Timeline: Season 1 of BTVS, post-Angel. Spoilers for Angel the Series, specifically the Darla arc.
Disclaimer: All characters and situations owned by Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemies.
Thanks to: Kathy, for beta-reading.
What few minions he encountered on his way let him pass unchallenged. Undoubtedly on the Master's orders; the old man was thorough that way. It had been more than two hundred years since that first encounter, but he still remembered the stale underground smell. It had not changed. New lair, old lair; nothing changed with the Master.
Her hand, cold and firm, guiding him towards her sire; that hand was ashes now.
"Angelus," the Master whispered. He, too, had not changed; black leather, same old bat face. The eyes, perhaps, a bit more sunken. Maybe even red. Had he cried for her? It wasn't impossible. "Well. You never lacked nerve. But it seems your soul has bereft you of imagination. What fate do you seek, coming here? Do you really think I would do you the favour of killing you, after you took her from me?"
And wasn't that just like the Master. Obviously, the old man didn't even consider the possibility Angel might be here to kill him.
"I took her from you a very long time ago," Angel said, putting all the contempt in his voice he could muster. "As I recall, she couldn't wait to get away."
The Master rose, without hurry, and grabbed him by his throat. He could feel his shirt rubbing against the burning mark Buffy's cross had left. He didn't move.
"Oh," the Master said, "that is why you came. It is only a trifle compared to what will be in store, but who am I to deny her boy his treat?"
If possible, he was even stronger than he had been those two and a half centuries ago, when Angel had been young and firmly convinced he really would live forever. And he still knew how to beat someone into a pulp. All the bones that could break in an immortal body without rendering someone unconscious. Now, however, with his own expertise in mind, the way the Master went about it seemed strangely blunt and unrefined.
Maybe he really had cried for her, and his eyesight was lacking. Angel started to laugh, and as expected, it increased the force of the blows, but not their refinement. Looking past the Master, he could see a child standing in the shadows, watching them with a blank face. When she had watched, that first time, her face had been anything but blank. Stricken, at first, and then, listening to his voice, his words, his challenge, transformed. He remembered the hot triumph bursting through his veins even while the old fool thought he had the power by using his fists. Her smile, that smile of hers he had claimed that night as his own.
I'll give you anything.
"You know why I won't stake you, Angelus?" the Master asked, and he realized the old man was sitting in his chair again, which meant the beatings must have stopped.
"Because she told me about you and the Slayer. You believe it. You actually believe you love the Slayer. Oh, I wouldn't stake you now for the world."
He nodded towards the child.
"Colin," he said. "Bring me the Pergamon Codex."
The boy left, and the Master smiled at him.
"Balance, Angelus. Fate has such a wonderful balance, and you are still too young to understand, but you will. When I kill the Slayer, you will."
Slowly, he rose. His body felt sore. Still, he had felt worse. Disappointing.
"Is that all?" Angel asked. "Another empty threat to kill the Slayer? You've really been successful in that regard, haven't you. Wake up, old man. Endless monologues really won't do the trick anymore. One of these days, you'll actually have to come out and fight her."
The Master shook his head, smiling. It made his puckered mouth look smaller than ever. "She will come to me. And when her blood fills me and frees me, you will know. Balance. My dear one has nourished you and you took her from me, and so, in turn, you will see that little girl you killed her for die at my hands. Why, if Darla had killed her then she could not serve to unlock the Hellmouth. As my chalice. I will think of you when all that virginal sweetness sets me free, Angelus. Maybe I will even feel merciful enough to stake you afterwards. But I rather doubt it."
"She'll be your death," Angel said, but his voice rang hollow and lacked conviction. Watching them both in the darkness of the Bronze, blonde heads, school girl clothes, he had thought, for only a moment, that they were identical, and had not known which one to save. Balance. There was a frightening logic to it.
"We shall see," the Master said, and nodded towards the returning boy. "Give the book to Angelus, Colin."
"What did I tell you? We are a family. He came to me because in all the world, only we feel Darla's loss. She was his sire as I was hers. Now that we have grieved together, it is only fitting I give him a little present. As her heritage."
Dust on the floor of the Bronze. Cut clear through the bone, he had told her in China, certain, absolutely certain, that she never would. We can do anything. We can have the whirlwind back.
He felt the book in his hands. Old leather and dust, just like the Master himself.
"We're family," Angel said to the Master, for the first and the last time. "But the Slayer is the future."