Apocalypse, Again Chapter 7
"What the Hell?" Faith squawked as the demon in front of her simply popped out of existence, leaving her swinging wildly at nothing.
Buffy gasped as her adversary melted. She stopped and looked around in astonishment. Everywhere her eyes turned, demons were disappearing, melting, exploding, or simply falling where they stood. She turned to stare at Van Helsing.
He shrugged as he ducked a last frantic blow from a Leoff demon, its white face and red nose making it look rather clownish though there was nothing funny at all about its strength and speed. The demon popped; powder swirled in the air for a moment like a miniature dust-devil before dissipating in the slight breeze.
"I think that Willow and Giles just took a hand," he said, straightening up to look around. "I told you the Grey Grimoire was bloody dangerous." There were no more foes left to fight in the area, only a few piles of grit and some icky mounds of some sort of mushy-looking goop. "Time to contact the others." He pulled out his radio and hit the broad-band. "Anyone need assistance? Or are you seeing what we are?"
"Everything's clear here. I can see Robin across the street. He's okay, too." Jacob's voice trembled. "My God, Van Helsing, what happened?"
"Willow and Giles pulled out the big guns. They used the Grimoire. Rather successfully, I'd say. Willow, you okay?"
"Yeah. Sort of. Kinda tired. How much longer do we need to keep the Containment spell going?"
"Just a while. Once we're sure that the fight is over everywhere, you can drop it. Dawn, Xander, are you there?"
After a few moments of silence, Buffy's eyes teared. It couldn't be. Not after all this time, and not now.
Suddenly, the radio crackled, and Dawn's voice came over loud and clear. "We're okay. Sorry. My radio got smashed, and Xander was in the middle of climbing over the railing. Buffy, are you okay?"
She grabbed the receiver from Van Helsing. "I'm here, Dawny, I'm fine."
"Good." The girl's voice started to tremble, then she laughed just as shakily. "I really didn't want to have to cancel my first Girls' Night Out."
Buffy sobbed once. "You'll get it. As soon as we recover. I promise."
"Goody. Is Faith still there?"
"I'm here, kid." It was Faith's turn for the radio. "All in one piece. Rob, you in one piece?"
Wood's voice was still calm. "Five-by-five, slayer. Five-by-five." Faith sniffled at her lover's use of her favorite phrase. She understood exactly why he'd done it, too. He knew it was the one thing that would put her back on an even keel faster than a Fyarl could spit mucus.
Van Helsing appropriated the receiver. "Okay, people, now that we're sure we're all right, it's time to finish this. Everyone back to ground level; we meet at the Hyperion back alley as quickly as we can get there. Out." He dropped the radio back into his pocket and swung his slightly blunted scythe over his shoulder. "Ladies, shall we go?"
* * * * *
As Van Helsing, Faith and Buffy crossed the last street leading to the Hyperion alley, they could see the members of the Opposition standing, staring at each other and the piles of dust and gooey gunk around them: all that was left of the demon army. Spike was shaking his hand, where it still hurt after slamming hard into the wall when its intended target disappeared in a shower of powdery green grit.
"Does anyone know what the hell just happened?" The plaintive voice came from Gunn's direction. The dark-skinned Vampire hunter was leaning against the wall, favoring his right side, with the blue-tinged Illyria checking for the severity of damage.
"A little bit of assistance from a Watcher and a Witch." Van Helsing pitched his voice so the group could hear him easily. They jumped and turned to face him, Angel and Spike dropping immediately into fighting stance. They relaxed as they caught sight of Buffy and Faith. Then the arrival of the others caused a few dropped jaws among the Opposition members.
Willow went straight to Van Helsing. He kissed her and held her tight, whispering, "Well done, my love." She smiled and rested her head on his shoulder. The night was catching up with her.
"Willow, Xander? Giles, what the hell?" Angel seemed incapable of finishing a sentence coherently. "Dawn? How did you all get here?" His ability to speak was cut off by Faith's arms; the slayer had him in such a desperate grip that he couldn't pull in enough air to force past his vocal cords.
"You idiot vamp! Why didn't you call me?" she demanded. "You think you can take on the entire demon population of California all by yourselves? What kind of moron are you?"
"Sorry." He hugged her back, then released her to return to Robin as he looked over at the others. "I had to keep it quiet. Any contact would have tipped off the Circle. I'm just glad you found out, anyway. How did you?"
"F-from Van Helsing and his group," Giles replied. He nodded at Angel and Spike, then moved over to where Illyria was helping Gunn and offered his assistance.
"Van Helsing? Bloody Van Helsing? The same bastard who's been killing our kind for over a hundred years? What happened, mate? Lose your way on the road to the fight and end up on the wrong side?" Spike's peroxide-blond hair stood out like a beacon of light in the dimness as he faced off against the Hunter, who seemed just as shocked as the two Vampires.
"You're Vampires? What? How?"
Willow hadn't seen Van Helsing stutter before. It was an interesting sight, but she figured a little stroking was necessary. "Um, I guess your superiors didn't tell you, huh?"
"No, they didn't." Shock was rapidly giving away to annoyance. It only confirmed Van Helsing's belief that he had to check and double-check every piece of information the Order gave him. Or in this case, withheld from him. Then he stopped. Nemesis, he thought. He'd kept information from the Council group, and the Order had kept information from him. He really didn't like this situation; it bothered him even more that the Slayer and her entire group seemed to be so comfortable with the Vampires and their companions. In fact, Buffy had pulled Angel off to the side and was speaking privately with him in a quiet tone of voice, obviously trying to smooth things over.
Van Helsing watched the Slayer as she talked, and gradually something strange impinged upon his senses. There was something off about the Vampire Angel. Something very odd. He extended his perceptions a little and felt his way into the Vampire's aura. What he touched shocked an exclamation from him, catching the attention of the entire group.
"You have a soul?"
"Yeah." Angel's voice was quiet. "I do. And so does Spike. Are we still on your target list?"
Van Helsing shook his head in stupefaction as he received the same emanations from Spike. He didn't see how it was even possible, but there was no way he could go against the evidence of his own senses. Both Vampires had souls, and evil no longer ruled them. He glanced over at Angel, then turned his attention back to the younger Vampire, who was still challenging him. "You are no longer prey. If evil does not rule you, I cannot harm you."
"Well, ain't that a bloody good thing?" Spike manner mellowed. "'Cause, you see, I'm just a little bit tired after the fight, and I really wasn't looking forward to kicking your ass."
"Oh, for Heaven's sake," Willow exclaimed. "I thought you'd be happy to have survived. Stop it."
Spike hugged her and kissed her cheek, under the watchful eye of the Hunter. No one was going to take liberties with Willow while he was around. Spike grinned. It was almost too much of a challenge to resist. Then the witch elbowed him warningly. If Van Helsing didn't like people taking liberties with his Willow, she wouldn't accept anyone taunting him, either.
Spike winked and turned away, only to come face-to-face with an obviously hurt and angry Buffy. He gulped a little, then gave a weak smile, doing his best to turn on the charm. "Hullo, luv." It didn't work. Buffy spoke quietly, but everyone heard every word.
"I really thought you cared," she said. "I thought you respected me enough to not just throw me away."
Spike glared at Angel, who shook his head in denial. He was innocent in this hassle. He'd done his best to calm her down, but she wasn't going to accept anything second-hand. Spike took a deep breath, surprised again at how the human habit came out in times of stress. Vampires breathed slightly in order to speak, but it didn't take much air to compel the vocal cords to work, and there was no force behind the exhalations themselves. This was a flat-out fully formed breath. He let it back out. "I do, luv. I loved you and respected you enough to let you go. You'd made a new life without me; and I knew you were happy. I really didn't think it was on to just waltz back into your way like that, making you choose. If I'd heard that you were unhappy, I'd've been there like a shot." He gave her his best line in sincere looks. It was ironic that this time he really meant what he was saying. He loved her, and he'd been too scared she'd turn him away completely to try any contact.
She sighed. "Well, water over the bridge, or under the dam, or whatever." Smiling at him, she hooked one arm through his, and the other arm through Angel's, turning both of the Vampires towards the Hyperion's front façade. "I'm just glad you're both okay. I mean that. I'll always love you." She grinned teasingly at Angel, who was frowning. "Both of you. But you're right, Spike. We've all made new lives for ourselves, and there's no going back. But we can go on, right? Keep in touch?"
"Always, luv." Spike's relief put an extra amount of emphasis in his voice. At least he had that. And maybe, someday, after she forgave him completely, he might try again...
Van Helsing spoke up. "Willow, Giles, I think it's time to take the Containment spell down. Do you need anything?"
"No." Giles returned to the group and pulled the Grimoire from his bag; Willow joined him, holding the Orb. He began speaking as the Orb brightened and Willow's face took on a look of extreme concentration. Everyone felt the Containment begin to fracture, in lines of energy that reverberated in each of their bodies. Dawn shuddered. It had the same effect as fingernails on a blackboard. The feeling intensified, until everyone was vibrating like human tuning forks. Van Helsing thought the top of his head was going to explode, and Xander had his hands over his eyes. The others simply stood, stunned into stillness. Just when it reached the point of possible injury, there was a sense of complete dissolution, and then momentary immobility, as the small area they occupied re-connected with the rest of the universe. All strangeness passed, and they were whole again.
"Thank God," Angel sighed. "That was one really nasty feeling. Is that how you kept things under control?"
"Yeah." Willow stroked the Orb one last time before putting it firmly away in her backpack, where it flashed frantically for a moment before going dim. "We side-slipped the neighborhood so no one could get in or out."
Giles added further explanation. "We knew that the only way to control the battle was to make sure it stayed in a small area. We couldn't afford the fight expanding into the entire city. So we kept it close by placing a dimensional barrier around these blocks."
"I'm glad." Angel had been worried about the possibility of the fight getting out of hand. It was nice to know that his city had been safe.
Van Helsing glanced around at the others, most of whom had gathered around Gunn. The black man was still looking a little rocky, in spite of the rather efficient field dressing applied by Giles. Illyria and Robin were holding him upright, with Faith giving him a pep talk, while Jacob spoke quietly to Dawn and Xander. Spike and Buffy were off to the side, looking more comfortable with each other by the moment. Perhaps there was hope for that friendship, after all. Lovers could seldom become friends; maybe these two would beat the odds.
Willow reached out and twined her fingers through his. Speaking of beating the odds.... He was turning towards her when his senses suddenly flashed a violent warning. Black Evil. Close. Much too close.
Van Helsing spun around to face in the direction of danger, to catch only a glimpse of the attacker as he shoved Willow violently out of the way. He had time for one wordless shout before the Werewolf hit him like a runaway freight train. He felt as if his back had been broken when he hit the ground at least ten feet beyond the original point of impact, the Werewolf's teeth firmly embedded in his shoulder. With a plaintive 'not again' running through his mind, he tried to simultaneously disconnect the Werewolf from his person, hang onto it so it didn't get away, and fumble his silver stake from his suddenly much-too-deep inner coat pocket. He realized halfway through the process that he was short at least one hand, preferably two, if he wanted to accomplish all of the actions. Figuring that the others in the group would be much better off if he didn't let it go, he resigned himself to remaining attached to the hairy beast until he could kill it. Unfortunately, it was acting more like a pit bull than a Werewolf - its fangs were deeply dug in, its jaw was locked, and it wasn't moving a muscle.
He realized with a start that it wasn't moving for a reason, and that reason wasn't its own choice. Willow had the Orb out and was glaring daggers at the beast, obviously holding it paralyzed. He grinned ferally and let go of it, holding his coat open so he could grab the stake. Turned out he didn't need to. Xander raised his crossbow and placed one well-aimed silver bolt in the middle of the werewolf's back. Willow released it from thrall, and it jerked away in pain, howling hauntingly.
They watched as it morphed slowly and painfully back into its human form: a slightly overweight, soft-looking man in his fifties, who died as he tried to speak. Van Helsing pulled himself to a sitting position against the wall, cursing violently under his breath. If the guy hadn't weighed so much, he wouldn't be sitting here feeling like he'd been run over by a Mack truck. He pulled his coat and shirt back, and felt gingerly around the deep rips in his shoulder. Not only was the guy too fat, he hadn't brushed his teeth in way too long. Van Helsing would be lucky if he didn't end up with a nasty infection, in addition to the Werewolf venom that was already coursing through his veins.
Faith and Robin grabbed the Werewolf and pulled it out of the way. Willow dropped the Orb into her backpack and tossed it to Giles, crying softly, before rushing over to Van Helsing and sinking to her knees beside him.
"I'm so sorry," she sobbed. "I wasn't fast enough. I tried. I really tried."
Van Helsing stopped irritating the wounds in his shoulder to stare at her with astonishment. "What are you talking about? I'm surprised I didn't break your neck when I threw you aside like that. What were you supposed to do, freeze him while you were flying through the air?" He winced as she touched his shoulder gently, and grabbed her hand. "Do you have any open cuts?" She shook her head. "Okay, but don't touch the wound until it's cleaned out." Pulling himself a little higher, he yelled, "Jacob, what's taking so long?"
"I can't find it!" The little friar sounded frantic. "Oh, here it is." He brandished a couple of bottles, a packet of gauze, and a very large and nasty-looking syringe. Bustling over to Van Helsing, he ripped open the gauze pads and soaked them with the solution in the smaller bottle. "Here we are. " His voice took on a sing-song quality, with an oriental inflexion. "First, clean the wound well. Clean with one pad, then a second - "
"Okay, Dr. Hing Lao. I know the drill. Just hurry up." Van Helsing sounded sour. He did know the drill. Only too well. This was the third time he'd been bitten, and he was becoming more and more sensitive to the venom. One day, maybe, he'd learn to duck a little faster. Or maybe not. Werewolves were incredibly fast - faster even than him. Which was saying something; he'd been known to out-reflex a Vampire.
Willow pulled to the side in confusion as the others gathered around, concern written on their faces. Even Xander looked unhappy; he'd disliked and distrusted Van Helsing from the start, but he wouldn't wish this on anyone. After seeing what happened to Oz, he just hoped that Van Helsing would be better equipped to handle the change. What he didn't understand was what Jacob was up to. What good would it do to wash the wound? The Hunter had already been infected.
Van Helsing leaned his head back against the wall in disgust, closing his eyes for a moment. When his face turned to the moon, something ethereal began to call him. Something he needed. Whispering softly of strength and power, speed and freedom, the call became stronger and stronger until he gave in and opened his eyes. The moon was overhead, shining down between the buildings like a beacon in the night. He fixed his gaze on it, realizing dully that Jacob might possibly be running a little behind the curve on this one. It didn't matter. Nothing did, except the call of the silvery lure in the sky above him. He gave in.
Willow screamed sharply as the change hit Van Helsing. Jacob scrambled backwards in horror, watching his friend turn into the biggest, nastiest black Werewolf he'd ever imagined could exist. His great-grandfather Carl's diaries from over a hundred years ago detailed what kind of Werewolf Van Helsing made, but even his descriptive powers had obviously been tasked by the reality. The Scoobies scattered.
Van Helsing stood; powerful, implacable, irresistible. Raising his muzzle to the moon, he bared his fangs and howled into the night.
Even Spike knew a worse 'Big Bad' than himself when he saw one. "Bloody hell," he whispered. Angel agreed. Buffy looked over at Giles in anguish, only to see him with closed eyes and bowed head. He hated this as much as she did. To be killed was one thing. To be turned into that which you hunted was something entirely different. And totally unfair, as far as she was concerned.
When Van Helsing turned to face Willow, eyes gleaming the silver of the river in the moonlight, Xander cursed and raised his crossbow, echoed both in the profanity and the aiming by Robin and Dawn. Buffy and Faith backed them up, scythes gleaming.
"Wait!" Jacob's voice froze them all. "Willow, can you hold him still like you did the other one?"
"I don't have the orb," she replied softly, not wanting to disturb the black beast in front of her. "I don't know if I can."
Giles muttered another prayer as he reached into Willow's backpack, which was sitting neglected on the ground in front of him. Pulling out the Orb, he whispered softly to it. "I hope you understand me, because your best friend is in real trouble, and she needs your help." With that, he cupped the Orb in his hands and opened up to the Power. At first it felt as if he were being torn into pieces, then he felt the Connection take place. It was the strangest feeling he'd ever known - when Willow spoke of Connecting, she'd meant exactly that. He was plugged directly into the biggest power socket in the universe - wired into the main power grid, seemingly. He gasped with the shock, before gathering his will and reaching out to Willow. He had no difficulty in joining with her; they'd had enough practice throughout the evening. Feeding Power to her, he felt her draw on it, with a caress of thanks for both him and the Orb. He felt as if a kitten had rubbed up against him.
Willow gathered the Power and imposed her Will on the magnificent beast standing in front of her. She never thought she'd ever admire a turned Werewolf - even Oz had simply frightened her - but this was an incredible sight. Turned more completely than most, you could hardly see any human in him at all: he was at least seven feet tall, with fur the color of midnight and eyes that echoed the moon, a muzzle with the most frightening set of fangs she'd ever seen even on a Werewolf and claws that looked capable of disemboweling a Fyarl in one casual swipe. She held him still without strain.
"Whatever you're going to do," she said to Jacob. "Do it now."
"Is he completely under control?" Jacob knew his duty, but the idea of getting within range of those claws and teeth was still unnerving.
"Completely." Totally calm, Willow held out her hand and scratched the beast under the chin. It snarled viciously, but was unable to make any other movement. "What are you going to do?"
"Give him the antidote," Jacob replied, moving closer as he filled the huge syringe with the liquid from the second bottle.
Willow jumped, and her control slipped, enough for the Werewolf to get in one step forward and a ferocious slice with its claws at Jacob, who skipped back precipitously. "I thought it was under control," he yelped.
"Sorry. Sorry. I was just surprised." Willow gathered her strength and held the Werewolf again. "Okay, go now."
"Are you really sure this time?" Jacob moved in closer, wishing he had two sets of eyes - one for the beast, and one for the Witch.
"Positive. Just do it, okay?"
Holding the syringe in front of him, and himself ready to jump backwards at the slightest hint of an attack, the friar stepped gingerly up to the Werewolf and injected the entire contents of the syringe into the belly of the beast. The Werewolf snarled violently, and Jacob could see its muscles straining, but Willow held it completely paralyzed. He backed off just as slowly until he was a safe distance away. "All right, you can loosen the hold a little," he said. "Don't keep it completely paralyzed, just don't let it come for us."
"Okay." Willow concentrated. Jacob obviously didn't realize it, but the lighter control was even more difficult than the total paralysis. Once she balanced the Power, she backed off a little, until the Wolf was twitching as it strained. It was enough. She stabilized her output, and glanced over at Giles, who gave her a tense smile in return. Being the Power conduit was painful for him, especially since he hadn't trained with the Orb before suddenly Connecting with it, but he was coping. It helped that the Orb was able to Connect, if only slightly, with Willow through him.
"Now, are you going to explain any of this?" Xander stepped forward, still watching the Werewolf carefully. He'd been right not to trust the Hunter. There was no way that anyone could be infected that fast. The guy must have been a Werewolf from the beginning. And if it made one more twitch in Willow's direction, Xander was going to take it down, consequences be damned.
"Yes, of course. It'll take a few minutes for the serum to work, anyway." Jacob squatted down beside his bag and placed the syringe back into its case. "This is the third time that Van Helsing has been bitten. We've been lucky every time in that someone has been close by who holds the antivenin. This." He patted the case.
Willow almost lost control again as all the voices were raised around her in shock. "What do you mean? There's a cure? Why didn't we know about this? What about more?"
"Can you get some for a friend of mine?" Angel's voice easily rolled over the others.
"Well, yes, I can get some, but I'm afraid it's only effective before midnight of the first completely full moon. Any time after that, and it's useless."
Jacob felt his disappointment keenly. "There is someone you care about who's been infected?"
"For how long?"
"Too long; almost eight months now."
"Ah. Yes. Definitely too long." He thought about it. "However, I can leave you a supply of the serum for future use, and I know that the Order is working on an antivenin that will be effective later in the infection cycle, so I'm sure if they succeed that I can get some for you."
Angel smiled. It lit up his face in a way that made Jacob smile in return. "Thanks. I'd really appreciate it."
"No problem." The friar turned back to examine Van Helsing, as the beast gave a mournful howl. He saw the animal begin to contract as the fur dropped out, the muzzle receded, and the talons shrank back into human nails. When the process was complete, Van Helsing knelt in front of them, hands braced on the ground and his head bowed. His clothes were in tatters: boots gone and shirt shredded. The only thing that had come through even halfway decently was his slacks, prompting Xander to state what was on all of their minds.
"Now I know why you wear those weirdly stretchy pants."
Van Helsing's shoulders started shaking, and Willow glared at Xander before rushing over to cradle him in her arms. After a couple of seconds, she realized he was laughing. Hard. He straightened up and looked at her, still chuckling.
"Is there any other reason why I would?" he asked softly. "Thank you, my love." After brushing a smut from her cheek, he kissed her. "For stopping me from hurting anyone."
"You're welcome," she said formally, then smacked his arm. "And how can you laugh at a time like this?"
"Because Xander's right. And we're all alive. And the Apocalypse has been averted. Again."
She suddenly sobered as she helped him to his feet. Faith hurried over to help, unabashedly staring at his bare chest. If he'd been stronger, he'd've run far and fast. Of all the people he'd met on this trip, the brunette Slayer scared him the most. He had the feeling she was just as wild as he could be at times; and that wasn't a good combination. He turned his attention back to Willow, who started to speak. "Jacob said you'd been bitten before. Have you had this cure for long?"
"Over a hundred years," he replied.
Giles gave a muttered exclamation. "I wonder why the Council never knew about it. If you've been bitten before, surely someone, somewhere would have recorded it."
Van Helsing shrugged. "I know the members of the Order have records. But they're not exactly generous about sharing information with others." He looked back at Willow. "I guess you lost someone to the Curse?"
She nodded sadly. "Yeah. My first boyfriend. Oz. He finally left to try to get control of it. He hated being what he was."
"I can understand that. I'm sorry you lost him that way." He held her close. "If the Order comes up with a cure, I'll make sure he gets some, too."
"Thanks," she sniffled. "He'd like that."
"Okay people, now we've busted down the Big Bad, we've cured a case of bad hair, and we've stopped another bloody Apocalypse. Time to celebrate, right?" Spike's voice carried all the way from the front of the hotel.
Angel sighed. "I don't know about you guys, but all I want is about a week's worth of sleep. It's been a rough day." He looked at them. "And you may have come through okay, but we lost two of our own today."
The Scoobies looked around, wondering. Angel continued. "Lorne's gone. He hated the fighting too much, so after he did his part, he took off." The souled Vampire looked at the ground. "We'll miss him." He pulled his gaze back up and met Giles' eyes. "And we lost Wesley. He destroyed his target, but he died in the process. We lost a good friend, and a good partner."
"Hear, hear." Gunn's somber echo sobered them all. "Maybe we can do something to memorialize him. I think he'd like that."
Willow's eyes were wet, and Giles was cleaning the lenses of his glasses with great concentration. Of all of the Scooby gang, he and the Witch knew Wesley the best. And they knew how he'd grown from the prissily priggish Watcher into the strong hunter and spellcaster they'd just lost. Willow nodded. "I think he would. But not now. We're too tired to think straight tonight. I vote for sleep."
Everyone except Spike agreed heartily. All they wanted was rest. The peroxide Vampire finally gave in with a grumble. "Bloody hell. Save the world and what happens? Bloody nothing, that's what. Sleep? Who needs sleep?"
"We do!" everyone chorused as they wandered slowly around the corner to the Hyperion's front doors.
Dawn stopped suddenly as she almost stepped into a pile of goo. "What about the ook around here? Do we have to clean it up?"
"God, I hope not," Faith said as she also sidestepped. "I dunno what we'd use to get rid of it, anyway."
Giles shook his head. "Most of the remains should melt in the light of day. Anything left won't be noticed too much; cities aren't the tidiest places."
"Agreed." Angel ushered them through the doors. "The second floor is fully stocked. Grab whatever rooms you want. Except 202. That's mine."
"Roger." Xander was the first one up the stairs, peering into each room in turn. "This one's nice," he said, holding the door for Dawn. "Be my guest."
"No, I'll be Angel's guest," she replied impishly as she ducked under his arm. "But thanks for the thought, anyway."
His own grin faded as he watched Willow and Van Helsing move together through the door across the hall. Willow looked back at him, and he hesitated, then smiled and nodded. She'd obviously made up her mind; and if it came down to a choice between accepting her relationship with the Hunter or losing her for good, well, he'd take the lesser of two evils. If that's what it took to make Willow happy, then he could, finally, accept the reality.
The smile she gave in return lit up the hallway, before she softly closed the door.
Well, that's the end for now. I've plans for a sequel, but it will be a while before I can finish it. I've just had my very first book published, and I'll be doing some marketing for it for a while. It's called Turnaround, and Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com should be carrying it by the end of August. Excited doesn't begin to cover the way I feel right now! If you like my writing, check out the first chapter on my website. But I won't be leaving fanfic - it's too much fun to write.
And Willow and Gabriel have too many stories to tell for me to leave them completely.