A Light So Bright
Prelude to Soulworld

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The Balkans
1907 AD


The two Vampires ran through the door and worked on pushing the heavy iron gates shut behind them, putting all of their supernatural muscle into it. Commotion could be heard from down the corridor, where their pursuers were coming closer.

"Put your back into it!" One Vampire yelled at the other.

"Stop running your mouth and bloody push!" The other retorted.

Something slammed against the other side as the gates were almost closed. An arm stuck through the narrow gap, blindly reaching out for something to grab. The two Vampires pushed harder and the arm was crushed as the gates finally fell shut.

Booming echoed through the chamber as supernaturally strong fists hammered against the other side.

"End of the line, mate!" The Vampire with the ruffled blonde hair said. His face was bruised from the fighting and a deep gash along his forehead had turned his face into a bloody mask.

The other just looked across the room and his eyes fell on a large book resting on an altar.

"Keep them out!" He told the blonde and started running up the steps for the altar.

"Sure, leave me to do the muscle work!" But the Vampire complied and concentrated on holding the gates shut against the increasing pressure of the blows raining against it from outside.

The dark-haired Vampire reached the altar and touched the book, running his fingers across the strange letters embedded on the cover. He needed a moment to translate the arcane language in his head, then he managed half a smile.

"The Necronomicon Nocturnum. Finally!"

"Hurry up, will ya?" The blonde yelled at him, seeing the metal gates beginning to bend and crack.

The Vampire opened the book carefully, able to feel the power these simple pages contained. The book did not contain an index, of course, so he had to skim across half the book until he finally found the page he was looking for.

"Yes!" He whispered.

"Hurry!" The door creaked and the screams outside grew louder.

He closed his eyes and his fingers touched the letters, feeling their power react to this presence. Probing fingers of magic reached into his being, the incantation preparing to judge his worthiness. He knew that a death by fire awaited him if he was found wanting.

A sigh like God Himself would utter it echoed through the room. The Vampire opened his eyes again and started speaking the words that were only now becoming decipherable.

"Let the light shine on the world of darkness!" He began.

The iron gate shattered and the blonde Vampire was thrown back. A hundred snarling faces could be seen on the other side, pushing forward through the broken doors.

"Angelus!" The blonde screamed.

"Let the dispossessed reclaim their stolen flesh! Let the monsters that prey on the children of light be caged!"

Power started pouring through the room, a bright light emanating from the pages of the book. Angelus could hardly see the words anymore, his eyes shedding bloody tears, but he continued the incantation without missing a beat.

"Stop him!" One of the approaching Vampires growled. Some of the demons were flinching back from the light.

"Chain the dark with the light! Replace the demon with the man!"

Some Vampires dared go closer, raising swords and axes to strike at the man that was about to doom them all.

"No messing with my mate, you wankers!" The Vampire called Spike tackled them before they could strike, tumbling across the floor in a tangle of arms and legs. More demons were pushing into the room, but by now the light was so bright that Angelus could no longer be seen. Only heard.

"The dark will have no power! Let the light shine now and forevermore!"

The sun itself seemed to rise inside the room, the Vampires screaming as they felt it scorch their flesh. Spike just rose, feeling the light on his skin. It didn't hurt him.

"That's showing'em, Peaches!" He smirked.

The light faded after a moment and a hundred pairs of demon eyes flashed a bright gold. Vampires sunk to their knees all over the room, overtaken by something they did not understand, feeling something inside themselves most of them hadn't felt in a long, long time.

Angelus came down from the altar and stood beside Spike.

"Good work, mate!" Spike said.

"I guess we did it!"

The Vampire closest to them looked up, confusion evident on his face.

"What ... what is going on here? Where am I? Last I remember I was in this dark alley and there was this ugly looking guy coming toward me."

Spike chuckled.

#

And so it came to pass that in the year of our Lord 1907 the Scourge known as Vampires was forever altered by the deeds of one of their own.


###


Soulworld, p1 - Scene of the Crime


###

Los Angeles
1999


Angel got out of his black convertible and walked toward the yellow tape that surrounded the crime scene. A crowd of onlookers had already assembled, trying to catch a look at what had happened here. Angel flashed his badge to the policeman minding the crowd and ducked under the tape.

Inside several policemen worked on taking fingerprints, securing clues, snapping pictures. Angel walked up to the woman in charge.

"Ah, Angel," Kate Lockley said, "I hoped you'd come."

"What happened here, Kate?"

She gestured toward the room and Angel saw half a dozen heaps of dust on the floor, surrounded by chalk lines. Two wooden stakes were lying on the ground as well. It didn't take a genius to figure out what had happened here.

"Six of them?" He asked Kate.

"There is another pile of ashes over in the kitchen. Seven victims all together."

Angel sighed.

"Who were the victims?"

"A kiss of Vampires led by a guy called Mr. Trick, if you can believe it. As far as we can ascertain the attack took place during daylight, so none of them had much chance to flee."

Angel nodded, looking around the apartment. Most Vampires lived in apartments these days, only a few hardliners still hung out in crypts and such. There were several computers standing on desks in the other room. A TV, a kitchen with a fridge for the blood, all completely normal.

"I knew Trick. He stayed out of trouble whenever he could. Anything his kiss might have done to warrant attention?" He asked Kate.

Unfortunately the universal restoration of souls to the Vampire population had not turned all of them into good guys. Angel hadn't really expected that to happen. Humans had souls and there were more than enough criminals and worse among them.

"One of the younger ones had been arrested for petty theft, but that's the size of it. According to the people here Mr. Trick ran some kind of dot-com business. Turns out he was quite the rich bloodsucker, too."

Angel closed his eyes. So much had changed these last ninety years. He and Spike had worked hard at helping the Vampires come to terms with their new role in the world. It wasn't easy to be a vicious predator when you were burdened with a conscience, though some managed quite well. Most Vampires had stopped hunting humans, though.

Humans had not stopped hunting them.

He looked at the badges both he and Kate wore. They read Preternatural Investigation Department. The PID had been established as a special branch of the Federal Marshall Corps, employing specialists to deal with preternatural crimes.

The existence of Vampires was common knowledge these days. Angel sure hadn't planned it that way, but about five years ago a man had gone to court to get his money back from his kids. The kids had inherited the money when their father had died. Their father rose as a Vampire and demanded to be recognized as legally alive.

The case never saw a conclusion. The Vampire was killed by a lynch mob before it could come to that. The entire thing had gone through the press, though, and so everyone knew. Some didn't believe it, but most simply were scared. They saw a guy with fangs and were either running scared or assembling another lynch mob.

Vampires were in a legal limbo right now. There was no law that said to shoot them on sight, yet there was no penalty for those that did, either. There was a law currently in the works in Washington that would establish Vampires as legal citizens, subject to the same rights and laws as everyone else. Angel personally didn't think it had much of a chance to go through congress. Many members of that august body still didn't think it was a good idea to let blacks vote, after all.

Still, America was the best place to be a Vampire. Europe and Asia burned their undead wherever they found them.

Only a few among the PID knew that Angel was a Vampire. Those that did didn't talk about it. Kate knew, but did her best to ignore the fact. Angel's knowledge about the preternatural world made him indispensable to the PID and most people left it at that.

"What do you think?" Kate asked him, shaking him out of his thoughts.

"From the looks of things they were surprised. I can't see any blood or other signs that the attacker or attackers got wounded. Seven Vampires is a lot of muscle, Kate, but whoever did this got away without so much as a scratch."

Kate checked her notes.

"From what the forensic people can tell me right now, there are no finger prints. The stakes look homemade. Oh, there is something you should take a look at in the kitchen!"

They walked through the connecting door and Angel's eyes were drawn to the far wall.

"It's only red paint," Kate said, "not blood."

Angel nodded, reading the words written on the wall.

NO EVIL SHALL BE SPARED

"The slogan doesn't click with any of the known hate groups," Kate said, "but there are so many of them, it's hard to say."

Angel knew that, ever since the existence of Vampires became public knowledge, a lot of organized effort had gone into hunting them down. The police couldn't really do much about, even assuming they wanted to, it unless the groups started trashing public property. Killing Vampires was not illegal after all.

He also knew were he had seen this particular slogan before.

"Excuse me a minute, Kate!" He said and walked out, not waiting for an answer. Taking out his cell phone he dialed a number from memory and waited impatiently until someone picked up at the other end.

"Yeah?"

"Spike? It's Angel."

"Hey, Peaches! How goes, mate?"

"Not too good, I'm afraid. Are you in LA?"

"Sure. You need my help?"

"Maybe. Remember the words 'No Evil Shall Be Spared'?"

The line was silent for a moment before Spike found his voice again.

"Yeah, I remember. Where should we meet?"

"Hyperion Hotel in half an hour."

"I'll be there. Want me to bring the gang?"

"If you can get a hold of them, yes."

"Okay, see you then!"

The line clicked dead and Angel sighed, shaking his head.

"Just what we needed," he mumbled on the way to his car, "a new Slayer."


###

Soulworld, p2 - Meet the Gang

###


Angel walked into the lobby of the Hyperion Hotel and saw that the place was quite lively already. He took a moment to make a quick survey of the assembled 'gang'.

Spike had come, as promised. He still had his hair bleached within an inch of its life and wore that worn-out old leather coat with the checkered past. Angel's grandchilde reclined on the couch in the middle of the lobby and tapped his black fingernails in impatience.

Darla sat close to him, eyes closed. Angel watched the woman who had sired him all these many years ago and still couldn't quite figure out his feelings for her. She had changed a lot after the return of her soul, becoming shy and reserved after having been a vicious killer for nearly three centuries. They had been madly in love at one time, before the souls. Now ... Angel didn't know. Over ninety years and he still didn't know.

Someone complained about the run-down state of the place and Angel recognized Cordy. Cordelia Chase was the most superficial youngster he had ever met, or so he had though at first. They had first met when Angel and Spike had tracked down Penn, one of Angel's Children, who had not given up his serial-killer ways after the return of his soul.

After Angel and Spike had saved Cordy from fanged death she had become one of the most active workers in America's Vampire lobby, pushing for the recognition of Vampires as legal citizens. It didn't hurt that she was the daughter of one of America's richest men, though her father had disowned her after his darling daughter had started running with the undead. It got her a lot of media attention.

Cordy had also decided that Angel and Spike would become her best friends and neither of them had gotten much say in the matter.

The current victim of her inexhaustible narratives about the sorry state of this hotel and the world in general was Wesley Windham-Pryce. Angel was particularly glad to see that the Englishman had made it, for this concerned him every bit as much as it did the rest of them.

Doyle, who sat in a chair next to the couch, completed the gang. Doyle was a demon-human hybrid, which made him every bit an outcast of society as if he were a Vampire. Angel had first met him a few years back while looking into another possible way to turn Vampires back into human beings. The lead had turned out to be false and Doyle had helped him escape from an angry mob.

Angel made his presence known and walked toward the others.

"Hi, Peaches!" Spike greeted him. Darla only gave him a short glance, saying nothing. Wesley and Doyle nodded his way.

"About time you turned up," Cordy said and gave him a hug, "I have an interview with the Sun tomorrow and I don't want to have bag under my eyes for lack of sleep."

Angel gave her a smile and motioned for everyone to sit down.

"I tried to reach the Witchy Girls," Spike said, "but only got their machine. Probably out doing some Wicca stuff or other."

Angel nodded. Having Willow and Tara here would have been nice, but it couldn't be helped.

"Maybe Spike already told you why I called you here. It looks like we may have a new Slayer in town."

Nobody said anything for a while. Angel could see Wesley grow uneasy, while Spike's eyes grew even harder than before. The only one who didn't have a clue was Cordy.

"What's a Slayer?" She asked when her patience finally ran out.

Wesley moved up to her, clearing his throat.

"The Slayer is ... well, she is a Chosen One. One girl in every generation chosen to protect the world from Vampires and other demons. She is preternaturally strong. Basically she has all the abilities of a Vampire, but without the weaknesses."

Cordy looked at him for a long moment.

"You're yanking my chain, Wes!"

"I wish it were so." He just said, looking down.

"But ... okay, so there is a girl with superpowers who is protecting the world from demons. That is a good thing, isn't it?"

"It was, at least until about ninety years ago." Angel said.

Cordelia was one of the few humans who knew the full details of the soul restoration. Angel hadn't really wanted to tell her, but she had whined and cried until Angel had finally given up and told her the entire story to regain his peace.

"Oh," she said, understanding, "so you're telling me that she isn't really interested in whether a demon is good or bad."

"By the standard of the Council of Watchers, all demons are bad. No exceptions."

"The Council?" Cordy asked.

"The guiding institution of the Slayer," Wesley said, "they train her, help her, guide her. They tell her who to kill."

Spike rose, brimming with impatience.

"You know where to find that new bitch?" He asked, growling under his breath.

"No, I've only seen her handwork. Remember Mr. Trick, Spike? He's dust, along with his entire kiss."

Spike growled again, beginning to pace up and down the lobby.

"We've dealt with Slayers in the past," Angel told the non-Vampires present, "by staying out of their way or killing them. Since the restoration we have mostly done the former and tried to avoid the latter."

"Tried to?" Cordy asked suspiciously.

"The Slayer is killing our people, human," Darla said in a low voice, "your laws might not consider that a crime, but we beg to differ."

"And we do what must be done!" Spike growled, still pacing.

"The problem is," Angel continued, "that every time a Slayer is killed, a new one rises. The Council trains them to see Vampires as nothing but animals that need killing."

"Can't you reason with them?" Cordy asked. "I mean, can't they see that things have changed? You're not animals anymore, you're people."

"It is hard to just discard something you have been raised to believe in as the absolute truth." Wesley muttered, a haunted quality to his voice.

"First order of business is to find this new Slayer," Angel said, "before she kills more innocent people. Once we do that, we will try to reason with her."

Spike gave him a glare, but Angel ignored him.

"If that doesn't work, then we'll do what's necessary."

Everything inside him tightened upon hearing himself say these words. He still remembered the deeds he had done as a soulless demon. Remembered them in vivid detail. He had spilled enough blood to last him a dozen lifetimes and the very thought of having to kill again disgusted him.

Yet he couldn't turn his back on this, either. He had made the Vampire race what it was today. It was his responsibility. That was why he had spent the last ninety years policing his own kind when they stepped out of line. That was why he had agreed to join the PID.

That was why he would have to kill a human girl if she threatened the safety of his people.


###

Soulworld, p3 - The Acts of Watchers and Vampire Love Songs

###

"You seem to know quite a bit about this Slayer stuff." Cordy said.

Wesley looked up from his computer screen, rubbing his tired eyes. Cordelia, Doyle, and him were busily searching for a clue to where the Slayer might be hiding. Wesley was going through some of the files he had brought with him when he had first come to America.

"What did you say?" He asked.

"I said you know a whole lot about Slayers. Care to fill me in?"

Wesley sighed. It was not easy for him to talk about his past, yet he considered Cordelia a friend. Besides, if she was going to help them, she deserved to know the truth.

"I once belonged to the Council of Watchers." He told her.

"The Slayer's bosses?"

"Yes! As a matter of fact, I was the Watcher personally assigned to guide and train the Slayer of that time. A girl named Kendra. I accompanied her to America once her training was complete. We came here, seeing as ..."

"Lots of victims here?" Cordy interrupted him.

"That's about the size of it, yes. We came here and she started ... started doing her sacred duty."

"Which was killing innocent people!" Doyle remarked. Wesley knew the half-demon was not very fond of the Council or their operatives. He had been on the wrong end of lynch mobs and fanatic demon hunters a few times too often.

"It was during that time," Wesley continued, "that I first met Angel, Doyle, and Spike."

He fell silent for a moment, Cordy watching him expectantly.

"That meeting ... it changed things for me. It ... seeing them, getting to know them ... it showed me that everything I knew about Vampires was false. They weren't monsters. Not all of them, at least. They were people. We ... we had killed innocents."

Cordelia didn't press him when he took his time, seeing how painful this was for him. She sat down beside him, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. After a moment Wesley looked at her again.

"I tried to talk to the Council. They wouldn't hear a word I said. They ... they threatened to remove me from my duties unless I ... rectified my attitude. When it became evident that they weren't interested in changing their ways, I tried talking to Kendra. I was hoping ..."

He paused again, taking off his glasses to clean them.

"Kendra was a good girl, Cordy. A wonderful person. But almost from birth she had been trained to see all demons as evil. Indoctrinated you might say. It was not possible to make her see them as people. I tried. God is my witness, I tried."

"What happened to Kendra?"

He looked up at her, his eyes full of sadness.

"She was going after a family. Children, whose only crime it was to be born with a demon half. Angel tried to stop her, but was wounded. She was going to kill him, too. Him and all those innocent children. I couldn't allow that."

Wesley didn't say anymore and Cordelia didn't ask.

#

Angel walked through the entrance of the Caritas and his eyes searched for the Host. If anyone knew where the Slayer might be hiding out, it was him. Spike and Darla walked behind him, also scanning the crowd.

The Caritas was a hangout for Vampires and some other forms of demons, none of them of the malevolent sort. For a moment Angel imagined what kind of carnage a Slayer, maybe accompanied by a team of Council commandos, might cause in here.

"There he is!" Spike pointed out.

The Host was moving through the rows of tables, chatting a bit here, offering a piece of advice there. The demon saw Angel and friends standing near the entrance and came over.

"Angel, my friend. It has been much too long since you graced us with your presence. And Spike! I still love the coat, man. It's all about the leathers. Darla! Every bit as ravishing as always, my dear."

"We need your help," Angel said, lowering his voice, "there is a Slayer in town."

The Host nodded. "I expected as much after hearing what happened to Trick. It's a shame. He always looked so sharp in that suit."

"Where can we find that bitch?" Spike growled.

"I am sensing a certain amount of aggressiveness here, William. Tell me the truth! You're still not over losing Drusilla, are you?"

Angel saw that Spike was about to explode. The Host was not the most tactful of demons. Angel moved between them, shoving Spike back a little.

"We need to find her before she kills more people. Can you help us?"

The Host shrugged. "You know how it goes." He motioned toward the stage.

Angel sighed deeply. He hated this, especially since he knew he had a terrible singing voice. It had to be done, though, so he started moving toward the stage.

The Host held him back.

"No, tall, dark, and brooding. This is too nice an evening to ruin it with your singing." He smiled past him at Darla. "I do not think you have ever performed here before, my dear."

Darla stared at the green-skinned demon as if he'd asked her to undress. Angel couldn't help but smile. The old Darla would have torn the Host's eyes out for even suggesting this. As it was she shook her head in disbelief and started moving towards the stage.

"Admit it," the Host whispered to Angel, "you always wanted to hear her sing!"

"Don't you dare tell her that!" Angel said, managing half a smile in the process. Spike just growled and walked toward the bar, ordering drinks.

Darla reached the stage, followed by the Host.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, a special treat here for you tonight. You will be hearing a life performance of none other than Darla Chamberlain, favored childe of the Master."

Angel could see Darla flinch as the Host mentioned the Master. The ancient Vampire had killed himself but moments after his soul returned, thousands of years of evil too much to take. Darla had gone to him, seeking her Sire's help in dealing with her newfound soul, only to find his dust.

Angel knew only too well how hard it was to figure out where the emotions of the demon ended and those of the human began.

She regained her composure and started sifting through the list of songs on the monitor. Angel settled back into a chair, taking the drink Spike brought, watching his grandchilde set down two bottles in front of himself.

"He's right, you know?" Angel said.

"Why don't you stuff it, mate?" Spike grumbled.

"The Slayer that killed Drusilla is dead, William! We killed her."

Spike slumped over the bottles and Angel could see the beginning of bloody tears begin to swell.

"It didn't bring her back." Spike whispered.

"And neither will this. You think I don't miss her? It's not the Slayers who are to blame. They are just programmed children, Spike. It's the Watchers that give the orders."

They had been trying to locate the headquarters of the Council of Watchers for decades now, but the Watchers kept themselves well-hidden. It was a source of unending frustration for all of them that they could only strike at the soldiers, never at the generals.

Angel looked up and saw that the Host had selected a song for Darla. She eyed him suspiciously, then sighed and the music started. Angel wasn't familiar with the tunes, but after the first few notes he decided that it didn't matter.

Lay a whisper on my pillow
leave the winter on the ground
I wake up lonely, there's air of silence
in the bedroom and all around

Darla's voice was hauntingly beautiful and Angel found himself looking inside him for that fire of passion the two of them had had before the souls. Looking at her, so radiantly beautiful, he was sure it had to be there somewhere.

Touch me now
I close my eyes
and dream away

His demon still wanted her. She was his Sire and there would always be a bond. But Angel, the man, simply couldn't find the fire anymore.

It must have been love
but it's over now
It must have been good
but I lost it somehow
It must have been love
but it's over now
from the moment we touched
'till the time had run out

Darla continued singing for some time, but Angel was now looking at the Host. The Host, in turn, looked at Angel. He had a feeling the anagostic demon knew exactly how fitting the song had been for him and Darla.

Darla finished to a round of thunderous applause. She stepped down from the stage and walked toward the Host and Angel. Spike was busy with one of the bottles.

"And?" She asked the Host, but kept throwing side glances at Angel.

"I guess the two of you are a little more in the clear now," the Host said, "but if you're asking me about the Slayer, well ... I have a feeling you should take a look at a certain warehouse. Wait a moment and I will write down the address."

With that he vanished behind the bar, leaving Angel and Darla to look at each other. The blonde Vampire sighed.

"The song could as well have been written for us, right?" She asked him.

"I guess so. Darla ..."

"We had a good time, Angel." She interrupted him. "You are my childe and I will always love you. But ..."

"... not like that anymore. Yes."

Both broke into a smile.

"You think working together will be a little less awkward now?" Darla asked, smiling.

"I hope so."

The Host returned and gave Angel a piece of paper.

"You will find your Slayer here."


###

Soulworld, p4 - Something Funny Happened to Me Behind the Caritas

###


By the time they were ready to leave Spike had managed to empty the two bottles and get himself more than a bit drunk. Angel sighed. Spike had always been on a first-name basis with just about every alcoholic beverage in existence, but ever since Drusilla's death he had become a borderline alcoholic.

"We shouldn't have taken him with us." Darla said as she watched Spike swaying through the exit.

"I thought the urge to find the Slayer would keep him in check." Angel said. "It appears I was wrong."

"I can kill the bloody Slayer!" Spike yelled. "I already did two. Just try and keep me away from the bitch!"

Darla and Angel looked at each other, sighing.

"Get in the car, Spike! And try not to throw up on my back seat!"

Spike complied, climbing into the open convertible in the most complicated way possible. Angel took out his cell phone and called the Hyperion.

"Doyle? Angel! We know where to find the Slayer. Meet us in half an hour at this address!"

He gave the address and told Doyle to bring the rifles. Putting away the phone, he checked his own gun, a Winchester Magnum 45. Darla eyed the weapon suspiciously.

"I still don't like those things." She said.

"Neither do I. But as experience has taught, the best way to kill a Slayer is with a bullet. Preferably from a distance, without warning, in the back."

"I thought you wanted to talk to her first."

"And I will. That's why you'll go armed, too. I'll try and make her listen to reason. If that doesn't work and she's too good to restrain, you and Spike will be there, in hiding, ready to shoot. If Spike sobers up, that is. Otherwise you'll be on your own."

He opened the trunk of his car and handed Darla another Winchester Magnum. Darla weighed the gun in hand, then checked the clip and jacked a round into the chamber. Despite her dislike for guns Angel knew she was perfectly capable of handling one. So was Spike, if he wasn't drunk, that was.

He slammed the trunk shut. "Okay, let's go!"

Vampire senses made him look up and see the shadow moving toward him at the last split second. He jumped to the side, just enough to let the body of his attacker barrel past him. He turned around and was in a fighting stance, even though he already knew who the attacker was.

The dark-haired girl, dressed in black leather pants and a skimpy top, jumped him once again, knife in hand. He caught the hand holding the blade and twisted it around her back until she dropped it, which earned him an elbow in the face. Vamping out, he scissored the legs out from under his attacker, bringing her down. Moments later he was on top of her, pinning her to the ground with his superior strength and weight.

"I almost got you this time." The girl pouted.

"In your dreams, Faith!" He smiled and stood, his face returning to human, offering her a hand.

The girl called Faith allowed him to pull her up, smiling at him. Angel was almost used to her antics by now and she was getting quite good, though he doubted that she'd ever be able to surprise him.

Faith had lost her parents to Vampires when she was twelve and had been at the mercy of America's social system ever since. When Angel first met her a little over a year ago she had been attacking a few harmless Vampires, trying to scratch their eyes out. The Vampires had been on the verge of losing patience with the little wild child when Angel arrived on the scene.

He had taken her under his wing, showing her that most Vampires these days were more or less decent folks. He became her surrogate father, or something very close to it. Faith did have foster parents, but she stayed away from them for weeks at a time and they never even noticed. She stayed at the Hyperion quite frequently and Angel let her, preferring that to having her out on the streets.

Faith was obsessed with becoming a good enough fighter to help Angel chase evil Vampires.

"You found the Slayer, right?" Faith asked, bouncing up and down before him, a bundle of teenage energy.

"You listened through the ventilation shaft again." Angel chided her.

Faith managed to look more or less chastened, yet watched him eagerly. She was only sixteen years old, soon to be seventeen, yet somehow she always seemed to alternate between a much older woman and a little child. Right now she seemed like a ten-year-old who wanted to go along to the carnival.

"Lose the brat!" Spike yelled from the car. "We're hunting Slayers!"

"The brat managed to kick your ass, Spike!" Faith yelled back.

Angel almost chuckled, remembering the scene from a few weeks ago. Angel had taught Faith a few fighting moves and she had been practicing by herself when Spike had come in. Spike had been amused that she wanted to become a fighter and a shouting match had become a sparring contest.

When Angel had walked into the gym Faith had just thrown an overconfident Spike to the ground and sat down on his chest. That, combined with the look on Spike's face, had triggered one of the few genuine laughing fits Angel had had these last hundred years.

Moments later he'd had to physically restrain Spike from spanking Faith black and blue.

"Sorry, Faith," Angel said, "but this is much too dangerous. We're not going after a few Vampires who've had a few too many. The Slayer is a killer and we're going to bring her down."

Faith gave him a pleading look, which had been known to break through Angel's stoic countenance many times before. Not this time, though.

"Faith!" He commanded with his best authority voice and the girl's shoulders slacked.

"Spoilsport!"

"Promise you will stay out of this, Faith!" Angel said, not sounding amused at all.

Faith knew very well how much Angel valued his own word and that of those he considered his friends. With a sigh she surrendered.

"Okay, okay! I promise!"

"Good! Now return to the hotel. Could be a rough night tonight and I don't want you out on the streets."

"Promise to spar with me tomorrow?" She asked.

"It's a date."

She gave him a dazzling smile and skipped away into the night. Angel shook his head, smiling despite himself.

"Sometimes I think this girl has to be superhuman. Nobody can be this lively 24-7."

He got into the car with Darla. Spike was lying across the back seat, but was not out of it as Angel feared at first. He turned around to look at him.

"You sober enough for a fight?"

"I'm never too drunk to kick tail!" He mumbled.

"Okay, let's roll!"


###

Soulworld, p5 - Never Bring a Stake to a Gunfight

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Angel's black convertible came to a stop outside a large warehouse in one of Los Angeles' seedier districts. Angel knew for a fact that not many Vampires hung around here, though there was a small gang of them roaming in this neighborhood.

"Looks deserted." Darla said as she got out of the car.

"Looks can be deceiving." Angel replied, trying to sense any trace of his prey. Nothing so far.

Another car pulled up beside them, Doyle and Wesley getting out with rifles slung over their arms. Spike had helped himself to a shotgun from Angel's trunk.

"Remember!" Angel said. "I will try and talk to her first. When that does not work we will try and subdue her. You got the tranquilizer gun, Doyle?"

The half-demon patted the bulk under his jacket.

"Killing is the last resort measure, understand?" He was talking to everyone, but looking at Spike. The blonde Vampire grumbled, but nodded.

Angel started walking toward the warehouse, the others fanning out behind him. They had done this kind of thing before, unfortunately, and knew what to do. Angel took point, everyone else staying well back. The plan was for Angel to draw her out.

He was on the verge of entering the warehouse when he heard the first sounds of fighting.

"This way!" He motioned for the others, speeding down the alley. They made their way almost halfway around the warehouse when Angel skidded to a halt, motioning for everyone to take cover.

The all-too familiar sound of a Vampire exploding into dust filled the alley as Angel saw the fight happening right in front of him. A blonde girl was fighting against nearly a dozen Vampires. There had been more at the start, as was evident by the heaps of dust on the floor, but he could see she was getting tired.

The Vampires were overwhelming her through sheer numbers. He knew them, they belonged to Lenny's gang. There could be little doubt that this girl was the Slayer, she still held her own against these numbers. Still, she was hurt, taking more wounds as he watched. She still held her stake in one hand.

It occurred to him that he could just allow things to play themselves out here and the Slayer problem would be solved, at least for tonight. Another Slayer would shortly rise, of course, but ... He shook his head. If he did nothing there was a good chance more people would die before the Slayer was brought down. Besides, she was just a girl who got her head screwed on wrong. He had to put a stop to this before more people got hurt.

"Stop the fight!" He thundered, stepping from the alley. The Vampires closest to him recognized him immediately and started to back off. He had to repeat himself for those too involved in the fighting, but before long the Slayer stood alone, the remains of Lenny's gang standing several meters away.

"I will handle this!" Angel told the Vampires.

"She killed some of our friends, Angelus!" One of the gang hissed at him. "We want her blood."

"I said I will handle this. Leave! Now!"

Some of the younger Vampires hesitated, but were quickly pulled along by those that had some smarts. Angel had made sure his reputation among his people was so that he seldom needed to fight with them. The gang members vanished into the darkness of the alleys and Angel turned towards the Slayer.

She was young, no older than Faith. Long blonde hair was tied back in a ponytail and she wore black jeans and a light jacket. Her green eyes were focused on him and she clutched her stake. He could see the bruises on her skin from the fight. She was slightly favoring her right leg.

"Are you all right?" He asked her.

For a moment she seemed stunned by his question, then her face closed itself off and she glared at him.

"Can we just fight now? I have school tomorrow."

A schoolgirl? Angel didn't quite believe it. Since when did the Watchers allow their charges to go to school? She started moving toward him, stake in hand.

"You do know that attacking a federal marshal is a capital offense, right?" He showed her his badge. She stopped moving forward, staring at it.

"You're a Vampire!" She said, sounding a bit uncertain.

"Certainly," he agreed, "but one doesn't preclude the other, does it?"

She looked puzzled and Angel grew a bit more optimistic. Apparently this one was not as thoroughly programmed as Kendra had been. The former Slayer would not even have waited for him to say anything or listened to his words, she would just have attacked.

"You're a Vampire!" She repeated.

"Yes, we have established that much. My name is Angel. What's yours?"

She just stared at him.

"It's common courtesy to introduce oneself to another, is it not? What's your name?"

"I'm ... Buffy. My name is Buffy."

"Pleased to meet you, Buffy!" He wasn't sure it was really her name. There were still some legends flying around about never telling magical creatures your name or they'd have power over you. He didn't know how much nonsense the Watchers had fed to this young girl.

"You're Angelus," she whispered, "the Scourge of Europe."

Angel winced, his past once again catching up with him. Some days he wondered whether he would ever be able to make amends for the things he had done back then. He shook his head; this wasn't the time to think about it.

"That was a long time ago." He told Buffy.

"You're a murderer!" She hissed at him. "It doesn't matter how long ago it was."

"That would carry a lot more sting coming from someone who did not commit murder herself earlier today. To say nothing of just a few minutes ago." He gestured toward the remains of the Vampires she had staked.

"That's not murder," she defended herself, "these weren't ... weren't people!"

"Weren't they?" Angel asked her. "Tell me, Slayer! Did they attack you? Did you see them attack innocent humans? Did they do anything to warrant being murdered?"

She shook her head and he knew that he had made some headway. Maybe just a tiny crack in the programming the Watchers had given her, but it was a start.

"You're monsters!" Buffy yelled at him, but didn't sound a hundred percent sure of it.

"Some of us, yes. But you can't judge an entire species by the deeds of a few!"

Maybe he had pushed too quickly too fast. She clutched her stake tighter and lunged at him, aiming the sharp wood at his heart. Angel jumped to the side, evading her. The Slayer rolled and was back on her feet an instant later.

A feathered projectile struck her in the shoulder.

"What the ...?" She managed before her eyes started to roll back. Moments later, with enough tranquilizer inside her to bring down two elephants, she slumped to the ground.

Doyle, Spike, Darla, and Wesley emerged from the shadows, Doyle putting the tranq gun back into his shoulder holster.

"She seemed receptive," Wesley said, "at least to a certain point."

"We should just kill her and get it over with." Spike mumbled.

Angel crouched down and hoisted the sleeping Slayer up into his arms.

"If we kill her there will be a new Slayer coming around in no time flat, one that might be more like Kendra again."

He could see Wesley wince.

"I think we have a chance to make this one see reason." Angel continued. "And anyway, as long as she lives, there won't be a new Slayer. So get over it, Spike! We're leaving!"

Spike growled below his breath, which had more to do with the sobering setting in than any actual hostility toward Angel, and followed the others back to the cars.


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Soulworld, p6 - Of Vampires on Crack and Caged Slayers

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Angel looked at the beautiful girl that was still lying unconscious on the floor of the specially constructed cell in the cellar of the Hyperion and felt his heart go out to her. So young, much too young to have her mind poisoned by bigoted old idiots, sent out on a killing spree that would cost innocent lives and get her dead before too long.

He had never understood what possible rationalization the Watchers had for using children to do their dirty work. What conceivable reason could their be for using innocents like this? Did the ends justify the means for them? Was that all there was to it?

"She doesn't look too tough!"

Angel started. For the first time ever Faith had managed to take him by surprise, so lost in thought had he been. He thanked the Powers that the girl was too busy staring at the Slayer to have noticed it. He would never have heard the end of it.

"Believe me, Faith! You do not want to spar with that one!"

"She can't be much older than me."

"Physically, yes. Though I'm afraid mentally is a whole different question."

They both looked through the one-way window into the cell. Kendra had died little more than a year ago, so it was a safe bet that this one had been chosen at the same time. Which meant that she had been hunting and killing for a year now.

"They programmed her, right?" Faith asked. "Like a robot?"

"Essentially, yes. She has been raised to regard all demons as evil, no matter what they do or who they are."

"And you think you can deprogram her?"

"I hope so."

The two looked on in silence for while. Silence, though, was not something Faith did well. Neither was standing still, for that matter.

"How come you have a cell down here anyway?" She asked him, pacing in front of the cell. "Can't imagine it came with the hotel."

Angel managed a smile. He had bought the Hyperion in the fifties after exorcising a paranoia demon from here. Since then it had served as the unofficial Vampire World HQ, a safe meeting place for a race that did its best to remain hidden from the world at large. Angel had lived here more or less steadily ever since, though he still did a lot of traveling around the world.

"I had the cell built in the late sixties," he explained to Faith, "after an experiment with drugs turned ugly."

"Huh?" Faith asked.

"In the sixties Spike and me often worked with a Vampire called Fred."

"Freddy the Vampire?" Faith smiled, probably thinking Angel was pulling her leg.

"Yes. Despite the name he was pretty old and powerful. During those times, well, it was a wacky time."

"Don't tell me you boogied down to the Shangri-La, Angel!"

"Okay, I won't tell you!"

The two shared a laugh.

"So, what happened to Freddy?"

"Well, Fred did have an unfortunate episode with drugs. He became addicted and, during his highs, he turned quite violent. A Vampire on crack is not something you want to experience, believe me! In the end we had no other choice but to lock him away and make him go through cold turkey withdrawal. It was not a pretty sight."

Angel remembered the many nights he had spent down here, watching his friend go through withdrawal. Fred had raged, threatened, whimpered, sometimes all at once. It had been painful for all of them.

"What happened to him?" Faith asked.

"It took the better part of a year, but he managed. After that he didn't trust himself around humans anymore. Last I heard he was in Canada, living in the wilderness."

There was a groan coming from inside the cell and both Angel and Faith looked through the one-way window to see the Slayer slowly come back to consciousness.

"Shrugged off the tranquilizer in record time," Angel mumbled, "a Vampire couldn't have done better."

"What will you do with her now?"

Angel sighed, rising from his chair. "Talk! Hope! Pray for the best!"

"You ... do you mind if I don't stick around to watch? She's ... I don't know. I'm getting the wiggins around her."

"Go, Faith! Do me a favor and tell Darla and Spike that she's awake, okay? On a second thought, scratch Spike! Just tell Darla!"

"Okay!" With that she whizzed up the stairs.

By now the Slayer was on her feet, though a bit wobbly, and looked at the bare cell walls. There was fear in her eyes, he could see as much, though it was well-hidden beneath a barrier of determination.

"Okay, anybody care to tell me where I am?" She yelled against the walls.

Angel walked around to the entrance and slid the heavy steel door back. There was a second door of steel bars and he left that one closed. The Slayer stood at the far end of the cell, back against the wall, and looked at him.

"I hope you don't suffer any ill effects from the tranquilizer," he told her, "we weren't quite sure what dose to use."

"How about letting me out? I'm sure that will cure any ill effects I might be suffering from."

He set a chair down right in front of the bars and sat down, leaning his arms on the back of it, studying her.

"I'm afraid I can't let you out just yet. Sorry about that, but letting you out at this point would mean dooming a lot of my people to an early death."

She walked a little closer to the bars, looking at him.

"Don't take this as an encouragement, but why didn't you kill me when you had the chance?"

"Two reasons," Angel said, "first one is that I don't like killing. I've done more than enough of that to last me a hundred lifetimes. I'd much rather make you understand."

"Understand what?"

"That not all Vampires are monsters.

She rolled her eyes. "I think you told me that right before you shot me, right? Pardon me if I have trouble believing."

"I don't expect you to believe right off the bat. Buffy, that was your name, right? I know that the Watchers have been feeding you their mantra probably right from birth, but ..."

"They didn't!" Buffy interrupted him.

"What?"

"I didn't know a thing about the Slayer or Watchers until about a year ago. I knew about Vampires, of course, but all that other stuff only came about twelve months ago."

Angel narrowed his eyes, studying her. If she had not been one of the Council's Slayers-in-waiting, then they'd only had a year to indoctrinate her. He had heard of this happening before, a new Slayer being chosen seemingly at random, the Council having to search for them.

"Do you like your new life?" Angel asked her.

"Like it? Are you kidding? I was happy being a nice, normal high school girl. And then they just suddenly dump this sacred duty thing in my lap and ..."

She stopped herself. "Why am I telling you all this? You're a Vampire!"

"And all Vampires are evil, right? Nothing more than animals. That's what they told you, I expect."

After a moment she nodded, looking at him with an uncertain expression in her eyes.

"Care to hear the other side of the story?" He asked her.

She went quiet for a long moment, then she sighed and squatted down on the stone cell floor.

"I don't seem to have anything better to do right now."

Angel nodded and began telling her the story of the Restoration.


###

Soulworld, p7 - The Restoration Or How I Learned to Stop Brooding and Changed the World

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"I was turned into a Vampire in 1746," Angel began his story, "and for the next one and a half centuries I was everything the Watchers told you about and more. I left a wide trail of bodies all over Europe, killed my own family, killed whomever I met. I enjoyed it. As did all Vampires."

He sighed. "During that time the Watchers were, of course, completely right about us. We were animals, bloodthirsty beasts, nothing more. But then something changed."

"Changed?" Buffy asked.

"Yes. Me and Spike, one of my Childer, were in Romania. We came across a clan of Gypsies and, true to form, we started killing them. What we didn't count upon, though, was that the elders of the clan were skilled in the ways of magic. To exact their revenge upon us, they cursed us. Cursed us with the return of our souls."

Buffy looked puzzled. "Return of your souls? How is that a curse? Couldn't they think of something better?"

Angel shook his head. "I'm sure your Watcher told you the story. When a Vampire is turned a demon fills his flesh, nothing human remains. The soul of the human he once was is gone. And with it the conscience, the compassion, everything you'd think of as human qualities. Believe me, it makes for a very easy existence."

He looked up at her and for a moment Buffy could see the deep pain that was still in his eyes.

"When our souls returned, everything changed. Suddenly we had a conscience again. 150 years of bloody slaughter and suddenly we felt it. We remember everything the demons did as if we had done it ourselves. You can't even imagine what that feels like to have done the things we did ... and care."

He expected some kind of comment from her. Some flippant remark. How could a teenager even hope to grasp what he was telling her? When he looked at her, though, all he saw was confusion, along with the barest hint of compassion.

"It was hell, Buffy. Pure and simple. Spike and me, well, I'm sure if we hadn't had each other neither of us would be here now. I think we'd just walked into the sunrise to get rid of the pain.

"After a time, though, we came to realize that this thing that had happened to us, despite the pain that went with it, was actually a grace, not a curse. We were human again, at least inside, and that meant that two of the most vicious Vampires ever would no longer do harm to the human race.

"We found a new goal in life. Vampires were doing untold damage worldwide, killing humans in numbers too horrible to contemplate. We had to put an end to it. Unfortunately using the curse the Gypsies came up with proved to be unpractical, as it only worked on single Vampires. It would have taken us forever to curse every single Vampire on the face of the Earth.

"Then we heard of the Necronomicon Nocturnum."

"The what?" Buffy asked.

"The most complete collection of magic concerning the creatures of the night."

"Everything you ever wanted to know about Vampires and were afraid to ask?" She joked. Angel guessed she was using humor to try and get past the confusion he could feel inside her.

"Something like that. With the help of that book we achieved our goal."

He stood and leant against the bars, looking at Buffy.

"I'm still a Vampire. As are all the others. Dead flesh, animated by a demon. Yet ever since that day in 1907 the human soul is back and in control. Every Vampire in the world now has a soul, a conscience, the capacity for compassion. We are just people now."

"Except for the bursting-into-flames-during-the-day part, right? Oh, and there is still that bit about having to drink human blood, correct?"

"Most Vampires these days live of pigs' or cows' blood. One thing you have to understand, Buffy! Vampires are people. That means you have bad apples among them. People who, despite having a conscience, are every bit as monstrous as the demons ever were. Humans are more than capable of committing acts of atrocity without demon help."

"Next you're gonna be telling me that you have a dream, right? One day your poor little childer will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the length of their fangs but by the content of their character?"

Angel shook his head.

"This is not a laughing matter, Buffy. The people you have killed out there were human in every way, they only had the misfortune of being attacked and turned by a Vampire. Some Vampires are criminals, some are monsters, but most are just people trying to live their lives."

He could see that she was closing herself off. Too much in one setting, he guessed. He could see that a part of her wanted to believe him, yet that part was too small yet. Believing him would necessarily involve seeing her own deeds in a whole new light.

If she was telling the truth, if she had really been the Slayer for but a year with no training before that, it was a good guess that she was only now coming around to accepting the burden placed upon her. And here he was, telling her that most of what she had been told was wrong and that she was a murderer.

"Sleep on what I told you!" He told her. "I will be back tomorrow."

With that he turned around and started to walk away.

"Angel!" She called after him.

"Yes?"

"You said you had two reasons for keeping me here. What is the second?"

He gave her half a smile.

"Why, if I kill you another Slayer will rise. As long as you're stuck here, my people are safe. Or as safe as they'll ever be in a world like this."

With that he left.

#

Buffy sat on the cold stone floor and pondered her situation. Prisoner of a Vampire. A day ago she would have said that Vampires didn't take prisoners. Giles had told her the score on Vampires more times than she'd cared to listen. Vicious beasts, only interested in drinking blood and inflicting pain.

Angel confused the hell out of her. He was like no Vampire she'd ever seen before. There was something about him that made her want to believe him, even though she knew it couldn't be true. Vampires with souls. What a laugh, right? Right?

Nonsense, all of it! Demons with a conscience. He was lying through his too-long teeth, there was no other explanation. Giles had told her the score and she had seen the evils they could commit. Destroying them was her sacred duty. It was right.

She was not a murderer!

Only now did she notice that there was some food standing at the edge of the bars. For a moment she wanted to refuse it out of defiance, but her belly reminded her in no uncertain terms about her duty to it. She rose and took the food.

While chewing on bread and cheese she tried to figure out what this Vampire wanted to achieve here. His last comment had disturbed her greatly. As long as she was here, no new Slayer would be called. Maybe he planned to keep her prisoner here for the rest of her life. She shuddered, wondering how long it would take her to go insane in here.

Okay, step one, find a way to get out of here! Angel had left the solid door open when he left, so the only thing standing between her and freedom were the bars. She rose and tested them. No give, even at full strength. She labored at it for a few minutes, putting all her muscle into it, and achieved only some sweat and a feeling of gloom.

Okay, getting herself out didn't work. Change of tactics. If she couldn't free herself, someone else would have to open those bars. There was Angel. There was whoever had shot that tranquilizer dart at her. Maybe she could just tell them that she believed the story. Okay, Vampires were good, she wouldn't kill them anymore. Would they let her out then?

Of course she couldn't just tell him all was right with the world the next time he came around. She'd have to play it carefully so he'd buy it. Slowly come around to his point of view. Which probably meant having to listen to more of his stories, but that was okay.

He did have a nice voice. Where had that thought come from?


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Soulworld, p8 – We Caught a Slayer, Can We Keep Her?

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"So what do you think of our little house guest?"

Cordy and Wesley looked up as Faith came into the lobby, flush from her workout. Spike sat in the corner, reading the newspaper, not acknowledging the youngster's presence in the slightest.

"She is very different from ... what I expected." Wesley stated.

"Yeah," Cordy said, "here I expected a stake-wielding fanatic and what did we get? A California school girl in almost fashionable clothing. Who is also a stake-wielding fanatic, I guess."

Faith slouched down on the couch, thinking. Angel had given her a good a workout as always, the fact that he never even broke into a sweat still irking her. Yet she had noticed that he'd been distracted. It was not hard to figure out what the source of the distraction was.

"Think Angel can manage to screw her head on right?" Faith asked no one in particular.

"Bloody waste of time!" Spike grumbled without looking up from the paper.

"If what she told Angel is true and she has only been subject to the indoctrination of the Watchers' Council for a year," Wesley elaborated, "then there is indeed hope for her."

"What he said, only with less five-dollar-words." Cordy remarked.

"I'm not sure," Faith said, "I went down a few times to look at her and she's still giving me the wiggins. Something about her makes my skin creep."

"The fact that she killed a lot of people and is strong enough to snap your scrawny neck with one hand might have something to do with it." Spike grumbled again.

Faith gave the Vampire a severe glance.

"What's your problem anyway? It's not like she ever kicked your ass, that was me."

Spike rose from his chair and was halfway across the lobby, demon face coming out, when he caught himself. He looked down at Faith, the slight trace of fear on her face something his demon cherished. He was not a demon, though. He was a man! A man!

"You haven't got enough brains not to get yourself killed, Faith!" He growled at her. "One day you're gonna piss someone off and he or she will not hesitate to tear your vacuum-brained head off your body."

With that he stormed out of the lobby and into the night. He needed a drink or a brawl, preferably both.

"Boy, he is grumpy!" Faith commented, trying to ignore the lump in her throat.

#

"I think some of the others should talk to her as well." Angel said.

"You really think that's a good idea?"

Darla and Angel sat together in his room, listening to the soft music coming from the stereo, and enjoyed a bottle of blood. Ever since Darla's little performance in the Caritas they had been able to be together without all the awkwardness that had hung between them these last ninety years and Angel found that he cherished his Sire's presence.

"In one way or another," Angel explained, "everyone here started out with some serious issues against Vampires. Wesley was a Watcher, Cordelia was almost killed by Penn, Faith lost her parents to Vampires. Hearing their stories might help her come around. Also, so far she has only talked to me. I think she needs to see a few other faces or she'll go mad down there."

He looked at the monitor he had rigged up so he could watch the Slayer in her cell. Right now she was sleeping, though he could see her twist and turn in her sleep. A nightmare? A girl like her certainly had seen enough to make a few nightmares out of. He wished he could help her.

"I think we should also let her out for a while. Under carefully controlled conditions, of course."

"Now that is certainly not smart!" Darla said, sipping from her glass.

"Leaving her in that cell forever is not going to be much good," Angel said, "it will only make her resent us in the long run. She needs to see how we live if she's ever going to believe me."

Darla nodded, watching the girl as well.

"Okay, we'll let her make some rounds outside. But you should have Doyle and the tranquilizer gun close at all times. I'm not sure about involving the others, though. Cordelia, okay, she can probably handle it. Wesley and Faith? I'm not so sure."

"Care to explain?"

"Every time Wesley sees Buffy he really sees Kendra and remembers what he had to do. He's not over that, not by half. And Faith? There is some kind of tension in her whenever she is close to Buffy. Didn't she say something about Buffy giving her 'wiggins', whatever that might be?"

"Faith and Buffy are very similar. A year ago Faith was just where Buffy is now. Hating all Vampires, wanting to kill them all. Buffy is a bit like a mirror of what Faith was, or could have become. I hope they may do each other some good."

Darla looked at her childe and couldn't suppress a smile.

"You've taken a fancy to this girl." She said.

"I love Faith like she was my own daughter, Darla. You know that."

"I'm not talking about Faith. The blonde Slayer is the one that has caught your eye."

"Don't be ridiculous!"

"I can see it in your eyes. You care for her."

"I want to make sure she knows the truth. I want to make sure she is no longer a danger to my people."

Darla shook her head, knowing how stubborn and blind to his own feelings Angel could be.

"I think she likes you."

"Darla, she would stake me if she could. I don't think that falls under the concept of 'like'."

Darla smiled. She knew Angel better than he knew himself. He would refuse to realize it, but he liked that girl a lot. Darla didn't know if that was good or bad, she only knew that it had been much too long since Angel had had any kind of happiness in his life.

He needed some and maybe she could help things along a little.

Angel watched the blonde girl twist and turn in the throes of a nightmare and had to keep himself from going down there to comfort her. He was doing this for the safety of his people and for the sake of a young girl's soul, there was no other motivation.

He wondered what she was dreaming about.


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Soulworld, p9 - Bondage, Slayer-style, and Girl-Talk

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Buffy had been a prisoner of the Vampires for nearly two weeks now and she was slowly losing hope. Not because she was treated badly. Quite the opposite. The cot in the cell wasn't cozy, but neither was it a pain to sleep on it. She got regular meals that tasted quite good. She was starting to stink a little, what with no showers, but she got her clothing cleaned when she handed it to Angel and could so some washing in the small sink in the corner. As prisons went, this one was quite comfortable.

What made her feel hopeless was that Angel seemed totally immune to both her charms and whatever temper tantrums she might throw. There had been quite a few of the latter these past two weeks, as she found she didn't have enough patience to go through with her original plan. Angel on the other hand seemed possessed of infinite patience. He just kept on telling her stories about how Vampires were people and how it was wrong to kill them unless they actually did something evil.

Worse, she found that she was having a hard time thinking of Angel as a monster. There was just nothing monstrous about him. There was so much pain and regret in his dark eyes, how could that man be a remorseless killer?

Part of her was telling her that he was slowly succeeding in filling her head with his nonsense. Another part, though, made her wonder whether he might actually be telling the truth. It went against everything she had been told, everything she had seen of Vampires so far.

Yet those gang members had not harmed anyone that she knew of, that was true. The Vampires she had taken by surprise inside that apartment had not put up much of a fight. They had seemed scared of her. Could monsters be scared?

Someone was coming down the stairs, someone making too much noise to be one of the undead. Spying through the bars she could just see the bottom of the stairs and there was a dark-haired girl coming down, looking at her.

"Hi, Buffy!" The girl said. "I'm Cordy. Thought you'd like some company. I know how boring Angel can get if he starts his tortured past routine."

The girl called Cordy sat down on the same chair Angel always used and looked at her.

"You're not a Vampire!" Buffy said.

"Gosh, really? Let me check!" She touched her fingers to her wrist. "Pulse is there, check! Breathing? Check! Heartbeat? Check! You're right. I'm not a Vampire."

Buffy was a bit taken aback by the sheer energy this girl radiated. On top of that she couldn't figure out what she was doing here. For a moment she had a horrible picture in her head of Angel using this girl for his personal pleasure. It seemed like something Vampires would do. But no, she simply couldn't connect something like that with her mental image of Angel.

"You're not the most talkative of people, are you?" Cordy asked.

"Might have something to do with being stuck in a cell." Buffy mumbled.

"You want out?"

Buffy stared at her for a moment, then quickly rose and walked to the bars.

"Yes! Yes, I want out. If you could just ..."

Cordy threw something into the cell and Buffy caught it before she had time to consciously think about it. She looked at what she had caught and saw two pairs of handcuffs, one with a short length of chain between them.

"What the ...?" She began.

"Cuff your feet together and your hands behind your back. Angel said you might need a walk in the sunlight and, seeing as he is a bit handicapped in that area, he asked me to take you. Maybe figured I could slip in some girl-talk."

Buffy looked at the cuffs and knew that this was maybe her only chance to get out of here. It was probably too much to hope for, though, that Angel would have underestimated her strength when ordering these cuffs. Still, just getting out of this cell would do wonders for her peace of mind. She didn't like the thought of being tied up with Vampires around, but if they had meant to hurt her, they could have done so long since.

With a sigh she squatted down and cuffed her feet together. The chain left just enough slack for her to walk in small steps. Running was out of the question. She crossed her wrists behind her back, thinking for a minute about trying to trick Cordy. Then she decided that the girl was watching her much too closely, so she fumbled until she could feel the cuffs snap shut around her wrists.

"All set!" She told Cordy without much enthusiasm.

The other girl slid the bars back and walked in carefully, checking the cuffs. Only now did Buffy see another figure standing close to the cell. A short man in a dingy leather jacket, a gun held in one hand. She wasn't sure whether he was a Vampire. She was sure he would shoot if she tried anything.

"Okay," Cordy pronounced, "we good to go."

She turned and walked out of the cell, Buffy following her with small, awkward steps.

#

Faith stood at the top of the stairs and watched as Cordelia and Buffy came up, the latter walking very carefully, taking the steps slow and one at a time. Faith wasn't half as enthusiastic about this as she pretended to be. Angel had asked her to do this and she would do pretty much anything for him, but still ...

She couldn't figure out why this girl was disturbing her this way. Maybe it was like Spike had said. Knowing what she had done, what she was capable of doing, maybe it was just good old-fashioned stay-away-from-the-predator fear.

Buffy reached the top of the stairs and looked around the lobby of the Hyperion Hotel. The sun was shining in through the windows and one could see the barest hint of clear blue skies outside.

"God, I thought I'd never see the sun again." Buffy muttered.

"Sorry about that," Faith said, making her presence known, "but you know how it is. Can't let you go around staking people and all."

Buffy gave the other girl a dirty look.

"They're not people." She said, but by now it sounded more like mindless repetition.

"Oh, put a sock in it!" Faith grumbled. "Some of them are better people than any o'those that walk around in daylight."

"They are monsters, they kill people for their blood."

The Slayer seemed less interested in what she was saying than in holding her face into the sunlight. Faith, never one with a lot of patience, was getting irritated. Angel had warned her that it would take a lot of time to get Buffy's brain right side up, but she had somehow figured that it wouldn't take THAT long.

"Angel is a good guy," she yelled at Buffy, "one of the best. I would probably be dead by now if not for him. These last hundred years he's done nothing but good and still bigoted idiots like you run around, carrying a stake with his name on it."

#

Buffy was taken aback by the intensity of the girl's outburst. She became painfully aware of the fact that she was cuffed and helpless here, while this dark-haired teenager seemed poised to swing at her.

"Tone down on the psycho-act, Faith!" Cordelia reminded everyone of her presence. "We're trying to do some female bondage-stuff here. Bondage meaning emotional, you know? Not the cuff part. We're not that kinky."

She came to a stop in front of Buffy and looked her up and down.

"You look a lot more in need of a shower here in daylight. We'll have to get you some other clothes if you're to stay here for a while. Oh, where are my manners? The girl wonder here is Faith, I'm not sure why she is here, but she always is. My full name is Cordelia Chase, by the way. These people here would be lost without me. None of them has any sense of style. No wonder Vampires get all the bad press. They're all running around in black."

Buffy still tried to wrap her mind around the fact that living human beings seemed so very fond of a Vampire, fond to the point of vehemently defending them. And here was this Cordelia girl giving fashion tips to Vampires? She wondered if this entire thing, starting with the fight in the alley, might not have been a weird dream after too much ice cream.

"Come on, girls!" Cordelia motioned for them to follow her. "Let's step into the sun and have some girl talk!"


###

Soulworld, p10 - About Vampires and Life after High School

###


Just feeling the sun on her skin again was a feeling too wonderful to describe. The building she had been kept prisoner in had a large courtyard and that was where Faith & Cordelia had taken her. They all sat down on a stone bench and Buffy turned her face toward the sun.

"They tell me you got all the powers of a Vampire," Cordelia said, "only without the whole creature-of-the-night angle. That's so cool!"

"No, it's not!" Buffy said. "It's not cool that I have to hang around dark alleys and cemeteries all night. It's not cool that I'm alienating all my friends and family because I can't tell them about this. It's definitely a not cool thing."

Cordy went quiet for a moment, sensing the pain in the other girl.

"Angel told me you've only been the Slayer for a year. Before that you were all normal high school girl or what?"

Buffy didn't want to talk to these girls that hung around with Vampires. She wanted out of here, that was all. Back to her home, back to her mom, who was probably worried sick by now. She wondered what Giles was doing right now. Was he looking for her? Or had he written her off and was looking for the new Slayer that would pop up if she was dead?

"The Slayer doesn't talk to us freak-girls!" Faith mumbled, looking less than happy to be here. "Probably figures us for coffin-bait or something."

"Oh, please!" Cordy made a throwaway motion. "As if. Angel's too busy saving the world to allow himself any fun. And Spike is still moping for his Dru."

"Dru?" Buffy asked, drawn into the conversation despite herself.

"His Sire and lover. She was killed twenty years ago. By a Slayer. You're not exactly his favorite people. I'm sure you understand."

Vampires in love with each other? These creatures were capable of love? She shook her head. Next they would tell her they were donating blood for Africa or something.

"Not in receptive mood, are you?" Cordy asked. "We must do something about that, I think."

"Let me get out of here and I'll be happy-girl!"

"Sorry, no can do. Angel would go all grrrr on us and you'd probably start killing again. So it's a no-no! I will think of something else, don't worry!"

"We could lock her in a room with Spike and throw the key away." Faith proposed.

#

Wesley watched the three girls from a distance, his eyes on the Slayer. She looked nothing like Kendra, that was for sure. Still, looking at her, it was like a trip into the past for him. He remembered a time when he had been sure in what he was and what he did. Vampires were evil and had to be destroyed. He hadn't simply believed that. He had known it to be true.

He looked at this girl. She seemed nowhere near as certain as he remembered himself being, but she was still hardening herself to the truth. He tried to remember the exact moment that he himself had come around. There probably wasn't one. It had been a gradual change, something that happened in too subtle a way to be noticed.

Angel had asked him to talk to the girl, if he felt up to it. Looking at her, he simply wasn't sure.

#

Faith had moved away, not trusting herself not to swing at the helpless Slayer. Which left Cordelia and Buffy on the bench, sitting in the sunshine.

"You do realize he could've killed you long ago if he wanted to, right?"

"He doesn't want a new Slayer to be called, that's all." Buffy wasn't sure she believed it, though.

"If that was his only motivation he could just leave you to rot in that cell. He wouldn't spend so much time talking to you."

Buffy tried ignore both Cordelia and the confused voices inside her own head. There was Giles, telling her that Vampires would try every dirty trick in the book. There was Slayer-Buffy, who was going crazy with not being able to kick Vampire ass. And there was another Buffy, who wondered whether everything Angel had told her just might be true.

"He saved my life, you know?" Cordelia said. "If not for him I wouldn't be here today."

"What happened?" Buffy asked, surprised that she really wanted to know.

"There was a Vampire called Penn, a serial killer. He sort-of had this fixation on getting even with his dad, said dad having been dead for nearly two centuries. He kept killing his family over and over again and he had chosen me as his next younger sister."

That sounded more like the Vampires she knew, Buffy thought.

"Angel tracked him down before Penn could do me in. They fought and Angel staked him. God, that sounds so easy, telling it like this. Penn was Angel's childe, you know? It was like killing his own son."

"So they kill their own young, is it?" Buffy grumbled.

"You really don't want to understand, do you?" Cordy sighed. "The point is that Angel is Mr. Responsibility. He gave souls to Vampires, so he figures he is responsible for them all. These last ninety years he and a few others have been the police to their people, tracking down those that crossed the line. Penn did when he started killing again and so Angel staked him, no matter what feelings he might have had for him."

Cordy tilted her head back, feeling the sun on her face.

"Angel did more than save me, though. Before I met him I was a spoiled brat. Rich man's daughter, used to getting everything she wanted just because she wanted it. Life for me was wearing fashionable clothing and worrying about my popularity in High School. I knew about Vampires from TV, but I couldn't have cared less.

"Angel changed all that. Meeting him, getting to know him, it gave my life purpose. I figured my future was some kind of Hollywood dream, I figured myself an actress. These days I help people. Do you know how good that feels? I even went against my dad and when he took away my credit card the universe didn't collapse in on me.

"You know what Vampires are, Buffy? Not animals, not monsters, they are people. People that live without any rights, without any protection by the law, without anything. A lynch mob can just go ahead and burn a few of them and no one will do a thing about it. Is it any wonder that some of them turn out bad?"

Buffy didn't say anything, didn't know what to say. What Cordelia was telling her didn't sound right. It couldn't be right. Because if it was it would mean ...

"I would like to go back now." Buffy just said, sounding much more tired than she felt.

Cordy gave her a long look, then nodded.

Angel watched from the shadows, having heard every word the two girls had exchanged. Cordelia had certainly painted a very glorified picture of him. He looked at the Slayer's face and knew that they were making progress. Slowly, very slowly, but they were.

"There might just be hope for her yet." Angel murmured to himself.


###

Soulworld, p11 - Interviewed by the Vampire

###


Buffy woke with a scream, almost tumbling off the narrow cot. Her body was covered in sweat, panting like she had just been through a ten-mile run. For a moment she had no idea where she was, the bare cell walls foreign and intimidating in the darkness.

With a sigh the memories returned. She was still a prisoner, coming close to the three weeks mark now, and, in her own opinion, in a certain amount of danger of going nuts. The nightmare she had just finished being the best indicator for that.

The memories of the dream were quickly fading, but she knew that she had seen. It made her shiver.

"A bad dream?"

For a moment she thought she was still dreaming, but there he stood, in front of her cell. She could barely make him out in the darkness, but the tingling of her Slayer sense and the familiar silhouette were enough by now.

"Are you watching me sleep?" She asked him, trying to sound irked, but what came out sounded just tired and a bit frightened.

"I keep an eye on you, yes." He admitted. "Can't have you do a disappearing act without anyone noticing. You've been having a lot of bad dreams."

She sat up on her cot and drew her knees up, wrapping her arms around them. She wished he would turn on the light. Talking with him here in the dark gave the whole thing a feeling of intimacy she wasn't ready for yet. Yet? Where had that thought come from?

"Want to talk about them?" Angel asked.

"Why are you interested?"

"So far I've been the one doing all the talking. I would like to learn more about you, Buffy Summers."

She looked up.

"How do you know my last name? I never told you."

"Your wallet."

"Oh!"

She fell silent again, her eyes not looking at him, but somehow she was almost painfully aware of his presence nearby.

"I've been having nightmares since I became the Slayer." She finally said, knowing she had to break the silence or she'd go mad. "At first it was simple stuff. I was running through alleys and graveyards, chased by demons, they caught me, I woke up just before they could kill me. Don't need to be Freud to interpret those, I guess."

"You don't like your calling." Angel said.

"It destroyed my life. Or is in the process of doing so. I can't tell my mom about it, because she would freak. She's scared enough of Vampires as it is, even without knowing her little baby girl is out there hunting them down. I can't tell my friends, because they'd either label me freak for life or would think it cool and want to go along hunting, which would get them killed."

"You might not think so, but you can share the burden even without endangering others."

She looked up at him, trying to get a measure of his face in the darkness.

"You mean like you do with your little circle of friends here? Vampires and Vampire groupies? They tell me you're policing your own kind because you feel responsible for giving them souls."

"Is that so hard to understand?"

She laughed, but it didn't sound amused.

"You people are talking about stuff like souls like they were tangible things."

"They are." He rose and leaned against the bars. "I can feel it inside me, I'm aware of it every second of my existence. I don't expect you to understand it, Buffy. You never were without a soul. You always have it inside you so you are not even aware that you have it. It is different for me, for all of us."

"How so?" Buffy asked, just the tiniest bit of sarcasm in her voice.

"It's hard to describe. When you don't have a soul there is no such thing as right and wrong. It's only want, desire, passion. You don't care about the consequences of your deeds. The welfare of others is not even a consideration in your thinking. It's like the world is but a TV program, not real, and all the people in it are just cardboard cutouts. It would never even occur to you to give a damn about them. It's a very easy existence, Buffy."

He sat down again, looking at her in the darkness.

"What do you feel when you kill?" He asked her.

She was surprised that she genuinely considered the question. What did she feel when she plunged a stake into a Vampire's dead heart?

"Powerful." She finally said. "Carefree. Unburdened. I kill them and they just explode into dust."

"What if that wouldn't happen?" Angel asked. "What if you had bodies remain behind, Buffy? Dead eyes looking up at you, wondering why you decided to end their existence?"

She closed her eyes, but the images he conjured up had a life of their own and swirled through her head. A stake, rammed into a chest by her hand. Blood, not dust. A body tumbling to the ground. Blood spreading out on the floor. An empty face, features forever frozen in a look of disbelief.

"I don't want to talk about this." She whispered.

"Okay, then we'll talk about something else."

"What?"

"Your dreams. You said that at first it was you being chased by Vampires. What are you dreaming about now?"

She didn't want to answer those questions. That her unconscious mind was ready to believe him was not something she wanted him to know. Yet somehow she didn't know how to lie to him. She had the feeling he would know if she did. Or maybe she just didn't want to lie to him period.

"I dream about this. About you. About the stuff you're telling me."

"In what form?"

She hugged herself closer, feeling cold seep into her bones.

"I keep hearing your voice over and over again, telling me that the Vampires I killed were people. I see myself driving a stake through a Vampire's heart and suddenly it has your face. I expect to feel good about it, but I don't. I feel terrified and I can't figure out why."

She expected him to give some comment about how she was beginning to see the light or something. Instead she was taken completely by surprise when he slid back the cell door and walked inside, crouching down beside her cot.

She wanted to run. Wanted to use this chance to escape. Somehow her limps didn't obey her. She could do nothing but stare at him as he sat in front of her, his dark eyes locking with hers. There was so much to see in those eyes, such incredible depth. How could he be a monster?

He gently took one of her hands, guiding it toward his own chest. He placed it above his heart and Buffy felt the cold of his flesh seep into her skin. There should be a heartbeat, she realized. Something should be moving under that chest. Only it didn't.

"We are living in dead flesh," Angel said, "that is why we fall into dust when you kill us. But inside, where it counts, we are alive. We think, we feel, we love, and we hurt. Just like you."

She didn't know what to say, didn't know what to do. After a moment he let go off her hand and stood, moving out of the cell without another word. The door slid shut behind him and Buffy was left alone in the darkness, sitting on her cot with her knees hugged close to her chest.


###

Soulworld, p12 - At Night all Slayers are Gray

###

"Are you completely out of your bloody mind?" Spike yelled as Angel came up the stairs.

"Spike?"

"You opened her cell door. She could have escaped."

"She didn't, did she?"

Spike stomped down in frustration, hard enough to crack the floor boards.

"I'm really getting tired of this, Peaches! I've had it up to here with your save-all-innocent-souls attitude. This chick is a murderer and we should deal with her. Right here! Right now! Rip her head off and be done with it."

Angel could hear the alcohol in his childe's voice, as well as the pain and anger he still felt, even after twenty years. Angel grabbed the blonde Vampire by the shoulders.

"This girl down there was tricked, Spike! They told her Vampires were evil and so she killed them. She didn't know any better! It's not her fault!"

Spike pushed him away, vamping out.

"I don't care what she knew and didn't know. She killed them. Killed our people." His rage spent, Spike dropped to his knees, crying bloody tears. "Killed Dru."

Angel knelt down and hugged Spike close.

"It wasn't her, Spike. This girl down there wasn't even born then. It's not her fault. And neither was it yours."

He knew the story of that day, of course. Spike and Dru had been in New York for the bicentennial celebration. Spike had left town for a day to check up on an old acquaintance in Boston. When he came back he only found Dru's ashes.

Within the week he tracked down the Slayer in the New York subway system and killed her.

"I should have been there." Spike sobbed. "I should have stayed with her. Saved her."

Angel knew no words that would help his childe, so he just held him and let him cry for the woman he still loved more than anything else.

#

Buffy sat on the roof of the Hotel, looking out across the lights of LA. It was hard to sit comfortably with her hands cuffed behind her back, but she managed. Now and then she threw a suspicious glance towards the blonde Vampire that had brought her up here.

"I guess you want to tell me something, too." Buffy told Darla. "Why don't you just start?"

"I thought you might want to enjoy being beneath an open sky once more for a while. But if you want, we can start right now."

Buffy had missed the outdoors, that was true. The last week she had been taken outside three times by Cordelia. It had gotten so far that she was even glad to see the talkative girl arrive because it meant she would get out some more.

Being taken onto a moonlit roof by a Vampire was not something she had ever expected to happen to her.

"What do you think about Angel?" Darla asked.

"I ... I'm not sure. I know that he's a Vampire, yet ... he's so ... so intense. So completely ... there. It's hard not to be ... intrigued by him."

"Angel is the most human of us all," Darla said, "and that is what makes him so very lonely."

"Lonely?" Buffy asked. "I didn't get the impression he was lonely. I get the feeling I still haven't met all the people running around here."

"Not lonely in a physical sense, Buffy," Darla continued, "but inside. You have to understand what the last ninety years have been like for him. He is the soul of the Vampire race, Buffy. He is our conscience. Our compassion."

She sat down beside Buffy, sighing.

"The first few years after the Restoration were hell for us. Many a Vampire committed suicide, walked into the sunlight, staked himself. Many more cursed Angel for what he had done. Why should we have to suffer through all this pain, this remorse? Just so that he and Spike wouldn't be the only Vampire's with souls anymore?

"Angel gave us hope, Buffy. Hope that, despite what we are, we could live as people again. It was hard. Very much so. Back then it wasn't as easy to get a steady supply of cow's blood or to find a sun-proof shelter outside a graveyard. Electric light was just coming into vogue, the night was still a dark and scary place.

"It never stopped him. But it also cut him off from the rest of us. He was the one who had to stake the ones that stepped out of line. Some of them were his own childer, some of them people he had loved as a demon. He feels he can't allow himself to open up to anyone because he has taken it upon himself to carry the ultimate responsibility for all of us.

"The last few years were even more difficult than before. Despite the boasts some of us always yelled, about how you are the prey and we are the predators, our survival always depended upon your ignorance. There is six billion of you and less than a hundred thousand of us. When our existence became public knowledge we all despaired.

"All of us expect Angel. He is working with the human authorities. He is working to legalize Vampires through Cordelia and her lobby in Washington. He never quits, he never surrenders, and he hasn't had a moment's peace since the day of the Restoration. He is lonely, incredibly so."

Her speech seemed to have tired Darla out, she slouched back against the wall and closed her eyes.

"Before the return of the souls we were lovers, he and I. Our demons wanted each other with a passion that still makes me tingly today. But our souls never carried such fire for each other. Whatever we once had, it's gone. I can't help him fill that emptiness he carries inside himself."

She turned to look at Buffy.

"But maybe you can."

"Me? What are you talking about."

Darla laughed under her breath.

"A blind man would see that he cares for you, Buffy. Only Angel himself is too stubborn to ever let himself realize it. Part of the effort he puts into you is because he just is that kind of man. Savior of lost souls and such. But the largest part is because he cares about you. For the first time in ninety years he is on the verge of allowing himself to truly care for someone. I can see it in his eyes."

"He's a Vampire!" Buffy said, shaken by Darla's words. "I'm a Slayer. It's my job to kill Vampires. Besides, I could never ..."

"Love him?" Darla asked, cutting her off. "Love has nothing to do with Vampires and Slayers, Buffy. It doesn't care. It just is."

"This has nothing to do with love!" Buffy insisted. "I ... he kidnapped me. He's keeping me prisoner here against my will. He's filling my head with all that nonsense about souls and stuff, I ... three weeks ago the world was a place I could understand. Good guys and bad guys, Vampires being the latter. And now ..."

"Now your black and white world is tumbling away into shades of gray," Darla interrupted her again, "and you can't tell the good guys from the bad anymore. That's the way the world is, girl. Get used to it!"

"But that's ..." Buffy started.

"If all this is nonsense, then why didn't you flee last night?"

Buffy had thought about that every waking moment since it happened. Angel had opened the door, had walked up to her without a care in the world. She could have jumped him, knocked him out, fled from this place. She could have done it, only she hadn't. Why hadn't she?

"I have no idea." She admitted.

"Maybe you should figure it out then." Darla said. "If you do, I don't think we will need those much longer."

She pointed towards the cuffs. Buffy was actually a bit surprised to see herself still all tied up, she hadn't thought about it throughout the whole conversation. Then she realized that she hadn't really given much thought to planning her escape in days.

"Weird!" She mumbled to herself.

"One other thing!" Darla said.

"What?"

"I think we need to get you a shower." The blonde Vampire wrinkled her nose, smiling. "You smell!"


###

Soulworld, p13 - Who Watches the Watchers?

###

"Are you sure about this?" Rupert Giles asked Quentin Travis.

"We don't make mistakes in things like this." Travis reminded him. "No new Slayer has been called. Ergo Buffy Summers is still alive."

Giles sat down on a chair, mixed emotions running through him. Relief that his charge had not been killed as he had feared these last three weeks, but at the same time a bone-chilling fear set in when he started to think about what might have happened to her instead.

"I don't suppose the Council has found a way to track her down, has it?" Giles asked, feeling tired.

"There was never a need to. A Slayer did her duty and when she vanished it meant she had died, a new Slayer was called. You know as well as I do, Rupert, that Buffy is a special case, though. She should never have become the Slayer."

Giles jumped to his feet, almost throwing down the seat.

"She has been a good Slayer these past twelve months. She has fulfilled her duty to the fullest."

"I know that. Yet it is also a fact that, unlike most Slayers, Buffy has not been trained from birth. I would have much preferred to have one of our Slayers-in-waiting be called when Kendra died instead of this American school girl."

"Some things are beyond our influence." Giles muttered, sitting down again.

"True. Well, whatever we might think about Buffy Summers, fact remains that she is the Slayer, wherever she is. We need to find her. In case she has been taken prisoner or something similar we must ..."

"What do you mean, in case? What other reason could there be for her disappearance?"

Travis sat down as well, looking at his fellow Watcher.

"Your reports stated that Buffy was less than happy with her duties as the Slayer. You mentioned several times that she felt bad about how her personal life suffered due to her responsibilities."

"While all this is true it does not mean that Buffy would just shirk her duties and run away from them. She is a responsible girl. She might not like it, but she knows how important her work is. She would never abandon it."

"Let's hope you're right. Otherwise we might be forced to have her undergo disciplinary actions. I would not want that."

Giles fumed inside, but didn't allow himself to show it. He didn't like Travis, but he was his boss. Apart from that there was a certain logic to Travis' thoughts. What if Buffy actually had run away? No, he didn't believe it. Something must have happened to her.

#

Faith had listened to most of the exchange between the two old guys and smiled to herself. It had been a good idea to come here after all. Of course her motivation hadn't exactly been pure as gold.

At first Faith had been excited about Angel having taken the Slayer prisoner. His mission to make her see the error of her ways was so typical for him. Faith had found it sweet. Just one more reason why she loved that dark-haired Vampire, who had saved and changed her life.

Truth was, though, that she was rapidly getting tired with the amount of attention the captured Slayer received from everyone. Especially Angel.

During one of their 'girl talks' Buffy had told them that she went to Hemery High School and that her Watcher doubled up as the librarian. Faith snorted. She didn't like talking to the Slayer. If it was up to her they would just leave that blonde bitch down in the cell to rot. A part of Faith realized that she herself had once been in a very similar situation, a major hatred for Vamps, and she had gotten her head screwed on right as well.

Still, it wasn't the same. She hadn't actually killed any Vampires. She wasn't a friggin' murderer like her. And, fuck, Angel shouldn't be looking at that girl the way he did!

The way Faith had always dreamed he would look at her some day.

She'd had it all planned out since very early in their relationship. She knew that Angel saw her as his little sister, or maybe a daughter, nothing more. That would soon change, though, she was certain. Soon he would stop seeing her as a kid and then he'd realize how much they meant to each other. She'd soon be seventeen, no longer a girl, but a woman. Angel would notice and things would go on from there.

Now, though, with the way he looked at that girl ...

Something had to be done and fast. For a moment she played with the thought of telling those old guys where they could find their precious Slayer. But no, that would not be a good idea. It could get Angel and her friends killed. She just wanted that girl gone, out of their lives again. She didn't want anyone to wind up dead in the process.

She thought about what she could gain from the conversation she had just overheard. So those Watcher guys were looking for their lost Slayer, wondering whether she might have been kidnapped or just had enough of the job.

Disciplinary action, eh? Faith no longer doubted that Angel would set Buffy free sooner or later. When he set his mind on something he usually succeeded, so it was only a matter of time until he got Buffy to see things his way and then he would let her go.

And if the Watchers thought she had been ditching her duty ... or better yet, fraternizing with the enemy ... it had possibilities.

Faith left the school, trying to come up with a plan what to do and dreaming of the time when she would once again be the center of Angel's attention. Maybe she'd wear an even tinier sports bra for their next workout session.


###

Soulworld, p14 - Hot Showers and the Making of Tough Choices

###


Buffy couldn't get over how good it felt to have hot water trail down her skin. Showering had always been something she had to do, like eating or sleeping, not something she looked forward to. After three weeks without one, though, this shower was a grace right from the hands of God.

Or someone far from it, actually.

Angel had arrived at her cell, together with the short man in the dingy leather jacket. He was called Doyle, as she now knew, and they had taken her to get a shower. She hadn't missed the presence of the gun under Doyle's jacket, but the fact that Angel had not told her to put on the cuffs had been a genuine surprise.

They had led her up the stairs of what Buffy had figured out to be a hotel by now and into one of the rooms. The bathroom had no windows and Angel and Doyle were waiting right outside the door, so Buffy didn't waste much time thinking about escape. She might do that after she had finished this long, long shower. Got to keep one's priorities straight.

Feeling the hot water rain down on her she almost managed to put her constant deep thinking to rest. Deep thinking wasn't something she did very often. Before she had become the Slayer one could have argued about the whole thinking thing in general, but even since then she had mostly been a girl of action.

Which might have turned her into a murderer.

She had less trouble thinking about that question now than she'd had initially, but it still disturbed her greatly. The Vampires she had killed, had they been innocents? Approaching things from a logical standpoint she had to admit that it was possible. The only thing she had known was that they were Vampires and all Vampires were evil, that was what Giles had taught her.

But what if Giles had lied? Or just been wrong?

Angel wasn't evil, she was convinced of that by now. He couldn't be, not with all the things she had learned about him. Some part of her brain still said that all this could all be part of a complicated plot on the part of the Vampire, but her heart didn't believe it. She trusted her gut instincts and they told her that Angel was a good guy.

Did that mean everything she had known to be true this last year was all lies?

She knew that she needed to talk to Giles. Just as she couldn't believe that Angel was a bad guy she couldn't believe it of Giles, either. This last year he had been more of a father to her than Hank Summers had ever been and she trusted him deeply. She needed to figure this out, needed to know what he thought.

Maybe Giles didn't know about the Soul Restoration. He was a book worm, everything done by the letter. Maybe the books just hadn't been updated in a good long while. Maybe ...

She put a stop to her thoughts. She needed to talk to Giles, until then everything else was just guesswork. In order to talk to Giles, though, she needed to get out of here.

Her skin was beginning to turn wrinkly when she finally stepped out of the shower. Several large, fluffy towels were laid out for her, as well as a satin bathrobe. She dried off, blow-dried her hair, and put on the robe.

Stepping out of the bathroom she was surprised that Angel and Doyle were gone. In their stead another man was sitting on the bed, looking up as she entered. Almost instantly he reminded her of Giles. Not by his looks, he was a lot younger for starters, but by his entire impression. British, definitely British.

"Hello Buffy." He said in a voice that was so carefully neutral Buffy thought she might be talking to a machine. "My name is Wesley. Wesley Windham-Pryce. I wanted to talk to you."

"Hi, Wesley." Buffy said, sitting down on the other bed across from him, looking into his haunted face. There was great pain buried somewhere behind his eyes.

"I ... I tried to work up the courage to talk to you for quite some time now. You see ... I ... I can imagine what must be going through your head right now. I went through the same."

He looked up at her.

"Until about a year ago I was a member of the Watchers' Council. To be more precise I was the Watcher assigned to Kendra, your predecessor as the Slayer."

Buffy was too stunned to say anything. She had known, of course, that there had been a Slayer before her. Intellectually she had also known that this old Slayer must have died in order to dump the job on her. Now she was sitting across from the Watcher of her predecessor and the reality of the retirement aspects of her job suddenly hit home.

"Were you ... were you there when she died?" Buffy asked.

"You might say that, yes." Wesley said.

With a voice that might as well have belonged to a dead man he began telling her about Kendra. How the two of them had come to America and started killing Vampires. How Wesley had first met Angel and how that meeting changed him.

His voice faltered when he told her how all his attempts to explain things to the Council proved to be useless. He had loved Kendra like a daughter and wanted to break her free of the Council's influence, save this young girl from a life of murder and an early death.

He told her how Kendra hadn't listened. Raised from birth to hate, hunt, and kill Vampires, it was impossible to change her attitude. Wesley almost started crying when he pleaded with Buffy to believe that he had done everything in his power.

"In the end it came down to a choice." Wesley said, recovering again. "Kendra was about to kill Angel and a family of half-demons, four small children, none of them older than six years. They had never hurt anyone in their entire short lives. I had a gun in hand and ..."

He couldn't continue, burying his face in his hands and quietly sobbing. Buffy could only stare. What he had just told her was too horrible to imagine. Forced to make a choice like that ... she didn't have the slightest inkling what to say. She was seventeen years old, how could anyone expect her to deal with things like this?

After a while Wesley looked up again, red-rimmed eyes locking with hers.

"I don't know if I could have saved Kendra." Wesley said. "Every night since that day I've lain awake and wondered what I might have done differently to prevent this from happening. I don't know. Maybe Kendra's conditioning was too thorough. Maybe she was beyond saving."

He got off the bed and knelt in front of her, grabbing her by the shoulders.

"But you are not, Buffy! Please, don't let them turn you into something like that! They only had a year to fill your head with their lies. Don't listen to them! You have to keep your own mind! Don't let ... don't let something like that happen again!"

After a moment he let her go and stood, slowly walking toward the door, bent over like a man thrice his age. Buffy was shaken down to her very core by the anguish she had witnesses inside this man. Was this what Giles had tried to turn her into? A mindless killer that would meet her end gunned down by a man forced to make the most cruel choice of them all?

"Mr. Pryce?" She said when his hand already touched the door knob. He turned and looked at her.

"I ... I don't know what to tell you, but ..." She gulped down the lump in her throat. "I think my eyes have been opened a bit. God, that sounds so corny. I ... I can't even imagine what it must have been like. I ..."

She fell silent, realizing that she was babbling. Wesley was still looking at her with that intense gaze of his.

"I will try." Buffy said, her voice almost steady. "I promise I will."

Wesley nodded and the barest hint of a smile spread across his lips.

"Thank you!" He whispered and left.

Buffy remained sitting on the bed, her thoughts in turmoil. She didn't even notice that Angel had walked into the room until he stood right in front of her.

"Thank you." Angel said as well.

"For what?"

"For listening to him. Wesley needed this. I hope explaining to you, Kendra's successor, why he did what he did might help put his ghosts to rest."

Buffy looked past Angel at the door Wesley had left through.

"What he did ... God, I don't know what I should say or think."

"He made a choice nobody should have to make." Angel said, sitting down on the bed Wesley had sat on. "He chose between the girl he loved and the lives of six innocent people. I don't think he will ever stop wondering what he could have done differently on that day."

She looked at Angel and her thoughts cleared a bit. This man had changed the lives of so many people. Cordelia, Faith, Wesley, the entire Vampire race. If even a Watcher, a member of the group that had taught her everything she had known about Vampires, had come over to his side, could his side be the wrong one?

Or was the wrong side the one that trained girls from birth to kill innocent children?

"I've got something for you." Angel said.

He put a cordless phone into Buffy's hand and for a moment she regarded it like an alien thing.

"What ...?" She began.

"I thought you might want to let your mother know that you are all right, Buffy."

She looked up at him, open-mouthed.

"Are you serious?"

"Just speak to her. I'll be waiting outside."

With that he rose and left her alone with the phone. Buffy stared after him for a moment, then quickly dialed the number. Her mother picked up after the third ring.

"Yes?"

"Mom! It's me!"

"Buffy, my God! Where are you? What happened? I was so ..."


###

Soulworld, p15 - One Last Farewell to Absent Friends

###


Angel didn't take Buffy back to her cell after the shower. Instead he waited until she had dressed and then took her down into the Hotel's basement garage and opened the door of his black convertible for her.

Buffy gave him a curious look, but got in and waited until he had climbed into the driver's seat. They were underway before Buffy noticed that Doyle, their armed shadow, had not gotten into the car with them.

"Where are we going?" She asked him, surprised at her own lack of worry. Could it be that she felt ... safe with him?

He just gave her that half-smile he sometimes showed and continued driving. Buffy only gave the barest of thoughts to just jumping out of the car and escaping. Her mother knew she was safe, even though Buffy had not been able to say when she'd get back. She had promised to be home soon and explain everything, then hung up before her mother could ask more questions.

Angel drove out of town and a few miles down the coast. After about half an hour he parked the car directly by the beach, close to a bundle of other cars. The full moon hung high overhead and Buffy tried to figure out exactly where they were. The stretch of beach before them had a large sign that said "PRIVATE".

"Will you tell me where we are now?" She asked Angel, who had started walking down to the beach. Buffy fell into step beside him.

"I want to show you one last thing," Angel said, "and then I'll drive you home."

Buffy's mouth fell open at his statement and she was about to say something, probably incoherent babbling, when he motioned for her to be quiet. Looking ahead she saw a large group of people gathered down near the ocean. A bonfire was burning close by, the only source of light except for the moon.

As they got closer to the gathering Buffy's Slayer sense started tingling. Vampires. Many of them. She tensed, every instinct urging her to either run away or attack them. Angel just walked on and she stayed by his side, trying to make out the faces of the people ahead of them.

"Welcome, brothers and sisters!" Buffy could see a man in priest's garb stand close to the fire, addressing the gathering. His demonic features showed on his face, his amber eyes reflecting the flames. Several urns stood close to this feet, wedged into the sand.

"Angel, what ...?" She whispered to him, but he motioned for her to stay quiet.

"We are gathered here tonight to say goodbye to our absent friends."

Buffy now saw that, though many of those present were Vampires, there was also a good percentage of humans present. They all stood close to the fire, looking at the priest. How could a Vampire dress up like a priest?

"Our friends have gone into the darkness ahead of us," he continued, "and we hope and pray that their sins will be forgiven, so their souls can walk as one into the light."

"Into the light!" The crowd repeated in unison, causing Buffy to jump.

"Let us remember them! We will speak their names and know them for the people they were. As the Restoration has returned their souls, let those souls be what we remember, not the demons that have now been banished to the pits forever and all times. Let us give them our blessing for their final journey. To death, true death, in peace!"

"True death in peace!" The crowd repeated again.

The priest picked up one of the urns and handed them to a Vampire that had come forward from the crowd. The Vampire opened the urn and held it before him.

"James Madison. Born in 1881. A painter in life, an artist through and through. After the Restoration he returned to his abandoned passion. He lived for his paintings, his sole regret that he was no longer able to paint a landscape lush with daylight. Later, these last few years, he lived for the images he could conjure from computers. He loved beauty. He loved his life."

With that the Vampire began pouring the contents of the urn into the bonfire.

"May you find all the beauty in the light, my friend." The Vampire said.

Buffy saw the ashes as they were picked up by the breeze, the heat of the fire flinging them upwards into the night sky. For a moment the air above the fire sparkled as if filled with a million tiny stars, then darkness returned.

The empty urn was put down and another Vampire stepped up to take the next one.

Buffy could only listen as the lives of dead Vampires were summed up in a few short sentences and their remains given to the fire. They had been artists and soldiers, workers and businessmen, fathers and mothers, friends and loved ones. Now they were gone.

And the more Buffy listened to the tales of these people, the more certain she was that she knew why they were gone.

One urn remained and Angel stepped out of the crowd, taking it from the priest's hands. His human face faded as he changed and Buffy felt his demon eyes resting on her.

"Thomas Jefferson Edwards. Born in 1842. Born into slavery, freed by war, he did not hesitate to grasp his newfound freedom and make the most of it. A businessman in life, he found himself drowned in darkness by a night's chance encounter. After the Restoration he was a shattered man, like so many of us, but time healed his wounds. When the age of technology dawned he was ready, willing, and able to once again use this newfound freedom. Within a few years he built one of the most successful Internet companies in the world and became known by his newly adopted name."

Angel paused a moment and Buffy had to force herself to remain still as he looked at her, feeling everything inside her tighten.

"Mr. Trick. Like all the others we remember here today, he was taken from this life by the ignorance and fear of those not willing to learn. Those that fear what is different, what they do not understand. But maybe, just maybe, their deaths have not been in vain."

Buffy felt tears trail down her cheeks. She had done this? These people, these lives that had been snuffed ... she looked up and found that everyone present was looking at her, demon and human eyes watching her.

"Let us hope," Angel said, beckoning her forward, "that people can change and learn."

Buffy walked up to him and he handed her the urn. For a long moment Buffy just stared at this pitiful small thing that contained all that remained of a long and rich life. The polished surface reflected the flickering light of the flames, blurred by the tears in her eyes.

Her trembling fingers opened the urn and she poured the ashes of Thomas Jefferson Edwards, born in 1842, killed for the final time in 1999, into the flames. A million tiny stars sparkled in the air above her.

"Godspeed, friends!" The priest said, watching her. "May we one day meet again on our way into the light."

"Into the light!" The crowd repeated and Buffy found her own lips whispering the words along with the others.


###

Soulworld, p16 - To Find Peace in an Angel's Arms

###


Buffy sat in the passenger seat of Angel's car and just stared straight ahead as Angel drove them back towards Los Angeles. Neither of them had said a word since the end of the ceremony and Buffy found herself pleasantly numb at the moment, like someone had turned off everything but the most basic functions of her brain.

The lights of the city were coming into view when Buffy finally spoke.

"You knew them?" She asked.

"The people we just said our farewells to?"

"Yes."

Angel stared onto the street and Buffy wished that there would be a reflection of him in the windshield so she could see his face better.

"I knew Mr. Trick, we met several times during our lives. I knew some of the others, but not very well."

He paused for a while, then briefly turned toward her.

"I'm sorry I had to put you through this, but ..."

"I understand." She cut him off. "I ... I think I understand now. They ... they were people. They had names. They had lives. And I ... I just ..."

She drew her knees up and rested her forehead on them, feeling incredibly hollow inside. They had been people and she had killed them for no better reason than the orders of some old guys she'd never met. What did that make her?

Angel placed one hand on Buffy's shoulder and gave her a gentle squeeze. The lights of LA were coming closer, but except for their distant gleam and the beams of the headlights on the street there was only darkness surrounding them.

"You didn't know any better." He told her. "The important thing is that you know the truth now."

Buffy looked up at stared at the dark street ahead of them.

"I don't know what to do, Angel. It's like ... like my whole world has changed overnight. It's suddenly become a strange and frightening place. I ... I don't know what my place is in this world anymore."

"You are still the Slayer, Buffy." Angel said. "You do have a place in this world. The Slayer is to protect the world from evil. There is evil out there, Buffy. It's just that you can't always tell it by the amber eyes and glistening fangs."

She realized that his hand was still resting on her shoulder and moved her own on top of it.

"Whatever else happens, Angel, I ... I am grateful. You opened my eyes. ... It's not something I wanted to see, but ... but I think I needed to."

He gave her shoulder another squeeze. "You're welcome."

#

Angel stopped the car in front of the Summers' house and they both got out. Buffy looked at her home, the lights were on, and suddenly she was afraid.

"What am I going to tell her?"

"Maybe you should tell her the truth."

She turned around to look at Angel.

"Are you nuts? She would freak, she would ..."

"Does your mother love you, Buffy?"

"What? I ... yes, she does. I think so. What has that ..."

"And do you love her?" He interrupted her again.

"Yes, but ..."

"Then you owe her the truth!"

Buffy just looked at him, still hoping that he was joking, but his face was serious. She sighed.

"I guess you're right. Again. I just ... I have no idea how to tell her this."

"You will find a way, I'm sure."

She shook her head, wrapping her arms around herself.

"Angel, I ... I will have to talk to Giles, too. My Watcher. ... I can't believe that he knew this and still told me to ... I have to talk to him. Maybe he's like Mr. Pryce, just didn't know the truth. Maybe he ... I have to talk to him."

Angel nodded.

"Do that. I hope that you are right about him."

He started to turn away, heading back to his car.

"Angel?"

He stopped, looking at her.

"I ... when I have talked with my mom and Giles, I ... I would really like to see you again. I hope ... maybe you can, you know, help me actually do some of that fighting evil stuff. That is ... if you want to. Maybe you're just glad to finally get rid of me, so if you don't want to, I would understand. I ..."

He walked up to her and placed his hands on her shoulders, looking into her eyes.

"I would be glad to see you again, Buffy."

Buffy smiled at him.

"Really?"

She looked up at this strange and complex man she had spent so much time with over the last three weeks and Darla's words rang in her ears. He was the soul of the Vampire race. Their conscience and compassion. Now she knew those words to be true. It was all right there in his all too human eyes.

She also knew that something else Darla had said was true.

His big hands still rested on her shoulders when she moved closer to him. He regarded her with wonder in his dark eyes as she tilted her head back, her lips slightly parting. Almost without conscious effort he bent down to meet her halfway.

Their lips touched in a soft and tender kiss, bodies molding themselves against each other, his arms sliding down her side to encircle her waist. Buffy's arms went around his neck, pulling him closer into the kiss.

Neither of them aware that, several blocks away, someone was watching them through a pair of binoculars. Someone who almost exploded as she saw Angel and the Slayer kiss.

"You won't get away with this, you bitch!" Faith cursed under her breath.


###

Soulworld, p17 - The Evils That Men Do

###


Buffy was on her way toward the school and tried to come up with something to say to Giles. When she had come home just a few short hours ago her mother had burst into tears and gathered her into a hug that made Buffy suspect she had a few broken ribs.

Angel had been right, her mother deserved to know the truth. So Buffy had told her everything from start to finish, pausing just long enough to lift the living room couch into the air with one arm to show that she wasn't making things up.

Her mother had taken it more or less in stride, or maybe it was just a case of shock. Her daughter had been missing for three weeks and then, just minutes after coming home, tells a story that seemed right out of a comic book. Buffy wasn't sure what would happen next. She was quite certain that her mother would not have let her leave today. Fortunately Joyce had fallen asleep in the arms of her daughter and had yet to wake.

School was a problem as well, of course. She had missed three weeks and Buffy didn't know what her mother had told them. She suspected that her mother had called the police, another problem to deal with, and odds were the principle and some of the teachers knew she had gone missing.

Buffy entered the school through the back entrance and walked directly into the library, sighing in relief when nobody stopped her to learn of her whereabouts these last three weeks. She could just imagine meeting Xander right now. He wouldn't leave her alone until he knew everything.

The library was empty, as usual. Sometimes she wondered if even one in ten students here knew what it looked like from the inside. There was a sound from the small office and Giles came out, rubbing his eyes.

"Yes? What can I ..." He looked up and saw her, his mouth hanging open.

"Hi, Giles." She smiled at him. "I'm uuungh!"

Her words were cut off as she was gathered into yet another bone-crushing hug. Giles held her as if he never wanted to let go again. Buffy began to fear for her air supply when he finally let her go again, holding her at arm's length.

"Buffy, my God! I was so afraid that ... are you all right?"

"I'm not hurt, Giles. But I ... can we talk? I ... I need to talk to you about what happened these last three weeks."

Giles nodded, wiping a stray tear from his eye that he insisted was due to dust, and motioned her toward the big table in the middle of the library. They both sat down and Giles looked at her expectantly.

"Giles ...," she hesitated, not sure how he would react, "have you ever heard of something called the Restoration?"

Giles brow furrowed. "Yes, that sounds familiar. Restoration, Restoration. Ah, yes. I read something about that. Some kind of mystical event at the beginning of the century. According to lore someone unleashed a spell that decimated a large part of the world's Vampire population, resulting in a severe decline of Vampire activity."

Buffy shook her head. "It didn't decimate them, Giles. It ... it did something different."

"What? What do you know about this? And what has that got to do with your being missing for three weeks?"

Buffy sighed, searching for the right words.

"Remember when you gave me that lecture about famous Vampires? One of them was Angelus, the Scourge of Europe."

"Yes, one of the most vicious Vampires of all time."

"I met him."

Giles was speechless for a long moment, just staring at her.

"He calls himself Angel these days." Buffy added.

"The Scourge of Europe!" Giles whispered. "Did you kill him?"

"Not exactly."

Buffy then told him the entire story. About her capture in the alley, her waking up in the cell, the long talks she had with Angel and his friends. She told him Angel's story of the Restoration and what it did to the Vampire race. She told him of Darla and, after a moment's hesitation, of Wesley Windham-Pryce. Then she told him about the Vampire ceremony she had attended and she had tears in her eyes once more.

"After that he drove me home." She concluded, deciding to leave out the part about the kissing, wiping her tears away with her sleeve.

Giles sat still, not saying a word for a long time. Buffy could almost see the wheels turning inside his head as he slowly assimilated the information she had given him. She pleaded with whatever gods there might be that he would understand.

"This is extraordinary." Giles whispered.

"Tell me about it!" Buffy said, managing a lopsided smile. "Here I thought I was protecting the world from evil, when all I really did ..." Her voice trailed off.

"I ... can't believe this. I mean, there were always some discrepancies, but ... I mean, I wondered why would Vampires expose themselves to get legal status and ... and why was there such a drop in Vampire victims when all our studies indicated their numbers hadn't dropped. But I never ... I can't believe that ... God!"

He looked up at her.

"Buffy, are you a hundred percent certain? I mean ... Angelus is known for his games and sadistic tricks. Maybe he is trying to, to deceive you. Maybe he ..."

"Giles, he could have killed me a dozen times. He could have left me in that cell for the rest of my life and there wouldn't have been another Slayer for decades. He set me free, Giles. God, if you had met him you wouldn't doubt it. He's so ... I can't even explain it. But believe me, Giles! He's not trying to trick me! This is real!"

Her Watcher shook his head, polishing his glasses.

"This ... this can't be true, Buffy! It must be some kind of trick! Vampires are demons, they don't have souls. I don't know what Angelus wants to accomplish with this, but ..."

"Giles, please! Believe me! I didn't want to believe it, either. But all he showed me, all he did ... Giles, you should meet him. He's a good man."

"Buffy ...!"

"Mr. Pryce was a Watcher, Giles! And he saw the truth as well! I'm telling you right now, my eyes are open! I will not go around killing innocent people anymore, no matter what the Council says. It's wrong and you have to see that!"

Giles was taken aback by the intensity he could see in the eyes of his Slayer.

"Buffy! For thousands of years the Council has guided the Slayer and ..."

"I don't care!" She interrupted him. "I don't care what they did back in the powdered wig days! Giles, I'm seventeen years old and they turned me into a murderer! I killed innocent people."

Her eyes were wide and shimmering with tears, a pleading look in them. Why couldn't he see? Why couldn't he understand?

"Vampires are not people, Buffy! I ..."

She jumped to her feet, causing the chair to fly backwards.

"How many Vampires did you meet, Giles? You only read about them in your dusty books, read about things they did way back when. Things have changed. Angel restored their souls, turned them back into people."

She gathered herself, tears rolling down her cheeks.

"I thought you would understand, Giles! Maybe I was wrong. Just one more thing I was wrong about."

She turned to leave, walking towards the doors. Giles rose from his chair.

"Buffy! Wait, you have to ..."

"Your services as Watcher are no longer required!" She told him in a cold voice. "And you can tell your precious Council that this is one Slayer who will not go murdering for them anymore! I'm out!"

She slammed the door behind her and Giles sat down again, shaking his head. What had just happened here? What had happened to his Slayer? The things she had told him ... they couldn't possibly be true, could they?

"We need to do something quickly!"

Giles looked up and saw Travis walk into the library.

"You heard ...?"

"I heard enough. It seems Angelus has managed to fill our little Slayer's head with his lies. We can't allow the Slayer to be drawn into the enemy's camp."

"This Restoration she talked about ..." Giles began.

"Don't you start on me, too, Rupert! Vampires are demons! It is our sacred duty to destroy them. Never forget that!"

Rupert Giles knew. He knew that Vampires were evil. He knew that they had to be destroyed in order to keep the world safe. He knew his Slayer was making a terrible mistake and that extreme measures might be called for.

He knew all that. So why was there a tiny voice inside his head telling him that maybe, just maybe, he was making a terrible mistake?


###

Soulworld, p18 - Great Anger and Furious Vengeance

###


"I can't believe he just let her go!" Faith said as she was pacing up and down the lobby of the Hyperion. Cordelia was busy typing a newsleaf for the upcoming Vampire Legalization Ralley, completely ignoring the angry teenager. Spike sat in a chair and read the newspaper, trying to do the same.

"Spike!" Faith yelled at him. "I can't believe you're taking it this calmly. If I remember right you were the one who wanted to kill her and be done with it."

The Vampire looked up from his paper and gave Faith a look that could have melted stones.

"Faith! Go away and play somewhere else, will you?"

The girl screamed in frustration and took off down the hall. Spike sighed in relief when he heard the door slam behind her.

"I'm curious, too, actually." Cordelia said. "A few days ago you were screaming for Buffy's head and now you seem to have developed a policy of disinterest to the matter."

Spike put the paper away and looked at Cordy. He liked her almost despite himself. Sometimes she could be as irritating as Faith, but unlike Faith she was able to not be irritating for extended periods of time. Besides, Cordy was here because she believed in doing what she did. Spike knew exactly why Faith was here.

"I had a long talk with Peaches." Spike said after a moment. "I got drunk again. I don't remember everything but I think I got into his face because he went into the Slayer's cage without having her tied up first."

He sighed, trying to gather the memories of that night.

"I wanted to kill her. I looked at her and all I saw was that girl back in New York."

Cordy knew the story, or at least the gist of it. Spike's lady love Drusilla had been killed by a Slayer back in the seventies and the Vampire had then tracked down that Slayer and killed her with his bare hands.

"We talked all night long," Spike continued, "and by the time I sobered up he'd actually managed to beat some sense back into my head. Though I'm not sure whether that was before or after he threw me into the pool."

They shared a laugh.

"So you think he did the right thing?" Cordy asked.

"I trust Angel's judgement." Spike said. "I find it hard to believe that a Slayer might ... I don't know. But if he thinks it can be done, well, who am I to argue with the guy that turned an entire race of evil demons into mostly decent folk? If anyone can do it, he can!"

They went quiet for a moment, the Spike looked at Cordelia again.

"You know that Faith will be a problem, right?"

"I guess so." Cordy said.

"She doesn't have the bloody brains to leave well enough alone, and I'm not just talking about the way she constantly tries to get on my case."

Cordelia had not missed the way the younger girl always looked at Angel. She had figured it for a teenage crush Faith would grow out of sooner or later. With Angel completely ignorant to all things romantic she had never feared that anything drastic might happen in that department.

But if Darla was right and Angel was on his merry way to falling in love with the Slayer ...

"Hi!"

Spike and Cordelia both looked up to see Buffy walking into the lobby. Spike was on his feet in a second, unable to suppress the reaction to her presence. She was the Slayer and a large part of him would always remember Drusilla and what had happened to her.

He managed to unclench his fists and keep his face from vamping out.

"Hi, Buffy!" Cordelia greeted the Slayer with some wariness in her voice. "We ... we didn't really expect you back anytime soon."

"What? You've given my cell away?" She asked, her voice a strained sort of happy. "How could you?"

For a moment Cordy was stumped, then she chuckled. "We'll always have one free for you."

Both girls shared a laugh, then Buffy's face grew serious.

"Is ... is Angel in? I need to talk to him."

Cordy smiled. "I'll ring him up. Will take just a second."

She went to what had once been the receptionist desk and phoned Angel's room, telling him to come down. When she turned around Buffy stood close, giving her a hesitant look.

"Cordelia, I ...," she began, "I wanted to thank you, all of you. Well, not in the sense of 'thanks that you shot, drugged, and kidnapped me', but for opening my eyes. I don't know why you went to all that effort when you could just as easily have left me to rot down there, but ... thanks!"

Angel had been right yet again, it seemed, Cordy thought. She could see the change in the other girl's eyes. There was a lot of guilt there, the guilt that came with knowing what she had done, but also something else. Something that had been lacking from the cuffed and depressed girl Cordelia had taken out of her cell little more than a week ago.

Hope.

"You're welcome!" She told Buffy.

Buffy gave her a gratefull smile, then threw a glance at Spike.

"Oops, my bad!" Cordelia berated herself. "I forgot you haven't actually met Spike yet. Buffy, this is Spike. He is Angel's childe and it was the two of them that did the Restoration."

"I only did the muscle work!" Spike said as Buffy walked over to him. She extended her hand in a very awkward gesture that he knew must have cost her. Shaking hands with a Slayer? The thought repulsed him and yet ... he looked at this girl and forced himself to face the truth.

This wasn't Dru's killer. And while she had killed some of his people he could see that she was trying to change.

Who was William the Bloody to deny anyone a second chance?

He took her hand with a sigh and shook it, seeing her face relax a bit. Bloody hell, he thought, the soul thing would turn him into a complete softy yet.

#

Angel came down the stairs and saw Cordy and Spike talking with Buffy. She had come back. Somehow that fact made him want to grin like an idiot. He remembered their shared kiss two nights before and most of the time in-between had been spent dreaming of her.

Darla had said he was falling for her and, like so many times, his Sire had been right. He could no longer deny it to himself. These last ninety years he had not allowed himself any time for romantic involvement except for the occasional attempt to figure out his feelings for Darla.

The irony was delicious, of course. A Slayer of all people, the natural enemy of his people. Who would believe it?

She looked up to see him walk down the stairs and he saw her eyes light up.

"Angel!" The way she said his name sent a shiver up his spine. Three weeks, he remembered. Three weeks ago this girl had done her best to stake him. How had things changed so very quickly?

"Buffy!" He greeted her. "How did things go?"

She walked up to him, seeming uncertain how close she could go, remaining at arm's length. The shy smile on her lips made his knees weak.

"About average, I guess." She said. "My mom was very worried, of course. I told her the truth and she freaked, but all in all she handled it rather well, I think. She even called the police and told them to stop searching for me as I'd turned up again."

She sighed, looking down.

"Giles, though, my Watcher, he ..." Her voice trailed off and Angel could sense the pain inside her. Without thinking he took her into a gentle embrace. He wanted to keep the pain away from this girl, no matter how.

"I thought he would understand." She whispered, sounding so very young and fragile.

"I don't know him, but changing a life-long conviction is never easy. He might just need some time."

"He didn't know about the Restoration," she told him, "but he is still convinced that all Vampires are evil. I was so sure he would believe me. Why doesn't he believe me?"

Angel was searching for the words to soothe the pain her Watcher had left her in when he suddenly tensed. Something was not right. Vampire senses strained and there was a smell in the air that shouldn't be here.

Gun oil.

He pushed away from Buffy's embrace in time to see a dozen heavily armed men storm into the lobby of the Hyperion. Two more men followed them, dressed in suits and carrying crosses.

"You have betrayed the human race, Buffy Summers!" One of them yelled as he saw them. "For that you will die along with these unholy creatures!"

The next moment they started shooting.


###

Soulworld, p19 - If You Shoot Us, Do We Not Get Pissed?

###


Faith was sitting in her room, sulking, her thoughts whirling around, trying to come up with a plan to get rid of the Slayer. There had to be something she could do. She knew the Watcher guys would not be happy with Buffy. In some way she had to make use of that information.

She heard the first gunshots. For a moment the sound didn't register. Shooting inside the Hyperion? Impossible. Couldn't be.

More shots! From the lobby! Faith was on her feet and into the corridor before she had time to think about it. Angel was down there. And the others, some of whom she considered something close to friends. Okay, Spike was an asshole, but Darla was pretty cool and Cordy could ...

Someone screamed and Faith took off down the stairs. She was about to round the corner that lead to the big stairway down into the lobby when something whizzed past her and struck the wall. Bullets! It brought her to a crashing stop.

Part of her wanted to run away right then and there. Then she thought of Angel and the others and forced her feet to move forward, despite their complete unwillingness to do so. Icy fear crept up her spine, but she inched around the corner until she could see down into the lobby.

About a dozen or more men with large guns were standing or crouching close the entrance, filling the room with gunfire. Faith could spot one of the two old guys she had seen in the school, apparently directing the attack while carefully keeping his own head down.

Several figures were pinned down close to the big stairs. She could see Spike behind an overturned couch, occasionally capping off a few shots from the two guns he held in his hands. She thought he was bleeding from the shoulder, but she wasn't sure.

Angel and Cordelia were behind the receptionist desk, along with another figure. Buffy! The Slayer! Fury shot through Faith's veins. What was she doing here? Had she led them here? Oh, she would pay for that. Faith was too enraged to remember that she had though about doing just that herself.

Angel had a single gun, but neither Cordy nor Buffy were armed. They were seriously outnumbered and outgunned. Faith could see ugly-looking machine guns in the hands of some of the attackers. She knew that, while impervious to bullets in general, a Vampire could very well die when a machine gun burst sawed his head off.

She had to do something. Even as she thought that she realized how ridiculous she sounded. She was just a single teenager, not armed, no superpowers. What the fuck could she do in a situation like this?

Inspiration struck and she ran to the nearest room, grabbing the phone. She thanked God that Angel had had her memorize some of the more important numbers and dialed, waiting breathlessly for someone to pick up at the other end.

"Kate?" She yelled into the phone. "There's trouble at the Hotel!"

#

Only inhuman reflexes had saved them. Spike had thrown himself behind the couch, toppling it over in the same motion, and drawn the two guns he always wore underneath his leather duster even before he hit the ground.

Angel had grabbed Cordy and Buffy, both frozen in shock, and managed to get them both behind the receptionist desk before any bullets could hit them. Angel felt a sharp pain as a shot grazed his leg, but it was only a scratch. He drew the gun from his shoulder holster and started shooting back.

"That was Giles!" Buffy whispered, her voice layered with shock. "I can't believe Giles would do this."

As much as Angel would like to, he couldn't spare any attention to her right now. The Watcher commandos had them pinned down and neither the desk nor Spike's couch would hold out very long under this hailstorm of bullets. They needed to do something and fast.

Spying out through a crack in the desk he saw that the nearest commando was at least ten meters away. Even at Vampire speed he would expose himself for several potentially painful moments before he could reach him. They needed some kind of distraction and fast.

Something trickled into his awareness and a moment later he saw Darla sneak through the shadows along the balconies of the first floor. No bullets were flying her way yet and she was nearly on top of the commandos. Sire and Childe needed no words to communicate.

Angel looked at Spike and the younger Vampire understood what he had to do immediately. He nodded, slipping fresh clips into his guns. Angel had always thought him paranoid to carry this much hardware with him at all times. Not today.

Darla reached the balcony closest to the entrance and leaped off into the air, vamping out and growling along the way. All eyes turned toward her as she arced down right into the middle of the commandos, touching the ground only meters away from two very surprised Watchers.

Spike leapt over the couch and fired with both guns while he was still in the air, taking out two commandos that had carelessly abandoned their cover when suddenly hearing a growling Vampire come up behind them. The slugs tore through the gaps in their armor and they collapsed to the floor, screaming.

Angel was moving at the same time, clearing the desk and crossing the open space within moments. No bullets tore into him and he was only two steps away from the nearest commando when the first of them started turning toward him again.

Darla was right in the middle of them, lashing out with full Vampire strength, the sound of breaking bones and screams filling the air. Angel barreled right past the first commando without slowing down, the force of his charge throwing the man into the wall with enough force to crack the plaster. Spike kept coming closer as well, guns blazing.

What had started as an orderly attack quickly descended into chaos. The commandos couldn't open up with their heavy weapons with all three Vampires now close to their own men and individual bullets could do them little harm. Angel saw Darla take a shot to the belly and it barely slowed her down. Several grazing shots left him bleeding, but he hardly felt it. Around them the commandos were in panic.

Angel turned around and looked directly into the muzzle of a machine gun. He knew that, at point blank range, the thing would tear off his head and kill him. The world around him seemed to freeze as he tried to get his body moving fast enough to prevent the ugly death coming toward him.

Something barreled into the shooter and the burst went wild. Angel had half a second to see that Buffy had joined the fight and was busy pounding the commando into the floor, then he found another commando close by and had to fight once more.

With time slowed down by his reflexes the fight seemed to take hours, but it was actually only a few minutes until the floor was covered in unconscious or dead bodies and the shooting had stopped. Angel allowed himself to slow down long enough to assess the situation.

All the commandos were down, some of them permanently. Spike was leaning against the wall, hands clutching the torn remains of his belly where several bullets had crossed his path. The wound was horrible, but nowhere near lethal. Darla seemed okay except for a few minor wounds. All of them would need to have bullets peeled out of their bodies, but none was seriously hurt.

Buffy stood knee-deep in downed commandos, fists clenched, breathing heavily, a wild look on her face. There was a bleeding wound on her thigh, probably a graze, but otherwise she seemed unhurt. Physically.

"Are you okay?" Angel asked, walking closer.

#

Faith had watched the short, but furious battle from her hiding place. It seemed that calling Kate to bring the cavalry had been unnecessary. The commandos were down and none of the Vampires was seriously hurt. Okay, Spike looked like he would have to collect his guts from the floor, but that was okay with her. She knew it wouldn't kill him and a little hurting would do him good.

She hated to admit it, but the way Buffy had torn into the commandos after recovering from her initial shock had impressed the hell out of her. A Vampire couldn't have moved faster or struck more viciously. Doubts began to creep into Faith's mind. She would never be able to fight like that, no matter how much she trained. She would never be Angel's equal. Could it be that ...

A movement caught her eye and she saw the two Watcher guys, who had hidden behind a coffee table for most of the fight. One of them was rising and pulling a gun from inside his jacket. Faith had a moment to realize that everybody was busy looking at something else. Darla was checking on Spike. Angel was looking at Buffy.

The Watcher was aiming the gun at the Slayer's head and Faith's mouth opened to shout a warning.

Then she closed it again without uttering a sound.

#

Giles had watched the entire battle with horror. They had been the attackers. They had had surprise on their side. They had had the Vampires outnumbered and outgunned. None of it had meant a thing. All the commandos were down or dead and Giles was even more horrified to see that Buffy, his Slayer, had joined the fight on the side of the monsters.

"Are you okay?"

He saw the Vampire, Angelus, turn toward Buffy and for a moment Giles couldn't believe it. There was concern in his voice, fear and compassion. He looked at Buffy and his eyes were filled with something Giles had never thought to see in a Vampire's eyes.

Could it be? Could it really be true after all?

"I'm gonna end this!" Travis whispered and drew his gun. For a moment Giles was too confused to do anything, then he saw that the Watcher was aiming his weapon at Buffy's head.

"NO!" Giles screamed, jumping to his feet.

#

Angel heard the voices and turned to see one of the Watchers aiming a gun at Buffy. Even before this information fully reached his brain he started to move. Buffy started to turn around. He saw the other Watcher jump to his feet. Everyone was shouting.

A single shot echoed through the lobby.


###

Soulworld, p20 - When You Breathe, I Want to be the Air For You

###


Everything was happening in slow motion. Angel could see the Watcher's finger tighten around the trigger. He could see the muzzle flash bloom like a flower, could almost see the shadow of the bullet as it exploded out of the gun and cut through the air toward its target.

The second Watcher tackled the other man a second after the shot and both men tumbled to the floor, but Angel had eyes only for the bullet. Buffy had turned around just in time to see death coming her way.

The world around came to a crashing halt, the only movement Buffy's head snapping back in a spray of blood, filling the air with little red droplets like summer rain. Angel had stopped moving toward the Watcher and was now struggling to change direction even as Buffy began to fall backwards.

He caught her before she fell the ground, going to his knees and propping her up against himself. Blood was flowing from the gaping wound on her temple and he could feel her pulse flutter where he touched her skin.

Then it stopped.

For a moment Angel was frozen. He waited for another beat of her pulse to free him from his trance, but it didn't come. It just didn't come. He found himself shaking her, screaming at her, but nothing worked.

A bit of logic penetrated into his brain. The wound was deep and there was lots of blood, but his sharp eyes could see that it hadn't penetrated into the brain. The bullet must have grazed along her skull. At worst there was a concussion, but the shock of impact must have stopped her heart.

Gently he laid her down on the floor and filled her lungs with air, then pumping down on her chest to get her heart beating. He leant down again, pumping air into her body, massaging the heart, pumping air, massaging the heart.

He was barely aware of someone kneeling down beside him, whimpering something about how sorry he was. Angel paid him no heed. Lungs, heart, lungs, heart, nothing existed but this mindless rhythm.

There was a commotion at the door and Angel was drawn out of his trance just enough to realize that Buffy was breathing on her own again. Relief flooded through him like a cold shower and he sagged back, strength draining out of him.

"What is going on here?" He knew that voice. Kate? What was Kate doing here?

He looked up to see a small army of cops rush into the building, weapons at the ready. Kate was walking up to him.

"Angel?" She asked. He didn't have any strength to answer her.

"Thank God you came!" Cordy jumped into the breach. "These creeps just attacked us and started shooting. It was terrible, terrible I tell you! We would have been killed if not for Angel and his friend here. Can't you see that she's hurt? Get an ambulance! Quickly!"

Angel almost managed a smile. Cordelia had things well in hand, it seemed. Buffy was unconscious, but her pulse was steady, if weak. Cordy had brought the first aid kit with her from the receptionist desk and was pressing a bandage to the wound.

Only now did he notice the man kneeling beside him. It was the second Watcher, the one who had tried to keep the first one from shooting. He was looking at Buffy, his eyes full of horror, mumbling over and over again that he was sorry, that he had been wrong.

That brought his eyes to the other Watcher, who was lying against the wall, dazed. The gun was nowhere in sight.

Angel moved.

"Angel! Stop!" Kate yelled, lifting her gun.

Without any clear idea how he had gotten there Angel had the Watcher to the wall, lifting him one-handed by his throat, the demon coming to the surface without any conscious effort. He heard a few gasps from some of the cops, PID officers who hadn't known about his nature, but he couldn't have cared less.

"Is that what your holy crusade is all about?" He growled into the other man's face. "Killing young girls? Turning them into murderers and then shooting them when they dare develop a mind of their own? Is that the depth of your virtue, old man? Are you proud of the work you're doing in God's name?"

Angel felt the cold pressure of a gun barrel against his neck, hearing Kate's voice at the edge of his perception, telling him to back off, and none of it meant a thing.

For the first time in over ninety years he wanted to let the demon come out to play. He wanted to kill this man in the worst possible way, wanted to kill for the cold satisfaction it would bring him. He had killed often since the return of his soul. In self-defense, to save innocents, to protect his people. Now, though, for the first time since the Restoration, he just wanted to sink his fangs into soft human flesh and hear the screams.

Darla was by his side suddenly, her cold hand touching the arm which held the choking Watcher to the wall. He heard her voice in his ear, murmuring some words that did not penetrate past the crimson haze that had fallen over his mind, but he knew what she was doing. She was his Sire and a bond existed between them. She was pouring every erg of power and will she had into this bond, the Sire commanding the Childe to obey.

Angel hovered on the verge of shrugging her off and killing this man, to hell with the consequences. Then Darla whispered into his ear.

"She needs you, Angel! Don't leave her alone!"

The cold gun barrel was still pressing into his neck and he knew that Kate would have to shoot him if he killed this man. The shot would not kill him, but everybody had seen what he was. They would finish the job. And he would never see Buffy again.

He opened his hand and let the Watcher fall to the floor. His face returned to normal and he hurried back to Buffy's side, forgetting about the man behind him. He simply wasn't worth it. The Watcher was about to get back to his feet when Kate pinned him down again and started taking out her cuffs.

"You have the right to remain silent." She told him, flipping him over to chain his wrists behind his back. "Everything you say will be used against you in a court of law."

"What are you doing?" The Watcher spoke, hoarse from nearly being strangled. "He is the monster! They're all monsters! Kill them!"

"They were not the one who stormed into a private home with guns blazing!" Cordelia screamed at him. "They were not the ones who shot a girl, a human girl, from behind. You call yourself human, you bastard? I'm ashamed we're of the same species, you piece of scum! The lowest Vampire is ten times the human you will ever be!"

Some of the cops seemed uncertain what to about the three Vampires present, but Kate told them in no uncertain terms what to do. How to handle Vampires might still not be certain in terms of law, but the law held a clear opinion on what to do about people who shot innocent humans. Cordelia was more than willing to tell them all the details of the unprovoked attack.

The first ambulances arrived several minutes later and paramedics started treating the wounded. There were few of those among the commandos. Coroners were called in as well.

Buffy was loaded onto a stretcher and it was all the paramedics could do to get the two men hovering around her to back off far enough to do their work. Angel and Giles both climbed with her into the ambulance, both of them wearing expressions that nobody in his right mind wanted to argue with.

The drive to the hospital seemed to take an eternity. When they finally wheeled Buffy into the emergency room Angel managed to breathe just a little easier. After some prodding by the doctors he and Giles backed away, watching as Buffy was rushed into the nearest operating room.

Both of them sat down in the waiting area, eyes firmly fixed to the door of the operating room.


###

Soulworld, p21 – Truths, Feelings, and the Art of Breathing When You Don't Need to.

###


"I ... may I ask you something?"

Angel looked up and saw that Giles was talking to him. They had sat here for over an hour and not exchanged a single word, both just waiting for the doctors to tell them about Buffy's condition.

Angel felt anger growing inside him. This was the man who had accompanied the attack on the Hyperion that had left Buffy in his state. Yet he was also the man who had tried to keep the other Watcher from shooting, who had disarmed him and wrestled him to the ground. Angel's anger evaporated and he was just feeling tired.

"Sure!" He said.

"How did you ... how did you manage to bring her back?"

"CPR!" Angel said.

"Yes, I know, but ... I was always under the impression that Vampire's don't breathe."

"We don't need to," Angel said, "but how do you suppose I can be talking to you without air streaming past my vocal chords?"

"Ah, I see."

Both fell silent again. After a while Angel looked up again and stared at the Watcher.

"May I ask you something in return?"

"Certainly."

"Why did you try and stop him?" Angel asked. "You're a Watcher. Buffy 'betrayed' her duty. Isn't it the Council's way to kill Slayers if they diverge from the 'right' path?"

"Yes, that is the Council's way." Giles said, sighing. "I guess it just occurred to me that, that their way is not necessarily the right way."

Angel could see how much that single sentence had cost the other man.

"Buffy was sure you would understand. When you refused to believe her she was devastated."

Giles put his face in his hands, looking very old and tired.

"A year ago I came to America, somehow expecting that the new Slayer would be a girl that would listen to my orders, do her duty, and behave well. I knew that Buffy had not been raised to become the Slayer, but I did not realize what that meant until I first met her."

He smiled a little. "She is a typical teenager in that she is infuriating, sometimes superficial, seemingly more interested in what shoes are fashionable right now than in saving the world. After the first few weeks with her I was ready to scream in frustration."

He looked at Angel. "Then something strange happened. I realized that I cared about her. Not just in the way that a Watcher cares about his charge, but more than that. I hated that her duty as the Slayer was destroying her life. I hated that she was always so lonely, not able to confide in anyone. And the thought that she would probably die before she was twenty filled me with dread.

"When I ... when I saw Travis aim that gun at her, that was when I realized that nothing, absolutely nothing, could possibly warrant this. I knew Buffy was a good person. I knew that she was devoted to doing the right thing. And I think somewhere in my heart I knew that, when she told me about you and what you taught her, she was telling me the truth."

Giles looked up, the slightest glimmer of tears in his eyes.

"I ... I should have believed her. If ... if she were to ... I never told her ..."

Angel put a hand on the other man's shoulder.

"She knew, Mr. Giles. She knew."

Two things happened at once. The door to the emergency room opened and a doctor came out, just as a woman of about mid-forty strode into the waiting room, looking frantic and worried.

Angel was on his feet in a second, closely followed by Giles.

"How is she?" Angel almost ran into him

"Are you the family of Buffy Summers?" The doctor asked them.

"I'm her mother!" The woman who had just come in hurried toward them. "What happened to her? They just told me she was brought here? What happened?"

"Mrs. Summers, your daughter sustained a head wound due to a gunshot and ..."

"Gunshot? Gunshot? How did she get shot? What happened to my baby?"

Angel took her aside a bit, showing her his badge. "Mrs. Summers, I am Federal Marshal Angel O'Connor. I will explain everything to you in a moment, I promise." He turned back toward the doctor. "How is she?"

"She has lost a lot of blood and we can't exclude the possibility of a concussion yet, but there is but minimal skull fracture and her system seems to be recovering from the shock now. If no further complications arise she'll be just fine."

A sigh of relief went through all three of them.

"Can I see her?" Angel, Joyce, and Giles asked at the same moment.

"Only the family!" The doctor said.

Joyce looked at the other two and could see the deep concern in both their eyes. Just a few days ago Buffy had told her the complete truth about her life, about the Slayer, about what she had learned about Vampires. Joyce still wasn't exactly sure she believed it all, but somehow she knew that these two men were part of the weirdness that was her daughter's life. It was also evident that they both cared deeply.

"I'm sure we can make an exception in this case." She told the doctor. "I am sure the good policemen want to make sure my daughter is all right."

The doctor looked unhappy, but nodded. Angel gave Joyce a thankful smile and followed her into the emergency room.

They found Buffy in one of the beds, a drip in her arm, half her head and face covered with thick bandages. She looked incredibly pale and Angel could sense the loss of blood inside her. The drip was slowly replacing that lost blood and he could almost see the color slowly returning to her cheeks.

Joyce sat down in the chair beside her daughter's bed and immediately clutched her limb hand, pressing it to her face. Angel and Giles found some chairs out in the corridor and sat down as well, eyes fixed to the unconscious girl in front of them.

"What happened, Mr. O'Connor?" Joyce asked after a while, never taking her eyes away from her daughter.

"Your daughter told you the whole story, Mrs. Summers?" Angel asked her. "About what she is and what she does? What she has learned these past weeks?"

"Yes!" Joyce nodded. "I ... I have a hard time believing some of it, but ..."

"I don't know whether she mentioned me by name, but ... I am the Vampire that kidnapped her."

For a long moment Joyce just stared at him.

"You ... you're a Vampire?"

"Since 1746, actually. Your daughter ... we met under unfortunate circumstances. I kidnapped her and ..."

"She told me about that." Joyce interrupted him. "She also told me that ... God, this is all too strange for me. She told me that you opened her eyes to some things. She ... she spoke quite fondly of you, actually."

Angel gave her a shy half-smile.

"Well, she left a lasting impression with me as well. What happened today, though, ... she came to see me in order to ... talk to me about certain things." He threw a side glance at Giles. "Unfortunately the Council, which is the guiding institution of the Slayer, was not very happy with her ... new attitude toward Vampires. They followed her and tried to kill us all. We managed to beat them, but during the fighting ..."

Joyce closed her eyes, shaking her head. Angel guessed she was hoping to wake up and find it all a bad dream. After a moment she opened her eyes again and there was a surprising edge in them.

"The people who did this," she asked with a voice trembling with anger, "are they ..."

"Most of them are dead." Angel said. "The others are in police custody. They will get their just punishment, I assure you."

"Good!" She muttered, the rage draining out of her voice as she looked back at her daughter.

Angel and Giles settled back into their chairs to wait.


###

Soulworld, p22 - This is the First Day of the Rest of My Life

###


Buffy slowly regained consciousness, knowing that she was getting closer to the waking world due to the increasing sensation of a throbbing pain somewhere in the general vicinity of her head. After some time she found the muscles necessary to open her lids and did so, immediately squinting as light stabbed into her poor eyes.

"Buffy! Are you all right?"

That was her mother's voice, wasn't it? She carefully opened her eyes once more and the blurs and blots slowly resolved into her mother's face.

"Mom?"

"Hey, darling! How are you feeling?"

"My head hurts!"

A doctor came into the room, summoned by the nurse, and gently pushed Joyce aside.

"Hi, Buffy. I'm Dr. Greene."

He proceeded to ask her a few questions, shone a light into her eyes, and then concluded that everything was all right inside her head. He checked on her wound, impressed by the speed of the healing process, and then left again after informing her that she would have to stay for observation for a few days.

"Mom?" Buffy asked once the doctor was gone. "What happened? Last I remember I was ... I was visiting a friend and ..."

"Your friends told me the whole story, Buffy!" Joyce said, smiling. "Everything is all right, none of them was seriously hurt."

"My friends? Angel? Is Angel here?"

"He didn't want to leave," Joyce said, "but it's day outside now and I'm afraid those blinds are not worth much. He promised to come back as soon as the sun went down."

Buffy smiled, looking forward to sundown for the first time she could remember. Then her gaze traveled past her mother and she saw the other person sitting inside her room. Her face immediately hardened.

"What is he doing here?" She looked at Giles, her voice trembling with anger.

Giles rose. „Buffy, I ..."

„I'm not talking to you!" She yelled, turning her head away. „You attacked us! You wanted to murder us!"

Joyce took her daughter's hand. During the day Giles had told her the parts Angel had left out earlier. How he had been a Watcher and had been unable to believe that Vampire's might be capable of decency and compassion. He had told her how he had accompanied the attack on the Hotel and what had happened then.

Joyce believed him. After seeing the deep concern in his eyes, she was sure that this man cared about her daughter. Also, after seeing the incredible depth of feelings Angel had for Buffy, Joyce was quite sure that the Vampire wouldn't have let Giles come within a mile of her daughter if he wasn't sure about him.

„Buffy, please! Just listen to him for a few minutes, okay?"

Buffy stared at her mother in surprise, but then nodded. Giles' betrayal had cut her deeply. She cared about this grumpy old man in ways she didn't quite understand. That he wouldn't believe her ...

„I ... I have been taught a painful lesson today." Giles said, rubbing his eyes. „I always figured myself a man ... a man of knowledge, but I had to realize that I know only very little. What happened today ... God, I still can't believe that Travis ... that we actually did that. I mean, we were supposed to be on the side of good."

Buffy watched him as he tried to find the words to express what he felt, a glimmer of hope shining inside her.

„What I'm trying to say is," Giles continued, „is ... well, I think you were right. I should sometimes take my nose out of the books and take a long, hard look at the world. I did so today and I ... I didn't like what I saw. Especially when I looked at myself. To even think that I actually considered ... Buffy, can you ever forgive me?"

He looked at her with so much in need in his eyes that Buffy was tempted to just forgive him. She wanted to forgive him. For the last year she had depended heavily on his advice and support. But he had been wrong. What he had taught her had been wrong.

„You believe me now?" She asked him.

„I ... I am not sure what I believe anymore." Giles said honestly. „There are but few things I am certain of any longer. One of them is that, that any organization that would just, just try and kill you ... is not on the side of good. Not even close."

Buffy looked at him and knew that he meant it. It would take some time for her shattered trust in him to be restored, but she wanted to trust him again. She wanted him to be there, with all his old books, his snotty British attitude, and his glasses that were constantly in need of cleaning.

„Welcome to the good guys, Giles!" She said, holding out her hand to him. „Looks like we both finally figured out what the right side is."

Giles walked closer and clutched her hand in his.

„Thank you, Buffy! Thank you!"

#

It was barely five minutes after dusk when Angel walked into the room. He'd had a guard posted to the door, just in case the Watchers tried another strike at her, and Doyle and Wesley had spent most of the day here as well, keeping an eye on things without making their presence known. Angel had checked up on Spike, who was healing nicely, as well as gotten the various bullets inside his body removed.

Buffy was awake and looked up as he entered. Her eyes lit as she saw him.

„Buffy, thank God!" He was by her side instantly, tenderly touching her cheek. „How are you? Did they say anything?"

„I'm gonna be all right, Angel! Thanks to you. Giles ... he told me that you got me back."

Angel sat down beside her, wrapping his hands around her smaller one.

„Did you and Giles ... did you talk?" He asked her.

„Yes. I think I will need some time to trust him again, but ... but I think I will. I think he's seen the light. Just like me."

He smiled at her.

„Angel?" She asked him.

„Yes?"

„I ... well, it's been a long day and I found myself with little more to do than think. Which wasn't easy, my head still hurts a lot. They told me I was grazed by a bullet, so I think it ought to hurt, but ..."

„Is there a point?" He asked her, smiling.

„Sorry, babbling! Anyway, I was thinking. A lot. Thinking about what you said, how I still had a place in this world. I am the Slayer, no matter what happened with the Council, and I guess I can't just, you know, turn my back on it. The whole fighting evil thing, I mean."

She sighed.

„So the point of this is, well, I think I will need someone to show me."

„Show you?"

„How to do it! I don't have a clue, Angel. And neither does Giles. Just like me he was taught what was good and what was evil, only that doesn't hold true anymore. I ... I guess it sounds corny, but I still want to help people. Or start to help people, actually, seeing as I ..."

„It doesn't sound corny, Buffy."

He smiled again and she found herself beaming back at him.

„I need you, Angel! You opened my eyes and showed me a part of the truth, just enough for me to realize that everything I thought to be true was a lie. I need more than that, Angel. I need someone to show me how to do this. Because I want to do it!"

She looked up at him, hoping that the words made more sense to him than they did to hear upon hearing them.

„And I want you, Angel!" She added. „I think ... I think I love you."

The moment she said it she felt incredibly stupid. He hadn't even said a word about helping her yet and here she was practically throwing herself at him. How could he say anything but ...

„I don't think I love you, Buffy Summers!" He said. Seeing the expression spreading on her face he smiled. „I know I do. And whatever help you might need, I will be there for you."

„Really?" She asked, not quite ready to believe what she had just heard.

„I will show you!" He whispered and leaned down to kiss her.


###

Soulworld, p23 - Loose Ends and Unfinished Business

###


Buffy had to spend another three days at the hospital until the doctors would finally let her go. During the days she was bored out of her skin, even though she had plenty of visitors. Her mom, Xander, Giles, Cordelia, Wesley, even some of her so-called friends from High School, who thought it incredibly cool that she had been wounded in a shoot-out with Vampires.

The nights were better. Angel always appeared no more than five minutes after dusk and they spent most of the night talking. That and kissing. She loved kissing him and couldn't wait until she was fit to do more.

On the day she was supposed to go home her mom came by again and sat down next to her bed.

"Hi, honey! Ready to go home today?"

"More than ready. Ready to go up the walls, I think."

"Good." She hesitated a moment. "Honey, I had a talk today with Principle Snyder."

Buffy groaned. Her school's principle was just about the most terrible monster she had ever met and, inexplicably, a human being, so she couldn't just slay him. She was convinced he had it in for her personally.

"What did he want?"

"Well, we did talk about how much school you missed and why. He told me that, well, seeing as your grades were never the best ..."

"Did he throw me out of school?"

"Not exactly. But he says you will have to catch up on the work you missed and do some additional tests, otherwise ... otherwise you won't graduate."

Buffy nodded, having expected something like that. It had been the topic of several of her conversations with Angel about what to do with her life. And she had come to a conclusion.

"Mom, I ... I've decided to quit school."

"What, but ..."

"Mom, let's face it! I was never the best of students. My grades are nowhere near good enough to go to college anyway. Besides, I'll be eighteen in a few weeks and I already know what I will do with my life. These last few weeks really did open my eyes."

Her mother didn't look too happy, but Buffy wasn't telling her anything she didn't already know or had suspected. So she nodded after a moment.

"Okay, I ... well, it's your decision. What will you do instead?"

"I've talked things over with Angel, mom. I ... we ..."

"I'm not blind, honey. I know."

"So ... you're ... you're okay with that?"

Joyce sighed. "I can't honestly say that the idea of my daughter being with a Vampire is especially endearing to me, no. But I've seen the way he looks at you, Buffy. I've seen the way your eyes light up whenever he's close. So I guess ... well, you won't get any static from me."

Buffy couldn't help but grin like an idiot. This was too good to be true. Her mom was okay with her quitting school AND with Angel?

"Okay, who are you?" She asked jokingly. "What did you do to my real mom?"

Joyce smiled and hugged her daughter. "I just want you to be happy, honey! But you better believe if he ever does anything to hurt you I will personally cut his head off."

"Thanks, mom!" Buffy whispered into their embrace.

When both had settled down again Buffy told her mother what she planned to do with her life.

#

Later that day Buffy walked into the lobby of the Hyperion Hotel, bag slung over her shoulder, and was impressed to see that most of the damage done by the shoot-out had already been repaired. Several workers were still busy at the receptionist desk and in several places of the wall paneling, apart from that, though, the place looked pretty spiffy again.

"Buffy! Hi!" Cordelia came over to greet her, smiling broadly. Buffy suspected that it might have less to do with her presence than the fact that Cordy was turning into a pretty important person right now. The press had descended on the Hotel shortly after the shoot-out and Cordelia had utilized every second of it.

Buffy had seen it on the hospital TV. Cordy had performed brilliantly, pumping the 'cowardly and despicable attack' for all it was worth. It had sent her recognition factor through the roof and she was to attend several TV discussions during the next few weeks, as well as a dinner with several highly placed senators just three days from now.

From the looks of it Cordelia was on the verge of becoming a politician. A very successful one to boot, judging by several public opinion surveys done by a TV station.

The two girls hugged briefly and Cordelia had no problem identifying the searching look Buffy had in her eyes.

"He is upstairs!" She told Buffy. "Just don't take too long, okay? Since you're here you might as well start working today. We have to leave for an interview soon."

Buffy nodded, smiling. It would be very strange working for Cordelia, especially since she hadn't realized, until a few days ago, just how much Cordelia really did. Her father might have taken her credit card away when he disowned her for running with Vampires, but that didn't mean she was poor. Not only had her late mother set her up with an enormous trust fund, Cordelia was also the head of the largest pro-Vampire lobby in the states, which received monetary support from several very wealthy people.

All of which meant that Cordelia had more than enough money to pay for the services of a certain super-powered girl. It had been Angel's idea, of course, who, incidentally, was one of the lobby's very wealthy backers. The incident with the Watchers had had some positive impact for them, but it also made them more vulnerable to attacks from hate groups. Especially Cordelia, who was the most visible of them.

The idea of being Cordelia's bodyguard would take some getting used to, but Buffy believed in what they did. Besides, helping Angel's cause was almost an end in itself.

She found him in his room on the first floor of the Hotel, in the middle of getting dressed. She knew that he had wanted to drive her home from the hospital, but Buffy had been too impatient to wait for dusk. She had gone home just long enough to pack a few things and then headed here.

"Hi, Angel!" She greeted him, smiling broadly. Angel had heard her coming up the stairs and had hurriedly finished dressing before greeting her in turn.

"You could have waited for me to come get you." He said, moving to hug her.

"It's at least another two hours until dusk. I could think of better things to do until then."

"Really? What is on your mind?"

She started showing him. He needn't have bothered with the hurried dressing.

Downstairs in the lobby Cordelia heard a few noises from upstairs and wrinkled her nose.

"Guess she'll be concentrating on guarding a different body today."

She shrugged and went to search for Spike. The interview was to be held after dark anyway.

#

Faith watched everything with seething anger settling low in her body. Everything had gone wrong. Oh, no one had noticed that she had not warned Buffy when the Watcher shot her, but neither had anyone taken notice that she had been the one to call in Kate for the rescue. And after that little smooching with the mouth-to-mouth Buffy and Angel had only gotten closer. As was evident by what they did right now only a few rooms away.

Okay, she forced herself to calm down. Right now there was nothing she could do about it. For the moment she would just have to take her time and see how things developed. Angel would soon get tired of his new lady love once she started hanging around here 24-7, that she was sure of.

And when the time came, Faith would show them just what kind of girl she had grown into. That stabbing pain, that feeling of drowning in fire she had experienced only seconds after Buffy had been shot, it would be worth it when her time finally came.

With a smile spreading on her lips Faith bent the bed's iron railing with one hand, relishing in her newfound strength.

"This has possibilities," she whispered, "oh yes!"


THE END