasn't fed for three months, and I don't suppose he has. His clothing is soaked from the constant runnel of water, and he is caked in mud. He cannot uncurl from his foetal position. I try to tell myself that it is because of the restricted space, but I suspect he has been in this position for the last three months.

Suddenly, his eyes snap open. That makes it worse. The expression in them is haunted, an expression of madness. He looks as if he has lost his mind. He sees us, and I am sure of it. He can barely move, but he tries to scuttle back, pressing himself as far away as he can, trying to bury himself in the rock. He tries to hide his face against his arm, and the litany of denial takes on a new urgency.

We *must* get them out of there, but how? What is the nature of this magic? And we don't have Willow.

Whilst I am thinking, Spike is rolling up his sleeve. He thrusts his arm down to the mad creature that is his Sire, urging him to drink. But Angelus becomes even more frantic in his efforts to get away. Eventually, Spike loses patience, and he morphs, then rips his wrist open with his fangs. Awkwardly, because of their cramped positions, he presses the wound to Angelus' lips. Instinct takes over, and the vampire starts to drink, greedily. But not for long, and judging by Spike's reaction, not for long enough. Angelus pushes away from his childe, albeit only for a few inches, trying to scrabble further into the wall.

Buffy thrusts her own arm through the barrier, but Angelus starts screaming, a hoarse, pain-racked noise. I pull her back, and replace her arm with my own. I stare at Spike and hiss, "Do it!"

He does, tearing a gash in my inner forearm. Between the three of us, we bring Angelus, who is fighting us but has not the least amount of strength, to a partial sitting position, and again instinct and hunger take over. He has remained human all this time, and his mouth clamps over the wound Spike has made, as he sucks in the flow of blood. And again he stops too quickly. He can't have taken as much as a pint from the two of us, and he is starved. But now he becomes even more distressed. Spike takes direct action and knocks him unconscious. It's probably the best thing to do, while we try to work something out.

Hours later, and we are no closer to a solution.

I have asked Spike to try and break away pieces of the rock, to see if he can create a tunnel behind the barrier, but he cannot.

Ezrafel has tried to give Spike the little gadget that would open a portal to Hylek, but the gadget will not work inside the barrier.

We have pooled our knowledge of spells for opening things, for removing obstacles, for moving things from one place to another. Nothing works, here.

And we are so very tired now. This cave is an awful place. There is nowhere to sit that is not several inches deep in mud. The temperature is only just above freezing, and you try sitting in several inches of mud in the depths of the Canadian winter, even in a milder spell such as this. Not a good idea. In lieu of anything better to do at present, Buffy and I are setting off down one of the tunnels to see if we can find a piece of rock, anything, for us all to sit on. It looks as if Angelus has been crouched in that mud for three months, and that has been the least of his ills. I begin to feel sorry for him, until I remember Jenny again.

Down the left hand tunnel, we find another, smaller cavern. There are perhaps forty bodies stacked in there, all Kahlavi demons. Apparently Angelus didn't go out easily. I see Buffy pull something from one of the bodies and wipe it on the dead demon's cloak. A sword.

"It's his," she says tonelessly, and thrusts it into her belt. They've fought together enough, she should recognise it.

This cave is drier, and has clearly been used as a temporary barracks. There is wooden furniture, primitive, but usable. We carry a couple of benches back to the main hall.

Soon, we can all at least sit down. Hunger will soon become a problem, but there is water in this cave - rather an excess of it, if truth be told. Angelus has suffered his hunger for three months. Let's hope Spike and Drusilla will be okay for another day or so. There is a bigger problem, though. Someone stacked those bodies - perhaps the same someone who has been visiting the cave. When are they next due, I wonder?

Still we keep trying different spells. We try to telephone Willow, but can get no signal. Aren't mobile phones a wonderful thing? Spike is continually whining that he's getting a pain in his back from bending and crouching, without being able to straighten up. The rest of us know that really he's afraid that we will never get them out, so we let him bitch and whine as much as he likes. He daren't voice his real fear, though. Sometimes we feel that speaking of something dreadful, saying the words out loud, will make it come true. A little while ago, I would have said the words in the hope that they would, but not now. Despite his whining, Spike is trying to massage some feeling back into Angelus' body. The muscles are terribly wasted, and he tells us the arms and legs have been broken and have only just finished healing. These muscles are even more withered than the rest. He says that the healing process will have hastened the process of starvation. He's managed to get some flexibility back into the limbs, though.

The Keeper has been silent for a while. When he speaks, it is at the point when I am truly beginning to think that we're going to have to knock the hillside down. Even that might not work. Buffy has placed one of the benches close to the barrier and is sitting on it, holding Angelus' hand.

"This force only affects the vampires amongst us, yes?"

"Yes." That's from me, Buffy and Spike. Angelus and Drusilla are comatose and in quiet hysterics, in that order.

"What do you know of the vampire barriers in this dimension?"

I answer. "Vampires cannot enter a human's home uninvited. Vampires are burned by the crucifix. What more do you want to know?"

"Why only the crucifix? Why not the symbols of the other great religions? And why does the cross only hurt vampires, and not demons of other species?"

This has occurred to me before but I don't know the answer. I say so. Spike simply shakes his head and Buffy says nothing. She just looks at Angelus, and the fear and sorrow on her face make me want to do anything, sacrifice anything, to give this girl, my surrogate daughter, her demon lover back again. I am surprised at myself. And then I notice something else. Even in his unconsciousness and his madness, in the grip of whatever spell has done this to him, he knows her touch. His hand is clinging to hers like that of a drowning man. And I understand things that I have denied because of my own feelings, his betrayal of my friendship with the murder of my lover. Buffy and Angel or Angelus have a destiny together. I think the world may be at risk if they do not find each other again, and live out that destiny. I *must* help them. I must put my own feelings aside.

Ezrafel has seen my preoccupation and waited for me, before continuing.

"It was sorcery. Have both your species forgotten?"

"What?" "Eh?" Buffy still says nothing, but she is listening.

"Christianity is only about 2,000 years old, and at the beginning, the cross was not an important symbol. That place was occupied by the chi-rho, the XP symbol of your Christ. It was other, older symbols that hurt the vampire demons, symbols created specifically to do so. One of your early Christians, Simon the Magus, was a sorcerer, before Christianity condemned magic. He lost his daughter to a vampire. She was his only child, a girl who would have become a powerful sorceress in her own right. He was deranged by grief, and he cast a spell of the most enormous potency to transfer the power wielded by those older symbols to the symbol of the Cross, and to the Christians' holy writings, so that true Christians might never be hurt by vampires again. He died as part of the casting, pouring his life essence into the force of the spell, so that it would be maintained forever, across the planet. He was powerful, but such a spell must have its limits. He had not enough power to protect against other demons. But his spell holds good almost 2000 years later."

"How do you know this?" I am amazed. Can this be true? Simon Magus certainly lived - he's mentioned in the Bible, of course, so perhaps it is true? Why is this not known to the Watchers' Council? Or is it? Sequestered away, perhaps, as forbidden knowledge?

"We have contacts with the Adraste dimension, where they make much use of magic." He turns to Buffy. "It was the Adraste that supplied Orbath with the salve for Angelus."

She acknowledges that with a nod of her head, but she still does not speak. I can see that Spike does not understand the reference either. It isn't important now, except that Buffy accepts the magical credentials of these Adraste. Ezrafel continues.

"After I first met the Slayer and the Master Vampire, I started to research vampires. The Adraste have supplied me with some volumes, which I have not yet finished reading, but this is a story contained within one of those volumes. The sorcerer Simon knew of the Adraste, and went to them for the spell. They sold it to him, and then they watched, and learned and recorded."

Spike makes a sound of derision. "Well, that's one vampire that's got a lot to answer for."

There is a pregnant silence, and I just know that Ezrafel has more to tell, and is deciding whether he should answer or not. Eventually, he does.

"The vampire was called Aurelius."

Ah.

I believe there must be a certain inevitability to history, don't you think? And a sense of bloody irony, too. No wonder destiny is tangled around Angel, like a snare of barbed wire.

Just for once, Spike, the master of the witty comeback, is left speechless.

Having left that bombshell to hatch for a few minutes, Ezrafel gently continues.

"I raise the matter because of the other sort of barrier you mentioned, the barrier preventing a vampire from entering a human dwelling. That was cast in much the same way, you know, before Simon's spell. It was that which inspired Simon. I do not yet know all the details, but it was cast by a sorcerer who again gave his own life force to power the continuing spell. Could this barrier we face here be the barrier of invitation, twisted to a different purpose?"

Can it be so simple? Do we merely have to invite Spike and Angelus to join us? Invite them in?

Buffy speaks, then.

"Giles, you are the most human of any of us." My heart aches for her. "You had better do it."

Perhaps she's right. If this is a twisted spell, who knows what else might have been twisted into it? Perhaps it's like one of those wretched money machines that swallows your bankcard if you can't remember the PIN number. They give you three tries, but if there is a booby trap in this spell, perhaps we only get one go at it, and we'd better get it all right the first time.

I nod my acquiescence, and prepare myself. How on earth can this be considered my home? Or to belong to me in any way? It will have to be in my imagination. I think of this cave as being everything I have ever desired, as being my territory, my home. I try to bring about a cast of mind that makes such an unlikely thing possible.

Then I think of the two vampires. To be safe, I must surely consider them to be welcome guests in this, my home. Angelus is the most difficult, of course. But I think back to a time when he was still Angel. A time after I had overcome my initial suspicion of him, to when I welcomed him as a good friend, a personal friend. A true companion. I cultivate those thoughts, and include Spike, the pitiable, unthreatening stray with the damaged mind. Then I put the pictures together in my mind, and I speak the words. I invite them in, by name.

Spike tumbles through the barrier into the mud at Buffy's feet. Before anything can change its mind, she and Spike drag Angelus out. Even with the blood that Spike and I have given him, I can see now that he is in even worse condition than he had appeared to be whilst cramped into the niche. Drusilla tears herself away from Ezrafel and throws herself over his body, weeping. I can still make no sense of her ravings, but there's time enough for that, now. We have been here for the remnants of the night and for most of the short northern winter's day. It is only just past solstice, so we have almost maximum periods of darkness, thank goodness. We are going to need all the darkness we can get if we are going to have to manhandle two vampires back to the camper. The sooner we get back to Sunnydale the better.

Ezrafel bends down to pull Drusilla off Angelus, so that we can check him for any further injury, and get him out of the mud. As he does so, Buffy flashes him one of those smiles that lights up the world and squeezes his hand.

"Thank you, Ezrafel. Thank you."

I could swear he blushes, and then he has Drusilla back in his charge. Spike and Buffy lift Angelus onto the bench - he seems to weigh almost nothing, and then they do something I would not have expected. Spike straddles the end of the bench, supporting his Sire's shoulders in his lap. Buffy straddles Angelus' lap, then she hits the unconscious vampire. Hard. He starts to rouse slightly, and Spike tightens his grip. Then she hits him again, and again. He struggles, and changes into game face, although he has not yet reached full consciousness. Quick as thought, Spike and she straighten Angelus' upper body so that his face is against her neck. He drinks. She daren't give him too much, so when he has taken perhaps a pint or two, they pull him away, and Spike thrusts his own arm back in front of the fangs. Once again, instinct and hunger take over. Surprisingly, those of us watching find nothing dreadful in these acts of love and mercy. I think I'm the most surprised of all at that. I make my own offering, again.

It only stops when we have all given as much as we safely can, even Drusilla. Not Ezrafel, though - demon blood is no use to a vampire. Angelus is still not fully conscious, but there is a little colour in his face and he seems less wasted. He is still gripping Buffy's hand.

Spike stoops down into the entrance passage and announces that the sun has just set. I think we'll get out of here.

Spike and Buffy start to lift Angelus between them, when he suddenly regains awareness. Spike supports his weight, and Buffy smiles for her lover, reaching one hand to his cheek. For a second, he looks into her face, then, with a cry of utter anguish, he tears himself away from both of them. He cowers back towards the cave entrance, staring at the ground, unable or unwilling to look at any of us. Buffy turns on him a look of love such as few men, or demons I guess, can ever expect to see in a hundred lifetimes. If only he would look at her, he would be reassured. But he doesn't.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I can't make it up to any of you, but I'm so sorry. You'll never have to see me again."

And with that, he is gone from the cave, into the Canadian winter.

We are stunned, every one of us, Buffy most of all. No, that is not entirely true. Spike and Drusilla seem to understand something we do not. Buffy races to the passageway, her scream of "ANGEL!" echoing out into the wilderness. Spike catches her, holds her still.

"You'll never catch him if you get lost in the forest. I'm buggered if I spend weeks looking for you as well. We'll find him, luv, we'll find him, don't worry." Drusilla is crouched in the mud, howling and screaming.

"Spike!" I say, more sharply than I intend. I have no idea what the hell is happening. "Is Angelus still enchanted? What is wrong with him?"

He gapes at me in disbelief.

"Don't you know?"

"If I knew, I wouldn't be asking," I say with some asperity.

He turns to Buffy, who is held tight to his chest. He uses one forefinger to raise her face to look at him.

"Do you know what's happened, luv?"

She shakes her head. He gives a bone weary sigh, as if faced with particularly obtuse students who should have been much brighter than this.

"Whoever did this to him, they've given him his soul back. He's Angel again."

Through my own shock, I watch her. Her mouth forms a perfect O of horror, and then she seems to just close down. She says nothing more on the long, dreadful journey back to Sunnydale.

Dreadful is much the most appropriate word for that odyssey. At first, we remain in that hated cave while Spike sets off to search for Angel. He will be able to follow his own trail back. But it starts to snow again. Angel's trail is lost to him, and he barely makes it back before his own tracks would have been covered.

Despite the snow, we set off to find the camper. It has been stolen. Dear God, how are we to get everyone back? We are not too far from civilization - about 15 miles to the nearest small town, with a reasonable road. We have good clothing, we won't die - we might even get a lift - but we are such a motley crew, the prospects seem daunting. We decide that Spike and Ezrafel will go ahead, bearing Drusilla. They can travel more quickly than I can. Spike will find shelter - a motel room or something- and come back for us. Buffy and I will continue behind them. Buffy takes no part in these discussions. She is entirely apart from us, locked into her own private suffering. I would have thought she wanted Angel back, although he might take some finding again, and I am worried by her withdrawal when I would have expected her to be urging us to frenetic activity. Still, surely Spike and Drusilla will be able to help her locate him, and we can all help him to heal, to adjust, to come to terms with the things that his alter ego has done. Whilst there's life there's hope, even for a vampire, isn't there?

It takes many days to get back to Sunnydale. Spike takes care of Drusilla, who remains either hysterical or locked away in quiet madness. Personally I prefer the madness. It's more peaceful.

Ezrafel takes charge of Buffy, who is like an automaton. She does as she is told. She eats when she is told, a little anyway. She goes where she is told to go, and so on. If we do not tell her, she simply stands in silence. This is a quietness I do not prefer, and I am terrified her mind has retreated to some unreachable place, that it has become all too much for her to bear. She is simply not with us in any meaningful sense.

I do the human things, present the human face of our tragic little quintet. Hire the car, the motel rooms, buy the food, and so on. The Canadian wilderness has some advantages in our current predicament. Spike cannot hurt humans, but he can hunt animals, and he keeps himself and Drusilla fed. Not well, we don't have time for that, but enough.

I drop the vampires off at the mansion, and Ezrafel and I go to face Joyce.

When she answers the door, she gives a little cry of shock. Standing in her hall, I tell her the barest minimum. I'll tell her the rest later, but all she needs to know now is that we found Angel. In all senses of the word. And that he has run away in shame and guilt.

We help her get Buffy upstairs, where they lie together on Buffy's bed, the daughter, still fully clothed, wrapped in her mother's arms. It is then that Buffy gives the first sign of awareness since that terrible day in the cavern.

"Mom? Mommy? He's gone! Mommy..."

And she breaks down into body-racking sobs. We can only hope that these are healing tears. Ezrafel and I are too tired to go back to the mansion, so we let ourselves out, and Ezrafel sleeps on my couch for the night. At least, I think he sleeps. For my part, I lie in my bed, but sleep is a very long way away.

***

I remember almost nothing of the journey back to Sunnydale. I was otherwise...occupied.

My last real memory is after Spike told me that someone had given Angel his soul back. It was then that I understood the barrage of emotion that had been battering at that special link I have with him, with Angelus. Terror, agony, remorse, grief. Not thoughts or ideas. Just sheer, raw emotions. And I remembered how hard I had wished to have Angel's soul back again; how I had thought that if I could have Angel and Angelus together, my life would be perfect. Foolishness. Be careful what you wish for. You might get it. p>All my fault. It's all my fault. Perhaps if I had made him wear the Gem of Amara, he would not have been captured? Whatever, it is all my fault. I wished it so. I didn't understand.

He left me. That was all my mind could think of. He's Angel, he's back, and he's left me. It was a little while before I could comprehend the other tragedy - what has happened to Angelus? - and could understand that the emotions tearing at my heart were from both of them. The angel and the devil. The two beings that I love.

All through that dreadful journey, I had no mental space left even to deal with the everyday requirements of living. Certainly, I could not abandon my link with my lover - lovers - to react to my companions. The pain and the grief from my lost vampire seared through our bond. And I tried to help, to reach those two tortured souls. To soothe and reassure, to return love. I tried to find Angelus. I tried to open myself to Angel and make him understand that he was loved and wanted. But I have failed. And now Angel has cut himself off from me. I have tried and tried to reach him. I know he is still alive, but he has cut himself off. He is alone and in pain. And so am I.

My guardians hand me over to my mother. They help me up the stairs, taking off my coat and shoes, then they lay me down with her. She wraps her arms around me and the pain and anger and loss overtake me.

"Mom? Mommy? He's gone! Mommy..."

I cry, in great, heaving sobs. She holds me even tighter, as she used to do if ever I cried as a small child. A long while later, I realise that she is crying, too. I think she's crying for me, and for Angel. I wonder if she's crying for Angelus. And if she knows that I am crying for all of us, as well as for myself and the beings I love. I think something has gone wrong in the Grand Design of the Powers that be.

I see by the lightening sky that it is almost dawn. And then I know true terror. I only thought I'd known it before. I feel him. I feel my sweet, gentle Angel. I feel the iron grip he has on my demon lover, who is begging, pleading and raging. Who is crying. And Angel is saying goodbye.

He is saying goodbye and it is nearly dawn, and I don't know where he is, and I cannot reach him. I feel my scream echo through the bond. "NO...!" The sun lifts above the horizon. The rest is silence.

***

'Call me Ishmael.' Those are Ahab's words, that tragic figure from literature. Ishmael. His hand was turned against every man, and every man's hand was against him. That's me. I am outcast, and so should I be. I am the vilest, the most despicable creature that ever crawled on the face of this planet.

My name is Angel and I am a vampire. I am anathema. I am accursed. I have my soul back now, and it is as if I had never had it before, as if the Rom had never raised their hand against me. I see with fresh eyes my base and contemptible evil. I don't know what the man from Wolfram and Hart has done to me, but it is as if it were 1898 again. All those thousands who suffered and died at my hands cry out to me to be avenged. I remember every single one. The acts of casual cruelty play out over and over before my mind's eye. I am weighted down by thoughts of the harm I have done. I had thought I might be able to win forgiveness, but I see now that I can never aspire to such a dream.

My depraved acts of wickedness in the time before I was first given back my soul will ensure that I burn in the deepest fires of Hell forever. My demon will rejoice at that, I am sure, since he will no doubt have absolute sovereignty over my damned and suffering soul. It is no more than I deserve. But worse, even, than those sins that I committed before the vengeance of the Rom, are the vicious iniquities I have perpetrated during the last year. I have killed and maimed and terrorised. I have murdered Jenny, who tried to help me, who was the lover of the man who called me friend. These are dreadful things.

But oh, the things I have done to the woman I say I love. How could I? How dare I even inhabit the same landscape as she? When they freed me, I could not even look at her, for shame, because I could not have borne the accusation and loathing I would have seen in her eyes. I have raped her, brutalised her and terrorised her. I have shown her some of the darker parts of the demon's nature though, thank God, not the darkest. But the demon has wanted to show her all those dark desires. He has cozened her with lies of love, but he has wanted to kill her, hurt her, damage her, have her screaming his name in pain and pleasure. And the demon is me. I have wanted all those things. No more. Not ever again.

And, despite the cries for vengeance that have engulfed me for all these weeks, despite the shame and pain and guilt of what I have done, I drank from them. I drank from them all. I drank from my beloved. I can feel them in my blood now. Even the Watcher, who detests me, has offered me his blood, and I have taken it.

Human blood.

Monster.

Buffy, Spike, Drusilla, Giles. I drank from them all. Even though I do not know for certain whether I have visited upon them the horrors of the werewolf's bite.

Monster.

Those lawyers, Wolfram and Hart. He said they had a use for me. For Angelus. That can't be good. I cannot permit the demon ever to be free again. I cannot allow him to destroy any more lives.

And Buffy. I cannot allow him near her ever again. At the thought of her, I can hear him, from where I have him caged. He's begging and pleading. I believe that he is weeping, and that is strange. I have never before known him to beg, let alone weep. Raging and storming, yes. Dripping depravity, like poison, in my ear. Begging, no. I didn't think he had it in him. But I cannot ever permit him to harm her again. Since my soul is such a slippery thing, there is only one way to prevent him from being freed the next time I lose control.

I am sitting on a hillside above Los Angeles, which is the nearest I can permit myself to come to her. She used to live here. It is as close as I can get. There is a saying, 'Cometh the hour, cometh the man'. Well, if there is any man left in me, it is time for him to step forward and put an end to this farce. I cannot permit what has happened to ever happen again. Thoughts of her surround me, envelop me, draw me back to her. Never! There is a bond between her and me from our - their - mating. I have had to close it, so that she will not be corrupted by my misbegotten sin. I have felt her for days, trying to soothe me, to reassure me. Her kind and generous spirit opened itself to me, but I could only ever pollute it. There is nothing good to be got from me or from my worthless carcass. So I ended the connection. I will open it one more time, to say farewell, and to let her know that she will be troubled by me no more. At least my ashes can fertilise next year's wildflowers, here where they overlook the city that she once lived in. That's the only good I can ever hope to come to. So I will sit on this hillside, and welcome the sunrise. I will not have long to wait.

THE END

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

Author's notes:

1. Because this series is changing the events of the past, and because the inertia of narrative history is trying to tie knots and carry on, you can expect to see artefacts, and events, and perhaps meet people, in unexpected times and places. The timeline is fractured. If you don't like it, that's fine. Just make it your turn to write something for the rest of us to read.

2. Heath Robinson - if you aren't familiar with this guy, look him up. He drew the most wonderful contraptions for performing the simplest jobs.

3. Simon Magus - a sorcerer named in the Bible. See Acts of the Apostles, chapter 8 verses 9-24.

Feedback: Pretty please. Send it to Jo
Story Index
Home