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Fortitude

Project Paranormal

Author: Ares

Season 4

Part 3

 

**

 

Summary:  Mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously can be found everywhere.

 

**

 

Fortitude

 

 

Nick was looking forward to their night out. The club Paul had suggested was promising to be interesting.  Although his tastes ran to more subdued surroundings, Nick was willing to try new things. Besides, a nightclub wasn’t too far from the norm. He and Paul had been out on three previous occasions, each one out of the ordinary for the orthopaedic surgeon. Their first date had been the theatre, one of those nouveau stage productions that couldn’t possibly be called art and was more like an excuse for nudity. A mime would have spoken more words than the pallid actors strutting about, their genitalia dangling and jiggling on stage. Their second night out had been far from quiet. They had gone to a show. Some rock band for goodness sake! Nick felt as if he had lost the ability to hear a range of decibels, and he rather doubted he would get them back. Dinner had been next on the agenda. Nothing wrong with eating, right? He had been wrong. The food had been inedible as far as Nick and Paul had been concerned. The food touted as organic was nothing more than raw vegetables, flowers, and fungi pureed into a horrid glutinous mass, with the odd petal decorating the finished product. He and Paul had left in disgust and had found a pub that served a decent meal.

 

Paul was a few years younger than Nick, attractive, and dark-haired. The man was fun to be with, even if his tastes were unusual. Nick thought Paul was trying too hard, he hoped, because if the few times they had been out were the measure of the man, Nick could see himself terminating the relationship. However, here they were outside the club aptly named The Crypt. The theme? Dracula, Transylvania, and of course, vampires.  There was the attraction right there for Nick. Thinking of the real thing, Nick followed Paul inside.

 

+++

 

 

Giles and Buffy were in Kent, Royal Tunbridge Wells to be exact, one of only two towns in England to be granted this honour, according to Giles. And according to him, the locals never used the word ‘royal’. The town would be lovely, she thought, in the summer. With the inhabitants huddling in their winter coats, and the day dreary, the town had appeared washed out and grey when they arrived. She had been unfair to Tunbridge Wells. Giles had taken her out for a drive before their meal that evening - it was dark so early and they had time to kill - and she had been enchanted with the beauty of the Christmas lights. Tunbridge Wells was a luminous fairyland in the December night.

 

Buffy was worried about Angel. The last few months had been very trying for all of them, but especially for him, although Angel would be the first to dismiss that fact. His first concern had been for Buffy and Giles and how they were, after they had sent Angelus back to his reality. Scratch that, she thought, her heart aching, it had been Angel, the newly ensouled Angelus they had sent back. She wondered how he was doing, and how he was coping. Would he be successful in bringing down Acathla? Would he survive the demon retaliation? Would he survive the human retribution that was sure to follow? She sincerely hoped so, and in her heart she said a little prayer for him. A part of her yearned to help him with his task but she knew that it was the love she felt for her own Angel that initiated it. Still, when she and the other Angel had said goodbye, a small piece of her heart gone with him…

 

 

It was time to go.

 

“Buffy.” The newly ensouled Angelus could barely meet her eyes. His gaze skittered away like a frightened kitten and came back again to lock on her face, her form, and to drink her in like mother’s milk. It was as if he would die from the lack.

 

“Angel,” Buffy whispered, bringing a hand to his lips. She felt the slightest of pressure against her fingers and she let her fingers linger there a moment before dropping her hand. He was like a drowning man clutching at the thing that would save his life.

 

“I’m sorry,” he said for the umpteenth time in the last two weeks.

 

Buffy didn’t know if he was ready to step back into his own reality, but he had to be. Back to a reality that included Acathla, the demon he had called forth as Angelus. He had been loath to step from his room the first week he spent under Giles’ roof, and the others had given him time.

 

It was Angel who had breached his door, daily, bringing the other vampire his food. Angel did not initiate conversation. He allowed the other vampire to keep his silence but by showing up each day gave the other a chance to talk. And eventually he had. What passed between them stayed between them. Buffy knew better than to ask, and Angel appreciated her gesture. He did share moments of his own guilt and remorse with her, things he hadn’t shared when he had been returned to Sunnydale. It was enough. Buffy understood.

 

When the alternate version of Angel had found the courage to face Giles and Buffy he emerged from his room. Buffy made the first move by asking him if he wanted to help her with her Tai chi. Her lover smiled at her as she led the other Angel away. Buffy had remembered how practising the martial art had helped centre him, and still did, when he was on edge.

 

“I’m sorry, too,” she said, and she was. Here but for the Grace of God…

 

Looking at his haunted eyes, Buffy thought about how wild and feral her Angel had been when returned from Hell, and how haunted his eyes had become when he had come back to himself. These were the same eyes looking back at her, and Buffy knew that this Angel would gladly exchange his life for his Buffy’s in a heartbeat. It was not to be. It could never be. Feeling as if her heart were breaking, Buffy stepped forward and wrapped her small arms about him. It was several heartbeats before his arms enveloped her. She murmured something in his ear, and when he tried to pull away, startled, her arms tightened around him, holding him to her. She felt him groan, and a tear worked its way from her eye and travelled down her cheek.

 

She whispered, “It wasn’t you, Angel, it wasn’t you. She would give her life for yours…I know that. Make her proud, and don’t waste it.”

 

When he finally released her, Buffy brought his head down and gave him a kiss. Cool tears had mingled with her warm ones before she broke away.

 

There was loss, longing, and guilt in his dark tear-filled eyes, and Buffy could see determination, too, staring back at her. She swiped at her eyes, her smile a little wobbly.

 

“Good luck,” she said, her voice thick with tears.

 

Running a hand across his face, Angel’s alternate managed to say, “Thank you.”

 

And when she opened the door to lead the way to where Angel and Giles were waiting, Buffy thought she heard the softest whisper, “I love you.” Her steps did not falter. She would allow him that. 

 

 

“Buffy? Is something wrong with your meal?”

 

Buffy came out of her reverie to see Giles looking at her with concern.

 

“No, the food is divine,” she assured him, and it was. It was a pity her appetite had vanished along with her recollections. She blinked back the moisture that had arrived along with her memories, and looked away at her surroundings to give her time to recover her composure.

 

They were sitting in a restaurant in a place called the Pantiles. The Pantiles was a collection of shops, cafes, pubs, and restaurants where once it had been a colonnaded walkway, visited by the Georgian gentry in days gone by, according to Giles. The discovery of the spa, the Chalybeate Spring, had drawn the rich and royal to its waters and hence the eventual construction of the Pantiles in the eighteenth century.

 

The beautiful restaurant they were dining in was called Woods. The walls were painted in a butternut yellow, and the lighting displayed the colour to stunning effect. There were two floors, the second was a set of balconies really, hugging the walls and overlooking the main dining room. Wooden tables, highly polished, dotted the floor, and Giles and Buffy sat at one that was positioned against a wall, eating their meal. The restaurant offered a fine menu of Christmas fare. Buffy had ordered the roast turkey – it reminded her of her mother’s Christmas meals – stuffed with hazelnut and cranberry, with chipolatas and bacon, and vegetables. The chipolata sausages were new to her. She was sure her mother never used those in her stuffing.

 

“What about you, Giles? How is your meal?”

 

Giles dined on mutton stew with rosemary and orange and of course the seasonal roast vegetables.

 

“Lovely,” he said, between mouthfuls. “Martha would whole-heartedly approve.”

 

Buffy’s mood lifted a little at that. “Martha is simply bursting with happiness, don’t you think?” she asked Giles.

 

He smiled his agreement. “Martha and John: grandparents. I can’t believe it. Their visit to their daughter was unexpected, as was their daughter’s wonderful news. When the babe is born we may see a little less of them.”

 

“But we can manage, right?” Buffy managed a few more bites of her meal. “This place is amazing, Giles. How did you find it?” She stared around the room.

 

“It’s pretty famous, actually.” Giles proceeded to inform her the Chalybeate Spring had been discovered four hundred years ago by a young nobleman by the name of Dudley, Lord North. He had found the spring by accident and after drinking the iron-rich water found himself invigorated after a night of carousing. Word spread, by North himself at first, and the rest was history. 

 

“And the spring is here?” Buffy asked Giles when he had finished lecturing. She had managed to eat a little more of her meal and, suddenly, she found she had drunk her glass of wine.

 

“The Pantiles incorporates the spring, yes, but unfortunately the spring is only open from Easter to September.”

 

There went that idea. Buffy looked about again. She was unsettled and she knew it was because she was worried about Angel. She wondered again how he was coping. He was heading for London on another case, and she wished she was with him. But he had been insistent that she and Giles carry on with their own mystery to solve. Besides, if what Nick suspected to be true, then Angel thought he was the vampire for the job. He had issues, and he needed to act on those issues. She could almost feel sorry for those on the receiving end of his ire.

 

“Buffy?”

 

She turned to look at her friend. He wore a worried frown.

 

“I’m alright, Giles. Just tired. I’d like to go to bed.”

 

The frown disappeared but the worry stayed in his eyes.

 

“He’ll be fine, Buffy.” Giles polished off the last of his stew.  “Let’s go, shall we?”

 

Giles caught the eye of a waiter, and signalled for the bill.

 

+++

 

The neon advertising was too bright and garish to his light-sensitive eyes. He knew it was a sign of modern times, and that the signs were recognised world-wide. Tourists were staring at the building that stood at the corner of Shaftsbury Avenue and Glasshouse Street, and the neon signs adorning it. They didn’t know he was there as he negotiated round them, slipping by unnoticed down Regent Street, leaving behind him Piccadilly Circus and the winged statue misnamed Eros all those years ago. A different light greeted the vampire as he walked down the street. Lighted banners spanned the road, attached to buildings either side of the street, high enough to not impede traffic, and close enough for everyone to enjoy the festive decorations that celebrated Christmas.

 

He turned into another road and a little way along he came across the club he was looking for. A crowd was milling about outside, some were waiting to go in, and others were leaving. Not everybody’s cup of tea, then, he thought, and wondered when he had begun to sound like Giles. His senses latched on to a familiar scent and, turning his head, caught sight of Nick trying to slink out of sight. Before the surgeon had taken another step, Angel was in front of him, blocking his way.

 

“You shouldn’t be here.”

 

Nick had been told by Angel to stay away. Angel didn’t want Nick in harm’s way. Giles had lost enough friends over the years and Angel wasn’t intending for him to lose another. Besides, he liked the guy.

 

“I’m sorry, Angel.” Nick wasn’t sorry. He wanted to see the vampire, and he wanted to see what Angel would do if what he suspected about the club turned out to be true. Angel held a fascination for him, on more than one level.

 

“I…” he didn’t know what to say. He was rescued from saying anything more when Angel said, “I suppose there isn’t anything I can say to dissuade you, is there?”

 

“Not really.”

 

Nick’s heart thumped an extra few beats when Angel smiled at him.

 

“Do as I say, and don’t get in the way. Try to stay out of trouble.” Angel fumbled in his pocket and produced a wooden stake. He placed it in Nick’s hand. “Here. Use this if you must. Aim for the heart if a vampire comes near.”

 

“How will I know it’s a vampire?” he asked.

 

Angel moved his hand and made a circling motion about his face.

 

“You’ll know,” he replied.

 

Nick was starting to wish he had stayed home. What had seemed like an adventure was now looking as though it could turn nasty and dangerous. But with Angel expecting him to hold his own he couldn’t back down.

 

Besides, Angel was looking good in his all black attire and his long black jacket.

 

Instead, trying to hide his growing doubt, he said, “I thought you chaps wore dinner jackets and capes.”

 

Angel stared at him a long moment. “Did anyone tell you you’re a funny guy?”

 

Nick chuckled. “They have, actually. Shall we go in?” he asked, gesturing for Angel to step to the door.

 

Stepping into The Crypt was like stepping into a cheesy vampire movie. Angel cringed at the fake cobwebs, the fake bones and skeletons adorning the bar and walls, and the fake costumes of the bar staff. He ignored the glasses of fake blood, they were filled with tomato juice, he could smell it. With Nick beside him at the bar, they ordered a whisky each. Angel looked about and spied an empty table in a relatively quiet corner. He steered Nick towards it, drinks in hand. The club had a dance floor and it was alive with gyrating vampire wannabes. Angel sat with his back to the wall, and, sipping his drink, let his gaze wander.

 

Nick, too, watched the people in the club, trying to find anyone that looked like a real vampire. In the low-lit gloom of the club he was finding it difficult. He ignored the Draculas in suits, the Morticias that lurked, and the Goths that posed and strutted. The faces he could see were covered with pale makeup. He turned to eye the vampire beside him. Angel’s skin was marble-like, almost luminous by the light of the fake candle sitting on the table. With his dark hair emphasizing the pallor of his skin, Angel’s eyes were dark hollows in his pale landscape of flesh.  And not for the first time did Nick think Angel a beautiful man. He wondered what they looked like to the others in the club. Did anyone else notice the unearthly beauty sitting beside him?

 

Nick found Angel staring back at him.

 

“Have you seen anyone that looks familiar?”

 

The surgeon shook his head. “Sorry. Maybe if I moved about…”

 

“No, you stay here. I’m going to…mingle.” Angel was going to say hunt, and thought better of it. After all, he had been no better than those he hunted, once upon a time.

 

Nick watched as Angel slipped into the crowd. His eyes tracked Angel’s movements as he wandered about the room. Angel was heading for the dance floor, and Nick was staring in rapt admiration at the gracefulness of the man. It was as if Angel flowed between the dancers. Bodies, flushed from the dance, made way for him as if they recognised a superior force coming their way. They parted for him, and he slid by, untouched by all as far as Nick could see. It was as if Angel moved in slow motion but Giles’ lifelong friend knew that that was not the case. He couldn’t quite understand the dynamics of it. Soon, the vampire was lost in the gloom, and Nick’s human sight was unable to follow.

 

When Nick had visited the club with his friend Paul he had been expecting to see the usual representation that vampire novels engendered. He hadn’t been disappointed. There were bats, bones, coffins, and Dracula posters everywhere. He glanced down at the coffin embedded in the floor. A Perspex insert in the floor allowed one to see the fake corpse lying there, fake blood trickling from the fangs of the fake vampire. Well, not all were misconceptions. Mind you, he couldn’t blame the rest of the uninformed public. He had first-hand knowledge that vampires existed, and, he knew for a fact Angel didn’t sleep in a coffin. At least, he didn’t think so. Besides, he couldn’t imagine Buffy sleeping in a coffin…which brought forth a disturbing image in his head. He gave himself a mental shake.

 

Vampires were dead, yes, a walking-around-no-heartbeat dead, and they did feed on humans. It had been explained to him, and to Ian and Lisa, that Angel had a soul, and with a soul he had a conscience. He wouldn’t hurt them. They had been warned that vampires were killers and were told not to approach any they might encounter, however remote that possibility may be. That brought another question to his mind, one that had lodged there after he had been allowed into the world of a real vampire. Angel was different from other vampires. He did not kill humans, but had he once?

 

+++

 

Nick had been looking really hard at the people who thronged the club the night he and Paul had visited, searching for anyone, or anything, that moved or looked at all like a vampire would. When Paul excused himself to use the men’s room, Nick had taken the opportunity to wander about, and, because he had been studying the crowd, had glimpsed what he thought was a real vampire leading a young woman, in an amazing red dress, toward the exit. There was something about the way the man moved, his hand on the small of the woman’s back, and the way he smiled. Nick had followed, and by the time he opened the door, there was no sign of either the young woman or the man that had been with her outside. Thinking he had been mistaken, he had retreated back inside to find his date. A slight touch to his elbow had him glancing over his shoulder to catch sight of a woman, the twist of her bright ruby lips in a knowing smile, disappearing from his view. The surgeon knew that these were not mere mortals playing at being undead, these were the real thing.

 

+++

 

Slipping past numerous costumed patrons, Angel hunted. Body heat and pheromones washed over him and beneath it all was the thundering of hearts beating, pumping gallons of life-giving blood through thousands of feet of veins and arteries. It was a vampire’s banquet, and he wasn’t salivating, he told himself. But who was he kidding? His fangs itched, and his demon was edging closer to the surface. He kept moving, and Angel recalled another time and another place where the young and foolish thought that vampires were cool. They had called them the Lonely Ones. And now, another continent away, people were still under the delusion that it was cool to be a vampire, or at least, to worship what they represented.

 

Navigating to the rear of the club, Angel smelled blood from a wound, several wounds, in fact. Passing by a set of secluded comfortable chairs and tables, Angel sensed another vampire near by. Turning his head he caught sight of a beautiful woman, pale, dark-haired and dark of eye on the arm of a handsome man. She noticed his interest and nodded to him in recognition. Before he had taken a step in her direction three humans approached her and the vampire with her. Angel looked on as the two vampires settled onto the seating, the people with them selecting their own chairs. The human male in the group sat with the vampires as if he belonged with them and not the two women with him. The look on his face spoke of superiority and smugness. Angel sank back into the shadows and, taking a gamble that the vampires would be in their seats for a while, with vampire speed made his way back to Nick.

 

The surgeon blinked at his sudden appearance.

 

“Two vampires at the rear of the club. Keep your eyes open, and stay here,” and with that he disappeared again, leaving Nick blinking after him and gripping tight the stake in his pocket.

 

The vampires were where Angel left them, being fawned over by their groupies. Angel picked up an unoccupied chair and placed it with the group. He sat uninvited, and the two women turned to look at him, the male, glaring, wondering who else vied for the vampires’ attention.

 

Ruby lips parted in a face as pale as death. “We haven’t seen you here before. New in town?”

 

Angel smiled grimly. “Not really.”

 

“What’s your name, stranger?” the vampire beside her asked, a frown marring his handsome brow.

 

“You first.”

 

“Cato, and this is Felicia.”

 

“Cato the wise?” Angel queried with a lift of his brow.

 

“You know your Latin,” Cato replied.

 

Felicia said, “You haven’t told us your name.”

 

“Angelus.”

 

“Ah. You’ve made quite a name for yourself,” the blond vampire said, and for a moment Angel wondered if they were talking about his past exploits or Angelus’ recent ones.

 

“I haven’t heard the same about you,” Angel countered.

 

Felicia’s bright-red lips smiled at him while her dark eyes appraised him.

 

“There’s always room for another,” she said.

 

“And this is what, exactly?” he asked.

 

The woman sitting closest to Angel dared to speak, her blue gaze never leaving Angel’s face. She and her companions, having realised that Angel was a vampire, were staring at him with interest and a little adoration.

 

“Our Lady and Her Consort choose to lead us into the night. It is a great honour they bestow on us.”

 

“How does that work?” Angel asked, without so much as glancing at the woman. His focus was on the two vampires and the man beside them.

 

“Whoever serves us well,” Cato said, a wicked gleam in his eyes.

 

Angel’s gaze slid over to appraise the three humans. The humans wore clothing that left a tantalising glimpse of neck. Angel could see their flesh was without bruising or teeth marks. He hazarded a guess that their arms and other body parts wouldn’t be as pristine. The odour of blood permeated his finely tuned senses.

 

“Willing?” he asked with a raised brow.

 

The young man, his dark skin at odds with the rest of the group, said, “Of course.  Not everybody is granted immortality. We have to make sure that only the right people get to live forever.”

 

“We’re dead,” Angel replied, confirming what he was, thinking that the young man thought he held a position of power, that he was the one deciding who lived and who died. He had seen his like before, had, in fact, used men and women of his like before. It was a game played by vampires, finding willing humans…

 

“But you’re young and beautiful for eternity,” said the brown-haired girl, her eyes raking over Angel’s form. “It doesn’t matter that you are dead.”

 

Behind him, Angel felt the sudden presence of more vampires.

 

“Ah! The others have arrived.” Cato said, offering his hand to Felicia, both rising to their feet.

 

Angel allowed a smirk to crawl across his lips, the twist of his lips worthy of Angelus. He pitched his voice low so only the vampires could hear him.

 

“Let me guess. The patrons in this club are just fodder…”

 

Felicia’s lips widened in a smile, and Angel could see the bloodlust rising in her eyes.

 

“The humans here are fair game. Nathaniel,” she nodded at the man beside her, while stepping closer to Angel, “and his followers are allowed to live…for now.”

 

“And when they are no longer of value?” Angel asked her.

 

Felicia’s smile turned feral and there was a hint of fang. “We have plans for Nathaniel, his minions won’t be so lucky.”

 

Cato, who had been listening, laughed. “Tonight there is quite the crowd, and a few people will not be missed. Help yourself. Never let it be said that we aren’t generous.”

 

Quickly assessing the number of vampires, Angel could see there were four moving away from them and into the crowded dance floor. Cato ordered Nathaniel and his friends to sit and wait before leading Felicia back into the crowd.

 

Angel leaned over the three humans. “Do you know what is going to happen here? People are going to die.”

 

“Who cares?” Nathaniel shrugged his shoulders, and the women nodded.

 

Blue eyes said, “You don’t, you’re one of them.”

 

Angel bit off a curse. They were the lowest form of human, willing to let others die for their own benefit. And yet, who was he to condemn?  How many thousands of deaths did he have on his hands? He spun around, and, with a swirl of his jacket, stalked after the vampires. 

 

Disengaging the vampire’s hand from a woman’s shoulder, Angel yanked the vampire aside before the woman realised what was going on. When she looked back all she saw were two men disappearing into the gloom of the club. Angel staked the vampire as it struggled to break free. The dust hadn’t settled before he was off after the next one. Unfortunately, his target was on the dance floor, gyrating with a young man, the vampire’s hands were all over the boy. Angel slid by the couple, snagging the vampire’s arm as he did so and dragging her away.

 

She spat at him, struggling against him. “He’s mine!”

 

“I don’t think so,” he said, deflecting her clawed hands from his face. Their struggle caught the attention of people nearby and they tried to interfere.

 

“Leave her alone!” he heard a woman say, and some one put a hand on his arm.

 

The vampire took advantage of the misunderstanding. “Please make him stop! He’s hurting me!” she wailed, feigning terror.

 

 

Nick’s gaze was riveted on the edge of the dance floor where he could see Angel and the woman he had his hands on, presumably a vampire. He got to his feet when the couple beside Angel tried to intervene. He didn’t know if it was the distance to the dance floor, or Angel’s faster-than-human reflexes, but he didn’t see the blow that killed the vampire, all he saw was the woman disappearing in a shower of dust. Pandemonium broke out. A woman screamed, and the man with her lunged away from the falling ash. People surged off the floor and tried to make their way to the exits. Nick avoided those that ran by him, staring as two men attacked Angel from behind. His heart almost stopped when he saw Angel go down. Nick ran down to the dance floor, to do what, he didn’t really know, his stake clutched in his hand. He was in time to see Angel push his attackers off him and lay into them with punishing blows. The men’s faces were horribly disfigured and Nick recognised the face of the vampire. Nick stood mesmerized. Angel moved with such grace, he was poetry in motion. Nick was reminded of a panther. Angel’s every movement was fluid, was calculated, and deadly. It was quick. Angel must have had stakes up his sleeves because, suddenly, the vampires were dust. Nick barely had time to see his friend turn and disappear into the shadowy depths of the club before he was jerked around by a very strong arm. He looked into the amber eyes of evil. As jagged teeth lunged for his throat Nick brought his stake up and, thrusting as hard as he could, he jammed it into the heart of the beast. It disintegrated in a shower of ash, surprise written on its dissolving face. His own heart drumming fit to burst, Nick stepped back, amazed that he had had the strength to slam a piece of wood through muscle and bone, and that he had survived. His legs betrayed him, then, and he had to find a chair. Nick sat there, trembling a little, as the club cleared. Of Angel there was no sign.

 

++++

 

It was cold, standing outdoors on a December day. Buffy, wrapped up in the big coat Angel had bought her last winter, with gloves to keep her fingers from freezing, a scarf about her neck to stop a chill, and a hat that blessedly kept her head warm - even if she didn’t think it was a good look on her - wondered, if she had to pull her stake out of her pocket would she fumble and drop it with her woollen-clad hands?

 

She heaved a big sigh and stared in the window of the shop that was closed for the season.  They had stayed at the Swan Hotel the previous night, conveniently situated at the Pantiles and near the restaurant they had chosen to have their evening meal. The Swan boasted four-poster beds in some rooms and Buffy wanted to share one with Angel. She had heard from him, he was safe, and if she didn’t know better, was enjoying his stay in London. She hoped the mopping up he said he had to do didn’t take too much more of his time.

 

“Will you come along, Buffy,” Giles grumbled as he led the way into the abbey’s grounds.

 

Bayham Abbey was nestled in a very green valley of the River Teise, in the heart of the Weald. Weald, now there’s a word Buffy hadn’t heard before. When she had asked Giles on the drive from Westbury, he had said weald originally came from the Germanic word wald, meaning wilderness or forest, and the name Andredesweald, the Saxons of the ninth century had called the forest of Andred, was an example. Giles had gone on to say that some people thought the area contained some of the prettiest countryside in England. Buffy had zoned out after that. Her mind had seized on Saxons in the ninth century, imagining great hairy brutes wielding axes and ravaging fair young maidens in their daily pursuit of being warriors of their time. What was it about men with weapons that drew her, she thought with a wry smile?

 

And the Weald, as Giles put it, was beautiful. The rolling hills and wooded areas - some less green than others with their bare branches of leafless trees - and pastures and hedges, and quaint little villages were straight off a chocolate box, Buffy thought. The drive to the old abbey was a relatively short one, and the abbey itself was surrounded by green meadows and a few trees.

 

Following along after Giles, Buffy noticed a helicopter sounding overhead: its blades thumping a beat as it passed by, secure in the knowledge that although it was an ungainly machine, its triumph over gravity was complete. Looking skyward, Buffy tried to guess where the aircraft was going and who was lucky enough to do so.

 

When Buffy brought her head down she stood still with shock. The ruins of the abbey were magnificent, and crumbling, with a haunting beauty. It was the many multicoloured figures standing about that had grabbed her attention, though. She opened her mouth, and the cloud of condensation issuing from her warm throat presaged her exclamation!

 

“Gnomes? We’re here to…what? Exorcise gnomes from an old abbey?”

 

Giles turned back to face her. He, too, had been staring at the figurines.

 

“Elementals, Buffy,” he said.

 

She sputtered. “Elementals? These are plain old garden gnomes.” She stalked over to one and gave it a kick. It fell over on its side. It was still ugly. She turned back to glare at her friend. “I thought we were here to look into something supernatural, not some joker stealing gnomes and leaving them here? Isn’t that what people do? Steal gnomes and send them goodness knows where?” She turned her glare on the gnomes about her feet. “It looks like they send them here, there are so many of them.”

 

“We are, Buffy.” Giles got that look in his eye, staring at her. The look that was part exasperation, part annoyance, and, for the most part, a whole lot of patience.

 

“The grounds-keeper has assured us that this is no ordinary prank.”

 

“And where is this person?” Buffy asked, making a show at looking about.

 

For a ruin, the abbey was certainly spectacular. Buffy forgot her crankiness and, stepping past the army of little bearded men, ventured into the ruins. She didn’t hear Giles’ weary sigh behind her, but he followed her, anyway.

 

The ruins went on forever, it seemed to her. Buffy couldn’t believe there was so much stone and no roof over her head. Roofs were the first to go, apparently.  Giles behind her was saying something about transept this, and chapter house that, but she wasn’t really listening. There were tall windows standing almost on their own, with barely enough stone to cobble the open spaces together. Archways formed corridors and sometimes just stood in a row like soldiers on parade. One particular wall was practically air alone, so tall that the sky seemed in reach, with its curved support of ancient rock. And in and amongst the walls and windows and arches, were hundreds of gnomes, all staring at her, and Buffy felt creeped out. There was an eerie feel to the place. She said so.

 

“There’s something funny going on.”

 

“Obviously,” he said, indicating with a spread of his arms the small statues.

 

“Not that…I can feel something and its sending shivers up my spine.” Buffy rubbed her arms as if any heat she generated would warm the chill in her back.

 

“Do you feel a ghostly presence? There have been reports of ghosts, long dead monks who haunt these ruins. It is claimed that one can hear chanting, and sometimes the smell of incense permeates the air.”

 

“Maybe…” Buffy said absently, her slayer senses on alert trying to focus on the cause of her unease. “Shouldn’t we be investigating that? Wait! Do ghosts go about kidnapping gnomes?”

 

“I’m sorry, Buffy, the grounds-keeper, a Mr Talbot, wasn’t able to meet us. He could have opened up the Dower House and we could discuss the abbey’s problem in warmer surroundings.”

 

“You said this was a problem with elementals. You knew about the gnomes,” she accused him.

 

“Gnomes are elementals, the real gnomes, I mean. You’ve met the Knockers, they live in mines, below the earth. Gnomes are somewhat similar in nature and stature. They represent the earth elements. They can be valuable allies but make a powerful enemy.” He looked about. “I hadn’t realised there were so many.”

 

Buffy began to move in an effort to pinpoint where exactly her disquiet originated from. “So…all we need to do is to find the reason why these elementals have decided to congregate here. Maybe they’re pissed off at something?”

 

Giles let out a chuckle and stepped after her. “Buffy, these gnomes are just the usual garden variety ornament. I am talking about the real gnomes.”

 

Buffy stopped and stared at him.

 

“Isn’t that what I said when we first got here?”

 

Giles, avoiding her eyes and refusing to answer her, said, instead, “When Talbot rang me to ask us to investigate, I thought it was the elementals we had a problem with. Not garden ornaments. But I see that I may have jumped to the wrong conclusion,” he ended with an apologetic smile.

 

Buffy was confused. “Huh? Elementals aren’t involved? Why have you changed your mind?”

 

“Talbot reported only a dozen or more garden gnomes. There are hundreds here today. I can’t see any reason for that many elementals to be in one place.”

 

Buffy wasn’t so sure, now that Giles had admitted she could have been right all along. There was something...

 

“Can you find out?”

 

“Yes. Quite!” Giles left her in the ruins and made his way back to the car.

 

While Giles was off getting his books and supplies Buffy continued to wander about. Beneath an archway sat quite a crowd of gnomes. There were dozens, all looking inwards. Buffy stepped about them carefully and looked in to see what the silent figures were staring at. There were shadows lurking inside the north transept, and nothing more. Buffy shivered again, and, ignoring the feeling of some one walking over her grave, continued into the dark space. On the other side of the ruin more gnomes sat, staring at her.

 

Crouching down to study them, she said, “What are you trying to tell me?”

 

A tingling in her spine had her standing up fast. Buffy tensed in a fighting stance but when she peered about there was no sign of a threat anywhere. Still, Buffy was uneasy. Her slayer senses did not warn her of danger for no reason. She turned and walked the few steps back.

 

She could see Giles marching back from the car and she called out and waved to him over.

 

“I think this spot is important,” she said when he arrived.

 

He nodded. He could see she was right by the number of gnomes about her feet. Buffy moved away from Giles to give him room to do his stuff. He opened his book to find the spell of Summoning.

 

“What, no herbs or smelly stuff?” she asked him.

 

“Not necessary when invoking an elemental…” he looked about, “or rather, elementals.”

 

Buffy let him work, and soon Giles was reciting Latin. What’s with these old dead languages? she thought, as she watched him and the gnomes. Angel was able to rattle off Ancient Greek, Latin, Sumerian, for all she knew, let alone a multitude of other languages still spoken in the world. Giles was the same. His tongue could wrap around dead languages with the best of them. And here she was with only a smattering of Italian.

 

It was a minute before she realised that Giles had stopped speaking.

 

“Where are the elementals?”

 

Giles looked about, his eyebrows raised with surprise. “The summoning should have worked. I don’t know what I did wrong, if I did anything wrong.” Giles looked down at the page he had opened. “The spell I used is the correct one.”

 

“Maybe there’s a crossed line or something,” Buffy offered.

 

“Mmm…” Giles frowned. What was going on here? he thought to himself. He was sure his Latin wasn’t rusty…”You could be right, Buffy,” is what he said, “although, it’s highly unlikely.”

 

“Willow was always getting her spells crossed. Perhaps it’s this place. Maybe it’s making the spell go wonky.”

 

“I hope not. I’d not like to think what my spell could invoke,” he replied, snapping his book shut.

 

“You’re not going to try again?” she asked, and, feeling as if a blanket full of icy water had just enveloped her, began to pace to warm up. She hugged herself tight to keep warm. Giles, she noticed, was stamping his feet. His tolerance for the cold was higher than hers so she knew that she wasn’t being a baby about the weather. 

 

“I don’t see…I do believe we should go back to the car. The weather has turned rather inclement.”

 

“You think…” she began, when she spied a man watching them from the corner of her eye. She turned to look but the figure had disappeared.

 

“Giles. Did you see a man over there?”

 

Her Watcher’s eyes followed the direction her gloved fingers were pointing.

 

“Was there some one there?”

 

Just then the man materialised. He was dressed in a habit, a monk’s habit, except it was white. Buffy thought monks wore brown homespun cloth.

 

“Do you see him Giles?”

 

Giles squinted at where Buffy pointed. There was something there…quite indistinct but definitely something.

 

“I believe so,” and just then the figure appeared to solidify. Giles was able to see him quite well.

 

“I think this is one of the ghosts you were talking about, Giles. Why is it wearing white? Is it because it’s a Casper?”

 

Giles stifled a chuckle. “No… the monks belonged to the Premonstratensian order. They were Augustinian canons who wore white habits. They were called the White Canons because of their dress.”

 

“The Premonition who?”

 

Just then, the Englishman saw the apparition’s mouth open and close as if he were speaking, but he heard no sound.

 

Buffy, however, appearing to hear his words, asked, “Here?”

 

The long-dead monk raised his hand to indicate the transept. He uttered more silent words.

 

“They are?” she said, looking at the garden gnomes in wide-eyed amazement.

 

“What is it, Buffy?” Giles asked.

 

Buffy waved her hand at him as if to shush him. She was concentrating on the monk’s message. “We need to seal it? How long before they fail? Today? Tonight? Any hour now?  Okay. Thanks, I think.”

 

As if the effort of communicating to the living had exhausted him, the monk faded away, taking with him the wet blanket of icy air. Buffy and Giles shivered at the sudden return of ordinary cold. It was almost warm, compared.

 

Buffy looped her arm about Giles’ and started leading him away.

 

Mind on strategy, she began to give orders. “Giles, we need weapons. My sword and your crossbow, although I suggest you grab a sword as well. Did we bring an axe?”

 

“Hang on a minute, Buffy.” He dug his toes in and tried not to budge. It was difficult to do with slayer strength against him. “What is it, exactly, that we are doing?”

 

Smiling sheepishly, Buffy explained, “You were right about the elementals, Giles, they are involved in this. It was they who have rounded up as many garden gnomes as they could, although, Monk Boy did say that a few of them are actually real…”

 

“Pardon?”

 

“Something bad is trying to rise up out of the earth. Why doesn’t evil find a new theme, eh? Been there, done that, and it’s getting rather lame, don’t you think?  Anyway, the monk, or, monks, if you will, has been trying to get someone’s attention. My attention, I think, because I seem to be the only one that can hear Ghost Boy. They came up with the idea of stealing garden gnomes, and that got noticed, right, and they enlisted the aid of elementals to help them. The real gnomes are using some form of earth majick to keep the lid on this evil, and they are losing.”

 

Buffy continued to drag Giles along despite his best efforts. When they went by the gnome that Buffy had kicked over, she leaned over and righted it with a, “Sorry.”

 

“Are you saying that a few of these gnomes are elementals?”

 

“That is exactly what I am saying. They didn’t come when you summoned them because they are already here. And they are too busy with their spell to say hello.”

 

They were at the car.

 

“The evil rising out of the earth. Did he say what it was?”

 

“Nope. Only that it was big and evil and we don’t want it here. We have to send it back.”

 

Giles opened up the Discovery’s door and began rummaging around for Buffy’s weapons bag. She ignored him and climbed in the car and shut the door.

 

“Heater, please!” she insisted.

 

He climbed in the driver’s seat, put the key in the ignition and turned it on. It took a few moments but Buffy was beginning to feel her feet again.

 

“Ohhhhh! That is nice…” she burbled with relief.

 

“You know we can’t stay in here. The rising evil may rise while you are toasting your toes. When it arrives we will have to send it back, and then we will need to seal the area.”

 

Giles leaned over to the back seat and retrieved her bag while she was basking. Bag clinking, and being careful with the sharp objects inside, he handed it across to her. She scowled at him but accepted it anyway.

 

“We can kill it. Killing’s good.” Buffy had her sword in her hand. Giles ducked back against his door when she swung it his way.

 

“We still have to send it back, dead or alive, I think. And, we will need a third person to help with the spell.”

 

“Who?” Buffy had the pointy end at Giles’ chest.

 

“Stewart. He’s an hour’s drive from here. I’ll give him a call. I’m sure he won’t mind closing the Estrella Oscura for a few hours.”

 

The tip of the sword didn’t move. “It’ll be nice to see him again, but it’s too dangerous, Giles. He could get hurt.”

 

“We need him for the spell. Besides, you will be the one doing the slaying. I’m just the back up. Stewart will be superfluous, I’m sure.”

 

Buffy wasn’t convinced. Stewart had lost his wife; she didn’t want him to lose his life as well.

 

Giles added, “He could bring us some hot soup and bread rolls…”

 

The blade moved away. “The soup sounds good…”

 

+++

 

The soup was good. Stewart had arrived with a thermos and buttered rolls, cups and napkins. After finishing off the very last drop of her soup and crumb of her roll, Buffy had gone back to stand guard.  Giles having searched through the supplies he had brought found what he needed and, happily, the book with the containment spell. He hadn’t needed Stewart to bring anything from his shelves as Giles’ stock of magical supplies were high, thanks in part to Morris Goddard and the demon that had possessed him.

 

Gathering up the candles and herbs and binding powder, he juggled with the book until Stewart relieved him of it, sliding as it was out of his arms.

 

“Thank you,” he said with a grateful smile to Stewart as they headed off to where Buffy was waiting.

 

When they were within sight of her Giles noticed there was something different about the scene. There were fewer gnomes than there had been, and just when he opened his mouth to ask why, two or three of the remaining ornaments began to topple over.

 

“Hurry!” the slayer shouted. “I think the elementals are losing.” Buffy ducked into the transept, disappearing from view.

 

The men broke into a run, Giles slightly out of breath when they arrived. They followed the slayer inside. Hurriedly they set the supplies down and with Giles directing Stewart, they began to lay out the candles. The earth trembled, causing the gnomes to shake. Giles began to pour the binding powder to make a circle when the stones and earth beneath their feet shifted.

 

Buffy yelled, “Weapons!” and pushed them through the arch and out of the way. She whirled about and stood waiting, sword held at the ready. Giles rescued the crossbow from her weapons bag, a few bolts, and a short-handled axe. This he passed over to Stewart with a “Just in case” and Stewart hefted it with trepidation. Giles friend wasn’t a fighter but neither was he a coward. He would help a friend any way he could, and if Giles and Buffy needed him, then, he would do the best he could. He watched as the former watcher placed the bolts in his pockets along with a long-bladed knife. A much larger and heavier axe went by Giles’ boot.

 

“What do we do?” he asked his friend.

 

Giles gently pulled Stewart aside and placed him near a crumbling wall of stone.

 

“If Buffy is unable to stop this thing, you hide. Try and stay out of sight. Don’t move and try and not make a noise.”

 

Stewart nodded. Giles didn’t want him hurt, and neither did he. Still, he didn’t want to hide if his friend needed him.

 

As if reading his mind, Giles said, “Don’t do anything rash. Buffy is a force to be reckoned with. Whatever it is that is coming she will do her best to see that it is stopped. Buffy is good at what she does.”

 

Stewart wanted to point out that Giles had just contradicted himself but he held his counsel. Now wasn’t the time. The earth quaked around them, reminding them that time was of the essence.

 

“Nothing rash,” he affirmed, and Giles returned to position himself outside the arch. The crumbling ruin was more air than walls, but Giles knew that Buffy would try and steer the creature towards him rather than let it get away. Between the two of them, if it came to that, they could kill it. 

 

Buffy braced her legs against the heaving earth. The scattered remains of the garden gnomes lay about, having tumbled and swayed, knocking against ancient stone. A crack appeared in the earth and as it split apart, Buffy could see something glistening darkly. And it was moving. Perhaps the axe was a better option, she thought, eyeing up her sword. Swinging her sword she targeted the first limb that slithered out of the pit. The blade bit part-way through jointed exoskeleton. The creature howled. Buffy swung again and was rewarded with another yell of pain. However, the creature was emerging faster than she could hack pieces off it, so she stabbed at its head, targeting its eyes. The eyes of the demon closed shut with a click. Buffy could see that even its eyelids were made of a hard shell-like substance, too, and it deflected her blade away.

 

“Giles! Axe!”

 

She somersaulted away and, landing on her feet, caught the axe Giles threw at her. Charging back inside, she disappeared from view.

 

Stewart waited nervously. The hairs on his neck rose at the sound of inhuman howls that reverberated out into the cold afternoon air. A great weight crashing against walls made them shake, and stones shifted. Stewart was hoping that Buffy wasn’t between whatever the thing was and the wall. He watched his friend Rupert Giles. The man was on the verge of stepping inside, he was that close to the opening. Giles had his weapon at the ready, and Stewart could see the tip of the crossbow weaving about slightly. Giles was tracking the monster’s movements.

 

He heard a muffled shout and saw the bolt fly from Giles’ weapon. Stewart’s grip on his own weapon tightened as he observed his friend reloading his bow. Another shout from Buffy had Giles let fly another bolt. A bone-chilling screech of pain echoed forth, and suddenly, in front of Stewart, a large clawed limb landed at his feet. Stewart jumped back a pace, his heart hammering fit to burst. Managing to get his breathing under control, he peered down at the object. The limb, ebony in colour and as hard as nails when he tapped it with his axe, was covered in a green viscous fluid, demon blood, he presumed. Gathering his courage, Stewart stepped around the limb, and waited.

 

Giles turned his head when he heard the thud behind him. He could see that his friend was alright and that the limb Buffy had hacked from the demon had landed nearby. He brought his attention back to the battle inside. Buffy was magnificent. She was harrying the beast, from all sides. It was fast but Buffy was faster. At her call, he distracted the demon with a well-placed bolt, giving her time to surge forward, strike, and fall back. Buffy was using both the sword and her axe, the sword falling to the ground whenever she snatched up the curved weapon.

 

The demon stood taller than six feet. It looked to Giles to be covered in armour. It was, in a way. Its black carapace glistened like polished metal, a veritable impenetrable coat of armour. Its eyes, however, gleamed with menace, showing that it may look like a machine but it wasn’t. The demon moved its three remaining arms in an attempt to capture the slayer. She ducked and weaved behind it, the blade of her axe biting deep into its back. The shell cracked but the demon did not scream. The axe hadn’t penetrated far enough to do damage. Buffy grunted as she pulled the axe free, the demon stomping about to face her. Not for the first time did Giles wish Angel was with them. Giles knew that Buffy could more than hold her own, she was the slayer after all, but he felt better when the vampire was by her side, particularly when the demon was as nasty as this one. Just then, the demon let out a roar. Spittle sprayed from a mouth full of sharp teeth, spattering her. 

 

Giles heard her say, “Hey, big fella! Have you and my axe gotten acquainted yet?” She made a show of eyeing her weapon, a feral grin gracing her features. “Oh, yes, I guess you have. I think it disarmed you. Giles!” she ended in a shout.

 

He targeted the back of the creature’s neck, hoping to find a weakness in the joints. He got lucky. His bolt shot true and embedded itself in the demon’s upper spine. Buffy didn’t waste much time. While its arms were scrabbling at the back of its neck she launched herself at the demon, both feet impacting against its chest. It toppled over, half in the pit. Buffy attacked its legs, severing those at its knees. The scream of pain was ear-piercing. The slayer didn’t stop. She ran to where its head was hanging in the pit and, with all her might, brought her axe down, decapitating the beast. Buffy stepped back as the body twitched, flopping about in its death throes. She lifted her head and Giles saw the wide grin decorating her gore-splattered face.

 

“We did goo…” Buffy didn’t finish her sentence. Her attention was drawn to the still twitching body. Surely, she had…The sound of scuttling feet alerted her to a dozen or more tiny versions of the demon trying to make their escape. They were emerging from beneath the demon’s carapace. The demon had brought more of its kind into the world.

 

Buffy yelled, “Don’t let any get away!” and she started stomping on the small creatures.

 

Stewart heard Giles yell at him to follow him inside, and he did, wondering if he was going to be called on to fight despite what Giles had said before. Behind the arch Stewart skidded to a stop. He caught sight of a monstrosity laying half in and half out of a small crater in the earth. Around the beast he saw Buffy and Giles stabbing and trampling tiny crawling creatures. He could hear the crunch of shells breaking.

 

“Lend a hand, old man,” Giles said.

 

Stewart left off staring and, using his feet and axe, joined in.

 

+++

 

Buffy sat down with a grateful sigh. Using the handkerchief Giles had given her, she mopped at her face. Her work was done for the day. Giles and Stewart were busy tidying up after the ritual. She had shoved the body, its parts, and the myriad mini-versions of itself, into the hole it had made emerging into the world. Buffy wondered where it had come from, thinking that it couldn’t be a native of her world. She hadn’t seen its like before and she had seen a lot of demons. She knew that Giles was going to research the thing as soon as they were back home, but for now, after doing a thorough search of the immediate area she had declared it was demon-free.

 

Looking about, she realised that it was almost gnome-free as well. She could see the odd one staring blankly at the ruins but their numbers were vastly diminished. Did that mean the elementals themselves had vanished back to where they came from, taking the ordinary garden ornaments with them? Or, had the elementals returned the ornaments they had purloined, on their way. The ghostly monk had said that a few of the garden ornaments had in fact been elementals in disguise. She hoped that the remaining figures weren’t any dead elementals. She would ask Giles to check when he was free. And, as if Buffy’s thoughts had summoned the spirit, a pale figure materialised before her. It was the monk.

 

“The danger is past,” he said to her.

 

“Thank the elementals for me, will you?” she replied with a weary smile.

 

“Blessings of the Lord be upon you.” And with that he was gone.

 

“Blessings,” she murmured, shutting her eyes.

 

+++

 

Angel was unable to get inside Nathaniel’s apartment so he waited in the only place he could, outside in the hall. He had followed the two vampires, their host and the two women, hurrying from The Crypt. The vampires had fled, then, leaving their human groupies behind.  Angel gave chase, but they eluded him when they hailed a passing cab. He had followed, hopping across rooftops, keeping the cab in sight. If not for the human driver Angel would have swooped in, finishing off Cato and Felicia. As it was, they gave him the run-around. Angel pictured the smug looks on their faces. He didn’t let it bother him. He was pretty sure where the vampires would go to roost. In the only safe place they could: a place where Angel could not enter.

 

And so it was that Angel set foot outside a building in an expensive neighbourhood, with the cab pulling away, and the two vamps having scampered inside with inhuman speed. He followed but to no avail. With a few seconds headway, they made it to a dwelling where they had leave to enter. There was laughter from inside as he leaned on the door listening to the drum of three hearts beating. Nathaniel and the women were there also. There was nothing he could do for them if the two vamps decided to get peckish but stand uselessly outside.

 

In the still of the night, his large frame parked on the stairs nearby, Angel began to reflect on his counterpart, his alternate self, and wondered how he was doing in his alternate world. When faced with Angelus, Angel had experienced a wealth of emotion spanning anger, hatred, despair, and lastly compassion. The other vampire, and Angel couldn’t help but think of him as a reflection of himself, would be deep in despair, grief, and self-hatred. And, he hoped, determination. That, above all else, would keep his other self from greeting the sun. To do what was right, and to do what he could despite all the odds. Immolating himself wouldn’t save anyone, wouldn’t bring back Buffy and her friends, and wouldn’t solve anything.

 

Angel was thankful that his beloved Buffy had been strong enough to overcome his demon, had not given up all hope, and had not allowed herself to die at Angelus’ hands like the Buffy in the alternate reality. He didn’t know if he could have coped, having killed her, but he knew that he would have had to, just like the other version of himself was coping.

 

Who was he kidding? Angel shivered at the memory of that one Christmas Eve when he had waited for the morning sun. He knew that he would have taken the coward’s way out if not for Buffy and, thinking on it, realised the other Angel was made of stronger stuff. He knew he didn’t have the fortitude of his alternate. God, he had been a fool. Someone his age should have been wiser than the shaking, pathetic creature he had been.

 

Circumstances change. The world changes, as do the people in it. He had changed, and once upon a time, he had thought he was changeless. Life had thrown him countless curve balls and he had managed to dust himself off and continue, if not on steady legs but on shaky ones. Okay, there was that one time with a cellar and lawyers…he didn’t like to dwell.

 

His thoughts drifted to a conversation he and his other self had shared while the other vampire had attempted to pull himself together. At first there had been silence from the devastated vampire lying on the bed. Eventually, though…

 

 

Angel couldn’t help staring at the figure on the bed. The other’s eyes were dark and unfathomable. They stared up at the ceiling, unblinking and unseeing. His large hands lay like discarded weapons on each side of his form, lifeless and forgotten. Angel flexed his hands. Looking down at them, he recalled the sensation of bones breaking and flesh tearing. His were a killer’s hands. They both had killers’ hands. His eyes flicked back to the still form on the bed. If the other was anything like Angel, and he was, then he would be an empty shell of a vampire, his soul and heart scooped out and discarded, a hollow man with nothing left inside but guilt and despair. You could live several lifetimes with those as your companions, he knew, and wallow in apathy. He had done it, the other had done it, but now the other vampire had to pick himself up and do what was necessary. Would he survive? Angel mused. He doubted the other Angel would care if he lived another day, and Angel was almost sure he wouldn’t, once back in Acathla’s world. Still…

 

His mouth worked to form words…a sentence. Without turning his head, the Angel on the bed asked, “What… happened to you? The soul…”

 

Forcing away his bleak thoughts, Angel laid out the map of his life. He spoke of leaving Buffy and Sunnydale, and finding a new purpose along the way. Collecting people who believed in him, no matter how he tried to dissuade them, and his downward spiral, Darla, and of course, Connor.

 

“H…how can that be?” the other’s voice whispered in wonder.

 

Talking had never been Angel’s strong point, but he persevered. His voice rising and falling in soft tones, he told of the wonder of holding his newborn, and the despair of losing him. Angel’s memory served him well as he painted the picture of a life that was bizarre and impossible, and yet had happened, ending with his own demise, and resurrection, a few years ago.

 

When he finished, Angel felt drained. He hadn’t gone into any great detail but the vampire before him now had an idea of how Angel’s life had panned out. Was he being cruel, Angel wondered?  He didn’t think so. He knew if he had been in the other’s place he would want to know. Besides, his unlife hadn’t been a bed of roses. There had been times he would rather forget. Up till now, he thought there wouldn’t be another soul in the world weighed down with as much guilt as he had. This was no longer true. The other vampire had surpassed even Angel’s crimes. There was nothing he could do for him other than sit and offer his company. He leaned back, letting the silence fill the room.

 

After a long while, his alternate self, asked, “How can you…we…be champions after all we have done?”

 

“We’re a weapon, a tool to be used. Champions die. Who better than us?”

 

Angel found himself thinking of his friends. They had died fighting the good fight, because of him, and he blamed himself. They hadn’t deserved such a fate. Buffy had perished, albeit temporarily, and she hadn’t been deserving of it, either.

 

The being on the bed whispered, “At least you’ve found happiness. I don’t deserve…”

 

Angel couldn’t disagree in the circumstances. He had felt that way most of his existence and it was only recently he had learned to accept he could be happy. This other Angel had killed his Buffy and had sucked his world into Hell. He couldn’t tell him to get over it. He would never get over it.  Still, where there was hope there could be a way. He offered his other self hope. After all, wasn’t this other version of himself a soul in need? And didn’t he help the helpless and the hopeless?

 

“Life is full of surprises. The world is full of possibilities.”

 

+++

 

Creeping on liquid feet, the aroma of fresh blood straight from an artery invaded his senses. The absence of a struggle told its story. Angel clenched his hands into tight fists. He refused to cry out, to tell them to stop. They wouldn’t listen. They were taunting him, relying on his impotence. Angel leaned against the door and listened to the sound of a heart, no, two hearts, faltering into silence. He tried to ignore the wet slurping and sucking sounds of a vampire feeding. Always hungry, he had learned to bury the gnawing appetite deep, and now, disgusted with himself, he found he was salivating.  Resisting the urge to thump the door, he stood there until all he could hear was the beat of one lonely heart. Then, a long slow and almost inaudible scrape of wood was heard.

 

Kicking the door open, Angel caught sight of the vampires sliding out the window. Behind them, two bodies lay on the floor and a woman sitting unharmed in a chair. The barrier preventing Angel entry still held. Shouting at her to leave - she would be the first thing the newly-risen vamps would eat - Angel sprinted for the stairs. The flat hadn’t belonged to Nathaniel as Angel had presumed.

 

As fast as they were, Angel managed to reach the street as Cato and Felicia bounded up the road. Their laughter reached his ears as he took off in hot pursuit. It was all a game to the vampires ahead. Angel recalled his dark days as Angelus. He, too, had relished the chase and the game of who died and who…died? Angel was determined that it would be Cato and his partner who perished this night. 

 

He caught up with them in one of the parks close by, both vampires deciding to wait for him, thinking that with two against one they stood a better chance. The park was deserted. It was early, and the bitter wind kept people away.

 

“You think you can take this city from us, Angelus?” Cato sneered at him. “We’re not afraid of you.”

 

Angel flicked his gaze to where Felicia stood. A smug smile graced her lips.

 

“Two against one?” he replied, looking back at Cato. “Not a problem.”

 

Before Felicia opened her mouth, Angel knew what she was going to say. He had begun to get a funny feeling…

 

Three vampires rushed at him from behind. Felicia held up her phone and waggled it at him. “Don’t leave home without,” she smirked. He was too busy to notice. Three against one was no problem, either, he thought…and then there were five. Cato and Felicia had joined in.

 

Reflexes quicker than they, Angel dusted two vamps before they had laid their hands on him. The third managed a glancing blow to his chest before he kicked him away. Turning fast, Angel avoided the stake heading for his back. Cato, he saw. Blocking his arm, Angel swung his leg and knocked Cato off his feet. He barely had time to avoid Felicia’s rush, and, swinging about, punched her in the face, hard. She rocked back on her feet. Angel ducked low and brought his stake up into the chest of the vampire that had returned, lunging at him. He straightened as both Cato and Felicia ran at him, snarling.

 

“What? Not having fun, yet?” he taunted, stepping sideways to avoid Cato’s stake again.

 

Nails raked his cheek, tearing away bloody strips. Lashing out with both fists Angel sent them flying. He went after the female, thinking she was the deadlier of the two. Stake ready, he flicked his arm towards her chest, she twirled, and he felt a sharp pain between his ribs. Felicia held a stiletto in her hand. It was dripping with his blood. He felt the other behind him and, without looking back, sank his stake into Cato’s chest in a backhanded move. He was lucky. The stake found the heart and the vampire crumbled to dust.

 

Felicia screamed and attacked him with a frenzy of slashes. A few found his flesh, and he ignored their sting and, quite calmly, staked the vampire.

 

A look of frustration flashed across her features before she, too, was ash.

 

“Having fun, now?” he asked the empty park, the rush of battle raging through him. He flexed his hands and stared at them. They were killer’s hands, he couldn’t deny that, and it no longer mattered. It was Angelus, his demon, who gave him the strength to fight the vampires and demons in the world. It was Angelus who made it all possible. He couldn’t turn back the clock – okay, he’d had it done once – and he would be forever remorseful for the evil he visited upon the world, but he was content to just be…for now.

 

The wound from the vampire’s knife caused him to wince when he moved. The blade had pierced a lung. Ignoring the pain and, peering skyward, Angel could see that dawn was still a couple of hours away. People were about already, judging by the sounds of traffic he could hear. Day came late this time of year, and people commuted in the dark.

 

Pulling his phone from his jacket pocket, Angel rang Nick to see if he was safe. The doctor was pleased to hear from him. Nick had been worried. Nick had his doctor’s bag with him, and he offered his services if Angel needed patching up. Angel smiled as he finished the call. With his preternatural healing he really didn’t need a doctor, but it was nice that Nick cared.

 

He dialled Buffy’s number. Voice thick with sleep, she told him her plans, which meant his plans. In return, he informed her he had some mopping up to do. He would be in Kent as soon as the sun allowed him to travel.

 

His next call was to the police. He could have waited till the vampires rose, killing the woman in her flat, before gaining entry to deal with them, but he felt that she deserved a chance. He would gain access to the morgue and ensure that there weren’t two more vampires about in the world.

 

+++

 

“Mmm, I bet you’ve slept in a lot of four-poster beds,” Buffy said languidly from her place in the bed. She was feeling content. Giles was visiting with Stewart for the night, she had slayed, Angel was back with her, they had made love, several times, and now she was lying propped up in bed with a plate of ice cream and plum pudding. Room service is wonderful, she thought.

 

From the other side of the room, and it wasn’t far, a naked Angel was fiddling with the television set and the accompanying DVD player. Buffy giggled. The view was pretty spectacular despite the bandage running along his ribcage. 

 

“Mmm?” He looked over at her and Buffy stifled her giggles.

 

She patted the blue-p ---  atterned bed cover. Fortunately for Angel, Buffy had managed to book the suite with more sombre colours. She doubted he would have been comfortable in the frills of the pink room.  Although…

 

“You must have slept in one or two of these in your day,” she repeated.

 

“They never had you in them,” he replied, turning his head back to concentrate on the task on hand. The DVD Buffy insisted they watch was War of the Worlds, the Tom Cruise version. The disk went in and, remote in his hand, he scooted back to the bed.

 

“Tell me again why we are watching this?”

 

Her mouth full of ice cream, Buffy mumbled, “I know it’s not very romantic, but I want to know if the movie is anything like the book. You know, the one you’ve read?”

 

Cool lips kissed her cold ones. She stared at the rapidly healing scars on his face. They were barely scratches now.

 

“It’s bloody, isn’t it?” he asked her a little hopefully.

 

“Mmm…yes.” Eyes brimming with mischief, she added, “There’s a chick flick I want to see next.”

 

Angel smiled. He was willing to watch anything as long as Buffy was watching alongside him.

 

The end.

 

ANs. And we all love those.

 

A huge hug to Jo. I couldn’t do this without her.

 

This tale met a challenge. I had to include a vampire cult, a helicopter, a garden ornament, and a DVD.

 

Morris Goddard was a character in my story Grave Matters. He was a man possessed by a demon, and the demon deliberately set out to kill the man’s family. At the end of the day, Goddard gave Giles the magical supplies and books the demon had acquired. For more of this story follow this link.

http://project.darkstarfic.com/ficloader.php?fic=48

 

 

For fun facts about this story read below.

 

Royal Tunbridge Wells

http://www.visittunbridgewells.com/pages/view.asp?Level=1&LevelID=13

 

Pantiles

http://www.visittunbridgewells.com/pages/View.asp?Level=2&LevelID=90

 

For more information and photos of Woods restaurant.

http://www.woodsrestaurant.co.uk/gallery.asp

 

Piccadilly Circus

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piccadilly_Circus

 

Regent St Christmas lights.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Regent_Street_Christmas_Lights_-_Dec_2006.jpg

 

 

Bayham Old Abbey

http://www.aboutbritain.com/BayhamAbbey.htm

 

Jo has found us this wonderful panoramic view of the abbey ruins.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/kent/content/panoramas/bayham_abbey_360.shtml

 

 

The Weald

http://www.sevenwonders.org.uk/

 

Gnomes and Elementals

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elemental

 

Bayham Abbey ghosts.

The ruins of the abbey are haunted by a group of monks, chanting and the ringing of bells has been heard, and sometimes the fragrance of incense has been noticed.

 

More about the order of the Premonstratensian monks.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Premonstratensian

 

The Swan Hotel is situated at the Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells. For a look at the hotel and the four poster bedrooms go here:

http://www.the-swan-hotel.com/1.htm

 



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