Changes and Choices

Disclaimer: I do not own "Buffy: the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," or "NCIS."

AN: I don't know anything about the geography of DC. Things might be a bit off. While you're pretending vampires exist, just pretend DC is laid out exactly as this story suggests.

AN2: Thank you to my reviewers: Nedy Rahn, A fan, sambam17, and dreameralways.

Chapter 11

Marching Into Battle

Today was just not her day. Sarah Greenberg knew she shouldn't be out walking … alone … so near to dusk … in the warehouse district. "Stupid Adam," she muttered as she quickened her pace. She and her on-again, off-again boyfriend were supposed to meet at this chic restaurant downtown, but, for the umpteenth time, he had stood her up. We're definitely off-again, she thought bitterly. This was just like him. He tells her to meet him in a not-so-nice part of town and then suddenly has to work late, leaving her to find a way home. She knew she didn't have enough money for a cab and, according to her phone, the nearest bus stop was still a few blocks away. Damn.

Without any warning, the hair at the nape of her neck rose to stand at attention. She didn't know why, but she suddenly felt very freaked out. She quickened her pace again, nearly running now. Thank G-d I'm wearing flats, she thought. Her friends were always telling her to dress up and wear heels and she always argued that you never knew when you were going to have to run. Flats were safer and way more comfortable. She was tall enough to get away with them. I probably don't have to run now, she thought, laughing at her foolishness. Nevertheless, she didn't slacken her pace.

She whirled around when she heard a trash can clatter to the pavement behind her. She watched the can slowly roll across the alley until it finally stopped. OK, she was über-freaked out now. After watching the can for a moment, she shook herself out of her reverie and took off again, now running. Faster than she could blink, however, this thing jumped out at her. She didn't even know what to make of it. It was like a crocodile on steroids. It hissed at her and she screamed. She turned, ready to flee back the way she had come, but all she saw were three more of the creatures blocking her exit. She began spinning around, looking for an escape, any escape, but she just kept seeing more and more of the creatures.

The Sargniss closed ranks on Sarah Greenberg, knowing they had found their seventh victim.

~ x ~ x ~ x ~

"It's 10 p.m.," announced Angel unnecessarily. They had all been staring at the clock for the past half hour, knowing the fighters would head out when the clock struck 10. They had all been jumpy for the past hour, ever since Abby had gone to the bathroom and come out shaking.

"Blood," she had whispered shakily, trying to rub the blood off of her hands.

Gibbs had rushed over immediately. "Where are you hurt?"

"I'm not," Abby said, crying softly now, still trying to wipe her hands off with one of the bathroom's fluffy and now-soiled towels.

"She's fine," announced Angel, returning from the bathroom. Turning to Ellie, he said, "Blood is coming out of the faucets."

"What?" Tony had asked, alarmed beyond belief. "What does that mean?"

"It means it's the apocalypse," Ellie had said in a truly weary voice. Her voice had bespoken the commonality that these types of things had once had in her life.

Since then, they had all been a bit on edge. It didn't help that, as they were packing up their weapons, they heard a distinct thud on the window outside. "What was that?" asked Jimmy, who was avidly trying to stay out of everyone's way. Since he, Abby, and Ducky were remaining behind, they were making themselves somewhat scarce now. They had tried to argue that they could go and just wait in the car, incase anyone needed medical attention. Ellie had shot them down so quickly they practically felt whiplash.

Illyria glided over to the window and peered out. "It was a bird," she said, no emotion in her voice.

"Oh no," said Jimmy softly, "I hope it's OK."

"It's dead," said Illyria, either not registering the worry in Jimmy's voice or not caring. Just as Illyria let the curtain fall back into place, they heard another thud. "It was another bird," announced Illyria. The end of her sentence was punctuated by several more thuds as more and more birds dive-bombed the surrounding buildings, bludgeoning themselves to death like tiny, feathered kamikazes.

"It's the apocalypse all right," said Ellie wistfully.

"And now everyone knows," said Gibbs.

"What do you mean?" asked Ellie.

"Ellie, blood is coming out the faucets and birds are committing mass suicide out there," said Gibbs. "People are going to figure it out."

"No they won't," argued Ellie.

"How can you say that?" asked Tim.

"People always rationalize what they can't understand somehow," explained Ellie. "The blood? Who knows? Maybe it wasn't blood. Maybe some kind of, I don't know, red algae got into the water supply and made it look like blood. And the birds? Maybe airplanes messed up their little bird brains. Or maybe the electrical currents from the city scrambled their signals. Or maybe it will just go down as another mass bird die-off that scientists try to explain and eventually people just decide is weird. There have been a few of those lately. Now, I'm not saying all those were apocalypses; some of them were just weird science things. But they will help with this one."

"People don't believe things that they don't want to believe," supplied Angel helpfully.

"It makes sense," said Abby. "Like how people believe crop circles are just made with boards as pranks. Because it's much more comforting for them to believe it was just kids. What is it really?" she asked Ellie.

"Uh, kids with boards pulling a prank," answered Ellie shrugging her shoulders.

"We've never seen any evidence of aliens," added Angel.

"That's not entirely true," countered Ellie, much to Abby's delight. "I mean there was the Queller demon."

"The what?" asked Angel, much preferring to hear Buffy's voice than the sound of birds slamming into buildings. It reminded him of the apocalypse in LA before the sun went out. The same thing had happened then. Before all that had ended, he had gone evil, lost Cordelia, and needed to give up his son. Needless to say, not happy memories.

"Oh, the Queller," said Ellie, pulling up some old memories, glad to be able to keep talking and help everyone remain calm as they waited out the birds. "It was this demon summoned from the moon to kill crazy people. We were having this problem in Sunnydale at the time because this Big Bad, this goddess—Glory—she was sucking out people's brains and turning them insane. So, this guy, Ben, summoned the Queller and it crashed to earth in this hollow meteorite and started killing people. It was this creepy thing, all slimy and as fast as the Flash. It was horrifying. And, of course, knowing my luck, it ended up in my house, trying to kill my mother."

"Why was it trying to kill your mother?" asked Tony. "She wasn't, um, insane, was she?"

Before Ellie could answer, Angel asked, "Was that when she had the tumor?"

"Yeah," said Ellie softly. "It was pressing on her brain, making her a bit wacky." She was silent for a moment, caught up in the bad memories, but, realizing that she was wallowing, and so not wanting to be a broody Angel, she snapped herself out of it. "Anyway, I killed it with a kitchen knife. It was pretty nasty."

"Wow," said Abby, looking at Ellie a bit as if she were her new hero.

"But it was a demon, not an alien," reinforced Ellie. "It was summoned with a spell, not a … a … E.T.-phone-home thing."

Angel was relieved to hear the thuds of birds hitting buildings becoming more sporadic. "I think it's leveling off; we should leave soon. Gear up," he said. Looking to Illyria, he said, "Maybe you should change into your fight pants."

Illyria cocked her head slightly and then let the change happen, eliciting gasps from everyone except Ellie and Angel. Slowly, the red armor spread across Illyria's body, replacing the cute outfit she had been wearing; her skin grew paler and became webbed with bright blue veins. Her eyes turned bright blue, as if she were taking melange, while her lips tinted light blue, as if she were suffering from hypothermia. The entire change took less than five seconds.

"What are you?" breathed Tony.

"I am the god-king Illyria and you will worship me," she replied imperiously. To this day, Angel did not know if Illyria still believed it when she said these things or if she just said them out of habit. It had been a long time since she had ruled a kingdom and she had not shown a desire to reclaim her power in many years.

"Don't worry, guys," supplied Ellie. "She's on our side." She added "now" under her breath, much to Tony's chagrin. She met his questioning look with a shrug and a small smile, which elicited one from him in return.

With that the fighters—Ellie, Angel, Illyria, Tony, Gibbs, Ziva, and Tim—headed for the warehouse district, leaving Ducky, Abby, and Jimmy to sit and worry, as they often did when the team went off.

When the team arrived at the warehouse, Angel and Ellie went off first to do some last-minute reconnaissance while the others waited for them.

"OK," said Angel, once he and his ex had returned. "We have about an hour until they perform the ritual and end the world. There are about fifty Sargniss wandering around in there."

"There are three usable entrances," said Ellie, cutting in. "There are the big doors in front, the truck-loading area on the side next to the abandoned coffee warehouse, and a small door at the back." Tony blinked at his wife, unaccustomed to seeing her take charge like this. She was so serious, confident. Tony liked it.

"What about the next victim?" asked Gibbs, unused to having others run operations.

"They have a woman tied up in there," answered Ellie. "She doesn't appear to be injured … yet."

"Right," said Gibbs, "getting her out is the top priority."

"I have to disagree," said Ellie. "Stopping the Sargniss is our top priority." Seeing Gibbs' disapproving look, she continued, "Look, sometimes there are casualties. I don't want her to die, but, if she does, it's not the end of the world, whereas the Sargniss finishing that ritual is the end of the world, literally."

Gibbs wanted to argue but he knew Ellie was right. Stopping the Clan of Blood was more important. As much as he hated to say it, a part of him really respected Ellie for having said so. It wasn't easy to admit what she just had; it took someone in real control of their emotions and someone who knew what was really important. As a Marine, he knew that sometimes there were casualties and, as much you hated them, they were a part of war and you had to accept them.

"It's the mission that matters," said Ellie, echoing what had been her mantra during the war with The First.

"I think we should split up," said Angel. "That warehouse is a big open space; we aren't going to take them by stealth or surprise. Let's have people at each door."

"Yeah," agreed Ellie. Then, speaking mostly to Angel, "Let me know if you think this is a bad idea, but I was thinking me, Tim, and Gibbs at the side door; you, Tony, and Ziva at the front door; and Illyria at the small door at the back. I think the majority of them will rush the side and front door, leaving Illyria to go all kung fu on them from behind."

Angel thought it over before agreeing with her. He didn't like the idea of Illyria being alone, but he knew she could handle it. It was the best course of action.

Tony wasn't convinced though. "Are you sure I shouldn't go with you?" Tony asked Ellie, not too keen on the idea of being split up from his wife, and even less keen on the idea of being paired with her ex.

"Tony," said Ellie warningly and that was all it took. He knew that tone of voice and knew not to argue. Some might call him pussy-whipped; he called himself a survivalist.

They split into their groups and headed for their respective doors. When they burst in, the scene turned to chaos very quickly. Ellie was right; the Sargniss did rush the front and side doors, leaving Illyria free to dispatch them. She moved quickly and efficiently, but, after taking out three Sargniss, she was becoming overwhelmed. The Sargniss had turned on her and were regarding her as a threat, transferring the majority of their forces to Illyria, Ellie, and Angel.

"Angel," shouted Ellie, as she executed a perfect flip-kick, "we need to do something. There are too many of them."

"Just keep fighting," urged Angel, having no solutions for her. And fight they did. They quickly became bloodied, but they didn't let that stop them.

Tim was man enough to admit when he was in over his head. Now was one of those times. He had been in fights before, but never like this. All his past fights had been one-on-one or close to it, with opponents matched better than they were now. He had always come out of those times OK, but he wasn't so sure about now. This was a melee fight and, although he fought melee in World of Warcraft all the time, this was real life. He wasn't an Elf Lord here; he was basically a gnome.

Ziva, on the other hand, had found herself on the wrong side of fight more than once. She knew how to cause maximum damage while dancing out of the way of the most damaging blows. Nevertheless, she was still being hit and she was beginning to feel the pain. Her muscles were sore and she felt a black eye blooming. She kept going though, while attempting to keep a protective eye on her teammates. She saw a demon approach Gibbs from behind and she rushed over to help her boss out. She tackled the demon, banging her knee as they both fell. Then, before the demon could recover from being tackled, Ziva plunged her knife into its sternum, effectively ending its life.

After repelling his own opponent, Gibbs turned and gave Ziva an appreciative nod. He knew he was a solid fighter, but this was a bit beyond him. Nevertheless, he persisted. Although Ziva had just saved him, his main concern was keeping his team alive. He was doing everything in his power to keep an eye on all of them, but it was proving difficult.

Unlike Gibbs, Tony did not have eyes for anyone but Ellie. Intellectually he knew that his wife didn't need his protection. He found himself amazed, as he had been when being held captive by the Sargniss just two days earlier, by Ellie's grace and strength. It was like watching a ballet. She twirled out of the way of blows and seemed to glide across the warehouse floor as she inflicted damage everywhere. If this had been one of McGeek's video games, she would be amassing massive damage points. Tony wryly though of Mohammed Ali's mantra: Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Tony was forced to tear his eyes from Ellie, however, when a demon came at him. He took the hit from the demon, but kept going, refusing to go down.

He seemed to lose track of everyone else as he focused on his fight. It took him way too long to take the demon down—at least in his own estimation—but he eventually did. Had Ellie been watching though, she would have proud. He found it odd, however, that the fight had lasted as long as it did—where were the demon's buddies? Why had they not come to assist their mate? That was when he saw two of the demons dragging a bound woman to the pentagram in the center of the warehouse floor. She looked terrified. Tony looked around, hoping to notify Ellie or Angel, or even Illyria—as much as she scared him—but saw that they were all engaged in their own battles. It looked like this was going to come down to him.

After taking a few deep breaths, Tony surged forward like hell on wheels, swinging his sword like a madman. The demons barely reacted. Almost as if bored, one let go of the woman and moved to intercept Tony, moving with the ease of someone who knows he is not in any real danger.

But he underestimated Tony. Tony was angry and that anger was fueling him. Tony did not know that his wife had once counseled a fellow Slayer, telling her that her emotions gave her power; nevertheless, he would have agreed. He fought like a man with nothing to lose. And, really, when you had felt your entire world crash down around you just a couple of days before, what else could you do? With one efficient blow, Tony had killed the first demon in the duo. Now the other one began to take notice. It cavalierly backhanded its victim. Sarah Greenberg was stunned by the hit and, as she fell to the ground, she neither saw nor heard anything.

That almost-casual smack made Tony—who had already been seeing red—see crimson. This fight did not go so smoothly though. Tony took many hits, hard hits that would take their toll later. He knew he was going to look like a walking bruise the next day, and probably for the next week. But Tony made sure to give as good as he got. The tide turned thanks to Illyria, who had wandered over between her own battles and grabbed the demon by the back of the neck, lifting him off of the ground with one hand. Tony, rather than be annoyed at her interference and the lack of confidence in him that it showed, took advantage of the help and drove his sword through the demon's abdomen. As he pulled the sword out, a stretch of the demon's intestines came with it.

"Thanks," he said to Illyria.

"Help her," said Illyria in response, nodding to the Sargniss' intended victim.

Tony scooped the dazed woman up into his arms and carried her out of the warehouse and into the dark alley beyond it. Propping her up against the wall, Tony tenderly held her hands until she was able to focus on him.

At her alarmed look, Tony quickly soothed, "Shh, it's going to be all right. Don't worry. You're safe now."

"Wh-what were th-those things?" she asked, now in tears.

"Don't worry about it," said Tony as a placeholder. Then, "You know, some freaks in masks. But we're taking care of it; don't worry." He knew it was a flimsy explanation, but she seemed to accept it anyway. Ellie had said that it was ridiculously easy to keep people from believing in things in which they didn't want to believe.

"Wh-what do I d-do now?"

"Go home," said Tony. He felt odd, letting a kidnap victim just wander off, but what else could he do. It wasn't like he was going to write up a report on this. And, when he headed back inside—after seeing the woman, whose name he had never even asked, disappear into the shadows—he knew he had made the right decision. They needed him inside the warehouse.

There were still too many demons. It was fifteen minutes to midnight and the group was still locked in a deathly struggle. Although the intended sacrifice had tottered off, Tony knew—his gut just told him—that this thing wasn't over yet. Seeing Tim in distress, Tony went to help.

Which is why he didn't see when Ellie became overwhelmed by demons. Two grabbed her, while a third hit her at the base of her skull with the hilt of the ceremonial sword used to kill the sacrifices. She lost consciousness and was taken away. Her last thought, however, was that the sword was beautiful in the glimpse she had seen. Though still coated in the blood of previous victims, Ellie could make out lovely swirls and symbols carved into the blade, with smooth, sleek wood inlaid in them.

By the time Angel finished with the demon he had been combatting, she had already been removed and he didn't see her anywhere. He just assumed she had followed some demons outside and, shrugging, he kept fighting.

Angel did not see Ellie again until a minute to midnight when he saw a demon carrying her, bound, to the center of the pentagram and another demon was holding the ceremonial sword, a beautiful sword inlaid with wood, that made Angel shudder involuntarily when he saw it. In a moment Angel understood what was going on: The Sargniss planned to sacrifice Ellie as their seventh offering. Surely a Slayer's blood was stronger and more effective than an average person's. Ellie was awake and struggling against the ties, but injured and unable to summon enough strength to escape. Angel could smell her blood even at this distance and over the stench of the Sargniss' blood. "Buffy," he screamed as he took off for her.

It was like something out of Tony's worst nightmares—and not just because there was a vampire present. From the moment he heard Angel yell his wife's former name, time seemed to slow down for Tony. There was his wife, injured and vulnerable, being carried to her death, and he was powerless to stop it. He tried to get to her, but it felt like he was wading through mud. He just wasn't moving quickly enough. The feeling reminded him of when he had gotten the plague. Again, it was something old and destructive, of which he had been previously ignorant, which was now destroying his life. And, like then, all of his training was useless. He was far outmatched. At least then he had had Kate by his side—but now she was dead, too.

With horror, he saw the blade come down, aimed at Ellie's torso.

Angel used his vampire speed to the best of his ability. He would not—could not—watch the woman he loved die … again. Especially not like this. She had given up so much to save the world—her death couldn't be the thing that ended it once and for all. He wouldn't let that happen to her memory. He found himself long beyond caring about the world and its fate—he just didn't want her to suffer. And he knew it would hurt her to think that she played a part in ending the world. Nevertheless, he found it almost fitting that the world would end if she died now; the world shouldn't exist without her. It was a crime against nature. Even before they had begun to date, he had known that. He had dreaded the thought of her dying as she fought the Master. Part of that was for selfish reasons—he had already loved her, he always had—but he knew the world would lose its shine without her. That beauty that sparked artists and writers to recreate the world around them was fueled by her; there would be no point for art with her gone. He knew this to be true. During those three months when she had died after the Glory incident, the world had lost all its splendor, all its wonder. It had become a dead, cold thing, bereft of the sublime, just like him. He couldn't let that happen again.

Just as the blade was coming down, Angel did the last thing he could think to do, the final act to save his beloved. He dove, covering her body with his own, becoming a blanket to keep her lively warmth in, not caring that the sword could kill him, if the wood-engraved blade even approached his heart. An act of true love and pure devotion, flinging all thoughts of his own well-being from his mind.

Ellie gasped as the sword plunged all the way through Angel and entered her. She could feel his cold blood flowing onto her, mixing and mingling with her own warm blood. It was a direct hit: the blade had certainly hit Angel's heart as it had entered Ellie's abdomen—and yet Angel didn't dust, but just continued looking at his love. He silently thanked whatever Powers were listening for delaying his death so that he could remain with Buffy just a bit longer.

Tony, rather than stopping when he saw Ellie and Angel stabbed, ran at the Sargniss who had just stabbed his wife and cut its head off in one fell swoop. His rage and horror and fear and love and despair and longing were all rolled into one, adding strength to his strike.

He reached down to remove the sword still pinning Angel and Ellie together, but was thrown back as the ground began to shake. The tremors became violently strong as Ellie's blood pooled across the pentagram.

"It's begun; we failed," said Ziva, as she, Tim, and Gibbs joined Tony, having dispatched the rest of the Sargniss by that point. Illyria stood on the other side of the pentagram, staring at the spectacle in front of her as the ground rolled beneath her feet.

"But … but the prophecy …" spluttered Tim. This was the first time since this had all begun that he truly thought they could lose. He had just assumed that, because of the prophecy and the fighting prowess of a Slayer, a vampire, and a god-king, they would win. It was sinking in now though that the good guys wouldn't just win because they were the good guys.

Angel was vaguely aware of what was happening. Although the ceremonial sword had clearly not killed him, as he had not dusted, losing Buffy would kill him. He tried to move, to lift himself off of her, to protect her small body from his crushing weight, but the earth's shaking slammed him back down on top of her.

Ellie turned her head to look at him as she slowly lost consciousness. Putting her lips to his ear, she whispered, "I love you." And Angel knew she meant it. She wasn't just saying it because they were skewered on the same sword or as payment for Angel taking the brunt of the blow in her stead. She meant every word.

And Angel knew that she knew he felt the same way and always would. Therefore, all he said was, "Close your eyes."

Almost as if these words were some ancient and sacred spell, the earthquake began to subside. As Angel's blood continued to mix with his love's blood, the ritual began to weaken, to lose its potency. The pentagram had been eagerly soaking up the Slayer's powerful blood, taking its sacrifice, but it was unable to differentiate between the blood of the Slayer and the dead blood of the vampire who loved her. As their blood mixed, continuing to seep from their aligned wounds, it became one thick pool. When, in an act of desperate love, Angel had thrown his body over Ellie's and taken the sword for her, he had spoiled the blood sacrifice, rendering the seventh and final sacrifice impotent.

Although Ellie was injured, she would survive and, as he looked down at her soft features, Angel was content in that. He knew he could handle losing his love to another man as long as he didn't lose her to death.

x TBC x

Phew! I think I deserve a review after all that.

One more chapter to go!