(Part 2)

Chapter 8 - Epilogue


"Hi." Angel straightened away from his desk as Buffy tentatively entered the room, giving everyone gathered a somewhat fixed smile.

Both Angel and Spike's faces took on identical expressions that veered perilously close to naked adoration; everyone else in the room – Lorne, Gunn, Wesley, Harmony, Xander, Faith and Robin Wood, focussed intensely on the décor; the carpet, ceiling, lamps and view of skyscrapers out the window took on a rapt fascination.

"Is everything..?" Angel began.

"Set up." Buffy nodded. "Willow and Fred have done something…way too complicated for me to understand with the computers, so that new red phone on your desk is a secure hotline to Sunnydale and we have a secure network link too, we're going to start updating each others' systems tomorrow."

There was a momentary pause as everyone sort of didn't look at each other, none wanting to be the first to officially bring the last few days of cautious détente to a close by saying 'Goodbye' or more likely, 'We gotta get back to Sunnydale.' Nowhere was that more apparent than in the painful triangle of Buffy, Angel and Spike, standing staring at each other, so close together yet so far apart.

When Buffy had sent Andrew to collect Dana from LA, the revelation that the Slayer and her Scooby Gang no longer trusted Angel now he ran Wolfram & Hart had cut deep. However, over the last few days of them seeing that Angel was as uneasy with himself being the CEO of the evil firm as everyone else seemed to be, the Scoobies had pretty much unclenched. Now both teams were officially working together; Buffy had just begun sending out the most capable Slayers to hotspots all over the world, creating a network of Chosen Ones that would criss-cross the globe.

Riley Finn and his wife Sam and their team-mate Graham Miller, as survivors of Professor Maggie Walsh's Initiative, had been contacted and informed of the present situation. Angel, in turn had provided the Scooby Gang – and by extension Finn & Company – with an edited account of his World War II secret submarine trip, which illustrated how far back the Initiative – and how far back its corruption – had gone. In a brief private aside, Xander had explained to Angel that the information would go a long way to assuaging Riley Finn and Graham Miller's residual guilt over being part of those atrocities, as both had blamed themselves for not seeing through Maggie Walsh's spiel. The fact that the Initiative had gone Dark Side decades before Maggie Walsh got anywhere near it – and that she herself had probably had no knowledge of the covert organisation's real longevity or real agenda – would go a long to making them feel less stupid and culpable.

As it happened, the sharing of that information had apparently triggered an unexpected beneficial outcome. The murkier elements of the government that operated Finn's team had made no overt response, but over the past few weeks, minor problems that the Scoobies had been facing, such as compensation claims over the destruction of Sunnydale in a violent but peculiarly localised 'earthquake', had been expedited, as had their zoning applications and re-building permits.

Not a bit of which avoided the awkwardness of this moment. Sometimes being the world's pre-eminent Slayer was excruciating – so the queen of the slayers followed her instincts. Stepping forward, she stretched out her arms and placed the palm of each hand flat against the chests of the two vampires with souls, as if hoping to feel the vibration of hearts that did not beat. "Thank you, both." Her fingers flexed minutely as if seeking to tighten her clasp, but then she stepped back. Lorne's ruby red eyes were unashamedly wet and everyone found a lump in their throats; this was the ultimate love triangle.

"I-I-Is it okay, now?"

Heads snapped around at the tremulous voice, and a thin dark-haired girl shuffled into the room, clutching a large bag to her chest as if contained the crown jewels. Buffy had mentioned that another of the Slayers was coming down to LA today to bring some information Willow needed to secure the mystical safeguards on the secure-line red phone that had already been christened the 'bat-phone', but none of Team Angel had given any thought to the fact that it might be…

Her eyes were fixed on Spike with an expression of remorse and terror. The blond vampire's deathly white skin went a shade paler still: Dana, the mentally ill Slayer whom he had rescued, and who had subsequently tortured him to - had he been human - death.

But he was Spike, and he had been with Angelus and then Drusilla for a century; the human wasn't born that could match either his Sire or Grandsire when it came to the art of inflicting pain. "Hello, Dana, pet."

"I-I-I…" Taking a fresh breath, Dana tried again, "Dawn got you this…to say thank you…but I asked to bring it, I…wanted to say know."

"Here." Realising the damaged Slayer was incapable of it, Buffy gently prized the bag from her arms and held it out to Spike.

Taking it, Spike realised everyone was waiting, so he pulled the object out. It was a large, beautifully leather-bound book, inlaid with rich emerald and ruby colours and gilt edged pages. It was obviously very old and very expensive. Spike smiled, "Keats?"

"It's your favourite, right?" Dana asked anxiously.

"Yeah," Spike traced his fingers over the cover gently, unaware the others were watching his soft smile with amazement. "Lost most of mine – they were in my crypt when the crater turned Sunnydale subterranean."

"There's a…" Dana gestured, "…inscription, that Dawn wrote…"

Opening the book, Spike's eyes widened. His voice suddenly hoarse, he read aloud: "To William, love, Little Bit."

"They'll be back in Sunnydale by now."

Spike did not turn as Angel came to stand beside him, neither of their reflections showing in the windowpanes of Angel's office. Both stared out at the city that heaved and teemed with sheer life in the hot midday sun, protected by the necrotempered glass from being harmed by the bright light that bathed them.

At the moment, it emphasised how the woman they both loved was probably walking down a sidewalk back to her life in Sunnydale, and how neither of them could follow. Humans needed sunlight to live; it was death to vampires. "Yeah. It's good she's there – I reckon this 'The Apocalypse' that's going to give you a heartbeat again is a real bad one."

"They're all bad."

"Yeah, but this is you, mate. The universe has it in for you, or hadn't you noticed?"

"Yeah, but I was trying to ignore it."

"Denial is not a river in Egypt, love."

"Tell me about it."

"Angel – "

Both turned as Wesley came in with a folder. Both vampires knew that underneath his shirt his skin was a glorious rainbow of bruising. The ex-Watcher came over to stand at the window, both vampires moving aside so he was between them and for a moment they contemplated the scene. "Giles called this morning. The connections are working perfectly and the protective wards Willow set are operating at maximum output."

"Good. We're going to need them." Angel said grimly. "We've everyone after us, including the so called good guys, and if Lindsey MacDonald was right we're in the middle of the Apocalypse. Merging our resources has got to work…right?"

"Yes." Wesley said it with a flat, inflectionless, absolute certainty that made both vampires blink, whispering something so low that no human would have heard it.

"Beruth-ak-Sirse?" Spike repeated, frowning.

"Um? Nothing," Wesley raised the file. "Two teenage girls were snatched in East LA last night, the first about an hour after Buffy and the others set off back to Sunnydale, the second about two hours after that. Forensics from the crime scenes indicate both were snatched by the same acolytes and are to be killed in ritual sacrifice to Gigatt tomorrow."

"Gigatt being – "

"Twenty feet high, smells like an open sewer, breathes fire and secrets a gallon of viscous - "

"- slime." finished Angel with doleful certainty. "Always with the slime."

"Welcome to another day in LA." Spike rhymed cheerfully.

* * *

In her bedroom on the top floor of the mansion, Buffy did not sleep though the clock read 12:45am. She could hear the snuffling and shifting and whispering of her charges as they pretended to sleep. If they didn't quiet down soon Drill Sergeant Faith would be on the rounds, distinctly unimpressed at having to leave the side of nice, warm Robin Wood to quiet down the other members of the sisterhood. The blond slayer grinned – her they followed around like adoring puppies, Faith reduced them to quivering jelly.

Buffy's smile faded. She could understand the big restless this place invoked, after all if Slayers weren't 'sensitive to atmosphere', who was? Apart from UC Sunnydale and the local airport, this huge, rambling old mansion with uncountable rooms had been the only thing to survive the destruction of the First Evil, so Buffy had made the rational decision and had co-opted it, despite the bad memories. This was where Angelus, Spike and Drusilla had lived when he lost his soul after consummating his relationship with Buffy. That courtyard with the pretty fountain Xander had restored to working order was where she had run a sword through her beloved's belly and watched him get sucked into a Hell dimension knowing he had a soul. That anteroom on the south side was where she had chained the animalistic Angel after he returned from hell more beast than man. In that small room on the second floor, Angelus had tortured Giles for hours.

She blinked back tears. Two vampires with souls, because of her. She loved Angel for his strength, his honour, his striving for redemption. She loved Spike for his wry humour, his unswerving loyalty and his unashamed openness in loving her. And I can't have either.

There was probably a huge cosmic joke at the back of this somewhere, but Buffy couldn't find it funny. Willow and the Slayer Kennedy were working out okay, though Tara Maclay's memory would always be there. Giles 'orgasm friend' Olivia turned out to be related to a Watcher family and had turned up to help the cause, though again, Jenny Calendar's faded ghost could sometimes be glimpsed in Giles' eyes.

Remembering Anya's forthright descriptions and opinions, Buffy felt a pang. She had never really been that close to the ex-demoness, but now had a new perspective, especially since Xander had become even more reserved since Anya's death; that wry whimsy he used to deflect the world's attention was now in place more frequently than ever. Those two had genuinely loved each other, which was indirectly what led to Anya being killed.

Anya had fought for Xander, just as Buffy fought for Dawn, and Kennedy fought for Willow, and Faith fought for Robin…

Faith, her dark sister; the matter of the Dark Slayer breaking out of prison had mysteriously gone away; Willow assured them it wouldn't be a problem, and it seemed as if Riley Finn's Government friends were also smoothing the path. With Robin Wood she was finding a peace she'd been unable to find anywhere else. Perhaps it was the fact that Robin was the only known child born to a Slayer, maybe that gave him some insight, but whatever it was, Buffy found she was grateful to him; Faith had done things, evil things, but it was easy to be righteous when you grew up in a home with parents who loved you.

I find myself needing to know the plural of Apocalypse. Riley's words echoed in her mind. Being the one who stopped Apocalypses – or should that be Apocalypsii? - was scary, but suddenly it didn't bear down on Buffy's soul as much as it usually did. I'm not alone, but sometimes I get so wrapped up in what Charles Gunn calls 'the mission' that I forget I've never been alone…Go, Scoobies…and Team Angel.

* * *

Angel popped his neck to work out the crick and stood up; it was 12:45am and everyone had long gone to better places. He grinned; since Wesley and Fred-Illyria had moved into Wes's apartment together, the ever-present scent and residue of male musk on the ex-Watcher's body showed that he wasn't getting much sleep. Not that Wesley seemed to mind, his step was full of bounce, never mind mere spring. Spike, with shadows of Drusilla clouding his eyes, had tentatively broached the subject of when Illyria mated with Wesley as opposed to Fred, but Wesley had quietly assured them that the demon was remarkably cautious of it's superior strength and hurting Wesley; it had given Angel food for thought – that Drusilla had raped, tortured and sexually abused Spike for her sensual pleasure, rather than the other way around, had never really occurred to him, because he and Darla had never had that kind of relationship, besides which the fact that the blonde woman was his Sire had always engendered in Angelus the faint vestiges of the only 'respect' he had ever felt for anything.

To both vampires' inward pleasure, since neither was looking forward to going back to pig's blood (and they still hadn't winkled out the weasel doping Angel's 'daily flask' with Luaric), Wesley had no problems allowing either to feed, as long as Illyria was kept in the dark as long as possible. Angel winced as he pulled on his jacket – he and Spike had the problem! The testosterone-oestrogen mix that mingled with Wesley's natural sandalwood and lemon scent combined in turn with his pleasure-endorphin-and-adrenaline saturated blood to produce a potent, sweet nectar that was both intoxicating and almost like an aphrodisiac to both vampires. Angel had been hugely embarrassed when he was feeding and realised to his horror that he was becoming aroused by the heady combination of Wesley's hormone-marinated scent and the taste of his blood. When the ex-Watcher was safely out of earshot, Spike had admitted his own difficulties in the area.

Spike…Angel knew his grandson would be delighted to have the hotel all to himself again, sprawled in his personal palace with no interlopers…or as alone as Spike could be surrounded by the ghosts of dozens of suicide/murder victims. Right now Spike would be watching the last of Passions…how anyone with the ability to love Keats could like that garbage was beyond Angel.

Angel's smile faded; the Apocalypse was Coming with a capital 'C' or maybe even here with a capital 'H' – he could feel it in his bones; what had Spike said…? 'Apocalypse Express'…

He frowned; he had viewed Spike as a threat, not a fellow Champion of Light. Spike's habit of allowing his actions to be led by what he felt rather than thinking things through created the false impression that he wasn't that bright. Angel knew he above of all should have known better: his grandson was impulsive – but acutely perceptive, sometimes terrifyingly so. "'Love isn't brains, children, it's blood…screaming inside you to work it's will'" …the words Spike spat at him and Buffy in the Magic Box so long ago had shattered the comfortable deception maintained between Angel and Buffy, forcing the older vampire to the realisation he had to leave Sunnydale before Buffy herself had come to tell him that it had to be over: "' I can fool everyone, but I can't fool myself…or Spike, for some reason…'"

Spike's greatest advantage was that people tended to underestimate him, just as Angel had. Spike had sacrificed the chance to be restored to solid form to save Fred from Matthias Pavayne with no guarantee of ever managing it in the future; he had known instantly and instinctively - ahead of Angel and Wesley- just how to kill Number Five's Aztec demon; he had risked his life to free Fred from Illyria; he had been a revelation in his determination to protect Dawn Summers.

And he doesn't really expect to be the fulfilment of the Shanshu Prophecy, for all that he goes on about it. Spike believes that I will get to be real boy again…and that he will end up subcontracting to Wolfram & Hart for eternity, but he fights by my side anyway. Way to go, Angel, kick your fellow Champion while he's down…

Shaking off his morose thoughts, Angel walked around his desk, then paused as a memory resurfaced…on a whim, he detoured past Wesley's office and went inside, grinning at the scholarly display – books and scrolls everywhere. On Wesley's desk were the Source Books, templates that tied into each discipline in the Wolfram & Hart archives, so it was unnecessary to physically fetch a particular work from the vaults. His excellent eyesight picked out the spines in the darkness and he extracted the source book that was a sort of dictionary-stroke-thesaurus-polyglot. It offered explanations of words and phrases. Raising it to his lips, he said, his excellent memory recalling the inflections: "Beruth-ak-Sirse, in English."

Opening the book, he found a single page. The first heading referred to the mating rituals of a subterranean Pythias demon sub-group, with pictures. Gross, and it didn't really fit. The second was the chorus of some ancient Old Norse victory song about decapitated enemies, buckets of entrails, vats of blood and so forth. Not likely…

Hang about…The Merging of the Circles: Refers to the point in time when the Two Circles of Nine symbolically merge as one united group in the prelude to the Apocalypse of Nahzruthim-Ensuallu. See: Shanshu Oracle and the Scroll of Niamh.

"Naz-ruth-im-en-swah-loo." Angel tried, and looked again, a chill running through him when he saw the words form: Nahzruthim-ensuallu – the vampires-ensoulled, beloved of the Slayer-Queen, Mother of All Slayers. See Scroll of Niamh. Every prophecy Angel had ever seen spoke only of the Vampire with the Soul, and none, including the Shanshu, mentioned any Mother of All Slayers!

Wait…"Buffy turned all the Potentials into actual Slayers." Angel thought aloud. "The mother of all slayers...they're princesses but Buffy's the Queen." Closing the book he replaced it, and picked up the Prophecy template source book: "The Scroll of Niamh, English translation."

Opening the book, he frowned. The pages were blank and remained so even after several seconds. "The Scroll of Niamh, English…" His words trailed off as words appeared on the page:

The Scroll of Niamh is not within the Wolfram & Hart archives, and cannot be located within any extra-dimensional archives at this time. It is therefore unavailable for reading, we apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.


* * *

The kitchen clock ticked remorselessly to 12:50am. Wesley didn't notice as he sat at the table, nude, poring over a familiar scroll. In the bedroom above, Fred slept on obliviously and deeply, sated from their intense, prolonged love-making.

Carefully, Wesley's fingers traced a section of the Scroll of Niamh. The Two Circles of Nine would come together in preparation for the great battle, working united to face the coming apocalypse. Tomorrow he would go to Ye Olde Britannia on his way home from work, and the weasel-faced man could work his magic on the blood-stained handkerchief that Wesley would give him…

© 2008, C. D. Stewart

The 6th of the 8 stories in "The Blood Will Tell" Series is Shadowed Souls…coming soon.