Summary: Is Angel really dead, or just dead to the
world? Is it one too many knocks on the
head for Giles? What can Buffy do? Have Our Heroes reached the end of the
road? Are they to be parted by Fate or
End of Days Part 2 : Ought But Death
Buffy stood in
Giles' Golden Acre Field, arms crossed tightly over her rib cage, as if to hold
herself together. That wasn't too far
from the truth. Her grief and anger
were tearing her apart, pieces of her being sliced away, sliver by sliver. She wondered what would be left at the core
of her, this time. She was afraid
that, without Angel, it would be less human than anything that had gone before.
night, they had all been together, happy, with the future ahead of them. Now, John was dead, Giles was in a coma,
Angel was... gone, and she was standing dry-eyed in a field, wanting something
to kill. Wanting Angel, and not knowing where to look.
believe that he was dead. She wouldn't believe that he was dead. But she couldn't know. The destruction of Summerdown House had
created a pile of wreckage and stone and dust.
Whether any of it was vampire dust, she could never know. But she'd always known when he was there, always
been able to feel his nearness in her soul.
Now, as the sun set, she opened her mind and her heart to him, and she
was sure he was there, surrounding her with his unconditional love.
part of her murmured, ‘Perhaps he's only
there like Ella's there for Giles,' and she was all too afraid that might
Then she saw
what she was waiting for, a figure approaching through the fading light,
tracking through the wet grass of the fields, and over the stile onto Giles'
land. The demon, looking so human that
only another demon - or a Slayer - could tell, drew close, but he stopped about
five feet away, as if nervous that she might attack him. His nostrils were flaring, so perhaps he had
picked up on her thoughts.
"Slayer." His voice was expressionless.
"Syroh." She wanted her voice to match his, but even
she could hear the grating tension in it.
between them, and she was in no hurry to break it. She wanted to know what he knew.
"We heard what
happened," he said at last. "I think
you have suffered too many losses."
something break inside her, and she flew at him. He staggered back from her assault, her fists beating against the
cotton of his shirt, hammering on the flesh of his torso, as the sobs strangled
her words, and the hot tears stung her cheeks.
"What do you
know? Tell me who killed them! Who the hell was it?"
he closed his arms around her, and held her tight against his chest, trapping
her, until the shuddering breaths steadied, and she stopped trying to hit
him. Then he let her go.
"I am sorry
for your loss," he said, awkwardly, as he stepped backwards. He pulled a large square of white cotton
from his pocket and offered it to her.
She wiped away
the tears and blew her nose defiantly.
She hadn't meant to break down like that, to show such weakness, but it
was done now, and she had to move past it.
She turned round, to face the devastation at the top of the field, the
lack of a house where a house should be.
The lack of lover and friends, where
lover and friends should be.
"You have to
tell me everything you know. I need to
find whoever did this." Perhaps they'll know where Angel is. Dead doesn't always mean dead, right? Even to herself, her thoughts were
Syroh dug his
hands into his pockets and looked down at the ground, uncomfortable. "We came last night, some of us, to help
search," he said softly, in an apparent non
round to face him, surprised. It had
seemed that half the old village had been there last night, word having spread
by the mysterious means that applied in all small communities. But she hadn't seen any demons. Still, she'd be hard put to name any of the
people who'd been there, sweating alongside the emergency services, hunting for
the body of Angel. She would have been
better off telling them that Angel had been away from home, because if he
wasn't dead, she would have found him, and if he was dead, no one would. But, she hadn't had two sensible thoughts in
her head last night, other than Find him.
"I... I... Thank you."
"We came for
our own reasons," he told her, still uncomfortable, unable to look her in the
eye. "But, when it became clear that
Angelus was... not to be found... We, we looked for something else. We have all the Watcher's books, all that
survived, and other things. We took his
safe away, too, thinking there would be important items in there. We... we thought it better that humans
didn't see such things."
turned to astonishment and anger. "You looted Giles' house?"
He did look
up, then. "No!" He was clearly appalled. "No, Slayer. We took them for safekeeping only. They are his and yours.
Although," he added, with touching honesty, "we may use some of them to
try to find the assassins."
nothing to the assassins, and you'll not put yourselves in danger." Her voice carried the authority of the
Slayer. And then she became the
vengeful woman again. "I'm going to
deal with them personally." She looked
at him appraisingly. "Why didn't you
come to me in the first place? Why all
that charade with Angel?"
He scuffed at
the yellowing clumps of grass with his feet, water beading on his handmade
shoes. When he looked up, his gaze was
as appraising as hers had been, and his nostrils flared again, scenting her.
"We spent many
weeks talking about this, and trying to reach agreement. Many of us wanted nothing to do with you..."
"Why? I don't kill innocent demons! Are you hiding something?"
He held up his
hand, and she subsided, but with a bad grace.
"We decided to
go to Angelus, to see whether he had become a killer again, or whether he might
be someone we could approach for help.
We knew that, if he was truly Angel,
he would act for right, no matter how close to home, no matter how hard the
He left her a
few seconds of silence to absorb this.
"You thought I
was killing your people, and that Angel would stop me?" Her tone was dull. They'd read Angel right.
If she had changed so much, if she had been doing that, killing innocent,
harmless demons, Angel would have found a way to stop her, no matter the price.
of discomfiture increased, giving her her answer. She rounded on him again, her brain still unable to process all
but the simplest, bloodiest pieces of information.
"Why? Why would you think that?"
His reply was
almost a whisper. "Because my father
had information that the Slayer was responsible. They were the last words spoken by his greatest friend."
"I know. I can tell... So, Slayer, where should we go from here?"
"You can tell
me if you recognise these."
She led him up
the field to the stable. It was empty
of horses - both of them were at Lisa's - but it served as a store for hay and
tack. And dead demons. The men had carried the bodies up here,
safely out of sight of all those who had converged on Summerdown House last
down at the bodies. They were about the
height of a tall man...
approximately humanoid, but only approximately. The face was strikingly different. Their skin was earth-coloured, with the texture of something that
Buffy could only compare to rotting grave cloth. The nose was nothing more than three pits where a nose ought to
be - at least, Buffy assumed that it was a nose. The mouth was small and delicate, and she remembered the
high-pitched, bird-like keening sound they had made. Strangest, though, were the eyes. They were simply depressions where eyes ought to be, except...
looked in the gathering darkness, she saw faint coruscations of light from
those depressions, tiny pinpricks in every colour of the rainbow. Most of the skin there, though, was a
nondescript grey, and in a moment of insight, she understood that these colours
were their receptors, and that the grey areas weren't blind, but contained
receptors for colours that the human eye could never see.
"I have never
seen these before," Syroh told her.
"Nor anything like them." He
reached down to a pouch attached to the belt of the nearest corpse.
nothing in there. We've checked. That one..." She pointed to the next body,
"had these." She reached into a pocket
of her jacket and pulled out a small leather wallet, handing it over to him. When he opened it, he saw that it contained
three photographs. They were of Angel,
Buffy and Giles.
"It seems that
they wanted all three of you, Slayer."
like." She took the wallet back from
He bent down to
examined their hands, fingers thin and grossly elongated, with that same dark cerecloth
skin, but with perfectly white nails that curved downwards like a hawk's
talons. He picked one up and turned it
over. The palm was thickened, like the
pad of a dog. The ball of the thumb,
though, stretching round the heel of the hand, was hugely bloated, the skin
taut and shiny. The skin here was
black, a black that was so deep that it seemed as though it sucked in every
particle of light, a muscle-sized organic black hole.
at such a fanciful thought, and then she saw that Syroh was reaching out to
touch it. She knocked his hand away.
He looked at
said, more calmly. "Those are the parts
that did all the damage. They... they
might still be dangerous."
sharply, and stuffed his fist back into his pocket. "There's a hand missing."
The right arm of one of the bodies ended in a torn and mangled stump.
"I know," said
Buffy. "We've looked everywhere, and we
can't find it."
"That could be
He stands by
the shore of a burning, sluggish sea. In
the near distance, a red fountain marks the place where a new volcano is
building. The heat is a physical weight
in this desolate landscape of black and bloody hell. The slow waves of magma break heavily on the black basalt shore,
each new wave bringing more heat and smoke until it darkens and crusts over,
and gives way to the next.
is thick and toxic, laden with chemical clouds, the stench of sulphur and
ammonia heavy and acrid. It doesn't
matter. He doesn't need to
breathe. Overhead, there might be a
sun, although it's no more than a brighter patch among the dull yellow and
grey, much fainter than a sun should be.
He looks down
at where he stands, the greenish rock, like everything else in this Hell, glowing
with the awful redness of this molten world.
It isn't only the rock he's looking at.
Two great, black cloven hooves stand on the slab of half-solidified
basalt. His weight is pressing them
into the rock, making indentations that are getting deeper as he watches.
hard, and holds out a hand. The skin is
a leaden grey, old leather, hanging in loose folds from a muscular arm. The fingers are long and skeletal, but very
strong, tipped with deadly curving talons.
again, and the action feels wrong. His
tongue is longer, harder, split at the tip, another deadly weapon hidden behind
ranks of shark-like fangs, longer, sharper, and oh so many more than he's ever
There's no looking
glass, not even a pool of water and, even if there were, he wouldn't want to
around this boiling, lifeless Hades in which he's found himself, and he weeps.
This is a
different sort of hell. Everything here
is a cold and dead cinder. When he
looks up, there is nothing in the darkness.
Not the sun, nor moon, not a single star or even a cloud in the sky. He's not surprised about the clouds. The atmosphere is too thin to carry clouds. The rest of it shakes him, though.
He's on a
beach again, and the sea is still sluggish.
This time, it's because there is no wind, no tide, nothing to stir the
thick, black water. He stalks down to
the water's edge, and bends to look at it.
To smell it. It isn't
water. It's liquid methane.
As he stands,
his hoof - his foot, he has to think
of it as a foot - catches on something partly buried in the black sand. He pulls it out, careful not to crush it
with those terrible talons. It's a
glass bottle, the glass thin and eroded and frosted. It might have been here for thousands of years. He can imagine someone tipping this up and
taking a long swallow of beer from it.
Whoever that might have been, they're long gone now.
He looks back
at the traces that he has left behind him, the path of those hooves - feet - across the shifting sand, and his
deepest darkness, the temperature a little above freezing, no breath of wind
against that leathery skin. When he
moves, there's the soft, muted clatter of hooves on rock. His path takes him upwards. There's no light, but he can see well
enough. He doesn't think it's eyesight
that he's using.
As he climbs,
there are tiny puffs of air coming from further up. They carry down to him the acrid scent of wood smoke, the rancid
odour of badly tanned skins and the rankness of unwashed humanity.
He starts to
move more quickly, anxious to see someone, anyone. When he reaches the mouth of the cave, there's nothing, just the
trace of those scents, taunting him.
It's as though their source left here only moments before, but they are
now irrevocably gone.
Then he sees
something from the corner of his eye, movement, something small, running. He turns towards it, his speed inhuman, but
it's gone. And there it is again, in
the corner of his eye. And again he pivots
round. There's nothing there. But always there's that movement, of
something hiding in the dark.
He calls out
to anyone who might be able to hear, and it emerges from his lungs as an
eldritch roar, echoing around the rocky walls, and out into the night,
resonating from unseen mountains and valleys.
He roars again, bellowing out his anger and his frustrations, beating
his fist against the wall, carving out great blocks of rock. Then all that's left is the reek of fear.
He falls to
his knees, still roaring.
else now. It's a cave of sorts, but a
different sort of cave. The occupants
have built this one for themselves.
Once more, there's the scent of wood smoke and sweat. This time, the sweat is both human and
again. He shrinks into the deepest
shadows, fading into corners, trying not to show himself. He watches, and he waits. And there's something in the corner of his
eye, movement, and yet he still can't catch plain sight of it. The next time it happens, he recoils further
into his chosen corner, and calls out softly to whatever is moving. These are the first words he's spoken since
arriving in hell, and it's just a simple greeting, in his head.
what comes out of his mouth, though.
It's a whisper of seduction, an erotic temptation. Come
walk with me // See what I have for you
// Take my hand // I could show you the
world, things you've never seen, never even heard of.
sibilant whisper, wrapping around the subconscious, a tongue of lies and
deceit. The pheromones of fear spike
through his consciousness.
He's back on
that barren basalt shore. He wonders
whether, if he searched, he would find the footprints that he left before, in
the soft rock. He's been many places
since he was last here: icy, frozen wastes; red sand deserts stretching from
horizon to horizon; plains smoking in the aftermath of fire, blackened tree
stumps like rotting teeth; jungles where the vegetation is cavernous, obscuring
the light with its giant, bosky fronds and odours of dung and decay.
the same. Movement which he cannot
catch, except from the corner of his eye.
His words, turned into whispered enticements, or into terrifying screams
and roars. And then the all-pervading
scent of fear, sweet in his nostrils but bitter to his mind. Only here, where he is now, is there nothing
but himself, no movement, no scent other than what he can identify.
know how long he's travelled from one hell to another, but it seems like
forever. And now he's back where he
started. He stamps in fury, terrifying
himself by the way that action seems so natural, and by the way the rock
shatters beneath his cloven foot.
there's movement again, but this time, it doesn't disappear when he turns
towards it. As he watches, he wonders
whether he's been lost so long that he's lost his mind as well as his body.
coalesces from the noxious clouds of gas over the molten sea. She's beautiful, pale skinned, red-haired, with
a halo of fire around her. She's like a
goddess. He knows her.
"Ella." It comes out in that sibilant hiss. Come
to me // Lie with me
But she seems
to hear what he's tried to say. Her
name. Her gaze focuses on him, and she
Martha sat as
still as stone in the chair. They'd
offered her a sedative, but she'd scorned to take such a thing. She didn't want any of her memories of John
to be dulled or cushioned, especially his death. She wanted them clear and bright. Sharp enough to cut.
Dangerous. For her, vengeance
would be a dish best eaten hot. And
vengeance she would have, payment for the death of the man she loved more than
all the world. No matter that others
might be the tool of that vengeance - if they made sure that whoever had
ordered this paid with their lives, or worse, then she would be satisfied with
that. The demons who had killed John
were dead, but they were no more than tools, she was sure. Someone had used them, as surely as Martha
would use someone else to avenge her loss.
Her tool would
be Buffy. Buffy would move heaven and
earth, quite possibly literally, to discover who had murdered Angel, so her
purpose was exactly the same as Martha's.
And Buffy would tear the world apart to find who had put her Watcher
into a coma. Martha had always tried to
be a good Christian woman, and she knew her Bible, both Old Testament and
New. Now, it was Old Testament
time. It was time for some smiting.
down at the bed. Giles was deathly
still, surrounded by monitors and bags of fluid. His face was waxen, but his eyes were restless. She had to be satisfied with that. Something was happening inside his
head. He'd been like this ever since he
was lifted from the rubble of his home, in the dark of the night for which this
was the following day. She couldn't
think how else to enumerate time.
they knew that something was going on in Giles' head, they - all the people
that mattered in this conspiracy of vengeance - had decided that he should
never be left alone. They wouldn't have
left him alone in any case, but it was even more imperative, with those
restless, dreaming eyes, in case there were words to catch, ideas to write
down, identities to kill.
would arrive soon, and she would be taken into their bosom, helpless to join in
the hunt. And so, she had said that she
would sit with Giles until then, while the others caught up with sleep or
caught up with evil. They would need
all their strength for this hunt, and she, Martha, would make sure they had it.
Once she found her own again, not even
her family would stop her from joining it.
twitched on the coverlet, and then clenched into a fist. With the effort required of the mountain going
to Mohammad, she reached out to him, placing her hand on his. She loved this man now, like a brother,
perhaps in place of the brother she'd lost when she was twelve. She would not see him die. There'd been too much death already.
his hand, and tried to ease the fingers back open again, to relax his grip on
whatever he thought he was holding, but she couldn't, and so she let him
be. Whatever he was doing, he would
have to work it out for himself.
She looked at
the clock, and wrote down what Giles had done on the notepad by the bed, and
then she settled back into her chair. John... John... why have you left me alone?
She picked up
the book on the bedside table. Virgil's
Aeneid. It was important, the doctors had said, and more importantly,
Nick had said, to talk to people in a coma, and so they would all talk to him,
and read to him. Alice had brought a
few books that might remind him who he was.
Clearing her throat, Martha began.
sing of arms and the man..."
the Harris Tweed suit that his father bought for him. It's hot and heavy in the heat, more suited to northern lands and
windswept islands, but it just never wears out. He's had it for decades now, for so long that it almost seems to
define him. That must be why he's
wearing it now.
elusive catches his attention, interrupts his train of non-thought.
know where he is, and he's thinking of Ella.
That's not unusual, thinking of Ella.
He does that a lot. It seems to
him that he was thinking of Ella just before he came here, but he can't
remember where he is, and he can't remember the journey. Wherever this is, it certainly isn't
home. And Ella isn't here, although he
almost thought that he heard her, smelled her perfume.
in a place of dust and darkness and drought, and already the dust seems to be
clogging his throat. He seems to be
standing between cliffs, tall faces of sand and rock, beetling over the
path. He knows they're there because
their invisible weight presses down on him.
He can feel, rather than see, dust devils of hot air swirling around his
calves, rising up his body, stinging his face and his nostrils. He pulls a handkerchief from his pocket and
holds it in front of his nose and mouth.
Which way to go?
He can't see
more than a few inches ahead, and as he looks to left and right, he realises
that he has no clues as to the path he should take. The only apparent difference is that to the left, the path lies
uphill, and to the right, it's downhill all the way.
He starts upwards. If he can get to the top of a hill, perhaps
he can make some sense of where he is.
Within a few paces, he's sliding in deep sand, one step forward, two
steps back. The sand is in his shoes,
and as he falls to his knees, the sharp grains of yellow silica scuff the heels
of his hands.
A gust of wind
raises a small dusty cloud, and he has to close his eyes. He scrabbles back to his feet by clinging to
the rough face of the cliff. He takes a
step forward, and his handhold on the cliff crumbles under his fingers. Another step, and he's slipped back to where
seems firmer here. Perhaps he should go
the other way. After all, downhill
might lead to a valley, there might be water, and where there's water there
might be people. He tries not to think
that where there's water, there are animals, and where there are animals, there
hand on the cliff face, he starts downhill.
He's right. The ground is much
firmer, the walking easier.
At last, he
comes to ancient, crumbling stonework.
He can feel the weathered smoothness of the blocks under his fingers,
the finely-jointed masonry that speaks of craftsmanship, the decaying edges
that speak of abandonment. He's wrong
in this. Not everyone has gone from here.
He reaches a
large covered space. There's a
tenebrous light, full of dark shadows.
Then he sees that some of the shadows are moving. He calls out to them, but they flit into the
darkest corners, like ghosts. He moves
towards them, still calling.
"I say! Where is this place? Please?"
further away, panicked, trailing dark and dusty tattered vestments behind
them. A movement close by makes him
start, and a single shadow glides forward.
As it passes him, it hisses, "Beware, Rupert Giles. Easy is the way down to the Underworld: by
night and by day dark Hades' door stands open; but to retrace one's steps and
to make a way out to the upper air, that's the task, that is the labour."
He stands, confused, as the shadow slips away. Almost, almost he recognises the voice, but any recognition has
slipped away from him, like the shadow.
Who, here, would know him? And
who, here, would be quoting Virgil to him?
He follows the
shadow as it flees away. It half turns
its head back towards him, its pale face luminous beneath the darkness of the
hood. It's Roger Wyndham-Price, long
dead and not at all lamented.
Is this what
the Watchers have come to? Feeble
shadows in some place of outer darkness?
He doesn't care about Roger Wyndham-Price, but he would care about some
of the others. And he would care very
much if others of his friends, his loved ones, were here, in this desolate
place. Those who have died for the
It was Monday,
but it felt like an extension of Friday night.
Detective Chief Inspector Ian Collins sat at his desk, wondering when
he'd be able to sleep. Whether he'd
ever be able to sleep again. The door
opened, and Gavin Lincoln came in, clutching a sheaf of daily papers. He threw them down onto the cluttered desk.
"A few of them
have tiny paragraphs tucked well away inside," he said. "The rest haven't got anything."
out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding.
in return. "Bloody good luck,
that. It's almost like there was a
spell around the place. You know...
‘See me not. Take no notice of
me.' That sort of thing."
"I think you
might be right about that, although I don't know who would have cast it. But it's a miracle everyone accepted the
story, and didn't see anything really newsworthy in it." He leafed through the first of the
newspapers until he found a small paragraph with a red circle penned around it.
Man dies in freak accident
A man died and at least one other was
injured in a freak accident in Westbury, when a house collapsed. The collapse is under investigation. Some sources have suggested a freak
meteorite strike, but a spokesman from Avon and Somerset Constabulary pointed
out that substantial building works were being carried out at the time.
the same, sir, more or less."
extra. No chatter."
his head in disbelief. "I just can't
credit that we're going to get away with this."
while you can."
smiled. "Yeah. I guess.
Right. You can hold the
fort. I'm going to get some sleep."
him back as he reached the door. "It's
raining. You've forgotten your coat."
had. He was just so damned tired. He hadn't slept in something like forty-eight
hours. He and Gavin would take it in
turns now, making sure that a lid was kept on everything. Neither of them wanted some flatfoot letting
something out to the media. And yet, he
thought, as he sank gratefully into his car seat, all of them, including the
villagers involved in the search and rescue, had been strangely incurious about
events. He'd worry about it later. For now, he was just thankful.
He was halfway
home when he pulled over. He leaned his
forehead onto the steering wheel, as he thought of that cold, empty house. He was still too full of what had happened
on Friday, too torn between anger and sorrow to face loneliness as well. Shaking his head in denial, he pulled his
phone from his pocket. His call was
answered almost immediately.
"Hello, Alice. It's Ian."
later, he pulled up in the lane outside Alice's cottage. The scarlet geraniums were still flowering
outside the front door, an unseasonal blaze of warmth in a cold and wet
night. The door opened, an invitation
of light, as he walked up the path.
"Come in," she
said, her voice low and husky, as she held out her hand to him. "Do you want something to eat?"
He shook his
head as he slipped his arms round her.
"Not yet. Later, maybe."
He looked down
at this miraculous woman, restored to vibrant youth and beauty, and he felt his
throat tighten. A sharp crack of
laughter escaped him.
wrong?" she asked, searching his face for a clue, her eyes shadowed with worry.
"It isn't many
men who have the opportunity to see what their girl will be like when she's
old." His smile faded. "Sorry.
It's been that sort of a day."
him on the arm. "I thought you were
going to talk about scales."
frowned. "I never thought about those."
She was about
to say something else, but he leaned down and kissed her. The taste of her was... unique. It was the bittersweetness of chocolate and
cinnamon, mixed with something warm and musky.
It reminded him of Chypre
perfume, a favourite of his sister's, and yet it was entirely Alice's. Like her, he found it irresistible.
exhausted, but he needed warmth and companionship, and something he wasn't
prepared to name. And she was just so
He traced her
cheek with his finger, and decided to rush his fences. "I want to make love to you."
He heard her
intake of breath. He was going far too
She saw the
hollowness in his eyes, the raw need that was echoed in her own heart. At first, she'd been too full of pain and
anger, too numbed by the intensity of her emotions that she hadn't been able to
cry. And then she hadn't been able to
friends with John and Martha for years.
Not close friends, perhaps. They
didn't go for nights out together or share the secrets of their lives, but
she'd known them for a long time, and they'd helped each other often. She'd
wept for the bloodied body and she'd wept for Martha's grief.
Angel. Who could not weep for
Angel? And she had.
tears, too, for Giles. For the small
and inquisitive boy, by turns young and adventurous, or old beyond his years. He lay now in a hospital bed, and no one
could say whether he would ever rise from it again.
suspected that most of her tears had been for the living, for that small band
of survivors who were alive only because of the dead, and who all felt that
they would have preferred to die so that the others might live. Survivors' guilt, perhaps, but nonetheless
painful for all that. They hadn't had
chance to mourn privately together. They
had taken turns with Giles, passing in the hushed silence of the dimly-lit
room, and they had started to do the things that needed doing in the aftermath
of such an appalling tragedy. So far,
though, they'd done those things separately.
And sometimes that
wasn't enough. Sometimes, life needs to
cling to life, to be comforted and to assert itself as an option better than
death. And to feel that renewal is
possible. That was what this man was
looking for. Renewal. Comfort.
Hope. So was she. Perhaps they could find it together, just
for a few hours in the quiet eye of the maelstrom of tragedy.
surprised when she kissed her fingers and laid them against his lips, and when
she silently led him upstairs. He was
blind to everything around him, except for the inviting feminine flounces of
the bed, for the warmth of her body, for the scent of her, the promise of
something other than death, as he kissed her cheek, her neck, her lips, and as
he slowly unzipped the grey wool dress that she wore.
He gave a tiny
gasp as the falling dress revealed her body.
He wouldn't have cared if she had been clothed in those pearlescent pink
scales, but her skin was flawless, a pale coffee colour. She was beautiful, and he wanted to learn
about every part of her as thoroughly and intimately as possible, to lose
himself entirely in her.
get out of his own clothes quickly enough, as she unhooked her bra and stepped
out of her panties. She pulled aside
the lacy coverlet, and he tugged her down, holding her close to him as he made
sure she was comfortable.
And he was
asleep the moment his head hit the pillow.
Lisa sat by
Giles' hospital bed, reading out loud from the book that was open on her knee,
Dante's Divine Comedy. She'd been reading for a while, and now she
fell silent. Quietly, she got up to
refill the water jug, and pour herself a glass.
When she sat
back down, Giles' fist opened and closed spasmodically, clutching at a coverlet
that might once have been pink but had, over the years, been boiled within an
inch of its life. His jaw clenched, and
his eyes tracked backwards and forwards beneath his eyelids. Rapid eye movement, a clear component of
what it was that preyed on his mind.
Was it memory, reliving Friday night?
Was it the present, trying to drag his mind back from wherever it
was? Or had Giles realised something
about the attack, and was he trying to communicate what he knew?
moved her to put her hand over his, and his fingers closed around hers. A tiny sob escaped her at this closeness,
something he'd never offered when he was conscious. Then his hand opened again, and he took tight hold of the
coverlet, twisting it in his grasp. She
tried not to mind.
here for another couple of hours, and then Buffy would come to take a
turn. Lisa would go back home, but at
least she wouldn't be alone. There
would be a Bentley in the drive, when Nick got back from his patients. She was glad about that.
She laid her
hand against Giles' arm, so that he might feel some warmth, some nearness, and
then she started to read.
"Through me is the way to the sorrowful
city. Through me is the way..."
downwards once more. He's back under
the beetling cliffs, but even so, there's a thin and grey light. It's strange, because he thinks it should be
getting darker, the further down he goes, but it isn't. The way is steep now, and he hangs on to
whatever handholds he can find in the side of the cliff. He tries not to run, but it's hard to
control his legs.
As he moves
ever downwards, he thinks that he can feel the touch of a hand, comforting him,
guarding his safety. The touch is
He seems to
have been walking for days when he reaches another ruinous hall cut into the
rock, at the place where the path ends.
He can't see from one side of the hall to the other, and he doesn't know
whether that's because of the dusty gloom, or whether it's because of the size
of it. As he stands in the gaping
doorway he sees something scrawled on the doorpost.
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though
hell should bar the way!
that. It's particularly personal, even
if he was using it not exactly as Alfred Noyes intended.
When he and
Buffy first brought an impaired Angel back from Los Angeles, Giles had kept
Ella away from the house. He would go
to her house, or take her to the flat in Bath, or talk to her on the
telephone. He could never forget what Angel
had done to Jenny. He'd brought the
vampire back to his home because Buffy had needed him to do that.
For the first
few days, he'd been truly uncertain what they'd got back: Angel, Angelus, or
something entirely different. Several
times, he'd been tempted to go into the room with a stake in his hand. Because of Jenny.
killed Jenny with a song in his heart, and Giles had not been able to forget
that, when looking at the resurrected vampire.
He had hated him. He'd wished
him dead, for Buffy's sake, if not for the memory of Jenny. He'd truly thought him a demon sent back
from Hell to ruin their lives. Again.
And so, once,
on a day when the damaged Angel had been particularly difficult to manage, and when
Giles had phoned Ella, arranging to pick her up and take her to Bath, he'd said
this to her.
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though
hell should bar the way!
quiet, and he'd realised that she understood that by hell he meant Angel. He'd never said it again, and gradually
things had changed. He'd come to accept
Angel, and then to care for him. Not at
that time, though. This had been a
cruel thing, unthinkingly said.
Was he here to
be reminded of all his petty cruelties?
A block of
stone stood where the path ended, at a sheer drop downwards, into absolute
darkness. He could try to climb down,
he could enter this chamber, or he could try the near-impossible climb back up
the way he had come. What to do?
indecision, he sat down on the stone bench.
He was a Watcher. For a little
time, he would watch.
It wasn't long
before he realised that there was movement in the chamber. Wraith-like figures flitted around, not
many, but they were seemingly panicked by each puff of air, each small swirl of
dust. They were all clothed as those in
the other chamber had been - dark, dusty robes that hung in rags and tatters on
their insubstantial forms.
He looked down
at his own clothes. The tweed was
gone. Now, he was wearing a comfortable
pair of jeans, a blue T-shirt and a black leather jacket, all clothes that he
owned and was familiar with. Different
to what he'd worn when he entered, but no sign of a ragged robe anywhere. Would that come later?
when he caught a glimpse of them, were pallid, their skin as pale as the moon,
as pallid as corpse flesh.
He held out
his hand. It was solid flesh and blood
and bone. It was warm. And, although it wasn't exactly tanned -
this was November in England, after all, and how could one get a tan in
November, except by going to one of those poncy tanning salons - it was the
hand of a man who spends at least some time outside.
So, was he a
living man, here amongst the dead? Or
did they all see themselves as wearing normal clothes, and with ruddy, healthy
flesh? Why was he here, wherever here
almost caught a whisper, and there was a moment again when he thought that a
warm hand held his.
Was that why
he was here? Had she called to him for
help? Was Ella here, in this terrible
place, where everything faded into nothingness? After all she had sacrificed?
Not if he had anything to say in the matter.
He looked up
at the lintel of the cavernous doorway.
Through me is the way to the sorrowful
city. Through me is the way to eternal suffering. Through me is the way to join
the lost people.Abandon all hope, you who enter!
at the gateway to Dante's Hell. Great. Just... great.
Buffy sat at
the writing table in her room at the Cedars Hotel. There had been arguments about her coming here. Large, fat, arguments that were meant to mow
her down, but that had simply passed her by.
Lisa had offered her a room. So
had Alice. Even Ian Collins had. Nick had offered them all the complete run
of his house. Martha had insisted that
she go to stay with her. That had been
the hardest to resist, because Martha needed people around her. But, the new widow had her family, and Buffy
expected her to go and stay with one of her two daughters, or perhaps her son.
wanted to be on her own just now. She
had no time to languish or to mourn.
That would all come later, when she could lay down the armour that she
had surrounded herself with. The armour
of The Slayer.
priority was to deal with whoever was sending assassins. Angel might be dead, but Giles still lived (please... let him live... please), and
so did she. Who knew when assassins
would come again? And who else they
would come for?
No, this was
the thing that she had to take care of first.
And she could do it better if she didn't have someone who cared about
her looking over her shoulder all the time.
Angel... Well, she would find him. If the sender of the assassins had him, that
was another reason for finding out who that was, so that she could rescue the
man who gave meaning to her whole life.
If he was dead... Well, dead
didn't always mean dead, did it? Not
with him, anyway. There were ways to
retrieve a vampire, she knew that, just as there were ways to retrieve a
Slayer. Connor had done it. So could she. She couldn't bear to think of a life without him. She knew that was selfish, because someday
he would have to think of a life without her, but they'd deal with that
later. Much later. For now, she had to concentrate on how to
find out what had happened to him. And
what to do about it.
follow him down to Hell if she had to, and bring him back out. She wouldn't leave him to suffer there. Not again.
Once was more than enough. (Not if he's in Heaven, though. Not if he's earned his way there. If that's where he is, I'll have to learn to
live without him...) Before that,
though, she must find the sender of the assassins.
She glanced to
the other corner of the table, where the demon, Syroh, sat leafing quickly
through a thick book. Syroh had brought
over a carful of Giles' more promising and less damaged books, and they were
working their way through.
The demon shut
the book with a snap, and threw it onto a pile that covered the bed.
nothing useful, Slayer," he said testily.
She sat back
with a sigh. "No. Neither have I. We need a different approach."
"I will go for
some refreshments, Slayer. A short rest
will help us to think better."
right. They'd been doing this for
hours. "I'll come with you. Let's go somewhere outside. Get some fresh air." He nodded his acquiescence.
She'd got a
hire car, a Vauxhall Astra, and they used that, because Syroh didn't seem to
use cars at all. It was mid-afternoon,
and she drove towards a place that at least would offer some fresh air. The garden centre.
askance as she pulled into the car park.
"This close to
Christmas, they stay open late. They
have a good tea room, and it's peaceful."
wasn't perhaps the immediate word that came to mind when they'd pushed through
the glass doors, as a throng of shoppers took advantage of discounted prices on
Christmas gifts, but they found a table in the café, and the numbers started to
thin. After the first cup of hot
chocolate, with twilight falling, they were almost alone.
about the research they'd been doing, about any possible hint of a clue, about
anything that Syroh might know, no matter how insignificant, that could shed
light on who was orchestrating this, and why.
Buffy asked Syroh to explain his thoughts on why those members of the
Commonwealth had been killed, and the reasons why they decided to approach
Angel for help.
He pulled a
sheet of paper from his pocket. "I
prepared this for you, Slayer..."
identity, remember, Syroh. Just call me
Slayer. This is a list of those who
have been murdered."
There were a
dozen names on the list. A cross had
been written next to two of them.
He pointed to
the two crosses. "These may not be the
same as all the others. These two clans
have a personal feud, and I have a strong feeling that these may be tit-for-tat
killings. Otherwise, all these have
been killed in the last, oh, fifteen or sixteen months."
"Do they have
anything in common?"
"They are all
people of influence in their clans.
Leaders. Decision makers. Although they don't all hold the same
rid of them might make the clans less effective in the face of some sort of
threat. Make them weaker."
was the leader of your clan."
"Who leads it
these other clans?"
leaders have all been replaced, but often there isn't much choice. Our clans are quite small. Some of the new heads are inexperienced,
benefit from weakening the Commonwealth, she wondered. A human?
Judging by the use of demon assassins, that seemed unlikely, although
she couldn't ignore it. Was there a new
equivalent to Wolfram and Hart? She
knew now how great an enemy they had been for Angel.
there be a demon, or a demon organisation, that would try to take over the
Commonwealth? Or to replace it?"
He shook his
head. "I cannot think that,
Slayer. The Commonwealth lives within
your society. It has no power, no real wealth,
no territory of its own. Our history
lessons tell us that it was conceived to prevent conflict between the clans
within, and for mutual defence against more war-like clans outside."
"Then it has
to be that someone wants to weaken you, to cripple the purposes of the
Commonwealth. It's what we call a
troubled. "That is what I, too,
fear. But I cannot imagine who."
do some imagining," Buffy asserted, "and we'd better do it now."
They sat there
for a long time, discussing and discarding ideas and possibilities, until a
bell sounded closing time. They were no
"Do you wish
to dine, Slayer?"
smiled. "Another night, Syroh. It's my turn to sit with Giles..."
finish, as a hurrying shopper bumped into her, dropping a book onto the floor.
sorry," the elderly woman gasped, as she juggled the rest of her
purchases. As Syroh reached out to the
woman to help her steady the pile of goods in her arms, Buffy bent down to pick
up the book. It was a white softback,
with an orange tulip on the front. RHS Plant Finder 2008-2009.
unmoving, staring at the title.
"That's a very
good buy, my dear, if you want some specific plants. It shows every plant and where you can buy it. They have it at thirty percent off, you know."
wrong...?" At least Syroh didn't call
her ‘Slayer' but his tone said that he almost had. It was that that made her look up.
sorry." She handed the book back. "Yes, it looks very useful. Come on, we've got to go." That last was to Syroh. She threaded her hand into his arm, to his
astonishment, and pulled him after her towards the car park.
believe I never thought about that," she raged to him. "I must be getting soft in the head!"
"A plant book?" Syroh was bemused.
"That was a
Plant Finder," she said, as she
unlocked the car. When she'd scrambled
into her seat, she pulled out her phone.
He remained standing by the open door, staring in at her.
"Demon Finder, Syroh. We've lost a demon finder, and I don't think
it was accidental."
He slid into
the car. "I do not understand you."
Taraskena Mallina, the Silarri?"
"Is that her
name? No wonder she uses Alice Yeo. Yes, that Alice. Someone broke into her house a little while ago, and stole a
directory of demons that she was compiling for Giles. We thought they might have taken it for the fancy cover - it
looked like gold and jewels - and we haven't been able to find it. But it had details of clans, including where
to find them."
"By the heart
of Ashorak the Black!" Syroh swore.
"Why were we not told?"
with everything that's happened since you summoned Angel to that hilltop, it
sort of slipped my mind!" she snapped.
course. But the clans will be in danger
now, and I must do something to protect them."
Her call was
answered. "Alice? It's Buffy."
know whether anything would come of this liaison with Ian Collins, but she had
a very good feeling about it. She'd
probably have an even better feeling about it when he woke up.
She smiled to
herself as she looked at the man next to her, the exhaustion apparent on his
features, even in sleep. She'd have to
find a way to smooth that away. She
reached out gently and touched the skin on his chest. There were two puckered scars, knife wounds, by the look of
them. She smiled again. This man would always face danger, not turn
his back on it.
slid out of the bed, tucking the covers around him, and pulled on a silky
dressing gown. It was elegant and old-fashioned,
redolent of lavender from where it had been laid up in a chest for the last
seventy years. She hadn't had much call
for buying sexy lingerie in recent years, but she'd kept all her best things
from the heydays of the fin de siècle,
the belle époque.
As she tied
the belt into a bow, the phone rang.
Its tone was soft, here in the bedroom, but she answered it quickly so
as not to disturb him.
course you can come over." She turned
to look at her would-be lover. He was
leaning on his elbow, more attuned to the ringing of the telephone than she had
anticipated. She gave him a rueful
smile. "Ten minutes? I'll be here."
He held out
his hand to her and she took it. "Ten
minutes?" he said. "Not even time for a
quick one. We'd be caught in flagrante delicto. Shall I stay out of sight here?"
not. This sounds like business. All hands to the deck, I think."
in coffee for Buffy and Syroh. Ian had
already been there when they arrived, and had a large mug in his hand.
need to know what was in the stolen demon directory. You didn't keep a copy, did you?"
"More or less,
yes. On the computer. Do you want it now?"
nodded. Within a few minutes, Alice had
a series of documents open, and Buffy started to ask her questions.
are first on the list?"
"Hmmm. The Amocent, the Belgaza, and the Ellodina."
his throat. "The Ellodina have already lost
their Head of Clan. That was about
eight months ago. He was killed in a
"I don't know
any of those. They aren't from around
here, are they?"
Buffy. Those three are mainly from the
territories are closest?"
been dealt with already," Buffy said quietly.
quickly through. "What about the
nodded. "A small clan, not part of the
Commonwealth, very well off. Nothing's
happened to them so far. Not that I
strange," Alice told then, "that considering how close they are, they were one
of the last clans I found."
people." Syroh nodded.
Ian hadn't yet
spoken, but he put down his mug now, a thoughtful frown in his eyes. "Buffy, you're thinking that the directory
was stolen by people wanting the information from it?"
pressed on, "according to Syroh, some of the assassinations took place before
the book was stolen."
their own information, and then they run out and need to look elsewhere?" Alice frowned as she said it. She was beginning to feel very vulnerable. Maybe she'd had a lucky escape. There was more to worry about, though.
here good with computers?" Ian looked
around the room.
No one was.
someone found out what Alice was doing, and put a thing... a Trojan thing on her
to come to some sort of internal decision.
"That's a good
suggestion. I'll ask Kevin Langford to
come and take a look. He's a
friend. I don't want to involve more
people than we have to, but we need to check this out."
"I'm okay with
it, Buffy." Alice smiled her
need to get word to the heads and whoever else might be targeted. They need to get somewhere safe. Ian, lock them up in your cells if you have
to, please. Can you find enough safe
places, do you think?"
"If not," said
Ian, slowly, "I gather that the vacant houses for the Coven have... special
idea." Alice was brisk. "Who's going to interrupt Ivy's honeymoon to
get the keys?"
The three who
knew Ivy looked at each other. "Gavin,"
Ian said decisively. "It'll be good for
up. "I'm going to sit with Giles for a
bit. Syroh, we'll meet tomorrow, when
you've had chance to contact your people."
"How do you
know who I am?" I know you. // I've always known you. // I know what you most want, the
desires of your darkest heart.
uncomfortably, and the shattered rock moves beneath his cloven hoof.
he continues. "I... I can't seem to
control what I say. It's not what I mean
to say." Come with me, and you can rule the world...
because the demon is more manifest, Angel.
But I know you. I can hear what
you say, not what he says."
whether she can hear what they both say, but he really doesn't want to know. And if she's just a figment of his tortured
imagination, he doesn't want to know that, either.
"Where am I,
Ella? Is this Hell?" If it is, it's different to the last one,
but that might not mean much.
it, doesn't it? In a way, I suppose
that's as good a description as any.
But the question isn't where
are you. Can't you feel it?"
What can he
feel? He feels... strange. Apart from the very unwelcome body plan, he
feels... stretched. He feels as though
he could turn around and be somewhere else.
Is that what happened before? He
asks her that.
She walks over
the molten sea, towards him, and he sees that her feet don't touch the
lava. In terms of a reality check, that
can't be good. Then she's standing next
Angel, is not where you are, but when you are."
don't be cryptic. Don't make me guess."
She takes that
terrible hand in hers and strokes it. It's
part raptor, part skeleton and all demon.
The talons could disembowel her in one sweep.
standing at the beginning of the Earth.
You've been to the end of it, and you've been to various ages in
between. And you are still in all those
places, permeating the entire lifespan of the Earth. Because you are out of step with the rest of the world."
She frowns in
thought as she tries to explain, and he doesn't interrupt. After all, he remembers Illyria. And he remembers the empty places he has
just been, where humanity seemed to be no more than a scent on the air, a
movement out of the corner of his eye.
you," she tells him.
He does, and
he sees Hades. He sees a planet-sized
says, patiently, "look around you. Time
is a dimension, just as the other three are.
Nothing that is real in the world comes in just one dimension, or
two. You see everything in solid, three
dimensions. Each dimension is present
in the other two, and you can move around in them. It's the same with time.
You can move around in it, and all the other dimensions, length and breadth
and height, they exist within it. Reach
out, and you touch the end of the world.
If your... reach... is long enough, you can touch the beginning as well. And you exist in all the other times in
She looks at
him with something akin to pity, and fear strikes through him, fear that he's
marooned here forever. It isn't that
that's the cause of her tenderness, though.
are nowhen and everywhen." She picks
his hand up and holds it in front of his face.
"You're the monster in the cave, the reason why they huddled in the mouth
of that cave, and why going deeper into the tunnels was a sacred act of
bravery. You're every child's
nightmare, the creature under the bed in the darkness of the night, the unknown
terror lurking in the shadows, seen only from the corner of their eye. You've imprinted yourself on this world
throughout every age, throughout the whole of time."
"No!" He can't bear that thought. It simply can't be true.
She raises her
fingers to his lips, silencing him.
more to you than the monster. You will
leave something else threaded through time as well, before everything is done. You will leave the idea of a hero, hidden
and unseen, who can face down the dragons and the monsters when they come, and
who gives us all courage, in those fearful hours when the sun has gone."
He wants to
pull away from her, because he can't imagine how he feels to her, with that
unnatural skin, and the bony plates, and the talons, but he's afraid that if he
does, she will prove to be just a figment of his imagination, and he'll be left
alone. Her hand on his is warm, and he
doesn't want to let go. And he needs to
understand what she's telling him.
But she looks
around, as though something has caught her attention.
called. I have to go. It's time."
Ella!" His fear is apparent as he calls
out to her. "I can't stay here, like
"Of course you
can't. Angel, you have the answer in
your own hands."
She's let go
of his hand, now, but he still feels the warmth. When he looks down, he sees that his hand isn't empty. He's carrying another hand, but this one has
been ripped from its owner's wrist.
It's vaguely humanoid, and a huge, bulbous swelling runs across the
bottom of the palm, pulsing, and glowing darkly in that fiery red light.
something about time... about demons and time and summer. He looks up at Ella, and sees that she's
fading back into the clouds of noxious smoke.
"Before you go
back, you might want to listen," she tells him. "Listen to the cries in the darkness, because some of them you
might want to help."
And then she's
Buffy sat at
Giles' bedside. Perhaps she could think
here. Sometimes, though, thinking is
easier aloud. She picked up his hand,
relaxed now in this unnatural sleep, and held it tightly. His eyes moved rapidly to and fro.
have to come back to us. Please. I can't do this by myself. I need you to see if Angel can be...
rescued. I need you to help me find the
murderers. And I just need you to be
"I don't know
what to do next. I've got no idea who
these people will target next, so how can I protect anyone? I feel so alone, Giles."
She stopped to
blow her nose defiantly. "This is what
we've got so far..."
at the entrance to Hell when he notices a dark figure standing inside the doorway,
watching him. It's dressed like the
others, in tattered remnants, with a deep hood. Then pale hands reach up and throw back the hood. He stares hard into the gloom, but there's
no mistake. It's Jenny. She comes forward and, as he moves to meet
her, she takes his hand.
are you doing here?"
He rubs his
hand over his brow. "I... I don't know
how I got here, but there's someone I have to find."
He puts a hand
up to her cheek. "More than a friend."
"Ah! You found someone else to love?"
"I still love
you, Jenny. You were very dear to
me. Will you come with me, out of
here? You shouldn't be in a place like
"We are all
just where we should be," she says cryptically. "You know that. Why are
you looking here for your woman?"
"I... I don't
know. I just know that I should. She saved the world. She never deserved this. Where should I go to find her? Who should I see?"
"I can take
you to where you need to go. Just
I think I have to do this myself.
Alone." He's no idea why he
should be turning down her help. He's
just going on instinct here.
angry, though. She smiles at him,
instead, and it seems to him that some colour has returned to her cheeks. "You always have good instincts,
Rupert. Go to the end of this hall, and
then follow your instincts. Perhaps you
will find Ella."
He's trying to
see into the darkness, where she's pointing, and it takes him a moment to
process that she knows about Ella. He
looks backwards at her.
you...?" But she's outside, now, and
the tattered clothes are gone. So is
the deathly pallor. She's dressed in
the bright and feminine clothes and heeled sandals that she was wearing when
last he saw her. She waves to him and
walks out of sight. There's only one
way for her to go. Up the hill. She'll never manage it in those shoes.
the threshold, which is something of a relief, because he wasn't sure he was
going to be able to do that. Still, there's
no sign of her.
He returns to
that hall of winter souls, and for him, too, there's only one way for him to
go. He strides out over the stone
floor, towards the far end of the chamber, scattering the denizens of that
place of eternal waiting, like dried leaves on the wind.
At the back of
the hall is a series of long and winding corridors and staircases. It's dark, but not so much that he cannot
see. It's just dark enough to create
deep and foreboding shadows, and to give everything an ashen pall in that grey
and dismal light. Everywhere he sees
rotted hangings, some as fine as ancient cobwebs, crumbling antique chests and
cupboards, and broken weapons.
In one room,
people huddle together in corners. When
they turn to stare at him, he sees that their faces are bloodied. Their eyes have been put out and somehow he
knows that, in life, there were none so blind as those who will not see. This is their sin made literal. They hold out their hands in silent
supplication, perhaps aware of his passing by the stirring of the air. In other rooms, it's worse.
He pulls out a
handkerchief and blows his nose. It
isn't because of sorrow at his surroundings, he tells himself. It's the dust and the musty dankness of this
He turns round
to look at the way he's come. It looks
different, as though there has been a shift in time and space. He knows that he's lost here, that he has
little hope of finding his way back out, at least not without a guide, and part
of him wishes that he'd taken up Jenny's offer. Most of him knows that he really does have to do this alone.
He might have
been here for days, months, lifetimes, when he reaches a pair of iron
doors. Or, doors that used to be
iron. This is the death of iron. These are rotten, like everything he's seen
here, with plaques of dead metal shaling away.
He reaches out to touch one, and a cloud of red rust puffs up on a
vagrant breath of stale air. He grasps
a handle, and with a tortured shriek of protest, the door opens.
It's a throne
room, of sorts.
two of something... sit on what have to be thrones, at the far end of the
chamber, ergo it must be a throne room.
But, it's hard to tell where the creatures end and the thrones begin. As he walks forward, he starts to see more
are of bone, huge bones from some monster he's probably only seen in a
book. He hopes never to see its like in
the flesh. He thinks it would be better
if they were of gleaming white bone. He
could handle that. Instead, they are of
bone that still retains rags and tatters of skin, hanging down like funereal
bunting. There's no blood, or if there
is, it isn't red. There's no colour at
all in this place, just white and black and grey, and the thrones are that
clammy, claggy, ashy grey.
So are the
creatures sitting in them. On
them. Surely, you sit in a chair, he
thinks, and you sit on a throne. In
some way, that slight semantic difference seems to imply the precarious nature
of thrones. And, perhaps, the
ambivalent nature of what he can see.
They are more
humanoid than he had at first realised, because what he'd first thought was
skull architecture reveals instead that each is wearing a headdress. The larger one, the male, has a crown of
horns that curl down around his face.
He's dressed in some sort of finery, but it's so ancient and perished
that it's hard to see what it might have been like when it was... alive. The smaller one, the female, has a crown of
silver leaves, black with tarnish. Her
finery looks as if it hasn't been in the grave for quite so long as her...
husband's. Persephone, he wonders,
spending six months of every year in the Underworld and six months on Earth? And then he sees that she has a necklace of fist-sized
spiders. Perhaps this has nothing to do
with any story told by Humankind, ever.
If that's the case, even his learning won't help him here.
But, they are
humanoid, with human faces, and they watch him approach. Even so, they are gaunt to the point of
being skeletal. They look as though
someone might have started to skin them, and he understands with horror that
that might indeed be the case, as it becomes clear that their skin is peeling away
in long, grey skeins.
angry. Why does he still think he can
feel Ella's hand? Why does he think he
can hear Ella, calling to him? What
does that bright, brave, beautiful, magical
woman have to do with any of this? If
she's here, then he will do anything - anything
- to get her out. But she wasn't dead
as Jenny was dead. As anyone else is
ever dead. Not even as the about-to-rise
victim of a vampire is dead. She was
consumed by the power of the Earth, body and soul, made one with the mystery of
the planet. He doesn't know whether
that counts as dead, but it's just as unreachable. And it shouldn't mean that she is trapped here. He strides forward with more purpose. These creatures will tell him whether she's
here, and if she is, they will give her up.
He doesn't stop to think how ridiculous that sounds, from a man who's
lost here, alone, in their realm.
voice, in that single word, resonates like the final closure of the tomb. Giles stops, a few feet from them. Now he can smell them, but it's an earthy
scent, like autumn leaf mould, and not unpleasant, although he wouldn't want to
breathe it for too long.
"Why do you
breach our realm?"
woman. Her voice has the chill of the
winter wind in it, and the mournfulness of the lost souls that are carried on
"I just want
to know where Ella is. That she isn't
suffering here. I need to know that
realises that that is the truth. He's
wanted to know that for a long time.
It's preyed on his mind. His
thoughts keep skating over the possibility that nothing of Ella has
survived. That there is neither body
nor soul, and that she can never be happy or sad again. That there can be no afterlife for her,
except as that sigh on the wind that he sometimes hears, or the shadow of a
face dancing in the new spring foliage, or the caress on his cheek when he
steps into sunlight. Those he could
believe in, because they are always there, in some small way, every day.
But what if
turns to look at the man, and then turns back to face Giles.
"Ella is not
here," she tells him, and her voice now is laden with icy sleet, crackling like
the badly-frozen pond that is about to swallow a child.
certain?" he persists.
"DO YOU DARE
TO QUESTION US?"
voice of the sepulchre again, the grinding of marble on granite as the cover is
slid into place.
question as such, maybe, but I want to ascertain that I'd made it perfectly
clear to whom I was referring." As a
statement of authority and determination, Giles feels that it perhaps lacks a
certain something. "But if she is here, then I want to know, and I want
her released!" he adds, defiantly.
"No one leaves
here. This is the last resting place of
tormented souls." Her voice sings like
a north-easterly wind through the power lines.
He thinks of
Jenny, and holds his peace. Then he
thinks of himself, and decides not to argue, yet. Not until he's sure about Ella.
And then he sees, from the corner of his eye, a movement in one of the shadowy
corners. A hooded creature is chained
to the wall.
The figures on
the thrones sit unmoved, staring into nothingness, as though he's of no
importance. He supposes that that is
true. It's as though they see things
that he doesn't, and perhaps they do.
He turns towards the chained figure, and no one stops him.
He's not sure
why he's drawn towards this creature, pulled towards it as if by an invisible
thread. For the first time, he wishes
he had a weapon. Something hard grazes
his shoe, skittering across the polished stone. He bends down to pick it up.
It's a sword, rusted like every other piece of iron here. A large sliver of metal has been sheared
from the blade. He recognises it. It was his father's favourite blade until it
broke, and the breaking of it killed him.
Giles buried it with his father, and now it's here.
He hefts it
carefully as he walks towards the prisoner, who is curled on the floor,
shackles on both wrists. The face that
turns to him is contorted in agony, and Giles' lips tighten as he recognises
what, if not who, this is. He glances
back to the figures on the throne, who are taking no notice of him at all,
simply staring into that emptiness that has taken all their attention. There's no threat to him from them. Not yet.
"They see the
future, Watcher," the creature on the ground hisses to him. "They see the death of the Earth, and you
can see what it is doing to them."
thought that you were so slow. They are
trying to hold back the future. They have
no energy left for holding on to themselves, or to their realm. All of you, you must act soon. There's not enough time."
"What are you
talking about? What future?"
"Even I do not
know that. This iron tortures me,
distorts my senses. That is why they
have chained me. Or one of the
reasons. Set me free. Please."
common sense, he raises the broken, rusty sword and brings it down hard onto
the chains. It shatters, splinters
flying throughout the hall. But the
chains are as weak as the sword, and they, too, shatter into pieces. The creature stands up, shedding the frayed
and tattered robe as it does so.
It's a thin,
grey, humanoid figure, with no hint of the glamour that he knows it would
normally wear. The iron shackles
prevent it from using its native magic.
The clothes that it wears are rags, like everyone else here, but perhaps
these are deliberate, and if it had its magic, he thinks that he would see
those differently. More
glamorously. But now, they are scraps
of silk and lace, and bits of fur and leather.
Round its neck, it wears a necklace of skulls. They aren't human skulls, nor do they belong to anything he can
imagine would ever have been alive.
They are the shape of skulls from small animals, rats, cats, stoats,
perhaps a young fox. And they are made
entirely of white quartz crystal. He
supposes they're all of a piece with the reality of the elf.
He points to
the shackles. "I can't take those off
for you. I haven't a key here."
will do that."
The elf looks
at him strangely. "Humans are so
lacking in perception," it says. "The
vampire would know me. So would the
Now he knows.
Queen. What the hell are you doing
answer straight away, surveying him from those strange, cat-like eyes. "I came to meet you," it says, at last.
shrugs. "We seem to do services for
each other, me and mine and you and yours.
This is for my granddaughter."
She knows he won't understand that, and he doesn't. "Now, you have freed me. I will grant you a wish."
"What sort of
wish? And don't they normally come in
threes?" He's suspicious, and he knows
he's right to be.
Her look is
haughty. "Don't you think that you've
all had more than your fair share of wishes?
Still, here's one more. Whatever
your heart most desires."
He's even more
suspicious now. "Isn't the price of
your heart's desire usually your heart?
Don't think you can catch me like that."
splits into a needle-sharp smile. "You're
right. It normally would be. But circumstances are not normal. You may have this without fear. Any consequences will be purely of your own
making. I swear it by the future of my
now. "What should I wish for?"
"Do not waste
this. This is for you, and you
alone. Wish for your deepest desire,
not for someone else's."
even need to think. He nods.
the Queen tells him. "Now, take a skull
from my necklace. Choose the one that
seems to you to best represent your wish.
Hold it tightly in your hand, and make that wish."
he reaches out to the cat skull, and tugs at it. It comes away in his hand.
He sits it on his palm. Even in
the dim light it glitters. It's
beautifully worked. It looks so natural
that it might, indeed be the skull of some exotic, alien cat, but he can't
believe that. It's solid, with no
hollow in the braincase for the lump of matter that makes us all who we are,
even a cat.
The mouth is
closed, and he can't see any teeth, but there are holes where the eyes should
be, and the skull seems to stare at him through those sockets. He can feel himself falling into their
depths, can almost see what he wants to see.
closes around the white quartz skull, and he makes his wish.
Martha's turn to sit with Giles. Her
family hadn't wanted her to come, had said that she ought to be in her bed,
sleeping. What they meant was that she
ought to have accepted a sedative and retired to cry her eyes out. There would be a time for tears, and it
wasn't now. Now was a time for
something different, and only by keeping things to their proper time would
Martha be able to get through this.
reached the room, Buffy was with Giles, her head resting on the bed, her small
hand wrapped around his larger one. She
was fast asleep, but she came to instant wakefulness at the sound of the older
"Martha. You didn't have to come. I can stay longer."
Buffy. I'd rather be here than anywhere
else just now. How is he?"
even more restless than usual. I think
he's dreaming a lot." She looked up at
Martha, who was stripping off her heavy wool coat. "I don't know what's in his head, but I don't think it's anything
With a heavy
sigh, Martha sat down beside her.
"What's wrong with his hand? Is
he clutching at the coverlet again?"
her head. "I don't know. But it looks as though he's got something in
it this time."
out and turned Giles' clenched fist over, so that the fingers were
uppermost. Suddenly, his hand
opened. A fistful of glittering white
quartz sand slid out onto the once-pink coverlet.
wanted to wait for Giles, just a day or two more, but the family needed a
funeral. So did Martha, really. None of it would be real, until the curtain
closed around that coffin. And so, they
came to the day of the funeral.
still in his hospital bed and, for just this hour or two, he was in the sole
care of the nursing staff. Buffy felt
in her pocket for the envelope of sand that she had carefully retrieved from
where it had spilled onto the coverlet.
It might be important. And it
was a link to him.
Templeman had read the eulogy, and then they'd sung Jesu, Lover of My Soul, which Martha had chosen because it was
John's favourite hymn, and Buffy could almost hear him singing it in his rich
baritone voice. Now, there was a moment
for silent, individual remembrance.
remembrances of John were inevitably mixed with her remembrances of Angel, no
matter how hard she tried to concentrate on John, and no matter how much she
denied to herself that Angel was no more than dust. How could he be truly dead, when she could feel his hand in hers,
his touch on her cheek? When she sensed
him close to her all the time, just as she always did in life? When she caught his scent around each
corner, through each doorway, that unique scent that no one other than he could
ever have. It was like walking into a
room that he had just left, and finding a trace of that scent hanging on the
air, sensing that the room still retained an impression of him that was real
enough to be tangible. Once, she had
pressed her palm flat against the mirror in their flat, and her skin had tingled
as though his palm was only molecules away from hers. So how could he be dead?
She sat with
her head bowed, thinking of John, that quiet, brave man who would be so very
missed, but suffused with the presence of Angel. If she stopped to truly think about Angel, it would carve the
heart out of her. Again.
Reverend Templeman's voice broke the silence, with the reading that Martha had
chosen. Buffy hadn't known what Martha
had chosen for the service, and the thickening in her throat almost choked her.
Intreat me not to leave thee, or to
return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where
thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:
Where thou diest, will I die, and there
will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part
thee and me.
relate to that. Nothing should have
been able to stand between her and Angel.
Nothing should part them, except true death, and that, she hoped, wouldn't
part them for long, in the end. The
afterlife should be theirs, as well.
But not now. It was too
soon. He wasn't dead now. He couldn't be dead now. She simply wouldn't permit it. Whatever had happened to him, she would find
Yes. She would follow him to the ends of the
Earth, and beyond. Anywhere. And she would find him. This time, she would not let him go alone
into the unknown. Someone knew where he
was, and she would find them. Oh Giles!
Come back to us! I can't do this
And then the
curtains were closing around the coffin, and Nick had his hand on her elbow.
Buffy," he said gently, knowing where her thoughts were. He and Lisa led her outside, followed by Ian
and Alice and Gavin. They hugged
Martha, standing by the door with her family to receive condolences, and then
they walked out into the grey afternoon light.
stood in a circle around Buffy, Lisa holding her hand, as the mourners left the
crematorium chapel. There were a lot of
them, so many that the pews had been filled and people had been standing at the
back. John had been very
well-liked. When she looked up, she saw
the sympathy in her friends' faces.
They thought that she had been burying Angel.
Nick took her
arm again. "Let's go. It's the ham sandwich tea now."
sandwich tea. Buffy had come to
understand that this seemed to be an essential British ritual after a funeral,
their version of the funeral feast.
Everyone would stand around eating the sandwiches and looking mournful,
and then the day would be over, and she could get back to trying to track down
whoever had caused this to be done to John.
And to Angel.
behind her made her turn sharply. It
was Syroh, in a dark and expensive suit.
"Sl... I came to
pay my respects to the widow," he said, in his formal, abrupt way.
nodded. She looked from him to Alice,
and wondered how many funerals of simple country carpenters had been attended
by two demons.
tea?" she asked him. He looked
undecided. "We could talk afterwards,"
she pointed out. He nodded, and turned
with them towards the car park.
The Fletcher house
stood on a quiet street off the main road.
The door knocker had been tied up with black ribbon, in an old-fashioned
gesture, and a mourning wreath hung from it.
Buffy wondered whether Martha had done that, or whether she'd brought
her children up to remember the old observances.
was as sombre as she had expected, but it was clear that there were many people
wanting to offer help and support for Martha.
Buffy was pleased about that, for Martha's sake.
Syroh were among the last to take their leave, following the rest of their
friends out into the gathering darkness.
They left by the back door, walking down the side of the garage to where
Buffy had left her car. It was there
that they were attacked.
three demons, three honest-to-goodness demons.
They were big, ugly brutes, and they were armed with big, ugly
swords. Buffy slammed shut the wooden
gate, leaving her friends on the other side, safe for the moment, and then she
and Syroh faced the demons.
got a sword under your jacket, by any chance?" she asked grimly.
his head silently, and then leapt nimbly out of the way as a blade slashed past
him. The gate behind Buffy rattled as
she pulled the ever-present stake out of her pocket, and leapt into the fray,
landing a high kick on the closest attacker, making him stumble backwards.
up a brick from the edging of the flower border and caught the next sword slash
on it, the ringing sound loud in the night.
Shards of metal and red brick flew around him.
There was a
sharp warning cry from Buffy as Martha emerged from the house, and the Slayer
leapt for the demon closest to the fleeing woman. Her fist lashed out, throwing his head to one side, as her foot
connected hard with his groin. The
demon fell backwards with a groan, cannoning against one of his fellows. Buffy somersaulted over them as a sword
flashed upwards, an inch from disembowelling her.
towards the third demon, throwing the brick that he'd snatched up, catching it
a glancing blow on the shoulder so that its sword arm dropped for a
moment. Then he closed with it, as
Martha ran past, hurrying into the garage, her matronly figure all too close to
danger. When she re-emerged a moment
later, she held weapons in her hands.
She threw a battleaxe to Buffy, the one that John had fitted with a new
haft after Paris, and a long-handled felling axe to Syroh. John, after all, had been a worker in wood.
Syroh hefted their new weapons with grim determination, and the end was
inevitable. The Slayer moved around the
outside of the three demons, trapping them between the wall of the house and
the wooden gate. Then she swung the axe,
to the clang of metal on metal. Syroh
followed suit. It was soon over, with a
minimum of fuss and noise, and less blood than might have been expected.
on the axe, breathing heavily. "Thanks,
Martha," she managed. "I thought we
were in trouble there."
"I heard the
noise," said Martha, in a whisper. "I'd
better get back to the children. They
were showing Sid and Jane out of the front door. I'll keep them occupied, if you get these out of here. The blood won't show until tomorrow morning,
and I'll have it cleaned up by then."
As she hurried
away, Buffy opened the gate. "Sorry,
guys. It was a bit dangerous
here." She ignored their protestations,
and joined Syroh in gathering up the smaller pieces of demon. Stray light from a window fell on a severed hand
and arm, and she felt her chest constrict, her heart pounding.
There was a
tattoo on the inner wrist. It was an A
inside an O, and she recognised it well.
She'd last seen it on the wrist of that other beloved vampire, the one
who had come here as Angelus, and returned to his own dimension as Angel. The one who had called Acathla to life in
his own dimension. Instead of being a
king in his own realm, or even a free spirit living as he wished, Angelus had
found himself enslaved to a master, to Acathla, and this tattoo was a symbol of
that servitude. It was perhaps more
than that. It perhaps had power over
its wearer. He'd almost hinted at that,
but she didn't know for sure. And magic
wasn't her thing. If only Willow was
And now that
tattoo was here again, on three demons who had been sent to kill her, in her
own dimension. The only difference she
could see was that this one was smaller than his had been. Perhaps that argued some sort of hierarchy,
some gradation of power, more to Angelus, less to these?
Her brain had
seemed too full of pain to think clearly, but now, given something to work
with, the fog of indecision lifted. Why
were these here? Had that other Angel
lost his soul again, gone over to the dark side, and sent these to finish off
the people who had re-ensouled him? Or
was it Acathla, with some other purpose?
She looked up
into the silence, and realised that everyone was staring at her, as she fixated
on that hand.
others," she said, once more the Slayer, in command of herself. "See whether they carry this tattoo." She held the hand up.
the others gathered up the necessary pieces, or lifted intact arms that were
slack in death. All three demons
carried the tattoo. Ian and Syroh knew
that the other Angel had carried a tattoo that her Angel did not, but none of
the others here had seen it before, or knew what it meant, only she and
Giles. And Angel. They'd talked to no one about the details of
what had happened all those months ago.
None of it had been anything to be proud of. No one else knew.
Absolutely no one else. At
least, no one who wasn't a servant of Acathla, perhaps.
them out of sight, before one of Martha's family comes out to see what's
happening," she decided.
Perhaps out of
habit, the two policemen and Syroh, as they bent to the task, patted down
pockets and pouches on the corpses. It
was Gavin who struck gold. One of the demons
had a large, stiff leather pouch on a broad strap from shoulder to hip, across
his chest, rather like a messenger bag.
In the front pocket, Gavin found a large handful of gold coins. They were sovereigns.
blood money," he observed, holding one up.
But it was the
larger, back pocket that held the more interesting treasure. He pulled it out.
Alice exclaimed. It was, indeed, the
Demon Directory. The Lesser Domesday Book, Volume I.
it up. "They've been writing in
"Yes, in a
minute," said Buffy hastily, as she heard voices from inside the house. "I think Martha's family are getting
restless. We'd better hurry."
around the table at Lisa's.
Syroh, slowly, trying to sort through what he had just been told, "this Acathla
is an Eater of Worlds?"
"I guess you
could put it like that." Buffy looked
up from her clasped hands. "He was
going to suck the Earth into Hell. Or a
hell dimension, I'm not sure there's a difference. And he's actually done that in the other universe."
"So, just what
would that mean? In a real sense?" Lisa was having trouble getting to grips
with the thought, and she was sure she wasn't the only one.
remembered how Giles had described it once, and she used his words. "If Hell comes to Earth, just think of the
worst parts of the Bible, and then assume that the writer really hadn't
understood just how bad it was going to get."
quiet for a second or two.
cleared his throat. "I have to say that
this is a bit out of my bailiwick, but we have a situation where the bad guy is
trying to get rid of the ones best able to stand against him, and that includes
both good guys and other bad guys. It
sounds like he's going to have another go here. If you can have a go from an alternate universe, that is."
"What do you
mean, Detective Chief Inspector?"
Titles seemed important to Syroh, so they'd stopped trying to make him
be less formal. They just hoped informality
would come with time, if they were given enough of that.
"I mean, if
you're a villain, and you're going to move into a new territory, you either
make a deal with the existing villains, or you get rid of them. Isn't that what happened in Paris, with
nodded. "Yes. Yes, he got rid of the opposition. They either worked for him or died. It makes a lot of sense.
But we established a year ago that what he was doing in the other
universe couldn't spread to this universe.
We're alternates, and that's it."
Her heart had sunk at the very idea that Acathla might be a threat to
this universe. How would she to face
that alone? But Ian couldn't be
right. The outbreak of assassinations
among leading demons couldn't possibly point to that. And the Acathla in this dimension? They'd dealt with him, all those years ago. He was no threat to anyone. She was sure of that. Almost sure... If only Giles...
asked, "the assassinations we've talked about have been from clans that are
members of the Commonwealth. From
peaceful clans. Do you know what's been
happening in less peaceful species?"
"I have heard
that there have been some deaths," he replied cautiously. "But there are always deaths among them."
That was true
enough. And why would Acathla target
peaceful clans? It's not like they had
a prophecy that demonkind would rise up and oppose him. Or did he?
What about Drusilla? How had she
felt about the ensouled Angel that had returned to her? Whose side was she on now?
So many unknowns,
so many unknowables... It was good that
at least Syroh had got over his suspicion of her... A thought flashed across her mind, and she would have staked it
at birth if she could have.
had been told that the Slayer was involved.
Buffy knew that she wasn't. But,
she wasn't the only Slayer. The fin of
suspicion rippled through the waters of her conscious mind again. No.
Never. She wouldn't.
look. They've pencilled in the margins. I think these notes are about extra species
or clans that have been attacked. The
language isn't one that I know, but it has a strong resemblance to
Skoparian. Lots of almost common words."
her head, partly in denial of what she knew she had to do, and partly to clear
more of the fog from her thinking.
"I need you
all to make the best sense you can from that book. It might hold information that we need. Work together with Syroh.
I've got to go somewhere for a few days."
Nick looked at
her, consideringly. "What's in your
"I can't say,
just yet. But there's someone I really
need to talk to. I'll be back as soon
as I can. In the meantime, everyone on
red alert. Don't take chances. Syroh, make sure your people keep their
heads down. Look after Giles. I'll be back as soon as I can."
With that, she
was gone, heading back to her hotel room, making phone calls as she went.
Martha sat on
the edge of the bed. Their bed. Hers and John's. There was precious little in this house that was just hers. She couldn't see that that would ever
been a woman who was subject to fits of the vapours, but that was the ploy that
she had used to keep her children occupied and unaware that there had been a battle
outside tonight. Well, if she was ever
going to have the vapours, today would have to be the day, but it had all been
pretence. Well, most of it.
when she was certain the clear-up was over, she'd allowed herself to be brought
up to her bedroom with a cup of tea, which sat cooling untouched on her
dressing table. Her children had
forgotten how voices carried upstairs, especially if doors weren't properly
hunting in those drawers, you might look to see if there's a box of tissues."
They're in the kitchen, was Martha's absent thought.
"What are you
looking for, anyway?"
"Oh, Dad had a
really good Swiss Army knife. I
wondered whether Mam would let me have it."
he's cold, Katie. You're such a little
"Oh? What's this?" The sound of something heavy being dropped onto a flat
surface. "Vampyre? What's Mam doing
with a book called Vampyre?"
Oh, no. She'd brought it home to see if there were
funeral rites for vampires, and not yet taken it back. Now the cat was out of the bag. The kids knew nothing about vampires and
ghouls and demons, beyond what they saw on TV, and she wanted it to stay that
book plate inside. Ex libris Rupert Giles, Summerdown House, Westbury. That's the strange old guy that she
housekeeps for, isn't it?"
Katie's sister, Marylyn, exclaimed in derision.
Even from up
here, Martha could hear the exclamation mark.
Housekeeps. Yes. Cleans up the blood, whatever its colour,
and gets battle-torn clothing discreetly mended. Reminds a reluctant vampire when to eat. Makes sure that regular injections are
available for a demon infant who would die without them. Cleans up the residue of magical
incantations. Greets strange visitors
when everyone else is out on a case.
And some of them are really
strange. Yes. Housekeeps. And he's not
She smiled in
recollection of some of the things she'd done, people she'd met, werewolves
said Marylyn again. "You mean Mam chars
for him and does a bit of cooking..."
"She's a very
charring. I mean... And Dad was his handyman. Working for a strange old goat like
that. From what I hear, he's at death's
door. Besides, his house has gone. He's not likely to need a housekeeper now,
is he? What's she going to live on without
that job? They can't have had much
saved up. She's too old to find a
it is, thought Martha, to hear what our children think of us. No matter how much we love them, or how much
they love us, they simply don't see what goes on under their noses. And then they get their own nests, and they
don't see what you do at all. They
don't even see you as a real person.
"One of us has
to take Mam in. She can't stay here on
her own." That was Marylyn, ever the
pushy one. Marylyn's husband, Richard,
had stayed quiet, and grandson John was too young to have an opinion.
"You going to
do it? Or are you suggesting Mark?" Typical Katie. Always bolshie about anything that Marylyn suggested.
"Katie! I've got Baby John to worry about now. You've no idea how demanding a baby is."
Right on both
points, Martha conceded. A baby was
demanding and Katie had no idea how much.
would be useless at looking after Mum.
He can barely look after himself.
He hangs his clothes up on the floor."
right about that, Martha thought. But
he'd be the one that was easiest to live with.
"I suppose you
think it would be just hunky-dory if Mam came to housekeep for me, in my
student flat?" Katie had logic on her
side, but Marylyn wasn't defeated.
move somewhere bigger. You'd be happier
"I think Mam
would be happier with a grandson to dote over."
We've got one,
Martha thought. We can dote on him whenever
we want. And we can get on with our
lives whenever we want.
I can do those
things. I. Not we.
continued to argue. Martha was
beginning to think that perhaps Richard, her son-in-law, and her son, Mark, had
gone out, because so far they'd contributed nothing to the conversation. Just then, though, Mark spoke up.
Kitty, Mary, I really think you should leave decisions like that to Mum. She definitely won't appreciate you talking
behind her back like this. You know
she'll do just what she thinks is right.
And I think you're wrong about what she does. And Dad."
putting that book away, Mark? Shouldn't
we look at it? Talk to her about it?"
"Why? It's a book. And it's none of your business, Mary."
through what was left of her tears.
Thank God for the ever-sensible Mark.
She wondered whether he remembered anything of that terrifying moment
when a vampire had attacked herself and John, in Westbury of all places. They'd been going to pick Katie and Marylyn
up from a friend's house, with Mark still in his pushchair. Giles had descended on the demon like an
avenging angel and, more importantly, with a heavy duty stake in his hand. The girls never knew anything about it, but
baby Mark had been there.
And Mark was
right. She had her own ideas. She wasn't going to be passed around like a
parcel. The children would be welcome
here whenever they wanted to come, as she hoped they would welcome her. But only for visiting. They'd flown the nest, and she wasn't
going to give up hers to fly to one of theirs and squat in it. Her life would have a different course.
people who had a hard life in front of them, making the world safe in ways that
almost nobody would ever know. She
couldn't fight with them, but it was still her job - her duty - to support them
to the best of her ability in all the things that she did well. To take the weight of everyday life off their
shoulders. To give Buffy space to
avenge John. And Angel. And Giles, if he didn't come back to them.
for the notebook and pen in the drawer of her bedside table, and began to make
a list of things to do. She'd covered
several pages, before she'd finished.
where Ella, or perhaps the illusion of Ella, left him, on that molten
beach. Listen, she'd said. Help them.
He wonders what she meant. But
he's always trusted Ella. He can still
feel the warmth of her touch on his face as she gave him that secret place
inside himself, the place of peace and calm and brightness. For the dark times, she'd said, after he'd
drunk down the other Slayers. There had
been plenty of those dark times, even though Ella had told him that the Powers
had brought him back as the road to life, not as a murderer. That hadn't helped, but Ella's bright place
had. He searches for it now, on that
And as he
slides into its peace, he can feel Buffy, on his skin and in his heart. Her scent hangs in the air, that unique
scent that belongs only to her. Even
those clouds of noxious gas that are his reality on this beach wrap their
tendrils around him in a delicate
caress that he's felt so many time before.
It feels real,
as it always does when Buffy is near, but it has to be memory, because this
vile and obscene body that he now has couldn't possibly retain so much
sensitivity. Still, he'll settle for
memory if that's all he can have.
And as he
sinks further into that calm place, into the scent on the air and the caress on
his skin that has always told him that Buffy is near, the taste of her spurting
hot and strong in his mouth, he seems to slip beyond that place, and into
somewhere that might be infinity. He
thinks he can touch the whole history of humanity, if he tries. He can touch the Earth, from birth to death,
and learn its secrets, and he does.
He's stretched throughout time, and he's penetrated into all the
listens, as Ella told him to do. He extends
his senses, sharper even than he's ever had before, and he really listens.
At first, all
he can hear is a faint background hiss.
If he were human, he would think that it was the blood racing in his
ears. Even in this extremity, he
doesn't think there's much blood doing that, and so it must be something
else. And then, very, very faint, there
are notes in the hiss, like the pealing of tiny bells that aren't yet incarnate,
the plucking of golden strings that aren't quite real. Perhaps it's the music of the spheres. Or perhaps it really is blood in his ears.
And then he
hears something fainter than even that.
Something is keening. There can
be no mistake about that. What he can't
be sure about is who is doing the keening.
But it's a long way away. Or a
long time away. And as he continues to
listen, he finds that there is directionality.
He turns, triangulates with ears that don't belong on a humanoid form,
turns again. And then he has it.
conscious of the darkly throbbing severed hand in his own grasp, he fixes his
attention on the cry of despair, and steps through into its whenever.
As soon as he
arrives, he knows that there is no real time in this place. It's a grey nothingness. He understands immediately the reference in
And the earth was without form and
void; and the darkness was upon the face of the deep.
It's a pretty
good description. He sniffs, sampling
the metallic odour of non-existence.
This is somewhere in-between,
and his ancient Celtic heritage has a lot to say about the in-between places
and times. They're magic. Strange things happen there.
strangenesses are the things that he sees, clustered together. If a spider and an octopus were to spawn
young together, these might be the result.
Each of them is several times his size.
The keening is
much louder now, coming from within the group.
There are words hidden in it somewhere, but he can't quite make them
out, because they seem as formless as this void. And then the creatures shift, and the cluster opens up so that he
can see what they are looking at.
A human woman hangs in the air between
them. She's shrouded in almost
invisible sparkling lines of power which have her bound, tethered and
confined. She can't move, and her eyes
are closed. She's unconscious, he's
sure. Moreover, he thinks they're
draining her life force. He's not sure
how long she's got left.
She looks more
grown-up than he's ever seen her before, her face is drawn in a way that speaks
to the artist in him. And to the demon. She's suffered a lot since last time they
met. It's been years since anyone saw
her, and the Coven spent long months searching desperately for her in the far
reaches of other dimensions. She looks
graceful even this close to death.
One of the
creatures, bigger than the others, reaches a tentacled leg out and spins a
clear line of sparkling nothingness which attaches itself just above her left
breast, over the heart. Her eyelids
flutter, but they remain shut, and then she throws her head back and she
screams. Not a scream of sound, but a
soul scream, just like the keening that he's heard.
even stop to think. With a roar that's
strange in his own ears, full of more evil promise than ever Angelus could
manage, he leaps at the beast, talons outstretched.
bowels, of a sort, even a creature that feeds on energy, on magic, on life
force, whatever, and he finds that these great curving claws of his really are
good for disembowelling. With one great
sweep of his arm, the creature's abdomen is breached and emptied. But it's not defenceless. One tentacled arm wraps around his throat,
and the claw at the end stabs into his neck.
Fiery pain sweeps through him, but it doesn't hold him back. He slashes down, and the arm is
severed. He rips it free, and the
suckers on it bring away pieces of his grey skin, the burning pain adding to
the fire from its poison. The suckers
aren't just suckers. He's found out the
hard way that each one is ringed with sharp, incurved teeth.
He rakes the
claws down one of its eight huge crystalline eyes and something that's not
really blood spurts out. Now, it starts
its own keening. The other beasts move
towards him. There are five of them,
and the battle is truly joined.
tired from the long flight, but there was no time to rest. She'd only made one stop since leaving LA
airport, and that was to buy something that wasn't allowed on the airplane. A crossbow.
Her anger and
her hurt had been building. She had
been betrayed by Andrew, and now she might be about to find out that she'd been
betrayed by Faith. She really didn't
want that to be the case, and not just because of the fact of betrayal. If Faith had gone bad again, then no one on
Earth was fit to deal with her, except the other Slayer.
She put that
to the back of her mind. She was almost
there, and she couldn't afford to be distracted. Faith was good at what she did, especially if she'd gone to the
reached Sunnydale, it was still an abandoned hole in the ground. She'd chosen this rendezvous because she
hadn't forgotten that the two of them weren't supposed to meet any more. If they did, it might be the end of the
world. Well, that was pretty much what
this place was. It could take a bit
more punishment and she didn't intend to prolong the meeting. She'd told Faith to come here. She'd travelled all those thousands of miles
when she could ill afford the time, because she needed to ask Faith some
questions, and she needed to see her, in the flesh, to watch her face, when she
gave her answers.
Buffy was the
first to arrive. She parked her hire
car, and sat down on one of the many pieces of fallen stone, with the crossbow
behind her. Then she waited in the
gathering darkness, and tried not to have too many thoughts.
keep her waiting long, but the last of the light had gone by the time she
arrived. It didn't matter. Slayers were night hunters. Buffy's eyesight was good enough. So was Faith's, come to that.
B. What's the desperate rush to see
me? Got your knickers in a twist?"
It occurred to
Buffy that when she'd called Faith, she hadn't told her about the carnage at
Summerdown House. Nor had she shared it
with her before that. She wondered why. It should have been natural to talk to her
sister slayer about losses on such a scale, and yet her mind hadn't even
brought it up for consideration. Did
her mind, her slayer sense, know something that she didn't?
seated, but she twisted round on her rock and picked up the loaded crossbow,
pointing it at Faith before she could come too close.
there, Faith. You know what they said
about us not getting together."
even for a quickie? Thought that was
why you were here. Angel not cutting it
through Buffy, but she swallowed it back.
The fear and the anger took its place and boiled over. She wanted to let fly with the crossbow, a
Slayer's weapon, but she kept enough control to let fly with words, a woman's
"You get tired
of not having him, Faith? You decided
that Gregory or Gandalf or whatever his name just wasn't up to it? That little taste of him when you were
running with the Mayor give you the hots for him? You thought you'd prefer a demon lover, but you couldn't have
Faith put her
hands on her hips, and stood square, facing Buffy, arrogantly defiant. "I never stood a chance with him, I've got
to admit that. He's obsessed with you,
B. In fact, I don't think you've begun
yet to know what it's like to be the object of his obsession. Not even when he was bad. I think you've got a lot to learn about his
tightened on the trigger, but she bit the inside of her cheek, and managed to
get some sort of control again.
"Is that what
happened, Faith? Is that what made you
The look on
Faith's face was almost convincing.
"What the hell are you talking about, B? Has something happened?"
If she'd left it there, Buffy might have believed, but she added,
The acid of
anger bit deep. Buffy levelled the
crossbow meaningfully. "Hold out your
With a shrug,
Faith did so. On one wrist, the broad
leather strap of her watch hid enough flesh to conceal a tattoo.
watch off. Then show me."
did as she was told, dropping the watch onto the sand, and then she held out
the naked wrist. There was no sign of
the anarchy tattoo on either wrist. It
wasn't enough for Buffy. Angel had told
her that Angelus had a second tattoo, and an associated piercing, somewhere
much more intimate. Perhaps it wasn't
strip. No questions."
stood, her hands on her hips, staring in confusion. She was wearing a short sleeved top, the Celtic thorn tattoo
prominent around her upper arm. She was
too close to be able to move as the bolt from the crossbow seared along the
outside of the black tattoo. And she
didn't move afterwards because that crossbow wasn't limited to a single shot.
me. Don't think I won't do it."
pulled off her top, and kept going until she stood naked in that moonlit
desolation. Then she did a twirl.
"Like what you
see, B? You didn't need to go to all
this trouble. Always prepared to strip
heard her bravado. She stared as the
moonlight played over Faith's golden skin.
The tattoo around her biceps wasn't the only one, but there was nothing
like the one she was looking for. She
hardly dared to breathe.
There was one
She pulled a dog-eared
piece of card from her jacket pocket.
Gavin had taken pictures, after they'd got the bodies back from
Martha's. "You've not got a tattoo like
that, then?" She skimmed the piece of
card across the sand.
it up, and stared at the close up of the severed hand. True to form, she noticed the axe work
before she noticed the tattoo. Her hand
clenched, and her eyes hardened. She
didn't have one like that. But she knew
someone who did.
across the barren sand at Buffy, as still and hard as the stone she sat
on. "Tell me what's happened," she
said, in a voice as hard as Buffy's stone.
"Tell me everything."
Angel's on his
hands and knees, or on the hands and knees that belong to this body. He still doesn't accept it as his, but for
now he's grateful for its resilience.
His skin is hanging in flayed strips, exposing raw flesh. For some reason, he's relieved to see that
the colour of his blood is still red.
the one who has prevailed. The others
are lying in bloodied, mangled pieces.
The pain is
excruciating from those flayed areas, and from the cuts and slashes and stabs,
the bruises and the broken ribs, and the venoms that have been injected into
him. One eye is swollen shut and
leaking blood, despite the protection of those prominent bony plates. He suspects that his old body would have
been torn to pieces. Any one of those
creatures was as strong as he used to be, even after his return from death, and
his drinking-down of the slayers.
breaks down, now, when he thinks that this might be his form forever. If so, he might truly learn the doom of
The voice in
his head is faint, and far off. Angel!
This isn't all there is to you!
This is what happened to your demon in due time, after you drank down
the power of the Slayers. But it's you
that's ruling his actions. You've
always had enough resolve on your own, but that's another thing the power of
the Slayers has done. It's given
strength to your will to dominate him. It was a two-edged sword. In
this place he's manifest, but you are still there, and in control!
He tries to
call to her, but all she says is See to
Willow. She needs you.
If only he
could. He would stand up, if only he
had the strength. He tries to will
himself to his feet, and as he does so, his body starts to repair itself. By the time he's upright, he's healed.
still unconscious, suspended in that diamond-clear shroud. He reaches up to her, and the shroud knocks
his hands away with a jolt. He doesn't
know whether it's a protective mechanism set up by the beasts, or the leakage
of witch power, but he has to get her down.
He tears at the invisible bonds, the power grounding itself through
him. She falls into his arms, sobbing.
He sinks to
the ground, holding her from behind, shielding her with his own body from the
fall and from the sight of the remnants of her captors. He hopes that she doesn't see him before he
can make himself known to her. And he's
not sure what's going to come out of his mouth if he speaks. And so he just holds her, resting his head
against the back of hers.
As she starts
to stir, he's trying to understand how to get her back to Summerdown
House. He daren't even think how to get
Buffy not to stake him until he can explain.
Especially if the demon has his tongue and tells her everything he'd
like to do to her.
Ella's voice is in his head again, even fainter than before, and full of pain.
You mustn't. She can't go with you.
When he asks
why not, it seems to him that she has to gather her strength to give him the
answer. In the pause, he asks, "Is she
not the Willow from our dimension?"
Yes, she is. She was caught in a place where her magic didn't work, but it
saved her from the beast that tried to feed on the magic of the Earth.
It was that
inter-dimensional beast that the Coven had given their lives to defeat.
trying to get home?"
She's been trying to get home for
years. But it was you and Buffy who
pulled her across...
"What? We've done no magic like that."
Not in this dimension. You saw them, with the Urn of Osiris.
now, in the mirror at Clifford Hall, seeing himself and Buffy kneeling in
sorrow over the shards of an Urn, comforting each other.
Yes, they did. Their own Willow was too long dead to bring
back. But they managed to find your
Willow, although they didn't know it.
They didn't have enough magical power to use the Urn properly. It needs a strong witch, or absolute
self-belief, and they're a long way from that.
Willow came through here, and these creatures of the outer limits
stopped her. The spell couldn't pull
her away, couldn't keep her safe. But
it still exists. She must finish that
journey, or the backlash will fall on both of you. You have enough trouble without that. The other you.
demands a price, Angel thinks. Always.
"She can't do
it alone. I'll go with her."
NO! You must go back, or everything will be
Don't be stubborn, Angel. Use your senses. You can find help for her.
And then the
emptiness in his head tells him that Ella is gone. He calls, but there is no reply, and he knows with a certainty
that she won't be back.
her on his bent knees, he turns around as far as he can in both directions, snuffing...
not the air, that's for sure, because there really isn't any. Perhaps it's something mystic. Whatever it is, he senses a
familiarity. He picks Willow up with
kneels over two others. He recognises
them all. Gunn is dead. Spike looks dead, and therefore must at
least still be alive, although unconscious.
Illyria is the one still on her knees, strong enough for that, at least,
but she's bleeding heavily. Slowly, she
turns to stare at him in that insectile way that she has. Her head tilts one way, then the other.
vampire," she greets him.
see through this skin, Angel thinks. Do
they all believe this is what I look like, underneath the human face? Is this what they see? Even Buffy?
That's a thought that makes him shudder.
He bends down
to look at the two men. Gunn is
definitely dead. Not will-rise-again
dead. Just plain dead. Although he won't die of it, Spike has lost
so much blood that he isn't going to wake up unless someone gives him
some. He starts to hold out his arm to
do that, but then he pulls it back again.
this much power? Spike with this much
strength? Spike with this much age, and
with time supposedly his playground?
No. Just... No.
"Why are you
here, Illyria?" he asks, as he straightens up, clamping down on the things this
body tries to say to her.
Join with me and we will have this
world for our own. // We will have all the others, too. // No one will stand
He looks at
her, and sees for the first time the extent of her injuries.
"We fought on
after your death. That was a good
death. The dragon was the most dangerous
beast on the field, and your sacrifice gave us hope. And a chance."
"When we could
fight on no more, we triggered your traps, and I took these two away. Wesley left me just enough, when he took my
powers. But I had no strength to reach further
than here." She rakes him with her
glance. "And you?"
But she keeps
looking at him, and he's still holding Willow, and he realises this must be
what Ella meant. Help.
"We came up
against some demons that use time as a weapon." He realises he's still got the hand, and he holds it out to
her. He lets her see it, but he doesn't
let her take it from him.
Chronoids," she says, dismissively. "I
had thought them extinct in your universe."
So, they were
sent by someone with the ability to travel between universes...
"I want you to
go to another reality. I want you to
take this girl there, and see her safe until she gets to her destination."
then takes the plunge. "Me and
understands these things, and doesn't question it. "Tell me."
He explains how
his alter ego succeeded in having the world sucked into Acathla's Hell, and he
tells her about the resurrection spell, and Willow's broken journey.
"A new realm,"
she muses, and he hopes she's talking about Acathla's. "I can go," she says, "but I must take some
of your new power. I have not
enough. And I won't be able to return you
to your dimension. You will be trapped
here, between times, if you do not find your own way out."
Ella had said
as much, but not as brutally.
"Then I shall
take these three, and this one we will bury there. Properly. You have my
word." She points at Gunn. "You will not wish to be burdened with a
body as you try to breach the walls back to your own space and time.
No. He won't.
He nods. He's grateful that she
will see to Gunn, and not leave him here, in this god-forsaken place. "Take Spike to me, if you can. Let him drink from me."
He lays Willow
on the ground next to Spike, and Illyria moves towards him. She places her hand over his heart, and he
feels the discharge, a searing heat between them. He closes his eyes in shock, and when he opens them again, she's
gone. So has everyone else.
know whether he'll be able to find somewhere to slip through the dimensional
walls, to reconnect to his own time and space, but he opens every one of his
senses, and searches for Buffy. There
are faint hints all around him, traces of many Buffys. Some are living, some are dead, some are
dying, some - the weaker ones - were never a Slayer. But none of them are exact.
He strains every single nerve and fibre, his heart excluding all the
false Buffys, one by one.
And then he
has her. She's wreathed in sorrow, and
he is once more the cause of it. For a
moment, he almost decides to stay where he is, to let her get over him, to
cause her no more pain. But these last
years have been good ones, and he'd hoped for many more of them. So had she.
What if he cannot recover his old form?
Will he allow her to stake him?
The taste of
her fills his mouth again, not the taste of her all those years ago, when he
was dying and she saved him, but an older Buffy, a Buffy with so much more
power to her. The taste fills his
throat and warms his belly. It's a
thread stretching in front of him, and he knows it's the way home. For a vampire, it's always about blood.
one fist, and he places the severed hand, with its freight of time, over his
heart. That's what the demon did, to
send him here. If this doesn't work,
he's no idea what would. He feels the
surging, searing pain, just as he felt it in the dining room, yesterday, a
millennium, an eternity ago.
she wouldn't sleep on the flight back, but she did, from sheer exhaustion. Her dreams were dark, of betrayal and murder
and Slayers gone bad. When she woke,
she was as exhausted as before.
sure whether she'd done the right thing in leaving Faith to follow up the
tattoo, but she was as sure as she could be that Faith was telling the truth. As they'd talked, she'd come to realise how
much they hadn't told Faith. Oh, they'd
told her the big stuff - that Angelus had come over from an alternate reality,
things like that. But they hadn't
shared all the details.
told her about the tattoo on Angelus' wrist - it was just a tattoo, wasn't
it? They'd told her about the Hundred
Court, and the assassinations, but not about the inspection of Angel to see
whether he had the intimate tattoo that the witness had seen.
In fact, as
she looked back over the last two or three years, Buffy acknowledged that
they'd all seemed to distance themselves from Faith. It was as though she was a Slayer too many. And, in her own case, a woman too many from
Angel's past. Even though there'd never
really been that past.
They might all
be paying for that distance now. Faith
thought she knew who had the tattoos, although she hadn't named him. She'd promised to deal with it, the promise
of a fellow-Slayer. She'd be in
touch. If she wasn't in touch, she'd be
dead, but before that happened, she'd make sure that Buffy knew who to come
for. Buffy thought that she might
already know, and if she was right, dealing with this betrayal was Faith's job.
If they'd told
her more, shared more, would the dead be alive now?
What ifs. Buffy had learned to put aside what ifs, in
her unusually long career as the Slayer, but this one was more troubling than
most. She'd always said she wanted to
be a normal girl, but, with all the history they'd built up between them, she'd
found it too difficult to share her uniqueness with Faith. All sorts of things fed in to that, but
Angel was at the heart of it.
Now she was
going to have to trust Faith, while she came back home to do her job here,
intercom pinged. "I'm sorry to tell you
that Bristol International Airport is fogbound, and we won't be able to
land. We're being diverted to East
She let the
rest of the announcement drift away.
Another day, another disaster.
She was sure that East Midlands Airport, wherever that was, had hire
being on top. She'd always preferred
that. She'd never been one for being
weighted down, being caged by someone else's flesh and bone.
She was on top
now, riding the man who'd turned out to be the love of her life, and made her
think of white picket fences and two point four children. And still she preferred to be on top. Was that a sign? It was only a few weeks to their wedding, and everyone said that
you didn't really know a man until after you'd married him. Well, she thought she knew him now.
She bent down
to Greg, and she kissed him, taking the taste of him into herself, that mixture
of sweat and smoke and bittersweet honey that was uniquely Greg. For the first time, she wondered what she
tasted like to him.
down, riding him harder, as his hands roamed her body, stroking and tugging,
and digging his fingers in exactly as she liked it. His lying, deceitful hands.
Her whole body clenched, in preparation for the spasming orgasm that he
always gave to her, but she fought it back as she leaned down to allow her
breasts to trail over his chest, just as her hand trailed onto the floor.
When she rose
up again, she was holding a stake, and she pressed the point hard into his skin,
right over his heart.
actually going to go through with it?
The wedding? Or did you just
think you'd do a runner?"
His look was
lascivious. "Hell, you know how to
really turn a guy on..."
down on the stake until the point broke the skin, and a little blood seeped
"This is real, Greg. Or whatever your name is."
He stared up
at her in silence. Her free hand found
his and she lifted it, turning it palm uppermost. The damning tattoo showed, as dark as the gateway to hell on the
white skin of his inner wrist.
your tongue, lover?" She pushed the
point a fraction further in. He winced,
but didn't move.
She thought of
what was inside her, with its tattoo that had so impressed her for his
fortitude, and the piercing that... Just don't go there, she told herself.
"Are you one
of his main acolytes, then, with his mark on your dick to keep you under
and then shifted his gaze to the stake, and the trickles of blood running down
his breast. "There was only ever one
main acolyte. Angelus. When he went to the other side, Acathla
elevated a dozen of us. He didn't want
to be betrayed by his only lieutenant again."
Ice spun its
crystals around her heart.
"So you came
here to use me. To find out things?"
came as a whisper. She had to bend
forward to catch it. "Yes. He's taken out most of the competition
there, but Angel and Buffy are causing him too many problems. He never explains why he's doing things, but
he wanted to take out certain people here.
I think he wanted to make sure that no one could go over there and help
the rebels, before he could finish them off.
But that's just a guess. He's
got Drusilla helping him, telling him things that she sees, and who knows what
goes on in that head? I sometimes
wonder which side she's on. She was...
even more insane when Angelus came back with his shiny new soul."
want to know all of that.
His gaze moved
back to her face. "I was sent to
you. He'd have preferred me to get into
a relationship with Buffy, but that was impossible, with Angel around. So, he sent me to you."
The ice closed
around her heart. She thought that her
lungs might be frozen as well, because she couldn't breathe. Then his fingers closed around hers.
"But I really
did fall in love with you. I am in love with you. I haven't sent as much information as I
could, but he'd kill me if I sent nothing.
You don't know this demon, Faith.
I daren't fail. You should hear
what he's promised to do to Angelus for going renegade. That vampire is going to wish for death, if
Acathla ever gets hold of him."
didn't love me enough to tell me all this."
She said it
flatly, not a question. He looked
"I'm not a
hero, not like you guys. He scares the
shit out of me. I guess I was hoping
that Angelus would finish the bastard off, and you wouldn't be any the
wiser. We could get on with our lives. I wanted that to be... together."
moved the stake at all.
human? Or a demon?"
"I thought I
did. Now, you tell me."
human, which is why you couldn't tell.
I'm one quarter demon. That
quarter saved my ass with Acathla. Is
it going to get me killed here? Or can
we find a future for us?"
She so wanted
to believe him. He was still buried
deep inside her, still filling her. Was
that a sign of his love? Or of his
capacity for treachery? Angel, now... Angel had been redeemed, or was at least a
work in progress. And Angel had held
out hope of redemption to her. Was
there a chance of redemption for Greg, too?
She made her decision.
to tell me everything that you've told Acathla. And I do mean everything, or Acathla's threats will have nothing
on my reality. Then, you're going to go
back there, and you're going to prove yourself. You're going to find Angel and you're going to help him get rid
of Acathla. If you make it, you can
come back to me."
He closed his
eyes, his face pale. "Sort of with my
shield or upon it, huh?"
don't know whether I've got the courage to do it."
kill you myself. Never doubt it. Now, are you going to finish what we
morning, he was gone. She hadn't cried
yet, but she would, when she'd talked to Buffy.
For these few
precious minutes, though, with his warmth still lingering on the sheet next to
her, she wondered whether she'd been foolish, whether she'd ever see him
again. Whether she should have killed
him. Whether the ice around her heart
would ever crack again.
She'd talk to
Buffy as soon as she got up.
Buffy. If she'd talked more to
Buffy... But she'd welcomed her freedom
here, without some uptight Watcher cramping her style, telling her what she
should and shouldn't do. She'd long ago
admitted to herself that she'd always resented being second best to Buffy, and
that would never change. Having the
whole continent to herself had been just about enough distance from the other
Slayer. And so they had divided themselves
from each other, as much as any enemy had divided them. They ought to learn to talk more, even if it
was only on the phone.
and then headed for the shower. She
would wash all trace of Greg off her, until she found out whether he was ever
coming back to her. Whether she'd ever
get her own demon lover back.
Buffy had done
some thinking while waiting to land.
She'd also checked out a map.
When she got to the hire car company, she made sure she got one with a
satnav. It wasn't too far out of her
way to go to Nottingham, since she'd been dumped at an airport that served
Nottingham, Derby and Leicester.
She only got
lost once on the way to Clifford Hall.
She'd got to
thinking about the mirror at Clifford Hall that had shown Angel an image of
what appeared to be their alter egos in Acathla's domain. Perhaps there was something to be gained by
going to have a look.
The Hall was
even more imposing than she had expected, and when she pulled up outside the
front door, the housekeeper was already on the doorstep, as though she'd known
Buffy was coming.
Horridge? I work with Rupert Giles..."
"You must be
Miss Summers. Please. Come in."
settled into a dining room that was decorated in a very striking shade of
yellow, while Mrs Horridge brought sandwiches and afternoon tea. The housekeeper was about to leave the room
when Buffy said to her, "Please. Stay and
talk to me."
hesitated, then nodded. "I'll just go
and get another cup." When she
returned, she seemed to have unbent a little from her very correct demeanour.
"I was very
sorry to hear what happened, Miss Summers.
Very sorry indeed."
instantly suspicious, in view of the almost total lack of publicity about that
night of destruction. "How did you know
about it?" It came out more as a
challenge than a question, but Mrs Horridge didn't stiffen.
D'Eath. He's... very well connected."
heard about the banker from Giles, who'd had some idea that D'Eath knew a great
deal more about their business than anyone should. But he hadn't seemed to be a threat.
nodded. She didn't want to argue that
Angel wasn't dead, not just now, and after all, John was.
been any more... disturbances, Mrs Horridge?" she asked, moving on to safer
disturbances, as such. It's just the
staircase. The one with the mirror. I keep thinking that I see things out of the
corner of my eye, but when I turn to look, there's nothing. This is such an old house, you know. The Tower is almost a thousand years
old. I'm sure it must have gathered the
odd kick in its gait, so to speak."
thought I'd take a look while I was in the area. My plane was diverted because of fog."
course. Shall I make up a bed for you?"
"I... I don't
think so. Thanks."
"If you don't
mind my saying so, you look exhausted.
I could make you a herbal tea, and you could get a good night's sleep."
"I'll see how
I feel when I've taken a look." Buffy
didn't feel up to arguing, and for some reason, the mirror that had shown Angel
such images was growing in importance to her.
"Will you take
me there now?"
housekeeper led her to a grand staircase, with a large mirror on the galleried
landing. A pier glass, Giles had called
it. A mirror meant to hang between two
She nodded her
thanks to Mrs Horridge, who went to wait for her in the dining room. Then she surveyed the mirror. Her attention was immediately caught by the
pair of griffins on the top. She knew
that Angel's tattoo wasn't actually a griffin, but in the language of
coincidence it was uncomfortably close.
She drew a
little nearer, yearning for her lost lover with all her soul. She closed her eyes, and she could see him,
in the mirror of her mind. Unbearable. She opened her eyes again, and instead of
her reflection, a monster gazed back at her.
Only her years of experience kept her steady on the spot.
was the essence of horror. Up until
now, the most dreadful things that she had seen were the Turok-Han, the primordial
vampires that even vampires fear. This
might be a vampire that had evolved to be the Turok-Han's worst nightmare. She'd seen many pictures of medieval
representations of the devil, in Giles' musty old books. In this monster, the very worst parts of all
those images had been put together to make something truly terrifying. It even had the cloven hooves.
perfectly still, with its eyes closed, its open hand resting on its naked
breast. Mesmerised by the appalling
sight, she stepped close to the mirror, and put her palm flat against the glass. She wanted to reach through, to know whether
this thing was real, and something that she could kill, or whether it was
something conjured up out of her own most dreadful fears.
on her palm, and the feeling of nearness flowed through her. For a selfish moment, she wanted to take the
Angel who was somewhere on the other side of the mirror, take him for
herself. But she pushed the thought
away. Her Angel could be found.
And then the
monster's eyes opened. They were black,
windows to the darkest depths of the universe, depths that invited her to Fall,
to her utmost ruin.
And then it
away quickly, and...
And Angel was
behind her, on his knees, naked. She
fell to the floor, sobbing, as she held him.
He put his arms around her, real, solid arms, exactly as they should be,
and they wept together, on that landing, weeping for joy and relief, and from
sheer excess of feeling, until there were no more tears left to shed.
in Golden Acre Field, waiting. This had
been top of her list, after telling the family just what she had planned for
her own future, thank you so very much.
They'd been acting as though she were a decrepit pensioner. That time may well come, and she was
inexpressibly grateful for their concern.
At the same time, the sight of the girls' faces, with their expressions
of mingled shock and relief in equal measure, had been... satisfying. She was rather disturbed at how appropriate
that word sounded in her head, in this new, harder Martha. There would be time for the softer, more
yielding woman to return later, when her husband's ultimate killer was laid in
the dust. She'd quite like to be there,
to spit on his corpse, but somehow she doubted that she'd have that chance. She'd already been to look at the assassins,
laid out in the hay store, and she'd called down vengeance on their souls, or
spirits, or whatever these demons had.
She hoped they roasted in their version of Hell.
The sound of a
throaty, labouring engine cut though the enveloping fog. This was what she was waiting for. A pair of headlights and then a large
flatbed emerged slowly from the wreathing mist. It was carrying a static caravan that had clearly pruned the
hedgerows on either side during the journey down the lane. Some of the evidence of that was still lying
on the flat roof.
The gate into
the Golden Acre stood wide open, and she moved back as the driver started to
edge through. He wound down the window.
Mrs Fletcher. Where do you want this
She pointed out
a nice flat area where the land was well-drained, and gave him a stern warning
not to churn the ground up.
Fletcher," he said with a grin.
craned the caravan off, he handed her the keys. "Two more, right? Show me
where you want them. Then you'd better
go home before you get your death out here.
I'll bring you the keys and paperwork.
It'll be a couple of hours."
grateful for his offer. It really was
As she drove
home - very carefully, because John had always done most of the driving, and
she wasn't used to it, especially in poor conditions - she experienced a small
moment of doubt that she'd done the right thing, but she pushed it back into
the recesses of her mind. She'd looked
all over the local area for property to rent, but nothing was suitable. And so, she'd ordered three large caravans
as temporary accommodation. One for
Buffy and... well, for Buffy. One for
Giles, because he was coming out of his coma, if she had to shake him out of it. And one for what had been salvaged from
Summerdown House. Not the ordinary
things. If there were enough of those,
furniture and things - although when she'd seen Giles' dining room table, that
solid piece of English oak had crumbled like frass - they could go into
store. But the extraordinary
things? Oh, no. They needed to be here on the property,
under her eye.
No, it was the
right thing to do. If Buffy or Giles
wanted something different, they would say so.
She started to plan out details in her head, to call to mind details of
armourers, because Buffy couldn't face the forces of evil with just a stake, no
matter how much she thought she could, and suppliers, because Giles had regular
customers who couldn't easily find help anywhere else.
So much to do...
call broke up the reunion on the landing.
The other Slayer was uncharacteristically brief and to the point.
When she ended
the call, Buffy looked up at her lover, wrapped in a bedspread that he had
taken from the nearest bedroom.
Unfortunately, from his point of view, it was white lace, but she was so
ecstatic that she didn't even find it amusing.
"Are you going
to finish all my sentences?"
He smiled at
her, that particularly tender smile he sometimes got when he looked at her, and
which never failed to grip her heart.
"If you want me to."
his arm through the lacy frills. "Just
as long as you're around to do it.
Angel, I wouldn't have left you this time. I was ready to do anything to bring you back..."
"I know." He kissed her forehead. "I know."
you?" Her voice sounded plaintive, even
complicated. I'll tell you later. What did Faith...?"
He turned to
the staircase before finishing the sentence.
Mrs Horridge stood at the foot of the stairs. She had a faintly satisfied smile on her face as she ducked her
head in acknowledgement.
wanting me to find you some clothes, I expect," she said, without turning a
hair. "Can I say, I'm very relieved to
see you back again?"
"And so say
all of us," Buffy murmured.
Buffy's hand, and then let go, as his makeshift toga threatened to come
apart. "Thank you, Mrs Horridge. If you have something lying around, I'd be
still some of Mr Carter's clothes here."
She appraised Angel, as well as she could. "I think I can find something, although I think his tailor would
shudder at the fit. Will you both be
nothing more than to celebrate Angel's restoration, but things were happening,
things that were urgent and demanding.
More importantly, she blenched at the prospect of driving him home in
daylight. She shook her head.
"No. Wish we could, but we need to get back."
"I'll see what
I can find."
As she walked
out of sight, Angel opened his arms to Buffy, gathering her into the shelter of
the lacy bedspread.
times I didn't think I'd be able to get back to you," he whispered.
"I'd have done
anything, absolutely anything, to bring you back. I wasn't going to lose you again. I'm not the girl I was then."
He just held
her, until Mrs Horridge reappeared with a pair of dark combat pants, and a dark
"I haven't got
any shoes, I'm afraid."
he told her with a smile. "I'm just
grateful for what you have."
She gave them
a basket of provisions for the journey back, sandwiches and tiny cakes, and a
flask of hot coffee. As soon as they'd
gone, she called Mr D'Eath.
"Yes. Yes, sir, it's a big relief."
they know the source of the problem now.
I think they'll be in a position to take action soon. Yes, I'll keep an eye on everything here."
In the car,
Angel had a resigned expression.
"Acathla? Acathla is sending
assassins over here? Can't he stay on
his side of the divide?"
"I think it
must mean that you and me over there are maybe succeeding, do you think? And he wants to make sure that there are no
reinforcements to finish the job?"
"It might just
mean we're going down fighting really hard and he doesn't want us to call for
and squeezed her hand. "I'm still going
to enjoy drinking it."
As he drove,
Buffy told him of John's death, Giles' coma, and her efforts with Syroh. And how everyone thought that he was dead. When
he heard the worst of the news, his mouth hardened, and she knew these were
debts to be repaid in full.
Martha," she said. "She'll tell us how
Giles is. And she'll want to know that
"Are you sure
you should disturb her? She'll be
pretty cut up about John."
considered this, then shook her head.
"She is cut up, of
course. But she seems to have found
some sort of inner strength. It'll
probably be pastry-based, but you'll be surprised."
smiled. "No, I don't think I will be."
When she made
the call, Angel didn't need demonic hearing to hear Martha on the other end of
the phone. The small womanly shriek
when she was told that Angel was alive came over loud and clear. At one point, Buffy laughed, and said "Good
idea!" And then she put the phone away.
hospital, Angel. Martha says that
according to the doctors, Giles seems to be coming out of it. And she's arranged some temporary accommodation
for us. She says it's very comfy and
cosy, and she'll give us the key."
"I bet I still
need to go out and buy some clothes," Angel grumped.
grinned. "No. I'll do that."
sat at her kitchen table, turning a cup of tea around and around in her
fingers. She'd had another
vision. This one had taken her through
landscapes of desolation, each full of the dead or dying. She'd been borne up on the wings of a
dragon. She'd understood the silent
message. This is what is, was, will be, somewhere, everywhere. If...
didn't understand was the If. If what?
If dragons flew again? If she
didn't do something? If someone else
did something? Any of these? All of these?
At the very
end of the vision, she'd been back in that alley, facing the dying golden eye. There must have been a battle all around
her, because she could hear the din of swords, and smell the stench of death,
but she couldn't see anything except the dragon, as though she and the dragon
were slightly out of phase with the battle, experiencing only its echo.
This was the
third vision, and the most detailed.
What was she to do? She'd tried
to telephone Rupert Giles, but the telephone was out of service. She had no other contact in the area. She'd almost decided to go there, but it
seemed so foolish. And yet...
She had a
friend, Harry. Harry's Henhouse
supplied many of the locals with free-range rare breed eggs. He would take her two hens, Lola and Lulu if
she was away for a day or two. Her cat,
Macavity, was shared with Jane Bredon, a little further up the lane. There was nothing else to stop her.
The tea was
cold now, but she kept turning it round and round in her fingers.
querying glance was cast at Angel as he padded barefoot down the hospital
corridor, in trousers and top that were slightly too small, but he greeted them
all with a smile. When they got to
Giles' room, Martha was there, with a white-coated doctor.
enquiring look, the doctor said, "It's as I was explaining to Mrs
Fletcher. He seems to be gradually
coming up to the normal levels of consciousness. It's as though he had a very steep hill to climb, and he's almost
at the top. He could come round at any
time. Or he might not. Brain injuries are tricky to predict."
No sooner had
the doctor closed the door than Martha folded Angel into her ample bosom. "We thought you were dead," she said,
between smiles and tears, slightly muffled by his chest.
He wrapped his
arms around her. "I'm sorry to hear
about John. He was a good man. The three who did it are dead, but I promise
it won't stop there. We'll deal with
the one who sent them. You'll have
"I know," she
said simply, as she let him go, to embrace Buffy. "I'm glad you're back safely," she said, as she kissed Buffy's
A sound behind
them, over the ever-present beeping of monitors, made them all turn. "Will someone help me up? I can't seem to..."
Buffy gave a
squeal of joy and hugged Giles, then remembered to be careful. "We were so worried about you..."
"What was that
"Later. We'll catch up with everything later." Martha was firm.
back, exhausted with the effort of trying to get up. "I had such strange dreams last night," he muttered.
last night," Martha told him gently.
"You've been here for nearly a fortnight. That's why you feel so weak."
waiting for a reply, she stepped into the corridor to call a nurse. Buffy sat down by the bed, holding Giles'
hand. She reached into her pocket and
pulled out the crumpled little packet.
just dreams, I think." She put the
packet into his hand. "That appeared in
your hand a few days ago."
He tipped the
contents into his hand. The white quartz
sand glittered as he stared at it, open-mouthed. Slowly, he poured it back into the envelope. Then, he tried to get out of bed with even
more determination. Buffy pressed him
Giles. Give yourself time."
"By the sound
of it, I've had entirely too much time!"
But he lay back, breathless. By
the time a doctor arrived, he was sinking back into the ocean of dreams.
Buffy bit her
lip in worry, but Angel whispered to her, "It's a normal sleep. It will do him good." Buffy nodded. Who should know more about the difference between sleep and those
other states of unconsciousness than Angel?
arguing about who should stay with Giles, all three convinced that the other
two needed more rest than they did, when Nick and Lisa arrived. They both had to touch Angel, to make sure
that he was real, and Lisa fought back tears when she was told that Giles has
woken from his coma. And Nick lit up
the room with his smile. And so Martha
handed a key to Buffy, and they left Nick and Lisa in charge.
when she saw the three green caravans, each a discreet distance from the
others, but when she opened the end one, the one that had cute little shutters
fitted, she saw that it was, indeed, comfortable. The bed had been made up, and the fridge stocked with a few
"What was that
thing with the sand?" Angel asked, as she closed the fridge door.
She put her
hand up to his face, and then wrapped it around the back of his neck, pulling
his head down for a kiss. "Talk tomorrow,"
she said. "No talking now. Making love now."
settled for that.
morning, the door opened the merest crack, and Martha's voice said, "Are you
Angel quickly rearranged themselves and dragged the rumpled bedclothes up. "Yes, Martha," they chimed in unison.
in, carrying a large bag. "There's a
tarpaulin outside, because you won't want to be trapped in here all day, Angel,
and I've got some bits and pieces of clothing for you. Things that were at the dry cleaners, or out
for mending. Only one pair of shoes,
I'm afraid. I made some phone calls
before I got here, and there're some new things coming for you. Jones can deliver this afternoon, so you
should have a reasonable wardrobe by then.
laundry's in here, too. You've found
the rest of your things in the wardrobe?"
got round to investigating the contents of the wardrobe.
positive marvel, Martha," Angel told her with a grin. "I'd give you a hug if..."
His gesture indicated his state beneath the bedding.
"If I were
thirty years younger, I might let you..."
and pulled out her handkerchief to blow her nose, as the image of John, thirty
years ago, rose into her mind. She
stuffed the handkerchief back into her pocket and said, abruptly, "And that
young man, Syroh, is putting whatever's been recovered of Giles' books and
papers into the caravan next door.
Jones is bringing some things for Giles, too. I'll take an outfit up to the hospital later, after I've seen the
Buffy. "I'll come and pick them up from
you. You take the last few hours with
your family." She paused, and then
added, "How are they taking the fact that you're doing all this?"
over it," Martha replied, a little too brightly.
A knock at the
door heralded Syroh. He took one look
around him, and gave a little bow. "I
am sorry Slayer, Angelus. When Mrs
Fletcher came in, I thought..."
Syroh, it's obviously Paddington Station here this morning," Angel observed. "Now, if you'd like to go away for a few
minutes, we can get up..."
When she got
to the hospital, Buffy found Giles insisting on checking himself out. The doctor threw up her hands when her last
objection was overcome with the clothes that Buffy held on her arm. With his promise to come back if there was
any dizziness or nausea, she gave up and left him to it.
Back at the
caravans, Giles insisted on being brought completely up to date, listening and asking
questions until his head hurt. Angel
made him tea, and silently rejoiced that he could once more do such a simple
task, in homely surroundings. When
Giles asked what had happened to him, he gave the same answer that he had given
"As near as I
can tell, I seemed to be somewhere between times. It was all very confusing.
Somehow, I... I found my way back.
I get really muddled when I think about it." He didn't - the memories were crystal clear and dagger sharp -
but it was better this way.
"Well, do try
to straighten it out so that we can put it into the diary."
kept a Watcher's Diary, even though there were no more Watchers. Somehow, it seemed to legitimise all the
things that they did. But he'd said it
now automatically, as though he hadn't heard what he was saying, as though he
were completely abstracted, his mind elsewhere.
toyed with the idea of telling Giles about Ella - he hadn't even mentioned that
to Buffy - but what good would it do?
Her appearance was more than likely his own imagination. Really?
asked a tiny voice in his mind. You really think so? But he held his peace.
continued to stare at the table. He
didn't look up until Buffy said, "Giles, what's the what with the sand?"
up his mug of tea, welcoming the warmth against his fingers, as he wondered
what, if anything, to say. But, no
matter how much you trust people, a wish told is a wish that can't come true.
know," he said. "I... I had some very
strange dreams. I... need to do some
research before I can... Did you say
that Syroh was bringing the books?"
be budged. He wanted to research, and
research he did. Syroh had brought all
the books and papers that had been salvaged.
And Giles' safe. The study at
Summerdown House had escaped the full force of the attack, and he could only be
grateful for that. Angel and Buffy
watched their friend's frenzied sifting through the battered texts with
concern. To Buffy's unspoken question,
Angel reassured her that Giles was fine, in health at least. "I think he just has something he needs to
work out for himself," he said. Angel
could relate to that. If Giles'
experience had been as strange as his own, then he would have a lot to work
stopped by, expressing his feelings with manly handshakes, and he and Buffy
went to meet Syroh and see the clan leaders who had elected to use the houses
that had belonged to the Coven. Perhaps
they'd done that because it meant they were within reach of the Slayer. The attack on Summerdown House, and the
apparent death of Angelus, who they had expected to save them from the
assassins, had shocked the clans to the core.
And Alice came
over, full of news.
that someone put a Trojan on my computer.
He's just found it."
"Trojan?" Giles was between books, and looked up in
from Homer. A bit of software that
feeds information back to a remote computer."
at Alice's newfound knowledge. "Does he
know who did it?"
her head. "He's going to try and follow
it back to the source, but he doubts he can do it. He's suggested leaving it on there and feeding false information
in agreement with Angel's approval.
"Perhaps you could start a diary that they can tap into?"
"Will do. We'll cook up some suitable entries. And look, this is my directory." She pulled the book from her basket,
carefully wrapped in a piece of creamy linen.
"They've been writing in it!"
notes in the margins and on the endpapers.
Dates. Locations. Number of kills. Where to find Angel and the Slayer, living with the Watcher. All were in different scripts, and different
languages, mostly demonic.
"I think this
book has been passed around. Which
definitely means co-ordination and planning."
She looked anxiously across the table.
"And it also
means," Angel began, meditatively...
else was there on that Friday night, holding that book, probably directing
operations," Giles finished for him, as he put down the bundle of loose pages
he was leafing through and picked up a scroll.
Thunder growled in the distance.
"Do we have
any idea who?" Alice asked.
his head. "Acathla can't come over here,
and if he is behind this, he could be using anyone. From... sources... we're told that Acathla was using the vampire
Korbinian, who probably hired at least some of the assassins." Giles looked up sharply, but Angel avoided
his eye. Even for a friend, they
weren't going to give away how Faith had been betrayed.
Korbinian the one you killed in Paris?
The one who brought out the bad in Andrew?"
"Yeah. Sometimes that's how it goes. But there has to be someone else now. That was weeks ago."
The first fat
drops of rain started to fall as lightning danced along the horizon. Thunder
sounded again, like the ripping of the cosmos.
Angel shook his head with a remonstration to himself not to be so
through her dictionary again. "The
Poraxen," she said. "A small clan. I hadn't got to them... I was doing it
alphabetically, you see. But
look..." She pointed to an elaborate,
cursive script on the endpaper. "They've
written the Poraxen in. I can
understand that word, because it's one they've borrowed from the lingua franca,
but I don't know the script itself. If
there are instructions here, I can't read them."
up again at Angel's question.
you read this?" Angel passed across the
"No. No, I'm not familiar with this at all."
Alice took it
back. "Well, then," she said
decisively, "I'd better catch up with Buffy and Syroh. One of the clans may know."
As she got up,
a sudden gust of wind hurled raindrops like pebbles against the glass. "You'd better hurry," Angel urged, "or
you'll be soaked." He stayed where he
was, out of range of the light when she opened the door. The day was getting late, and the skies were
heavy with cloud, but he wasn't going to risk getting dusted just yet.
As she tugged
on the door, a small black shape hurtled in and ran over the table, leaving
little wet paw prints. It was Zillah,
looking even leaner than usual. She
miaowed as she ran, a harsh, demanding cry aimed at Giles. When she reached him, she pawed at his face,
Giles tried to
put her to one side, but she came back and sat down on the book, burying the
claws of one front paw in his shirt.
"I think you'd
better work out what she wants," Alice said with a smile, and left as another
roll of thunder, nearer this time, split the air.
needs feeding," Giles suggested, with a faintly helpless look. "After all, where's she been for the last
couple of weeks?"
Angel searched through the cupboards while the cat continued to harass Giles,
tugging at him. If there was cat food,
it wasn't in this caravan. There were
prawns in the freezer, though. He
defrosted a few in the microwave, and offered them to Zillah on a saucer. He knew she loved prawns.
She stared at
the saucer with a mixture of longing and contempt, much as Angel thought he
probably stared at spilled human blood.
Then she renewed her efforts to get Giles to move. Angel and Giles looked at each other,
baffled, as the rain set in with earnest, beating a loud tattoo on the flat
roof. A louder tattoo beat on the door.
Giles got up
to answer it, and Zillah let him go, running to the door beside him, still
miaowing loudly. It was Ricky
Whitelaw. He stood on the grass, his
hair plastered to his head, his hands stuffed into his pockets.
"Ricky! What are you doing here? Come in out of the rain."
stayed where he was.
Giles!" he blurted out suddenly.
"You've got to come, Mr Rupert Giles."
Ricky? Is your mother hurt?"
fine, thank you, Mr Rupert Giles."
Ricky hopped from one foot to another, in an agony of indecision. "The lady says to come. She says to get your head out of a book and
remember the tree. Sorry, Mr Rupert
almost see the wheels of thought grinding slow but sure in Giles' head. And then he saw the dawning of hope. With no more than a backward glance, and in
his shirt sleeves, Giles set off at a run.
Despite the rain, Zillah followed after him.
As Giles ran,
the rain stung his face, sharp needles of near-ice that he barely felt. He slithered across the lumpy pasture of Golden
Acre Field towards Summer Down, the expanse of chalk hill for which his home
had been named. His heart thumped in
his chest, and his throat was tight with fear that he had misunderstood. And with excitement that he might have
understood well enough.
The winter air
rasped in his lungs, the rawness of it robbing him of breath as he tried to run
faster in the last of the fading daylight.
His soaked jeans clung to his legs, wet fingers holding him back, and
the thunder rumbled warningly, as sheet lightning played across the western
horizon, a sunset of cold blue fire. With the pounding of his footsteps, he
prayed, whether to the god of today or the gods of yesterday, the gods of earth
and air, of fire and water, he didn't know.
Or perhaps to the Queen, with her necklace of shiny crystal skulls.
Let this be true. Let it be real. Please....
And then the
High Oak stood before him, the sacred tree of the ancient Druids. When he'd last seen it, only a fistful of
days ago, it had stood in its winter form, a stag-headed giant that might be a
thousand years old. Its bole was huge,
wide enough to need three or four men to encircle it, with their arms
outstretched. Its branches were heavy,
and had been starkly naked against the thin winter sky, except for the load of
mistletoe, the golden bough, carried on a few of them. He remembered gathering that mistletoe, in
Now, as he
stood panting in front of the tree, even in the gathering dusk he could tell
that it was thickly clad in unseasonal new leaves, a small miracle of
renaissance in this brumal solstice, the dead days of winter between Christmas
and New Year. Christmas had been
entirely missing from their lives this year.
Except, a long package had mysteriously arrived for Buffy. It had proved to be the ornate Damascus
steel bow that Buffy had so admired in the home of Korbinian. Laroche had sent it to her, as a Christmas
He felt a
small body brush against his leg. It
was Zillah, who started to claw frantically at the tree, and then pull herself
up the trunk.
"Zillah! Come down from there!" Giles had climbed this tree often when he
was a boy, but he wasn't a boy any longer, and gravity seemed to have more
power these days. The cat ignored him,
perching in the crown, as the wind gusted savagely, howling through the new
And then the
lightning struck, a hissing, sizzling bolt that speared down into the forked
branches, as thunder filled the universe, a giant hand crushing everything
beneath. It blinded and deafened
him. He threw his arm across his face,
and fell back. Crackling sparks
showered down around him, and his hair rose, bristling like a defensive dog.
screamed, and fell. Giles scooped up
her limp body as he scrabbled backwards, crabwise, sheltering the cat beneath
him as he steeled himself for the explosion of burning sap that would sear
everything around and fire the stricken tree.
The explosion didn't come.
Instead, as Giles cradled Zillah, the lowest bough of the tree, a huge
timber itself the size of many full grown trees, groaned and shuddered and
slowly fell with the tortured sound of splintering wood, peeling away the left
side of the oak's bole.
And then the
universe paused for breath.
The wind died
away, the rain slackened, and the thunder ceased. A thin bar of blood-red light showed through on the western
horizon. Slowly, he stood up, and moved
cautiously forward to the tree. His
blood burned with a knowledge that it hadn't shared with his brain. His heart sounded as loud as the thunder.
He was still
holding Zillah close as he reached the fallen limb. It revealed that the bole of the oak had been hollowed out by
time and rasping teeth. All the
heartwood was gone, leaving only a thin shell of living wood. Where this had been torn away by the falling
bough, a dark doorway loomed, partially concealed by leafy branches that were
thick with mistletoe.
his way through into the hollow trunk.
Crouched on the far side was a woman, clad only in the dry litter of
old, russet leaves that clung to her titian hair and fair skin. At the sound of the leaves crackling beneath
his feet, she slowly turned towards him.
Even though he'd hoped and prayed, the name was forced from him in
robbed of the power of movement as he drank in the sight of her.
please stop staring and do something. I
don't seem to have the strength to stand up..."
She held a
hand out to him, and he clasped it, pulling her up and into the embrace of his
free arm. She lifted her mouth to his,
in invitation, and he bent down to kiss her, gently at first, and then with the
desperation with which he had mourned her.
She shivered in his arms, and he fell back.
"Ella... Is it
really... I mean, you were gone. How is
this possible?" Suddenly, he was
afraid that this was no more than a hallucination, a leftover from his coma. Or
a faery trick, as insubstantial as faery gold, glittering in the moonlight, but
gone by the light of day. After all, he
had a faery to thank for this.
fool," she said lovingly, as she'd said so many times in life before. "Trust yourself." She'd said that, often, too.
again, wrapping her arms around herself.
suppose you brought a coat with you?" she asked. "It's very cold here."
"Um... ‘Fraid not."
She put a hand
up to his face. "I might have
Then she saw
Zillah. She took the limp little body
into her arms, and pressed her forehead to Zillah's for a moment.
fine," she said, her smile once more lightening Giles' heart. "Come on then, my love, you'd better get me
out of the cold. Let's go home."
He cast away
all his doubts. If this was an
hallucination, he'd rather be deluded than sane. He wrapped her in the transient warmth of his arms again, and
wished he'd come out in something other than shirt sleeves.
"Um. We've got a family of demons living in your
you'll tell me about it later. Your
"Ah. It's, ah, rubble, I'm afraid. Some time weapon thingy."
"Oh, yes, I
seem to remember... Well, if you can
find me a coat, we could always stay here."
lovingly down at her as he pulled her closer into him. "Martha's organised a lovely set of caravans
for the homeless." He let her go, but
only to unbutton his shirt. "Here, take
this. It'll be better than
nothing." But she'd turned away from
him, looking towards the shadowy opening.
A voice called out.
"Giles! Giles, are you there?"
silence, and Giles could almost see Angel scenting the air. When the vampire spoke again, it was with
doubt. And some wonder. "...Ella?"
through the foliage, Angel took in the situation with one glance, and turned
his head away as he shrugged out of his coat and held it out to her. "Unless," he remarked blandly, surveying
Giles' state of semi-undress, "you'd prefer me to go away for a bit?"
tears and laughter, and a lot of hugging, in the reunions that evening. Everyone was gathered in the library
caravan, making it something of a tight squeeze. Zillah presided, rather drowsily, from a basket tucked into a
everyone went to bed that night with a lighter heart.
out tentatively to Ella, almost afraid that she might vanish as quickly as she
"Did it really
happen? I'm... I'm not still in some
coma, am I? Imagining this?"
Ripper." Her hand crept down until she
was rewarded with a sharp intake of breath."
"Are you here
to stay?" he managed. He didn't want to
be so badly hurt again.
"For as long
as any of us are given," she whispered, and then gently bit his shoulder. He gave himself over to her, absolutely.
Ian and Alice
lay together in the afterglow. She was
wrapped in his arms, her head on his chest.
He dropped a kiss onto the top of her head.
"You know," he
observed conversationally, "not so long ago, I was an innocent country copper. Now, I've just been making love to the most
beautiful demon - the most beautiful woman - I could imagine, I'm friends with
a Slayer, a Watcher, and a vampire who's just come back from a stroll through
time, and the Watcher's witchy girlfriend has just come back from the dead."
it remarkably well, love," she told him, kissing the stretch of skin nearest to
"I am, aren't
I?" He rolled onto his side, towards
her, and pulled her close. "Are you
absolutely certain that you want to spend your time with a middle-aged flatfoot
who spends too much time at work?"
Her voice was
loving. "You'd have to beat me away
with a stick."
"Do you think
we can get over them?"
He traced a
chain of tiny kisses down her temple.
"If we do it together..."
He found his
passion rising again, and rolled her over.
alone. Or rather, he tossed and turned,
trying to sleep. He hadn't been in love
with Lina, but he'd been touched by her deeply enough to miss her still. She'd gone back to her home dimension, and
he wasn't entirely sure he hadn't gone with her, so hard was it to believe the
world in which he now found himself. He
also wasn't entirely sure how he felt about it. Excited, for one thing, like a kid in the middle of something far
better than a computer game.
Incredulous, for another thing, because who could really believe the
things he'd seen. And incredibly alone,
because who could he talk to about any of this, except the people themselves?
Now, he looked
at other members of the force - and of the public - with a mixture of pity and
envy. Pity, because they had no idea of
the rich and wonderful, oh yes, and dangerous
world in which they lived. And envy,
for exactly the same reason.
Who would have
thought that the old man would hook up with some sort of shape-shifting
demon? And a bloody attractive one at
that. And who would have thought that
Mr Tall, Dark and Broody was a vampire (who could, incidentally, get lost in
time and then get unlost), and that Miss Small, Blonde and Beautiful was not
only the Vampire Slayer, but also said vampire's lover. Still, there were ways and ways of being
And a witch
was definitely the icing on the cake, even if she did simply reincarnate out of
thin air. Or a lightning-struck tree. The old girl on honeymoon in Yorkshire had
been one thing, but this was a whole other bag of marbles.
believe it if you read about it in a book, he thought. And then he thought that maybe he should do
that. Write a book, that is. It would have to be a best seller.
And then he
wondered where he could find a girlfriend who could hold a candle to any of
this. Maybe they could magic one up for
him? He fell asleep on that thought,
smiling faintly through his dreams.
slept alone, although even in dreams she reached out towards the vacant pillow
next to her. Her dreams were of the
joys and happinesses of the past, but they all ended in the horrors of nearer
dampened her pillow as they did every night.
Buffy tightly after they'd made love.
She rested comfortably, with her head on his breastbone. Both of them knew that they had work to do,
but they were too newly reunited to be comfortable out of touching
distance. Hours like this were still
precious beyond price.
pleased for Giles and Ella," Buffy murmured, from somewhere near the cusp of
sleep. "You know, I wondered for a
while if it really was Ella, or something in her shape..."
"You did. You knew who she was."
He dropped a
kiss onto her hair. "Sometimes I
like a cat, not losing contact with him, so that the effect was her skin pressed
invitingly against an even greater length of his body, with the inevitable
He turned to
her, more intent on pursuing other interests than in talking, but she
laughingly held him at arm's length.
"Wonder what?" she repeated.
"I don't know,
it's stupid. It's just... it seems that
some power keeps bringing us back until we do what it wants. Or maybe we're simply being forged into our
own version of the Sacred Band of Thebes...
Or probably I've done too much reading lately."
"Mmm." He tried to reach her ear lobe, but she
pushed him away with a tiny giggle.
back, ruefully aware that he wasn't going to get his wicked way until she'd
explored what he'd unintentionally voiced aloud.
of the time..."
"Egyptians? Like on the Nile?"
were the ones in Greece. Oedipus came
from there, I think. Anyway, they were
the real military power of their day, and their elite force was the Sacred
Band. They were a band of paired
lovers. The thinking was that each of
them would fight harder to keep their lover alive. It worked, too, until Alexander the Great outfought them. They all died and were buried together."
"Cheery." She frowned a little, apparently digesting what
he'd said. "I suppose Mohra said that
we were strong together. Is that what
"Partly. But we're strong in other ways, too, even
if..." He was going to say even if I can't marry you but he let it
drop. What was the point?
had moved on. Or back. "And they had women fighting then?"
"No, well, not
the Thebans. The Band were all men, a
young man paired with an older man."
grinned. "You should be telling this to
in recollection. "You know, Nick does a
good job in protective colouration, doesn't he?"
again. "You mean he isn't gay at
all?" Her voice was heavy with
"No, no, I
don't mean that. He'd have me in his
bed as soon as look at me. But I know
he'd have you, too. He has much broader
tastes than he lets on. He's just as
attracted to women as he is to men. He
just doesn't respond. Or," he amended
conscientiously, "not often."
"Why would he
hide like that?"
how much to say. In the end, it was half
truths, as it so often was for him.
"He's got a lot to offer a wife.
Money, position, estate, reputation.
Breeding. And he's the sort of
man, eminent surgeon, major player in charitable works, and so on, who
inevitably ends up with some sort of title.
Most women would try to elbow out their rivals if they thought they
might finish up being called Lady whateveritis. And you know, Buffy, in the circles he moves in, some of the
women can be pretty damned predatory."
him to pull her close. She knew that
this came from personal knowledge, and, after all, not much changed in that
respect over the ages. Every last TV
soap proved that.
he continued, "that he had experience of one or more predatory women early on,
and decided to opt for a different path.
But, judging by his recent behaviour, I think he's been given The Talk."
Talk?" She suddenly felt entirely
ignorant in the affairs of men and women.
reached around her, and his fingers started doing wonderful things to her
forcefully cheerful, even for Nick. I
think someone's given him The Talk about what's owed to his name."
something you recognise?"
His lips had
found the very sensitive spot just behind her ear, so it was several seconds
before he responded. She'd almost given
up the expectation that he would.
twenty-six when Darla turned me. My
father thought that getting married would settle me down, make me more
responsible. The Talk was one of the
things he and I argued about. But only
one of the things."
his magic, and her head fell backwards as he bent her body like a bow. "And Nick?" she asked, as her last shot at a
His answer was
slightly muffled by what he was doing.
"Oh, I think if he's got the sense he was born with, he's got a solution
in hand." That was his last sensible
Nick and Lisa
were in her kitchen, finishing off a bottle of wine. At least, Nick, holding a half-full wine glass, was watching Lisa
carefully, and Lisa, at the other side of the table, was staring moodily into
her full one. He'd been staying here since the night of
the attack. He was going to have to go
back to the real world soon.
here were complicated.
He and Lisa
had become friends long before that dreadful night. Staying here had helped them get to know each other a little
better. In any case, Nick didn't need
to get to know Lisa better to know that she'd been eating her heart out over
Giles for years.
When Giles had
first come back from the States, he'd already known Lisa, although not
well. She was twenty-nine now, nineteen
when she first came to the village, a lot younger than Giles was, and they'd
moved in different circles then.
Besides, he didn't live in the village in those early days. But, when he'd come back here to live, after
his time as a Watcher - if that time had ever ended - Lisa had truly fallen in
love with him, and he'd fallen in love with Ella.
understood that well. After all, he'd
fallen in love with Angel, and Angel only had eyes for Buffy.
When Angel was
presumed dead, Nick had mourned as well as Buffy, although very circumspectly,
and he'd found it impossible to tear himself away and go back to work. When Angel had returned, Nick had
rejoiced. But there had been pain in
equal measure. Angel still had eyes
only for Buffy. And nothing would ever
change that. Nor should it, Nick was
fair-minded enough to admit.
was different. When Ella was with Giles,
Lisa had been no more than a friend to him.
When Ella died, Lisa had genuinely mourned a woman she called
friend. And she was still only a friend
to Giles, but she had waited, quietly, patiently, and hoped for things to
She was a
practical woman, and she had clearly decided, consciously or subconsciously,
that she would rather have Giles as a friend than alienate him by an unwanted
way lay heartbreak. Giles obstinately remained
only a friend, apparently blissfully unaware of Lisa's warmer feelings, and now
Ella was back. And Lisa, rejoicing in
her friend, Ella's, new lease of life, was heartbroken once more.
Both of them,
Nick and Lisa, must watch the people they loved be happy with someone
else. And they must watch at close
quarters, because neither of them was willing to give up these
friendships. Masochists, thought Nick,
wryly. We must both be masochists.
Nick got up and moved around the table, pulling up a chair so that he could sit
next to Lisa. She looked up as he
placed a hand on hers.
"What are we
going to do, eh?" His voice was full of
warmth and sympathy, his question required no reply.
back down at her glass, as a tear slid into it, creating a quiet pattern of
tiny ripples. Nick shifted his position
to put his arm around her shoulders.
"Now, now, old
girl, bad enough watering the wine, but don't put salt in it!"
She gave a
watery chuckle. "Less of the old, if
And then she
could hold back the tears no longer.
Nick shuffled his chair closer, and pulled her in to him, her head
against his shoulder, while he made soft, comforting noises. Nick was unfazed by a damsel in distress. He was accustomed to women treating him as a
brother, a position he was always at pains to present. Being a brother, even a pseudo-brother,
often meant offering a brotherly shoulder.
cared, though, that Lisa should be so hurt, and left without hope. There were few knives so sharp as unrequited
love. And so, he let her cry while he
held her, and patted her back, and stroked her blonde hair, and whispered words
of comfort to her, and wished there were someone to do the same for him.
crying abated to a few soft sniffles, he still held her, but he put one finger under
her chin and raised her head, to look into her face. "Come on upstairs," he said gently. "Let's work a little magic for each other."
with a tremulous smile, and he led her up the stairs. They'd slept together once or twice, for the same reason as now,
a little sexual healing, but no one else knew.
Well, he thought, no one else except probably Angel. After the last time, Angel had greeted them
with a faintly knowing smile.
had told Nick about one of the diary entries from Wesley Wyndham-Price that
showed Angel's uncanny sense of smell.
According to the entry, Wesley had doubted how good that sense of smell
might be, so Angel had taken one sniff and identified that Wesley had spent the
previous evening having sex with a bleached blonde. Nick was pretty sure that secrets were impossible to keep from a
vampire, but he didn't mind.
He led Lisa
towards the bed, and then he stopped, to pull her close, and to kiss her
tenderly. She threaded her fingers
through his hair, and pulled him towards her as the kiss deepened. He pushed his hand under the bottom of her
blouse, his palm sliding over her warm skin.
It was softer, more yielding, than the skin he was more accustomed to,
the scent different, lighter, less musky, the lips gentler against his. As it had before with her, it brought out a
different instinct in him as he laid her beneath him...
Later, he lay
holding her tightly, still. He knew
what he wanted to do, but he didn't know whether this was the right
moment. Whether Lisa needed more
time. But something told him that time
was something they might not have. He
turned towards her as they lay close, and he smoothed her hair back from her
began, softly. "Just occasionally, some
of us get our heart's desire. There may
be a huge cost, but we pay it willingly to be with a soul mate. Those are the lucky ones. The rest of us, we ordinary mortals, have to
find the best happiness we can."
She made to
speak, but he put a finger to her lips.
"No," he said. "No. Let me finish. We're friends. We're good
friends, and I think that's important, perhaps more important than anything
else. Perhaps I haven't got a lot to
offer, because I know that the material things I've got wouldn't really weigh
with you, but I would do my best to make you happy. Do you think we might make a go of it?"
She traced his
face with her thumb. "Why are you saying
"Well, I have
to warn you that I'm expected to provide the next family heir," he said
candidly, but then he smiled that warm and winning smile at her. "And I really can't think of a woman I'd
rather have as a mother for Hunt junior."
His face took a more serious cast as he ran his fingers through her
hair. "And I think we might make a
damned good go of it."
"Is this the
wine speaking, Nick?"
possibly. But you know what they say,
my dear. In vino veritas. Besides,"
he said sternly, "it's either you or some shark-toothed baronet's daughter. You wouldn't wish that on me, would you?"
She gave him a
wan smile. "And what about me? I might want to wait for some swashbuckling
pirate to spirit me away?"
"So you might,
my dear, and if you met one who took your fancy, I should hand you over so that
you could buckle his swash." He
appeared to give this further consideration.
"On reflection, I think I'd probably have to fight him, you know. So, if you don't want the father of your
children to be run through, maybe giving the pirate a miss would be best."
"Nick... Nick, are you offering me marriage, or do
you have a more... flexible... arrangement in mind... A... a carte blanche?"
He pulled back
a little, to see her face more clearly.
He looked genuinely surprised.
"Marriage, Lisa. Nothing less." He kissed her brow. "Many successful marriages have started with
a lot less than we have. I will make you happy. I promise."
He looked down, almost shyly, finding it hard to meet her eye. "And if it isn't the high romance you might
once have hoped for, I swear to you it will be better than being alone. That much, we can do for each other."
He could see
the words of refusal rising to her lips, and put his fingers there to stop
"I could have
wooed you with only fair words, dear lady, but I thought the truth would sit
better with you. And the truth is that
there is love between us. I think it
can keep us warm on the cold nights of the soul. You don't have to give me your answer now."
He didn't get
an answer that night, but they made love again, and fell asleep together.
The next few
days passed in a kind of hiatus. The
cosmos held its breath, waiting to see what would occur. But even in a hiatus, some things happen.
morning dawned cold and clear. Angel
and Buffy had left their shutters open, to make love by the light of the
moon. Buffy got up before sunrise and
went outside to close the shutters, to keep Angel safe. As she stood on the threshold, she saw a
dark figure sitting on the hoary grass, a few yards from their door. It got to its feet when it saw her,
silhouetted against the inner light, and stood waiting for her to acknowledge
even got a stake on her, she thought, as she trod down the steps. The figure, tall and lanky, leaning on a
staff, waited quietly for her. There
was movement behind her, the familiar feel of unintended stealth, and her
lover's voice said, "Hello, Matthew.
What are you doing here?"
the gangly boy who had found the fire demons, and who they had left for
training with the Queen. Now he was a
gangly young man, with a prominent Adam's apple and lanky limbs, and he still
seemed to be made entirely of knees.
He had a long, gnarly staff of the sort associated with Hollywood
wizards. He sat drinking coffee with
Angel and Buffy, and Giles and Ella.
Giles, "are you a fully fledged wizard now?"
replied with a gulp. "That takes a
really long time. But the Queen sent me
back. She sent me to you, because she
said it was time."
for?" Angel's instincts ran to red alert.
didn't tell me. You know the Queen."
Oh, yes, they
knew the Queen. Buffy moved the
conversation away. "You've got a
staff," she said, brightly, "an honest to goodness wizard's staff. Does it do magic?"
Matthew said, his head ducking apologetically.
"I wrenched my knee just before I came.
That one's just the right height for me until I'm completely back on my
considered that to be a let-down.
brought some clothes for Ella, clothes that had been packed up in a trunk in
the attic of Ella's house. Buffy found
herself watching Alice walk across the field, back to the road, with a feeling
of jealousy. She'd liked the old Alice,
the elderly lady, and she loved the new Alice, but she had to admit to herself
that she couldn't help being jealous of her.
Or, rather, jealous of her Silarri ability. If only it was possible for her to share it with a
non-Silarri. Buffy didn't worry too
much about the future, except in one respect - the fact that she would age, and
movement behind her, and she turned to meet it. It was Ella, in a smart trouser suit and shirt that had been part
of Alice's bundle.
"I know what
you're thinking, Buffy."
"What? You came back a mind reader?"
smiled. "No. It's written on your face for anyone to see. They'll have similar problems, you know. He'll age, and so will she, but much more
slowly. When he's an old man, she'll
look about thirty-five or forty. She
can't do anything about him, either."
down at her ankle boots. "Yeah."
Ella took hold
of her hand. "What I can say, Buffy, is
that I think, in the future, you'll find your own solution."
saying I'll become a vampire? Because
if you are..."
Ella shook her
head. "No. I can't say that you'll never be turned, because that must be an
occupational hazard for you, but that isn't what I meant. Just... keep an open mind about what might
happen. And remember what I've said."
"How do you
"I don't know anything, Buffy. I feel it, like the wind on my face, or the
rain in an old man's bones. I don't
know it, but I am sure that the chance will be there, whatever shape it takes."
"What was it
like, being, you know, part of the planet?"
"Part of the
spirit of the planet, Buffy. It was...
wonderful. Probably different to your
experience of heaven, but it was indescribably wonderful."
you're back here and looking happy?"
"I am happy. How could I not be? I
have another chance of a life here, and I know what's waiting for me at the end
of that life, whenever that should be."
that. Ella was dealing with it better
than she had. She wished that she'd
been able to find that level of acceptance at the time.
knows you'll leave him again?"
"Who says I'll
"You could see
the future, Ella? You could see that I
won't just turn into a crumbling old woman for Angel?"
a bright and crystalline sound of genuine amusement. "A crumbling old woman indeed!
As if you would ever be that! It
isn't as simple as seeing the future, but the chance will be there. The Earth knows it, and so I do."
puzzled, but with a small flare of hope.
She'd keep that to herself.
Angel couldn't do with any more things to worry about just yet.
adjustors from the insurance company had been on site, and agreed, perhaps
reluctantly, that the policy did seem to cover the situation, and then they had
gone away to count their losses. There
was a gathering of friends in Giles' caravan for the evening meal. It was rather a squeeze, but a comfortable,
companionable one. Martha had done the
majority of the cooking, but everyone insisted that she sit down as part of the
to learn more about Alice's rejuvenation and Ella's renaissance was kept on a
tight rein. Alice and Ella would speak
of these things when they wanted to.
And so, inevitably, with dessert, the conversation circled around to the
progress on tracking down the source of the assassins, and any news on what
their next target might be.
"I wish we
knew what was happening in the other world," Giles complained. "From... our sources... it certainly seems
clear that Acathla is behind something like a dozen deaths even before they got
started here at Summerdown, and yet, we don't know his purpose. We simply have no way of knowing how the
fight is going over there, and what's motivating his current behaviour."
He dug his
spoon savagely into his bread and butter pudding, which was extremely good and
had done nothing to deserve such behaviour.
"It might be something like a prophecy that simply doesn't occur on this
world. It might be one of the things
that makes the difference between them and us, and we would never know about
He dropped his
spoon, still full of pudding, back into his bowl as he warmed to his theme.
"I hate just fighting a defensive
action." He glanced further down the
table, at Angel and Buffy.
Angel, with no
meal in front of him, but with a glass of red wine nestled in his long fingers,
nodded his agreement. "We need to find
a way of taking the action to him, I think.
Otherwise, we're always on the defensive, always waiting for his attack,
always on edge."
"Taking the offensive
works for me," Buffy acknowledged, with a shrug.
polished off his first mouthful of pudding, treated the second one with more
respect. "I don't suppose you can open
a portal for us, Ella?" he asked, with a wave of his empty spoon.
I'm sorry. I never had any talent for
portals. I don't even have Angel's
Angel almost choked on his burgundy.
them, Angel," she reassured him. "But
you can find them, and use them. You've
done that more than once before.
Remember finding your way back from Hell?"
think that he was going to answer, but eventually he said, "Yeah. But I always thought I had help there."
"So you might
have done, in opening a way back. But
you found it because you needed it. The
insect world, too. And your friend's
dimension. And now, finding your way
back from the interstices of Time?
There was no more than a potential portal, and you found it. Remember your first year here? If you hadn't had some innate talent, the
Coven could never have given you the temporary power to open a portal as you
did then. We just built on what was
already there. Connor got that talent
from you, but much stronger."
Giles saw his
friend's face harden, and Buffy's hand creep into Angel's, and he leapt into
the breach, heedless of personal safety.
"Well, if we can't go over there, it's a really good job that he can't
come over here, or change what happens in this world, except through what
hirelings can achieve. We can deal with
Rupert," Ella replied, calmly.
about what he can affect." She turned
to the ledge behind her, reaching for a thick block of a message pad. A carving knife lay in the middle of the
table. She snatched it up, and in one
smooth, surprising movement, she brought the knife down onto the pad. It speared through the pages, seeming to meet
no resistance at all. When she let go,
the hilt quivered a little.
stared in silence as Ella returned her attention to her pudding. "Each alternate version of Earth is like a
sheet of that pad. There are countless
numbers of them, lying just a breath away from each other. A breath, or an instant of time. But they aren't completely separate. What happens on one Earth ripples throughout
the whole of reality. Sometimes it's
too small a thing to override the reality that exists in other worlds, and the
worst you might get is an echo, sensitive people getting dreams and visions. But other things can make a cataclysmic difference. If one version of Earth is sucked down to
Hell, that's a thing that will leave ripples though every other reality. On some Earths, the nearer ones, the ripples
will be tidal waves. The effect will be
as bad as on the one that's in Hell."
towards the pad. Ian pulled the knife
out, and then flicked through all the sheets.
them all short messages," he observed, dryly.
Each page had a cut through the centre, the cut becoming smaller and
smaller towards the lower layers, until, on the last few sheets there was only
a dimpled impression of the point.
"So, a few do
escape relatively unscathed," he asked, with a quizzical look.
her mouth full of pudding. The others
waited. "Yes," she said eventually. "But they are still changed forever. Try to straighten out that dent."
It wouldn't of
course, because the fibres were too stretched.
There was more to the lesson, though.
"Where are we,
in relation to the Acathla Earth?" Nick asked.
"Next door. We'll be pulled towards that Hell; our walls
will be down and we will be defenceless."
There was a
sober silence, broken by Giles. "Ella,
how do you know this? I... I mean,
could you... um... see this when you were... um, part of the Earth?"
He sat back
and picked up his glass. He wasn't
entirely sure that he hadn't committed some solecism with Ella. She might not want to talk to strangers
about that. But, she was unfazed.
"It's hard to
describe," she said meditatively. "You
know those documentary programmes where they try to show you how other
creatures use senses we don't have?
Like the ones that follow the lines of magnetic force? And it looks like some shadowy image of the
landscape, made up of dots and lines?
It's a bit like that. Only
not. You have a... a sensory map, I
suppose, of potential. I can't explain
it any better."
the question that most of them were thinking.
"Can't you just do some magic to stop it all?"
You think it's the answer to everything?" She looked askance at Matthew, who cleared his throat
self-consciously before answering.
"Magic must be
focussed, must be clearly targeted, otherwise it dissipates in unexpected ways,
and there are unintended consequences.
The greater the magic, the greater the unintended consequences. And besides, even when you focus the spell
properly, there's the question of balance.
A life is saved, somewhere, but that means that someone else has to die
who would otherwise have lived. A love
spell for one means that another will never know love."
Matthew," Ella approved. "I can see
that you're well on with your training."
Matthew flushed a rosy pink. She
frowned a little, as though deciding whether to say more. "I've been allowed a second life here, by
magic, but a price has to be paid for that."
shocked, started to say something, but she shushed him.
"It isn't a
debt to be collected. The price has
been paid, by the Earth herself. The
Earth is a little diminished by that.
Magic never comes free."
silent, as she gazed at them, one by one, to be sure that the lesson was
asked those gathered round the table, "do we save our Earth at the expense of
another? Or do we use magic to defeat
an enemy and perhaps finish up with something even worse?"
frowned. "So, what you're saying is
that magic can't be any help at all?
"No, but you
have to be careful. Powerful workings
should only be a last resort, when all else fails. Of course, there's a difference for people like Alice..." Ella
gave the Silarri a small smile, "and Angel and Buffy. They have their own self-contained magic, which impacts only on
themselves." She paused for a
moment. "Well, largely. But it doesn't carry the need for balance,
or invoke the law of unintended consequences."
holding her glass up for a refill. No
one spoke, because they all knew that she hadn't finished.
the small complication of where the magic comes from. I work through power that I draw from this Earth. Acathla's Earth is different. It's like your cellular sunburn, Buffy. Remember?"
Buffy sat up straight. How did Ella know about that? But Ella carried on with no more than a
"It's only a
little bit different, but I may not be able to use magic there at all. Or if I can, I might be no better than a
beginner, and make a terrible hash of it, until I can adjust to the difference. We can't afford that. So, we need to not rely on magic."
"Then we need
to find a way through," Angel said.
"To do what?"
"To take Acathla
out. Save the Universe. Usual thing."
Buffy's nose crinkled. "Before we go through, we need a really good
on it," Giles offered, morosely. "If
only we knew more. All those little
pieces of paper that Oz brought, for a start.
I'm sure they're something to do with it..."
"Um..." Every head swivelled towards Matthew. "The Queen was troubled by those, too."
from your dimension?" Giles was
"Oh, no," said
Matthew, shaking his head for emphasis.
"They came from the other Earth.
The one we're talking about. It
took her a while to work that out. Then
she sent me to find out what they were.
I... um... I was taken there by a band of her Hunters."
there? You know what's happening?" Angel leaned forward, eagerly. Here was information that he needed.
"We were only
there briefly, but I'll tell you anything I can. We followed the trail of the pieces."
awkward as the centre of attention.
"Well, go on,
man, go on," said Giles, testily.
Adam's apple bobbed, as he swallowed hard.
"Um... There was a Watchers' Council on that Earth, too. They held out for a while, but Acathla got
the last of them. And then he sent some
of his demons to raid their resources, to see what they'd got. Apparently, they tried to get into the Most
Secret Library. It was protected by a
spell that destroyed the contents, and scattered them throughout time and
space. The pieces are everywhere."
blew it up here, so we should have expected it to be blown up there, I guess." Buffy folded her arms with a definite snap.
Secret Library..." Giles frowned. "I wonder..."
Giles? Come on, don't keep us in
suspense." Angel recognised Buffy's
impatience, and decided to step in if necessary.
yes, well... Angel, you remember
telling us how many filing cabinets Wolfram and Hart had on you? I once learned, from an old contact who died
in that blast, the Council's Librarian, that the Council was as keen to get
information on you as Wolfram and Hart were.
They had an entire section devoted to you, and to the prophecies that
surrounded you. Cabinets full of
exegeses of those prophecies. Perhaps they
also existed on the other Earth, and that was what Acathla was after?"
into the drawer behind her and handed the envelope to Giles. He tipped out some of the pieces and started
to slide them around on the table. At
last, he had three tiny pieces that fitted together roughly, and read ‘Most
well. You really must be getting under
his skin over there."
away the lines of worry on her face.
There really wasn't much time left, and all the pieces weren't yet in
place, but there was no point worrying the others with that thought. It was Nick who put another piece on the
He picked up
his glass. "You must put us all to
work, Rupert. ‘All for one and one for
all,' you know."
his head. "It's far too dangerous. You all really shouldn't be around here
until we've sorted this out."
Buffy echoed his decree, even more emphatically.
genuinely hurt. "I say, old man, that's
a bit hard, isn't it?" There were
general noises of agreement. "I don't
think you realise that we're sort of committed to helping here."
All the friends, Giles thought. Ricky
said that it would need all the friends.
Is this what he meant? He
glanced across at Ella, who had a secretive look on her face.
continued. "No, I don't think you can
shut us out like that." He gave Martha
a small, apologetic smile. "Dear lady,
I must borrow from you, I think." He
stood up, although with some difficulty in the cramped quarters. "Martha chose a reading for brave John's
"Intreat me not to leave thee, or to
return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where
thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:
Where thou diest, will I die, and there
will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part
thee and me.
must speak for themselves, but for my part I'm with you all the way...." He raised his glass in toast. "Ought but death, Buffy, Angel, Rupert. Ought but death."
The others did
speak for themselves. "Ought but
death!" and drank to it.
was thin and hard, as he tried to prevent what he saw as a lemming-like rush to
cast themselves over a cliff, but Buffy was troubled by other things.
said, moved by her Slayer train of thought.
"But we still need a plan."
"Hello? Hello, is anyone home?"
repeated the question several times before someone came out of one of the
caravans, the one with the closed shutters.
"Neve? Neve Brookes? My goodness, it's good to see you again."
Rupert." Neve looked around her. "You, erm, seem to have had a bit of
trouble. I tried telephoning, but the
line's out of order..."
Giles, cheerfully, "but we're still waiting for BT to rig up a temporary
line." He glanced over to the mounds of
rubble that used to be a house. One and
three-quarter houses. "The mills of BT
grind exceeding slow, you know." He saw
her look of dismay at the stone carnage.
"Occupational hazard, I'm afraid.
The surveyors will be here tomorrow to make sure the ground is safe to
to rebuild on the same spot?" Neve
looked at the wreckage with misgiving.
said Giles. "There's been a house here
since 1602. The first one was burned
down in the Civil War, and the second was burned down after a particularly
riotous party in 1762. But it's a good
place for a house. It's got all the
right... erm... vibes, I believe the word is."
nodded. "Yes. Yes, I think it has." She
smiled up at this attractive man who sometimes inhabited her dreams.
"It's a very
good land," a voice said, from behind Giles.
Neve saw the beautiful red-haired witch who had just come from the
caravan, and when she saw the look that passed between them, she put her dreams
"I've come to
talk to you about dragons," she said.
needed time to think. After they talked
it all through, Giles had taken Neve to The Cedars Hotel. They were running out of caravan bed
space. As he snuggled down next to
Ella, she reached out to smooth the worried frown from his forehead. If everything didn't fall into place in the
next day or so, she would have to do something to move them along. But Matthew had been entirely right about
the law of unintended consequences, and the need for balance. She could wait for a little longer.
warning," she said. "It doesn't have to
happen. We'll stop it."
"I wish I
could see how," Giles sighed, as he turned towards her. "Why did the dragon try to talk to Neve in
this universe? Why not the other?"
is no Neve in the other, or perhaps there was, and she's dead. Or perhaps this is the pivotal universe for
these events, around which the others depend.
The one next door would be almost as important, and the two
together... well, I truly don't know,
but that's my feeling."
prepared to take Ella's feelings as a given.
will turn up," she reassured him. "I
know it will. And I'm glad Neve decided
"You knew she
someone talking to dragons."
In the other
caravan, Angel lay with Buffy in his arms, and with a lot to think about. Neve had come asking whether he'd killed a
dragon. More than one, he'd told
her. This had been in an alley, in the
middle of the stink of battle, she'd said.
There could only be one such dragon.
trouble understanding its message, because she had only ever been able to hear
it when it was on the point of death.
Few creatures made much sense when they were on the point of death. Eventually, though, she thought that she had
pieced it together.
The dragon had
sent her with a message for Angel. ‘If you do not stop it, we will be fighting
this battle throughout time and space, over and over and over again. And eventually either my dimension will be
destroyed, or yours will. You must make
sure that Acathla cannot spread his reach to the other dimensions. You must change the future.'
known the name of Acathla, but her description of a stone demon with the power
of the maelstrom had seemed clear enough.
He didn't know what the connection might be between what had happened
with Acathla, and what had happened with Wolfram and Hart, and the battle in
the alley, but the dragon seemed to know more than he did, and Ella hadn't
down for a cat nap. He'd go out later,
he thought, see what was moving, but just now, he didn't want to let go of the
sleeping woman in his arms. He rested
his head against hers, filled with the scent of her. Despite himself, he sank into a troubled sleep.
The world has changed, and demons rule almost
everywhere. Humans are slaves, cattle,
playthings. The Four Horsemen of this
particular Apocalypse stalk every street, every city, every village and
hamlet. Famine, although not for the
demons. Pestilence, Destruction and
Death. Again, none of them for the
demons. And Death comes in so many
inventive forms that even Angelus has never imagined.
Except, there is still resistance, and
it centres around Angel and Buffy. They
bring Death and Destruction to Acathla's minions. Everyone else they used to know is dead, but they have gathered
new allies, new warriors, but never enough.
They are trying to fight their way towards the real Acathla, the flesh
and blood Acathla of whom that stone statue was merely a manifestation, a
mirror into the world of humanity. If
they can kill him, it might give the others hope. Buffy has the blessed sword that they are relying on to kill the
demon. But they're only too well aware
that some other demon will try to take his place. There are more than enough to choose from. Simply killing him might not be enough.
The two are resting for the moment,
taking the chance to be together and, later, to make love for what might be the
last time. It's a desperate venture,
after all. And then there's a shimmer
in the air and Illyria steps through holding a dead man in her arms, and with
two people leaning heavily on her. She
isn't known to the Angel and Buffy of that world, nor is the dead body, Charles
Gunn. But they know the other two. Spike.
"Your other self sent us here," she
says. "This one," she indicates Gunn
with a nod of her head, "must be properly buried. I have given the vampire my word on that. And this one," she nods to Spike, who hasn't
the strength to keep his feet, "must be allowed to drink from you, vampire, to
renew his strength. This other one was
trapped in time, and does not belong in this universe. She needs time to recover and then she may
be of value to you until it is time for her to return to her own. The vampire said that she is here in answer
to your summons when you used the Urn of Osiris."
They have new allies now. They must wait a little before making their
move, allow them to regain their strength, so that they can help get them
through Acathla's defences. But they
dare not stay in one place too long. If
the demon's forces find them before they're ready...
awake with a jerk, to find that Angel was awake before her. It took only moments to understand that they
had both had the same dream. Angel
rested his forehead against hers.
fair," she raged. "I won't let it
He felt the
same rage, but there was acceptance, too.
He pulled her in to him so that they were skin to skin, as though that
acceptance could seep from him to her, and he held her until he felt the
resistance drain from her.
"You know what
has to be done?"
whispered. "Yes. I do now."
seemed to have frozen over, and he knew that she felt the same. She held onto him tightly.
the sword, but they don't understand, do they?" he asked. "They don't understand what to do. Whistler wasn't there to tell her." He hoped his courage wouldn't fail him.
exactly what he was thinking. She took
his face between both her hands. "We're
the fall back position," she said earnestly.
"Our job is to make sure they understand. Only if they can't do it... or they're dead... or..." She couldn't go on.
he said gently, trying to keep the pain of loss from his voice, for her sake. "I've died on that sword before. I know how it's done. If I have to, I can do it again." He could, but he fervently hoped he wouldn't
have to. Those centuries in Hell had
She wanted to
hit him for his acceptance of something that she would fight against, kicking
and screaming, but she didn't. Besides,
the dragon had said that the future had to change. Angel hadn't mentioned that, but she hadn't forgotten. If he had to be the sacrifice, this time, he
wouldn't do it alone.
He ran his
hands over the smooth curves of her back.
"I love you," he said softly. "I
love you beyond life and death, beyond Hell and Earth. And what you love you want to protect, even
if all you can do to protect it is give it up.
I... I need to ask you to stay here, to..."
She put her
fingers over his lips. "Not another
word, Angel. Although, you can say that
first sentence as many times as you like.
And I love you, too, beyond all things, and you aren't leaving me
behind. Apart from everything else, I
need to talk to that other Buffy, if she hasn't figured it out for
herself. She won't listen to you."
He tried to
speak, but she shut him up again. "And
we do this together. Remember
Mohra? Together, we're strong." She kissed him. "I love you, Angel, and I want to protect you too, but I'll be
damned if I give you up." She might
well be damned, she thought, before they were much older, if that was the way
They held each
other in silence, and the silence was broken by Angel.
"We have to
work on finding some way of making that portal," he said, unexpectedly
capitulating. "If necessary, I'll go to
the Queen tomorrow night. I'm almost
sure she could do it."
"Only if all
else fails," she told him tartly.
together in silence for a while, just feeling the nearness of each other. And then Buffy reached for him. He was ready for her, had always been ready
for her. As he tucked a hand beneath
her, to pull her up towards him, she leaned her head up.
"I want you to
bite me," she whispered.
but he wanted to. The scent of her, the
taste of her on his tongue...He always wanted it. Tonight, especially, he wanted more than just the imagining of it.
Buffy. Don't ask that." It was almost ripped from him, denying what,
here and now, he wanted most of all.
She seemed to understand that, too, because she kissed him hard, and
then she looked him in the eyes, holding his gaze with her own.
"You know the
difference, Angel. You know when to be
a vampire, and you know when to be human.
You've tasted my blood when I'm wounded, to make sure there's nothing
wrong. I... I..."
seem to know how to go on, how to explain herself, but he gave her time, as he
remembered the terrible hunger after he'd drunk her and almost drained her, all
those years ago. And again, after he'd
drunk down the other slayers.
might not come back from this. You are
always with me. I know when you're
"It's the same
"But there was
something else, something different, when you fed from me, and I don't have
that any more, not since I was brought back.
I want it again, if we're going to...
I want part of me in you, and part of you in me. And I want us to be us, together, and not be
He shut her up
with a kiss, and the heat of it drove out all thought of whether she would be
asking him this if he'd ever been able to marry her. If they'd been joined by that particular ritual. He started to make love to her, as a man
makes love to a woman, but she wasn't satisfied with that, and so he made love
to her as a vampire makes love to a Slayer, although he kept his human face.
And then she
dug her fingers into the back of his neck and pulled his face towards her neck.
"Do it," she
He could taste
her in his mouth, hot and strong and full of power, and suddenly he was that
grey monster again, his mouth full of this same taste, using it to lead him
back safely to her. And he understood
that he had already done this, that he had already bitten her, here in this bed,
savoured everything that she was, incorporating her into himself, and leaving
something of himself in her. He had
already done this in his future, and he had used it to save himself. If he didn't do it now, then everything
might change, and he might be lost again in the interstices of time.
He allowed his
face to change, the bones to shift, the fangs to reappear, and then, when he
felt her start to fly, he bit down. As
his own completion burned through him, he took a mouthful, and then another and
He'd left her
almost sleeping. How he'd managed to
pull back after three mouthfuls he didn't know, but perhaps she was right. Perhaps, at last, he knew when to be a
vampire and when to be a human. Perhaps
that was a step forward.
He'd said that
he wanted to talk to Syroh, and she'd said that she would come with him, but
then she'd understood that perhaps he needed a little while alone.
He found Syroh
standing guard at Ella's house, where the Poraxen had found refuge. He came to the point straight away.
anyone of your acquaintance, or even anyone you've ever heard of, have the
power to create portals? And to control
where they come out?"
his head slowly. "No, Angelus. I'm sorry."
His scrutiny was razor sharp.
"You intend to take the war to the enemy." It wasn't a question.
we should make some effort to, ah, lay a trap?
These assassins are, on the whole, not from our world. There must be a way."
was thin. "Yeah. If we can't find someone here, we'll do
that. Come up with a plan, will you? We'll talk tomorrow. We're going to have a busy day tomorrow,
hunting out a portal maker."
quiet," Syroh assured him, as he left.
"You need have no concerns here."
around Westbury for a bit, committing everything to memory. The adventures they'd had here, the people
they'd met, the friends they'd made.
Those memories might have to last him a long time, if push came to shove,
and if shove was that blessed sword in his gut, sending him to Hell. It was the middling-early hours of the
morning when he got back to Golden Acre Field.
As he neared
the field, a sizzling, crackling sound alerted him to the fact that something
out of the ordinary was happening. It
was followed by an eerie, swirling blue-white light, familiar to anyone who'd
been troubled by an attack of portals.
As he crested
the hill leading to the Summer Down, he saw the opening of the portal, and he
started to run. So much, Angel thought,
for all quiet on the western front. If
this was an assassin sent by Acathla...
He thought of Buffy, of Giles and Ella, and now Matthew, and he ran
faster, turning on the vampire speed.
He cleared the
hawthorn hedge into Golden Acre Field in one bounding leap, just as the portal
winked out of existence. Something
loomed large where the portal had been.
He was aware that the doors of all the caravans had opened, and the
people he was supposed to protect were out in the field. And then he'd reached the alien, with Buffy
hard on his heels.
It was best
described as a bird, but like no bird he'd ever seen before. If pushed to describe it, he'd have hazarded
giant cassowary, but that was a
paltry description. It stood about ten
feet tall, with a long neck, a plump, rounded body and thick legs that were
comparatively short, but very muscular.
Its body plumage was a cascade of narrow quills in shades of something
dark. The same quills formed a topknot,
looking inescapably like the hat of a very elderly lady. In front of that, it had an elaborate crest
that reminded him of something.
reminiscence clarified itself a moment later when another, much smaller
creature with huge wings soared down from the night sky.
hold of Buffy's arm, to stop her staking it.
demon that Angel had got drunk with at Martinmere was big with excitement as he
introduced his mate, who went by the unlikely name of Lola. Giles wiped his spectacle lenses
she's an elephant bird! They're extinct!"
Kezar, patiently. "That's why I had to
go and find her. She wasn't in the next
world, Angel, she was in a different dimension, where all the females had run
to, to get away from people killing them.
It was the next one after the dragons."
kept up with the conversation. "But...
but, she's different to you. She's huger than you!" Kezar was about the size of a flamingo.
species, mate, if that's all right with you."
"Oh, yes, yes,
"Kezar..." Angel was feeling his way carefully as he
put his thoughts together. "You can
travel between worlds and dimensions.
Could you make a portal big enough for us to go through?"
mate. Portals for one, and little ones
at that, that's me." Angel's face
fell. Kezar grinned, or as much as a
creature with his features could. "But she can."
Buffy had decided to go at nightfall.
Kezar had assured them that it would be nightfall in the other world,
too. Giles and Ella said that they
would go with Angel and Buffy, and they would brook no argument. Matthew had flushed and then added his
voice, but Ella had said no to that.
here to come with us, Matthew," she said.
"Tell me, what's your main strength still? Benign coercion?"
"We don't need
that. There won't be any need for...
coercion." She looked pointedly at
Angel and Buffy, and neither of them could escape the conclusion that she knew
exactly what they intended to do there, even though they hadn't told
anyone. They'd have to, some time, but
not yet. It was their hidden purpose,
the pain of it theirs alone.
turned back to Matthew. "But we might
need that power here, until we've done what we need to do. And you haven't finished your training yet,
His Adam's apple
bobbed as he shook his head.
"Well, we have
a sorcerer here who can help you learn a bit more."
askance, and Ella patted his hand.
"Walter Satterthwaite, dear."
She turned back to Matthew.
"Martha will introduce you to Walter and Ivy, Matthew. There are few enough magic users left
here. You'll be here to protect
people. I'm sure you'll do that very
well. Faith will be around if you need
a Slayer. You'll just need to give her
"Um... I think my training might have to wait. The Queen said that if you decided to go
through, she would send a party of Hunters to help you. She'll be looking for me to go with you."
fearful but determined, which was pretty much how everyone felt. And a party of Hunters was not to be sniffed
The day was
spent in preparation. Giles arranged
for Martha to have power of attorney while they were gone. Apart from everything else, she would get
the house rebuilding started.
Buffy did a
circuit of the armourers, and came back with a selection of handy weapons, and
some suitable clothes for going to war.
Or going to Hell.
the severed hands of the Chronoids in Giles' freezer, still big with time. Carefully, she boxed them up and pushed them
safely to the back. They might be
Kezar came to
see Angel, in the safety of the caravan.
He and Lola would stay here, and make a portal each day for the four to
return. Or for however many of them
should live to return. Angel would have
to find it. Angel said nothing, but
prayed that, if his sacrifice was necessary, Ella would be able to find
it. Then he cautioned Kezar about
staying out of sight, unless he and Lola were to finish up as stuffed specimens
in some museum. The piece of scrubby
woodland around the sink hole, and the stables that currently served as a hay
store, would do well enough. Martha
would make sure they were fed.
And then it
were there. Nick and Ian, unusually,
were wearing jeans. More appropriate for
the middle of a field than a suit would be, Giles thought with a grin.
He was to be
disabused, as they tried to say their farewells.
Nick, incredulous. "You think you're
going over there on your own?"
"We won't be
alone. There are our doppelgangers, and
Faith says that she's as sure as she can be that Greg went, although we won't
know whose side he's on until we get there.
I just wish that she'd talked to us first. We could have used his portal... But now there's Willow, and
Spike and Illyria. And the Queen's
Hunters - they're pretty deadly. It's
too dangerous for civilians, Nick. You
have no idea."
wound me! What was it that Ricky said,
Giles? All the friends must go, as I remember."
said Giles, testily, "but he didn't know what he was talking about!"
Nick asked, with a glance at Ella. Ella
merely smiled enigmatically.
himself to his full height. "Remember
what we said. ‘Ought but death'. I meant
it." He turned to Lisa, and held out
his hand. "Do you really wish to venture
into danger with me, dear lady?"
She stared at
Nick for a moment, and then, with a brief smile, she stepped forward and took
his hand. "Yes. The answer's yes. To both questions."
lit up the darkness.
Giles remonstrated. "What purpose would
you both serve there? It might be a
place for witches or warriors, but..."
interrupted. "I don't know, Rupert, but
Ricky's message was from me. I only
know that everyone has their purpose, if we are all to succeed."
Giles tried to
muster an argument that didn't simply rely on his friends getting themselves
killed, but while he was doing so, Ian and Alice shared a silent glance, and
stepped up to stand by Nick and Lisa.
we're all going," Ian said, conversationally.
"I'm sure Martha will make sure squatters don't move into our houses, or
anything inconvenient like that?"
busy with her handkerchief, but she nodded.
"Can I help
there..?" Neve began.
Ella. "No, Neve, your place is here. Use our caravan, if you like, until we get
back. And talk to Ivy Grittleton. We need to get a new Coven started here. I'd like to see you as part of that. Think about it."
argued. So did Giles. Buffy wasn't at all happy, but somehow she
was more reconciled to ordinary people with extraordinary courage - or
foolhardiness - bearing their share of the fight. Even when Nick and Ian walked to Lisa's car, at the side of the
field, and came back with four backpacks, which he laid next to those of Angel
and Buffy and Giles, the argument raged on.
Angel eyed the broadswords strapped to each of those back packs as Nick
passed one to Lisa, and Ian handed the fourth to Alice. Someone else had been visiting the
armourer. They each shrugged into the
harnesses, and stared defiantly.
It was Matthew
who really brought the argument to an end, but quite accidentally, and in a way
that turned the unwelcome glowering expressions onto him.
should listen to the Lady Ella. The Queen
said that we should be guided by her."
swivelled round to him.
The lady in
question put a hand on his arm and made a gesture of warning to Matthew, but he
"Oh, um, well,
the honorific is appropriate for the Queen's granddaughter."
away from Ella's grasp, stunned.
Matthew suddenly understood that he'd opened what could only be called a
can of dragons.
said Ella, and dragged Giles out of earshot of the others - or of all but
Angel. He watched with interest what
passed between them, Giles white-faced and tight-lipped, Ella in earnest
speech. Around him, the silence gave
way to a hushed hubbub, with Matthew dejected in the centre. Next to him, Buffy was caught between
surprise and amusement. Angel tucked
her hand into his arm and strolled over to the stricken young man.
"I might have
chosen a different way of breaking the news to Giles," he said gently, "but it
had to come out, sooner or later. If
we're all..." he gave Buffy's hand a squeeze to show that he'd given in, "going
to go over there, then it's good that Giles now knows why the Queen is
helping. It means he'll trust more,
rather than looking at everything the Hunters do with suspicion. Don't worry. He'll get over it."
And it seemed
that he did. The two stood silently
looking at each other until Ella laid her hand against his cheek. Giles' own hand came up to cover hers, and
he bent towards her and kissed her.
Then they were wrapped in each other's arms, much to the satisfaction of
the spectators. As they walked back to
the waiting group, there was a new interruption.
roadway, beyond the rubble of Summerdown House, came a series of solid thunks, the sound of car doors
slamming. Out of the darkness came a
line of men, with Syroh at the front.
All of them were heavily armed.
"You will not
go alone, Angelus. The Commonwealth has
sent all the warriors that can be spared."
There were about fifty of them, with enough weapons to wage a small war.
Angel held out
his hand to Syroh, who clasped it.
"Just one favour, Syroh. If you
call me Angelus over there, it might have unexpected results. It's Angel."
nodded, with a fierce grin.
warrior angel, then."
that..." Angel trailed off as he saw
movement back in the darkness, from where Syroh's men had come. "One of yours?"
his head, and they waited until the blur of white had resolved into Reverend
Templeman, wearing a white surplice over his cassock, and with his black cloak
billowing out behind him.
evening." The reverend nodded genially
to everyone, adjusting his spectacles to survey the array of armoury around
him. "Off to save the world, I see. Oh, I almost forgot..." He hunted among the folds of his cloak and
pulled out a steel flask, which he handed to Giles. "Holy water. Just in case
it comes in useful."
Not sure what
to say, Giles settled for, "Um, thank you, James. Ah, what made you think we might need it?"
"Hilda was a
good friend of mine. I, ah, used to
help her quite a lot wherever I could.
Quite informally, of course."
Giles wondered how he'd never come across that little snippet before,
and wondered whether Hilda, head of Westbury's Coven, had shared it with
Ella. The reverend continued, "And I,
ah, had a dream last night."
"Yes. And a visit just now from Ivy
Grittleton. Most persuasive."
knew Ivy tried to hide a grin.
"Um... We, ah, we are aware of the dangerous nature
of this emprise. If I could come with
you, then I would, but I'm too old, and I should only get in your way. But, there may be other ways in which I can
be of service. In many old traditions,
we read of battlefield blessings for the warriors, and I would be honoured to
perform that ritual..." He looked
around at the mixed assembly with a small smile. "Strictly non-denominational, of course. But before that, I am instructed to ask
whether there is another service that you might have in mind?" He looked abashed in the confused
silence. "Mrs Grittleton, you
know. She says there are thoughts of
He hunted in
his pockets again and pulled out his stole, draping it over his neck. "I am ready, if you wish it."
help himself. "I beg your pardon?"
Templeman adjusted his spectacles once more.
He stared at Buffy and Angel, looking from one to the other. Both avoided each other's eye, a simple
action that told its own story.
Not for the
first time, Angel felt like a leaf in a stream, carried along by the tide of events.
Damn that interfering Ivy Grittleton. Why was she always right? Buffy's hand crept into his own.
banns," he managed to get out. "The
the reverend. "The early church managed
without any such trappings. And we can
always make those things right, afterwards."
Angel tucked Buffy's hand into his arm, and drew her apart from the others. He kept hold of her hand.
as I might want to be, I'm not a man.
You know that. I still can't
give you children, or a real future.
All I can offer you is a way of life that ends in the prospect of a
violent death. If you're to marry, it
should be to a proper man."
There was a
hiatus, the length of an indrawn breath, and then she slapped him. It wasn't the punch of a Slayer, it was the
open-handed slap of a wounded woman.
Through the ringing in his ears, he heard the separate intakes of breath
further up the field, and wished he'd taken her out of sight.
want this, Angel? Do you want to be
free to leave me someday, when I get too old for you?"
"Never!" He was shocked, and tried to take hold of
her hand again, but she slapped his arm out of the way.
trying to protect me against my will!
Do you think that marriage vows are going to make you disappear into a
cloud of dust?"
"No, of course
mean to keep them?"
This time he
succeeded in pulling her into the circle of his arms. "And thereto I plight thee my troth," he said, softly.
the proper man for me, you idiot."
"Are you sure
you want this, my love? Forever, with
"I'm not like
humans. I... I don't change. I can't.
I am what I am, and can't be anything more."
rubbish. Whoever told you that?" she
asked in astonishment. If ever there
was a man who learned and grew, it was Angel.
He looked down
at the grass. "Cordelia once said
that. But she was right."
snorted. "Cordelia could never see
further than her shoes."
sadly, and pulled her towards him. "She
changed in LA. She really did."
up to him. She repeated his long-past
dream words to him. "Forever, that's
the whole point. Right?"
This time, he
did pull her between the caravans, and kissed her, a kiss filled with passion
and the prospect of terrible loss. Her
kiss matched his own, and she clung to him in that ephemeral moment of privacy.
"I want a
proper wedding, Angel. White dress,
friends and family. You know the sort
"If we live
through this, then we'll do the thing right, my love," he told her, whispering
the words into her ear as she stood with her head against his shoulder. "I promise."
‘if', Angel. And that's a promise,
"Do you think
we'll be joined by three other couples?
Economy of scale?" he asked, as he stroked her hair.
Her answer was
slow in coming, because he kissed her again, until she was out of breath.
"Sure. Giles and Ella..."
forgiven her for not telling him about the faery blood."
her. Even now he'll be blaming himself
for not having worked it out. Ian and
"Do you think
they'll make a go of it?"
they're looking to us as role models, so we'd better shape up."
That made her
giggle. "And the third?"
"Nick and Lisa,
Buffy, it'll be good for them both. And
it will work." He twisted his fingers
around hers. "What about you? Are you ready to go back to them?"
She nodded, and
they returned to the knot of people standing around the priest.
yes, but when we get back. Still, a
blessing now would be nice. We'll
probably need all the help we can get."
As they knelt
facing the priest, he seemed to bethink himself, and he pulled his cross over
his head. "A small courtesy," he said
to Angel with a smile, and held it out to Syroh, who stood close by. "Oh, I'm sorry, are you able to hold this
for me?" Syroh nodded shortly, and took
the cross. "Well, then," said the
reverend, "I shall expect to see you all at St Cyprian's for a thanksgiving
service when you get back. A quite
private one, needless to say."
Syroh gave him
a short little bow. "I fear that we do
not share a deity, priest."
adjusted his spectacles again. "You
know, the Saviour that I believe in harrowed Hell to free the righteous
unbelievers. As I understand it, their
future belief was not a prerequisite. I
think we might all be flexible enough to share a thanksgiving. And a battlefield blessing now, from any benevolently-inclined
deity whose attention we can attract."
Syroh gave him
a thin smile of genuine amusement. "Then
we will be pleased, priest," and the tiny army followed him in kneeling behind
Templeman held his arms up to the skies, "For all those gathered here," he
began, "who are about to hazard their lives for the sake of others, we seek
blessing and absolution..."
As the priest
drew to a close, Giles offered up a small prayer of his own, and he remembered,
with a knowing smile, the scan that Nick had taken of the unconscious Angel's
heart, an organ that was just sitting there, silently waiting. You
never know, he thought, you just
never know. If Angel does this, perhaps he'll have done enough. The next thought was more cynical. Or
maybe the challenges will just keep getting bigger. After all, there aren't enough Champions to go round. He bent to give his own lover a kiss.
"Would I do a
thing like this?"
When the brief
ceremony concluded, there was a subdued murmur of voices, and a general ripple
of hugs and handshakes as the gathering prepared themselves for war.
Ian had a
hurried word with Gavin. "Find a story
to cover for me, will you?"
know you're gone for the first week."
"Thanks. I'm not sure how to take that. And keep an eye on everyone who's left, will
you? I know I'm asking a lot... And Neve's come straight into the frying
pan. She knows nothing. You and Martha will need to help her."
worry. We'll all work together here."
to Kezar, and nodded his head. The
little demon sang to his mate, the gigantic Lola, his song a surprisingly sweet
arpeggio. Lola strode a few yards away
from the gathering, before she answered that arpeggio with a cadenza of her
own. As she sang, she flapped her
stubby little wings.
almost invisible in the night air, started to form around each wing. Her wings fluttered more and more quickly,
throwing the vortices in front of her, where they merged into one, and began to
sparkle in dark reflection of the starlight.
And then, with
a muted roar, a portal opened. Lola
continued to sing, and the portal steadied.
The gathering formed up by twos, with Angel and Buffy, hand in hand, at
their head. Hanging over one shoulder,
Buffy carried the steel bow sent to her by the French detective.
her hand into Giles' arm. "First stop,
Drusilla and her crystal skull," she whispered.
"We don't need
Drusilla, although she'd be handy. But
the crystal skull... Remember the power
of the one the Queen gave you?"
never forget that. If one tiny skull in
the hand of an ordinary human could bring his lover back from the dead, then
what could a human-sized skull do in the hands of a powerful witch? Still, he had to ask.
"What are we
going to do with it?"
must hope that this other Earth is still travelling through the throat of Hell,
and that we can pull it back into the here and now, and close the portal behind
it. At worst, we must close the portal behind
it anyway, and isolate that Earth, cut it off from the ranks of its
sisters. Whichever way, we'd better be
able to work some magic that makes sure the humans, and Acathla and his demons,
are on opposite sides of the portal. I
can't do that without something like the skull."
about good demons? Won't they be on the
wrong side of the portal and stuck in Acathla's Hell?"
eyes stared serenely into his. "If that
happens, we'll have a rescue job to do, won't we? No one said this was going to be a quick in and out, and no one
Behind them, Nick
held Lisa's hand. "Are you sure?" he
it for the world." She raised her
voice, to be heard by those around her.
"Ought but death, guys!"
from the company of friends came back loud and clear. "Ought but death!"
good," approved Reverend Templeman.
"Ruth 1:6. Very good indeed."
Then, with the
barest pause, Angel and Buffy stepped through the portal, followed by Giles and
Ella, Nick and Lisa, Ian and Alice, and Syroh and his warriors, with Matthew in
Templeman looked across to the small group left to watch the portal close
behind their friends. Martha, Gavin, and
Neve stood in isolated silence, while Kezar cooed at Lola.
"Would you all
like to come back to the rectory for a stiff drink? That would seem to be in order, I think."
Martha. "Yes, I think it would. And then there's a lot of work to do. This world will still need them when they
come back, and we have to get everything ready for them. Ready for their return. Because their story isn't finished."
On a day in
early spring, Oz waited in Dieppe for a ferry.
No one seeing the relaxed young man sprawled on a bench in the pale
sunlight would have known that he was impatient to be gone. Already he was long overdue. Martha's son, the unknown Mark, would be at
Southampton, waiting for him.
A lift from
Southampton at least would mean he'd make good time to Westbury. He'd hitched up to the French coast. It was coming via Zambia that had slowed him
down. After his last phone call to
Summerdown House, he'd thought that perhaps it would be useful to bring Xander
along. He'd found Xander working on a
charitable project to build a hospital and a school. Their friend seemed to have found a real peace, and the seeds of
a new relationship with a pretty and vivacious
- and entirely human - relief worker, and so Oz the werewolf had moved
on and left Xander to that peace. He
hoped they'd all concur that he'd done the right thing.
He'd stay in
Westbury just long enough to deliver his latest satchel-load of fragments, and
then it would be full moon. He would go
through the portal, and see what was what, and what he could do to help.
and stood up, as passengers started to board the ferry.
On that same
bright and peaceful day in early spring, Martha sat in the caravan that housed
all the books. All the little pieces of
paper that Oz had brought on his last visit were carefully arranged on the
If these included prophecies about
Angel, she thought, can we make any sense of them now? Or are they too fragmented, too mixed up
with other secret books?
But now that
she knew what they were, that at least was a start. A tall man with strange and beautiful eyes had knocked on the
door of the caravan a week ago, and delivered a leather bag full of
fragments. He'd left with only the
words that the Queen would send more if they could be found. And Oz was coming, with a much larger
Could she find
someone who could make these into a signpost to the future? Perhaps Oz, when he arrived would know
She moved the
tiny charred fragments around a little to see whether any might fit
together. They never had done, no
matter how many times she'd tried, but maybe this time... One read 'lump' and
another 'ill'. Some kind of illness?
Symptoms of an illness, perhaps? A
Another had a name
on it. 'Henry Willis.' There
was a 19th Century artist called John Henry Willis. Had he painted a meaningful
picture, hanging unremarked in a gallery somewhere? Was there an art gallery near Harbledown? She made a mental note to ask Neve, or maybe
Gavin, to have a look at that. Giles
had had a vague idea that a Henry Willis had been something to do with music. Was there some meaningful piece of
music? Maybe someone should look at
But there was
a deep comfort in these fragments. Ella
had said little, but she'd seemed to be certain that these remnants of the
Watchers' Most Secret Library would have information crucial to the future of
the people she loved. She must,
therefore, have known, somewhere in her heart, that they would be back to take
on that future.
another fear that was never far away.
Would her loved ones find Lola's portal, or would they need to search
for another? Were there clues in these
fragments, clues that they ought to know?
And, when they
did get back - when, not if - perhaps Ella would have time to
draw on the power of this ancient land, would reconnect with her magic, and
would be able to find all the rest of the wretched missing pieces. Better
be careful about that, though, Martha thought wryly. It
wouldn't do to weigh down the Earth with the waste paper of several Universes...
Maybe if Giles hadn't been hurt... Maybe if the assassins hadn't come just
yet... Maybe these will tell me whether the people I love will come back safe
and sound. There are a million maybes, she thought, and someone has to start looking at some of them.
swept the fragments back into their envelope and tucked them back into a
drawer. As she did so, Zillah got to
her feet and stepped out of her basket, her kitten hanging onto the teat with
iron determination. Now, there was a
mystery, and no mistake.
Ella had had
Zillah spayed years ago. And yet,
sixty-three days after she'd been thrown from the lightning-struck High Oak,
sixty-three days after the Oak had disgorged Ella, Zillah had given birth to a
single kitten, a ginger tabby boy, just like Aristotle.
watched, the kitten let go its hold, and started to totter around the
floor. It couldn't get into any
mischief, and so Martha let it roam, under the watchful eye of its mother. It disappeared under the bench-cum-bed for a
few minutes too long, and Martha got down on her knees to see what it was up
A pair of battered
slippers had been pushed into a corner, and the kitten was clawing at the
inside of one, exactly as though it was making a nice depression in a litter
tray. She couldn't help laughing when
the kitten squatted and urinated, with a blissful expression on its face.
As she pulled
out both slippers and kitten, she couldn't help remembering how Aristotle had
taken to spraying on Giles' boots just before his... just before that terrible
night when John and Aristotle had died.
She picked up the kitten, and stared at its face, and at the young-old
eyes that stared back.
"If this is
you, Aristotle, back from the dead, we are never going to hear the end of
this. You are going to be impossible to live with!"
blinked and mewed. Fair enough, she thought, and put him back into the basket. I
wonder if John... But there was no
point thinking like that. A rap on the
door stopped her from going down that mental road, and she took the Summerdown
House post from David, the postman, just in time to see Ivy Grittleton stumping
across the field.
"Got time for
a cup of tea, Martha?"
matrons sat in the caravan over tea and toasted teacakes. Ivy glanced out of the window. "They're making good progress on the
work's going well." Martha's response
worried about them, aren't you?"
"Of course I'm
worried about them," she snapped.
you've got some special worries."
that Angel will allow himself to be sacrificed, to spill his blood and be sent
to Hell, so that the portal can be closed.
Again. And that Buffy will do
it. Again. Don't you?"
ask how Ivy knew all this. Ivy would
have been a powerful witch, if she had wanted that. The answer was wrung from her.
Ivy blew on
her tea to cool it a little and then took a sip. "Do you think, if it was all happening over here, that our Angel
and Buffy would allow the other Angel and Buffy to become the sacrifice, to
save the world in their place?"
up at her in surprise. "No! Never."
"And the Angel
and Buffy over there are also our
Angel and Buffy. They've done some
different things this last year or two, but they're the same, yes?"
reason, then. Plain as a
pikestaff. They ain't going to let our Angel and Buffy do anything like
that, to save their world. They'll do it themselves. Our two will only have to make that decision
if the others are dead."
aren't? You know that?"
For the first
time, Ivy sagged a little. "I've got
the sight, Martha, but not for over there."
She straightened herself again.
"And do you think that either Buffy is going to let either Angel go to
"She did last
"Our one will
never do that again. And the other
Buffy? Ain't they been fighting
together in Hell for about a year? Why
would she leave him now? Especially if
our two, and Giles and Ella are there to help get them out. And if she sticks by him, then that will
change the future, just like Neve's dragon wanted."
"Can you see
it, Ivy? Can you see them all come back
safe and sound?"
Martha's hand with her own wrinkled one.
"Not that far ahead, no. But I
feel it. I feel it in my bones. You were right. Their work here isn't done yet.
This Earth knows what she needs to stay safe. That's why she let Ella go.
You mark my words."
her visitor leave with a slightly lighter heart. Ivy greeted someone in the lane.
It was Ricky, heading towards the High Oak. She hadn't seen him go there since Ella's rebirth. The new foliage that had sprouted on the Oak
that night had withered and died, but she'd noticed this morning that it was
once more covered in fresh young leaves.
Oak before ash, in for a splash,
she thought automatically, as a farmer's daughter. It was definitely before the ash. In fact, it was several weeks too early. And now Ricky was going there. Was he going to listen to someone?
on the doorstep and mewed, but then she looked back at her kitten and
stayed. A rustling in the bushes at the
bottom of the field told Martha that Lola and Kezar were ready for a good meal. They deserved it. Every night, Lola would open a portal, and keep it open for as
long as she dared, for as long as she could detect nothing hostile on the other
side. Martha prayed she wouldn't have
to do that for much longer.
something in the spring air, something stirring. She could smell it in her soul, and she made a sudden resolve to
restock the larder. They'd be hungry
when they got back...
turned to the pile of letters on the table.
Bills, circulars, cases for Project Paranormal to look at, applications
for student placement opportunities.
Life certainly went on.
The last one
made her stare before she slipped the letter opener into it. It was addressed to Angel personally. He almost never had post, and she didn't
recognise the handwriting. But, he'd
told her to open everything, and so she did.
for her handkerchief as she read the opening of the letter, and tears welled up
in her eyes.
goodness..." This was one letter that must
certainly get a reply.
‘Dear Dad,' it began.
It has been my
pleasure and my privilege to be allowed to contribute stories to this wonderful
Dark Star. We'll all miss Project
sing of arms and the man
I sing of arms
and the man who first from the shores of Troy came destined an exile to Italy
and the Lavinian beaches, a man much buffeted on land and on the deep by force
of the gods because of fierce Juno's never-forgetting anger.
Aeneid bk. 1, l. 1
is the way
Easy is the
way down to the Underworld: by night and by day dark Hades' door stands open;
but to retrace one's steps and to make a way out to the upper air, that's the
task, that is the labour.
Aeneid bk. 6, l. 126
3 Through me is the way
Through me is the way to the sorrowful
city. Through me is the way to eternal suffering. Through me is the way to join
the lost people. Abandon all hope, you who enter!
Divina Commedia Inferno canto 3, l. 1
(inscription at the entrance to Hell)
I'll come to thee by
Look for me by moonlight;
Watch for me by moonlight;
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though
hell should bar the way!
The Highwayman (1907)
The end of the
19th Century, and the cultural age that prevailed, particularly in
Age, from the late 19th Century to the beginning of World War 1.
Intreat me not
to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest,
I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people,
and thy God my God:
diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more
also, if ought but death part thee and me.
Ruth ch. 1, v. 16
King James Version
and the Underworld
intimately associated with the Underworld.
Band of Thebes
ash, in for a splash; ash before oak, in for a soak. Refers to which of the two trees comes into leaf first, and how
that predicts the weather (or not).