Part 12





1. Season’s Greetings



Liza wakes when it’s still grey and dark outside. She sleeps less and less these days. Not like there’s much reason to linger in an empty bed. She puts on her robe and goes to the parlor and settles in the window seat to watch dawn creep slowly into the world.

Day comes, but the light is pale and grey, the sun hidden behind snow-heavy clouds. Looks like it’ll be a white Christmas for sure. Shame there aren't any kids around to help her appreciate it, but Anna Mae isn't bringing the granddaughters to visit this year. Says it’s too busy at work, she just can’t take the time. Course, as Anna Mae would surely point out, she could have come up to Chicago, but she wasn’t sure of her welcome. Things have been a little strained between them lately. Her youngest daughter has become a stranger, like the others.

Seems like she falls out with all her girls sooner or later. Ophelia was in Dublin last she heard. She has Jean's address and phone number in New York and they talk every couple of months. As for Alice, until she called from California she hadn't heard from her for nearly five years; and hasn’t heard from her since she sent the money and the ID. She’s not sure where the blame lies, most likely it's an even split. Too close, and not close enough was the problem. Easy to fool yourself that you understand another's mind because you share the same face. Or maybe it’s not that at all. She’s not the only old woman who never hears from her kids.

She breathes softly on the cold glass and draws neat lines in the condensation as she looks out at the scene. Grey sky, brown earth, and black branches with a few stray brown leaves rattling overhead. She’s sick of winter already, and it’s barely started. She ought to just pick up and go. Leave this widow’s house, wash the false grey from her hair and burn all her baggy old-woman dresses. Catch a plane to somewhere green and warm, try out one of them thongs and pick up some nice brown-skin man off the beach and fuck him foolish. The only thing stopping her is herself.

Cars start to roll by regularly as people head to work, the world’s waking up. She takes herself into the kitchen and makes herself breakfast. She hopes she never gets too old to appreciate a good strong cup of coffee, buttery grits, scrambled eggs and toast. She wishes she had someone to share it with. Jackson. After 20 years she still catches herself looking across the table and expecting to see him. Doesn't think she'll ever get married again, she just doesn't have the heart for it anymore.

The phone rings and she goes tense. No-one ever calls with good news this early in the morning. She's half tempted not to answer, but she does.


"Merry Christmas mama, it's Alice." Her heart turns over at the sound of her daughter’s voice.

"Baby girl! It's so good to hear from you. Is everything all right?"

"Yeah, sure mama, everything's fine. Just felt like talking to you." She’s a little bit annoyed that the child thinks she can get away with telling lies to her mother but there’s no point in calling her on it, Alice always was a close-mouthed child.

"You still in California?"

"Uh-huh. Me and Xander are getting along real fine.” Liza’s eyes check the plastic rooster clock Jackson gave her almost 40 years ago and does a quick calculation; it's 4:10 a.m. in the morning in California. Uh-huh, everything is just fine.

"Good, good. So how's the weather there in sunny California? Bout ready to snow here."

They talk awhile, pleasantly and shallowly. She passes on news of Alice’s sisters and other relatives; finds herself saying that she may be moving on soon. Alice says that might be a good thing. Tells her about her new house, her garden and Xander. Her voice is happy, but the more she talks, the more obvious it is that there’s something wrong. And it's not her man for once. It's something that can’t be fixed by leaving.

“Well, mama, guess I’d better go now. Have a good Christmas.”

“Bless you child. Call me at New Year’s?”

“If I can. Love you mama.”

“Love you baby.”

The connection ends and she sits there alone, hands clenched together in the ugly winter light.

Los Angeles


I’m dreeeeming of a whiiiiiiite Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
Where treetops glisten and children listen

Xander snorts. This is southern California and, apocalypse or no apocalypse, snow is not in the forecast. Not that it’s exactly balmy. 40 degrees is plenty cold enough for Alice to need her new coat and he kinda wishes he'd borrowed something a little more substantial from Wesley than a windbreaker. There’s supposed to be frost overnight. It’ll be even colder in Sunnydale, further north and …he changes mental channels, looks for a better station on the radio.

i will buy you a garden
where your flowers can bloom
i will buy you a new car
perfect shiny and new
i will buy you that big house
way up in the west hills
i will buy you a new life
yes i will

That’s more like it. He glances over at Alice. Her reflection in the glass is made of shadows. She looks almost as tired as he feels; neither of them has been getting much sleep and not in a good way. Mostly it’s the situation, but the lumpy mattress Wesley graciously gave up to them isn’t helping much. He’s sleeping on the couch and Xander thinks maybe he got the better deal.

Left at Central, right at Montecito, and this must be the place. It’s a 1920’s one-story stucco complex. Number 2, Cordelia’s unit, is at the front. He sees a flicker of movement at the front window as they get out of the car. Someone’s keeping a lookout. Good.

Cordelia opens the door wearing a huge smile, sweater with gold and silver embroidered reindeer over a red leather mini-skirt and a velvet Santa hat even he can tell she didn't pick up at Walgreens.

"Hey, you guys!” she says. “We were beginning to get worried. Everyone else is already here."

“Wow,” Alice says as they step inside the apartment. He has to agree. Cordelia has gone all out with the Christmas thing. The heavily decorated Christmas tree is so tall that the star on top barely clears the ceiling; brightly wrapped presents are piled underneath. The air is full of good cooking smells.

Xander jumps when their ‘Secret Santa’ gifts are gently pulled out of his arms by an unseen force. "Thanks,” Cordelia says to the air. “Dennis will put them under the tree, OK? We’ll be eating in a few minutes. And you can relax Xander, I did *not* make it myself. Want some homemade eggnog?"

“Eggnog sounding good right about now,” he says.

“Come on, it’s in the kitchen.”

Willow’s sitting on the couch. She smiles. “Hey Xander,” she says. She’s holding a tall glass and from the flush in her cheeks he’s pretty sure it isn’t Pepsi-Free – or at least not only. That’s new and not of the good, but her parents, like his, are missing presumed in Sunnydale.

"Hey Willow."

Giles is sharing the loveseat with Wesley. “Merry Christmas!” Giles says, a little too loudly and Wesley gives a little wave. They’re both well on the way to being drunk. But hey, it's Christmas, supposed to be a party, right? Sounds like a plan.

Xander’s Christmas cheer curdles when he spots Spike sitting in the corner, as far away from the others as he can manage. What the hell is he doing here? He really doesn’t get why they’re still putting up with the bloodsucker. As far as he's concerned they'd gone above and beyond when they let him tag along during the Escape From Sunnydale. He opens his mouth to say something -- and feels Alice's hand on his arm, giving him a little squeeze. He takes a deep breath and lets it go.

When they walk into the kitchen Joyce looks up briefly from putting the final touches on what looks like a really good dinner to smile and say “Hi guys.” Then she goes back to work.

“Xander, Alice… Merry Christmas,” Angel says. He’s standing at the back door, as far out of the way as he can manage, looking about as comfortable as John Ashcroft at a Wiccan solstice celebration. Alice nods and stands a little closer to Xander; she’s still not entirely comfortable around Angel, probably never will be. He gets that.

“Hey Angel, Merry Christmas,” cause he can do civil.

Cordelia gives him a peck on the cheek on her way to the eggnog and Xander's amazed to see the usual clouds of brood clear from his massive brow. The guy looks almost human. Who’d a thought? And look, dark purple sweater, not black.

Cordelia dips him out a cupful of creamy fluid from the punchbowl on the counter and hands it to him, beaming. “Here you go, Angel made this so it’s ye olde genuine egge nogg.” Xander thinks about Angel. Cooking. He flashes on an image of Angel in a frilly apron with flour on his nose and nearly loses it.

“’Kay.” He takes a cautious sip. Oh yeah, this is the good stuff. Just enough nog to cut the rum’s burn as it slides down. “Tasty.”

“Want some?” Cordelia offers a cup to Alice, but she waves it away with a smile.

“Soda, 7-up if you’ve got it. I’m the designated driver tonight.”

No-one else knows yet about the baby. They’ll have to tell the others pretty soon, but for now this good news is something they’re keeping for themselves. Their own personal silver lining, in the midst of this deep black cloud.

Willow can’t believe it when Xander blows right past her and disappears into the kitchen with the girlfriend and Cordelia. Hey! Best friend here, you know, the one who helped you pass algebra, geometry, biology, hell, if it weren’t for me you’d probably still be stuck in fourth grade working on your times 8’s! Willow takes another swig of her not-nearly-strong enough drink. Whoa, getting a little tipsy here, but so what? Not like she’s got a long way to go to get home. Just down the hall, turn left and she’ll be back in her cozy little refuge in Cordelia’s spare bedroom. Complete with twin bed and front row seats to the Angel and Cordelia sex show, Live Every Night! You’d think they’d show some consideration, remember she was right there, but no.

Hey, story of her life, it never changes. Good old Willow, handy to have around when you miss the class assignment or need to be rescued from evil magics, but once that’s over, well pat her on the head and go back to looking straight through her.

Ira and Sheila are just the same. They’d been due back from their conference the day after the solstice. She’d tried to contact them, left email and text messages, phoned the university, warned them not to go home…but she never got through, and she hasn’t heard from them, so they probably ignored her messages, if they ever got them and they’re there now, in Sunnydale.

Another sip. She’s going to need a refill pretty soon. She’s not good at the drinking, but she needs it tonight. This is a very weird Christmas, not that they aren’t all slightly weird for her, being doubly non-Christian and all.

She’d saved them, dammit. Her, Willow Rosenberg. If she closes her eyes she can still taste the power she’d tapped into. She could do so much with that kind of power. Make every vampire in Sunnydale light up like a torch, clean the sewers of every evil thing, and make Sunnydale the safe place everyone pretends it is. Maybe then they’d see her.

~ * ~

He saw that look Harris gave him. ‘Who the hell does he think he is horning in on their happy Yule celebration?’ Fuckin’ git, but he has a point: What in hell is he doing here? If any of them have the stones to ask (hah!) he’s here for the free booze. He’d stake himself before he’d admit the truth. For the first time in more than a century his black queen isn’t here to share Christmas with him, and this apartment holds the only other tie he has left to this rotten, stinking earth. Angelus. The bastard.

His kitten loved Christmas and for 120 years they feasted on the season’s largesse. Unwary carolers, street urchins begging for pennies, the servants sent into the night on a last-minute errand, maids used to beer sozzled by brandy, bangtails rendered amiable and unwary by the season’s cheer. Last minute shoppers weighed down with gifts, inebriated suits staggering home from office parties, lonely singles in tinseled bars, shopkeepers closing late… He smiles nostalgically at the memory of that family – was that in Maine? Massachusetts? – pulled from their big warm car, bodies and bright wrapping paper and blood scattered across the snow.

Their very last Christmas, Dru and him got themselves invited into a house up in Malibu with a fantastic view of the Pacific. The Silvers. They'd gorged themselves on the family, saved the housekeeper and the au pair for Christmas dinner. Spent most of the day in the master bedroom with the drapes drawn, fucking and surfing through the 435 digital channels on the big screen TV. Had fun unwrapping the impressively expensive gifts under the tree and tossing the stuff they didn’t like over the balcony to join the corpses in the brush filled ravine below. Dru kept a pair of earrings, a silk nightie, and an electronic dog she taught her name to. Spike liked the digital video camera, used it to record him and Dru doing the housekeeper in the master bedroom. They'd sniggered at the increasingly more concerned messages left by friends and family on the answering machine. As the sun went down they made the au pair drink a whole bottle of very fine brandy, and then drank her before setting the place on fire and leaving.

If he’d known that a year later his black queen would be dust and that he would be huddled in the corner of an ex-cheerleader’s apartment sucking on a bottle of cheap bourbon and keeping quiet, desperate to be allowed to stay, he’d have poured the gasoline over his head, and lit up a ciggie. He’s fucking pathetic, and he knows it. But he’s not shuffling off until he pays that bitch back for Dru.

He turns his head and catches Angel looking at him. Wonder what he’s thinking about? Same as him, maybe. Angelus had been fond of Christmastime himself, though he was more into displays of his precious ‘artistry’ – the virgin ravaged in the parlor and left dead under the mistletoe, the father staked with holly on his own doorstep, the children found dead in their beds on Christmas morn – than wholesale slaughter. Is that what he’s thinking about in this atmosphere thick with human scent? Bothers him that he can’t read his expression, never has been good at reading the bastard’s moods even when he is sober. He mouths ‘Merry Christmas’ sarcastically and looks away.

Hey guys, dinner’s ready!” He winces at the cheerleader’s strident voice and shrinks back a little more as everyone but him heads toward the table. How the hell had Angel fallen for her? She’s got a good figure, and a nice enough face, but fucking hell, what a voice. Then again, he must like the forceful type, after all he stuck with Darla all those years.

Six humans, one semi-human, and a vampire sit down to dinner. They eat (even Angel nibbles in a concession to the company), and drink, and make as good an imitation of making merry as can be expected. He does his best to support the scenario. He wants a Happy Christmas too with his love by his side, playing Lady Bountiful to the hilt, surrounded by friends (some of them his). Joy to the World, Peace to All Men.

But his eyes keep being drawn to the thin, hunched form in the corner. His own personal Ghost of Christmas Past. Spike hasn’t moved from his corner since dinner started. He’s been quiet all night. Abnormally so for him. He was drunk when he arrived and he's worked hard at staying that way. Angel isn't sure why he came at all. He knows Cordelia didn’t invite him. It wasn't impossible however, that Joyce had. She’d befriended Faith, after all. Angel was the one she never liked; though now he's away from Buffy her mother seems much more relaxed around him.

Spike’s probably thinking about the good old days. Fondly reliving the decades of Christmases he’d desecrated with Drusilla, maybe even the 15 he’d shared with Angelus. He and Spike are not friends. Never were, never will be, but the blood tie can’t be denied. Spike is alone; the star he’d circled for more than a hundred years is gone forever. Angel knows all about that, he remembers Darla turning him away in disgust and the shock of realizing that he’d lost her forever.

It had surprised him how disturbed he'd been by the news that Drusilla had finally gone to dust. She’d been Angelus’ great accomplishment, his prize, his mistress. He hadn’t loved her, Angelus never loved anyone or anything except himself, and his soul knows she’s better freed at last from her madness…still, he wishes things could be different.

After dinner they move back into the living room. The two couples curl up with each other, quietly content. Willow’s nodding; Wesley picks up the remote and starts surfing. Angel starts to clear the table.

“Everybody got what they need? “ Cordelia says once they’re settled.

“Good, cause I really need to get out of these heels.” She favors them with another blinding smile, and exits.

Xander snuggles into Alice and drapes his arm around her. She’s drowsy and just about to nod out. They might have to get a taxi back after all, don’t want to take any chances. He’s feeling pretty mellow. Really good eggnog. And wine with the dinner, and more eggnog.

Despite everything, this has turned out to be kinda nice. He wonders if it makes him a bad person if he admits to himself that he isn’t really missing being at La Casa Harris for the traditional seasonal drunken fights and lonely campout on the lawn. With a little luck they might not have even noticed the Hellmouth opening. It would take more than that to break though the alcoholic haze. Yeah, they’re O.K. The Harrises and cockroaches can survive anything.

He wishes Oz had come, but he understands why he didn’t. He’s in L.A, but they haven’t seen him yet. It’s too tough for the guy, being around Willow. Oz had talked to Giles, said he’d go back with them when they decided to take Orexis down. But no hanging out with the gang, not anymore.

Wesley rises carefully from his place on the couch, mindful of the fact that he’s quite drunk. His departure goes unnoticed by the loving couples, but he senses Spike’s unfriendly gaze on him as he passes by on his way to the bathroom.

Bladder relieved, he heads back. He’s in the hallway, about to step out into the living room when he sees Angel standing over Spike. Wesley stands very still, and shamelessly eavesdrops.

"Spike," Angel says.

"What?" Spike lifts his head blearily, doesn't see anything he likes and drops it again.

"I just wanted you to know…I'm sorry, about Dru."

Spike's head snaps up, he’s coiled and ready to strike – but his anger fizzles when he sees genuine sorrow in Angel's eyes and realizes that despite the fact that the bastard would probably have killed her on sight, he means what he says.

"Yeah. Thanks mate.” He stands, a little unsteadily. "Goin’ out for a smoke.”

~ * ~

Cordelia closes the door carefully as she sneaks into her bedroom. She takes off her Jimmy Choo $231 on sale instruments of torture and lies down flat on her bed with a sigh. Never knew it was such hard work making other people happy. Her Mom used to do it every year for 30 people, but she had unlimited funds, domestic help, and a caterer. Her daughter had to make do with Trader Joe’s, Prebles, and Joyce.

Xander’s parents. Buffy, Willow’s parents, her mother. (Dad’s safe in the minimum security unit at Tehachapi) Mrs. Daley who lived across the street, Mr. Patel who ran the Winchell’s around the corner… no way of telling if any of them are still alive.

She’s sure Mom is OK. It would take more than the Hellmouth opening and some demon mind-control hoo-hah to shift Mom from the house she’s so far managed to hold onto in defiance of the IRS. She’s probably sitting at home right now, sipping a nice chardonnay, watching Pretty Woman again.

Anyway, it was worth the maxed-out Visa and all the hard work to see Giles crack a smile, to hear Willow and Xander teasing each other, admittedly a little stiffly. Joyce is still pretty quiet, but she seemed happier tonight than she has in a while. Even Wesley seemed a little less morose. God that guy really needs a girlfriend. After all this stuff with Orexis is done that’s her new project. The only one who doesn’t seem to be happy is Spike, and she just can’t bring herself to give a damn. Who the hell invited him anyway?

“Cordy?” Angel slips into the room and shuts the door behind him so he’s a shadow against the dark. He sits down next to her. “Tired huh?” He puts a comfortably cool hand on her shoulder.

“Yeah. A little. Just needed a little break. Five more minutes, and then we’ll do the gift exchange, and start pushing people out the door.”

“Good, this is our first Christmas. I want to spend some time alone with you.”

“Mmmm, me too. You might have to carry Willow to her room though, she’s been hitting the rum and coke kind of hard.”


“Whoops!” Willow giggles as she stumbles out onto the tiny back porch of Cordelia’s apartment and trips on the uneven boards. The cold air clears her head a little but not a lot, she shivers, realizing that she should have put on a coat but she’d really needed to get away from all the luuurve in there. She leans over the railing and takes a deep breath of the night air – and coughs when she gets a lungful of stinky smoke instead. She leans out a little further looking for the guilty party, and spots a tiny orange coal burning in the darkness, and a familiar shadowy figure leaning against the wall.

“Spike, hey, wondered where you went. How ya doin’?”

Bugger, can’t even have a quiet smoke. He doesn’t answer her, which seems to irritate the silly bitch. She stomps down the stairs and marches up to him, fails to stop soon enough and lurches into him. She reeks like a still, but despite that he’s annoyed when the feel of soft warm flesh, ripe with the promise of blood triggers a response. She puts her arms around him and presses closer but he shoves her away. Not tonight, not now, when Drusilla is haunting him, when she seems so close he can almost touch her. He pushes Willow away.

“Push off girl, not in the mood,” he snaps. She tilts her head and squints up at him, she doesn’t seem impressed.

“Nope. Not gonna.” She smirks and moves back in. “C’mon, Spikey, you know you want me,” she opens her mouth and closes her eyes, stretching up towards him like she expects him to kiss her. He shakes her as hard as he can stand to until she opens her eyes again.

"What makes you think I want you?" he sneers. He expects wails, hurt looks, but what he gets is her hand reaching between his legs and taking firm hold of him. Even through a layer of denim he can feel the heat of her hand.

"You said so," she says, fondling him familiarly. "Said you wanted me.” There’s an unnerving glint in her eye. “Anyway even if you didn't, I could *make* you want me."

A cold chill runs down his spine at the quiet menace in her childlike voice. His cock goes diamond hard. Fuck him; where did the mouse go? He wraps his arms around her and pulls her into the shadows with him, switching places so she’s pinned against the wall. He holds her in place with his body while his hands slip under her sweater, one to cup a breast while his other hand works at her waistband.

Willow’s hot little hands reach under his shirt, scratching lines of fire down his back with her nails. Tweaking his nipples, trailing down his side, under his ribs. She grinds her mound into his crotch and the frustrating friction is driving him out of his head. Clever little hands unzip him and his erection springs out to meet the cool air and the warmth of her palm.

He looks her in the eye and sees a shadow there like his reflection. She bares perfect little teeth, dips her head and latches onto his throat, sucking and biting, and he forgets his misgivings. He wrenches at her clothes ripping her skirt and her sensible cotton underwear, getting them out of the way. He fingers her slowly, seeking out her clit and quickly finds the rhythm and the pressure that makes her gasp and slicken. The sweet smell of her arousal rises between them; the wet heat of her under his hand is intoxicating. He works her until she shudders and comes hard, clamping his hand over her mouth to smother the noise.

He thrusts two fingers into her while she’s still trembling and she groans and bites down hard; the sensation of her teeth grating against his collarbone sends an electric shock through him. He wants inside her, now. He removes his fingers, lifts her up, braces her against the wall and pushes himself inside her in one smooth motion. He groans, she’s so hot and tight it hurts; it’s like she has a little bit of Hell inside her cunt. Willow squeaks with surprise, and grabs his shoulders for balance. She glares at him and then with a determined look she pushes herself down on him, taking him in. Well if that’s what the lady wants…

He hammers her hard and fast, meaning to bruise her, mark her, make her sore, make her feel him, make her know she’s being fucked by him, by Spike, by a monster that would suck her dry and leave her a corpse in this alley if he only could. Willow groans and gasps and meets each thrust with her own; she claws his back bloody. He welcomes the pain that stabs and scissors through his flesh as Giles’ spell is triggered. Worth it to make sure she’ll never forget this, never forget him. They shake and groan together torn by pain and passion. His face shifts, his fangs hovering over her pale sweating skin as he trembles on a knife’s edge, wanting her blood, wanting her dead, not wanting this to end. He smells blood as the stucco abrades her bare back and it breaks his control, he sinks his fangs into her and that brief taste of vivid life in his mouth pushes him over the edge, he spills into her as agony explodes inside his head in a black nova and he falls out of the world.

In the kitchen, Angel freezes. His eyes go narrow and thoughtful.

“Baby? Something up?” Cordelia says coming through with another load of dishes. Angel seems to be listening to something. He stands very still for a moment, then shakes it off.

“No. Nothing. Why don’t you go lie down? I’ll load the dishwasher.”

“’Kay.” She kisses his nose. “Love you.”

“Uhm, hmm.”

The world is spinning around Spike in an interesting way. He’s lying flat on his back on the cracked cement and Willow’s lying on top of him, panting, hands fisted into his coat, eyes shut tight. “And to all a good night,” he says, and laughs.

“Think I’m gonna be sick,” Willow mumbles, and is.

Spike can’t stop laughing.

Angel loads the dishwasher, makes sure the back door is unlocked, and goes to bed.


It’s Christmastime and she wants snow. It’s traditional after all.

A negligible flexing of the vast new powers she commands, and snow and dead birds start to fall from the abruptly frigid sky. Two feet of snow falling in less than two hours, transforms Sunnydale into a monochrome fantasy. Frost rimed palms gleam in the bright but powerless sun.

That done she turns her attention to the decorations. The Sunnydale Chamber of Commerce had made a good start, but she thinks perhaps a bit more tinsel and some long chains of vertebrae sprayed gold and silver plus as many Christmas lights as the lightpoles can handle. The different sizes each have their own timbre and the dull clunk and chock of the skulls she hangs alongside the bells add that final touch.

Wherever she goes her slayer goes too, endearingly if unnecessarily ready to defend her mistress. Her long blondish hair hangs loose and she still wears the clothes she wore on the day of her assumption. They are showing signs of wear and Orexis has plans for more appropriate garb for her. Still, she’s beautiful as she is, all doubt and fear wiped clear from her lovely eyes. She is as she should be – a weapon, a perfect killer.

She sets up her court in the foyer of City Hall. She’s always liked the building and the symbolism pleases her. There’s no reason for her to be physically close to the Hellmouth after all; she could control its powers from the other side of the earth if need be.

She watches happily as demons and humans labor devotedly together to build a dais and throne for her. While other faithful subjects bring tribute that rises in piles to fill the internal courtyard. The reflecting pool is the perfect size for a bath. In the wide street before her new home they build an arena of chain link topped with electrified barb wire.
The Dicksons are the centerpiece of her first night’s feast. The Capteniel line them up for her on the table, arranged by size: father, mother, son, and daughter, bound, crying and struggling vainly. She’d released them from her control so they can fully appreciate what’s happening to them.

She begins with the girl, taking her time about choosing the perfect place to insert her sting, then carefully calibrating just the right amount of venom to inject into the tender child flesh. She sighs with delight when she feels that delicious shudder as the girl’s entire body convulses in reaction to the venom and then goes slack as her heart stops. She watches as the parents stare in horrified disbelief as their child’s body begins to bloat and swell, her features distorting as everything inside her skin liquefies. The boy is next. She saves Trish and George for last.

She can’t remember when she’s had a better meal.


2. …and a Happy New Year

“Special New Year’s Eve Celebration! $10 Cover Before 10 p.m.! Free Buffet and Champagne at Midnight!”

Signs painted in the traditional neon on black card stock lead down an industrial street to a side entrance decorated with a huge banner reiterating: “Club Nuit! Special New Year's Celebration!” Music leaks out into the cool winter night when the steel doors open to admit yet another customer.

Inside the club has been done up for New Year’s Eve with streamers and cartoons of grinning babies and old men with scythes. It's barely 10'oclock but the place is already near capacity. Male and female bodies are packed together like mating squid on the dance floor, skins shining with youth and sweat, faces upturned to the flashing lights, moving to the beat, bodies ruled by the imperatives of music, inebriation, and sex.

Up in the DJ's booth, there’s not an inch to spare. It’s crammed full of the party’s organizers all of them pressed close to the edge for as good a view as possible of the dance floor. The air in the crowded booth is thick with the anticipation of blood and violence.

Looking down, Al finds himself remembering his last New Year’s as a human. He’d spent it dancing in a club too, only it was Les Brown and his band of Renown and dry-humping your dance partner was not permitted on the dance floor.

“Nice? Yes?” Al asks his master. Orgon is a tall, overweight, balding, vampire with a long straggly mustache. He looks like what he used to be – a biker on the downside of 30 when he’d been turned. He’s only a little more than 20 years undead, but he’s got the drive and fighting skills to make himself a master while Al is, and always will be a minion.

"Oh man, look at that. Juicy," he growls. “I’ve been getting ready for this. Haven’t fed for two days.”

"So we lock the doors at ten minutes to, and as soon as they start the countdown…"

"All you can eat," Orgon smacks his lips. Al winces inside. Sometimes he wishes the master could be a little more couth.

"Just look at them. Getting all juiced up and sweaty. This is gonna be great! Hey, tell ya what Al…What the fu…" Orgon’s mouth goes wide in shock, and widens and widens until it eclipses his head and merges into the cloud of his mortal remains.

Mission accomplished, the crossbow bolt falls to the floor. The other vampires in the booth stare in disbelief at the pile of dust before bursting into action. They rush the door, fighting to escape the booth. Another crossbow bolt hits the DJ in the eye and he topples over. Downstairs, the screaming starts.

The spotlights continue to strobe off the huge disco ball, even though the music went dead shortly after the fighting started. Clouds of dust swirl in the colored rays and Angel slowly lowers his sword as he realizes that there’s nothing left to kill in his immediate vicinity. Scanning around he sees that the only vamps left on the dance floor are Spike and a couple of stragglers who’d been too dumb to run when they had the chance.

Spike is doing fine, he’s enjoying himself judging by the manic grin on his face. Giles and Wesley, dusty but intact, are sitting just off the dance floor watching the show.

Xander emerges from behind the bar with a half-case of champagne. “It's quitting time!” he says. He plonks it down on the table and begins handing the bottles round. Giles looks dubious. “Hey, belonged to the bad guys, I don’t think they’re gonna be celebrating the New Year in Hell,” Xander rationalizes.

Giles shrugs, then takes a bottle and opens it with a practiced twist.

Angel joins Cordelia, who’s still standing with Willow by the exit. They'd seen to it that the panicked customers who’d paid a $10 cover in order to nearly end up on an all-you-can eat vampire buffet got out safely. An axe is a very forgiving weapon and Cordelia has the voice of command *down*. And Willow…

Willow has a new trick. She teleports small and extremely fragile glass balls filled with holy water into vampire hearts. It’s very effective. They burn up from the inside out in spectacular fashion. It makes his skin crawl. The demon in him is frightened and thrilled in equal parts. The man in him wonders if the world might not be better off if he simply snapped her neck without waiting for the darkness he senses inside her to grow any stronger.

"Can we go home now?" Cordelia asks leaning against him with a sigh. Angel puts his arms around her.

"Soon,” he murmurs. “You're hurt," he adds, his voice changing. She looks up at him, puzzled.


"Your lip," to his eyes, even in the dim light the blood on her lip gleams red and precious. She explores her lip with her tongue and shrugs, dismissing the injury.

"One of the vamps kinda flailed at me when the taser hit him. Willow dusted him." Then, responding to the gleam in his eye she adds. “But better safe than sorry.”

He bends down and covers her mouth with his. She feels the familiar smooth and coolness of his tongue, tracing her lips, begging entry; she grants it gladly. His tongue delicately explores the tear, sopping up the tiny traces of blood.

Willow ignores Mr. and Mrs. Mack and watches Spike instead.

There's only one baddie left in the ring. He swings at Spike, misses. Spike laughs and lunges forward and Willow hears a mushy crunch as he punches through meat and bone and into the other vampire’s chest. Spike pulls back his fist and lets his opponent fall. This time he stays down. Willow guesses he'd figured out that he's gonna be dusted anyway, so why drag it out? Spike curses and kicks him a few more times before admitting defeat and staking him.

Spike grins; there's blood on his mouth. God he’s beautiful. He’s a beautiful serial killer, responsible for thousands of deaths. She knows that. She wonders how his score compares to Angel. Hard to calculate, cause while on the one hand Angel’s older by a century and change one the other hand you had to take into consideration that he’d been out of circulation for most of a century. She doesn’t think that even with his six month long Sunnydale comeback tour Angel can have made up that much ground, Scourge of Europe, or no Scourge of Europe. So maybe about even? You’re probably talking into the high 5 maybe even 6 figures for both of them. That’s a lot of dead people. Not that anyone seems to care. Not when it’s Angel anyway. First Buffy, and now Cordelia, seem perfectly happy to suck face with a mass-murderer. But Spike is a monster, an unredeemable thing.

Xander waves a bottle at them. “Hey guys, come on – champagne!”


“This is good,” Xander says leaning back. And it is. Good, to be drinking with comrades amidst the dust of the bad guys. It had been a good fight – all innocents rescued, no serious injuries on their side. For the first time in weeks they feel like they’ve done something right. Sunnydale still hangs over all their heads, but right now, they can push it to the back of their minds.

“Total destruction to our enemies!” Spike says, raising his bottle.

“Cheers,” Wesley seconds after a moment’s hesitation. They all clink.

“So, Cordy, we’re done for the night, right?” Xander asks.

Cordelia nods vigorously. “Uh-huh. Not a twinge. Which is not a dare, OK?” she adds glaring at the ceiling.

“Great, so maybe me and Alice can watch the countdown.”

“Sirens heading this way,” Spike says. Angel nods.

“Time to go.”

Giles stands. “What time is it?” he asks. Cordelia checks her watch.

“Half-past 10.”

“Good. Angel, can I trouble you for a ride back to the office? I promised Joyce I’d take her to the Biltmore if we finished early enough.”

“Sure, anyone else need a ride?”

Wesley shook his head. “I think I’ll take a ride along the coast.”

“Willow? Coming with us?”

“Umm, sure.”

“Spike…” But Spike is already gone. Angel shrugs. “Let’s go then.”

She waits until they’re in their bedroom, before sneaking through the darkened apartment and easing out the front door. She doesn’t have a key, but she knows Dennis will lock up after her.

Spike is waiting at the curb; next to the 60’s junker he’d acquired somewhere, somehow.

“Need a ride?” he says.

“You offering?” He smiles, and drops his cigarette. He grabs her and presses her backwards over the hood, kisses her breathless.

“Yeah,” he says, letting her up. “Anywhere you want to go.” She grins.

“C’mon then.”

The 405 Motel is run-down and not real clean. He doesn’t bother turning on the lights. He can see just fine by the light of the motel sign. He drops her, onto the bed, kicks the door shut behind him and is on her before she can squeak. Pins her down with his hard, lean, body and rucks up her skirt, ripping her underwear, no preliminaries. Growls as he pulls her up onto her knees, hand on the nape of her neck holding her still, not that she’s fighting him. She hears his zip go down and the feel of him cold and hard against her bare ass, his hands spreading her, probing for her entrance, lifting her slightly and then he finds the angle and slides right in.

He could smell her in the car, all the way over here, it nearly drove him crazy. He could almost *hear* her, moist slick lips rubbing against each other. Her wet cunt closes around him possessively, when he pulls back a little he can feel her trying to hold him. Slams back into her hard to hear her gasp, then stops. His thumb circles her asshole, teasingly and she flinches. She’s never done that. He wets a finger and carefully works it inside, careful not to hurt her, letting her feel the stretch as he adds another, gently stroking inside with his fingertips. They need toys, he wants to see her with a butt plug, ball gag, arms cuffed behind her. Wants to see her cut herself for him. Holding his fingers in place, he starts to move again, hard but not too fast.

This is new. The sensation verges on pain and she starts to be curious about what it’s like on the other side of that border. She feels filled, transported, out of control. This is nothing like the rush she gets with magic. She controls the magic, makes it part of her. This is the opposite, this is Spike, her own personal rollercoaster. He surges and retreats, his fingers moving in concert and her untouched clit cries out for attention. She struggles to make contact with the covers, with anything. Begging silently for a touch, friction..

The back of her neck is flushed and his teeth itch with the desire to taste the feast laid out beneath that pale cover. Hearing her needy whimpers he obligingly reaches round, finds her clit, and pinches it hard. She screams and comes, clamping down so hard on him it drags his orgasm out of him. His face transforms and he scrapes his fangs lightly along her back. Shuddering in her aftermath, she doesn’t seem to notice the superficial incisions, but he feels the retaliatory slashes across his back as the spell kicks in. Tiny drops of blood well up in the faint scratches and he licks up every trace before pulling out and falling onto the bed beside her.

Asleep, he doesn’t breath, doesn’t move at all. His arm curves around her unloving but possessive, hard and cold as a tree branch. She studies the fine architecture of his back, the muscle and bone in perfect balance covered by flawless moon pale skin. She traces his mysterious tattoo, its elaborate silvery loops and curls seeming to shift and change in the flickering light from the sign outside; it almost looks like letters, like a word in some unknown language. "What's this?" she’d asked. Spike had gone stiff, and then he’d deliberately relaxed.

"A souvenir. Got it in Tunisia," he’d lied.

She knows she's seen something like it before somewhere... Sinuous writing, dancing on the inside of her tired eyelids. Glowing on a screen – not one of Giles books, some weird website she’d ended up at one late night…

Letters, words…OH! Spike growls as she shakes him awake.

“Let me sleep girl, I’ll give you another ride later…”

“Spike, wake up.” Something about her tone makes him open his eyes.


“Where did you get that tattoo on your back? And don’t tell me Tunisia. The truth.” Her eyes glint dangerously, in that way he’s beginning to treasure. He sighs.

“The bitch,” he admits. “She put it there. Why?”

Willow’s teeth gleam in the sputtering light. “Get dressed, we need Giles, and I need my laptop, and the books.”

“Kuru.” Despite having been woken up at 4 a.m. by Willow and Spike (later, he’ll have time to wonder about what they were doing together) and dragged across town in his pajamas to this impromptu Scooby meeting at Cordelia’s, Giles feels better than he has in weeks. The others, woken from their various beds and brought here are likewise dazed and disheveled but invigorated by this first ray of hope.

“Sylvia Orexis’ true name is Kuru. She’s a Kamagigoproctus demon. Very old, very powerful and fortunately quite rare species. I located a picture in Bernard’s Demonic Compendium which Wesley fortunately had on hand.” Giles indicates the large leather-bound book open on the table and steps back to let the others take a look at the woodcut. “Spike confirmed the identification.” The vampire nods sourly.

“It’s her all right.”

"Ewwh." Cordelia says, fighting a yawn and hanging on Angel. Does she never let go of him? He doesn’t recall her being this demonstrative with Xander.

"Oh man," Xander says. He's seen some major league ugly since he started the demon-hunting gig, but this is impressive. It’s got all the bad bits of spiders and scorpions, with a kind of drowned dead face surrounded by a thick mane of… “Is that -- hair?

"No," Spike says, trying to sound casual. "More like tentacles, wire thin, move by themselves; give you a nasty slice they will."

"Basically we're talking big bug," Willow says, leaning over his shoulder. "Edgar, without the charm.”

"What?" Angel says, confused.

"Men in Black.” Xander explains. “You know – never mind. "

"That stinger isn't just for looks either," Spike says quietly. “One thing though Watcher, this book says she’s 30 foot long, she’s a big bitch, but she’s nothin’ like that size.”

Giles corrects him. “Yes she is. What you saw wasn’t her full manifestation.” Spike twitches, but doesn’t say anything.

“Bugger,” Wesley mutters. And so say we all, Giles thinks.

“Maybe we can get hold of another rocket launcher?” That's Xander’s helpful suggestion…
Actually, it isn’t that bad an idea. He actually considers it before reluctantly having to admit its impracticality.

“It’s unlikely conventional weapons would do much against her," he admits sadly. Remember, she has the powers of the Hellmouth at her disposal now, and even without magic – apparently Kamagigoproctus are notoriously tough.”

“So crashing a tanker truck of Black Flag into her probably wouldn’t work either,” Willow sighs.

“We are so fucked.” Giles glares. “Sorry Mrs. Summers.” She waves off Xander’s apology.

“How are we going to fight her Rupert?” she asks. Joyce, Xander, Alice, Wesley, even Willow all look at him, with such trust, certain that he has the answers – and his headache vanishes with the certainty that he does.

“Cogitum Potenta Est: Knowledge is Power.” Reflexively, Wesley mouths the words along with the older Watcher. “The Watchers’ motto. We know our enemy’s name now, we know what she is, and we know that every demon has a weakness. Without exception. We’ll find it, and we’ll tear Sunnydale from her grasp.”

“I hope you’re right.”


The troll is 10 feet tall, his scabby gray body is solid as a stone wall; he weighs as much as the average SUV. So when the small mottled demons invade his lair he’s annoyed but not frightened. He roars and grabs one in each huge paw, crushes their necks and flings them back into the pack. He reaches for his club so he can wreak real slaughter – and feels a sting at his neck. He goes down with a crash as the drugged darts finally take effect.

He wakes up on his back in a makeshift arena, with his club by his hand. He gets to his feet and stares contemptuously at the jeering humans standing outside the barbwire circle. Vermin. He’s killed tens of tens of them over the years. Pulled them down under the Sunnydale docks, eaten them raw and used their bones for toothpicks. He spots the demon sitting on her makeshift throne. He’s heard about her, claiming to own the Hellmouth. Huh. He’ll cut her to pieces and trample them into a greasy spot. Ugly bug thinks she’s safe, but he’ll rip a hole in this fence and teach her different.

He’s confused when a section of the fence is opened to admit a thin blonde girl armed with a tiny stupid knife. Stupid girl, not running away but towards him. She must want to die. Kill her first, then kill bug.

She doesn’t think she’ll ever get tired of watching her Slayer dance, her deadly grace as she weaves in her blade slicing long tears in the troll’s skin and out, evading his clumsy attacks. The troll rushes and roars, and turns too slowly. Attack and retreat, till its skin hangs in ragged shreds, and its blood smears the floor of the arena, and spots the Slayer’s face and hands. Its attitude changes from contempt to anger to fear as it’s hit over and over.

“Stop!” It croaks, toppling to its knees in submission, too weak to stand. Buffy laughs, and brings the sword down into its eye, leaning on it with her full weight until it pushes through the bone into its brain. It screams and then falls over.

Applause. Buffy looks up into the eyes of her greatest fan, and smiles. Leans down and works for a moment at the demon’s head, then quits the arena and runs lightning quick up the steps to her mistress. She offers the troll’s ears as a souvenir, and beams when they are accepted. She crouches down in her place and shivers happily as Orexis strokes her with a smooth forelimb.

Los Angeles

It took two days before they had all the information they needed and a workable plan. Two more days before all the logistics had been worked out and they were ready.

As ready as they’d ever be.


“I’m going,” Cordelia informed Angel. “I’m not crippled or pregnant. So I’m coming with.”

“No. You don’t know how to fight,” Angel, equally adamant.

“Neither does Xander, and he’s going.” Angel switches tactics.

“Someone needs to stay here with Alice. And I won’t be able to fight – if I’m thinking about you.”

“So I’m supposed to sit here, not knowing what’s happening to you. Not being able to do anything to help. No way. I’m coming,” Cordelia says. “Get used to the idea.” He glares at her, but she won’t back down.

~ * ~

“Are you sure?” Giles says.

“Yes,” Joyce says. “I can’t just sit here, and wait. My daughter is in there. I have to do something.”

“I understand,” Giles says. “All right then.”

~ * ~

"Sounds like a kamikaze mission," Oz tells Spike.

"Yeah, I know." Spike cocks an eyebrow. "So?"

Oz shrugs. “I’m just sayin. I’m in.”

~ * ~

“You sure you want me to do this Giles? I mean, this is big mojo stuff we’re talking about here.” Giles looks at her, and decides to tell her the truth.

“To be honest: no. I don’t. If I had any choice I would never let you use your powers in this way. But we don’t have any choice. Your role will be key and extremely dangerous but you’re the only one who can do it.”

“Wow.” He realizes that he’s never seen her smile like that, and he doesn’t like it.


~ * ~

Cordelia thinks she has time for a quick nap before they go. They’d gone to bed late, and gotten up early to finish packing and go over The Plan one last time. She’d sat there, listening to Giles, knowing she’s not the only one aware of the unmentioned blonde presence in the room, so when Giles asked if there were any questions, she put up her hand.

“What about Buffy?”

It got very quiet in the room. Giles lost all expression and she was glad Angel was in back of her so she couldn’t see his face. She wishes she couldn’t see Joyce’s. Finally, he spoke.

“If she’s there – if she attempts to protect the demon or keep us from closing the Hellmouth – then we’ll have to deal with her as we would any other hostile combatant.”

Joyce’s face had turned to stone.

“You mean kill her,” Spike says, not bothering to sound even slightly disturbed by the prospect. Angel growled softly, Willow flinched and the others gave him looks that ought to have turned him to dust.

“If necessary,” Giles said. And that was the end of the meeting.

She lies down on the bed, wraps her arms around a pillow. “Dennis?” she said. “Wake me up in an hour. OK?” She rolls onto her side and closes her eyes.

Butterfly kisses, soft and light, fluttery coolness at her ankles, behind her knee, the base of her spine, feather-light nibbles at her collarbone, and the nape of her neck. Fingers skimming lightly over the contours of her body.

“Oh, that tickles, Angel…” she murmurs opening her eyes to the darkened room. “Angel? Are you sure we have time for this? We’re supposed to leave pretty soon.”

He closes his mouth over her earlobe and bites gently. “We have time, there’s always time for this.” His fingers brush across her nipples and she shivers, a line of desire running liquid from there to the junction of her thighs.

“Okay then.” She turns to meet him.

Afterwards, she lies wrung out and invigorated, feeling the last ripples of pleasure fading inside her.

“What time is it?” she asks Angel as he comes back into the room. He sits down on the edge of the bed.

“Four-thirty. We leave in an hour. Thirsty?”

“Oh God yes,” she takes the chilled bottle of Perrier he offers and gulps it down. “You’re the best boyfriend ever, you know that?”

“Better than Xander?”

“Well, neck and neck…” she giggles when he growls only half in jest. “Oh, you know you’re number one.”

“I love you Cordelia,” he’s suddenly very serious. “No matter what, remember I love you.” She knows she’s never going to get tired of hearing him say that.

“I love you too Angel. And we’re going to make it through this together, I know we are.” She yawns. “I’d better get out of this bed, before I fall asleep again.”

“We’ve got a few more minutes. Close your eyes. I’ll wake you when it’s time.” He strokes her forehead soothingly, feels so good, she thinks, closing her eyes again.



The sun’s down. The two cars are ready and waiting outside. Xander is itchy, nervously bouncing around, He’s bugging Giles, but he can’t help it. Alice holds his hand, trying to calm him, but it’s not working. He wants to get going. Doesn’t want to leave his girl but if they don’t get going pretty soon he might not be able to make himself do it. Spike’s in his car, staying out of the way of any stray sunbeams. Where the hell are Deadboy and Cordelia?

He knows the others are probably as nervous as he is, but everyone else is managing to at least *look* calm. Oz – well he always looks calm. Wesley and Giles have that British stiff-upper-lip thing going for them. Joyce – Joyce looks grim, but resolved. He recognizes Willow’s anxiety face. He hasn’t seen her this nervous since the night before they got their SAT results.

Xander frowns when Angel emerges from the apartment alone.

“Where’s Cordelia?”

“She’s not coming,” Angel says flatly. Giles looks at him, but doesn’t say anything. Xander stares. “Alice,” he says. “Can you stay here with her? She’ll wake up in a couple of hours; I don’t want her to be alone.” Alice looks like she’s about to explode, but she nods.

“Oh man, you know she’s going to kill you when you get back.” Xander says. Angel smiles mirthlessly.

“I can live with that.”

Xander knows how wrong what Angel has done is, but he understands, and he very carefully does not make eye contact with Alice or Joyce or Willow. Giles clears his throat.

“Angel, this was badly done. But there’s nothing we can do about it now. Time we were going.”

Alice walks him out to the car, and they share one desperately intense last kiss. He wants to remember everything about her, hold it in his head until he gets back to her. He never wants to let go, but Oz and Giles and Wesley are waiting for him and he has to go.

He gets in the car, and they all wave until they turn the corner, and then they’re gone.



PART 13 - END AND EPILOGUE Coming, er, soon(ish)

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