Epilogue: Growing Blaze

Angel opened at the first knock and nodded once to the Watcher before stepping back and allowing him to enter.

Returning the nod, Giles passed over the threshold of the mansion and moved aside so Angel could close the door. He cleared his throat and resisted the urge to take his glasses off and clean them. "You spoke of a favor Angel, what can I do to help you?"

He could smell the fear, taste it in the air, but he couldn't blame the young man--old man by mortal standards. He smiled to try to ease the Watcher's discomfort. "Thank you for coming, I know it's late, but I made my decision and I need to get going."

With that he turned and walked deeper into the dark house, his ears catching the long suffering sigh of his guest, and the stead heartbeat of his lover upstairs.

Xander was still asleep.

"Yes well, whatever it is that you're planning on doing, I'd most appreciate knowing what it is I'm here for, if you don't mind." The Brit. took off his glasses then and began to clean them, acting casual while knowing full well he was fooling no one.

Angel smiled again. There was a time the fear would have been intoxicating, maybe to a part of him it still was, but that part was tempered now by the weight of his soul. Instead he sat in the high back chair by the roaring fire to allow the Watcher higher ground. "I'm leaving tonight to find Drusilla." He said calmly.

Rupert nearly dropped his glasses. "Y-Your what?! Angel, are you insane? What possible need could you have for reuniting with that mind witch?" Anger and fear ran deep, but for the time being Angel could sense that the anger would prevail.

His answer was nonchalant. "If I can find Dru, I can find Spike and Willow." Spike, he thought, before pressing forward after a half second. "I can find Willow and bring her to Xander. He did better when he knew he could talk to her, you know that Watcher. He's nearly lost now, in himself, wherever that might be. To bring him back I have to bring back Willow, and to do that, I need to find Spike, and finding Spike is as easy as finding Drusilla." He smirked to himself. "She hasn't exactly made finding her a difficult task, to be sure."

For a moment the room was silent, and then Angel watched as Rupert moved to the other side of the massive room and poured himself a shot of cold brandy. He threw it back before pouring another and repeating the process. On the third pour, he carried it back to the hearth and set it to warm.

With his back to the vampire, he spoke his mind for the first time. "Alexander Harris is none of your concern. You're a vampire, no matter how much you'd like to be a human. The curse prevents you from continuing on this quest, Angel." He paused, gathering his strength. "It doesn't take a fool to understand how you feel about him. The Watcher Diaries are quit prolific about your life with Spike and Drusilla, and your many.preferences. However, the demon Angelus cannot be allowed to roam free again. Such irresponsibility will only damn Xander even further than he--"

In one blink, Angel was beside him. "You know already, Rupert, don't try to pretend. You've known since it happened, I think." He paused, looking into eyes that had seen to much for a man as young as Rupert Giles. "Xander isn't in any danger from me and you know it. He's mine, Rupert, and I take care of what belongs to me."

Anger flashed and made smart men brave, as Rupert took a step forward, closing the distance between a Watcher and a Master Vampire. "Take care of him? Take care of him? Like you took care of Spike when he was injured? Don't be daft, Angelus. I don't know what kind of deal you made with the Powers That Be, no matter what it was it didn't give you a free pass to forget the past. You abandoned Spike, you're lover for more than fifty years so that you could play with the slayer and your loony pet of a Childe Drusilla. You left him a cripple until he turned against you and managed your demise. That's not how you "take care of what belongs to" you, that's how you break a spirit. I refuse to allow you to break Xander's even more than it already is. Leave him, Angelus, leave the boy and go find your precious Drusilla. Find the whore and wait, there will come one day, a Slayer so great that not even you will be able to destroy her. It's a day I eagerly wait for."

Neither looked away, and both sets of blue eyes dance with more than the simple flame of the fireplace. The air crackled with temper and rage, sizzled with frustration and hatred. Vengeance was a living thing in that room of ancient splendor. But it died quickly, and without fanfare as Angelus, The Scourge of Europe, turned in shame and sank back into his chair.

"I made a deal that's true. I help the Slayer, I lose the curse. But the Powers are more than a little tricky, Rupert. The curse lifted, and with it went the guilt that comes with the senseless deaths of thousands of innocent human beings. It fell away from me like a weight I've been carrying for a hundred years." He looked up, and Rupert gasped at the soul that danced behind his eyes. "The guilt and the curse are gone, but the soul remains, filtering the demon as all souls filter the demons that live in all mankind. I'm still a vampire, but I'm human as well."

A long pause filled the room, as Angelus looked at his hands, watching, examining, as he flexed his fingers. "I'm the man I would have become had I been given the chance to grow out of wine and women while still alive. I was a boy when I was turned, and now a man sits here before you. Aged, learned, wise to the natures of the world." He looked up, smirking in a way that nearly three hundred years ago would have caused quite a stir. "The scoundrel still lives in me, make no mistake about that, but I'm more than that, more than a mere vampire, more than even a human. I'm free, and here, and I plan to make the best of the life I've been given."

He rose and moved to pour his own drink. "I won't lie to you, Rupert, I'll kill to feed just as I have these last two months. It's the nature of a vampire to do so. But I respect life in a way I cannot explain to you because you haven't lived long enough to understand. There is no need to kill the innocent when there are so many who deserve to die. I'll hunt them when I can, and take what I need when I can't. I'll live by the law of nature, tempered with the wisdom of man."

Turning, he stared down the Watcher. "I was insane with rage and disgust when I abandoned Spike. I was petty and stupid, and my actions caused his betrayal. But understand this, Watcher, he is my Childe, my blood.

"I'll find him, make him understand what happened, and I'll reclaim my boy once and for all." Suddenly the fight and conviction seemed to drain out of him, and Rupert watched as the master's shoulders rounded in defeat. "All fathers make mistakes, Watcher, vampires are no different. But it's time, time to put my family back together again. It's time to find my boy and bring him home."

The defeated look gave Rupert courage. "What about Willow?" His heart clenched at the pain-ridden look Angelus gave him. He shook his head. "Spike is in love with Willow, and she with him. You said so yourself, the bond between them is strong. As much as you love Spike--and I have no doubt that you do--what about what he wants? What if he no longer wants you, Angelus?"

The fire popped and the logs shifted and settled before Angelus rose and crossed to the doorway of the room and the only way out. From behind one of the chairs he pulled out a small overnight bag. "I'll be gone for two days, one to get there and talk to Drusilla and one to return. Watch Xander for me, he'll be frightened without me here. Tell him I'm coming back for him, that I'll be back in two days with a way to find Willow. Tell him." he trailed off, his heart tight in his chest.

Rupert's voice was tight. "I'll tell him that you love him, if you tell me the truth, Angelus, the whole truth."

Angel's spin straightened, the muscles in his body tensing. "The truth, Watcher, is that I'm going to find Drusilla and make her tell me where Spike is, where he's keeping Willow. Then I'm coming back here to get Xander and I'm going to take him wherever they are. Once there I'll convince Spike that his place is with me, as my Childe--as my family."

Desperation seeped into Rupert's voice as he called across the room. "What about, Willow? What about Xander who you profess to love?"

The man that turned around was half man, half monster. "Willow belongs to Spike, Watcher, therefore she belongs to me. She, like Xander will become part of my family as they have every right to be. My family will be whole again, I'll accept nothing less then that."

* * *

She was sitting in the full sun of the solar when he found her, curled up on the black leather couch daydreaming out the window. Her hair was nearly past her waist now, but she had it pinned up against the back of her head to keep from overheating. Her skin was still deathly pale, but he knew no amount of sun would ever change that. She wasn't vampire, but she wasn't human either, instead she was a witch, infused with the power of the Goddess and magic itself.

She shifted slightly, the sunlight illuminating the rosy color of her nipples and highlighting the tight cinnamon curls below her waist.

Every now and again she took his blood. Not enough to change her, but enough to keep her senses heightened. It was his gift to her, a way she could allow her still human body to match the requirements the magic placed on her.

Since that night she'd changed, and yet remained as timeless as ever. There was ageless power behind her voice, and antiquity behind her words. She was an odd blend of new and old, playing in the garden like a child, and praying with the reverence of the blessed to the Goddess.

Occasionally she'd talk about The Queen, hints that the time was not right to go to her for the final change. Sometimes she'd bring up Angelus, her King of Hands, and then wisely leave him alone to fight his own painful demons. Only once did she mention her King of Faith, but the topic seemed to cause her great pain and he chose wisely not to bring it up again.

In all she was different, and yet the same, still struggling with the same heartbreaking issues of youth and inexperience, but rising quickly, empowered to become the woman she was always meant to be. It was this empowerment he was here to talk about.

He cleared his throat even though he was aware she already knew he was there. He watched her smile and turn slowly from the window, shifting her left leg to lay flat against the leather, outlining her creamy body. Her left hand drifted to rest temptingly against her stomach in a gesture used by so many woman to protect their unborn children. Her other hand rose slightly, and with a wave of her fingertips, the curtains drew themselves closed and the candles burst to life, changing the harsh light of the sun into the seductive glow of a temptress.

"Yes?" She smiled, that knowing grin so alive, so full of desire, lust, need, only for him, always for him.

He crossed the carpet silently, his dark charcoal pants whispering as he slid onto the couch, his hip touching hers. One hand came down to cover the one at her abdomen and he smiled as he leaned forward to kiss those strawberry lips.

"I have a surprise for you, Luv. Something I think you'll very much enjoy." His hand rose higher, his thumb caressing the underside of her full breast as he watched her close her eyes at the contact; her body unconsciously arching into his touch.

Her first breath was little more than a silent moan, the second brought forth her words. "I do love surprises, and if you say I'll enjoy this one, I have no doubt that I will." She smiled, her lips parting just slightly to show white teeth.

Leaning forward he coaxed her lips further, this tongue tasting her, making her mew for more than just the tasting. When he pulled back, her skin was flushed, her breaths erratic, and her eyes, those gorgeous dark green eyes that smoldered with need were upon him and would not let go.

He nodded, holding her gaze and listening to her heart beat increase even more. "A trip, a vacation. A romantic get away to the sin capital of the world. A place where you can literally feel evil as old as time itself. A place of lies and demons, and the largest hell mouth the world has ever created."

Her eyes were round and her smile broadened as her hand came up to touch his cheek before circling round to pull him down for another mimicking kiss. "Where, beloved? Where could such a place exist that it would draw you so much?"

Smiling, he kissed her once more before lifting her into his arms and carrying her back to their bedroom. "Oh, it's a lovely place, pet, simply a lovely place. You'll love the irony right away. And best of all, there's someone special I want you to meet; an old friend of mine."

As he settled her in the center of the massive bed, looked down at her surrounded by black velvet and blood red sheets, her hair fanned out about her in a hallow of righteous hell, he smiled and allowed her to enfold him in her welcoming arms.

* * *

"ROME, MY ANGEL, THEY GO TO ROME!!!" The shriek was earsplitting as Angelus held her against the stucco wall by her throat, ignoring the chaos demons that milled about the seedy Mexican bar.

He snarled at Drusilla, his fangs poised to strike at his insane Childe. "Why would they be goin' to Rome, Dru? Spike's hated that place since we first got there, never wanted to go back. Why would he be takin' her there?"

When she didn't immediately answer, he pulled her back before smashing her head against the wood, hearing a sicken crush that was either her head or the wooden wall--either way he felt satisfied. Her eyes were desperate when she looked at him, a pleading he hadn't seen in over a hundred years, eyes that told him, she was truly afraid. "He's taking the tree there to meet the sins of righteousness. He's taking her there to learn to control the gifts."

Angelus snarled once again. "What gifts? Answer me, Drusilla, or daddy will be even more angry than he is right now." He shook her and watched her eyes roll like marbles in a jar.

"The little tree has many gifts now, my angel. She's not a broken dolly anymore. She's the favorite of the ball and the stars shine brightly on her so that she glows with the blessings of the moon." Dark lashes fluttered as she fought to remain conscious, and with disgust, Angelus dropped her, letting her body and flowery skirts fall to a heap on the dirt ground.

Stepping forward, he squatted down and lifted her chin with one finger, his eyes locking and holding hers as she struggled to sit up, only to find strength failing her. She was weak, and she disgusted him. She was supposed to take care of Spike and instead he'd had to care for her. She was supposed to love his Childe, and instead she betrayed him, broke him--just like he'd broken William.

Damn her to the deepest of hells!

"Willow's got magical talent, so I'm assuming that's what you mean by gifts." Suddenly she nodded emphatically, and he smiled at her out of habit. "Good lass, very good, except William hasn't got a single magical bone in his body, which begs the question, why he'd be takin' her to Rome."

Encouraged, Drusilla smiled and made a show of straightening her hair and dress before looking back up at him. "My angel is very, very smart, he is. Miss Edith told me a secret about the little tree that makes my Spike crow up, up, up!" She leaned forward and whispered, "She says that Spike takes her to see the White Queen. She says that the little tree is more than White or Black or Blue or Yellow, she says to me while we watch the stars and dance, that the little tree is right now Red, but is becoming The. She says," the vampiress giggled, "that the stars sing of change. Of the The that will bring the change, and the three Kings that will protect her. She says, my angel, that soon, all the stars in heaven will go out, that the sun will soon stop rising, and that it will be our turn soon, very, very soon."

To most it was senseless babble, but to Angelus it was more than that. Drusilla never gave a prediction that didn't come true. He leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her forehead before pulling back and caressing her hair, watching her lean into the touch. When he finally chose to speak it was with quite and soothing tones. "What has she become, Drusilla? What has Willow become?"

"The Queen, my angel, The Blood Queen. One Queen to rule them all. She has become, Death."

____________________________________________________________________________ __________

And that's the end of Whispered Fire. I want to thank everyone that has stuck with me these last--oh my goodness--five years while I struggled to get this story out. It's not my plan or my intention to make anyone wait quite this long for the rest of the stories in this trilogy. I hope you enjoyed the story, and I really hope you have a great time with the rest.

The Fire Trilogy has three parts with Growing Blaze the name of the next installment. Below is a Growing Blaze preview.

Growing Blaze

Willow has been chosen by the Goddess and the old Blood Queen to become The Queen of Vampires, the new Blood Queen, responsible for carrying the blood of the vampires and ushering in a new era for vampires everywhere. However, she can't quite do that yet. Balance requires her to form a counsel of males called Kings. The first is her King of Hearts and the only one who has claimed her--Spike, her mate and lover. Second is her King of Hands, none other than Angelus, who himself is currently searching for Spike and Willow in a desperate bid to bring his family back together. Finally, she must find her King of Faith, a mystery that causes Willow great pain as she searches for him. Yet in the midst of all of this searching, Willow must find a way to learn about her own new powers, gifts from the Goddess, which have the power to destroy as much as build. This is a story about family, discovery, and the desperation that comes from love, friendship, and destiny.