Buffy and Spike waited in the shadows after Chris had given the signal that Angelus was in town. As far as they had deduced, the vampire would proceed to one of two places when he entered Four Corners. He would undoubtedly resume his search for Ezra Standish by either going to Mary Travis home or the church. Angelus was no fool, he would guess that they would not hide Ezra in a place without protection. The jailhouse and the saloons where the seven normally frequented were not places that could be barred to them for the lack of invitation. However Marys home was another thing entirely and in the absence of someone elses home and without wishing to involve anyone else, the church seemed a natural choice. Angelus would spread out his forces to cover out the largest possible area but he himself would converge upon Marys home because of his infatuation with her.
Fortunately, Angelus had never had the chance to play his obsessive games with the widow much to Buffys relief but the fact that he had known her name had given the slayer some clue as to why he had taken the time to find out. Buffy and Spike had a clear view of Marys home. Even if Angelus could not secure an invitation into the home did not mean he could not draw its inhabitants out. Josiah and Buck were in no condition to fight if Angelus was determined to have Mary.
"Theyre coming," Spike announced first, his jaw tensing as he stepped forward to the absolute edge of the shadows.
"Are you sure?" Buffy asked quietly.
"Yeah," he nodded. "I can feel them."
Buffy knew that there was some unseen connection between Master and Childe, that Spike could sense his sire on some psychic level. It was an aspect of vampires she did not know much about other than its existence. Angel had tried to explain it to her once but much of what he said had been too much for a sixteen year olds understanding. She allowed her gaze to sweep across the street, trying to catch sight of the enemy and not relishing the idea of facing Angelus again. The last time they had looked upon each other, Buffy had been on the verge of killing him and what followed was something she still woke up screaming from at night.
Spike could sense her discomfiture and tried not to let jealousy get the better of him, particularly after her warm display earlier. It had seemed for a moment that she had seen him as more than just a vampire that she sometimes used as a lover but someone whom she could care about. Besides, this could not be easy for her. No easier than it was for him to see how good he and Dru had once been together. Buffy was hiding it well but he could sense her moods and he knew that facing Angelus troubled her.
"You all right pet?" He asked gently.
"Im fine," she sighed. "Just so not looking forward to this."
"Dont blame you," Spike replied with sincere empathy. "Im not to keen about seeing Dru either."
"I thought you were over her," Buffy said a little too quickly, drawing a little smile from Spike because there was just a hint of jealousy in her voice.
"Jealous?" He teased, unable to help himself.
"Oh please," Buffy retorted. "Over yourself much?"
"Right," Spike rolled his eyes. "I forget how much you hate me."
"Well dont you forget it," she responded but she was clearly smiling as she said it.
It was almost a tender moment.
"Uh oh," Spike declared, "look whos here."
Buffy looked up and saw Angelus appear. He was with at least three minions approaching Marys house. Buffy had thought he would be with more and supposed that it was logical that he might have split up their forces in order to make a more expansive search for Ezra. Buffy found herself staring at Angelus, unable to equate him with Angel whom she loved. He seemed strange to her with long hair and in period clothing but it was still Angel except this version had no soul.
"We better do this while there isnt many of them," Spike suggested.
Buffy had to agree but something did not feel right. "Yeah," she said somewhat hesitantly.
"Luv?" Spike looked at her noticing the pause although he misinterpreted the reason. "Youre not still thinking hes Peaches are you?"
"No!" She hissed in exasperation, wishing he would get over that. She had once been prepared to sent Angelus to hell and had done it despite the fact that he had become Angel during the battle. If there was one thing she knew how to do it was distinguishing between the two of them. "Lets just do this." She retorted and brushed past him.
They emerged under the light of the moon and immediately caught Angelus attention. The Master Vampire started to smile at seeing them appear and did not at all seem surprised at seeing the duo. Supreme confidence reigned in Angelus manner as he cast his gaze in their direction and immediately put Spike on guard. Buffy was already there. Now he could understand why she felt so unsettled. Angelus was facing a slayer and he did not look the slightest bit concerned. In fact the expression on his face was one that Spike was well acquainted with - expectation. He knew they were coming and if he knew it then Spike was almost certain that he had planned for it.
"You slayers and your pet vampires are so predictable," Angelus grinned as he sneered at Spike, perfectly aware now of the relationship between the two. "Except I have to admit Buffy," he stared at Buffy with a perfectly vicious smile, "can I call you Buffy?"
"I didnt come here for small talk," Buffy retorted, knowing by his tone that he was about to become very cruel and she really had no patience for it. She wanted this over and done with. Buffy had no idea how hard it would be to face Angel until this moment. Despite herself she could not help but be revisited the last time she saw Angelus.
"Oh I dont think you have a choice in that," Angelus smiled and looked past her shoulder. Buffy and Spike looked around them and suddenly saw at least a dozen vampires emerging from the long shadows around them. They stepped out of the night like wraiths surrounding both Buffy and Spike in large numbers. Among the faces between them, were also Drusilla, Darla and William. Williams face appeared scarred, no doubt a left over from Josiahs escape attempt.
"Hello there Slayer," William said with a little smile. "Shall we dance?"
Spike watched in unfolding horror as his younger version approached the Slayer slowly, even though he was one of a dozen vampires closing in on them, Spike could not think of anything else. He had killed two slayers in his time because of his fierce determination to be the best and right now he was not hindered by his love for her. Given the chance, William would not hesitate to kill Buffy. However, his ability to help her was seriously endangered by the multiple threats they were now surrounded with.
"Youre not my Spike," Drusilla stared at him and then narrowed her eyes in hatred as her serene features morphed into its vampire visage and turned to Buffy. "Youre her Spike."
William lunged at Buffy and Spike found himself running to her aid but he never got there. Swept off his feet, he felt himself tackled to the ground by two minions. Their weight landed heavily on him, trapping Spike against the ground. He could only look up helplessly as he saw Buffy fending off Williams attack with Drusilla closing in. Angelus started towards the Travis home and Spike hoped that Mrs. Travis was sensible enough to say indoors because that was her only defense against the vampire. However, Spike had larger troubles of his own.
Kicking his foot out, he connected with one minions stomach and gave himself enough time when the vampire stumble away from him a little to throw a punch that sent the other sprawling. He scrambled to his feet in a desperate bid to reach Buffy but he was pulled savagely back again. The minion was clawing at his leg refusing to let go. Spike kicked out again, this time landing his foot on the vampires face. The fledgling let out an angry cry which distracted Spike enough to keep from seeing the stake that coming towards him from above. Twisting hard, which was no easy feat when one of the fledglings had his hand wrapped around Spikes ankle, he managed to escape the point of the stake when it buried itself in the dirt next to him. Spike pulled out his own weapon and slammed it into the shoulder of the fledgling that had almost killed him.
The penetration would not kill the vampire but it was enough to hurt and the fledgling threw up his head up, screaming in pain as Spike yanked his foot free and escaped them both. He hurried forward; his eyes still fixed on Buffy as she fought both William and Dru. His progress towards her was halted when he felt a slash of nails across his abdomen. Spike hissed in pain and saw Darla staring at him with challenge. Blood run down his torso making her eyes glistened with the hunger of blood and the sight of it running freely down his stomach.
"Youre such a romantic Spike," Darla shook her head derisively. "But I thought even you had standards."
"Well I take after my grandsire," Spike retorted. "I have his taste for women."
"Im going to enjoy watching you die," she hissed at him in venomous rage.
With that, she looked at the fledglings around him and nodded. They converged upon him like a pack of hungry dogs. He was assaulted not by two but at least five. The first one who came at him found only death as Spike grabbed him by the shoulders and slammed his forehead into the vampires skull. Wasting no time, Spike used his disorientation to send the fledgling straight into his knee followed by a road house punch that sent him sprawling backwards, arms outstretched. Spike flung his stake through the air, having grown exceedingly accurate with it after patrolling with the slayer for so long. It penetrated the heart and the fledgling could only look on in surprise as he exploded into nothingness
Spike threw himself forward, beyond the reach of the remaining four, rolling across the ground before he reached his stake where it had fallen after destroying the vampire whose heart it pierced. He snatched the piece of wood and rotated on his knee, attempting to deal with the three others that he had just left behind and the others that were joining the fray. He stood up, trying not to notice the numbers against him, wishing only to deal with them so that he could help Buffy. Spike threw a fist at the first one who reached him, unaware that Darla was closing in from behind him. The vampire reeled a little and Spike continued his onslaught of punches, trying to drive them away from him to give him some breathing room for a more decisive attack. He swung his fist in a succession of punches, alternating between his attacks between his hands and his feet. Spike drove his stake into the heart of another fledgling, causing him to burst into nothingness before his companions.
Suddenly Darla came up from behind him and pressed her fingers into the wounds she had created upon his body. Spike let out a cry and became distracted by the pain, allowing the others to converge upon him. Darla wrapped her arm around his throat as one of the minions took the stake from his hand and soon he was being held firm. Spike struggled to break free but they were all around him and six to one odds was more than he could handle, especially when he was wounded and trying to save Buffy. The stake that had been his weapon was now in anothers hands and Spike became very conscious of the fact that he had no power to stop anything from happening to him at this point.
"Slayer!" Darla called out over his ear.
Buffy had been fighting William and Drusilla at this point. If this had been a hundred years later, there would have been no way for her to fight them both. However, Buffy had come to the realization that this was not the Spike who had killed two slayers before coming to Sunnydale. This was a Spike who was very new to being a vampire, who had more balls and swagger than he had actual fighting skill, something that her Spike (she flinched inwardly at the word her) had in abundance. She could see some of the savage strength that would make him so formidable later on but she was too seasoned and he was still too new at this to be a serious threat. Drusilla who was more experienced had not acquired the skill that Buffy had and relied mostly on her ability to mesmerize her prey to kill.
However, Darla was another thing entirely. Darla was the oldest one of them. Her Sire had been the Master and when Buffy turned to her at the sound of Darlas voice, she felt her heart sink with horror when she saw Spike had been incapacitated. Buffy threw a succession of kicks at William, sending him crashing into Drusilla as she turned to help Spike. However, Darla had set up her pieces well and she was more than prepared for the attempt.
"Surrender or your pet dies," Darla said with a smile.
"Slayer dont you do it!" Spike shouted instantly. He was rewarded by one of the fledging using his own stake and shoving the piece of wood into his side, away from his heart but enough to make him cry out in pain.
"Spike!" Buffy found herself crying out involuntarily at the sound of his agony. She saw the blood glistening on his stomach where Darla had wounded him and fresh wound that had just been inflicted upon him.
"Let him go," Buffy demanded with venom in her voice.
Darlas demonic visage curled up into a smile. "Or youll kill me?"
"Not right away," Buffy warned and meant it. "Let him go."
"I will," Darla replied with a sneer and then looked to a minion. "Do it!"
Buffy watched in horror as the minion brought down the stake and saw Spike staring at her in defeat, not because he was going to die but because he was going to leave her alone. He had promised that he would stay by her side and now he was going to leave her too, just like the others.
"SPIKE NO!" She screamed in anguish because in that one instant, she realized that while she may not know if she loved him, Buffy did know for certain she did not wish lose him.
The stake never had a chance to strike because an arrow tore through the air and landed in the middle of the fledglings back. He let out a scream just before he vanished. Another soon followed the arrow, this one striking the vampire holding Spikes arm. Although the arrow penetrated his forehead, it was more than enough for the vampire to release his hold of Spike. As he staggered away, trying to deal with the protrusion in his face, another arrow soared through the air and struck home, ending the threat of him once and for all.
Buffy turned to the direction of the archer and let out a sigh of relief as she saw Vin Tanner appear out of the darkness with Chris Larabee. Suddenly the odds did not seem so impossible any more and Buffy offered him a look of thanks as the tracker reached for another arrow. Chris on the other hand produced a stake and was soon met by a vampire. This time the gunslinger seemed unfazed by the attack and thrust the point of the weapon into creatures heart, sending the demon back to hell.
"Two against eight isnt very fair is it?" Chris drawled, hiding the fact that he was extremely anxious to deal with this particular situation because he noted that Angelus was gone and if he was gone, that could only mean he was going after Ezra or Mary.
"Depends on how you look at it," Darla smiled viciously.
Spike did not give her a chance to make further comment because he slammed his skull backwards, connecting with Darlas face and making a terrific crunch of sound as bone met bone. She cried out shortly but the blow was hard enough to knock her out cold. She slid to the ground without much protest as Buffy ran into action. She threw a flying kick at William, throwing him hard against the wall and began pummeling him with fierce punches in an effort to subdue him once and for all. Meanwhile Vin and Spike resume mopping up the fledglings. Drusilla made a beeline towards Chris, probably because she remembered how she had almost taken him during their last encounter.
Chris saw Drusilla approach and as she looked into his eyes, he tried to turn away but found the power of them too much for him. He remembered how lethal they were as he saw the flecks of color suddenly taking on a life of its own. Her lips curled into a smile, knowing she had him. Chris heard Vin shouting at him, but his voice sounded as if he was very far away. Drusilla was smiling at him as she started speaking in that ethereal voice once more. It wound its way through his skin and polluted his brain with its intoxication.
"Be in my eyes," she smiled. "Be in me."
Something inside him snapped when he heard her say those words. The memory of JD coming to save his life seared through his mind and Chris blinked but not before mustering every ounce of self-control he had in his body to do so. He threw his head forward into Drusillas crushing her nose and drawing her a cry of pain as she staggered backwards in pain. Chris threw another fist in her face now that he had regained control of his faculties and wondered how he could have allowed himself to get so close to her again. It did not matter because he was not going to be caught under her spell again. Chris was not usually one to hit women but this one hardly qualified as the garden-variety type and so his conscience allowed him another blow.
"Dru!" William shouted, seeing his lover attacked by the black garbed gunslinger.
Buffy saw his concern was enough to stop him fighting and quickly turned to Chris. "Chris, hold her!"
Chris caught on immediately to what Buffy intended and caught Drusilla as she reeled from his punches around the neck. He twisted her around hard, so that her back would face him before trapping her neck in a tight arm lock.
"Vin!" Chris called out to the tracker. Between Vin and Spike, the minions they were fighting were dead. Darla was still lying on the floor out cold and the fight had come down to William and Buffy who now more or less found himself alone. Suddenly, William found himself in the same position that Buffy had a short time ago before the timely arrival of the gunslinger and the tracker.
"Give it up or the tracker puts an arrow through your honey." Buffy declared as Vin trained his arrow on Drusillas heart.
"You cant let them do it!" William implored to Spike, hoping that because of who he was, he might stop this.
"Trust me mate," Spike said coolly. "When she skips out on you with a chaos demon, you wont mind so bloody much."
"Bastard!" William swore furiously, staring at Drusilla in anguish.
"Do it Vin!" Chris ordered in order to prompt Williams decision.
"NO!" William shouted in horror as Vin pulled back the bow. "WHAT DO YOU WANT?"
Buffy let out a sigh of relief and noted the same on Spikes face. For a moment, he was not entirely sure that William would not call their bluff since they could not kill Drusilla but then gambling on something as uncertain as the future was always as risk.
"Where is Angelus!" Buffy demanded first.
William swore, not wishing to tell the truth but having no choice when faced with the loss of Drusilla. "At the church," he said bitterly. "He knew you wouldnt be stupid enough to hide Standish with the woman. He thought that you might use her for bait, thats why he set up this little caper for you."
"Alright," Chris nodded slowly, itching to get going after the head vampire before he harmed any one of his friends sequestered in the church. "I want all three of you out of my town, now. If you dont get out of here right this minute, I wont give a damn about what happens in the future. I will stake all of you three and if I have to Ill have the entire Territory coming after you with pitchforks and torches!"
"This isnt over slayer," William glared at Buffy, acknowledging his defeat for the moment. "I will kill you one day."
"Im gonna bet you dont," Spike retorted under his breath.
William stared at him in disgust, "if youre what I become then I ought to bloody well kill myself now."
Spike opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out.
William was not wrong about that much at least. However, Spike not had a good idea where his fetish for long black coats had come from as he watched William staring at Chris Larabees black duster. Well, Spike shrugged. Who could blame him?
They were both going to look bloody good in it.
+ + + + + + +
Once William, Drusilla and Darla were gone, Buffy turned to Chris and Vin. "You guys get going to the church!"
Chris looked at her, "aint you coming?"
"Well be there in a sec," Buffy retorted quickly and gave the gunslinger an unspoken request for a moment alone.
Chris nodded slightly in understanding before throwing a sidelong glance at Vin, "lets go."
Vin who was eager to get going because Tara was at the church as well did not offer any protest and the two men hurried away from the empty square, leaving Buffy and Spike behind. Spikes brow knotted in confusion as he wondered the reason for the delay. He had little more than a second to ponder the situation when his eyes widened in shock at Buffy throwing her arms around him and pulling him towards her in an urgent embrace. He was so stunned by her actions that he could only stared in wide eyed astonishment as she began planting kisses all over his face and then on his lips.
"Uh Slayer ." Spike muttered through his confusion and her kisses, "did I miss something?"
"You stupid vampire!" She said when she paused long enough to speak from her passionate plunder of his lips. "You almost got yourself killed!"
"Yeah?" She was still losing him. "So?"
"So?" She pulled away in exasperation. "You may not be the man of my dreams! Hell I dont even like you smoking in my house, my friends cant stand you and you youre lame! But Ive gotten used to your face so be careful! I dont want you to get hurt!" She ended this impassioned statement with a hard right cross.
That, Spike understood as he tumbled to the dirt.
"You were worried about me pet?" He started to smile that triumphant smirk that Buffy could never stand once he managed to get to his feet.
"Dont make a big thing about it," she frowned walking away from him, with full expectation that he would be behind her. "I still hate you."
Perhaps so, but Spike was still grinning from ear to ear when he followed her.
+ + + + + + +
They had been doing quite well holding off the vampires that were attempting to force their way into the church. JD and Ezra had remained at the broken window, holding the pews in place to keep more of the undead from entering Josiahs labor of love. Although none of the seven present in the room spoke of it, they were trying their best to keep Josiahs church from becoming too damaged. Ever since his arrival in Four Corners, Josiah had devoted a great deal of time to restoring this dilapidated church into its present state as a house of worship. It pained them all to see that had work beyond destroyed by vampires in a single night. The wooden bolt across the door was still holding but Giles and Nathan had taken to securing it with a length of pew because they could cracks appearing in the wood.
Tara stood in the center of her circle, trying not to feel fear as she chanted and readied herself for the spell when Buffy brought Angelus to her. She had never attempted anything as ambitious as this but then the last few days had been a testament to what she could do when she set her mind on it. Suddenly, there was an incredible explosion at the head of the church. The large crucifix clattered on the floor, its smooth surface becoming jagged and the form of Christ hanging from it was equally ravaged. Josiahs pulpit was crushed under the weight of brick and as the fissure appeared in the wall, stepping through the dust was Angelus.
"Dynamite," he announced dusting his hands exaggeratedly when he met their astonished gazes for the first time. "It makes this so much simpler, yes?"
"Get out here!" Giles stormed forward, his crucifix held in front of him as he went to confront the vampire that was here of his own volition and not led here by Buffy as planned. Something had gone wrong and until he knew what it was, he was not letting Angelus anywhere near Ezra Standish. Unfortunately it appeared that Angelus was not alone as he was accompanied by the vampires that had been trying to gain entry into the church.
"Oh that will work English," Angelus laughed as he gestured his minions deeper into the building. He walked towards Giles fearlessly. "A crucifix will make a preachers son like me run for sure." Without flinching, Angelus placed his hand on the crucifix and even though his skin sizzled and his face tensed in pain, he still managed to snatch away the religious artifact and fling it away. Giles stared at him in shock for a moment before Angelus swung out wide, connecting with his jaw in a powerful blow that knocked the Watcher to the floor.
"Whos the pretty one?" Angelus turned to Tara and gave her a long, interested look. Knowing how Angelus felt about blond women, his attention to her made Tara shudder.
"You leave her alone!" Ezra hurried past the vampires spreading out into the room. He was not about to let the young woman suffer because of him. "It me you want!"
"Ezra no!" Nathan shouted.
Angelus stared at him sharply. "So youre the one who produces a Slayer?"
Ezra stopped short in his tracks, unable to understand how he learnt this truth. "A Slayer?" He feigned ignorance. "I thought it was because of my charm."
"Oh youre funny," Angelus replied with a smile and closed the distance between them. Ezra produced a stake and attempted to attack but the vampire caught his wrist in his hand and bent back sharply. A crack of bone was followed by Ezras scream as his useless finger relinquished his hold of the weapon. Angelus secured his hold around Ezras neck as the other vampires converged upon Giles, JD and Nathan who readied themselves to fight.
Suddenly an arrow struck Angelus on the flesh part of his thigh as Vin and Chris burst into the room. The injury to their master caused the other vampires to attack and suddenly the room exploded into pandemonium. Chris ran forward, trying to aid Ezra who was still in the Master Vampires iron grip. Chris could see Angelus squeezing hard, until Ezra was struggling to pry his fingers lose with his one good hand. Chris reached Angelus and grabbed the arrow imbedded in his leg and twisted sharply. Angelus screamed in pain and retaliated with a sharp back punch that landed squarely in Chris face as he released Ezra. The gambler fell to the ground panting as Angelus turned to Chris Larabee.
"I think," Angelus stared at Chris as he hobbled forward, snatching the arrow out of his thigh and yanking it free of his leg in one quick movement. His face morphed into full demonic mask at the pain before he hissed, "Im going to give you to Darla for a little gift. Valentines day is almost here isnt it?"
"What? No puppies nailed on doors this year?" A decidedly feminine voice entered the mix.
Buffy punctuated that statement with a blow to the face. Angelus surprise showed when he was caught off guard but it did not last. He was a hundred and thirty years old even now and a seasoned warrior unlike William and Drusilla. After his soul was restored to him he would be a champion for good but for the moment all that skill was shrouded in darkness. When she threw her fist again, he caught it and delivered a sharp jab to her jaw. Buffy reeled but she had taken worse in her time and she slammed her foot down on the side of his knee, bringing him down to the floor. As he landed, she brought up her knee, connecting with his face as his head snapped back from the impact. She went to kick again but he caught his foot and twisted it hard, spinning her in mid air and bringing her down. Buffy landed hard as Angelus rushed towards her but she flipped onto her feet and caught the punch he was about to throw. She caught his fist and he reacted by grabbing her hair and pulling her close to him, opening his mouth to sink his teeth into her neck. His fangs grazed her flesh and Buffy felt pain when she heard Spike shouting.
"GET OFF HER!" The vampire roared in fury
Buffy reached for her neck and was staggered that Angelus had managed to get that far. She wiped her neck in time to see Spike throw a forward kick that sent Angelus half way across the room. The fury in Spikes eyes was beyond description as he threw punch after punch at Angelus, wearing down his Sire as he drove the older vampire toward the circle where Tara waited. Chris Larabee was helping the others fight the remaining minions as Buffy scrambled towards Spike and Angelus. Angelus was giving as good as he got but it was Spike who had the edge even though he was hurt. It seems that Angelus almost feeding off her had inspired the English vampires utmost rage and he was venting it with each kick and punch he delivered.
Buffy ran forwards as Angelus reached the circle, skidding to her hands and knees at the edge of it. Angelus did not see her because he was still concentrating on dealing with his enraged chide, however Spike caught on quickly to what Buffy intended and swung one final powerful blow that send Angelus staggering backwards over Buffys prone form. He fell into the circle hard. His head slamming against the wooden floorboards with a loud thwack. He did not move and the room felt silent as if some crucial moment had arrived and everyone knew it, even Angelus minions.
Tara wasted no time and put her spell into effect.
I call to thee Goddesses of Old
To Tisiphone, Alecto and Magaera,
Grant she who has commanded the stars
Grant she who is a daughter of Eve,
Possessor of the Sight and the old ways
To show this being of undead the future of his existence,
To show him the truth his mind will not accept
Part the veil between time and space
To the world that was and the one that might be,
I call to thee, Goddess of the Three,
Listen to your daughter's call,
In the mist lies the future,
Show him this fallen warrior his redemption,
Show him his salvation and folly,
Show him his soul.
I command thee, SHOW HIM HIS SOUL!
Angelus heard the words but for a few seconds after he had fallen, they had made little sense. He struggled for equilibrium but the clarity of mind that always came so easily to him, became vague and indistinct. He heard the words and its climatic ending and suddenly he was enveloped in a burst of color that all but blinded him. For a moment, Angelus was struck by panic thinking she might have cast him into the daylight. However, his skin was not burning and he was being swallowed by a vortex of images, painful and searing. He bit down not wanting to scream but as the pain intensified, there was little choice and it escaped him without his knowledge.
It all crowded upon him.
His soul forced back into his body. Darlas tears as she saw him became an abomination. His demon encased somewhere in the darkness, staring at a pinprick of light and being bombarded with so much regret. The pain of all those deaths swallowed him whole, every tortured cry, and every evil he had ever inflicted upon others screamed in his ears like a deafening cacophony. He should not have cared but somehow he was in a place where it mattered. The demon hissed with fury, each emotion of regret burning him like fire, he clawed for freedom but there was none except this trapping darkness while around him the world changed in a kaleidoscope of images, most of which he understood, hurtling past him.
He found himself hungry, so desperately hungry that even the blood of a mouse was enough to fill and satiate him and yet that was the only pleasure he was allowed because there was the pain of regret and remorse. Redemption sang promises of healing but he knew better, there was no end to it. There could not be. He knew this was going to happen. Perhaps it already had and he was merely being given some insight. He did not see how this had happened to him but he knew that it had and the demon that he was. was trapped like an animal, unable to feel anything but this terrible remorse that he should not have been able to feel.
But then something happened. Something changed.
Each time the word impacted upon his psyche, he felt it decrease. He became filled with her, her smile, her laugh, the way her gold hair shimmered in the moonlight. The utter pleasure in her eyes at seeing him. Young love at its best, something that neither Angelus or even Liam, the human he had once been had never known. Being in her presence was like a divine audience, she made the pain recede until it was almost gone and his soul, this heavy weight that brought with it so much pain started to soar. Lips touching his and his dead heart would skip a beat. When she touched him, he thought he might die from happiness at the sensation and when she said she loved him, he knew it was forever. Nothing would ever change that for her, no matter who came after him.
The emotions confused Angelus. He hated feeling this deep abiding love for some human but the pain went away because he did and then when he thought this journey of his could not become any more confusing, he was free. The hateful soul inside of him was gone. The feelings of pain and anguish disappeared in a moment of powerful and overwhelming bliss. He understood at that instant why she could not be killed because this condition of his was not meant to be a gift, it was a punishment and were he not to feel anguish or suffering, then he would lose that precious soul. The irony of it made Angelus laugh. He laughed so hard that it almost brought tears to his eyes.
+ + + + + + +
"Why is he laughing?" Chris asked as they watched what was happening to Angelus. The other minions had been dusted and now all that was left was the Master Vampire.
"I dont know," Buffy replied just as confusion as they saw Angelus curled into a fetal position and shuddering with laughter. Unfortunately, they could not ask Tara because she was in a trance. They all watched in growing confusion as Angelus continued to laugh so hard that for a moment, they thought he might suffocate if not for the fact he did not need air to breath.
Suddenly, Tara opened her eyes and let out a sigh of relief. There were beads of sweat running down her forehead and she appeared exhausted but not so much that she could not scramble away from Angelus because she was too weary to protect herself should he make any attempt to attack. Vin immediately hurried to her and pulled her away from the circle, allowing her the use of his shoulder to stand up.
"What did you do?" Buffy asked.
"I made him see," Tara whispered with weariness.
"See what? The three stooges?" Spike inquired.
"The three stooges?" Buffy stared at him.
"What? Theyre funny," he defended himself.
She shook her head and faced Tara again, "I dont understand."
"Oh leave the girl alone," Angelus replied and stood up. His sudden animation immediately placed the others on guard with stakes being produced and any other weapon that might make him a past tense held in full view.
"My, youre chipper." Buffy retorted glaring at him.
Angelus looked at her as if for the first time, "its not going to happen you know."
"What?" Chris asked, starting to get very annoyed.
"Im not going to let it happen." Angelus took a step forward and noted how everyone was prepared to kill him if he made a threatening move. "I wont let my soul come back."
"You dont have a choice in the matter," Buffy responded realizing that Chris gamble had worked as had Taras spell. Angelus knew what she was to him and what they were to each other.
"It wont happen," he stated firmly. "But Im careful vampire. Im not about to kill the grandsire of the only person that could save me if it does happen." He glanced at Ezra whose hand was being tended to by Nathan.
"Get out of my town," Chris growled.
"I will soon enough," Angelus responded with a smile, still staring at Buffy. "Tell me something, did you really believe that he loved you?" His eyes narrowed in calculation.
"Of course he did," Spike found himself saying, not wishing to let Buffy be hurt by Angelus words, no matter how much of a sore point Angel was with him.
"Spike," Angelus grinned. "I guess youll always be satisfied by the crumbs at my table."
"GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!" Chris shouted, jabbing the stake in the vampires chest as he saw Spike reeling from the vicious taunt. Despite Spikes confident manner, even Chris could see how close to the bone that remark had cut.
"Youre good in a fight," Angelus laughed, not at all acting like the defeated enemy. "You would have made a grand gift for my lovely but I dont think I would have liked the competition."
"Do I have to kill you to make a point?" Chris snarled with as much ferocity as any vampire was capable.
"Ill be taking my leave of you," Angelus smiled unrepentant as he turned his back to Chris and started walking out the newly created fissure in the church wall. "But Slayer," he gave Buffy a little smile of suggestion as he stepped into the darkness. "Ill be waiting for you to come my bed. Im sure it will be as good for you as it will be for me."
And with that he was gone.
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