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Raven

 

Project Paranormal

Author: Ares

Season 4

Part 12

 

*

 

Summary: Andrew Wells has been found murdered in Paris. Buffy and Angel join Giles in the hunt for Andrew’s killer. Continues on from Snare.

 

*

 

Raven

 

 

What we once were informs all that we have become. Darla. “Prodigal Son”

 

 

Freising, Bavaria. 1589.

 

He preferred the quiet of the woods. There, he was safe.  People were a superstitious lot: they feared the forest, with its creatures and the spirits that were purported to live there. Humans were afraid for their souls. The church and their priests had instilled and nurtured this fear over the centuries, keeping the great unwashed cowed beneath their sanctimonious boot. What claptrap. It was all about greed. The church was the wealthiest institution for its time, and the most powerful. Kings bowed down before bishops and cardinals and the holiest of them all, the Pope.

 

He despised the church with all its pious trappings. His wife had been declared unclean, a witch, by the local civil authorities, a soothsayer had been brought in, and she had been put to death. If only she had been a real witch, then she would have been able to save herself. But like thousands before her, she had been burned at the stake, innocent and crying for mercy. He blamed the Church. It was their teachings, their antipathy towards anyone who had an individual thought in their head that had led to her demise. He had attacked and killed the local magistrate and was hunted in turn. Until, one night, he became the ultimate hunter.

 

+++

 

Present Day

 

Paris was beautiful by night. Buffy pretended she wasn’t ogling the sight of the Eiffel Tower from the back of the taxi as it carried her and Angel towards their hotel. She had been in Paris once before, with Dawn. The city was magical, the Eiffel Tower its jewelled crown, and it still caught her breath when she gazed upon it. Rome had been a wonder, also. With its ancient monuments and bloodthirsty history, it, too, had held her in its thrall. Perhaps it was the hunter in her that was drawn to places that once held great scenes of barbaric battles, of oiled, sweating gladiators who danced to death’s tune. Empires and their magnificent armies, with their valiant soldiers fighting for their leader and what they believed was a just cause, had risen and fallen over the centuries. Britain and Europe were so steeped in blood and violence, its history old beyond imagining, older than the young country she had once called home, that Buffy felt as if every step she took was upon the unmarked graves of thousands.

 

Buffy felt a touch on her hand, and she glanced back to see Angel smiling knowingly at her. She sighed. She didn’t know why she thought she could put one past Angel. He noticed everything she did.

 

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” he asked her in that soft way that made her want to hug him and hold him tight.

 

“It is. No wonder they advertise Paris as the city of romance.”

 

Angel leaned over and kissed her. The kiss deepened and Buffy found herself in Angel’s arms. She wanted more, she wanted to…

 

She broke the kiss. Panting from the need to breathe and other more pleasant things, she said, “Angel. The driver.”

 

He waggled his brows at her, and his leer was positively lascivious. Buffy kissed him, her lips landing upon his own and pulling away an instant later.

 

“Hold that thought,” she advised him. “I’m not fuelling some taxi driver’s fantasy.”

 

Angel sank back into his dark corner of the cab with a rueful smile. Buffy turned to look at the driver. His eyes were on the road ahead. She didn’t know if he had happened to have been doing some ogling of his own, and she knew that if he had, he would have been startled to find only her reflection in the rear view mirror. Suppressing a giggle at the image it invoked, she sat back and reviewed the reason they were in Paris.

 

Her thoughts had a sobering influence. Andrew Wells, reformed criminal, a Watcher in training, and sometime guardian and friend of the Key, her sister, was dead. Killed by persons, she amended her thought, demons unknown. Why, begged the question. What had Andrew been up to in the four weeks since setting up home in Paris? Andrew had been living in Rome, in his own place, close enough to be keeping tabs on Dawn, but far enough that she had her own space. Space meant boyfriends. Boys and friends who helped her sister get up to mischief Buffy had complained more than once to Angel. It hadn’t occurred to Buffy that Andrew would be the one to wind up in trouble, and dead because of it. Giles was in Paris, asking questions of anyone that might have met Andrew.

 

The taxi ride wasn’t a long one, the Haut de Seine district a mere ten minutes from the heart of Paris. Giles had booked them into the Courtyard Paris Neuilly, the same hotel he was currently residing in. The hotel wasn’t new by any means, or ancient and magnificent like some she had seen as they had passed by. It had a Thirties look to it, at least what Buffy imagined Thirties hotels looked like. The lobby inside confirmed her opinion. The walls at reception were a pale brick, and the décor screamed art deco. However, all was forgotten when Buffy spotted the Eiffel Tower through the window of their room. She was excited about the view and said so to Angel.  He was enchanted by her enthusiasm, and her lack of sophistication he found endearing. Angel would’ve preferred a small, less expensive and more downbeat hotel, but he wouldn’t deny Buffy the pleasure of enjoying what Paris had to offer, even if they were here to track down the beings responsible for Andrew’s demise. And Giles had been of the same mind, apparently, for he had booked all three into this middle-of-the road hotel.

 

There was a knock on the door, and when Angel answered it, Giles was on the other side.

Buffy ran into his arms the minute he stepped over the threshold. Giles looked over her head at Angel, who shrugged his approval.

 

“I’m so happy you’re okay,” he said to her when she released him.

 

“I’m more than okay. The morons who kidnapped me are the sorry ones.”

 

“I’m sorry it’s sad news that brought you here.”

 

“It could have been worse, even though for Andrew it is. I’m just happy that Dawn wasn’t involved. What do you think is going on?”

 

Buffy sat on the bed and looked at the two men in her life. Giles commandeered one of the chairs, and Angel took charge of the refreshments. The fridge offered a variety of fare. He held up a beer. Giles nodded. He handed it over, before producing a small bottle of red wine.

 

“Buffy?” he asked her, indicating the wine with a lift of his hand.

 

“Yes please.”

 

Buffy had never been one for alcohol, her one foray with beer having gone horribly wrong, but she was happy to have a glass of wine with Angel. They couldn’t share a meal, but a coffee or a glass of wine they could do. And to her delight, the wine that Angel chose was always a good one.

 

Giles explained the facts as he knew them.  The policeman had also supplied him with a copy of the autopsy report.

 

“Isn’t that against police policy?” Angel asked.

 

“You’ll like Lieutenant Laroche. He knows there’s a world out there that has nothing to do with being human. And he’s no fool.”

 

“He knows we’re here?” Buffy asked, sipping her wine.

 

“He knows.”

 

On Angel’s look, Giles added, “He doesn’t know who you are, Angel. Rather, he doesn’t know what you are. You two are his best hope of excising this cancer from his city.”

 

Giles passed over the photographs that had come with the report. Angel scrutinised the wounds on the boy’s body. Buffy eyes were drawn to Andrew’s face.

 

“I never really liked him, you know?” she confessed. “He and his friends stalked me for months…and he did horrible things.” She sighed. “We’ve all done terrible things. But he changed. He wanted to help. He did help, and he put himself in harm’s way to do so. I trusted him enough to have him watch over Dawn. She liked him and, well, he was Andrew. He was an irritating, trying-too-hard, in-your-face, kind of guy. Sweet and dumb at the same time.” She looked up at Angel’s gentle touch on her shoulder.

 

“We’ll find who did this, Buffy.”

 

Angel hadn’t cared about Andrew Wells one way or another. He concurred with Buffy’s assessment of the boy. His first impression of the lad had been one built on irritation, but because Buffy and Dawn cared for Andrew he was going to do his utmost to help her uncover what had led to the boy’s death. After all, Angel knew better than anyone the value of being given a second chance, and Andrew had appeared to have embraced the promise of redemption.

 

Angel sat himself down on the bed next to Buffy. In his hand was a photo he had been studying.

 

“The gouges on Andrew’s chest. They look as if the claws were curved,” he remarked.

 

Giles nodded his agreement, although he asked, “There’s no chance that a weapon made those, is there?”

 

“Not with the spacing, no.”

 

Buffy added, “Three talons to a hand.” She took a closer look. “I’d say the demon was a big one. Any ideas on what we’re dealing with?”

 

“There’s any number of demons with three claws. We need more to go on,” Giles said.

 

“This Korbinian guy. What do we know about him?”

 

“Not much, I’m afraid. Laroche suspects that he is the head of the criminal element in the area. No one knows what he looks like, if it is a he. I suspect he’s a demon. A human wouldn’t need to keep his identity quite so secret. He deals in drugs, prostitution, you name it. One of the drugs they found in Andrew’s flat was Orpheus. There are some vampires that find the drug intoxicating.”

 

“Orpheus?” Buffy asked. “How do vampires…?”

 

“Vampires feed on humans who have taken the drug,” Giles said with his eye on Angel. The vampire was looking a little uncomfortable. Wesley had left his diaries to Giles, and in them the older man had found the passage that described Faith’s capture of Angelus. She had injected Orpheus into her veins and thus drugged Angelus when he fed from her. “Both human and vampire experience a connection…a…sharing,” he finished.

 

Buffy was thinking about Riley and his addiction to being bitten. “Is it addictive?”

 

“Maybe. Humans become addicted. I don’t know if it’s the same for vampires.”

 

Angel shook his head as if to say no. Giles hurried on, changing the subject slightly. “If only I had access to the Council’s archives. I know you’ve both heard me say that many times, but it’s true. There may not be much I miss about the Council but that is one of them. Those books may have contained something about this Korbinian fellow.” Wesley had collected a few books from Wolfram and Hart, as well as the journals he had been keeping, and Giles was grateful for all of them. Still, they didn’t hold the wealth of knowledge the Council’s had.

 

“Korbinian built a Benedictine monastery and school on a mountain near Freising when he was sent to convert Bavaria to the Faith,” Angel said for Buffy’s benefit.

 

“Could this be the same guy?” she asked.

 

“Korbinian, rather Saint Corbinian, spelled K or C,” Giles was in explicit mode, “was born in six hundred and seventy.”

 

“He was a saint? No chance, then?” Buffy sounded disappointed.

 

 

+++

 

 

20th October 1805 Ulm. Austria.

 

Even after two centuries walking the earth, the man from Freising found the carnage of battle a glorious thing. The stink of carrion, blood, and gunpowder filled his senses in a way that nothing else could. He felt complete, whole, his pain diminished in the suffering of others. This was Hell on earth and he luxuriated in it. Smoke filled the sky, almost blotting out the sun and, if he dared, he thought he could go out on to the field and take his fill. Mindful of his state of being he held back, and only when the sun surrendered the sky did he slither out into the night and slake his thirst. He did not know how many he killed, there were so many dead and dying it really didn’t matter. Not that he cared of course. Human beings were beneath his notice, unless they declared war on one another. Then, it consumed him as he consumed them. The more that perished, the better, he thought. It was only later did he read that around ten thousand souls had died on that battlefield.

 

+++

 

Now

 

Paris was a city like any other in that it displayed its beauty to tourist and locals alike, denying the sunless underbelly that lurked below. On its face ran the river Seine, snaking its silver length through land now covered in stone and concrete, bridges spanning its flanks, taming the once savage beast. The city of lights, as Paris was called, shone like a beacon in an endless ocean of humanity. Beneath the brilliance, beasts of another sort roamed. Those denizens of the underworld scraped out a living just like those born to the sun above. 

 

For once, Buffy wasn’t thinking about the demons and creatures that moved through the night, she was staring with wonder at the monuments and buildings that decorated the skyline. Their hotel sat on Boulevard Victor Hugo and, walking down its tree-lined street, past expensive-looking townhouses and apartments, Buffy began to question Andrew’s motives. Where had the man come up with the money to live in a place like this? Neuilly-sur-Seine was a suburb of Haute-de-Seine, which meant that Andrew had lived in the neighbourhood. At least that was how Buffy saw it. Andrew’s apartment was a good walk away, and Angel thought it a good idea to take in the sights. Buffy was tired but eager to begin their investigation. They could have broken into Andrew’s flat, no one being the wiser, but Giles had suggested they keep the law on their side. Laroche was meeting them at the apartment, Giles already gone ahead in a taxi. Buffy was wondering at the hint of admiration Giles had allowed to peek through when speaking of Laroche. The man had made an impression. She wondered what sort of impression she and Angel were going to make.

 

+++

 

Angel didn’t need an invitation into Andrew’s apartment but he and Buffy had to wait outside for one, all the same. When the door opened, they were greeted by a tall, large man. Buffy’s instincts told her that beneath the suit was a man who knew how to handle himself in a fight. Intelligent, kindly eyes stared at them from a craggy face. Buffy could see Giles hovering behind the policeman. It had to be Lieutenant Laroche.

 

The man smiled at them, and she could see the smile reflected in his eyes. Buffy liked him right away.

 

“Ah, Monsieur Giles. These are your friends, no? Come in, please.”

 

Angel followed Buffy in, aware of the policeman’s eyes on him.

 

“Buffy. Angel. This is Lieutenant Laroche.”

 

“Enchanté, Mademoiselle.”

 

When Buffy offered her hand the Frenchman cupped it in his and lifted it to his lips. He kissed the back of her hand before releasing it. Buffy blushed. The only person who had kissed her hand before had been Angel, and she had giggled the first time. She refused to do so now. A girl had her dignity.

 

“Pleased to meet you,” she said instead.

 

Angel thrust his hand out. Laroche clasped the vampire’s hand and shook it. Angel, who was watching the man closely, noticed the small frown that crossed Laroche’s brow.

 

“Good evening,” the policeman said by way of greeting.

 

 “Bonsoir,” Angel replied.

 

The man beamed with delight, whatever concerns he was beginning to have about Angel drifted away for the moment. “Parlez-vous français?”

 

“A little,” Angel answered in English.

 

Buffy hid her smile at his reply. Angel spoke fluent French, and she thought that Giles did too. Didn’t Giles once say that he spoke five languages? She knew that German was one of them.  Buffy broke away from their huddle and made her way into Andrew’s apartment.

 

“Wow!” Buffy whistled through her teeth. The place was extraordinary. It screamed money. There was no doubt that something was wrong with this picture.

 

Angel stepped up beside her. Only she heard him whisper, “My penthouse at Wolfram and Hart looked a little like this.” Buffy glanced up at him, surprised. She couldn’t imagine Angel living in such opulent sterility. He was a guy who belonged in a castle, or a mansion, or a large and beautifully appointed hotel.

 

Raising his voice to include the two men behind him, Angel said, “I wonder who was paying for this?”

 

“That is the question,” Giles agreed. “One can only surmise ill-gotten gains.”

 

Laroche was studying Buffy and Angel intently. Buffy could see the gears in his mind turning over. What could a young woman like Buffy do against the creatures that prowled through his city? Angel looked the part. She didn’t, she knew. It was to her advantage, however, and she took great pleasure in proving to all and sundry that she was stronger than she looked.

 

The policeman confirmed her thoughts when he said, “You are the experts Monsieur Giles was telling me about.” To her ears it sounded more a question than not.

 

“There’s more to us than meets the eye,” she said with a smile.

 

Angel had moved away and left the room. She followed to find him in one of the bedrooms, Giles and Laroche behind her. The crossbow in Angel’s hands was only one of the items collected there. Giles had told them they wouldn’t need to bring weapons with them and she could see why. Andrew hadn’t had this big a collection when he was living in Rome. Buffy lifted a sword from the pile on the bed and swung it deftly, getting a feel for its weight. She grinned when the policeman took a hasty step back.  Laroche bumped into Giles, who hadn’t moved. He regained his composure quickly and stepped forward with his hand out. She was surprised to see his fingers curl expertly about the sword’s hilt when she passed it to him.

 

The lift in his brow matched hers. “There’s more to any of us that meets the eye,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.

 

“Great. That’s all I need, another cryptic guy,” she grumbled good-naturedly.

 

Angel rummaged around for a bag. Finding one, he began to load the carry all with weapons. Angel handed Buffy a couple of stakes. Laroche gave back the sword, and was fascinated to see it disappear beneath Angel’s long black coat. A couple of long knives completed Angel’s packing.

 

Laroche studied the pair. Angel with the bag in hand, a sword at the ready, and Buffy, a couple of pieces of wood her choice of weapons, did not look like warriors, but their demeanour said otherwise. There was a confidence about the two of them born of experience and pain. The man, Angel, made him uneasy and he didn’t know why, and yet he was prepared to trust him. It was obvious the other two did, and the young woman known as Buffy? Laroche instinctively wanted to protect her and keep her safe. It was apparent, though, that Buffy wouldn’t take too kindly to being coddled. With a toss of her head, she said, “Where are we headed, again?”

 

“I have a map,” Laroche offered. “On the table.”

 

They returned to the living area and stood around the table while the policeman pointed out the streets and places the Korbinian gang were supposed to hold sway. He had also marked the scenes of the gangland killings. It was a place to start.

 

“Paris has a network of sewers,” Laroche said, out of nowhere. “A lot of items get lost down there.”

 

The Paranormal team turned to look at the policeman.

 

“Items…?” Giles finally asked.

 

Laroche’s look was enigmatic.

 

Buffy thought she could be cryptic too. “I reckon the sewers could open their own post office, the things that get lost down there.”

 

“I don’t want to have to arrest you for murder,” the policeman cautioned. They didn’t know if it was a warning, or after what had just been said, advice.

 

Buffy set his mind at ease. “We don’t kill hu…people.”

 

Laroche nodded, seeming satisfied.

 

“Be very careful,” Giles advised when they were ready to go. “We don’t know what we’re dealing with here. I’ve got Alice looking through my books, and the internet hasn’t been a success so far.”

 

“Relax, Giles.” Buffy patted him on the arm as they headed out the door. “We’ll soon find out.”

 

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” he called after her as she slipped past. Angel gave a curt nod to Laroche as he followed after his girl.

 

The policeman stared at the door. He said, “Angel doesn’t say much, does he?”

 

Giles’ lips quirked up in a smile.

 

+++

 

Stalingrad, winter of 1942

 

It was bitterly cold, and men were freezing where they slept, dying with cold and hunger. He helped them along, whether they be Russian or Germans, it was all the same to him. Their life blood poured down his throat. He glutted himself: there was no need to be secretive. The humans were killing each other again, as they had done so for millennia. They called creatures like him unclean and the devil’s work, and yet one only had to look around to see who the unholy were. The depravity, the baseness of the human soul reinforced his hatred for mankind and their Church. Despicable though he may be in the eyes of God, man was always given another chance for redemption even after they had proved to be viler than the vile. They only had to confess their sins and the gates of heaven would swing wide for them, while his kind grovelled in the dust of Hell. Around a corner he came upon a young soldier exchanging fire with his unseen opponent across the way. He killed them both, their bullets an inconvenient sting when they entered his body.

 

 

+++

 

Now

 

Buffy and Angel returned to their hotel room just before dawn, Buffy exhausted. They took turns in the shower. Sadly, they found it wasn’t big enough for two, and when Angel emerged from the bathroom Buffy was already asleep in the bed. He eased himself between the sheets, kissed Buffy’s parted lips, and lay beside her, his mind reviewing their evening’s activities. It had been a long night. They hadn’t found Korbinian or his minions but Paris was now a few vampires less.

 

They had visited the scenes of bloodshed and murder that had been marked on Laroche’s map. And although Angel could detect the faint odour of blood, with the city’s traffic polluting the landscape and rain washing the streets clean, the trail had run cold.  Buffy got to see some of Paris’ finer sights, and the not so fine.

 

In his head, Angel could still hear her. “Typical! Come to Paris and end up at a cemetery.”

 

They had visited the graveyard near the Pont d’Asniéres, not that far from their hotel. None of the newly interred had risen. Buffy had pulled a face. She didn’t want to waste the trip. “What? The French don’t have vampires? Hasn’t anyone heard of Louis?”

 

“Louis was turned in New Orleans.”

 

“But Louis was the pretty one,” she had rejoined.

 

Ignoring that observation and shelving it for future discussion, he had continued, “It was Lestat who was born in France,” thereby earning an, “Aha! You’re so busted, mister. I thought you disliked Anne Rice and her vampires?”

 

He had covered his ass by telling her, “I had to read them to make an informed opinion.”

 

To which she had answered with an impish grin, “Them?”

 

The power station had been another must see on their itinerary, as was the building site next door and the railway yards. However, Buffy had been mollified when they ventured into the shopping and restaurant districts.

 

“This is more like it,” she had said, walking along well-lit streets with their fancy signs and buildings. 

 

Her good mood hadn’t lasted long, when, approaching the prostitutes on the street, those cold and shivering women dressed in skimpy, barely-there outfits, Angel doing most of the talking, and Buffy not liking it one bit that the “girls” were all over him, Buffy, herself, had been propositioned. A car had idled to the kerb, its driver calling out to her. Buffy didn’t need to speak the lingo to understand what it was the man wanted. She had stalked over to the car, indignation fuelling her every step.

 

“What did you say?” she had demanded.  Angel remembered how he had had to intervene – with vampire speed – to prevent bloodshed. He had wrestled her away, telling the driver Buffy wasn’t available. The car had moved on, stopping further up the road.

 

When Buffy had asked him what he had told the man, he had had to confess he had said that she wasn’t in her right mind due to an illness, one that could be dangerous to one’s health.

 

She had snorted. “Yeah, the creep. I’d make sure he got his jollies.” Then she had asked him if what she was wearing made her look like a hooker.

 

Lying on the bed, Angel smiled at the memory. Working with Buffy always kept him on his toes. Andrew’s photo had been passed around. It had been to no avail. None of the girls had seen or heard of Andrew, even as a passer-by. Nor had any of the vampires they had run in to. Of course, it was hard to get an honest answer from a vampire, even with torture, and they had tried. Most were dust before they had a chance to question them. Angel pretended to stumble once, letting the vampire he was fighting flee the scene.

 

Angel felt the sun haul itself up from below the horizon and his eyelids fluttered shut. His last thoughts were, drifting into sleep, on whether his ruse would bear fruit.

 

+++

 

Giles spent the day, with Andrew’s photo in hand, in the local area canvassing people. He found the little café Andrew liked to have breakfast in. Croissants and coffee: very continental. The pharmacie and the épicerie (grocery store) remembered the boy, too. An American living in Paris makes an impression. They all thought him a charming young man, if not a little étrange.  One of the girls had even been asked for a date by Andrew. She had declined, because she already had a boyfriend. She was very helpful, though, when she added that, in chatting her up, Andrew had offered dinner at a delightful restaurant he had discovered in Nanterre. Giles decided to see for himself this restaurant. He had missed lunch and was hungry.

The maitre d’ stared blankly at the photograph, apologizing to Giles, saying that he saw hundreds of customers a week. He couldn’t possibly remember every one. Giles wasn’t impressed. A good maitre d’ would recall most guests, and he wondered if the man was hiding something. However, short of a lie detector test, there was nothing he could do but accept the man’s statement. He allowed himself to be shown to a table and had a very enjoyable lunch of onion soup gratiné, and a salad, and a glass of white wine to accompany the meal. He finished with Tarte au Citron and coffee. Giles paid his bill and headed out the door. He would return to the hotel. His two friends should be awake by now, hopefully with more information than he had garnered. Having established that Andrew had, indeed, been living in Paris for the last few weeks leading a seemingly ordinary life, was well and good, but it was not very useful. Giles had been hoping to find someone he may have struck up a friendship with. Someone that could tell him, “Yes, I remember Andrew. He was chasing after monsters the last time I saw him.” Giles shook his head at the absurdity of his notion. He knew that that sort of luck never happened in real life. He hailed a taxi. It pulled up to the curb, and he was yanked inside.

 

+++

 

Buffy snuggled into the pillow she was lying on. It didn’t move like a pillow should. It was hard and unyielding, and she was sure her neck would have a crick in it when she tried to move it. She wriggled and jostled and squirmed but to no avail. The damned pillow would not accommodate her.

“Are you done?” the pillow rumbled at her.

Oh. Buffy’s eyes flew open.

“Sorry,” she yawned. 

A strong arm adjusted her posture until she was comfortable.

“Mmm, that’s better.” Buffy’s head was on Angel’s chest, his arm wrapped around her waist.

“What time is it?” she asked after a moment.

“A little after two.”

“I’m starving,” she said without thinking. Angel hadn’t brought any blood with him and he hadn’t had time to purchase any yet. He had no choice but to stay hungry.

“Me too,” he said, and shifted about till her face was level with his. He kissed her. She made a face.

Angel pulled back, surprised. “What’s that for?”

Buffy quickly kissed away his consternation. “Just thinking that it’s time I got up.” She stretched, fingers and toes curling in delicious recall of what they had been doing a few hours previously. Paris wasn’t called the city of romance for nothing, and although they hadn’t been able to have the drapes open to enjoy the view, they had managed just fine with them closed. Besides, Buffy thought the city might have blushed from some of the things that had transpired in their bed. On that thought, Buffy curled up against Angel. Five more minutes wouldn’t hurt.

“I thought you were getting up, not that I’m complaining,” he said.

“Mmm. In a minute.”

Buffy happily drowsed, all woes forgotten for the moment.

An eternity later she said, “I can’t see Faith in a wedding dress.”

Buffy felt Angel’s body jerk a little. She thought he must have been dozing off.

“She might,” he said.

“A sexy dress, maybe. Nothing lacy and demure for her.”

“Maybe.” Angel wondered where Buffy was going with this. All women dreamed of a beautiful wedding, with a fabulous gown. Perhaps this was something he should take into consideration.

“You’ll look gorgeous in a tux.”

“You think so?”

“I know so. That night at the Prom. You outdid James Bond.”

“Sean Connery?”

“Please! Pierce Brosnan.”

“Really?”

“He’s not as gorgeous as you, but he does have that tall, dark, and handsome thing going for him.”

“I’m…overwhelmed that she asked me to give her away.”

“Well, you are old enough.”

She got a tickle in the ribs for that. She giggled.

“I think you’re supposed to be her best man.”

“Isn’t that the groom’s…?”

“You know Faith. Never one for convention. Maybe she’ll have you wearing something that is not a tux. And talking of convention, I suppose I had better get up and find out how Giles got on today.”

+++

Bosnia 1994

Here was a war between religions, a war about Gods and beliefs, among other things; at least that is what men told each other. It was never about that. It was about power. Power over the other. It never ceased to amaze him the depravity that men would stoop to. Demons such as he could learn a thing or two from mankind. Sure, he killed, and on occasion he tortured a victim, but the mass murder and rape he witnessed boggled even his mind. He would dance on mankind’s grave. He would celebrate the end of the world if he could. Bosnia was the picture of corruption, a corpse that rotted and stank within its own Armageddon. He thought of himself as the Angel of Death, giving succour to the desperate and the degenerate by putting them out of their misery. He dusted his two companions while holidaying there. They had become tedious, as had all the vampires he had sired over the centuries. He tired of his family so quickly, and he decided that no more would he be encumbered so.

+++

Now

“I’m worried, Angel. It’s not like Giles to not leave a message, or not answer his phone.”

Angel was worried as well, but he saw no point in adding to Buffy’s concern, at least, not until they knew for certain that Giles was in trouble.

“And the nice policeman hadn’t heard from him, either. I thought he and Giles might have been following up a lead.”

Buffy had rung the Lieutenant when she couldn’t get hold of their friend.

“He may be following up a lead.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of. He, singular.”

They were on the streets of Paris again searching for demons and for clues. The night was warmer than the last, although winter was well and truly on the way. Buffy could feel the chill of the wind as it whipped past and through the concrete tunnels the buildings made. She shivered inside her coat. She had forgotten how a city could crowd in and make her feel claustrophobic.

A couple of blocks away they had been set upon by a gang of demons. Not vampires. Grappler demons, at least that was what Angel called them. Buffy was reminded of the walrus with its curved tusks, only the demons were meaner than a walrus. If walruses even got mean, she had briefly wondered before she flew into the fray. Grapplers were strong, but a little stupid she found. If not for Angel’s vampire super agility and speed, her slayer strength and form, they would have been overwhelmed in an instant. The demons closed in as a group, crowding them. Fortunately for Buffy and Angel, this meant the weapons the Grapplers were brandishing couldn’t be brought fully into play for a moment or two. They, however, weren’t so hindered. Buffy raised the axe she had brought along, and with Angel darting behind the demons with his sword they hacked and slashed till the pavement ran with blood. It was hard to tell whether the blood was red or green or black in the gloom. It ran in rivulets along the concrete and into the gutters. The gutters led to a drain. Angel threw the carcasses into the sewer. They heard a splash when the bodies hit bottom.

“Laroche will approve,” she said looking about. They were alone. There were no witnesses.  “I wonder what the fine is for littering.”

Angel picked up the remains of Buffy’s axe and placed it in the bag they had brought along with them. The haft had shattered when it had come into contact with a sledgehammer a Grappler had been swinging about. Perhaps John could replace the handle for them. John was good with his hands. And then, gently, Angel had examined Buffy carefully for cuts and bruises. He was thankful that the blood on her cheek wasn’t hers. He did not tell her it was in her hair. The bruises he could do nothing about. A slayer healed fast. He let go her hand.

“Your turn, buster,” she said when he was done. Buffy wasn’t some fragile damsel that had to be smothered in cotton wool, to be kept safe from the blows of the world. Angel knew that as a slayer she could take a lot of knocks. She knew he stood back and gave her room in a fight. Always ready to protect her, and knowing when not to, Angel let her get on with the job, pride emanating from his very being at times, if the grin she had seen on his face was anything to go by.

“I’m fine, Buffy.” And he was. A couple of cuts and bruises were neither here nor there for a vampire. He, too, healed quickly. Buffy squinted up at him. He appeared to be okay. He wasn’t limping or moving gingerly. She pointed to his hair. Something glistened wetly there.

“Your hair.” And when he reached up a hand, she added, “Your coat has demon brains on it.”

He grimaced and picked off the offending material. “Thanks. It doesn’t smell too good, either.”

Buffy turned three hundred and sixty degrees to survey their surroundings. “I think we were ambushed. And I think we need to explore more of this town.”

And here they were, sandwiched between hard concrete and steel.  The alley was no different from the alleyways they had seen the world over. The refuse and flotsam of the city gathered in malodorous untidy piles. The stacks of rubbish were stirring with the wind.

“Rats,” Angel said, reading her mind. 

“Ugh. Just what we need.”

She felt Angel tense beside her just as her slayer senses kicked in. Out of the corner of her eye she caught a blur of movement. Vampires. Of one mind, Buffy and Angel attacked. Buffy dusted a vampire before Angel did.

“One to me,” she grinned, not even slowing down as she ducked and twirled to avoid the next bloodsucker.

As her stake struck home she heard Angel mutter, “It’s not a competition.”

“Two,” she crowed, and moved on.

“One, two,” he said in a bored tone. His sword had taken two heads with the figure eight thing he did with his blade.

Buffy giggled. He was so competitive. Distracted, a fist caught her in the face. She somersaulted back, landed on her feet and dived forward. The surprised vampire hadn’t time to blink before it was dust.

Her voice reverberated off the surrounding buildings. “Three!”

She raised her head when there was no word from Angel. His sword was tickling the neck of the last vamp. The demon held its hands up in supplication.

“I’m here with a message,” it said in accented English.

“What? All six of you?” she sniggered. “Oh, that’s right. There were six. There’s only you now.”

Through clenched teeth, Angel asked, “What’s the message?” The tip of his sword bit a little deeper. Blood trickled down the demon’s neck.

“You are to come with me,” the vampire said.

Buffy’s stomach churned. She knew what was coming, and by the look on her love’s face she knew he did too. She had to ask anyway. “And why would we do that?”

“We have your friend. The Englishman.”

Buffy’s chest filled with dread for Giles. She hid her fear behind sarcasm. “You couldn’t say please?” she said. “You were here to kill us.”

The vampire shrugged an unfelt apology. “Either way works.”

Angel gave the vampire a little push with the tip of his sword. It stumbled back, and turned to walk away as if it had nothing to fear from them. Maybe it didn’t, Buffy thought as they followed it. Angel squeezed her arm and let go. When his hand came back, it held an eleven inch knife. It was sheathed in leather, and she knew the handle was made of yew, the wood embellished in a knot work design. Angel had picked it up in his travels.  She slid the knife into an inner pocket of her coat. If they had harmed Giles in any way…

 

+++

France 1999

He decided to build an empire. The criminal world was an easy target. He was the invisible man, paying his hired thugs to do his dirty work by way of a third party. And when that third party was no longer useful he got rid of them too, and hired another and another, always keeping his identity secret. His assassins killed and maimed and eliminated anyone that stood in his way, be they demon or men.  Soon, he had the respect of every gang boss and clan. They had the resources to give him what he wanted. And so it was that his plan began to come to fruition.

 

+++

Now

Their destination wasn’t what they were expecting. Buffy thought an evil demon mastermind should have a lair that was dark and dank and cobwebby. This was far from it. They were shown in through a side door of a fancy building of chrome and glass and steel.

Buffy heard Angel mutter, “Wolfram and Hart.”

Her fear turned to ice. It melted a little when, on entering the foyer, they could see, carved in black granite, a bird, and underneath the words, Raven International. A portrait of a man was mounted above the reception desk. There was no name assigned to the painting, and if Buffy had to guess, she would have bet it was that of the owner of the firm. Buffy let out the breath she had been holding. Angel’s next words did nothing to reassure her.

“A building like this? Wolfram and Hart in all but name.”

Angel deposited the bag at reception figuring it would be taken from them anyhow. They were led into an elevator and watched as the vampire pressed Basement. That’s more like it, Buffy thought. She stared at the doors and walls. There were no mirrors or shiny surfaces, and Buffy liked shiny. She knew that any vampires travelling the elevator would appreciate the lack of mirrors, and she wondered if it was the reason the interior was decorated with a leather-like material. When she put out a hand it felt soft, like suede. 

Angel wasn’t staring at the walls, he was eyeing up the vampire standing in front of him.  The demon wasn’t afraid of them. It was pretty self assured. That meant only one thing. It was more frightened of its master, whatever it, or, whoever it may be. Angel was sure it would be an it. Vampires were never afraid of humans, unless, they were more than they appeared to be. The Mayor of Sunnydale sprang to mind.

Eventually, the elevator silently arrived at its designated floor. Upon opening, the vampire marched across a small entrance way and to a locked door. It keyed in a code on the lock, Angel managing to catch a glimpse as he peered over the vampire’s shoulder, and the door slid open. The interior was not at all dank and dark. It was pristine and white: the carpet and the walls, the ceiling and the doors all the same blank hue. The furniture broke the monotony. The leather was red, and the pieces were splashed about like droplets of blood on the pale skin of a corpse. Angel rolled his eyes as they were led into the belly of the beast. Talk about making a statement. Buffy wasn’t impressed, either.

She said, “It must be hard getting stains out of the carpet.”

“You’d be surprised,” a voice answered from the side of the room.

Buffy wasn’t surprised they hadn’t noticed anyone at first. The room, or rooms, were immense. They had to have taken up one entire floor of the building, even if it was only the basement.

An ordinary man stood in a doorway. At least he looked ordinary. Ordinary enough to be taken for an accountant, or a “lawyer…” Angel breathed.

“No such thing,” the man said, insulted. “We’re not Wolfram and Hart. Such a paltry firm. Dabbling in apocalypses and the like. Come…” He waved a hand at them, and turned to disappear through the door. When Buffy and Angel followed, they noticed that the vampire stayed put. It shut the door behind them.

“The name is Jacques. Mr Raven will be with you shortly.”

Jacques waved his hand again, indicating the bottles of liquor and glasses that were set on a table. Both ignored the invitation and stared about the room. This one wasn’t at all white and pure. The décor was decidedly different. The room was tiled in a deep red, almost black, hue. The chairs were made of steel. They were shiny, as was the table. All were washable. Buffy thought of hoses sluicing off bloody remains. Buffy started. Her eyes had come to rest upon Giles. He had been seated in a corner, and was tethered to a chair. And he was gagged. Angel had already discovered him, his beating heart giving him away. Buffy rushed forward. Angel stood his ground. He would keep his eye on the man, no, the scent told Angel he was a demon, called Jacques. One thing bothered him. They hadn’t been searched for weapons. Jacques stared back at him, his grey eyes giving nothing away.

Buffy was overjoyed to see her friend alive. “Giles! Are you  hurt?”

She ripped away the gag. Giles spat out a few fibres and licked his lips.

“Thank you, Buffy. The only hurt I have is to have been captured like a fool in the first place.” He tried moistening his lips but his tongue was awfully dry. “Could you fetch me a glass of water, please?”

“Sure.”

She held the glass to his mouth so he could drink. He swallowed half the glass before pulling his head away.

“Thank you. Anymore and I’m afraid I might have to ask for the bathroom.”

“Why have we been brought here?” she asked him.

“They asked me a lot of questions. Who we are… why are we asking about Andrew. What did we know. Those kind of things.” He looked over her head to where Angel stood. Angel’s attention appeared to be on their captor and Giles knew that Angel was listening to their conversation. “I think we’ve found our man.”

“Well, duh!” At Giles expression Buffy softened her exclamation. “We were ambushed. You were missing. And the prize goes to…”

A door opened and suddenly, the room began to fill with demons. Six, Buffy counted. Six ugly and brutish forms filed in and went to stand either side of the opening. She patted Giles on the arm and put herself between him and the door. Angel, too, she noticed, was on his toes. Not that he was physically tip-toeing.  Buffy had learned to read his body language, and it was telling her that he was ready to go to war. Four people strolled into the room like they were out in the park. They were safe in their house of evil, they took their time. Buffy raised a brow at Angel. He mouthed “human.” Mmm… Mr Raven should be coming through round about…except it wasn’t Raven, at least not the man that had his portrait on the wall in the lobby, it was someone else entirely.

The man’s jet-black hair was tied back in a ponytail. His pale eyes, stared down an aquiline nose. His lips were full, almost pouting. Two puckered lines ran across each other on one cheek, marring what could have been a handsome visage. He wasn’t tall, but his frame was powerfully built. Buffy’s scrutiny went to his hands. They were big, and scarred. Those hands had fought a battle or two. Buffy felt his scrutiny like a physical blow. She was sure her skin was peeling back to reveal her inner, darkest secrets. The man shifted his gaze to Angel. It was like she had been imprisoned and was now released. Buffy inhaled a sigh. Her slayer senses were screaming at her, saying Master vampire. And more importantly it wasn’t Angel. Kill was knifing through her blood.

Angel felt the other’s stare. He matched it with an intensity of his own. A small part of him relished the fact that the vampire was shorter than he. The other’s gaze left him without a flicker in its cold eyes. The vampire walked to a chair and sat upon it as if it was a throne.

Angel couldn’t help himself. “Korbinian, I presume.”

The other smiled. It was a wolfish grin.

“Angelus.” Korbinian nodded at Buffy. “Slayer.”

“Korbinian? Then who is Raven?” Buffy asked, ignoring Korbinian.

“Korbinian is Latin for Raven,” Giles said from behind her.

“Ah. The Englishman. Move aside, girl. Let us have a look at him.”

Buffy didn’t like taking orders but thought it prudent to do as she was told. For the moment, anyway. She stepped aside but stayed close to her friend.

“Raven is just the front man, am I right?” Giles concluded.

A shrug. “There are certain advantages in having a human as a stand in.”

“Sunlight being one of them?” Buffy retorted.

Korbinian’s cruel eyes sent a shiver up her spine. They stared at her as if she was a specimen, a bug to be ground beneath his heel.

A languid hand dismissed her words. “I prefer anonymity. Some, however,” and Korbinian turned his head to consider Angel, “attract attention, unwanted or not.”

Angel refused to rise to the bait. “So what are you afraid of?”

“No one.” And Buffy believed him.

“What do you want from us?” she asked.

Korbinian turned back to regard Buffy. “Weren’t you the ones looking for me?”

“Andrew Wells. Was he in your employ?” Giles said from his seat.

“Mmm. Master Wells. A promising young man. He had a…shall we say, a dalliance? With one of my girls. She was in Rome on business. You know how it is. Boy meets girl…”

“Girl gets boy killed,” Buffy interjected. She should know.

The vampire continued on as if Buffy hadn’t interrupted. “Renata was sure he would prove useful. She could always spot that bit of darkness inside a person. She offered him a position with Raven International. A bit of cloak and dagger stuff. The boy jumped at the chance. I am pleased to say that he proved quite adaptable.”

“How adaptable?” Buffy asked with a sinking heart.

A satisfied smile played across Korbinian’s lips. “You saw his apartment. The boy craved wealth and luxury. It was quite sad, really, how easily he was swayed.”

“And?”

“I’m sorry to say that he came across information that was not his to know.”

Although Buffy was shattered to think that Andrew hadn’t been quite so trustworthy as she had believed, she breathed a sigh of relief that his death had nothing to do with Dawn.  Her brief moment of ease was ripped away when the vampire added, “And we couldn’t have that, what with his connection to the slayer and her sister. It’s a shame, really. We thought we’d be able to keep an eye on the slayer and her paramour through Monsieur Wells.”

Buffy ground her teeth. Once again others had become a pawn to be used against her. Deliberately, she shoved away the pain of betrayal. Now wasn’t the time. Later, when they got out of this situation, would be the time to examine her feelings.

“What information?” Angel asked, pointedly ignoring the vampire’s cutting words. He knew it was hard for Giles and Buffy to hear the truth about someone they had trusted, so he moved the conversation right along.

Korbinian, Raven, whatever the man’s name was, laughed. The sound raised the hairs on the back of Buffy’s neck.

“This is not the movies where the villain tells everyone his plans, Angelus. Even if he intends to kill the pesky heroes.”

“So it’s world domination or something in that vein,” Angel replied. “Why else would you go to all this trouble?”

Korbinian waved that away with a languid hand.

“I remember the tales told about you. The Scourge of Europe rampaging through Europe, killing and maiming everything in your path. Quite a name you made for yourself.”

“I don’t recall anything about you. Were you hiding behind somebody’s skirt?”

 “That’s the difference between you and me,” Korbinian replied with a shrug.

The vampire’s attention was fixed solely on Angel now. Buffy, Giles, and Korbinian’s minions might as well not be in the room, for all intents and purposes. “Anonymity guarantees safety.”

Angel snorted in derision. “You like to play it safe, do you?”

“I was once like you.” The vampire rose from his seat and stalked over to Angel. “The bloodlust controlled me. I had a purpose, though, and I threw off the shackles of need.”

Angel tilted his head with a question. He was guessing when he asked, “What are you? Four hundred years? Sixteenth century?”

“Yes, very clever of you. The good old days. The Church killing innocents, and villagers turning upon one another.” Korbinian cocked his head. “Nothing much has changed. I hear you had a predilection towards convents. It seems we share a common hatred for the Church.”

It had never been about hate for Angelus. Innocence and piety had attracted Angelus to convents. That, and the sweet taste of virginity.  Angel changed the subject. “The mark on your cheek. The Inquisition?”

The vampire fingered the scar. “It was a secular court that questioned me. I still hold the Church responsible. They had everyone cowed back in the day. A cry of heresy, witchcraft, hell, even if you dared to question, you were put to death. You remember how it was. I returned the favour a hundred fold. Torture is an art form, as I know you are aware. My questioners learned first-hand my curious inventions.”

“They murdered your family?” Angel could see the fire ignite in Korbinian’s eyes. This was an old wound, the scab a welcome sore in the immortal’s dreary existence.

“They tried to get me to betray my wife. I wouldn’t, and she died, nevertheless. This is a reminder of their work.”

Buffy and Giles listened with interest. To hear a vampire talk about lost love and his past life reinforced the fact that this was once a man, a human being. Just as Angel once was. Buffy steeled her heart. The small spark of sympathy for the vampire’s human past was quenched with the knowledge that the demon had killed thousands and would continue to kill. Korbinian was no Angel. He didn’t have a soul. He was evil, and judging by their surroundings was doing quite well out of it. Besides, he had corrupted Andrew, turning him back to the dark side. Buffy grimaced at her reference to anything Star Wars. Andrew’s influence was still at work.

“Korbinian wasn’t your human name,” Angel said.

“Ironic, isn’t it? Korbinian was the saint of my town.”

“Freising.”

“Do you know what the name means? Raven. They thought that ravens were the souls of the damned. The ghosts of the murdered. How appropriate for the Church to beatify Korbinian.” The vampire sneered. “He wasn’t much of a man, by all accounts. And your name, Angelus. Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariæ. If only the Church knew the blessings you bestowed.”

While Angel and their host talked, Buffy edged closer to Giles. Her eyes were on the demons and humans that stood waiting for their master’s orders. The demons kept a wary watch on her, but the human servants were intent on Korbinian. To Buffy’s eyes they looked like gangsters, and if gangsters had a look, then theirs was it. Sharp suits, mean mouths, and dead-looking eyes. Giles, too, was aware of Buffy’s surreptitious moves. He kept an eye on her, waiting for the right moment to act.

The knowledge that Andrew had been swayed by fast money and easy women saddened him. Giles was angry that he had put his trust in the boy. He, most of all, should have been aware of Andrew’s fickle ways. He was thankful the boy had been loyal to Dawn and hadn’t put her in any danger, small comfort though it was. Giles tested his bonds, well aware that they had to escape this trap. He didn’t see how his two friends could hope to vanquish so many, and he blamed himself for their predicament. Still, they had been in worse pickles.  He began to work a small miracle.

“We’re not here to talk about names. What do you want?” Angel was saying.

“It’s easy to be a non person in this world. These times and those times, it’s all really very simple. You don’t make a fuss, don’t call attention to oneself, and you get to do whatever you want. Kill anything that steps in your way, leave no witnesses. That is why you are here. You’ve been asking questions, you have involved the police.”

“Seems to me the police already knew about you.”

“But not what I am or what I am about.”

“And that is, what, exactly?”

“Back to that. It won’t work, Angelus. You’ll die wondering if the world is about to end.”

Korbinian made a gesture and his lieutenants, if they could be called that, stepped away from the walls. Buffy was ready. She pulled a stake from out of her pocket. Angel’s sword appeared to materialize in his hand. He swung it at Korbinian. Kill the head and the rest of the snake dies. The vampire was too quick. He virtually flew up and back, Angel following in his wake. Buffy launched herself into the fray. Giles’ chair toppled backwards as he flung himself out of it, the bonds tethering him to the chair cut with the knife Buffy had slipped him earlier. Giles jabbed and slashed at the demons converging on him. Buffy slammed into one, pushing it onto Giles’ blade. She spun away.

Korbinian bellowed. “You didn’t search them for weapons?”

Jacques, who had been standing sedately in the corner, smiled at his master, while drawing forth an axe that had been hidden by his legs. “You didn’t ask me to.” Jacques joined in the melee, his axe making short work of the demon advancing on Buffy. She stopped for a moment to process what she was seeing. She had been wondering why they hadn’t had their weapons confiscated and now she knew why. Apparently, Jacques had changed sides. Four against one, better odds.

Angel was chasing Korbinian. He needed to keep the vampire in the room. Korbinian was fast. Very fast, and strong, when the vampire tackled him, coming in under his guard. The vampire’s minions left them alone. They had other fish to fry. Buffy’s stake smashed into the eyeball of a demon and up into its brain. It fell away. Buffy kicked and lunged and twirled aside. Jacques killed a man as he tried to open the door.

“No!” Buffy cried, too late.

It was then she noticed that Jacques no longer resembled the human he was pretending to be. She didn’t know when it had happened, but his face was now dotted with blue quills, his skin was green, and red eyes stared back at her.

“Huh?” she gawped for a moment.

A gun went off. Buffy ducked. The shot went wide. The gunman was one of the men that worked for Raven.

Giles said, “I’ll get him.”

Buffy threw one of the chairs across the room. It bounced off the wall and onto the men huddled there. Another shot, and the bullet smashed harmlessly into a wall. She saw Giles throw his knife. It found its mark and the gunman went down, the knife protruding from his shoulder. The watcher scrambled after the knife and gun, and when he turned, the two remaining humans had scrambled out the other door.

Angel had lost his sword. He was trading blows with Korbinian. The other vampire snarled at him. “You’re stronger than I thought. All those years of living soft I thought might have taken its toll.”

Angel didn’t bother enlightening him. Angel had come back from…where ever it was that he had been, when Connor resurrected him, stronger and faster than before. Stronger than even Buffy, he thought. To the others in the room, other than Buffy with her slayer senses, the two vampires moved in a blur. Angel and Korbinian looked like they were flying. Their forms flew across the room, entangled and still trading blows. The walls shook as they rebounded away. Buffy, Giles, and Jacques fought on, Jacques saving her life when his axe took the arm of a demon that had her by the throat. Buffy returned the favour by stabbing a demon in the neck with her stake after it had knocked away the axe and had the stunned Jacques on the floor. One demon remained. Buffy scooped up Angel’s fallen sword and advanced.

Korbinian and Angel were hammering each other. Blow after bloody blow fell. Korbinian’s smirk was slipping. The first glimmerings of defeat had entered his eyes. Korbinian made a desperate attempt to get away.

“No!” he shouted. Korbinian flung himself towards the door to his inner sanctum. Angel was there before him. His arms went about the vampire’s neck, and he twisted. Korbinian fell to dust, the head in Angel’s hands disintegrating along with him. When he looked up, Angel saw the carnage that was the room, and the love of his life standing in the middle of it. His grin was infectious. She grinned back at him. Giles, too, gave a relieved and shaky smile. 

When Jacques clambered to his feet he was back in human form, and his hand was massaging the bruise forming on his scalp.

Buffy asked him, “Why the change of heart?”

“It may have been an unfortunate incident that killed your friend, but it was an opportune one for me. When the boss had us bring you in I knew that this was the chance I had been looking for.”

“And that was, what?”

“To put an end to him. He started a clan war by killing Krate, the leader of the Septio clan, and blaming it on the Lutz family. Believe you me, you don’t want to make an enemy of the Septio. Vicious beasts. The Lutz are a devious breed of demon, but they are not really up to starting a war.  It was time to act. I couldn’t do it on my own, and his trust was hard won, so I couldn’t bring in members of my own people to help. His was the quest for power, and more. Korbinian had a plan to alter the world. His hatred of it was so complete that he had something diabolical planned. I couldn’t allow that. We couldn’t allow it. We…I love the world too much to let it happen. It’s our world too. We have a place in it as much as you do.”

“Do you have a family?” Giles asked.

Jacques smiled. “I do.”

“And what was this plan, do you know?”

Jacques shook his head. “Monsieur Wells liked to snoop. He came across something…I don’t know if he heard a conversation, or whether he saw something he shouldn’t have. He was always asking questions, making a nuisance of himself. Wells was set upon one night after leaving work. One of the boss’s assassins did the work.  Korbinian killed Renata after she had gone running to him about Wells’ transgression. He couldn’t let her live, either.  I don’t think we will ever know what he was about to do.”

“Whatever Korbinian’s intentions were, there may be another that has knowledge of them. How can we be sure that this plan won’t go ahead?” Giles said.

“You didn’t know Korbinian like I did.” Jacques grimaced. “He was a control…how you say? Freak. He let no one, and I mean no one, know what his plans were until the last minute. All we knew was that he was up to something. Something pretty bad.”

“And he couldn’t allow us to get in the way,” Angel said.

Buffy toed the demon corpse by her feet. “This is us getting in the way.”

“I think we need to contact Laroche.” Giles said, wondering just how the policeman was going to react to the demon corpses.

Jacques coughed quietly. “We have a unit that can clean up this mess. Your policeman needn’t concern himself with…” He indicated the room and its dead occupants.

“The cleaners?” Angel asked him, his lips twitching just a little.

“Most organizations have something similar, do they not?”

Angel knew Jacques must have seen a file on him that mentioned his stewardship of the Los Angeles branch of Wolfram and Hart.

“I had to terminate their contract. They were a bit over zealous,” he replied with a gleam in his eye. Angel threw Giles his phone, and Buffy’s Watcher began to dial Laroche’s number.

Jacques said, “Inform the Lieutenant that Léveque is here. And that Prideux and Durand are on the loose.”  He waved his hand in the direction of the man with the knife wound. Léveque was gripping his shoulder and groaning in agony. He explained, “He’ll know who they are. Léveque, Prideux, and Durand were once the lords of crime in this city. The boss eliminated any who opposed him, and they and their henchmen had no choice but to join with Korbinian. I’m sorry I killed Brun, he was Prideux’s number two, but he won’t be missed.” He didn’t look too sorry, Buffy thought. She sighed. She couldn’t worry about it. What’s done is done. Besides, she didn’t think anyone would miss him, either.

“I know what I saw. You’re half Brachen,” Angel said when Jacques had finished his little speech.

Buffy stared at her boyfriend. Angel had told her about Doyle, with his visions and his demon heritage. He had told her of the sacrifice his friend had made, and how much he missed him.  Buffy could see the old pain back in his eyes.

Jacques smiled. “Yes. On my father’s side.”

Angel returned the smile. “I knew a half Brachen once, he was good people.”

Jacques bowed his head in thanks. “Before the police get here, there’s a vampire at the door,” Jacques reminded them. “Even with all the noise, the vampire would not enter the room unless the Master invited him in. Silly, really.”

Buffy was happy to oblige.

+++

Laroche burst into the room followed by several of his men. The cleaners had only just arrived and were bundling corpses into body bags.

“What the hell?” one of his associates cried when they caught sight of claws and scaly hides.

“I gather this is something new for your men?” Giles asked, moving toward the group of policemen. They bristled at his approach. Giles stepped back, giving them room to come to grips with what they were seeing.

The Lieutenant shook his head. “For one or two of them, yes. They know what’s out there, but to see it face to face is another thing.”

Laroche dismissed his men with a wave of his hand. They caught up Léveque and escorted him from the room, happy to leave their boss dealing with matters.

 “You were here pretty damned quick,” Giles said once they were out the door.

“No one appreciates the police anymore. Usually, people complain when we’re late,” the Lieutenant chuckled.

Giles recalled the policeman’s driving, and shuddered.

Buffy considered Laroche as the body bags disappeared through a door. The policeman appeared to study every detail of the operation as if it were an everyday occurrence. The man was not your usual run of the mill policeman, she knew, in the same way Ian Collins wasn’t, either. Both men accepted that there was more to the world than met the eye, and were prepared to deal with it anyway they could. Buffy wished there were more people like them.  Members of the clean up team began to set the room to rights. Buckets and mops appeared, and the walls and floor were set to with vigour. They decided to leave them to it.

Laroche followed Giles and Buffy into Korbinian’s private sanctuary. Angel was there in conversation with Jacques. When he saw the policeman, Jacques bid Angel adieu, and they shook hands before he departed.  Angel raised his eyebrows at Buffy, silently asking her if the room had been cleared before the policeman’s arrival. She shook her head.

“Nothing I haven’t seen before,” Laroche said as if reading his mind.

Angel understood. He nodded, and looked away to pick up an object he had found in the room. It was small, egg-shaped at one end, and intricately carved.

“Is that a…” Laroche asked, intrigued.

“A pyx? Yes it is.” Angel turned it over and opened the lid. Inside were two desiccated eyeballs.

“Let me guess,” Buffy said peering in. “Someone that pissed Korbinian off.”

“A cleric perhaps,” Angel answered snapping on the lid. “The pyx is the vessel that usually holds the Blessed Sacrament.”

“You what?” Buffy asked.

“The wafers for Holy Communion.”

“Nothing holy about it now.”

Laroche held out his hand and Angel placed the pyx in it.

“Fifteenth century, I believe.” The Lieutenant smiled at their startled looks. “I like to dabble,” he explained and handed back the pyx.

Wanting to test the policeman more, Buffy quickly scanned the room. An object caught her eye in a display cabinet on the wall. She released it from behind the glass and, ignoring Giles’ eager look, held it out to the Lieutenant.  Laroche examined it with an expert eye.

“Byzantine. Tenth century, perhaps? A steatite plaque. One used on caskets, I believe.”

“That’s some dabbling,” Buffy commented, awe colouring her words. “Watch out, Giles, you’ve got competition.”

Giles was looking at Laroche in admiration. “You’ve been studying antiquities long?”

“It’s a hobby of mine,” the policeman answered. “One sees things and one wonders…”

“It explains a lot. You wouldn’t be interested in a job, would you?” Giles asked hopefully.

The policeman smiled. “I have one, thank you. But if you ever need help, just call. Speaking of jobs, what exactly happened here?”

While Giles was filling in the policeman on all the details, Buffy and Angel searched the office for clues as to what the founder of Raven International had been up to. With Korbinian dead the company would collapse, they hoped. The firm had been built on the proceeds of crime, and unless it continued to do so, there wasn’t much hope of it making an honest dollar.

When Buffy laid eyes on the tempered steel bow, she longed to have it. Damascus steel, according to Angel. An odd-looking helmet was also on display. A strange design inlaid with silver covered half of it. Buffy hadn’t seen its like before and she wondered about it. She moved on to other things. Angel pocketed the pyx when no one was looking his way. The image of Cordelia being auctioned for her seer’s eyes came to mind. He didn’t know what he was going to do with the eyes, but he knew he didn’t want to leave them here to be sold off, or used for nefarious purposes.  It was then that he noticed the slump of Buffy’s shoulders. He pulled her into his arms, her back to his chest.

“Thinking about Andrew?” he asked her.

 “Yeah. We were wrong about him. I was wrong to trust him. All this time…Dawn wasn’t safe.” Angel smelled the salt of Buffy’s tears. She put a hand up to wipe them away. He gave her a gentle squeeze.

 “I think Andrew must have genuinely cared for Dawn. She didn’t come to any harm  through him. And it wasn’t your fault. You gave him a second chance and he abused that chance.” Angel kissed the top of her head. “Do you remember the Wolfram and Hart lawyer I told you about? Lindsey? The man who tried to drive me round the bend by bringing Darla back?”

Buffy gave a small nod.

“I gave him a second chance and he threw it in my face. Eventually, a third chance came along, and he grabbed it with both hands and left town.”

Buffy nodded again to show him that she did remember. Angel drew in a breath. He hadn’t told Buffy about the part that Lindsey had to play in the final battle. He wasn’t proud of the way he had used Lorne to kill Lindsey. To lessen Buffy’s feeling of guilt he decided to unburden himself.

“A few years later he was back and up to his old tricks.”

“What happened to him?”

“I killed him.” He couldn’t apportion the blame. Lindsey’s death was on his head.

Buffy wrapped her hands about his, in a bid to comfort them both. “I’m sorry.”

“Me too.” Angel had lost a good friend with that deed. He often wondered where Lorne was and what he was up to.

“Korbinian was a vampire,” Laroche was saying, nodding as if it should have been obvious.   “Did you stake him?”

“Angel found another way,” Giles said.

When the policeman’s eyebrows twitched, Angel shrugged, having moved away from Buffy’s embrace. “Decapitation works.”

“Of course,” the policeman agreed. “And you have no idea what he was up to, besides the obvious?”

“We’ve begun searching his office. We’ll check the rest of the apartment but I doubt we’ll find anything. Apparently, Korbinian kept everything close to his chest. I doubt we’ll ever know.” Giles hoped that whatever the vampire had been up to was now dead and buried with him.

 

+++

 

He was informed he had visitors. Solicitors, he was told. The courts had appointed him a lawyer and he wasn’t happy about it. The man was nekompetentnyy, incompetent. Now he wondered why he suddenly had two. The guard then told him that his employer had sent the gentlemen. His mood brightened. That was more like it.

He followed the guards from his cell in Brixton to the interview room. He was on remand, pending trial. Apparently he was a flight risk and bail had been denied. His was but one of many trials pending. Brixton served as a prison, and not a few prisoners were incarcerated along with him while waiting for justice to be served. The police hadn’t wasted much time. He seethed at the ignominy of it all. To be trounced by a mere slip of a girl, and with a dozen witnesses, his fate was doomed. Nikolai heard the door behind him close. Consultation between solicitors and clients were private. No one would be listening in.

The two men standing there waiting for him were dressed in suit and tie. The inevitable brief case on the table. The older one, his spectacles, giving him a bookish air, looked the part. The younger one…well, Nikolai had seen a fair share of thugs in his time, and the young man looked like he could handle himself in a fight. The shoulders were wide enough, and the stance he knew well. Bit of a pretty boy, though. Nikolai decided he would reserve judgement.

“About time,” he said in his accented English. “When do I get out of here?”

The older man coughed and, taking off his glasses, began to clean them with a handkerchief. “I think you misunderstand.”

“What do you mean I misunderstand? You’re here to get me out, aren’t you? I knew that Oska wouldn’t let me rot in jail.”

“Oska didn’t send us. A little deception on our part.” The older man smiled in apology.

Nikolai’s blood ran cold. What was this?

“I’m not telling you anything.” Had he said too much already?

The younger man, the one who had been standing silent and still, opened his mouth and his face changed. The monster rushed him and, before Nikolai knew it, he was dangling by his neck from the hand of the demon.

“What is this?” he tried to say but his throat was being squeezed into submission. All that came out was a croak.

“This is how it’s going to work,” the vampire hissed in his face. “You are going to tell us everything. We want to know where to find Oska.”

Nikolai’s mouth worked wordlessly.

“Speak up, I can’t hear you,” the vampire ordered.

His feet kicked out uselessly. Nikolai’s vision began to go dark. He clawed at the hand that held him captive.

“Angel. The man needs to breathe,” the other man suggested.

The grip loosened, and Nikolai felt the floor beneath his feet. He gulped in much needed oxygen. The vampire’s eyes held disappointment when Nikolai’s vision cleared and he looked into them.

“You can’t kill me. The guards will know,” Nikolai said with his last remaining piece of courage.

“Dead is dead,” the vampire named Angel threatened. “Besides, after what you did to my girlfriend and all those women you kidnapped, I’m inclined to a spot of violence.”

“Girlfriend?”

Nikolai’s flesh crawled when the vampire smiled a mouthful of fangs.

“Blonde, about yay high?” The vampire put out his hand to indicate the height. “She was the one that put you out of business.”

Nikolai cursed his luck once more. Not only had the girl given him and his men a hiding and put an end to their lucrative enterprise, her creature-of-the-night boyfriend was here threatening to finish him off. A shiver of fear coursed through him. Vampires were killers, but so was Oska. His life wouldn’t be worth a cent if he gave Oska up.

And while he was prevaricating about his choices, the vampire leaned in, his fangs gleaming wickedly.

“We can do this the easy way or the hard way. Which is it going to be? I’m kinda hoping it’ll be the hard way. It’s been a while. My torture skills are a little rusty.” A long elegant finger positioned itself over a nerve. The finger pressed. The pain was excruciating. Nikolai opened his mouth to scream, only to find a hand had closed over his mouth.

Nikolai spilled the beans, and that wasn’t all that he spilled. The scent of urine soured the air.

Giles shook his head in satisfaction as he and Angel exited the gate of the prison. It was one of the few times that Giles appreciated the skills that Angelus had honed. Angel hadn’t baulked at the task, in fact, if he didn’t know better, he thought that Angel had relished the undertaking. He was just as sure that that exuberance would extend to the hunting of Oska, and his demise.  Glancing over at Angel, he could see the smile on the vampire’s lips confirmed his thoughts.

Angel was lost in a pleasant day dream. Fingers and toes would be the first to go. Skin. It had been a long while since he had flayed anyone. He thought back to how it was done. It could take long, excruciating hours. Yes, that would do. Oska would also keep his tongue. The demon would be begging for mercy before he was finished. The eyes would stay. The demon would die watching pieces of his body fall away in a welter of blood. Angel felt his lips curve up into a smile.

 

The End.

 

Author’s notes

 

 

A huge, huge hug and a thank you to Jo, for all her hard work. The woman is an amazing beta, and I’m happy to say a good friend.  

 

 

 

I have used facts gleaned from a book by Wolfgang Behringer found here on Google about the witch hunts and trials in Bavaria in the sixteenth century.  You can find more information here.

 

Excerpt from the book -  148 Witchcraft Persecution in Bavaria

   Everywhere in 1590 soothsayers appeared and offered to find witches. 'Witchfinders' had an immense following among the people, and posed a threat to the policy of the city governments, which showed little inclination to hunt witches. In 1591 Augsburg banished a witchfinder from the city; he had tried to extort money from a member of the house of Fugger by exploiting the general fear of witches. At Nuremberg one of these troublemakers was executed.

 

Freidrich Stigler, a soothsayer and friend of Eichstätt the executioner, was himself put to the sword, losing his head after having endured terrible torture, for accusing, falsely, several women as witches without any grounds of proof. Nuremberg, 28th July, 1590 was a day for celebration. Not every accused witch lost their lives. Some were exiled, quite a few released, free to go about their daily business, but not a few, and many of those young men, suffered dying by inferno. By then, the man who had lost his wife to the purifying fires no longer cared. He should have felt vindicated, should have been weeping with relief that that horrible, evil man had gone to his death. Instead, he was occupied with other, more fascinating things. For he had joined the ranks of evil.

 

Corbinian/Korbinian – raven, Latin Corvus meaning raven.

 

Bavaria/ Freising

http://www.world66.com/europe/germany/bavaria/freising

 

St Corbinian/Korbinian

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

 

And here – Witchcraft and Magic in Europe by Bengt Ankarloo, Stuart Clark, William Monter

 

 

 

La Défense district.

http://www.bookrags.com/wiki/La_D%C3%A9fense

 

Hotel Courtyard Paris Neuilly

 

 

Angel’s long knife. It’s at the top of the page.

http://www.jelldragon.com/knives.htm

 

Battle of Ulm

http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_ulm.html

 

Battle of Stalingrad

http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/battle_of_stalingrad.htm

 

Bosnian War

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

 

Inquisition

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

 

Angelus

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

 

Pyx

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12588a.htm

For a picture of a pyx - 

http://www.museumofleathercraft.org/Leather-Objects/medievalartefacts.htm

 

The steel bow Buffy coveted is RL26, about two thirds down the page. The helmet is Mughal and can be found at the bottom of the page.

 

http://www.esford.com/armourydamascus.htm

 

 

Nekompetentnyy is Ukrainian for incompetent. Nikolai, if you hadn’t already guessed, is Ukrainian.

 

Brixton Prison if you’re so inclined. Thank you, Jo for the link.

http://www.hmprisonservice.gov.uk/prisoninformation/locateaprison/prison.asp?id=284,15,2,15,284,0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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