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The Price of Power

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Summary: Sequel to "Of Demons and Souls" by Kitura. It's not paranoia if they really *are* out to get you. Crossover with the Invisible Man.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > Invisible Man, TheTazzyFR18129,531111,0131 Jul 031 Jul 03Yes
The Price of Power

 


By Tazzy


jellicalcat1@yahoo.com

 


 


Disclaimer: Invisible Man characters belong to Stu Segal Productions. Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters belong to UPN, Fox, WB, Mutant Enemy, and Joss Whedon. No infringement intended; it’s all for fun.

Author's notes: This is a sequel to KLBauge’s story "Of Demons and Souls", and anything in <> is thoughts. Takes place a week after her story ends.

Dedication: to all of my friends on NeonSilence.

 


 


****

 


Sprawled in a comfortable chair, Darien allowed his gaze to roam over the odd collection of people scattered around the Magic Box whom had become his family. Buffy, Spike and Bobby were sparring in the back room under the watchful eyes of Giles while Tara, Willow, Claire, and Eberts were sitting around a table, pouring over the books that Claire had sent for from her family home.

< Funny, last year I was a reluctant agent with a gland stuck in my head, > mused Darien as he cradled a book in his lap. < A week ago, I was a vampire with a neat trick, and now I'm something called a "Crimson Child". >

"Are you brooding?" asked a female voice, dragging him out of his thoughts.

Startled, Darien looked up to find Willow regarding him with an amused smirk on her face. "Cause if you are, I'm gonna have to invite Angel down so the two of you can hold a brooding contest."

Chuckling, Darien shook his head. "Not brooding," he objected. "I was just remembering how strange my life has become in only a few months time."

"Yeah, things turn strange fast on the Hellmouth," remarked Buffy, walking out of the backroom to grab a water bottle that was resting on the counter. "I mean, you showed up here as a federal agent and ended up staying as this way cool vampire with a few interesting tricks." She took a long drink from the bottle before dropping it back on the counter and strolling over to him. "C'mon. Your turn."

A puzzled frown crossed Darien's face. "My turn? For what?"

"To learn to fight, mate," replied Spike, lounging against the open door frame as if he didn't have a care in the world. "If you’re gonna be helping this little gang, ya need to be able to hold your own." He shrugged. "And once word gets out about your little 'talent', you can bet a few vamps are gonna come here trying to either take you out or see what you're made of."

"But I can get out of that easily," protested Darien, unfolding his long frame from the chair as he carefully placed the old book on the table beside Claire. A thought to the gland and the strange-familiar-yet-not feeling ghosted over his skin, carrying with it the quicksilver that outlined him in liquid mercury before solidifying and rendering him invisible. Bobby, Eberts, and Claire didn't bat an eye at his theatrics, but a few startled gasps ran through the rest of the group.

Spike cocked his head as if he was studying Darien before he nodded once. "Right, let's see how good that little trick is against a Master vampire," he stated before gesturing into the training room. "Go on in and let's see if I can find you while you're invisible."

"Okay," agreed Darien before slipping past Spike and into the back room. Buffy scampered into the room and quickly folded up the tumbling mats so the dents created by Darien's feet wouldn't be visible when he walked, making the challenge just a bit harder for Spike. Everyone crowded into the room near the door and watched with anxious gazes as Spike calmly strolled to the center of the room.

< Glad I still wear sneakers, > mused Darien as he watched the silver-colored world around him. Spike calmly stood on the hard wood floor with his head titled back slightly and his eyes closed as if he was silently listening for something. After a few minutes, Darien could feel the restlessness start but he clamped down on it, refusing to fidget, when suddenly, Spike's face shifted to reveal his demon and golden eyes snapped open to focus on Darien. < Aw, crap! >

On silent feet, Darien scampered across the room to stand close enough to Giles to, hopefully, distract Spike, but not close enough for the Watcher to feel the chill from the quicksilver. He returned his attention to Spike just as the older vampire glided across the floor in his large, clunky boots that made no more noise than Darien's feet did, and with a start, realized that Spike was following the same path that Darien had just walked. The invisible vampire knew that Spike was somehow tracking him but couldn't figure out how. However, since Spike was drawing closer to him, he decided to worry about it after this little test was over with, and carefully crept back along the line of people, brushing quicksilver-cooled fingers over Willow's bare arm, causing her to yelp in surprise.

Instantly, Spike's golden gaze swung around to fix on Willow and a predatory grin crossed his face as he deliberately strolled down the room with his duster flaring out around him. Darien swallowed nervously and felt his demonic instincts kick in, telling him to RUN! Spinning, he raced across the room only to crash to the floor when Spike tackled him, and the quicksilver flaked off with a soft tinkling sound, revealing Darien, flat on his back with Spike straddling his waist, effectively pinning the lanky vampire to the floor.


"How were you able to follow me?" asked Darien, frowning at the peroxide blond vampire that was still sitting on him.

Spike grinned and rose to his feet before offering Darien a hand up. "You forgot two things about vampires, pet," began Spike, smirking at Darien. "The first thing is that our senses are heightened, including smell. The second is that regardless of anything else, we're still demons. And demons can tell where another demon is in a vague sense."

"So you were basically following your nose to find me," clarified the young vampire, rubbing the back of his head.

"In a way. Go invisible again," ordered Spike, stepping back. With a shrug, Darien allowed the cool liquid to coat him once more and he quickly faded from sight. Then, Spike glanced at Bobby over his shoulder. "Slip into game-face and tell me what you see."

Bobby's face shifted to that of his demon and he gazed at Darien with golden eyes. Those same eyes widened slightly in surprise. "I can see him!" gasped Bobby, his voice filled with awe.

Everyone, except Spike turned to stare at the stocky vampire. "What are you talking about?" inquired Claire, her voice filled with scientific curiosity.

"I can see Darien standing there. Or rather, I can see a vague outline of SOMETHING standing there," clarified Bobby.

"Apparently a vampire's vision covers a wider spectrum than a regular humans," mused Claire, her eyes unfocused as she worked to process this new information. Darien groaned and quickly let the quicksilver fall away from his body. He had seen that gaze directed at him more times than he wanted to count, and it usually occurred right before Claire whipped out her pen and clipboard to start taking notes on whatever test she had him going through.

"Well, I get the message," announced Darien, holding his hands up in mock surrender. "I'll learn how to defend myself from those things that can always see me." Spike smiled and went to help replace the mats on the floor.

****

Across the country in a dark room, a dozen people sat around a table, candlelight tossing strange shadows over their ridged faces and causing golden eyes to glow. They were twelve of the older and more powerful vampires in the country, and it was an alarming rumor that had brought them together.

"Has it been confirmed, yet?" demanded a man in a pinstripe business suit.

The regal woman sitting at the head of the table nodded, her honey curls bouncing around her face. "It has," she replied. "The Accursed One has been sired in California on the Hellmouth." Angry mutterings rose up from the vampires before the woman tapped a candlestick on the table to get everyone's attention. "I suggest we strike now while he is still young."

"What do you suggest, Miriam? Send a bunch of fledges out there to overwhelm him, or would minions work as well?" sneered a woman with muddy brown hair pulled up into a severe bun at the base of her neck.

A smile ghosted over Miriam's face. "I suggest that we make this a group effort," she replied. "Each of us will select a childe that we can trust and send them, with a group of minions, out to California to deal with this situation. After all, I doubt that any of them would wish to be cursed with their souls again."

General murmurs of agreement floated through the room and everyone leaned forward to begin planning the destruction of the Accused One.

****

In a brightly-lit conference room in England, a similar scene was being played out. Nine people in business dress were gathered around an oval table scattered with books, all open to descriptions of a vampire that an Italian monk named "The Child of the Crimson Redemption".

"Any ideas what to do about this 'Crimson Child'?" inquired a balding man as he gestured at the books.

"We could send a group to California to destroy this creature," suggested a broad shouldered man with a scow at the books. "Just because it's been seen in the presence of the Renegade Slayer doesn't mean that it is immune to a wooden stake."

Around the table, heads nodded in agreement. "Right. We'll have a team, armed and ready to go in an hour," announced the balding man as he stood up. The others followed suite and quickly gathered up the books before leaving the room.

****

Angel sighed as he rolled over in his bed and tried to desperately fall asleep. He had just finished a troubling case involving a group of Kventish demons who decided that LA was the perfect place to set up shop and open another Hellmouth for their own use. It had taken him nearly seventy-two hours to finally track down the lair and convince the demons that their plan was very hazardous to their health. Unfortunately, that meant he went that entire time without sleep and now he was ready to crash into oblivion until he was fully rested. Except the nagging worry about where Drusilla and Darla were and what they were up to was keeping him from sleep.

< Of coarse, whatever trouble they get into is your fault, > whispered Angelus, as he pulled the covers up over his head in a vain attempt to shut out his demon's whispering. < You abandoned them. >

"Shut UP!" growled Angel, pressing his hands over his ears in a truly childish manner, but at this point, he didn't care. All he wanted was a few hours of rest until he was forced to face the world again.

Suddenly a scream echoed through the Hyperion and Angel scrambled from his bed, grabbing a sword on his way out of the door of his rooms. Barefoot, he raced down to the lobby ready for anything, but paused next to Wesley, who was sitting on the floor with a moaning Cordelia in his arms. Without asking, he knew what had happened: a vision from the Powers that Be.

He knelt next to Wesley and gently laid his sword on the marble floor as he stared at the brunette. "Cordelia, what did you see?" he asked, softly.

"Sunnydale, and a mob of humans and vampires after a rather good looking guy," she reported after gratefully accepting the aspirin and water Gunn held out for her. "The vamps were just chasing him but the humans were hiding, ready to ambush this guy."

Angel resisted the urge to sigh as he stood up and grabbed a pad of paper and a pencil off of the desk. Following Cordelia's descriptions, he quickly sketched a face of a man in his thirties with haunted eyes. "Wesley, you, Cordelia, and Gunn hold down things here," he said as he scooped up his sword. "I'll get packed and start out for Sunnydale immediately. If anything happens, you can call me on my cell phone." Turning, he returned to his room and tossed the sword on his bed as he opened his closet, grabbing clothes to take with him. He hoped that Giles or the others knew who the man was, but he wasn't counting on them knowing a strange man unless he had been causing trouble in Sunnydale.

"Angel?" The quiet voice broke through his thoughts and he turned to find Cordelia leaning against his open door, a concerned look on her face. "Have you had a chance to get ANY sleep yet?"

"I'll get some sleep later," he replied, pulling on a pair of pants before grabbing a large duffel bag out of his closet. "The Powers sent you a vision for a reason and I have to get to Sunnydale before it's too late." He looked around his bedroom, trying to decide what he wanted to take with him when a warm hand on his arm stopped him. He looked down, into Cordelia's worried gaze.

"I worry about you when you push yourself this hard," she said. She sighed and tried to offer a comforting smile. "Look, I'll call Giles and tell him to warn Buffy about a sudden increase of nasties and you can at least sleep until sunset. If you tried driving right now, you'd probably fall asleep behind the wheel and crash your car."

A smirk crossed Cordelia's face. "After all, it's not like you can drive in the sunlight anyway." He resisted the urge to remind her of the tinted windows on his car, but realized that she was right. He was in no shape to be driving to Sunnydale, not until he got some sleep.

He smiles at her. "Okay, I'll get some sleep before heading out to Sunnydale," he conceded, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. "You call Giles and have him warn everyone. Also, try and describe the guy that they should keep an eye out for."

"Right" agreed Cordelia. She turned and left Angel alone in his room. He removed the duffel bag from his bed and flopped down on the dark covers, asleep before his head hit the pillow.

****

Part 2

Grinning, Claire watched as Eberts attempted to fire his crossbow with any sort of accuracy. When the back room wasn't used for sparring or training, it was converted into a shooting range so the rest of the Slayerettes could learn how to use a crossbow with enough accuracy that they wouldn't be hurting each other. Claire and Giles were the only two with enough experience and patience to teach the others how to use the weapon due to their shared background in the Watcher's Council.

< I guess you can take the family out of the Watchers but can't take the Watchers out of the family, > she mused as Eberts launched another bolt at the crude dummy erected at the other end of the room. With a thunk, the wooden bolt embedded itself in the dummy's throat and Claire giggled. "I suppose that would incapacitate a vampire long enough to stake it," she teased, her blue eyes sparkling with laughter.

"Well at least I'm no longer hitting it in the knees," countered Eberts, cocking his head as he studied the dummy. "But I'm still confused as to what I am doing wrong."

The blond ran a critical eye over her companion before handing him another crossbow bolt. "Reload and try it again." Eberts struggled slightly as he tried to bend the arm back far enough to latch it on the lever that would keep it primed, but he managed to get it loaded and aimed it once more. He raised it to rest against his shoulder like a rifle and sited down the bolt before squeezing the trigger, flinging the bolt at the dummy where it impaled the cotton-filled man in the shoulder.

"Ah, there's the problem," mused Claire, waving at his hands. "You're squeezing the trigger which is raising your aim slightly. You need to ease the trigger back."

Eberts nodded and loaded another bolt more quickly than the last time. He raised the crossbow, aimed and eased the trigger back. The bolt flew through the air to land squarely in the heart drawn on the dummy. Eberts grinned as Claire threw her arms around him and hugged him in celebration. "I knew you could do it! Now you keep practicing and I'm… going to answer the phone," she concluded as the ringing caught her attention.

She left Eberts alone in the back room and made her way to the front counter, scooping up the phone on the fourth ring. "Magic Box, Claire speaking. How may I help you?" she announced as she automatically cradled the phone with her shoulder.

"Is Giles there?" asked a feminine voice on the other end.

"I'm afraid he's stepped out for lunch. Can I help you with something or would you prefer to leave a message?" Reaching over, Claire managed to grab a notepad and pen and waited for the message. Just then, the bell over the door rang and Claire looked up as Giles entered the store. "Hold on a moment. He just came in." She held the phone out to him and shrugged at his questioning look.

"Giles here," he announced, leaning against the counter. "Ah, hello Cordelia. To what do we owe this pleasure?" He was silent for a few minutes as he listened to Cordelia talk. < Or rant, > mused Claire, judging from the expression on Giles’s face. "Yes I know who that woman who answered the phone was. Her name is Claire and she is a new member of our team. Now, how can I help you, Cordelia?"

Claire watched as various emotions flickered across his face before settling on concern. "Yes, I will tell Buffy and the others to keep their eyes open," he agreed, unconsciously removing his glasses. "As for your description, I’m afraid that the man doesn’t sound familiar." Now Claire’s curiosity was peeked and she watched as Giles said goodbye and hung up the phone. He stood motionless until Claire cleared her throat, snapping him back from wherever his mind had drifted.

"Tell me Claire, does the description of a man in his thirties with spiky hair and haunted eyes mean anything to you?" Giles asked, absently polishing his glasses before he slid them back on.

"Darien." The name bubbled out of her, startling both of them before Claire realized that the description did match her lanky friend. "Why?"

"I’m afraid that trouble is coming," he replied, glancing at his watch. "Buffy and Willow should be out of class by now and Xander will be getting off from work. Call them and tell Willow that the tunnel entrance will be open for Spike, Darien, and Bobby. If the description truly is of Darien, I believe we need to inform the vampires about the danger." With that, he turned and left Claire standing behind the counter with a worried expression on her face. Sighing, Claire picked up the phone and began rounding up the troops.

****

A distant ringing broke through the comforting sleep that had enveloped Spike and he rolled over to snag the phone. "What?" he growled.

"Sorry to wake you, Spike," apologized Willow, "but you, Bobby and Darien are needed at the Magic Box. Giles left the tunnel entrance open for you."

"What’s so important, pet?" asked Spike, shaking off the last remains of his sleep as he climbed out of bed and grabbed his jeans off of a nearby chair. He cradled the phone with his shoulder as he pulled the dark jeans on. If Willow woke him up, he knew it had to be important.

Willow sighed. "All Claire told me was that Cordelia called and that whatever’s going on might involve Darien," she explained, automatically lowering her voice which told him that she was somewhere public. Since she started working with the Slayer in high school, Willow had learned to lower her voice when talking about slaying so no one could over hear her. "So it looks like we’re gonna be busy for the next few days until whatever is suppose to happen, happens."

Spike grinned. "So I guess my plan for chaining you to my bed and shagging you into unconsciousness is gonna be delayed for a bit," he stated, shoving his Doc Martins on before snagging his usual black tee shirt and red silk shirt. He managed to juggle the phone and his shirts as he finished getting dressed.

"Spike!" she cried, giggling. He could picture her, blushing a bright red as she nervously glanced around to find out who had overheard her and his grin grew into a smile. "Just gather up Darien and Bobby and get them to the Magic Box. We’ll talk about chains later."

"Right. I’ll get the kiddies up and fed before bringing them over," he said, running a hand through his bleached blond hair. It fell in curls and waves without the usual hair gel to hold it in place and he frowned. He was definitely going to have to deal with that before he went anywhere. It wasn't that he was vain about his looks, but he could hardly fight if his hair kept flopping in his eyes. "Talk to you soon, love."

Hanging up, Spike dashed into the bathroom and dragged a brush over his hair before slicking it back in its usual style. He snagged his duster before storming down the hall towards the kitchen. Before he reached the kitchen, he stopped before the door to the guestroom and pounded on the door until he heard someone stir behind the wood.

"Get yer arses in gear," growled Spike as he resisted the urge to groan at how much like his own father he sounded. True, Darien and Bobby often teased Willow about being their "mother" but Spike was hardly what anyone would consider "father" material. Sire, yes. Father, no.

The door opened to reveal a rumpled Darien who was peering at him with sleep-clouded eyes. "What's wrong?" asked the lanky vampire as he ran a hand through his mussed hair.

"Red called. We're needed at the Magic Shop. Get dressed and grab something out of the fridge," stated Spike in a voice that held no room for argument. "If this turns into a research session, we won't have time to grab something later." Something in Spike's tone must have alerted the younger vampire that this was serious because his warm chocolate eyes widened slightly and he nodded once before ducking back into the room to wake his sire. Spike smirked slightly as he heard Darien trying to rouse Bobby from the bed, and left the two alone to get ready.

By the time the younger vampires stumbled into the kitchen, Spike had finished his mug and had two more prepared for them. Darien quickly drained his and nodded his thanks to Spike while Bobby made a face at the thought of drinking out of a glass instead of a human but at Spike's glare, he too drank. Before they could do much more than rinse out their mugs, Spike handed them thick blankets Willow had purchased for emergencies and hurried them out the door and into the nearest sewer entrance with only swears and few burns.

"Ugh! What are we doing in the sewers?" asked Bobby, his face twisted in disgust. "I thought we had to get to the Magic Box?"

"And how do you propose to get there without turning into piles of ashes, mate?" inquired Spike, raising his scarred eyebrow as he turned and started down the tunnel. "These run all over Sunnyhell and even hook up to some natural caves near the school."

Darien laughed. "A vampire's private system to get anywhere needed during the day without the fear of getting burned," he stated, falling in beside Spike while Bobby glared at their surroundings before hurrying to catch up with them.

After several minutes of twisting and turning tunnels, Spike stopped before a ladder and easily climbed to the top where he was momentarily stopped by a metal trap door set in the stone ceiling. Casually, he slid the deadbolt back and shoved the trap door up without so much as a squeak of protest from its hinges. He emerged to find himself in a back storage room with boxes scattered around and turned to help Darien and Bobby up. A familiar heartbeat filled his ears and Spike turned to find Willow opening the door.

"Hello luv," he purred, wrapping his arms around her and holding her close as he buried his nose in her red hair. She always smelled of apples and spice with sunshine warming them, and he hoped that when he finally did turn her that she never lost that wonderful scent. "Missed waking up with you in my arms."

Giggling, Willow reached up and locked her hands behind Spike's neck. "Poor baby," she soothed, her emerald eyes sparkling mischievously. "How can I ever make it up to you?"

Grinning, Spike lowered his head until his lips were a breath away from hers. "I have a few ideas," he whispered before claiming her mouth in a searing kiss. He was dimly aware of the other two vampires slipping past him to leave the room, but he was more interested in the tempting redhead in his arms.

Moaning pleasantly, she pressed her body against his in a teasing manner coaxing a groan from him and he finally broke away from her delicious mouth. "We'll pick this up later, luv."

Willow nodded and together they left the storage room to join the others gathered in the front room. Claiming a stuffed chair far enough away from the windows to avoid the sun, Spike pulled Willow into his lap and rested a hand on her hip. "So what's so important that you had to wake me up from a very nice dream?" demanded the peroxide blond vampire.

All eyes turned to Giles and the Watcher removed his glasses, idly polishing them. "Cordelia called today because she had a vision regarding a man she described as in his thirties with spiky hair and haunted eyes," he began, replacing his glasses. "Angel will be driving down after sunset to help."

"Why is this Cordelia having visions about Darien?" demanded Bobby, his voice bordering on a growl.

"She is sent visions from the Powers That Be to direct Angel who to help," replied Giles.

"The Powers That Be what?" interrupted Xander, a confused expression on his face.

"They get that a lot," Darien remarked, his eyes distant with memories that only he could see.

Sighing, the Watcher looked around at everyone there. "If I may continue?" he asked. When no one objected, he nodded once. "All she told me was that she saw two groups, one composed of humans and the other of vampires. While the vampires were openly pursuing the man, the humans were hiding in an ambush. So all of you, keep your eyes open for an increase in activity."

When Giles moved off to lean against the counter, Buffy stood up. "Okay, anyone have any ideas how to handle this?"

Willow shrugged. "Simple. We keep Darien with either Buffy or Spike at all times until Angel arrives with more details," she stated before turning to look at Spike. "Think you could get anything out of Willie about a new group of vamps in town?"

"Easy, Red," he replied, a cruel grin stretching across his face. "As soon as the sun goes down, I'll wander over for a pint and information."

Darien frowned. "Why not head over now? Don't the tunnels reach that far?"

Spike nodded. "Yeah they do, mate, but Willie has sealed the entrance in his place." He shrugged, the leather duster creaking with the movement. "Besides, he won't be there until nearly sunset anyway."

Giles sighed. "Well that still leaves us with three hours until sunset," he announced after checking his watch.

Claire frowned slightly as Eberts bent to whisper in her hear and she nodded. "Darien, can I talk to you for a moment?" she inquired, rising to her feet. Darien and Bobby exchanged puzzled looks before Darien shrugged and followed the blond into a corner for an illusion of privacy. Spike wrapped his arms around Willow’s waist and enjoyed the feel of her slender form resting against his cool body as he casually listened to the conversation across the room.

"Darien, now that you no longer need the monitor, I can remove it and leave the tattoo behind if you wish," remarked Claire, her voice soft and betraying none of her feelings. "Or if you want the tattoo and the monitor removed, I can also do that."

It was silent for a few minutes as Darien thought about the offer, before sighing. "I’m not sure, Claire," he replied. "Gimmie some time to think about it." A rueful chuckle escaped him. "I honestly thought that I’d be stuck with this thing until the day I died, but that seems like a moot point right now." His statement drew a small laugh from Claire before they rejoined the rest of the group.

"Okay, since it seems like Darien is the target here, how ‘bout some extra combat practice?" suggested Bobby, trying hard to look nonchalant, but Spike could see the tension in his childe’s stocky frame and understood it completely. A group of unknowns were after Darien, Bobby’s childe and almost mate, and that invoked the shorter vampire’s protective instincts.

Apparently Darien also recognized the tension in his sire and just nodded as he gestured for Bobby to precede him into the back room.

Spike tightened his grip on Willow and rested his head on her bright red hair. He had a feeling that this was going to get worse before it got better and he hated feelings like that since he usually ended up loosing someone he cared about.

****

Samuel Blokesdale stared at the items he had scattered across the cheap bedspread, making sure he had enough supplies to last his assignment in Sunnydale. He had been surprised that the Council had sent a team of watchers to the Hellmouth and even more surprised when they put him in charge of the mission. His assignment was simple: locate the vampire known as the Child of the Crimson Redemption and kill it permanently.

< A vampire that restores the souls of other vampires is dangerous,> Samuel mused, running a hand through his graying hair. He was a bit on the pudgy side, showing the effects of being stuck behind a desk at the Council Headquarters, but the Council trusted him with this mission and he was not about to fail them.

A polite knock on his door startled him out of his thoughts and he scooped up a cross and stake as he started for the door. Carefully, he opened it as far as the safety chain would allow and peered through the opening at the dark young man that stood in the hallway. The man’s very appearance screamed at his watcher instincts and Samuel knew that this was a vampire. "If you’re looking for dinner, I suggest you look elsewhere, vampire," stated Samuel in a casual tone.

The vampire grinned, revealing even white teeth. "No, Watcher, I am not here for a bite to eat," he replied in a smooth voice. "I believe we both are here for the same reason."

"Oh? And what would that be?" inquired Samuel, raising a questioning eyebrow.

The vampire spread his hands in a peaceful gesture. "The death of the Accursed One, known better as the Crimson Childe." The calm tone never wavered, but the nearly black eyes widened slightly at the statement. "I suggest that since both of our parties are interested in the same thing that perhaps we could pool our resources to accomplish this goal."

Samuel’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. "How do I know that I can trust you?" he demanded in a harsh voice.

"I know you have many weapons against me in your room, but if I could come in to discuss this like civilized people?" The vampire gestured slightly to the barely opened door. Samuel frowned as he thought about what the creature standing there had said. If he was to be believed, then he was here with a group of vampires who were also after the death of the Crimson Childe who was obviously seen as a threat against the vampire community.

Samuel closed the door long enough to remove the safety chain and opened the door again to allow the vampire to brush past him into the room. Locking the door behind his visitor, Samuel was able to get a good look at the vampire for the first time. He had shoulder length brown hair that was pulled back into a ponytail and a dark suit that made him appear like any other professional businessman instead of the walking corps that he really was. With a predator’s grace, the vampire strolled across the room and sank into the only chair in the room, which was far enough from the scattering of crosses and bottles of holy water on the bed to give him some comfort.

"Now what do you wish to discuss, Mr…" Samuel waited for the vampire to supply his name.

"Martin, childe of Miriam, Order of Thesulus," announced the vampire in the traditional demon way.

A chill ran down Samuel’s back. That name and order were well known to any Watcher that bothered to study the Diaries. "Miriam, the Shadow Queen of Thesulus." The title was whispered into the air and Martin smiled, smugly.

"Of coarse a Watcher of your caliber would know of my sire," he said, inclining his head slightly. "But enough pleasantries. On to business." He straightened in his chair as Samuel began gathering up the various items on the bed and replacing them in a bag. "With me are a childe from each of the twelve oldest Orders, including mine, along with minions of each order. I have been instructed by my sire to dust the Accursed One any way possible, and if that means teaming up with a group of Watchers, so be it."

"And how do you propose that this agreement works?" inquired Samuel, feeling back on level ground with the bargaining. If he did strike a bargain with Martin, he only hoped that the Council would understand and maybe he would get the chance to dust the creature once the Crimson Childe was dead.

Martin shrugged, elegantly. "Simple. We can herd the Accursed One into an ambush that you will spring as well as take care of anyone who tries to protect him."

Samuel frowned slightly, in thought this time instead of discomfort. "The Crimson Childe is with the Slayer," he announced, thinking out loud. "Your minions should be able to keep her busy long enough for us to stake the Childe."

A slight frown flashed over Martin’s face before it settled back into the emotionless mask. "This Slayer, would she be the one that defeated Nest and the Judge?" When Samuel nodded, recognizing the given name for the Master of the Order of Aurelius, Martin sighed. "This will be more of a challenge than I originally anticipated."

He rose to his feet and Samuel grabbed a cross and stake again. The vampire smirked at the Watcher’s actions before moving towards the door.

"I shall talk with the others and let you know our decision." With that, he allowed the door to close behind him and Samuel sighed with relief as he sank onto the bed. Scooping up his cell phone, he quickly dialed a well-known number and waited for someone to pick up on the other end.

"This is Samuel Blokesdale. Please put me through to Mr. Henry Goldlum," he requested, trying to ignore the slight throbbing that had started behind his eyes. He had a feeling that this conversation was not going to go well.

****

Part Three

The night was warm with a soft breeze dancing among the headstones as Buffy, Willow and Darien strolled along, keeping an eye out for any of the nasty creatures that went bump in the night. The two girls were gossiping about various topics ranging from the cute teacher’s aid in their psychology class to what Glory wanted in Sunnydale.

Darien didn’t pay too much attention to their conversation as his eyes flickered around their surroundings. A nagging had started in the back of his head about the same time that the sun set, and it was one he recognized all too well from his younger days with Kevin: he was being watched. Kevin use to watch him all the time, making "scientific observations" and it use to drive Darien crazy because often he couldn’t spot where his brother was watching him.

"Darien, you all right?" inquired Willow, snapping him out of his musings.

The lanky vampire glanced down at her and smiled. "Yeah, I’m fine," he replied, absently rubbing the back of his neck. "Just distracted." He snapped his head around as a different tingling started at the base of his neck and this one was more identifiable. There were other vampires close by and some of them were at least as old as Spike if not older.

Buffy must have felt them as well, because she dropped into a fighting stance with a stake in one hand. Willow looked around, a concerned expression on her face as she drew closer to Darien with a stake appearing in one hand and a vial of holy water in the other.

Darien flinched slightly when she accidentally brought the vial close to him, and she smiled apologetically before returning her gaze to the shadows around them.

Cool wood was pressed into his hand and Darien looked down to find that Willow had slid her stake into his hand and was retrieving another from Buffy’s bag. Suddenly, a wave of vampires emerged from the darkness and crashed over them with howls of triumph.

Instinctively, Darien raised the stake in time to impale the one vampire that lunged at him. Somehow, he was able to tell that these vampires were just minions and not that smart, but there were enough of them to cause trouble.



He found himself back to back with Willow who was slowly chanting under her breath, and desperately tried to keep the vampires off both of them until she finished whatever it was that she was casting. A sudden wave of heat rolled out from her and several vampires screamed before crumbling into dust. Unfortunately, that seemed to inspire the rest of them to fight harder, and Darien was getting desperate when a vicious howl split the night seconds before a white and black predator leaped into the fray.

"Spike," breathed Willow, relief evident in her voice and Darien felt some of the tension ease from his shoulders. He knew that his Grand-Sire would kill anything that threatened his family and his witch, and these minions were at the top of the list at the moment.

< But where are the older vampires? > mused Darien, frowning as he staked two more minions. < These guys can’t be out here without someone commanding them. Not this many. >

He caught sight of Spike and Buffy moving through the remaining minions like the agents of destruction that they appeared to be, and allowed himself to breath a sigh of relief. It looked like they might actually win this battle with few injuries.

As the last of the minions exploded in dust, Darien looked around to take stock of the situation. Somehow during the fight, Spike and Buffy had been drawn off to one side, but it appeared that everyone was all right save for a few bruises. Willow walked over to Spike who instantly started checking her over for injuries and Darien ran a hand through his hair, grimacing at the feel of the dust that had covered him.

A new sensation washed over Darien and he looked around, trying to pinpoint the location of the extremely powerful vampire that was drawing closer.

After a few moments of concentration, he discovered that the vampire was approaching from the main gate of the cemetery and he took a step in that direction, unconsciously.

Just then, men erupted from the bushes and surrounded Darien, each one bearing a cross in one hand and a stake in the other as they slowly closed in around him. One of the men, who appeared to be in his forties and slightly graying, started chanting something in a foreign language and a red glow briefly surrounded Darien.

"Aw, crap!" he whispered, staring around him with wide eyes. "Spike!" The name of the Master Vampire burst from his lips as he instinctively sought the help of his Grand-Sire.

Dimly, he heard shouting as two of the men managed to grab his arms and wrestle him to his knees. The ring of crosses seemed to sap his strength, but he struggled to break free from the men.

"And now, Child of Evil, return to the darkness from whence you came!" intoned the man who had been chanting, standing over Darien with a stake in his hand. The men holding the lanky vampire twisted his arms behind his back, forcing his chest out, and Darien felt the quicksilver run over his body as gasps echoed around the men.

As the quicksilver cascaded over him, Darien heard the men holding him cry out in pain as the cold seared their skin, and Darien twisted to one side, determined to break free. The world faded to gray just as the man struck and searing agony exploded in Darien’s chest before darkness enveloped him in its welcomed embrace.

****

Frowning, Angel quickened his pace as he felt a large group of vampires converge on the Oakridge Cemetery where he had tracked Buffy. As soon as the sun had set, he had been in his car and breaking many laws trying to get to Sunnydale before it was too late. Too late for what, he wasn't sure, but there was this urgency that drove him, forcing him to make the usual two and a half hour drive from LA to Sunnydale in an hour.

A new feeling intruded on his senses and he recognized the protective fury that was radiating through the bond he shared with his unruly bleached childe. Judging by the rapidly diminishing feeling in the back of his head, Angel decided that they had been foolish enough to threaten someone that Spike had claimed as his.

Finally, all that was left in the area was the senses that announced the presence of Spike, Buffy and another vampire that was somehow familiar and yet he knew he had never felt this vampire before.

"Spike!" The desperate cry spurred Angel into a run and he rounded a crypt in time to watch Spike and Buffy throw a group of men off of something on the ground.

< No, someone, > corrected his demon as the smell of blood teased his nose, and he felt Angelus's fury increase at the recognition of that blood. < Order of Aurelus, blood of our blood. Those that harmed what is ours shall pay dearly! >

Angel found himself agreeing with his demon as he fell on the cluster of men, tossing those foolish enough to get between him and whomever was on the ground around like dolls, until the smarter men fled into the night, taking their fallen comrades with them.

A pale fist swung at his head, and Angel caught it, twisting it down until Spike was pulled flush against his chest.

"You're getting sloppy, Spike," growled Angel in his ear, tightening his grip on his childe's fist just enough to warn Spike. "It's rude to hurt those that have come to help you."

Ripping his fist free of Angel's grasp, Spike turned on him, crystal blue eyes flaked with demonic gold. "Sod off ya wanker," he snarled, tearing his eyes away long enough to glance around. Angel glanced around to spot Willow kneeling next to something on the grass with a bloody stake in her hand and he carefully approached her.

"Angel, thank the Goddess that you're here," she stated, briefly glancing up at the dark vampire. "Darien's been injured, but he went invisible before he was stakes and I don't know how to coax him out of it." Her hands were stretched out over what must be Darien's body, but by the tremor in them, she wasn't touching him.

A slight movement caught Angel's eye and he looked up as Spike knelt a few feet across from Willow, gazing down at the empty spot on the ground. His hand reached out to hover just between Willow's and he smiled at her as his hand moved up to where Angel assumed Darien's face was.

"Sire's blood should help," he murmured, raising the wrist at his side to his mouth and biting down to tear through the pale skin to release the rich blood.

As Spike held the injured wrist out, Angel watched as the crimson fluid dripped down to strike something before sliding down the invisible surface, revealing a jaw and the tip of an ear. A few more drops exposed the corner of a mouth and then a full lower lip as the blood slid into a slightly open mouth. Spike lowered his wrist to just above Darien's mouth, allowing the thick blood to spill past the jagged teeth before there was a slight movement and Spike hissed in pain.

"Bloody hell! He's freezin'!" growled Spike, his teeth gritted against the pain. A remark died on Angel's lips as silver cracks raced over the still form before flakes of mercury fell away to reveal a lanky vampire with a bloodstained shirt stretched over his chest.

"We have to get him back to Giles's place or the apartment," Willow announced as Spike pulled his injured wrist away from Darien. "Any place that I can tend to that injury."

Angel reached out to rest a calming hand on her shoulder. "The mansion is closer and I have supplies there," he offered his voice soft.

Willow exchanged looks with Spike before nodding in acceptance, and Angel gathered the unmoving body in his arms before he stood with Willow and Spike, the later who swayed unsteadily on his feet.

Willow slipped an arm around his waist and he slung an arm around her shoulders and he leaned against her, the blood loss taking its toll on him.

"You need something to eat," she remarked, her voice soft. "I'm sure Angel has something for you at the mansion."

A quick look at Angel, who nodded once, confirmed her accusation, and she was trying to steer the stubborn blond towards Crawford Street.

"I'll tell Giles what happened and send Bobby to meet you at the mansion," announced Buffy, her voice hard with a professional edge to it that made Angel flinch slightly. He had hoped that she would not have a problem with him showing up to help, but apparently, that wasn't the case.

Buffy turned on her heel and marched out of the cemetery, her back ramrod straight and her fists clenched at her sides. As always, Angel felt a pang of misery for the trouble he had brought to her life, but he shoved those feelings aside for now. He had more important things to worry about right now, such as the unmoving vampire in his arms.

Turning, Angel started through the tombstones with his burden and heard the soft sounds of Willow and Spike following.

The Sunnydale blindness was in full effect as the odd group walked down the dimly lit streets towards the richer side of town. A majority of the people out on the streets were in too much of a hurry to get to safety to worry about the two Master Vampires and their companions, but he few people who did glance in their direction quickly hurried away after glimpsing the ridges that were still visible on Darien's face.

Within minutes, they had reached the mansion on Crawford Street, and Angel lead Willow and Spike through the sparsely furnished house to the second floor, where he gently laid his burden on the bed, delighted to see that the cleaning crew he hired had done an excellent job. The dust and dirt that had accumulated since his move to Los Angeles had been scrubbed away and fresh sheets replaced the dingy linens.

"There's a first aid kit in the bathroom down the hall," Angel remarked, glancing at Willow. "Could you get it for me, please?"

Willow nodded as she placed Spike in a nearby plush chair before scampering out of the room. Angel carefully removed Darien's shoes, placing them next to the bed, and turned his attention back to the bloodstained shirt. There was no way he would be able to remove it without risking further injury to Darien, so he pulled a knife out of his coat and tossed the leather across the back of another chair.

He could feel Spike's eyes drilling into the back of his head as he carefully cut the shirt off of Darien, peeling the soaked fabric back to expose the pale, blood stained skin. Easing the fabric out from under Darien, Angel dropped what was left of the shirt in a nearby trashcan before shoving the knife back in his coat pocket.

The tension in the air was almost palatable by the time Willow returned with a first aid kit tucked firmly under one arm while she easily balanced a bowl of water and a washcloth in her hands. She tossed a glare at Spike who only looked at her confused before she placed the bowl on the nightstand.

Angel murmured a quiet "Thanks" before he dipped the cloth in the warm water and gently washed the blood off of Darien's chest. He repeated his actions several times until the water was stained a dark pink and the angry wound was visible for all to see.

Quickly, he exchanged the washcloth for the first aid kit and gently bandaged the injury before easing the blanket over the still unconscious vampire.

The sound of a door being flung open followed by the pounding of feet herald the arrival of another vampire that was connected to the dark vampire in a way.

Seconds later, a short, stocky vampire stumbled into the room, his eyes darting about frantically until they fell on the motionless figure on the bed. "Darien?" the name was no more than a whisper as the new arrival stumbled to the side of the bed to gaze down at Darien.

Spike walked over and put a comforting hand on the stocky vampire's shoulder. "He'll be fine, Bobby," he soothed. "He's slipped into the Healing Sleep and won't be awake until tomorrow night."

"What happened? Who injured him this badly?" growled Bobby, whirling to face Spike with his eyes flashing gold. The sudden movement took Spike by surprise and he swayed on his feet as he hand was jerked from Bobby's shoulder. Without thinking, Angel grabbed Spike's shoulder to help keep the cocky vampire on his feet.

"Why don't we discuss this downstairs in comfort?" suggested Angel, ignoring the glare that Spike sent his way as the younger vampire shrugged his hand off.

Angel gathered up the bowl of water and the washcloth before leaving the room to dispose of them in the bathroom. When he returned, he found Bobby sitting on the edge of the bed, gently stroking the soft brown hair with a look of almost tender care on his face. With one last caress, Bobby left Darien’s side to follow the elder vampires out of the room.

When they arrived in the kitchen, Angel quickly prepared food for the vampires as Spike sat down, heavily, in a chair and Willow grabbed a Coke out of the fridge. After placing a large glass in front of Spike, Angel handed Bobby a mug before leaning back against the counter, drinking his own mug.

"So are you going to tell me what happened to my childe or do I start getting irritated?" A soft growl underscored the threat, but Angel only raised an amused eyebrow. The growl grew as Bobby rose from his seat, obviously ready to start hurting people until he got his answers.

"A large group of minions attacked us in the cemetery," Willow began, staring straight at Bobby. "Darien and I managed to hold our own until Spike showed up to help Buffy finish them off. I went over to make sure that they were okay when Darien suddenly shouted for Spike. A group of humans had surrounded him with crosses and he went invisible just as one of them staked him. Angel arrived then, and after the humans were run off, Spike gave Darien some of his blood to bring him back to visibility." Her voice was low and soothing as she related what had happened in the cemetery.

Bobby grudgingly sat back down and grabbed his warm mug. "So what’s this Healing Sleep that he’s in now?"

Angel spoke up, gazing at the stocky vampire. "When we’re severely injured, we go into this deep sleep that allows our bodies to heal," he explained. "It usually lasts about twenty-four hours and he’ll wake up hungry but healed." Some of the tension flowed out of Bobby, and he quickly drained his mug before pushing away from the table.

"I’m going to sit with him for a while," he announced to no one in particular before leaving the kitchen.

The uncomfortable silence grew as Spike glared at a spot on the wall, and Angel stared into the depths of his empty mug. The dark vampire was unsure how to breach the gap that had grown between him and his Most Favored Childe, but he knew however he tried to talk to Spike, his words would be met with ridicule and sarcasm.

"ARG!! That’s it!" cried Willow after several minutes of silence. She stomped over to the surprised vampires and grabbed an ear in each hand. "Come with me. NOW!"

Startled, Angel found himself, a 250-year-old Master Vampire, being dragged through the mansion like a boy whose mother caught him with his hand in the sweet jar. He was only glad that the only other witnesses were either being dragged along by HIS ear or was doing the dragging. Finally, Willow kicked a partially opened door back and shoved the two vampires into the spatially furnished room.

"I don’t care what you do, talk, fight, fuck, whatever, just seal this chasm between you two," growled Willow, her eyes flashing dangerously. "The only thing that you will NOT do is stake each other. If you do, and even one of you survives, they will envy the other by the time I get done with them. Do I make myself clear?" When neither answered her, she twisted the trapped flesh in her hands and snarled in a voice that would have made a demon proud. "Do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly, luv." "Yes Willow." Their hands flew to rub the recently abused flesh as she stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her.

There was an ominous click followed by a brief glow around the doorframe and they were alone. Sighing, Angel looked around the room that was obviously used in the past as a study, but was now sparsely furnished with a couple of chairs, a small table, and thick curtains over the one window.

With a disgusted sigh, Spike threw himself into one of the wing-backed chairs and lit a cigarette. "Wonderful," he grumbled. "Instead of finding out who’s behind this little attack, I’m stuck in here with Peaches."

Angel glared at Spike who deliberately blew a cloud of smoke at the dark vampire.< The boy has been insolent with us for far too long, > whispered Angelus, seductively. <He needs to be put back in his place. >

With effort, Angel ignored the images that Angelus tossed at him; memories of him and Spike doing everything together.

"Must admit that Red will make a hell of a vampire," mused Spike, a smirk stretching across his face. "Can't wait to turn her."

Those words sent a chill through Angel and he glared at Spike. "You will NOT turn Willow," he growled, clenching his hands. He could not allow his wayward childe to extinguish the fire that burned in the young girl. "I won't allow it."

Snorting, Spike rose to his feet and squared off against the taller vampire.

"Hate to tell ya this, Peaches, but you have no say in it," drawled the peroxide blond. "See, the only reason I haven't turned her already is because she wanted to find a permanent soul restoration before hand." He shrugged slightly. "Now, with Darien and his new talent, I can go ahead and turn her. And you have no say in it." A long white finger poked Angel in the chest to emphasize the last few words.

Angel grabbed Spike's wrist and squeezed it, feeling bones grind against each other. "There is something I can do about it, William," purred the darker vampire, flecks of demonic gold coloring his eyes. "Or have you forgotten what Rights of the Sire mean?" He could feel Angelus straining at his cage, clamoring to be let free to teach Spike a lesson, but he managed to keep the demon locked away.

Before the dark vampire could say anything more, a pale fist lashed out and connected with his jaw.

****

Part 4

Staggering back, Angel released Spike's wrist, but the blond closed in on his sire, throwing a hard left into the older vampire's stomach before following it up with a vicious right hook that sent Angel crashing into the empty bookcase. The wooden shelves splintered under him, slivers digging into his back through his shirt and effectively pinning the fabric to his skin.

Dazed, Angel managed to stagger out of the mass of kindling before a Doc Martin struck the back of his knee and sent him to the floor.

He waited until Spike approached him for the next attack when Angel sprung from his crouch and drove a fist hard into Spike's abdomen, sending the bleached blond into one of the wingbacks that collapsed under the force. Stalking over, Angel grabbed Spike by the lapels of his duster and threw him onto a small side table, which was instantly reduced to scrap.

Rolling to his feet, Spike lunged at Angel, golden eyes blazing with a century of hidden emotions: anger, fear, longing, and surprisingly, love. It was that last emotion that startled Angel long enough for Spike to knock him to the floor and rain blows on his unprotected face as the peroxide blond sat on his chest.

After a few moments, Angel managed to grab Spike's wrists and wrestled the younger vampire to the floor, effectively pinning him against the wooden surface with his own large frame. He tangled his legs in his childe's and held the pale wrists above the peroxide colored hair, keeping them from causing further harm.

The dark vampire stared down into the demon's face only to find bloody streaks tinting his childe's face as tears escaped from the golden gaze that was inches away from his own face. The love was still in those demonic eyes, but it was partially hidden by the mixture of anger, century-old fear, and frustration.

"Go on. Prove yer mastery over me," urged Spike, his voice flat as he rolled his head to one side and exposed his pale neck.

The soft blue line that marked where the cool blood was hidden beneath the fragile skin was clearly visible, and Angelus was clamoring for him to sink his fangs into that river and claim what was rightfully his. But he hesitated, his own feelings for the blond battling with the instinct to claim, most were feelings he had forgotten in their century of separation or he had buried and tried to forget.

Pride, lust, frustration, and love, all for the small vampire pinned beneath him. Pride at how well Spike had managed to survive and flourish; frustration for how easily he manages to annoy the dark vampire and get under his skin; and love for the vampire that was as close to being Angel's son as anyone he could claim.

Shifting his legs, Angel was able to rest most of his weight on his knees as he dropped his arms, leaning the rest of his weight on his forearms that were near Spike's head.

"I'm not your master and haven't been for a century, Will," whispered Angel before leaning down and gently ghosting his lips over those of his childe's.

Startled, the lips parted and cautiously, he slipped his tongue through them to explore the cool cavern of Spike's mouth, tasting the familiar flavor of cigarettes, blood, and something wild and feral that could only be described as William.

Strong hands gripped his shoulders and pushed him back to stare into Spike's confused face. "Why?" The word was no more than a breath of air across Angel's lips but the dark vampire understood the question.

"I've never stopped loving you, Wil," he confessed, staring straight into that unwavering gaze. "When I was cursed, I was confused and couldn't stand the sight of anything or anyone that reminded me what I was. But I never stopped worrying about you or loving you." He took a deep breath and forced himself to continue. "When I saw you defeat your first Slayer in China, I knew that you didn't need me any more and I had to leave you behind. That was the hardest decision I have ever had to make and the loneliness only grew heavier with the passing years."

"I would have accepted you, Angelus," Spike whispered as strong fingers threaded through the dark hair, and pulled Angel down for another searing kiss. Angel moaned as that familiar tongue stroked his and coaxed it into dancing with him.

In a sudden move, Spike rolled them over and straddled Angel's hips as their hands gripped each other desperately. The years fell away with each caress and soon, their clothes had been stripped, revealing pale flesh to hungry eyes. Soft growls filled the air with whimpers and moans as each movement teased and pleasured the other. But all too soon, twin roars echoed through the silent mansion as the old lovers found release together.

****

The echoing roars drew Willow's attention away from Darien's lifeless figure and she glanced up with a small smile. It sounded like Spike and Angel were working out their differences, and she said a silent prayer to the Goddess that they remained friends beyond the bedroom. Bobby looked towards the door with a frown before returning his attention to Darien, as if afraid the lanky vampire would crumble into dust if he removed his eyes for more than a second.

"Everything will work out, Bobby," soothes Willow, reaching out and laying a calming hand on his shoulder. "You'll see."

Suddenly Bobby's head snapped up and he spun around to glare at the door. Willow opened her mouth to ask what the problem was when he placed a finger to his lips.

"Someone's downstairs," he whispered. "No heartbeat, but I heard a board creak." The redhead nodded and pulled a stake out of her back pocket, holding it out to him. He grabbed it and she snagged a vial of holy water before following him, silently, down the stairs.

They paused before entering the living room, hoping to get a look at the intruder so that they would know what they were up against. A gentle swishing of long skirts reached Willow's ears accompanied by soft, almost inaudible whimpers followed by a clack of a high heel.

"Is Daddy really here?" asked a soft, childlike voice that seemed lost and yet sent familiar shivers down Willow's back. "Everything is so confused in my head."

A sigh. "Yes, Angel is here," replied a cruel voice that was also familiar, but Willow couldn't place it. Then it clicked. It was Darla's voice. She and Druscilla were the intruders. "And so are others."

"Well, you're right on both counts, Darla," remarked Willow, stepping into the room with Bobby right behind her. It was rather funny to see the tall brunette hiding behind the tiny blond in the tight dress and spike heels.

Both were disheveled and streaked with dust and dirt. Rips marred Dru's long skirts and even Darla's pale skin had slashes of dried blood blending in with the grime. It looked like they had tangled with rosebushes only the bushes won.

It suddenly occurred to Willow that no one had seen the pair since Buffy and Darien had run into them the week before when Darien's power revealed itself. "But if you want to talk with Angel, you're gonna have to wait. He's busy right now."

Darla glared at Willow and folded her arms across her chest. "You will take me to see Angel now before I get upset, human," growled the blond.

A low growl beside her revealed what Bobby thought of Darla's order but a calming hand on his arm stopped him from outright attacking. "Keep an eye on them," advised Willow, nodding towards the pair. "I'll get the boys."

Bobby nodded and Willow turned, leaving the three vampires alone.

The redhead paused before the door she had locked with magic and listened, making sure that she wouldn't be interrupting anything. When she didn't hear a sound, she dismissed the magic holding the door closed and casually knocked. There was a brief scramble before the door opened to reveal a rumpled Angel.

"Darla and Dru are downstairs in the living room," she announced. "I told her that you were busy, but she's acting all high and mighty right now and I figure you'd rather be interrupted by me than by her."

Angel sighed and closed his eyes, his shoulder's slumping slightly as if a great weight had descended on them. "Thanks, Willow."

He brushed past her and descended the stairs with Spike and Willow behind him. Willow tossed a questioning look at Spike but he shook his head, indicating that he didn't know what Angel's problem was. Something in his blue eyes told Willow that she suspected he had an idea, but wasn't going to share it with her.

When they arrived in the living room, Bobby only glanced up at them briefly but didn't move from his position near the stairs while a sickeningly sweet smile spread across Darla's face.

"Angelus, how good to see you again," she greeted, her voice as sweet as her smile. Spike snorted and Darla threw him a glare, which he returned before focusing her attention on Angel again.

"Hello, Darla," Angel said, his voice flat and emotionless. "What do you want?"

"Why to be a family again," she announced as if it was the most obvious reason in the world. "Why else, my darling boy?"

Angel cocked his head and looked at her like a cat deciding when it should pounce on a mouse. "I thought I told you that if I ever saw you again, I'd kill you." He shook his head and Willow caught a glimpse of golden flecks in his chocolate eyes. "How quickly you forget."

Reaching over, he casually plucked the stake out of Bobby's hand and closed in on the terrified blond.

Darla backed away from him only to run into Dru, who was swaying slightly with an unfocused look in her dark eyes. "Wait! You can't stake us," begged Darla, holding her hands up to ward off Angel's advance.

"Why not?" The question was soft and held a multitude of promise if Darla failed to convince him.

"Because, Dru and I have our souls back." Angel stopped and studied the two vampires before him as if judging the truth of her words.

"The Invisible Man gave them back and Oh! They hurt so," whimpered Dru, her fingers tangled in her hair. "My head is all jumbled and the stars don't sing."

Darla folded her arms across her chest and smirked at Angel. "And it would be wrong of you to kill someone with a soul. Therefore it would be wrong of you to kill us."

"Just like it's wrong for a Childe to order around their Sire," stated Spike, grinning at Darla. "Or in you're case, it would be Grand-Sire, pet."

Every eye in the room turned to focus on the peroxide blonde, silently asking for an explanation and Spike casually lit a cigarette before blowing a cloud of smoke at Darla. "Simple logic. Darla was turned by Angelus’s Childe, Druscilla, and thus making Darla the Grand-Childe of Angelus." His grin turned evil now and Darla cowered back against Dru. "Therefore, Darla, you are in no position to be ordering us around."

Silence descended on the room as everyone absorbed this twist of logic, and Willow glanced at Spike to discover that he was grinning like a cat that had sited a helpless bird.

Rich laughter burst out of Dru who threw her hands into the air and spun in circles, her skirts swirling about her legs. "Mummy is sad that her party is ruined and the moon sighs her disappointment."

As Willow watched, Darla seemed to shrink before the amused gaze of Spike and the hard gaze of Angel until she looked nothing more than a teenager who had been caught trying to play grown up.

"Sit down, both of you," ordered Angel, his voice unemotional, and Darla scrambled to obey, dragging a humming Dru with her. "Now, you will tell me how you were cursed with your souls and leave, no detail out."

Bowing her head in submission, Darla began recounting the confrontation in the cemetery and the fight with Buffy.

****

Part 5

Darien crouched before the grave, the dewy grass beneath his fingertips and the violet streaks in the sky signaling the approach of dawn. The midnight marble stared blearily at him, the name of his brother shinning brightly in the darkness as if it was glowing.

Hesitantly, he reached out and ran damp fingers over the inscription, to prove to himself that it was only wet marble.

"Do you honestly think that Kevin would want anything to do with you now, Fawkes?" The accented words cut through the silent night and Darien shoved the irrational fear aside as he patiently ignored the man who had appeared at the grave as silently as a specter.

"Go away, Arnaud. If you think you can torture me now, you're wrong." A small smile stretched across the lanky vampire's mouth. "I have a purpose now."

"Ah yes. The killing of innocents to survive," replied Arnaud. The slight mocking in his tone pulled Darien up to face the Swiss-French terrorist. The other man was casually dressed in black slacks and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows and the top few buttons undone. Arnaud spread his arms in both an invitation and to show that he was unarmed, a knowing smirk on his face. "Well, here I am. Go on. Add another name to your list of victims."

Darien glared at Arnaud and clenched his fists to resist punching that smirk off of his face. He hadn't killed anyone to survive. He hadn't even gone hunting with either Bobby or Spike since Claire had arrived soon after his death. The tantalizing pounding of Arnaud's heart suddenly seemed impossibly loud in the still graveyard, swirling through his mind and that pale expansion of skin that mocked him above the white shirt was practically begging him to sink his fangs into it and drink his fill.

It would put an end to his tormentor once and for all.

"You could hardly expect Kevin to love you, or even care about you as you are now, mon ami; a cold-blooded killer." The words reached Darien's ears on a seductive tone, and he turned away, desperately trying to fight his instincts as he gathered his thoughts.

Kevin had forgiven him for what happen, hadn't he? In that dream, didn't his brother say that the attack on Darien had been an accident? It was hard to think with Arnaud's heartbeat pounding in his ears and his mocking words swirling through his mind, blurring his memories. "Perhaps you were lying to yourself even then, convincing yourself that dear Kevin would love you even though you had become this."

Darien clamped his hands over his ears in a childish, yet desperate attempt to bock those teasing words, but Arnaud's voice slipped through, twisting his thoughts and shredding any attempt to gather his thoughts. Kevin had forgiven him for being a thief and even for being so difficult, but now the lanky man was a true killer. How could he expect his brother to ever forgive him now that he was no better than the man who stood behind him?

His hands dropped to his sides as a wave of despair washed over him, the grave before him mocking him with the glowing name of Kevin Fawkes.

"I always knew we were of the same nature... Brother," Arnaud stated as a heavy, hot hand fell on his shoulder as if branding Darien as the terrorist's property. Or worse, his family.

Knocking the hand off, Darien spun around in a rage.

No! He was NOT Arnaud's family not was he anything like him. His long fingers wrapped around that tempting neck and his lips curled back in a snarl, enjoying the shocked expression on the man's face.

"Arnaud!" he growled, the red glow that was almost familiar covered Arnaud's gasping form. A shout of fear reached Darein's ears but it didn't come from Arnaud's throat.

It came from his blood... the blood of his blood.

****

Angel shook his head as he slowly walked down the hall.

Only Spike would have the legendary Accursed One as a grand-childe.

Soft whimpers caught his attention and he stopped before a closed door, gently easing it open to reveal Darien's room. The large vampire frowned as he caught sight of a figure thrashing on the bed. Due to Darien's injuries, he shouldn't even be able to make any sound, let alone move for another sixteen hours. Curious, he entered the room and stood next to the bed, gazing down on the lanky vampire illuminated by the moonlight that streamed through the open window.

< He will make a valuable weapon against our enemies,> whispered Angelus.


Angel smothered a growl. <He is NOT a weapon. He is our family. Blood of our blood,> he countered, ignoring the temptation in Angelus' voice with long practice. The demon respected the blood-ties of family, and even honored them in its own twisted way.

The talk with Darla and Dru had taken several hours as he pulled details out of the blond before sending the girls to get cleaned up. Apparently, since their run in with Darien and Buffy, they had been hiding out in a crypt that some demons had decided to use as a hideout near the sewers. Even though the sun was still a few hours from rising, Angel felt that he should close the heavy curtains and before he knew it, he had pulled them closed, shutting out the bright moon. With the last of the silver light blocked, the thrashing on the bed and the whimpers stopped.

Turning, Angel returned to stand next to the bed and gazed down at Darien once more, his features visible in the dim light that intruded from the hall.

The ridges of the demon had smoothed out to reveal the handsome face that he had sketched for Cordelia from her vision, save for the deep wrinkle in his forehead that announced his misery to anyone who couldn't feel it pouring off of him in waves.

The misery intensified as Angel placed a calming hand on his shoulder, hoping to sooth the younger vampire's dreams, when suddenly, furious brown eyes glared at him. By the unfocused gaze in those eyes, Angel knew that Darien was still trapped in his nightmare. Darien lunged at Angel, thin fingers wrapping around his neck as the dark vampire fell back onto the floor, taking Darien with him.

"Arnaud!" hissed Darien, straddling Angel's chest.

Strange warmth flowed out of those fingers to envelope his own cold body, and he cried out in fear, feeling Angelus' terror as the demon was pulled forward. Then the warmth sent him plummeting into unconsciousness.

****

Part 6

Growling playfully, Spike nuzzled Willow’s neck, sending her into a fit of giggles. He was still feeling good from the combination of starting the repairs on his relationship with his Sire and finally having the power to put Darla in her place.

For too long, he had been helpless to do anything about her general hostility towards him, always repeating the phrase "Childer don’t tell their Sires what to do, Boy" in a sneering, superior voice. She hadn’t liked him from the moment Angelus brought him home from the stable where he had found the timid poet sobbing over a broken heart.

"Spike, can I ask you something?" inquired Willow, relaxing in his arms.



Something in her tone made Spike regard her with serious blue eyes. "What is it, luv?"

"Why do you hate Darla so much?" she asked with a puzzled look on her face. "I mean, the Watcher’s diaries don’t really have that much on her except to say that she’s the one who sired Angel."

Leaning back into the cushions, he wrapped his arms around her and held her close. "One thing ya have ta know is that Old Bat-Face Nest was her sire and she was his Most Favored Childe," he began, closing his eyes to enjoy the apple and spice scent rising from her hair.

His Cockney accent was smoothing out into the upper middle class one he had been born with as he got caught up in his explanation. "She hated me from the second she realized that I wasn’t just another minion, but Angelus’ childe, which was the second she caught sight of me. No matter what I did, she always found fault with me and always punished me. Once I made the mistake of telling her to ‘Sod off’, and she took a riding crop to me, all the while chanting that ‘Childer don’t tell their sires what to do, boy’."

He shuddered briefly at the memory of that night. "Took a week before I could move without agony ripping through me. She use to repeat that phrase as both a reminder not to cross her but to also remind me of my place."

Suddenly a cry of fear echoed through the house as he felt panic slice into his very heart from…

"Angelus," whispered Spike, already moving towards the source of that scream. Dimly he heard feet pounding along behind him, but his only concern was getting to his Sire. Following his instincts, he burst into Darien’s room to find Angel on the floor in game-face, unmoving, and Darien was huddled next to the bed, staring at Angel with large eyes.

Almost invisible tremors ran through the lanky vampire, and Spike carefully approached him, keeping his hands out in a non-threatening gesture. Finally, he was able to gather the shaking childe in his arms and gently stroked the spiky hair as he purred in an effort to calm him.

"What happened?" demanded Darla’s cold voice, and Darien began shaking harder. Spike looked over his shoulder to find everyone clustered inside the door, unsure or unwilling to step into the room until they knew it was safe.

"Bobby, Willow, come see to Darien," Spike said in a soft voice so as to not frighten the vampire in his arms. Before he had finished talking, Bobby was already crossing the room with Willow following him, and they removed Darien from Spike’s arms.

Casually, the bleached blond stood up and approached Darla and Dru who were still standing in the door, dripping wet from their interrupted shower.

Before she could move, Spike’s hand lashed out to grab Darla’s hair and pulled her head back to look into his icy blue eyes. "You will keep a civil tongue in that head of yours or I will personally rip it out and feed it to you. Do I make myself clear?"

"You’re not the Master," she sneered, defiance clear in her eyes tinged with a hint of fear.

Spike smiled and saw her fear increase. "No, I’m not, but I am the Most Favored of Angelus," he purred, stroking a single finger down her face. "And Angelus is the Master of the Order of Aurelius now that Bat-Face is dust along with that Anointed brat."

The question was clear in her eyes.

"No, Angelus didn’t dust that one. I did." With his free hand, he gripped her chin tightly to force her to meet his eyes. "I also remember all of your lessons." With that, he released her and returned to his little family, running soothing fingers through Darien’s hair.

After several minutes of purring and soothing comments, Darien finally stopped shaking and turned confused brown eyes on Spike. "What happened?" he asked in a soft voice.

"Was hopin’ you could tell us that, mate," replied Spike, his Cockney accent back as he met Darien’s gaze.

"I was having a nightmare," confessed Darien as he dropped his gaze to puzzle through what happened. "I was at my brother’s grave before sunrise and Arnaud appeared."

A low growl from Bobby caught Spike’s attention and he made a note to ask them who this ‘Arnaud’ person was to cause that kind of reaction. "He started talking and I tried ignoring him, but the more he talked, the harder it got to think or even figure out which were really my memories and which was him screwing around with my mind. Then he grabbed my shoulder as he called me ‘brother’ and I snapped."

He looked up at Spike with wide eyes. "I grabbed his throat and heard him shout except it wasn’t him." The trembling started up again. "I blinked and found myself sitting on him with my hands around his throat and then I heard pounding feet." He shook his head. "Why am I terrified? Arnaud’s not here and you’re my family."

Spike sighed and pressed a kiss to Darien’s forehead. "It’s yer demon, pet," explained Spike, running gentle fingers across the younger vampire’s brow in a soothing manner, as if stroking the ridges of his game face. "See, Angelus there is the Master of our Order and a hell of a lot more powerful than me. Ya attacked him, unknowingly, and now yer demon’s reacting to that attack."

 


Darien leaned into the caress and closed his eyes as a soft sigh of contentment slipped past his lips.

A soft patter of water hitting the wooden floor drew his attention to Dru who was swaying, almost dancing, across the floor before she knelt next to Angel, a dark nymph who had been caught in the rain. "No Angel beast or Daddy," she cooed, running delicate fingers over the prominent ridges. "Only one, sings the stars. Halo and horns."

Cautiously, Spike approached the humming vampiress. "Dru, what do you mean?" he asked, kneeling on the other side of Angel’s motionless form. "What are you talking about with halo and horns?"

"Not two but one," hummed Dru, her hair dripping on Angel's face as she tangled her fingers in the dark hair, tugging on it slightly. "Mummy and Daddy same, dark and light together. Halos and horns. Oh how they hurt."

She started yanking on her hair as her moans filled the air and Spike reached across to gather Dru in his arms, immobilizing hers before she did any more damage to herself.

"Of coarse," breathed Willow, drawing Spike's attention from the vampiress. " 'Halo and horns'. It makes sense now."

Spike looked at the redhead over Dru's head as he continued comforting the brunette. "Pet, for those of us who don't speak star, care to translate?"

A faint blush stained Willow's cheeks. "Sorry," she apologized before turning her attention to Darien. "Darien, you said that you tried to strangle this Arnaud person in your nightmare but woke up with your hands around Angel's throat. Did anything else happen when you tried to strangle Arnaud?"

"Well, there was a strange red light that surrounded him," stated Darien, his eyes still looking a bit haunted.

Willow nodded once. "When you unknowingly attacked Angel, you used your powers on him," she announced before taking a deep breath. "Angel's soul is permanent and if I'm understanding Druscilla right, the soul and the demon have merged into one being."

But which one would have the most influence over his actions no one could say.

Just then, a soft groan cut through the air and Spike released Dru just as the demonic ridges smoothed out into Angel's handsome face. Everyone seemed to hold their breath as confused chocolate eyes fluttered open. This was the moment of truth.

****

"What do you mean he disappeared?" demanded Martin, leaning across the table to shove his ridged face into Samuel's. The two were in the Watcher's room at the hotel once more, discussing what happened at the cemetery, and Martin was less than happy.

Samuel growled and glared at the vampire. "Just what I said," he snarled. "We had him weakened and on the ground. I had the stake in my hand and was about to kill him when this strange liquid silver seemed to seep out of his skin and I staked him just as he vanished."

He ran a hand through his hair in an attempt to calm his temper. "Then we were being tossed around like dolls by the Slayer, William the Bloody, and another vampire who seemed familiar to both." He watched as Martin's face smoothed back out into its human planes before he slammed his hand down, splitting the table in half and sending it crashing to the floor.

"It appears that there is a new player in this game," mused Martin, the picture of unruffled calm. "I do so detest people who enter the game in the middle." He turned and started towards the door, but topped before he reached it. "I trust you will be ready to correct your mistake once the Accursed One has been found." With that, he strolled out of the room and Samuel let out a relieved sigh.

Henry Goldlum had given him permission to work with the vampires but to dust them once their primary mission was completed, but that didn't mean that it was any easier to work with Martin.

Scooping up the phone, Samuel quickly called the other Watchers to his room for a meeting, and waited until they were assembled before he explained about his meeting with Martin. "Any suggestions on how to find the Crimson Child?" he inquired, opening the floor to all suggestions.

A younger man raised his hand. "Perhaps we could find where the vampire is and destroy it while it's wounded," he offered with a shrug. "We might even get lucky enough to take out William the Bloody and the new vampire as well."

"But where do we find them?" demanded another Watcher, gesturing to the town beyond the room's walls. "They could be hiding any where out there. Especially since this place is right on the Hellmouth. It practically breeds demons."

"So someone needs to find the local snitch for the demon community," stated Samuel looking around at the others, noticing how many were drooping in their seats. "We'll start first thing in the morning. Until then, get some sleep and fi anyone comes up with an idea or a plan, then let me know as soon as possible."

Nods and muttered agreements accompanied the men as they shuffled out of the room, leaving Samuel alone with his thoughts.

With a groan, he stretched out on his bed and stared at the cracked ceiling as he tried to organize his thoughts. The dark vampire that had appeared in the cemetery seemed rather familiar, like he had read about the creature in one of the various books that make up the Watcher's library, but the answer was eluding him. One final sigh escaped his lips as he gratefully sank into sleep's gentle embrace for the night.

****

Part 7

The terror in Darien grew as the large vampire slowly began moving, but as much as he wanted to bury his face in Bobby's shirt until the fear vanished, the almost graceful movements hypnotized him.

He watched as Angel carefully sat up and looked around at everyone. He hoped that he would be overlooked, but the second those dark eyes rested on him, he knew he had no chance of escaping from the older vampire now. A cool tingle preceded the rush of quicksilver as the gland responded to his fear with its own instincts, and he barely registered Bobby's yelp of surprise before the quicksilver solidified and rendered him invisible.

Scurrying away from Bobby, he huddled near the bed and wrapped his arms around his knees as he tried desperately to sink into the wall behind his back. There was a hushed conversation but the terror had a firm grip on Darien, blocking everything around him except the power radiating from the various vampires gathered in the room.

Something dark passed before his eyes and he glanced up out of reflex and instantly regretted it. Standing there with an emotionless mask for a face was Angel, and a whimper escaped from Darien before he knew it had been formed. The mask softened slightly as a large hand was extended, patiently waiting for Darien to take it, but he was paralyzed by his fear.

"Darien, reveal yourself and take my hand."

The voice was soft with a hint of an accent that was like a balm to Darien's nerves and his terror slipped a bit away. The soft tinkling of silver bells accompanied the color returning to Darien's sight and he hesitated for a few moments before grasping the offered hand.

Angel helped him to his feet and with a start, Darien discovered that while Angel was built like a brick wall, he was only an inch or two taller than Darien himself. Before the lanky vampire could say or do anything, he was pulled against that hard body and his head was pulled to one side, exposing his neck.

He struggled slightly, expecting the older vampire to kill him, but stopped when the twin pricks of fangs sliced through his skin, releasing a gush of borrowed blood and dismissing the rest of Darien's fear. A surge of pleasure unlike any he had felt before either as a human or a vampire swept through him and he moaned, reflexively jerking his hips towards the hard body he was pressed against when another wave of pleasure followed the first.



After only a few seconds that seemed to last for years, the fangs were retracted from his neck and a gentle tongue cleaned the skin before Angel stepped back, his human face on. "Wha…" Darien tried to talk, but that wonderful feeling still had him, making it hard to think.

"What was that all about?" demanded Bobby, his voice bordering on a growl.

"Simple mate," stated Spike's voice, which seemed incredibly far off. "Darien attacked the head of our Order, so Angel had to reinforce his dominance over Darien."

The pleasure was fading now, replaced by a throbbing ache in his chest and Darien swayed a bit, light-headed. Strong arms grasped his upper arms, keeping him upright as he sagged against that large body once more, and he looked up into Angel's face, his confusion clear on his face. "What happened? Where are we?"

"Everything will be explained when you wake up this evening," announced Angel, helping the lanky vampire back to his bed. Darien sat down as a bolt of pain exploded from his chest and he gasped, his face rippling into his demon's. "What's wrong?"

"Chest hurts," whimpered Darien, putting his hands across the aching flesh and curling forward to instinctively protect it. He was a bit surprised to feel bandages beneath his fingers, but the throbbing pain was all he could concentrate on as he tried to use the exercises he had used when he had to deal with a quicksilver-buildup headache.

Those same gentle hands eased him back until he was lying on the pillows before the sharp scent of blood filled the air, distracting him. He looked up as a bloodied wrist was put before his face and he glanced up at Angel's unreadable face.

"You need it to heal," he stated, his face concerned. Darien grasped the offered wrist tightly as another bolt of agony flashed through him and without thinking, drove his fangs into the injured flesh, releasing a stream of blood. It flooded down his throat, tasting of power and age, and a delighted moan slipped past his lips.

Never had anything tasted so good, not even that box of Godiva chocolate that Liz once stole and split with him after a heist. Forgotten warmth settled in his stomach and spread outward to the rest of his body, curling around the pain in his chest and soothing it, like the half-remembered chill of counteragent quieted the pain in his head from the gland.

Dimly he was aware of Angel removing his wrist and he was eased back on the bed with the blanket pulled up over his chest. He blinked a few times and the pleasant feeling receded enough for him to focus on the rest of the room. Bobby was standing next to Willow while Spike stood near the door, radiating controlled power as he kept his eyes on Darla who was naked and dripping wet as she stood in the door.

Druscilla was humming to herself as she swayed on her feet, water running down her pale skin as her dark hair created interesting designs on her skin. Angel brushed a stray lock of hair off of Darien's forehead, causing him to automatically slip out of game face as his eyes drooped under the caress. "Sleep. All your questions will be answered in the evening," soothed the deep voice, and before he could protest, Darien slipped into a dreamless sleep.

****

Willow felt a bit of tension drain out of her as Darien fell asleep again and Angel turned away from the bed. It was still hard to tell who was dominant in the powerful vampire as he made his way across the room, but when he drew closer to her, the redhead was able to see the gentleness in that dark gaze that she had seen each time Angel appeared at the library back in high.

"He'll be fine," stated Angel in a gentle voice, as if he was afraid of waking Darien.

A snort from the door broke through the last of the tension in the room.

"Well now that everyone's all lovey dovey again, I'm going to finish my shower," announced Darla in that superior tone of hers. Willow felt Spike stiffen next to her and realized whatever was going to happen was not going to be nice.

Angel was a blur as he moved to grab Darla's neck and lift her off the floor to gaze into her eyes without bowing his head. "Apparently ye've forgotten who's th' Master, lass," purred the dark vampire, his voice thick with an Irish accent. Darla's eyes widened in recognition and Spike placed a hand on Willow's shoulder as if the contact was the only thing keeping him grounded. "After all, yer th' one who wanted yer Darlin' Boy back, an' now yer tellin' me that yer not happy about it?"

"Angelus," whispered Spike, his voice no louder than a breath of air.

Willow frowned in confusion. When he had crossed the room, he had been Angel, but now, dealing with Darla, he was Angelus. Did that mean that the soul and demon were in harmony in that large body?

"Yes, m'boy, Angelus," agreed the vampire, not removing his eyes from Darla's terrified ones. "We are one, and it's rather nice." He glanced around as he dropped Darla on the floor where she sat in a crumpled heap. "It's late and tomorrow is going to be a long day and night, so I suggest we all go to bed. Spike and Willow, you can have the next bedroom over. Bobby, I'm sure you'd rather stay here with your childe, but I'll be in the room on the other side of you. Darla and Dru can sleep across the hall if they wish."

He turned his back on Darla as if dismissing her and approached Spike for some reason when with her face twisted in fury, Darla leaped to her feet with a stake in her hand that she found somewhere.

"Look out!" cried Willow as Darla lunged for Angel's back. Faster than she could see, Angel spun to one side, avoiding the fatal strike and grabbed Darla's arm, twisting it behind her back.

"That wasn't very nice Darla," tisked Angel, forcing the blond vampiress to her knees. "Willow, I have a request to make of you. Will you cast a spell that will tie her existence to mine?"

Frowning slightly, Willow thought over the various spells that she had seen in numerous books over the years. "I'm assuming you want this link one way," she said, drawing a single nod from the dark vampire. "Off hand, I can't think of any spell like that, but let me talk with Giles and Anya. They might have heard of something."

Angel nodded again. "Fine," he replied before hauling Darla to her feet. "And since you refuse to act like a civilized guest in my house, I will treat you as such." Willow watched as all remaining color drained out of Darla's face and she felt Spike shake with silent laughter. "We'll talk to you later. Good night everyone." With that, Angel dragged Darla from the room and Willow looked up at Spike.

He placed a kiss on her forehead and threaded his fingers through hers. "Let's get some sleep, luv," he whispered as he gently tugging her out of the room. Willow nodded and waved a quick good night to everyone before the door closed behind her.

****

Part 8

Silently, Claire approached the looming mansion and noted the few windows that were covered by heavy drapes.  < Must be the bedrooms, > she mused, adjusting her grip on the duffle bag in her hand. She had been scared for her friend's safety when Buffy had returned to the Magic Box last night and gave a pacing Bobby directions to get to what she called the Crawford Street Mansion. Darien had been injured and that was where Spike, Willow and someone named Angel had taken him.

She had swung past the apartment on her lunch hour and had been surprised when it was obvious that no one had returned last night. Using the key that Willow had given her in case of an emergency, Claire had gathered a change of clothes for the odd family and after a brief call to let Eberts know where she was going, she had started for the mansion.

Hesitantly, Claire knocked on the door and waited for someone to answer. She turned slightly to look at the neatly trimmed bushes that lined the front of the house and had to wonder who had been living here if it had supposedly been deserted since the gang had graduated from high school.

"Can I help you?" asked a deep voice behind her, startling her out of her thoughts. She whirled around to find a tall man standing there in just a pair of pants, his dark hair mussed from sleep.

"Yes, my name is Claire and I brought some clothes for Willow, Spike, Bobby and Darien," she said, holding up the bag as if offering proof that she really had a reason to be there. "They didn't return to the apartment so I thought it would be polite to bring them a change of clothes."

The man nodded and stepped back to let her in, being careful to stay out of the sunlight. Quickly, Claire slipped past him and looked around at the furnished house, surprised once more that everything was neat and clean.

Who HAD been living here? The door closed behind her, the click of the latch deafening in the silent house, and she jumped, startled.

The man smiled in a comforting manner. "I'll take you to Willow," he offered before brushing past her to start towards the stairs.

Claire followed him, her eyes drawn to the tattoo that was inked across his right shoulder. It was a Celtic griffin balanced on top of a stylish 'A', and her mind flashed back to an entry in the Watchers' Chronicles that spoke of just such a tattoo that identified one of the vampires that was known as the Scourge of Europe and the one with the face of an angel.

"Angelus."

The name escaped her lips on a breath of air and he turned to look at her, confused.

"I recognized the tattoo from some of my research in England," she explained, before clamping her lips shut and resolved herself not to say anything more.

Before he could confirm or deny her claim, there was a muffled shriek from the direction of the basement and a cold smile spread across the handsome face.

"Excuse me a moment," he requested in a polite voice that did nothing to calm Claire's racing imagination. "I have a small problem to take care of."

"I'm coming with you," stated Claire, fearing the worse since the noise had come from a female throat. Could her friends be prisoners of this angelic demon? Her memory brought forth the many accounts of his deeds when he was running across Europe with his family before he was cursed with a soul, but Willow had told her how he had lost the soul once before. Had he lost the soul again and reverted back to his cruel ways?

He stopped and studied her for a few seconds before nodding.

"I will warn you that this isn't going to be pleasant," he announced as he started down the stairs for the basement. Holding her head high, Claire followed Angelus down the stairs and stopped when he paused before a solid wood door.

From behind the thick wood came the sound of clanking chains and whimpers, broken only by the occasional scream. With a cold smirk on his face, Angelus swung open the door and calmly strolled through as if he was walking down the street.

Despite her bravery to face whatever it took to help her friends, Claire found herself hesitating at the door. Taking a deep breath, she mentally braced herself for the worse and entered the room only to stop in surprise by what she saw there.

Standing in the center of the room on her toes, was a blond woman whose wrists were chained to what looked like an iron chandelier that was right out of an old fashioned swashbuckling movie.

Except in those movies, there wasn't a curtain of crosses hanging from the iron circle. The device was hung from the ceiling by a strong iron chain and any movement on the woman's part sent the crosses caressing her naked body, adding to the numerous burns already there. The crosses themselves seemed to shine in the dim light as if wet, and Claire watched with wide eyes as Angelus approached the woman.

"Now, lass, why are ye disturbin' our rest wit' yer screams?" purred Angelus, his voice adopting a thick Irish accent that sent both chills and waves of lust coursing through Claire. "I remember when ye had me in a similar position an' 'twas a good week 'fore ye heard me screams."

He casually pushed aside the crosses, ignoring the burns he received from touching the holy objects and brushed a lock of blond hair out of the woman's face.

"Ye know what ye have t' say if ye want t' be a guest again in me house."

The woman glared at him and he sighed before turning away from the device to face Claire again, a small smirk on his face as he crossed to the door.

A faint memory tickled Claire's mind, like she should know who this woman was, but it remained elusive. "Who is she?" she asked, turning her eyes to the large vampire who paused next to her.

"Why don't we discuss this in a more comfortable surroundings," he suggested, once more in that calm voice that had greeted her at the door. "There are chairs in the living room and I can offer you some coffee or tea."

Her eyes flickered to the woman < No, vampiress > and back but Angelus caught the motion.

"Oh don't worry about Darla. She's not going anywhere for quite some time."

Left with really no choice in the matter, not if she wanted answers to the questions that were buzzing in her head like an angry swarm of bees, Claire followed the large vampire back up the gloomy stairs and into the comfortable living room.

He waved her towards a couch while he vanished through another door and Claire sank onto the soft cushions, the forgotten duffle bag in her hand placed on the floor by her feet.

The room was rather large but decorated with a scattering of comfortable looking chairs with another couch that looked large enough to fit five people easily on it. A few tables were placed next to certain chairs with a pair on each end of both couches, their dark wood adding a touch of class to the room which should have looked like a display floor for a furniture store, and there were enough lamps scattered around to illuminate the room for normal humans to see but not enough that it would be painfully bright for those with more sensitive sight.

It was almost as if someone had furnished this room with the idea that large meetings would take place here and went out of their way to offer comfort for everyone.

The soft clink of china drew her out of her musings and she looked up to find Angelus standing there holding a cup of coffee out to her.

"Thank you," she said, accepting the cup. He smiled and scooped up another mug that was resting on a tray that had been placed on a low coffee table and she realized that it was in such a position that anyone sitting in the room would be able to get to it easily.

A sudden image of that table scattered with old books while the entire Scoobie gang sat in the various chairs flashed through her mind and she realized that all of them could easily fit into the room.

"I'm sure you have several questions that are bothering you," states Angelus as he casually sprawled in a nearby chair after exchanging his now empty mug for a cup of coffee. "You have my word that I will answer them to the best of my ability."

Claire sat up straight and fixed the dark vampire with a cool, professional look. "Very well. My first question is rather simple. Who am I talking to, Angel the Vampire with a Soul, or Angelus, the Scourge of Europe and the Demon with the face of an Angel?"

Those dark eyes seemed to stare deep into her soul and she managed to keep her face in the same professional mask that she had developed when dealing with the Agency, despite the fact that she felt like a bird staring into the eyes of a serpent. 

"Actually, thanks to Darien, there is no Angelus or Angel anymore. There is only me," he said as calm as if he was discussing the weather. "A vampire with the demon and soul merged into one." A small smile crossed his face. "It's rather nice now that I don't have to listen to the demon tempting me or fighting it for control." He cocked his head and regarded her, curiously. "Now I have a question for you. How do you know the titles that describe me in the diaries of the Watcher's Council?"

"My name is Dr. Claire Peyton and I am the great-granddaughter of Jackie Peyton of the Watcher's Council," she stated in a cool voice.

A smile spread across Angelus' face. "Ah, yes, I remember the delightful Miss Peyton," he purred. "Her slayers were rather well trained and put up quite the fight."

Claire nodded her head to accept the compliment to her ancestor. "Who is the woman downstairs and why is she there?"

"Her name is Darla and she was the Master's favorite childe and my sire at one time," explained Angelus, putting his coffee cup down on a nearby table and folding his hands across his stomach. "Y'see, when I first came to Sunnydale, it was to help the Slayer fight. Unfortunately, the soul took a bit of a liking to her, much to the demon's dismay, and when Darla tried to kill Buffy with a gun, the soul staked Darla in the back. A while back, a law firm known as Wolfram and Hart in LA decided that they wanted to 'acquire' Angelus for their pay role so they summoned Darla back from the depths of Hell where she had been sent. Except they brought her back as a human. My childe, Druscilla, turned Darla and now she is my grandchilde and thus under my rule. As for why she is downstairs, she attempted to stake me in the back, thus refusing the hospitality that I had graciously extended to her. So now she is learning her lesson."

There was a soft sound behind her and Claire turned around to find a rumpled Willow descending the stairs. The redhead stopped and blinked as if to clear her vision before smiling slightly at Claire.

"Hi, Claire," she greeted, walking over to flop on the other couch. "What brings you around at this hour?"

Claire smiled gently at the girl who still looked half asleep. "Willow, it's nearly one in the afternoon," she gently chided before scooping up the duffle bag again and holding it out. "I brought everyone a change of clothes. Thought you could use them."

"Thanks, Claire," Willow said around a yawn as she took the bag. She then turned her gaze on Angelus. "So what have I missed?"

"Nothing much," replied Angelus with a shrug. "Dr. Peyton had some questions and I was happy to answer them for her."

Claire nodded in agreement. "There was just one question that I had not had a chance to ask yet." At his encouraging nod, she took a breath. "Who has been living here while you were in LA?" She waved a hand to include the mansion and the grounds outside of the closed windows. "This house is remarkably neat and clean despite the months of abandonment since you moved to LA, and the furniture can't be more than a few months old since there isn't any dust on the fabric nor is it faded from constant exposure to the sun." Her question caught Willow's attention, because the redhead sat up straighter and there was a wary look in her emerald gaze.

Angelus sighed softly. "Actually, since I had been told about the additions to my family, I have been cleaning this place up for Spike and his family to live if they chose," he confessed. He turned his head to look at Willow. "Giles told me that all four of you were living in that tiny apartment and I was hoping Spike would accept this as sort of a peace offering between us."

Willow seemed to think about that for a moment before nodding and scooping up the bag as she stood. "I'm going back to bed. Talk to you later."

With that, she climbed the stairs and disappeared into a room. Claire smiled at the young woman's actions and how they reminded her of the Darien in her lab on a few occasions. Usually when he was recovering from Quick Silver Madness. < Thank whatever deity is listening that he doesn't have to deal with QSM anymore. >

Draining the last of her coffee, Claire glanced at her watch. "As much as I would love to stay and chat the afternoon away, I must get back to the Magic Box and help Rupert find out if there is a connection between the humans and the vampires that attacked Darien, Willow and Buffy last night," she announced, rising to her feet. "I certainly hope we can continue this conversation later when some danger isn't breathing down our necks." She holds out her hand. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Angelus."

Angelus stood and took her hand in a gentle grasp. "The pleasure was all mine," he replied, gallantly before escorting her to the door. "If you could have Buffy come over just before sunset, I would greatly appreciate it. Spike and I have an appointment with Willie this evening and Darien will need protection until this is over." A dark look appeared in those chocolate eyes and it sent a cold chill racing down Claire's spine. "They came too close to killing him last night and I won't take anymore chances with my family."

****

Casually stretching under the cool satin sheets, Spike reached over to pull Willow's warm body closer only to find an empty spot where she had just recently been. A slight frown crossed his face as he opened his eyes to discover that she wasn't in the room, just before the door opened and Willow slowly entered with a duffle bag in her hand. She dropped the bag near the door and crawled back under to covers to curl up next to Spike, her head resting on his silent chest.

"Luv, what's in the bag?" Spike asked softly, enjoying the feel of her heat as it soaked into his cool skin.

Sleepy green eyes peered up at him before closing. "Claire brought clothes," she mumbled, snaking an arm around his waist to hold him close. "Was talking to Angel. He said house was cleaned up as a peace offering to you."

With that, she dropped back to sleep while he was still processing everything that she had said. The Great Poof had spent money to clean up the decrepit old mansion as a peace offering to him? Shaking his head, he tried to fall back asleep but the idle question still kept swarming around his brain like a mosquito until he finally untangled himself from Willow's grip and went in search of his sire.

He descended the stairs to find Angel calmly sitting in the living room, staring at some distant sight that only he could see, and Spike casually sprawled on the nearby couch as he waited for Angel to return from whatever memory he was visiting. After several minutes of companionable silence, Angel blinked and focused on Spike, smiling slightly at the sight of the blond vampire dressed only in his jeans.

"I would have thought that you would still be in bed with Willow wrapped around you."

Spike shrugged. "Couldn't get back to sleep," he confessed, running a hand through his tousled hair. "So what's the plan for tonight?"

He'd bring up the house later, but right now he had an injured grandchilde upstairs and some unknown wankers outside who had tried their damndest to dust him.

"I thought Angelus and his Favorite Childe would pay a visit to Willie and see what he has heard about these new arrivals," remarked Angel casually. "And I think I know who the humans are really working for." He stared at Spike, his chocolate eyes flecked with demonic gold. "If I'm right, then a trip to England might be in order."

"Bloody hell! The Watchers," swore the peroxide blonde. "But why would they want to off Darien? I would have thought that a vampire that restores the souls to other vampires would be seen as an ally to them, someone to be used against the vampire populous."

The dark vampire shook his head. "If it's revealed that a vampire has a soul, then future slayers might be less than willing to kill them," he stated. "Plus, the wouldn't be able to use the 'soulless killers' description of vampires when training the slayers." He studied Spike, curiously. "Do you have any contacts other than Willie who might know what's going on?"

Spike shook his head. "Sorry, not too many demons are talking to me now that I'm fighting with the Slayer instead of against her," he replied, his tone casual.

The good thing about his reputation was that not too many of the demons were willing to take him on despite his little arrangement with the Slayer. He stood up and made his way into the kitchen and casually pulled out a bag of blood before tossing it in the microwave to heat it.

The soft padding of bare feet alerted him to the fact that his sire had decided to follow him in and he glanced over to find Angel pulling out two mugs and another bag of blood. "Willow told me that you fixed this place up as a peace offering to me. That true?"

"Yes," he replied, reaching out a hand to rest it on Spike's shoulder. "Giles called me to let me know when Darien and Bobby joined the family and when he told me about the small apartment that all of you were living in, I wanted to do something nice for you." He nodded towards the stairs. "Some of the rooms on the second floor and all the rooms on the third still need to be cleaned, but it's livable and it's yours. If you want it." That same small smile crossed his face again. "Even have an account set up to take care of bills and such."

"You think of everything, don't you?" chuckled Spike before draining his mug. He automatically rinsed it out before setting it aside to dry. "When should I be ready to leave?"

"Just a little after sunset. Buffy will be here before that to escort the others to the Magic Box."

"And Darla?"

A cruel smile graced Angel's face, making him seem more like his demonic counterpart. "She will be restrained until we arrive at the shop after our little interview with Willie," he replied. With that, he turned and left the room.

It was a few minutes before sunset that everyone gathered in the living room, ready for the evening's activities. Angel was clad in a dark wine velvet shirt and tight leather pants while Spike was wearing his normal attire.

Darien was looking much better, but Bobby still refused to leave his side, even when Spike replaced the bloodstained bandage. Willow was clad in a pair of leather pants and a green silk shirt and Dru had put on one of her old dresses that had been left behind when she had first been dragged away from Sunnydale.

Darla was once more in her small red dress, but her hands were cuffed behind her back and an iron collar encircled her neck with a chain descending from it like a leash. A knock on the door was the only warning they had before it opened and Buffy strolled in.

She stopped at the sight of Darla and Dru. "What are they doing here?" she demanded, fingering a stake, which had appeared in her hand.

"Darla and Dru wandered in here last night and I decided that they should stay until we get everything worked out," explained Angel, casually as he stood up and approached Darla who flinched away from him. "Unfortunately, Darla has been a very poor guest and must be taught some manners." Buffy looked at Angel and started backing away slightly.  "Buffy?"

"How did you loose your soul again?" she asked, her voice breaking slightly as she continued backing away from the large vampire.

Spike smirked and fiddled with a cigarette in his fingers. "He didn't loose his soul, ducks," he drawled, enjoying the slight scent of fear that was coming from the blond Slayer. He nodded towards Darien, who was sitting in a chair. "Darien there accidentally secured it for good." An old hope flickers in her eyes before dying again, and Spike couldn't help but wonder what that hope was for.

Flipping her blond hair over a shoulder, Buffy regarded everyone before her with a professional glare. "All right, who is coming to the magic shop with me and Darien?"

"I am and so is Bobby," announced Willow, standing up from where she had perched on the arm of a couch. "Dru and Darla are coming as well. Angel and Spike will drop by after they head out to shake down a few sources." She casually scooped up the chain attached to Darla's collar and smiled at Dru who was humming a tune. "Dru, do you want to come and talk with the vengeance demon?"

"Pretty demon likes fireworks and stars," cooed Dru, picking at her skirt. "The fireworks explode and she gets all wet."

Willow exchanged a confused glance with Buffy before shaking her head slightly to indicate that she didn't know what Dru was talking about. With a small smile, the redhead gathered Darien and Bobby up and gently escorted the still humming brunette out the door with Darla following behind her like a dog.

As the door closed behind then, Angel grinned up at Spike who couldn't help but answer that knowing smirk with his own cheeky grin. "So, m'boy, ready to announce ta th' demon world that Angelus is back an' not ta be trifled with?" Without waiting for an answer, Angel swept out the door with Spike on his heels

Grinning, Spike watched as the humans tossed them appreciative looks while the demons gave them a wide berth, realizing that the Scourge of Europe was together again. He had missed this in the last century, and silently thanked anyone who might listen to a vampire's prayers that he had been given a second chance with his Sire. They strolled down the street, falling into a rhythm that they had perfected in their early days together and that not even the separation could force them to forget.

All too soon, they reached Willie the Snitch's place and casually entered with Spike a step behind Angel. Conversations ceased as the two vampires made their way up to the bar and every eye in the place was on them.

Including those of the nervous man trembling behind the bar.

"Hello, Willie," purred Angel, leaning against the bar. "I have a few questions to ask you."

****

Darien paced around the Magic Box, unable to stay in one spot for more than a few seconds. He hadn't felt this on edge since the last time he was in front of the judge, but there was nothing he could do that would stop this feeling. Willow and Anya were bent over various books as they searched for the spell for Angel, and Bobby was standing near the door, glaring out at the darkening streets as if he could protect Darien with the force of his glare alone.

"Darien, if you don't stop pacing, I'm going to tie you to the chair with chains," growled Bobby, his eyes flashing a warning.

"I'm sorry, but I can't help it," he sighed, running a hand through his hair again. "I've never been good at waiting for the bad guys to come get me."

He walked over and stood next to Bobby, gazing out at the night. He leaned against Bobby, taking comfort in his sire's presence, and felt his nervousness slowly drain out of him when a strong hand reached up to rub his back. It wasn't so much the fact that there was a group of humans and vampires that were actively pursuing him, but his nightmare about Arnaud that had him tied up in knots of quivering tension.

He only hoped that this was over with soon because he wasn't sure if he'd be able to go back to sleep if Arnaud was waiting for him in his dreams.

A familiar presence intruded on his awareness and with a bit of concentration, Darien realized that it was Spike and Angel approaching the store. < How do I know it's them? Spike I've known for a while but Angel I just met last night. > Darien thought for a few minutes before finally shrugging and chalking it up to a demon thing. Just when he reached this decision, the front door opened and the two vampires swept in as if they had never spent a day apart.

"Willie said that a group of vampires have rented several rooms at the Sunset Strip Hotel," began Angel, pausing in the middle of the room and gazing around at everyone there. Darien felt the last of his nervousness vanish under that calm gaze. "From what he can tell, there are about twelve that are stronger and seem to be in charge of the others but the final total is about thirty."

"Group of humans checked in a day later, 'bout fifteen in all," added Spike in a lazy drawl before his eyes focused on Giles and Claire. "An' all are English."

If he was expecting a reaction, it didn't take long for it to happen. Claire sighed and leaned into Ebert's arms while Giles swore long and loud as he stormed over to the counter.

Finally, Giles managed to stop swearing after several minutes and leaned on the table, staring around at the mix of young adults and vampires scattered about the shop. "We'll deal with the Council after we get rid of the vampire half of this group," he remarked, his voice holding a trace of hostility that had Willow and Spike grinning. "Now, any suggestions?"

Angel frowned, thoughtfully. "Twelve master vampires can only mean that the Twelve Clans have decided to team up and come after Darien," he said. "Each clan probably sent a childe with minions." He shrugged. "The all we have to do is confront the childer and let them know that Darien is part of my clan and any attack against him will be an attack against the Order of Aurelius. After that, the Watchers can return to London because I doubt that they have enough courage to face the Scourge of Europe by themselves."

Spike snorted. "Not if they're smart, they won't," he agreed, leaning against the table. He glanced down at the books and raised his eyes to smile at Willow. "Find that spell yet?"

"Unfortunately, no," sighed Willow, running a hand through her hair as she stepped into Spike's arms. "I just can't find any spell that will let a bond go one way or even a couple of them to achieve that effect when combined." Spike pulled her close and nuzzled her neck in a comforting gesture as Darien looked around at everyone.

"So now what?" he asked, closing his eyes as waves of exhaustion washed over him. He still hadn't completely recovered from his injury from last night < Was it just last night? It seemed like days ago. > and now he just wanted these people to go away so he could just curl up with Bobby in bed and go back to sleep.

Strong arms wrapped around him and pulled him closer to a firm body and he looked down, surprised, to see Bobby holding him close. Instead of wondering about this behavior, Darien shrugged and nestled further into the embrace, enjoying the comfort and safety that came from being in his sire's arms.

Walking over to the window, Angel watched as the few humans out hurried towards the safeties of their homes. "At this point, the only thing we can do is go on the offensive and give them what they want," he announced, turning around to face those in the room.

Darien blinked and stared at the older vampire with a dawning sense of dread. He hadn't even heard the plan yet and already he hated it. "We will leave first, heading back to the mansion and then five minutes later, Buffy, Giles, and Claire will follow with crossbows while the others arm themselves with crosses and holy water. We'll try and draw them out, get them to attack us and leave their backs unprotected long enough for the rest of you to move in."

Darien groaned and buried his face in his hands. "I'm bait?" he asked in a soft voice that was muffled by his hands. He didn't want to be bait, but he logically knew that he was the best chance since the others were gunning for him anyway.

Strong fingers cupped his chin and forced him to look into possessive brown eyes flickering with demonic gold. "You are of my family and any who is foolish enough to harm you in any way will have their hearts handed to them while they still beat," Angel promised in a low voice that wrapped itself around Darien like a soft blanket on a winter's day. The threat of violence wiped away the little bit of concern that had threaded its way through Darien as the conversation had progressed and now he almost looked forward to seeing his family in action.

"So when do we leave?" asked Bobby, his impatience evident in his voice.

Angel released his hold on Darien's chin and stood up. "In five minutes." He grinned at Spike. "I think we've given them enough time to get organized and plan an ambush for us somewhere between here and the mansion."

Spike grinned, his blue eyes flashing with excitement, and he released Willow long enough for her to grab a stake and a vial of holy water before gathering her in his arms again. Darien watched, amused, at the fact that Spike didn't seem to want to let Willow go and she particularly didn't appear to mind at all. He honestly hoped that nothing happened to the little redhead during the upcoming battle because he knew that it would destroy Spike.

Shaking his head to rid him of his macabre thoughts, Darien carefully extracted himself from his sire's arms and walked over to Claire who was quietly talking with Eberts. "Claire, I want you to remove the monitor when we get done with this," he announced.

Claire looked up at him puzzled before it dawned on her what he was talking about. "I can remove it now if you want." She shrugged. "It's not that far under you skin and would only take a few minutes." She stood up and grabbed a first aid kit, bringing it back over to the table that was cleared of books.

Flipping it open, she pulled out a scalpel, a roll of bandages, and a small towel and neatly laid them on the wood surface within easy reach. Claire gestured for Darien to lay his arm on the towel and briskly wiped the still red tattoo with alcohol. Picking up the shining scalpel, she carefully made an incision and Darien hissed through his teeth as pain briefly flared up his arm. He closed his eyes and turned his head away as she worked.

"All done," Claire announced as she wrapped the bandage around his wrist. "You probably don't need this but it will help a bit more." Carefully opening his eyes, Darien looked to find a neat bandage encircling his wrist and Claire gathering up the stained towel and scalpel to be cleaned later.

"It's time." Angel's voice echoed through the shop, breaking the brief silence that had descended. Darien watched as he approached the swaying Drusilla and cupped her face so that she stared at him with eyes slightly out of focus. "Are you ready to protect the young ones and chase away the bad ones, Dark Princess?"

A soft giggle spilled over those delicate lips as Drusilla twirled her fingers in Angel's face like a little girl. "Mice scramble for the cheese but don't know that the cat is helping them," she cooed. "They want cheese but not enough to trust the cat. Tell the mice about the cat and many will leave."

A bark of laughter escaped from Spike, drawing everyone's attention to him. "The Watchers have teamed up with the vampires to get Darien," he explained. "But how much ya wanna bet that only one of the vamps knows that they're dealing with Watchers?"

"Well, we'll just have to rectify that small mistake when we first get the chance," purred Angel, a cruel smile stretching across his face. He glanced at his family, gathering the vampires and witch with his eyes. "Shall we go ruin someone's evening?" Not waiting for an answer, he turned and swept out the door with Spike and Willow, arm in arm, right behind him.

Bobby slapped Darien on his back as he made his way to the door. "C'mon partner. Time to get the job done." Smiling for what felt like the first time that evening, Darien followed Bobby out the door with Darla and Drusilla behind him.

As they walked, Darien noticed that everyone seemed to form a protective circle around him; Angel in the lead, Spike and Bobby on either side with Willow between him and Spike, and Darla and Drusilla behind him, watching everyone's back.

< Anyone who tries to come after either Willow or I will have to go through my family first, > mused Darien before he stopped that train of thought and reviewed it.

Yes, he had indeed acknowledged this strange group as his family and felt a contentment that he thought had been lost when Kevin had been killed. That contentment turned into iron determination. He had just really found this new family and he would be damned if he let it go without a fight. Those foolish enough to ambush them this evening was going to have a fight on their hands.

They had covered about half the distance between the Magic Box and the mansion when they found themselves surrounded by almost fifty vampires and humans combined, the humans carrying a collection of crosses and stakes while the vampires were in full game face. Darien tensed in preparation for an attack but Spike calmly lit a cigarette while Angel folded his arms across his chest, suddenly appearing much more massive and powerful.

"Hand over the Accursed One and you will be spared," announced a vampire with dark hair pulled back into a ponytail at the base of his neck. He had taken a step forward and appeared to be the leader of the vampires.

Angel glared at the vampire, an aura of menace surrounding him, promising a painful death to any who was foolish enough to cross him. "I had not realized that Miriam held you in so little regard, Martin," he purred, his voice sinfully dark and once more carrying a touch of an Irish accent. "After all, she sent you after my grand-childe."

Martin bristled under the insult and raised his fist, his amber eyes flashing dangerously. "Just who do you think you are to threaten the Most Favored of the Order of Thesulus?" he spat.

Angel grinned slightly. "I am Angelus, Master of the Order of Aurelius," he announced, his voice ringing through the cemetery with a power that none dared to argue. He gestured to the others as he named them. "My childer, Drusilla and Spike who is also known as William the Bloody, the lovely Darla, my grand-childer, and William's mate, the witch Willow."

Darien watched as a female vampire's human face replaced her demon's and she whipped out a cell phone. Quickly, the Oriental woman spoke into it in a foreign language that he couldn't identify.

Whatever conversation was taking place only lasted a few minutes before she returned the phone to whatever pocket she had retrieved it from and stepped forward to face Angel. She bowed low with her short hair covering her face, her eyes firmly on the ground in a gesture of submission and respect.

"Please forgive this unworthy one, Master Angelus," she apologized in a voice that was colored with the Orient. "My Most Honorable Sire did not know that the one we sought was part of your family. That most inexcusable error has been corrected."

"Give my greetings to your sire," replied Angel, obviously accepting her apology and explanation.

The vampiress backed up, her eyes never leaving the grass, until she reached the circle once more. Then she stood up, turned and left the circle after barking an order in that foreign language. Almost a dozen vampires left the circle and followed her to vanish in the darkness.

A few other vampires exchanged glances before two more nodded in respect to Angel and left, taking another dozen away from the circle. That still left a little over twenty people surrounding them, and Darien was wondering what trick Angel was going to pull out of his sleeve to lower the odds even more when the dark vampire spoke, his words directed at the remaining vampires.

"I never thought I would see the day when vampires would willingly align themselves with the Watcher's Council to take out an enemy."

The other vampires exchanged puzzled glances while Martin continued glaring at Angel. "Martin, what's he talking about?" demanded one of the vampires, stepping towards the two vampires who were still facing off. "You told us that you had found some human help. You didn't mention anything about the damn Watchers."

"What does it matter?" snapped Martin, turning his glare on the vampire who had spoken. "We both want the same thing, the Accursed One dead and dust at our feet so why should it matter if we team up with the Watchers or even the Devil himself?"

"At least we'd know where we stood with the Devil," replied the vampire, firmly. He waved a hand at the humans. "The Watchers can't be trusted at all. They may fight beside us for the same goal, but for how long? How long until a stake accidentally finds its way into one of our backs or a vial of holy water is tossed in our eyes?"

His words were beginning to affect the other vampires who were turning golden glares on both the humans and the furious Martin. "I doubt Miriam is going to be very pleased when she hears about this."

With an animal-like roar, Martin launched himself at the vampire, signaling a free for all. Darien gripped his stake tightly as he once more moved back to back with Willow and watched as some vampires attacked the Order of Aurelius while the others launched themselves at the humans, causing utter chaos.

Darla, Angel and Spike moved with the precision of a well-trained team while Bobby stayed close to Darien, and Drusilla seemed to be oblivious to the chaos around her, dancing and swaying until a vampire would stumble too close when she would casually reach out and twist its head off.

Willow was chanting under her breath various spells that sent strange tingles racing up Darien's spine but had the desired effect. Humans became incapacitated while dust filled the air, and with a howl, Bobby dove into the fray, leaving Willow and Darien alone in the center of the chaos.

Before Darien got a chance to slide into panic, a familiar blond rushed into the fight while three more figures stood at the edge of the fight, crossbows in their hands primed and waiting for their chance. The vampires began to fall faster with Buffy fighting and Darien breathed a sigh of relief when he realized that almost all of the vampires had been dusted while the humans were either frozen in place or sprawled on the ground unconscious.

Suddenly, there was a gasp behind him as he felt Willow bump into him and he turned around as a chilling howl split the night. Martin stood there with an insane grin on his face as he stared down at Willow, his hand wrapped around the stake he had buried in her stomach. Not even thinking, Darien growled and shoved his own stake through Martin's chest as he pulled Willow away from him.

There was a startled look directed his way before Martin crumbled into dust and Darien caught Willow, gently easing her to the ground. Spike appeared on her other side, kneeling on the grass and ghosting his hands over her as if unsure what to do.

"Willow? Luv?" Spike's voice cracked as bloody tears streamed down his demonic face.

Willow reached up a bloodied hand and touched his cheek, her other still wrapped around the stake protruding from her abdomen when she had automatically clutched it. "Spike," she gasped, desperately trying to pull air into her damaged body. Darien winced and realized that the stake must have injured her diaphragm, preventing her from breathing correctly. Spike leaned into her hand, pressing it against his cheek with his free hand.

"You have to turn me."

Darien watched as the fear lessened slightly in those demonic eyes and Spike gathered his mate in his arms.

"Are you sure?" asked Spike, gazing at Willow.

She nodded once and he struck, his teeth entering her vulnerable neck. Cocking his head, Darien could hear her heart slow farther and Spike pulled away, tilting his head slightly. Angel knelt behind Spike and pierced the pale skin with his own fangs, releasing a font of thick, dark blood.

Spike put Willow's mouth at the injury and Darien breathed a sigh of relief when she swallowed her first mouthful of blood. After a few minutes, her heart beat its last and she fell limp in Spike's arms.

****

Gently, Spike placed her on the ground, her pale skin already taking on the deathly white tone of a vampire, and with a savage jerk, he ripped the stake out of her. He knew that he would have to turn his love some day, but Spike had hoped that they would have had more years together with her warmth.

He reached out and brushed a stray lock of hair off of Willow's forehead, almost expecting her to wake up and smile at him like she had so many times before. Yet the skin under his fingers was rapidly cooling and that more than anything else reminded him that Willow was dead and turned. He raised his blue eyes to the vampire that was kneeling next to Willow.

"Can you restore her soul?"

A distant look appeared on Darien's face as his hands reached out to caress Willow's face. "A gentle touch for a gentle soul," he murmured, leaning forward with his hands cupping her face.

Softly, Darien touched his lips to hers as if preparing to wake the fairy tale princess with a kiss, but before Spike could protest, a red light surrounded them briefly before vanishing. Darien sat up and blinked a dazed expression on his face as he looked at Spike, confused.

"What just happened?"

"You just restored Willow's soul," remarked Spike, carefully watching her face for the first sign of life. A large hand gripped his shoulder, reassuringly, and he looked up to find Angel gazing at him with sympathy and support.

It was rare for sires to assist their childer in turning another, but when they did, it showed their support and approval of the act. It was also a way to welcome the new childer into the family, and the fact that Angel had actually extended that gesture healed a bit more of Spike's scarred heart.

A soft whimper finally dragged Spike's attention away from Willow and he looked over at the scattered humans with disgust curling his lips. "Look, Sire, my Willow has a feast waiting for her when she awakens," growled Spike, eyeing the watchers with a hungry light in his eyes. "I hope she shares." He licked his lips and watched with delight as three humans fainted while another two lost control of their bladders.

"Now Will, we can't be killing off the Watchers," purred Angel, casually strolling over to one of the humans. "After all, if we killed them, who would take our warning back to the Council?"

Spike watched with delight as the dark vampire seemed to study the Watchers with the same indifference a person would give to a menu at a restaurant, and his hand shot out, grabbing a slightly pudgy man in his forties with brown hair that was turning grey.

"I think you will do nicely."

Hauling the man to his feet, Angel shoved the man towards the center of their group where he fell to his knees. "Now, you will answer all of my questions completely, honestly, and quickly because each time you fail to comply with my simple request, I will break a single bone in one of your companions until I run out of questions or they run out of bones," he announced as the rest of the group closed in around them.

Buffy casually held a knife in one hand, flipping it with a cold look on her face, while Claire and Eberts kept their crossbows trained on the man. "Do you understand?"

The man nodded so hard Spike thought he was attempting to remove his head the hard way and grinned slightly. Angel folded his arms across his chest and started asking his questions in a hard, emotionless voice.

Within minutes, they learned that the man's name was Samuel Blokesdale and that he had been sent by the Watcher's Council to kill the vampire known as the Crimson Child. He had also been the one to drive the stake into Darien's chest and that little revelation was met by three low growls. Soon, they had learned all that they could from Blokesdale and Willow was starting to show signs of coming around.

"Spike? Wha happen?" slurred Willow as she tried to coordinate her limbs in an attempt to sit up. Easily, Spike caught one of her hands and helped her sit up, supporting her back with his other hand. He waited, knowing that she would understand what happened in a few moments. She blinked fuzzy green eyes a few times and he watched as they grew clearer. "Spike? What happened?"

He caressed her cheek and she leaned into the gesture like a cat seeking attention. "There was a fight, remember?"

Willow nodded with a frown. "Angel had chased off a bunch of vampires and that arrogant one, Martin, was still trying to bluster his way..." her voice trailed off as her hands drifted down to the bloodstain on her clothes, the wound completely healed with her turning.

"He stabbed me." Her eyes were wide with the implications and they flew to meet his concerned blue eyes. "You turned me, didn't you?" Spike nodded once and she smiled, a soft twitch of her lips. "And since I'm not feeling the urge to start munching on the city, Darien restored my soul." She leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on Darien's cheek. "Thank you."

Looking at Spike, she grinned and pulled his head down, meeting his lips in a passionate and claiming kiss. Spike groaned and clutched her to him as he tasted the change in his little red head for the first time. She still tasted of apples and spices but there was a new taste, a dark wildness that reminded him of brandy. If he thought she was addictive before, he was certainly lost to her now.

Soft whimpers of fear managed to break through the pleasant haze that had enveloped him and Spike managed to tear himself away from Willow's mouth to gaze dispassionately at the Watchers.

"Are ya hungry, pet?" he purred, glancing down at Willow and winking. He knew that the Watchers were in no permanent danger from the vampires, but they didn't know that and these wankers had caused the death of his beloved witch.

Willow looked at him confused before she smirked and he watched as her face rippled to that of her demon's for the first time. Bloody hell, she was gorgeous and his pants quickly grew uncomfortable.

Smoothly, she rose to her feet with the grace of a stalking panther and stretched, her bloodied shirt rising to expose the bloodstained but unblemished skin beneath. "Bored now," she purred strolling over to the terrified humans. Spike stood and glanced around to notice Buffy had clenched her knife even tighter while all color had drained out of her face and even Giles, who had definitely let the reins slip on his Ripper persona when Willow had died, was looking a mite green.

Shaking his head, he decided to ask them later what was wrong. Now he just wanted to watch Willow work because he just knew it was going to be a sight to see.

"Giles, did you ever get the chance to send the Council an account of what happened during our senior year when my vampiric twin was summoned from another dimension?" inquired Willow and Spike's ears perked up at that. This was one thing that she had never mentioned and he looked at her, expressing his surprise with his eyes and she shrugged. "Sorry, love, it never came up."

The librarian cleared his throat rather uncomfortably and removed his glasses, nervously wiping them with a cloth. "Ah, no I never really got around to it," he apologized. "And once she had been sent back to her home dimension, it didn't seem worth it."

Willow nodded, absently. "Let me tell you a bit about her," she offered, still slinking though the immobile men. "She was actually sired by the Master and was one of his favorites when he emerged from his prison in the Hellmouth. Her world was one where the Slayer never arrived and the demons ruled the night." She trailed a finger across a pale cheek, causing the man to flinch and her smile grew even more predatory. "She told me that in her world, they rode people like ponies and she even had a pet she named 'Puppy' that she had completely broken into a whimpering mass."

With this, Willow sent an apologetic look at Angel who nodded once in understanding. "Y'see, her pet had another name, one that was well known and even feared still." This time the look she tossed Angel was full of mischief. "His name was Angelus."

Spike could only stare at Willow as she wove her story as easily as she moved through the men, snaring everyone with her words and he swallowed around the lump in his throat. He knew his Red was hiding darkness in her, but to have completely broken Angelus...

< Wait, there has to be more to the story than that, > objected a logical voice in his mind. Pursing his lips, Spike studied Willow as she continued talking about the cruel and cunning vampiress that had made such an impact on the town and the few humans that were gathered around.

From the looks, it was obvious that she was telling the truth to a certain extent, but he had to wonder what she was exaggerating to push the Watchers even farther into fear's clutches.

Glancing over at Angel, he noticed the humor in the older vampire's eyes as she talked about "Puppy" and how much fun it was to break the Mighty Angelus. That's when it struck him. It hadn't been Angelus that the other Willow had broken but Angel.

And Spike was willing to bet his fangs that the souled nonce hadn't been as stable as Angel had when he had first offered Xander to Spike as a greeting. < Of course. Telling these idiots that she had broken the spirit and mind of Angelus is much more impressive than telling them she broke Angel.>

Casually, Spike strolled over to Angel and stopped next to the dark vampire. "I can't wait to hear this story when we get back to the mansion," he murmured. "But then, I figure the Souled Nonce that Willow broke was probably less steady than you were when we met in the school."

Curious brown eyes turned to regard him and Spike smirked. "Glad to see you figure it out, m'boy," congratulated Angel. "An' I'll tell ye this, yer gonna have yer hands full because I honestly think that this Willow was listenin' rather closely ta what her counterpart was tellin' her." Angel studied Spike curiously and the peroxide blond shifted under the gaze. "What are you going to do now?"

"Dunno," confessed Spike, returning his gaze to Willow who was nuzzling another man's neck much to the man's dismay. "It's up to Willow and Buffy."

"Well, you'll always have a home with me," stated Angel with a small smile that sent shivers of warmth racing through Spike. "And since I now own a hotel, I have more than enough room for the entire family." He straightened slightly and turned his gaze to the still prowling Willow. "Willow, I think they've learned their lesson. Besides, you must be getting hungry."

Willow heaved a sigh of disappointment at having been called away from her fun but winked at Spike and Angel when she turned around. The men seemed to wilt with relief when she wandered over to Spike's side and wrapped her arms around his waist. However, they had forgotten about the humans that were gathered there.

"I can't believe the Council was dumb enough to send these morons here," drawled Buffy as she casually tossed her knife between her hands. She glanced at Giles. "Think we can use them as an example to not screw around with my friends?"

Giles smiled, a cold chilling one that told Spike Ripper was out to even the score a bit. "I'm not sure these wankers would understand that message," he said, his voice cold and flat. He fingered his crossbow and many of the Watchers shifted nervously. "Perhaps if we were to return them to the Council. In pieces."

Darla snorted. "I don't think even that will get your message across," she stated shaking her head as she stepped forward. "In four hundred years, the Council has remained the same; stubborn and not willing to conceit the fact that they might be wrong." Cocking her head, she stared at the men with a contemplative look on her face. "Actually, the only change that I can place is that they've let a few women grace their hallowed halls. Rather ironic that all the Slayers are female and yet they're trained by old men who refuse to change at all and those that question them are unconditionally thrown off the Council."

"So what do you suggest we do about this?" Xander's question hung in the air around them and they glanced at each other, unsure about their next act.

Spike knew that they wouldn't be killing any of them, but sometimes a descent threat was more effective than violence. A shrill ringing broke through the night and Angel quickly searched through Blokesdale's suit. Finding the cell phone, he opened it and Spike could clearly hear the voice on the other end.

"Blokesdale, status report on your mission," demanded an unfamiliar male voice over the speaker.

Angel grinned at Spike. "Your compatriot is unavailable at the moment," he purred. "And I have a message or you regarding his so-called mission."

"Who is this?"

"This is Angelus and you will listen unless you want your men back in pieces," warned the dark vampire. The man ranted and raved at Angel, threatening everything from dismemberment to a slow death where he would beg for mercy, and with each word, Angel's smile grew even more chilling.

"Interesting how you are willing to threaten me but not because I have threatened your men."

"What do you mean?" asked the man, his voice worried and Spike just shook his head at the stupidity evident.

Angel laughed, a rich sound that sent shivers down peoples' spines. "In the past few minutes, you have not once mentioned the safety of the men that I hold," he remarked in a thoughtful voice. "Rather interesting who you consider important."

"Now listen here. . ." began the man only to have Angel interrupt him.

"No, you listen. The Crimson Child is part of my family and any attack against him is an attack against me and unless you want a visit from the Order of Aurelius and the Scourge of Europe, you will cease all attacks against him this minute." Angel's voice held no room for argument and Spike shivered in delight at the promise of violence that underscored those words.

Without waiting for a reply, Angel hung up and tossed the phone back to Blokesdale who barely managed to catch it before it hit the ground. "You have twelve hours to be on a plane back to England. After that time, you will become fair game for any vampire who wishes to take their aggression out on you."

He glanced at Willow who nodded and released the men with a few brief words. The Watchers took one look at the group and fled into the night, heading in the direction of their hotel.

Giggling, Willow leaned back into Spike's embrace and he held her close, inhaling her scent. His gaze strayed to Angel as he raised an eyebrow, silently asking 'Now what?'.

Angel cocked his head as his eyes replied 'Now what indeed.'

****

As if the decision had been taken from then, Willow’s face rippled and she gasped in surprise and pain as her knees buckled. Spike caught her before she hit the ground and scooped her up into his arms already hurrying towards the mansion.

“It’s the First Hunger,” he called over his shoulder, for the benefit of the others who were following him out of curiosity and concern for their friend. “How much blood’s at the mansion, Sire?”

Angel whipped out his cell phone and dialed a number before rapidly speaking in another language that seemed to consist mostly of snarls and growls.

After a few minutes he hung up and tossed a comforting smile at Spike.

“There will be a cooler full waiting for us when we get there,” he replied and a bit of tension seeped out of Spike’s shoulders.

Darien stumbled slightly, and found himself being held up by both Darla and Bobby. Bobby was almost expected, as his sire, but Darla was a complete surprise considering how she had been acting.

“Willow’s not the only one who needs blood,” remarked Darla even as she reached out and snagged Drusilla’s wrist, pulling the crazed vampiress along behind them. “You’re still recovering and no matter how powerful Angelus’ blood is, you need more blood to heal.”

When they reached the mansion, there was a small, imp-like demon waiting for them next to a large red cooler who scampered away the second it saw them approaching. Angelus opened the front door for Spike even as he scooped up the cooler and moved into the kitchen as Spike sat down on the couch, wrapping himself around Willow who was struggling to get away, even snapping and growling at Spike in full game face.

Darien felt his chest throb in sympathy as a shadowed memory of being held down while hot blood was poured into him to sooth the desperate craving that had exploded in him.

< At least the humans are smart enough to keep their distance, > mused Darien as he was eased into a chair. Bobby perched on the arm of the overstuffed chair and ran his hand through Darien’s hair in a soothing manner as Darla stood near the door, acting as a guard.

Drusilla hummed softly as she swayed to music only she could hear, her long skirts and dark hair swirling around her and adding to the picture of innocents that she created.

Minutes later, Angel returned to the room with a large glass that looked like it should have been a vase, filled with blood and he sat on the edge of the couch, cradling it in his hands as Willow’s body went tense, her nostrils flaring at the blood scent that hung heavily in the air.

He lifted the glass to her lips and she gulped the blood down, draining it completely in seconds. Willow stopped struggling against Spike’s grip but her face didn’t smooth out into its human mask, and Angel returned the kitchen to heat some more blood.

Darien closed his eyes and leaned against Bobby as the stress of the evening seemed to drain the last of his energy. Soft purrs filled his ears, drowning out the tempting sounds of the heartbeats that echoed through the room. A cool hand touched his face and Darien opened his eyes to find Angel standing there with a large glass in his hand.

“Here, drink.”

Grasping the offering, Darien quickly drained it, feeling strength spread through his body as the blood started healing his injury. The empty glass was removed form his fingers and Darien glanced around to find that Willow was relaxing in Spike’s arms, her face human again as her head rested on his chest, a sleepy expression on her face. Buffy was standing about halfway between the couch and the door, an uncertain and sad expression on her face while the others wore unreadable masks.

“So now what?” asked Darien, his voice sounding loud in the quiet room and everyone looked at him. “The vampires have been scared off and the Council has been sent running with its tail between its legs and we’re safe until the next baddie comes along, so now what do we do?”

Buffy took a breath and walked over to Willow. “Willow, I think you should go with Angel to LA for a while,” stated the Slayer, her voice full of anguish. She continued before Willow could interrupt. “I’m not kicking you out of Sunnydale and telling you never to come back, but you need to learn how to be a vampire and Angel is the best one to teach you.” A weak smile spread across her face. “Besides, we can still keep in touch with phone calls and e-mails. And I’m gonna need your help or I’ll never get the nerve to ask Riley out on a date.”

Hesitantly, Willow held out a hand. “Still friends?” she asked, her voice hushed as if she was afraid of the answer.

Without hesitating, Buffy grasped the offered hand and pulled Willow up into a hug. “Always friends,” she corrected, causing a smile to spread across Willow’s face. She released Willow and stood up, brushing a stray tear off her cheek. “Now, you take it easy tonight, okay? I’m gonna go dust some vampires before they think they can just take over my town.”

Willow giggles and waved Buffy out the door. The Slayer started for the door but stopped when she reached Darla, looking at the petite blonde with a frown on her face as if trying to figure something out.

Giles seemed to pick up on her confusion. “What is it?”

Laughter rang through the room and everyone turned to look at Drusilla who was spinning in dizzying circles. “Oh sisters, too, how may we do for to preserve this day?” she sang in a clear voice before laughing again. “Reflections looking at each other, one with wood, one with teeth, but inside both the same.”

“Are you saying that Darla is a Slayer?” gasped Giles, rising to his feet with a stunned look of disbelief on his face.

Buffy gazed at Darla curiously. “Funny, you don’t feel completely like a Slayer, but that must be your demon,” mused Buffy, some of the hostility fading from her posture.

Now it was Darla’s turn to look confused. “What do you mean that I don’t feel completely like a Slayer?” she asked. “One Slayer has to die before the next is called. That’s how it’s always been.”

“Buffy has never followed the rules when it came to slaying,” remarked Angel, a playful smile on his face. “She went to confront the Master and was killed.” He jerked a thumb at Xander who was standing in the corner with Anya. “Xander there threatened me into leading him down to the Master’s lair where he revived her. So, legally, Buffy was dead for about five minutes, but that was long enough for the next Slayer to be activated.”

Darien was watching Darla and was surprised to see something crumble in her eyes before Buffy left the mansion with a cheery “good-bye” prompting the rest of the humans to leave as well.

Slowly, Darla turned and started up the stairs, pausing halfway up. “I’m going to bed,” she announced in a flat, lifeless voice. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” She continued up the stairs, never once looking back, and Darien noticed a look pass between Spike and Angel, the later nodding slightly.

“Spike, why don’t you take Willow to bed,” advised Angel. “Bobby, you and Darien go to bed as well. Willow and Darien are still recovering from their injuries and could use you both close by.” Reaching out, Angel cupped Drusilla’s chin and stared into her eyes. “Princess, would you rather play in the garden or rest in your room? You must be tired after the fight.”

“Miss Edith would like a tea party,” mused Drusilla, her voice soft and dreamy. “I shall be very cross with her if she spills any tea on her pretty dress.” Silently, she brushed passed Angel, heading for the stairs and quickly climbed them, still humming to herself.

Bobby stood up and helped Darien to his feet, instantly concerned when the taller vampire winced at the twinge of pain that arced through his chest. Smiling in reassurance, Darien leaned on Bobby as they, too, climbed the stairs for the room that they had claimed for the duration of their stay.

Relaxing on the bed, Darien closed his eyes as Bobby quickly stripped him of his clothes, changed the bandage on his chest that had grown bloodied sometime during the fight, and simply relaxed as his sire’s presence soothed his nerves. He never noticed when he fell asleep or when Bobby slipped under the covers and cuddled him close.

****

After checking on Bobby and Darien, Angel silently moved down the hallway to look in on Drusilla when he heard a soft sob, no louder than a sigh, coming from one of the rooms and he gently pushed open the half-closed door. Sitting in the window seat and illuminated by the pale moon light was Darla with her hair falling over her face in a pale curtain, hiding her from the rest of the world.

“Darla,” he called, softly. “can we talk?”

Instantly her posture changed from vulnerable to ramrod straight, as if nothing could touch her or even get to her. “If you wish,” she replied in a cold tone. “You ARE the Master of our Order now.”

There was something he was missing about her, he was sure of it.

Casually, he walked across the room and stood next to her, gazing out the window at the garden below, the night blooming flowers filling the air with a myriad of scents and shades. She stiffened slightly at his close presence but didn’t look up at him, keeping her face turned away and her hair obscuring her features. It was then that he noticed the slight scent of tears in the air.

She had been crying.

Angel couldn’t remember the last time, or any time when he had seen Darla cry.

“Want to talk about what’s bothering you?” He kept his vice gentle and inviting, wanting her to open up to him so that he could help her. She remained silent and Angel sighed, turning to sit next to her on the seat. He reached out and cupped her cheek, surprised at the slight flinch his touch had caused. “Things weren’t always bed between us.”

“No, they weren’t,” agreed Darla in a soft voice. She raised a tear-streaked face and he blinked in surprise at the lost look in her eyes. “But that was when we were both demons, enjoying our lives to the fullest of our abilities.” She dropped her gaze to where her fingers were twisted in her lap. “Now, I’m not sure what I am. I’m a vampire, once the Most Favorite Childe of the Master himself, but thanks to Darien, I have the soul of a Slayer, battling the demon that I took pride in.”

Gently reaching out, Angel took her hands in his, not interrupting but letting her talk and get her problems out into the open where he could help her. “Acting like the cold hearted bitch that you remembered was safe, easy. I had so much practice at it. Now, I don’t know how I’m suppose to act like.”

“Why not act like yourself?” suggested Angel.

That earned him a snort of disbelief. “And just who am I?” she demanded irritation and fear echoing in her voice. “When I was alive, I was scooped up by the Watcher’s Council and trained as a Slayer as soon as they found out what I was. I was also a whore so I not only had an excuse to be out at night but also made some money. Let’s face it, being a Slayer is a one way ticket to starvation and the grave. Then, the Master turned me and I was his childe, a vicious and cruel harpy because that’s what he wanted from me. Now…” She spread her hands, presenting her case to Angel, and silently asking him for help.

“Why not come with me back to LA and find out who you are,” he offered with a small smile. “I have plenty of room at the hotel for all of us and the bank accounts I set up for all of us are still active and gaining interest so money won’t be a problem.” He cupped her face and wiped a tear away with his thumb. “Perhaps we can give this crazy family of ours a second chance. And I’d like to give us another chance. Perhaps we can start off as friends and let whatever develops between us grow on its own.”

A small smile appeared on her face, a true smile, not one of the cold, mocking ones she had worn in the past. “I think I’d like that,” she whispered, meeting his gaze with her own. She bit her lip nervously and looked away for a few minutes, gathering her courage. “Could we sleep together, for tonight? I’d like to be held by someone who actually gives a damn about me for once.”

Smiling, Angel brushed her hair out of her face with a gentle hand. “I think that can be arranged,” he stated, standing up and gently pulling her across the floor to the bed.

He kicked off his shoes and slipped under the covers, pulling Darla close to him where she snuggled against his chest and drifted off to sleep. Placing a soft kiss on her blond hair, Angel soon followed her in sleep, for once not feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders.

****

Epilogue

The Host stared out over his domain with a smile on his lips and a drink in his hand.

The stage where various demons and humans sang was empty at the moment, thank the Powers for that small gift. He wasn’t sure if he would be able to sit through another tortured rendition of any song without wearing his teeth down to nubs. Caritas was packed almost to the walls with an ever changing crowd, a strange occurrence for a weeknight, but one his bank account wasn’t going to object too. His staff was bustling around the bar, and by the pleased looks, tonight’s crowd was tipping heavily.

Just then, the doors opened and a new group entered, causing several of the demons to stare in surprise and suspicion. Angel calmly strolled into the bar with six vampires trailing behind him. Four were strangers to the Host but the small blond and the lovely brunette were all too well known to him.

< Looks like a family outing, > mused the Host, thankful that his bar was neutral ground. < But which family? > He watched as Darla, Drusilla and the hot bleached blond claimed a table that was big enough for all of them as Angel approached him with the remaining three.

“Lorne, it’s good to see you again,” greeted Angel and the Host was startled to see that the usual guilt and misery was missing from both his posture and his eyes. “I wanted to introduce you to the latest additions to the family before settling down to a bit of business.”

“of course, Angel cakes,” agreed the Host, slipping back into the role of host and flirt as he tried to figure out what exactly was going on with the handsome, soul-filled vampire.

Angel chuckled, sending a pleasant shiver down the Host’s spine. “This is Darien, Bobby and Willow,” introduced the dark vampire, gesturing to each in turn.

The Host smiled and waved one of his servers over.

“Garcia, first round, on the house for Angel cake’s table,” he instructed, before winking at Angel. “In celebration of the kids.”

Angel nodded and sent the trio over to the table where Willow instantly sat next to the bleached blond who wrapped an arm around her shoulders. < All the hot ones are either taken or not interested, > sighed the Host before focusing his attention on Angel.

“So what business did you have with li’l ol’ me?”

“For starters, I need you to spread the word that the Accursed One, also called the Child of the Crimson Redemption, is part of my family and under the protection of the Scourge of Europe,” remarked Angel in a soft voice.

Startled, the Host’s red eyes flew back to the table, and studied the vampires gathered there when he spotted a soft red glow around Darien, one he had missed before.

“So that’s it,” he whispered, suddenly realizing what was so different about Angel. His gaze returned to Angel. “Lemmie guess, he’s already made your soul permanent, hasn’t he?” Angel nodded in conformation and the Host lifted his glass in a toast. “Congratulations and consider it done. Did the same thing happen to the ladies in your midst?”

Grinning, Angel nodded again. “That’s the second thing,” he confessed. “Darla and Drusilla both have their souls back and are working with me for the Powers.”

The Host simply cocked his head. “And how is the rest of your crew taking that little revelation?”

“Cordelia ranted and raved for two hours, wondering if I had lost my soul again. Gunn didn’t say anything, but was fidgeting with a stake and Wesley accepted everything after I explained everything that had happened,” stated Angel, leaning back on the bar. “They don’t like it, but they’ll have to get use to it. I’ve got my family back and I’m not going to let anything tear us apart if it’s within my power to prevent it.”

“I’ll keep my ears open and let you know if I hear anything,” promised the Host before shoving Angel in the direction of his table. “Now you’d better get over there and spend time with that family of yours before someone else takes your seat.” Grinning, Angel nodded once and walked over to the table, sliding into the seat between Darla and the bleached blond.

Shaking his head, the Host turned his attention to the stage as a Vrolothg demon stumbled up to the microphone. < Angel, hope your life gets smoother than it has been now that you’ve found some happiness, > the Host silently toasted the table where Angel had scooped up Darla’s hand and placed a soft kiss on the back of it, bringing a pleased if slightly embarrassed look to her face.

The first words of “We Will Rock You” screeched across his ears as the Vrolothg started wailing in its version of singing, and the Host sighed, briefly wondering if it was too late to invest in a pair of ear plugs.




The end



 


 


 

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