Part 12:

Things quieted down quickly after that. Ethan Rayne had not lied, the cursed candy wore off shortly after dawn. Most of those afflicted, as well as those unfortunate teenagers exposed to this flash of the past from their parents, quickly adopted the usual Sunnydale method of dealing with things that could not easily be explained. They ignored it, wrote it off to bad food, too much to drink, or maybe some kind of prank where people spiked the town's water supply. Anything but face the fact that something very strange had once again held sway over Sunnydale.

The kidnapped babies were returned to the hospital without incident, though both Buffy and Angel flat out refused to get close to any of them again until they were safely tucked away. There was no sense in tempting fate any more than necessary.

Ethan Rayne was arrested by the police for illegal distribution of non- licensed food, some technicality Willow and Oz had come up with during the research session. Unfortunately it was the best they could do, seeing as no one would possible believe all that had happened. It should have put him away for at least a few months. What the Scoobies did not find out was the fact that Ethan walked free just a few hours later, the charges against him dropped after a phone call from the deputy mayor.

Assessing the damage of the night revealed that there had been no casualties, though some people had quite thoroughly wrecked their cars, their homes, and the occasional body part. There were lots of bruises, some broken bones, and a lot of folks suffering from truly monstrous hangovers.

Having taken care of the life and death matters, though, left quite a few more personal issues to deal with for the people involved.

#

"Xander?"

His neck and jaw were bruised a lovely shade of purple and he had gone through ice packs at a frightening pace. Looking up at the one calling his name hurt quite a bit, but he did it anyway. He met Buffy's eyes as she came toward him.

"Hi, Buff," he said carefully. "I ... is the candy curse over?"

"Over and done with," Buffy said, trying to sound quip, but failing miserably. "Back to my old self. Thank God."

"Glad to hear it," he said softly.

Buffy sat down next to him, avoiding his gaze. There was silence between them for a minute or two, the awkwardness almost tangible.

"Xander," Buffy finally said, "I wanted to ... to thank you. And I wanted to say I'm sorry. For hurting you."

"Nothing to be sorry for. You weren't exactly yourself."

"Maybe." Buffy paused, wringing her hands in her lap. "Or maybe I just got a very frightening look at what I could become unless I'm careful."

Xander did not know what to say to that, so he kept his mouth shut for once.

"There are a lot of things I need to figure out about myself," Buffy continued. "I just wanted to thank you for doing what you did. That you stopped me and Angel from ... from ..."

Her voice trailed of.

"I had some of that coming," Xander admitted. "I messed up a lot, Buff. I know I did. I just ... I just hope that I can somehow make it up to you and Angel."

She finally met his gaze, her amber eyes still a disconcerting sight for him.

"This doesn't make it right, Xander. I can't just brush away what happened."

"I know," he nodded.

"But maybe ... maybe Angel was right. He said everyone should get the chance to earn forgiveness."

Xander looked up, surprised to hear her utter these words. After everything that had happened he had almost given up hope.

"Do you mean ...," he began.

"Just what I said. Nothing more, nothing less."

Xander swallowed and nodded, realizing that Buffy had gone as far as she was able to go for today. A small part of him was a bit peeved. Had he not stopped her and Angel from becoming killers tonight? Was this all he got for nearly being killed at her hands? Thankfully he had gotten quite good at suppressing that spiteful voice. It only got him in trouble.

"Thanks," he simply said.

There was the barest shadow of a smile on Buffy's face.

#

"Feeling better?" Angel handed Giles a cup of tea.

"More or less," the Watcher replied, thankfully accepting the beverage. "Though I am wishing very hard for some kind of spontaneous amnesia right now."

Faith, sitting on the couch and munching on one of the few remaining chocolate bars, grinned at him. "This might not have something to do with the bickering between you and Mrs. S, G-Man?"

Angel gave her a look that was halfway between stern and amused. Giles just groaned.

"Maybe we should change the topic." Giles looked very serious. "How is Buffy?"

Angel sighed, sitting down as well. "Fully recovered. Very spooked also."

"Not surprising. What about you?"

"I'm ... well, used to would be the wrong expression, but I know what it is like to feel the urges of the demon inside me, having trouble controlling them. It's not pretty, but I have learned to live with it. Buffy, though, ..."

Giles leaned back, massaging his temples in a vain attempt to get rid of the migraine that was rapidly developing.

"I fear I'm no closer to learning about what might yet happen to Buffy. There has never been a human being drinking vampire blood over this length of time. Not even close. Certainly never a Slayer."

"Virgin territory?" Faith asked, reminding the others of her presence.

"Pretty much," Giles answered. "Well, I will keep looking, but we mustn't forget that there are other things that might have to take precedence right now."

"Like who hired Ethan Rayne," Angel nodded.

"Guy in a suit isn't exactly a major hint." Faith swallowed another bite of chocolate. "I saw this guy in the sewers, but he was little more than a shadow. Made fast tracks outta there, too."

"Then there is the matter of Amy's death," Giles reminded the others. "The assassins sent after you. The two suited vampires that you caught trailing you right after you got back. Maybe it's all connected. Maybe not. We really don't have much in the way of clues."

Angel nodded again. There were a lot of things that needed figuring out. Some part of him was actually looking back fondly at the simplicity of travelling through Hell.

"I should go meet Buffy," he finally said, standing up. "She wanted to talk to Xander by herself, but I don't want her to be alone today."

He said his farewells to Giles and Faith, the latter finally finishing the destruction of the cursed candy. Giles had given her some words about eating this stuff, but seeing as teenagers had remained completely unaffected by it he did not have much in the way of arguments.

"I should head back home, too," Faith said. "Mrs. S might be interested in some girly talk. Girls like to share all the dirty secrets, you know?"

Unfortunately the spontaneous amnesia remained conspicuous by its absence.

#

As the sun set over Sunnydale Harold Madison returned home, finding it every bit as empty as last night. And the night before. It had been but two weeks since his daughter had died. Amy was gone, gone forever. He had not been here, business taking precedence over his daughter.

Little more than a year had passed since he had gotten her back. He had known what kind of woman her mother was, had long dreaded what kind of influence she might be for their daughter, but the courts had given her custody of Amy, not him, so there had been nothing he could do about it. Hearing about Catherine's death had been horrible, but somehow he had known that it would end that way.

Having Amy back, living with her, had been wonderful. Why had he not been here? Why had he allowed business to become so important that he had spent so little time with his daughter? Why was he only realizing all this now when it was too late?

Amy was dead, killed by persons unknown, and the only thing left was a tombstone and regrets.

"Don't cry, dad," a voice suddenly said, wrenching him out of his thoughts. "Everything will be fine."

"Amy?" He looked up. This had to be a dream. Amy was there, alive, standing in the open door and looking every bit as beautiful as he remembered.

"It's me," she smiled at him.

"Oh my God!" He was on his feet a moment later, pulling her inside to crush her against his body. She was here, she was alive.

Harold was so overjoyed that he never even noticed the pricking of fangs in his neck until it was too late.

#

Mayor Richard Wilkins went through the first report of Danielle Burg and was quite satisfied with what he read. According to her observations the Slayer, Buffy Summers, was quite distracted during their first tutoring session, clearly distraught about something. Everything else had also gone according to plan and his people would give him the first results soon.

Seeing as Lurconis seemed well and truly dead and therefore unlikely to seek retribution for the bungled tribute Wilkins found himself quite satisfied. Things were going according to plan, more or less, and the big day would arrive as scheduled.

If nothing else went wrong.

He had barely finished that thought when Allan Finch knocked at his door, coming in to put a report on his desk.

"We just got this from one of our ... people." Allan never liked dealing with the vampires working for them. "It seems someone new just arrived in town."

"People come to our lovely town all the time, Allan. Who is it?"

Moments later Richard Wilkins found himself remembering that earlier thought and wondered whether it was really possible to jinx oneself.

#

"We are there, my lord," the driver said. "Sunnydale."

"Finally! Elron, would you please take care of the baggage!"

"Certainly, my lord."

Getting out of the car the vampire stretched his legs, looking around the warehouse district he found himself in.

"So this is the town I've heard so much about, is it?"

"Yes, my lord."

He sighed. "That was a rhetorical question, Elron, but thank you anyway."

Closing his eyes, he breathed in deeply.

"Quite a set-up you've got going here, Dick."

Two more vampires were carrying the luggage from the car to the warehouse they had decided to set up shop in. It was but a few blocks away from the place where, if his information was correct, his old buddy Kakistos had met his final end. Well, he could not honestly say that he was all broken-up about it. One less potential rival.

As it was he would be able to concentrate fully on the person he had come for.

"It's been a long time, Dick," he continued, looking in the general direction of city hall. "We really need to have lunch and chat about old times."

Following the other vampires inside he threw back his head and laughed.

"I WILL BURN THIS TOWN DOWN AROUND YOUR EARS! HA HA HA HA!"

"My lord, why are you shouting?" Elron asked.

He stopped laughing and frowned. "I'm not exactly sure, Elron, but I find it oddly satisfying."

THE END