6. The Art of Seduction

Willow awoke on a large four-posted, canopy bed. The comforters and pillows piled beneath her made her feel as if she was drifting on a cloud. She felt nothing but peace and comfort. This seemed strange to her. But why? Thoughts and memories slowly met each other in her mind and she suddenly realized that getting here wasn't among them. She had been in her room at Angel's, waiting for the others. She was working on a spell to find the vessel, to retrieve the stolen soul. Then she heard shouting, and someone grabbed her, and blackness. She had been kidnapped.

With a start, she sat bolt upright and looked around. If she was a prisoner, this was a gilded cage if ever there was one. Willow knew there must have been places like this in a city like L.A. , but she could have never imagined. The trappings of the bedroom she gazed out at were such that a queen could not complain. Well placed lamps bathed the room in soft light that brought the pallet of cheerful, earthy colors out beautifully. If Willow had created a bedroom for herself by magick, it would not have been much different than this.

Across from the raised nook that the bed was tucked into, there was a small living area. A fireplace there crackled cheerfully with two high-backed chairs facing it. Between the chairs stood a small, round table, and at the center of that was something very familiar.

"Giles' soul," she breathed.

Before her body could be commanded to move, a hand emerged from the chair on the right and placed a wineglass filled with dark red liquid on the table. The sight of this froze her in place. There was no mistaking the owner of that long, strong hand. She had leaned on it far too often over the past six years to ever forget. And the onyx pinky ring was as recognizable to her as if she was looking into his soothing, green eyes.

"I do hope you've recovered with no ill effects," a gentle, accented, chillingly familiar voice drifted through the room.

"I… I," Willow could barely breathe, "I seem to be feeling fine."

"That is wonderful to hear." He stood and turned to face her, leaning casually on the back of the chair.

Willow's breath caught. She knew it was Giles, but this was not the vision she had expected. There was no suit, no baggy sweater, no glasses. All of the old armor he had once used to hide himself from her, from the world, was gone. The man that stood before her now obviously felt no need to hide from anyone. He wore a pair of black, button-fly jeans that hugged the curves of his powerful thighs superbly well. They fit nicely over the tops of his thick-soled, black boots. The kind that motorcycle rider's wear. Tucked into the waist was a blood-red, silk dress shirt. Its sleeves were rolled up to his elbows and the top three buttons were left undone, giving a wonderful peek of his broad, hair-sprinkled chest.

Suddenly, Willow was back in high school seeing the new librarian for the first time and feeling the butterflies of an innocent, school-girl crush tickle in her stomach. But there was nothing innocent about the heat that rushed through her now. She felt the blush settle on her cheeks and fought her hardest to push it down. Her mind screamed at her to remember that until she was able to put the soul back into the body in front of her, no one she loved would be safe. And, at that moment, she was least safe of all.

He strode forward a couple paces and stopped in the center of the room. His gaze was steady, and Willow found it impossible to break his eye-contact. After a few moments he spoke in a low, hypnotic tone. "Come to me, Willow ."

Before she knew how she'd gotten there, Willow was standing before him, so close she could breathe his scent. It was so familiar, though her mind knew it shouldn't be. He smelled of herbs, incense, and Giles' aftershave (but why would a vampire need aftershave?), and that unmistakable male musk that was Giles. But there was also something extra underneath, a hint of death. The scent flooded her with the calmness that always came from being near Giles, yet put her on edge as she fought for self-control.

"How did you do that?" she breathed when he finally broke eye-contact and began to slowly circle her. His only answer to the question was a chuckle, low, and sensual, and predatory. She had never heard a sound like that come from him before and it sent a shiver of fear and lust up her spine.

As he crossed behind her, he ran his hand lightly across her shoulders, brushing two fingers over the bare skin at the back of her neck. Willow gasped at the sensation. His hand felt warm. But vampires weren't supposed to be warm. No warm circulating blood, no warm skin. She knew this from experience. Spike's hands were always cold, and Angel's were cold and clammy most the time. Frankly, she didn't know how Buffy could stand it.

"How did you do that?" she asked again with more of a voice.

His lips were suddenly next to her ear. "How could I do any less for my goddess?" he whispered. His left hand stretched out before her, and his fingers cupped and lowered, leaving in the air a beautiful, fiery representation of a long-stemmed Calla Lily. The flame-flower danced before her for a few moments, then extinguished itself.

"Your magick," she whispered between labored breaths. "It was freed when you… died." The last word was barely audible as she still found it difficult to admit what had happened.

"You freed me, Willow . You gave me back who I am."

Willow screwed her eyes shut. "This isn't really you," she stated, more to herself than to the vampire.

His gentle caress of her chin brought her eyes back to his face, so familiar, so inviting. "How do you know?" he grinned. "How do you know this isn't more who I am than the neutered, old man that barely earned your notice?"

Willow suddenly felt very indignant as a wave of protectiveness swept through her. "You aren't… I mean, Giles isn't old. And he certainly isn't neutered. How dare you--"

"Willow," he chuckled. "I can tell how I'm affecting you right now. When was the last time you looked at this body and felt so much heat?" He stepped in closer, running a hand down her arm and caressing her fingers.

Willow trembled, knowing she should back away or stop this somehow. But she found it impossible to move. "I c-couldn't," she stammered, swallowing hard. "You… he was my teacher and my friend. Giles deserved beautiful women like Jenny and Olivia. He would never even notice a silly little girl. Besides," she mumbled, "he probably still hates me for the last time I tried to kill him."

Magister laughed and looked back at the urn. "You were an old fool." With a stroke of her cheek his dancing eyes captured her as he purred, "I hold every memory, every desire. You were noticed, Willow. Your beauty, your power, your fire. Feelings I've always held close to my heart, but was too much a coward to act on. I never showed how jealous I was of Oz or Tara. Even as we stayed with the coven, surround by available and willing women, I went to bed alone every night. All because I couldn't have the one I truly wanted. I couldn't have you. Let me pour out my passion on you now, Willow . Let me have you as my queen… forever."

Willow looked at him for a moment, then her eyes turned cold and angry. "If you're gonna try to seduce me, fine. If you're gonna murder me and make me like you, get on with it. But do it as what you are. Don't you dare try to use him against me. Don't you try to mess with my feelings for him or whatever he might have felt for me. 'Cause that's one sure-fire way to make me the enemy you don't want. Giles would never do the things I know you've done."

"I apologize, My Love," he bowed deeply with a smile. "You are right. I shouldn't pretend to be a man who could give you nothing when I am one who is offering you everything."

Willow closed her eyes and took a few long moments to get her emotions back under control. She knew this demon who had her friend's body could have killed her a hundred times over by now. He wanted something else from her. Perhaps finding out what that was might be the key to both her freedom and Giles'.

"Why me?" she ground out in a low voice as she opened her eyes.

"Pardon?" the vampire asked absently, his gaze now focused on her neck as if it was the most erotic sight he'd ever seen.

"Hey! I'm up here, Buddy!" Willow gestured to her eyes.

His emerald gaze jumped back up to hers. "Excuse me," he chuckled. "Your beauty is quite distracting."

"I want to know why me. Of all of us, you took me. And now you're telling me you want me to be your queen. I don't understand."

"Is it so hard to believe, my beautiful Willow ?" He brought her hand to his lips and kissed her palm. "Who do you suppose I should have chosen to be with me forever?"

Willow mumbled, "I always thought your favorite was Bu--"

His loud roar of laughter made her jump. "Buffy?" His mirth faded into a low, sensual voice that caressed her to the core of her being. "Buffy was the object of my calling, my reason for being in Sunnydale. But it wasn't until I was there that I found my reason to keep fighting. A reason for life itself." He breathed into her ear, "You, Willow."

A tear escaped and ran down her cheek. "It's not possible. I never knew."

"Hid it well, didn't he? He had so many reasons to mask himself from you. Always knew he wasn't worthy of your youth and fire. He knew he had nothing to offer you." He circled behind her again, caressing her shoulders with the lightest of touches. "But all that has changed now. I am the one who carries this love for you. I am the one who will give you everything he couldn't."

"You're a demon." Willow's whole body was trembling. "I'm not sure if you're even capable of love."

"Do you doubt that vampires have such a capacity? What of Angel or Spike?"

"You don't have a soul."

He knelt before her, his thumb running soft circles in the palm of the hand he held. "That is why I need you, My Dearest. For… For a woman is the very soul of man, the radiance that lights his way. A woman is… glory."

Willow looked down at him through narrowed eyes. "Don Quixote loved pure and chaste from afar."

"True. And we've seen how well that worked for him, and dear, old Rupert." He began to rise slowly, kissing his way up her arm. "Let me show you the depths of my desires. Let me worship you as the goddess you are. And when we are joined we will come together as thermite and ice. The world will reel from our power."

By the time he stood fully in front of her, tears were streaming down Willow's face, her body on fire, screaming for more of his touch. "Why are you doing this to me?" she whispered. "We both know you can just take me by force whenever you want to. Why do you feel the need to torture me like this?"

"No torture intended, Precious One. If I took you by force, all I would have is your body. I desire all of you for my own." He wiped tears from her cheek with his thumb, the same gentle gesture Giles had used to comfort her so many times. "I wish for you to burn for me as I do for you. You will call out for me in the night, consumed by passion and need. That is when I will come to you. That is when you will know how deeply my desire smolders for you." He brought her hand to the front of his jeans and pressed it to the hard, physical proof of the effect her presence has had on him.

Willow gasped and jump back, suddenly crying out, "Tara! I… I loved Tara . You know that. I'm gay."

The vampire smiled as he took a few steps back toward the door. "Yet another human issue that will have no place in your world once you join us."

Before Willow could contemplate the meaning of that, there was a ruckus at the door.

"We want to know what's going on," a high-pitched, female voice became clear.

He snapped his fingers and the doors flew open, allowing several figures to stumble inside.

"Sorry, Sir," a guard said. "We tried to tell them you didn't want to be disturbed." His master waved him off with a forgiving smile.

A thin, buxom blond bounded up to his right side and wrapped herself around his arm.

"Harmony?" Willow gasped.

"Hey, Rosenberg . How's it been goin'?" She nuzzled his shoulder. "Tasty isn't he? If I knew this was what you were hiding away in that library all those years, I might have pretended to like books, too."

As impossible as it seemed, Willow's jaw dropped even more when a brunette cuddled up to his left. "Drusilla?"

"It sparkles," she giggled. "The magick dances between you like tiny fireworks." The mad vampire began poking at the air like a child playing with bubbles. "She's ripe for you, My Lord. When you claim her the world will spin around us with happy smiles."

"Why's she crying?" Harmony whispered.

"She is a bit overwhelmed," Magister smiled gently, having never taken his eyes from Willow . "In time she will calm and accept my love."

"You denied our master his desires?" Harmony squeaked.

Drusilla held her head and moaned as if something was hurting her. "She mocks us. You must have her. Let us give her to you."

The two female vampires took a step toward her but, before Willow could even scream, Magister's back was inches in front of her as he let loose a hair-raising, animalistic roar. "Nobody touches her! She is mine and mine alone."

The two females cowered and made soft cooing sounds to appease him. By the time he returned to them and turned back toward Willow , all traces of the demon had left his features.

"Patience, Ladies," a tall, dark-skinned, handsome youth entered and stood at Magister's back. "Let him have his fun with his little mouse. In the meantime, look what she's done to our man for us." Willow's eyes went wide as a strong, male hand slid around her would-be lover's hip and securely cupped his erect manhood.

"The sun's rising," Harmony purred. "Come to bed, Master."

Willow stepped back from the bizarre scene in front of her. His piercing green gaze captured her once more. "Tell me to send them all away, Willow my love. Say that you want me and there will be room in my bed only for you. Ask me to stay with you now."

Willow backed up again, shaking her head furiously. She tripped on the step to the sleeping nook and fell against the foot of the bed. "I can't," she whimpered, crying fat, hot tears. "I-I can't."

The group of vampires turned to leave her. Before the doors closed, the last thing she heard was Magister giving an order to the two large guards outside. "If anyone touches her, they die then you die."

Willow gathered herself up and ran into the bathroom. She stood there, staring at here own pale, distraught face in the mirror. With a couple of splashes of cold water she focused on calming her breathing. Her sobs threatened to return when it occurred to her that she was using techniques Giles had taught her.

"It's not him," she pleaded with her own reflection. "Remember it's not him. It's only his body, not Giles' soul. Not the real Giles." Willow's eyes suddenly lit up. "The Soul!"




"Look at how tense she made you," the powerful, young man rubbed his master's shoulders as they entered the grand suite he had claimed for his own.

"I bet I can take some of the tension away," Harmony purred, rubbing against his broad chest.

In a sudden flash of anger, Magister lifted her off the floor and pinned her hard against the wall. "What makes you think you would be acceptable, even as a poor substitute?" he growled. "Do you expect to please me when she is within my reach?"

Harmony giggled expectantly at his dangerous tone.

"Shh," the young man whispered in his ear as strong hands snaked around to undo the buttons of his fly. "Your witch queen is not ready for you yet, My Lord. Let us take the rage and disappointment from you now. We know you don't want her to ever see it."

Magister leaned back against the solid, muscled chest and released his grip on Harmony as his painfully hard erection sprang free. With a wicked grin on her lips, the blond vampire sank to her knees and took him completely into her cool, wet mouth. From her position on his bed, Drusilla laughed and began to make pony noises.




Willow ran across the room to the table where the urn sat. Licking her suddenly dry lips, she reached a trembling hand out toward it. She jumped and recoiled when a small shock surprised her and the air crackled around the urn.

"I should have known he'd have wards up," she whispered to herself.

As the crackle in the air faded, a rolled, scroll-like piece of paper appeared at the edge of the table in front of her. Turning one of the large chairs to face the urn, she carefully untied the ribbon and opened it as she sat. It was a letter written in a beautiful, flowing hand.


My Dearest Willow ,


By now it should be abundantly clear that my heart cries out for you. Yet, if you are reading this, you have turned from me to run to him. I will not despair at this, My Love, for I understand my declaration might be a shock to you at first. My feelings for you are as immortal as I am. I will wait and keep demonstrating my passion for you until I have you in my arms for all time.


However, if your desire is to deny me and cling to this prisoner who has never offered you what you deserve, I propose a game. The wards I have set are layered and diverse. They should prove an interesting diversion for one of your talents. So the game is simple. If you find the power to defeat my magick, your prize will be my very soul. If my magick proves to be the stronger, your prize will be all that I am, for you are the only soul I shall ever need.


As a hint, the first ward you've just encountered defends against the physical. If I were you, I would not test it too much, because it grows stronger as it's disturbed. It would pain me greatly to see you hurt, Little One.


With all that I am,



Tears dripped from Willow's chin as she looked up at the golden glow that was Giles' soul. "Why didn't you ever tell me," she asked in a hoarse whisper. "And don't you try to deny it, because I know enough about vampires to know that he wouldn't be so fixated on me if you never had any of these feelings for me in the first place." Anger was building in her and she began to yell at the faceless urn. "I mean, goddess, here I am all my life trying to find people who will love me and make me happy. And don't get me wrong, I know I was really lucky with Oz and Tara. But now, after all the time we've spent alone and talking, I find out that 'Mr. Untouchable' himself, the one I could never have but was always looking for a substitute for, felt something for me, too.

"I can just see your face now… looking down with that shy little smile waiting for me to finish yelling at you so you can tell me all the excellent and logical reasons for never letting me know. Gah… you're just lucky that you don't have a body right now because I so want to slap you. Do you understand me!?"

Willow gasped as the soul gave a bright pulse of light.

"Wait! Are you aware in there? Can you hear me?"

Another pulse of light.

"Okay… I've gotta be logical about this. It could just be a coincidence. How can I make sure? Right, how about this? One flash for yes and two for no."

Another pulse.

"All right, something with a no answer." Willow smiled to herself. "Is your name Wesley Wyndam-Pryce?"

A single pulse.

"No! Two flashes… two for no. Are you a fighter pilot?"


"Did you save Dawn?"

Still nothing.

Willow's voice began to tremble. "Please, Giles. Please come back to me. I wouldn't be so scared if I knew you were here with me."

She jumped out of her chair at the sound of a soft knock on the door. It opened and a small woman with dark hair and eyes came in carrying a large tray. "Hello. I hope I'm not disturbing you, My Lady."

"I know you." Willow tried to shake her head clear. "You were the one Faith brought. You're his sire."

"That's right. I guess I should thank you all. It is a great honor to be the master's sire." Willow watched as she set the tray on a larger table at the other side of the room. "He found me wandering the streets a few nights later and took me into his care. Before my death, I didn't even know vampires were real. Amazing really, all his power and he chooses to look after all of us."

"Sure sounds like Giles," Willow muttered. "Aren't you jealous? You're his sire, but you weren't invited to his little orgy," she spat.

The vampire chuckled. "I'll never be jealous of the harpies and neither should you."


"That's what I call them. They think they can win his favor by pleasuring his body." She took the lid off the tray and walked toward Willow . "They'll never admit this," her voice dropped to a conspiratory whisper, "but even when they do manage to bring him pleasure, it's always your name he whispers." Willow let a sad smile cross her lips. "The honor he's given me is one none of them will ever get. He trusts me to look after our future queen, his must precious treasure."

"B-But I don't…"

"He understands." The young-looking woman took Willow's hand. "Now let me show you around." She opened the closet door. It was full of beautiful sun dresses. "In here you will find fresh clothing. The master has chosen everything himself to complement your loveliness." She next led Willow back into the bathroom. "You should find everything you'll ever need in here. I think I still remember what a living woman requires," she chuckled. Willows wide eyes focused on the large Jacuzzi-style bathtub that she now noticed was filled with Calla Lilies. "And out here is your breakfast. You must be starving."

"Thank you," Willow whispered, a bit dumbfounded.

"If you open those doors," she pointed to a set of dark curtains, "you will find your balcony. I would set your breakfast up out there, but the sun has already risen, you understand. The chef is one of the finest around and he has been well informed of all your favorites."

Willow muttered, "You mean your master killed him to make him cook for me."

"No, no… Chef is very much alive. Death changes your cravings, and the Teacher didn't want to compromise his pallet."

A weak chuckle escaped Willow at the absurdity of the situation. "What's that," she pointed at an ornate armoire, "more clothes?"

Her hostess opened the doors to show that it was filled with all kinds of magic books. "He thought you might be needing these. The raiding parties have spent many nights trying to find the rarer volumes."

Willow ran her fingers over the worn spines, pulling away quickly when she came to one stained with blood. "What's your name," she finally asked.

"When I was alive they called me Karen. I wouldn't mind if you called me that, too."

"Thank you for taking care of me, Karen."

"It is my pleasure, My Queen. Now, it's getting late and I need to rest. The guards outside are the most loyal the master has. They'll make sure no harm comes to you. And if you need anything, just tell them and they'll get me. I'll leave you to your meal now."

Willow watched Karen go and went to the table. Beside the breakfast that was releasing the most wonderful odors, she noticed a gift box. A note on top was scrolled in the same hand as the letter.

A gift to make you feel more at home, My Goddess!

She opened the box and inside found a cross and a stake. Shaking her head, she went and pulled open the doors to the outside. Sunlight streamed in from a huge rooftop terrace garden. Beyond the edge of the building she could see out over what seemed like the whole city waking up to the new day. She turned and gazed at the urn.

"I gotta hand it to you, Old Man. When you put your mind to it, you really know how to sweep a girl off her feet."

In the brightness flooded room, the soul gave a weak pulse.


7. Enter Chaos

"Right," Faith pointed to the map laid out on the counter. "I tracked them to right around here, but then it seemed like they all split up and just vanished."

Buffy growled. "He's officially starting to piss me off. I understand the attack; he's playing with us, letting us know how easily he'll be able to take us all out whenever he wants. But why kidnap Willow ?"

"Well," Wesley polished his glasses, "perhaps he recognized Willow as a threat to him and decided she needed to be… eliminated." As soon as the words left his lips the crestfallen faces around him made him regret speaking his thought.

"People, that's so not why he took her," Faith disagreed. She sighed at the questioning stares. "Hasn't anyone else noticed that this demon version of Big G has a little more oomph than our old tweed man? Just trust me, killing Willow isn't the first thing on his mind."

Xander groaned, trying to scratch a persistent itch beneath the cast that now covered his left arm. "Is it just me, or is she trying to put an image in my mind that I'll have to get out with an ice cream scoop?"

"I agree with Faith," Angel finally spoke up. "This demon still has all of Giles' desires and he's not afraid to act on them. Just think about everything they had in common. The brains, the magick, the troubles… Think of all the time they've spent alone together. Don't get me wrong, Giles was a gentleman if ever there was one, but he'd have to be devoid of his faculties not to notice a beautiful girl right under his nose."

"You mean he's gonna ra…" Buffy couldn't finish the question.

"No, I don't see him as the type," Angel assured them. "He'll try to seduce her. He'll want her to want to be his forever."

"That's a relief," Xander sighed. "How good can G-man be at seduction?"

"It may buy us time, but we have to get her away from him as soon as possible." Buffy had a serious, thoughtful expression. "We've had run-ins with vamp Willow and evil, black magick Willow , and I don't think I ever want to find out what happens when you mix the two."

"I'm going… Don't they teach you army boys any manners?"

Buffy swung around as the familiar, gut-turning voice demanded her attention at the front doors. The tall Englishman with a thin, deceptively compact frame was being ushered in between two soldiers dressed in civvies, but obliviously ready for anything. Their prisoner was shackled at the wrists and ankles with a chain binding all his limbs together, effectively hobbling him.

"Buffy Summers?" the shorter soldier called out. Buffy nodded as she approached, doing her best to hide her limp. "We were ordered to release this prisoner into your custody. Don't know what you want him for, Miss, but I'll warn you he's a really pain in the--"

"I'm well aware of that," Buffy nodded politely to the soldiers without taking her eyes off her new prisoner. "Please give Commander Finn my thanks." She glanced the chained man up and down. "Hello, Ethan."

"It is an unspeakable pleasure to see you again, My Dear," Ethan bowed as best he could.

Wesley came up beside Buffy and placed a simple, braided silver bracelet in her hand. The Slayer's expression remained stern. "Why don't you give the nice officers their pretty jewelry back now, Ethan?"

The chaos sorcerer nodded with a wicked grin and held a free arm out to the soldier beside him, the unfastened shackles dangling from his hand. The soldier's eyes went wide. Buffy tossed the bracelet to Ethan.

"Put it on," Wesley ordered. "It will bind your magicks until such time as we see fit to let you use them."

"Of course," Ethan complied. "Anything for the beautiful Slayer."

"Thank you for bringing him. We'll keep him under control. You can go back to your base now."

"Yes ma'am," the soldiers said in unison as they hurried out the doors.

"I'll have to admit," Ethan grinned as he began to stroll around, looking over the lobby, "when I learned I was headed for Los Angeles , I never dreamed I would end up in such desirable company. Decided to abandon that little dump of a Hellmouth then? Can't say I blame you. Wasn't a very classy place. But this is nice." Buffy stood quietly as he scanned the room, letting him listen to the sound of his own voice. "I must say that my curiosity is running wild trying to think of the kind of problem you'd risk my help for. I'm surprised the old man even let you consider playing with me again. Though I haven't quite forgiven him for leaving me to rot in that Initiative hell-hole. Where is dear Ripper anyway?"

"He's why you're here," Xander interjected, seeing the anger welling up in Buffy.

Dawn approached the dark sorcerer fearlessly. "We need you to tell us about his past. About what kind of magick he has."

Ethan looked down at the young lady standing just inches from him. "Such courage and beauty in a delicate package. And what passion stirred for Ripper." He reached out to brush a stray hair behind her ear. "He does tend to inspire it, doesn't he?"

"Could you please not touch her," Buffy growled.

"A please from the Slayer," Ethan cocked an eyebrow. "How can I refuse such a request?"

"Just stop, and start helping us out before I lose my temper."

"As you wish," the sorcerer chuckled. "But why go through all the trouble of freeing me? I'm sure your little witch friend has felt the power he holds inside. Even if it's trapped, it's still there."

"Willow's not here," Xander shook his head sadly. "He took her."

"I have a feeling I'm not getting a complete story here."

Buffy shot Xander a disapproving glance. "You'll know what I think you need to know," she snarled. "Tell use how his magick is trapped."

"He never told you, did he? Of course not. Ever the bloody martyr. Always has to bear his burdens alone."

Wesley stepped forward and straightened his glasses. "There were rumors at the Council--"

"Your bloody Council… He let them do it to him. My beautiful boy knelt before those narrow-minded, short-sighted fools and took their punishment. He let them put the collar around his neck. Then he willing handed his leash to a self-centered, little brat."

Wesley placed a hand on Buffy's shoulder but, to his surprise, it wasn't anger that clouded her face at the condemning remark, only sorrow. "Then there was a curse?"

"Oh, you can call it that. See the Council figured that it would be to their disadvantage to just strip him of his magick, or even bind it so he couldn't use it."

Buffy shook her head. "But he used magick to help me all the time."

"I'm sure he did," Ethan's dark eyes sparkled with more anger than any of them had ever seen in him before. "But did he ever stick around for long afterwards? I'm guessing not. He had to go and be alone to recover. The Council let him keep his magick all right… They made it so every time he used it was a new punishment. Every spell came with physical agony. Every time he saved you, it must have been like ripping his own guts out."

"I didn't know," Buffy breathed.

"You should have seen the power he could once wield." She thought she could see tears forming his eyes. "He brimmed with life and possibilities. That's what drew me to him in the first place. The things we could discover together. But to fall in love with that exquisite face… How could I not?"

Xander's jaw dropped. "Are you telling me that you and Giles were…?"

"What I would have given for just one taste." The chaos mage winked at the boy. "But alas, my patience was little match for that strict upbringing he clung to even in his rebellion. Even so, hope springs eternal."

Dawn chuckled, "You still love him."

"Out of the mouths of babes," Ethan grinned. "Unfortunately, my small cries for attention didn't go over too well."

"You turned him into a demon," Buffy huffed, folding her arms across her chest. The accusing glare she received from Dawn had more of a sting than she could have ever expected. Ethan just shrugged.

"Well," Wesley removed his glasses to give them a polish. "I think it's safe to say that we may well be out-matched on the magicks front. And if he turns Willow …"

Buffy cringed at the slip. "What?" Ethan let panic creep into his voice. "How could he turn Willow ? Tell me what happened to my Ripper."

Dawn stepped forward and touched his arm, suddenly feeling a strange connection with the dangerous man. "We got caught in a fight," she began quietly. "The demons were too strong and there were too many. Giles was defending me… He was wounded."

As Dawn's voice cracked, Xander continued. "It was mortal. There was nothing we could do to save his life. So…"

"I made the decision," Buffy said softly. "I couldn't… The self-centered, little brat wasn't ready to let him go yet."

"So you had him turned," Ethan sat down and ran his hands over his face and through his hair. "You made Rupert a vampire."

Simply hearing Ethan use his old friend's given name was enough to pull tears from Buffy's eyes. "We captured his soul," she tried to explain. "As soon as we find him and Willow , we can get Giles back."

Ethan's suddenly small voice came for between his hands. "I'll help you find him."

"Thank you," Buffy sighed.

"Then I'll destroy him."

"What?" She breathed. "Why? We'll give him back his soul."

Ethan looked up at her with regretful eyes. "I know, Luv. And I know how you feel. But when I make a blood oath to a man I love, nothing will stop me from carrying in out."

Xander nodded, "Giles made you swear to dust him if he was ever turned."

"Why?" Buffy blinked.

"It was after the Blood Pack," Ethan began. He cut himself off at the sight of Dawn. "This really isn't a story for innocent ears, My Dear."

Dawn sat resolutely next to him. "If it happened to Giles, I want to know."

Ethan smiled at her. "Nice to know my Ripper did have love of some kind." He then looked straight ahead with unfocused eyes, as if staring into the past. "It was several months after we first met in London . We were still so young and foolhardy. Still trying to figure out who we were and what we could do…"

"Go home and sleep it off," the bartender growled as he forced two young troublemakers out the door.

"We were just leaving anyway," Ripper laughed. "There has to be someplace with a little more life around here."

Ethan flung an arm around his friend's shoulders in an attempt to stop the street from swaying. "The whole town is dead by this time, Ripper. Let's just go home and I'll give you a party if you want it."

"Don't you start with that again, you flamin' fuck. I told you… I told you before… Hey, which way is home anyway?"

"I think we can cut through here," Ethan chuckled, pointing in the vicinity of an alleyway with a roving hand.

"Hell if I'll follow you. Your sense of direction is worse than mine."

"Right then… Which way, Mate?"

"We'll go that way," Ripper announced, moving toward the same alley.

"Bloody hell," Ethan giggled as they clung to each other to stay upright.

"We were about half way though the alley when they appeared on all sides. Back in those days we called them Blood Packs. Gangs of vampires that roamed the city in search of victims. Most people didn't know about them because very few survived an encounter. But, even drunk out of his head, Ripper knew what they were instantly. And this pack was large, eight of them."

"Look what we have here," the male leader grinned. "A couple of pretty, little boys out in search of a good time?"

"Too bad we just gorged ourselves with that tour bus," a little one chuckle. "They look yummy."

"We can still play, can't we?" a female purred. "Would be a shame to waste such lovely flesh."

Ripper instinctively took up a protective stance in front of Ethan. "Whatever happens," he whispered. "If you get the chance, run. Don't wait for me."

"There're too many of them. We're fucked."

The little one snickered, "Not yet."

Ripper pulled out the stake he always kept in the back waistband of his jeans and rushed forward. He moved with a fury that caught the vampires off guard. Before they reacted, the largest among them disintegrated into dust. A second later, the gang fell on him with brutal force.

"At the time, Ripper hadn't yet finished his training with the Council, but he could always fight like a bloody champion. Sadly, this wasn't a normal brawl. No normal human could ever fight off seven vampires. I'll tell you he didn't go down easy though. Back then, I was on the receiving end of ol' Ripper's temper more often than not, but seeing him in a fight was always a thing of beauty. And one thing I always respected, the man could take as good as he could give."

Ethan had done his best, but was soon dropped to his knees and pinned by two of the vampires. Ripper fought on even after he was stripped of his weapon. It took the five remaining foes piled onto his back to hold him to the ground, and still he bucked and squirmed.

"This one's got spirit," the female chuckled. "I bet his blood runs hot and spicy."

"You'll get your turn to taste, My Pet. Just like all of us," the leader purred to her.

"Ripper!" Ethan screamed. "Talk to me. Help us! Anybody!"

"Shut him up!" the female hissed.

One of Ethan's captors whispered in his ear. "You heard her. Quiet, or I'll eat your tongue."

"Besides," the female grinned, "I want to hear this one scream."

"Not bloody likely," came a muffled mutter from beneath the pile.

The leader growled, "Put him on his knees."

It still took three vampires to hold him steady as they picked him up to his knees. In an instant the female had the front of the shirt in shreds, her cold hands running along his exposed chest. She inhaled deeply along his collarbone and neck.

"He smells of fear and hatred. It's intoxicating."

Ethan saw Ripper wince as her talon-like nails raked down his chest, causing blood to seep from the wounds. She purred as she licked along the fresh cuts.

"And he tastes of innocence… and darkness. A rare vintage indeed."

Ripper's muscles tensed and worked, straining against his captors. The leader laughed from behind him as his jeans were torn from his body. They pushed him forward, forcing him onto his hands and knees. He looked up, sweat beading on his brow, and set a determined mask on his face.

"As I look back on it, I can see that they probably took him first because he was the bigger threat. But at the time I was certain that they knew… They knew that nothing they could ever do to me would be more torture than being forced to watch them violate my beautiful boy. The look in his eyes was like nothing I have ever seen before or since. The pain, and helplessness, and rage, and hate… Like he could set the world ablaze with that stare."

A wave of nausea threatened to overtake Ethan as he watched his friend's jaw clench with pain. He struggled again, wanting desperately to help, to stop the horror unfolding before him, but the two vampires held him fast, forcing him to watch.

"No… He's not ready," Ethan sobbed. "You're hurting him…"

The leader howled with joy as he forced himself into his victim. "Feels like we caught ourselves a virgin here, Boys. Yeah… this is gonna be better than we thought."

"Poor, lovely boy," the female murmured as she licked blood from a cut above Ripper's right eye, running from his eyebrow up to his hairline. "Why don't you give me a scream and I'll see if I can get my big fellas to go a little easier on you."

Tears ran down Ethan's face as Ripper's gaze never left his. "For God's sake, Ripper," his voice rasped, "Give her what she wants."

All he could do was watch his friend silently take everything the vicious gang of demons could do to him. Never screaming out, as he had promised. They inflicted new wounds on him to taste his blood. They took turns using him for their perverse pleasure, each riding him to their unholy climax. Finally, when he had lost enough blood and was physically exhausted, they let him collapse into a heap on the cold, wet asphalt. Then they turned their attentions on Ethan.

"When I woke up we were lying next to each other in a hospital. Apparently, someone had found us in the alley, both near death. We spent days in that hospital recovering. That was when I think his true hatred of vampires began. He only spoke of what happened once. It was one night in the hospital. He came to my bed and we made the blood oath. We swore to each other that if one ever became the monster that had so mercilessly accosted us, the other would make sure he wouldn't live like that for long. After that he threw himself into study…"

Ethan's footfalls echoed in the empty streets as he rushed to catch up to his friend. Meanwhile, Ripper casually strolled into the same dark alley by the old pub.

"Look what we have here, Boys. Dinner."

"Wait," the same female shouted. "He smells familiar."

"You're right," the leader laughed. "Have you come back for a bit more fun? I'll have to admit, we don't often find one with your endurance."

Ripper grinned. "I did come back to find you. And I would like to have some fun, if you're up to it."

As Ethan rounded the corner into the alley, he was blinded by a blazing column of fire. He slowly blinked his vision back until he could make out a dark figure coming toward him. Ripper walked past his friend and headed for the pub.

"Fancy a pint, Ethan?"

"My God, Giles," Xander breathed.

All Dawn could do was cry as she ran a comforting hand over Ethan's back, unable to reach the man she really wanted to give the comfort to.

"I had no idea," Buffy sighed.

"It was the past and we both survived," Ethan shrugged. "But now you see why I'll do my best to fulfill my oath."

"I understand. But don't be surprised if I do my best to stop you." Buffy smiled.

Ethan's eyes twinkled. "I would expect nothing less. And I do hope you succeed."


8. Conversations

Pulling on a pair of jeans, Magister glanced over at the heap of flesh sleeping contentedly on his bed. The three entangled bodies, all happy, all sated, and he… he was hungry. He threw a shirt around his shoulders and stepped out into the corridor.

With a glance down the hallway, he received a nod from the guards. Silent assurance that all was well with Willow . Beautiful Willow . He could smell her even from there. He could envision her curled up in a chair, surrounded by books, studying diligently to meet his challenge. He could see her sweet smile as she whispers something to… him. Why do they all cling to him? He was nothing now, could do nothing for them, was not even worth being around to be ignored anymore. It was maddening.

Magister felt the anger building in him again. Before he knew it, he had taken a step toward her door. His craving for her like nothing he had ever known. Halting himself, he took a deep breath out of habit. This was not the time, not the way. Besides, he was hungry.

Turning around, he headed for the stairs. He knew the elevators would take him down the seven floors faster, but he had to keep moving. The agitation that had built up in him was driving him crazy. At least the building was quiet at this time of day and he could move around without being bothered. He could walk the halls without having to be what everyone expected of him.

"Is something wrong? You look upset."

Magister sighed. "What are you doing lurking in the stairwell in the middle of the afternoon, Justin? You should be sleeping like the others."

"As should you," the young man grinned. He came along side his master and they continued to descend together. "I sometimes run the stairs when it's quiet like this. It helps me order my thoughts. I used to run outside, but that would be bad for my health these days." The joke earned a chuckle and he smiled.

"So, what thoughts are troubling you that have pulled you from your bed today?"

"I feel the need to apologize. The mistake that was made during last night's mission was inexcusable."

"A learning experience," the Teacher smiled. "Don't tell the others, but we are none of us perfect."

Justin laughed, "I promise not to give your secret away."

They let another floor pass in silence before Magister sighed again. "So, are you going to tell me what's really on your mind?" His protégé frowned. "I chose you because I know you. You are not like the others. You know better than to let a tiny mishap be something to dwell on."

"I should also know better than to think I can hide my worries from you."

"You don't understand," his master prompted.

"I don't. I mean, our numbers grow every day. Your own power gives us strength beyond imagining. We could take this city before anyone would know it."

"So, why do I spend my time focused on a small group that has no hope of stopping us?"

Justin brushed his fingers through his hair. "I don't mean to question. I understand the need to retrieve the soul before it could be used against you, and I understand taking the witch. But you had both Slayers in your grasp last night and you let them live."

"Never fear questioning me, Justin. There may come a time when my private vengeances may compromise us and I'll need you to advise me accordingly. But, for now, trust me when I say the Slayers and their people are of no threat to us, and will be more useful alive."

"I do. And I intend to figure out your thinking before you have to spell it out to me. Just give me a little more time."

Magister smiled at his enthusiasm. "I'm sure you'll have it in no time."

"Now, would you like to tell me why you're roaming the halls when you need your rest?"

"I'm hungry," was the only answer Magister would growl.

Justin nodded, though he knew there was more. "I believe we have some leftovers in the lounge."




Ethan sat in the lotus position and finished his chant before opening his eyes to blow the fine sand over the map set inside the sacred circle. He, Wesley, and the two Slayers watched as the sands spread and began to glow in one specific spot. Then another speck began to glow, then another, and another…

Wesley whipped his glasses off and looked up at the Slayers. "I'm…Ah… He did the spell perfectly to my knowledge. There should only be one indicator."

Ethan began to chuckle, "That's my clever boy." He glanced up to see Buffy's eyes on him with the distinct look that she wanted to hit something. "I did do it correctly," he huffed. "Ripper was sure to know that you would try to find him magically at some point. It looks like he put a Refractor ward on the vessel. It creates reflections of his soul throughout the area." He hid another smile as the Slayer groaned. "One good thing we can derive from this. We can tell the soul is still intact somewhere."

"Perhaps," Wesley bent, marking all the possibilities on the map before the magick faded, "we can find a way to break through this spell. At least eliminate enough of these false readings to give us a chance to search what remains."

"It is possible. But I will have to spend more time in meditation. I'll need to search out with my own power and try to discern the precise spell he's using."

"Fine," Buffy sighed. "In the meantime, we'll start scouting these places for any trace of him."

Ethan stood and stretched his long body. "Then we have a plan. Now, if I'm not needed, could someone please show me to my quarters? This prison issue garb truly does nothing for my complexion. And you cannot imagine how much I've been looking forward to taking a shower without someone with a tail staring at me."

"Man, believe me when I tell you I know exactly where your coming from," Faith laughed. "I'll show him his room. And I'll make a run to get some new threads." She cocked her head, staring at the man. "I think I can put together a style that'll look good on this guy."

The sorcerer grinned, "I put myself completely in your hands, My Dear."

"Ethan," Buffy groaned in disgust as he began to follow the dark Slayer, "put it back on."

"I must have forgotten." His midnight eyes sparkled with mischief. "However, I am a bit concerned. What if Ripper finds out you've called on me? If he comes after me as he did your little witch friend, how am I to defend myself?"

"I guess you'll just have to trust us to take care of you. You have a lot to make up for before you can expect me to give you any consideration."

"Then my life is in your lovely hands and I resign myself to it," he sighed, letting the bracelet wrap again around his wrist. With a parting wink, he followed Faith out of Willow's room.

"Buffy," Wesley stood and came up behind her. "I don't know if you're aware of my complete…um… history with Faith, but I want you to know I'm trying to be logical as I say this. She worries me, and I don't know how much we should trust her to go out alone anymore. Especially, after what Gi… Magister said to her."

"We all have history with Faith, Wes. He's playing on our weaknesses, trying to divide us more than we already are. It seems like Faith is trying to make good right now. With everything else we have to worry about, I say we let her try."

"You're probably right. I'll be ready to baby sit our magician friend when he's rested enough to start his meditations. In the mean time, I thought I might hit the books and see if there's anything in prophecy that could be of use to us."




The doors to the lounge swung open and humans scampered, trying to hide behind anything they could find. It was a large room with tasteful décor. A huge fireplace was set into one wall and the outside wall was lined with windows that stretched from ceiling to floor, all now boarded and painted to keep out the sun. Even so, the lighting made the space bright and homey, and there were plush chairs and sofas to accommodate all. Just off the room were two restroom facilities, making it a comfortable prison, as prisons go.

"Have they been tended to?" Magister asked the guard as he entered.

"Yes, Sir. Food was sent from the kitchen a short time ago."

"Very good," he mumbled, scanning the prey.

Justin looked absently over the choices. "With everything on your mind, it amazes me that you pay so much attention to these lowly creatures. It would be easier to just chain them in the basement."

"We mustn't be uncivilized. Even the beasts of the field are tended to before they are led to slaughter. Remember, Justin, a world for our kind still requires plenty of humans. What is a hunter without his prey?"

They watched as a small girl of no more than seven skipped up to them from the back of the room. Her strawberry blond curls fell to the middle of her back, and she looked up at them with eyes the color of a pale sea on a clear day.

"They won't play with me," she pouted to the two tall vampires. "Will you play with me?"

Magister squatted to meet her at eye level and tenderly ran his fingers through her full hair. "You are lovely, Tiny One. You shouldn't let sadness darken that pretty face."

"Why won't they play with me?"

"Because they are afraid of us. They can't help it," he answered tenderly.

A puzzled look crossed her face. "Should I be afraid of you? Why are they so scared?"

"It is their nature. They are aware of their mortally. Their instincts are telling them to flee from the perceived predator."

"But I only want to play," the girl swayed and flashed him a sweet smile.

"I know, My Child," he smiled back. "Tell you what… Which one would you like to play with?"

The girl turned around and scanned the room. She finally pointed to a thin, sandy-haired man ducking behind an overstuffed chair. Before he could blink, Magister was lifting him out of hiding by his throat.

"Please, please not me," he begged, clawing at the vampire's forearm. "I don't want to…" His eyes shifted to the girl standing beside his captor. "Please, Robyn, tell him to let me go."

Magister smiled down at the girl. "Robyn. That's a beautiful name. It suits you. This one seems to know you."

"Yes," she cocked her head at the man now pinned against the wall in the vampire's powerful grip. "I think I once called him Daddy."

"In that case, I shall let you determine his fate. We could let him go as he asks. Or, if you like, we can make him like us and you can have him with you always."

The child took on a thoughtful expression for a long while. "He would be of no real use to you, Master. He is nothing but food."

The prisoner cried out his horror as Magister stroked the girl's head affectionately. "Very well, would you like to share him with me?"

Two demon faces looked back at the miserable man. He shook with fear and he lost all control over his body's functions. "I can smell his feelings. It smells so good my tummy hurts."

"Can you hear his heart drum? Can you sense the blood flowing through the arteries beneath his skin?"

"Yes, I can hear it rushing by."

"Where do you think you should bite him?" Magister continued to instruct.

"I want to bite him here," Robyn growled as she tore the trouser fabric from his thigh and sank her fangs into his femoral artery.

Magister leaned in as his prey choked on screams of pain. "Don't worry," the vampire whispered into his ear, "she's no longer your daughter." He turned his head and joined the girl in the feast.

As they left the body, hand in hand, the girl suddenly queried, "I don't understand…"

"What, My Lovely?"

"Why was I made like you? What use am I?"

Magister smiled down at her. "I would guess you were a mistake of over exuberance by one of my young students. But one I'm glad was made. You bring me joy." His smile grew to a grin as she jumped up to hug him.




Ethan walked out of the bathroom with a towel draped around his waist and using another to rub his hair dry. At the sight of Dawn leaning against the wall just inside his door, he hid a grin behind the movement of the towel.

"My Dear, as much as I would savor your company, I don't think your sister finding you in here with me, alone, is very conducive to my continuing health."

"Don't worry, she won't come looking for me," Dawn stated in a sure voice. "She's too busy worrying about other things."

Ethan threw the towel he'd been using on his hair back through the open bathroom door and faced the girl with his hands on his hips. "I'm sure you are one of the foremost things on the Slayer's mind. However, suddenly finding yourself to be one of Ripper's enemies can be a disconcerting experience. Believe me, I know." He watched as a mixture of determination and sadness, along with a few other indiscernible emotions played across her face. "You were against this, weren't you?" Ethan whispered.

Dawn stood up straight, refocusing herself. "Faith left some new clothes on the bed for you. She says they should fit you like the old snake skin you're used too. Whatever that means."

"Lovely girl," Ethan chuckled, rounding the double bed to sit with his back to the teenager. He could feel her eyes scanning his bared torso as he moved. Knowing what it was catching her attention, he commented in his easy manner, "Just a few memories. You don't get to be a couple ol' dogs like me and Rupert without collecting a fair share of war wounds."

"Did they do that to you?"

"Who, the army boys?" He answered without looking up from his perusal of the new wardrobe. "A few. But most come from a lifetime of self-abuse. Some of my favorites even come from dear old…" With a glance at the girl's sad expression, Ethan took on a tone that allowed a little more care to slip through. "It looks like you lot are a bit worse for wear these days yourselves. The boy's arm, the Slayer's leg, and you…" Dawn unconsciously cradled the hand bearing two splinted fingers to her body. "It was him, wasn't it?"

Dawn swallowed, determined not to let the strange sorcerer see the emotions memories of that night still stirred. She nodded, "The doctor said they weren't broken. He only dislocated them. It was like he wanted to cause the most possible pain, but no permanent damage. I don't understand. It's not Giles, so why would he still care?"

"Ah, the great conundrum that is the dark side of Ripper." Dawn quickly looked away as Ethan stood to pull a pair of jeans on, immodestly leaving the towel behind. The older man chuckled, glancing back and catching the blush on her cheeks. "How old are you anyway, Luv?"

"I didn't come here to talk about any of this," Dawn grumbled, frustrated by her own childish behavior. "I came because I want to hear more about Giles. About the past."

Ethan buttoned his shirt as he slowly approached her. "I would think from my last tale that you would have figured the events of our past don't exactly make good bedtime stories."

"That's why I need to hear more. There must have been some good things. Otherwise, why would any of you have stayed together?"

"Yes, there are some memories that I will cherish until my last day in this world. Some that I'll bet even Ripper can look back on and smile." Ethan sat on the bed facing her with a sigh. "What would you like to know?"

Dawn thought a moment. "How about telling me why you call him Ripper?"

He let a loud laugh shake through him. The sorcerer eyed her coyly. "Would you believe me if I said we just called him that because we thought it sounded better than Rupert?"

Dawn shook her head. "Nope. Ripper is the kind of name you earn. Especially if it stays with you."

Ethan laughed again and rubbed a hand through his damp hair. "He'll kill me for telling you that story."

"Well…" Dawn plopped down on the bed beside him. "At this point he's probably gonna kill us all anyway. I'd like to know. Please tell me."

"Memories of the real man to stave off the monster?" He looked down at her knowingly and Dawn let a small smile cross her lips. "Very well, but this is his story and not to be shared." Her smile grew into a grin.




Xander jumped and stifled a screech when the full plate and glass he'd been balancing in his good hand were suddenly taken from him. He took some deep breaths to steady his heartbeat and gave Angel an annoyed look.

The vampire smiled weakly. "I thought it looked like you could use a little help."

"You mean an extra hand for the cripple?" Xander sighed as Angel seemed to crumble at his cutting jest. "Thanks, man. It's just, sometimes I wish you would wear a freakin' bell." They walked into the office so he could sit at the desk to eat.

"How's Dawn?" Angel finally asked quietly.

"Good. She told me she was going up to try and take a nap. Sometimes I think she's holding up better that the rest of us." Xander took a swallow of his drink and looked up at Angel. "It's not your fault, you know."

"I should have been here to protect you guys."

"Honestly, I don't think it would've made a difference." Xander leaned back in the chair and turned it to fully face the vampire. "Angel, he brought a dozen friends with him and made it clear he didn't need their help. You couldn't have done anything."

Angel shook his head sadly. "Even if I couldn't have stopped all of it, he might have focused on me more and not…"

"Listen. I've never been the smart one, or the strong one, or even the very useful one. I'm just the guy who sees what's goin' on around him and tries to stay out of the way. And what I did see was how you reacted when we came back from the hospital. Yes, you were worried about my arm, but it was when you saw Dawn's hand that you found a lighter shade of pale."

Angel scrubbed a hand over his face and fidgeted like he didn't know what to do with himself.

"I was there, too," Xander continued. "I remember."

"But why her?" Angel finally groaned. "If he wanted revenge, why not take it out on the monster who did those things to him in the first place?"

"It's what you tried to warn us about. He knows us. He knows how to cause each of us the most pain. He knew that by giving Dawn some of the injuries Angelus gave him, you would blame yourself for her pain. He knew that by teasing Buffy about how she treated Giles, it would cause her to make a mistake. I don't even wanna think about what he might be putting Wills through. And he knew the best way to get to Wes was by making him stand by and watch the rest of us get hurt. We have to face it, Angel, he's got all our number. Our only choice is to stick it out and hope we get a lucky break soon."

Angel suddenly looked up and glanced around. "You're right, but… Have you seen Wes lately? I thought he'd be in here reading."




Ethan stretched his long form out on the bed, leaning his head back on folded arms and crossing his ankles. "Where was I again?"

Turning to sit on the bed facing him, Dawn gathered her legs up under her. "You're all in a bar someplace in London ."

"Oh yes, Whitechapel. We were meeting up with my mate Philip, who'd brought Thomas and Diedre. And I had Rupert with me so I could introduce him…"

"Excuse me. I'll be back." Rupert set his pint on the table and headed for the restroom.

Ethan leaned in to speak to his friends. "So, what do you think? Does this one belong in our little group?"

"I don't know," Philip snorted. "He seems like a… Come on, where'd you find him anyway?"

"Yeah," Thomas added, "that accent and those manners… Seems like a real prat to me."

"Just because you don't have any manners. Besides, that's what he's trying to get away from, you berk. Who better to show him the lower side of living?" Ethan sighed and turned to the dark-eyed beauty at the table. "Diedre, Luv. You can see the potential, right? I'm telling you, this kid has something special." He reached out to take her hand.

"I won't deny he's cute, Ethan, even for a clean-cut, bookworm type. But, do we really want a school boy like 'im tagging around with us?" The lovely, young woman gently squeezed his hand. "We've dealt with your crush of the week before, Sweetie. Male or female, they never work out and we have to deal with the aftermath." She lowered her voice for only his ears. "And the way he was looking at me, you might have more work cut out than you want to put in on this one."

"I think you worked out, Luv. And how could I blame him for noticing you?" Ethan flashed her his most charming grin and sighed. "So, you all think I brought him here as just another pretty face, ay?"

"Ethan, don't get like--" Thomas groaned.

"No. You want a sample of why he belongs with us? I'll give you one." He was eyeing three large footballers who had just entered the pub.

"Wait. Footballers?" Dawn asked.

"You call the sport Soccer here, I believe. In England some of the fans can become rather rabid. To clarify, these where muscle-bound sports boys. Definitely not the sort to tolerate our type at that time."

"Oh," the girl laughed, "you mean meatheads. I've got it now."

"Three Bitters, and keep 'em comin'," one of the large men told the bartender.

"Ethan," Philip hissed as his friend rose and took his pint from the table, "I'm not in the mood for this tonight. Start somethin' and you're on your own."

Ethan only grinned and moved toward his targets with an exaggerated weaving stagger. His friends groaned and shook their heads.

Rupert walked out of the restroom into a sea of noise and chaos. Patrons were scrambling to escape the pub and get away from the brawl going on across the room. The young man could see Philip and Thomas tangled up with two big guys, and watched as Ethan took a blow to the stomach that sent him crumpled to the floor.

"Hey," Diedre ran at the one who had just dispatched Ethan, "What's the matter with you. He's half your size… pillock!"

The muscled brute easily caught Diedre by the wrist and spun her into a tight hold against his body. She began to shake as he pulled out a long knife and played it along her chest. "This is a bad part of town for you to be gettin' any ideas, Missy. For all you know, I might be the next ripper, just waitin' for a pretty, little whore like you to slice into."

Diedre's shimmering eyes locked with the young man across the room. "Rupert!" she cried.

"Rupert?" her captor mocked. "You think a guy with a name like that is gonna be your hero?"

As her aggressor laughed, Rupert was already in motion. One foot planted in a chair, the next on a table, and he was hitting the two that held the other men with a flying tackle. Rupert was on his feet before their leader could recover from his surprised daze. Diedre took that instant to ram a heel into his shin and escape his grasp. Before the brute could reach for his lost prey, Rupert was on him.

Rupert ducked and dodged, using his superior speed to stay away from the slashing knife blade. Finally, seeing his opening, he spun in and stripped the weapon away as his forearm wrenched his opponent's elbow into an unnatural position. With a second spin, he swiped the large man's feet out from under him, and was on him as he hit the floor, the tip the knife he now held poking at the man's abdomen.

"Who's the ripper now?" Rupert growled. "Maybe someone should teach you how to treat a lady."

Rupert's eyes went as wide as his victims when someone stumbled into him and he felt the knife pierce soft flesh. He stared into the suddenly pain-filled eyes for what seemed like hours, not knowing how to express his sorrow or beg for forgiveness.

The seemingly distant voice of the bartender shouted, "Those are fuzz whistles. You guys get him out of here!"

Rupert felt himself being torn away from the man whose blood was now pooling on the floor. He was hustled out the back door and rushed down an alleyway. As they went, he could vaguely register that there was celebration going on around him.

"Did you see that?" Thomas howled. "Who's the ripper now? That was one of the greatest things I've heard, Mate!" He grabbed Rupert's shoulder and shook it excitedly.

"I told you," Ethan chuckled. "No doubt now that Rupert here belongs with us, ay?"

Philip slapped Ethan on the back. "Not Rupert. This one needs something that will do him justice. He's our Ripper now."

The other two agreed excitedly, but Rupert walked along in silence staring at his blood-stained left hand. Diedre came up beside him and gently wrapped his hand in a handkerchief before taking it in hers.

"Don't worry," she whispered to him, "you didn't get 'im anywhere important. Hospital will give 'im a few stitches and he'll have another scar to show off to his pillock friends. You didn't do anything wrong, Sweetie. Thank you for saving me." She leaned up and placed a tender kiss on his cheek.

He looked at her and smiled with a blush tingeing his cheeks as the voices around him shouted, "To Ripper!"

Dawn grinned. "That's such an awesome story. Why doesn't he like anyone to know?"

"I would guess he feels that first draw of blood is what started him on the road to worse things. After that he brought in his good mate, Randall, and… Well, that's all history." Ethan gave her a pat on the knee. "Now, I would like to rest a bit before we start our searching again. So, unless you would like to curl up here and join me, I suggest you leave me to it."

There was a joking note to Ethan's voice, but Dawn could tell by the look in his eyes that he would not be opposed to her taking him up on the offer. A light blush tinged her cheeks as she realized she was actually being flirted with.

"I…" Dawn cleared her throat. "I should probably go now. You've had a long day and someone might be looking for me."

As she stepped through the door, she glanced back at the man still stretched on the bed and her blush deepened at his wink. Dawn couldn't help a giggle as she rushed away from the room.


9. The Girl who would be Queen

Willow groaned in frustration and threw the book she had been reading against the wall. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the soul pulse brightly and turned her frown on it.

"Don't you start with me..." She pointed a threatening finger. "These are not your books, and if I want to treat one badly, I will. It didn't have anything helpful anyway. And now look at me! I'm arguing with a jar full of light. This is all your fault, you know. I swear, I'm going to get you out of there, and then I'm going to kick your butt for putting me through this."

The soul gave a short pulse and Willow could almost hear his soft laughter. She sighed and let a tiny smile fall across her lips. "Every time I hit a dead end and try to think of the next step, my mind says 'ask Giles, he'll know'. But now I can't." Slumping into her chair, she buried her face in her hands. "This is my fault. I should have been strong enough to let you go."

A knock at the door elicited no reaction. Karen slipped in and quietly placed another tray on the table. She walked to Willow , as close as she could get without disturbing the books heaped on the floor around the girl.

"Are you still at it?" she sighed in a very motherly tone. "Have you even taken a break today?" Willow shook her head without looking up. "No one can do nothing but look at books for two days straight, Dear."

Willow finally looked up at her with a weak smirk. "I know someone who can," she murmured.

"That may be, but a lovely girl like you needs some rest. Your dinner's on the table." Karen tilted her head, studying the girl's exhausted face. "That can wait if there's something else you would like to do."

"I would like to get out of this cage," the witch chuckled wearily.

Her vampire caretaker thought for a second, then moved to the door to have a short, whispered conversation with the guards. She returned with a smile. "There's still an hour 'till sunset and everyone starts waking up. If you'd like to take a walk, we can show you around while it's quiet."

It wasn't exactly what Willow meant, but getting out of that room and clearing her head for a while sounded wonderful. She gave a grateful smile. "I would like that very much. But, won't you all get in trouble for letting me out?"

"Boys, would you come in here," Karen called to the guards. Two strong and handsome men that looked to be in their early twenties entered and stood just behind the tiny woman. "You misunderstand our purpose, Hun. These boys aren't here to keep you prisoner. They are here to make sure you're well protected. Just as I'm here to make sure you have everything you could ever desire. You are the master's treasure, and he has given us leave to serve you as we would him."

"I don't understand," Willow whispered.

A guard with shaggy blond hair smiled at her. "If you stay, we will stand watch. If you go, we will follow. If you are in danger, we will die in your defense. And if you are in need, we will provide any comfort or pleasure you might desire."

A blush crept up Willows cheeks as his deep blue eyes continued to twinkle at her. "I… He would let all that happen?"

"We are yours, Child." Karen shook her head in amusement. "Here to serve our Queen's every need."

Willow just stared at them for a moment. "I'm still not sure I understand what's going on here. But I am sure that I'm too tired to figure it out right now." She heaved a sigh. "Is that walk still on offer?"

"Of course, Dear," Karen grinned, stepping forward to take Willow's hand. "You have everything you need to feel comfortable, right?"

Patting her pockets, Willow could feel the cross and stake were securely where she had placed them. "Yes ma'am," she whispered as she exited the room, surrounded by her small entourage.




"Idiot!" a man dressed all in white shouted at the vampire who was on his knees picking up scattered vegetables. "How am I supposed to serve food that you've seen fit to have trampled under foot?" The demon glanced at him with a frightened look. "Just get it cleaned up and start preparing more," the strange man groaned.

"Chef," Karen called as she stood next to Willow in the entrance of the noisy kitchen. "You have a visitor."

"You know that I'm busy…" he began, turning toward her voice. At the sight of Willow , a smile spread on his round, ruddy face and he approached with open arms. "Could this be she? Even more beautiful than I imagined. You are always most welcome in my little kingdom."

"Willow, this is Chef," Karen chuckled at her startled expression.

"I do hope that my latest creation has brought you joy." He kissed her hand. "Or have you come with a wish that I may humbly grant?"

Willow's fatigued brain took a few moments to decipher what it was he was talking about. "Oh yeah… I'm sorry, but I haven't tasted my dinner yet. If it's anything like what I've been getting, I'm sure it's wonderful though."

"She needed to get out for a bit first," Karen explained.

"No need to apologize to me, Sweetness. If, when you get back, you find it cold or in any way lacking, send it back here and I'll make you something new."

The red-head blushed. "You don't need to fuss so much over me. I'm sure if you just nuke it…"

"Nuke it!?! You will not find one of those infernal contraptions in my kitchen. And I wound never consider serving you anything less than perfection." The chef was distracted by a vampire passing behind him with a tray full of meat. "I said rare! There is a difference between rare and raw. If anything, I'd think a vampire would know that." He turned the vampire around and gave him a shove. "Five more minutes, then into the pot." Shaking his head, he groaned to his visitors, "This is why vampires make horrible kitchen staff."

"You make it sound like all of this is so normal. Aren't you a prisoner here?"

"A prisoner?" Chef laughed. "I'll tell you, this is the best gig I've had since I started working for demons years ago."

Willow was confused. "But, you are human, aren't you?"

The chef's round belly shook with a laugh. "When I came out of culinary school, I was recruited by one of the finest restaurants in the city. Worked me to death and burned me out so bad, I hated everything about cooking. One night, I wandered into this bar, trying to find one more drink, and instead I found a new world. Turns out demons appreciate the talents of someone who is willing and able to prepare anything they could ask for."

"So, you work here?"

"One of the nicest places in a long time, too. Good pay. A decent kitchen. Room and board if I want it. Protection. The classiest boss I've ever encountered, and not just in the demon world. Plus, I can't tell you how nice it is to be cooking for humans again. I can actually taste the food I make."

"Wait," Willow stopped him. "Humans? You mean there's more than just me?"

Chef frowned under Karen's glare, which had disappeared by the time Willow turned to her. "Of course there are others," she smiled at the girl. "The master welcomes anyone willing to do their part for the future good."

Willow couldn't help feeling suspicious but, with another human standing next to her who was obviously, not only alive, but in a position of some authority, she hoped for those suspicions to be proven wrong. "May I see the others?" she asked carefully.

"I don't see why not." Karen looked up at Chef with masked anger.

"I am about to send out dinner for the others," he interjected. "They'll be going to their rooms to eat and rest."

"I have an idea," the vampire grinned. "Why don't we wait on that a bit so we don't disturb their rest? I've been wanting to show you the beautiful ballroom here."

"Okay, I guess," Willow agreed quietly and followed her personal guards out the door.

"I'm sorry," Chef whispered to Karen.

"I know. Don't worry, he'll have her focus before long."

"Will I see you later?" he pressed up close to the vampire.

"Depends. Are you going to serve me a hot breakfast?"

A growl rumbled from deep within him. "You know I always do."



The large double doors of the ballroom were pushed opened before Willow . She entered and gazed around the room. It was as beautiful as promised. High, vaulted ceilings with frescos of dancers in lovely gowns and gentlemen in tuxedos. Hanging chandeliers of gold-plated steel and crystal. Shining marble floors.

In the very center of the room, a lone figure caught her attention. Willow and her group stood silently and watched as the dark-haired, young man, who was wearing only a pair of simple, white workout pants, was slowly performing a series of fluid and precise movements with his body. The simple beauty of his motion was on the verge of lolling the exhausted girl to sleep, when his sudden kiyup echoed through the expansive room, making her jump. Upon the battle cry, his movements became more rapid and forceful, throwing punches and leaping into kicks aimed in all directions around him. The added violence made the artistic motion of his martial dance no less absorbing. By the time he landed in a full split, moving into a handstand and bending gracefully back onto his feet, Willow couldn't help but applaud.

Justin jogged across to the small group and politely bowed to Willow . "I apologize. I didn't realize anyone else was here yet."

"Apologize?" Willow gasped. "That was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen." She couldn't help a chuckle. "And, coming from me, that's saying something."

Justin flashed a shy, charming smile. "Thank you. It was just a small warm-up routine. I find it helps to be ready before he gets here."

Before Willow could voice the question on her lips, a door farther down the room opened, and a single figure started towards them. She blinked a few times, making sure her eyes were focusing correctly. He was dressed exactly the same as the young man standing beside her. Loose-fitting, white exercise pants and nothing else. Bare arms, bare chest, bare feet… Willow let out a long, slow breath. He may not have been as well defined as the younger man, but there were small details about his body that brought a rugged masculinity to him. With a sudden dryness in her mouth, Willow could not figure out what it was that Giles had always felt the need to hide.

Magister stopped when he had joined the small group and turned an unreadable expression on Karen. "Please," Willow felt a sudden need to intercede, "it's not their fault. I needed a walk."

"Their fault?" he smiled as his gaze focused on her. "I'm just so pleased that you are finally comfortable enough to explore your new home, My Love." He gently took her hand and kissed it. "I hope you've enjoyed everything they've shown you so far. And that they've treated you as you deserve."

"Oh," Willow blushed shyly, "everyone's been nothing but kind. I kinda feel like a princess."

"Only a princess?" Magister grinned. "Then we shall have to try a bit harder."

Karen smiled. "She's still getting used to us. I'm sure she will learn how very willing and happy we are to serve her in time."

"I'm sorry, Sir," Justin said quietly, "but if we don't want to be interrupted, we should begin."

"What's going on? Should I go?"

"Willow, you are never an interruption." His green eyes gazed brightly at her. "I would take great encouragement from your staying."

"What would you like to start with today?" Justin asked as they turned from her and headed out into the room.

"I think it's time to try the crossbow. Your hesitation is understandable," he said upon seeing the young man's frown, "but we have already put it off for too long. They will come soon, and I must be ready."

"As always, you're right. The crossbow then." With a parting pat on the shoulder from his sire, Justin ran to one end of the large room. It was only then that Willow noticed the tables lining the wall and covered with white sheets.

The young Sensei pulled the covering off two of the tables to reveal that they held an assortment of crossbows, each loaded and ready to fire, along with a pile of wooden bolts. He picked one up and aimed it toward his master, who was standing peacefully in the center of the room. Willow gasped when Magister nodded and Justin squeezed the trigger.

The big vampire moved almost faster that the eye could register, dodging the deadly projectile with ease. But, before Willow could even breathe in relief, another weapon was grabbed and another bolt fired.

Magister was a blur of flowing and exact movements. He dodged and tumbled, avoiding each shot with a calm grace that belied the impossibility of the feats he was performing. Even when he encountered the few support columns and walls that entered his path, they became less obstacles and more extra surfaces to run along and launch from into tumbling rolls.

Soon, Justin was down to his last crossbow, forcing him to reload, and slowing him considerably. Magister slowed too, and this allowed Willow to see blood running down his side from a bolt that had managed to come too close.

"Shouldn't somebody help him?" she whispered absentmindedly.

"You heard her," Karen commanded the two guards.

Before Willow knew what was happening, her guards ran to Justin's side and began loading and firing more deadly bolts. Magister moved faster than ever, spinning between some and deflecting others with swipes and kicks.

Finally, Justin had the last bolt in his hand. He quickly loaded, swung the weapon around to aim at Willow , and fired. The flabbergasted witch saw the world slow down in that moment. She watched the bolt coming straight for her heart, yet felt as if she was paralyzed. There was nothing she could do. At the last moment, a hand appeared in front of her, allowing the wood to pierce its flesh, and twisted, breaking the bolt into three splinters, two of which fell harmlessly to the floor.

"How dare you!" Magister roared as Justin and the others ran towards them.

"Please accept my apology, Sir." His protégé bowed humbly. "These sessions are meant to discover any weaknesses you might have. I simply aimed for the part of you in the room that may be exploited as such."

Magister glared at the young man, but his anger melted quickly as he soon realized that his hand was being cradled in Willow's tender grasp as she examined his wound. "We're gonna have to get the rest of this wood out," she mumbled thoughtfully. Catching sight of her shaggy haired guard, she ordered, "Get me a first aid kit. At least bandages and a bottle of alcohol." The vampire quickly ran to the corner of the room and retrieved a box.

Magister smiled, "Willow, there's no need-"

"You, shut up and let me help you." The sentence fell from her lips so easily, so familiarly. She must have said it to Giles dozens of times over the years. And his response, a resigned but grateful sigh, was exactly as it had always been. One moment that would always be the same while the world changed around them.

Willow took the offered box and opened it, quickly finding what she needed. First, she pulled out a pair of needle-nosed pliers. "Okay, brace yourself."

The vampire smiled, but hissed in pain as she ripped the remaining wood from his flesh. "Bloody girl!" he cursed with the unexpected sting.

"That'll teach you to play with sticks," she fussed at him as she took the alcohol. "What do you boys think you're doing anyway?" He let a groan escape as the burning liquid ran straight through his hand. "Oh suck it up. You're a big, tough vampire, remember?"

He began to chuckle, and looked down at her adoringly as she wrapped his hand in a bandage. "Thank you," he whispered, but groaned again when she went for the wound on his side. When she had finished, he sighed, "Your kindness is appreciated. It's getting late, Love, you should return to your room."

"I think I will." Willow shoved the box at Justin. "If coming down here means having to watch you try to get yourself killed, I think I prefer my room." As punctuation, she spun on her heels and led her two guards out the doors.

Karen stepped in close to Magister. "She's almost ready, My Lord. It won't be long until she's yours."

He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her against him. "It seems you may be right. She is becoming more a queen all the time." Magister bent, and took his sire's mouth in a searching kiss. "Go. Tend to her." He playfully pushed her towards the doors.

With a huge grin, he turned and caught the tiny vampire, who came flying at him from somewhere above with a fearsome scream.

"I almost got you that time," Robyn laughed in his arms.

"You did, My Lovely," he chuckled, squeezing her tight. "Soon you will be able to sneak up even on me."



Willow shifted in her chair. She could feel the cushions starting to mold to her, and the thought of having sat there for long enough to have that happen irritated her. When they got back from the ballroom, the boys had left her alone to eat in peace. The food had been wonderful as always, but the adrenaline still coursing through her made getting any real rest impossible. So, here she was, back in the books.

But, had all of that really just happened? She'd lost her temper and yelled at a vampire, in a whole room of them, as if he were a foolish child. And all he did was smile at her. That glorious, heart-melting, loving smile that was so perfectly… Giles. Willow shook the vision from her head.

"It's not…" she whispered, looking at the urn. "He's not you. You're you. I don't know what he's trying to pull, but I have to remember that. I have to remember."

Her gaze shot back to the book in her lap when the door quietly swung open. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched him. Without a word, he crossed the room, sat in the other chair, set a mug down on the table beside him, and picked up a book to begin reading.

As they sat together, Willow's mind couldn't help flashing back to long evenings in England . Perfect evenings spent doing nothing but sitting silently in a library together, reading. It was one of the many simple things Giles had done to help her through the worst of her grief. He never forced her to talk to him, never pushed her to do anything she wasn't ready for. He was always just there, ready to listen and support her when the pain came rushing out. Most days were hard, especially in the beginning, with the coven trying to control her magick and teach her how to do the same. But, in the evenings there was just him. Willow still didn't understand how he had forgiven her for what she had done to him, to everyone, but without him she was sure she could have never made it through.

She was pulled out of her reveries by the door cracking open again, and the sight of a small girl bounding across the room. With no hesitation, the little blond jumped into the vampire's lap and wrapped her arms around his neck.

"Can I have another lesson now?" she asked with a huge grin. Magister ducked his head slightly and peered sternly up at her. The little girl sighed. "May I please have another lesson now?"

"Of course you may." He kissed her brow with a radiant smile.

It was the kind of smile Willow was sure she'd never seen on that face. As she watched him lift the girl and turn her to sit on his lap, she suddenly felt tears pricking at her eyes. How had she never seen it before? This perfect picture of everything Giles could have had - no, should have had - threw into sharp relief everything he had given up. Was it all for his calling? For Buffy? For all of them? Had they ever taken the time to let him know how much he meant to them? Meant to her?

Willow blinked rapidly to combat the tears that threatened as she watched him joyfully nuzzle his cheek into the girl's silky hair and hold a book out before them both. A smile slowly spread on her lips when the little blond began to read aloud. Latin, of course he would be teaching the child Latin.

Robyn read tentatively at first, feeling her way through the language as all new students do. His gentle corrections of her pronunciation were taken gratefully and assimilated rapidly. By the time she reached the end of the page, she was reading with confidence and authority.

"That was excellent," Magister praised the girl, who wiggled with pride. "Now, can you tell me what all of that meant?"

Robyn leaned back into him so she could turn her head to see his face. "I think it was telling us how to do a blessing on a field, so that the crop will grow up big and strong."

"That is exactly right."

The little girl sighed thoughtfully. "Sometimes I want to grow up big and strong… Just so I could make you proud of me. And it makes me sad that I can't."

"I'm not sad," he whispered, his lips pressed against her hair. "I get to keep you as my tiny one for always. You have no idea of the joy that gives me. I'm already proud of you."

Willow quietly cleared her throat. "Your Latin is so good. I could never really get the hang of it. Do you like learning it?"

Robyn gave her a brilliant smile. "Yeah… That one's not too hard. I'm having a little trouble with the Sumerian. I don't think my tongue likes it very much. But my favorite is Greek!"

Willow couldn't help laughing. "Are you really making her learn all that?"

"Making her?" Magister chuckled. "She's insatiable. And you know how I can't resist having a star pupil."

"Can we do another?" Robyn bounced excitedly.

"Here," Willow got up and moved to sit on the arm of their chair. She passed Robyn the book she had been working on. "I've just finished translating this passage. Maybe you can help me check that I got it right."

Robyn shifted on Magister's lap so she could snuggle back between both him and Willow . She held the book out so everyone could see and began to read and translate. "In order to, uh, free the…"

"Object," he provided softly.

"Yeah… In order to free the object from this ward of protection, sprinkle the…"

Willow offered, "I have that word as midnight."


"Midnight, yes! …sprinkle the midnight sands of a… clean? No, it's virgin, right?" He nodded. "…midnight sands of a virgin beach mixed with the pure salts of love."

"That's what I thought it said, too," Willow murmured.

"Now, there's a portrait worthy to be framed." They all looked up to see Karen standing by the fireplace. "You look like you belong together."

Willow realized she was snuggled up with the demon-inhabited body of her friend and the vampire child and pulled away slowly. If they noticed her slight withdraw, they didn't acknowledge it.

"Robyn," Karen continued. "Justin is waiting for you to begin class."

"Do I have to?" the girl turned to look at Magister. "I wanna stay with you guys."

"You know if you want to join me outside, you must be prepared, Little One. I need to know you'll be safe." He smiled at her pout. "You do want to go with me, don't you?"

"Yes," she sighed. "All right… I'll go."

She slid off his lap and turned to place a sweet kiss on his cheek. Then she stepped over and gave Willow the same kiss. With a giggle, the little girl spun and ran out with Karen. The red-headed witch stared after her, unconsciously bringing a hand to her cheek.

"So," Magister said, causing Willow to jump off the arm of his chair, "what shall we do about this?" He smiled and held up the book.

Willow chuckled a little at herself. "It looks like you've beaten me," she sighed wearily. "I have no idea where I'm gonna find midnight sands from a virgin beach."

The vampire stood and extended a hand to her. "Well… If you would honor me with your company, perhaps we can find some together."

With an unsure look, Willow slid her hand into his. Magister bent to kiss it, and when he rose, Willow suddenly felt a warm breeze caressing her face. She looked up into his face, haloed by the golden glow of a setting sun. But the lovely image quickly faded as smoke began pouring off of him. Not letting herself think, she threw her full weight into his chest and forced him back into the shadows of a hardened lava shelf-face.

"Geez… What's wrong with you? A vampire should be more aware of time zones if he wants to be all big with the teleporting!" He smiled at her. "What? I'm yelling at you here, you know? Stop grinning at me like that."

"You could have let me burn," he smiled.

"I should've. That would have taught you…"

"But you didn't."

"Yeah, well…" Willow muttered, "I'd be kinda stuck here. Where ever it is you've brought me." She finally looked around. About ten paces from the short cliff-face, clear blue ocean waves lapped the shoreline. In the distance, the white sail of a boat cut across the water under small, fluffy clouds set in the rose-colored sky. To her left she could see a stand of palm trees blowing in the breeze, tall enough that they must have just escaped this recent flow. And to her right, a fair hike up the beach, was a red glow, growing brighter as the sun quickly set, and meeting the sea to create billowing columns of steam.

When it was safe, he came up behind her and wrapped her in a loose embrace. Willow couldn't fight it. His arms created the perfect feeling for the perfect setting.

"You could have found a way home," he whispered in her ear. "That's not why you saved me."

She chuckled. "You're right. I'm gonna be needing that body. And I'd appreciate it if you'd stop being so reckless with it before I have a chance to do what I want with it."

"Oh?" the vampire growled excitedly.

She bent to scoop up a handful of the newly formed black sand, and turned in his arms to look up at him with a sly smile. "Yep. See, my friend's gonna be needing it soon."

"You're teasing me now," Magister rumbled. "That's not very nice."

"Which volcano did you bring me to?" she whispered, draping her arms around his waist.

"This is Mount Kilauea ."

"I thought so," Willow purred. "I've always wanted someone to take me to Hawaii ."

"Willow… please," he groaned, gazing into her eyes. "Bless me with a kiss before I wither from need of your radiance."

She ducked her head. "I'm scared."

"Of me, My Love?"

"I'm not ready," Willow whispered. "I don't want to die."

He brought her tear-filled eyes up to meet his gaze. "Why should you die? Dearest, I could never harm you. I only mean to love you."

"But, I thought…"

"In time… But only when you are ready to step into my arms forever. Until then, I'm perfectly content to have my queen in human from. To love you just as you are."

Willow swallowed. Slowly, she leaned up and met him in a soft, tender kiss. When she pulled back and opened her eyes, they were once again in her room.

"There you two are." Karen's voice startled Willow . "What am I going to do with you two? Gallivanting off to God knows where while I'm left here to worry." She got between them and started pushing Magister towards the door. "Now, the poor girl needs to get some rest. You need to go." She turned back to Willow . "And I've already drawn you a nice warm bath. Go relax for a while, then straight to bed." Willow stared at her blankly. "That's an order young lady."

Karen pushed her master out the door and closed it behind them, leaving Willow alone. The witch turned to the urn.

"He's not you," she whispered, letting her tears fall into the sand in her hand. She threw the black grains over the urn and the air around it crackled. Carefully, she reached out and ran a finger slowly down the glass. She could touch it now, but still felt her magick being forced away. There were more wards in the way.



Magister looked at Karen with dangerous eyes. "She was in my arms. She accepted my kiss."

"I saw that," his sire smiled at him.

"And you force me from her now, when I'm so close?"

"Patience, My Lord. You are reaching her heart, but you know as well as I do that you need to give her mind time to follow. If you had taken her now, she might have resented you when her head cleared in the morning. Then you would have to earn her trust all over again."

Magister growled. She was right, but the need for Willow crawled beneath his skin. "And are you prepared to take her place in satisfying me now?"

She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him playfully. "I have other obligations to attend to," Karen grinned at him. "Go on and find one of your toys if she has you so riled up. You have time before Justin and the others will be looking for you." She shoved him down the hall toward his rooms.

When the doors slammed open, Harmony was lounging on the bed, reading a magazine. She jumped up with a squeak. "Hey…"

"Where's Drusilla?" Magister rumbled.

"Oh… Yeah… She went out for the night. Had a meeting or something. I didn't really pay attention. But I'm here. If you, um, need anything."

He stalked toward her in a way that would have made her heart speed up, if that were still possible. Grabbing her roughly by the arm, he spun her and pressed her back hard against him. "Looks like it's just you and me, Harm. Think you can handle the job alone?"

Harmony couldn't help a yip of excitement as he reached around her and popped the button of her pants. He took no care to be gentle as he pushed her forward over a table. "Hey! Watch the designer stuff," she whined when he tugged her pants down with enough force to rip the material.

"Willow," he groaned, pushing his way inside.

"Now that's just not nice. I don't care who you pretend I am, but calling me the name, that's just-" As Magister pumped ferociously into her, he lunged forward sank his fangs into the blond vampire's shoulder. "Oh, Master…" Harmony sighed with the ecstasy of the extra penetration.



Willow stepped out of the bubble bath and wrapped the luxurious robe around her. The hot water had done little to ease the stress in her shoulders. Hours upon hours of poring over books, trying to find the answers were beginning to wear on her. She'd thought she'd known Giles as well as anybody, perhaps even more than any of the others Scoobies. Sure, Buffy had that whole Slayer-Watcher bond going with him, but she had spent the most time with him. She was the one who could tell what was troubling him by the look on his face. She was the one who could finish sentences for him. And, by goddess, she was the one who could figure out this stupid little puzzle and bring him back to them. Bring him back to her.

The witch stared at her bed for a few moments. She couldn't bring herself to glance back to where Giles' prison was waiting for her. Willow couldn't even see straight enough to read anymore. Exhaustion was closing in on her. She would rest for an hour or two, and then go back to work.

As long, comforting arms stretched around her, she couldn't help but snuggle back into the solid chest. Her head lolled to the side, allowing firm, velvet lips to play along her neck.

"You know you're not really here, right?" she murmured. "You're a figment of my imagination. Nothing but a fantasy."

"Is that all you want me to be? Just a fantasy?"

Willow sighed as he softly nibbled at the shell of her ear. "That's all I could ever have of you. The real you."

"But I am real. And I'm here now. Command me to be your deepest desire and that is what you shall have."

She spun in his arms, wrapped hers around his neck, and took his lips in a demanding kiss. "I command you to love me," Willow purred.

Without a moment of hesitation, he scooped her into his arms. "Done," he growled. "As it's always been and always shall be." He strode to the bed, never taking his eyes from hers, and placed her gently on the comforter.

Willow arched into his touch as he slowly parted the material of her robe and caressed along her delicate skin. Her flesh seared where they made contact, screaming its joy in the ecstasy of his passionate explorations. His hands, rough and hard, stroked over her as if she were the most delicate china. As her body was revealed to his vision, his eyes swept along its curves adoringly. The endearing smile that danced on his lips showing nothing but the deepest pleasure.

Placing feather light kisses along her collarbone, he rumbled, "Now I know you cannot be a fantasy. My feeble imagination could never invent one of such beauty."

Willow moaned and wiggled under his attentions. "You now have me at a disadvantage. Will you show me everything you've always hidden?"

"How does one hide from the eyes of a goddess? I lay my body, heart, and soul at your feet." He stood beside the bed and removed his clothing article by article, baring himself to her scrutiny.

Willow made a show of slowly scanning his body. Enjoying the blush that formed on his chest and cheeks as he awaited her verdict, though he made no move to hinder her appraisal in any way.

A grin spread on her face as she spoke in high tones, relishing her roll in this fantasy, "I find your offering to be acceptable. You may continue in your worship."

The light that glowed in his eyes as he slowly approached was beautiful to her. It was love, and lust, and longing, everything she's ever dreamed of seeing when he looked at her. He slowly climbed onto the bed next to her, taking his time, knowing each instant of waiting only intensified her arousal.

When his lips finally returned to her over-heated skin it was all she could do not to writhe uncontrollably beneath his touch. "With each kiss I pray to you," he hummed more than spoke against her skin as he traveled down her flat stomach. "With each caress you bless my unworthy hands with the most priceless of gifts. With each murmur you grace my ears with holy music. Take me as your humble servant, my fire goddess, my Willow ."

Tears leaked from her eyes at his beautiful words and her hips rose of their own accord, begging more of his masterful touch. In an instant he was above her, his eyes locked with hers, asking unspoken permission. Unable to find her voice, Willow nodded her approval.

"I give you all that I am," he breathed as he slowly pressed into her. The silk steel of him siding in, filling her, making her weep for the completeness of their union. As he began slow, long, agonizingly sensuous stokes, Willow's head rolled back and her eyes closed with the intensity of what he was creating within her.

"Giles," she whispered breathlessly.

Her eyes snapped open and she was suddenly staring into a cold, demon face. "And now you're mine," he laughed with an ugly grin.

Willow woke shivering. She was curled up on her bed, wrapped in the large, soft robe. Her body ached with arousal from the vivid dream. She clutched the cross in her hand tightly to her chest, trying to calm her rapidly beating heart.

Sound drifted in to her through the closed terrace doors. Random plucking and strumming of guitar stings. Soon the random chords grew into a rolling melody and the music of the guitar was joined by an angelic voice.


Would you dance, if I asked you to dance?
Would you run, and never look back?
Would you cry, if you saw me cry?
And would you save my soul, tonight?

Would you tremble, if I touched your lips?
Would you laugh? Oh please tell me this.
Now would you die, for the one you loved?
Hold me in your arms, tonight.

Willow slowly slid off the bed, his voice drawing her to the doors. The lovely pleas of the song were made even more potent by the situation. A soulless vampire crying out to her, begging for her love to save him.

I can be your hero, baby.
I can kiss away the pain.
I will stand by you forever.
You can take my breath away.

Would you swear, that you'll always be mine?
Or would you lie? Would you run and hide?
Am I in too deep? Have I lost my mind?
I don't care... You're here tonight.

She placed her hand on the door and leaned her forehead against it. Hot tears began their all too familiar course down her cheeks. How was she supposed to withstand? Everything she ever wanted was right there, asking only for her love. So what if it wasn't quite the same man? Maybe this would be her only chance the feel his love.

I can be your hero, baby.
I can kiss away the pain.
I will stand by you forever.
You can take my breath away.

Oh, I just want to hold you.
I just want to hold you.
Am I in too deep? Have I lost my mind?
I don't care... You're here tonight.

I can be your hero, Willow .
I can kiss away the pain.
I will stand by your forever.
You can take my breath away.


Willow sank to her knees. All she had to do was open those doors, reach out and take what her body was screaming for. He had promised not to hurt her. He swore that he only wanted to love her. Why not just once? Here and now, only to feel what could be, even if she knew it never would be with the man she wanted. By now it was clear that Giles did love her, but she new he would never admit it, never act on it. God, her heart ached and her body burned.

I can be your hero.
I can kiss away the pain.
And I will stand by you forever.
You can take my breath away.
You can take my breath away.
I can be your hero.

She couldn't take it anymore. With a pitiful sob, Willow burst through the doors, ready the fall into the arms of death itself if she had to. She needed him. At that moment she needed him more than she had ever needed anything in her whole life. As the doors flew open she was greeted by darkness and the empty night. Willow was alone.

The witch slowly walked back into her room and over to the table where the urn sat. She slumped to her knees in front of it as sobs wracked her slender frame. Giles' soul pulsed and she could feel him pity her, even from his formless prison.

"Why now?" she wept. "Why did I have to figure out how much I truly needed you after I lost you? Why couldn't you let me know before? This always happens to me when the world's collapsing." She reached up, knowing nothing but cold glass was there to greet her fingertips. "I love you."

Willow cried herself to sleep, curled up at the base of the table as Giles' soul silently watched over her.

10. Who Wrote This Shit

"This had better be good," Magister growled, tossing his guitar to another vampire as he exited the hotel next to Justin.

"I wouldn't have disturbed you, Sir, but one of our teams has found their seer. I thought you'd like to know immediately."

The big vampire let a smile dance across his lips. "Ah, the lovely Cordelia. It would be nice to pay her a visit."

Justin nodded to the group of five young vampires waiting for them in the parking lot. "You're sure it's the right girl?"

"Yes, Sir," one of them answered. "She's been hiding in a club across town. It's a place that caters to both demons and humans." He turned his eyes on Magister. "You should know, Master, this place is protected by a powerful sanctuary spell. I don't doubt your ability to overcome it, but we can do no harm until that time."

Magister grinned as he climbed onto a beautiful black vintage Triumph Trident motorcycle. "Who says we want to do any harm? We're merely going to pay an old friend a visit."

His bike roared to life as Justin mounted the Ducati beside him. With thunder echoing off the buildings around them, the seven bikes weaved effortlessly through the streets of L.A.



"What's a matter, Puddin' Pop? You know I can't stand to see sad faces in my place."

Cordelia looked up at the Host of Caritas, Lorne. Crimson eyes set against a deep green complexion. It still amazed her that the strange demon face could convey such a caring expression. "Sorry," she sighed, "I don't mean to be a bad guest. It's been so great of you to let us hide here. It's just been over a week now. And I feel like such a coward hanging out in a bar when my friends are out there getting hurt. By another friend!"

"You're always welcome here, Sweet Plum. You've done all you can. You told them when you had a vision. They know everything you do. I'm just glad there's no way this guy that has you so scared can hurt you here." He motioned to the bartender. "Here, looks like you could use another drink."

Cordelia huffed, "What I could use is for the Powers to get off their asses and tell me how to help my friends! All of them."

Music from the karaoke stage started in a familiar intro and Lorne groaned. "I swear, if one more Fyarl demon comes in here and starts butchering The Who…"

He sighed in relief as a wonderful, rich male voice began singing, "No one knows what it's like to be the bad man, to be the sad man… behind blue eyes."

"Now that's more like it," the Lorne grinned, looking up at the stage.

Cordelia reached out to steady him as he suddenly grabbed his head and slumped into the chair next to her. She shook him, calling to him, but his head came to rest on the table, unconscious. Trying to find the reason, she glanced up at the stage and her breath stopped short. It was him.

At least, it looked like Giles. The man she'd known in her school days had never looked so relaxed, so comfortable, so… hot. And that voice. Who knew the old librarian had pipes like that. He totally put Angel to shame. She bet he could even give Lorne a run for his money. That is, if the demon next to her was conscious.

A raucous round of applause filled the club when the song ended. He humbly took his bow and left the stage. Cordelia slowly rose from her seat and held onto the back for support as he strode towards her.

"Hello, My Dear," he grinned, stopping a few feet in front of her.

"Okay," Cordelia held up a hand, "I know you're evil right now and you probably came here to kill me and all. But before any of that, I just want to say, Wow! You have a really great voice, plus you look absolutely amazing. And shame on you for never sharing any of this with us when you were alive." She hunched her shoulders and turned her head slightly away. "Now, could you just make it quick, 'cause I'm not really big on any more pain."

Magister tilted his head to regard her and slowly lifted his hand.

"Don't you touch her!" Gunn howled, flying at the vampire, an ax raised high.

Magister didn't even blink. Inches from his target, the young warrior hit an invisible force-field and went flying backwards, crashing through a table.

"Hey!" Gunn shouted. "I thought it only stopped demon violence."

"It does," Lorne groaned groggily. "That wasn't my sanctuary spell."

"It was a minor addition of my own," Magister provided. "Since my men and I have come here meaning no violence, I thought it only fair that we were protected as well." He approached Gunn and offered him a hand up. It was not taken. "May I say that you are everything I anticipated. You're the only one to have met me with such unbridled, deadly force thus far. But then, you aren't hindered by any sentimental attachment to this body, are you?"

Gunn stood, keeping a tight grip on his ax. "Man, if all that means I didn't know the guy, you're right. I'm here to protect Cordy. That's what I intend to do."

"The soldier on a mission. Something I can understand. Perhaps, one day you will consider joining my little band of brothers."

"I would rather die than be one of you," Gunn spat.

The vampire chuckled, "A sentiment that was once shared by… the 'guy you didn't know'. Funny how things change, My Boy."

Cordelia cleared her throat to gain his attention. "You're really not here to kill me?" Magister shook his head with a charming smile. The pretty brunette suddenly huffed, "So what, am I not even worth killing now? You go all wild on everyone else, but Cordy's not worth the effort?" She stopped long enough to catch the look in his eyes. "Oh… Oh no, none of that. Angel told me what you've been up to, and that's so not happening either. I know I said you were looking good and all. But, remember, last I saw you, you were still tweed man."

"Shh…" he pressed a finger to her lips, letting it slide along the sensitive skin as it dropped away. "None of this, that, or the other. I promise. However, I would be very interested to know what all you've been sharing with our friend Angel. At this point, I have a long future ahead of me, and any insights you've been given might be very useful to me."

His feather light fingers running up and down Cordelia's upper arm were making her shiver all over. "I… uh… I know what you're up to."

"Stop doing that," Gunn growled. "How come the damn thing's letting him touch her?"

"Because he's not trying to hurt me," Cordelia snapped. "At least, not in any way the magick recognizes. And you," she caught his wrist and pushed it way, "you can stop trying to use your Jedi mind tricks or whatever on me. If I tell you anything, you'll use it to hurt our friends. I'd rather let you kill me."

"Cordy dearest, your spirit has never disappointed me." He leaned in, his voice a chilling whisper in her ear. "When the time comes, I will relish breaking you." A cold shiver ran down her spine as he pulled back with a smile.

Lorne got to his feet with a pain-filled groan. "The lady as much as told you to get lost. I suggest you do that."

"I was told you read the destinies of those who sing for you. Nothing to tell me?"

"Only that your future hit me in the head like a ten pound sledge hammer." The green demon pressed the heel of his hand to his aching head. "If you must know… Two lay claim to one house. One will always be master, while the other is prisoner."

"And which shall remain master?" Magister smirked.

"That, you'll have to find out for yourself. I blacked out before I could tell."

"Master," Justin came up beside his sire. "We have word that the bait has been taken. Your prey is on the move."

"Well… Then it seems we have two appointments to attend tonight. Send word to the others to meet us there." He bowed to Cordelia. "Until our next meeting then. I bid you farewell, My Dear."

Cordelia let out a breath only when Magister led his men out of the club. "You all right, Pudding?" Lorne asked as he helped guide her to a chair.

"Yeah… yeah, I just got a little shaken. Seeing him like that was a little more than I was ready for."



"Buffy, we have a problem."

Buffy set her bag down just inside the door and sighed. "The standard Buffy greeting. What is it now?"

Angel had a book in his hands while Xander followed him out of the office with a notepad. "It's Wes, he's gone," Xander provided.

"Gone as in how? There's no way he was taken in broad daylight."

Angel shook his head. "I was here all day. Besides, we don't think he was kidnapped."

"So the little twerp bolted on us?" Buffy shook her head. "And I thought when he finally got the Council stick out of his ass and hooked up with you he'd actually figured out how to be useful."

"It's not exactly like that," Xander sighed, having jumped to the same conclusion hours before. "We've just spent half the day trying to follow the trail he did a damn good job of covering up."

"We think he must have found this prophecy earlier today. It took me nearly an hour to translate it."

Xander handed her the pad. "But what Angel came up with fits with the notes I found in the trash. Here's what the prophecy says." Buffy read the paragraph written on the page.

And so it shall come to pass that the end of one line of Those Who Watch shall fall to darkness. Brought about not by the will of evil, but by the heart of love. Great power shall be held over the destiny of the Slayer. Only in sacrifice might this threat be quelled. For as the last of one line has fallen, the last of another shall pay with blood to set the course anew. Under a shattered moon in a place where stars gaze at stars, one shall die and one shall be freed.

"Who wrote this shit?!?"

"It was written in Romanian. An old Gypsy dialect. Buffy," Angel explained, "he's gone to sacrifice himself. Both Wes and Giles are from families that have been in the Council for hundreds of years. And neither have children to carry on the lines. This says that if Wes willingly lets Giles take his blood, then Giles might be saved."

Buffy blinked at the page for a few minutes, deep in thought. When she looked up at the guys, her face was set in a determined expression. "No… We are going to get Giles back, but I'm not going to let anyone else die because of this. And, have I ever told you how much I hate prophecies?"

"We're with ya, Buff," Xander sighed in relief. "Not big on the whole sacrificing thing."

"We need to figure out when and where, so we can be there to stop this from going down." Buffy lowered her eyes to re-read the translation.

"Luckily, it says all that right there." Xander pointed to the last line. "We're guessing that the shattered moon is a new moon."

"Yes, and I was here back in the golden days of Hollywood . When it opened, the Griffith Park Observatory was host to a lot of parties. It's where the stars went to gaze at stars. For the past few years, many of the buildings up there have been closed for renovation. Earthquake damage. It's the best guess I have."

"So, the new moon is tonight, and Wes is on his way to a park to let himself be murdered… And I thought I was coming home with the bad news that I didn't find anything today." Buffy rubbed her tired eyes. "Where's Faith?"

"She got back a little before sunset," Angel glanced at the stairs. "I sent her up to get some rest." The phone ringing pulled him away from the conversation.

"I'm cool," Faith appeared at the top of the stairs. "We getting' ready for a scrap tonight?"

"Angel and I are going after Wes. I need you to stay here with the others." Both Faith and Xander began to protest. "Xand, this is gonna be bad and you're not a hundred percent. Besides, I need to know that you've got Dawn." The young man nodded.

"Listen, B. You're not quite in top form either. I owe Wes, and I--"

"I know, but this one is my mess." Buffy looked into the other Slayer's eyes. "I've had vamps pull a fast one on me before. Now, I'm leaving you here to protect my sister, my best friend, and… well Ethan. But you get what I'm saying, right?"

Faith let a small smile play on her lips and blinked in understanding. "Save his troublemaking little hide," she whispered.

"That's the plan."

Angel retuned and handed Buffy a sword. "That was Cordy. She just got a visit from an old friend."

"He didn't hurt her, did he?" Xander frowned at the thought.

"No, just shook her up a little bit. She said he was asking about her visions. She didn't tell him anything, but he left in a hurry, talking about bait and prey."

"Then we have to get to Wes before he does," Buffy nodded and they hurried for the car.

Ethan was on his way down the stairs. "Trouble in paradise?"

"One way to put it," Faith smiled at him. "Looks like tonight you're on my watch."

"Then I'm sure to be perfectly safe."

Xander rolled his eyes and groaned, leaving to check on Dawn.

"Hey, Magic Man. I got something to ask you." Faith sat down and Ethan joined her. "Is it possible to mess with someone's dreams?"

Ethan thought for a moment. "It is possible. Ripper and I tried our hands at it a bit back when… Well, you see, there were these twins and…" He chuckled, "Never mind." Faith watched him expectantly. "Anyway, we eventually learned that, because everyone's subconscious is different, it's extremely difficult to create a dream that a mind will accept. It's much easier just to plant a suggestion and let the subconscious have its own dream."

"So, he could be messing with my head."

"May I ask who you've been dreaming about, My Dear?"

"Nothing… no one…" Faith shook her head and stood abruptly. "I'm going to check the perimeter. You just sit tight." Ethan stretched back against the couch cushions and chuckled knowingly.



Wesley's flashlight beam barely cut through the darkness as he entered the large exhibition hall. He carefully made his way through the scaffolding and work areas until he came to the cavernous open space in the center of the building. Bright work lights suddenly burst to life and flooded the center of the room. When Wesley's eyes adjusted, he could see the vampiric Watcher leaning against a stack of wood, but no one else.

They stood there, staring at each other for several long moments before Magister finally spoke. "Shall I tell you I'm impressed? Or would you take that as an insult? In any case, I am pleased that you've been able to keep our appointment."

He approached Wesley with easy strides. The younger Watcher fought to control his voice as the vampire slowly circled him, looking him up and down. "I'm sure you've read the same prophecy I have. Frankly, I find it surprising that you were willing to show up and risk it coming true."

"How could I resist this kind of meeting? This kind of offer? However, there was always one thing that bothered me about prophecy." He leaned in close to whisper in Wesley's ear. "You're never sure exactly who wrote it."

All the air left Wesley's lungs and his shoulders slumped as the realization washed over him. "You planted it for me to find," he breathed. "This is only a trap for me. No hope for Giles."

"I am sorry," Magister gave him a mocking frown. "But I do applaud your heroic effort. And the skill it took to get here. You might just be worthy after all."

Wesley straightened his back. "If you're going to kill me, I only request that you make it permanent."

"I wonder," Magister chuckled, stepping in close behind the other man, "how much of yourself were you willing to give me? How much would you offer up to save him?"

"I came to give my blood," Wesley answered evenly. "How much more than my life can I offer?"

"Oh, there is so much more, Boy. Shall I show you?" Magister swept him forward into the darkness, stopping only when he had the younger man pressed face first against a wall.

Wesley couldn't help the rush of fear that rolled through him. He shivered as large hands touched him in places he rarely even touched himself. "I know what happened to you when you were young," he grunted as he was pushed into the wall again. "Have you stooped so low yourself now?"

Magister chuckled and kissed his neck. "You are right. We must remember ourselves." Wesley released a breath of relief, but choked on it as a strong hand cupped his groin. "Shall we see how long it takes before your will is mine?"

The younger man swallowed hard. "I'm afraid you're better equipped than I for an eternal battle of patience."

"And still you impress me," the vampire laughed. "You have become one to be savored." He took his weight off the other man and let him turn around. "I believe my other appointment has arrived. I think you'll find this very interesting, but suggest you keep yourself hidden for the time being." It wasn't until the vampire had turned and left him that Wesley let himself slump against the wall.

"My lovely dark boy," Drusilla greeted Magister as she entered the light. "I brought some dollies for you to play with." Stepping into his arms, she growled and snapped playfully. "You've started the games without me. No fair."

"Only a bit of warm-up," he rumbled.

Behind Drusilla, Lindsey and Lilah entered the lighted area, along with a group of eight armed men. Magister quickly assessed that each had a sidearm, stake, and flare at his belt, plus a miniature crossbow in his hands.

Lindsey stepped forward and offered his hand. When it wasn't taken, he cleared his throat and began, "I'm sure Dru has told you we represent Wolfram and Hart. It is our hope to offer you--"

"You put your hand out in friendship, yet you come here highly armed. Why should I think you offer me anything but death?"

"It's only fair," Lilah countered confidently. "We can't very well ask you and your men to lay down your weapons. Our weapons merely make the field even."

Magister smiled at her. "Have you seen any besides me?"

"No," she smiled back, "but that doesn't mean they're not here."

"A wise assumption." He gave a slight nod of his head and vampires entered the light from every direction. The lawyers were surrounded.

"As I was saying," Lindsey was almost able to control the nervous tremor in his voice. "We've noticed your efforts and are very impressed. The firm is always looking for partners that will bring new ideas and resources to the table. But, before we ask anything from you, we would like to put our considerable resources at your disposal. We've noticed from your actions that we have a common enemy. Perhaps we can help you take care of your little Angel problem."

Magister started to laugh uncontrollably. "Is that the best you can do? Come and offer to help me swat a fly? I know all about your lawyers and senior partners. Sitting up there on their asses for hundreds of years, waiting for things to fall their way. I am no longer a slave of destiny. Now I make my own."

"And we just want to help you along," Lilah said calmly. "Be there when you need a little something extra to make things happen."

"So far, I've been in need of nothing."

"True," the pretty lawyer eyed him slyly, "but we both know you have much bigger plans in store." She again earned a smile from the vampire.

"Perhaps, when the time comes--" he began.

All of the humans started with fright when a high-pitched scream echoed through the building. Magister didn't blink as he moved to catch the tiny vampire. The next moment, all he could do was watch her clear blue eyes fade as she turned to dust in his arms. His roar of pain was such that very few had heard before. He cried out in anger and sorrow. "Robyn…! Kill them!" he bellowed, his demon bursting forth from its hiding place.

Lilah grabbed the trigger happy agent beside her, her own eyes burning with anger. She physically threw him into the clutches of the mad vampire and ducked into the melee.

Before the agent could utter a sound, Magister's hand was wrapped around his throat, lifting him off the ground. His free hand caught the arm that brought the stake out. He squeezed, grinding every bone in his victim's wrist to powder and forcing him to drop the stake. The agent's eyes pleaded sorrow, pleaded for mercy, but the fury that burned in the vampire was impenetrable.

"She was my heart," he raged, "and you took her from me! Shall I show you how that feels?"

He punched in under the agent's ribcage, forcing his hand deeper into his prey's body. When he pulled out, he brought the man's still-beating heart up and showed it to him. As he sank his fangs into it, ripping a mouthful out, the agent's eyes rolled back in his head, his life slipping from his body.

The vampire roared, angry that the target of his rage had died too quickly, too easily, and threw the body aside like a rag doll. He rushed forward into the few humans still standing, ripping and tearing at flesh. His men had little trouble with the trained and well-armed agents, leaving very few for him to take his wrath out on. He surveyed the bodies at his feet and howled in frustration.

"Where are the lawyers?"

Before anyone could answer, he rushed toward the doors, Justin hot on his heels. They reached the outside just in time to see a limousine squeal off. Magister lunged forward to follow, but Justin caught him around the chest, bracing with his whole body to stop his sire's progress.

"Sir, the sunrise. There's not enough time to catch them without the risk of getting trapped outside."

"I will have them both. I will make them eat each other's hearts while we take turns fucking everyone they've ever loved to death in front of them. I will have their children for breakfast and their grandparents for dinner."

"Tomorrow," Justin said calmly. "Robyn belonged to us all. And tomorrow we will leave Wolfram and Hart in rubble for her."

"What was she doing here anyway? How could you bring her into danger?"

"Forgive me. No one knew she came. She must have hidden in one of the vehicles the other team brought."

Frustrated, Magister wheeled and stormed back into the building, his anger still unsatisfied. "Bring me the boy," his call echoed.

Wesley had been moving deeper into the darkness during the fight. He had just laid his hand on what felt like a door, when he was grabbed from behind. Two vampires dragged him out into the exhibit hall. They lifted him and laid him out on a pallet of two-by-fours, like an offering on some kind of crude altar.

"Prepare him," Justin growled quietly.

More vampires descended on him. His limbs where bound with rough cord, tying him, spread-eagle, to the wood. The harsh hands grabbed at his clothing, tearing every stitch of fabric, along with his hidden weapons, from his body. His breath came in rapid gasps and his heart threatened to pound through his chest as he lay there, naked and waiting.

"Leave us," Magister rumbled the order. "The sun will be coming. Take everyone home."

"But, Sir, you can't remain here."

"I won't be long," his sire promised. "I only want to leave a message." Justin nodded and waved the others out.

Wesley tried to bring his trembling body under control as he watched the one remaining vampire lean against his wooden prison, back to him and head bowed. The cords bit into his wrists and ankles as he struggled for freedom. He froze, startled when his once-colleague began to murmur.

"Do you believe vampires can feel love? That we can feel pain?"

Wesley cleared his throat. "I…uh… I've seen too much to discount the power of a vampire's emotion. I've seen one act out of love and loyalty. Watched him do the right thing when most would walk away."

"Yes," Magister barked a sad laugh, "our friend Angel, cursed with a soul." The vampire turned his glowing, yellow eyes on his prisoner and ran cool fingers along the faint, pink scars on the young man's chest. "We have much in common. I know Faith gave you these. Have you forgiven her?" Wesley's only answer was a noncommittal grunt. "Should I tell you what was left of me when the hero, Angel, was freed from his soul? Shall I show you the signs of his work I still carry? Has he ever told you?"

Wesley shuddered under the light, caressing touch. Nothing in the vampire's manner was meant to cause physical pain, but the memories of the night Faith had tortured him were flooding back, wracking his body with the anticipated effects of fear and pain.

"Angel doesn't talk about what happened. It wasn't him, but I know he still blames himself. You're different. You were a good man. One of the best I've ever had the privilege to know. Some of that must still be in you, telling you all of this is wrong."

Magister began to chuckle and moved so that shadows no longer hid the blood still dripping from his face. "The good man I once was… You've had a rare view of what I've become, Boy. You were there the night they took my soul. You were here to witness the death of my heart. I wonder… how much more will I be expected to endure?"

"Giles, we can help you."

"No," the vampire sighed sadly as a razor sharp fingernail began to carve deep furrows in the younger Watcher's chest. "There is no helping Giles, and there is no helping me. The time for games is over now, Wesley." The young man clenched his jaw in pain as more blood was drawn from him in intricate patterns spanning the length of his torso. "I will bend this world to my will. From now on, pain will be something I inflict instead of endure. The writers of destiny can go fuck themselves because I am no longer a pawn of their twisted meddling. This is my world now."

With the last cut made, he spoke an incantation. Fire traced along the bloody tracks in Wesley's flesh, searing the tissue, but not consuming it. His screams of torment echoed throughout the building.

"Get away from him!" Angel flew at Magister.

The vampiric Watcher stepped back, surrendering his screaming and writhing prey with an easy smile. "Time is short, Hero. Do you come after me, or help your suffering friend? Sadly, I was expecting to have more time with you tonight. Traffic getting here?"

Angel glanced over to make sure Buffy was cutting Wesley loose. As the torture victim's bonds were released, she had to physically restrain him. He was delirious with the pain, lashing out at whatever he could reach. By the time Angel's eyes went back to his foe, there was nothing there.

The familiar voice of a friend echoed from the darkness. "Our time will come, Angel. When we finally meet, the clash will be worthy of titans. Oh, and don't worry, Buffy, I haven't forgotten about you, Love."

Angel stripped off his coat and wrapped it around a still thrashing Wesley. He noticed Buffy glaring into the darkness. "Let him go," he murmured. "Wes needs our help now."

Outside, Magister swung a leg over his bike, and threw an amused look at Justin, waiting patiently next to him.

"Was your message delivered, Sir?"

His sire chuckled as screams could still be heard in the distance, "I do believe it has been received. It's time we were getting home, wouldn't you agree?"

"Yes, sir," Justin smiled.



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