11. The Call of Darkness

"Well, that could have gone better," Lilah sighed, watching out her window as other employees arrived for work and Lindsey paced in the office behind her.

"Gone better? How could it have gone any worse?" The young lawyer raked his hand through his hair. "The deal was going to work. We would have had him, but no, you had to bring armed guards."

"You saw him. There was no way he would have given us two seconds without a little show of strength. It was working too, if it weren't for that trigger-happy son of a… And who ever heard of a vampire getting attached to a little, whatever the hell she was, anyway?"

"Well," Lindsey barked a hysterical laugh, "he looked pretty damned attached to me. And now we're fucked. You know that right? That fuckin' vamp's not going to rest until he sucks the both of us dry."

"Calm down," Lilah chuckled. "Isn't that why we work for the evil firm with the unlimited resources?"

Her office door slammed open, admitting a very angry looking Holland Manners. "You two," he began in a voice that hid depths of danger under a calm surface. "Do you have any idea what I could have found this morning, just lying there on my desk? No," he held up a hand, "don't try to answer. It was a note. Well, I'd describe it more as a missive. And can you even guess what it informed me of?"

"Sir, we can explain--" Lindsey tried.

"It was a declaration of war, well no, more a declaration of intent to bring this whole place down around us. Citing a list of grievances with this firm and naming you two in particular."

"They're only vampires," Lilah huffed. "The firm will be able to--"

"Do you really think you can do anything without the Senior Partners knowing your every move? I know who this vampire is. And, to those above, he is worth more than the both of you combined. Also, Lilah, personally I'm sick of losing good men to your incompetence. You have today to weasel yourselves out of this, because come sunset, I will chain you both to the outside of this building and feed you to him myself!"

As their boss exited with a slam of the door, Lindsey sighed, "Yep, we're fucked."

"I don't know about you, but I tend to only enjoy a good fucking when it's on my terms." Lilah pulled a ledger from some hidden place in her desk. She picked up the phone, dialed, and waited. "Yes, hello. Mr. Travers? You don't know who I am, but I have some information you might be interested in."



"How's he doing," Angel whispered.

Buffy sighed, staring at the closed office door. "Whatever that spell was ended a few hours ago. He wouldn't go to bed, just locked himself in there and won't answer the door. We got him to let Dawn in for a second to help check out and dress his wounds. She said the fire cauterized everything, so there's really nothing we can do to help him."

"He's stronger than you know, Buffy. He'll pull through." The phone rang once and fell silent. "Wes must have gotten it."

"We have to stop this, Angel. Pretty soon he's gonna get tired of toying with us and people will start dying. For all we know Willow might already be…"

"She's not," Angel wrapped reassuring arms around her. "If she was, she would have been with him. Trust me."

"Hey," Faith approached quietly. "Any sign from our human torch?" Buffy glared at her and Faith shrugged her shoulders. "You know me, B. Always makin' jokes so nobody will see how much I care."

Dawn and Ethan were coming down the stairs, talking between themselves. Dawn chuckled, "You're telling me it was all because you were jealous."

"A very powerful emotion, Dearest. Watching Ripper and Deidire grow so close and so happy turned me into a manic. They were both supposed to be mine"

"So you thought an orgy demon would be a good idea," the girl smirked.

"First, when is anything involving an orgy not a good idea? And second, I was a young, stupid boy. I thought getting a good fuck was worth anything. Something all stupid boys have in common and you should remember, Young Lady." Dawn raised an eyebrow at him. "Okay, so now I'm old as dirt and I still think a good fuck is worth it. I just know better ways of going about getting one now."

"No more summoning demons, huh?"

Ethan sighed, "Eygon cost me everything. Everyone I ever thought I could really love disappeared when we all scattered."

"So you turned to the power of chaos magick. To keep anything from ever hurting you again." Ethan nodded at her assessment. "Is there anything that can defeat chaos?"

The older man chuckled. "There is a legend. It's said that chaos magick has no power against the pure love of an innocent. However, in my life, I've never encountered such a thing."

The office door slammed open, echoing through the lobby. "Arrogant, bloody minded, good for nothing, worthless sons of bitches!" The room was stunned into silence by the uncharacteristic outburst from the normally reserved Brit. "That was a 'courtesy call' from the Council. They wanted to warn us that they know about Giles and have his current location. And that if any of us get between them and eliminating the threat, they will not hesitate in going through us."

Buffy could see that, even in his anger, Wesley stood bent slightly forward, trying to avoid stretching the painfully tender flesh of his chest. "They know his location. How?"

"The Council has nearly unlimited resources. However, after what I witnessed last night, I'm guessing Wolfram and Hart has decided they've missed their chance with him."

"We've gotta get there first. We gotta get him out before--"

"Why should we?" Wesley whispered coldly.

"Wes, come on. That wasn't Giles that did that to you. We can't let them…"

Wesley looked Buffy in the eyes for the fist time. "I don't blame Giles for any of this, Buffy. As far as I'm concerned, he was the first victim of this unmitigated disaster. And now, he won't even get the hero's burial he deserves."

"Did they tell you where he was?" Buffy asked, a little more subdued.

"And what if they did?" Faith interjected. "I count four of us not on the injured list. What'll happen if we just walk up and try to storm his castle?" Ethan raised an eyebrow at her choice of words.

Buffy's sigh was nearly a sob. "He'll slaughter us, I know."

Angel took her back into his embrace. "He's too powerful now. It might be time for us to accept the fact that Giles is gone."

Wesley bent farther, wincing in pain. "A lot of people are going to die today. Many good men. From what I saw last night, Slayer, your worry is highly misplaced. He's not among those likely to die."

No one noticed Faith grab Ethan by the arm and head for the courtyard. No one, except Dawn.



The teenager stood in the shadows, listening as Faith and Ethan whispered in the courtyard. She stamped down a strange tinge of jealously that fluttered in her stomach as the older girl wrapped an arm around his shoulders, pulling him closer.

Ethan suddenly stood. "You've been around Ripper too much, Girly. He was the one that enjoyed a good suicide mission, not me."

"And here, with the way B's been actin', I thought you were the dangerous guy." Faith gave him a sly look. "The one to keep my eye on."

"It's not that I'm opposed to a bit a danger, as long as I get the benefit while someone else takes the risk."

"So you think it's not gonna work?"

"On the contrary, I think it may well be the only chance the both of them have. However, even if I was in the mood to risk my hide today, I can't do anything with my hands tied." He shoved the wrist with the bracelet out. "Do you know how to get this bloody thing off of me?"

"They didn't trust me enough to tell me." Ethan snickered at the fact that she was upset she couldn't prove them right.

"I know how," Dawn stepped out of the shadows. Both pairs of dark eyes stared at her. "One of the good things about being invisible most the time… I was there when Wes showed Buffy."

"How long have you been there?" Faith asked.

"Long enough."

"Listen, Chick, you know things are bad. If you go tellin' on us…"

Dawn smiled, "No one is gonna hear anything from me. You two are going to bring them back to me. That's all I care about."

"Wait a minute," Ethan stepped back as the two girls came towards him. "I haven't agreed to anything yet."



Faith looked up at the towering structure that had been prominently featured in her dreams since the demon version of one of the only men to ever earn her trust had extended his invitation. She knew he was waiting inside for her. But waiting to do what? She had been pretty sure before, but with what little Wesley did say about the night before, everything could have changed. Would he still be up to playing?

The dark Slayer stepped though the doors into the lobby. In the shadows of the room, she could see vampires of all sorts lounging around, hiding from the sun. They stirred as they began to notice her, and whispers of "Slayer" drifted around the room. When they started to rise and surround her, Faith calmly flexed her neck to release her shoulder muscles and slid her hand to the stake hidden in her tight, leather pants.

"Stand down!" Justin yelled. "She belongs to him."

The vampires skulked away and Faith snorted, "I don't belong to anybody."

Justin eyed her with amusement, and the elevator doors slid open behind him.

"Beautiful Faith, I was beginning to think you were never going to grace me with your presence." Magister strode up to her and bowed. "I apologize at not being here to welcome you, but you came unannounced."

"Took me a while to sneak away from the wardens. And it's all five-by-five," Faith smiled, "the welcome I got suits me just fine."

He leaned in and took a hushed tone. "I'm sure you would have handled the situation quite nicely. Especially these newcomers who are, as yet, untested."

"Hey, if you wanna test 'em, I'm up for a little rough and tumble."

A grin snuck along Magister's lips. "I was hoping you were. But they don't get to play," he rumbled. The girl looked him over from black boots, to turquoise shirt, to wayward curls, and smiled approvingly. "How is the little family doing anyway?"

"You know," the dark Slayer chuckled. "Angel is in full brood mode. Buffy's at her whiny best. The children are freaking. And Wes, well, he had a rough night."

"Yes, I do hope the poor boy recovers quickly. It appears he has potential I've never noticed before."

"Yeah, he can hold up. I heard you had a bad night, too."

"Nothing that won't be paid for in blood, I assure you," Magister rumbled. "And a payment that will be all the sweeter to collect with my dark Slayer at my side."

"Sounds like a blast. Now," Faith put her hands on her hips, "are we just about done with this little cat and mouse session? When am I gonna get what I really came here for?"

The vampire growled at the blatant lust flashing in her dark eyes. "Here we take what we want."

"Suits me," Faith ran and jumped up, wrapping her arms around his neck and her legs around his hips. "Do the children get to watch?" She grinned, nose to nose with him.

He turned, easily carrying her into the elevator. "Some parts of their education I don't take responsibility for." As the doors closed, Faith noticed that the others in the room were starting to do just fine on their own.

Magister crashed into his rooms with Faith kissing him fiercely. On his bed, the three harpies were warming up for him.

"Hey," Harmony whined, "who invited a Slayer."

"Yum, yum," Drusilla stood and swayed. "Slayer blood always makes it the best party."

"Out!" Magister thundered around Faith's mouth.

"But," Harmony pouted.

"She's mine. Get out." The danger in his voice sent the other vampires scurrying.

Faith laughed into his neck. "I think they're disappointed."

"I don't care what they are," he growled, shoving her hard into a wall. "I've waited too long for you, Faith. Do you know how long I've wanted to fuck you, Girl?"

"Then stop talking about it and do it, Old Man." With a wicked gleam in her eye, Faith pulled back just enough to rip his shirt open, sending a spray of buttons bouncing around them. She eagerly ran her hands over his cool skin, enjoying the tickle of his coarse chest hair on the palms of her hands.

Magister's large hands ran up her sides, under her tight top, and removed the garment with easy efficiency. Her bra barely survived, releasing an instant before being torn from her body. In the every next instant, his lips were on her breasts, suckling, kissing, worshiping.

With a moan that demanded more, Faith pushed off the wall and they went crashing through a table. Now straddling the vampire, she looked down at him with predatory eyes. A teasing smile danced on her lips as she picked up a wooden sliver from the wreck of the table around them and twirled it between her fingers.

"Is that what you came here for?" Magister rumbled. "Then strike fast and take me before I take you."

Still playing with the stake in one hand, her other hand snaked down and began to massage his groin. A deep groan shook through his entire body as she tormented his denim clad erection. Her strong, practiced fingers popped his button and lowered his zipper, coming torturously close to freeing him, only to tease a bit more. Faith laughed, dropping the stake, when he bucked, throwing her off. He stood, shucking his jeans quickly, and advanced on her with wild lust shining in his eyes.

The Slayer stayed out of his reach long enough to escape her own pants. When he finally caught her, he pinned her against a sturdy, oak dresser. He hid his face in her warm, sweet smelling flesh, kissing and licking along her neck and shoulder. Faith's small, powerful hands explored his body, roaming over his shoulders and down his broad, muscled back to cup the firm swell of his taut ass.

"God, I knew I should have checked this out the first time I saw you standing in that library."

"Oh, but Faith," he chuckled, sinking to his knees in front of her, "that would not have been proper behavior." Before she even had time to smirk, he buried his face between her thighs and worked to show her just how talented his multi-lingual mouth was.

Faith clutched at the dresser behind her, trying to steady herself against the unrelenting assault of pleasure. She gasped as his tongue tasted her thoroughly, and his lips and teeth played her most sensitive nerves like a beloved musical instrument. With no need to breath, his endurance went far beyond her realm of experience. Soon, her body was wracked with bolts of pleasure, exploding as he eagerly lapped up the fruits his labor.

He stood with a cocky grin, but Faith recovered much faster than he expected. She slammed into him, throwing him bodily onto the bed and leapt up to straddle him once more. The Slayer kept her eyes locked on his as she slid slowly onto him, making him growl in frustration and need for more. His hands came up to knead her pert breasts, building a need in her that forced her to move faster atop him. Bending up, he replaced a hand with his wet mouth, continuing the worship that was cut short earlier.

Faith felt a sharp tooth slide along the tender skin of her breast just as another orgasm shuddered through her. "Naw ha," she gasped. "Faith's rule number one, no biting unless you're asked."

Magister laughed, looking up at her with glowing, yellow eyes. "I can't remember the last time I had this view. In this world I dominate. You excite me, Faith. But, I promise, no biting."

"Good. Now what was that about dominating?"

With no effort, he flipped them both and held himself above her. Neither held back any longer as he pounded into her and she met him thrust for bruising thrust. Faith bit her own lip, drawing blood and kissed him feverishly, sharing the last ingredient she knew he needed to reach the heights of his pleasure. The vampire groaned into her bloody kiss, savoring the sweet offering as his body went ridged with release. The Slayer felt her third take her and rode this last wave to its fullest.

When he collapsed beside her, she didn't mind snuggling into the arms of this lover. Faith sighed contently. "Now I know why B goes for you dead boys. It's nice to play with someone you don't have to worry about breaking."


Spike could almost hear Buffy pacing in irritation as his uncontrollable laughter poured out over the phone line. He tried to steady himself enough to speak, but her added growls of frustration only intensified his mirth.

"Why are you laughing? I'm trying to tell you everything he's been doing, and now more people are going to die and there's nothing I can do about it."

"No, Pet, not exactly true there. Angel has been telling me every move he's made. And the boy calls his little ex-demon here every day. The rant you've just gone on had a very specific subject."

"What are you talking about, Spike? Everything I just said was serious."

Spike laughed again. "You really do have a fetish for the cold flesh, don't you, Slayer? First Angel, then me, and now that the old man's joined the legion of the dead you suddenly notice he's packin' a pair."

"Spike, are you drunk?"

"You don't even realize it. You've spent the last twenty minutes tellin' me how he's kidnapped Red to seduce her, he's been 'inappropriate' with Dawn, he's come on to Faith, he's propositioned Cordy, and he's even tried to have his wicked way with the junior-Watcher out there. You're jealous. Oh yeah, and now he seems to be more interested in taking out Angel than hurting you."

"I'm not jealous. Why the hell would I be jealous of any of that? It's just Giles, and not even Giles anymore…"

"You're jealous because he's making it damn clear that you're no longer the center of his world. And that's just eating you up."

"Spike, I called you to help me. You're supposed to be helping me and this isn't the way."

"Sorry, Luv. But you have to admit it's good for a laugh."

"What? Both of them? You have to be kidding."

"Buffy? Hey, what's going on?"

"Typical, when things get really bad, the weasels run for the hills."

"What? Buffy, talk to me." The line went dead. Spike rubbed a hand over his face and looked over at the blond making a sandwich at the other end of the counter. "Looks like it's about time we take a little road trip, Girl."

Anya sighed. "We're all going to die, aren't we? Shouldn't we be pointing the car in the other direction?"

Spike smirked, "Depends, just how much of your pitiful life do you feel like spendin', runin' and hidin'?"

"Well, I guess there are worse things that being killed by a friend." Anya closed her eyes and smiled as the one kiss she'd once shared with Giles fluttered through her mind. "Come on, Fang Boy. Let's go see if a couple of ex-demons can die for something worthwhile."



Magister finished buttoning up his shirt, the new one emerald green, and sat carefully on the bed by the sleeping Slayer. He softly ran his fingers along her contented features.

"My dark beauty," he murmured. "With you leading my armies, this world will learn who we are quickly. My predecessor was a fool not to notice you. The true power and beauty of the Slayer line. I'll not make the same mistake."

Faith sighed in her sleep and turned her cheek into his caress. With a small smile on his lips, the vampire rose and exited his rooms.

"So…" Harmony, along with a few of the more curious among his followers, was waiting in the hallway. "Is the Slayer one of us now? Did you do it?"

Justin came down the hall and answered for him. "Oh, the Slayer is one of us, but she will also be enjoying a long and prosperous life." His master smiled and gave an approving nod at his answer.

"So we're not killing the Slayer?" Harmony huffed, confused.

"Not this one," Justin continued. "Faith is very special to our cause. When The Master killed Buffy, Kendra was called to take her place. Then our lovely Drusilla disposed of that Slayer, causing Faith to rise. And Faith, she knows what it is to cross the line into darkness. We will give her the family she craves, the stability she's never known, and she will never turn from us because of it. She will stand with us and, because the Slayer line rests with her, no new Slayer will be called against us as long as she lives."

"You've been studying the journals," Magister praised. "Very well deduced."

"I told you I'd figure out what you were thinking."

Harmony nodded, "I get it. So, what about Buffy?"

Justin chuckled. "The old Slayer is an anomaly. One who has no place in this world. She has no power against us. Her only purpose now is to be our master's play thing."

His sire laughed. "Well put. Her time is almost done. I've grown tired of dealing with her. Perhaps she'd be useful to capture for training purposes."

"With how quickly our students are progressing, she wouldn't last very long."

"I agree, but she might last just long enough."

Drusilla swayed down the hall as Justin turned to receive a whispered message. "Our dark boy wants the Slayer to suffer. Suffer, Slayer, suffer. We can bring her to him. Play with her like kitty plays with Mr. Grasshopper. Pull her apart and feed him her blood."

He smiled at her offer. "I have tasted Faith, Dear One. I will soon drink from the power that Willow holds. After that, how can Buffy taste anything but bitter to me?"

"Does that mean we can have her," Harmony squealed.

"If Slayer blood is what you crave, it is what you shall have."

"Sir, excuse me," Justin broke in. "The Chief and his boys have picked up communications on the frequencies you told them to monitor. Sounds like we can expect visitors. Just like you said."

"The lawyers," Magister stated. "Looks like they're turning to the old adage of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. They're hoping the Council can take us out before we have a chance to settle our grievance from last night. How long?"

"From the chatter, the Chief estimates ten, maybe fifteen, minutes."

His master let soft laughter build deep in his chest.

"May I ask what's funny, Sir?" There was a hint of nervousness on the faces of the young vampires around them. Justin could sense they needed reassurance.

"Forgive me," his sire showed them a wicked grin. "The Council usually likes to hide its dirty business. The fact that they are willing to attack us in broad daylight tells me one thing… They are scared of us. They think they need every advantage."

His followers mirrored his wicked grin, finding strength and encouragement in their leader's words and his faith.

"Wake everyone," Magister ordered. "Position teams at all the entrances. Concentrate on the roof. That's where they'll think we'd be vulnerable with the sun up. Tell our men to keep to the shadows as much as possible. I'll join the roof team in a bit."

"Very good, Sir. You know they'll be excited to fight along side you."

"As I am to stand with them." He smiled as the group around them scattered to fulfill his orders. He placed a hand on Justin's shoulder. "Get the troops in place. I'll join you shortly."

As his protégé departed, the vampiric watcher leveled his gaze on the guards at Willow's door. "She will be safe," one answered without a hint of doubt. "We will defend her with our lives. We'll watch over both of them for you."



Magister stood in front of his gathered soldiers, framed by the shadowed doorway to the roof. He could hear the helicopters approaching long before he could see them, and he could see them cutting through the smog of the Los Angeles skyline while they were still miles away. A transport and a gunship. No doubt holding at least one elite assassination squad. The dead Watcher smirked. Only the Council could fly such crafts through a city's airspace in broad daylight with such impunity.

Behind him, his men buzzed with excitement. He had shown them time and again what he was capable of. Now it was their turn to show him what they had learned. What they had trained for to earn the right to stand beside him. To make him proud. At that moment they were invincible, it didn't matter who attacked.

He waited, holding his men back as he watched the transport approach his home and hover over it. Heavily armed men clad in dark military gear began to rappel from the aircraft. More than the average observer would think possible. Still, he held his troops. Finally, the invaders scurried into formation, obviously expecting an easy sweep of sleeping vampires, and the helicopter retreated.

The instant before he was first spotted, Magister shouted an incantation, raising specially built sunshields lining the rooftop. His soldiers rushed out around him, flooding the shaded roof and taking the Council force by surprise.

He waded into the melee, savoring the screams of death around him. Gunfire attempted to slow the vampire hoard down, but these were his handpicked warriors. The sting of bullet wounds only excited them, as it did him.

A lead projectile tore though his side and he looked up into the frightened eyes of the boy who fired it. "So young. They have stolen your life from you long before they sent you to face me. Did they forget to tell you your destiny was one of pain and death?" He easily stripped the boy's weapons from him and pulled him close by the front of the battle vest. "Trust me boy," he managed to whisper and still be heard over the sounds of the clash, "I extend you a mercy by freeing you from your burdens so soon." With care that he had never before paid an enemy, Magister sank his fangs into the boy's neck and gave him the kindness a quick death.

"Remember," he howled, dropping the body, "these are Watchers! They would prefer death to being as we are! Let's afford them the same courtesy they would any of us!"

His men cheered as he joined them in battle, delighting in the ripping of flesh and breaking of bones. No magick, no weapons, just fangs and claws, as a vampire was meant to destroy.

Magister roared in anger as the vampire next to him went up in flames. Then another, and another… The fifty caliber rounds from the machinegun mounted on the assault craft tore through the sunshield at one end of the roof and into the combatants. Incendiary rounds. Fired indiscriminately. The Council cowards!

With both men and vampires dropping around him, Magister sprinted for the sunlight. He leapt from to edge of the roof and into the open door of the helicopter, pouncing on the gunner, who had been firing at him the entire way.

"You fire at your own men as well as mine!?!" The gunner could only choke on his own cries of terror as he stared into the bloody, demon face only centimeters from his own. His attacker could read his excuse in his eyes. "Some orders should never be taken!" The beast tore into his chest in a rage.

The pilot grabbed for his sidearm and tried to swing it back but, before he had a chance to aim, his head was separated from his body. Spinning out of control, the helicopter began to plummet. Magister jumped, the slicing blades clipping his cheek and leg as he made his escape. He landed with a rough roll in a sunny, garden terrace.

Even with the firefight and the cries of battle still raging; with the falling iron of the gunship and twisting machinery scraping along the stone of the building, he could hear it, feel it. Panic. A scream.

Willow !


12. Master of the House

Panic began to grip Willow's chest as the sounds of battle continued. The gunfire seemed to ring out from every direction, the roof above her and the floors below her. She started to cautiously move to the doors of her suite, but froze when they violently burst open. The dust of her two vampire guards still hung in the air around a thin man with a pinched and twisted face wearing dark military gear.

The witch almost sighed in relief at the sight of an apparent rescuer. The sigh caught in her throat as the man's eyes focused on the urn and he raised his pistol in its direction.

Willow cried out, running to a position between the stranger and the precious soul. "No! If you break the vessel, he'll be lost in the ether and my spell won't work."

His chilling, pale eyes drilled into her as he spoke into a radio at his shoulder. "Secondary target in sight. Will eliminate the witch." A cruel smile twisted his thin lips. "Sorry, Doll. Truth is, Rupert should have brought you to the Council to be dealt with in the first place. Now look what you've done to him. I always told 'em the man was too soft to be a real Watcher."

Willow's dark green eyes went wide as she watched him raise his gun to her chest in slow motion. He was squeezing the trigger when the double doors to her terrace shattered and a large, dark figure, still smoking from the sunlight, swept into the room. He raced across and lunged in front of her just in time to take the four bullets meant for her in his broad chest. The girl released a cry of terror and relief as her knees buckled behind her rescuer.

"Still protecting your little witch, even in death, ay Rupert?" the stranger chuckled.

"I should have known they'd send you, Duncan ," the vampire growled. "The Council's best assassin. And with a," he glanced toward the ceiling, "thirty man squad?"

"Forty, actually."

"All for little me. I'm flattered. And I should thank you. It's not often my men have a feast like this delivered."

There were still a few shots to be heard, but most of the noises of battle had died away.

Duncan smiled. "Acceptable losses. And, even if I fail, the Council will send others for you. You've become more than your usual nuisance, Rupert. You're a liability, and will be handled accordingly."

"I know. That is why, soon, I will be ready to pay the Council a visit and rectify this small… conflict they seem to have with me."

"You will be dust, Rupert. And your Slayer will be brought back into line. And your little witch--"

"She's mine!" the vampire roared with anger. Then calmer, "They all are."

Willow began to scoot back towards the wall. 'Didn't they ever teach you Council guys not to taunt the big, angry vampire,' she thought.

There was something cold, heartless, and perhaps even envious in Duncan's eyes as she watched him stare unflinchingly at his old friend. "They always matched us in school, Ol' Boy," the assassin grinned. "Shall we see if our skills have improved since then?"

"Stakes versus fangs?" Magister asked cordially.

"I'd say we owed that much to each other, for old time's sake," Duncan purred, then instantly launched his attack.

Willow held her breath as she watched the battle unfold, not knowing which monster she'd be better off rooting for. They were a blur of strikes and kicks. Duncan's precise and accurate, as his training dictated. But the vampire fought in a way she'd never seen from the body in front of her before. There had been many times she stood by him as he fought for duty, or necessity, or even to protect her. But, as she kept reminding herself, this was not that man. He was fangs and claws, relishing the battle, reveling in every ounce of pain he inflicted, every drop of blood he extracted. Her eyes drifted to the golden glow as it gave a faint pulse, and filled with tears. Her Giles seemed so very unreachable.

With a loud crack, the battle ended as fast as it had begun. Magister held Duncan up before him with an evil grin, showing his deadly weapons. He had broken the man's back, but in such a way as to paralyze him without killing him. The assassin now dangled helplessly in the vampire's grip. For the first time, his pale eyes burned with nothing but fear.

"I know what you fear," the vampire said in a soothing voice. "You may die at ease, Old Friend. I see no place for you in the world we shall create. Rest, knowing you have sacrificed for your cause." Duncan swallowed hard, trying to use his impotent voice as the fangs slowly approached his neck. "And your blood will nourish me and heal the wounds you have given me."

Willow was transfixed in horror as he fervently tore into his victim's throat and drank freely and with rapture, once and for all showing her his true nature. No more pretence of humanity, no more illusion of civility. He was now nothing but a monster.

She scampered to her feet as he dropped the limp corpse to the floor and turned his glowing, yellow eyes on her. A shiver ran through her, seeing him slowly turn his body to face her and begin to pace forward, a stalking predator. Willow tried to throw up a protection barrier but, with his simple touch, it exploded into magical shards.

Magister lifted his hands and gestured them apart. With the action, the simple, white dress Willow wore was ripped in two and flew from her body. "It's time, Willow . I'm tired of waiting for you."

"But…" Willow tried feebly to cover her nakedness and pressed back against the wall, want to hide in it. "I thought you wanted me to ask for this. I thought you wanted me to beg for you. I'm supposed to burn for you."

"The time for games has ended." He tore the remnants of his shirt from his torso. Willow could see strings of purple energy jumping across the many fresh wounds on his chest, including the four bullet holes that saved her life, creating magical sutures to aid in his healing. "You will be my dark queen. Together, nothing this world has to offer will stand against us."

"So, what if I don't give myself freely?" she yelled, trying to disguise her fear with anger. "Now you're gonna just rape me and murder me? Or are you planning on doing it the other way around? Funny way to treat someone you've been pretending to love."

He reached out, cupping the back of her skull and tangling his fingers through her hair to tilt her face up to his. His cold, blazing yellow stare burned into her. "Why does one have to follow the other?" he asked with a toothy grin, then took her mouth in a demanding kiss.

Willow let a small squeak escape when he finally pulled back. "Fine then," she forced a more powerful voice than she felt. "A last request for your queen in human form?"

"Command me," he rumbled as his cool hand hovered over her quivering, vulnerable flesh.

"If the beast is going have its way and kill me, let me have the man first. Give me the face I could love." Willow knew that he would have to clam himself to effect the change back into his human façade. Perhaps it would be enough to save her. At least, buy her some extra moments.

"As you wish, My Goddess," his tone smoothed. The demon ridges receded into the kind, soft features of her Giles. Harsh yellow eyes melted into soothing green. And Willow began to weep.

She had thought it would be easier this way, more tolerable. But, the fact was, it only made things worse. Staring into that face that had always offered comfort as his hips ground rough against her and she could feel his hard cock straining for a chance at her. Looking into those beautiful green eyes and seeing nothing that should be there. No warmth, no tenderness, no compassion, no… soul. Tears fell down her cheeks as she stroked her fingertips along his face, still stained with the blood of his victims.

"I'm sorry," she whispered to him. "I'm sorry I let this happen to you. Sorry I helped turn you into this."

The demon suddenly frowned. "You won't be for long," he growled angrily. There was the sound of a zipper and then he was inside her.

Willow choked on a scream and clung to his shoulders as he lifted her off the floor. It had been years since any man, and she wasn't ready for him. Wasn't ready for his forced presence in her state of sorrow instead of arousal. And wasn't ready for his size, which felt as if he stretched her to her limits.

"I didn't want it to be this way, Willow ," he hissed in her ear. "I wanted to make love to you as he would have. You were to mourn the loss of him with every gasp until your last."

He thrust wildly into her, caring only for his own pleasure, and she watched through blurred eyes over his shoulder as the soul of Rupert Giles seemed to pulse rapidly with anger. 'I still love you,' she mouthed to the faceless urn.

Soon another pain joined the assault on her body. The pain of fangs piercing the thin skin of her neck. Her head rolled back at the feeling of her blood slowly, even lovingly, being drained from her body. A whisper of "Giles" fell from her lips.

"I'm surprised at you, Ripper," a new voice drifted across the room. "You never had problems with a girl's willingness before."

Willow slumped and slid down the wall when the vampire suddenly released her and spun around. "Ethan," he rumbled.

"What a lovely greeting," Ethan smiled, with a glance at the erect cock that was now pointing at him. "If only that was for me… And, of course, you were still my Ripper."

The vampire chuckled. "So they've sent Ethan Rayne to bring me under control. But who? Not the Council, they were never that clever. Perhaps the little family I left behind. Did you trick them into thinking you were ever the stronger between us? Or, have you come on your own to fulfill your oath to him?"

"A little of both," Ethan sighed, stepping over the body of the demon's latest felled opponent. "However, I have no illusions that my power might match yours now. Or that these are not perhaps my last minutes in this world. But I must try, you understand. For Rupert."

Yellow eyes flashed and glanced at the urn. "Sorry old fool. If only they had loved you like this when you were alive."

Ethan took that moment to make his first move. A ball of blue energy grew in his hand and was thrown at the beast. It was easily deflected with a slight wave, leaving a charred spot when it exploded in the corner. The vampire countered by creating a column of fire to engulf the man. Ethan managed to conjure a curtain of ice crystals to stifle the blaze while only suffering a few scorch marks. The containment spell the sorcerer tried next never made it past his lips as he was hit with a burst of purple lightning.

Before Ethan could focus his power for the next attack, he was being flung bodily around the room, smashing headlong into walls and ceiling and floor before crashing into Willow's bed with enough force to collapse its support posts. In a blink of an eye the vampiric wizard was on him, pinning him down with the full weight of his body.

The chaos mage coughed, spitting blood, and chuckled as a forearm pressed into his windpipe. "You once told me I'd get you into bed over your dead body, Ripper. Guess you were right."

The cruel, demon face grinned down at him. "You've always fancied this body, haven't you, Ethan?" he rumbled. His broad tongue appeared and licked blood from the corner of the sorcerer's mouth. "How 'bout I use it to fuck you to death?"

As he tried to distract his attacker, the chaos mage stretched his hand out towards Willow and turned as much of his concentration on her as possible. "I've gotten that offer before," he chuckled. "You'll find I'm a bit resilient. Besides, the body wasn't all I wanted. The man I wanted is dead now." A quick jab to his torso and Ethan grunted as he heard a rib snap.

"You don't think I can sense what you're doing? Trying to feed her your magick in the hope that together you can do what, destroy me?" Another jab and another broken rib. "Shall we see if you can give her enough before I take you apart piece by piece?"

"You always had the mathematical mind," Ethan groaned through the pain. "I'm sure you've already calculated just how long you can drag out my demise before she becomes a threat to you."

"I've tasted her blood, Ethan. All she has left to do is drink from me and we'll be together for all eternity. She can't help you now."

Ethan was quickly becoming weaker as his power continued to flow to a now stirring Willow . "That's what hurts the most, Ol' Mate," he panted as breathing became more difficult. "You want her by your side, but I'm not even worth taking a bite out of to join your little army here."

"You are chaos, Ethan. Unpredictable and uncontrollable. I will bring order. This world will no longer be for you."

"Sounds rather boring…" Ethan weakly coughed more blood.

Willow could feel the new magick surging through her. It was more than her natural power alone, and it was different than the darkness she feared would envelope her again. This was new. It felt like it came from everywhere and nowhere at once. It surrounded her and emerged from within her. It awaited her orders and defied her will. The power in her eyes was all colors and it danced on her hands with all textures. This was Ethan's magick. This was chaos.

Bathed in new strength, she was lifted as much as rose to her feet. Suddenly, she knew exactly what to do. Every counter spell, every disabling chant danced in her mind. Willow heard another pop and whimper come from the bed, but her path was clear now. Ethan had given up his only defenses to give her a chance at saving Giles. The faster she worked now, the more hope there was of saving both men.

With a short chant the fist ward snapped loose. A brush of the fingers and the second shattered. One by one, every barrier blocking her fell in the wake of the combined magicks. At last, she had her hands, and her magicks, on the sacred urn.

The vampire sensed his danger and left his torture victim to come for her. Willow's ever changing, multi-colored eyes flicked toward him and he was frozen in place. Her spell poured forth from her lips, pleading to all that is higher for the return of the soul to its proper vessel.

With a howl of pain and frustration the demon cried out. "No! Get out! It's mine now!"

But it was no match. With a rush of golden light, Giles' soul drove back into his body. Falling to his knees, his scream was nothing like the monster's had been. It was agony, and sorrow, and guilt, and hatred. The invisible binds holding him released as Willow collapsed to the floor in front of him. He crawled to her, gathering her limp, naked form into his trembling arms.

In the hallway beyond the door, the flailing body of a vampire flew past. Faith appeared in the room. She took one look into Giles' tear-filled eyes and smiled.

"Good to have you back, G." With her stake, she back-handed and dispatched a rushing enemy. "Hope you guys have enough left to handle an exit plan. That little Council distraction has run its course and the natives are getting restless."

Ethan slowly limped to where Giles held Willow . He had his arms wrapped around his torso, as if trying to hold his chest together. "You have to do it, Ripper," he knelt beside his old friend. "You're you only one with enough strength left to teleport us all out of here."

Faith ran to the small group and positioned herself in front of them, taking a fighting stance as Magister's army began to flood into the room. A bright flash of white light blinded the onslaught and the four were gone.

"They took him," Justin growled. "Gather everyone!" he ordered loudly. "Before tomorrow's dawn the Slayers and their people will be dead, and we will have our master back."



Buffy, Angel, and Wesley jumped into defensive stances as the lobby flashed bright and four people appeared in the center of the room. When their visions cleared enough to see who the intruders were, their guards never wavered.

"Whoa, whoa," Faith waved her arms and sidestepped between Buffy's aimed crossbow and Giles. "Stand down troops. We've got a member of the soul society here."

Giles took no notice of anything going on around him, his only focus on the pale form lying limp in his arms. He whispered as his trembling fingers caressed her still face, "Please… Willow , open your eyes, Love. Please look at me. You have to be all right. Don't leave me now. Open your eyes, Willow. Look at me."

An audible whimper escaped from his throat as her eyelids fluttered.

"Look at me, Willow ," his voice grew stronger, more demanding. "You're stronger than this. You're the most powerful woman I know. Fight, Love! Come back to me."

Giles barely registered Ethan's movement to the other side of the girl's naked form as he helped to support her. "The overload of magicks is slowly draining from her. Give it a minute, Ol' Man." His long fingers brushed the hair from her damp brow. "Do you remember how much you took?"

Ethan cringed at the tear his question drew from his old friend. "It," Giles paused to control a sob. "It shouldn't have been enough. You got there in time. You stopped me…" His head dropped and the tears came unbidden.

The sorcerer reached over her to place a hand on the vampire's slumped shoulder. "I stopped him. You would have never done this. Not even in your worst days. And I'm the only one here who can say that with authority."

"Giles?" Willow's weak, catching voice drifted up to them.

"Yes," he almost cried. "I'm here, Willow ."

She stared into his face with unfocused eyes. "Did we do it? Did we beat him?"

"Yes, Little One. You did it. You rescued me."

Dawn was suddenly with them, handing Ethan a blanket, which he tenderly wrapped around the witch.

"Good," Willow whispered with a grin. "I have to rest now. But don't you go anywhere. 'Cause, when I feel better, I'm still gonna kick your butt."

Willow's eyes drifted closed again and Giles squeezed her tighter to him. "No. Stay awake. Get up now and you can kick my bloody arse from here to London !"

"Love to," she smiled, eyes staying closed. "Can't. See you soon…"

He leaned down to place a feather light kiss on her ear. "I do," he breathed. "You were right. About him, and about me. I do." Her smile grew into a grin, but she made no other movements.

Ethan whispered to him as he continued to rock her. "Her pulse is strong, Rupert. She'll be all right. She just needs some rest."

Xander approached to take her from him, with Wesley's help. Giles reluctantly let her slip from his arms with a mumbled plea of, "Take care of her."

"We will," the ex-Watcher assured him.

Xander crouched down enough to look him in the eyes. "You know I would never hurt Willow ," the young man said with colder, harder eyes than his old mentor had ever seen from him.

Giles felt as if he had been hit square in the stomach. As they carried Willow away, he wished the boy had hit him. He deserved it.

Dawn handed him a shirt while averting her eyes, and he suddenly remembered he was also in quite a state of undress. Giles quickly tucked himself in and did up his jeans. He pulled on the provided shirt while Dawn helped Ethan to a nearby couch.

"What did you do to her?" Buffy roared up to him. He knew she hadn't missed the bite mark on Willow's neck or both their sad states upon arrival. "How could you? How could you hurt her like that?" His Slayer did not hold back from giving him what he craved. The world spun around him when her fist connected with his jaw. Giles stood, without defense and waiting for another, but Faith stepped in and caught the swinging arm.

"What's wrong with you?" the dark Slayer shouted. "You can't blame him for what happened. You know that better than anyone." She gestured at Angel. "If you can forgive your boyfriend everything that happened when you took his soul, but not Big G here, there's something seriously wrong with you!"

Knowing the other Slayer was right, Buffy turned her anger on Faith. "And what did you think you were doing? You and Ethan going off by yourselves and not letting anyone know what you were doing. What if we needed you? What if something went wrong? Did you even have a plan?"

"It was a two man job. Sorry, B." Faith grinned, showing she was not intimidated. "You said yourself that in a full on attack he would have slaughtered us. This was a purely black ops, need to know thing. I had an invitation and I could sneak the magic man in. The Council attack gave us the perfect cover, so we had to move fast. And, fact is, someone else did know, in case things went bad." Faith glanced over at the girl tending to the sorcerer on the couch.

Ethan smiled up at Dawn as she gently dabbed blood from a cut at his hairline. He shifted to get more comfortable and winced at the movement.

"Lie still," the girl scolded, her lithe hands moving to unbutton his shirt.

"Your wish, My Sweet," he grinned, thoroughly enjoying the attention. A beautiful blush tinged her cheeks under his appreciative gaze. "Does the returning hero get a reward?"

Dawn separated the material of his shirt and discovered his entire torso had already turned three shades of purple. She gasped. "Returning hero? You look like you got hit by a freight train."

"Don't worry. It only feels like I got hit by a lorry." He chuckled as she tried to decipher in her head. "You might call one a Mack truck."

"Oh," Dawn graced him with a smile. "As long as it doesn't hurt too bad."

Ethan laughed harder, but choked as his body disapproved. "Messing with Ripper is one thing. But I'll have to remember not to try my luck too often with the super charged version." He sighed contentedly as his young nurse ran a cool cloth over his abused chest and abdomen.

"How many do you think are broken?"

"Let's play it safe and just say all of them," the sorcerer groaned as she poked a little too hard.

"Thank you," she whispered, meeting his eyes. "For bringing them back to me."

Ethan tenderly brushed a stay lock of hair from her face. "My Dear, I would bring you the moon if you asked for it."

Dawn looked up to notice the Slayers were arguing… again. "Hey! Shouldn't we get them to the hospital?"

"There's no time," Giles straightened and said in a commanding voice. "It's not safe to separate now." All eyes were on him. "Angel, I make it thirty-seven minutes."

"Yes," the older vampire nodded. "Not much time."

"What?" Xander's head popped up from bandaging Willow's neck. "What's in thirty-seven minutes?"

"Sunset," Angel answered.

"They'll come for me."



In the comfortable back office of Caritas, Lorne knelt, cradling the shaking form of Cordelia. He helped her up slowly and sat her on the couch.

"You gotta stop doin' that to me, Sweet Bread. I about had a heart attack."

Cordelia looked up into his kind face with the heel of her hand pressed against her temple and gave a small smile. "I'll try. Wouldn't want to cause you any pain."

"That's all I ask," he smiled. When he was sure she was steady, Lorne handed her a glass of water and went to the desk in search of painkillers.

Gunn walked in and took one look at the scene before him. "What is it? Another vision?"

"Either that or I just got kamikazed by a two ton bug," Cordelia groaned.

The Host returned to her with a bottle, and Gunn went to sit carefully beside her. "Anything we should know about?" the young man asked softly.

Cordelia's head popped up, as if everything she'd seen suddenly became clear in her mind. "It's time to go. He needs our help."

"Who? Angel?"

"No," a beatific smile spread on her face, "Giles!"


13. Bring on the Night

Faith easily heaved two twin mattresses over the banister to Angel, who dragged them in to be laid on the cleared office floor. Buffy carried Willow in to make her comfortable on one, and Dawn helped Ethan to the other.

"Are you sure this is the best place to put them?" Buffy whispered to Giles as he shifted a heavy bookcase into position in the doorway so that one person could barely squeeze through the opening.

"It's the best we can do to protect them." He noticeably avoided looking at her as he spoke. "If we're lucky, we can keep the fight here and on our terms. Anywhere else, and we might not know if they're in danger." He slid out of the room after glancing to make sure Angel was doing well stacking more heavy furniture to block the small glass window. "Faith! When you've gotten everything we need, block off that hallway the best that you can. We don't need them raining down on us from above."

"Got it covered," Faith called back. "No one's gettin' through up here."

Wesley and Xander appeared from the basement. "Everything down there's sealed up," Xander responded to Giles' questioning look. "We even found that one opening you discovered that no one here knew about. There will be no mole people sneaking up on us tonight."

"Good," Giles sighed. "One point of entry. It should nullify their numbers enough to give us a chance."

Xander went to the pile of blankets and pillows Faith had thrown to the floor and picked up as many as he could handle before taking them in to Willow. Giles watched as Wesley stiffly moved to begin preparing the weapons and tested the feel of a sword, swinging it carefully.

"You can hardly move," the vampire said softly to the young ex-Watcher. "I know what you're thinking but, when the time comes, you should stay hidden with the others."

Wesley turned to face him, standing as straight as he could. The pain of the simple movement was evident on his face. "Would you?" he whispered. "With a fight like this coming and if you were wounded. Would there be anything that could make you stand by and watch?"

Giles lowered his eyes with a small smile. Perhaps they really were more similar than he had ever thought. Unable to look into the eyes of the man who had so recently been a victim of his own cruel torture, he tentatively asked, "Will you allow me to help you?"

"What happened to me isn't your responsibility." Wesley took a moment to study the downturned face before him. Yes, it was this face that had met him the previous night, had taunted and teased him. But the being that caused him pain had worn a completely different face. He suddenly looked on that fact as a small mercy, making forgiveness easier than he had ever expected. Seeing the guilt apparent in the other man, Wesley sighed, "Your help would be welcomed."

Giles looked up at him, surprised to see the sincerity in his eyes. He stepped forward, carefully placing the palm of his hand on Wesley's chest. With his eyes clenched shut and his brow furrowed in concentration, his lips moved with silent words. He began to shake, pressing his palm in harder, and Wesley held back from making any sound at the strange sensation.

When the vampire pulled back, Wesley was breathing hard, as if he'd exerted great effort. But, the breathing came easier. There was no pain at the movement of his chest. He saw the vampire hide his hand. "What did you do?"

"Nothing much," Giles said quickly. "The spell should numb the nerve-endings for a while and stop the pain. But, it's a temporary measure. It will wear off, and the pain will return."

"No," Wesley snapped, grabbing Giles' arm and pulling it forward. "What's that?" He pointed at the red, inflamed skin starting to crack all over Giles' hand.

"A small price. I will heal quickly, and I will have you to fight at my side. A fair trade in my opinion."

"You didn't have to do that," the ex-Watcher insisted. Seeing the need in the vampire's eyes, his features softened. "Thank you."

Faith leapt down beside Giles as Wesley walked away to pass out some weapons. "All set up stairs. They'll need a battering ram to get through the mess I left up there. Have to tell ya', Big Guy, I'm amped for some rough and tumble."

Giles cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Faith, I feel I need to--"

"Stop right there. If you're about to try to apologize for what happened earlier, save it. Far as I'm concerned, we're five-by-five. And hey, you really feel a need to make it up to me, maybe after we survive the night you can show me how much better you are with a soul." Faith wouldn't have thought it possible, but she could have sworn the vampire in front of her was blushing.

"I'm glad you're okay," he whispered, ducking his head shyly. He turned and went to help the others, not noticing Buffy as he walked past.

Before Faith could move on, the blond Slayer grabbed her arm and whispered harshly, "Did you sleep with my Watcher?"

Faith pulled away and replied with a grin, "No. I took a page out of your book and fucked a vamp. But, if he ever gets the itch, your Watcher won't have to ask me twice." She strode away, leaving a stunned Buffy behind.

"You sure this is a good idea, Ripper. I mean, I haven't had much time to recover, and I can't expect any help from our little witch here." Ethan was lying on the mattresses next to Willow . He reached over and made sure her blankets were securely tucked around her.

"I'll put the spell in place. All you have to do is maintain it." Giles glanced around to be sure they were alone for the moment. "Ethan, if I fall…"

"With my life," his old friend whispered seriously.

Dawn slid into the office. "Looks like we're as ready as we can be for them."

The vampiric Watcher turned to her and held up a short sword. "This is only for you to defend yourself if worst comes to worst," he said sternly. "You do not come out for any reason."

"I understand," Dawn sighed and reached out to take the sword. As the weapon was passed, Giles' hand lightly brushed against the splints on Dawn's fingers and he pulled away quickly. He turned away, shoulders hunched, but Dawn reached out and took his hand, the same hand that had hurt her. She squeezed as best she could with her injuries. "It wasn't you," she murmured to him. "It was never you."

All he could do was look back at her with tears threatening in his eyes and nod once, then slip out of the room.

"Hey, G-man, where do you want me?" Xander walked up to him. The boy had a crossbow in his good hand, a sword strapped to his hip, and his sling held a load of stakes. The smile he received was the first that was truly Giles that he'd seen in a long time, and he couldn't help smiling back. "What?"

"Thank you," Giles answered quietly, "for always being Xander."

"Yeah, well, before… It was just hard to see Wills like that. I know it wasn't…"

"I understand… You look, um, well prepared."

"Hey," Xander perked up, "last Scoobie sans super-powers here. Just means I have to try harder."

"I need you right here," the vampire told him, glancing into the office.

"Come on, now. I assure you I'm just as clumsy with one arm as with two. You know I can't just hide and watch."

"Dawn and Willow are in there, Xander. If we fail, you'll be their last defense. There's no one I'd trust more." He put a hand on Xander's shoulder.

"I won't let you down again," the boy said softly. Before Giles could respond, or even process the comment, he had disappeared into the office.

"Sun's going down," Angel called from the front doors. "Finishing touches time."

Giles nodded, and turned to face the office. He picked up the book leaning against the wall and looked over the spell one last time. Handing the book through the doorway, he placed his hand on the wall and began to speak. As he chanted, the small window and door frame faded and closed in, seeming to grow towards the center. By the time he finished, all that was in front of him was a continuous wall. It was as if the office was never there.

"Wow," Faith laughed. "Now there's a handy trick."

"You all must remember," Giles called so that everyone would hear him, "this is nothing but an illusion. If one of you passes through this barrier and are seen, they will know you're here."

"Got it." Xander's voice came clearly through the false wall. "No noise, no heroics, don't do anything stupid. And I'm thinking it looks cooler from that side, because we can still see you."

"To give you a better chance of defending yourselves," Giles said calmly to the blank wall.

Angel peered out into darkness. "Showtime."



Giles sat on the counter with his eyes closed, listening. He could hear Buffy's rapid footfalls as she paced the lobby floor. He could hear Xander, Dawn, and Ethan whispering in the hidden office. He could hear Wesley calmly breathing as he tried to keep himself prepared. He could hear Angel checking the perimeter once again. And he could hear Faith's heartbeat as she leaned against the counter next to him.

"All this waitin's rubbin' me wrong, Big Guy. You sure they really wanna come get you back?"

Giles chuckled softly at her attempt to lighten the mood. "If only I could tell you I wasn't that important to them."

Buffy stopped pacing and looked at the two of them with an odd expression Giles couldn't decipher. "I'm beginning to wonder, too. It has to be well after midnight now. We were in such a hurry to be ready for sunset, and now we've just been sitting around for hours."

"Tell me, Buffy," Giles sighed, "have you ever read The Art of War?" He was the only one to catch Wesley's slight smirk.

"What? What are you talking about?"

"Nothing. It's just that I… He…" Giles frowned. "Justin was chosen for a reason. He will not rush in without knowing what to expect. When he comes, it will only be when he's ready."

"We've got company," Angel flew through the front doors. "They've been testing the perimeter. Figuring out all their options."

"Stay back for now," Giles ordered, moving to the center of the room as the doors burst open again. It was a group of six vampires, led by the tall, dark-skinned youth that was once herald and lover.

"Master," he greeted Giles with surprise. Then turned his yellow eyes on Buffy. "We have come to make the Slayers an offer. Release him, and we will let you live to be his play things. Refuse, and we will pile your worthless corpses at his feet."

"What if I told you I am not a prisoner?" Giles replied in a commanding voice. "Tell Justin to take the others and go. I'm not your master anymore."

"They have corrupted you, My Lord," the vampire hissed. "They will die for this violation!"

The vanguard swept forward, moving around Giles like a wave parting at a boulder. As he had expected, none were willing to fight their master. He could hear the initial clash behind him and wanted to turn and help whoever might be in need, but there was no time as the second wave washed in.

Giles lunged forward to meet them at the door, taking down as many as possible before they could get to the others. He swung wildly, keeping those surrounding him off balance until he could strike effectively. Seeing an opening, his hand shot forward and his stake impacted solidly. The young vampire stared at him, his eyes filled with confusion and betrayal as he turned to dust. Giles stamped down hard on the guilt churning inside him. Now was not the time, he had to keep fighting.

The cloud of dust grew thick around him near the entrance. Even with as many as he could kill, he knew that too many were getting by him. With a spin, he managed to steal a brief glance at the others. There were still four standing. He had to remember, two Slayers, a strong vampire, and a well trained man who knew the score. These were not children he had to protract.

But there were more coming. He could see them approach like a writhing mass. Even through the darkness, he could make out individual faces. These were not his soldiers. Justin was sending in the new blood. Untrained, undisciplined and, as of yet, unattached to their master. They would descend upon him in a hoard, overwhelm him like the wolf pack overwhelms a bear.

Finding a moment of peace, Giles closed his eyes and collected himself. Shaking with effort, he thrust his palms forward and threw as much power out as he could. The river of fire shot through the open doors and engulfed the approaching mass. Deafening screams of pain echoed through the air.

Giles glanced back and saw the false wall fade for a moment. "Come on, Ethan," he muttered, "take it. Hold it for me."

As he focused once more on the darkness outside, Giles caught sight of a lone figure emerging from the haze of dust and smoke, running full speed with an axe raised over its head. Something in the back of his mind sparked and, in a split-second decision, made him go for the block instead of the kill. He caught the down-swinging blade and stared into the focused eyes of Gunn.

"Woah… Just a sec." Cordelia was suddenly between them, pushing against the chests of both men. "Look at me," she ordered Giles. He did as he was told and allowed her to search his eyes. "It's true. They did it."

"How can you be sure?" Gunn eyed him suspiciously.

"Believe me. No one in the world has eyes like Giles." Cordelia glanced behind the vampire and squeaked, "God, Wes…" She ran off and Gunn started after her.

"Protect her," Giles called after him.

The young warrior looked back. "We survive this. You and me, we gonna have a talk about who gets to give me orders."

Giles turned back with a chuckle that caught in his throat as he came face to face with a single soldier. "Justin," he breathed.



Dawn grabbed Xander's arm as he jumped forward once again. He glanced back at her and she shook her head sternly. They were both going crazy. Through their thin view to the outer room, they watched the fight intensify. Everyone had spread out. Both Buffy and Faith were taking on three and four at a time. Wesley was holding his own, but just barely. Angel seemed to be all over the place, managing to drop in just where he was needed. And Giles was on his own at the far end of the room, heading off as many as he could, but always on the verge of being overwhelmed.

"I can't just sit here like a lump," he hissed.

"You think I'm having fun?" Dawn whispered back. "That's my family out there, too. You heard what Giles said. We have to protect Willow ." The girl smiled as he closed his eyes and nodded. She knew that was her ace in the hole.

A wild back kick from Faith caught a small vampire in the chest and it came flying back through the false wall. Xander and Dawn were stunned for a moment as they all tumbled into a heap.

Willow opened her eyes groggily. "Karen?"

"You," the vampire spat at her. "You did this to him. He could have had anything. The world would have bowed before him. But all he wanted was you. You couldn't just love him like the rest of us. You had to resist him and refuse him. And now look what you've done to him!"

"I… I," Willow tried to respond with tears in her eyes.

The vampire lunged at the witch with furious fire in her eyes and claws outstretched. Her progress was halted by a tackle from Xander, who was giving all he had just to hold her. He managed to turn her just enough to give Dawn an opening, and the girl plunged a stake home.

"Karen," Willow whispered with uncontrolled tears as her companion of the last three days was reduced to dust. "But I do love him," she breathed.

"I know," Ethan pulled her shaking form to him. "He knows it, too."

Dawn looked at Xander, both breathing hard. "Still dying to go out there?"

The boy gave her a shy smile. "Have to protect you, remember?"



Justin stepped forward, and Giles couldn't help a minor retreat. "I refused to believe it. I thought it was some trick they were trying to pull on us. Or, perhaps, you were tricking them somehow. But the pyrotechnics show cleared everything up for me. I should have destroyed it days ago. It and the witch."

"Justin, please… I don't want this. I don't want to fight you."

"You've been poisoned by that filthy soul. That red-headed bitch stole you from us."

"No," Giles' voice trembled. "This is who I am. If you'll let me help you…"

"You made me! You are my sire, my teacher, my master, the only father-god I need. Your cause was our cause. And now you are the one standing in our way." Justin morphed into his demon visage. "I will not let you be dishonored!"

He launched into an attack with the fury of a mad man. It was all Giles could do to defend against it as he was forced back across the room. Suddenly there was a wall behind him and nowhere else to go. Justin caught his retaliatory strikes easily and smashed a fist into his face. Then another stunning punch… And another… And another… Giles slumped down the wall with his protégé atop him.

At the edge of his awareness, Giles heard Buffy call his name, but he knew none of them would be able to get to him. Justin crouched above him, one knee grinding into the pit of his stomach. He caught Justin's stake, fighting against it as it slowly dug into the flesh over his heart.

"I would have followed you in an attack on the gates of Heaven itself," Justin raged. "You were my perfection. But don't worry. I will carry on your cause. The name of Magister will be honored forever as we build this world according to your vision."

Giles wanted to weep. He suddenly felt so very tired. This was once a fine young man, murdered and turned into a monster by his own hands. Who else had such a right to put an end to him? Who else deserved to watch as he faded from this world of suffering? All he had to do was let go. Let the stake plunge into his heart, no longer worthy to beat.

"I'm sorry," was the only thing he could whisper to his young victim as he dropped his hand from the stake.

Dust filled the air and drifted down to cover his shaking body. He looked up through tears to see Spike standing over him, a loaded mini-crossbow pointed at his heart.

"Tell me something, Watcher-man," Spike stared at him intently. "Should I kill you right now?"

Giles looked up at him and blinked. "Yes," his voice cracked. "Do everyone a favor and end me now."

To Giles' surprise, Spike smirked and offered a hand. "Good answer. Only someone with a soul knows how to want death that badly."

Giles slammed both fists into the floor and screamed, shouting out the release he was being denied. The remnants of his army knew the roar. Both leaders gone, they had nothing left to fight for, and scattered.

"Yeah, that's right! Run for it!" Spike shouted after them as Giles finally took his hand.

"No, no, no," Drusilla cried out, clutching at her head. "All my dark boys ruined. Take, take, take, Slayer." She turned angry eyes on Buffy. "It's you that always spoils everything. Plant your grubby little worms in their brains and makes them like to suffer."

She began to advance on the Slayers, but all three former lovers moved in front of her.

"Go, Drusilla," Giles said softly. "Tell the lawyers it's all over."

"You were so beautiful. Shiny like a black hole. And now all tainted. All made dirty by her." The mad vampire grabbed her head and howled.

"Go on, Dru," Spike told her.

"Leave," Angel added.

As Drusilla disappeared into the darkness, Buffy strode up. "Okay, three of you, and you all let her go."

Giles lowered his eyes to the floor. "You wouldn't understand, Buffy."

"Dru's…" Angel searched for a word, "complicated."

"Harm?" Spike laughed.

The blond peeked out from behind a planter and slowly emerged with her hands up. "Not here to make trouble. Please don't kill me."

Giles caught Buffy by the arm to prevent her from going after her old classmate. "What are you still doing here, Harmony?" he stepped forward.

"You know, just… Nowhere else to go. And I thought maybe…" She came closer and looked up at him.

Spike choked on his laughter. "Dru and Harm? Damn, Watcher, bettin' you got more action in a week of being dead than you got in your whole bleedin' life." Giles' only response was a groan.

"I know I'm the only one here without a soul and everything. But I can still be good. I can try." She looked at Giles with pleading eyes. "Maybe if…"

He gently brushed a strand of hair behind her ear. "I know how he treated you, Harmony. You deserve better than that."

"Maybe… But at least he made me feel something. And I know you wouldn't treat me like that."

Giles heard a noise behind him and turned to see Faith moving the bookcase, and Willow coming out of the office, leaning on Xander and Anya. He pulled Harmony into his arms and whispered against the top of her head. "You know I can't, Love. You'll find someone better, who'll want you for you."

Harmony pulled out of his arms. "It's always this way," she cried. "There'll always be someone besides me." She spun around and bolted out the doors.

"Harm, be careful. It's almost…" Giles' voice faded.

Spike ran past him. "Don't worry. I'll make sure she gets underground before she does somethin' to get herself hurt."

"So, now we're letting all the vampires go?" Buffy huffed.

Giles sighed, "Buffy, I'm a vampire. There are three vampires here that are perfectly serviceable for staking if you feel the need."

"But you're different, you all have souls."

"If you say so," he walked past her.

The rest of their little band were milling together. It seemed that everyone who had been living when the evening began was still doing so. Wesley had suffered a few minor wounds, which Cordelia was now fussing over, much to his chagrin. Dawn was excitedly filling Anya in on recent events. Ethan quietly escaped the little 'family gathering' and settled himself on the stairs by the front doors. And Willow looked Giles over, grateful that he was in one piece.

He took both her hands to steady her and murmured, "Are you all right?"

"I will be," Willow smiled. "Still a little weak, but it's getting better. Are you all right?"

Giles glance towards the open front doors. "I will be. Willow , I would have died a hundred times over if it meant you wouldn't have had to go through that. I'm so sorry."

She pressed a finger to his lips. "And I would go through that and more to have you standing in front of me. The only thing I expect you to apologize for is not telling me earlier."

He kissed her hand and took a step back. "Then I have one more to make to you. I am sorry that you know now. Please forgive me for the pain I must cause you."

"What?" Willow reached for him in panic.

"Ethan," Giles called.

"You've never apologized for pummeling me before, Ripper. No need to start."

"Ethan, do it you bloody nuisance," Giles growled.

"All right!" With a gesture and a word, the sorcerer threw up an energy field between Giles and his family, confining the chattering group.

"Don't you do this to me, you bastard!" Willow screamed at the vampire. "Not now. Not after everything." Her outburst brought everybody else's attention to what was going on.

"Remember me as I was when I was alive," he whispered to her.

Faith sprinted at the field. "Not on my watch you don't!" She crashed into the barrier and was violently thrown back.

"Faith, Dear, you have always been underestimated. I know you don't want to hear it, but I am--"

"I swear, if you try to apologize to me one more time, I'll find a way to kill you myself," the Slayer growled as she stood.

"Yes," he smiled sadly, "I believe you would." His gaze shifted. "Cordy, in the club, it must have been a frightening experience."

"What, the whole breaking comment? Yeah right, you wish. The only frightening thing was the total hotness of you. And that, I could get used to."

"Nevertheless," Giles sighed. His eyes moved to Xander. "I want you to know you have never let me down. You've grown into a fine young man. And, if I had some small part in that, I couldn't be more proud."

"Please," Xander begged softly, "don't."

"Dawn, if I could have stopped him…"

"Hey, a couple of wonky fingers. I know plenty who've survived worse. And besides, I think you did. He could have done much worse and let me suffer, but he didn't. No one can tell me that wasn't you protecting me. As always."

"I am sorry," he whispered. "Anya and Wes, you have both become fine people, and I'm proud to have known you. And Buffy," he still refused to look her in the eyes, "you are the oldest Slayer ever. You can handle anything. Watch over them."


He turned and looked at the sky that was just beginning to turn pink.

Buffy began to panic as the energy field forced her back. "Giles, I need you! I can't do this without you!"

"Yes you can." He moved toward the door, waiting for sunrise. "You all can."

Spike ran through the door and grinned as he leaned against a wall. "Whoo, that was a close one. Almost got a slow roast, if ya know what I mean." He took one look around and stood up straight. "Oh, no ya don't. Not while I'm here to stop you. I know this was a bad idea, but now that the rough patch is done, I'm not gonna let ya throw everything away."

"I don't want to fight you, Spike," Giles growled. "Get out of the way."

"I'm not gonna just stand here and watch you hurt them like this."

"Then watch from somewhere else!" Giles shouted, raising a hand. Spike flew straight up and was pinned to the high ceiling by an invisible force.

"Oi!" the bleach blond vampire squawked. "Not fair!"

Giles watched as the sky brightened. The first rays peeked over the buildings, and the watcher stepped forward resolutely.

From somewhere unnoticed, Angel stepped into his path.


14. A Heartbeat

"So, what now?" Angel asked softly. "Are you going to just swat me aside like you did Spike?"

"I would expect you, of all people, to understand. I can't live like this, Angel. It all hurts too much."

"I do understand. Do you really think I've never stared out a window and considered it a nice day for a walk? Giles, we are all here for a reason. And we can't erase our sins with something as simple as death. No matter how much we want to."

"But I already did die. That was supposed to be my end, my job finished."

Angel laughed. "And for about half the people in this room it didn't work out that way. We're not finished until this world is done with us."

"I can't… I can't live with the memories."

"The memories of what the demon you now keep caged did in a week. Try having memories of a hundred years, like Spike. Or two hundred, like me. You're not the only one here with something to atone for."

"Don't you get it?" Spike yelled from above. "Angel's soul was a curse. Mine, I had to go and fight for the right to get back. Your soul was given to you, free and clear by the people who love you. And this is how you want to repay them, you berk?"

"Angel, step aside," Giles growled.

"No. See, I'm guessing you're pretty much tapped out magick-wise for a while. That's why you're having the stooge over there do the dirty work for you."

"Hey," Ethan groused.

"Holding Spike is about your limit right now. So, if you want to do this, you're going to have to come through me."

Giles glared at the other vampire. "This has been a long time coming, Angel."

"Yes, it has." Angel drove forward, forcing Giles deeper into the room.

Giles grunted as he staggered back from the force of Angel's shoulder driving into his midsection. He brought his elbow down sharply between Angel's shoulder blades, stopping his forward momentum and dropping him to his knees. Angel didn't loosen his grip, however, and was back on his feet before Giles could take advantage of his position. The two of them clinched like two bulls locking horns. Now equals in strength and stamina, the straining power they exerted on one another could only be measured in gains of centimeters. The stunned room held its breath in collective silence as the moments stretched to minutes and beyond, neither powerhouse showing any signs of giving.

"Think about what you're doing, Giles," Angel ground out, teeth clenched.

"Haven't you heard?" Giles scoffed. "All I do is think. In fact, it often seems to be the case that I'm the only one who is thinking."

Giles shifted his grip suddenly in an attempt to throw Angel off balance, but Angel countered, locking him in place once more.

"Do you plan on holding me forever?" Giles asked.

"You're not really my type," Angel replied with a smirk. "But I will hold you here until sunset if that's what it takes to get you to use your head."

Giles twitched an eyebrow up, then smashed his forehead into the bridge of Angel's nose, rocking his head back. He used the momentum to sweep Angel's legs from under him and sent him crashing to the floor. Free at last, Giles vaulted the fallen vampire to sprint for the open door, but Angel's hand shot up, catching him by the ankle and sending him crashing to the floor in turn, just inches from the brightening sunshine in the courtyard.

Giles growled in frustration as he looked over his shoulder at Angel. But Angel stood, ignoring the blood now flowing freely from his nose, and used his iron grip on Giles' ankle to send him sliding across the lobby floor toward the trapped onlookers. The vampiric Watcher bounced off the energy field and scrambled to his feet.

Giles charged Angel, reversing the roles by slamming his shoulder into Angel's midsection and driving him into the wall. He scooped up a discarded short sword and drove it through Angel's shoulder and into the wall behind him, embedding it to the hilt. Stepping back, Giles turned to the door.

Angel struggled to free himself, grabbing the hilt with both hands and pulling for all he was worth. It didn't budge.

"Giles!" he shouted with an edge of panic to his voice. Seeing the determined look on the Watcher's face he increased his efforts to free himself. "Please, Giles!"

Giles spared the other vampire an almost sympathetic glance, squared his shoulders, and walked resolutely toward the sunlight.

"I wouldn't do that, Luv," Ethan said gently from his perch as he noticed Willow closing her eyes in concentration. "The very nature of chaos magick is to be unstable. If you miss-guess at a counter spell even a bit, the results might kill us all."

Buffy screamed out, "Giles, you don't have to do this! Give us some time… Let us help you work through this…"

Her voice was joined by a chorus of other pleas as the vampire Watcher stared resolutely into the bright morning sunlight.

"Please, Ethan…" Dawn's small voice broke through the din.

The sorcerer's midnight eyes held a soft twinkle as he gazed at her. "You know I would gladly lay my power at your feet, Dawn. But my oath to him ties my hands here. I'm sorry, My Innocent." He gave her a wink.

Everything suddenly clicked into place in the girl's mind. Ethan had told her all that she needed to know. He had foreseen this from the beginning. And he saw all the power to change it in her. With a set determination, Dawn stepped toward the barrier.

"No," Anya grabbed her arm. "I know I just got here and should not be blamed, but if you touch that energy, you'll get hurt. Then your sister will likely kill me for not stopping you, and kill Ethan for… Well, I don't want her to kill me."

"Anya," Dawn's eyes pleaded with her, "you've been around magick for over a thousand years. Have you ever heard a legend about the only thing stronger than chaos magick?"

A sudden memory lit in Anya's mind and she released the girl's arm. Before anyone else could notice her moving, Dawn sprinted toward the barrier. She closed her eyes in anticipation as she hit it, but passed through feeling only a buzz in the air. In moments she stood in front of Giles, blocking his path to certain suicide. The rest of the room watched this unexpected confrontation with baited breath.

He stopped mid-stride and looked down at her with sad, tortured eyes. "Your power isn't what it used to be, Ethan," he growled, knowing that his old friend and enemy had done this on purpose.

"Come now, Ripper. You know this beautiful, young thing holds power over both of us. Why not just push her aside and continue your bloody death march? I can stay and take care of her for you."

"You're a degenerate old git, and I'll kill you for even looking at her wrong."

Ethan grinned widely. "Guess I'll be safe to do as I please in a few minutes then."

"There are plenty here who will gladly do the job for me."

"Hey!" Dawn screamed. "First, Ethan is one of the only people here to ever treat me like an adult. Second, this right now is about you and me, so stop trying to avoid it. And third, Eww!" She looked up at him, shaking with equal parts fear and anger. "I'm not going to let you do this."

"It's the only way, Dawn. I can't live like this. I won't be the monster I've been turned into. Everyone will be better off when I've gone."

Dawn's dark eyes turned to steel as she stared him down. "Show me," she growled. "Everyone's spent all this time trying to protect me. I want to know what from. Show me this monster."

"Dawn, please. It's better that you remember me as I was."

"Show me!" The girl picked one of the more painful looking wounds on his chest and drove her fist into it with all her might. Giles let out a grunt at the spike of agony, but made no other reaction. "Let me see your monster!" Tears began to pour down her cheeks as a hail of blows continued to pound into his chest. "You're determined to make me hate you anyway, you bastard! Why not give me a good reason? Frighten me with this ugly thing you are!" Her voice squeaked in her rage.

She suddenly froze as one of her flailing punches elicited an angry howl and she looked up into the face of the beast. Yellow eyes blazed out at her from beneath the sharp, angular ridges of his brow. His open, curled lips showed off sharp, deadly fangs. The rumble in his chest was a menacing growl. This was what she wanted to come face to face with. The monster of her darkest nightmares. And the child within her began to panic, wanted to flea for her life. No words could escape her clenched throat, so she did the only thing she could to let her feelings be understood loud and clear.

At first, Giles wasn't sure what was happening. But he could see her, feel her there. Her arms wrapped around his chest, her body pressed to his like she was holding on for dear life. She was hugging him. Hugging the beast that had hurt her, hurt all of them in some way. It was the last thing he'd expected, a feeling he never deserved to feel again. Yet it was given freely, a gift from an innocent love. The kind of gift that could not be denied or fought.

Her warmth seemed to penetrate every inch of his cold, hollow body. He let it melt through him. It was unlike anything he had experienced since his death. Flowing deeper than the dark warmth that Faith had offered, burning warmer than the heat he had tried to steal from Willow . It was even more invigorating than the sudden fire of hunting and feeding. It was the bright light of free forgiveness and love, and it blanketed him like the rays of a healing sun.

He felt her tears on his chest. They soaked into him like the first drops of rain on parched earth. And they brought with them hope and new life, just as the beginning of the long awaited rainy season does for the Kalahari.

The beast felt so very far away now, his hard features receded and his eyes filled with tears to match hers. He allowed his arms to return her embrace, willing her fire to consume him. Giles released a shuddering breath, a quiet sob that he had been holding on to for longer than he could remember. And the monster cried with her.

"Please," Dawn wept into his shirt. "Don't take yourself away from me again. Not again. Not forever. I've lost so much. I can't lose you, too. Please stay with me."

After a few more minutes, when Giles at last felt that letting go of her would not instantly kill him, he released the hug and held her by the shoulders. He knelt before her, reaching up to gently wipe tears from her cheeks with his thumbs. A small smile snuck across his lips as she did the same for him. "What am I, Dawn? Who am I supposed to be now? You are so young and so full of life. What can a dead man have to offer you? I can't even give you warmth when you're cold. I don't even have a heartbeat."

Dawn stepped closer to him, embracing him again and pressing his head to her chest. She held him there quietly for a few moments before murmuring, "Do you hear that?" He nodded slowly as the sound and feel of her strong heartbeat echoed though him. "That is your heartbeat now. As far as I'm concerned, it's the only one you need. And for the rest, we can figure all of that out together." She let him go and stared into his eyes with a seriousness that defied her youth. "Is that all right with you?"

Giles nodded slowly and sat back on his heels. "I am yours," he sighed. "I will live at your command and die only on your order."

"Then you will live for a very long time," she smiled.

The room let out a collective sigh of relief.

Giles stood and turned back to the others, but still held Dawn close. "It's over, Ethan. You can release them now."

"If you say so. But, just remember, Ripper, if you ever get the urge to leave this world again, I've fulfilled my oath. Next time, you're on your own."

Dawn looked over at him, her arm around Giles' waist. "There won't be a next time," she said with a sure voice.

The barrier dropped, and Cordelia, Wesley, and Gunn hurried to free Angel from the wall.

"Ay!" Spike hollered. "What about me?"

Giles didn't look up but, with a twitch at the corner of his lips, he released the spell. Spike dropped with a shriek that seemed a little too high-pitched. He hit the ground with a heavy thud.

The bleached blond vampire groaned. "What was that for? What'd I ever do to you?" After a moment he rolled his eyes. "Yeah, all right…" With a hidden smirk, Buffy went to help him up.

Willow , with Xander's support, made her way to Giles. She stood there, staring at him for a moment with an unreadable expression on her face. He watched the red growing on her cheeks. Everyone except Giles jumped, surprised when she suddenly swung and slapped him hard across the face.

"You know you deserved that, don't you?" Willow growled.

"Yes," he looked at her with soft amusement in his eyes. "That and more."

"You know it, Mister. And I plan to remind you on a regular basis."

Faith put a supporting hand on Willow's shoulder and glared at the vampire. "Just let me know if your hand gets tired," she said to the other girl. "I think we all deserve to get a little ass kicking in for that stunt."

Willow smiled over at her. "He steps out of line again and I might just take you up on the offer."

Giles ducked his head with a guilty smile. When Willow stepped closer, he reached out to touch her face, but held his cold fingers back. She took his hand and pressed it to her heated cheek.

"How can you be so forgiving?"

Willow brushed her lips across the palm of his hand. "I learned from watching you. Forgiveness is an act of compassion, given to those who need it, whether deserved or not. Isn't that what you taught us, what you showed us? How much easier is it to forgive someone who deserves it? How much easier for someone you love?"

"You know none of this is going to be easy," he whispered to her. "I have a lot to figure out before… anything."

"I know." She looked into his face and read everything he was afraid to say. "And I'll be here waiting. We all will. I know sometimes we can be insensitive, and selfish, and foolish, and just plain young and stupid. But we do know what counts. And we know what's worth fighting and waiting for. An excellent role-model taught us all of that." She held his hand in both of hers. "This part I do understand."

"I don't deserve--"

"No, you don't. But you get it all anyway."

"God," Buffy walked up, "you scared the hell out of me. Is it like a pastime with you? Figuring out new ways to freak Buffy out? What new way can I take off on her now? 'Cause I gotta tell you, not loving this game."

"Buffy," Giles murmured, his eyes focusing on her hands.

"You're just lucky Dawn got through that think head of yours…"

"Buffy, listen," he said in a voice that demanded attention. When she was quiet, he took a moment and continued. "I have to go."


"I need time. Time to think things through. To find out what I am. To figure out how to forgive."

"But, Giles, none of this is your fault. You didn't do any of those awful things. Stay and we can help you forgive yourself."

Giles looked at Willow , gaining strength from her small nod of support. He then turned his gaze on Buffy, at last letting her look into his eyes. They burned with passion as his soul flooded them with everything he was feeling. The pain, the sorrow, the betrayal, the injury, the confusion. "I'm not the one I need time to forgive, Buffy," he said in a low tone.

"What?" the Slayer whispered. "But I did it all for--"

"Who, Buffy? Who did you do this for?" Giles sighed as tears began to glisten in her eyes. "I would think that you, of all people, would know. You are the Slayer, put on this Earth to fight the vampire. And yet you chose to make me, your Watcher, and, I believed, your friend, one of the evil we've spent so many years battling against. Not only that, but you denied me my rest, my peace. You, who were torn yourself from Heaven, took from me the chance to see it for myself. Even if I was never worthy of any rest or reward, don't I deserve the opportunity to find out?"

"I… I couldn't… I didn't…" Her voice fell very small. "Don't you love us anymore?"

"Buffy, nothing will ever change my feelings for any of you. I just need time. I will find the forgiveness to give you. Just give me a little time. I promise, I will come back, as I always have. Can you give me the time I need?"

Buffy swallowed hard and nodded. "As long as you come back."

"An apocalypse couldn't stop me."

"All right," Dawn broke the oppressively heavy mood, "road trip!"

"Dawn, what are you--" His question ended in a fierce roar as he dropped to his knees. The eyes of everyone around him went wide, staring at the tip of an arrow that was suddenly protruding from his chest. Buffy looked up to see a man standing in the doorway, trying to quickly reload a crossbow.

She shot forward, growling, "Travers!"

Faith got to him a split-second before she did and thrust him into the doorframe, pinning him there. Both pairs of Slayer eyes bore into the man with unreserved anger.

"What are you doing here, Travers?" Buffy shouted.

"You know this guy?" Faith thrust him a little harder into the sharp corner at his back.

"Yeah. Quentin Travers. Council man through and through. Always seems to be around to turn bad into worse."

Travers cleared his throat with a cocky air. "I'm here to clean up your mess, Slayer," he said to Buffy. "We've accepted a lot from you. But we cannot stand by a let a travesty like this fly in the face of everything the Council has stood for since time began."

Buffy snarled, "I should do the world a favor and just--"

"Just what, Child? Kill me? I am a human being, and even though you're not a conventional Slayer, you still hold to rules."

"She might have rules, but I'm damn sure you know who I am," Faith spat.

"Yes, Faith. And you are trying to reform and redeem yourself. Going back to killing innocents would be a terrible setback."

"I don't see any innocents. And I've met plenty of humans who deserve to die as much as any demon. You really think I'll lose any sleep over you?"

"He's right," Buffy tried to calm her. "We can't just decide which humans deserve to live. That's not our place."

Travers made the mistake of letting a cocky grin cross his face. Faith slammed him against the wall again. "You really think she can keep me from taking you out? I don't give a fuck what--"

"Faith," Giles called through his pain.

"You're damn lucky you're a bad shot," she growled.

As soon as Faith let him loose, Buffy grabbed him harshly. "Now listen up. Giles has his soul. He is still my Watcher. Go back to the Council and let them know that he is the only Watcher I'll ever accept. So, if you want to stay any part of the whole Slayer experience, you will treat him with respect. Otherwise, you might as well forget about anything until the next Slayer comes along."

"Not quite," Faith added. "Because that would be me. And I think you know how I'd react to anyone messing with the big guy."

Xander was suddenly with them, forcing Travers out the door with an intimidating presence. "And if Buffy dies, and Faith dies, no matter what happens, someone here will survive. And we will seek out the new Slayer, and make it our mission to let her know how the Council treats their own. Every new Slayer for the rest of our lives, and our children's lives, and so forth. If Giles so much as gets a paper cut from a Council letter, you will be finished… And I will hunt you down and hold you personally responsible. Now, get the hell out of here!"

When Travers had departed, Xander turned back breathing hard. Anya was right there. "Wow! You should get macho more often. It's really sexy. Too bad you left me at the altar." Xander's air of power completely dissolved.

"Hold on," Spike told Giles, "this is gonna do a bit more than tickle." He gripped the end of the arrow and pulled it from Giles' body. The Watcher howled at the pain. "There… Little blood and you'll be good as new."

Giles got to his feet with some support from Dawn. "Guess we should wait a while before we take off," she smiled.

Giles sighed, "Dawn, what makes you think…?"

"Because I've never been out of Southern California . Because you need someone to watch your back in the daytime. And because someone has to take care of you, whether you admit it or not."

"And who's going to take care of the fifteen-year-old girl?" her older sister broke in.

"Sixteen soon," Dawn countered. "I can take care of myself." Then to Giles, "Hey, we can go north. I've always wanted to see the giant trees. People say it's so beautiful up there."

Ethan approached slowly. "I know you wouldn't call on me for any kind of babysitting service but, if you think she needs extra watching, I would offer myself."

"Oh, that would make this whole idea a lot less insane," Buffy's voice dripped with sarcasm.

"Think about it, Slayer. I'd still be in the custody of a Summers woman, so you wouldn't have to worry about any trouble from me. Plus, you know, if I even think an inappropriate thought, Ripper here won't think twice about taking my bloody head off. I've grown very fond of spending time with your sister. Perhaps she even has the power to redeem an old sinner."

Buffy growled. In the meantime, Dawn was grinning up at Giles. She could almost see the moment he gave in and his heart melted under her enthusiasm.

The vampire looked up at the Slayer with a defeated sigh. "It's up to you, Buffy. Whatever you feel comfortable with is all right with me."

Buffy frowned at them, her mind racing. She looked at her sister, grinning hopefully, standing there, framed by the two tall Englishmen. A memory came into her mind. Something Ethan once said. Suddenly, she could see them very clearly. A leash holding each man, binding his will to the care of another. But she didn't hold them. It was her little sister who now had the power over them. She stood there, exercising her gentle control over two of the most powerful watchdogs Buffy had ever seen. Both willing to kill or die to protect her.

"You will call me every day," Buffy began softly.

"I swear," Dawn squeaked.

"You can take Angel's cell phone," Cordelia said, suddenly letting them know they were being watched by everyone else in the room. "That way you'll never have any excuses. Just drop it off when you guys come visit us on your way back."

"Yes, for sure," Dawn squealed, bouncing excitedly.

"And you," Buffy pointed at Giles, "Dawn starts school in two weeks. I expect you to have her back by then. Got it?"

"I promise," Giles smiled.

"Good. Then, I guess I'll have to trust you three to look after each other. And, if I hear of some major disaster on the news… Well, I'll know exactly where you are."

Xander started laughing. "Two middle-aged men and a teen girl. That otta feed the motel rumor mill for a good long while. This is gonna be a road trip they should make a movie out of."


The End

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