Into the Mouth of Hell

Pamela Thalner
hutch @
April 1998

Disclaimer: Michael and Clarissa belong to me; all other characters belong to and are copyrighted by Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and WB. This fanfic was written for fun, is non-profit, and will never make me money, so please don't sue, I'm poor, blah, blah bitty blah. I've done some pictures of Clarissa and Michael, as well; they're here.

Part One

She stands alone in the room, shadows surrounding her; but where she stands, a light falls, in a rough halo. The single bulb illuminates a canvas resting on an easel; she gazes at the image critically, unsatisfied. A table beside the easel holds assorted tubes of oil paint and a Mason jar of water, as well as brushes of different lengths. Several long moments pass while she stares into the eyes of the image; then, with a sigh, she sets down the palette, focus lost.

Clarissa lifted her head slightly, allowing her preternatural senses to assess the loft around her. The flow of energy had changed subtly, and it only took a moment for her to smile and glance towards the darkest corner.

"You can come out now, Michael," she said with a smile. "I know you're there."

The blond vampire emerged from the shadows with a faint smile on his face and the usual lock of wavy hair fallen across one eye. "Took you long enough," he teased her lightly. "I've been standing there for ten minutes."

"Which was just about when I lost my concentration," she noted, giving him a perturbed glare that he calmly ignored as he approached the canvas she had been working on. As always, the barest hint of an accent colored her rich alto voice, but it was too subtle for Michael to guess at its ancestry. Still, he'd been doing so for the past seven years and would continue to guess until he'd figured it out.

He shrugged and gave the partially-painted canvas, which had been set on an easel, a critical gaze. "Someone you know?" he asked thoughtfully.

Clarissa removed her backwards baseball cap, ran paint-stained fingers through dark, straight hair, then replaced the cap. "Once," she said on a heavy sigh. "Long time ago."

Recognizing her mood, Michael didn't inquire further, but studied the face in the picture. The man was handsome enough - youthful in appearance, perhaps nineteen or twenty, with a broad brow; a wide face that dropped to a firm chin; dark brown hair, with long bangs that fell loosely over his forehead; sensitive, dark eyes that belied the initial gruff appearance. His clothes, sketched in with hurried brushstrokes, appeared to be in something of a late-nineteenth century European style: a black coat and waistcoat, white shirt, with ruffles at the collar and cuff. He reminded Michael of a guy from his high school days - when I was alive, he added with a mental sigh of resignation - a jock, on the football team, who'd also shown an unexpected flair for acting in his senior year. Something told him that the mystery man in Clarissa's portrait was similarly gifted with unexpected traits.

"You usually paint a lot more abstract," he finally commented when he thought that she'd calmed down. "What made you change your mind?"

The other vampire turned suddenly, walked towards the large window which had been Michael's point of entry. The sight of her small frame, silhouetted against the dark evening sky, brought an involuntary clench to Michael's throat, especially when she folded her arms around herself in such a lonely way.

"I dreamed about him," she said after a few quiet moments. "I had thought that he was part of my past, and that he'd trouble me no more. But all week he's been in my dreams. As if he's been trying to tell me something."

Michael stuck his hands in the pockets of his black duster and cautiously approached her, leaning on the opposite side of the window's frame. "What are the dreams about?"

"I see him with a blonde girl. He's different somehow, not the same as he was when I knew him. But then... he goes ugly, and hurts her. And he's the same as he was. Maybe worse."

"I think," Michael said, reaching for her hand, "that you need to tell me about this guy."

Buffy Summers yawned as she slipped back onto her seat at her favorite table of the Bronze. Sitting beside her, her best friend, Willow Rosenberg, gave her a curious look.

"Too many late nights?" Willow questioned, a hint of hope in her tone.

Buffy shook her head, then shrugged. "I guess. Too many nights waking up thinking there's someone outside my window watching me."

"Oh." Willow subsided, stirring her drink with the straw. Neither of the girls had to be reminded of the reasoning behind Buffy's fears. It wasn't any irrational teen's worry; for Buffy, also known to a select few as the Vampire Slayer, it was a logical extension of what could be considered a really bad breakup.

The dark mood at the table was suddenly interrupted by a laughing voice - Xander Harris, who was grinning as he hopped onto a stool to face the girls. "Well, well, you'll never believe it."

"What?" Buffy was in the mood to be distracted. "Cordelia agree to be seen in public with you?"

Though even she thought the comeback was pretty lame, the look on Xander's face suggested that Buffy had spoiled his fun, and he stuck his tongue out at her. "Better yet, she actually agreed to go to a school dance with me."

The girls looked at each other, suitably impressed. Willow grinned mischievously. "How much did you pay her?"

She paid for that statement; within moments, Willow was caught in a headlock, Xander delivering a playful noogie, rumpling the girl's straight auburn tresses in the process. She shrieked with laughter, and Buffy smiled softly as she watched the two of them. A year ago, she never would have guessed that Willow, with her then-hopeless crush on Xander, would have had the guts to tease him about his current girlfriend. That's love for you. She sighed, glancing toward the stage, where Oz - Willow's boyfriend - was in the middle of a scathing guitar solo for his band, Dingoes Ate My Baby. Her heart sank suddenly as her eyes tracked towards the dark corner by the door, the one she'd always seen Angel standing in.

She tossed the napkin that she'd been playing with to the table and stood as Xander finally released Willow, who had gotten her revenge by tickling him. They had been friends since they were four, and she knew all his weak spots. The two sobered somewhat as they saw the serious look on Buffy's face.

"Leaving?" Willow asked, concerned.

Buffy ran a hand over her blond hair, her eyes dark with emotion. "Not a good night," she replied quietly, barely to be heard over the music. "I'm gonna go out and patrol for a bit, check in with Giles and call it a night."

"Want some help?" Xander raised an arm, flexing in what he considered to be a manly fashion. Willow spluttered with laughter, and Buffy waved at them as she walked away.

I am so not ready to see him again, was the thought that filled her mind the most. Her last encounter with Angel had been far from easy. Both of them had been overtaken by the ghosts of a long-dead teacher and student who, in 1955 - ancient history as far as Buffy was concerned - had carried out an illicit affair within the halls of Sunnydale High School. That same year, the student had killed the teacher when she'd tried to break up with him. A week ago, on the night of the Sadie Hawkins Dance - and, not coincidentally, the anniversary of the shooting - she had found herself alone in the school. With Angel.

Her dark love, who had lost his soul and nearly killed her since.

But that night, he hadn't been in control of himself. Nor had she. She had been possessed by James Stanley, the student, who couldn't let Grace Newman, the teacher, leave him. Angel - Angelus, she sharply reminded herself - had somehow fallen into the Grace role, and the logical part of her mind knew that the role reversal was what had broken the haunting and exorcised the spirits. She had 'shot' Angel - ANGELUS! - with a gun that only existed in memory, but whose effects were as real as the actual weapon. And Angel, being dead already, hadn't suffered from being shot, or from the subsequent two-story drop to the concrete stairs below.

Through their bodies, the spirits of James and Grace had reconciled. Had kissed. She and Angel were no more than vessels for the purpose, and she hadn't been aware of a single thing until the bright light shining overhead brought her back to herself.

She had been standing on the top tier of the music room, near an old record player that was still going on the classic "I Only Have Eyes For You". Angel's arms had been around her, his lips on hers; the kiss hadn't stopped, and it was only when it slowly ended, when their lips parted, that she looked up at him with tear-filled eyes - James' tears - and realized where they were.

"Angel?" she'd whispered in shock. For half a second she'd dared to hope - But his response had been shock, and then rage. He'd shoved her back against the table, disappearing down the tiers and out the door in an instant.

And she had been left to stand there and wonder what in the world had happened.

Later, as she'd curled up in a chair in Giles' office, they'd pieced it together. Still, she couldn't understand how Grace Newman had been able to forgive her own killer.

"Going somewhere?"

The cold voice brought her back to reality. She nearly jumped, all her instincts tingling at once. She'd been so lost in her thoughts that she hadn't noticed where she was going. Not that she'd had a destination in mind to begin with, if she was being honest.

And the fact that he'd been preoccupying her thoughts seemed to dictate that he would have to thereby appear. I have got to get a life in such a big way, she muttered to herself, staring at the vampire who was sitting on a bench before her, just outside the cemetery walls.

"Angel," she hissed, one hand automatically reaching for a stake.

"Fancy meeting you here," he said amiably, his dark eyes glittering. His posture was odd, casual, as if he wasn't prepared for a fight. And he was smiling. Oh god, his smile-- Dropped into a waiting stance, she stared at him, forcing down the anguish.

"Nothing fancy about it," she replied in a low tone. "We can make it sweet and simple."

"Just like you." His words made her recall, however involuntarily, the night after her seventeenth birthday - when he'd insulted her so horribly that she'd immediately hated him. His voice yanked her back to the present. "Just like so many I've devoured over the years. I'm having fun drawing this out, though."

"Yeah, you're quite the Van Gogh," she snorted. "Not."

He pulled one leg up onto the bench, leaning back in a semi-relaxed pose that didn't fool her in the least. "Aw, here I thought you didn't like me anymore. You certainly couldn't take your hands off me in the school there."

She could only glare at him. "I seem to recall someone else whose lips were locked even tighter than mine."

"You're a waste of time," he snarled, on his feet in an instant. Buffy bounced back, determined to keep space between them. "But don't worry, sweetheart. I'll make sure you don't suffer too much. I owe you that much, at least."

He turned suddenly, leapt onto the bench and over the cemetery wall. Buffy was after him like a shot, scrambling over the wall and landing lightly in the dirt on the other side, but Angelus was nowhere to be found.

"I'll get you, you bastard," she muttered. "And your little dog, too."

Drusilla was dreaming. It was the sound of her crying out in her sleep that had drawn her constant companion and guardian, Spike, into her room; although he found it somewhat distasteful among her dolls, decorations and the empty birdcage in the corner, he couldn't stay out when he heard the sound of her voice.

She had calmed down somewhat now, but he remained, seated quietly in his wheelchair, to watch her, and to ruminate on recent events. It hadn't been so long ago that he had been her protector, her guardian, her comforter, rather than the other way around.

And then Angel had come back and made it even worse.

Spike idly ran a finger over his fang teeth, feeling at the sharpness. It had been a while since he'd taken a human kill; since he'd been confined to the chair for some time, he'd had to resort to rats and other small animals, whose blood didn't satisfy near as much. But he'd recovered now, and the chair was merely a ruse to make Angelus think he was weak and helpless. For now, it amused him to lead his Sire on in this fashion. And if nothing else, it earned him points with Drusilla, who, despite her madness, was constant in her loyalty.

Or so he had thought. Ever since Angelus had become part of their lives again, her feelings seemed to have changed. Perhaps it was merely Angelus' constant attentions to her - there was a boy on the rebound, Spike added parenthetically to himself, if he'd ever seen one - but Dru certainly was devoted to the vampire who was her Sire as well as Spike's.

And Spike didn't like it. Not one bit.

Dru moaned softly, whimpering as if in fright. Spike abandoned the chair - unnecessary to pretend, right now, since Angelus was off trying to freak out the Slayer again - and rushed to her bedside, kneeling next to her. He knew perfectly well that she was strong, no longer in need of his aid, but he felt the need nonetheless to assure himself of her well-being.

Her eyes opened, but she didn't seem to see him as she sat up in bed. Her gown, deep red in hue, had twisted and wrinkled around her as she slept, the hem drawn up past her knees, but she ignored it; her dark eyes were fixed on a point somewhere past the walls of the room.

"They're coming," she said in her distinct Cockney accent. "The two. They're coming from the east, and they'll be the end of him."

"Who's coming, pet?" he queried, patiently, unsure if she could even hear him in this state.

"More like us. They're our Angel's worst nightmare," she replied clearly, then slumped back to the bed. The jolt seemed to awaken her from the dreamstate, and she blinked at him, her eyes losing the glazed look. "Spike?" she whispered in a faint version of her normal voice.

"I'm here, Dru," he promised, grasping her ice-cold hands tightly in his own.

"Why aren't you in your pretty chair?" she asked. He only shook his head and smiled.

"You're having a dream, love."

"Oh. It's a nice dream," she calmly replied, even as her eyes began to flutter closed again. "There are birds, and trees..."

As she sank back into sleep, Spike released her hands and returned to the chair, heaving a breathless sigh of relief. He trusted Dru, but he couldn't be sure that she would babble something in a vision, something that Angelus might overhear. For now, it was best to play up the illusion that he was still injured.

So there were two vampires traveling to Sunnydale. Interesting news. He wondered if they would merely be fodder for the Slayer, or if they were here for a purpose. Perhaps, if they weren't killed too quickly, they could be of some use to him. Unknown faces, surely eager to help one who would soon be Master...

A smile that had nothing pleasant in it began to cross his face.

The road trip lasted three nights, and by the time Michael finally drove into the parking lot of the Super 8 Motel on the outskirts of Sunnydale, he was more than a little relieved to hear Clarissa say, "This is it. End of the road."

The journey had not been a pleasant one; in fact, neither of them had fed since leaving Chicago, a fact Michael was sorely aware of now. He was hard pressed to restrain himself when the pretty young clerk behind the counter gave him a wink and a smile as she handed over the keycard; but years of experience and training - not to mention a strong sense of self-preservation - kept him from doing more than returning her smile.

As he returned to the car to drive around to the far side of the building, Clarissa gave him a weak smile; it was obvious that she, too, was feeling the hunger. He had deferred to her decision, back in Chicago, that they restrain from hunting until they reached their destination. Of course, if he'd only known then that they wouldn't eat again until they practically drove off the end of the road into the ocean--

With a sigh, he parked the car before the door of Unit 27 and handed Clarissa the keycard. She glanced at him with a questioning look. "Not coming in?"

He shook his head. "I'm a bit hungry."

"Then I'll come with you," she instantly replied, causing him to raise an eyebrow at her. She usually wasn't this clingy. Then again, being in the vicinity of the one whom they sought could be freaking her out; he wouldn't have been surprised if that was the case.

"Sure," he nodded, and got out of the car. "But we should probably split up, until we've got an idea of what this place is like."

Clarissa nodded, distantly. She glanced around, then suddenly darted off to the staircase that led to the upper story of the building. Michael stared at her in confusion. Within moments, she returned, strolling slowly, a small burden in her arms. As she came back up to him, he could see that she held a mangy, scrawny feline who was doing its best to get away from her.

"Appetizer?" she offered, but he shook his head. He'd never had a taste for animals.

"I'll survive. You need it more than I do."

With a shrug, she quickly drained the beast and tossed the carcass over her shoulder. It landed neatly in the dumpster, at which he would swear she hadn't even aimed. Sometimes she still managed to mess with his head, even after seven years together.

"I feel better now," she commented drily, giving him a sweet smile. "I'll see you back here, before sunrise?"

He nodded quickly and walked away. Lack of blood was making him short-tempered, and he felt the need to pick a fight with her for no real reason. Perhaps the way she'd killed the cat - quickly, in full view of anyone who could have driven by. Though no one had, it still rankled under his skin.

The whole trip was making him uneasy. From the moment she'd suggested it, he'd had no choice but to agree to come - after all, she'd probably have just left without him, and since she didn't know how to drive, it would have taken her a lot longer - but he still felt as if he'd been coerced into it.

And then she'd done magic, to determine their direction. Magic. How did she know magic? He'd watched uneasily as she'd filled a silver bowl with water. Sitting in a patch of moonlight, she'd surrounded herself with lit candles, and stared into the bowl for so long that he'd begun to think that she'd fallen asleep. When she did come out of her trance, it was with a muted gasp. Her eyes had flown up to his, and he'd seen fear in her face.

But she had figured out where they had to go. They'd hopped in the car that night, driving to the west, checked into cheap motels before the sun rose every morning. Despite the heavy curtains that most places provided, they still hadn't felt safe, and so had ended up curling up in the bathroom together, door locked from the inside. Uncomfortable, but better than being fried by sunlight.

They'd left Nevada behind only a couple of hours ago, as soon as the sun had set that evening; Michael had ruminated mirthlessly that he was probably seeing more of the country now than he ever would have if he'd remained mortal. It was only midnight now; they still had a few hours before they had to worry about sun-guarding the room for several days' stay.

His quick pace slowed as his thoughts turned towards the present, and the sharp tugging in his veins reminded him of his hunger. Without a thought, he shifted into what he liked to call 'hunter mode': his senses went on the alert for likely victims. It wasn't his style, or his taste, to kill when feeding; he'd long ago developed a talent for taking small amounts of blood from several people. Clarissa had often complained that his methods were more likely to make the wrong folks aware of their existence, but Michael had discovered that if he dragged an eyetooth over his tongue and laved the puncture wounds with his own blood and saliva, they invariably closed instantly. The only sign of his passing was the slightest of bruising and a vague memory of a tall, blonde stranger in black. No muss, no fuss - and no bodies to deal with.

Sunnydale at night was probably not that different from Sunnydale during the day. It was a smaller town than he was used to; the streets weren't as crowded, and the people appeared more youthful, more energetic, than the busy, careworn residents of his hometown. Still, there were more than enough to serve his current purpose; and as a long-legged brunette passed him, blatantly eyeing his body from head to toe, he decided, with a mental chuckle, that he could learn to like it here.

He had just finished licking the puncture holes in his last victim's neck clean when he felt a hand grip his shoulder and swing him around. Involuntarily, he dropped the old man - not how he'd planned to, but his attacker gave him little choice - and he barely had a glimpse of light blond hair and a fierce look in green eyes before he found himself being kicked - hard - in the stomach. Not surprisingly, he staggered backward, towards the mouth of the alley. One hand went to his stomach. Though he hadn't had the air knocked out of him, the shock of being attacked was still more than a little unpleasant, and his brain wasn't working quickly enough to cope. It didn't help that he was sated, either, while the blood hadn't been absorbed into his system yet.

"Uh-uh, you're not getting away that easy," the girl said. Somehow, seemingly out of thin air, she'd produced a sharpened length of wood and raised it with a practiced hand.

A Hunter, Michael's brain whispered fiercely at him. He stared at her. She was hardly more than a child; she couldn't have been more than seventeen years old. Yet the ferocity of her gaze was that of a trained killer.

"Look," he began, and got no more out. She was rushing towards him at an almost unbelievable speed, the stake raised at killing level.

But she was not the only one with speed. Michael side-stepped her with his own practiced ease, and darted back down into the alley.

It wasn't blind; he'd checked that before he'd even taken his first victim. The pain in his midriff had dissipated, and as he pelted around the corner and towards the side street, he tried to figure out just what the hell was going on, and how in the world he was going to warn Clarissa. Unless...

The thought didn't even have a chance to finish itself; he felt a pair of boots plant themselves in the middle of his back, and he was down, sprawling in a pile of old newspapers. That hand grabbed him again, yanking him to his back, and the girl sprang onto him as agile as any feline he'd ever met.

Michael was scared; he wasn't afraid to admit it. He'd never been so close to death in the eleven years since he'd become a vampire; not even that encounter in New Orleans with the werewolf had brought him so close to the abyss. And it was as much the matter-of-fact look in the girl's eyes as she set the stake above his heart as the stake itself that made him twitch in abject fright.

The motion caused a few errant blonde tresses to fall away from his face, revealing, in the process, the silver cross dangling from his left ear. He'd forgotten it was there, so used to it was he, but it obviously gave the girl a start. Her eyes went wide, and then she stared at him.

"Look," he began again, trying to take advantage of her momentary confusion. "I think if you'll just let me--"

He jerked upward suddenly, knocking his attacker off-balance. As she scrambled to her feet, however, she realized that he seemed to have forgotten her presence entirely. He was staring towards the side street, scrambling to his feet in harsh, jerky movements. A moment longer, while he radiated desperate intensity, and then he was breathing a name.


With that, he took off, and the confused Slayer stared after him a moment before giving chase.

Part Two

Clarissa stood in the parking lot and watched Michael walk away from her. The hem of his black trenchcoat flapped around his long legs as he strode rapidly off. She could sense the anger bleeding from beneath his tightly controlled mask, and as much as she wanted to soothe him, now was not the time. Later, after they'd both fed - when he'd had time to calm down – she'd apologize to him, and explain why she was so fraught with tension. But not now.

She stuck her hands in the pockets of her leather jacket, and, turning, picked a direction at random. The motel was close to the freeway, one of several businesses to cater to travelers of all types. Neon lights and bright signs competed with the dim stars to see who could better illuminate the night; not surprisingly, the manmade light was winning.

A few blocks from the motel, Clarissa found a packed bar. The place was cold, dirty, full of smoke; more importantly to her, it lacked the ambiance of a neighborhood hangout. Those frequenting the establishment were most likely out-of-towners, truckers passing the night in the nearby motels. Their disappearance would not be noticed right away, which would serve to keep word of her presence quiet.

She found a seat at the bar and ordered a beer for camoflage. She had to shout to be heard over the noisy country band playing their hearts out on the stage at the far end of the crowded room. The din was soothing in a way; the music of pain and heartache seemed familiar and put her at ease. Most of the people in the place were seated at tables, watching the band, but there were several men nursing drinks at the bar. Clarissa looked them over, selected one with a practiced eye. She stood up to approach him-

And promptly bumped into a body that had appeared behind her. She involuntarily sat back down on the stool - hard - and looked up at him.

He was tall, painfully thin, dressed all in black leather. His hair, the most unusual feature of him, was almost pure white, only a few shades paler than his skin; he wore it slicked back, close to his skull. Though his expression was neutral, a guarded look hooded striking brown eyes. Clarissa raised one eyebrow and gave him a patented Look. Most humans would have immediately apologized and moved under her scrutinizing gaze. He only smirked slightly.

"Oh, excuse me," she said, trying and failing to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. This time, when she stood, he stepped back to allow her room.

"You're new around here, aren't you? Why don't you let a native show you around?"

He was hardly a native to southern California, if his London accent was any indication. But his hand was already gripping her arm firmly; even if she'd wanted to resist, she wouldn't have been able to for fear of making a scene. She knew what he was now, if not who; his very touch was enough to send the message. For now, she thought it would be best to let him reveal his intentions.

"Sure," she nodded quickly. Without any more fuss, he half-led, half-dragged her outside and around the corner. Though the space between the bar and the adjacent convenient store was far from private, they were much less likely to be overheard here.

"So, are you going to tell me why you dragged me out here?" she asked after several moments passed in silence. The white-haired vampire crossed one arm over his chest and rested his other elbow on it, fingers stroking his chin thoughtfully.

"Nice night, isn't it?" he commented abruptly. "I don't know if you've ever been out here before, but it's almost always this gorgeous."

Her hackles had gone up the moment she'd seen him, and Clarissa could feel her distaste for him growing by the second. "Look," she said, fighting the annoyance in her voice. "Inane chatter bores me. You want to tell me what's going on?"

"All right." His pleasant demeanor fell away like a sloughed-off-skin. "Does the name Spike mean anything to you?"

"William the Bloody," she breathed, recognizing the appellation all too well - and cursing herself for not having anticipated the possibility of his presence. And if he was here, that undoubtedly meant his paramour, Drusilla, was, too.

His eerie smile broadened as he watched the impact of the information register on her face. "Ah. Good. That'll make this much easier."

"Make what easier?" Instinctively, she found herself falling back on the role of helpless victim. Until she figured out what he wanted, it was easier for her to pretend she was weak, easy prey.

"Well," he said, and began to pace a slow half-circle around her. "I have a small problem that needs solving. I need a couple of unfamiliar faces - you and your sweetheart? Oh, yes, pet, I know about him, too," he added as Clarissa flinched. "And I'd suggest you pay attention, because you are in the presence of the next Master."

His pomposity made Clarissa want to laugh in his face, but she pushed the mirth down, keeping her fearful mask intact. "Wh-what do you want us to do? And what's in it for us?"

Spike laughed suddenly, a sound that made Clarissa's spine crawl. "Clever girl. You'll be rewarded with your lives, of course, and my eternal gratitude."

"That's a barter for a blind man."

He blinked at her, even as she gulped, wishing she could take back her sudden words - what on Earth had possessed her to spout Indigo Girls lyrics? - but then he shrugged. "We can work out compensation later. What I need for you to do is remove an irritant for me."

"Why can't you do it?"

Spike was beginning to look frustrated now; Clarissa permitted herself a mental grin, as he spoke as impatiently as an adult to a child using the newly-learned word 'why'. "Because," he said harshly, "I'm not in a position to."

"Oh," she nodded, as cheerfully as if that explained everything.

"Take care of him as you see fit, and I will reward you handsomely." His restless pacing brought him closer to her now, and she unconsciously took a step back. "If you don't... well. I trust I needn't draw you a picture."

"I... I need to think about it," she stuttered. "Talk it over."

"Of course." He reached out, his fingertips barely touching her chin. She fought back a shudder of revulsion and refused to meet his eyes. After a moment, he stepped away. The smirk was firmly in place again. "I'll find you two nights from now. And for your sake, your decision had best be in the positive."

Clarissa nodded shakily. Turning, she dropped the beer bottle and began to walk away. She could feel his gaze boring into her back, and quickened the pace, until she found herself at a dead run several blocks away from the bar.

She had to force herself to slow down, sternly ordering her legs to take a breather and her fists to unclench. Spike had spooked her but good. She was passing through a residential area now, and as a car drove by, she was suddenly reminded that she still hadn't eaten. There was a park up ahead; the sound of laughter drifted on the still night air, indicating a potential meal. Good; she'd be able to process the night's events better on a full stomach.

Michael tore off down the street at a furious pace, so quick that Buffy found herself hard pressed to keep up with him. He was headed for Weatherly Park, she realized. Part of her mind wondered if he was heading for backup or what, but she wasn't about ready to let him get away.

The lights that normally illuminated the park's entrance and walkways had been shut off some time ago, as the place was, technically, closed for the night. But fences and darkness were no match for vampire agility and vision. Michael vaulted the gate without a second thought; his duster billowed out behind him like a cape. As Buffy followed him, landing hard on the concrete just inside the gate, the sound of screaming reached her ears. Moments later, two teenagers - she guessed them to be college age - came running towards them from the center of the park. The pair looked scared witless; she didn't even get a chance to ask them what was going on, but the expressions on their faces said it all.

"All right, someone's going to give me some answers before I go totally postal," she muttered, heading into the park. The vampire was well ahead of her now, but his hair was still visible, like a beacon in the trees ahead.

Michael drew to a stop at the approach to the centerpiece of the park: a large, double-tiered fountain. Walkways spread out from it at the cardinal points, with heavy marble benches set on the grass between each axis. Lights imbedded in the base of the fountain illumined the splashing water, cast weird shadows over the two figures on the other side of the piece. Cautiously, he began to edge towards them.

Clarissa's voice rang out clearly over the low burbling of the water. "So, you're scaring meals away from your fellow vampires now, are you? This how you get your kicks these days?"

"Oh, Clarissa. I'm hurt." The other voice was unfamiliar to Michael, but as he drew slowly closer, he caught a glimpse of the person. Somehow he was unsurprised to see the face from the portrait. The man was smiling genially, though a dark, disturbing light danced in his eyes. "No kiss? Not even a hug for old times' sake? Is this how you show your filial devotion?"

Michael winced. He'd seen it coming, but he hurt nonetheless for Clarissa, who was more wild-eyed than he'd ever seen her. There was a sudden hiss of sharply-indrawn breath beside him, and he glanced negligently to his right. It came as no shock that the girl who'd attacked him before was crouched next to him now.

"Angel," she whispered in the faintest, most feeling of voices.

Michael blinked at her. "You know him?"

A cry from Clarissa interrupted them. The vampire - Angelus, Clarissa had said his name was - had leapt at her so swiftly that neither he nor the girl had any time to intercede.

It wasn't the sight of his vampire face that had so thoroughly wigged Clarissa, but rather that he had actually physically assaulted her. She froze to the spot, trying to duck an instant too late. His hand, coming around in a deadly arc, caught her shoulder, and she felt herself catch up against a stone bench with a thump.

"Good to see you too," she managed, trying and failing to push herself upright.

He was over her now, snarling in her face. "I ought to thank you. If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be torturing and maiming again. But somehow I get the feeling you're not here to accept my gratitude, so I think I'd better get rid of you before you do something idiotic that involves curses."

"You know what, Angel? You think too much."

Buffy's voice was sarcastic, full of acid; her actions a moment later proved that she did not lack sting, as she ran forward, whirled and slammed a kick square in his side. He fell away from Clarissa, and Michael darted to her. The guitarist could feel his own face forming into sharp vampiric features, and the only sound that came from his throat was a raging snarl.

Angelus crouched where he'd fallen, clutching his side, glaring at the trio. The Slayer stood directly in between him and the other two; the numbers weren't on his side right now. Piss and hellfire.

"This isn't over," he promised darkly and made a break for it.

"Well, that's one thing you've got right," Buffy muttered. She watched to be sure that he'd disappeared before turning back to the two vampires that she'd suddenly found herself defending.

"So, what's the sitch?"

Michael continued to cradle Clarissa in his arms, reassuring himself that she was all right. When he looked back up at Buffy, his face had returned to normal, and he actually looked regretful. Clarissa laid a gentle hand over one of his. "I'm all right, love. Really. He didn't hit me hard."

She looked up at the Slayer then, with dark eyes that seemed oddly familiar. "You'll be the Slayer, I expect."

This earned her an eye-roll and a disgusted snort. "So there isn't anyone in the known universe who doesn't know who I am. I was beginning to wonder."

Clarissa ignored the phrasing. "My name is Clarissa. This is Michael. And I think we need to sit down with your Watcher and have a talk."

At almost midnight, the school library of Sunnydale High School was dark and quiet, but not quite deserted. Rupert Giles, the school's librarian, was still at work, though his activities at this time of night weren't exactly of the scholarly venue.

It might have been some kind of obsessive-compulsive behavior, he mused to himself as he removed a sword from the weapons case in the cage and began to wipe it down with a soft cloth, that compelled him to keep the variety of arms clean and in order. Or perhaps he was a soldier in a past life. Whatever the case, it gave him some sense of peace to disassemble the guns, clean them down, and reassemble them before replacing them neatly in the case.

Maybe I'm just trying to overcompensate, he sighed as he set back the sword and reached for a shorter dagger with a lethally scalloped blade. I don't want anyone else to die.

He couldn't help but chuckle to himself at that thought. Buffy would probably say, 'Overstate the obvious much?' And she'd be right...


The librarian jumped and whirled, the unexpected voice giving him a jolt back to reality. He pointed the dagger at the throat of the Slayer for all of about two seconds before sheepishly lowering it. "You startled me, Buffy," he said with a slight scowl. "Why are you here?"

"Stuff's happened," she said succinctly, and gestured behind her with a quick, sharp nod. Peering over her shoulder into the dim foyer of the library, he saw two figures.

The man was tall, lanky and thin. A mane of richly golden hair cascaded in waves well past his shoulderblades, with one lock falling stubbornly over one eye. He had a long, well-shaped face, and he was dressed in a long black duster, jeans, and a rich violet shirt. One of his arms was draped rather protectively over the shoulders of the other person. She was shorter than him by almost a foot, Giles guessed, and her coal-black hair was straight and blunt-cut at the nape of her neck. There was something exotic about her face, something familiar to him in her dark, wide eyes and the fullness of her mouth, though her expression was neutral, not revealing a thing. She, too, wore jeans, as well as a black t-shirt and a leather jacket that was scuffed and dirty.

"I... see," Giles assessed. Replacing the dagger in the case and shutting it, he stepped out of the cage to greet the visitors. As he came closer to them, he could see an unusual lucidity in their eyes and paleness to their skin. His suspicion was confirmed when he offered the man a hand to shake.

"Rupert Giles," he offered.

"Michael Daughnessy," the man replied, returning the handshake with an icy cool grip. "And this is Clarissa. And yes, we're vampires."

"Ah," Giles stated. "Thank you for getting that out of the way."

"They know Angel," Buffy put in quickly. Giles' paternal eye noticed that she seemed tense; undoubtedly something to do with said 'angelic one'.

He glanced back at the pair. "Perhaps we should sit and discuss this?"

Clarissa nodded, promptly moving towards the center of the library and one of the round tables there. She was more relaxed now, having fed - the trio had stopped by Angel's former apartment on the way to the library; since he had abandoned it intact, there were still several packages of blood in the refrigerator that were good, if slightly stale - but being in the presence of the Slayer kept her from calming completely. Michael was close behind her. Giles and Buffy trailed more slowly; he raised a questioning eyebrow at her.

She just glanced at the vampires. "They'll explain it."

Giles took a seat opposite Clarissa, who leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table. Michael, sitting next to her, kept his gaze on her, in apparent concern. Buffy, who still seemed to have some nervous energy to work out, walked around the center, circular area of the library, staying out of the conversation.

"Well, first of all I should start by saying that I have a long association with Angelus, though I haven't actually seen him in about eighty years," Clarissa began without preamble. "In point of fact, he's my Sire."

Giles opened his mouth to say something, but Clarissa shook her head.

"No, let me get through this." He nodded, and she continued. "I was a young Romany woman of the Kalderash clan--" She saw the name register on his face, and plowed on. "--training to be chovhani, as the elders had sensed great power in me. I was eighteen when he came to me one night. I recognized what he was immediately, and for some reason I thought I was clever and powerful enough to lead him on and then kill him. So I played dumb. Pretended to be stupid and innocent and sweet. My family paid for it, in their lives."

Michael was watching her with an immensely sympathetic look on his face; Buffy had turned to watch, leaning on a chair. One part of her brain idly noted that Clarissa had pronounced the word 'Romany' different than Angel had; the woman spoke it with the emphasis on the first syllable, rather than the second.

"He and his companion - I didn't know her then - slaughtered my parents, my brother and sister, cousins. They did it quickly. She took some of them, while I was alone with him; and then she held me and forced me to watch while he fed from my parents.

"It wasn't until then that I realized I wouldn't be able to contact anyone in time - for that was when I knew that he would make me a vampire as well. Unfortunately, the spells I had learned to that date were minor and ineffective against him."

She went silent for a time, her gaze focused on a stack of books Giles had left piled on the table. Buffy began walking again, her pace slower around the tables. Her arms were tucked around her stomach, as if she were trying to protect herself against the words she heard.

"He took me from his companion's grasp and told her to leave, in case they were found. She didn't want to go, but she did. He had nearly finished the process when... when we were found."

Clarissa's voice hitched and she took a dragging breath. Michael leaned over to cover one of her hands with his own. She gave him a grateful look before returning her attention to Giles. The librarian could see a glimmer of wetness in her eyes.

"It was the last time I would see my people again. They thought I was dead - understandably, for the wounds in my neck and the loss of blood did leave me more or less unconscious. They grabbed Angelus while he was still weak." Her voice was beginning to tremble slightly, a quaver that intensified as she continued. "Me, they began to prepare for final rites. None of my... my family were there to do the proper things. They just wanted to make sure my body was burned before anything strange happened to it. But... for whatever reason, maybe Angelus hadn't given me enough blood... I woke, ravenous. I fed on the first person I could get my hands on. She had been my teacher, my mentor... and she was my first kill."

Clarissa stood, then; apparently she had been sitting still for too long. Sticking her hands in the pockets of her jeans, she moved over by Michael, leaning on the arm of his chair. He obligingly put an arm around her waist, hand resting lightly on her hip. She glanced down at him with a fond, if somewhat melancholy, smile.

"After that," she continued, "I ran. For a long time I was like Angelus - soulless, evil. I can't remember when I began to change, when I realized that the demon could be beaten back. Perhaps it was one of my people, taking pity on me and casting some kind of spell to allow me sanity and reason within my lifeless prison."

"You're waxing poetic again," Michael murmured, and she laughed.

"Sorry. Anyway," she said, returning her gaze to Giles - and Buffy, who had ceased her pacing and was standing behind him, slightly to his left. "The reason we came out here is because I've been dreaming about him. I haven't seen him since that night, and never expected to again, so to have a week's worth of dreams all of a sudden was rather unsettling."

"What were the dreams about?" Giles asked quietly, his first words since the vampire had begun to unfold her tale.

"Nothing specific," she replied. "I saw him with the Slayer--"

"Buffy," he interjected, and Clarissa nodded.

"Buffy," she repeated. "I saw them together, and I saw him become cruel. I couldn't tell for sure what they meant, but I realized that it was a summoning of some kind. That's why we're here."

"You've seen him, then?" Giles's eyebrows went up. Buffy nodded now, moving around him to sit at the table.

"We ran into him tonight." Her tone was flat, emotionless. All three turned to look at her as she spilled forth the details of the evening's encounter. As she finished, she leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms.

Giles nodded briefly, as if in approval, and then turned back to the vampires. "He hasn't been like this," he stated. "When we first met him, he was..."

"A kinder, gentler vampire?" Clarissa chuckled. "I knew that the curse did that much. Why did he revert to form?"

Buffy's gaze tracked to the table before her. Giles cleared his throat studiously before replying. "Apparently, the curse was set so that if Angel experienced a moment of true happiness, the humanity he had been cursed with would promptly be lost again."

Clarissa's brow creased as she pondered that. "Odd. You'd think they'd have wanted to keep him from becoming a total killer again, to prevent the loss of life..."

Just like that, Giles' face suddenly shut down. Clarissa peered at him; the librarian stood suddenly, removing his glasses and striding away. Michael glanced at his paramour, and then both vampires turned to look at Buffy, who was gazing after her Watcher sympathetically. After a moment, Buffy glanced over at the pair.

Her eyes were dark, and her voice low as she explained. "Angelus killed Miss Calendar - his girlfriend. She was our computer science teacher..."

Clarissa bit her lip. "Oh, gods. I'm sorry, if I'd realized..."

The girl shook her head. A deep maturity had replaced the childish pout she'd been wearing earlier. "He really loved her."

A profound silence blanketed the library for several moments. Michael rubbed Clarissa's back gently, while she stared off in the direction that the Watcher had headed. Buffy reached for one of the books, opened it, set it back, then stood up. "I'm going to go see if he's all right," she murmured, sotto voce.

"No need, I'm quite well." His voice came out of nowhere so suddenly that Buffy jumped, then shot him an angry glare. Giles had come around from the other side of the library, a new stack of books in his arms. As he set them down, the girl returned to her seat, grumbling something about librarians that weren't supposed to sneak up on you. Clarissa stood, mouth open for an apology, but Giles just shook his head. "It's quite all right," he said. "We need to deal with the present right now, to figure out why you were summoned here. I've brought some of the Watcher diaries from the time period when you would have been brought across..."

Clarissa reached for one of the books, her eyes wide. "Where did you get this?"

"Here and there..." He watched her peruse the tome, which had been published in the late eighteenth century; reportedly a grimoire of witches' spells, he had never actually read it all the way through, in part due to the fact that large sections were in a language he had yet to learn.

The vampire appeared to be familiar with the language, however, for she sank back down into the chair she had abandoned before, her attention completely drawn to whatever she had found. Michael rolled his eyes at this.

Buffy, meanwhile, had moved over to Giles, who was sorting through the pile he'd set down on the table. "You okay?" she murmured.

He nodded without looking at her. "It just... it was unexpected. Took me a bit by surprise, that's all."

She laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. "It'll be all right, Giles."

"I know," he said, even softer. "It gets a bit easier every day."

Michael finally got up from his seat and leaned over Clarissa's shoulder, inspecting an illustration of what appeared to be a fanged monster that vaguely resembled a human. The printing on the opposite page was crabbed and blurred, and even if he had been able to make it out, he still couldn't decipher the language.

"What is it?" he asked softly.

"Something I never thought I'd see again," she replied in a small voice.


"Giles, where did you say you got this?" she said, louder, closing the volume carefully. The librarian glanced up at the tome curiously, then shrugged.

"I think I got it along with several others at some point when I was still at Oxford. Why?"

Clarissa stood again, the book hugged to her chest. "It's why I came here."

The others glanced at each other with puzzled expressions before looking back to her.

"I know how we can stop Angelus now. Once and for all."

Part Three

Angelus banged his way into the building, slamming doors, curses trailing in his wake. Drusilla hurried after him, but even her concern couldn't soothe his anger.

He emerged into the gardens to find Spike, sitting there in his wheelchair as always. Something about the imperturbable look on the younger vampire's face stirred a snarl from Angelus. He attacked a hedge, tearing leaves and branches in an attempt to spend his fury on the innocent wood.

"You're upset," Spike observed calmly, after several minutes of Angelus' impromptu pruning.

"So nice of you to take an interest," Angelus growled. He threw himself on the stone bench and allowed Drusilla to embrace him. She cooed softly, in what she apparently thought to be a comforting manner.

"Want to talk about it? I hear that sort of thing is therapeutic." Spike's voice was cold, caustic, belying his inner amusement. He'd only made it back a few minutes before, but if Dru hadn't decided to go after Angelus earlier in the evening, Spike wouldn't have been able to get out at all that night. So far, things were going splendidly.

"It was the Slayer," Dru replied quietly. "And the new vampires. They had a big fight."

"Ah." Spike nodded, his mind racing beneath a cool surface. His new lackeys weren't supposed to have encountered their prey yet - still, in a small town like Sunnyhell, he supposed it had been inevitable. As long as they didn't realize it was him they were to kill. "New ones, eh?"

Angelus stood up, shrugging Dru off. He was still brimming with anger, and Spike couldn't yet figure out why he was so upset. "Yeah," he said tightly. "Already buddies with our favorite Slayer. And the girl—"

He broke off, still snarling.

"What about the girl, Angel?" Spike knew he was in dangerous territory, but he had to know.

"She's the one - the reason I was cursed in the first place. That goddamned Romany brat!"

"It's all right, love, we'll get her." Dru was at Angelus' side again, her hands moving delicately over his arms and back. Slowly, almost reluctantly, he succumbed to her ministrations, closing his eyes as he gradually relaxed.

The Romany brat... This was even better than he'd hoped. The girl couldn't have any reason not to want Angelus dead - if not because of a sense of justice, being that she was apparently a friend of the Slayer, then out of hatred of her Sire, who'd killed her entire family before making her a vampire against her will.

Spike needed to be alone, to think. He let a final glare rake over Angelus and Dru, for appearances' sake - and even if his mind was on other matters, it still made him sick to see them all over each other - and then he spun the wheelchair around and headed back inside, to ponder the ramifications of this news.

"Come again?" Giles said, blinking at Clarissa.

Clarissa ignored the bemused looks on the others' faces as she approached Giles. Opening the book again, she flipped pages rapidly, pointing out first one invocation, complete with woodcut illustration, then another. "We'd need to combine these..."

"Yes, I see what you're saying," he began. "Can you adapt the wording?"

As the two trailed off into rapid-fire witchspeak, Michael rolled his eyes and stood. "Clarissa," he said, quietly, then louder when she didn't respond. She paused mid-phrase and looked up at him.

"I'm going to go," he said. "I'll see you back at the hotel?"

"All right." She fished the keycard from her pocket and flipped it to him. He nodded to Buffy and Giles, and departed from the library without another word.

"What's his deal?" the Slayer said, eyebrows furrowed as she glanced after him.

"He's not much for sitting around and talking," Clarissa said. Then she leaned on the table and sighed. "And this is a side of me he's never seen before. He's not exactly comfortable with it."

"Mmm." Buffy considered this for a moment, then looked up at Clarissa again. "Okay, so we know why you're not a garden-variety, run-of-the-mill bloodsucker. How about him?"

Clarissa returned her gaze to the intricate wording on the pages before her. "Another story," she said. "Let's just say he's the way I realized I'm still chovhani."

"You – you're more powerful, then, now that you've been a vampire for so long?" Giles put in almost absently, flipping pages through the text.

She nodded quickly, her eyes following the movements of his elegant hands. "Again, I'm not sure why. I think it might be partially because I was made by Angelus, who is a strong one--" There was a snort from Buffy's direction, and Clarissa rolled her eyes before continuing. "And he was also made by one who was strong. I think the powerful blood has interacted with the magics I inherited, so that now I probably can do things only an entire circle of Elders could do in my youth."

"But you haven't tested it." The Watcher sounded mildly disapproving. Clarissa shrugged.

"Haven't had any need to, not since I found Michael."

"Did you make him?" Buffy suddenly wanted to know.

The vampire turned to look at her. A bleak and somewhat upset look had filled her face. "No, I did not. I would not ever make someone into a vampire. I found him, abandoned by his Sire - and that is part of the story that I will not get into."

"'Scuse me for being curious," the Slayer muttered under her breath.

Just then, the doors to the library banged open, admitting two panting, wide-eyed teenagers, a dark-haired boy and a small auburn-haired girl. The boy had a hand on the girl's shoulder; something about them spoke to Clarissa of a lifelong friendship.



Buffy and Giles spoke at the same moment, concern evident in their voices. Buffy had risen as soon as the two had entered, and now she hurried around the table to them. "What happened? How come you guys aren't at the Bronze?"

"We saw him, we saw Spike." The words tumbled out of Willow's mouth. Giles stiffened at the mention of that name, and Clarissa turned to fully face them as well, somehow already knowing what was coming next.

"Spike's healed? Great, that's all we needed." Buffy gripped Willow's hand; she looked scared half to death, which was no mean trick for someone who had seen and done the things she had.

"He's up and about, all right," Xander said tightly. "Not only that, it looks like he's recruiting. We saw him with someone."

"Perhaps," Giles cut in, his voice low and sensible, "we should sit down and relate exactly what happened in order."

"Good idea." But as Buffy began to head back to the table, Xander and Willow saw the unfamiliar face next to Giles. They jumped, almost in unison, and then Xander pointed at Clarissa.

"Who's she, and what's she doing here?"

"She's a friend," Buffy started.

"No she's not," Willow declared, her voice trembling. "She's the one we saw talking to Spike!"

"What?!" The Slayer whirled to face Clarissa, whose face reflected a resigned, serious look. Giles was moving away from her, and as she set the old grimoire down on the table slowly, Buffy began to approach her.

The tiny blonde had produced a stake from somewhere on her person; one part of Clarissa's mind was impressed, considering how scantily the girl was clad. Nonetheless, she backed up instinctively from the weapon. "All right," she sighed, "I understand. It's not like trustworthy vampires are exactly commonplace. You want to let me explain, or are we just going to fight now?"

"Explain. I'd love to hear it." Buffy's voice was a low snarl of contained rage. Briefly, Clarissa wondered just why she was so upset, then decided it must have something to do with Angelus.

Carefully, choosing her words with caution, Clarissa went over the details of her encounter with Spike, leaving out nothing. The others were silent throughout the recitation. Once she'd finished, Buffy replaced the stake - in a fold of her loose shirt, which she'd tied in a knot at her waist - and sank into a seat, looking pained. Xander and Willow had assumed chairs near the table, while Giles walked around to stand by the teenagers, giving Clarissa plenty of space.

"If this just isn't the sunniest news we've had all night, I don't know what is," Buffy sighed.

"I wonder who Spike was referring to," Giles mused softly, almost to himself, as Xander leaned forward to rest his elbows on the table.

"Well, I know that I speak for Willow as well as myself when I say 'who the hell are you'?" The boy's voice was more than a little defensive, for which Clarissa couldn't truly blame him. Though she did find it odd that two teenagers were apparently completely aware of the Slayer's activities, at this point she was beyond caring why, when, or how.

"My name's Clarissa," she said softly. "I'm a vampire, as you probably guessed, but I'm not here to hurt you."

"It's a really long story," Buffy put in, a yawn on the heels of her words.

Her Watcher saw it. "I think perhaps the three of you should head home. Buffy, you can fill the others in on the events of the evening, and Clarissa and I can work on the spells."


"Spells," Buffy echoed Willow's query. "Come on. I'll tell you about it on the walk home."

As the trio of teenagers stood - Xander aiming a last threatening look at Clarissa before they departed the library - Giles moved back over to the stack of books by which the vampire stood.

"I am sorry about that," he said softly. "We've... had problems with trusting vampires before."

"Angelus," she guessed, and he nodded, reaching for a thick, wide volume that read 'Vampyr' in large capital letters on the cover.

"Yes, Angel. When we first met him, we didn't even know he was a vampire. He warned us about things - the Harvest, the, ah, 'Fork Guy'--" He used the term with obvious disdain, which gave Clarissa the impression that it must have been initiated by one of the teens. "--and so forth. By the time Buffy learned his true nature, there were already some emotional, ah..."

He trailed off then, and Clarissa smiled a little as she leafed through the grimoire again. "Complications," she supplied.

"Yes, exactly. The attraction was mutual, and very tragic and romantic." Giles was looking at the pages, but his gaze was somewhere else. Clarissa suddenly had a very strong sense of how deep his devotion ran for Buffy. There was a great deal of paternal affection, hidden by the prickly British exterior, as well as respect and tolerance.

"And then the rest of the curse hit," she prompted.

"Er, yes." He glanced back up at her. "So now he has reverted to form, so to speak, and has spent his time finding some less than pleasant ways of torturing Buffy, as a sort of twisted revenge for the happiness they shared."

"Mm." Clarissa's mind was already sliding off in other directions, as she translated words of a language she hadn't spoken in eighty years. "Hey, here's something."

"What's that?"

"I think it has something to do with the original curse. I wonder..."

She read in silence, and the preoccupied look on her face suddenly jarred Giles' memory. Of course, he thought with a mental rap to the brain. She said she was of the Kalderash...

"Can I ask you something?" he said quietly. She glanced up at him, blinking.


"Have you... had any contact at all with your clan? Since the... incident?"

Polite British manners, she thought with a smile. "Since I became a vampire? No, I'm afraid not. I knew they'd try to kill me if I got anywhere near them. Why?"

He glanced back at the book he'd been skimming. "I... there was a woman from the clan, she taught here, in computer science. She... was killed, by Angelus."

Despite the careful tones of his statement, Clarissa could read with ease the emotional undercurrent beneath the words. "I'm... I'm sorry. I didn't know her. I wish I could say that I did..."

"It's all right." The librarian's reserved mask slipped back into place easily. "I think I'll be happiest knowing we've sent Angelus to hell where he belongs."

Her voice, when she replied, was barely a whisper. "You and me both."

Part Four

For some time, the library had been ensconced in silence. Giles was working through a book detailing the history of vampires, written by an Italian who claimed to know everything there was to know about the subject, while Clarissa continued to study the grimoire she'd discovered. She had become so involved in the incantations and spell components that she didn't, at first, hear Giles saying her name. Not until he repeated himself did she blink and look up.


"Er, I didn't mean to interrupt you, but something occurred to me regarding your meeting with Spike. Have you given any thought to that, by the way?"

He regarded her with a calm, steady gaze, and she found herself somewhat reluctant to reply.

"Well, no." She pursed her lips, then stuck her finger in the text as a bookmark and closed it. "I was a little busy defending myself from Daddy Dearest, and then we came here..." Her voice trailed off then. "Wait a second."


The vampire stood suddenly and began pacing, the book tucked under her arm. "Albino Boy said he wanted an irritant removed. That he couldn't do it himself. Could he have been referring to Angelus?"

Giles raised a thoughtful eyebrow. "It is possible. If, for some reason, the dynamics of his relationship with Drusilla prevent him acting alone, he could very well seek outside help, so to speak. And since he doesn't have the connections the Master did, to call on known assassins, it seems logical that he would turn to new, unknown faces, like yours and Michael's."

"I still don't understand how he knew we were here, though," she muttered. "He's the one who found me, and he mentioned Michael without my even having to tell him."

"It could be that he or Drusilla have powers unknown to us as yet." Giles paged through the book he'd been reading, stopping when he found the list of 'vampiric strengths'. "After all, your chovhani powers couldn't have been predicted by any historian."

"True." With a sigh, she sat back down again, replacing the grimoire on the table. Flipping it open, she traced a finger down an illustration that decorated the center of the page, vines and leaves tracing their way between columns of text. Something about the way Giles was looking at her, out of the corner of his eye, suddenly reminded her of the woman they'd been discussing before. She couldn't restrain her curiosity any longer.

"You loved her, didn't you?"

Her sudden observation startled Giles. He glanced over at her, then sighed softly and removed his glasses.

"Yes," he admitted. "It will always be one of my greatest regrets that I never took the opportunity to tell her that, while I still had the chance."

"I think she knows."

Giles glanced up at the vampire. Her dark eyes were warm and understanding.

"Our people -– at least, when I was still part of the clan -– believed in reincarnation. The idea that the soul returns to the flesh after a time of rest? I know that she's safe now, and at peace, where she is. And if you both look favorably on it, then perhaps someday you can be reborn together and have the chance you didn't in this life."

Her voice had unconsciously dropped into the reverent tones in which the original speech had been delivered to her. Giles looked rather overtaken by the notion, and she smiled softly, to lighten her words a little. It was several moments before he responded. "I'd like that."

Clarissa regarded the librarian with a fond gaze. She had yet to figure out why she'd been so drawn to him, or how she'd become so comfortable in his presence in such a short amount of time. The only thought she could dredge up was that his store of knowledge, interest in the unknown, and willingness to impart learning all reminded her of Magdalena, the old Kalderash woman who had been her teacher. Even his habit of removing his glasses and rubbing his forehead was reminiscent of Magdalena with her ancient spectacles...

She shook herself from her reverie abruptly. Though the sky through the windows was pitch black, dawn was not far in coming, and she had a bit of a jog to the motel.

She stood, taking the grimoire and tucking it under her arm. Giles glanced up at her. "Ah, yes, it's close to dawn, isn't it?"

"Closer than I'd like it to be. I'll be back tonight, once I've had time to think on this." She patted the book, and he nodded; then she departed at all speed, so swiftly that he didn't even see her leave. She took off for the motel at a run once she was off school grounds.

Having given Michael the keycard before, she had to knock on the door to gain entrance. As she waited for him to open it, she gave quiet thanks that he'd somehow arranged for a room whose door and window faced west. The sun was just beginning to creep over the horizon, and the side of the building on which she stood was, thanks to its positioning, in deep shade.

The sound of something heavy being shifted came through the door, and then it opened, revealing Michael's face. He looked somewhat bleak and haggard, and he stepped back, further into the room, as soon as he saw that it was her. His eyes were dark and unreadable. Clarissa took a deep breath as she stepped into the room, turning to close and lock the door behind her. She saw that he'd propped an upholstered chair under the door handle before, as that very item stood directly to her side.

"Okay," she sighed. "What's this about?"

"Oh, I wanted to be sure you wouldn't sic your little Slayer on me."

She blinked at him. He pushed past her, replaced the chair in front of the door, and then turned to sit on the bed. His glare was decidedly resentful.

"Okay, you are making absolutely no sense," she said calmly. Sitting down in the chair, she folded her hands. "What is this really about?"

"When were you planning on telling me you were a witch? Or about this Angelus character? Have you been lying to me about everything?"

"Wait – no, whoa, hold it right there. Michael, I've always said there would be things I wouldn't be able to talk about – but don't ever say that I haven't been honest with you."

"All right." He made that concession reluctantly, but his eyes were still fierce. "So you were just going to keep me in the dark?"

"That's not fair. These are things I had to deal with – I thought they were part of my past." Clarissa was starting to get agitated now; she rose and began to pace the length of floor between bureau and bed. "You can't tell me you don't have things you don't want to tell me about – things you've done that you're ashamed of."

That hit home. She saw him flinch. But it didn't wind him; he fired back without pause. "It still doesn't give you the right to lie about doing magic to me."

Clarissa knew her jaw dropped, but for a moment she could do no more than stare at him in dumfounded shock. When her voice returned, it refused to come out louder than a whisper. "How – how did you know?"

"I figured it out. And it helped, running into one of the, oh, what's a good word, standard vampires here." He had stood now, and his features were hard, angry, full of hurt. "Jogged a few memories, seeing him. Seeing you with that book. And then when you did the scrying in Chicago. Why'd you do it, Clarissa? Maybe I'd have been happier as a normal vampire."

"You'd killed your fiancée, Michael." She couldn't force her voice to a normal tone. Maybe it was because her throat had closed against the onslaught of threatening tears. "You weren't a normal vampire even then – not after you went after your Sire for making you a vampire in the first place."

"You're lying." But his accusation was fainter now.

"Yes, I should have told you. I was wrong. I'm sorry. Michael, you were a wreck. You would have killed yourself."

"You should have let me die."

Her heart ripped then. His face had completely shut down, and he stood in the middle of the room with fists clenched at his side.

"You'd rather be dead than have known me." The tears were coming now, no matter how she tried to stop them.

"No -– 'Rissa, that's not what I--" She had broken through with that statement, but she couldn't bear his sympathy now. As he reached for her, she fled, pushing him away, backtracking to the relative safety of the bathroom.

The rational part of her mind observed that locking the door was essentially useless against the strength Michael possessed, but she did it anyway. And was gratified when he didn't break the door in after all.

She was exhausted, from the fighting and research and travel. It was the floor or the tub, and she decided to risk a sore neck rather than sleep on cold tile. She kicked off her shoes and curled up without any more thought.

"...and so it turns out that this Clarissa chick is actually the Romany girl that Angel munched on and got cursed for, except he left out the part about making her a vampire, and oh, did I mention she's a witch, too?"

The residential streets of Sunnydale were fairly quiet at almost one o'clock in the morning. The only sounds on Rebello Drive were those of three sets of teenaged feet walking along the sidewalk, and the monologue of Buffy Summers as she filled in her friends on the events of the evening.

"Harsh," Willow commented.

"So, she and her boyfriend, who's also a vampire, decided to come here and help us get rid of Angelus why? Out of the goodness of their demonic little hearts?" Xander naturally sounded skeptical. Buffy understood, in a way. He'd never been able to give Angel the benefit of the doubt, especially after the vampire's true nature had been revealed; after the curse had completed itself and Angel had become Angelus, Xander had only felt justified in his beliefs. Why, now, would he trust a vampire again, especially one he'd seen talking to Spike?

"I'm not sure it's because they want to help us," Buffy hedged. "I think it's got more to do with this dream she was having."

"Well, if it works, it'll be cool." Willow, who was walking in between the Slayer and Xander, was playing peacemaker as usual. "I mean, you'll have Angel back, and things will be like they were before, right?"

"I doubt anything will be like it was before." Buffy couldn't keep the dark note out of her voice, no matter how hard she tried. She glanced up in relief, seeing that they had finally reached her house. "Right now I just want to get this dealt with, and then we'll handle the fallout."

"Gotcha." Xander reached over to squeeze Buffy's shoulder. "See you tomorrow."

She waved to them, then sighed a little, watching Xander sling a companionable arm over Willow's shoulder as the two turned to head towards their own houses. Gathering her resolve, she walked up the path to her front door. She'd been due home an hour ago. Her mother wouldn't exactly be thrilled to see her coming home at this time of night.

"I don't believe I've ever met you before. Are you from Thessaly?"

The stranger shook his head. A dark radiance seemed to glow around him as he moved towards her, and she had to bite her lip to remind herself that he was not to be trusted. For half an instant she wondered bleakly what she was doing, playing games with a demon.

"No, I'm from elsewhere." The faintest touch of an Irish accent tinged his rich voice. "But I must say that I've never seen so beautiful a lady in all my travels."

Despite herself, she blushed. That was good, she thought – add to the illusion that she was meek and inexperienced. Even if she was. "Oh, you're – you're too kind, sir. Do you have a name?"

"Do you?"

He moved around her and sat down on the bench next to her. They were a good distance from the encampment now; she could just barely hear the music and see flickers of the bonfire through the trees. Her family would be celebrating a good day's tradings. She should be there, not here, trying to kill a vampire.

"I'm Clarissa," she said in her shyest tone of voice, eyes determinedly focused on the hands folded in her lap. Then one of his hands reached for hers, drawing it towards himself. His thumb moved lightly over the back of her hand, teasing her skin. His touch was cold. She hadn't expected that.

"A lovely name," he replied. "I'm Angelus."

The Angelic One. Clarissa's blood ran cold with fear. Of all the vampires in the world, this one had chosen her for its next prey. Images of the degradation and destruction he'd caused ran through her mind. Her eyes flicked up to meet his, all dark and dancing.

"It's – it's an unusual name." She stumbled over the words. She was beginning to feel as idiotic now as she had initially pretended to appear.

"Perhaps you should take me to meet your family," he invited. "They certainly can't think it's proper for one as young as you to be alone here with an unknown man..."

She shook her head demurely. "They trust me."

"Aren't you scared?" His voice was almost teasing. She looked up at him, shaking her head, trembling a little.


He grinned.

"You should be."

She wanted to scream as he came towards her, even as the thinking part of her mind began to protest – this isn't how it happened! But she was frozen in fear, paralyzed by the darkness dancing in his eyes, by the rakish look of his face and the way a few strands of hair fell loosely from the tie-back...

Clarissa blinked, and they were standing in the park where she had confronted Angelus the previous night. The night was still and clear, the sound of water dancing in the fountain behind them. He wore the same clothes he'd worn then, though. The only difference was that he now sported his true, demonic face instead of the human guise.

"Why don't you get out of town now, before you start any more trouble?" he snarled.

She stood her ground. She was still wearing the dress she'd worn that night when he'd made her a vampire, when she was eighteen years old and vulnerable and innocent. Was her mind trying to tell her something?

"I'm here to stop trouble. You should stay out of my way."

"Tough talk. I don't buy it."

They circled each other. She looked around frantically. No one else was there, no sound betraying even the most distant of life. She had no one, no resource but herself. It would have to be enough.

"Why don't you see what I'm worth now? I might surprise you."

A flicker of motion from off to her right made her involuntarily glance in that direction, despite the possibility that she might be opening herself up to attack. To her surprise, another Angelus stood there. But this one was different. He wore twentieth century clothing, what she'd seen him in last night – the long, black coat, black pants, a white v-neck t-shirt underneath the coat. His hair was close-cropped, scruffy, and his face entirely human. When he looked up at her, there was an honesty and vulnerability in his eyes that took her breath away. He looked helpless, utterly without hope.

Her gaze swung back to the Angelus she'd known when she'd still been human. Something clicked. This was Angel, this second image. This was who Angelus had become after the curse.

She couldn't explain why, but suddenly she knew what had to be done, and how she could do it. Perhaps it would help to defeat her inner demons at the same time.

Clarissa woke with a gasp, followed by a whimper of pain. She craned her neck carefully, trying to keep from bashing her head on the faucet. Sleeping in the bathtub had been less comfortable than she'd hoped it to be, and even the cushioning provided by several folded towels hadn't done much to prevent her from acquiring a decided ache at the base of her neck.

Yawning, she stretched and sat up, forcing her muscles to respond. She glanced at her watch out of habit, even though she knew that it was past sunset despite the lack of a window in the bathroom. As she stood and stepped out of the tub, she wondered if Michael was gone yet.

The bedroom was empty, confirming her initial suspicion. From the stillness of the room, she decided that he'd probably gone as soon as the sun had slid below the horizon. She changed clothes quickly, found the grimoire where she'd set it on the table by the window last night, and headed out.

She had to feed, unfortunately, and they'd exhausted the supply from the apartment the night before. Respectful of the Slayer's wishes, Clarissa didn't hunt to kill, but fed sparingly from her victims. It amused her to realize that she had to adopt Michael's style, the one she'd mocked for so long. Oh well, it'll only be until we get out of this town.

Then it was to the library, where she knew the mortals would be waiting.

"I don't like it."

"Xander, you've been saying that for the past hour and a half." Willow attempted to use her calmest, most reasoning voice, but even her temper was beginning to fail.

"So? That doesn't mean I can't keep saying it."

"It does mean that you're going to have a broken arm if I hear it again." Cordelia's patience, never celebrated to begin with, was wearing thin as well. As she stood from where she'd been sitting next to Xander to walk around the table, he gave her a hurt look, then pouted at Buffy in hopes of a kind word.

The Slayer only gave him an amused smile. "Don't look at me. I'm not feeling very sympathetic tonight."

"Giles, I--"

"Save it, Xander." The librarian's clipped tones were quick and sharp. "We know that you don't want to trust Clarissa and Michael. I even understand why you don't want to. But I would appreciate it if you could at least keep your mouth shut and show some support. They may very well be the last hope we have."

"Sorry." Xander's resentful tone joined with a glare towards Giles, but he subsided into silence as Giles set down a pile of books on the table.

"So, what's the new?" Buffy asked.

"I'm not sure, exactly," Giles admitted. "We did research for quite a while--"

"Which would explain why we found you crashed on the table with a book for a pillow?" the Slayer quipped.

Giles only gave Buffy a look and didn't bother to dignify her words with a reply. "While the grimoire she discovered would seem to be of some considerable help, I'm not clear just yet on what, exactly, the true problem is, or if there even is one beyond the persistent threat with which we've been dealing."

"That being Angelus."

The new voice startled everyone, and Xander turned his glare on Clarissa as she walked up to the railing of the library's mezzanine level, an even look on her face. "What, you vamps have some kind of appear-out-of-nowhere power or something? They teach classes on how to scare people?"

"Xander." Willow bapped her best friend with the back of her hand. He rubbed his shoulder, a mock look of pain on his face.

Giles, for his part, seemed used to such sudden appearances, for he merely glanced up, with a nod. "Yes. Angelus."

"And you are..?" Cordelia, who was leaning on the table next to Willow, glanced up to Clarissa with an utterly disdainful air.

"Cordelia, this is Clarissa, the vampire we were talking about?" Buffy said. Cordelia glanced over at the Slayer, one eyebrow arching; then, as comprehension dawned, she nodded.

"Oh, yeah. Nice to meet you." She smiled faintly, and as Clarissa came down the stairs to the lower level, the former May Queen glided back to her seat by Xander.

"So, did you learn anything?" Giles asked. Clarissa shrugged. She was still clutching the grimoire she'd left with that morning, rather like a lifeline, he thought.

"Maybe. I had something of a revelatory dream," she confessed.

"So, tell." Buffy leaned forward eagerly. She was sitting on the table, legs crossed, and her eyes sparkled.

Clarissa found herself unable to keep still as she spoke of the events of her dream. It didn't bother her to tell them about the scene that had actually happened, but the words slowed and stumbled when she reached the change of setting. The Slayer's eyes narrowed as Clarissa spoke of the modern Angel, confirming, for the vampire, the statements Giles had made the previous night regarding Buffy's feelings for the vampire who was her sire.

"Anyway," she concluded, "when I woke up, I knew what to do. And how we're going to do it."

"You don't think you can handle him by yourself, then?" Giles looked a bit confused.

"Well, I haven't tested my magic in a while, and I don't want there to be a problem if something goes wrong." She opened the grimoire and laid it down on the table. Buffy peered at the pages that lay open. "This section speaks of the original curse that was laid on Angelus when he made me. But there's some qualifications. Basically, once the original spell was cast, it can't be done on the same vampire again. I'm pretty sure this is what someone in my clan did to me, actually," she added as an aside to Giles, who had come up beside her to read from the book. "Although I couldn't tell you for sure. Doesn't really matter now, all I know is that they didn't do the same thing with the happiness part on me."

"Go on," Giles said. Interest was transforming his face as he listened. The others paid attention as well, though Xander was still pretending to sulk at the other end of the table.

"Okay, so I can't cast the same thing on him. But," and her tone was almost triumphant now, "I can reclaim his soul from the void and restore it to him. Only problem is I sort of have to exorcise the demon from his body first."

"Do wha? How?" Buffy demanded. Even though she couldn't read the ancient Romany writing, she was trying to decipher it from upside down anyway.

"Well, there's a few components I need. An Orb of Thesulah, runes, I haven't carried those around in ages, a personal item of his..."

"What are you saying? You're going to bring Angel back?"

"Well, yeah." Clarissa looked up and met Buffy's eyes. The girl looked close to tears, and Clarissa realized that she'd severely underestimated the Slayer's feelings for Angel. "But without the curse – a restoration ritual, rather – which means he'd be himself permanently. Still a vampire – there's no spell in the world to change that – but you'd be rid of Angelus."

Buffy suddenly slung the leather jacket she'd been wearing from her shoulders, handing it to Clarissa, who blinked at her.

"It's his jacket," Willow supplied helpfully.

"Ah." Clarissa nodded and accepted it. "This should work nicely. The rest, though..."

"Well, ah, actually," and Giles looked almost embarrassed now, "I have an Orb of Thesulah."

Clarissa blinked at him. He removed his glasses and began to clean them on the hem of his vest. "I've been using it as a paperweight. And the runes should be easy to secure, as well."

"All right then." Buffy's smile was almost predatory. "We'll snag Angelus – hey, Spike's even gonna help us there, what a guy, huh? – and you'll do the spell, and presto, Angel's back?"

"I hope," Clarissa sighed. "If it doesn't work, if I do something wrong, we'll have to finish him off immediately."

Xander finally leaned forward, resting his chin on his hands. "So let me get this straight. We're either going to save Angel's soul or kill him altogether?" He pondered the notion for a moment, then smiled. "Cool."


Three female voices spoke his name simultaneously, and he looked around with hurt innocence. "What?"

Part Five

"Oz!" Willow jumped from her seat suddenly, looking pained. As heads turned to look at her, her eyes turned apologetic. "Sorry. I just, oh, I was supposed to meet Oz at the Bronze fifteen minutes ago."

"Ah, well, I think we've covered everything here...?" Giles glanced at Clarissa, who shrugged and closed the grimoire again.

"I think so. I'll meet with Spike tomorrow night, and we'll work out details to get Angelus on his own, and then we can work the spell."

"Cool." Buffy hopped off the table, even as Xander and Cordelia stood. "To the Bronze it is, then."

The teens headed for the door as a group, with Giles pausing to murmur a word or two of precaution to Buffy. She shrugged him off with an oddly good-natured grin. Clarissa remained by the table, fingers tracing the designs in the leather cover of the book. For reasons she couldn't explain, she felt as if a whirlwind had blown through the library at the mention of going out. Then again, she supposed, they had been working for several hours, and any idea of a break was probably more than welcome.

Buffy paused, halfway out the door, and glanced back at Clarissa. "Hey, you want to come with?"

Clarissa glanced up, blinking, at the girl. Clearly, she was taken aback by the notion of hanging out with someone who was, in no uncertain terms, her mortal enemy. Behind Buffy, Xander was making a pained face, even as Cordelia hauled him further down the hall. Willow had paused in the door as well, and though she also appeared to be surprised by Buffy's offer, she didn't appear to be against it.

"You... really want me to come out to your club with you?" The note of disbelief in Clarissa's tone was undeniable.

"Well, it's not our club," Willow began, "but--"

"Yeah! It'll be fun," the Slayer said chirpily. "Come on, there's no joy in moping by yourself."

"Mope?" Clarissa gave a mental curse. "Why should I be moping?"

"You had a fight with Michael, didn't you? It's kind of obvious..." Buffy came back into the room now, letting the door close. Giles had removed himself behind the table, where he was diligently stacking books and apparently trying to not hear the conversation.

"That's really not your concern," Clarissa replied in a softer voice. "Besides, what makes you think we fought?"

"You seem upset. And the lack of him here kind of adds to it." Buffy gave a gentle smile. "Come on. You don't have to stay if you don't want to."

Clarissa glanced almost helplessly at Giles, who gave a neutral shrug. Then she turned back, returning Buffy's smile with a tentative one of her own.

"Sure. Why not?"

The Bronze was an experience. It did seem to be one of the more interesting places aimed towards a youthful audience that Clarissa had seen in some time. Though the atmosphere was dark and rich with shadows, there wasn't much smoke obscuring the air. A band was playing on a stage at one end of the place, which seemed to be a converted warehouse that hadn't gained much in the translation. Groups of teens were gathered around the pool tables, the two bars, and the pinball and arcade games in one corner. The club's upper level was less crowded, with couples and small cliques settled around tables or on couches.

Clarissa followed her new-found companions over to a side area that had been set up as a conversation pit: overstuffed chairs and couches were placed in a rough semi-circle, around a couple of low tables. Xander was the only one who didn't immediately take a seat; he dug for his wallet while glancing around at everyone.

"Diet Coke," Cordelia said, "on the rocks, twist of lemon."

"Same here," Willow chimed in, grinning at Xander as he gave them both a dirty look. Her eyes trailed past him, then, and she hopped up, taking a few steps towards a young red-headed man who was approaching her with a smile on his face.

Buffy leaned over to Clarissa. "That's her boyfriend, Oz," she explained in a conspiratorial tone.

"Ah." Clarissa didn't miss the delight in the pair's eyes as they sat down, Willow firmly ensconced on Oz's lap. Nor did she miss the sudden flare of emotion in Xander's eyes, quickly hidden.

"How about you, Buff?" The boy was glancing in the Slayer's direction now, eyebrows raised.

"Oh, uh, frappucino, I think," Buffy replied with a shrug.

"All right." Xander looked over at Oz. "You want a drink, man?"

"No, I'm good." Oz smiled and squeezed Willow, who responded with a giggle.

Clarissa raised an eyebrow at Buffy. "What, may I ask, is a frappucino?"

"It's like an iced coffee drink," Buffy replied. "Tasty. Sweeter than coffee."

"Mm." The vampire looked thoughtful as Xander turned and headed for the alcohol-free bar. Suddenly, with a smile, she stood up. "Think I'll try one."

She caught up to Xander at the bar; he had already ordered the drinks for the others, and she asked the bartender for the interesting-sounding frappucino before turning to Xander. He looked like he was trying very hard not to notice her.

"You didn't ask me if I wanted anything," she said calmly.

"I didn't think you'd want anything," he replied. His demeanor was cool, but Clarissa sensed quite a bit of hostility just below his calm surface.

"Maybe not, but it would have been polite. Is it me you don't like? Or vampires in general?"

The frustrated look in his eyes clearly said that he didn't want to be having this conversation. But he didn't flinch when he looked at her. "Vampires, period," he replied.

"Okay. That's fair. I understand. I'm not trying to start a big warm friendship, here. I would, however, like to call a truce."

"I don't trust you," he said suddenly. She cocked her head and looked at him questioningly, and he added, almost guilty, "I can't."

"Ah. Angelus?" she said. He nodded. The bartender began setting the drinks down, and he started to reach for them. She leaned over to help.

"Xander, I'm not asking you to trust me here, but – hear me out, all right?"

His eyes met hers again, almost reluctantly.

"I swear on the name of the Kalderash that I will not harm you or your friends. If I do, then I swear that I'll give myself over to the Slayer and let her kill me."

Xander blinked at her, surprised at the intensity of her words. "You don't – you don't have to say that."

"No, I do."

"All right," he said quietly, nodding. Paying for the drinks, he gathered them up and made his way back through the crowd to the conversation pit. Clarissa took up her own drink, but decided to remain at the bar for the moment. She didn't feel at ease with the group – as if she could, all things considered – and it was comfortable to stand at the bar and watch the mass of youth maneuvering through the dances, the talking, all the trimmings of tender age.

She'd never really been able to experience youth like they did. She had been twelve when they'd discerned the power in her, and from that day, she'd been schooled in the ways of the witch. Though she was occasionally allowed to play and relax with the other children of the clan, there had been a certain separation from them. It wasn't that they didn't like her for who she was; it was almost a respect, or possibly even fear.

Perhaps it was why she never fed off children, even to this day. She couldn't stand to see precious youth wasted and dead before it even had a chance to truly live.

"I thought I might find you here."

She spun, nearly spilling the drink in her hand. The light gleamed off Michael's fair hair, turning it red and blue by degrees. His expression was decidedly neutral, and she bit her lip, unsure whether to go on the defensive or not.

"Well, I guess you were right," she finally replied. "How did you think to look for me here?"

"Giles." One word said it all; he'd been to the library, and the Watcher had filled him in.

"Oh. Did he... what did he tell you?"

"Enough." Michael's eyes flickered to the dance floor; the band had just begun a slower song, and couples were moving together in time to the music. "Would you... would you like to dance?"

Her brows narrowed in confusion as she set the drink on the bar behind her. "Are you trying to catch me off guard or something?"

"I'm trying to make up. You could just tell me to go away."

The look of hope on his face, mixed with worry that she might just do that very thing, made her smile softly. "I'd love to dance."

Across the room, the conversation had wandered from idle chatter about the band playing tonight, some locals who called themselves the Black Plague, to the reason Willow had been late for her hook-up with Oz.

"So, more vampires," Oz summed it up. "But good ones, like Angel was before."

"Right," Buffy confirmed, and Xander rolled his eyes. He had continued to watch Clarissa as she and Michael had gone out to the dance floor; the pair were standing close to each other now, with her arms wrapped around his neck, looking quite as if the world had completely disappeared but for the two of them.

"It's turning into Vampire Central around here," was his only comment.

Willow gave him a look. "It's the Hellmouth, Xander, you know that. And this whole Angel thing."

"Yeah." The look on his face had become decidedly obstinate. Cordelia, fortunately, wasn't about to stand for any more of it. She stood up, set her drink down, and grabbed his hand.

"You need to get your mind off vampires and on something else," she informed him with a haughty tone and a hint of smile. When she turned and moved towards the dance floor, he was quick to follow, and a smattering of giggles trailed in his wake.

"Never thought I'd say this, but good for you, Cordy," Buffy observed with a wry smile.

"Really," Willow agreed, grinning. Oz murmured something in her ear, and then she looked over at her friend. "Is it – I mean, is it all right with you if--"

"Go dance," Buffy replied, managing a smile for Willow's benefit. "Don't let me stop you crazy lovebirds."

"We'll be back," Oz promised as the redhead stood up and he reclaimed his lap. They headed to the dance floor hand in hand, and Buffy found herself alone in the conversation pit.

It was all right with her, though; for the moment, she wasn't really jealous of any of them, or wistful about past memories. It was even kind of funny that Willow got to dance instead of her, instead of the other way around like it used to be. She stirred her drink and sipped slowly, letting her mind wander down familiar trails.

How long had they been coming to the Bronze as a group? Sure, before she'd moved to Sunnydale, it had been Jesse and Willow and Xander; but since her first day of school, she'd been putting in time regularly at the only decent place for kids her age to hang out here. Of course, there had also been the occasions when she'd been forced to put in an appearance at unscheduled moments; the time she'd gone hunting for Angel, just after she'd first learned of his true nature, sprang to mind, as did the time she and Cordelia had been kidnapped by Marcie Ross. Despite the less-than-happy moments, however, she still enjoyed hanging out here, enjoying the music and the company. It was a good place just to be.

Michael didn't want to let go of Clarissa even after the slow song ended, but as the dance floor became crowded with bodies again, he reluctantly released her. With a firm grip on her hand, he led her over against the wall, a little away from the noise and density of the crowd.

"So, you gonna catch me up on what's going on?" he said, reaching over to gently brush some stray locks of hair back from her forehead.

"It's a long story," she said. She looked as if she was about to say more, but when her eyes moved past him for a moment, she suddenly froze. Michael blinked at her and then looked behind him to see what had caught her attention.

Standing directly behind him was a tall, thin vampire with a serious David Bowie affection. He was grinning faintly, and Clarissa's unease at his presence was obvious.

"I thought you said two nights," she said sharply. Michael's gaze swung back to her, full of confusion now.

"Ah, I got bored. Sue me." He fairly brimmed with mirth, though his expression rapidly switched to a level look of vague interest. He offered a hand to Michael. "I'm Spike. I don't suppose your sweetheart there mentioned me?"

Clarissa glared at him. "Thanks so much for not giving me a chance. Spike, this is Michael. Michael, Spike. We met the other day. He has a business proposition for us."

"So to speak." Spike glanced around the room, noting with unconcern that the Slayer had not yet sensed his presence. "Perhaps we could head outside and discuss it?"

"Yes, let's." Clarissa took Michael's hand and aimed for the exit with no further hesitation. The air outside was humid and stifling, but the number of mortals was proportionately low, giving the vampires more privacy to talk. Spike trailed them out, his manner casual and breezy, the hem of his leather overcoat flapping about his knees.

Michael turned to him the minute they were away from the bouncer. "So, talk."

Clarissa stepped between the two, placing a gentle hand on Michael's arm. "I'll fill you in later. Trust me on this, all right?"

He glared down at her, his eyes chips of ice. The tentative truce between them was still fragile, and Clarissa could tell that he was about ready to turn and walk away without looking back. God, I'm sorry, I'll make this whole thing up to you, I promise, she begged silently, gazing up at him with pleading eyes.

After a few tense moments, he slowly nodded, and the tension in his posture eased. Clarissa would have breathed a sigh of relief if she still had the ability to draw breath; instead, she lifted her chin and faced Spike. "So you want a decision?" she said in her most casual manner.

"Would be nice, yeah." Spike's eyes sparkled with dangerous humor.

"All right. We'll help you out." Her hand squeezed Michael's arm, willing him to silence. "Now you tell me exactly what you want done."

"Fair enough." Spike patted at the pockets of his coat, then reached into an inner pocket and withdrew a pack of cigarettes and a matchbook. He paused to light a cigarette and puff on it before speaking. "I've got this mate, Angelus. He's become a bother lately. Always hanging about, nattering on about killing the Slayer, and he never will. And now he's moving in on me girl. I want him out of the picture."

Clarissa thought that if she impressed her fingers into Michael's arm any more, she'd hit bone; but, thankfully, he didn't ask questions. "Angelus, eh?" she managed lightly. "I've heard of him."

"Thought you might. I'll get him out of the house so you can ambush him, and the rest is up to you."

"You don't mind if we play with him a little first?" Clarissa did her best predatory grin, receiving an answering one from Spike.

"'Course not. Just make sure you finish the job proper-like, all right?" The white-haired vampire's eyes narrowed, and Clarissa swallowed a sudden cringe of fear. She still didn't know if her newly-rediscovered magicks would be of any use without the spells to drive them.

She nodded weakly. Spike finished his cigarette and tossed it to the ground, using the toe of his boot to grind it into ash. "All right. It'll have to be tomorrow night. Be ready."

"We will." Clarissa leaned against Michael then, as Spike gave them one last smile and calmly walked away. His arms came around her, and she rested on him, trembling, letting the fear inspired by Spike move through and past her.

"Okay. Talk." Michael's voice was cool and intense, but not angry. Clarissa gave mental thanks to the gods before she began to spill forth the details of her encounters in Sunnydale to date. When she was finished, her lover's expression had turned from annoyance to surprise to disbelief. He let go of her hand and began to pace slowly, running a hand through his hair.

"You're going to kidnap Angelus, make Spike think you're killing him, and then you're going to restore his soul?" he asked.

Clarissa nodded. "Pretty much."

"Okay. I have a question, it's probably going to sound stupid, but: Why are you doing this?" He stopped mid-pace and looked at her, obviously bewildered. "Clarissa, you don't know these people from Adam. I can understand you wanting to get rid of Angelus, after all the shit he did to you..."

She let out a frustrated sigh, realizing that he wasn't going to listen after all. Her hands tried to busy themselves with playing with her hair; she stuck them in her jacket pockets instead.

"Because it needs doing," she replied. "Because he's a monster the way he is now, and... well, if there's a better way to pay back Angelus for killing my family, I can't think of one."

"But think about all the things he's done since he went bad again," Michael argued. "He's been killing, torturing, things that can't be forgiven." He stepped closer to her, letting his voice drop as a group of teenagers came out of the Bronze in a burst of music and laughter. "He nearly killed you, love. I can't lose you."

The tenderness of his voice made Clarissa want to cry. She bent her head as Michael gathered her close, letting him wrap his arms around her. "I know," she whispered. "I know, but... I need to do this."

He rocked her gently in his arms for a few moments, pressing kisses to the top of her head. Softly, she heard him murmur. "I know."

"I'm going to do it anyway, no matter what," she said to his shirt. His hands lightly soothed the tense muscles of her back.

"Just... tell me what I can do to help."

She looked up at him with a mixture of surprise and gratitude. He was smiling down at her, one of his faint little-boy smiles, the kind that always made her want to kiss him. Pushing to her toes, she did so, and murmured a soft, "Thank you," against his lips.

He held her like that for a moment before releasing her. Hand in hand, they went back inside to tell the others of the meeting with their unknowing conspirator.

"Xander, we need to talk."

The boy glanced up and smiled at Willow as she took a seat next to him. Despite the fact that the school cafeteria was crowded, Xander was sitting alone. Willow had hoped to catch him thus; it would make what she had to say easier without any witnesses. She was still upset over his negative statements of the past couple of days, especially the way he'd been last night at the Bronze, and she could no longer hold back her feelings.

Xander's smile faded gradually as he absorbed the serious look on her face. "What's what, Will? Something bugging you?"

"Well, sort of." She folded her hands in her lap and took a deep breath. "Xander, you're, you know, my best friend and all, and that's why this is really hard to say."

"Just say it, Willow." He watched her, concerned now, trying to guess at the subject that was worrying her.

"You're being a real jerk lately, Xander. I mean, you still act like you've got this thing going for Buffy, and you get all weird whenever you see Oz and me together, and Cordy says that all you ever seem to talk about is Buffy or me."

She took another breath while Xander was still blinking, and plunged back in. "And now, Buffy has the chance to get Angel back, and all you can do is be totally negative about it."

The automatic protest came out of his mouth before he could stop it. "I don't like Angel. I never did, and—"

"Xander, shut up!" Willow's voice rose on an agitated note; she had to force herself to calm down. "We know how you feel about him, but come on, don't you think Buffy deserves to be happy?"

He was still reeling from her snap, so she hurried on to her next point. "The thing that sucks the most is that you're hurting Cordelia and you don't even know it. I never thought I'd say this, but she doesn't deserve that. So I guess what I'm really trying to say is that you should wake up before you do something really stupid."

"Are you through?" he demanded in a hurt voice. She nodded. Her eyes beseeched him – please, understand was written all over her face – but her observations had been all too true, and her words had cut to the quick. He stood abruptly, snagging his backpack from the floor, his face set in stone. "Fine. I'll see you later."

"Later," she agreed in a tiny voice.

Buffy came into the lunchroom just in time to see Xander storming out the far exit. She came over to Willow's table and set her backpack down, giving the redhead a curious look. "What happened to him?"

"I did." Willow didn't meet Buffy's eyes; her fingers traced the straps of her bag, and she looked like she was about to burst into tears. Buffy sat down hurriedly, her own eyes full of concern.

"Will, what did you..."

"I... I couldn't help it, I just got so mad thinking about what he's been saying, the way he's been acting and all, so I let him have it with both barrels." She continued to stare at the table, only stopping her fidgeting when Buffy reached over and snared Willow's hands with her own. "And, and you know he wouldn't have taken that from anyone else, so it had to be me, and now he probably hates me and he'll never talk to me again."

"Willow." Buffy forced her voice to calm strength, repeating her friend's name when she didn't seem to hear her at first. Willow looked up slowly, her eyelids blinking rapidly; she seemed to have passed the crying stage by now. "You did good."

Willow's eyes widened. "You think so?"

Buffy nodded forcefully. "You're right. He had to hear it. Someone had to tell him, and you've been his best friend since forever, so you were the logical choice. It'll make him think, and if he's smart – which, despite the occasional idiotic Xanderisms, he is – he'll think about it, realize that he's been a jerk, and move on."

"But what if he doesn't?" Willow's mind was already jumping ahead to the worst possible outcome.

"He won't," Buffy denied firmly. "And... if he does, well, then, we'll deal with it."

It wasn't the best answer she could think of, but it seemed to calm Willow down, so Buffy counted it worthwhile. "Now. We free for world saveage tonight?"

Willow nodded, reaching for her backpack to dig out her lunch. "I told my mom we're doing a study group here, so you can all say you're at my house and it'll be cool."

"Great." Buffy eyed Willow's sandwich and apple thoughtfully. "Now I just need to figure out what to wear." She caught Willow's confused look and grinned. "Hey, it's been a long time since I coordinated an outfit for a prophecy. I gotta look my best."

The library was full of activity as soon as the final bell rang. Giles prepared weapons and protection for the hunt as the Slayer and her Slayerettes made their way into the library.

"We all set?" Buffy asked jauntily, slinging her bookbag on the table and inadvertantly knocking over an array of crossbow bolts. Giles gave her a perturbed look as he began to gather up the fallen items.

"Almost. There are just a few things left to do."

Soon enough, the tasks had been handed out: Xander and Oz set to carving up a couple of stakes for last-resort usage, Willow was double-checking the spells that would be used for the night, and Cordelia and Buffy were assembling materials for the casting.

The Slayer heaved a sigh as she re-entered the library after a trip to the restroom, her objective – a bowl of water – carefully balanced in both hands. "Here you go, Watcher mine. Now what?"

Giles looked up from the pile of books he had just finished moving to the counter, his gaze turning toward the west-facing windows. The sun was beginning to set, filtering amber-golden rays into the library and dappling its inhabitants in rich color.

"Now, we wait for nightfall."

As darkness fell over Sunnydale, night greedily reclaiming the shadows stolen from it by the day, the town came alive with activity. Young couples and groups of friends hurried to their favorite hangouts, there to linger with the standard air of bored disaffection. Others wandered the night without any particular destination in mind. Restaurants and bars catered to the older generation of Sunnydale's residents.

Chances were if any of them had been aware of the danger that stalked among them, they might have reacted with terrified screams, panic, general terror. Or perhaps not; the current attitude to maintain seemed to be apathy, after all.

Death walked the streets in the guise of one of the couples casually strolling. Her look was strictly Goth – she was pale, with a rich fall of raven hair done up in an incomprehensible series of tucks and curls, and her antique, Empire-waisted gown was a deep garnet red in hue. He had more of the look of casual youth, but there was definitely something intense about him, even when he laughed lightly at a comment of his companion's. Still, no one gave them a second glance, which worked in the favor of vampires on the hunt.

"See anything you like, honey?" Angel asked as he leaned over to brush a kiss across her cheek.

Drusilla's eyes were wide and bright with glee. She pointed at a woman pushing a double stroller along the sidewalk across the street. "Them," she murmured. "They smell sweet, Angel."

"Your wish is my command," he replied, giving her a half-smile, and led her across the street.

It was the work of a moment to enthrall the young woman, who clearly enjoyed the attention and compliments Angel gave her while Dru cooed over the babies. Before the infants could begin to cry, the vampires had drawn both mother and children into a deep storefront door to feed.

Angel had almost taken his fill when he noticed that Drusilla had stopped without finishing her meal. She continued to cradle the second infant's body in her arms, rocking it, while she crooned a demented parody of a lullaby.

"Dru? You okay?" he asked, concerned.

"Your mummy's gone away," she was saying in a low voice to the child. "Just like mine. I'll never be a mummy. Can I be your mummy?"

"Dru, it's dead," Angel said in disgust.

She didn't seem to hear him; her eyes were distant, unfocused. "She's waiting... waiting for you. Would you like to go to her?"

Angel watched Dru with one eyebrow raised as she gently set the tiny corpse back in the stroller next to the other. Her eyes flew up to meet Angel's then, but there was no recognition in her gaze. He realized, belatedly, that she was in the throes of a vision.

"What do you see, hon?" he prompted gently, stepping over to her.

"The girl," she whispered. "She's with all her friends. They're waiting. They want you to come to them. They want to put you... put you..." Her hands fluttered to her temples, and she whimpered softly.

"A trap," he muttered. "Is that what it is?"

She just looked at him with that dazed deer-in-the-headlights expression. He patted her shoulder. "Dru, why don't you go ahead and go back to Spike? I'll take care of them."

"Be careful, Angel. They have new tricks," she warned.

"I will. I promise." He gave her a quick kiss on the forehead, and watched her walk off down the street before turning to go in search of the Slayer. So she wanted to trap him, huh? Well, he'd have to see about that.

Part Six

The Slayer was bored.

She had been pacing along the section of sidewalk for some time, back and forth, back and forth, until Xander whispered to Cordelia that he was getting queasy watching her. Finally, Buffy dropped to the bench and slumped forward, tapping the stake in her hand against her knee.

They had set up the ambush an hour earlier, choosing a site close to the graveyard and other places that Angelus had often been spotted. Buffy was the only one of the group visible; the others were concealed in groups surrounding her. Xander and Cordelia were crouched between two parked cars; Giles, Michael and Clarissa had found refuge in a clump of bushes; and Willow and Oz were settled in a stand of trees. The lack of activity was beginning to get to everyone, though – even Xander and Cordelia, who had spent not a bit of time making out.

Buffy heaved a sigh and glanced towards Giles' hiding place. "He's not coming," she said in a resolute voice.

Giles stood cautiously, letting his head appear above the top of the shrubs. "We'll give it another half hour, all right?"

The figure approaching down the street overheard the exchange clearly. A malicious grin crossed his face before he ducked to the fence bordering the sidewalk, using it for cover. It was a setup, all right: Dru's vision had been spot on. He pictured a mousetrap, and knew now how mice could get the cheese without springing the trap.

So where were the others? One by one, he picked them out. Resting against the fence for a few moments, he pondered the best way to spoil their fun. Perhaps he should kill Clarissa before she tried anything stupid. No, no, it'd be much more pleasant to take out another of the Slayer's friends; he hadn't done anything that nasty in months.

His approach was so silent that Oz and Willow didn't see him coming until the last minute. Angel grabbed the girl by the neck, his hand wrapping around her mouth to prevent any noise from coming out; his other hand lashed out before the boy could react, catching him in the back of the head and slapping him against a tree trunk. Oz was unconscious before he hit the ground. Angel allowed himself a snicker as he took off running, carting the struggling Willow in an awkward position.

Buffy had returned to pace mode, measuring off the length of the bench in four strides followed by a quick turn and repeat. Barely five minutes of the allotted half-hour had passed before a low, pained moan rose from the trees that had been Willow and Oz's hiding place.

The Slayer glanced nervously in that direction. Her voice rose in a teasing tone. "Okay, guys, quit making out and get back on alert." When no response came back - not even an embarrassed giggle - Buffy glanced over at Giles, who had risen from his waiting crouch upon hearing her words. They exchanged a look, and then Buffy returned her gaze to the trees.

"Will? Oz? Come on, guys, this isn't funny."

Buffy edged cautiously towards the trees, getting a firmer grip on the stake in her hand as she did so. Giles signaled to the others, who began to circle around to enclose the area. Taking a deep breath, Buffy uttered a mental prayer and swung around the tree. If something had happened to them while she was right there--

Her heart did a high-jump into her throat when she saw Oz's body stretched out limply on the ground; but he was stirring slightly, and there was no sign of a bite mark on his neck. That was good. But Willow was nowhere in sight. That was bad.

"Is he all right?" Giles' voice came over her shoulder, and she glanced back to see the rest of the group gathered behind him. Her heart sank into her shoes, even as she fought the immediate urge to blame herself for the obvious - Oz was hurt, Willow was missing, and she hadn't been able to stop it. Biting her lip, she nodded to Giles.

"What happened? Where's Willow?" Xander pushed past the others and came up next to Buffy. The look of hurt rage in his eyes was more than she could take. She looked down at Oz, shaking her head.

"I don't know."

Whatever Xander was about to say next was interrupted by Oz, who gave another painful-sounding moan and blinked hard, trying to open his eyes. Buffy quickly pulled off her jacket and folded it into a makeshift pillow, setting a hand under his head to try and raise it.

Giles moved over to them, shaking his head. "Don't move him. We don't know what happened or what condition he's in."

Numbly, Buffy nodded. Her eyes flew up to meet Xander's. The dark look on his face simmered with anger.

"It was Angelus." Clarissa's voice interrupted the tableau, and they turned to see her standing away from the group. Her fists were clenched by her sides.

"Love--" Michael moved up to her, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. She shrugged it off.

"I should have known, should have seen--"

"There was no way you could have."

"Yeah, how were we supposed to know?" Cordelia cut in, her hands working around each other. "It's not like he couldn't see us a mile away."

"Thanks for pointing that out, Plan Girl," Xander suddenly snapped. "You couldn't have mentioned that little flaw in the plot before we decided on it?"

"I wasn't the one who was so hot on getting him cornered," the brunette shot back.

"Guys!" Buffy stepped between the two just as it looked as they would come to blows. "You can fight later, right now we have to find out where Willow is."

"I can do that," Clarissa stated quietly. "If someone has a mirror?"

Somewhat penitently, Cordelia opened her purse and retrieved her hand-mirror, handing it over without another word. She turned away from Xander, ignoring the daggered look he shot at her.

While Clarissa sat down on the ground, focusing on the correct wording for the scrying spell, Giles kept an eye on Oz. The guitarist was waking up; his eyes were dazed, but did not appear unduly dilated to the Watcher. "Ow," he stated quietly. Not finding another word to better describe his state of being, he repeated, "Ow."

"Are you all right? Do you remember anything?" Giles questioned in a low tone.

"Uh..." Oz closed his eyes tightly for a moment, trying to think. "I... wow, my head really hurts. It was... I'm gonna have a bump." He was quiet then, for so long that Giles was beginning to wonder if he hadn't been hurt worse than suspected. Then he spoke again. "There was a big guy... it's all kinda blurred, but I think it was Angel. He grabbed Willow and hit me... with the tree."

Giles' face grew darker as Oz spoke, and once he had finished, the Watcher sighed, pushing his glasses back up. "It's all right. We'll get Willow back."

"Good..." Oz's head sank back to the folded jacket, his eyes closing again. Giles patted the boy's shoulder somewhat awkwardly and then stood, returning to the others, who were gathered around Clarissa.

The vampire was sitting crosslegged on the ground, the mirror laid flat before her. Her eyes were closed, and she chanted in a low voice, the syllables flowing together in a liquid stream just too quiet to be fully understood even if the words had been English. Xander peered at the image in the mirror, which was still reflecting the trees and people circled around it.

Suddenly he jumped back with a yelp. Cordelia smothered a giggle and leaned over to see what had startled him. Her eyes went wide. "Guys, look!"

Buffy shifted her attention to the mirror, as did Giles; Xander stayed behind them, sulking. The scene in the mirror had indeed shifted; within it could be seen a picture as clear as that of a television screen's image. Willow was there, huddled in the corner of what appeared to be a large cage of some kind. She looked shaken but unhurt; the 'view' enlarged, panning out to reveal stone walls and a large courtyard of some kind, with a floor of evenly set flagstones and stone blocks decorating the walls.

"Looks familiar," the Slayer said musingly. "Xander, what do you think?"

She moved back to let the boy have a look, and he nodded instantly, fighting down an instant urge to snarl at the sight of Willow locked up. "Looks like the old mansion on Crawford Street."

"We're there." Buffy stood, as did the others; Clarissa released the spell as they did so, getting to her feet with a hand from Michael.

"I'm not so sure it's the best idea to charge in, guns blazing," she said quietly.

"Sure it is. There can't be that many of them."

Giles glanced over at Buffy, a worried expression on his face. "I believe, Buffy, that she may be right."

Buffy turned an annoyed look on her Watcher. "What, you think there's a better way?"

"Just for the record, I still don't like this," Xander muttered to Buffy.

"Duly noted," she replied acidly. "Got anything new to report?"

He gave her a glare, then looked ahead. Clarissa had set a fast pace, and the pair kept up as best they could as they hurried down the street that led to the old, abandoned mansion. Xander still remembered the day he and Buffy had gone walking by here; God, it felt like years ago, back before he had started going out with Cordelia (or even before he'd started making out with her), back when he'd still had the hopeless crush on Buffy and Willow had had the hopeless crush on him, and everything was simple, even if there were vampires and bugs and demons and Hellmouths to deal with.

"We're here," he called for Clarissa's benefit. She stopped, then, looking back at them. Her face was dark, but she forced the expression back as she pushed her hair out of her face.

"So you're gonna go in... and we just wait?" Buffy said, clearly against the idea.

"Yeah. I'm sorry, I know you want to help, but this is the best way, I promise." Clarissa glanced up at the place, set high on a hill. Dark eyes scanned the place, searching for the way in. There was a balcony on one side, near a disturbing carving that had been set over the main entrance. She found her eyes drawn to the work for a moment: there was a visual dissonance to it, something that disoriented the eyes. It was difficult to look at without blinking rapidly. She shook her head, pulling back into the current situation.

"See that balcony?" She pointed, and the teens nodded. "I'll get him out there. If there's a problem, I'll signal you somehow, and then - and only then - you come in after me. Got it?"

Reluctantly, Buffy nodded. "We'll wait half an hour, and if we don't see anything..."

"Then you can assume the worst," Clarissa agreed. She heaved a sigh and glanced down at herself, then quickly took off her leather jacket and handed it to Xander, who was standing closest to her. He raised an eyebrow at her, obviously surprised, and she gave him a half-smile.

"If I don't make it out... give it to Michael."

He nodded briefly, returned her smile. Buffy bit her lip, offering a quick, "Good luck."

Clarissa smiled back at both of them, saying one phrase: "Ours is not to reason why; ours is but to do or die," - and then she was gone up the driveway to the mansion.

"This has got to be the dumbest thing you've done to date," Spike declared.

He had wheeled himself over to the cage in which Angel had imprisoned the girl; after one cursory look at her, he'd proceeded to ignore her, something for which Willow was exceedingly grateful. "Yeah, okay, ha-ha, very funny," he stated with an expressive roll of the eyes. "And what is this supposed to prove? That you can overpower little girls?"

Angel was crouched by the cage, studying Willow with an intense look. She had retreated to the far corner of the barred area to get as far away from him as possible. She didn't remember anything after he'd dragged her away from the ambush; not until she'd woken up in a heap on the floor of the cage had she realized what a perilous situation she was in.

"It's a message, you know?" Angel said lightly to Spike. "To show them they can't set traps for us."

"My Angel always knows what to do," said Drusilla, as she slid off the table on which she had been lying. Moving over to the cage, she knelt next to Willow, who stared at her in horror. "Little mouse want to play?"

Spike ignored her, focusing on Angel. "There's a saying about playing with your food, mate. Ever stop to think that the Slayer's going to want her friend back?" The wheelchair-bound vampire's voice had become decidedly acid, and he fixed his sire with an angry glare - one that Angel blithely ignored. "We'd better start getting ready for some uninvited guests."

"Look, Wheel Boy, even if they knew where to go, we've still got the drop on them," Angel retorted in a sharp tone. Then he suddenly started giggling at the look on Spike's face. "Come on, man, you need to de-stress. Maybe you should take a vacation."

That tore it. Plans be damned, he'd had enough. Spike was a millimeter from launching himself at Angel when a voice from the door caught him by surprise.

"Some security you've got out there, Spike. Really makes me wonder if you've got a death wish or something."

Spike turned with a snarl that abruptly turned into a look of surprise. He had been half-expecting to see the Slayer standing there, but instead, it was a petite, dark-haired woman. A jolt ran through him as he recognized her face. Clarissa - the absolute last person he'd expected to see there. Something was subtly different about her - her lazy smile, maybe, or the mysterious look in her eyes.

Spike suddenly barked with laughter. "Security's a joke around here. Always has been. What can we do for you?"

"I came to make nice," she replied, turning her attention to Angel as she strode slowly into the room. "We really got off on the wrong foot before, and, well, I wanted to apologize. It doesn't seem right that we should all be against each other, now does it?"

Clarissa kept her gaze focused on Angel as she stepped forward. Projecting the wickedest smile she could muster, she winked at him. "What do you say? Should we let bygones be bygones?"

He was giving her a wary look as he rose to his feet. Clarissa fought to keep herself level and steady. If he saw even a trace of nervousness, she'd be dead before she could move.

She sensed Drusilla standing up by the cage, while Spike and Willow seemed riveted to her performance - one with amusement, the other with betrayed shock.

"Angel?" Drusilla whispered. He glanced at her for a moment, and then back to Clarissa. A broad smile had come over his face.

"Yeah," he said almost distractedly, in belated response to Clarissa's query. "Of course, I mean - geez, you're right, we shouldn't be fighting."

Clarissa moved closer to him, carefully, licking her lips before speaking. "I feel so bad about the other night... I really want to make it up to you. Anything I can do..."

"Anything?" One of his dark eyebrows arched, his eyes mesmerizing below that brow, and Clarissa fought a sudden pang of weakness. She had all but forgotten the charisma, the physical charm he possessed.

"Well..." She moved around him, trailing a fingertip along his arm. "Perhaps we could discuss it?"

"Angel, I thought we were going to hunt." Drusilla's childish pout had absolutely no effect on the apparently entranced Angel. She had apparently seen all she could stand; Spike didn't blame her; he was starting to feel more than mildly nauseous at the display.

"Later, later," he said dismissively. His gaze was focused on Clarissa, and as the other woman led him from the room on the strength of no more than her smile, Dru flopped into an unhappy pile on a chair.

Spike regarded her with some amusement before wheeling himself over to her. "There, ducks," he said soothingly. "Let Spike make it better." He still wasn't sure what Clarissa was plotting, but so far, he couldn't complain at the results of her efforts.

Willow was still staring at the door through which Clarissa had led Angelus. Her shocked gaze remained fixed in place, though by now, Spike thought, the girl should be used to betrayal by vampires...

"So, you're returning to the fold, hm? Don't tell me – you got tired of being good." Angel couldn't help but smirk as he followed Clarissa out to the balcony. She seated herself and gave him a demure smile.

"Well, you know, I still have to talk Michael into it. Wouldn't be half as much fun without him."

Angel cocked his head thoughtfully, seating himself beside her. "Oh, I don't know about that. Seems we could have plenty of good times without him. Carnage, destruction..."

She chuckled softly, one hand moving to rest lightly on his knee. "You do paint a delightful picture. But won't Drusilla be upset?"

"Ah, she's a child. She'll get over it," he said with a shrug that effectively closed the subject. "I never did realize how beautiful you were as a vampire. Hardly had time to see, last time I saw you."

He moved closer to her on the stone bench. Clarissa felt her limbs go loose as her nerves flooded with adrenaline; one look into his eyes was enough for her to know that he was every inch the predator he'd been when she'd first met him – in fact, he was even scarier now, if that were possible. She met his eyes carefully, trying to hide her fear.

Suddenly he snarled, and without warning her hands were trapped behind her back. His face had lost its human trappings, and golden eyes glared into hers from beneath a thickened, monstrous brow.

"Did you really think you could fool me? I knew from the moment you came in the door that you were trying to set me up, sweetie. You never change, do you? Get a clue--"

"Thanks, I've already got one," she spat back at him.

Though he had her hands together by the wrists, she didn't need to gesture to cast the binding spell. The words of the incantation spilled out of her in a rush, and with every word she spoke, she felt the power build inside her. Angel, caught off guard at first by the incantation, was bound before he could begin to shape a reaction. Score one for the witch, she thought to herself in private delight. He glared at her as she shook free from his grasp, but the spell had done its work well and he could not move to prevent her. Memories of their last confrontation floated through her head. Last time, she had been helpless against him. Now the tables had been turned.

"And now for my final trick," she muttered – and gasped, as a fist appeared almost out of nowhere, descending to the back of Angel's head and knocking him unconscious. Clarissa blinked.

"Sorry, I couldn't resist." Spike was standing next to Angel's body, an acid smile on his face.

"Had to get one last lick in, huh?"

He gave her a half-grin. "Look, Dru took off in a huff, so if you want to get your friend out of here, now would be a good time."

Clarissa gaped at Spike, truly surprised. "What do you mean, my friend?"

He just looked at her, the disapproving stare of one who is fully aware that they're being handed a line. "I know you've been hanging out with the Slayer. Word gets around, small town like this. Just take 'em and go."

She gave up then, decided she'd try to figure everything out later, and turned to lean over the balcony and signal to Buffy and Xander. Miraculously enough, the pair seemed to have actually maintained their positions. As she hefted the body of her sire, she glanced at Spike again. "You're weirding me out, you know?"

Spike shrugged again. "You helped me with Dru. It's a fair cop."

That seemed to be the only explanation she was going to get. She shifted Angel's body and headed inside, aiming for Willow's cage. Setting the vampire down, she knelt by the lock on the door to examine it. The girl, meanwhile, had backed up to the far wall, her eyes round with fright.

"Relax," Clarissa hissed, "I was acting."

"You – you were?" She didn't seem to want to believe her. Clarissa supposed she couldn't blame her, but she didn't have time for an argument.

"Look, I've got Angelus. You want to be mad at me, later's fine. You want to stay?"

Willow, sensibly, didn't argue. Clarissa finally gave the lock a sharp blow and it shattered; the girl darted from the cage as soon as the door was open. Together, they lifted the unconscious body and began to make their way from the room.

She hadn't been conscious before, when Angel had brought her into the mansion, and so Willow was lost after the first turn down a winding corridor. Clarissa's sense of direction was unerring, though, and the night air greeted them within only a few minutes. Right after that, Buffy and Xander were running up the drive to grab Willow in fierce embraces.

Willow had never been quite so relieved to see her friends. Their hugs were quick and loving – Buffy's sisterly, Xander's warm and strong – and she wanted to start crying, but forced the feeling back through sheer will. With her well-being assured, the four began the walk back to the school, one unconscious vampire in tow.

"Comfy, Angelus?"

The vampire only snarled at Clarissa, but despite his best attempts to free himself from his bonds, he was still firmly tied to the chair. Thick, strong rope secured his legs to the seat's forelegs, and his arms were tied with one behind his back, one around his chest, so neatly secured that he couldn't pull them apart without wrenching his arms from their sockets. Giles had taken particular pleasure in binding the vampire as tightly as possible, and none of the assembled company had denied him that grim joy.

"All right." Clarissa gave her Sire a sweet smile and turned to the others. The main table had been cleared of all regular items, including the computer, which was relegated to a book truck for the time being. The centerpiece of the arrangement was the Orb of Thesulah. The smoky crystalline orb rested snugly in a bed of dark red velvet, housed within a delicately carved round wooden box. Around the Orb had been placed crystals of healing and protection; at the four corners of the table were objects representing the four elements. A red candle to the east, for fire; a bowl of water to the south; a stick of incense to the west, for air; and a bowl of salt to the north, for earth. Candles surrounded the entire arrangement, bordering the edges of the rectangular table. Clarissa had decided to place Angelus to the south as well, facing to the north, where she would be standing at the head of the table. That way, the Orb would be directly between them. The only other items on the table were the leather jacket, which lay in a neat pile before Buffy, and a leather bag of runes within Clarissa's easy reach.

The Slayer, her Watcher and companions had been set around the table in a careful pattern. Buffy sat to the east, with Giles to her right and Cordelia to her left; Willow was on the western side of the table, with Xander to her left and Oz to her right. Of them all, only the Watcher and the hacker seemed most at ease.

The odd element out was Michael. He was hovering on the mezzanine level of the library, pacing back and forth in a manner that could only be described as disturbed. Though Clarissa didn't blame him – she was still a little surprised that he'd braved his fear to show at all – his constant motion was beginning to distract her.

"Are we set?" Cordelia, who held the stick of bound sage that would be used to cleanse the air, was starting to bounce impatiently. "We don't have all night, you know."

Buffy gave her a glare, her eyes dark and pained in her pale face. The brunette meekly subsided.

"We are," Clarissa confirmed. "I know this isn't easy for you – and it's bound to be strange, probably weird-feeling to say the least. You're my anchors. You'll be the binding link to reality for me. Whatever you see, whatever happens, I need you to concentrate on the here and now, the truth of the moment. This could get pretty, well..."

"Wiggy?" Willow supplied, eyebrows raised. The vampire nodded briefly to her.

"Yeah. Wiggy. You'll know when it's over, one way or another. Buffy?"

The Slayer reached for the stake she had set on the floor, placing it on her lap. "Gotcha."

Clarissa nodded again. Turning, then, she glanced upwards to where Michael's pacing continued unabated. "Sweetheart?" she said in a cheerful tone of voice.

He paused and looked down at her. "What?"

"I know you're nervous, but you're also being distracting."

Michael gave a quick nod of understanding and seated himself on the railing, torso twisted so that he could view the proceedings from a safe distance. Clarissa smiled warmly up at him and then faced the others again.

"All right. Cordelia, please begin."

The brunette's eyes were anxious as she lit the sage with a pocket lighter, then leaned forward, waving the smoke over the Orb. Clarissa watched for a moment in approval. Aside from the quiet noise of candles muttering to themselves, the library was completely silent. Joining her hands at waist-level, she lifted her chin and began to speak.

"By the fragrance of these herbs, let this space be sacred. Spirits of the interregnum, by your grace I call thee forward."

She leaned forward and picked up the bag of runes, reaching within for four small stone blocks. Her hand froze in the bag then, and everyone turned as one to blink at the library doors as they slammed open.

Standing there between them, looking thoroughly confused and less than pleased, was a short, balding man whose air of authority wavered uncertainly. He fisted hands on hips and began to glare.

"And what, pray tell, is going on here?"

Part Seven

"Principal Snyder!" Buffy leapt to her feet, as did Giles.

"We can explain," Giles began, but Snyder cut him off.

"Oh, yes, an explanation. Let's see you talk your way out of this. On school grounds well after hours, with a clear fire hazard--" He waved his hand at the candles, guttering in the breeze from the open door. "--and are we torturing someone? That is clearly not a student." This was with a gesture towards Angel, who snarled around the gag in his mouth. "I don't see any explanation that won't end with every single one of you being expelled, and you fired." He glared at Giles again, a smug smile firmly in place on his face.

"Very well." Giles nodded fractionally towards Buffy, who resumed her seat with great and obvious reluctance. "An explanation, then. The truth? Are you certain you can handle this, sir?"

"I'm waiting." Snyder's impatience was masked with smug calm. Around the table, varied looks of shock, panic or fear had frozen every face except those of Clarissa and Michael, who merely looked puzzled.

Giles took a deep breath and tugged on the lapels of his tweed jacket. "Since it has not become apparent before, I feel it is only fair to point out to you that Buffy is the Slayer, I am her Watcher--" He continued despite Buffy's gasp. "--and we are performing a restoration ritual to return this vampire's soul to his body." One hand gestured almost negligently towards the bound Angel.

Snyder's jaw dropped. And stayed there, for several long moments. Then, suddenly, he began to laugh.

It was the absolute last reaction that any of them had expected. From chuckles, Snyder's laughter grew into guffaws, until at last he was bent over, hands propped on his knees, wheezing for air.

Giles took a step forward. "Principal Snyder, are you all right?"

Snyder stood slowly, his eyes still dancing with mirth. "Slayer. Vampires. Right," he fairly giggled. "Very funny, Mr. Giles. Now how about the truth this time?"

The librarian blinked at the principal, clearly stymied. "Not meaning any offense, but I'm not lying to you. That is the absolute truth. Buffy is the Chosen One."

The Chosen One in question was beginning to panic, and she jumped up, hurrying around Giles to interpose herself between the two men. "Don't listen to him, he's been under a lot of stress lately, he just needs his medication and he'll be fine, right, Mr. Giles?" she babbled, tugging at her Watcher's arm frantically.

Snyder looked at Buffy for a long moment. Then, slowly, he nodded. "I do believe you're right, Mr. Giles. Please, accept my apologies for the interruption." And as if nothing were out of the ordinary, he turned and left the library, shaking his head in astonishment as he went.

"Now I've seen everything," Xander commented into the silence that blanketed the room.

"I think he believed me," Giles said faintly as Buffy released his arm.

"That would be my fault." Clarissa came around the table, matches in hand, to re-light a couple of candles that had gone out upon Snyder's entrance.

Giles turned to look at her. "How so?"

"Mild persuasion," she replied. "Not exactly a toughie, just kind of... lets people believe things easier than with a lot of arguing."

"Ah." He aided her with the lighting of the candles, and once that small task was accomplished, they resumed their seats.

Cordelia had to light the sage again to get more smoke going; she was looking decidedly annoyed, but didn't protest as she waved the bundle over the Orb once more.

This time, there were no interruptions of the ancient text. Clarissa had opted to speak it in English so that all present could understand what was happening.

"Not dead, nor not of the living," she read from the grimoire. "Spirits of the interregnum I call."

Her voice grew deeper, the intonations harking back to the teachings of her youth, and she felt herself recalling her old teacher once more, as if Magdalena's hand were somehow guiding her through the incantation. She reached into the bag of runes, pulling out four stones and tossing them to the table.

A sudden breeze swirled through the library, sending the candle-flames sparking wildly. Clarissa's eyes widened in response. That wasn't supposed to happen--

She continued with the recitation nonetheless, warding off a surge of sinking fear, and felt herself begin to sink deeper into the magic. The energies were almost palpable, almost visible, in her heightened state of awareness. Dimly, she noticed other sound, but it seemed faraway and pale, unimportant. She continued to chant.

A door slammed open. Then another.

"Give me back my Angel!" screamed a woman's voice.

Clarissa snapped from her trance rudely and without warning. Disoriented, she swung forward, gripping the table for support. Her eyes were flashing, spots of light everywhere, and she couldn't tell what was going on. Feet pounding, voices--

"Michael?!" she whispered. He wasn't there. She blinked furiously, attempted to re-focus herself on the world around her.

The library was full of motion. Shapes blurred and moved past her faster than she could see. And then everything slapped into focus, like a camera lens suddenly coming to resolution.

Drusilla stood at the mezzanine level, facing off against Buffy. There seemed to be vampires everywhere - no matter where she looked, there was conflict. Giles was apparently holding his own, Oz and Willow helping Xander and Cordelia against two vampires, and Michael was surrounded by three. Clarissa tried to fight the mental fog that clouded her head. She had to do something, to help--

Yet even as she watched, the tide was already beginning to turn. And seeing Buffy deliver a series of solid punches to Drusilla's face, Clarissa realized what she had to do.

Drusilla wanted Angelus. She wouldn't want Angel.

Her knuckles were white as she clutched the table's edge, but she managed to get herself standing upright once more. Ignoring the book - she had memorized the spell already - she began to chant, gathering the energies once again.

There was a screech from above her, but she didn't notice it, lost in the trance as she was. It was all she could do to maintain control of the energy; there was a second locus there in the library, a dissonant, chaotic center that tried to pull the magic to itself. Clarissa yanked hard, screamed aloud, and heard, more with her mind than with her ears, the thud of a body collapsing.

Now the magick was all hers again. Taking it in both hands, she shaped it with words, bade it do her will, and sent it out into the ethereal dimensions. And then, a response -- a glow from elsewhere, so bright it could hardly be viewed with the naked eye. Gently, she gathered it to her, pouring it into the Orb. She swore she could feel the brush of gratitude and love as it passed through her.

All that needed be said now were the final words. She spoke them without hesitation, one part of her mind warning her to be cautious with the amount of force she used; though she felt right now as though she could move mountains with her mind alone, she could damage the target and herself as well. Toned down, then, she focused the energies one last time.

The Orb disappeared.

The vampire screamed.

He strained forward against his bonds, for a long, agonizing moment. Then, just as suddenly, he slumped, leaning listlessly against the ropes that bound him to the chair.

His cry of pain came simultaneously with the last shout of a vampire on the wrong end of a sharpened piece of wood, wielded with inexpert skill by Xander. He'd used some of the fighting moves learned from patrolling with Buffy, but it was Willow who had brought a heavy dictionary crashing down on the vampire's head, dizzying the creature long enough for Xander to grab a stake from Giles' stash. Together, the two looked around, dazed, at the library.

Drusilla was collapsed in a heap where she'd been standing; she twitched occasionally, whimpering, no longer a threat to anyone -- at least for the time being. Michael had one final opponent to take care of, and he was dealing with flair; Giles, meanwhile, had also managed to batter into unconsciousness the vampire who had attacked him. That left Buffy, who was hovering over Drusilla to make sure she wasn't shamming. At Angel's cry, however, she darted down the stairs and around the table.

Sound gradually returned; eyes refocused on a world less brilliant, less lovely, but much more solid and real. Clarissa gave up thanks to the spirits as they departed. The sudden loss of energy was draining, and she would have fallen in a heap on the floor had Michael not suddenly been there, catching her, his arms warm and safe and strong. He had a cut over one eye, but it didn't look serious, and his eyes were worried.

"It's all right," she whispered. "It's done."

"Everyone okay?" Xander called out. Cordelia was the first to reply, with a quiet affirmation. Seeing the cuts and bruises that she'd incurred during the fight, Xander swiftly fetched Giles' first-aid kit from the office to begin tending to her. Willow looked for Oz, who had fallen back against a bookcase during the fight, still weak from being knocked out earlier in the evening; but aside from a scrape on the arm, he was all right, and reassured her of the fact several times while she bandaged him up, babbling a blue streak the whole time about how glad she was that he wasn't hurt any worse. Once his scrape was taken care of, he gathered her into his arms and held her.

Buffy had knelt by Angel's chair, touching his face. She was starting to get worried; he didn't seem to be coming around. But no, there, his eyelids were twitching, and then a low groan issued from his throat. His head came up slowly, with great effort. Squinting in the dim light, he peered at her. A strange mix of emotions crossed his face -- from astonishment to shame, love and fear, all at once.

"Wh--what's going on?" he managed to get out softly, through a throat clogged with emotion.

"Angel," she whispered throatily. "God, is it you?"

"I -- I don't know, everything's confused... Where am I?" He looked around slowly. Recognition combined with puzzlement registered in his eyes. "The library? How did we get here? The last thing I remember..."

He winced suddenly, trying to move a hand to touch her. "I -- you tied me up?"

She started tugging at his bonds without another thought. Their conversation had reached Xander's ears, and he couldn't keep himself from calling out.

"Buffy, wait! What if he's acting?"

Buffy's gaze flew to meet Xander's. She acknowledged his warning with a sharp nod, then looked back at Angel.

"What do you remember?" she said softly, leaning back on her heels.

His eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "I'm... I'm not sure." She could see the awareness dawning across his face, then, as the memories began to click into place like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. "I remember... oh, God. I remember you -- us..."

Buffy fought back a flood of emotion. Biting her lip, she struggled to keep her hands in her lap. She wanted to touch him, to comfort him, but she still didn't know for sure.

His voice was trembling, and he stared down at the floor as he spoke.

"I woke up... it was still raining. I hurt all over, inside and out... I ran outside, tried to get away..." His eyes flew up to meet hers, then; his were haunted and dark, full of shock and misery. "I was gone, but I wasn't... God, what did I do? What happened?"

Buffy couldn't contain her tears now, or prevent her shaking hands from reaching for him. She untied his bonds effortlessly, pulling him close into her embrace.

At the sight of the two comforting each other, Giles released a breath he wasn't aware he'd been holding. He looked to Michael, who was still cradling the weak Clarissa in his arms, rocking her gently. Michael nodded quickly to the Watcher, and Giles turned next to check on the others.

Angel's body shook uncontrollably in Buffy's arms; she couldn't calm him down, not when all she wanted to do herself was sob in relief and joy.

Then he jerked away from her abruptly, his eyes bleak and shadowed. When she reached for him, whispering his name in a confused voice, he stood up, knocking the chair away as he backed up from her.

Slowly, his gaze traversed the library, settling upon each person in turn; and as he saw them, memory supplied the gleeful torments he'd inflicted on each--

--grabbing Xander and yanking him out the window, flinging him bodily to the ground a full story below; he'd been about to feed when the boy had been rescued by Drusilla's untimely, and unlikely, intervention--

--trapping Cordelia on the ground in the graveyard, scaring the girl half-senseless; ready to pierce her neck with fang teeth, then brutally he was yanked away--

--gripping a shaking Willow by the throat, oh, it was delicious, how she'd trusted him, even that idiot Xander had taken the bait--

--it had taken forever, but lighting the candles, scattering the rose petals, setting the old record player to start at just the right moment, had all been worth it to see the look on Rupert's face when he saw her empty-eyed stare, the broken body--

The images came faster now, overlapping until he couldn't tell what was real and what was remembered.

--the sharp crack of Jenny Calendar's neck reverberating in the empty school hall--

--the look of disbelieving pain on Buffy's face as he'd casually, cruelly, mocked her, mocked them and everything they'd been to each other--

--Joyce Summers's shocked stare when he'd deliberately blurted out the news of the night he had spent with Buffy at precisely the worst moment--

--the fright in Willow's eyes when she'd come to in that cage--

--sweet tang of salty blood, Theresa had been so delicious, so damned easy to dupe--

--the sound of Oz's head thudding into the tree, his body slumping to the ground--

--every punch, every kick, every slap he'd delivered to the one whom he'd loved, who'd made him feel human, who he'd hated--

His legs were steadier underneath him now. He felt like he was going to be sick. In shame, he turned and ran.

"Angel!" Buffy darted to her feet to give chase, but Giles was there, placing a hand on her shoulder, restraining her.

"Let him go," her Watcher murmured. Buffy turned, her eyes full of tears, and buried her head in Giles' shoulder.

Only a moment later, though, she pulled away. Rubbing her cheeks with the backs of her hands, she moved over to her friends. She looked tired, devastated, as she quietly inquired as to their well-being.

"I'm so sorry, you guys," she started to say when she saw the cuts and bruises they'd assembled, but Willow shook her head, cutting her off with an arch of one slender eyebrow.

"Like you wouldn't have been here for us?"

The Slayer pressed her lips shut tight to avoid another rush of tears; instead, she embraced Willow tightly, then Xander and the others. Feeling more reassured, she stood, moving to the remaining two vampires.

Clarissa was sitting in a chair, holding her head; Michael stood behind her, hands resting lightly on her shoulders. The chovhani gave Buffy a smile, wincing slightly as the expression teased at her headache.

"Are you all right?" Buffy asked quietly.

Clarissa nodded gingerly. "I will be. Just need a good day's sleep while the magic sorts itself out of my head."

"I wanted to say... thank you." The young woman looked down at her hands, which were busying themselves by tangling fingers with each other.

Clarissa narrowed her eyes thoughtfully at the Slayer. "You're welcome."

"Uh, guys?" Oz had stood, and as he glanced toward the upper level, the others followed his glance to where the unconscious form of Drusilla remained slumped in a heap.

"I'll get her," Xander promptly declared. Grabbing a stake from the pile he had been whittling earlier in the evening, he headed up the stairs.

"Uh, Xander, she may be out of it, but that's still Drusilla we're talking about," Buffy noted dryly, even as she moved to intercept him.

"Awake vamps are one thing," he replied easily. "I think this one's right up my alley."

Buffy attempted to keep her giggle to herself, which only resulted in a snort, and glanced over to see Clarissa smiling as well. Then the vampire winced again and rubbed her forehead. "God, she nearly threw off the whole thing," she muttered. "Somehow she could sense the energies I was using--"

Whatever she was about to say was interrupted by Willow's scream and Xander's yelp of distress. Every head turned; Drusilla stood tall between the bookcases, her face a fright-mask of rage. Xander dangled from one of her hands, held high enough that his sneakers were inches from the carpet. She let out a snarl.

Buffy's transformation from seventeen-year-old girl to Slayer was instantaneous. She planted a foot on the nearest chair and launched herself over the railing. As she landed, she scooped up the stake inadvertently dropped by Xander, and came up with the business end pointed at Drusilla.

"Drop him."

Drusilla hissed, but her hand opened, and Xander fell to the floor with a thud. He moaned and promptly began to crawl away. Buffy breathed a sigh of relief that he was all right; then she assumed a fighting stance, tucking the stake into a sleeve.

"You've got your Angel back, don't you?" Drusilla growled. "Pity you won't live long enough to enjoy it."

Buffy responded by whirling in a circle, swinging a high kick at the vampire's face. Dru grunted, but was otherwise unfazed; she grabbed at Buffy's hands, which were held before her face in a protective blocking style. "Come on, little bird, look at me."

"No thanks, you're not that pretty to begin with." Buffy ducked the attempt, proceeding to deliver a series of solid, swift punches to Dru's face. Each one backed her up a little further until she had the vampire pinned against a bookcase.

"To think I actually felt sorry for you when Angel told me how he made you," the Slayer snarled. "Guess what?"

A spark of hope lit Drusilla's eyes. Buffy grinned, slapped the stake out of her sleeve and into her palm.

"Changed my mind."

She jammed it home with a growl of triumph. Dru's eyes were wide with fear, and then rage, and then nothing. A moment later, the Slayer was coughing in a cloud of ash.

When she turned to look at the others, it was with a confused look on her face. "What took me so long to do that?"

"You're leaving, then?"

Leaning on the table, one hand securely grasped in Michael's, Clarissa nodded. "We did what we came to do. There's no more reason for us to stay."

"Well, ah, have a safe trip." Giles offered a hand, and she shook it solemnly, as did Michael.

"Take care," offered the male vampire with a hint of a smile.

Buffy, standing by Giles' side, smiled to them once more. "Thanks again," she said quietly.

Clarissa nodded. "I hope it works out for you."

As the two vampires turned to go, the rest of the group waved, and someone was even heard to call out a wish of good luck. (Xander would later fervently deny any allegations that it might have been him.)

"Well," said Giles on a tired sigh, "it's late, and I still have to clean up here. And figure out how to convince our dear Fuhrer that what he saw tonight was nothing more than a bad dream."

"We'll help," Willow offered, earning dirty looks from Xander and Cordelia.

"No, no, that's all right." Giles pushed his glasses up, surveyed the room. "You should all get your rest. I'll see you on Monday."

"That's right, it is Friday, isn't it?" Buffy steered around the table, picked up the leather jacket and swung it over her shoulders. "See you all later."

She departed ahead of the others, a decidedly pleased expression on her face. Cordelia only sighed.

"Geez, you'd think she had a date or something."

"You don't think she went to see Angel, did you?" Oz looked puzzled as he took Willow's hand. As a group, the four began to head from the library.

"She probably just wants to make sure he's all right," Willow replied thoughtfully.

Her friends knew her better than Giles. Instead of heading home per his request, Buffy took a different route. Her footsteps were hurried as she darted through the quiet streets of Sunnydale. It wasn't ten minutes before she was descending the concrete stairs to a basement apartment she'd thought never to visit again. Yet somehow, she had a gut feeling that Angel would return there, to the place he'd lived previously.

The door was closed; out of politeness, she knocked. A lack of immediate response worried her. Maybe he'd gone somewhere else... But after a minute or so, the door opened, and there was Angel.

He looks like hell, was her first thought. Then again, she couldn't be too surprised; after an ordeal like the one he'd been through, anyone would look the worse for wear. Even Cordelia.

"Hi," she said softly when it appeared that he wasn't going to say anything.

"Uh, hi," he replied. The look in his eyes betrayed confusion, consternation.

"Can I come in?"

He stepped aside, admitting her to the apartment, and then closed the door behind her. She took a few steps, stopped and turned to look at him.

"You came back," was all he could get out.

"Yeah," she said slowly in agreement. "I wanted to see if you were all right."

He shrugged. "I suppose. Considering the day I've had."

"True." She glanced around, blinking as she caught sight of a partially-packed suitcase on the bed. It struck her like a physical blow: she felt her heart stop, then kick over into high gear. Amazingly, she managed to keep her composure to repeat the words Giles had spoken earlier.

"You're leaving?"

He nodded awkwardly. He had yet to look at her; his gaze went everywhere but the spot where she stood. "I -- I can't stay."

"Where are you going?" She had to force the words over the lump in her throat.

"I'm not sure." He moved over to the bed, closing the suitcase and sitting next to it. "Somewhere that's not here."

She wrapped her arms around herself and looked at him challengingly. "Why?"

He gave her a sharp look. "You're kidding, right? I can't stay here. Not after everything I've done."

"But you didn't--"

"It may have been the demon running the body, but it was still me." His voice grated, and he fought to stay calm.

"Angel," she whispered.

"Honestly, I don't even know how you can stand to touch me now."

The tears that had been threatening began to spill, now, no matter how hard she fought them. "God, I just got you back and I have to lose you?"

He looked down at his hands, at the floor between his feet. "I'm sorry. But it's better if I go. If I stayed -- I'd just be a constant reminder of all the things I did. And you can't trust me. This way, there's less chance of anyone getting hurt again."

She was silent for a long moment, gulping back sobs.

"Yeah," she finally whispered. "Yeah, I guess you're right."

He couldn't stand her pain any longer. He stood, closed the distance between them in three steps, and took her in his arms. For a long time, he held her, rocking her gently in his arms, brushing the tears away from her cheeks.

"If there was another way," he said into her hair, "believe me, I'd take it."

"I know," she replied, and sniffed hard. "You know, Giles talks all the time about how I need to accept my duties as a Slayer... maybe you being gone will help."

She was starting to sound a little more positive now, and he bent his head to look her in the eyes, raising her chin with two fingers.

"I hope so," he replied.

"Will you come back?"

He closed his eyes and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "I don't know. I can't say."

"O-okay." She tucked her head against his chest, relishing the smell, the feel of him. Every moment was sharp and crystal-cut, imbedding itself in her memory for the times she'd have to be without him. "Angel?"

"What?" He looked down at her again.

"Will you miss me?"

"Every minute."

"I love you," she whispered, and pressed her lips to his.

The kiss was tender and sweet, possibly even moreso than their first one. As his hand cupped her cheek, she leaned into him, feeling her heart break with every touch, every caress. Then she broke off the kiss, reaching for his right hand.

"What is it?" he asked.

She was touching the claddagh ring he wore there, the twin of one he'd given her on her birthday. "You've worn the ring backwards ever since..."

"Yeah," he replied quietly, and didn't resist when she gently tugged it off, reversing it so that the point of the heart faced in, toward his hand instead of toward the fingertip. Unable to resist, she placed a kiss on the symbols of the ring.

"I should go," he whispered, throat thick with emotion.

"Do you have to leave tonight?" Her eyes were bright when she looked up at him.

"I should..." he repeated, and then trailed off, heart wrung at the sight of the heartbroken expression on her face.

"Please," she murmured. "Just tonight. I don't know if I'll ever see you again."

"Oh, God, Buffy..."

It had been so long since he'd held her, truly held her; the body remembered, even if his mind still couldn't connect the memories up with what he knew. In the end, he couldn't resist her, even if he'd had half the will to. And much later, as they lay together, he kept his eyes open and watched her as she slept: the smooth line of her cheek, her shoulder, her hip; the winsome way her hair drifted down over her long lashes; the pout of her full lips; the exquisite shape of her fingers. He memorized every detail of her, cherishing the warmth of her body and the gift of her love.

"He just left?"

Buffy nodded to Willow as they strolled down the main corridor of the school and out into the courtyard. "But at least we got to say goodbye this time. And maybe he'll even come back."

"Buffy, I'm really sorry," Xander began, but Buffy stopped to look at him, shaking her head.

"You don't have to apologize," she replied. "I understand."

"No, I do," he said. "I know I got to be kind of, well, a jerk, and I just wanted to say that if he does come back... I hope you're happy together."

Buffy blinked at her friend for several moments, speechless. Then she smiled softly.

"Thanks, Xander. That means a lot."

He smiled down at her and gave her a squeeze on the shoulder. "I gotta run. Cordy's giving me a ride home."

"See you," the girls called after him as he took off towards the main entrance. They continued at a more leisurely pace. Willow fiddled with the straps of her backpack for several moments before finally asking the question she'd been trying to figure out how best to voice.

"Are you okay?"

Buffy nodded. A shadow crossed her eyes for a moment, but she shook it away determinedly. "I think I'd already kind of got used to not having him, if that makes sense. So now that he's not here, physically I mean, it's not so bad as if he'd had to leave after my birthday party. I'm used to it."

"But you miss him?"

"Every second."

Buffy sighed and squared her shoulders as she and Willow came out of the front entrance, where her mother's Land Rover could be seen parked at the end of the walkway. "Now I just get to figure out how not to tell my mom why I'm in a mood."

Willow chuckled. "You're on your own there. I'll call you tonight."

"See ya." Buffy waved to the redhead as she headed off, then headed toward her own ride.

She actually felt pretty good, despite the fact that she felt as if she should be moping around like a lovesick idiot. Her parting with Angel had been on good terms, even if she'd been crying and he'd been close to tears himself. She could understand why he felt he had to go, even if she didn't want him to leave; and something had occurred to her later on that weekend, while she'd been doing some aerobics that left her mind free to wander.

She had clashed with Giles a lot about duty. Duty to her calling, responsibilities thereof, the necessity of preparation. The times she hadn't paid attention, she'd generally been called on it, and often in the most unhappy of ways. This was like one of those times: something she didn't want to do, but couldn't get out of. If Angel had stayed in Sunnydale, maybe something tragic would have occurred -- there certainly was no way to tell. But she did know that there had been times when she'd neglected her duties in favor of spending her patrolling time smooching in the graveyard with Angel.

It was strange to think that she was looking forward to being a Slayer. Getting rid of Drusilla, that had helped a lot, reminded her of who she was and what could happen if she didn't do her job. Xander could have gotten killed, everyone could have died.

For about the hundredth time that day, she gave a mental thanks to Michael and Clarissa, wherever they were. And grinned to herself as she thought about how upset Spike had to be, right about now...


As it developed, Giles never had to come up with an excuse for Snyder. The Monday following the climactic events of the previous Friday, he and Buffy were summoned to the principal's office during homeroom. As they approached the office, each wore an identical expression of dread.

Snyder was sitting at his desk, another man -- Giles recognized him as the chief of police -- standing behind him. Snyder stood up when they entered, nodding briefly. "Summers, Giles," he acknowledged them. "This is Chief of Police Bob Reid."

Buffy looked puzzled, but shook the hand offered by the chief, as did Giles. They all sat, then, except for Reid, who apparently had no intention of sitting down.

"First of all, I would like to, ah, apologize," stated Snyder, sounding most uncomfortable, his eyes flashing his annoyance. "If we -- I -- had known before that Buffy was the Slayer, a great deal of trouble could have been avoided."

"You must understand the necessity of keeping her identity a secret," Giles replied, and Reid nodded.

"Of course. Now that we know about it, we also have something to tell you. We've been aware of the Hellmouth for some time now. Up until this time, we have attempted to deal with it, but since we're not exactly schooled in dealing with paranormal phenomenon, our efforts have generally fallen short."

He leaned on the side of Snyder's desk, effectively ignoring the stewing principal. "What I'm proposing is an alliance of sorts: that we work together, instead of against each other, for a common goal."

Giles simply stared at Reid, while Buffy's jaw had dropped to the floor. "You mean you know?" she finally blurted.

"Yes, it's been something of a problem in this town, as you can imagine."

"A problem." Buffy snorted. "I could have told you that."

"What exactly are you saying, then?" Giles asked, brows drawn together. "That we... join forces?"

"Not as such," Reid replied. "But you'll have the full support of the school and the police, should a situation arise where you require additional help, and that those of us 'in the know', so to speak, won't hinder you from doing what needs to be done."

Giles glanced at Buffy, who blinked back at him in bemusement; then he turned to face the chief of police again.

"Well, it hardly seems to our disadvantage to turn you down," he replied. "So I suppose we can do no less than agree to your offer."

"Great." Reid stood, as did Buffy and Giles, shaking hands with them again, a smile on his jowly face. "I'll give you a number where you can call day or night for assistance. And I suppose I hardly need to mention that you don't have to noise this about..?"

"Of course." Giles nodded, and with a final smile from Reid - and a glower from Snyder - he and Buffy were dismissed.

They emerged into the hallway with matching looks of disbelief painted on their faces.

Buffy continued her patrolling schedule as normal after that rather awkward encounter, and though it sometimes gave her a start to find a police car quietly pulling along behind her, it was a relief that the officer never obstructed her from what she was doing - often, instead, she would receive a polite offer of help (or, in the case of a couple of the officers, less-than-polite offers that left them bruised and apologetic).

Of course, the night Spike decided to confront her, there weren't any of them around. Not that they would have helped, she later mused.

She was walking through the graveyard at the time; the attack was completely unexpected. All she remembered was flying through the air and fetching up against the side of a mausoleum hard enough that she couldn't suppress a cry of pain. Slumping to the ground, she pushed to her feet. Standing above her, face a mask of rage, was Spike.

He didn't waste time on banter or small talk, just came at her again, giving her no chance to catch her breath. Buffy's back was to the wall, so she kicked out hard, shoving him back and away from her; he landed against a stone cross, then lurched away from it, since the holy symbol affected him on contact.

She jumped on him now. Without time to go for the stake hidden in a jacket pocket, she had to settle for trying to knock him out before getting her weapon. The solid punches she threw at his face didn't even faze him; he gave as good as he got, seemingly careless of injury. God, what does he care if he looks like a mess, he doesn't have to explain bruises to his mom, Buffy thought in between punches.

Spike got a knee under her torso and shoved, but maintained his grip on her shoulders so that Buffy found herself flat on her back with Spike over her. His hands slipped to her neck, and she could feel his thumbs digging into the cords of her throat. Black seeped around the edges of her consciousness.

This was not how she wanted it to end, not on her back in a graveyard with a vampire hell-bent for revenge ripping the life out of her. Buffy fought the blackness, forcing her hands up and around Spike's neck, fingernails ripping at his skin. He gave a startled gasp; it was all she needed to throw him off of her.

He fell, rolled to his feet, dancing back nimbly, hands raised in a fighting posture. Buffy took the opportunity to yank her hidden stake out, raising it over her shoulder.

"Go on," he breathed, "kill me. My life's not worth anything now that Dru's dead."

She just blinked at him for a moment, then almost chuckled. "You're pathetic, you know that?"

A snarl erupted from his throat, and she danced back, dodging a sudden strike. "You call me pathetic? You're the one who couldn't face the fact that your boyfriend didn't want to see you anymore?"

She lunged at him now, connecting with a blow to his face. He stumbled back a couple steps, grinning at her. "Hurts, doesn't it? The truth?"

"You're going to be hurting in a second," she snapped, and dove at him.

Neither of them were pulling punches. From the harsh way his fists pounded, she knew she'd be bruised and sore in the morning; but she didn't let up at all, not until she'd kicked him back and had him down on the ground, stake held above his heart.

She was breathing hard, and her hair had come undone in the fight. Spike grinned up at her, his mocking, malicious smile below harsh vampire features, one eyebrow scarred and twisted.

"Go on, pet," he whispered, "and you won't have to hear about all the lovely things he and Dru did behind my back..."

Anger overtook rational thought -- not that there should be rational thought when it comes to vampire slayage, some part of her whispered fiercely -- and her hand jabbed down, the stake burying itself in his heart. His body fell into ash within seconds, and as Buffy sat back, coughing in the resulting cloud, she could swear that he'd been smiling even as he'd died.

"Well, Giles is just gonna love this," she muttered.

Time passed, in the way that it will. School ended, and summer rolled around. Buffy stayed in Sunnydale this year to spend quality time with her friends, though she did take the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks with her father in Los Angeles.

Willow received the occasional email from Michael and Clarissa, who maintained polite contact, inquiring as to how things were going in Sunnydale and with Angel. Willow's replies managed to continually avoid that subject, although she suspected they could figure things out as much by her avoidance as anything else.

Even Giles seemed to relax as the summer progressed; though he still didn't speak of Jenny often, there was no more talk of trying to contact her spirit or such. He had mentioned to Willow the discussion regarding reincarnation, an idea the young hacker found privately interesting.

Summer meant downtime for the Slayer, as vampire activity traditionally slowed to a crawl during the hot months. Thus it was that Buffy found herself spending a lot of free time hanging out with the Scooby Gang, sans Cordelia, whose parents had dragged her off for an undoubtedly torturous and boring vacation in Europe.

The Bronze was still the place to be, no matter the season, and Willow never failed to convince Buffy and Xander to join her when Dingoes Ate My Baby played. This Friday night was no exception. As Buffy paid the cover charge and led the others inside, she was vaguely surprised to realize that it had been over three months since Angel had left. She hadn't been consciously keeping track of the days, although the night he'd left was tattooed on her memory; nor had she forgotten her promise to keep him in her thoughts and heart.

Lost for a moment in contemplation, she took her seat at their favorite table. She finally decided that time moved along whether you wanted it to or not; and sometimes it was good to lose track of time, to get caught up in life and not worry so much about the everyday details.

"Uh-oh, no serious looks allowed here," Xander declared, breaking into her ruminations.

Buffy laughed softly. "Sorry. Were we talking about something?"

"Just that it's been nice around here, with it so quiet and all," Willow replied.

"You mean boring, Will," stated Xander. "This has got to be the most boring summer ever."

"You say that every year." Willow stuck her tongue out at Xander, then turned to the stage as the band appeared. Her face lit up when Oz waved to her. They promptly started into their first song, and Xander hopped off of his stool.

"Want to dance, Willow?" he asked, offering his hand.

Willow grinned and gave him her hand. "Okay." As they headed to the dance floor, Xander tossed Buffy a wink that assured her she'd be asked to dance next. She propped her chin in her hands and watched them wistfully, remembering the few times she'd been in Angel's arms under that same light. The memories were no longer painful to conjure; now, she treasured them fondly.

"May I have this dance?"

The voice took her breath away. She whirled, her eyes going wide -- she was sure it had to be a dream, a hallucination, anything but what it was.

But it was.

Buffy didn't recall leaving the chair; all she knew that one moment, she was sitting down, and the next, she was in his arms, pressed close to him.

"You came back," she breathed happily, caressing his face in wonderment.

His eyes were warm, his smile beautiful. "Yeah. I realized that I couldn't stay away. Not when here is where my heart is."

"Angel," she murmured, her voice full of love. "I missed you so much."

Inclining his head, he kissed her. He meant it to be light and gentle, but the passion flared between them as it always did, and when the kiss ended, he found himself blinking rapidly, trying hard to remember that they were in a public place.

Buffy swam out of dizziness to smile weakly up at him. "Missed that, too."

"God, I love you," he said throatily.

"Why don't we skip the dance and go catch up on the past three months?" she said softly, her fingers threading into his. He nodded, and without another word, they turned and headed from the Bronze, hand-in-hand.

Willow turned to glance at the table just in time to see her best friend (of the feminine gender) walking away, hand firmly held in that of a tall, dark-haired man. A grin overtook her face.

"What is it?" Xander asked, noticing her change of expression.

Willow damped her grin down and returned her attention to her dance partner. "Nothing," she lied cheerfully, eyes sparkling.

It looked like it wasn't going to be a dull summer after all.


this page last updated on 26 september 2012