Part 4

The Big One


She knew as soon as she unfolded the burlap she'd carefully wrapped around the photographs that the spell had failed. There was no purulent stink, no black ooze sealing the images of Rupert Giles and the object of his beloved together. Instead when she opened the package the dried bird's blood simply flaked off the Watcher's picture, leaving it slick and unmarred. Orexis sighed, she knew without looking that the poppet she'd made of him would likewise show none of the desired signs of deterioration, despair, obsession. Apparently Mrs. Summers' antipathy hadn't been quite as deep as Spike had thought. Modern women had no standards, likely the little slut had spread her legs for him at his first request; it was all very disappointing. She dropped the useless bundle back into the sideboard and slammed the drawer shut. Ah well, she would have to think of something else.

Back in her study, she sat down in front of her computer and checked her e-mail. She was not at all surprised to see a message from rupert_giles forwarded from the Warriors of Light list. SUBJECT: Capteniel Demons? Vulnerabilities. Orexis smiled, it was nice to see that at least one Watcher was slowly easing into the 20th century, albeit a bit late. She'd always found the Council appallingly retrograde. Assuming they were even aware of it, they probably considered the existence of this esoteric and strictly limited-membership list an abomination. From the posts she'd read over the past year of lurking, it seemed to be quite a useful tool for those would–be saviors of the species. Useful too, for her to be able to easily keep a surreptitious eye on potential adversaries. She clicked to open up the message.

"Urgently need any information on the Capteniel race of demons, especially their vulnerabilities! Would be extremely grateful for any help. RPG."

Exactly how grateful? she wondered. There were only two replies, one from a Peasefull_Sojourner questioning the need for violence against a traditionally reclusive and peaceful species of non-human sentients, and a second from Legless with a address suggesting that Maneferus' Grimoire might have some information.


This was really nice, Joyce thought leaning back to look up at the clear blue sky. The autumn chill made her wish that she'd brought her sweater with her, but it was well worth it to be outside and away from the chaos of the overcrowded apartment. How long had it been since she'd taken the time to just sit and enjoy drinking her morning coffee? Usually she drank it in the car on her way to the gallery, always in a hurry, but there was nothing like the possible end of the world to make you stop and sip the coffee. Couldn't complain about the company either, she thought looking over at Rupert.

This was really very pleasant, Giles thought sipping his tea. Occasionally he glanced over at Joyce. To his eyes, her hair, her skin, her eyes seemed to glow in the morning light. The sounds of the children -- er, -- young people trying to organize breakfast for themselves reached the couple only faintly as they sat out in the courtyard.

"My fault, I hadn't planned for the necessity of feeding everyone, " he told Joyce. She snorted.

"Rupert, they're all old enough to feed themselves, Buffy included," she pointed out. "And later, you can send them out for groceries."

"I suppose so," he agreed. He looked years younger when he smiled, Joyce realized. Not to mention handsome. It was a damn shame that they wouldn't be able to do anything until this latest crisis was over. Probably it was really shallow of her, thinking about SEX when all Hell was about to break loose, literally. So sue me, Joyce thought.

Giles reluctantly abandoned the idea of taking her hand; not really the time or the place. Just let them get through this battle and he would do considerably more than hold her hand, he promised himself.

They took their time finishing their breakfast while the sun climbed above the surrounding trees and the sounds of confusion from inside the apartment slowly diminished. Then, fortified, they went back inside.

Buffy gave the two of them a hard look as they entered. Giles winced slightly at the faint smell of burnt eggs that hung in the air but didn't say anything. His guests were seated at the dining room table, finishing up breakfast. From the look of things Joyce was right, a trip to the grocery store was definitely in order.

Deliberately ignoring her daughter's petulant expression, Joyce checked her watch, and pretended to be surprised by the time. "I'd better go." She walked over to give Buffy a quick kiss, then turned to Giles. "When do you think it will be safe to go by the house?"

"To be safe, I'd say not until after the battle," Giles said. Joyce let a resigned sigh escape.

"I need to go by Mervyn's then, and pick up something to wear, or Jim's likely to wonder where I've been all night," she winked at Giles and watched a blush creep up from his collar. She couldn't resist. "Bye," she said, and kissed him.

It was a nothing kiss, a feather light peck at his cheek; no justification at all for the sudden urge that came over him to throw her over his shoulder, carry her upstairs, and scandalize the children. "Good bye," he said weakly.

Joyce left smiling.

When Giles turned around after shutting the door, he found Xander, Alice, Willow, and yes even Oz smiling at him. Buffy was *not* smiling.

"Er, you'll have to excuse me for a little while, I need to check up on a few more things..." Giles fled upstairs. As he sat down at his computer he wondered what Jenny would have thought of his computer competence, if not exactly enthusiasm. He still didn't like the damned things, but they were quite useful. He logged on and checked his email, hoping against hope that someone might have responded to his plea for information on the Capteniel. Angel's phone call this morning had not been encouraging. They needed something to give them an edge. He saw that he had three replies.

He didn't even bother opening Peasefull_Sojourner's message, while in principle he approved of pacifism, non-violent resistance wasn't much use to him on the Hellmouth. Legless' message might have been useful if Giles, or *anyone* for that matter happened to have a copy of that particular Grimoire. The third message was from an unfamiliar address . He opened it without much hope. It was short, only two paragraphs, in standard English. He read it twice to be sure, then searched hastily through the notes piled on the desk trying to restrain his growing feeling of elation until he was absolutely sure that, yes it all matched up.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you," he typed hastily, and hit reply. Then he hurried downstairs, where cleanup was in progress.

"Excuse me," Giles announced.

"Yeah, what's up G-man?" Xander asked, looking up from the stack of dirty dishes he was collecting.

"I believe I have the key to defeating the Capteniel," he said.

"Yay Giles!" Buffy said.

"We must strike against them as soon as possible. If my calculations are correct, they will attempt to open the Hellmouth either tonight, or tomorrow night."

"So the sooner, the better," Xander said.

"Are we ready?" Willow wondered.

"With this last critical bit of information, I think so. And we will have some help." He looked at Buffy and hesitated, but he had to tell her sometime, he decided. "Angel is here, in Sunnydale. He came to help."

"Angel?" Buffy sounded like she'd been punched in the stomach.

"Oh, whoopee," Xander muttered. "Later," he mouthed when Alice raised an eyebrow at his tone. He'd kinda left the Angel/Buffy thing out of Alice's Sunnydale orientation, hoping that it wouldn't come up. Shoulda known, he thought bitterly.

"Oh," Willow said looking at her stricken friend.

"Good man in a fight," Oz said.


"Hello? Angel?" Cordelia called out as she stepped through the open door of the mansion. It had been unlocked. Not something you could get away with in LA, but there probably weren’t too many human burglars wandering around in the dark, in Sunnydale, not for long anyway. And no demon with even a 1/4 brain was going to risk breaking and entering Angel's place.

She wrinkled her nose as she surveyed her surroundings. Dark, dank, and dirty. It looked like there'd been a spider convention in here. About what she'd figured, after all there hadn't been anyone living...well *occupying* the place for months. She was glad she'd stayed over at Tracy's, even if the former Cordette had the I.Q. of baked Brie. All Tracy wanted to talk about was how cool her new boyfriend was and the great frat parties they had at UC Sunnydale, etc., etc. She didn't want to hear about Cordy's budding career, or the LA clubs, or anything really interesting.

She'd said something to Tracy about Graduation, fellow survivor and like that, and found that like a good Sunnydale resident Tracy had put the whole "Mayor turns into giant-snake thing" into the U-store of her memory and stopped paying the rental. Not that Cordelia didn't understand, if she was stuck here on the Hellmouth she wouldn't want to stare too deeply into the shadows herself. Anyway, Tracy had a class at the university this morning, which left Cordelia on her own. Wandering the streets of Sunnydale while she waited for Angel to wake up. Which got real old, real quick.

She'd heard people say "You can't go back home again," plenty of times, Cordelia had never been able to figure out why anyone would want to. As far as she was concerned, once you blew whatever podunk wide-spot in the road town you'd been trapped in, why go back? Case in point: her, here, now, back in Sunnydale. Her parents weren't even here any more, Dad had six months left on his sentence and Mom had moved out to Fresno to live with her grandparents. And what else was here for her? Not that she wasn't looking forward to tonight's reunion with the Slayerettes, because she wasn't. She hadn't spoken to any of them since leaving the Hellmouth, and that was just *fine* with her.

Juggling her purchases, she tried the light switch next to the door. And was gratified when the lights came on. Guess Angel never had the utilities shut off. She moved inside and took a look around. The light didn't exactly help the looks of the place, mostly it cleared away the shadows so she could see just how bare and weird the place was, I mean, who decorates with manacles and edged weapons?

"Angel!" she yelled. "Wake up sleepyhead!"

What *did* he see in this place? She'd complained about the dungeon chic motif of his apartment at the office, but this place made that one look like a Martha Stewart makeover.

"Cordelia?" Dammit, she thought when her feet touched the ground again, she wished he wouldn't do that. She turned to see Angel looking at her in amazement. He was fully dressed so maybe he hadn't been asleep. "What are you doing here?"

"Here." She handed him a brown paper bag. The smell told him what the contents were before he looked inside, she'd brought him two quarts worth in Styrofoam containers. "Breakfast. Also lunch. Figured you wouldn't have had a chance to like, eat last night so I went by the slaughterhouse this morning. It's cow, sorry, they didn't have any pig, but the guy swore it was fresh... What?"

"Uh thanks," Angel told the girl who *looked* and *sounded* like Cordelia. "It's kinda dark in here. There's more light in the kitchen."

Angel poured his breakfast into a soup mug after warming it up in the microwave. He sat down self-consciously across from Cordelia and her double mocchachino. He sipped carefully, trying not to slurp. It was cow, but as promised, extremely fresh. As he drank, he realized just how hungry he had been. And how nice it was to sit here with Cordelia. It felt like something he’d almost forgotten about, something he hadn't had for more than 200 years: home.

"So, do we have a plan yet?" Cordelia asked, looking away. It wigged her more than a little that the smell and the little slurpy noises hardly even wigged her anymore.

"No. I talked to Giles earlier, he's still researching. He'll call later."

"How long before the ugly little whatchamacallits try to open the Hellmouth? And could demonkind please get another hobby?"

"Tonight I think, from what I saw last night they seemed to be working themselves up for something big," Angel admitted. "We may have to go in without a plan."

"Wouldn't be the first time," Cordelia said. "So, have you seen Buffy yet?"

"No." he studied the bottom of his empty mug. "Giles wanted to...prepare her."

"Uh-huh. How about you?"

"I don't know," he admitted.

"Yeah, I'm not sure about seeing Xander either. I mean, not that I'm comparing me and him to the doomed but undying love-story that is you and Buffy. But..." She studied her perfect nails with total concentration.

"It's hard," Angel said softly.



By noon Spike's hangover had quieted to a dull misery, not much worse than the aching of the rest of his body. He'd tried changing position, but the hard-packed dirt under Giles' house didn't seem to have any soft spots. He'd folded his coat for a pillow, but it didn't help much.

He'd barely beat the dawn here after dragging himself out of the alley. As near as he could remember he'd come here because he needed blood, and his drunken brain had hoped that Giles would feed him. Not to mention that the other demons knew where he'd been bunking and might think it was funny to drag him out into the sun. By the time he actually got here he'd sobered up enough that facing the whole damned herd when he was in such a pitiful state didn't seem like such a great idea, so he'd crawled under the house instead and passed out.

Daylight come and me wan-a go home...he was fucking starving. He stared forlornly up at the cobwebbed underfloor. There was nothing here worth eating, not so much as a rat. He'd been awake for hours, ever since breakfast erupted overhead. Most of them left after yet another fucking meeting, out on their scavenger hunt. If that was the best plan the Wanker could come up with, they were all going to die ugly deaths. Spike believed he'd sit this one out. He was so hungry he seriously considered pulling his duster up over his head and daring the daylight, but he knew the Slayer was still there and he really didn't feel up to dealing with her. The dirt wasn't that hard, he could wait.


Once the others left on their various errands, Giles buried himself in his books. He managed to successfully avoid Buffy for most of the morning, only to be cornered when he went into the kitchen to see about some lunch.

" did he look? How is he," Buffy asked tentatively.

Directly underfoot, and wishing he was unconscious again, Spike groaned silently. No need to ask who "he" was.

"Angel...fine, just fine." Giles said. From his tone he was enjoying having this conversation about as much as Spike was at having to overhear it.

"Oh. Giles...I don't know if I can do this." The Slayer’s voice had gone all tremulous at the idea of seeing the Great Poof again. Bugger. Give him Passions any day, or even the Young and the Ridiculous.

"Buffy, I know it's going to be difficult for you, but I'm sure you'll be able to cope. And right now, you need to be focused on the task. Even with what I learned this morning, this is not going to be an easy battle."

Fucking right about that mate. They're gonna slaughter you.

"Gotcha, you can count on me, I'm focus girl. Fighting evil, my job. I can do it!" Buffy insisted.

Might want to try that one again, lacks conviction.

"Good." From Giles tone, he wasn't buying it either. Footsteps moving away. Her voice harder to understand, not only because of increased distance.

"So I guess he'll head back to L.A. when it's over?"

And good riddance.

"Yes…I imagine so."

"Oh." The last so soft he could barely hear it. Blessed silence descended and Spike buried his head under his jacket and tried to go back to sleep.


The Majik Shoppe was on a neglected side street far from downtown Santa Barbara. The interior smelled overwhelmingly of the clove cigarette being smoked by the proprietor, Jet, a tall, androgynous person with long gray hair. Under the spicy smoke, the scents of herbs and dead flesh intrigued Oz as he wandered around the shop checking it out while Willow took care of business. He was grateful for even a little bit of distance from his lover. The drive here had been a long and silent trip. He had so much to say to her, so much he needed to know, but he didn't know how to start and was afraid of where the words would lead once he let them out.

It was getting late. Only a few hours to sundown. Oz was apprehensive, but the wolf was looking forward to having something to sink its teeth into.

"I think that’s everything," Willow said, finally. The shopowner looked over the large pile of vegetable, animal, and miscellaneous mineral bits and pieces that Willow had assembled on the counter

"Are you sure?" Jet asked a spark of amusement in his/her eyes. "I think I have a few things in stock that *aren’t* here." Willow seriously considered the question.

"I don't know. Well I guess as long as I’m here I might as well stock up, cause we don’t have a good shop anymore since Spike…"

"Getting late," Oz, said. Willow checked the store clock, her eyes widened when she saw it was nearly 2:00.

"Oh! We better go. Sorry, I’ll just take this, O.K.?"

"Sure, no problem," Willow checked her list one more time while she waited for her purchases to be bagged and totalled up. Yes, she had everything she needed for the spell... and one or two or three things she didn’t exactly *need*, but hadn’t been able to resist getting as long as they were here. She really missed having a majik supply shop right there in Sunnydale, but after Spike killed the last proprietor no-one seemed interested in taking over the shop so now she, and she supposed the other magic users in town had to either order online or take the two hour trip up the coast to Santa Barbara or the even longer trip south to LA.

She glanced over at Oz, who was peering into a case full of glass eyes. He’d been really quiet the whole way here, and she had the feeling he had something to say to her. She wished he would just tell her. Whatever it was, it couldn’t be that bad. She couldn’t imagine Oz doing anything really bad.

"Will that be cash or charge?" Jet asked. Willow saw that all of her purchases had been neatly packed in two carefully anonymous brown paper bags. "Oh, thanks. You take Visa?"


"Giles, I'm going out. I've got my phone on," Buffy yelled when she was already outside. She shut the door before he could protest and almost ran out to the street, got into her car and fled. No particular goal in mind, just had to get out of there, away from thinking about Angel. Without much thought she ended up at the Sunnydale Galleria. Back in LA she'd been a serious mall devotee, but here in Sunnydale slaying had kept her from visiting the temple much. The damage from the Judge's demise had long since been repaired. She walked through the pristine halls, unable to summon up any enthusiasm for shopping. School hadn't let out yet, and it was still quiet. She decided to go see a movie and picked House on Haunted Hill, mostly because it was starting in 5 minutes.

She realized as she sat through the trailers that it had been awhile since she'd been to the movies. Nights were pretty much occupied with the slaying and coursework. She hadn't been to a movie since..oh. Le Banquet D'Amelia. Damn.

She'd come here to not think about Angel, but now she was remembering their one disastrous movie date, that subtitled soft-porn thing. The embarrassment, as she figured out what the film was really about, as her own excitement warmed between her legs. The way his shoulder against hers stiffened, with embarrassment at his own excitement, the near pain of his holding her hand too hard.

Don't think about a pink elephant. Watch the damned movie, she ordered herself and sat in the dark letting it wash over her. It was loud, and the special effects were cool, there was even some stuff that would have been scary if she wasn't the Slayer. More people sharing the theater than she'd expected at a midday matinee. Surprising that anyone in Sunnydale would pay money to be scared when they could get the real stuff for free all over town.

Trying not to think about the little gasp when she brushed against him outside the theater. The *heat* shivering the air between them.

"It doesn't drive you crazy, when we're close?" she'd asked him, knowing that it did her.

"Watch this," that long, painfully sweet kiss. "See? Safe as houses," he lied. It was about as safe as the Vannacutt Institute she thought, with the doors and windows sealing shut, something horrible oozing like ink from the cracks in the wall...

She sat through the final deaths, the unsurprising survival of the prettiest and emerged into the cool timelessness of the mall. She checked the time and decided to drop in on Mom at the gallery.

A cool autumn breeze was picking up the dead leaves and scattering them across the street as she drove through downtown. She turned the corner and her heart froze when she saw the flashing lights, and yellow tape in front of her mom's gallery. She jumped out of the car and ran across the street, brushing past the cop leaning in the doorway. The place was a mess, broken shards of pottery on the floor, the window to mom's inner office had been smashed. Her mom's assistant, Jim was sitting on a folding chair, his head bandaged, talking to another police officer.

"Buffy!" he said when he spotted her. "Oh thank God. I've been calling the house, and when you didn't answer I was afraid..."

"Jim, where's Mom?"

"Who's this?" the cop interrupted. He was middle-aged, he looked like a Sunnydale veteran. In Buffy's opinion the motto on the side of the Sunnydale PD's patrol cars should read Protect and Conceal Evidence. She just hoped she hadn't had a run-in with him before.

"I'm Buffy Summers, Joyce Summers' daughter. Where is she?"

"I don't know," Jim said. "I got in a little before nine. The front door was locked, and it was dark so I didn't notice the mess till I got inside and turned on the lights. I didn't know what to think, thought maybe we'd been robbed. I yelled for Joyce, but didn't get an answer. I went in the back to look for her and someone hit me."

"When?" Buffy asked, forcing down her panic. The cop cleared his throat.

"As near as we can figure, Mr. Anderson was attacked around 9:00 a.m. He was unconscious for some time, his call to 911 was logged in at 10:21 a.m. We responded to the call along with the paramedics."

"Where's my Mom?"

"No sign of her. We found her purse in the office. Her ID, money, everything seems to be there. It looks like she's been abducted. Do you have any idea who would do something like this?"

Yeah, she thought, but you don't know them.

Right on cue, her cellphone rang. With a sense of inevitability she turned away from Jim and the cop to answer it.

"Hello," Buffy said, somehow managing to keep her tone light.

"Sssslayyer," the voice was slithery and blatantly inhuman.

"Is this who I think it is?"

"We haave your mother. If you want her to live, do not fight ussss."

"Yes. Got you. Can't really talk right now."

"Goood. We will call you later."

"Bye," Buffy said to the dead line. "Sorry," she said to the suspicious cop and dazed Jim. "business."

"So, do you have any idea who might have abducted your mother?"

"No idea."


Giles opened the door to find Angel wrapped in a blanket and being sheltered from the afternoon sun by a large golf umbrella being held by Cordelia.

"Hello, Cordelia, Angel. Come in," he said formally. He moved out of the way to let Angel cross the threshold out of the sun.

"You’re the first." Giles told them. "Buffy just finished dealing with the police, she's on her way."

After checking the place out, Cordelia sat down on the couch. "Same old, same old, isn’t it, I mean every time, they kidnap someone so the good guys won’t fight, and does it ever work? Well other than that one time with Willow, but usually, no. You’d think they’d catch on. Try something that actually might work. Like laying low and not sending out engraved announcements to the good guys."

Angel and Giles looked at each other uncomfortably, realizing that she had a point. They didn't say anything and Cordelia shrugged and pulled a magazine out of her handbag and started to read. Giles disappeared upstairs again. Angel wandered over to the dining area to look at the books Giles had left out on the table.

The pictures were crude woodcuts and the captions were in medieval German, but the author still managed to communicate across the centuries. There were two images side by side on the page. On the right, under a smiling sun, the dayform of the Capteniel was depicted: humanoid, piebald, and ugly but not particularly frightening as demons went. On the left was a crescent moon, night represented by dense crosshatching behind the silhouette black of the night-form of the Capteniel: non-humanoid, something like a thin, leafless tree with thousands of thin tentacles in place of branches body split by a vertical mouth full of sharp triangular teeth. From his reccy last night Angel could testify that it was a decent if not perfect likeness. Difficult to show slime in a woodcut. There were hundreds of them swarming through the shell of ex-Sunnydale High, immune to fire, unimpressed by bullets. Luckily, he'd confirmed last night that while bullets weren't much good, edged weapons worked just fine and with Giles secret weapon, they might just have a chance.

The doorbell rang, and Angel looked up caught between apprehension and anticipation. He saw Cordelia looking at the door, an expression similar to his on her face. The doorbell rang again, and Giles came downstairs to answer it. He gave Cordelia, a dirty look as he passed. He opened the door to find Willow and Oz, bearing two large brown bags of supplies.

"Hi, sorry we're late," Willow said. "But we had to go to Santa Barbara to get the things for the spell. Oh, hi Angel."

Angel nodded a welcome. "Need any help with that?"

Oz shook his head. "Nah, we've got it," he said. He went into the kitchen and set his bag down on the counter.

"Hi, Cordelia."

"Hi Willow, Oz." Cordelia said, not bothering to look up. Typical Cordelia, Willow thought, dressed like she was expecting to go out to dinner, not to fight demons. She turned her attention to Giles.

"I need to use your kitchen. OK?" Willow asked.

"Yes, yes of course." Giles sighed.

While Willow got busy in the kitchen with her herbs and boiling fluids, Oz helped Giles organize the equipment. Angel, at loose ends, pulled his battle axe out of his leather bag and tested the edge. Satisfied that it was razor sharp, and sturdy enough to cut through flesh and bone, he took a few experimental swings. He had chain mail back in LA, he wished now he'd brought it.


"I wish you wouldn’t," Xander told Alice for the 10th time as they walked up the path to Giles’. He'd spent a good chunk of the day trying to talk her out of coming with them tonight. It was starting to annoy her. They were a little late, the sun was almost down. They’d had to visit three different hardware stores before they found what they needed and then they'd had to swing by the sports shop.

"Baby, I told you, I can take care of myself," she told him. "And I couldn’t stand just sitting and waiting, wondering what was happening."

"Yeah, but..."

"Sssh," Alice said, putting a finger to his lips. "We're here." Xander started to say something, but read the hopelessness of his cause in her eyes and rang the doorbell instead.

Buffy, he thought. But no, the first person through the door was Xander, and the second...

"Alice, this is Angel," Giles said after shutting the door. "Alice..."

So this was Buffy's true love, Alice thought. He was huge, looming over everyone in the room despite his slightly stooped posture. Big and beautiful, he had a classically handsome face those beautiful dark eyes. He reminded her of the statue of the angel Gabriel that overlooked her grandfather's grave, smiling and eager to execute God's vengeance, though that was an ax in his hand, not a drawn sword.

He saw her and his expression changed. He was across the room, reaching for her in an instant.

"Hey," Xander said trying to get between them. Angel shoved Xander carelessly out of his way, knocking him off his feet. Xander watched helplessly as Angel grabbed his lover around her waist and lifted her off her feet, grinned up into her face.

He looked at her like she was his long-lost mamma. "Lucy?" he said.

Too close. She shuddered at the smell of flesh held eternally on the edge of corruption. Who the hell was Lucy? And who the hell did he think he was, hurting Xander and laying hands on her? Alice's skin twitched with the desire to change, and teach him a short, sharp, lesson about keeping his hands to himself. A couple of things held her back: 1. She liked this outfit and 2. Xander. Also, the look in his eyes was intent but there was no hostility in it and even Xander had told her this vampire was supposed to be *good*. She shivered as he touched her face with a cold but gentle hand, but managed to settle for knocking his hand away and baring her teeth.

"Put. Me. Down," she ordered. "Now." Thinking that if he didn't she was going to say the hell with the dress. Xander had recovered, hatred burning in his eyes, and looked like he was going to go for the vampire, which might get him really hurt.

He stared into her eyes confused, joy drained from him as the realization hit. Her face, her body under his hands, her voice, were all familiar even after decades but her scent wasn't quite right, and there was absolutely no recognition in her eyes. Not her. Not Lucy, who would be an old woman by now if she was still alive.

"Sorry," he put her down and backed away. "Sorry, I thought..."

Ignoring him she threw herself into Xander's arms. She clung to him while her breathing and heartbeat returned to normal, holding on a little longer than she really needed to recover, to distract him from his anger. When she finally lifted her head from his chest she saw the attention of everyone in the room was focused on Angel. Except for the Watcher, who was staring at both of them with equal suspicion.

"I think you owe us an explanation," Giles said. Angel nodded.

"She looks exactly like a woman I knew... in the 30's," Alice saw his nostrils flare as he spoke as he remembered that she didn't just *look* like his long-lost. Damn. A vampire! What the hell had her unknown aunt or cousin been thinking about?

"One with which you had some, er, history," Giles said carefully. He'd never seen Angel look that happy before when Buffy wasn't present.

"Yeah. It's a long story. Don't think we have time right now," Angel said.

"I am going to want to hear this story," Giles said "Soon." Angel nodded.

"Anyway, it's not her. I'm sorry I frightened you," speaking to Alice who nodded.

"Don't do it again." she warned.

"What about punting me like a football?" Xander asked bitterly. Angel watched as Alice took his hand, and whispered into his ear. The peevish look on his face softened. It wasn't her, he thought, so why did he feel just a tiny bit jealous?

The doorbell rang, startling everyone. Not bothering to wait, Buffy let herself in. She stared at the sight of everyone in the room staring at Angel. *Angel.*

"What's going on?" she demanded.

"Wrong girl," Oz said.


By the time they'd finished their preparations and run through the plan one last time the sun was down. Buffy hadn't received any more calls from the Capteniel about Joyce. She was trying not to think about what that might mean, and she could tell that Giles was trying too, and also not succeeding.

As they stepped outside into the night, Xander thought about how vulnerable their small group was even here in this quiet, supposedly safe neighborhood. One half-way competent sniper could take them out before they made it to the street. A simple pre-emptive strike…and he guessed he was glad the Capteniel weren't innovators.

A rustle in the bushes, too big for a cat and Angel was on it so quickly Xander barely had time to flinch. Angel emerged a moment later with a familiar blond vampire clamped in a hold that Xander sincerely hoped was as painful as it looked. Spike wasn't looking too good, his normally sleek hair was distinctly mussed, and he stank like the men's room at the Dew Drop Inn.

"Spike," Angel said in a falsely calm voice. "What are you doing here?" He knew all about his prodigal get's mysterious incapacity and grudging alliance with Buffy, but he really hadn't expected Spike to have the balls to show his face while he was here.

"Ere, leave off!" Spike complained trying to pry Angel's arm from his throat. "Came for the party. Not too late am I?" Angel growled and Xander felt Alice jump. He squeezed her hand reassuringly, thinking that it was good knowing that there was at least one other person here not buying brood-boy's act.

"You're coming?"

"Wouldn't miss it," Spike said, smirking at him. Angel knew it would probably be safer for everyone if he simply snapped the annoying bastard's neck and left him here to meet the sunrise. He shook his head and released Spike.

"Just keep out of my way," Angel warned.

"Ditto," Buffy said. Spike's look was deadly, but he shrugged, and trailed after them to the vehicles.


"I love you," Oz whispered as he kissed Willow goodbye. He jumped out of the van to join the others before she can answer. He slammed the door shut and locked it, leaving Willow and Cordelia alone in the back.

"Ready?" Cordelia asks, thinking that Willow looks a little pale. Also nervous, so join the club, and that the white gown she has on does nothing for her complexion. Still, Willow puts on a determined expression, and nods.

"Yes. I'm ready." Cordelia gets down on her knees and uses the chalk to carefully close the circle. She watches for a moment as Willow begins to light the candles, then she climbs into the front seat, closes the curtain between them. This kind of stuff still creeps her out. She peeks outside and see Giles completing the second circle, enclosing the van, while the others stand waiting. Xander looks nervous, him and his new girlfriend, this Alice chick seem to be joined at the hip. She checks that the doors are locked, the key is in the ignition, (in case they need to make a hasty retreat). Pulls the sprayer up onto the seat and looks at it dubiously. She hopes Giles knows what he's talking about. She puts on her headphones and settles in to wait. She wishes she'd brought noseplugs too, as the interior begins to fill up with herbal smoke. She opens the window a crack, but it doesn't seem to help much.

The six of them stand in the student parking lot, getting ready. The asphalt is cracked and tufted with dead weeds though it has been barely six months since Graduation. The school itself looks like some ancient ruin, there are gaping holes where the explosion blew out the windows and long curls of paint hang from the scorched walls. Xander wonders when, or if, the school district will get around to demolishing the place.

Xander notices that Oz seemed a little nervous, he's pacing, fiddling with his harness, the trigger. He can't blame him, the van looks lonely inside its chalk circle. He wonders why Cordelia volunteered to come with them. It felt strange seeing her after all this time. Still beautiful, but it's nothing to do with him now and he guess she feel the same. She barely bothered to insult him back at Giles' place. Was polite, for Cordy, to Alice. The damned tanks are heavy, the harness cutting into his shoulders no matter how he adjusts the straps. It's probably worse for Oz who is smaller.

Buffy wasn't bothering to hide her eagerness to go and kick demon butt. She continues to carefully Not Look at Angel, and vicey-versey. She hadn't like the mistaken identity thing one bit. He'd bet she wanted to hear that long story Angel had promised too. The dark vampire was as impassive as always and Xander gets the impression Mr. Bi-Polar is deliberately trying to keep a low profile after his little outburst earlier.

Giles is looking older and harder and more dangerous than he ever remembers seeing him. He looks a little bit silly in the football helmet, but all the non-slayer, non-shapechanging humans here tonight are wearing them. Spike looks tired and thin, but eager, as he tests the weight of the sword Angel reluctantly gave him. It's more of an oversized knife, not in the same league as the glittering blade is that Buffy is carrying. The thing is nearly as tall as she is, but she handles it just fine.

Alice is right there with him, her hand entwined with his. He wants to know what Alice knows about this Lucy. She hadn't been nearly upset enough by Angel's behavior. Mostly he wonders if she can tell how scared he is.

Scared not just of the usual, pain and horrible death thing, but of being found out, of Alice seeing him for what he is, a coward, and a weakling. Xander Harris: Holder of the Slayer's purse. That was half the reason he hadn't wanted her to come. The other half being fear that the good luck/magic whatever it was that so far had protected Buffy's nearest and dearest, might not extend to Alice. The way it hadn't for Jesse, or Miss Callendar, or Larry, or Harmony...

Suddenly the crystals hung around their necks flared suddenly into light. The same pale, somehow soothing light now emanating from the van.

"Thunderbirds are go," Xander said.

"Hey, don't I get a shiny rock?" Spike complained realizing that he was the only one without an amulet.

"Try coming to the meeting next time," Buffy told him.

"Are you quite done?" Giles asked. "Let's go then.

As they approached the ruined building, Xander felt like they were being watched from the empty windows, but no-one challenges them. They paused in the shadow of the building, a few feet from the entrance.

"Are you sure about this?" Xander asked Alice softly. She nodded, tugging nervously at the oversized t-shirt dress she'd changed into back at the house. "Sssh," she said. "Got to get ready." She stood on tiptoe to kiss Xander, handed him her amulet, and dived into the untrimmed bushes slowly encroaching on the ruined school. Spike smirked and leaned forward, peering into the darkness; and swore as the clothes flew out of the shadows and hit him in the face.

"Score!" Buffy snickered as Alice-the-Leopard leapt out of the bushes, brushing past Spike. Alice ran up to Xander, reared up to touch noses with him. She sat down, wrapped round his legs purring roughly as he replaced her amulet around her neck.

"You good, babe?" he asked and she nodded in a very un-catlike gesture. Xander turned and caught Angel looking at her. Gave him a look he hoped was deadly.

"Are we done?" Giles said. There were nods all around. "Let's go then."

They enter the school through the gaping doors, Angel and Buffy in the lead, Xander with Alice and Oz on the other, Spike and Giles covering the rear. The scene is almost familiar to Xander from various nightmares he's had, only he's not naked, and not alone, and hopefully not going to die this time. The blood red light coming from the library is the only obvious sign of the supernatural for the first ten feet they move down the debris cluttered hall. Xander notices that where the bluish light of the amulets meets the reddish demonlight there's an odd sort of pulsing effect. As though the different kinds of light were fighting it out.

Then the demons attacked.

Shit. The Capteniel in their night form, are at least 7 feet tall and a black a little bit darker than the shadows they were hiding in. They crowd the hallway blocking their way. Tentacles lash out and he flinches but Buffy's sword and Angel's ax flash and dark fluid splatters and the tentacles curl and twist on the dusty linoleum. Then Willow's witchlight flares, driving back the shadows, eliminating the redlight and and the demons shrink back into their day forms. Xander hears Alice snarl and she's gone from his side, leaping forward to tear into the confused and vulnerable demons. Buffy's right there too, slashing viciously with her sword, Angel with his ax. Demon heads roll.

"Come on!" Buffy shouts and they follow. It's only 100 feet down the hallway to the library, we can do this, Xander thinks. The light surges back and forth and the demons are screaming in rage or pain. He hears Spike behind them, not the words but from his tone he's enjoying himself. Just the occasional grunt of effort, half-smothered curse from Giles.

He catches glimpses of Alice, she's in constant motion, her lithe shape blurred by the flickering light and her normal camouflage. She was faster than the demons in either of their forms, but she keeps clear of the night forms, waiting for the light to go her way. Watching her long teeth slash through vulnerable throats, her sharp claws opening up bellies, severing tentacles, crystallizes the instinctive fear he'd felt when he first saw the leopard. Fluids matting the beautiful fur, as she kills, and kills...beautiful death.

Buffy and Angel not doing too bad themselves. Doing the main work of clearing the way. Angel's ax is equally effective against either form and Buffy's sword never seems to stop moving, flickering like flame through tentacles and bodies.

It was 80 feet to the library, an endless distance, moving at a shuffle through pulsing light, weighted down by the tanks, disoriented by the howling screams of the Capteniel as they press in, trying not to lose his footing on the slippery floor. No help from the Commando memories this time, just follow after Buffy, Angel. Takes it on faith that Giles and Spike are still behind them. Can't risk turning to look.

Every time the redlight surges tentacles whip overhead, the taller target he gets hit more often than Oz, iron hard tendrils sliding off the hard plastic, scraping across the tanks. Halfway there, one gets through the face guard, slashes him across the face. Xander yelps, it hurts, a lot, but no time to deal with it now. Blood drips stickily down the side of his neck distractingly. A little while later he gets hit again, hard, it feels like a lash of fire across his shoulders, he staggers and Oz catches him, holds him up until he can stand by himself. Fuck, it hurts, but he keeps moving. The tank on his back weighs a hundred pounds, the straps are cutting off his arms, his fingers are going numb.

20 feet from the door and he knew they weren't going to make it. His fingers keep curling on the sprayer trigger, every time another tentacle whips past his face, but he knows he has to wait, can't use it prematurely, got to stick with the plan, the plan is all they've got.

The light throbs, pale blue light battling, with the reddish glow of the Hellmouth, the Capteniel caught between the two, between their day and night forms, alternating between 10 foot tall black and lethal, and short, ugly day forms. They seemed to have no control over their forms. It looked painful to Xander, and it definitely slowed them down. But there are so many of them.

10 feet and the chanting covers all other sounds as they approach the library doors and the pulsing light, red, and blue reminds Xander of something... They've killed a lot of demons, but there always seem to be more where they came from. They're starting to tire. Red light rolls over them, blotting out the amulet's light and Alice screams. Xander turns his head and sees the leopard fall under a heavy blow, blood spraying from a gash in her side. "Alice," he starts to break formation to move toward her and the amulets flare, blue light and *blink* human Alice rolls away from the leopard's blood, scrambles to her feet and *blink* the leopard leaps away, unmarked just as the light goes red again. "Oh," he thinks. "Neat trick." And wonders what else he doesn't know about her.

Angel and Buffy are still leading the way, slash, chop, slash, kick, club. Angel has taken the brunt of it, his game face bleeding from a lacing of thin wounds.

And miraculously they're there, in the library, and the priests are there, chanting in voices that makes his ears start to bleed. Their forms are immune to the light and they are twice as tall as any of the other demons, tentacles whipping lazily as they chant before the altar they've built of human skulls. The floor trembles in time with the chant. Xander can feel it powdering the cement, eating into the bedrock below, opening things up. Suddenly the red light swells for a moment, overwhelming the witchlight and it's like the nightmares he used to have about the forest in the Wizard of Oz, there are hundreds of them crowded into the room, looming, their whiplike limbs hungry... And he knows that the Scoobie Gang's luck's run out, that they're going down this time.

Then the witchlight surges again driving the surrounding hordes back to just ugly <Thank you, thank you, thank you, Willow> he thinks and it's all or nothing now. Oz and him at the front now, running forward, aiming their nozzles at the big Kahuna's and he can feel the Hellmouth start to open, reality beginning to unravel as he pulls the trigger and the fluid as advertised, shoots 20 feet across the space, and hits them.

It's nothing but salt, concentrated brine, but it cuts through them like a laser, wriggling limbs dropping from the first and tallest. Oz is with him, and they play Ghostbusters, pumping the triggers as the chant falters, stops, as the streams slash through those treelike bodies, chunks falling away. The chanting stops abruptly as they scream in agony. And he can feel something below slip back into place. The other demons freeze and he feels a shudder go through the room and the redlight goes out as the priests begin to fall like mighty redwoods, smoking and in pieces that quiver on the wet concrete.

And the demons break, and run away.

END part 4

On to part 5: Nice Work if You Can Get It



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