Soulworld II - p16 - Vengeance From the Prison Cell

#

"Mr. Giles?" Kate Lockley asked.

"Yes. You must be Marshall Lockley."

"Please call me Kate. Thanks for agreeing to help, Mr. Giles."

"It is no inconvenience, I assure you. I am just as eager to clear this up as you are. Quite more so, I might wager."

Giles and Kate walked toward the interview room of the state prison, chatting. This was Kate's second visit to this cheery place in the last 48 hours, the first having been a total failure. Quentin Travis had completely refused to talk to her, though he had seen fit to tell her that he might be persuaded to talk to his old colleague.

Angel had filled her in on the details about one Rupert Giles. Formerly a member of the Watchers' Council, the same organization Travis belonged to, he had turned his back on them when the Watchers saw fit to eliminate the Slayer Buffy Summers for betraying her sacred duty.

Kate stayed at the fringes of Angel's tightly knit group of friends, reluctant to get herself involved to deeply in arcane Vampire shit, but it was impossible to miss the deep feelings Giles held for Angel's girlfriend. When he had been told that the assassination attempt on Cordelia that had resulted in Buffy being shot had likely originated with the Watchers, he had been very eager to help.

They sat down in a gray room that held nothing but a simple table and three uncomfortable chairs. Only minutes later a guard entered through the opposite door, bringing a man in gray prison slacks into the room.

"Hello, Rupert!" Travis said, giving his former colleague a cold smile.

"Quentin." Giles simply said, making no effort to hide his disdain for the other man.

Travis sat down and Kate motioned for the guard to leave them alone. After the door fell shut there was icy silence for a good long while.

"Life among the demons seems to suit you, Rupert." Travis said eventually. "Does your Vampire friend pay you a large salary?"

"You sent the assassin." Giles said, ignoring Travis' words.

"To the point, yes? Well, so be it. Seeing as I am stuck here in a prison cell I did not, of course, personally arrange things, but ..." He shrugged.

"Why Ms. Chase?" Giles asked.

"Why not your precious Buffy, you mean?" Travis asked with a smile. "Quite simple, Rupert. At this moment in time the lovely Ms. Chase is a much greater threat to the continued existence of humankind than the rouge Slayer ever could be."

Giles just looked at him, refusing to let himself be drawn into a discussion about how Vampires had changed and no longer posed a threat to humankind. Travis either didn't believe in the changes of the Restoration or he didn't care about them. Either way he would not rest until he saw all Vampires dead.

"Your little murder attempt has failed, though." Kate told the old Watcher.

"Yes, it did, didn't it? Thanks to your little bitch, Rupert. I imagine you are quite proud of her, aren't you? I heard she is sleeping with a Vampire these days. Tell me, Rupert. Have you discovered the pleasures of dead flesh yet?"

Travis' eyes blazed with anger, but Giles heard the undertone in his words.

"There is another assassin." He simply stated.

"While there is money ..." Travis shrugged, not saying any more.

"You do realize," Kate said, "that just because you are already in prison doesn't mean that we can't accuse you of another crime, Mr. Travis. Hiring killers to assassinate someone ..."

"... will get me what?" Travis asked. "I am an old man, Ms. Lockley. The years I have already been sentenced to in return for my efforts to save the human race mean that I have essentially been incarcerated for life. What else can you do to me?"

Giles struggled to keep his emotions under control and his voice sounded as flat and cold as ever.

"Even if you do manage to have her killed, what do you think that will achieve? Ms. Chase's popularity is already so that her death will turn her into a martyr, especially if it can be proven that the Watchers' Council is behind it. The American public isn't too fond of you, Quentin. Your deeds will make sure that the Vampire Legalization Act goes through Congress."

Travis shook his head, smiling.

"I know what another of your bunch of traitors has done to our reputation here, Rupert. Windham-Pryce might have turned the American public against us, but do you honestly think we care what this nation of idiots thinks about us? Let the Americans legalize their Vampires, it will be their doom before too long. We just want to make sure that Ms. Chase can not spew her venom any further than she already has."

Travis leaned across the table and his eyes shot holes into Giles.

"No Evil Shall Be Spared, Rupert Giles! Cordelia Chase will die! Neither you nor your friends will be able to stop it. No Evil Shall Be Spared!"

Kate had managed to control herself all through Travis' rant, despite seething inside. She wasn't the most patriotic of Americans, but hearing this bastard call them a bunch of idiots was not something she could just let pass. Travis' final words snapped her self control.

She rose from the table and grabbed Travis by his prison slacks, slamming him into the walls. The old man grunted with the pain.

„Listen well, you old bastard!" Kate hissed at him. „If anything should happen to Ms. Chase or anyone else because of you I will make certain that you get accused once more. I know a Judge who will be happy to sentence you to death for that. We'll dust off the electric chair and I'll watch you fry, you bastard! Understand me?"

Travis just looked at her and a smile played across his lips.

„You think threatening me will achieve anything? Go ahead, beat me up, kill me! It won't make a difference. Every true Watcher is prepared to die for the cause. Go ahead, Ms. Lockley!"

Kate was trembling with rage, but Giles' hand on her shoulder helped her regain her self-control. He slowly drew her away from Travis, whose smile never wavered.

Kate and Giles left the interview room, telling the guard to get Travis back into his cell.

„How can you stay so calm with this ... this bastard!" Kate asked.

„Hm?" Giles looked at her, seemingly distracted. „Oh, sorry, I was elsewhere. I have known Travis for quite some time, Ms. Lockley. Until a short time ago his ranting still made sense to me, as insane as it sounds."

He sighed.

„Besides, the only thing you could have achieved in there would have been getting yourself into trouble. He is not worth that. Travis wanted me there to taunt me, nothing more. He never intended to cooperate in any way and he won't. He is a fanatic of the most dangerous kind, Ms. Lockley. Ready and willing to die for what he believes."

Kate shook her head. She didn't understand how people could allow themselves to be so consumed by hatred and, truth to be told, she didn't want to understand.

They walked out of the prison and onto the parking lot, where the sun was shining down. Kate felt better immediately, as if the light could wash of the filth that had gathered on her skin just by being in the presence of that bastard.

„What was that slogan he mouthed off?" She asked Giles.

„Hm?"

„When he leaned over the table. That 'Spare No Evil' bit."

„No Evil Shall Be Spared. You could call it a mantra, if you will. It was the first rule the Council taught to its Watchers and the Slayer. There are greater and lesser evils in the world, but none of them is to be spared."

„Great motto," Kate said sarcastically, „if you can figure out a foolproof method to define good and evil, that is."

„I fear the Council was never much concerned with that last part." Giles said.

They arrived at Giles' car and shook hands.

„Thanks for coming, Mr. Giles. Sorry it was such a waste of time."

„Don't be sorry. If there is anything else I can do to help, please let me know!"

„I will."

On the long drive back to the Hyperion Hotel Giles was deep in thought. There was so much to do. They still hadn't found a trace of the Necronomicon. He would have to warn Buffy and Cordelia that another assassin was likely to strike. There was the strange relationship that was starting to form between him and Darla, something he could still not quite make sense of.

So much to do, so much to handle. So why was it that the only thing he could think of Travis' face, warped by anger and hatred, and the words he himself had once believed in.

„No Evil Shall Be Spared." Giles muttered under his breath.


#

Soulworld II - p17 - Call to Arms and Furious Battle

#

Spike sat in the lobby of the Hyperion and watched the hands of the clock tick down. Any moment now, unless she was late. His eyes strayed towards the entrance again, then back to the clock, while his fingers were nervously running across the bump in his coat that hid the twin Winchester Magnums he always wore. Not that he expected to need them tonight, but it paid to be careful.

The entrance doors opened and Faith stuck her head inside, looking around nervously.

„Come on in, pet, they're not here yet!" Spike said.

Faith walked into the lobby and Spike took a moment to take in her appearance. She was dressed as close to timid as he had ever seen her. Black jeans, not leather pants, pale blue blouse instead of a skimpy top, her hair tied back into a pony tail. If he hadn't known better he might have mistaken her for a shy school girl.

„Did ... did Angel talk to her?" Faith asked, coming closer.

There was a crashing sound from somewhere upstairs, followed by a loud yell.

„I believe he is doing so right now." Spike chuckled.

#

„I can't believe you're doing this!" Buffy yelled at Angel, her eyes darting around for something else she could break.

„Calm down, Buffy! Please!"

„Calm down? Calm down? You just told me that you invited the psycho bitch that tried to kill me not once, but twice, over for dinner? How the hell do you expect me to be calm?"

Angel quickly darted across the room and caught the second vase Buffy had just knocked down, setting it safely on top of the table. Buffy was trembling with outrage, he could feel it when he put his hands on her shoulders.

„Faith made some mistakes, Buffy, but ..."

„Mistakes? She tried to kill me, Angel! She didn't warn me when Travis nearly put a bullet through my face and then she jumped me and tried to beat me to death. How the hell do you expect me to ..."

Buffy ranted on and Angel sighed. He had hoped this would go a little more smoothly, but weeks and weeks of looking for the Necronomicon and worrying had left him tired, edgy, and rapidly approaching the end of even his limitless patience.

„Buffy, stop this!" He thundered at her, which actually caused her to shut up for a second. Angel never yelled at her. He never did.

„Faith did something very stupid," Angel said, „but she is trying to change. I talked to her and I am convinced of it. She regrets what she has done and all she is asking for is a second chance from us. A second chance, Buffy. You remember what that is?"

He could see her flinch when he said those words and it pained him. He didn't want to remind her of the things she had done in the service of the Watchers' Council, but he needed to break through to her. He walked closer and grabbed her hands in his.

„Beloved, I know how much she has hurt you. Under normal circumstances anyone who has hurt you would get nothing from me but a very painful beating. But I know Faith, I have known her for years. She is a confused child. She thought you would take her place in my heart. Then she suddenly found herself with superhuman strength and took it as a sign that her loving me was meant to be. She made a lot of mistakes, but that shouldn't ruin her entire life."

Buffy looked up at him, anger and hurt battling inside her.

„She tried to take you from me." She whispered.

„No one can do that, beloved. No one. This isn't about us, Buffy. This is about giving a confused young girl a second chance. The same thing each of us has been given. How can we deny it to her?"

Buffy shook off his hands.

„I don't understand how you can be so trusting of her. I mean, granted, I am still pissed at her for beating me up, but that isn't the whole point. Doesn't it strike you as odd that Faith comes back just when the Necronomicon is stolen and the Watchers' Council sends assassins after us?"

Angel shook his head.

„The Watchers' Council doesn't know about Faith, Buffy. And Faith never knew anything about the Necronomicon except that it exists. I have talked to her. I believe that she is honest with us. Do you trust my judgment?"

„That is a very unfair question." Buffy pouted, pacing up and down the room.

„No, it's not. Do you trust my judgment?"

Buffy opened her mouth to say more, but the look in Angel's eyes shut her up. He meant that question, she realized.

„Yes, I do trust you." She finally mumbled.

„Good. Then we'll go downstairs and meet her. I'm not asking you to be best friends with her, Buffy. Just give her a chance, okay?"

Buffy nodded, clearly not happy about the situation. Angel sighed in relief, he really didn't need any fights with her right now. Together they walked down into the lobby.

#

Spike watched as Angel and Buffy came down the stairs, sensing the tension between them. Small wonder, he thought. Buffy stopped walking as she saw Faith standing beside him and the tension in the room multiplied.

„Hello, Buffy." Faith said, doing her best to sound and look unthreatening.

„Faith!" Buffy simply said, her voice cold as ice.

Angel nudged Buffy and got her to continue walking down the stairs. Spike and Faith slowly walked to meet them. The two girls stopped facing each other with Angel and Spike on either side, hoping they wouldn't have to go between them.

„Thanks for having me here." Faith said.

„Not my decision." Buffy mumbled, glaring at Faith.

„I prepared us something to eat." Angel said, trying to break the tension. „We can sit down and talk things through over dinner."

For a moment Spike thought that no one had heard a word Angel had said, but then Buffy shrugged and started walking toward the dining room. Faith threw a look at Angel, who gave her an encouraging nod, then everyone started following Buffy.

Spike was halfway to the dining room when something made him tense. Something had jerked his supernatural senses wide awake and he found himself aware of everything around him. The smells, the sounds, ...

Something was moving in the shadows. Something that smelled of old death.

Angel turned halfway toward Spike and both Vampires communicated without words. They were not alone. Spike saw Buffy tense as she noticed it, too. Faith needed a moment longer, but she also fell into what Spike recognized as the fighting stance he had taught her.

Spike was about to motion the others to move on into the dining room when the shadows around them came alive. Spike had time to see at least a dozen shapes running toward them, then he was busy fighting for his life.

„Stay together!" Angel yelled even as he threw a kick at one of the black-clad shapes. Spike shoved one of the attackers back and reached for his guns, but another tackled him to the ground before he could aim the guns. He saw the gleam of a large blade, large enough to take his head off, and then the attacker was gone. Faith offered him his hand and pulled him back to his feet.

There was no time for a thank you. Two more attackers pounced on Spike and Faith. He had time to recognize them as Vampires and then it was all fighting. Punch, kick, duck, faint, weave, punch again. He felt a face break under his fist even as something solid and painful caught him in the side.

The unmistakable sound of Vampires exploding into dust reached his ears and he saw that Buffy had demolished a chair to get herself some weapons. Another Vampire fell victim to her improvised stake and Spike finally managed to draw his guns.

He started pouring bullets into the two shapes immediately in front of him, knowing it wouldn't kill them, but put them down for the moment. Buffy quickly rolled across the floor and finished the wounded Vampires.

Spike saw Faith and Angel several meters away from them, separated by a nearly solid mass of attackers. Spike pumped bullets into every shape in sight, not caring whether those he wounded would stay down for any length of time. The attackers seemed to concentrate on Angel and he saw blades and stakes in some of their hands.

The lights in the lobby fizzled and died, the room descending into darkness. Spike tried to get a bearing but even his excellent night vision had trouble making out the attacking Vampires in this pitch blackness.

He allowed instinct to take over, diving into what his senses told him was the thickest mass of attackers, and threw punches left and right. He heard some more dust explosions and just hoped that Angel was not among them. He heard Buffy swear some distance to his right, followed by yet another dusting. She seemed to be holding her own.

Where were Faith and Angel?

Something exploded and what little Spike still saw of the room was clouded out by some kind of thick, black smoke. Blackout bomb, he realized. Even Vampires wouldn't see a thing where those things detonated. He considered just shooting into the cloud, then shelved the idea, remembering that there were two girls out there who were rather receptive to bullets.

„Peaches!" He yelled, grabbing a shape that suddenly appeared right in front of him. He was rewarded with a hard kick, accompanied by a string of cursing he recognized only too well.

„Buffy, it's me!"

„Spike?"

The two of them held on to each other for reference and made their way through the complete dark until they reached a wall. Spike didn't hear the sounds of fighting anymore, but maybe they were just lying in wait.

After what seemed like an eternity the darkness faded and the lights came back on. The sound of running feet made both of them turn around, only to see Wesley, Darla, Giles, and Doyle run into the lobby, shortly followed by Cordelia. Most of them were armed.

„What was going on here?" Giles asked. „We heard the shooting."

Spike looked around the lobby and saw that it was empty except for them and some piles of dust. Buffy stood beside him and he saw her eyes dart around the room.

„Where is Angel?" She whispered.

Spike reached out with all his senses, trying to feel the presence of his Sire. He wasn't here, he was sure after a second. His eyes found the dust heaps on the floor. All the attackers seemed to gun for Angel. Was it possible ...?

„Angel!" Buffy whimpered.

Giles was by her side immediately, draping his arms around her. No, Spike thought, it just wasn't possible. Not Peaches. He was so distraught that, for a long moment, he didn't realize that someone else was missing.

Where the hell was Faith?

#

Soulworld II - p18 - What Do We Know?


#


„He is not dead!" Buffy yelled.

„Buffy," Giles said, trying to soothe her, „we must face the facts here. He was right in the middle of that battle, Spike said the attackers seemed to be centering on him, and ..."

„He is not dead!" Darla said matter-of-factly.

„What?" Giles asked.

„He is my Childe, Rupert. I called him forth from the grave. I would know it had he passed on. Believe me, he is still alive."

Spike walked through the remains of the battle, inspecting the heaps of dust.

„Whoever these buggers were," he said, „they were thorough. Nothing left behind, no weapons, no traces of where they might have hailed from. Or where they went."

„If we assume that they have captured Angel," Doyle said, „what do you think they want with him?"

Wesley looked around, his forehead furrowed with thought.

„If this is the work of our thief, I think he is getting desperate."

„How so?" Buffy asked.

„Well, he or she stole the book over a month ago and yet nothing has happened. Odds are they have not figured out how to make the Necronomicon work for them. They also probably know that just about every Vampire worldwide is looking for them."

Giles nodded. „So they kidnap the only man in the world who has opened the Necronomicon and lived to tell the tale."

Doyle was taking out his cell phone and talked to Gunn, telling him to put his people on every airport and train station leading out of the city. Once Gunn learned that Angel had been kidnapped he did not hesitate to get to work. Spike did the same with the local Vampires working for Angel, telling them to get going or he would hurt them badly.

Buffy stood in the middle of this pandemonium and all she could think about was Angel. They had taken him from her. He had said no one would take him away from her and yet they had. They would try and make him open the book for them. Once that happened he would cease to be her Angel and turn into a demon. A demon she would have to ...

„We'll get him back." Darla whispered to her, draping her arm around the Slayer.

„How?" Buffy asked. „We haven't the slightest clue who has taken the Necronomicon. We don't even know where to look for him."

Darla was about to say more - some empty words about how things would work out fine in the end - when Buffy suddenly tensed. A strange look appeared in her eyes and Darla involuntarily took a step back as the demon inside her recognized what was going on. The Slayer was coming to the forth with a vengeance.

„Buffy, what ...?" She asked, but Buffy motioned for her to be quiet.

A second later Buffy moved with a speed Darla found almost impossible to follow and thrust her fist through a closed door nearby, which led into a closet. She grabbed something inside and pulled. A large body crashed through the door and landed at the Slayer's feet.

„It's one of them!" Spike yelled, going for his guns.

Darla was by Buffy's side in an instant, looking down at their prey. A large Vampire, dressed in a black combat suit, or rather the remains of one. Most of his chest was gone, flesh torn, broken ribs sticking out. His heart was still intact. They could all see it very clearly.

„They left him behind?" Doyle asked.

„Probably Spike's bullets," Darla said, „took him down and he crawled away from the battle."

She could see the prone Vampire trying to reach something hanging from a shoulder strap, only his mangled arms wouldn't obey his commands. Darla quickly snatched it away from him, holding it out for the others to see.

„Incendiary charge." She said.

„The Vampire version of a cyanide capsule." Spike told the non-Vampires present.

„The others who were wounded and unable to get away probably dusted themselves with that," Darla continued, „but our friend here was too badly wounded to do so, so he tried to hide."

For a moment all of them just stared down at the crippled Vampire, then Buffy was upon him, pulling him by clenching her fingers into his torn chest, snarling into his face.

„Where are they taking him?" She yelled at her prey. „Who sent you? What will they do to Angel?"

Darla motioned to Spike and he gently pulled the Slayer away.

„Why don't you let Darla handle this, pet?" He told her as he held her back. „She has a lot of experience in doing these things."

Darla sighed, not very fond of how she had come by said experience. This was about Angel, though. No matter that they were not lovers any longer, he was still her Childe. More, he was her friend.

She knelt down in front of the crippled Vampire and her face shifted into its true form. Glowing amber eyes locked with those of the other and she flung her power out toward him. The Vampire tried to crawl away, but Doyle and Spike immediately crouched down to hold him tightly.

Darla gazed into his eyes and penetrated past his defenses. He was an old Vampire, old and strong, but he was not a Master. Only very few Vampires, those directly descendant from one of the twelve great bloodlines, had the potential to develop all the powers the mortals so liked to display in their movies.

Darla could not turn herself into a bat or compel vermin to do her bidding like some of her fellow Masters could, but the day she couldn't mesmerize a mere Vampire foot soldier was the day she'd walk into the sun.

„You are in me!" She whispered to the other Vampire, who slowly nodded, his eyes following her every movement. Darla remembered Drusilla, her other Grandchilde, who had been even better at mesmerism that she was. She wished Dru was here right now, because the resistance this Vampire put up was astounding.

„Who is your Master?" She asked him, pouring every erg of her willpower into her gaze. She could feel the barriers inside the Vampire's mind. Someone else had put them there, she was sure. This simple soldier was not strong enough to shield himself from her.

„My Master ..." the Vampire mumbled, his voice barely there due to a punctured lung.

„Who is it?" Darla repeated her question.

She saw a crack in the barrier and lunged at it with all her willpower. The Vampire opened his mouth to speak again, but screamed instead. Darla had half a second to realize what was happening and withdrew her mind from that of her prey.

The crippled Vampire surged to his feet, broken limps shrugging aside those that held him. He managed two steps, then crumbled to the floor, spilling some of his innards out onto the carpet. He didn't move anymore.

„Darla, are you okay?"

Darla needed a few seconds to recognize Giles' face looking at her. She had gotten out just in time.

„Booby trap." She told the others. „Someone warded his thoughts against this kind of intrusion. I am afraid there is not much left of his mind or his memories."

Buffy knelt down and pounded her fists into the floor hard enough to rip the carpet and crack the floor boards underneath.

„Damn it! We don't know a thing, not a thing!"

„Quite the contrary." Giles said. „Darla, unless I am mistaken there are not a lot of Vampires who could ward their minions' minds like that, are there?"

„No," Darla shook her head, „only another Master could have done this."

„The Vampirium!" Spike growled.

„Probably." Darla consented.

„There are rogue Masters outside the Vampirium." Doyle said. „Or so I have heard."

„Self-proclaimed Masters." Darla said. „Not one of them is capable of this. No, only one of the Vampirium can be behind this. Only the Masters have the resources to mount this kind of attack, too."

„Or the guts." Spike added.

Buffy rose, fury clouding her face.

„Then let's go to your precious Vampirium and get our answers!"

„Not a good idea, Buffy." Giles said.

„The Vampirium Elders are much more powerful than any Vampire you've ever met." Darla said. „I am the youngest of them. If we just walk before them and start throwing accusations around they will not only not listen, they will probably kill us."

„We need some kind of proof." Wesley said. „Something tangible to bring before them."

„How about that?" Spike asked.

Everyone looked down to where Spike crouched next to the fallen Vampire. He had ripped the combat suit the other wore down to the waist, making the branding on the left shoulder visible to all.

„Old-fashioned bastard!" Darla shook her head.

„What is that?" Buffy asked, leaning closer.

„I believe this is the brand of a Vampire Order, Buffy." Giles said. „Though I thought the custom of branding one's minions had gone out of fashion centuries ago."

„Only for the more modern Orders, Rupert." Darla said. „Some still like to cling to their old ways."

„You know that symbol?" Buffy asked, trembling with the need to do something.

„Oh yes, I do." Darla said.

Her eyes looked at the symbol burned into the Vampire's shoulder. A winged animal, a snake's tail curled behind it, flanked by two stars.

The symbol of the Order of Grigori.


#

Soulworld II - p19 - To Make the World a Better Place for Demonkind

#


"I don't expect you to understand me." One Vampire said.

"Sadly I understand you only too well." The other answered.

Grigori looked at Angel through the steel bars that separated them. The Vampire imprisoned here was almost a millennium younger than he was, yet Grigori felt a chill looking into Angel's dark eyes.

"You laid this curse upon us." Grigori accused him.

"I do not see it as a curse, Nicolai."

"Of course you don't. You see it as a blessing. A great thing you done for the Vampire race. We should all be thankful, correct? You probably expect us to kiss your feet."

Angel shook his head.

"I only wanted to stop the killings."

"Oh, did you?" Grigori asked. "Well, then I guess you failed. You didn't turn us into saints, Angelus. No, you turned us into humans. And humans do a very good job of killing each other, don't they? In fact they do it much better than us. I was there at Nagasaki, Angelus. I saw them drop the bomb. We never did anything like that, did we?"

"What do you want, Nicolai?" Angel asked.

"Did you ever think that there might just be a reason why we were as we were? A reason why we were soulless monsters, preying on the humans?"

"I am sure you have arrived at a conclusion for yourself that you intend to share with me."

"Correct, Angelus. You see, the humans need us. They need us the way we were. To keep them in check. The predators are gone these days. And the prey has just about destroyed this world as a result. They need us, Angelus."

Angel gave a low chuckle.

"What is this, Nicolai? Some kind of cheap explanation for what you want to do? You don't need to convert me, not that you could. And from looking at you I'm sure I already know your real motivation."

Angel walked closer to the bars.

"You are coward, Nicolai Alexandre Grigori! You're afraid to deal with your own conscience. Do you have nightmares when you sleep? Do you see the victims of your demon when you close your eyes?"

Grigori's face was a mask of naked fury.

"I wouldn't have to deal with my conscience if it hadn't been for you, Angelus. You put this curse on all of us. We didn't ask you for it."

"Of course you didn't. Why would a demon want a conscience? We are not demons, though. We are people, Nicolai."

"For now!" Grigori said, smiling.

Angel chuckled again.

"I guess my presence here is due to the fact that the Necronomicon rejects you. So you think having me here will help. Maybe you think that you might ... convince me to help you. I am curious, Nicolai. How do you plan to go about this? Enlighten me!"

"Oh, I will enlighten you, Angelus. To be precise, once I know how to reverse the Restoration you will be the first the enjoy the return to the old ways."

Grigori leaned forward.

"I am looking forward to meeting the Scourge of Europe once more."

"That will never happen." Angel said matter-of-factly.

"I will remind you of those words." Grigori said, then walked away. Angel was left alone in a small cell and looked around for a way to escape.

#

"We don't have much time." The sorcerer said.

"What do you mean?"

"The signs. There are forces allying against us. Angelus's allies are going to come for him."

Grigori shook his head.

"This is not possible. We left no trace for them. My men are professionals, they don't make mistakes."

"Everyone makes mistakes." The sorcerer said. "We need to make haste."

"Then I propose you get started with convincing him to help us!"

"I won't need long, Grigori. Angelus' is a very strong man, but his guilt and pain over the things he has done are even stronger. Given the right … incentive he will be more than happy to aid us."

"Get to it then! I want to get this over with as much as you do."

Grigori stomped off and didn't see the sorcerer's lips spread into a broad smile.

"I don't think so, Grigori," he grinned, "I honestly don't think so."

#

In another part of Grigori's fortress-like retreat one of his commando troops ducked into a shadowed corner and sighed in relief. Thankfully Grigori's troops wore special sound-dampening and heat-masking combat suits, otherwise every other trooper on the plane that had brought them here would have noticed some very unusual characteristics about this 'Vampire'.

A heartbeat, for example.

Faith took off the mask she had taken from the wounded trooper just before he had crumbled into dust. Getting caught up in the attacker's retreat had been more a coincidence than anything else, but she intended to make best use of it once she had seen whom they had taken with them.

Angel was here, a prisoner. From what she had heard they intended to do some very unpleasant things to him. She needed to help him, that was the sole reason she had gone on this suicidal adventure. And, a selfish voice inside her whispered, saving him might go a long way toward making things right between them once more.

She calmed herself down. Time to concentrate and figure out what to do. Okay, she was in a fucking fortress somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Russia, if she had read the map on the plane right. They had flown for nearly fifteen hours, so that should work out, too. Not that she knew Russia from Iowa, she admitted to herself.

Stuck somewhere in Russia, hundreds of Vampires all around, and she all by her lonesome. Not very good odds, even for someone with Slayer strength. The best she could do in the current situation was to stay low and look for some way to call in the cavalry.

Now she only needed a really good idea how to do that.

In the movies the guy that got stuck behind enemy lines always managed to get to a radio and send a message to his friends. Only problem with that plan was that Faith had no idea how to operate a fucking radio. And even if she had, why would Spike, Darla, Buffy, and the others listen for a radio message? They didn't even know she was here, they probably thought she had bolted at first sign of trouble. Or worse, been in on the attack.

There had to be a way. Maybe a phone? She knew how to use a phone. She even knew the area code for Los Angeles and the number of the Hyperion. The country code for the US? Yes, she knew that one, too. She thought. Her parents had taken her on a short trip to Canada once, before they died, and little Faith had been excited to call home and talk to her grandmother, telling her of all the exciting things she had seen.

Of course whether the code was the same when phoning from Russia as it was from Canada was anyone's guess.

Lacking a better idea Faith started looking for a phone in this Vampire fortress. Her stomach also reminded her that she hadn't eaten anything these last twenty hours or so.

She just hoped there was something else than blood to be found around here.


#

Soulworld II - p20 - Guilty as Sin

#


Ten Vampire Masters looked on in consternation as the eleventh of their number threw the body of a brain-dead Vampire at their feet.

"Would you care to explain this to us, Darla?" Jean de Chevallier said with every bit of dignity she could muster.

"I intend to do so." Darla said, taking her seat at the table. "This soldier was part of an attack upon my childe Angelus. His comrades have captured Angelus and spirited him away to parts unknown."

"You have our sympathy, Darla," Master Elizabeth Mayhew said, "yet I do not understand why you bring this matter before the Vampirium."

Spike, who had accompanied Darla - after being given explicit instructions to keep his mouth shut and not to attack anyone - walked toward the fallen Vampire and wrenched the suit from his back, exposing the brand on his shoulder.

"This attacker is one of Grigori's personal troops." Darla said into the hush. "I demand that Master Nicolai Grigori be summoned before the Vampirium and answer for this insult to the Order of Aurelius."

There was whispered conversation among the other Masters for a moment, then Chevallier straightened and looked at Darla.

"Master Grigori has informed us prior to this meeting that he would be unable to attend. Therefore I propose that this matter be postponed until ..."

"Not satisfactory!" Darla interrupted her fellow Master.

For a moment stunned silence reigned and Darla did not give anyone the opportunity to comment on her break of protocol.

"Grigori has kidnapped my childe. Furthermore evidence suggests that he might well be the one responsible for the theft of the Necronomicon Nocturnum."

"This is preposterous!" Master Malya Tushumi said. "The members of this body are ..."

"Only a Master has the resources and means to achieve the theft." Darla interrupted again. "Only a Master is capable of warding his minions' minds to the point where they suicide before revealing their Master's plans. And now Grigori has kidnapped the only man on the face of the Earth who has ever successfully used the Necronomicon Nocturnum. Do I need to say more?"

She hoped not. While it was clearly proven that Grigori was responsible for Angel's kidnapping, connecting him with the theft of the book was guesswork at best. Logical guesswork, surely, but there was no proof.

"He is also the only one who was unable to attend this meeting." Darla added.

"Yet wasn't it Grigori who most actively supported the use of Vampirium resources to help in the recovery of the book?" Chevallier asked.

"Certainly." Darla answered. "That way he always knew where we looked and how close we where to him. The better to hide from us."

Again there was a lot of whispered discussion among the other Masters while Darla was burning with impatience. This was taking too long. God alone knew what Grigori was doing to Angel in order to make him cooperate. She knew how strong her childe was, yet she also knew that every man could be broken, no matter his strength.

"Darla!" Chevallier once again addressed her. "We concede that the evidence you present warrants further investigation. What do you propose?"

"Master Grigori must answer these accusations." Darla said. "He must be brought before the Vampirium, by force if necessary. The Order of Aurelius is ready and able to accomplish this, if we are given the location of Master Grigori."

Most Masters guarded the locations of their private retreats even from their fellow Masters. Darla knew only too well that she and Angel had made themselves more vulnerable by making the Hyperion their home, a location that was known to all the Masters. There was no telling if any of the Vampirium knew where Grigori was holed up.

Chevallier looked around at her fellow Masters and saw nothing but empty looks.

"I am afraid that Master Grigori has kept the location of his retreat secret from the Vampirium." She said.

"Since that is the case," Darla said, trying to maintain her calm, "I want the Vampirium's permission to utilize the same resources given to the Order of Aurelius for locating the Necronomicon in the search for Grigori. And I want the Vampirium's consent that, once he is found, those same resources might be applied to capturing him."

There was shocked silence again. It was unheard of in the long history of the Vampirium for all the Masters to combine forces against one of their own number. There had, of course, been conflict between individual Orders more often than not, but never had one warred against all the others.

Yet this was a situation unlike any other. So were the stakes.

#

Buffy and Giles were waiting outside in the car, anxiously awaiting Darla and Spike's return. When the two Vampires finally exited from the building and came toward them Buffy was too impatient to wait even a second. She climbed out of the car and ran to meet them.

"What did they say?"

"They weren't happy." Darla said. "Which is putting it mildly. Yet they agreed to question Grigori. They also agreed to give us all the help we need to locate him. If Grigori refuses to cooperate we have their consent to use force against him."

Buffy sighed in relief, but then went through Darla's words once more.

"They will help us locate him? That means they don't know where he is?"

"Unfortunately not." Darla nodded unhappily. "Grigori's retreat is know to be somewhere in Russia, but that is a very vast area to look for a single Vampire."

Buffy balled her fists in frustration.

"Great! That means we're back to square one. How the hell are we to find him anyway? We didn't have much success these last few weeks, did we?"

Everyone could hear the fear in her voice. It wasn't just a matter of the book anymore. That was a danger that seemed distant to her. Angel, though, he was anything but distant. Losing him, even thinking about it, made her sick with fear.

"I've made some calls on the way down." Spike said. "There aren't a lot of Grigori's lackeys here in America, but we will round up those we can find and make them tell us where he is."

"The last one wasn't very talkative." Buffy said.

"I also called Luke." Spike just said, in a tone that sent a chill down Buffy's spine. "He's on his way here."

"Luke?"

"He is a fellow childe of Heinrich Nest." Darla said. "He has a way to ... convince people. Nothing to do with hypnosis or anything."

Buffy nodded, allowing herself to feel the tiniest ember of hope.

#

Buffy and Spike took off in one car, heading for a local Vampire hangout where Spike was sure they'd find some members of the Order of Grigori. Giles and Darla slowly drove back to the Hyperion.

Giles looked at the quiet Vampire sitting beside him and could feel her worry like a tangible thing.

"You think we will find him?" He asked her.

"I hope so." Darla just said, looking out at the dark street. "I'm just not sure we will be in time."

A moment later she turned to him with a very serious expression in her midnight blue eyes.

"Rupert, you have to promise me something. I know that Angel already made Buffy promise him the same thing, but I am not sure she will be able to go through with it. She loves him so much."

"Promise?" Giles asks.

"If Grigori succeeds, if the Restoration is reversed, you have to kill us! Help Buffy kill us, all of us, before we can do any harm!"

Giles' first instinct was to protest. How could she even think about demanding this from him? Especially now when the two of them ... the two of them what? He and Darla might have grown closer over the last few weeks, but did it really mean anything? He was an old man, while she would be eternally young. Maybe she enjoyed his company, but that didn't mean she wanted more. He wasn't quite sure what he wanted himself, after all.

Besides, he had to approach this from a rational standpoint. If the Restoration was reversed they would have a horde of bloodthirsty killers on their hands. Giles had read the book on Angelus, the Scourge of Europe. He had also read about Darla, William the Bloody, and the other members of this illustrious family.

By now he was sure that he knew Darla the person, at least to a certain degree. She had nothing in common with the demon that had worn her face and reverting to that would kill this woman that he was so fascinated with as surely as a stake through the heart would.

He cared for her, there was no denying that to himself. That meant he had no choice.

"I promise!" He simply said.

"Thanks, Rupert." She said, squeezing his hand for a moment, then turning back to stare out into the night.

#

"Now we can begin." The sorcerer mumbled, concentrating on the magic gathering between his fingers.

In the cell some rooms away Angel suddenly found that he was no longer alone. In the cell with him were several dozen people, coming toward him with grim faces.

He knew all those people, he realized. He clearly remembered killing them.

The sorcerer smiled when he heard the first screams.

#

In another part of the fortress Faith was raiding an icebox to silence the rumbling in her stomach, at the same time trying to figure out how to convince the non-English speaking operator on the other end of the phone to connect her to America.


#

Soulworld II - p21 - Airborne Slayer Squadron

#

Four days.

Four days since Angel had been kidnapped by Grigori's men. Four days in which the man she loved might have undergone the worst of tortures in order to make him open the Necronomicon Nocturnum and take the souls away from the Vampire race.

Three days.

Three days since a telephone call from Faith had given them a location somewhere in Russia, where Grigori was be hiding. No one was certain that Faith could be trusted, yet neither could they afford not to follow up on her call for help.

One day.

One day ago they had finally managed to get underway with enough manpower to take on the Vampire army that Grigori had gathered to defend his retreat, if Faith's information could be trusted. Luke had arrived with the best the Order of Aurelius had to offer. The Vampirium had sent their own special enforcers, the Order of Tarakan.

Ten minutes.

In ten minutes the assault on Grigori's retreat would begin.

Buffy looked around the cramped interior of the plane and tried to calm her Slayer sense, which was tingling like mad. Not surprising, since she was currently one of only three living humans on board this plane. All the others were dead.

Luke was a big and muscular Vampire, not a man of many words, but with a stare that could speak volumes. He and the Vampires he had brought along wore black combat suits and were currently busy loading up with enough weapons and munitions to start a small world war.

The men and women of the Order of Tarakan sat on the other side of the aisle, looking grim and ready. They were dressed in black as well, but carried few firearms or the like. Each had a large sword strapped to their backs and several smaller weapons Buffy had never seen before. She didn't doubt they were every bit as deadly as Luke's men. Giles had paled when he heard who they were.

Buffy herself had been outfitted by Spike, who sat beside her with a look of determination on his face. Black combat suit, two guns with silencers that rode low on her hip, a knife so long that it was almost a sword strapped to her back, night vision equipment, earplug radio with throat mike, everything the happy black ops commando needed for a midnight raid.

Truth to tell she felt a little out of place here. Not because she was the only non-Vampire that would participate in the actual attack on the castle, but because she was the only one not trained for attacks of this kind. The Slayer handbook didn't include things like parachute jumps or automatic weapons. Luke and Spike had given her a crash course in commando tactics on the way here and she felt fairly confident she could hold her own, yet the butterflies in her stomach remained.

Wild horses couldn't have kept her away, of course. Thankfully neither Luke's men nor the Tarakans had objected to having the Slayer along. If anything her reputation far exceeded her actual accomplishments. She shook her head. A year ago she wouldn't have dreamed of something like this. A commando raid with more than three dozen Vampires beside her on a fortress somewhere in Russia to free yet another Vampire.

A Vampire she loved more than life itself.

"Two minutes!" Luke said, coming out from the cockpit where Buffy caught a short glance at Giles, Wesley, and Darla. Darla was dressed for the occasion and looked every bit as determined as any of the other Vampires. She was quietly talking with Giles and Wesley. The two ex-Watchers would remain on the plane, much to their own chagrin, yet Buffy was glad they wouldn't come with them.

This was not a place for humans.

"One minute!" Luke said.

Everyone started to saddle up. Buffy slipped on the breathing mask Spike had given her. She was the only one here who needed the oxygen that was sorely lacking at a height of more than fifteen thousand feet. That was the part she didn't like about this entire attack. The little fact that the plane wouldn't land.

Their plane was following along commercial air routes, so that any radar coverage Grigori might have wouldn't think twice about them. Luke had explained to Buffy what a HALO jump was and she didn't like it at all. She had never jumped out of a plane before - figuring she had more sense than to jump out of a perfectly serviceable airplane - and now they expected her to do something like this.

HALO jump. High altitude, low opening. Meaning she would spend most of the fifteen thousand feet separating her from the ground in free fall. Only when they dropped below the altitude where radar could pick up their parachutes would they open them, so as to come in undetected. Sounded easy, Buffy thought. Right.

"Go!" Luke yelled. The door was wrenched open and the cabin pressure dropped like a stone. Bad analogy, Buffy! Bad analogy! Men and women started jumping out the door. Spike was by her side, as was Darla. They would jump hand in hand until they had to open their chutes, then she was on her own.

The next moment she was past the door and the only thing she saw were clouds and a dark landscape far below her, coming closer extremely fast.

#

Grigori and the sorcerer watched with smiles on their faces as Angel was curled in a corner of his cell, burying his face between his knees, whimpering incomprehensible words. They couldn't see the nightmares that had been assaulting him nonstop these past three days, but the results pleased them.

"Angelus!" The sorcerer called out to him.

"Make it stop!" Angel whimpered between sobs. "Make it stop!"

Grigori watched him and felt a pang of sympathy in his thrice-damned soul. It was bad enough to remember everything he had done and feel regret, yet seeing all his victims in the flesh, accusing him, tormenting him, ... he didn't want to imagine what it felt like.

Not even one as strong as Angelus could bear it.

"We can make it stop, Angelus!" The sorcerer said in a voice sweet as honey.

The captured Vampire looked up, bloodshot eyes staring at them with but the barest hint of sanity visible in them. His clothing was in tatters, his skin covered with scars where he had torn into himself in a desperate attempt to get rid of the ghosts. He was starved, having been without blood ever since he was captured. He hadn't been allowed sleep ever since his capture.

He was ready.

"Make it stop?" Angel asked, unable to keep the desperate hope from his voice.

"We can silence the voices, Angelus! We can silence them forever! But we need your help to do it."

"Help?"

Grigori motioned for a minion to open the cell door and the sorcerer beckoned for Angel to come on out. Angel rose to his feet, swaying with the effort, and slowly came toward them. He flinched now and then, as if someone was striking at him. The ghosts were still there, it seemed. Still lashing out at him.

"You must do just a small thing for us, Angelus." The sorcerer said. "Then the voices will stop. They will go away forever and never bother you again."

"Never again?" He asked.

They led him out of the room and toward a table. Angel's eyes found the dark object lying on top of it and his steps faltered.

"No!" He whispered. "I ... I won't ..."

"It will make the voices stop, Angelus!" The sorcerer reminded him. "Just open the book for us and you will be free."

Angel stumbled as a man he had killed over a hundred years ago slapped him across the mouth, calling him a monster. His father was there, telling him how much he hated him. His little sister, who had invited him into their house, screamed in terror as she saw his face, his real face.

"They will go away!"

The book was there, the Necronomicon Nocturnum. Angel felt it calling to him. More than ninety years had passed since he had last touched it, but he remembered the feeling. The book remembered him as well and called out to him across the room. It wanted him to touch it. It wanted to open for him, for he was worthy.

Angel made a step forward.

#

Faith watched from the shadows of the ceiling, feeling tired, hungry, and extremely pissed. Where the hell was the cavalry? She had called them three days ago and even though their connection hadn't been the best she was sure that Wesley had said something about coming as fast as they could.

She had exercised more patience and restraint these last three days than she would have expected herself to need across an entire lifetime, but now time was running out. She had played with the thought of freeing Angel, but he had been guarded at all times. From the look of things he was about ready to break - something she wouldn't have believed possible a few days ago - and no matter what happened, she couldn't allow him to open the book.

Faith knew only the barest essentials of the Restoration and the Necronomicon Nocturnum, but a little guesswork and lots of overheard conversations during the last three days had enabled her to piece things together. That was the book Angel had worked the Restoration with. The bad guys wanted to undo it and become even more bad in the process. She didn't need to know any more than that.

There were at least a dozen Vampires in the room right now, minions watching their Master, prepared to intervene should Angel not be as broken as he looked. Too many to take on all by herself. Yet what choice did she have? If she didn't stop them now ...

Where the hell was Buffy?

#

Buffy had no clear idea how she had reached the ground and she didn't want to think about it. She only remembered an endless fall and a sudden lurch when her chute had opened. It would probably give her nightmares in the nights to come, but now all thoughts of it were banished from her mind.

The Tarakans went in first, not making a sound as they quickly overwhelmed the perimeter guards around Grigori's retreat. They didn't kill the guards, as the explosion of dust was too loud for their comfort. They simply used their swords to slit throats, then cleaved off arms and legs and left things like that, helpless bundles of flesh in their wake.

The retreat itself was some kind of old mansion, almost a castle. Buffy wasn't here to sightsee, though. She followed Spike and Darla in complete silence, watching the Tarakans do their bloody work with a shudder running down her spine. It took them but a few minutes to reach the mansion proper and find an entrance.

It didn't go down without casualties.

Grigori's men were good and one of them lived long enough to shout out a warning. Pandemonium started scant seconds later. The silence was shattered by the sounds of machine guns and screams, shouted orders and explosions of Vampire dust. Buffy had her knife in one hand, a gun in the other, and stopped thinking.

The world was reduced to small corridors filled with black-clad shapes. Allies and enemies could be told apart only by the barest nuances and Buffy surrendered herself to her instincts and reflexes. A shudder went up her arm every time she swung the knife, the recoil of the gun was almost familiar to her by now. Dark figures dropped left and right as the Slayer carved her way through the mansion, flanked by grim-faced Tarakans and gun-wielding Aurelians.

With stealth abandoned the number of enemies grew quickly, yet Buffy didn't care. Angel was here, that was the only thing on her mind, and everybody between her and him was just another obstacle to be removed. Terror spread ahead of her as the guards realized that the boogeyman of Vampirekind moved among them.

Buffy had never experienced anything like this, but the horror of it didn't touch her. Maybe later, but right now the Slayer was ascendant inside her and turned her into the very killing machine the Watchers had always wanted her to be. The Slayer moved, the Slayer killed. Nothing else existed.

She had no idea how much time had passed when they exploded into a room filled with Vampires and lit only by candlelight. The Slayer inside her quickly catalogued the number of enemies present and decided how to best dispose of them.

Buffy only saw Angel, though, standing on the other side of the room, one hand hovering above a large black book.

"Angel!" She yelled, even as she suddenly saw Faith drop from the ceiling like a wraith of death.

Then the screaming started.


#

Soulworld II - p22 - Two Slayers are Better than One

#


Faith heard the commotion outside and figured that the cavalry had arrived in the nick of time. From the sound of things Spike and the others were kicking serious ass. The big Vampire called Grigori was distracted, talking to his men, listening to shouted reports, but the magic guy in the flowing black robes never wavered.

Angel seemed unaware of the calamity surrounding him, his eyes were glued to the book. Faith cringed inside seeing the sorry state of him, yet she couldn't allow that to touch her right now. Grigori had just sent a few of his men outside to help in the battle. Now, if he only sent a few more of them away, she'd be able to ...

The big doors of the room exploded into shrapnel and a dark tide of fighting Vampires surged through. Faith had half a second to see Buffy and Spike right in the thick of it, then her eyes snapped back to the spectacle directly below her. Angel was reaching out to touch the book.

Thought and action became one as she abandoned her hiding place and dove into the mayhem below. She touched the floor directly beside Angel and slammed him aside, snatching his hand away before he could touch the Necronomicon. Grigori screamed and the magic guy yelled something in a language that made no sense to her whatsoever.

She was barely back on her feet when something caught her around the throat. She didn't see anything, no hand, no claw, nothing, but something constricted around her neck like a noose and stole the air from her lungs. Faith saw the magic guy, his hand moving as he was strangling someone. Who did he think he was, Darth Vader? Unfortunately it seemed to work.

The sound of the fighting died away as the only thing Faith still noticed was the pounding in her ears and the burning need for air in her chest. When had she fallen to her knees? She couldn't remember. The magic guy was grinning at her and she wanted to rip him into pieces, but she couldn't move, her strength was draining away. Her vision started to grow fuzzy.

A dark shape slammed into the sorcerer and suddenly Faith could breath again. For a long moment she just knelt on the floor, pumping air into her lungs, then she was back on her feet without needing to think about it. She saw Angel, his eyes blazing with anger and a barely restrained demon, raining blows down on the sorcerer.

Grigori was behind him suddenly, a knife in his hands. Faith was moving toward him before she finished that thought and slammed into him like a missile. The knife that had been aimed at the heart scraped along Angel's back, drawing blood.

Neither Faith nor anyone else saw one of the drops of blood fly through the air and fall on the Necronomicon Nocturnum.

#

Buffy managed to break free of the seemingly solid mass of fighting in time to see Faith tackle Grigori. Angel screamed as the knife scraped along his back, but he seemed able to get past the pain. The man he held down tried to fight, but Angel just continued pounding him into the floor.

Buffy's first impulse was to be by his side, but she realized that he didn't need any help right now. Faith did. Grigori was a mountain of a Vampire and a blow he landed almost took Faith's head off.

Buffy was there in an instant and attacked him. He seemed to barely feel her blow, yet it diverted his attention away from Faith. The moment he swung at Buffy, missing by the barest margin, Faith was back on her feet and kicked him into the back. Buffy struck next, then Faith, the two of them falling into a rhythm without needing any words.

They moved like a single entity with two bodies, attacking Grigori from all sides at once. The ancient Vampire fought with the strength of a hundred men, but he was unable to so much as touch one of his opponents without immediately paying for it at the hands of the other. He was quickly bleeding from a dozen wounds and started to slow down.

Angel's scream shattered Buffy's concentration. She saw him staggering back from the man in the black robes, who had somehow gotten his hands on Grigori's knife. Angel's shirt was in tatters and a large, ragged cut drenched his chest in blood.

The moment of distraction was too long. Grigori's fist connected with Buffy's head and threw her halfway across the room, almost back into the ongoing fight that still surged near the big double doors. The room spun around her as Buffy tried to regain her balance, she saw Luke and Spike, Darla, the Tarakans, Faith, Angel, ...

The Necronomicon was on the table and it was glowing. The robed man was staring at it in wonder, as well as at his own hands, drenched in blood. Angel's blood. He moved toward the book.

"Yes!" Grigori yelled and swatted Faith aside, leaping for the table. The robed man was there, his hand hovering over the book. Buffy raised her gun, not really knowing if she had any bullets left. Faith flipped back to her feet and started to leap.

The robed man touched the book, Angel's blood on his hand, and the room was filled with an unearthly brilliance that forced Buffy to cover her eyes. Someone laughed and the fighting stopped immediately, everyone too busy saving their eyesight to do anything else.

By the time Buffy could see again three things had happened.

The Necronomicon was open and glowing.

Everyone in the room was frozen, their bodies surrounded by a dim red glow.

The same glow surrounded her and she found herself completely unable to move.

"Blood is the answer." The robed man said triumphantly. "I wouldn't have believed it to be so simple. Thank you for the donation, Angelus!"

Angel was standing but a step away from them, frozen as the others, staring at Grigori and the robed man with mad fury in his eyes. For the first time Buffy could get a full look at him and the state he was in made her want to weep. What had they done to him?

"Just touching it strengthens me a hundred fold." Only now did she see that the robed man's hand was glowing the same dim red as they all did. He had to be a mage. Magic was holding them all immobile. If she could just take him out ...

"Then what are you waiting for?" Grigori asked, sounding extremely impatient.

The sorcerer looked at the book that he was now touching, touching without bursting into flames. He laughed as the runes formed themselves into words he could read, words of power he could invoke.

He saw the spell that had worked the Restoration of Souls. He knew the spell, knew it inside out.

Knew how to reverse it.

"Shall we test it now?" The sorcerer asked Grigori, flush with the power in his hands.

Grigori looked at Angel, grinning broadly.

"Yes," he said, "do it!"

The sorcerer complied, the words he could see forming on the pages beneath him spilling across his lips, power building between his fingertips. Angel was straining against the crimson glow that held him, but to no avail.

Golden light exploded from the sorcerer's hands and enveloped Angel where he stood. Buffy lost sight of him in an instant, but the room was filled with his scream.

"Angel!" She yelled, putting all her strength against the spell that kept her immobile. She could feel it give, the sorcerer distracted by the new spell he was weaving, and managed two awkward steps forward. Just two more and she would reach the mage, then she could ...

The golden light faded and Angel knelt on the floor, no crimson glow surrounding him. After an endless moment he stood, his face turned away from her.

"Angel?" She asked, forgetting about everyone and everything else in the room.

"How do you feel, my friend?" Grigori asked.

Angel looked up, a smile spreading on his lips.

"I feel just fine." He said, then started to laugh.


#

Soulworld II - p23 - The Terror

#

"Angel?" Buffy asked, not believing what her brain was trying to tell her. It couldn't have happened, it was simply not possible.

Angel stood in front of her, his clothing in tatters, bleeding from a dozen wounds, and he was laughing. His face slipped into the demon visage, amber eyes blazed, and he laughed. She had heard him laugh a few times before - not nearly often enough, she had thought before now - but never like this.

"I forgot how good it feels." He said as he finally stopped laughing. "So very good."

"Angelus, I presume." Grigori said, smiling.

"Let me check!" Angel said. "Fangs, check! Unbeating heart, check! Soul? Soul?" He tapped his hands over his clothing, as if he was looking for something in his pockets. "Nope, no soul. I guess I lost it somewhere."

Buffy could do nothing but stare at him. The crimson glow she had briefly broken free from surrounded her again, keeping her completely immobile. The sorcerer needn't have bothered right then, though. Buffy couldn't have moved for the world.

Angel's eyes turned toward her and a cruel grin spread on his lips.

"Hello, baby!" He said, coming closer. "I see you came to rescue me. I have to think of a good way to thank you for that. Flowers maybe? A nice candlelight dinner?"

He moved forward until their bodies touched in a line of flesh. Buffy looked into amber demon eyes and looked for any trace of the man she knew, the man she loved.

„Maybe a quick death? Eh, love? Believe me, you'll thank me for it."

This couldn't be true. It had to be a nightmare. She wasn't here, she was home at the Hyperion, sleeping in Angel's arms. Any moment now she would wake and find that all of this had been a single horrible nightmare.

Angel drew her in for a rough and bruising kiss, then shoved her away with total disregard. Buffy hit the ground with tears in her eyes, her lips trembling. Angel shook his head and walked toward Grigori and the sorcerer, wiping his lips.

„Something about this must have tasted good at one time." He mumbled.

„It is good to see you back, Angelus." Grigori said, smiling.

Angel walked toward him and sniffed, a look of distaste spreading on his face.

„You stink, Nicolai!" He said, his voice dripping with disdain. „You stink of humanity."

„We will have that fixed in a moment." The ancient Vampire said, turning toward the sorcerer. „Continue! It is time to restore our people to what they once were."

The sorcerer gazed down at the glowing pages of the Necronomicon, felt its power run down the length of his body. There was an element of danger here, he realized. The book believed that Angel had opened it. His blood was what allowed him access. The Vampire was connected to this dark power in a way he did not fully understand.

He needed to be very careful. He didn't care about Grigori's dream, but his own was so close at hand that he didn't dare risk anything now.

„I will need my full power to revoke the Restoration worldwide." The sorcerer said, his dark eyes sparkling. „We should take care of these distractions first."

Grigori looked across the room, where both the attackers and his minions were frozen by the sorcerer's power. He felt a slight chill as he saw members of the Order of Tarakan among them. The Vampirium was against him. For the moment at least. Soon they would thank him on their knees.

„Release my minions." He told the sorcerer. „Then, I think, we can do some further testing of your spell. Just to be sure."

He nodded at Angel. „First, though, would you be so kind as to remove this stink from me!"

Angel laughed and the sorcerer murmured the spell once more, the golden light spilling across the room. Some part of Buffy again felt the crimson glow that held her weaken, but she couldn't take advantage of it. Her eyes were riveted to Angel, that thing that walked around with her lover's face, even as he watched Grigori undergo the same spell he had gone through but minutes earlier.

She remembered his words. Should it happen, should he revert to what he had once been, he had wanted her to kill him. Could she do it? Could she really take a stake and ram it into that chest she knew so well?

She didn't know. She just didn't know, not even now.

It was also becoming increasingly unlikely that she would get the chance to find out.

The golden glow faded and Grigori rose from his knees, throwing his head back in mad laughter.

„Yes!" He screamed. „At last! Freedom at last! Free of the voices! No longer do I hear them, no longer do they torment me!"

Angel walked closer to him, sniffing again.

„Nice to see you, Nicolai." He said, smiling broadly.

Grigori laughed again, a sound that sent chills down Buffy's spine.

#

„This is taking too long." Wesley said, looking over the shoulders of their pilot. Over an hour since they had jumped and not a word.

„Giles, do you think we should do something?" Wesley received no answer. „Giles?"

The other ex-Watcher looked up from where he sat. „Hm?"

„I asked if you think we should do something. Where were you just now?"

„Sorry, I was lost in thought. I agree, it has been too long, but I do not know what we can do."

Wesley looked at him for a long moment and Giles knew what his colleague was thinking about. It had been Darla's idea, a means of last resort if all else should fail. Both their heads turned back toward the belly of the plane. They couldn't see it from here, of course, but Giles was convinced that he could feel it.

He had no idea where the Order of Aurelius had acquired a tactical nuclear weapon from and he honestly didn't want to know. He only knew what Darla had told him. That they were to use it if all else failed.

„Not yet." Giles just said, wrenching his gaze away from the back of the plane where he could almost feel this dark thing rest. This wasn't a thing of black magic or demonic power. It was man-made and that scared him more than he thought possible.

„Not yet." Wesley agreed and went back to listening for a message from below.

#

„We should continue now!" Grigori said. „We have an entire world of Vampires to free from this curse."

Angel nodded, looking across the assembled Vampires. His eyes found Darla and his smile grew.

„I am looking forward to it." He said, licking his lips.

Grigori laughed and stood close to Angel, relishing in the empty feeling where his humanity and conscience used to be. The voices he had heard for so long were gone now. No more pain, no more remorse. He would have liked nothing better than to sink his fangs into soft human flesh right here and now, enjoy that wonderful taste without the pain it would have caused in his soul.

Priorities, he thought, priorities!

„Choose one, Angelus! Choose one who shall be the next to receive this grace! No need to hurry anymore now. We can take the time to enjoy this."

Angel's eyes moved across the crowd, resting on Darla again, then traveling to Luke, Spike, the members of his family.

„Why not Spike?" Grigori asked. „I heard your childe was one of the most vicious Vampires around in the good old days."

Three minions grabbed Spike's frozen figure and dragged him in front of the two Vampires. The only thing moving was Spike's face, his eyes blazing with anger. Angel laughed, draping an arm around Grigori's shoulders.

„You are right about that one. William here was a rotten bastard before the soul. I have to tell you, though, I am afraid it won't work with him."

Grigori looked at him, confused.

„What?"

„It won't work." Angel repeated. „You see, Nicolai, your little mage here can reverse the Restoration, we have seen that. Pretty darn impressive, I admit. My boy Spike here, though, he didn't get his soul from the Restoration. It was a gypsy curse and your spell will be quite useless in negating that one."

Grigori's eyes widened.

„I should know, after all." Angel said, smiling.

#

Soulworld II - p24 - Out Of the Frying Pan ...

#

Grigori had about half a second to realize what Angel's words meant, then he stopped thinking about anything except the sharp pain that suddenly stabbed through him. He looked down and spent a brief moment wondering where Angel had gotten the large knife from, the one that was now sticking out of his chest where his heart should be. The knife with the wooden inlays, one of those the Order of Tarakan used.

Over a thousand years of age caught up with him at that very moment and Nicolai Alexandre Grigori, founder of the Order of Grigori, crumbled into dust.

Angel didn't watch it. The knife had barely penetrated Grigori's chest when Angel whirled around and faced the sorcerer. Fury was sparkling in the mage's inhuman eyes, but Angel wasn't impressed. Ignoring the many wounds he had sustained Angel moved forward in a blur of speed and was by the side of the table in an instant.

The sorcerer opened his mouth to invoke a spell, probably something very deadly, but Angel didn't give him the chance. His hands reached out and found the sorcerer's neck, giving it a twist.

Crack!

The crimson glow that had held everyone prisoner faded and over fifty Vampires and two humans started moving once more. Barely. All of them were staring at Angel, the ashes of Grigori, and the body of the sorcerer, who slipped the floor even as they watched.

Angel looked up at stared at the remaining minions of Grigori.

„Now would be a good time to surrender." He told them in a neutral voice, hiding the stark exhaustion he was feeling.

Grigori's men looked around, considering their chances against the Slayer, the Tarakans, and the Order of Aurelius, now that their Master was dust. Common sense quickly prevailed and they dropped their weapons, raising their hands above their heads.

Luke immediately started ordering his men to secure the prisoners and tried to get some semblance of order back into this chaos. From the sounds of it there were still some fights going on outside this room, stray guards that didn't know the battle was already lost.

Angel didn't care about any of that. His eyes found Buffy and saw her staring at him with eyes widened by shock. He made a few small and hesitant steps toward her, afraid of her reaction.

„I am so sorry about this, beloved." He said, his voice barely more than a whisper. „I hated doing this, fooling you this way. It was the only way, Grigori had to think I was on his side. I am so sorry."

He could see tears in her eyes and hated himself for putting them there. How could she ever forgive him after he had treated her this cruelly?

„I thought I had lost you." She whispered.

A moment later she launched himself into his arms and he stumbled, falling to the ground with her on top of him, wincing when he hit the floor, and not caring about the pain at all. Buffy held on to him as if he would vanish at any moment and he hugged her right back, relief spreading through him.

„I thought I had lost you." She repeated again and again.

„Never, beloved!" He said, kissing her. „I will never leave you."

After a long moment she seemed content that he would stay and let go of him, rising to her feet and pulling him up with her. Luke and Spike were busy rounding up the last of Grigori's men. Darla and Faith stood close by, not wanting to disturb this reunion, but clearly waiting for them to be finished.

Angel turned toward Faith, who looked at him with relief in her eyes.

„I'm glad you're okay." She said, sounding like she wasn't sure of the welcome her words would receive.

„Thanks to you." Angel smiled and pulled her in for a hug.

Faith was more than a bit surprised, but quickly returned the embrace. When Angel finally let her go she found herself face to face with Buffy.

„Faith, I ...," she began, „oh, I'm *so* not good at this."

Faith suddenly found herself in another hug and started to fear for her ribs. Buffy let her go again and looked at her with earnest gratitude in her eyes.

„Thanks!" She just said. „I know I was a bitch before. I ... there is a lot we have to talk about, but, as far as I'm concerned, all is forgiven. Thanks for saving him!"

Faith swallowed he lump in her throat and managed to mumble „My pleasure!" while wiping at a stray tear that trailed down her cheek.

Darla smiled at Angel. „How do you always manage to get yourself in so much trouble, my dear boy?" She asked him.

Angel also smiled, shaking his head.

„I never get myself into trouble. Trouble always finds me."

The two of them embraced, when Darla suddenly thought of something.

„I should let Rupert and Wesley know that we are all right. I don't want them to get any ideas."

Angel looked at her, puzzled, but Darla just pulled out her radio and sent a message up to the circling plane. Angel turned back to Buffy.

„You weren't hurt, beloved?" He asked, checking her body for injuries.

„Look who's talking, Mr. Walking Dead! You look like you need about a dozen hospitals right now." Her light tone couldn't hide the worry he could see in her eyes.

„Don't worry about me. I will be all right after a good day's sleep and some blood."

„What did they do to you?" Buffy asked, concerned. He had a haunted look to him, like a man who had seen his worst nightmares take flesh.

Angel shook his head. „Not now! I will tell you about it, but not now. I would like to get out of this place now."

#

So close!

He was so close. So close to fulfilling his dream. After all these years, a prisoner in this ugly world, full of humans and petty minor demons, he was now so close.

Portals. The Necronomicon Nocturnum could open portals. Portals to other worlds, other places. It would have bring him home again. Every night he would dream of home, a world of bright fire and red skies, where the beautiful screams of the Damned would sound day and night.

So close! He was so close! He wouldn't allow this weak human body he had been forced to hide in for so long stop him now.

No one saw him move. Fools, these humans. Even the Vampires, so human themselves now. They thought that a simple broken neck could stop him. Pain was a friend, an ally. He forced his broken form to move, to rise. His strength was fading, but he could yet get home.

Everyone was distracted. Concerned with their own petty emotions, so disgusting to behold. They would all pay for his imprisonment here. All of them would pay. He only needed a little more strength.

He had wanted to fulfill Grigori's wish, for a pure Vampire race would have helped his cause. Still, even without it, there was evil enough in the world. Evil enough to draw strength from. He could feel it in his veins, flowing through his broken body.

Enough to fulfill his dream.

#

„Guys!" Faith yelled suddenly and everyone turned to see the sorcerer, who had risen to his feet. The robes had been ripped open and they could now see that his body was decayed and rotting, yet he moved. An unearthly fire was burning in his eyes.

„Strong enough!" The sorcerer screamed and his hand started to glow. Faith, Buffy, and Angel moved toward him, but suddenly found themselves being thrown backwards. Darla drew her gun and took aim, but by then the sorcerer's hand had found the Necronomicon and the room exploded into brilliance,

„What is he doing?" Darla screamed, trying to see past the glare to get a target.

„I can't see a thing!" Buffy was back on her feet, unable to even open her eyes as the glare penetrated past her closed lids.

Angel could feel the power pouring out of the Necronomicon, felt how it connected with him. His blood had opened the book and before his closed eyes he could see what page the sorcerer had opened.

When he had found the Necronomicon over ninety years earlier he had only skimmed across the pages. He had seen enough to decide to lock the thing away forever. He had also seen enough to know what the sorcerer was doing right then.

Angel threw himself forward into the light, blindly searching for his opponent. He didn't know what to do once he found him, seeing as he had already survived having his neck broken, but anything was better than just waiting for that spell to be completed.

„Arise!" He heard the sorcerer directly ahead of him. He could just make out his silhouette.

„Stop this!" Angel yelled, leaping at him.

He felt the spell close with an almost audible snap, he felt the power surging inside his blood. His blood was singing to the book and the book poured out more power to bring something into existence. Something the sorcerer had summoned here.

„I will go home!" The sorcerer screamed as Angel tackled him to the ground.

„No you won't!" Angel drove his hand deep into the sorcerer's decaying body, his fingers closing around a black and rotten heart. „You're not going anywhere!"

Whatever he, or it, had been, Angel felt it die beneath him. But it was too late, he knew that. Something snapped into existence, called down upon the Earth, and took form right next to him.

„What the hell is that?" Buffy yelled, coming closer as a figure appeared in the glowing light next to the book. A huge, inhuman figure. Angel saw it and his prayers that he had erred, that this was not the spell he believed it to be, went unanswered.

„May God have mercy on us all." He heard Darla whisper as she, too, recognized the creature the sorcerer had called here with his dying breath.

„Ugly fellow!" Faith commented.

The arch-demon Akathler took shape and opened its jaws to roar.


#

Soulworld II - p25 - ... Into the Maw of Hell

#

Barely a minute had passed since Darla had called them to say that everything was all right. Angel was alive, the Restoration hadn't been reversed, and none of their friends had been killed in the attack. Giles had breathed a silent sigh of relief that they were all okay, though he wasn't quite sure at the moment whether he was more relieved about hearing Darla's voice or hearing that Buffy was all right.

Then came another radio message.

„Rupert! Wesley!" They heard Darla's voice through a hale of static.

„Darla, what is it? I can barely understand you."

„No time for talking! Arm the bomb! Quickly!"

Giles' blood froze.

„Darla, what ...? I don't understand. What is going on down there?"

„No time, Rupert! Just do it! If you don't hear from us in the next five minutes drop the thing and get out of here as fast as you can!"

„Darla, what the hell ...?"

„Exactly!" Darla just said. „Five minutes, Rupert! If you don't hear from us by then there won't be anyone left down here."

Darla's voice fell silent and the connection broke. For a long moment Giles could do nothing but stare at the radio in front of him, not believing what he had just heard. Wesley looked down through the window and could just see an eerie light shining down in the dark landscape.

„Let's get to it!" Giles said finally.

#

The demon had barely manifested when it opened its mighty jaw and growled, a bright vortex of energy beginning to form right in front of it. All eyes were drawn to it, the eerie light shining from it seemed composed of the worst nightmares they had ever seen, a light that heralded the end of the world.

„Akathler!" Angel whispered. „I never dreamed ..."

„What is that thing?" Buffy yelled, frightened by the expressions of terror she could see on both Angel's and Darla's faces.

„Akathler." Angel told her without taking his eyes away from the growing vortex. „A demon that bridges dimensions. I have read about it. With one breath it can create a vortex that will swallow a world and everything on it, damning it to Hell for all time."

A wind was starting to pick up inside the room, a searing breeze that slowly but surely grew in intensity. Buffy found herself drawn toward the vortex, a small portion of her mind attracted by the glare she could see inside. What would it be like to jump into it?

Angel started moving all of a sudden and for a moment Buffy thought that he would do just that, jump into the vortex. Angel ran past it, though, and arrived at the table where the Necronomicon still rested. Without hesitation he picked up the book and an aura of light surrounded him.

„What are you doing?" Buffy yelled, the wind becoming louder and stronger by the second. She could see some loose papers from a nearby table drifting toward the vortex.

„The Necronomicon can summon Akathler." Angel just said. „I just pray we can find a way to banish him again. Otherwise ..." He didn't say anymore.

Buffy noticed Darla talking into her radio and understood enough of the words to realize that the situation was quickly spiraling out of control. She turned around to face the large crowd of Vampires still standing behind her, most eyes riveted to the vortex.

„Get them out of here!" She yelled at Spike and Luke. „Get as far away as you can and quickly!"

Luke hesitated for a moment, but Darla nodded and he began screaming at his people to evacuate. Spike remained where he was, though, as did Darla and Faith. All of them were busy watching Angel, who was immersed in the book. The glow of the Necronomicon seemed to grow stronger as well.

Buffy could see drops of blood from Angel's open wounds stain the pages.

„Angel!" She yelled, walking closer to him.

He didn't hear her. His thoughts were focused on the Necronomicon, trying desperately to convince the magical book to reveal a way out. His every cell was singing with the dark power swirling around him. The vortex grew and the wind picked up. Dark shapes could be seen moving against the glare inside.

Blood is the key to dreams, both the sorcerer and the Host of Caritas had said that. His blood had opened the Necronomicon, had activated it. The Host had said that he would find the book or it would find him. He had also said that a door would open. And that only blood would remain in the end.

„Blood is the key." Angel murmured and a page of the book opened of its own accord.

The runes on the blood-sprinkled page reformed themselves into words of meaning, though Angel wouldn't have been able to say which language it was. He knew them, that was the important thing. He also knew what he had to do.

His blood had summoned Akathler and opened the portal to Hell. His blood would close it once more.

„Angel?" He became aware of Buffy standing close, her eyes looking at him full of desperation.

„We need to get out of here!" She said. „Darla has told Giles and Wes to nuke this place. Let's get going!"

„No, that won't work." Angel said. He knew it wouldn't. The Necronomicon was telling him so right at this moment. „I have to close the vortex."

Buffy stared at him, then at the still growing portal. The shimmering disk was now the size of two men and the wind was starting to pick up small objects. She could see images inside the portal amidst flickering fire, things too disturbing to name them. Things that shouldn't exist outside a child's scared nightmares.

„Close it?" She asked. „How?"

Angel didn't say anything. Instead he just pulled her in and pressed a kiss to her lips, embracing her with an intensity she had never known from him before. For a moment Buffy relaxed in his embrace, forgetting about the catastrophe about to happen. Then she realized what was going on.

„Angel?" She asked him as he let go, her eyes telling him that she knew what he was planning.

„Just remember I'll always love you." He whispered.

„Angel, no! I won't ..."

Without further warning he hit her in the face and Buffy slumped to the floor, unconscious. Angel nodded to Spike and he picked her up in his arms, staring at Angel all the time.

„Make sure she gets to safety!" Angel told him. „And get yourself out of here, too!"

„Is there no other way?" Spike asked. Darla and Faith stood by his side, also staring at Angel.

„I am afraid not. This thing will not be stopped by a nuke or any other earthly weapon. My blood opened it. There is no other way."

Bloody tears ran down Darla's cheek, but she nodded. Spike's face was an immobile mask.

„Give 'em Hell, mate!" He just said, then turned away and ran toward the exit with the Slayer in his arms. Darla followed him after a moment's hesitation, the emotions she couldn't put into words pulsing across the link Angel still shared with her. They didn't need words between them.

„Get going, Faith!" Angel told the only other person still present.

She stared at him for another long moment, tears beginning to trail down her cheeks.

„I love you, Angel." She told him.

„I am sorry I couldn't give you what you wanted, Faith." He said, smiling sadly at her.

„You gave me more than anyone else ever did." She replied. „I will never forget you!"

With that she was gone and Angel stared after her for a moment, then turned toward Akathler. The vortex was still growing, having swallowed half the room already. He stared at the book he held in his hands. The book that had changed the world and made his dream come true.

„Is this the price then?" He asked it, not expecting an answer. The Necronomicon Nocturnum still glowed and the glare of Hell in front of him grew brighter.

„So be it!" He whispered and used the knife he had rammed into Grigori's chest just minutes earlier to cut open his left arm. Blood flowed out of the opened vein and splashed onto the Necronomicon, the paper drinking it up like starved ground. Angel could feel the dark power around him growing, his blood sparkling with unleashed energy.

With the light of hell reflecting in his eyes Angel began to chant.


#

Soulworld II - p26 - Is This Death I See?

#

For a long time Buffy had a lot of trouble thinking about anything beyond things like "Oh, what pretty stars!", but gradually awareness returned. Awareness that she was being carried by someone. Memory also returned and she remembered that Angel had knocked her out.

She also remembered why.

Spike didn't have any chance to react. What had been a quiet bundle of flesh but moments ago came awake like a whirlwind and was out of his arms a moment later, knocking him to the floor in the process. He looked up in time to see Buffy running back the way they had come.

"Buffy! Come back!" Knowing that he should not take the time to think things through, because then he would never do it, he started after her. He had promised Angel he would get her to safety and he would bloody well do so.

Grigori's retreat started to crumble around them as the unleashed energy of the portal ate away the building's structure. Spike was ten steps behind Buffy when the ceiling between them caved in and he had to jump back. Unleashing a string of curses he had to waste precious time to seek an alternate route.

Buffy never even noticed that Spike was on her heels. She didn't pay much attention to the collapsing building either. The only thing she knew was that Angel was doing something incredibly heroic and stupid and she would be damned before she left him like this.

"You said you'd never leave me!" She muttered to herself as instinct guided her way back to the room where Hell was coming to Earth. "You promised."

#

There wasn't anything left of the room. Angel noticed that almost clinically, loss of blood and his tiredness robbing him of the strength to care. There was nothing left except the widening portal that would devour the world and him, standing on what remained of the room's floor. Or maybe he was floating by now, he couldn't tell.

The Necronomicon was still in his hands, pouring out power even as it swallowed his life's blood. The blood was not behaving like it should, a part of his mind told the rest. Blood was supposed to run out of the wound and then fall to the floor, preferably at a right angle to it. It wasn't doing that right now.

The blood was flowing out of his wounds and stopped paying attention to gravity right then and there. Angel watched with a kind of morbid fascination as droplets of his life floated around him, sparkling with unearthly energy, seeming to form a pattern that was just beyond his perception.

The Necronomicon was murmuring with him right now, the words spilling out of his mouth without ever going past his conscious mind. He could feel Akathler just ahead of him, widening the portal with every foul breath it took. Magical power was gathering in the room and Angel felt like it would tear him apart at any moment now.

His first time with the Necronomicon hadn't been like this, though he hadn't really paid much attention to it then. A hundred Vampires had been on their tails, looking to rend them to pieces. Angel had never given a second thought to what might happen if he did the spell wrong or if the book didn't accept him in the first place. He had just opened it and unleashed the power, thereby changing the world.

It was different this time around. So much of his life was flowing into this spell that his very mind seemed to merge with the book. He could feel its incredible age, putting the combined years of the Vampirium Elders to shame. Power beyond his imagination had gone into the forging of every page, the carving of every rune. He looked at the Necronomicon as he had never done before and it was looking right back at him.

"Let the door be closed now and forevermore!" Angel spoke the final words of the spell and could feel all strength seeping away from his body. Blood was still running from his wounds, mingling in mid-air, pouring his life into the spell that closed around him with a snap. Akathler roared as power pushed against power.

Angel was reduced to a spectator as a demon older than civilization struggled against the power of a book older than language itself. The air between them was burning, hellfire spewing forth from the portal and meeting flying droplets of blood in a fireworks of thundering energy. Angel wanted to avert his eyes, but could not find the strength to even close his lids.

After an indefinite amount of time the pressure suddenly fell away and Angel found that there was nothing holding him up anymore. The Necronomicon slipped from his fingers and closed of its own on the way to the floor, looking to all the word like a perfectly ordinary book. Angel didn't much care at this point. He slumped to the floor and his eyes finally closed.

For a moment he imagined that someone was calling his name.

#

Buffy's world was reduced to cracking walls, unstable floors, and the sound of a building in its death throes. She was close now, she could feel it. The searing heat she had felt earlier when she stood in front of the portal was permeating the corridors around her and grew stronger with every step she took.

The floor directly ahead of her crumbled and fell down into another corridor. Buffy took two more steps and leapt, easily making the gap, and hit the ground running on the other side. Something inside her was screaming to hurry up, as there was not much time left. She didn't know whether that voice was talking about the building or Angel, but she was quite sure that neither of them were in great shape right now.

Had Darla told Wesley and Giles to hold the nuke? Or was the bomb falling down on her as she ran? She didn't know. Neither did she have the time to stop and talk to them over the radio, even if she had managed to make herself heard over the noise surrounding her now.

An eternity seemed to pass while she was just running through corridors and keeping the building around her together by sheer refusal to have it collapse on her when she finally reached the room she had been in just minutes earlier. What was left of the room anyway.

Even as she watched she saw that Angel had done it, whatever it was he had done. The portal was still there, but shrinking before her eyes. The huge demon that the sorcerer had called into existence with his dying breath was screaming and growling, but it didn't seem to help any. The portal collapsed and seemed intent on sucking in the rest of the room while it was doing so. The wind picked up and Buffy had to hold on to the remains of the door to keep her footing.

Angel was lying on the floor, not moving, slowly being pulled toward the portal.

"Angel!" She screamed his name, but he didn't react in any way. Abandoning her handhold she ran toward him, skidding to a hold right next to his prone form. The wind was tugging at her with increasing force, but the Slayer simply refused to be moved. She dug in her heels and held on to Angel.

Seeing him almost made her cry. He was pale as a sheet, looking as if every last drop of blood had fled his body. The many wounds he had sustained didn't bleed anymore, what remained of his clothing was drenched in drying blood. Buffy felt tears run down her face but didn't pay attention to them as she pulled at him, slowly drawing him away from the collapsing vortex.

"You said you'd never leave me!" She kept muttering as the tears streaked down her cheeks. "You fucking said you'd never leave me!"

Buffy had lost all sense of time when the portal finally collapsed and the pull vanished. She stumbled back, still holding on to Angel, and landed on her behind with a painful thud. She didn't care even a second. Angel had not moved once during all the time and she drew him into her lap, desperately looking for any kind of life sign.

"Wake up, Angel!" She whispered as she caressed his cheeks. "Please wake up! You said you'd never leave me! You can't break your promise like that! It ain't right!"

She had no clue on how to tell a dead Vampire from a live one. Both were dead bodies, right? So how did one tell them apart? Weren't dead Vampires supposed to crumble into dust? That meant he was still alive, right? He had to be.

Without conscious effort her mind went back to their last words. Angel had held the Necronomicon and mumbled something about blood being the key. Yes, she remembered. He had told her what the Host of Caritas had said to him, those cryptic remarks that hadn't done a thing to help him.

"In the end only blood will remain, the blood of one you love more than life itself." Buffy mumbled, remembering the words. Blood, yes! Angel had lost so much blood, pouring his very life into that thrice-damned book to close the portal. He needed blood.

She hoisted his limp body up until his face rested against the crook of her neck, desperately trying to get some kind of reaction out of him. She slapped his cheeks, yelled into his ear, but nothing worked. Was he too far gone already?

Buffy saw a knife lying on the floor close by. It was one of the Tarakan knives, with wooden inlays so it would kill a Vampire. The blade was stained with blood and before she consciously realized what she was doing she had picked it up and held it to her own neck.

"I just pray this works." She mumbled to herself and made a shallow cut, causing blood to well to the surface.

It didn't take a second until she heard a growl and felt a sharp pain enter the side of her neck.


#

Soulworld II - p27 - I Would Give My Life For Yours

#

Spike was busy cursing all the way, trying to find a way through the crumbling mansion. He had a running bet against himself that the building would collapse on him before he found Buffy and it looked like he would win.

"Stupid bloody idiot bitch!" He mumbled under his breath. "Just has to go and risk her bloody, scrawny neck to save that idiot poof who just needs to put his fucking ass on the line to save the goddamned world. And here comes Spike, William the soon to be Dusty, chasing after them just because he bloody promised the big poof he would save his idiot girlfriend. I've had it up to here with all that crap!"

He reached the room where all this had started and skidded to a halt, his jaw dropping. There was no sign of Akathler, no sign of the portal, except that the part of the room where it had been was simply gone without a trace. He could see the Necronomicon lying on the floor, seeming to smile at him with a mockingly innocent expression.

Just two steps away from the book Buffy was kneeling on the floor, cradling Angel to her side. Spike blinked. The scenery didn't change. He blinked again. Still no change. Angel was drinking her. What the hell was he doing?

Spike was by their side and all set to pull Angel off Buffy when she noticed him and opened her mouth in a silent scream.

#

The sensations overwhelmed her within seconds. The pain vanished and was replaced by sensations she had never dreamed existed. Her entire body seemed to be singing, humming along with every sucking motion she could feel against her skin. Her blood was thundering through the twin wounds like white-hot quicksilver and filled every cell of her body with song.

Angel's cold hands were holding her now, instinct making them grab her to prevent her escaping him. Like she would have wanted to. One of her hands was still tangled in his spiky hair and pressed his head into the side of her neck with desperate strength, urging him to continue, to fill his cold flesh with her warmth.

Something made her open her eyes, even though she couldn't remember closing them. Her Slayer sense was screaming at her to pay attention and suddenly she saw a Vampire sitting in front of her, staring at her in disbelief.

Spike? What was Spike doing here? Shouldn't he be somewhere else? Her thoughts were flying away from her like frightened birds, slipping from her grasp like water. She could see Spike's blue eyes staring at her. Why did he look so surprised, she wondered. One would think he knew what a Vampire feeding looked like.

She could see his hands moving toward them and suddenly she knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to separate them, wanted to take Angel away from her. No, she would never allow that! Angel had promised he would never leave and somehow she knew that they mustn't be separated. It would kill him. He needed her, needed her strength.

Buffy tried to move her arms, but they refused. Every muscle in her body felt like jelly, the sensations of Angel drinking from her neck had reduced her to little more than a smile and fuzzy feelings. She had to stop Spike, though. He mustn't take Angel away!

Somehow she had to tell him.

#

Spike paused and looked into her eyes, seeing the pleading look inside them.

She had made him do it, he realized. She made him drink her blood to heal him. He now saw Angel's face and saw that his Sire was completely out of it, looking like death warmed over thrice, sucking the blood by sheer animal instinct.

It was the hardest thing he had ever done, but Spike waited. He waited while the building groaned around them, reminding Spike of the running bet he had with himself. He didn't take his eyes off the two people in front of him for even a second. He saw Buffy's eyes roll back as the blood loss took its toll on her, but still she kept Angel's head pressed to her neck. He saw Angel's paleness begin to vanish as his dead flesh filled with stolen warmth.

He forced himself to wait until his senses told him that Angel would make it, then he grabbed his Sire's head, wrenching him away from the Slayer. Buffy was completely out of it, pale from loss of blood, but he could see her hands blindly searching for Angel, wanting to have him near again. Spike knew only too well the addicting effect being drained by a Vampire could have on humans. There were quite a few Vampires out there who earned their money that way.

"Wake the hell up, Peaches!" He slapped Angel in the face. "I can't bloody carry both of you out of here!"

"You won't have to!" Spike almost jumped when Faith suddenly appeared by his side.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

"I saw you and Buffy double back, so I thought, what the hell! You wanna make something of it or do we get the fuck out of here?"

Spike swallowed his anger and motioned for Faith to grab Buffy, hoisting up Angel on his shoulders. For a moment his eyes rested on the Necronomicon and he was about to pick it up and take it along when he had a better idea.

#

Angel awoke shortly after they had made their escape from the building and ran toward a field close by where the plane would be able to land and pick them up. He slid from Spike's shoulders after a moment of confusion, being pulled along by his childe without any time for explanations.

What had happened here? The last thing he remembered was falling to the floor after completing the incantation. Had it even worked? Was the portal closed?

A side glance showed him Faith, who carried a limp form over her shoulders and all thoughts of hell and the Necronomicon fled from him.

"Buffy!" He darted over to Faith and wrenched Buffy's body from her shoulders, cradling it in his own arms. Faith didn't protest, but continued to pull him along toward the waiting plane even as Angel checked Buffy for injuries. What had happened to her?

He found the still-bleeding bite mark on her neck and suddenly he remembered. He still had her taste on his lips.

"Oh God no!" He whispered.

"She made you do it, mate!" Spike was by his side. "She saved your life, so don't bloody zonk out on me now, okay?"

"But I ... if I hurt her ... I would never ..."

"She isn't hurt, mate!" Spike told him. "I was there and pulled you away the second you had enough. She is out of it and maybe she'll need a transfusion, but the girl is tough. She'll be up and about again in no time flat!"

Angel didn't say anymore, just stared at the closed eyes of the girl in his arms and cursed his own existence. He never even noticed them boarding the plane or taking off.

Some minutes after take-off Buffy opened her eyes, smiling weakly at him.

"Hi, Angel!" She whispered, managing to raise her arm and put her hand on his cheek.

"Rest beloved!" He told her, his joy at seeing that she was awake again overcome by the guilt. He gently removed her hand from his face, the touch of her too much to bare at that moment. He couldn't even look at her.

"I love you, Angel!" She whispered, her eyes starting to fall shut again. "Please don't blame yourself!"

Before he could reply anything she had fallen asleep again.

#

Half an hour later, with all people safely evacuated, the retreat of the late Master Nicolai Alexandre Grigori, along with a certain book, was consumed by a nuclear fireball.


#

Soulworld II - p28 - Cordy's Big Day

#

"We are not living in a Dracula novel." Cordelia continued her speech. "This is the real world. With real people in it. People who just happen to live in dead bodies, but are no less alive because of it. People that deserve to be treated the same way as anyone else."

Quentin Travis watched the speech on the television of the prison common room and had to control himself not to sneer with disgust. That young girl sure knew how to wrap things up in nice and fluffy words. As he listened to her he knew that the Vampire Legalization Act would be approved. These idiot Americans were eating out of Chase's hands.

It wouldn't make a difference, he reminded himself. Let these Americans invite their own doom by giving the monsters civil rights. The important thing was that the lovely Ms. Chase would be dead within the hour and would never again spew her venom out into the world.

He smiled as he thought about his assassin. What a wonderful way to end this little chapter of the good fight. It didn't hurt matters that it would probably break Buffy Summers into little pieces in the process. Might make her sloppy. Might mean a new Slayer would be called very soon.

"Hey, Travis!" One of the guards yelled at him. "Visitors for you! Get your snotty British ass over here!"

Travis sighed, regretting that he would miss the final part of the speech, but resigned himself. After all, he knew how it would end. He had given the assassin explicit instructions and knew they would be obeyed to the letter. Cordelia Chase would die, whether he watched or not.

The guard led him into the visitor's room and he sat down at the table, waiting for whomever wanted to visit him. Maybe it was that idiot Marshall Lockley again, trying to threaten him into cooperation once more. He had almost come to enjoy her visits, they gave him something to laugh about.

"Glad to see you are in a good mood, Quentin!" A voice said from the open door and Travis' heart skipped a beat as he saw who had just entered.

#

"At this moment these people are living in a nation where they have no rights, no protection. Some might argue that they don't need any protection, or that they don't deserve it, but ..."

Buffy watched Cordelia deliver her speech from the entrance of the Congress chamber, standing in the corner she and the other bodyguards had been banished to by Congress security. Angel was standing close by, having managed to get inside by flashing his PID badge and calling in a lot of favors owed.

They stood close, but not too close. Not just because they were out in public. There was still tension between them. Buffy's fingers needed constant supervision or they would crawl up to that itching spot on her neck, where the scar tissue was still tender and raw, which would inevitably produce a fresh dosage of guilt in her quiet lover.

She could feel Angel's eyes upon her and saw the regret in his eyes. She knew that he felt incredibly guilty for having drunk from her, though she had told him time and time again that he had been all but unconscious at that time and that she had forced him to do it, so he had nothing to blame himself for.

If there was a reason for her to be mad at him it was because he had knocked her out before that. She understood why he had done it, of course, she just didn't like it.

"Stop beating yourself up!" She whispered to him.

"Hm?" He looked up from her neck.

"I can hear the smacking all the way over here, you know? Stop beating yourself up!"

He looked away and Buffy sighed, moving closer to him.

"It's been weeks, Angel! We are all safe, all the Vampires still have their souls, and that stupid book was incinerated in a nuclear blast. You have nothing to be sorry for. Except for that knockout blow you gave me and I promise you I will get even for that before too long."

The last comment actually managed to produce one of his patented half-smiles that made her want to melt into her socks. The first few days after they had returned to LA had been very difficult, a lot of awkward tension between them.

Angel had been on the verge of leaving her, so wrecked with guilt and pain had he been. It hadn't helped that, in the days before they had rescued him, he had been hit with every bit of nightmare and guilt he had stored up in 150 years of being a demon, thanks to the sorcerer's spell.

They were getting past that now, slowly but surely. It would still take a lot of effort, Buffy knew that, but she was determined to make it work once more and Angel had found himself helpless before that determination.

"Think positive!" She told him. "Cordy is blowing them away as we speak. And unless I'm very much mistaken a certain Watcher is getting his ass handed to him right now."

That again produced a smile from Angel.

#

"This isn't possible." Quentin Travis sat as he looked at the man who, at this moment, should be on the other side of the continent. He should have been in Washington right now, preparing to kill Cordelia Chase, not sitting on the other side of the table and looking at him with rage shining in his eyes.

"You of little minds." Darla said, coming into the room to stand behind Giles.

"How ...?" Travis began before his words died away.

"How did we find out about the little hypnotic suggestion you left in Rupert's mind?" Darla asked, her face icy and her voice cold enough to freeze the air in the room. "The one that should have turned him into an assassin in order to kill Cordelia?"

The blonde Vampire leaned on the table and her human face changed, demon eyes staring at Travis from less than a hair's breath away.

"Not that difficult for a Vampire Master, I assure you."

Travis flinched back, which put him face to face with a very angry looking Rupert Giles.

"You tried to turn me into a murderer." Giles growled. "I thought you a despicable bastard before, but now ..."

"It can't have failed." Travis murmured. Every Watcher had certain hypnotic command words implanted during their training, compulsions that would enable the Council leaders to retain control of them should a crisis situation arise. Travis knew that he himself probably had some control words in his mind he didn't know anything about. He didn't like the thought, but he accepted it.

He himself had activated Giles' compulsion when they had last met here in this very room. The words "No Evil Shall Be Spared, Rupert Giles", along with the name of Cordelia Chase should have sufficed to make him kill her. The compulsion had never failed. How could it possibly have failed?

"You should be glad it failed." Darla hissed at him. "Otherwise I would break every bone in your body right here and now."

"And that would be after I got through with you." Giles added.

Travis stared at the monster and the treacherous Watcher, unable to so much as utter a word.

"Thankfully," Giles said, rising from the table, "it did fail. Just so you know, Darla has removed all the command words from my mind. She did the same for Windham-Pryce. Cordelia is alive and well and, in case you are interested, she will be interviewed by a few reporters later today for an article in the London Times and several other European newspapers."

A cruel smile played across Giles' lips.

"So I guess she will 'spew her venom' into the Old World after all, old friend."

"This can't be happening!" Travis whispered.

"Oh, it is." Darla said with a grim smile on her face. "You better pray they never let you out of here, Watcher! Because the moment you do, you will answer to another kind of justice. Not nearly so lenient."

#

Giles sighed when they walked out of the prison into the warm night of California. Three time zones away Cordelia was holding her final speech before the Congress. Giles shuddered, thinking about what might have happened at this moment if not for Darla.

She had first noticed something when she had mesmerized that captured Vampire a few weeks ago and accidentally brushed across his surface thoughts as well. His constant spells of distractions after that had gotten her curious and finally he had agreed to let her enter his mind. And thank God that he had allowed it, otherwise ...

The blonde Vampire sensed his distress and put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

"We defeated him, Rupert!" She said softly. "He will remain in his little cell with only his petty hatreds to keep him company."

She cocked her head to one side. "And I think Marshall Lockley told me something about planting the rumor in prison that Travis shot a child. Which is the truth, more or less. It will not make him any friends in there."

"I know all that." Giles said. "But just the thought ..."

"Don't think about it anymore then!" Darla just said, draping her arm around his waist. "Besides, we have other things to do, remember? We might get back to the Hotel in time to hear the results of the Congressional vote on the VLA."

Giles knew that, despite Darla's relaxed expression, she was as nervous and anticipatory as every other Vampire within the United States at this moment. In an hour or so they might become legal citizens. None expect the really stupid ones expected that to mean that everyone would suddenly accept the presence of Vampires in human society, but it was a huge step forward. Or it would be, if it went through.

"Let's go home then." Giles said as they walked back to his car.

#

Cordelia left the podium to thunderous applause from the Congress and hurried over to where Buffy and Angel stood, needing to see at least a few friendly faces before she would have to face the mob of reporters just waiting beyond the doors.

"How did I do?" She asked them, trying not to sound too anxious. The fate of Angel's people had rested solidly on her shoulders during those agonizing minutes up there. The thought of disappointing the dark Vampire, who had come to mean so much to her, was too ...

Angel gave her a genuine smile and Buffy came over to hug her.

"You were great, Cordy!" Buffy said. "You blew them away! They won't have a chance but to pass the Act now."

Angel had his own turn to hug her and then held her at arms' length. "Thank you!" He just said, which meant more to Cordelia than she could put into words. Damn, she couldn't cry now, it would ruin her makeup.

"I'm afraid the vultures are circling outside." Buffy said, having stolen a peek at the mob of reporters that waited outside the Congress Chamber.

"Let them come!" Cordelia said, putting on her professional smile once more. "What can a hundred reporters do after I have already massacred the Congress tonight?"

Buffy giggled.

"Is my hair okay?" Cordelia asked with a sudden earnest expression.


#

Soulworld II - p29 - A Better World

#

Angel stood on the roof of the Hyperion Hotel and looked out across the ocean of light that was Los Angeles. He knew that a lot of parties were going on out there right now, as well they should, and one of the biggest was happening inside the building he stood on right now.

They had done it. They had really done it. He still had trouble believing it.

"Hey!"

He turned to see Buffy coming toward him, one of his coats draped around her shoulders against the cold wind up here. He had to smile when he saw her, and not just because she looked completely adorable wearing his clothing.

"I couldn't help but notice you making a stealthy exit down there." She said, standing next to him. "Not in a party mood?"

"I needed some minutes of silence." He answered. "Truth to tell, I'm still having a little trouble believing that it actually happened. That we actually did it."

She snuggled into this side, taking his arm to drape it around her shoulders like a big shawl. For a moment he tensed, seeing the scar on her neck, but she simply refused his moving even an inch away from her and he surrendered, pushing the guilt from his mind.

"I never doubted it for a moment." She told him. "I mean, you're the guy who does the impossible, remember? Turning a race of demons back into people, closing the gates of Hell, making a Vampire Slayer fall in love with you, those aren't small feats."

He smiled down at her.

"I can't really take credit for that last one. It just happened."

"And I'm glad it did."

For a few minutes they just stood on the roof, arm in arm, looking out across the city.

"You realize that this isn't the end, right?" Angel asked her.

"Of course not. We made the law accept Vampires. Now we have to do the same with the people."

"You make it sound easy, beloved." He said, kissing the top of her head.

"I know it won't be." She replied. "But we will make it."

A smile spread across her lips and she added. "Especially if Cordy accepts that offer from the Democrats."

Angel chuckled under his breath, remembering the look on Cordelia's face when a representative of the Democratic party had approached her to run for Congress.

"I bet a few politicians are cursing the day they lowered the age limit of political offices to twenty-one." Angel said, smiling.

"Yeah! Now nothing can keep them safe from Cordy. I bet she becomes president before she hits thirty."

They both laughed, picturing Cordelia sitting in the Oval Office and handing out orders to aged Senators and Generals. The picture was just too funny for words.

#

Spike walked past the gym on his way back from the john and heard someone inside. He had thought everyone to be at the party in the lobby and curiosity got the better off him. He looked inside and saw Faith pounding away at the punching bag.

"Now why do I get a sense of déjà vu here?" He asked, walking inside.

Faith looked up, wiping some sweat from her forehead.

"Maybe because we always seem to meet in here?" She asked, smiling at him.

"This Hotel does have other rooms, you know?"

She walked toward him, swinging her hips like he remembered her doing at a certain night several months ago, the same smile on her face that told of the wicked things she was thinking.

"What kind of rooms are you thinking about?" She asked him.

She stopped directly in front of him and Spike found himself smiling as well. Faith had always managed to get a reaction from him. Most of the time it was the desire to spank her black and blue or tear her head off and be done with it, but there were other times, too. Like right now.

"Maybe we should look around a bit." He said. "Until we find one that we like."

Her face grew serious as she looked up at him.

"I like you, Spike." She said. "I didn't see it before, I was too fucking obsessed with my crush on Angel and my mad-on against Buffy, but I like you."

She looked down for a moment, then looked up and Spike could hardly believe the shy smile on her face.

"Do you ... do you like me, too?" She asked, almost a whisper.

Spike looked at this girl that always managed to drive him up the wall so very easily. She reminded him of Drusilla in many ways, yet at the same time she was completely different. He had always known her tough exterior was but a mask to hide her insecurities and fears, but he hadn't suspected the depth of what hid below that. Faith had certainly changed in the months she had been away and he found, much to his own amazement, that he liked the way she had changed.

"Fancy that!" Spike said and leant down to kiss her. He had a certain kind of room in mind right now.

#

Closing the library door almost managed to shut off the noise from the party outside. With just about every Vampire that was in some way connected to the Order of Aurelius present, as well as Gunn's men, members of Cordelia's lobby, and a lot of other people, the lobby was overflowing.

Darla wasn't surprised to find Giles here in the library. He wasn't really the party kind. Instead he sat on the couch in front of the fire place and sipped some tea.

"Rupert!" She greeted him as she sat down on the couch beside him.

"Darla, hello." He sat the tea aside to look at her.

"Getting tired of the party outside?"

"I think I'm a little too old for that kind of music."

"Oh, I don't know." Darla mused. "Figuring the average age of the people present tonight, you are one of the wee ones, I think."

That wrung a smile from his face and Darla found that she loved seeing him smile.

"Darla," he said, his face growing earnest again, "I am not sure about this."

"This?" She asked.

"Us." He said. "If there is such a thing. I ... I have feelings for you, Darla, but I am not sure they are right."

"Why? Because I am a ..."

"It's not because of that, I assure you." Giles interrupted her. "A year ago the thought of feeling for a Vampire would have repulsed me, but all that has changed. How could it not, seeing Buffy and Angel together? It's just ... Darla, I know that you are over four centuries old, but you are still a young woman and will always be one. I, on the other hand, am an old man and will just go on getting older. I don't think ..."

Darla laughed, which made Giles look up with an air of indignation.

"Sorry," Darla sputtered, "but you're just too funny, Rupert. Do you honestly think that I care about your age? After four centuries I'm long past judging a man by his appearance. And even if I weren't, you still are one of the most handsome men around, Rupert."

"Darla, I ..." He began, but this time she interrupted him.

"Shut up when your elders are talking!" She told him. "Rupert, I wouldn't have allowed things to go this far if I didn't want it, you understand? Now the only thing you need to figure out is whether you want it, too."

With that she rose from the couch in a graceful movement.

"Once you do, I'll be upstairs." She told him with a smirk and left the library.

Giles pondered that for about a minute, thinking about age, experience, morals, doing the right thing, and the wonderful way Darla's hair had gleamed in the light of the fire.

"No fool like an old fool!" He muttered, rising from the couch to follow her upstairs.

#

"We will make it, I think." Buffy said, still looking out across the lights of LA.

Angel hugged her closer.

"I believe that."

#

Beneath a landscape fused into glass by nuclear fire there was a book. Buried beneath a million tons of molten rock it waited. The heat of a thousand suns had not touched it, for it was far beyond destruction by any earthly means.

The Necronomicon Nocturnum didn't care about its present circumstances. Sooner or later someone would find it again, someone always did. Maybe someone worthy, someone who would unleash its power upon the world once more.

Beneath a landscape fused into glass the Necronomicon rested and waited. It had all the time in the world.


THE END