Part 11


1. Full Moon


He’s impressed by the Oz-wolf; it’s this fucking great dark mass of fur, teeth, and claws a bloody sight bigger than the human it lives inside. How's that work then? He takes another swig from the bottle of Royal Crown filched from Safeway. It'd be damned handy if he got bigger as well as bumpy when he let his demon out to play. Moves closer for a better look and has to jump back as a paw lashes out through the bars. Nearly caught him. Quick as well.

"Down boy," he mutters as the beast howls and snarls and throws itself at the unyielding bars. There's nothing personal in its rage; no recognition in its red eyes of the vampire who'd kidnapped, fed on, and tortured its human self. Its lust for the spurt of blood, rent flesh, destruction and death is utterly impersonal. Pure.

He takes another swallow of crap whiskey and settles himself against the wall. Might be nice to be mindless. Better to be blotted out all at once instead of losing his mind by inches. He’s stuck in a cage smaller and more permanent than this one.

The moonlight trickling through the crypt's ironwork door is red-tinged like the huge ugly orb that hangs far too low in the Sunnydale sky. Makes his skin itch to see it. The damned thing might as well have 'evil omen' scrawled across it. He expects earthquakes, human torches, and lionesses whelping in the street any minute now.

Knowing the bitch is out there, tying off the last untidy threads, polishing the fucking silver, getting everything ready for her big debut, burns in his gut like spoilt blood. Because there's no real doubt in his mind that she's going to pull it off.

Less than 20 days till the world ends, the uncertainty and the boredom are killing him. He can't hunt, can't feed, and there's no one around he wants to shag or vicey-versey. He's right out of friendly faces. After his last little outburst even Stepford Mom hates him. The only reason they haven't staked him is they figure he might come in handy during the Final Battle. Good thinking, but he reckons they're kidding themselves. It's going to take more than even him to win this battle. Maybe they'd have a chance if they could get hold of Superman. Maybe. Pity no-one seems to have the bugger's number.

The Witch and the Watcher research all day and well into the night; much good it's likely to do them. He knows flailing around when he sees it. The funk of suppressed panic that Giles gives off would tickle him if his arse weren't for the chop as well. Giles keeps asking him if he knows her true name -- like he'd be keeping secrets. But the only name she ever told him was Sylvia Orexis, just another of her little jokes. Ha, bloody, ha.

On the other hand, Red is anxious but not panicked. In a way she's probably enjoying this, though she'd never admit it, even to herself. She asked him to help with the research and he was that fucking bored he said yes. It was something to do, and he finds it oddly soothing, sitting there with a mug of blood, scanning through musty tomes full of scribbled Latin and Greek descriptions of eldritch obscenities and demonic atrocities that occasionally raise a shudder even from him. Sometimes there are pictures.

Bonus, that it pisses Giles off something wonderful.

She doesn't smell of patchouli anymore, it’s mostly book dust and the thick black coffee she determinedly chokes down to keep going, and under all that, is the unmistakable tang of power. Wonders if Rupert knows how much she's picked up from his books.

Late at night when the wanker has pissed off to bed he can fully concentrate on the subtle shifts in her scent: the tangy excitement when she finds what she thinks is a lead, the musty defeat when it fails to pan out, the coppery exhaustion in the dead hours before dawn when she's so tired her eyelids keep slipping closed, and she sags, till her forehead rests on the table, her neck pliant, vulnerable. God, he wants it, wants to drain her dry, glut himself on the sweet pain…

And he can't do a thing about it. Fangless, neutered, piss-poor excuse for a vampire that he is now. Little girls can fall asleep in front of him without a second thought.

Needed to get out. Which is why he's here, watching the sideshow. Slipped out of the house as soon as night fell, and followed the faint scents of Wolf-boy and Joyce through the lush fall grass to this graffiti tagged crypt with the shiny new cage inside.

His throat's dry. Tilts the bottle only to find it's empty. Fuck. "Fetch!" The bottle shatters as the werewolf slams into the bars; it snaps madly at the shower of glass and blood sprays as its jaws close on a shard.

He remembers the taste of the boy's blood, clotted and slightly gritty on his tongue as he'd licked the boy's blood off his skin, sucked it from his shirt, getting every last drop. Wonders what the werewolf would taste like and whether Giles little spell would keep him from harming Oz in this form. Not quite drunk enough to test it. He'll just have to wait till after. Assuming there is an after.

Odds against are even longer now that the Slayer's gone missing. No-one's seen or heard from her since night before last. Sounds like quite a night: live sex show, brassed-off Slayer, Angelus on the loose! Pity no-one thought to bring a camcorder along. It was just so bloody sad that Angelus hadn't managed to kill anyone during his brief return.

Worse still, by the time everyone was conscious again and thought to check on the tranked Slayer, she'd gone. Leaving them well and truly in the shit.

He yawns and gets to his feet. No booze left, and the beast has finally gotten tired of throwing itself against the bars and settled down into a sullen silence. Show's over. Spike shrugs and heads for the exit. With a little luck maybe he can find something to maim before the sun comes up.


She gets out of bed and crosses to the mirror, leaving the light off because she doesn’t want to wake Xander. He needs his sleep. He still goes out to work every day, working overtime, filling the hours. He feels useless. He's hopeless at research, and there's nothing else to do try to carry on with something like normal life, and wait.

Her reflection is not much more than a silhouette in the moonlit mirror, but it's not like she doesn’t know what’s there. She runs her hands over the familiar curves and dips of her body. No visible sign yet of change. But she knows it’s there, nestled deep inside under her still flat stomach, a tiny, potent, being, imperiously changing her body to suit itself.

The wound on her throat has scabbed over, and it itches. There's going to be a scar. The first one she's sustained since she became a woman. A constant reminder of that night.

She hates not knowing what happened that night. She remembers arriving back at the hotel, listening to Wesley's instructions as dispassionately as she could, with her back pressed against Xander, her hand locked in his. She remembers kissing him hard before she left him to go up on the roof, remembers standing naked with the wind blowing up her ass and gravel biting the soles of her feet. She remembers the bitter taste of the potion, but after that, all she remembers is bits: the terrifying rush of passion, the burning moonlight… Angel’s teeth buried in her flesh, her blood trickling down her back… Pain and joy… Feeling Angel inside her huge and so hot for a dead man… and then a wave of overwhelming weakness rolling her into darkness.

She'd been shaken awake by a panicked Wesley to find the moon far down the sky. Remembers feeling numb, but oddly serene as he'd wrapped her in a blanket and helped her downstairs. Where Xander was waiting. Poor Xander had been pale and bandaged but when he saw her, he opened his arms and they held on to each other like they were the only two people in the world.

Which, (ready or not, here I come), is about to change.

A child. Jesus Christ on a crutch, a child. She's shit-scared in a way she hasn't been in decades, if ever. It's not just knowing she's stuck in one form for months to come. What the hell is she supposed to do with a baby? What the hell are the Old Ones thinking to do this now? A child. 94 years old and they never saw fit to 'bless' her before. Can gods go senile? The timing couldn't be much worse, with her stuck in the path of apocalypse because Xander won't abandon his friends, his family, his home. No matter how much she begs. Maybe he'll be persuaded when he hears her news. Please God, otherwise they're all liable to end up dead. For love. Cause she won't leave him. No matter what.

She has to tell him.

What the hell is she going to do?



Orexis rises slowly to her feet, savoring the delicious ache of conjuring that lingers in her flesh. She holds her arms up to the baleful moon in salute because it never hurts to be polite. The remains of her sacrifice lie on the ground, open and steaming slightly in the winter chill. Moonlight glitters on the tiny teeth exposed by its death grimace. Beside it the dark shapes of its liver, heart, and kidneys lie on the paving stones, each surrounded by its own significant spatters of blood and other fluids. She thinks it quite lovely, not least because of the message she reads there.

All things considered, the auguries are favorable. Overwhelmingly so. True, there are a few random spatters and twisted vessels here that speak of opposition, an odd malformation there of the gall bladder that she doesn't like the look of, but overall it's very good news. In just a few more days everyone and everything in Sunnydale will belong to her. Forever.

Not that she ever had serious doubts. True, she had been slightly thrown off by that little contretemps involving that treacherous bleached bloodsucker stealing her wolf and betraying her secrets to the meddlers. It annoys her to think of her possessions out there, loose. She comforts herself with the thought that as they haven't left the vicinity of the Hellmouth, they'll find out soon enough just how ephemeral their 'freedom' is.

She remembers the shock and outrage she'd felt when her bindings were unraveled. She'd seriously underestimated the little witch's power. But, again, she must keep things in proper perspective. In the end the interfering witch was little more than a child and despite all her power too inexperienced to have learned that pawns exist to be sacrificed. She doesn't know it yet, but she's lost the game by allowing the one piece that truly matters slip through her hands.

Mood restored, she uses the shovel to carefully scrape up the kid's remains. She takes the time to wrap them up neatly in a black bag before putting it in the garbage. Animal sacrifice isn't illegal, but there's no need to upset the gardener unnecessarily.

She shuts the door carefully on the night and goes upstairs to check on her guest.

Moonlight casts filigreed shadows across the bed and its occupant. She's asleep. Poor thing, she looks so peaceful. And very young, the premature lines of care and sorrow erased. The quilt has slipped, exposing her too-thin shoulder. She's tempted to run her hands over and under the downy skin, to explore the strength hidden in the meat of this deceptively frail body. Mentally shaking a finger at herself, she tucks the cover around her guest. No, not yet.

The doorbell rang at 9:00 p.m., as she was making her preparations for the augury. She'd known who it was of course, she'd felt the connection growing stronger as she came closer. She still remembered to look surprised when she opened the door.

Such a sad face. Tearstained and haggard, she looked far older than her 19 years.

"Buffy dear, what's the matter?"

"Hi, Sylvia," she'd sniffled. "I know it’s late.” she dropped her gaze. “Sorry, but I didn’t know where else to go."

Struggling to hide her reaction as a surge of pleasure at this display of vulnerability snaps through her like a lightning bolt, she opens the door wide. "Come in dear."

Buffy was hungry and thirsty and desperate for someone to listen to her. Sylvia fed and watered the girl, then sat at her kitchen table and listened with sincere interest while Buffy spilled out the events of the last day and night. Sylvia had hidden her amusement that even now, in the midst of her despair she remembers to edit out certain details. So, there’s no mention of vampires or magic of course -- just a tale of betrayal, rejection, and despair. Someday she’ll have to hear the uncut version.

Finally Buffy reaches the end of her tale in a rush of words:

"I just had to get out of there. I just drove. North. I figured maybe I'd go to Alaska, or Canada -- just anywhere. I got as far as Portland and I had to buy gas and I realized that I didn't have any money, and I don't know anybody in Alaska and it's not even my car. So I came back. But I don't want to go back to the house, to see them. Not right away. Don't worry, I won't bug you for long. I just need…to think, figure out what I'm going to do next."

"Dear, don't worry about a thing. You can stay here as long as you need to. I have more than enough room."

"Are you sure?" Buffy smiled hesitantly.

"Absolutely, dear, don't give it a second thought."

"Oh. Thanks."

"Now, I think I should show you your room. You look like you could use some rest."

The poor dear cried herself to sleep.

She closed the door carefully behind her. She thinks she’ll make waffles for breakfast. Nothing like a good, solid breakfast to start the day out right.


Oz woke with a grunt when a sliver of daylight touched his face. He banged his head against the bars uncurling awkwardly from a position his rigid human spine has big problems with. He stood shivering in the early morning chill and looked for his clothes. He’s puzzled by the broken glass inside the cage. He doesn’t remember it being here last night. Of course by the time they’d gotten here he was pretty much past noticing fine details.

The car stalled eight blocks from the cemetery and they’d wasted precious minutes trying to get it started. Then they ran. He'd felt the sun slipping below the earth and pulling the wolf to the surface as he'd thrown himself into the cage, mind already going. His last memory was of the rattle of keys behind him as Mrs. Summers struggled to lock the door.

That had been a little too close.

His clothes are in the corner. He picked them up gingerly, but this time he's been lucky, no wolf-piss. He was zipping up his jeans when the door creaks open behind him. He froze, before turning slowly; he already knew who it was.


She nodded. "Uh, I told Joyce I'd bring you breakfast." His mouth watered at the smell of fried meat, egg and cheese wafting from the bag in her hand. The familiar static caused by seeing her filled his head. Sadness and love and despair and anger and yearning and hate all mixed together. As she came forward to unlock the cage he noticed that she looks tired, and thinner than she had just a few weeks ago when he watched her sleeping beside him.

When she loved him.

The key is in her hand, but she stood there fidgeting, he recognizes her resolve face. Holding his top in one hand, he waited.

"Listen,” she said finally. “We haven't had much private time since you came back and there's something I need to say to you." He was pretty sure he doesn’t want to hear this, but he nodded anyway. She takes a deep breath.

"O.K. Ummm, Oz, you've made it obvious that we're done, which is – not O.K., but probably a good idea. Because I'm not up to that kind of pressure. You left me, not because I'd done anything…Cause I would never have done anything Oz. Never. You dumped me because you could tell that part of me still thinks about Xander-- that way. Well, news flash Oz: I'm human, and human beings have, y'know, bad thoughts sometimes. But there's a big difference between thinking about something and doing it. Unless you're Big Brother, or a werewolf I guess."

That pissed him off. Doesn't she know what it feels like to smell lust on her when Xander is near? To know that his mate, his heart…

…she doesn’t know. She can’t. And maybe it's not fair to expect her to.

She shook her head. He realized that she's been waiting for him to say something and he's missed his chance. "That's it I guess," she said sadly. She unlocked the cage, placed the bag carefully on the ground and walked away.

Feeling frozen to the bone, he pulled on his sweater and clutched his arms around himself as he watched her go. Her shadow stretched down the stairs behind her and then she was gone into the morning.


The morning sunlight filters prettily through lace curtains. Birds are singing outside her window. There are fresh flowers in a crystal vase on the bedside table and a handmade quilt on the bed. Dust wouldn’t dare come in here. Martha Stewart would hang her head and slink back to her home planet in shame if she could see this room. Everything is so beautiful and perfectly placed and shiny she feels like she’d better get out before someone notices she’s spoiling the look

This is the nicest room she’s ever been in and she's all alone in it. She should probably just get used to that. Being alone. Just accept the fact that no-one really cares about her.

Her so-called friends pretend they care, but they don't really give a damn. She's like an attack dog, handy to have around when the monsters show up, worth a pat on the head, some kibble but not someone you really care about. Friends, real friends don’t lie to you, don’t sneak around behind your back, don’t help other people – not even fully human-people – steal your boyfriend.

Her mind winces away from the image of Angel, beautifully naked…with that little bitch wrapped around him. Touching him, him touching her, making love to her…

…Like he can't make love to her, ever.

Next time she sees Alice, she’s going to slay her, like she should have in the first place. She’s obviously a witch, as well as a were-beast. She would have done the job last night, but they stopped her. Her ‘friends’.

At least Cordelia's never pretended to be her friend. She's always been a bitch, so she’s as mad at her as she is with the rest of them. She doesn’t ever want to see them again, any of them. They'd lied to her; they'd plotted behind her back to steal Angel, to steal any hope she had of happiness. Xander, Willow, Giles, Oz; even her mom. Her mom. She can't trust her, can’t trust any of them. They're probably laughing at her right now. At stupid little Buffy.

Maybe Faith was right. Maybe she should just go out and enjoy what’s left of her limited shelf life. What was it? Want, take, have. Except what she really wants, she can’t have and it all makes her feel hollow and tired. Maybe Slayers don’t necessarily get killed so much as let themselves go. Because what's the point of saving the world if there's no-one in the whole world who cares about you?

She jumps at a knock at the door. “May I come in, dear?”

Buffy sighs. “Yeah.”

Sylvia comes in, she's wearing a faintly ridiculous apron with flowers printed white on palest pink. There's a smudge of something white on her nose. Something about her makes Buffy feel better just seeing her.

"Good morning dear, did you sleep well?" Buffy shrugs, she knows she’s being kinda rude, but she's not a morning person on a good day, and this isn't one. Sylvia's smile never flickers. "Do you feel up to some waffles?"

Waffles? Suddenly the smell of crispy buttery goodness floods her senses. Oooh, waffles. Not the toaster kind either. Real waffles. Her stomach grumbles, how long has it been since she's eaten? Sometime before she left Sunnydale -- was that just two night ago? Mom used to make waffles. Back when she cared, or acted like she did. Only Sylvia's not as old as her mom. At least, she doesn't think so. Buffy finds herself studying Sylvia’s smiling, pleasant face for clues to her age. Funny, she has kind of an odd face, sort of blurry; it's hard to focus on the details…

"Buffy?" She blinks, her concentration broken. “Breakfast?”

"Sorry. Yeah, waffles sound great. I guess I am kinda hungry."

"Good, come down then, as soon as you're ready."

Buffy smiles, feeling a little of her pain slip away.

2. Two Weeks, Three Days

Los Angeles

Wesley steps into the quiet office and opens the blinds to let in the morning light. Later they'll need to be closed for Angel's sake, of course, but for now he's free to enjoy the sunlight. And the quiet.

He sets the coffeemaker to work on the first pot of the day. His mother would say that he's becoming quite the American: drinking coffee rather than tea when given the choice. The sound of coffee brewing is loud in the empty office. As usual, he's the first one in the building, not just in Angel Investigations. The other building tenants won't start arriving before 8. Cordelia will be in around 9:30 a.m., which is a good half-hour earlier than formerly, evidence of how seriously she's taking this latest apocalypse.

With his coffee cradled carefully in both hands, Wesley goes to his desk. His left arm and shoulder are still a bit weak; he's only had the sling off for a few days. Otherwise, he's almost back to his usual self, injuries largely healed, though the wounds on his throat and arm still ache at certain times.

He leans back in his chair and drinks, relishing the heat, the bitterness, and the sharp spike of caffeine. Much better than a cuppa. This is the best part of the day for him, he likes the quiet, enjoys being able to concentrate on the research without the distraction of his co-workers.

In due time, he sets aside his empty cup, opens the Julian codex, and begins to read. Thinking, as he has every day for almost two weeks, that surely there must be some clue, some hint as to how to deal with this Orexis creature. She is after all only a demon, and they've killed demons, hundreds of them. Sooner or later they will work out how to defeat this one. He cannot let himself believe otherwise.

At 9:30 on the dot, Cordelia sweeps into the office. She comes bearing coffee, pastries, and a wide warm smile all for his benefit.

Thus endeth his idyll.

"Latte and pain chocolat. Right?" She beams at him as she sets them down on the edge of the desk.

"Thank you," Wesley says, gracefully accepting the offering. He's concluded that this is her way of dealing with the misplaced guilt she feels for Angel's actions. It’s an irrational reaction. It’s hardly her fault that Angel chose to feed on him instead of her. He’s in love with her after all. All blame, all guilt, properly belongs to Angel; but considering the weight he already bears, perhaps Cordelia offered to take care of the excess. In any case, he's going to take the free pastry and caffeine while it lasts.

“Anything?” She asks.

“Not yet.”

She nods and goes to her desk. Sits down and switches on the computer, taking a sip of her own skinny-decaf-latte. Smoothes her already glossy hair, tapping a fingernail impatiently on the monitor as she waits for Windows to load.

Wesley looks down at the page again and pretends to work while surreptitiously studying his watch. The second hand is halfway through its second sweep around the dial when he hears the elevator motor start up. He doesn't have to see Cordelia's face to know how it has come alive at the sound. Also given is the quick return of her attention to the screen as Angel comes in.

He looks as he always does, improbably handsome, dressed for a funeral, or a dance club. He certainly shows no lingering signs of the ordeal he'd been through. Of course not.

"Morning Wes," he says, his eyes sliding away. It's hard for Angel to look at Wesley these days. Wesley understands the difficulty. There's a definite reluctance on his part to look at the vampire. Uncomfortable memories keep intruding--

… cold tongue and lips brutalizing his mouth…

…hard fingers holding him still, as sharp teeth slid into him...

…brutally cheerful voice whispering into his ear "We’re going to have lots of fun."

Somehow the knowledge that Angelus has been permanently banished doesn't help much. Possibly because his scars still throb and ache unpredictably in Angel's presence. His heart speeds, and he can't rid himself of the suspicion that the vampire is aware of that uncontrollable pulsing, aware and approving. All the trust, the friendship that had been built up over the past year has been erased in one horrible night.

"Good morning Angel." He resolutely keeps his own gaze on Angel's face. He's decided that the best thing is for him to go. Not now, of course, but once this current crisis is finished he'll make his excuses, and leave. Go back to England, perhaps. Even dealing with his father would be preferable to this.

"Any luck?" Angel asks.

Wesley shakes his head. "As I told Cordelia, I'm afraid not."

Angel nods, his concentration drifting. His eyes are on the other side of the room. "Morning Cordy," he says. Trying for casual and failing miserably, sexual tension making the air sparkle like ozone.

She keeps her eyes on the monitor. "Hi" she says grudgingly in a tone colder than an Antarctic winter. Apparently all is not well in Eden. Wesley sighs and grimly forces his attention back to the codex. Richard and Liz there are beginning to get on his nerves. He loathes soap opera.

Angel stands helpless in the face of her anger. God, he wants her. And she wants him. But…

"It's been a long time…" Last night in the office he'd tried explaining it to her, after forcing himself to pull back from the lush warmth of her mouth.


Eyebrows raised Cordelia had stared at him. "Uh, Angel, Alice wasn’t that long ago."

Good thing he can't blush. "That -- the ritual – I don’t really remember." Liar, he thinks, the memory of how good it felt, crystal clear. "I don't want to be out of control like that, with you." Because the memory of how close he'd come to killing Alice makes him want to run from the woman in front of him, and keep running. He’d abandon his redemption, his duty, anything to save her from him.

"Angelus can't come back, ever. Right?" She said impatiently.

"Yeah, but Cordy, I'm still a vampire. You can't ever forget that."

"Duh. Not forgetting anything." She’d trapped him against the desk and kissed him again. "I trust you Angel."

He knows. She trusts him, wants him, loves him. He loves her, wants her, but he doesn't have her faith. And she doesn’t know how close his lust is to hunger. How, even without the demon whispering in his ear, the sound of her blood rushing through her veins competes for his attention with the sweet weight of her breast in his hand when she presses herself against him, and pulls him close.

So he'd shoved her away, before the smell and taste and feel of her made it impossible for him to stop. Watched her eyes turn cold and bereft. Unable to stand it, he’d run downstairs half-hoping, half-fearing she'd follow him. When he heard the office door slamming behind her as she fled the building it felt like his heart was being torn out.

This morning she won’t even look at him. This is Hell.

Behold! The Dork Avenger emerges from the batcave, right on schedule. First he says good morning to Wes, no eye-contact, check. Looks over at her, all puppy dog eyes, check. "Hi," she says, putting a world of irritation into that one word. Because she's really tired of this shit and she's not putting up with it anymore.

It’s been two weeks plus of flying together like magnets the minute Wes is out of the way, with the groping and the rubbing and the kissing, trying to get inside each others skins through too many layers of clothing, getting almost there…

And being cut off cold. Every. Single. Time.

She means yeah! foreplay; foreplay is definitely a good thing, and at first, right after the whole Karma Sutro from hell thing with Alice, not to mention Angelus she'd been all in favor of going slow, but not to the point where they never get past the fore- to the full- play. It’s been *weeks* now and news flash: Cordelia Chase is all grown up; all this heavy petting is just getting annoying. It's Xander and adventures in the broom closet all over again and sheesh Angel would be pissed if he knew he was being compared to Xander; he'd lose it. Maybe she should mention it. Maybe that would move him on.

Every time they get groiny, every time they get close to skin on skin, Control Guy freaks. She feels like Rock Hudson, (well maybe not Rock Hudson cause of the whole *gay* thing, maybe more like James Garner) trying to get Doris Day to give it up. She only wishes it was as easy as buying him a big ring and saying 'will you marry me'. But that would be too easy.

Now he's going for his cup of coffee. Still with the big brown eyes. Told her not to bother with the expresso, he can't really taste the difference, he drinks coffee mostly for the warmth and, though he didn't say, because drinking coffee makes him seem a little more human. Which is important to him, which is why he won't bring his blood up and drink it in front of them because he thinks it will freak them out, like they don't know he's a vampire. Like it's going to slip their minds. Dumbass.

Angel's got in his head that she can only love him because she's not clear on the whole vampire thing. He just can't bring himself to believe that she loves him as he is. She knows who and what he is. She knows he's not human, at least in the breathing got a heartbeat kinda way. Knows he's a man in everything that really counts. Not necessarily the smartest guy in the world though.

Thinks he's supposed to make all the decisions. Just like he left Buffy, dropped her like a bad habit because he decided she should have a normal life. Right, that worked out well. Psycho-Buffy, come on down. So now he won't do the nasty with her because he's afraid he'll hurt her and of course it's all up to him to make this decision. Clueless, undead, condescending, father-knows-best idiot that he is.

Well, yeah, OK, sometimes she's afraid he'll hurt her. She really doesn't want to be bit. Nothing about what she's seen of that looks like fun. But. If that's what it takes, if it's absolutely necessary, well then, she'll deal.

Time for drastic action.

"Angel," she says sweetly. "Come here for a moment?"

She can feel Wesley watching as Angel crosses the room. Poor Wes, on so many levels but she doesn’t have time for that now. Nervously, Angel takes a sip of his coffee. She points her finger at the screen, and he bends down to her level, staring at the screensaver. He jumps when she grabs him by the collar and whispers into his ear.

"You, me, tonight, or never," she hisses.

Coffee. Everywhere.


Willow groans. Her eyes hurt, and her head. She's been reading the faded script of the latest in a long line of occult tomes for – jeez, what time is it? 2 a.m. Oh. Later than she thought.

She vaguely remembers Giles going upstairs with Joyce hours ago. Xander and Alice are long gone too. She’s not real sure when. A while ago. She hasn’t seen Oz for days. It‘s been just her and Spike for hours. No reason for her to hurry home: the ‘rents are out of town at a conference, no-one’s there to notice if she’s out all night. No new there.

Tick, tick, tick, time running out. The solstice is less than a week away, and they've got nothing.

Oh. Spike's looking at her, half-smile on his face. Easy to forget he's there what with the no breathing. He reads silently, barely rustling the pages as he turns them. He's pretty good at the translating. Better at the Greek than the Latin. He’d scowled and refused to answer when she asked where he'd picked it up. He's thinner now, his cheekbones architectural, and incredibly pale. Maybe they should feed him more. Giles is the one in charge of the blood, but he’s been kinda distracted lately. She can tell their fearless leader has given up. He doesn’t think they’re going to make it. He’s still going through the motions, but he’s drinking more and researching less and him and Joyce act like it was their honeymoon instead of the end of the world.

"What?" she snaps at Spike, sick of his staring.

"Nothin', just enjoying the sweet smell of despair," he drawls. His eyes glitter coldly. Willow drops her gaze. Just ignore him, and he'll get tired of bothering you. Cause that works.

"Tell me something Red: why are you still here? Any of you, but especially you. You’re smart. You ought to know better."

She’s got her reasons. Lots of them. Because it's my home. Because it matters that thousands, maybe millions of people don't get sucked into hell. Because part of being the good guys is that you don't get to run away just because you’re going to lose. All of which she knows he'd laugh at, so she turns it back on him. "Why are you still here?"

"Where else am I gonna go? Best place for me to have a chance at that bitch. Not much of a chance, but still it’s somethin'." He lights a cigarette, which is strictly against the house rules. She starts to say something, but a little voice inside snarks that if Giles doesn't want Spike to smoke, he should be down here to stop him.

"You're wrong, we'll win. We always win."

"Yeah, I know. Like the Slayer. She wins all her battles…till that last one."

Willow winces, reminded of just who, just *what* she's talking to. Ignore him. Get back to the books, back to the research, the goddamned useless research.

"So, you and Wolfie are done," he says not taking the hint.

Willow sighs. "Yeah."

"So there's a vacancy?" Her head shoots up to find his eyes focused and intent on her and he's way too close. Somehow he's on her side of the table. She stares like an idiot as he starts to draw slow careful patterns on her forearm with a cool finger.

"Harris and his bitch are safe in bed by now. The Watcher's upstairs, makin' hay while there's still a sun. What about you? C'mon Red, why not have a little fun; I know what you like." Willow shivers, remembering the way he'd touched her. The icy perfection of his technique. God knows he's had time to practice it.

She takes her arm back. "Go away Spike."

He smirks. "You sure?"

"Sorry, Spike but I don't feel like making you scream tonight," she says deliberately letting some of the darkness she feels seething and growing inside her show in her eyes. Willing him to remember…

White light, and pain.

His pale eyes go wide and he jerks his hand away as though she were a hot stove he'd forgotten could burn him. He stares at her, then he’s gone.

Willow feels a little better. Maybe she’ll lie down on the couch and get some sleep now.


We do this because we can, Giles thinks as he kisses his way down the curve of Joyce's back.

Because he knows this very well may be the last time. He doesn't think there will be any last-minute miracles this time. To be fair, they’ve had more than their share. He can see no way to keep Orexis from opening the Hellmouth and making Sunnydale into her own personal hell.

They’ve researched till his eyes were raw and his head felt full of cold oatmeal. He imagines that he can hear Willow still turning pages downstairs. He’d tried to get her to go home hours ago, but she refused. She's undeterred by weeks of failure, determined to find the key to Orexis' destruction. Sure that she will find it, because, hey, they're the good guys, and they always win. He remembers being that young. He remembers hope.

He contacted the Council of course. He might have spared himself the trouble. The gloating, patently insincere regret dripping into his ear out of the receiver made him itch to be 25 again and have the power to send black fire and ruin down the wire to the bastards.

He’d even gone so far as to contact Ethan but his old enemy and friend refused to have anything to do with the matter, wouldn't even give him a contact.

“Just leave," Ethan told him. "Take your friends and leave, now. You know you can’t win this one.”

And he knows that Ethan is probably correct, but he can't do it, can't walk away, from Sunnydale, from Buffy, from any of them. It’s his duty, after all, what he was bred to. He wishes there was a way to persuade the others to go. They're young, they have their whole lives before them. His heart would break if he lost her, but Joyce is young enough to start a new life somewhere else. Of course, she’d no more think of abandoning her daughter than he would. They’re both chained by obligation.

So, here and now, he persuades a willing Joyce onto her back, and suckles on her nipples with his tongue until they’re hard and aching. She pulls him up into a kiss, and he loses himself in the sensation of her mouth on his, of her tongue entwined with his. This is what’s true, this is what’s right and if he’s going to die he wants it to be with the taste of her still vibrant in his mouth.

Out of sheer morbid curiosity he went to the Professor's house. She lives high in the lushly landscaped hills where Sunnydale wealth has squatted since the Spanish were pushed out by the Americans. With his inner eye he saw the way wall and window and roof were overlaid with darkly luminous lines of sorcery; the place reeked of power. Far more power than he or Willow could hope to summon, even at the cost of their souls. He'd stood there feeling enraged and foolish thinking of incendiaries and explosives, certain that none of them would do any good. Expecting a patrol car to pull up next to him at any moment and a wary police officer to ask excuse me sir but what's your business in this neighborhood. Walked away at last, wondering if she were inside, watching him. Laughing.

Working his way down her body, kissing and stroking. Tracing the faint silvery lines that mark the lower swell of her belly with his fingers; souvenirs of Buffy. Joyce is embarrassed by them but he loves them, loves the proof of her maternity. Even though her child is lost to them now and possibly forever.

He coaxes Joyce’s legs apart and buries his face between her legs. Taking his time, savoring her whimpers as he laps and teases, tongue tracing every whorl and elaboration of her flower until she arches off the bed, ecstatic, but trying to keep from being too loud. Freed, she collapses back onto the bed, eyes shut and he props himself up so he can drink in her flushed and glorious face. Oh God, Joyce. You deserved so much better of the world.

He can’t wait another minute. He has to be inside her, now. He sits up and pulls Joyce up into his lap, and onto him. She rests her arms on his shoulders and adjusts herself; being inside her is unutterably sweet. They sit there quietly looking into each other's eyes drinking each other in and he realizes he’s not the only one thinking about endings.

He begins thrusting up into her, feeling her solid and warm on his legs, her soft slightly sagging breasts brushing against his chest. Her mouth on his, breathing in tiny gasps into his mouth.

"Joyce," he whispers. He reaches down between them and finds her button, stroking it firmly, the way she likes. Her moans change tenor in response, rising up the scale, hands clutching him almost hard enough to hurt until she loses control and groans, her body clenching around him, setting him off in turn. They sag and melt together into the sheets.

This is the way the world ends… there are worse ways.

He sleeps.

Joyce waits until the tension finally goes out of his body and Giles starts to snore. She lies there a little longer, listening to the reassuring sound. Feeling the comfortably possessive weight of his hand resting on her hip. If it was sorcery in the beginning, she knows it's real now.

When she's sure he won't wake, she slips out of bed and goes to the bathroom. She shuts the door carefully, sits down on the closed toilet seat, and finally lets herself cry. Quietly. The last thing she wants to do is wake them up, upset them. They've all been so considerate. Willow, Xander, Alice, Oz, all of them

Her car was returned sometime during the third night after Buffy left for LA. She went outside to pick up the newspaper, and there it was, gleaming, freshly waxed. No note on the dashboard or in the glove compartment. Just the damned car.

At least they know she's alive. Willow saw her a few days later on campus. She'd tried to speak to Buffy --- that first time Buffy simply disappeared. The second time she stared at her former best friend as though she didn't know her then shoved her aside with casual violence. Never said a word.

She hasn't called.

Her baby’s out there, angry and alone. Oh God. Please, help her.


Alice groans and comes and even with her eyes shut she can tell that Xander’s got that smug little smile on his face. Her love is in serious danger of getting a swollen head. Can't have that. She wraps her legs tighter around his waist, clenches herself around him on his next thrust and blows his self control right out the water. She grins vengefully as his eyes roll up in his head and he spills deep inside her.

Lying in a happy tangle afterwards, she thinks, OK, now. Never going to be a better time. She gets up on her elbow and looks down at his face. He’s so damn pretty, lying there profiled against the darker sheets, long dark lashes lying against his sweat-beaded cheek, lips curved in orgasm's wake and drifting towards sleep. She almost hates to spoil the moment.

Quit stalling.

"Xander," she says softly.

He yawns, opening his eyes reluctantly. "Yeah baby?"

"Uh, I have to tell you something." He looks up at her and she takes a deep breath. It’s going to be OK, he loves you.

"Ah…" C'mon girl. Spit it out. "Xander, I'm pregnant."

"What!" That woke him up alright.

"I'm going to have a baby." .

"Ah…oh. That's what I thought you said. You sure? How long?"

Oh yeah, she’s sure. Since the morning after the ritual. She says, her guts twisting, she can't tell if he's happy or not.

He’s blowing this, he can tell from her expression as she answers. "A few weeks."

"Oh God…Alice… This is so great!" And he means it, even though he’s not quite over the shock. Alice still looks unhappy. "What's wrong?"

She sighs, and drops the rest on him. "I 'm not going to be able to help you in the battle…I can't Change. I’m stuck like this, until she's born."

Give him credit, he tries to look disappointed. But he can tell she’s not fooled. Doesn’t care. He hugs her, kisses her, lays his head against her stomach and wonders if he can hear anything this early.

"A baby. Wow. Hey, hey, don't worry baby, we're going to be OK." She clings to him, willing herself to believe that he's right.

Los Angeles

They ended up at Cordelia's because they both agreed that the bad associations with Angel's big black bed are just a little too fresh. Now that they’re here though, she wonders if maybe they should have gone somewhere a little more neutral, maybe checked into the Hilton. Her bedroom seems to have shrunk two sizes with him in it and she's certain that Dennis is watching though he'd promised he wouldn't.

They stand there, awkwardly, looking at each other and the horrible thought occurs to her, God, please no, what if it's awful, like that fish mouthed, tooth-clicking ohmigod-what-am-I-doing incident with Wes. Not that they hadn't covered the kissing thing and also the fondling thing pretty darn thoroughly, but what if that's all there is?

He just stands there, looking at her with pensive face, and that snaps her right out of self- doubt mode, because she already knows what he's going to say before he opens his mouth.

"Cordelia, are you sure?" Mumbling, and avoiding eye contact. She cuts him off before he can get to: "…maybe we should wait…"

"Dammit, you are not backing out on me now," she pokes him in the chest. "For the last time: I'm fine. We are doing this. Now."

Angel blinks at her. She grits her teeth.

"Listen, if you don’t want to sleep with me just say so, OK? Cause the stalling sure isn't doing much for my self-esteem." She glares up at him. Something softens in Angel's face as he reaches out with one hand to cup her chin and delicately tilt it towards him.

"I want you," he says softly. She refuses to give in.

"Well?" She demands.

He bends down, a little awkwardly, and kisses her. Her heart flutters in her chest, as he groans and pulls her closer.

Oh God. She's the sweetest thing he's ever tasted, her mouth warm and soft as she welcomes him in and he's worried again like every time before that she may not like it, that it will be too cold, too strange, but she seems to like it fine, moaning softly as she curls her tongue round his. He hardens as the awareness of her closeness pours over his skin, ignited by the feel of her pressed against him, her wandering hands leaving trails of fire along his back.

His hands luxuriate in the wealth of her hair, like dark silk, intensely sensual, he hopes she never cuts it. Wishes she would never change, perfect in this moment. His Cordelia. Her heartbeat, the smell of her blood under the soft, silken skin his hands move over, he can feel her pebbled nipples pressed against his chest, burning through his shirt.

He urges her towards the bed, one careful backwards step at a time till they fall giddily onto the mattress in a tangle of eager hands, scrabbling at buttons and zips, the two of them desperate to touch without the frustration of clothing.

She gets his shirt open, her hands running over the smooth expanse of muscle, teasing his pale pink nipples with her fingernails, twisting up to nibble at his sleekness. God, there's so much of him. The weight of him draped over her, the long muscles of his legs tangled with hers. She works her hand under the waistband of his pants, searching for the hardness she can feel nudging her. Grins at Angel's gasp as she makes contact.

His hands are everywhere, stroking and kneading, her body blossoms under his touch. Her mouth opens wide, greedy for his flesh as she kisses his shoulder, mouthing the line of his throat, while his tongue paints a shivery line up hers. Tastes him, not salt almost sweet. Not quite human. Angel.

He wants to touch all of her at once. He wants to drink from the well between her legs. He wants…he buries his face in the side of her neck, tongue tracing the steadily beating pulse.

She smells so good.

"Cordelia," he says thickly.

The texture of the face pressed against her neck changes, the soft lips kissing her go cold and dry. She feels the shiver of a growl against her skin and barely has time to be afraid before Angel lets go of her. He throws himself onto the other side of the bed, as far away from her as he can get, hiding his face.

"Angel?" Trying to sound like she's not really upset, though she is. Not with him though, or at least not the way he thinks. She can deal. Better than Angel anyway: he’s all huddled up on himself like a tortoise. "Hey, Angel?"

He mutters something she can't make out

She crawls across the bed and puts her hand on his shoulder. He's shaking.

"Angel? Talk to me."

He turns towards her. Still bumpy, pure anguish in his yellow eyes. He flinches when she leans in. "Angel, I've seen your face before," she soothes. He stills as her fingertips trace the brutal features, learning the feel of it: cool and slightly gritty like frosted glass.

"I'm sorry," he mumbles as her hands trace thin lips that barely seem able to hold in the teeth. Scary teeth, big and jagged, and part of him. She kisses him.

The sensation of warm soft lips on hard demon flesh is strange and wonderful. Only one other woman ever willingly kissed him like this. He knows he ought to warn her not to do this, not to press her tongue into his mouth like that because his teeth are razor sharp and her flesh so fragile, and the thought of her blood dripping into his mouth makes him suddenly, horribly hard.


She falls forward into the empty space where he was. He stands on the other side of the room, face human expression blank. Cordelia teeters on the edge between getting mad and giving up. She takes a deep breath.

"Shower," she says getting off the bed. Confused, he watches as she goes into the bathroom. Stands there, listening to the water running. He should go now, and they can try another time when he has better control. He can hear the spray splashing off her flesh, and the steam billowing from the open door carries the enticing scent of Cordelia.

Cordelia's clothes are on the floor. Cordelia is in the shower. She sticks her head through the curtains and looks at him. Water drips down the curve of her cheek, pools in the hollow of her collarbone and overflows.

"Well? Come on."

He peels off his clothes slowly, feeling slightly foolish. More than slightly. Sidles in, the shower isn’t that big, there’s way too much flesh at close quarters and he doesn’t know where he should put his hands.

"Do my back?" She says handing him a bath mitt. Problem solved. He traces the smooth delicate architecture of her finely muscled back, leaving trails of bubbles on her flawless skin. She leans back into him as he strokes her shoulders; he puts his other hand on her hip to steady her as he traces the bumps of her spine, down to the glorious swell of her ass.

His fingers trailing round her hips, then follow the curve of her belly, brushing over her ribs and her breasts, his large hands lathering them while he leans down to blow behind her ear, gentle kiss. Mmmm. She feels his cock fill and harden, writhing slickly against her back.

Without warning, she turns in his embrace and lets herself slide down, grabbing hold of his hips to steady herself as she drops to her knees.


She takes his cock into her mouth in one enthusiastic gulp. The sight of her lips stretched pink and warm and living around his cock is almost enough to undo him, and the feeling…oh Christ. He groans as all the blood in his body rushes South, and his knees feel ready to buckle from the weight of his erection as Cordelia takes all of him, hands firm on his hips holding him in place and then her tongue begins to move, slowly, torturously along the bottom of his cock, ohhhhhh…

If she ever did this with Harris, he'll have to kill him.

"Cor-del-iaaa," he groans pulling out of her mouth just before too late. Pulls her up, and carries her out of the shower, to the bedroom. She wriggles, rubbing herself on him, mouth locked on his throat. They’re both soaking wet and he doesn’t give a damn about the sheets, throws her down on the bed, falls with her.

They both remember how this next part goes. He lifts her up and she opens herself guiding him in till they're pressed belly to belly looking into each other's eyes, exhilarated. Because there's no going back now.

The sensation of being inside her is almost unbearably intense. Not like the ritual, when he'd been drugged and starving. He'd felt like a passenger in his own body, overwhelmed by sensation. This is not like that. He's in his right mind and this is no drugged reluctant stranger, this is Cordelia, the woman he loves. Cordelia, who has made him welcome in her body.

Beads of water glisten on her face and he's fully immersed in the pounding of her heart, the smell of her blood but Cordelia’s lack of fear has immunized him against the demon's urges. His mouth stays soft, his teeth blunt, as they nuzzle the hollow of her throat, tasting her. He begins to move, slowly, wanting this first time to last as long as possible. Needing to hear her scream his name.

When she does, when she trembles and convulses around him the joy he feels pushes him over the edge and the last time he felt like this he lost his soul. And they promised, promised it was safe, but they might have lied and it's too late to stop and he comes torn between terror and ecstasy.

"Hey," Cordelia says softly. He’s been lying there for what seems like hours, waiting for disaster, ready to warn her if he feels that first sickening slip. "You awake?"

"Um, sure." He feels really strange. He wonders if…Cordelia rolls over and kisses him. Snuggles closer.

"Happy?" Angel feels something vital shift inside him, and slide into place with a click. Happy. He’s happy. And it’s a good thing. He smiles.

"Yeah. I am."

3. Solstice


Yesterday had been gorgeous: a real California winter day. Pale sun gleaming in a perfect blue sky, the air just crisp enough to validate the season. Today the sky is full of clouds and a genuinely cold wind tugs and tears at the giant bells, candy canes, snowmen, icicles, and angels that hang over every downtown Sunnydale intersection.

The streets are packed with busy shoppers. Sylvia is in her element, she moves smoothly through the crowd from store to store, with Buffy following passively in her wake. She’s carrying some of Sylvia’s bags. She doesn’t have any of her own. She’s only here because Sylvia asked her to come. She's finished her shopping for this year. Before…she’d bought a Pashmina as a present for Mom. Pale blue, mom's favorite color. Maybe she'll give it to Sylvia.

“Time for lunch?” Sylvia says brightly.

They have lunch at El Bistro Canyada, which is a giant step up from the food hall where Buffy usually goes when she’s shopping at the mall. There are tablecloths made of actual cloth, real flowers, and the food is really good. Sylvia orders wine, and when she insists Buffy have some with her she doesn’t put up much of a fight. The wine is good and it takes some of the edge off all the frickin’ Christmas cheer.

Afterwards they go out to the car. There’s a line of cars backed up trying to escape from the parking lot. Sylvia switches on the classical station while they wait.

“Dear, I have one more errand to run -- if that's alright with you?” She says.

“Sure, “ Buffy says. She closes her eyes, just for a minute. She’s really tired. She’d been out patrolling most of the night. It’s the only thing she has left. Every night, she goes out to kill the monsters, keeping the faith with the one thing that’s truly hers. Making the evil things pay.

The last cemetery she hit was near Revello, and without conscious planning she’d found herself standing outside the darkened house. She’d listened to the silence for a long time before going up to the front door. Surprised when the key still worked.

When she switched on the light she could see that the damage done by the demons had been repaired; the only clue that anything had happened was the odor of fresh paint warring with the piney smell from the Christmas tree that stood forlornly in the foyer. Mom must have put it up just after… It had been neglected, there was a sad sprinkling of dried-out needles on the carpet. No presents under the tree. She let herself out and left the keys under the mat. She won’t be back.

So tired…

Sylvia glanced over at her sleeping passenger and smiled.

Los Angeles

Wesley hung up the phone and shook his head. He took a deep breath and swiveled his chair around to give them the news. Angel’s hand is on Cordelia’s shoulder. Again. These past few days he always seems to be touching her. Her hair, her arm, her back. Tactile reassurance.

“They’re prepared, as well as they can be for tonight,” he tells them. Cordelia’s hand reaches up, and squeezes Angel’s. Despite their grim expressions, they do not look like two people who just got news of Armageddon. He is not jealous, really he isn’t. But all of this billing a cooing seems a bit – inappropriate.

Cordelia screams.

As she’s pulled into the vision, she fights to keep focused on Angel’s arms holding her, but she can’t hold on. She’s lost in the maelstrom.

The school roof is gone and darkness pours out of the Hellmouth’s gape into the sky, staining it and the sky’s turned to blood and black clouds spread outwards and cover the town. Blood, and slime rain from the wounded sky and the people that fill the street in orderly procession are smiling and unconcerned. They all look so happy, coming her way, all dressed up with somewhere to go. Everyone’s smiling, and when a man loses his balance and goes down, they never pause. Smiling, unconcerned, they trample him and leave a dark smear on the pavement in their wake. They’re almost here…

Downtown Sunnydale with a brand new look. Glittering decorations and plastic snow stained with ruddy light. The streets packed with neatly dressed zombies all headed towards town hall where they line up to worship the skittering horror holding court there.

They’ve brought tribute. Piles of jewels and gold, and glass and porcelain, paintings and flowers. Money, in damp green heaps. A line of wailing infants ribboned and wrapped like presents in their onesies.

Willow, white faced her red hair streaming in the gale and her eyes are black as she raises her hand and draws down lightning…Angel, mangled and torn, falls screaming…nonononononono…Spike lying broken on the ground, thin and pale in a spreading pool of blood…

Spike, in game face, raising a sword. Angel, cutting a swathe through half-seen opponents, his face demonic, no attempt at hiding his joy as he hacks and slashes and blood sprays and… Wolf-Oz, fighting, muzzle dark, eyes mad... Buffy, golden, enraged, her lips skinned tight over her teeth as she raises her ax and jumps.

Not a mask, but an entire skin crumpled and gleaming.

The thing rises, horrible and smug, flexing in squirmy ecstasy and it's worse than the last time, because it’s *happy* and things with mandibles shouldn't be able to smile…


Looking straight at her. Seeing her, and this time it knows her name…

"Cordelia!" She's being shaken, and held too hard but that's a good thing because it means she has a body, she's back. She opens her eyes to find Angel holding her on his lap, Angel looking scared out of his mind. Not bothering to hide it.

"You wouldn't wake up! I didn't know what to do. God, Cordelia, if anything ever happened to you…”

Angel, falling, destroyed...

Her head hurts, hurts, hurts, but she doesn't have time. They don’t have time. "You've got to warn them, call them, and tell them: they've got to get out of Sunnydale, right now." She sits up. Oh shit. "Sorry," she manages to turn her head away before throwing up.


Buffy opened her eyes and glanced over guiltily at Sylvia. She just hopes she didn’t snore, or drool. She looks out at the passing scenery trying to work out how long she was out. Hey, isn’t this – yeah, Benvenido Drive, and coming up the ruins of Sunnydale High. She sits up a little straighter as Sylvia turns into the driveway. There have been changes since the last time she was here. Someone’s put up a chain link fence adorned with no trespassing signs around the school and there’s one of those office trailers next to the gates that Sylvia pulls the car up to. Maybe they’re going to rebuild, after all, Sunnydale does need a high school.

"What's going on? Why are we here?"

"I have a little business I need to take care of," Sylvia soothes. She taps once on the horn.

“Oh, OK.” Buffy yawns. Still so sleepy.

Two squat figures in security guard uniforms emerge from the portable and hustle to unlock the gate. Sylvia drives through and parks right in what used to be the main entrance. They get out of the car. Buffy shivers, it's cold, and she knows it won't be any warmer in the demolished building. Why are they here again? She turns back to the nice warm car, but Sylvia presses the remote and the doors lock with a click.

"Come along dear, this won’t take long."

"Are you sure we should be in here?" Buffy asks as they walk under the cracked and deadly motto. She doesn't get an answer.

It’s dark and damp and she remembers this stink from before, the smell of char and rottenness. She's definitely regretting the wine, her head feels fuzzy and she keeps seeing things, shadows at the edge of her vision. They killed all the demons, right? So the shadows moving at the edge of her vision and the furtive squelching, that's just her imagination. Sylvia certainly isn't worried; she strides through the red lit murk like she owns it. Where is that light coming from anyway?

"Uh, Sylvia," she says as they approach a ruined doorway she knows way too well. She wonders how many times the school had to repair the library doors between the Master, Spike's little Parents’ Night invasion and Angelus.

“Be quiet, dear,” Sylvia says placing her finger gently on Buffy’s lips. She waits, head cocked to one side as the Slayer’s words die in her mouth and her eyes glaze over. “That’s better, follow.”

She turns and walks deeper into the darkness. Buffy follows.

Her darlings fill the library, tall forms swaying, trunks gleaming with excitement. The air is filled with the adoring click of their teeth as they draw aside, clearing a path for her and her acolyte.

The light’s like blood and she’s surrounded by shadows that move and slither and her Slayer sense has her reaching for a weapon except she doesn’t have one and she’s not even sure she’s awake, and Sylvia hasn’t told her what they’re doing here and she can’t tell if she’s awake or dreaming and whether it matters...

Orexis stands staring down into the gaping hole in the floor of the ex-library. Below, she can feel the Hellmouth, ripe and ready. Waiting for her. “Stay here,” she tells Buffy, “I won’t be long.” Then she begins the long descent down the ladder that the Capteniel have woven from their own gladly sacrificed tendrils. It’s a long way down and the ladder swings and sways giddyingly in the darkness. She’s dizzy when she reaches bottom, has to take a moment to compose herself. Hard, so hard, standing in the shattered remnant of the church, feeling the power pulse around her, feeling it pressing against the barrier that keeps it closed. She almost feels sorry for the poor deluded vampire who’d been trapped here for years, surrounded by it, so close, and yet so far away. That fool Wilkins had dreamed of ‘Ascending’, but he’d never know the reality of it. So many had come and gone over the years, scheming to take what was rightfully hers. Finally, her time has come. She can feel it reaching out for her, eager for consummation. Above, she can feel the sun, weak and dying. The stars and planets tremble.

At the edge of the pool she sheds her clothes, and leans over to take one last look at the guise that has served her so well for so long. Pink and white, soft and smooth. She doesn’t think she’ll miss it at all.

The time has come. The Capteniel fall silent, knowing. She reaches out and takes hold of it, firmly, gently.

With a grating roar the bones of the thousands of sacrifices made here over the years erupt like fungi from the blood-soaked earth. Human and animal, skulls, ribs, vertebrae, femurs, humeri, scapuli and phalanges wriggle free of their grave and heap themselves up until the ground is almost invisible. The bones shift and slide randomly, then surge forward in a rattling wave intent on destroying the desecrator. Untroubled, Orexis wrenches the channel wider, battening on the flow of power, wrapping it around her. One gesture turns the assault to white dust.

The torches flare and the air is set alight, in a brilliant flash that bakes her and blinds her momentarily, but she heals herself easily with the power, so much power as the rift begins to open. She luxuriates in the rush feels it tearing and beating at the fabric of her body, soaking into her, filling her.

Her demons, her Slayer, watch from above as her belly swells, skin stretched tight obliterating all details, legs and face grotesque then impossible as oversized limbs and body are changed from within. Her eyes, her mouth, leak light, and then thin lines of light appear at her joints and she groans, as her body continues to swell and distort. There’s a slight ripping sound as the skin gives way, sloughing off her surging flesh to lie in wet ribbons at her feet ground. She screams in profound pleasure as muscle and organs and bone stretch to their limits and fall away in shreds as she finally emerges, moist and still a little soft, into the world.

Free at last.

She feels glorious. It’s been almost a century since she fully manifested, she’d forgotten how good it felt. The Hellmouth sings in her and the sensation of air blowing across new shell is delectable.

All the centuries of planning, the careful manipulation of humans and demons have led to this crowning moment. With her new senses she can see that the air around her is filled with a myriad of quivering silver threads, each of them leading to a sentient being. Every one of them meant just for her. She reaches out and gathers them in.


The sharp little claw grasps him delicately, the stiff little hairs tickling the underside of his limp cock. Disappointed, she fixes him with a glittering eye, then clicks at him indulgently and applies a little encouraging pressure.

Spike howls, his eyes snapping open to find the reassuringly empty darkness of his daylight haven. She’s not here, not here, not here… but this time the mantra gives him no comfort, because he can feel her. Here, all around him, coming for him. Sliding into his head, eating him from the inside out.

He slams the closet door open and rushes out of the room.

“Witch! She’s doing it now! Fucking do something!” Shouting as he runs down the hall. He reaches the landing and stops, seeing Willow at the foot of the stairs. She already knows. Her eyes have gone sparkly green and even in the daylight he can see a dim yellow aura surrounding her as she stands there with her arms outstretched.

When it hit Willow had two thoughts: Hmmm, didn’t know Spike’s voice could go that high. And: Fuck. They’d been wrong about the time. Not midnight.

The Hellmouth’s power runs over and under her skin, like ants swarming over a dead bird and the sheer weight of the power, the compulsion, is making her forget what, who, how...

She wants to see *Her*. Wants to go to her and bow down and beg for her touch, offer herself, flesh and soul to this wonderful being…

Then she’s back, as the amulets and protections and her own power kick in. She lifts her arms and concentrates. Orexis has the Hellmouth, but there’s so much power, she can easily divert some of it for her own purposes without her noticing. She hopes. There. The power floods into her, raw and invigorating. So easy, and so right to wield this kind of power.

She sees Spike, gaping at her and it’s funny, seeing him scared. See how he likes it. She can see the dark web of Orexis’ surrounding him. Greedy bitch. Willow reaches out and wipes the dark threads away. Part of her irrationally hoping that she feels the sting. Spike sags with relief and sits down on the top step, leaning against the wall.

“Pardon,” Giles says, stepping over him. He comes down the stairs arm and arm with Joyce, both of them smiling inanely. Weird, they look like they’re going out somewhere. She doesn’t think she’s ever seen Joyce in high heels before.

"Willow, aren’t you going to change?” Giles asks. “We should go soon."

Joyce nods, and pats his arm. "We’d hate to be late."

Willow closes her eyes, and sees the black threads attached in the middle of his and Joyce's foreheads. Blinding their third eyes. She can feel the immense power pulsing through the thread, but fulcrum and force is everything. Again, she reaches out and tears them away. Watches curiously as the lines writhe and twist in the ether before reluctantly fading away.

Giles and Joyce shudder, and have to hold each other up. "My God…" he says, as realization hits. “Willow, thank you.”

"We have to get out of here," Spike says.

Willow nods. “Yup. Now.”

“Oh dear God, what about Xander, and Alice…” Joyce says.


The phone rings.

It struck her like a hurricane, tearing at her making her skin itch and crawl, making her teeth ache in their sockets, her bones shift under the skin, her body wanting fur and four legs and change. She can feel the urge moving through her, slowly not like the normal lightning. Can feel each cell straining to shift, her nails thickening and lengthening into deadly weapons as they sink into the tips of her fingers, as her fingers thicken and fold into toes and tough pads and …

Alice clenches her hand around the knife she’d been using to spread mayonnaise onto her sandwich, and focuses on it, plastic handle and tiny serrations, human hand with nails not claws, smooth brown skin not fur, fighting to hold herself, to be Alice, for the sake of the tiny thing inside her that she suddenly want more than anything in the world. She feels the power beating at her like a bad wind, roaring around her, making her blind, deaf, helpless. She shudders, her control slipping, then feels something reach out to her, cool and calm and set it aside. Like closing a window, setting up a windbreak. And she can breathe again.

Panting, she lets the knife drop.

The phone is ringing. She picks it up. “Hello?”

“Alice? Are you and Xander O.K.?” It’s Willow.

"Baby, what about this one?" Xander stands in the doorway, beaming at her. She figures this must be his funeral suit, she's never seen it before, black and shiny. She didn't even know he owned a tie. She can’t think of anything to say.

"Xander?” Willow says. Xander’s still waiting for an answer.

“Are you sure you want to wear that? What about your new outfit.” Alice says.

He frowns, considering. "Oh. Yeah. Maybe you’re right. Hey, shouldn't you be getting dressed?"

She is calm. She is in control. "I’ll be upstairs in a minute, I want to look just right."
He nods in complete understanding, and goes back upstairs.

"Alice? What’s happening. Are you guys OK?" The phone says.

"Aahh. I'm fine. I guess. But Xander’s gone a little nuts.”

“Damn. I can’t do anything from here. We’ll be there in 10 minutes. Just don’t let him leave. “

“I won’t. But hurry.”

“Alice?” Xander called.

She put her hand over the receiver. “Be right there.”

“Hurry,” she whispered into the phone and hung up.

Willow hangs up and tries to think. Giles, Joyce, check, Spike, check. Go and get Xander and Alice. Check. Oz is in LA. The Dingoehad a gig, and Giles told him to go. Check. Buffy.

Buffy’s on her own.

They’ve had bags packed for days. She straightens her back.

“Let’s move people!”

Los Angeles

“Any luck?” Angel asks as Wesley puts the phone down. Wesley shakes his head.

“The lines are still down. Both the landlines and every single cellular station in the Sunnydale area.” They look at each other.

“It’s been three hours,” Cordelia says softly. Three solid hours of trying to reach their friends in Sunnydale. Of having the horrors in her vision repeat inside her head on continuous loop. Of feeling helpless and useless and doomed. Wondering if they shouldn’t have gotten in the car and headed for Sunnydale straightaway of trying to reach them by phone.

The phone rings.

Cordelia snatches it up. “Hello?”

“Cordelia, it’s me. Willow.”

“Willow, God. We’ve been trying to reach you for hours. You have to get out of there. Right now!” Willow laughs.

“Yeah, we know. She opened the Hellmouth. We couldn’t stop her.”

“Oh,” she’d known, but the news still hurt. “Are you OK?”

“Everyone’s fine. We’re on the 101 outside Ventura, ought to be in LA in a couple of hours.”

“Do you know how to get here?“

“Xander remembers. See you soon.”


She put down the phone, her hand shaking only a little. Looks up at the two men hovering hopefully, and makes herself smile. "They made it. They're on their way here. Everyone’s O.K."

Everyone who isn’t in Sunnydale anyway.


Next: part 12, Antithesis

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