Changes and Choices

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

AN: Thank you so much to my reviewers: smilin steph, lizziebug, sambam17, Wild320, joeb1286, Nedy Rahn, and Mistress Saturn1. Smilin Steph, your review made me laugh; "wahoo" to you, too.

Chapter 8

The Tedium of Research

It was noon now and Gibbs and his team were ensconced in Ducky's morgue. They mostly sat there in silence, although every ten minutes or so, someone would say "hmm" or ask if the previous night had really happened. They dealt with a lot of weird things in their job, but this was beyond the pale. They had been sitting like this for a while.

Back at Ellie and Tony's home, after Ellie and Angel had left, they had all sat in complete, contemplative silence for nearly an hour, trying to observe everything they had seen and heard. Finally, Gibbs, seeing how lost his team was, pulled them all together. It was 6 a.m. and he knew the team needed guidance right now. If he let this wallowing continue for too long, it could become permanent. He glanced worriedly at Tony and nodded approvingly when he saw Tony picking at the dirt under his fingernails. "For G-d's sake, Tony," he blustered, causing the others to jump in alarm, "just wash them."

"Uh, yeah, Boss," replied Tony a tad nervously before a small grin appeared upon his face. "I'll just go do that. Be right back. Maybe take a shower" With that, Tony stood up and left for the building's locker room.

"You should all go home, get showered," he instructed his team. Seeing the fear in their eyes at being separated, he added, "I expect you all at NCIS in two hours."

After that, everyone had done exactly what Gibbs had told them to do and then returned to NCIS.

Although Gibbs had taken charge earlier this morning, he was now at a loss for what to do to help his team. He was usually quite good at helping people through large shocks, but he wasn't usually dealing with a large shock himself at the same time. He first had to figure out how he was going to deal with this new information before he could even hope to help his team.

Surprisingly, it was Tony who pulled himself together. "We should eat lunch," he said. "I'll order us some pizzas. It's easier than anything else."

"Yeah," agreed Tim, sounding very distracted.

"PIZZA," shouted Tony, making everyone jump. He shot out of his seat and trotted gaily to Ducky's phone, dialing the number from memory. After ordering pizzas, he turned back to the team, who were all just staring at him in disbelief. "Look, we're all alive, so I say we celebrate. We could have died last night. We didn't."

"Tony, how can you act so … cavalier?" questioned Ziva, worried that her partner was just ignoring the issues at hand. She knew from personal experience that pushing down your feelings didn't end well for you or those you cared about. She was still working on being more open. Tony was handling all this a little too well.

"I can't just sit here stewing, Ziva. I need to do something, even if that something is ordering pizza and running around. Sitting here just makes me think about it more and I can't do that. My mind isn't getting any further; it's just running in circles. All sitting here and thinking is doing is making me feel bad. I don't want that. Let's eat."

"All right," agreed Ziva, smiling for the first time, "let's eat."

And suddenly, it seemed like a stifling blanket had been lifted from the team. Gibbs could already see the color coming back into their cheeks. He knew that one day, when he retired, Tony would be a great team leader.

~ x ~ x ~ x ~

Things weren't going so well back at Angel's hotel room. He and Ellie were pouring through the numerous tomes Angel had brought with him and finding bupkus.

"This is really not my thing," grumbled Ellie.

"Well, we don't have Wesley or Willow here to do it for us," bit off Angel, equally frustrated. Both he and Buffy were "people" of action; sitting and doing research drove them both absolutely crazy.

"OK, let's go over what we have again," said Ellie for what must have been the thirtieth time. "These demons are called the Sargniss …"

"Yeah," interrupted Angel, recapping the information he had discovered on his own before hooking up with Buffy. "The Sargniss are sometimes also called the Clan of Blood. There are a lot of them—"

"—although we killed like five already—"

"—and they are vaguely reptilian. You know, if reptiles had venomous saliva and were ridiculously strong."

"Reptiles are ridiculously strong. Saltwater crocodiles can exert 3,700 pounds-per-square-inch of pressure with their jaws; they have the strongest jaws in the animal kingdom. … And Komodo dragons have venomous saliva. We're basically fighting giant Crocodile-Komodo dragons that want to destroy the world," said Ellie. "Why do I know all that?" she added, muttering under her breath.

"Nobody knows," responded Angel in a matching mutter. "Anyway, they are demons, so … yeah."

"What do we know about the ritual?" prompted Ellie.

"The Hadesmort Ritual," said Angel, for what felt like the umpteenth time. "Every night, at midnight—"

"—the witching hour—" joked Ellie.

"—for a week, the Sargniss need to sacrifice a woman in the middle of a specially made pentagram. The pentagram soaks up the blood and the women's life energies. At the end of the week, the spell will have enough power to open a doorway to Hell, or a hell dimension, and the world will be sucked through. It's your typical 'suck the world into Hell' spell."

"And it doesn't need to be virgin blood?" checked Ellie.


"Or that specific pentagram?"

"No, they can change locations if necessary."

"And the prophecy is in Aramaic," said Ellie, searching for the paper that had the translation. Finding it, she said, "And it reads: 'The ensouled vampire striving for redemption'—you—'will join the thrice dead Slayer'—me, unfortunately—'to defeat the Clan of Blood'—the Sargniss—'and only through their true love can they be victorious.'" After taking a deep breath, Ellie asked, "So, what the hell does that mean?"

"I don't know," said Angel petulantly. "It's like the people who wrote prophecies got an absurd pleasure out of making them as vague and useless as possible. Also, I don't really have a great track record with deciphering prophecies." Ellie gave him an odd look, questioning his meaning. "You know, there was a prophecy saying that I would be instrumental in the fight with Acathla. Well, I was instrumental. I was instrumental in awakening him." Angel avoided Ellie's eyes. The whole mess with Acathla was a good example of his track record with prophecies, but it wasn't the prime example. Angel tried very hard to banish thoughts of the false prophecy that Sahjhan had planted. He had stupidly fallen for it and lost his infant and his friend. He remembered smothering Wesley in the hospital and he felt awful about it. After he had calmed down a bit and seen how Sahjhan had pulled all their strings like damned puppets, he had been able to see what Wesley had been trying to do. If his and Wesley's positions had been switched, he probably would have done the same thing.

"Yeah," said Ellie, not realizing where Angel's train of thought had gone. "I hate prophecies. So what, we stand in the center of the pentagram and make out?"

Angel shot her a scurrilous look. "We have two problems to solve now. First, we need to find out what the hell the prophecy means, which won't happen. As we know from experience, you can't do anything to further the occurrence of a prophecy. It will happen whether you plan for it or not. I say we just sit back and let it happen."

"Check," agreed Ellie, remembering her death while fighting the Master.

"Second, we need to figure out where the Sargniss are now. When we went back to the warehouse after saving your, um, husband, they had cleared out. They probably have a new place, but we don't know where it is. I couldn't even find them the last time."

"There has to be a way," said Ellie, picking up another book and randomly flipping through it.

They both fell into silence as they read, Angel just waiting for his ex to ask, yet again, what they had so far. Angel rolled his eyes when Ellie cleared her throat, trying to figure out the best way to run through their information quickly again. He was shocked, however, when she said, "I think I found something."

"What is it?" he asked, coming around to her to look over her shoulder. Being this close to her, even after all this time, still wasn't easy. She still used the same shampoo and he found the smell familiar and comforting. He just wanted to wrap his arms around her and never let go. But he didn't. He held himself back. He had to remember that she was a married woman now.

"There is this spell to measure mystical energy output," she said. "If we, I don't know, calibrate it or something, we can make the spell focus on the energy for the ritual. Right?" asked Ellie, looking to Angel for confirmation.

"I guess," said Angel, "but we still only have the two of us. We would need someone with magic to work this."

"Not necessarily," said Ellie. "It looks pretty basic. If we get the right supplies, I think we can make this work. Being a Slayer kind of gives me an edge in these things."

Heading over to his laptop, which he had gotten much better at using in recent years now that he didn't have Cordelia there to forward emails for him, Angel pulled up one of the many databases Cordelia had created. "What is that?" asked Ellie.

"Cordy made a database of all the reputable magic shops in North America," explained Angel. Off of Ellie's incredulous look, he shrugged and said, "She was convinced that if she did extra work, I'd have to pay her more."

"Did you?"

"She was already making more than everyone else," he explained, snorting softly. "Anyway, I have two shops here in the DC area that sell quality stuff." He quickly jotted down the addresses and handed the paper to Ellie.

"What, are your feet broken?" she quipped.

"It's daytime," he reminded her with a quirked eyebrow.

"Sorry," she apologized quickly. "I forgot, I guess. I haven't been in contact with this world for a while."

"It's OK," Angel assured her.

Ellie grabbed the list and got up to leave, before stopping with her hand on the doorknob.

"What's wrong?" asked Angel.

"This won't work," Ellie said, sounded like she was going to cry.

"Why not?" asked Angel, utterly confused. Ellie's plan seemed like a great idea.

"This spell measures spikes in energy and can tell us where they are coming from while they're happening," she said, as if that explained everything.

"I'm still not getting it," said Angel.

"Angel," said Ellie, turning around and looking into his eyes, "the energy spikes when they sacrifice another woman. If we rely on this spell, we have to wait for them to kill someone else. We have to let them kill someone else."

Angel froze for the briefest moment and plowed on ahead. "OK, here's what we're going to do," he said. "You go and get the stuff and I'll stay here and keep researching. If I find something else, we won't use your spell. But if I don't, she'll die anyway, so let's use her death to save the world. Let's not make her die in vain."

"Right," agreed Ellie, seeing the logic in his plan although she was still unhappy with it. "Good luck," she said before walking out.

While she was gone, Angel read through as many books as he could to find an alternative, but he kept coming up empty. He wanted, more than anything, to find another way, but most of the spells that would have been useful, required either weeks of preparation or a skilled witch to work the mojo. They had neither. They had half a day and themselves. That was it. They could try to call in Willow, he knew, but, as he had experienced in the past, the new Watchers' Council tended to ignore phone calls from him. As much as it upset him to let this woman die, he really couldn't see an alternative.

Ellie returned an hour and a half later with the ingredients for the spell. "Any luck?" she asked Angel.

"No," he answered in his best broody voice.

"All right," said Ellie, sitting down to continue researching with him.

Suddenly, Ellie yelped and Angel jumped back from the table. The lamp next to the bed fell to the floor with a crash and books were jarred off the table. Grabbing Ellie, Angel got them both into the doorway.

"An earthquake," said Angel unnecessarily, as they held on while the world shook around them. He wasn't very fond of earthquakes, but, looking at Ellie, he could see that she liked them even less than he did. She looked terrified. He finally gave into his impulses and wrapped her in his arms, hugging her so tightly that it would have hurt a normal woman.

Once the shaking had stopped, Angel drew back. "Are you OK?" he asked.

"Yeah," she said, still shaking even though the earth had stopped. "I just really don't like earthquakes." Angel silently agreed with her. They both knew that earthquakes were bad omens. "I guess this thing is really real then," said Ellie. After taking a few deep breaths to steady herself, she said, "Let's get back to work." With that, they both began picking books up off of the floor. After that, neither of them stopped reading, even during the aftershocks.

After hours of reading with no success, Ellie closed the book she had been scanning with an audible snap. "We have two hours 'til midnight," she announced forlornly. "I think I should start setting up the spell. It might take a while."

"Yeah," agreed Angel.

"I'm going to call Tony first," she said, avoiding Angel's eyes.

But he wouldn't let her. Approaching her, he made her look at him and then said, "Good. Don't give up your life for this, Buffy. It never ends well. Call him and tell him you love him."

With a swift nod, Ellie took her mobile into the bathroom for some privacy.

Tony answered on the first ring. "Hey, Ellie," he said jovially.

"Hey, Tony," she responded somewhat confused. She had not expected quite such a joyful answer. "How are you?" she asked nervously.

"I'm good," he answered and she could just hear the shrug in his voice. "When are you going to be home?"

"Um, not for a while. There's a lot going on."

"Yeah, I get that. The entire team is at Gibbs' house right now. We're kind of just hanging out, absorbing, riding out the aftershocks."

"Right," said Ellie, more worried than ever. There was such a thing as handling things too well.

"Ellie," he said more seriously. Well, here it comes, thought Ellie, somewhat relieved. "We will talk later though, right? When all this is over?"

"Definitely, Tony. G-d, I miss you so much."

"I miss you, too. I like seeing you at work."

"At work?" asked Ellie. "You went to work?"

"Well, we didn't really get anything done, but yeah. Also, I told Vance you had the flu, so you have a few days off."

"That's good," said Ellie, really meaning it. "I've got to go, but I'll call again soon." She was about to hang up when she remembered what Angel had said to her, "Oh, and Tony, I love you."

"I love you, too," he responded, sounding relieved.

She hung up, feeling much more uplifted, and rejoined Angel, who had already begun setting up for the spell.

"I was thinking," said Angel, pointedly not asking about her phone call, "that you should stay here and do the spell while I go to the warehouse district."

"Why?" asked Ellie.

"Well, I figured, they were in that warehouse for a reason," explained Angel. "Small chance of them being found, isolated, plenty of space. It makes sense that they would find another warehouse, probably not too far away. I figured I'd go to the warehouses and you'd call me as soon as you knew something. I don't know, maybe I can get there in time to save her." They both knew he couldn't, but neither of them was going to say it.

Two hours later, Ellie called Angel. "I know where they are." She gave him the address and he went, strictly for recon. That being said, Angel was not prepared for what he saw when he got there. The young woman was still lying in the center of the pentagram, her eyes wide and unseeing. Her face still held its final emotion: fear.

Even worse, there were far more Sargniss than Angel had anticipated. Clearly, the Clan of Blood had been bulking up their numbers. There were about fifty demons there and Angel was not confident about that number. He and Buffy had been seriously winded after taking out five. They could not take out fifty alone. They needed help.

Angel looked around a bit more but didn't see anything that would help them defeat the Sargniss or that could give him a clue as to what the prophecy meant. After nearly twenty minutes, Angel decided not to press his luck. He didn't want to be found. He stealthily made his way out of the warehouse and headed back to the hotel to regroup—or repartner, as there was no group—with Buffy and formulate a plan.

They had one more day.

x TBC x

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