These toys aren't mine. I borrowed them from Joss. I promise to give them back in good condition when I'm done with them.

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Quentin Travers sat at his desk, poring over the thick file he had received from Sunnydale that morning. The biannual report catalogued everything the Slayer had faced and how efficiently and resourcefully she had done so since the start of the year. Annoyed though he was that this particular installment of Rupert Giles's records about his charge had arrived at Council headquarters nearly two months late, Quentin still read every word carefully.

It was quite an impressive report. For a Slayer who had slipped through the cracks and received no training prior to her activation, and who still lived with family and attended school, Buffy Summers was certainly living up to her calling. Quentin looked forward to overseeing her Cruciamentum in person. No mere fledgling vampire would do for this Slayer's rite of passage. Something much older and more cunning would have to be procured in order to truly test her limits. They had several in the holding cells already, but perhaps something even more formidable could be found.

In addition to quite a respectable number of vampires slain every month, she'd taken on other powerful foes and emerged victorious. In January, she'd destroyed a queen Bezoar and reduced the Judge to, in Rupert's words, "charcoaled, bite-sized fragments". In March, she'd killed der Kindestod even while gripped by debilitating fever. In April, she'd rid her school of the malevolent spirit that had been haunting it. In May, she'd stopped Acathla, and had managed to send Angelus to Hell in the process—and that was quite the bonus, considering that the infamous vampire had all but dropped off the map for a century.

Quentin did a double-take, his wrinkled brow furrowing. Acathla? Good Lord, why had Giles not informed the Council sooner? And he was just sitting in some mansion in town? Frozen in stone and dormant he might be, but a demon like that couldn't be allowed to remain so near the Hellmouth, no matter what state he was in! Wasn't the fact that he had been awoken, however briefly, proof enough that any number of terrible things could happen in such a mystically volatile environment?

Not wasting another moment, Quentin seized his phone and dialed so quickly that he almost hit the wrong numbers. "Weatherby? Yes, it's Travers. A matter of the utmost urgency has been brought to my attention. You'll need to go to the Hellmouth at once. Take Blair and Hobson with you. And Mr. Wyndam-Pryce—the lad could do with a bit of field work. Go to the abandoned mansion on—," he checked the report again, "—Crawford Street and retrieve Acathla, which has been there all summer, according to Mr. Giles's report." He pressed the thumb and forefinger of his free hand to his temples and exhaled slowly as Weatherby gave his alarmed and rather vulgar reply. "No, I've no idea why Rupert didn't inform us immediately, but that can't be helped at the moment. This is a matter of considerable delicacy, and it must be seen to as quickly as possible. Take Acathla as far away from the Hellmouth as you can and make sure that it won't be found again. Oh, and while you're at it, see if you can't find a vampire to use for the Slayer's Cruciamentum. The older, the better. Call me when it's finished."


Every step Buffy took towards the mansion was harder than the last, but somehow she found the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Finally, she was there. At the garden. The door. The room where it had happened. At the sight of the stone demon, the flashback struck her so vividly that she flinched.

"I love you."

"I love you."

"Close your eyes."

She swallowed painfully, then looked down at her hand. Slowly, her fingers unclenched, and the silver ring came into view. As vividly as the first flashback, she saw when he'd given it to her.

"My people—before I was changed—they exchanged this as a sign of devotion. It's a Claddagh ring. The hands represent friendship, the crown represents loyalty, and the heart—well, you know. Wear it with the heart pointing towards you. It means you belong to somebody. Like this."

And Buffy did belong to Angel, and he to her. But now he was gone because his demon had forced her to choose between him and the world, and there was no choice there. The world had to come first. Still, no matter how many times she told herself that, she couldn't escape the guilt.

Angel haunted her waking thoughts as much as her dreams. By tying herself to his memory, Buffy was damning herself, but that still wouldn't bring her closer to him. She had to leave him behind and start living again. She knew it was what he'd want her to do, and that made it a little easier.

She took the ring out of her palm and passed her thumb over the symbolic design. "Goodbye," she said quietly, before bending down and placing the ring on the dusty floor. She kept her eyes on it as she stood up again, then forced herself to look away. Another pause, and then she turned and walked back out of the mansion.


There was no escape from the pain searing every cell in his body. He'd tried for so long, tried everything, but he couldn't get away from his tormentors. They would hurt him, then make him whole, hurt him, make him whole, endlessly and without reprieve. And as his existence went around and around that circle, one by one, the parts of him that made him who he was had retreated so deeply within him that neither he nor the pain could find them, until the only thing remaining on the surface was a mindless need to survive.

Without warning, a blinding white light engulfed him. Even though it had never been used against him here, he knew instinctively that light this powerful had to mean pain, and he was terrified. But even while everything else around him vanished in the brightness, the pain did not come. He didn't understand. And then he was falling through the light, which faded a second later, leaving him to land on a smooth, hard surface. The impact jarred his aching body so badly that he almost cried out, but that would surely cause the light to return with the agony it had forgotten to deliver, so he kept silent. His surroundings disoriented him, but nothing seemed to be trying to attack him, at least for the moment, so he didn't attempt to move.


Weatherby felt far too much like an errand boy for his liking as he pulled the armored van up to the strange-looking cement structure. Travers had better pay him extra for this.

"This the place?" asked Blair.

"It is. Get the crate out of the back." He felt Blair's and Hobson's slightly indignant glares, but ignored them. Wesley, on the other hand, all but leapt out of the van in his eagerness to assist, stumbled, then righted himself with as much dignity as possible.

"The Acathla is in there?" he asked in an awed voice while helping Blair and Hobson to wheel the steel crate along—even though it really only needed two people to push it while it was empty.

"Not for long," said Weatherby in a bored tone.

"Are you sure it's safe to remove him? The passage about him in Harding's Compendium of Trans-Dimensional Demons was not very encouraging."

"As long as you don't go touching the sword sticking out of him, it should be a walk in the park," said Blair mockingly. Wesley shot him a rather offended glare, but did not retort.

After entering the front garden, Weatherby moved past them and pushed the large wooden double doors open, then froze. "Well, well, well," he said, intrigued, "what have we here?" There was Acathla, all right, but that wasn't what had caught his attention. Curled on the floor about halfway between the four Watchers and the demon was a nude male figure, who appeared to be in a very troubled sleep.

"Did Mr. Travers say anything about this?" asked Wesley anxiously, looking from each of his companions to the twitching pale form.

"No, he did not," said Weatherby, raising an eyebrow. He walked forward. As soon as he got near him, the sleeping man regained consciousness. With an inhuman snarl, he leapt into a partial crouch, his face shifted into the demonic visage of a vampire, and he lashed out, his fingers rigid and curled as if to claw at anything within reach. Wesley let out a yelp and recoiled in shock and Blair and Hobson tensed, but, with unnerving calm, Weatherby simply kicked the vampire brutally in the face. He fell back with a whimper of pain, and did not renew his attack.

Weatherby may have been placed on the Council's brute squad after being expelled from the Watchers' Academy, but he knew his master vampires. Build, facial features, tattoo—there could be no mistake. This was Angelus. "This an old enough vintage for you, Quentin?" he asked contemptuously, delivering a sharp kick to the side of the groaning vampire's head.

"What?" asked Hobson, looking confused.

"We're taking him back with us," Weatherby announced, the hint of a smug grin appearing on his face. "Looks like we do get to have this over with quickly after all. Mr. Wyndam-Pryce, if you could retrieve the restraints from the van?"

"Of course," said Wesley, who was still rather shaken.

Two minutes later, he had returned with a heavy set of manacles.

"What's that?" asked Blair, pointing at the black bundle Wesley was also carrying.

"Trousers," he said, as if that should have been obvious. It just seemed absurd to him that they would shackle and haul the vampire all the way back to Council headquarters without giving him something to wear. Hobson gave a derisive snort, but Wesley ignored him.

Clothing and restraining the vampire was a surprisingly simple task—though that was probably because Weatherby's second kick had rendered him unconscious. Even so, Wesley hadn't quite been able to stop his hands from shaking with fear. He doubted very much that he'd be able to respond as coolly as an experienced special ops man like Weatherby, should Angelus attack him in the same fashion. The task was soon completed, and once Hobson and Blair had finished moving the unconscious vampire to the van, they saw to the other task they'd been sent for.

It took all four of them, using every ounce of strength they possessed, to maneuver Acathla into the steel crate, and then three of them to wheel the crate back to the van. Wesley, who felt as if he'd pulled several muscles in his back, was the odd man out this time. Panting, wincing, and rubbing his back, he stayed behind in the manor for a moment, hoping to collect himself before the others saw him again.

It was only then that he noticed the charcoal outline that seemed to have been burned into the floor exactly where Angelus had lain. "Curious," he said, bending down to inspect the black mark, and wondering how it had come to be there. He heard Weatherby shout for him to get a move on, and was about to do so, but that was when he noticed something else. A small silver object was lying within the charcoal outline, about level with where Angelus's heart had been. Frowning, Wesley scooped it up and examined it more closely. It was a Claddagh ring, but it looked too small to have fit Angelus. He jumped as Weatherby shouted at him again, adding a colorful insult this time. Pocketing the ring, Wesley hurried from the building.

Check it out! I'm actually writing a veering-off-canon fic! I'm just as surprised as you are. So yeah, this one obviously starts veering at the end of "Faith, Hope, and Trick". Okay, some background info: the only stuff the Council knows about Buffy and Sunnydale is what Giles puts in those reports. He doesn't put things in them that could potentially compromise her, which is why Travers's knowledge of everything involving Angelus is limited to when he unleashed Acathla. They definitely don't know that Buffy was dating his ensouled alter-ego. Or even that the aforementioned alter-ego existed, actually, which makes this a rather interesting situation. Also, I love writing poncy pre awesome character arc Wesley. Those other Watchers are all from canon. Weatherby was the leader of the violent special ops team the Council sent after Faith, and Hobson and Blair were the two unfortunate Watchers from "Helpless" who were killed and/or turned by Zachary Kralik.