Perchance To Dream
written by Gail Christison


Rating: FRT
Spoilers: Incorporates some major interpersonal issues between the characters, as seen in earlier episodes.
Summary: Some super-demons are about to rise in Sunnydale and Buffy needs to find some artifacts to fight them. Angel also wants one of them, but for a very different reason.
Feedback Author: Gail Christison
Author's Website: Once More With Feeling



A lone figure slipped through the dark skeletons that covered the hillside, night turning the forest into a sea of bony fingers reaching skyward, and the sky a black and grey quilt, sequined here and there with a glittering diamond of gold, blue or white.

In time the figure reached the end of the tree line, and climbed out onto the rock shelves beyond it. Long and dark, the figure stood out against the night, the small breeze catching the edges of his open coat and flicking them around.

Angel scanned the rocks as far as he could see, in both directions. And then he began to search. He was still searching when the smell of dawn came into his nostrils. It was time to go. A gut-wrenching roar of frustration split the silence, then he was descending, sliding and slipping in the loose rocks, then darting through the trees like a fox in full flight, his feet given wings by the imperative to race the first morning light to safety.


* * * * *

"Do you think he's thought about it at all?"

"Duh, Xander, of course he's thought about it. The biggest favour you could do him would be to not mention it at all," Buffy told him pointedly.

"Yeah, Xander. You know how hard it is for Giles to show his feelings at the best of times, so you don't want to go exposing his naked feelings now, at one of the worst of times."

Xander looked at Buffy. "I suppose that made some sense on some weird Willow planet somewhere?"

"Leave him alone Xander, I'm warning you. He needs to deal with this in his own way, and his own time. Fighting the Hellmouth demon already brought it all back again. This anniversary only makes it worse."

Xander put his hands in the air. "I'm warned. Anybody would think you guys don't trust me."

Both of them scowled at him.

"Point taken," he said huffily. "But my mouth is in training. I should have it housebroken by New Year's."

They reached the library doors and Buffy gave Xander one last, pointed look, before they went through them.

Giles was checking out books for a small group of seniors when he saw them. He handed the last book back and came out from behind the desk. The three seniors beat a hasty retreat. Bad enough being seen in the library, but for anyone to find out they'd been there when the geek patrol was in would have been death...

"They were in rather a hurry," Giles mused as the doors swung closed behind them.

"Yeah. Couldn't get out of here fast enough," Buffy agreed.

"Anybody'd think it was us," Xander drawled.

"I think it was," Willow added, annoyed. "Jerks."

"Forget them," Buffy said suddenly, resting her cast on the desk. "Why are we worrying about a bunch of losers like them?"

"Exactly," Giles added, not entirely certain what was going on. He was still looking slightly battered, with his vivid scratches, though the wrapping was off his sprained wrist and his bruises were fading. "Forget them. There's something else we have to discuss."

Xander looked uncomfortable but remained silent, Willow put on her best 'I didn't do anything' face and Buffy looked up at him.

"What?"

"Tonight's patrol. I don't think you should go alone, and Faith still hasn't resurfaced from her latest unauthorised expedition."

Xander exhaled noisily and Willow elbowed him. He looked at Will, then at the others, turned on his heel and left.

Giles stared after him for a long moment then Buffy broke the silence.

"So what's so scary about tonight? I'm perfectly capable of patrolling alone or with you for that matter. So what's the big?"

"What? Oh...tonight is the first in ten days of unusual astrological and astronomical alignments. Tradition has it at these times demons from the oldest times will rise to walk the earth."

"And, let me guess, they do really bad things because they're cranky about being locked away the rest of the time?"

Giles gave her a pained look. "It's a very dangerous time, Buffy. They're very difficult, if not impossible, to kill and there will only be a short period in which other demonic forces can rally around them and attempt to use their power to take back this world."

"Impossible to kill?"

"Almost. You must use the sword of Ielorid to pierce the demon's right eye. It's their only weak spot. There are twelve in number, but only four will rise near the Hellmouth. Two will rise in Salisbury, one in Dresden, one in Prague, two in Budapest and two in Saint Petersburg."

"So who's going to kill them all?"

"Well, technically you don't need to kill them all. They're called the Herrata and they're all interconnected. If you destroy one of them, you destroy them all, which is why they're so difficult to kill."

"I kind of like the symmetry of that," she mused. "Like dominoes. Okay, where do I find this sword?"

"Quite frankly, no one knows. I've been going through my books for days, but there are only standard references, where there is any mention at all."

"I'll help you look," Willow volunteered. "Oz has a gig in this place in Monterey the Dingoes go to a lot. He won't be back 'til tomorrow night," she added and sighed.

"Great. So patrolling looks like a barrel of laughs tonight."

"Buffy—"

"Don't worry, I'll find Xander."

Both Willow and Giles stared.

"Well he's better than nothing."


*******


Angel paced back and forth in front of the fire. The rising of the Herrata brought with it a chance he would never have believed possible; would never have dared dream existed.

Whistler had reappeared one day from nowhere, as cheerful and annoying as ever, but his news had changed everything.
It was Whistler who'd told him that the Herrata's raison-d'être was to use their powers to serve the demon world in whatever manner demanded of them by whichever dark power held the 'Right Eye of the Herrata.'
It was also Whistler who had smugly pointed out that 'dark powers' included vampires...

...Which included Angel.

He stopped pacing. If he could just find the Eye, he'd have a real chance at a life with Buffy. He stared into the fireplace, watching the flames. He was aware that he didn't deserve a second chance, but somehow, for whatever reason, he was being given one, if he was up to the challenge. It had seemed so easy. Between Whistler's knowledge of the Herrata legend and his own fragmentary memories, they'd pieced together the 'where' at least, but when he'd reached the site, there had been nothing...

"What is it, big guy?"

Angel swung around. "Whistler, I wondered where you got to."

"I was hungry," he said, and waved a half-eaten hot dog. "So, you obviously didn't get the brass ring?"

Angel looked away. "There was nothing there. No cave, no markers, nothing. I searched the whole area."

Whistler shrugged. "It's there. It just has to be revealed. We just have to know what—if any—magic is keeping it concealed, and why. Nobody said they make these things easy. Remember what's at stake here. These guys have the power of magics not seen on Earth maybe...ever. Whoever finds that Eye will have more power than any master, any demon king ever had. You have to be worthy...or at the very least you gotta be an expert in demon history and legend."

Angel's head snapped around and he smiled very slowly. "Or you have to know someone." Then suddenly the light died in his eyes and the smile faded.

The little demon shrugged again. "That too. Is there something I should know? Oh, wait, the Slayer, right?"

Angel shook his head, his expression sombre. "Close, but no cigar."

*******

Giles put down the volume he'd been studying and took his glasses off to rub his eyes for the umpteenth time. He was worried about Buffy, feeling guilty about not going with her himself, and frustrated by the lack of practical information available on the subject of the Herrata. His arm was aching…and four hours sleep at the most the previous night wasn't making things any easier.

Most of all, however, he was frustrated at his inability, for the last several hours, to focus on what he was doing. He threw the glasses on the table, picked up the drink he'd been worrying for the last hour, and drained it.

Had it really been a year already? It hardly seemed possible that he'd survived that long without her. Hardly seemed possible that she was gone. The ice rattled in the empty glass. He put it down with an unsteady hand and leaned back against the sofa to think...

"Rupert?"

He sat up, stunned.

"Jenny? How can you be here? What-?"

"Shh. I'm here now, that's all that matters."

Giles slowly became aware that the room was filled with red roses, that their perfume filled the air. Then he forgot the roses. Jenny was coming to him, the white silk negligee holding breathtakingly to her curves as she moved.

"I've missed you so much," he said softly.

"But I'm here now," she smiled and touched his face, brushed a thumb over one of his damp eyes. "Don't cry for me, Rupert."

Giles trembled as she slid into his lap and wound her arms around his neck.

"We didn't have a chance did we?" she whispered and kissed his ear, making him tremble again.

The pain of touching her, smelling her, hearing her voice again was almost too much to bear. Almost, but not enough to counter his body's response to her nearness, the ache in his heart where she used to be, the intense desire to carry her upstairs and lock himself away with her forever.

She drew back a little, found his eyes and smiled at him tenderly. "Hi, fuddy-duddy."

And then his mouth was claiming hers, searching, caressing, wanting, thrilling to her equally urgent, needing, response. He let his hands trail down the silken contours, exploring the intensity of his desire for her. Jenny was drawing off his tie and pulling the buttons of his shirt undone.

Giles caught his breath and tensed his body against the force of his response to her fingers brushing against the skin of his chest. His hands began to slide slowly back up from her waist toward the soft curves of her bosom, an exquisite torture of anticipation for each of them.

And then suddenly she was ripped from his arms. He leaped up after her, saw the intruder and went cold inside.

"No-o!" he screamed as Angelus shook her brutally to still her struggles.

"Not for you, Rupert," he drawled, amused. "Never for you. What have you ever done to deserve someone like her? You let her die, Rupert. You're weak."

"No-o!" Giles cried again in anguish, his traitorous body shaking with terror. "Let her go! I'll do anything, just let her go," he begged.

"Anything, Rupert?" Angelus lifted one of her slender hands. Jenny screamed as one of her fingers snapped like a twig. "Anything? Would you like to play with me again?"

"Jenny!" Giles sobbed, broke free of his fear and threw himself at the vampire's throat just as someone started pounding on the front door.

Giles started from his thrashing, opened his eyes and sobbed again. He was sweating and breathless and his heart was pounding its way out of his chest. Someone was knocking on the door. He gathered himself swiftly, ran a trembling hand over his face, pushed back his rumpled hair, then forced himself toward the door, pushing through lingering dread and anguish, to focus on reality again.

And almost passed out when he opened it.

Angel saw the look of sheer horror on the haggard face and stepped back. "Giles?" he said softly. "I'm sorry—"

Giles fought an urge to slam the door, an even more overwhelming urge to tear Angel to pieces, and his body's paralysing physiological response to the face that represented so much pain and grief.

Eventually he closed his eyes for a moment, swallowed, then spoke. "A...Angel? What...What's wrong?"

Angel wasn't sure what to do. "Nothing. Nothing's wrong. I just wanted some advice that's all. I can come back. Are you sure you're all right? You look—"

Giles straightened, clenching his fists and taking long, silent breaths. "It's nothing," he said roughly, "nothing. Come...come in."

Angel shifted his gaze slightly away from the green eyes and the hurt burning in them, nodded, and followed the Watcher into the apartment.

Near the sofa Giles' unfolded glasses were lenses-down on the floor, a whisky glass, too, on its side, almost-melted ice spilt on the rug, and one of the librarian's precious books was open roughly, face down on the rug where it had fallen. He looked at the other man again, at his rumpled, haggard appearance, the creases in his clothes and guessed.

"Nightmares?" he said softly, halting Giles half way to a temporary escape in the kitchenette.

He didn't turn. "N...no," he lied. "Just fell asleep doing some research a...and g...got up too fast to answer the door."

Angel closed his eyes as Giles went to put the kettle on. If his mission wasn't so incredibly important, or urgent, he would have slipped away and left the other man to his dignity. Apart from the single exchange at Christmas, when the Watcher had swallowed his bitterness and let him in, despite everything, they had never talked about what happened.

Giles returned with a cup of tea for himself, the cup not quite still on the saucer, and sat down on the sofa again. He sipped at it for a long moment, then spoke without looking up.

"What can I do for you this time?" There was a multitude of inferences in that voice, those words. Angel shut them out.

"The Herrata," he said quietly. "I need your help to find something."

Giles started to laugh softly, unnerving his guest. "My help?" He swirled his tea, his voice turning harsh. "So nice to be needed. Buffy needs me; you need me...so nice."

Angel picked up the book on the floor. It was open at the chapter Giles had been reading. Vague, rambling prose about the rising of the Herrata, the Armageddon-like consequences of leaving them unchecked and the larger than life description of the Slayer's battle to destroy them before the world was lost. He frowned. The last Slayer to face them, hundreds of years ago, hadn't destroyed the Herrata. She'd only stopped the Master who found the Eye, from using it. The Herrata's time had expired and they'd been returned to their enforced sleep again. It didn't state what had happened to the Eye after the vampire Master had been slain.

He looked up to find Giles' eyes burning into him, the other man's knuckles white and his face no longer pale, but flushed with long suppressed anger. Angel closed the book and put it on the table.

"I know what today is," he whispered, his eyes glistening in the lamplight. "I'm not going to insult you by saying I'm sorry. But I can ask you to help me with this one thing, because if we could make it work, Angelus would be dead forever..."

Giles' eyes widened, startled.

"It's the one thing I have to offer for all you've suffered because of me—"

"Not me," he said. "Her..."

Angel resisted a cowardly urge to look away. "...Her," he agreed hoarsely.

"How?" Giles rasped, barely able to grasp the idea that he was being offered a chance to destroy his worst nightmare, forever.

"The Herrata. Whoever has the 'Eye' controls them. If I could find it first I could order them to make me Human again. Demons can't survive in living Human flesh. They can borrow an unconscious body for a while, but they can't survive in a living, conscious, breathing mortal. I would be free."

Giles put down the tea cup, rose and went to his whisky decanter, poured a shot in a glass and drank it without ice. Then poured another and came back to the vampire.

"So, all I have to do to kill Angelus is be a party to rewarding you with your greatest wish?" he asked bitterly.

"And Buffy's," Angel added, ashamed of himself.

"Don't you dare bring her into this," Giles replied coldly and downed half of the contents of the glass. "That she can still love you after everything you've done to her is more than you will ever deserve."

Angel swallowed. Giles wasn't saying anything he didn't already know, but there was a razor edge to hearing someone else voice the words.

"I know. But I can't help loving her, any more than she can help loving me. I don't want to live without her, but I can't stay with her while this thing is still inside me, while there's even a single chance that he might come back. A curse can be broken. It doesn't have to be a moment of passion; it could be a spell, another curse, done by anyone with a vested interest in turning me again. I can't let that happen again, not to her, not to the others...and not to you."

"She was trying to cure you," Giles whispered into the whisky glass.

"Willow?"

Giles made a noise in his throat. "Jenny. When you...killed her, she was so close to recreating the curse. The irony is she did save you in the end. Even she, with her family's history, was willing to help you. And you destroyed her."

Angel swallowed, unable to stop the moisture that sprang into the dark eyes. "Would you like me to tell you the names of all the people I destroyed? The lives I tore apart?" he asked angrily. "I remember the names of every single one, every face, every voice, every scream. I could start with the children—"

The glass slammed into the far wall and smashed, amber liquid trickling down the paint work.

"You bastard. Don't you dare beg my pity." The cold violence in Giles' voice was far worse than shouting. "All the torment, all the pain in the world isn't enough for what you've done, what you did—"

Angel's head bowed. "I know. And I have known all the pain in the world, and more. …And then I was sent back." His eyes lifted and bored into the green ones. "To be honest, I'm still not sure which is worse. Will you help me?"

Giles closed his eyes. "Does Buffy know?"

"Absolutely not. I won't risk raising her hopes for nothing. I won't hurt her like that again."

"Thank God." He finally looked up. "God help me, I'll help you. Angelus...must be destroyed." He sighed. "Tell me about this 'Eye' you were prattling about earlier..."

*******

"What is this? National Lampoon's Vampire vacation?" Xander asked as they wandered through Restfield cemetery. "One lousy vampire in five cemeteries and a dozen back alleys?"

Buffy kicked an empty cigarette packet, damp with dew, out of her path. "What are you complaining about? Do you enjoy being paralysed with fear?"

Xander stopped. "I was not paralysed by fear. He just surprised me, is all. Last time somebody tried to bite my neck—well, actually two people tried to bite my neck, but your boyfriend meant it. Drusilla the Demented was only going to give me eternal life, and make me hers forever," he retorted.

Buffy touched his arm. "I'm sorry. I know how hard it's been for you today. It's been hard for all of us, especially Giles, but I shouldn't have asked you to come..."

"Hey, no. This is where I'm supposed to be," Xander told her, surprised. "I don't want to be anywhere else...except maybe...in a bubble bath with Amy Yip...no forget I said that. Here. This is where I want to be."

They started to walk again. Xander thought of something. "What do you think has Giles so bugged about these Herrata? After last week…and we've faced invincible demons before. Remember when we aced blue boy with the bazooka?"

Buffy chuckled. "You aren't gonna let us forget that one any time soon, are you? But you're right. You should have been there when we closed the Hellmouth. He was so intent on protecting the rest of us, he almost got himself killed…"

Xander's expression was wry, his eyes bright in the moonlight. "I'd like very much to have been there, but everyone kept telling me to go away," he pointed out.

"You sound like you still have some issues with that?" Buffy asked, surprised. "We were just trying to protect you because we care about you."

"The same as you care about Willow, Oz, Giles, the same as they care about you? It's a lame excuse to get me out of the way Buffy, and you know it."

"Okay, so we did it to get you out of the way. Why? Because you were going to get yourself killed...because you don't think, Xander. Do you think I liked putting Willow...or Giles...in danger? I didn't. The difference is they knew—"

"—What they were doing," Xander finished.

"No. They know when to fight, and when to back off, when to duck. You don't."

"God, this is a serious conversation we're having. It's making me hungry."

Buffy stared, then laughed. "I know where there's a hot dog stand."

They were almost past the biggest mausoleum, where Giles had tried to enlist the help of the spirit guides only a week earlier, when an eerie violet light split the sky and fractured into a dozen violent colours. They looked up simultaneously and both saw the same thing at the same time. The moon was beginning to eclipse.

"What? God doesn't like hot dogs?" Xander cracked.

Buffy shot him a look, but she could hear the fear in his voice. "More like show time for the Herrata. We should keep moving."

The light show continued for the length of the eclipse. They cleared the cemetery and were crossing through one of Sunnydale's biggest parks on their way to the next when it all suddenly turned off, like someone flicking a light switch.

Buffy looked up at the clear sky. "They're he-e-re," she muttered. "Somewhere."

"Okay, officially wigged. Where are they supposed to rise from, pray? Like, are we going to be playing with them tonight? More importantly is this going to interfere with my hot dog?"

"Giles doesn't know yet. This is only the first night and the books aren't explicit enough. He and Willow are doing their best. They'll find something, they always do." She looked up at him and grinned. "Until then I have you to protect me."

Xander looked away. "Sorry about that," he muttered as they passed through a grove of trees.

Buffy stopped again and turned to him. "Hey, where's the snappy come back? How can I not think about what's out there if you don't keep distracting me?"

He shrugged. "Sorry. I ran out," he said half-heartedly, then turned and continued walking.

Buffy frowned, thinking about what she said, then put her head back and closed her eyes for a moment, before setting off after him.

"Xander, don't," she said when she reached his side.

"Don't what?"

"Don't do this to yourself. Nobody could have stopped what happened. Except me. All this time—it never occurred to me that you blamed yourself. It makes sense to hate Angel, to blame me, but—"

"Since when did you start channelling dead psychologists?" he snapped. "You don't know anything about me. Why should you? When did you ever have the time or the interest?"

"Xander, we're friends...of course I care about you—"

"Jeff Bainbridge in Chemistry is a friend. Corky Winslow from third grade is a friend. Even they know more about me than you do. I know more about your clothes than you do about my life," he retorted.

Buffy shifted uncomfortably. She had never seen that side of him before. She was also as jumpy as a cat, not just about the Herrata, but because air seemed electric with energy, with potential. Trouble was coming, but there was no walking away from what they'd started...

"I know you're one of my two best friends—three if you include Giles—and I know you don't want anyone to know how hard you find a lot of the classes at school. I also know you love Willow, but that you won't ever do anything about it."

Xander shrugged. "You couldn't at least let me have a little more angst time before you shot me down in flames?" he asked flippantly, but Buffy could see his eyes in the moonlight, still shrouded in pain.

"This isn't really about you and me, is it? It's about all that guilt you've been beating into weapons to hurt me, Angel, anyone who reminds you of everything that happened, of the fact that you couldn't stop any of it."

He threw his hands in the air. "Look, Sigmund, get out my head. I don't want to be psychoanalysed by you. If you think you can absolve your own guilt, or Dead Boy's, by shifting the blame to me—" An open palm connected violently with his left cheek.

The blow made him rock on his heels. Buffy's eyes glittered as she rounded on him and opened her mouth to yell. Then she stopped.

He turned quickly, but not quickly enough, and started to walk away.

Buffy caught him easily and grabbed his arm. He tried to pull it away and failed, but refused to turn and look at her.

"Xander, I'm sorry I hit you."

"I'm not. It could have got a lot uglier," he said quietly.

"Why are you so angry?"

He swung around, his eyes glittering with tears. "Because nobody else is. Because Miss Calendar is gone; Kendra is gone, Willow almost got killed—as a matter of fact damn near everyone, including me, almost got killed at some point, and nobody pays...Nobody pays," he repeated, his voice rising and wobbling. "When is somebody gonna pay? We're all making nice with Angel now, like nothing ever happened...even Giles. My God, Giles...and nobody even cares about Miss Calendar's death..."

Buffy couldn't stop the moisture that blurred her vision. "You're wrong, Xander, so wrong. Look, first of all how long does a murderer get in this state?"

He gave her a puzzled look and shrugged. "I dunno...twenty five to life, something like that."

"Angel spent hundreds of years in hell in perpetual physical and emotional torment—and he was cured. It wasn't even Angelus who paid; it was Angel. And second of all, don't you ever say that nobody cares. Take it from me this anniversary is tearing Giles to pieces, even if he never blinks an eyelash. It's hurting all of us, but life...and demonic activity, don't stop. We can't afford the luxury of grieving."

For long moments they stared at each other, then Xander straightened, cleared his throat.

"Can we get that hot dog now? I'm now officially starving."

Buffy swallowed then fixed him with a steely glare. "Only if you're paying."


*******

Willow stared at the screen on her computer. Frustration had driven her to some long and fruitless net searches after Giles had taken her home. They'd exhausted his meagre resources specific to the Herrata and there were precious few references in the other volumes they'd been through.

She frowned. Giles had been impatient to leave though she hadn't noticed anything different about him during the afternoon. When he drove her home earlier in the evening, however, she'd looked up at his profile in the half-light to ask him if he wanted her to come in at lunch the following day and was silenced by the pain in his face.

It took a few minutes to print out the information she'd found. It was a strange little web page, no graphics, not even backgrounds, just white screen, black writing...paragraphs of it, and some poetically nasty headings. Basically it was a long, rambling diatribe on the rights of the true demonic owners of this world and how they were going to take it back. That was it—it sounded more like some disgruntled demon's on-line diary than any sort of reference work...

The printer stopped and Willow picked up the pages. She couldn't wait to see Giles' face...provided of course it wasn't all just made up, but, then, who would make such a crappy web page to pretend something was real if it wasn't? And the information was too specific. She shook her head. Who'd have thought 'piercing the right eye of the Herrata' was anything but literal?

She leaped up then and went searching for shoes and a jacket. It was late, but the information couldn't wait...

If anyone else found either the Eye or the sword before they did...

A light was still burning in Giles' living room window when she arrived. Her skin was still crawling from the light show she'd seen on the way over and the suddenly hyper-charged atmosphere that continued to linger. She waited but the door didn't open.

Willow tried the handle. She knew Giles. He wouldn't go to bed at this hour with Buffy and Xander still out and so much still not known about the Rising. Something wasn't right. The door wasn't locked.

The apartment was silent and empty. There were a lot of books open on the coffee table and there was the merest hint of alcohol in the air. Willow looked in the kitchenette, felt the kettle. It was warm, but not scalding hot. There were dirty teacups in the sink. A chill went down her back. She found the bathroom empty then ran up the stairs and pushed the door of Giles' bedroom open expecting it to be as deserted as the rest of the house. The light was still on.

A whisky glass sat half-emptied on the side table. Giles was sprawled, fully dressed, across his bed, glasses still clutched in one hand, a large, dusty volume open half-underneath him, as though he'd rolled on it in his sleep. The partly healed scratches on his face and neck stood out in the lamplight.

"You're way out of your league, Willow," she whispered, her first, overwhelming, instinct to go home.

But it was Giles...

She shook his arm gently. "Giles?" He barely moved. "Giles? It's Willow," she repeated.

"Jenny...?" he moaned.

Willow jumped back as though stung. She bit her lip, looked at the papers still clutched in her left hand, turned and went back down stairs.

She was back minutes later with a large mug of hot, black, tea, set it on the side table with the glass and leaned over to shake Giles' arm again, strongly this time.

"Giles, wake up!" she shouted.

He jolted awake, blinked and screwed up his eyes against the light. "W...Willow? What on Earth…?"

"Here." She handed him the tea.

Giles squinted at it, sniffed then drank.

"A...Are you okay?" she ventured.

He looked up from the tea, and she barely recognised the haggard face with its
carved grooves, dark circles and five o'clock shadow.

He half laughed. "Never been better," he said bitterly and swung his legs over the side of the bed, unconsciously rubbing his left wrist. Then he stopped and looked at his young friend. "I'm sorry, Willow. I'm all right. I've had rather...a lot...to think about today."

"You don't have to do that, you know," she said softly.

Giles looked at her curiously.

"What you always do. You know: pretend you're okay so other people won't worry about you, or pretend you're okay so Buffy keeps her mind on what she has to do, instead of worrying about you. I know what today is as well as you do," she told him.

He smiled slowly, tiredly, affection warming his eyes. "When exactly did I miss your growing up?"

Willow smiled back then handed him the print-outs. He put his glasses on and scanned them.

"Then Angel was right," he muttered to himself when he was finished.

"Angel? Angel was here…today?" she squawked, surprised, then angry. And then bit her lip when she saw the bleakness in his eyes as he looked up.

"Y...Yes, earlier. He had some useful information about the Herrata."

"You're doing it again," she said before she could stop herself. And at Giles' 'time to mind your own business, Willow' look: "Like you said, I'm not a kid any more. I'm allowed to worry about you the same as I do Xander, or Buffy, or, or, Oz, okay? Giles, you might be a grown up but nobody made a rule that grown ups have to deal with everything by themselves...just most of it...do you want some more tea?" she finished breathlessly.

Giles couldn't help but chuckle as he stood up gingerly. "How about I make some for you and then drive you home?" he offered. "You sound like you could do with a cup." And when she nodded and picked up the mug and the glass, "And Willow—"

She turned and looked up.

"Thank you...for worrying."

She smiled, her face flushed with emotion. "I'm glad you let me," she said softly, then thought of something. "A...And speaking of worrying, do you think Xander and Buffy are okay?"

"No reason they shouldn't be," he said as they went down stairs. "According to this," he held up the print-outs, "and Angel's information, the Herrata were wakened tonight, but will take at least another twenty-four hours to regain enough strength to leave their resting places. Angel has a friend who might be able to decipher some glyphs found on a cave wall in Budapest—I have some plates in one of my books—which mention the Herrata, but have never been successfully translated, even by the experts. I had hoped they'd be back by now..."


*******

Giles put away the car and made his way to his front door thinking wistfully about the bed he'd left to take Willow home, but stopped a couple of yards away when he heard movement in the darkness ahead.

"It's all right, Giles, it's only me," Angel's voice called and two figures stepped out into the dull glow of the security light.

"Hey, what am I, chopped asparagus?"

Angel rolled his eyes. "This is Whistler. Whistler, Rupert Giles."

Giles moved past them without speaking, down the steps to the porch, opened the apartment door and closed it behind them.

Whistler immediately made himself comfortable on the sofa. "So where's these books I'm supposed to look at?"

Angel shot him an annoyed glance. "I can't take him anywhere."

Whistler looked at the Watcher. "Angel told you about me?" he asked, his tone unexpectedly serious.

Giles nodded. "Everything. Pity you weren't a little better at your job."

"Hey, Angelus wasn't my fault. How was I to know what the big happy was gonna be for this guy? It coulda been a Big Mac for all I knew. Gimme a break, I've already been roasted...literally...for this. Can we move the topic along here already?"

Giles handed him the book, open to the pages with the coloured plates of the photos taken in the caves outside Budapest.

"Whoa, whichever demon wrote this was way old. I can't even remember how many lifetimes ago since I last saw this script." Whistler took some time to study all five.

"Well at least we don't have to go to Budapest," he said when he looked up again.

"Whistler!"

"All right. Jeez. Look, it says here," he pointed to the third plate, "the Eye was brought to the New World, and the sword followed it. A Slayer followed the Eye here. It makes sense that they brought it here. The reason there are four Herrata here is this Hellmouth. Congrats, by the way, on that job you did…keeping it closed."

"Yes, but where are they now?" Giles interrupted, not wanting to be side-tracked. " The sword, and the Eye?"

"The Eye is supposed to be where I said it was in the first place: on that mountain. Or, actually, in the mountain. The sword, that's a little harder. It's pretty much up to you, Mister Chips. You're the Watcher. You find out who the Slayer was who brought it here and maybe we'll have a shot at finding it, because it doesn't say anything in here about where it ended up."

Irritated, Giles stepped across to the pile of books on the coffee table and picked up the one Angel had read earlier, handed it to Whistler.

"Celine, huh? I remember this one. She wasn't that good. Not anywhere near as good as yours. Well, all we gotta do now is find out where she hung out once she got here...Wait a minute," he turned to Angel. "She was killed not long after she stopped the Rising, probably by severely hacked off minions of the Master she wasted with that sword."

"A tomb?" Giles asked.

"Maybe. Or at the very least a nice grave somewhere."

"I'll see if he Council will help." Giles looked at his watch. "They should have records of the resting places of all the Slayers."

Angel shifted impatiently. "Maybe I should go back and search that mountain again."

Whistler shook his head. "Waste of time until we know how to get to the Eye. All the rest of these writings tell of is the destruction that ensued when the Herrata rose there. And the vampire Master who found the Eye months before, and the Slayer's pursuit of the guy across Europe. That forced him to stow away on a ship to San Francisco to get to the Hellmouth here before all the Herrata went night-night again..."

"You said 'in the mountain'?" Giles asked.

"Sure, hidden somewhere below ground, like most demonic stuff. At first me and Angel, we thought there'd be a cave or somethin' and what with Angel being a vampire and all, it wouldn't be so hard to find."

"We were wrong," Angel said darkly.

"Perhaps you're both missing the obvious," Giles said quietly.

Angel looked at the haggard, weary face. "Giles?"

"If the Slayer stopped the Master from using the Eye, then it stands to reason that the Slayer was, conceivably, the last person to have it, although we know it wasn't destroyed, or there would have been no Rising earlier tonight."

"The Slayer was killed only three days after she stopped the Master, and one day after the Herrata went back to the big Zs again," Whistler interjected. "The question is: did she have the Eye? If so why the hell didn't she destroy it?"

"If she didn't destroy it when she killed the Master, maybe she didn't know how to. Maybe all she knew how to do was kill the vampires who were going to use it," Angel offered.

"It's possible," Giles agreed. "In fact, probable, because the Council would have been informed if she had learned how. Still, Celine or her Watcher must have been the last to have the Eye, because no one in the darker realms seems to have possession of it yet. Either that or it was lost during the battle. "

"I think we'd better find this tomb," Angel growled.

"Sounds like a plan," Whistler agreed jauntily. "Or maybe the site of this battle."

"Fine," Giles sighed wearily, "I'll try contacting the council at a civilised hour and then come to you at the—" He stopped suddenly.

Angel—who'd been mentally absent for a moment, finding the Eye and becoming Human, coming back in the sun and claiming Buffy in his daydream—looked sharply at the older man. Giles had gone deathly pale.

"Never mind. We'll come to you at sunset," he said quickly. "Whistler, let's go. Giles has to work tomorrow."

The demon looked at the Watcher curiously, swallowed and followed Angel out the front door. When it closed he turned to the vampire.

"Looks like the mansion ain't his favourite place. Boy you really did a number on that poor bastard, didn't you?"

Angel's hand balled into a fist and he grabbed Whistler by the throat with the other. "Just remember how good a number next time you want to remind me of it," he hissed, his eyes shimmering, and threw the little demon into the bushes before striding off.

Whistler struggled out of the shrubbery, brushed himself off and stared at Angel's receding back for a long moment.

"Two poor bastards," he muttered, then scuttled after him.

*******

Buffy grabbed a chance to go to the library during a free morning period, unable to wait until lunch to find out what Giles had learned. Besides, Xander hadn't come to school and Willow was in a class.

The library was deserted. She crossed to Giles' office a little unnerved by the silence. Normally he was around, doing something, or somebody was looking for a book, or the photocopier was going...or she was with the others and didn't notice the quiet.

He was busy studying a very old manuscript, the bright light of the lamp intensifying the ravaged lines of his face and the bright redness of the scratches as Buffy came to his side.

"Giles? Are you all right? You look terrible." She touched his forehead. "No fever."

He blinked and looked up. "Oh, hello Buffy. Don't fuss. How did it go last night?"

"Almost vampire-free. Great light show, though. So what do we know?"

He took his glasses off and swung his chair around. Buffy caught her breath at just how tired and drawn he looked, bit her tongue to still the questions on it.

"We now know that to kill the Herrata requires the sword of Ielorid and the Right Eye of the Herrata, which is not, in fact, a literal eye, but a polished, spherical gem which can only be shattered by the sword. We also know that a former Slayer followed the Eye to this Hellmouth, bearing the sword."

"Then it's here, somewhere?"

"Y...Yes, one hopes. It appears, however, that she didn't know how to use it. The texts we have suggested that she killed the vampire master, who had possession of the Eye, with the sword but failed to destroy the gem, which is apparently the key to the destruction of the Herrata."

"Then the Eye is here somewhere too," Buffy mused. "You and Willow have been real busy. Burning the midnight oil too much? I thought she looked a bit sleep-deprived this morning...not anywhere near as drastic as you though."

"There's a lot to do," Giles said quietly. "Willow has been a great help. In fact the text she found on the web last night led me to this." He touched the manuscript on the desk. "Also, in their infinite wisdom, the Watcher's council has condescended to provide me with what little information they have. The Slayer, Celine Marais, who by the way also practised witchcraft, is in fact not buried in Sunnydale as first thought."

"They're scared," Buffy snorted.

"Indeed," Giles agreed and continued. "She is actually entombed on Rogue's Ridge, where presumably the sword and possibly the Eye also lie."

"Entombed?" she repeated. "Not alive, I hope?"

Giles shook his head. "She was killed trying to clean out the nest of followers of the vampire Master, before returning to Europe. The diary of her Watcher, Colm Cavanaugh, indicates that, mortally wounded, she threw Cavanaugh, dazed and with a broken arm, clear and brought down the roof of the cave with a spell, thus entombing all the remaining demons and herself. It prevented the Eye from falling into the hands of darkness and the small Mexican settlement, which existed here at the time, from being ravaged by a rather large number of unhappy demons and vampires."

"Okay, so tonight it's shovels and picks?"

Giles shook his head. "You can't afford to be away from Sunnydale, Buffy. There are four Herrata who will shortly be strong enough to start looking for food. I need you here to protect the town. I'll go to Rogue's Ridge, myself."

"Fine, take Xander. Just don't go on your own."

"I'll be perfectly—"

"Giles, I'm not staying here if you go up there on your own. Who says 'Herrata Central' isn't up there too?"

"My texts...Cavanaugh's diary. They lie beneath Shady Hill cemetery in fact. In the pioneer section, beneath that four hundred year old oak tree the Sunnydale Historical Society dotes on."

"Giles, I won't let you go alone—"

"I'm not...going alone. Angel is going with me."

Buffy's eyes widened. "Is there something I should know?" she asked, her voice dangerously quiet.

"Not...not really. He provided some useful information, as is his wont, occasionally, and when I said I was going, h...he volunteered to accompany me."

"You're going at night? No wait, not getting sidetracked here. Giles, I know you helped him at Christmas, but I also know he's never going to be on your Christmas list, so give, what's going on?"

Giles' expression hardened. "I told you. We need all the help we can get on this one and as you so kindly pointed out I need someone to hold my hand at Rogue's Ridge. Angel happens to be the only one available."

Buffy opened her mouth again.

He raised a hand. "I'm not taking Xander. That boy could start a landslide just by tripping over his feet."

"He's hurting," Buffy said softly.

Giles stared at her for a long moment. "I know. I've known for a long time. It only serves to make him more of a danger to himself. He's so intent on covering it up with stupidity and bad jokes that he fails to see the bigger picture on almost every occasion."

"Okay, no Xander. He didn't come to school today, anyway. We kind of...discussed things last night."

"You had an argument?"

" Well, yeah, but we had hotdogs afterward."

Giles sighed. "Good, then I take it he's home with food poisoning, not terminal teenage angst?"

Buffy shrugged. "Be careful," she said softly.

He looked up, saw the worry in her eyes and smiled, just a little. "Both of us," he emphasised, then stood up. "You know you can't defeat the Herrata, Buffy, not without the eye. You must try to disable them somehow without getting yourself killed." He pulled a very large bag out from under his desk. "Over the last several days I've prepared a selection of the most effective weapons I could find or devise for you, taking into account your arm and their er…disposition..."


*******


"I made protection spells for all of us—"

"Will, it's way too dangerous. I can't—"

"No, I'm coming with you, Buffy. You can't go on your own, and I've been in danger of getting killed more times than I usually want to think about. Nothing's changed. And you don't have the right to stop me."

"Or me."

They turned. Xander was standing in the doorway of Buffy's bedroom. "I've been doing a lot of thinking today. So much I forgot to go to class...but I do know one thing: Willow's right. We've always done this together, and we're not going to change that now, just because these guys are supposed to be un-killable."

Buffy ran a nervous hand through her hair. "I might not be able to protect you guys this time—"

"Didn't you ever think that this time we might be trying to protect you?" Willow interjected, looking pointedly at her cast, which for anyone but a Slayer should still have been in its sling. "It's almost sunset. We should go before they get out of the cemetery."

"Did it occur to anyone that the Herrata might not be the only bad things at Shady Hill tonight?" Xander pointed out as they walked out onto the road. "We're not the only ones looking for them, you know."

"Yeah, but most of demondom is going to be out looking for the Eye, which is
other-where, which is good for us..." Buffy stopped, her expression sombre. "But very bad for Giles and Angel..."

*******


"This is giving me the creeps."

"You're a demon. You're supposed to give other people the creeps."

"Very funny. I'm a very nice guy. I just don't happen to like very dark forests which could very well be filled with very unpleasant things also looking for what we're looking for, and therefore with a very valid reason to knock us off."

"Shh."

Giles, behind them, stopped, listening.

"What?" Whistler demanded nervously.

"Shh!" Angel repeated. They listened.

There was nothing to be heard, but Angel could feel the presence of others, smell them.

"Trouble," he whispered. "Get behind me, both of you," he ordered, facing the direction of the scent.

Giles eased off the backpack of weapons he was carrying and dropped it on the ground. He pulled the sword from the antique leather scabbard strapped to the side of it, checked the stake in the inside pocket of his navy blue windbreaker and moved up alongside Angel.

Whistler crouched behind them.

There were five of them, all dressed in similar quasi-military clothes. They looked like bizarre demon commandoes emerging from the darkness, their swollen, cadaverous faces the more horrible for the transposition.

"So what's their problem?" Whistler asked from his hiding position. "They look like somebody dragged a river and found a bunch of dead marines, who suddenly aren't so dead no more. Jeez."

The lead demon drew an oversized hunting knife from his belt and lunged. Angel dodged the blade and hit the demon a double handed blow in the back as the others charged at them.

Whistler shinnied up a tree. Giles decapitated Angel's attacker as it stumbled then lunged towards the next, swung and missed when it ducked out of the way. There was another right behind it. Alongside him Angel was wrestling on the ground, evenly matched with his large opponent. Giles thrust with his sword as the oncoming demon jumped over his comrade's corpse, but found his blade knocked aside and a clammy, slimy hand around his throat.

He could feel his larynx being crushed, his lungs screaming for air, but no amount of struggling, clawing, scratching, nothing he did, made any impact on the demon as it throttled him. There was no oxygen left in his lungs. He felt the panic seizing him, his body flailing against his impending death, his lungs screaming...and then just as suddenly he was being violently ripped from the vice-like hand and thrown to the ground.

It took several moments of gasping and holding his chest as the air rushed back in for Giles to clear his head enough to realise what was happening.

Angel was grappling with his attacker, trying to bring him down, whilst fending off knife and fist attacks from the other two demons.

Giles staggered to his feet just as one of them picked up his sword. "N-o-o!" he cried as the creature swung it at Angel's head, and crash tackled it at the same instant.

The sword went flying as both of them crashed into Angel and the demon he was fighting. In the furore Angel got hold of the discarded hunting knife and drove it into the heart of the body on top of him, rolled out with it and intercepted the last standing demon as it made for Giles, the Watcher's own sword raised over its head.

Giles was too busy grappling with his own opponent to see the danger.

Angel came within a hairsbreadth of having his left arm amputated by the blow from the sword as he deflected it from Giles' back, but the angle caused it to glance off the bone as it sliced into the top of his forearm. As the demon's sword arm flew up, Angel brought his other arm in to its rib cage with sickening force, leaving the hunting knife protruding from the place where it's heart used to beat.

Behind him Giles had rolled on top of his demon and was trying desperately to throttle it as it raked his back with its clawed hands, shredding the jacket and coming perilously close to penetrating the thick ski jumper underneath. He made little headway, his left arm yet to fully recover its strength after the bout with the Hellmouth demon.

"Let go!" Angel shouted.

Giles looked up to see his sword raised overhead, knew a blinding moment of indecision and panic when he saw Angel's transformed face behind it, then let go of the demon's throat and arched backward. There was a blur, a sickening crunch, and the head was rolling away. He chose not to look back at the gore, getting up and staggering back towards Whistler instead.

Angel dropped the sword, his left arm throbbing agonisingly and bleeding profusely, and transformed back. He'd seen the other man's face. He'd also seen him, hopelessly outnumbered and mismatched, still try to save his life.

"You guys were sensational. Talk about action heroes. Don't you think we oughta get out of here before any more come along?" Whistler babbled. "We gotta do something about that arm—"

Giles looked around.

Angel gripped it harder. "I'll handle it."

But Giles was already tearing fabric from the shirt of one of the corpses and dragging a
box out of his backpack. In moments he was tearing open a swab, pushing Angel's wound together and cleaning the worst of the dirt and blood off before putting butterfly dressings along the slash and binding it with the shirt strips. He was done before he really realised what he was doing.

"There," he said self-consciously, blood at the corner of his own bruised mouth, his arm aching, his back smarting where claws must have penetrated his thick sweater after all, and his contused throat throbbing. "That should hold it."

Angel watched him drop his ruined jacket, pick up the sword and take the box back to his backpack, trying to remember if he'd ever met anyone else whose first instinct was always to help, regardless of consequence or history. He failed.

"We should keep moving," he said, holding his arm as Giles straightened. He was in a lot of pain, but the others didn't need to know exactly how much.

The Watcher nodded.

"Now you're talking."

"Shut up, Whistler."

*******

Shady Hill cemetery looked relatively peaceful and calm in the clear, cool evening. Buffy, Xander and Willow were all carrying heavy backpacks filled with the divided up weapons and other items provided by Giles.

It took several minutes to hike through the newer parts of the grounds to the Pioneer section right at the back. Again Buffy was struck by the unnatural peace. No vampires, no monsters or demons. It was almost too good to be true...

At that moment the night air was split by a blood-curdling howl so piercing that she could hear her own eardrums vibrate and her teeth were set on edge.

"Do I want to know what that was?" Xander asked without his usual flippancy.

Buffy shook her head. "Nope. But it's coming from the right direction." She pointed toward the tops of the giant oak tree a couple of dozen yards away.

They were almost at the security fence that surrounded the historical tree when Buffy saw the hole. One side of the wire fence was almost completely ripped apart.

"Not good," she muttered.

There was another howl and dirt seem to explode upward from the earth inside the fence. From it rose a creature of such great age, such great evil that its putrescent flesh hung in grey cowls around its throat, its huge, horse-like head the more horrifying for serrated bones visible through the semi-translucent blue-white flesh.

"Does anyone mind if I throw up?" Xander muttered.

It turned its four-yard frame and sniffed, one huge, leathery foreleg poised in the air, black scimitar like claws splayed menacingly in the moonlight, eyes flashing like two glittering topaz orbs slashed with black.

"Good doggie," Willow squeaked.

Then, suddenly, in one terrifying movement, it threw up a stunning black spine and bristle crest from its rump to the crown of its head, threw back its head and screamed at twice the volume of the previous one. A spine chilling snap and billow followed, heralding the deployment of vast blue-white bat-like wings shot with blood red veins and bristled here and there with black hairs.

Willow and Xander screamed simultaneously and Buffy rolled her eyes. "Guys, its just another monster—" As Buffy spoke, the creature's nostrils dilated and flared, as though it had picked up a scent, and it's eyes flashed, the more terrifying for the awareness in them.

Then its mouth opened, triple uneven rows of long, filthy, needle-sharp teeth filling the orifice, sharing space only with a revolting, cadaverous tongue and a stench the like of which even Buffy had never come across before, and it leaped.

She screamed and they all broke and ran.

"It's just another monster," Xander mimicked as they broke into a tomb and barricaded the door with the lid off a crypt.

"Well it is," Buffy shot back, "it's just a little big and I've never smelled anything that bad before."

"I have," Willow said, still breathing hard. "Xander's gym socks."

"Oh, rapier yester-wit," Xander shot back. "But what exactly are we doing in here when we're supposed to be out there protecting Sunnydale from FOUR of those babies?"

"Trying not to soil the laundry?" Willow ventured.

"Okay. Xander has a point. We have to have a plan. There are two more of them still in the ground, and we now have two roaming Sunnydale. The first thing we have to do is get back to that tree and stop the next one before it gets out of bed."

Buffy took off her backpack and sorted through the equipment Giles had procured for them. The items that made her smile, however, were the hand-grenades and the automatic hand gun with the flashy looking bullets.

Xander who'd been sorting through his own collection, snorted. "Hey, how come you get the good stuff? All I've got is a crummy crossbow with weird bolts, wire cable and a bunch of these."

"Smoke bombs. We may or may not need them. And those bolts have explosive heads," Buffy pointed out.

"Oh. Okay, then I'll tell you that your ammunition is teflon—armour piercing."

Willow wrung her hands. "Can we stop with the 'yours is bigger than mine thing' please? People could be dying out there."

"Oh yeah, like we can stop these things," Xander retorted as they shifted the heavy lid from the door again and started to run.

"Not stop," Buffy agreed as they reached the tree, "but we can still really ruin their big day."

The third creature burst predicably from the ground and this time Buffy stood her ground until it opened its great jaws and leaped at her.

"Eat this!" She pulled the pin and lobbed the hand-grenade into its mouth, leaped back a couple of yards and drove Xander and Willow down onto the ground.

"Why is it not happening?" Xander complained. And was drowned out by the deafening report of the explosion and then grossed out by the bits of stinking flesh and black spiny teeth that rained on him.

They jumped up and looked back together. The creature was howling with rage. It's jaws were a mangled wreck, yet it was still on its feet.

"Well he's not going to eat anyone tonight," Buffy said with satisfaction, just as the fourth beast emerged.

"Can you say encore?" Xander drawled and fired his loaded crossbow as it lumbered towards them. The bolt buried itself in the creature's right hind leg and exploded, enraging it beyond measure. It deployed its crest and wings with frightening speed and charged.

Buffy rolled her eyes and reached for the gun. "Way to get us killed, Xander."

"I try," he said, reloading as they retreated.

Buffy fired her gun a half dozen times but the bullets made holes the size of cantaloupes in the creature's hide without slowing it down at all. Xander's second arrow hit the creature in the eye and caused commensurate and particularly revolting damage to its head but had little effect in slowing its enraged flight.

They were almost at the front gates when something whistled through the air, hit the ground a yard in front of the creature and exploded into an incendiary inferno.

They watched the fireball in awe.

"Look, a crispy critter," Xander chirruped gleefully as it burned.

"Way to go, Giles," Buffy sighed, relieved.

"Do you think it's in pain?" Willow asked mournfully.

The others turned to her. She had her open backpack over her arm, matches in one hand and one of Giles' incendiary devices in the other.

Xander did a little dance. "Way to save our butts, Willow!"

"But it won't die," Willow said unhappily as the creature collapsed.

"Will, you were this close to being a happy meal for that thing. Let it burn," Buffy told her. "Besides we've got two other problems on our hands. Anybody see which way they went...?"

*******


"This is getting ridiculous. How many more?"

Angel brushed the dust off himself and Giles put away his stake. "As many as it takes. You're the one who told me about the power of the Eye...and you weren't expecting company?"

Whistler made a face. "I'm just not used to this fight stuff. I mean, after the ghoul commandoes I thought we were in the clear, you know? And how many does this make…six very annoyed vampires in the last hour? I mean, who needs a Slayer with you two around?"

Giles straightened, then staggered slightly. Whistler's eyes narrowed. "Hey, Teach', what's wrong? Angel, I think we've got a problem here."

Giles blinked several times and squinted, trying to clear his vision. Everything was suddenly not quite in focus and his head was pounding. He sighed with relief when after the seventh blink things clicked back into sharp focus, but he felt terrible and his back hurt abominably. He dropped his pack.

Angel was at his side in moments. "What is it?"

He shook his head. "I don't know…dizziness, headache, nausea, visual disturbances. Sounds like head trauma, but I didn't get hit." He swayed again.

Angel put a steadying hand on his shoulder and saw the back of his sweater. Small patches of blood had soaked through the wool.

"Maybe not," he said grimly, "but you did get scratched. Let me look at the wounds."

Giles pulled off the sweater and his T-shirt, which was far more bloodied, not feeling like going a round with a cup of tea, much less arguing with Angel.

Whistler came around to see what Angel was scowling at.

"Ick."

"Shut up, Whistler," Angel warned, and this time it was a threat, rather than a warning.

"Something I should know about?" Giles asked dryly.

"The scratches are already swollen and infected. Their claws might have been poisonous."

"Or they could just have very bad hygiene," Whistler offered.

Angel glared. "Some demons have poisonous claws or teeth. Others can knock you out with their breath, by a touch from toxins on their skin, or by looking at you."

"Funnily enough, I knew all that," Giles said sarcastically as he drew his sweater back on. "The question is: what can we do about it? We have to get through this. Buffy needs the sword and the Eye to kill the Herrata, and you need me to get you to them first."

"We go on," Angel said firmly, "but Whistler goes back and finds Willow. You aren't fit to travel that far on foot and if it is poison, the exertion will only pump it through your system faster. He can give her a detailed description of those demons, maybe even get a claw on the way back for her to test. Hopefully the treatment—or the antidote—will be something simple, a spell or a potion or something."

Neither of them voiced the thought both shared at that moment: if he lived long enough for Whistler to get back in time.

"You want me to go back through those woods on my own? With half of hell out for a stroll tonight?"

"You're a demon. Act like one. And don't forget that claw." Angel growled.

Giles handed the little demon a hunting knife from his pack and his car keys.

Whistler looked from one to the other. He was fond of Angel and he'd quickly grown just as fond of the gutsy Watcher. "Be careful," he said. "It's gonna get worse before it gets better. I know I'm no secret weapon, but there's not going to be anyone to watch your backs now, so you'd better watch each other's."

They watched him out of sight, then turned, but Giles stumbled, the weight of his backpack shifting his centre of gravity faster than his equilibrium could adjust when he tried to swing it on to his shoulder.

Angel caught him by the arm and slid the backpack off again. He slung it over his own, wincing as it jarred his arm, and kept hold of Giles with his other hand. They had to stop frequently as they climbed, Angel providing as much support as he could for the few hundred yards they had to go.

Giles had started a fever and he was rapidly losing strength. Angel marvelled at his courage, not for the first time. He had distinct and terrible memories of what he'd done to the big librarian as Angelus. Yet the single most powerful memory of that interlude was not the suffering he'd inflicted but Giles' stubborn courage and endurance.

When they reached the area pinpointed by their research, Angel could see for the first time that there was indeed a cave mouth behind the wall of fallen rock, which was now partially obscured by mosses and weeds, trees and small bushes, all nestled in the gaps and crevices.

He lowered the Watcher to the ground, dropped the bag and crouched in front of him. Giles' fever was worse and his breathing was laboured.

"Giles, how bad?"

Giles closed his eyes and took some deep breaths. "I've had worse hangovers, but I think you can safely say I won't be much use for a while. Have you handled explosives before?"

"Explosives?"

Giles took another deep breath. "Great," he muttered. "Just great." He opened his eyes. "Look, I'll tell you what to do, step by step. If you don't get it right the first time you'll bring down the rest of the cave on us."

Angel nodded. "When did you—?"

"—Learn about explosives? Misspent youth. Some Internet meandering when I realised what we were in for up here and a Watcher's basic weapons training course some years ago. It's an interesting syllabus: crossbows to Kalashnikovs. Very thorough," he added facetiously. "Uh, Angel..."

"What?"

"Behind you."

Angel leaped up and turned. Three vampires were approaching them without haste. They were dressed in very old armour and leather, carried broadswords and looked like they had just come from a battle.

Angel transformed into hunting mode before walking up to the biggest of them, a head taller than he was. "Good hunting?" he asked affably.

"Not tonight," the vampire growled. "Too much competition. I abhor those grey slimy creatures."

"And those spiny, scaly blue abominations," said a bored voice behind him.

"Silence, Crispian. But it is far too crowded out there tonight." He pointed his sword at Angel's throat, lifting the weapon easily with one hand, no mean feat even for a vampire. "I sincerely hope you aren't going to add to my claustrophobia."

Angel shrugged with Angelus' ease and arrogance. "I've got my own agenda, and my own tools." He nodded towards Giles. "Too useful to kill, but I like a picnic lunch as much as the next guy."

"Anything left to share?"

"Plenty," Angel drawled, "except that he's been shot full of demon toxin. Tastes like shit."

"Looks like shit," said another of the subordinate vampires.

Angel nodded. "Yeah, I just hope he lasts long enough to help me find what I'm looking for. Care to join my little expedition?"

The broadsword pushed roughly into his throat without, quite, breaking the skin.

"Okay," he drawled. "Our expedition. But unless you've got jackhammers under those cod-pieces, he's the best chance you've got of getting in there."

"As you wish," the creature said, his more-British-than-Giles accent beginning to irritate. "Crispian, Elwyn: pickets. Nobody approaches, and nobody leaves," he ordered pointedly and removed the sword.

Giles exhaled, finally, gave fervent thanks for Angel's manifest acting ability, then chuckled nervously to himself. Only Angelus' alter-ego could have manipulated things so that the enemy ended up effectively working for him, whether they knew it or not...

It took over an hour to guide Angel through the complexities of assembling the explosive to blow open the cave entrance, as the poison progressively incapacitated him.

He'd repeated himself three times in his explanation of how to assemble the trigger mechanism, unable to maintain his concentration for longer than a few minutes at a time, when Idris growled and leaned forward, sword raised.

Angel roared and pushed the vampire out of the way. "Nobody plays with my toys," he warned in Angelus' unnerving psychopathic drawl and backhanded Giles hard across the mouth. "Except me."

The librarian was almost knocked over backwards, his mouth splitting in the corner and his head snapping back as Angel connected. When the glazed green eyes looked up at him there was confusion and hurt in them.

Angel looked away, picked up the partly assembled explosive and began asking questions again. Giles, mesmerised by that hateful voice, was struggling to focus on the device, to recall the steps. They progressed slowly until it was finally assembled and he was barely conscious.

Patiently Angel tried to activate the led display on the trigger mechanism but it remained dead. As the minutes dragged he could hear Idris beginning to shift restlessly. Finally he took a deep breath and snarled loudly, snapped his head around to Giles and yelled:

"It won't work!"

The Watcher's eyes snapped open, dilating alarmingly when they recognised the enraged vampire. Then he sagged, his head bowing almost to his chest, barely conscious.

Idris crossed his arms. "Well that was a big help," he observed sarcastically. "Crispian, your knife—"

Angel leaned between them almost too quickly and grabbed Giles by the front of his sweater, moved his mouth close to his right ear and shoved the device into his lap.

"Fix it," he hissed. "Or perhaps you'd rather play?"

For a split second Giles slipped back into nightmare, the unrelenting pain and horror...and that voice. Then his head snapped up, rage flashing in the semi-lucid eyes.

"Go to hell, you bastard," he snarled.

"Uh-uh. Been there, done that. That would be you, this time, if you don't fix this piece of crap," Angel shot back, violence in every word.

Giles tried to wrench himself angrily away, heard a well-smothered gasp, looked down and saw the blood seeping through the improvised bandages on Angel's arm. He blinked, sudden clarity in his eyes, looked up at the vampire glaring at him, as if searching for something, then let his face harden again.

"Get off me, you pillock," he growled, watching, and saw the flicker of recognition...or was it pain?...in Angel's face. "I can't fix it with you in my lap."

Their eyes held for a long moment, each knowing what had to come next.

"Then do it!" Angel shouted viciously, roared and backhanded the librarian again. This time, however, Giles leaned back with the blow, considerably lessening the impact whilst making it look even worse.

Angel got up still hurling invective and abuse and paced between Giles and Idris, doing a very good imitation of barely controlled fury, his hands balled into fists. Only Giles had seen the trembling of the fingers he'd so desperately crushed into his palms to hide.

It took the librarian long, painful minutes to get the triggering device operational, but he finally did, and slowly went over the positioning and detonation procedures with Angel, halting with each bout of nausea from the poison, sweat almost literally running off him as he struggled to stay conscious.

When he was ready, Angel set the explosives exactly as Giles directed, Idris at his heel constantly.

"What is this device the mortal has devised?" Idris demanded when Angel straightened.

"Where have you been for the last five hundred years?" he muttered.

"In the service of our Master, who awaits our success."

Angel jumped. He hadn't expected the other to hear him. "Right...and where would that be? Camelot?" he asked sarcastically.

"Hardly. But you at least have the right country."

"Yeah, but which century?" Angel shot back. "Now if you don't mind I have to go and dispose of my spoiled supper. Why don't you stay here and guard the entrance?" he added off-handedly.

Giles was all but out of it when he reached him.

"Giles?" he whispered.

"Tutu..." he muttered, delirious. "Bloody..."

Angel looked away. Then he swiftly lifted the other man in a fireman's carry, saving his bad arm, took him to a safe distance and lay him behind a good-sized boulder, rolling up his own jacket to make a pillow.

Giles was unconscious now, damp with sweat and burning hot to the touch. Angel despaired of Whistler making it back in time, even if he found Willow. Reluctantly he left the unconscious man and went back to the task at hand.

He stopped a safe distance from the explosives and smiled in spite of himself. Idris' henchmen were deep in discussion with him in front of the cave entrance. He took the small remote device from his pocket and touched the button Giles had told him would detonate the bomb if he'd rigged it right.

The noise was horrendous, rocks and debris showering the whole area. A pall of dust settled like mist over the site as Angel made his way to the cave mouth. The bodies of two of the vampires were buried under rubble and debris. The disembodied head of the third, Idris, turned to dust nearby. He eyed the protruding legs with suspicion. If they hadn't disintegrated they weren't yet dead. On the other hand even a vampire couldn't lift that weight in rock and dirt. They'd be gone with the dawn anyway...

Angel was disappointed to find that his explosion, ultimately, had not cleared the cave mouth as he'd expected, rather it had blown a hole barely big enough for him to wriggle through in the slip. He enlarged it a little, then ran out of patience and squeezed himself through. He was running out of time, and so was Giles...

The cave didn't smell bad, which meant there was probably some ventilation somewhere, and it wasn't empty. He had to climb over a lot of fallen rock and debris to make his way into its heart, giving thanks for his night vision as he went.

He wasn't more than a few yards from the entrance when he found his first skeleton: a small demon. And then there were five more, all close together. There were also weapons scattered around the bones, none of which resembled the sword of Ielorid, and much of the scene was covered by rubble.

The small demon had obviously been trying to escape, and the others might have been preparing to fight. There were far more weapons than identifiable skeletons, which likely meant a number of vampires perished in the cave-in, probably at Celine's hands. So where was Celine?

Angel made his way along one of the walls, peering at the piles of rubble from the ceiling, looking for any sign of the dead Slayer. He'd just climbed onto a pile of rock when he thought he heard something. He focused on the sound, almost more an intuition than an out and out noise. It seemed to worry at the corners of his mind, like a mosquito humming, and it was getting louder.

He turned slowly, concentrating, until he was sure he knew where it came from. The small hollow in the wall hadn't been made by nature. It had been dug and scratched out, probably with a sword tip. The humming was intense, almost urgent, now.

Angel reached in and drew out a filthy, earth-encrusted silver chain and held it up. The pendant at the end of it stared at him like a cat's eye from its ornate setting. The humming abruptly ceased at his touch.

Celine had to have hidden it there, but where was she—and the sword? He put it around his neck, dirt and all, and slipped it under his shirt while he searched for the Slayer's remains.

It took him another hour of moving rock and rubble, hampered by his arm, to locate a nearly-disintegrated leather boot half-buried not too far from the group of five. More digging revealed leg bones and remnants of leather. He was about to start again when he noticed that the stone was getting hotter against his breast and the humming had returned, though the pitch had changed to a shrill whine.

The sword was two feet from her right hand. Angel hauled and pulled on the blade with his good hand, trying to dislodge the hilt from its burial place. When it finally came free he was amazed to see that it hadn't corroded.

Then he touched it. The hilt almost vibrated with the power of the magic in it.

Unfortunately it was also energising the pendant, which was now burning his skin.
He took the chain off, put it in his pants pocket, leaned the sword against the cave wall and scrambled out into the early morning air where he caught the first, vague scent of the coming sunrise. He would never get Giles back in time if Whistler didn't come with help.

If Giles was still alive...

He sprinted down to the boulder, dropped to his knees next to the Watcher's inert form and lay a hand on his brow. Still warm. He held the back of his fingers near Giles' nose and mouth and felt warm breath against them, and exhaled tremulously.

Still alive... Just. His pulse was rapid and thready and his colour was terrible. The smell of sunrise filled Angel's nostrils now. His arm throbbed, but it had begun to heal. He ignored the pain and lifted him again, this time in his arms, and carried him back up the hill to the cave.

It took several minutes of frantic digging with Giles' sword to enlarge the hole enough to get him through without injuring him in the process.

Once inside Angel watched through the opening as the first sliver of light touched the horizon, then turned, desolated, to tend his dying friend.

* * * * *

Whistler closed the door of the Watcher's apartment with a frustrated bang. He knew where they all lived, where Buffy patrolled, but none of them were home, nor were they at the library. He'd have to start on the patrol areas, but where to first? A moment later he pushed his hat back and slapped his forehead.

"Stupid!" he berated himself and sprinted back to Giles' car.

The Shady Hill cemetery was remarkably peaceful when he arrived, though the further into it he got the more signs there were that the kids had been there. When he got to the writhing mess of burnt demon on the access road he knew they'd been there. And when he saw the signs beneath the old tree and realised that all four demons had risen, he knew he had almost no chance of getting back in time to save the librarian's life.

It was now a matter of finding the other demons. Wherever they were, the Slayer would be too. He shook his head. Hadn't any of these Humans ever heard of cell phones...?

*******

"Buffy, look out!"

She leaped to one side at full stretch, landing with a jar on the sealed surface of the car park and felt the wake of the giant foreleg that swiped past her, claws splayed.

"They learn too fast," she muttered and looked at the hand-grenade still in her right hand...without a pin. They had to be able to communicate with each other the way this one knew instantly that the grenade was a threat.

It screeched and wheeled, its wings billowing again, but didn't open its mouth to Buffy until it was almost on her, and even then it kept its head right down. She was leading it away from the shopping centre, over cars and around them, the others in hot pursuit.

Then, just as it was about to snap her in two, it threw its head up in rage and let out a screech that should have broken windows.

"Yes!" Xander celebrated, twirling his crossbow as the others took their hands from their ears, or hand, in Buffy's case.

She pitched the grenade, now so sweaty and slippery from her palm that she was lucky not to lose it. Despite the plaster cast, the overarm pitch was sure and powerful, hitting the back of its throat and lodging there so that it couldn't spit it out before it exploded.

Xander dove behind a blue sedan. "Ick, incoming!" he yelled to Willow who only just rolled under a truck before the explosion sent more flesh and teeth raining down.

Buffy worked her way back to them as the creature reeled from its wounds.

"What did you do to it?" she demanded as Xander stood up

He grinned smugly. "Shot it in the ass," he boasted. Willow joined them, brushing herself off. "The SPCA would put us in jail," she pointed out as the creature stumbled over a row of cars and fell on its back.

Buffy's face lit up and grew intense with concentration. "I've got an idea. Quick, Xander, where's that wire?"

He dragged it out. "It's just a glorified tow cable—" he began, but Buffy snatched it and ran with to the thrashing creature's head. "Xander, with me!"

When he got there she gave one end back to him. Then, when the creature raised the mess of flesh off the ground and tried to screech, she flipped the cable under it, threw her end over it and back to Xander and gestured for him to throw his to her.

"Pull!" she ordered.

The crossed cable became a garrotte, pulled ever tighter by the super strength of the Slayer and the best Xander could offer.

"Why...are...we...doing this?" he puffed. "You...can't…kill it."

"How do you kill a demon?" Buffy yelled back.

Willow had joined Xander on his end of the cable. "Cut off its head?"

"That's what we're trying to do, but it's a tough turkey, and my arm...."

"A sword would be good," Willow observed.

Xander looked at the cowls of flesh around the thick neck as the creature bucked and struggled. "I thought it...was...supposed to be invincible. How...about an industrial strength...chainsaw?" he muttered.

"How about this?" demanded a familiar voice.

Whistler pitched the axe, still with its price tag on, to Buffy.

"Whistler!" Buffy yelled, startled, caught it, and started making two-handed strikes at the creature's throat while the others were thrown about like a sheet in the wind on their end of the cable.

"This is so gross," Whistler complained.

"Well pardon us while we draw the curtain," Xander yelled as he tried valiantly to dig his heels in and hold the cable down, Willow still picking herself up off the ground.

Buffy struck one more time, an arc of purple blood shooting into the air as the mangled head rolled backward and the thing trembled and bucked for the last time.

"Does that mean they all die now?" Xander asked happily.

Buffy shook her head. "Don't count on it. That's what the sword is for—why it's so important."

Whistler helped Willow to her feet. "You gotta help me," he was saying.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Buffy demanded.

"Giles is dying," he said without preamble. "Demon toxin." He tilted his head toward Willow. "Angel says she can help, but it has to be fast."

"Me?" Willow squeaked.

A stunned Buffy sucked in a less than steady breath. They all looked in the same direction. There was a suffuse glow of pre-dawn light on the horizon.

"Dawn," she whispered. "Where are they?"

Whistler paled. "Still up on Rogue's Ridge. I hope they found that cave."

"We have to go," she said, ignoring the last death throes of the creature behind her. "Willow—Demon poisons—Internet or books?"

"Both, at the library."

A car started behind them. Whistler withdrew from the driver's side door of the Citroen. "Who's driving? This thing is out of the ark."

Before anyone else could volunteer Xander was in the driver's seat. The others scrambled in behind him and he slammed it into reverse, backed out and screeched away, willing the tired veteran to its best speed.

The library was locked. Buffy used her side-exit key, the only one besides Giles' and Snyder's master key, which was more than Snyder needed to know...

"Whistler, what kind of demon?" Willow demanded, booting up the computer then hot-footing it to the card index.

"Sorry to say I don't exactly have a name, but they kind of looked like military guys— ones that had been drowned and not dragged up for a couple of weeks, you know what I mean? There were five of them, and they had claws, maybe with poison on them. Here, I brought one."

He gave it to Willow, who opened a drawer. "Okay, I'll take this to the lab, after. Right now: demon toxins." She pulled a half a dozen cards from three different drawers and handed them to each of the other three. "Find these. They're in the library somewhere. Xander, check Giles' filing cabinet if you have to. I'm going on line as soon as I can. I can find out what the poison is from the claw, but the books are the best chance for a cure or an antidote, if only we can find out which demon."

Within ten minutes all three had dumped all the volumes on the reading table and were choosing the most promising to start with and Willow had disappeared to the science lab.

A half an hour passed in relative silence, only the rustle of pages turning and the click of Willow's keyboard when she returned, disturbing the intense stillness.

Then the silence was shattered by the sound of fists smashing down on keys.

Everyone jumped, Xander turning in his chair, Buffy jumping out of hers like a startled rabbit and Whistler shielding his face with his forearm.

Willow hit her keyboard again and made an angry, frustrated noise. "Nothing," she growled. "There's nothing. Giles is going to die."

Buffy's eyes widened and her colour waned again. She sat down hard. Hearing Willow say it so bluntly was like being hit between the eyes by a sledge-hammer. He couldn't die...

Xander sat up, his eyes bleak. "Oh yeah, then you'd best get your cute little tush over here and help us with these books. You know nobody does a cross index like you do."

Whistler chuckled. It broke the tension and they all plunged back into the books, each painfully aware of the consequences of failure for Giles, of the immediate danger to Angel and the presence, somewhere out there, of one fully operational Herrata.

A short time later Whistler threw his latest book on the table. "That was the first book that mentions the poison, the claws and the 'come drag the river for me' look, and the clothes are all wrong," he grumbled.

Willow looked up, her eyes narrowing. "Show me," she demanded.

He pushed the book towards her. "Page a hundred and fourteen. I wouldn't be seen dead...well, anyway, I wouldn't be seen with these guys..."

"It's the right kind of poison. These military uniforms are all eighteenth century American. They might have just upgraded the clothes. Do demons get bored?" she asked, checking another book mentioned in a footnote of Whistler's article.

"Or have fashion sense?" Xander offered, looked at Whistler's clothes, slid down in his chair and cleared his throat.

Whistler shrugged. "Who knows? Depends on your demon, really. So you think these may be the same guys?

"People, Angel could be dead already, and Giles…could die," Buffy pointed out in a tight voice. "Can we do this any faster?"

Willow turned to her. "I think this might be it. I'm going to call Oz to bring his van—he should be back now—for Angel—then I'm going to check the tests on the claw. They should at least confirm the type of poison, and that should let us confirm or rule out these, what did they call them?" She looked down at the second book. "'Kovhai Foot Soldiers.'"

Whistler sat up. "Hey I know them, but they didn't look like this the last time I saw one. Back then they were human-looking, mostly, but with ritual paint masks on their faces to show who they were working for."

"Oh yeah, and when was that?" Xander drawled.

"About fourteen-ninety or so. If it was a Kovhai the cure is easy."

Buffy jumped up, on edge, her eyes glittering, and grabbed him by the shirt front.

"How easy?" she demanded.

Whistler extracted himself. "Cool it, Slay-girl. Angel is my friend too, and I like your Watcher a whole lot, so don't be taking your worry out on me. The Khovai were bred purely to be foot-soldiers for demon lords or kings in the war to reclaim the mortal realm. I thought they were all wiped out until now. Their poison is strictly for mortals. Undead blood neutralises it on contact. All you need to do is get a demon or a vampire to bleed a lot for you. Hey, what are you all looking at me like that for?"


*******

Angel took the librarian's pulse again and cursed. He didn't know how Giles was hanging on. He'd never felt so relentlessly helpless, at least in the mortal realm. Or frustrated. Not much more than a week earlier the man had stepped in when he'd been knocked out and saved them all by killling the demon and closing the Hellmouth…

The Englishman was bathed in sweat, and periodically seemed to lapse into some kind of delirium. Angel could hear him mutter but not what he was muttering. From their shadowed vantage point he could see the daylight through the hole, a rare lingering view of another lifetime, another life... But now the view almost suffocated him with his claustrophobic limitations.

He got up and prowled around the cave, stumbling over rocks and kicking shale and bones out of the way in temper. He was going to lose Giles, had probably already lost Whistler...

He closed his eyes.

And God only knew if the others...

He tripped on a boulder and came out of the stumble in hunting mode, snarling with rage, slammed the fist of his bad arm into the wall and snarled again. A moment later he reverted to his human face, his eyes closed again. She could be dead…

And if she were alive she would never forgive him for losing Giles.

The big librarian was delirious again, and the sweating had stopped. Angel felt his brow. It was cold and clammy. Carefully, he eased the sweater off and turned him gently onto his side.

"Jenny…" he groaned.

Angel winced and closed his eyes for a moment. Then he looked at the wounds, hopes of any improvement dashed when he saw the raw, oozing welts. Lint from the woollen sweater was stuck to most of them. He'd removed most of the fibres from one when something happened to the slash above it. He watched in amazement as it bubbled, a white cleansing sort of effervescence, then withdrew into itself until it was gone.

He took his hand away, swallowed, dumbstruck, then stared at it for several more seconds before the urgency of it took hold of him.

"What?" he whispered and repeated what he was doing at the exact moment it happened.

His knuckles were brushing against it as his fingers picked lint from the wound below…

He stared at the smashed, bloodied knuckles, the deepest gashes still oozing, then, as though in a dream, he reached out and touched another wound with them. The process repeated itself.

Angel blinked. The sword…

He un-wrapped his arm very gingerly. The wound was half-closed, the healing process well under way. There was dried blood encrusting the area and the butterfly dressings, which he removed. Then, calmly and deliberately, he picked up the sword and opened the wound again, his agonised cry echoing through the cavern and bouncing back again.

Giles called Jenny Calendar's name again as he smeared all the slashes with his blood. Then the Watcher began to tremble and shiver, his breathing laboured.

When he began to struggle Angel lifted him and held him in his arms to keep his back out of the filth on the cave floor, terrified that he'd killed him after all. For several minutes the older man seemed to be in terrible pain, hanging between life and death.

And then at once he was still. Angel panicked and picked up a limp arm. For long, terrifying seconds he couldn't find a pulse, and then Giles took a long, rattling breath.

"Jenny!" he called ecstatically and opened his eyes.

Angel had never seen such absolute joy transmute so quickly to grief. The green eyes stared silently at him for so long, and with such deep shock that he had to fight to keep from looking away. Then they filled and overflowed silently, Giles' body shaking with the uncontrolled intensity of his despair.

It was more unbearable than any torture Angel had ever suffered. He sat silently, his head bowed, holding the librarian, and grieving for the terrible cost of his own existence.


*******


"I can't take it any further in," Oz announced. He'd brought his van at least a half mile off the road, into the forest, everyone helping to spot hazards, move logs, rocks, overhanging branches before they could become a problem.

They were all out before he'd finished the sentence. He'd taken a considerable amount of time off their journey on foot and no one wanted to waste a moment. It was already after eight.

The biggest surprise was Whistler, who, for all his average physique and unassuming looks, seemed to be able to run endlessly without flagging. The others followed him without faltering, all the way up the slopes to the edge of the tree line, where they paused, breathing heavily, Xander and Oz bent, their hands on their knees, sucking in air.

"Take five," Buffy told them, sweating and breathing hard, but with wind to spare. "I'm going ahead." She turned to Whistler. "Which way?"

Buffy found the site of the explosion without much difficulty. The signs of Angel and Giles' presence were plentiful, not least Giles' backpack and sword. It was open and half- pulled out, bits of wiring and other components scattered in the dirt with weapons and rations. But the one thing her eyes zeroed in on was a piece of rolled up clothing.

The white t-shirt could only have been Giles', meaning the stains all over the back of it were almost certainly his blood too. She threw it away with a trembling hand and continued her search, stopping at a pile of rubble and shivering at the sight of the ashes protruding from it.

"No…" she said softly, then screamed: "Angel!"

And almost passed out with relief when she heard the muffled reply.

It took her eyes some time to adjust after she'd scrambled through the smallish opening, but she didn't wait, stumbling toward the silhouette that had to be Angel on the ground at the back of the cavern. By the time she reached him her pupils had dilated enough to see his face and the figure in his arms.

"Is he…?" she asked, still trying to assimilate Angel's survival…that they weren't his ashes lying out there in the dirt.

Angel shook his head slowly. "I found something to heal the wounds, but he's still sick, maybe dying…"

"The cure is the blood of any non-mortal," Buffy told him. "Something Whistler remembered." She registered his bloodied, damaged arm and hand for the first time, and swallowed. "I see how you could maybe stumble on that yourself."

He nodded. "I touched the slashes and they healed by themselves. But it wasn't
enough—"

"Obviously," Buffy interrupted, "but it kept him alive," she said softly, her eyes drinking their fill of Giles' ravaged, but living face. "The others are coming. Oz brought the van, and Willow has your heavy cloak and stuff. We left so fast Whistler didn't say how the blood cures, only that it was easy."

"I can't ask him to drink me," Angel said wretchedly. "I mean, I want him to if it will cure him. I can open an artery…and it won't make him a vampire, but after everything I've done—"

Buffy knelt beside them. "Worse even than you drinking me?" she asked, remembering what he'd said about the First Evil.

Angel blanched. "Not worse," he corrected, "but just as bad. He shouldn't have to suffer like this for getting hurt helping…" He swallowed, silently cursing his mouth. "…Me."

She looked up from her vigil over Giles, a limp hand clutched in one of hers. "Helping you? I thought you were helping him?" she demanded, her inner senses pricking. "What aren't you telling me? He was hiding something when I talked to him before about coming up here. Give," she ordered.

Angel reached to his left and picked up the sword, gave it to Buffy. As a distraction it worked perfectly.

"The sword of Ielorid," she said, gently placing Giles' hand on his chest again. "And the Eye…? What's that noise?"

Angel pulled the necklace from his pocket. "You can hear—feel that?"

Buffy nodded. "Irritating."

"It's the stone. When it's near the sword they kinda energise each other."

"We have to destroy it now. There are two monsters doing a lot of suffering and a healthy one probably causing a lot of suffering because we're not there to stop it…not to mention the ones—"

"No!" Angel cried. "We don't know how it works…I wanted—"

Buffy was staring at him. "You wanted…what? Angel, people are very probably getting munched from here to St. Petersburg as we speak."

He shook his head. "Never mind," he said, looking down at the unconscious Watcher, and clenching the stone hard to keep from screaming his frustration. There was no way to get to the remaining Herrata, regardless of how much he wanted to…

A new hum started up, pulsing almost in rhythm with the waves of rage and frustration washing over him. He could feel the stone vibrating in his hand, getting hotter and hotter.

Buffy heard it, extended her hand, reaching for it, sword poised. Outside the sounds of the others approaching could be heard in the distance.

Angel swallowed, his eyes beseeching. "Buffy—"

But Giles was stirring in his arms. His gaze shifted from her searching blue eyes, to the now lucid green ones looking up at him in confusion. He held them for a long moment before closing his own in infinite pain, then slowly, almost reluctantly, looked up again.

As she reached for the stone, Buffy saw the hand at Angel's side become almost x-ray transparent for a moment.

A strange look passed over his face, and his eyes closed again. Moments later they looked down at the Watcher again and softened, then the glow was gone and the hum was back to its original irritating pitch.

He looked up again, his expression one of profound sadness.

"I'm sorry," he said as she reached out and took the pendant.

"Buffy?" Giles croaked disorientedly. "Angel…what…?"

Angel helped him to a sitting position.

The others were coming through the hole into the cave. Whistler and Willow were already through and Oz was climbing in.

Buffy sat the Eye on the nearest rock, raised the sword above her head, which was throbbing violently from the intensity of the whining hum, and used both hands to bring it down with a bone shattering crash.

The cave lit up with searing white light which seemed at once to be all colours and no colours, writhing violently and yet still at the same time and there was a terrible, prolonged, bone-splitting screech, as though all the Herrata were screaming at once.

A moment later the sword and the shattered gem were gone.

Everyone converged on Giles, except Buffy. She was shaking her arm and watching Angel, who'd moved away from everyone and was sitting against the cave wall, his head bowed, weeping silently.

Willow and Xander dropped to their knees either side of the Watcher.

"You're not dead," Xander observed redundantly.

"Obviously," Giles agreed, his voice still shaky at best.

Willow, who was checking his back, leaned back, confused. "There are no wounds on your back."

Giles, who was even more confused, swayed, then frowned. "Why? Should there be?"

Xander instantly shifted so that Giles' right shoulder blade rested against his chest, allowing the librarian to lean against him, rather than continue to exert himself to stay upright.

"Easy there old man, don't have a relapse on us," he teased.

Giles made a noise in his throat, but he could hear the worry in Xander's voice.

Willow frowned. "Whistler, the scratches are gone, but Giles is still sick."

But Whistler was watching Buffy and Angel. He turned slowly, distractedly. "Gone?" he said slowly, then looked at Angel again, at the open wound on his arm. "Yeah, well looks like Angel might have worked out part of it himself…which is why Rupert here is still with us. Now all he has to do is taste the blood."

"Angel's blood?" Oz asked quietly.

Whistler shrugged. "Yeah, well, he's already on tap and I'm not big on pain."

Oz's eyes widened. "You mean drink him?"

"Jeez, Giles, a vampire librarian, I bet that'd be a first."

"Shut up, Xander," Willow hissed. "Giles, you were scratched by a demon with poisoned claws…do you remember?"

Giles nodded stiffly. "My back…"

"Is healed. The poison is only meant for mortals. It's neutralised on contact by any demon or non-mortal blood. A—Angel must have used his blood to heal your back, but the toxin has gotten into your system."

Giles closed his eyes for a moment, trying to remember. "I remember fighting…and then the pain. The bomb…and medieval vampires…then nothing…" He stopped to concentrate again, memories, both real and nightmare, blurring together.

His eyes sprang open suddenly. "Jenny," he whispered, unaware of anyone or anything. "Oh, Jenny…"

Xander put a hand on his shoulder without even realising he'd done it and Willow clamped teeth on her bottom lip to keep it still.

Xander looked up at Whistler. "Get Angel, now!" he ordered angrily.

Buffy knelt next to Angel, not knowing what to say, or why he was so distraught. She put a hand on his nape.

"Talk to me," she said gently.

"I can't," he said very softly. "Not now. Maybe…maybe later." He lifted his head and looked at her with a ravaged face, touched her cheek, trailing trembling fingers across her lips. "I'm sorry," he said again.

"I don't—"

"Ah, excuse me for interrupting, but the team over there needs Angel now. I think the kid is going to hurt me if you don't come," Whistler said, about as self-conscious as he was ever likely to get.

Angel looked up. "What do I have to do?"

"Not you: him. He has to taste the blood to neutralise the poison that's still in his system. That's all. Not drinking, just tasting."

Angel nodded. "Tell everyone to leave us alone." His gaze moved to Buffy, asking her the silent question.

She got up, confused and worried but determined. "I'm staying," she announced, and went to Giles.

Xander was still supporting the semi-conscious Watcher, Buffy kneeling next to them, when Angel reached them. The boy looked at him with smouldering eyes.

"If you hurt him, Dead Boy—" he said between clenched teeth.

Angel's eyes flashed. "Get out!" he growled.

Xander left reluctantly, Buffy taking Giles' shoulders as he slipped away.

He stirred, disturbed by the movement. "Xander?" he muttered, his eyes fluttering open again.

"It's Angel."

"We're here," Buffy said softly, brushing rivulets of sweat from his brow with the backs of her fingers.

Giles jolted a little and opened his eyes fully. "Buffy…? Where?" He squinted. "The others? Another dream?"

"I'm here," Buffy said near his ear, and when he raised a hand as if to confirm the reality of her, took it in hers and held it tight.

Angel shook his head. "They're outside. Do you remember what Willow said about the poison?"

"My back…healed. No pain…"

"My blood—it neutralises the poison," he said, holding up his ravaged arm.

"Good show," Giles said quietly then paused. "Bit bloody slow though," he added, grimacing at another bout of nausea.

"It's slow because it's not finished yet." Angel looked tortured. "You…you have to—"

Giles' un-focused eyes narrowed. "Oh, no. Not for all the bloody tea in China."

Before Buffy could speak Angel dropped his head. "If I have to, I'll cut Whistler for you, but it won't be by his choice," he said quietly.

"Whistler? Cut?"

Angel looked up. "You don't have to drink me, Giles. You only have to taste it."

Giles exhaled loudly. "Is that all? Christ, man, did you have to make such a bloody drama out of it?"

Angel looked puzzled.

"Arm," Giles demanded.

Angel extended his damaged arm. The librarian wiped an unsteady thumb across a small trickle of blood, closed his eyes distastefully and touched the thumb to his tongue.

"Done," he said, screwing up his face. "No wonder vampires are so foul tempered," he muttered, and promptly passed out again.

Buffy let go of his other hand and shifted to hold him close while the struggle raged between the toxin and Angel's blood.

It took much longer this time. When it passed the librarian stopped struggling and went limp. Angel searched for a pulse for long seconds. Buffy looked at him beseechingly. He couldn't find one. Minutes ticked away until both were close to frantic. Then, at last, Giles drew a long, rasping breath again.

Buffy sobbed and clutched him even tighter.

Angel exhaled loudly and swore softly with relief. For a long moment he just stared at the ravaged face, then touched Buffy's hand.

"It's time to go," he said gently, and lifted the Watcher from her arms.

Xander and Oz were near the entrance, keeping vigil. Within seconds of his call they were back inside, taking Giles from him.

Angel looked down at the heavy cloak Oz handed him and through the opening at the bright sunlight, then turned to Buffy.

"I'll wait for sundown and make my own way back. The cloak is all right for short distances but…"

Whistler moved to his side.

Buffy stared at them for a long moment. She knew he was right, and she didn't want to leave him, but… Her eyes slid to the Watcher's pale face.

"Go," Angel said softly. "I'll see you at sunset."

Xander, holding Giles by the shoulders while Oz eased his legs through the small exit, stared at him for a long moment.

"He is going to be all right, isn't he?" he asked quietly.

Angel nodded. "Before, when I touched his wounds with the blood, it was hard on him for a little bit. It was the same this time, only worse, but he should be fine when he comes around."


*******

Buffy cradled a still unconscious Giles tightly as the van bumped and trundled over the rough ground for the half mile or so back to the road, until Oz managed to find the one rock they'd missed on the way in. She was thrown against the side of the van, landing on her back.

Giles woke to find himself lying on top of Buffy, his nose at the base of her throat.

He lifted his head just enough to find himself eye to eye with her.

"Hi," she squeaked. "Feeling better?"

"Much."

"No pain?"

"No…no…I'm fine—I think. Exhausted, but fine."

She grinned with relief. "Good. Then do you think you could get off me?"

Giles turned beet-red. "Oh…yes, of course."

There were some snickers behind them then Xander offered an arm. Oz had finally made it back onto the highway so there were no more unexpected jolts. Xander settled the librarian against the side of the van and sat back down on the other side as Buffy scrambled to a sitting position herself.

"How do you feel?" she asked.

"Foolish," he answered, holding his brow.

"Giles…"

"My head hurts, and my mouth…as a matter of fact, pretty much all of me. I'm extraordinarily tired, but essentially I am…well. The…er, antidote seems to have done its job and my system appears to be free of the poison," he said wearily.

"We thought we were going to lose both of you," Xander told him, his voice for once devoid of humorous inflection.

  1. daresay it was a near thing. Did Angel find the sword? The Eye?"

"Check and check," Buffy confirmed. "We won't know for sure until we get back to town, but the light show when I smashed the Eye kind of indicated that I probably did something right."

Giles sat up very straight. "You've destroyed it already? Where is Angel?" he asked urgently.

"Waiting up in the cave for sunset," Xander told him. "He didn't want to get pot-roasted in that stupid cloak. It was a long way down to the van, and boy, were you heavy…"

Buffy watched Giles close his eyes in something very like anguish. She shifted along until she was at his side, touched his hand.

"Giles, what's wrong?"

He looked down at her. "I can't break a confidence, but if he hasn't left the cave then I daresay he has failed, for which I am truly sorry."

"But the Herrata are gone, permanently… which has to be a 'good' right?" Xander asked edgily.

Buffy scowled and rested a cheek against the point of Giles' shoulder. "I hate it when you get cryptic and I hate even more when the cryptic sounds distinctly like something I won't like at all."

He looked down at her affectionately. "I'm sorry, but I promised," he said softly, looked up and straight into Xander's dark eyes, and saw that the boy had worked at least part of it out by himself.

Xander shrugged and threw him his sweater. "My glass is half full," he said harshly, then looked away from the disappointment in the green eyes.


*******


Giles' apartment was Oz' next to last stop. They'd all wanted him to be checked out at the local ER but he was determined to go home, certain that he was okay, if totally exhausted. Buffy had insisted on remaining until he was safely there, so that only Oz, in the driver's seat, and Buffy and Giles in the back, remained when they reached the apartment.

The van slid to a noisy halt.

"Oz, you need a new rear suspension," Giles announced, uncoiling his long frame from its extremely uncomfortable resting-place and getting gingerly to his feet.

"So noted," Oz replied philosophically, pulling open the rear doors and helping the older man down. Buffy threw out the backpack and jumped out after him.

"I'm going to take a swing by Shady Hill with Oz, just to be certain the Herrata really are all gone," she told him. "Are you sure you're well enough to be on your own?"

"I have coped with far worse before now," he said quietly. "I'm fine, Buffy. Go home, and get some sleep."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "I don't do naps," she muttered. "And I have to make sure Angel is okay, but I promise I'll get an early night."

He picked up the pack and started to turn.

"Giles…"

He turned back, saw the look in her eyes.

She reached out and touched his arm. "Don't ever try dying on me again."

Their gazes held for a long moment, then he smiled gently and nodded. A moment later the smile was gone.

"Later, if you should need me…I'll be here."

Buffy's head tilted to one side. "Again with the cryptic. Well it works both ways. If you need anything...if you get sick again— "

He touched the soft mouth momentarily with a long forefinger. "I'm fine. Stop worrying."

Her eyes filled unexpectedly. "Once was bad enough," she said softly. "Three times is pushing it." She started to turn, then whirled unexpectedly and threw her arms around him in an uncharacteristic show of emotion. "Don't do it again or I'll hurt you," she warned the front of his sweater.

He put his arms around her for a moment and returned the hug, his eyes glistening with both warmth and moisture. Then he bent his head. "I promise," he said near her ear. "Now away with you."

He watched her turn and climb into the passenger side of the van, half-smiled as she waved and Oz blew the horn, then headed for his apartment, profound sadness in his eyes. He'd had never felt so tired or dispirited as he unlocked the door, despite their victory over the Herrata. Angelus had won…and Buffy had lost, yet again…


*******

Something was wrong. Even as he opened the door he could sense it. Once inside he knew something was different. It was almost subliminal, but the hairs on his neck were standing up. He dropped the bag and went to his weapons chest, ever watchful, and took out his crossbow. It had been constantly loaded since…

He checked every nook and cranny downstairs, wondering if he was just over-reacting to a rotten couple of days, or if he was hallucinating again, but found nothing. There was still something though…and it was driving him crazy.

He'd climbed only four steps on the stairs when he froze. The déjà vu almost overwhelmed him. Why? He wondered wretchedly. Am I relapsing? And then: I'm not going to the bloody hospital and that's that!

He took another two steps and stopped again.

It was the air…

There was the faintest scent of roses. His mind was playing tricks. He said something unprintable and clutched the crossbow tightly, his hands shaking, and continued up the steps.

On the landing at the top of the stairs he stopped again, trembling. He hated himself for the terror, the dread, when he knew there was nothing there. For God's sake, he thought. The front door was locked, the windows untried…

After several deep breaths and another heartfelt expletive he pushed open his bedroom door with the end of the crossbow…then promptly dropped it, the trigger firing and sending the bolt whizzing under the bed.

"No…" he keened, tears choking him, shock almost taking his legs from under him. "No…"

A hundred nightmares replayed themselves before him as he forced himself to the bedside, his trembling increasing with each step, until he was close enough to reach out a shaking hand and touch a soft cheek.

Oh God…it was warm

He trailed his fingers along her jaw, feeling its warmth with disbelief, shaking so much he could barely control their movement.

Her eyes opened and his heart almost stopped. "Rupert?" she said sleepily. "What are you doing here?"

A strangled sob escaped his throat. "Jenny…? It can't be."

"Why?" She blinked and sat up very slowly, looked around, startled. "Wait…What? Is this a joke?"

Giles shook his head and swayed slightly.

She drew a sharp breath, slid out of the bed. "Rupert, what is it? What happened to your face…your neck?"

He stepped back. "Y…You can't be here. I…It's not possible…don't you remember?"

She frowned. "I remember working late. It worked—"

"The translation," he whispered, closing his eyes.

She nodded. "How could you know? I haven't told anyone…"

He opened them again, half afraid she might be gone when he did. She was still there. Beyond rational speech, he reached out instead and touched her hair. Everything about her was exactly the same, every detail, except it was a year too late.

"Can you be real?" he finally whispered, aching to take her in his arms, to hold her again.

"Real? Rupert, you're scaring me."

"Try," he said with difficulty. "Try to remember…did you see Angelus at the school?"

Her brow furrowed and a moment later her face crumpled. "Oh God. He was chasing me. The b…bastard was going to kill me," she said tremulously. "Why didn't I remember that? He said he was going to. I was running, and then he was there…I was sure he was going to…Then there was this incredibly intense, weird light. It was so bright it blotted everything else out. And now I'm here…in your bed…was in your bed. Rupert—"

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "It's just—"

"Oh, God, you're crying," she exclaimed and took a step toward him.

He shook his head. "I lost you…you can't be here."

"Lost me?" Her eyes narrowed. "As in 'died' lost? I'm not dead, Rupert, and this isn't funny."

"You…you died, a year ago yesterday. And now you're here, where I found you…where he put you…after…"

Her eyes narrowed again. She was frightened and he was talking in riddles. "Yeah, right, I died. So…so what? Someone made a wish and now I'm a real, live girl?" she demanded sarcastically and was shocked to see all of the remaining colour drain from his face, leaving it almost blue.

"Oh my God…Angel…" His heart hammered against his chest. "Oh God, Jenny, it is you."

She forgot to be annoyed. He looked so bad she was worried he might pass out. She came to him, touched his damp, battered face with gentle fingers. "It's all right, Rupert. Whatever is happening to you, we'll find a way to stop it…"

He covered her fingers briefly with his own, shook his head and drew reluctantly away. She watched him pick up a crisp, unread copy of the London Times from his bedside table and hand it to her, his finger pointing to the date.

"Oh God," she said. "This isn't real. Oh, God…Rupert you didn't raise me, did you? Tell me you didn't—"

Giles shook his head. "You're warm, and real…and alive."

"But…how?"

Giles closed his eyes. "I'm not entirely certain. There…there was a chance for Angel and Buffy…for him to be mortal—alive again—using powerful, ancient magic. Angel failed, but I think…I think, somehow, it…brought you back to me."

She paled and stepped back. "Angel?" She held up her hands. "This…this is all too much," she said and turned away.

It hurt more than he believed possible.

"Jenny…"

The word was filled with despair, longing, need.

"I thought I would never see you again. I…" he swallowed the tremor in his voice, ignored the moisture crowding his eyes again. "…I buried you."

She turned back slowly, her dark eyes glistening with unshed tears, her hands trembling, her heart breaking for him.

"I'm scared, Rupert," she whispered.

Giles stepped towards her, moved to open his arms, and sobbed with exultation when she came to him. He crushed her to him, buried his face in her hair and wept. "Not anywhere near as terrified as I," he whispered as her arms tightened around him. "My God, I've missed you so much…"

Jenny trembled and pressed herself harder against him, holding him even tighter. She'd waited so long for him to forgive, to feel his arms around her again…but at what cost?

Giles groaned and reluctantly separated himself from her, his hands shifting to gently cup her face instead, his fingers in her hair.

Jenny looked up at him and smiled gently, reassuringly. She knew exactly why he'd moved.

"Hello, fuddy-duddy," she said softly, stroked his brow with unsteady fingers. "You've changed."

"I…I have?" he asked huskily, bringing his breathing back to a normal rhythm.

"A lot less 'fuddy' and way less 'duddy,'" she told him tenderly, her fingers playing with his hair. "It suits you."

Giles smiled, despite the jumbled tumult within. "I'm just older," he said self-consciously. "And rather battered at this juncture."

Jenny shook her head slightly within his hands. "You're different. The way you talk, the way you look…even the way you hold me."

His head tilted to one side.

"You're stronger, more solid…and more sure of your self," she told him, letting her hands trail across his chest and slide around him again.

He chuckled wryly, if not dryly. "I'm a jibbering, emotional wreck right now…how could you possibly…?"

Her dark eyes looked deep into his and revealed themselves honestly, openly for the first time.

"I know, because I love you more than I ever believed possible, so I remember everything about you, from the cute way you blush when you're teased, to the way you taste when you kiss me, even to how tiny your butt…used to be."

Giles immediately flushed crimson to the roots of his hair, then groaned again as her hands slid down his back and came to rest briefly on that portion of his anatomy. Then he was drawing her face to his, bending his head and covering her soft mouth with his, feeling her tremble in his hands as his lips told her what words could not.

And then she was kissing him back, matching fire with fire, need with need, and his arms were sliding around her, crushing her close again. Jenny arched against him, her fingers back in his hair, her lips playing games now with his.

Then, as though they both needed a moment of reassurance, they drew just far enough away for their eyes to find each other.

Jenny smiled, her face rosy, her eyes glowing. "I love you," she said softly, and watched his green eyes light up, their corners crinkling and his mouth turning up tenderly. She sighed. "I've wanted to do that all day…Rupert!"

The colour had drained from his face. The light in his eyes flickered and died and he was stepping back. "I can't," he said wretchedly. "I can't do this now…"

Confused and hurt, Jenny deliberately stepped toward him again and was slightly reassured to see he held his ground.

"Buffy?" she asked.

He shook his head. "No…oh, no. That will come, when she discovers the reason Angel was trying to find the Eye. It's just…" He dragged a hand over his face. "There is no 'all day' Jenny. It's mid-afternoon and I spent the greater part of last night and this morning in a cave in a rather bad way, whereas you—"

"Whereas I was supposedly dead," she filled in flatly. "Would you prefer it if I went back to being dead?" she snapped exasperatedly, then instantly regretted it when she saw his face crease in pain, the moisture that instantly blurred the gentle green eyes again.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I w—wouldn't hurt you for anything…and I do want you…more than I can say." He closed his eyes for a moment. "But there's so much you don't know…s—so much has happened…it's just not fair to you…"

"Damn it, Rupert," she cried, "taking this away from me now—after everything—is what's unfair. I never...for me at least, I never left. I don't give a damn about the rest of it. This scares me enough. Tell me tomorrow." She stepped up to him again, drew his head down to hers, the fingers of her other hand deliberately trailing from his jaw, down his torso to his thigh.

She felt the tremor that went through him then, felt his body respond to hers as the embers of their previous kiss rekindled, then burst into flame, their mouths merging, seeking, demanding, exulting in each other's desire. Until, bruises forgotten, he swept her off her feet, without lifting his head from hers, and carried her to his bed…


*******


Angel knocked on the door and waited.

Joyce Summers blinked when she opened it and stepped back unconsciously. "Angel," she said quietly. "I haven't seen you since—"

"Spike," he filled in. "Is Buffy home yet?"

She nodded and shot him a speaking glance. "She's very tired. She said she was up all last night…"

Angel shifted uncomfortably, aware of what she was thinking and annoyed by the triviality of it after everything that had happened.

"Well, yeah. With the Herrata Rising and everything, and trying to get the sword and the Eye from Rogue's Ridge, she was pretty busy, fighting invincible monster demons, helping save Giles from dying a painful death, smashing the Herrata's curse forever… just another routine night, really…"

Joyce made a 'not funny' face at him. "You're in no position to be a smart ass," she told him pointedly. "She's in the kitchen."

Buffy looked up from the vegetables she was chopping.

Angel was watching her, a wistful kind of hurt in his eyes.

"Angel…I was coming over after dinner to see if you were back—"

He shrugged, held up the cloak in his right hand. "We started back as soon as the sun actually started to set. It wasn't too bad, and only until I got right into the forest. A little smoke, a little singeing, nothing I can't live with." He smiled a little. "And Whistler was on hand to put me out."

She nodded. "The Herrata are definitely gone. The three we made a mess of: history. The fourth hasn't been seen since it cleared the local Starbucks in two minutes flat and ate several of the customers. Not a peep, so I guess we did it."

Angel looked away, swallowed the lump that rose in his throat. "Yeah, we did it. Saved the world again. Made everything right again," he said bitterly. "How's Giles?"

Buffy frowned but didn't pursue it. "He came around in the van. He seems to be fine. Really tired, but fine. We dropped him at home, then Oz and I did the reconnoitre thing. Why? Should I be worried?"

He shook his head. "No, I…he just went through a lot…I'm glad he's okay."

Buffy exhaled. "Then I guess the question is: are you okay? You look like somebody ate your grandmother."

"I'm fine," he said too quickly. "I should go. You're mother isn't too thrilled with me being here. I'll check in with Giles, make sure he's okay and maybe patrol a bit for you. Get a good night's sleep. You need it."

Buffy watched him go, all her senses pricking once again. If someone didn't tell her what was going on soon she was going to start breaking heads…two in particular.


*******


Angel tapped on the door and waited.

It opened a few moments later, revealing a smiling, if very bruised and battered, Giles in an open-necked, casual shirt and slacks, a loaf of French bread in one hand, bread-knife in the other. The smile vanished.

"Angel."

"Giles. I just wanted to make sure…to see if—to see if you were okay…"

"Yes…I'm fine," he said uncomfortably, slipped out the door and closed it behind him, met the other man's gaze again.

"I'm sorry about the Eye," he said softly. "Truly sorry. But there's something you have to know—"

The door opened behind them. "Rupert what are you doing out—?"

Jenny, dressed in an oversized Razorbacks shirt Cordelia had given Giles for Christmas, and which had never been out of the drawer, paled to the point of passing out, backed up and slammed the door.

Giles turned back to Angel, who was staring wonderingly at it.

"It worked…" he whispered.

Giles' eyes widened in surprise. "Angel?"

Angel swung back to him. "What? Oh…nothing."

"But you do know what happened?" the librarian prompted.

Angel shifted uncomfortably. "I—I didn't know how it worked. I thought I had to find the beast…to be there…And Buffy had to destroy the Eye. People were dying…" he offered reluctantly. "Giles, I really don't want—"

"Then you're saying it was an accident?" Giles interrupted, looking back at the door. "We have to work out what happened, but I have to make sure she's all right first. Come in, but stay back until I can explain."

The vampire followed even more reluctantly. Jenny wasn't downstairs when they went in. Angel went and stood by the fireplace while Giles left the bread on his desk and went upstairs.

She was in the farthest corner of his room, trembling. He went to her and drew her into his arms, held her as he spoke.

"I'm sorry," he soothed, and kissed her hair.

"He's pure evil," she managed. "I remember…he smashed my computer, burned his cure…he taunted me like a cat with a mouse. He chased me through the school like an animal. I was so terrified…and then I ran straight into him…" She seemed to stare into a nightmare for a moment. "He grabbed my head, as though he was going to…"

Giles closed his eyes and clenched his jaw. "I know." He'd read the police reports and the results of the autopsy. "But he's not Angelus any more. Willow and Buffy found the diskette. The curse worked."

Her trembling subsided. "Why is he here?"

"To check on me, I suspect. I almost died this morning…demon toxin…extremely nasty. He saved my life, in fact."

Jenny pushed herself away, her hands still shaking. "I don't understand you. He—You said he killed me…" She paused to recall all he'd said. "You said he brought me here…after. How can you calmly defend him? How can you let him near your home?"

"There is nothing 'calm' about it," Giles retorted. "However much I might have wanted to tear him apart, he is not Angelus…even though he might look like him…And one cannot make a man suffer the sins of another for the sake of his face. He lost his only chance—and Buffy's—to be free today, I suspect because he stayed with me, instead. I have to talk to him, Jenny…I have to find out what happened…how you came back to me."

"He's still here?"

Giles nodded silently then reached out and took her in his arms again, wrapped them around her. "He can't hurt you any more…and I'd kill him before he could, anyway. Nothing on this earth is ever going to take you away from me again, my love."

Jenny closed her eyes. "Nothing," she agreed, squeezed him hard, then stepped away. "But I'm still not going downstairs."

Giles looked past her to their mussed bed, his sombre face creasing into a half smile. Her eyes followed his gaze then came back to his, searching them curiously.

"Then I'll just have to come back upstairs when he's gone, so we can…discuss it," he told her wickedly, and was pleased to see the reluctantly amused smile he finally managed to draw from her.

"Try not to be too long," she drawled as he left, and made him laugh softly, despite the fragility in her voice.

Angel turned as Giles came downstairs again, his expression once again sombre.

"Is she—?"

"As well as could be expected, considering…"

Angel closed his eyes. "She remembers?"

"Up to a point," Giles said quietly. "Tell me what happened in the cave."

He sat down on the couch and told the whole story meticulously, ignoring Giles' periodic unease, to the moment Buffy demanded the stone. After that his account became stilted and sketchy.

"…And your hand grew very hot?"

"Very. I was angry, crazed with frustration. It seemed to pick that up and amplify it. Then Buffy took it and smashed it. People were dying…she had to."

The Watcher nodded. "Yes, I know," he said. "But I'm more interested in what happened before it was destroyed. What did you say—or think—directly before the gem was destroyed?"

Angel moved uneasily. "Mostly I was enraged, because I'd let her down again. Even if I hadn't let her destroy it, if I'd just taken it and gone, I couldn't have made it to town, to find the Herrata. It was daylight."

"And that's all? You thought of nothing else?"

Angel didn't answer. After a beat he looked away and sighed. Giles wasn't going to let it go. "The last thing I remember thinking before I gave it to Buffy was about..." He looked up at the stairs. "…About her. That I would have traded my life for it to have never happened…You'd been calling for her on and off for hours…"

Giles looked away, moved, and annoyed that he was. "And the stone?"

"It burned my hand." Angel opened his palm and showed Giles the circular scar still visible there, staring at it himself, as though trying to make a decision. Eventually his face reflected his resignation.

"At first I thought it was only the sword energising it…Buffy was waiting for me to give it to her. It burned like fire, then it went through me…like a wave of warm water… right through my body…and I knew—"

Giles got up and turned a restless circle. "Knew what?"

"That it was my chance…my only chance," Angel's gaze slid to the floor. "It spoke to me. Asked me what I wanted…Giles, I really don't want to have this conversation right now. I just wanted—"

But Giles had stopped moving and was staring at the younger man. "Then you had to make a choice...?"

But Angel didn't answer. The dark head remained bowed.

"Look at me, damn it!"

Angel looked up slowly, reluctantly, his dark eyes meeting the intent green ones almost fearfully, but he said nothing.

Giles searched the face that had haunted his nightmares for so long, until his eyes widened and he took a half step back.

"No…" he whispered hoarsely.

Angel stood up. "I have to go," he muttered, and turned for the door, but was stopped by a hand on his arm.

"Wait—"

He didn't turn.

Giles let go. "For God's sake why, man? Buffy—"

"Will be fine. Eventually. Let it go, Giles."

"But you could have been free. It isn't fair…not to Buffy; not to you—"

"No it's not," said an unexpected voice from the stairs.

Both men looked up.

Jenny descended the last few steps and stopped at the bottom, pale and trembling still.

"Things in this life rarely are. Look at the bright side. You're not exactly in any danger of any kind of contentment right now."

Giles took a step forward. "Jenny!"

She shrugged. "The bastard killed me. I was trying to give him back his soul and he killed me. I've lost a year of my life…we've lost a year," she told him, her dark eyes glittering with unshed tears.

Angel turned, and faced her. "I'm not asking for your forgiveness." His eyes flicked to Giles. "I've never asked for his. Giles, I have to go. Buffy's going to have to know… before she sees…" his glance flicked briefly to the computer teacher again.

Giles exhaled. "Yes, I know," he said quietly, "but I should be the one to tell her."

"No." There was no compromise in Angel's tone.

The librarian's head snapped up. "Why?"

"Because…" He looked up slowly at the frightened woman on the stairs. "Because I finally, in my screwed up existence, did something wholly and completely right. But there's a price…and I have to take responsibility for that. Your place is here. Buffy will handle it. She'll be okay. I'll make certain of it. I promise."

Giles stared at the door as it closed, then went and sat quietly on the sofa, his head in his hands.

Jenny came silently to his side, laid a hand on his hair, and closed her eyes when he turned, circled her waist with his arms and rested his head silently against her for several moments. Then he was standing and drawing her into his arms, kissing her hard.

When he lifted his head her cheeks were flushed, her eyes glowing and her lips parted as though waiting for him to do it again. Then she blinked and shook her head.

"I love you too," she said wryly. "What's wrong, Rupert?"

He let her go. "Everything. How…how much did you hear?"

She tilted her head to one side, still thinking about that last kiss. "Enough. Who'd have thought he had it in him…?"

"Don't…" Giles whispered.

Jenny's eyes grew deadly serious. "I don't want it to be him. I don't want to owe this to him…" She traced his jaw with loving fingers. "I don't want you to regret—"

He took the fingers in his hand, pulled her close again. "Never, never think that. Whatever happens, know that I can never regret us…Never."

His kiss this time was different: long and searching, his lips almost gentle in their caressing, their need of hers. And when, at length, he lifted his head she could see the truth burning in his eyes.

"Wasn't there something you wanted to say to me upstairs?" she reminded him playfully, watched him grin tenderly, then squealed when he swept her off her feet and carried her back up the stairs.


*******


Buffy looked up from her homework at the muffled sounds of movement outside her window, which was closed. She put down her pencil, opened her drawer and took Mister Pointy from its place of honour next to the old diary she'd never got around to finishing, the one she'd once thought Angel had read, in her room.

She was almost at the window itself when Angel loomed into view frightening three bells out of her. She threw the window up angrily causing it to rattle violently and leaned out.

"What in the hell do you think you're doing sneaking around like that when the place has a perfectly good door?"

Angel looked at her through hooded eyes. "Can I come in, or should I go away until you're in a better mood?"

"In," Buffy decided, and watched him climb through.

"I came over the roof to stay out of your mother's way. I don't think she likes me."

"No? You worked that out all by yourself?" she drawled, her eyes dancing. "But since you're here anyway, you can tell me what the hell is going on with you and Giles. All this cryptic crap is driving me nuts. If there are going to be secrets, the operative word should be 'secret'. Weird non-hints only make for a cranky Slayer," she muttered, fingering Mister Pointy a little too menacingly.

Angel stepped back. "Are you going to use that thing or put it away?"

Buffy looked down at her hand. "Oh." She dropped it back in the drawer and closed it.
"Well, give."

"Actually, that's what I came to talk to you about. Sit down."

"Please."

Angel made an exasperated face. "Sit down PLEASE."

Buffy sat on the bed and looked up expectantly.

He ran a hand through his hair mussing its spikiness even more. "I'm not sure how to begin…but you do understand the power of the Eye, right?"

"Right," she confirmed. "Super powerful. Powerful enough to win the mortal world back for the ookies if they got hold of it."

"The 'ookies'?"

Buffy shrugged. "The powers of darkness," she aped in her best Bela Lugosi voice.

Angel sighed. "Right. It gives the holder the power of the Herrata. They were both blessed and cursed with the most powerful magic ever. Cursed, because they could only exist for ten days every few hundred years and blessed because there was nothing they couldn't make happen, no request they couldn't grant…"

"Oh, like Aladdin's lamp for demons—" Buffy began facetiously, then stopped dead, all colour draining from her face. "And you wanted to get to it first why?"

But Angel could see that she'd worked it out long before she finished the question. He nodded. "I thought…" He took a deep breath, finding it difficult to contain the surge of disappointment and pain that re-living it had prompted. "I wanted us to have a real life…" He lifted his dark eyes to Buffy again, saw the hurt in hers.

"Why didn't you tell me? Why did you let me destroy it?"

"I tried…" He shook his head. "At first I didn't know how it worked. I thought I'd lost any chance because I couldn't get to the beast in broad daylight. And then when I was giving it to you, it spoke to me. It asked me what I wanted." He held out his burnt palm. "You don't wear it to use it, you hold it."

"So you told it you wanted to be with me…?" she prompted.

Angel looked away. "I…" he swallowed and shook his head.

"Then what did you ask it?" she asked, her voice trembling. "What was more important than a real future…a life for us?"

He drew a deep breath and looked up, met her distressed, demanding gaze with his steadfast brown one, held it.

"You tell me," he said softly.

Buffy frowned. "More of Giles' cryptic…." She went very still, her eyes widening and her colour draining away. She stood up and faced him. "Giles…? Then you…?"

He nodded.

"Is he…did you see him?"

Angel nodded again. "He—they're fine." He couldn't meet her gaze any longer, and dropped his eyes. "I'm sorry," he said softly.

She turned away for several moments, then she faced him again, her eyes very large and very bright. "You think I could be angry about what you did? God, of course it hurts knowing what we could have had, but what you did…" She closed her eyes for a moment, a drop of moisture escaping and sliding down a pale cheek. "He's been hurt so much…and now you've given him back the one thing…" She looked up at him again then, her face crumbling, joy and heartache colliding and tumbling around in the maelstrom of her thoughts.

He came to her then, drew her into his arms, held her while she wept. In his heart he knew that his choice had hurt her…more than she would ever admit, even to herself. He tightened the circle of his arms, as though they might protect her from the pain and when she eventually quieted, lowered his head so that his lips were near her ear.

"I will always love you," he whispered, "wherever you are, whatever happens to us, know that I will love you, forever." He kissed the top of her ear. "Literally…" he added, trying to make her laugh, because he didn't know what else to do. "Ow!"

"And I'll always love you," she retorted, sniffing, turned his arm behind his back and pushed him onto his face on the floor. "Even when you're annoying."

Angel half turned his face so that he could see hers, and was pleased to see the tenderness and amusement in it, despite the moisture and the blotchiness. Then he was cocking an ear.

"Ah, Buffy…"

"What?" she demanded and tightened her grip.

"Your mother's…"

There were two raps and the door flew open.

"…Coming."

*******


"…I spent the greater part of my life as Janna of the Kalderash people, Rupert. There's nothing to stop me from becoming Janna again. Jenny Calendar didn't exist until I came here, anyway. She can stay dead."

Giles sighed heavily and looked down at the fingers playing with the hair on his chest. "She'll never be dead to me, but if it's the only way… "

Jenny pushed herself up on one elbow and looked at him. "It is. I can't go back to teaching here, or use any of my—her connections. It would be just too complicated, whereas the world is full of look-a-likes. Janna can look like whomever she wants. I'll contact my people as soon as possible. They'll be able to help with the details…and they won't ask questions."

Giles turned on his side and ran his fingers up her thigh, beneath the covers. "Because they will assume you didn't die?"

She shook her head. "Because they don't ask questions," she replied, trying not to groan, and slid her own hand beneath the quilt.

A moment later he groaned and quivered, then pulled her into his arms and kissed her passionately.

Jenny raised a tousled head a few minutes later and grinned lop-sidedly. "This isn't going to get you breakfast in bed…" she pointed out, her hands once again conspicuously absent from view.

He kissed her again and rolled her on top of him. "This is breakfast in bed," he said with satisfaction and proceeded to demonstrate.


*******


"You wanna run that by me again?" Xander sat down hard on Willow's bed.

Oz stood up.

Willow blinked, then stared, her mouth hanging open.

"You heard me," Buffy said shortly. "Angel brought Jenny Calendar back. It had to do with the power of the Herrata and the Eye, which, turns out, was a kind of super wish thingy for demons. He did it for Giles."

"This…this doesn't happen…" Willow said disconnectedly. "It's not real."

"Will, you're a senior at Hellmouth High, remember?"

"She's alive, right? We're not talkin' zombies, here, right?" Xander was very pale and his hands not quite steady.

"No zombies. Angel says she's alive, and she's with Giles."

Willow finally smiled, though her eyes were glistening. "Good for Giles," she said softly.

Buffy looked at her sharply, then relaxed and nodded. "He deserves some happiness… hell, he deserves a ship-load of it…And now he's finally got a chance."

"This is so weird," Oz said, almost to himself, "but so cool."

Xander stood up suddenly. "I've gotta go…homework…forgot," he muttered and darted out of the room.

Buffy blinked. "Well, that went well, not."

Willow turned from watching him go. "He'll be okay, Buffy. Give him time. Xander doesn't do, well, y'know… especially not in front of other people, when he can possibly avoid it. It's like it's kinda frowned on in his family. The only time they get emotional is when they fight…which is probably why they fight…"

"Then…other than Xander you guys aren't too wigged by this whole thing?"

"Hellmouth Central, remember?" Oz said quietly. "Besides this is a 'good'. We don't get that many 'goods'."

"Good," Buffy said. "Because I'm wigged enough for all of us, Xander included."


*******


School never seemed more boring or pointless. The first free period Buffy had she went straight to the library to do some training. Willow had an advanced math class and Oz and Xander were foraging for food, Xander having missed breakfast entirely after waking up late for the second morning running.

Giles wasn't in sight when she burst through the double doors but she could hear the murmur of someone singing somewhere.

"Whoever that is, walk don't run!" His voice bellowed from the depths of the stacks.

Buffy smiled to herself and went to the weapons locker to choose an exercise for the day.

She returned with quarter-staffs, which they hadn't practised with in an age, because she was too good at it. Well, she'd take it easy on him today, bruises and all, but she needed to burn energy and quarter staffs seemed like a not-too-boring way to do it.

"Giles! Are you ever coming out of there?"

A few seconds later he emerged, a book in each hand, glasses hanging off his left thumb. "I should have known it was you," he said, then smiled. "Training? I thought you'd forgotten the meaning of the word."

But Buffy was too busy absorbing the smile to laugh at his joke. It wasn't just one of Giles' usual self-conscious half-smiles, it was a relaxed, beaming grin. It lit up his whole battered face, made his soft green eyes glow.

"Buffy?"

"Uh? Oh…yeah, training. I don't know why but these last couple of days…classes have been a total drag. Even the ones I like…"

He nodded, put down the books and his glasses. "Everything will seem like an anticlimax after our recent…er…adventure. I'll just find my pads—"

Buffy raised a hand. "Don't bother. I'm not going to hit you this time, I promise. I just want to practise. It's more fun sparring with you when you're vertical."

"Fair enough." He grinned again and removed his jacket and tie. The shirt was new, and so was the tie. And the pants, Buffy realised soon after. Giles' wardrobe was so limited that any change stood out. He looked good. Blue silk shirt, two-tone blue and grey tie, dark, expensively cut pants and belt. She was surprised how much younger it made him look, than the perennial tweed.

They sparred intensely for about thirty minutes. Buffy was surprised at how well he moved compared to the last time they fought with quarter-staffs. They were both enjoying themselves immensely when Buffy accidentally made contact with his ribs. She had incorrectly guessed his next move and now Giles' was paying for it, doubled up and breathing hard.

She was at his side in seconds, her hand on his arm. "Giles, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. Did I break anything?"

He shook his head, still trying to get his breath. "Be…all right…in…minute."

She helped him to his feet, then looked up. He was laughing. Laughing and grimacing in turn, because it hurt. But laughing nevertheless.

"What?" she asked, grinning in spite of herself. It was a full-bodied laugh and it was infectious.

"I'm not entirely sure," he said, sobering slightly, but still smiling. "Something to do with remembering the last time we did this and how ridiculous I must have looked."

Buffy smiled back. "You're buzzing today. You didn't happen to go a few rounds with a 'happy' demon did you?" He coloured adorably, Buffy thought.

He took her staff and put it together with his, and started toward the weapons locker.
"Happy, yes. Demon, no," he said easily. "When is your next class?"

Buffy's eyes, which had been giving him a 'wise guy' look, widened. "Time?" she demanded.

"Eleven forty."

"Ten minutes ago," she wailed, raced through the library and crashed through the swinging doors.

Giles watched, bemused, closed his eyes as his doors swung wildly, then grinned and shook his head, and went back to work.

* * * * *

Jenny looked up from the portable computer Rupert had borrowed from Willow for her to use. The waiting for him to get home from the school had been interminable, just as it had the day before, and the day before that, and now there was someone at the door. She smiled to herself. If she were really lucky it would be Rupert, without his key.

It wasn't.

She stood, open-mouthed, in the doorway staring at the two people looking back at her. The woman was tall and straight, dressed in black, her blue-grey hair swept up on her head and her aged face bore eyes of such infinite depth it was impossible to tell if they were black or brown. The man wore a peacock blue shirt with a string tie, beneath a black, continental three piece suit, his raven black hair shining and his deep blue eyes regarding her with a combination of admiration and contempt.

"Why are you here?"

"Because you are here." They stepped into the apartment without waiting to be asked.

Jenny reluctantly closed the door behind them and followed them to the sofa.

"What do you want? I asked for help, not a welcoming committee," she snapped nervously.

"What you want is irrelevant," said the old woman as she sat down.

A cold chill went down Jenny's spine. "I've done everything that was ever asked of me, including dying, for the honour of our people. What more do you want from me?"

The old one fixed her with dark, bottomless eyes. "Atonement."

"No!" Jenny cried, alarmed. "I haven't done anything—"

The young man, little older than she, fixed her with an azure stare. "What you have done to our people is beyond measure," he intoned darkly.

"Sascha…" The older woman warned softly. He subsided.

"Before your death, Janna, you failed in your duty to your people. You betrayed the most sacred of trusts…And you placed the needs of outsiders first…you even consorted with one of them."

"What I choose to do, and who I choose to be with in my own time is none of your damn business!" she shouted.

The older woman almost seemed to grow before her eyes. "Silence!"

Jenny quailed. When Zara of the Kalderash people was angry all Romany was angry.

"You have violated a trust, Janna. Not only did your uncle and many innocents perish because you failed to prevent this animal from being freed, you violated the most sacred trust of your people by reconstructing the curse…allowing its power to fall into the hands of outsiders…allowing Angelus to be saved…again."

Sascha sat forward. "His evil was such that your failure almost resulted in the destruction of the entire mortal realm at his hands. If not for you he would still be burning in hell…"

The old woman continued to stare at her fixedly. "Were it not for the courage of the young Slayer all would have been lost…all because you placed individual loyalties above the needs of your people, above your own blood…"

Jenny's dark eyes narrowed again. "The only need my people had of me was as a tool for blind vengeance. You told me nothing! Don't you dare try to legitimise a…a pathological obsession through Buffy and what she was forced to do. There is more courage and honour in that child than in all Romany!" she cried angrily, still raw from the horror of Rupert's recounting of the events that lead up to Angelus' demise and Angel's resurrection.

Zara finally blinked. "And so should it be," she said, unruffled. "She is the Chosen One. Her courage, her truth, is not in question. Yours, however, is. You will face your people, Janna. You will speak. And you will make Atonement. We will not help you to stay here and hide."

Jenny looked away, blinking back the tears that pricked her eyes. The sound of that metaphoric steel door slamming shut reverberated to her very core.

"Why? Why must I go back? Why must there always be more? I died. Isn't that enough?"

The old woman closed her eyes. "Your life has been restored. There is no honour now in your death."

"I died trying to restore Angel's soul…to restore the curse…how can you say that?"

"Because it is the truth. What you did, you did for pity…for love, not for your own people. The curse is a punishment…retribution…not a cure. A cure!" The woman almost spat. "And now Angelus walks among the living again, among friends, almost as one of them…This is not vengeance!"

Jenny dragged a hand through her hair. "Vengeance, vengeance. I'm so sick of that word...!"

Zara rose, her companion following suit. "You will be ready tomorrow morning. Arrangements have been made." She looked around the room. "If you care at all for this one, you will not defy us."

"You're threatening Rupert?"

The old woman shook her head and turned for the door. "You are."

Jenny opened the door numbly and received another shock. Buffy was standing on the porch.

Zara and her companion left with without a word and without turning back, moving past the smaller girl as though she wasn't even there.

"A—Are you okay?" Buffy asked hesitantly. The older woman looked as though she was going to pass out.

Jenny shook her head. "Hello Buffy," she said quietly, and made an effort to smile. "Long time no see."

Buffy swallowed, made just as big an effort to smile back. "I wanted…can we go inside?"

They stopped by Giles' desk, and Buffy began again. "I wanted to see you alone. I—I know we had some problems before…big problems…but I wanted you to know, I don't blame you for what happened…now."

Jenny stood very still, her brow furrowing. "But you…"

Buffy dropped her eyes for a moment. "I know. I blamed you for everything." She looked up. "You should have told me…you should have told him," she said quietly. "But…A lot has happened… and I know now things do happen…things you can't control, things you can't predict. You do what you believe is right, and you live with the consequences."

Jenny turned away. The changes in Buffy were almost painful. She was no longer the child she remembered. There was a depth of cynical weariness and real pain in those eyes, that voice that should never have been in one so young.

"Buffy, you never let me say it before…but I am sorry…sorry about all of it. If I had known exactly what it meant…if I'd known my people were less interested in justice than in satisfying some…some congenital obsession with vengeance, I would have confided in Rupert from the beginning."

"I know," Buffy said softly, believing it, perhaps for the first time. "Who were those people? They looked like—"

"Gypsies. They were."

Buffy looked up when Jenny didn't say more. There was a lost, miserable look on her face.

"What?"

"They want me to go away with them."

The girl's eyes widened. "No…you can't. You can't leave, not again!" she cried. "I won't let you hurt him again."

Jenny closed her eyes and made a noise in her throat. "I don't want to hurt him. I don't want to go…but I don't have a choice."

"You don't understand. You don't know how it was for him…when you died, what Angel did to him. You weren't there…you didn't see how much he missed you, how much he needed you. He doesn't deserve that much pain…nobody does."

Jenny opened her eyes again, blinked tears from them. "Don't you think I know that? I love him so much…I don't want to hurt him…but I don't have a choice."

"What do you mean you don't have a choice? This is the nineties. You need me to fight someone? I'll fight all of them for him…for both of you."

The older woman shook her head. "I wish it was that easy, but you can't fight history, tradition…blood. They can and will hurt Rupert if I stay."

"Not if I have anything to do with it," Buffy said angrily.

"There are a lot of ways to hurt someone, Buffy. Ways that you can't fight with stakes and crossbows."

"So you're just going to go? You're going to leave him alone, and hurting…again?"

Jenny dragged a hand across her eyes. "You really love him, don't you?" she said gently.

Buffy stared back at her. It was something she'd never consciously thought about before, never had to. And now that she did, the realisation that he was one of the most important things in her life…one of the most loved…came as no surprise at all.

"Too much to let anyone hurt him like that again."

"Hurt whom?"

Neither of them had heard the key in the door.

Giles looked from one to the other, the looks of surprise and what…guilt?…on both their faces almost comic.

"We were just talking," Buffy said too quickly.

Giles' eyes narrowed.

"Talking," Jenny agreed. "We've come to terms with a lot of things," she rushed on. "We understand each other a lot better."

Giles sat down on his desk chair and folded his arms. "When the pair of you are ready to tell me what's going on—and it's obvious something is wrong—let me know, won't you."

Jenny and Buffy looked at each other, and knew they were lost.

Jenny faced him. "I had some visitors today."

Giles straightened in his chair. Her expression was enough to set off alarm bells. "Who?"

"Family. They aren't going to help me, Rupert."

"What exactly do they want? They wouldn't come all the way here just to tell you that unless—"

Jenny wasn't looking at him any more.

Buffy looked from one to the other. "They want to take her away," she said sombrely.

"Away? They can't…I won't let—"

Jenny turned miserable eyes to his. "Rupert…"

He looked away and Buffy could see his chest rising and falling way too fast. "They can't have you," he said with quiet vehemence. "I won't let them."

Buffy touched Jenny's arm and indicated the door. And then was gone almost as swiftly and silently as Angel.

"Rupert," Jenny said softly, going to him and laying a comforting hand against his cheek. "This isn't demons and vampires. We can't fight them."

Giles turned the chair. "We can and we will. Jenny, I can't lose you again." He looked up at her with haunted eyes. "I won't."


*******


"I'm really worried about Giles. We have to find a way to get these creeps off Jenny's back…"

Buffy and Xander pushed the library doors open, Willow close behind with an arm full of library books.

"Where is he?" Xander asked, looking around. There were a couple of kids in the fiction section, but no sign of Giles.

"In the stacks, I guess," Buffy offered. "You check, and I'll go look in the office."

Willow, who'd started doing the returns on her own books, looked up. "He's probably on a tea break."

They all ended up in the office.

"He's not here. Giles is never not here. Remember when he had that really bad cold last fall? He still came to school."

Buffy made a face. "Yeah, it was gross. He must've gone through like ten boxes of tissues and the place smelled like nasal spray for days."

"What are you children doing in here?"

They turned.

"Miss Murray? We…ah…we're waiting for Mister Giles," Xander stammered.

"Mister Giles didn't come in today. You must all have better places to be, unless you need books, in which case you'd better go and find them. I'm keeping an eye on the library between my classes, so there'll be no loitering, particularly in teachers' offices."

Buffy shifted agitatedly. "Did Gil…I mean did Mister Giles call in sick? Did he say how long he's going to be away?"

Miss Murray folded her arms. "Personal information about the faculty is not for dissemination to students. Now don't you all have to be somewhere?"

"Don't you all have to be somewhere?" Xander mimicked as they strode up the corridor.

"Somewhere, all right," Buffy said ominously. "Giles' place. Now."

"But…classes," Willow yelped without thinking.

"Not you guys. Just me," Buffy qualified and strode ahead of them. "God forbid you should miss a minute of Mister Beach's weekly trigonometry extravaganza. I mean what's the possibility of Giles being in trouble compared to that kind of fun?"

"That was harsh," Willow complained. "Giles is more important than classes. She knows I care about Giles. I just..."

"She's scared. You'll live. C'mon, she's already got a head start on us."

Buffy ran all the way to Giles' apartment and pounded on the door when she got there. There was no answer. She tried opening it. It wasn't locked.

Everything was still, but one of the lamps was on the floor and some books, and two of the stools were knocked over. Buffy went upstairs just in case but it was deserted too. She was halfway down again when she heard a faint noise in the kitchenette.

Giles was lying on the floor, barely conscious.

Buffy dropped to her knees and slid up to him. "Giles!" There was a new, dark bruise over his left temple, another on his jaw, a fresh cut on his top lip, and he was very pale.

He opened his eyes slowly, wincing with pain. "Buffy…?" Then his eyes suddenly widened, the colour flooding into his cheeks. "Jenny!" He struggled desperately to get up.

Buffy put her hands on his shoulders to stop him. "She's not here, Giles. What happened?"

He sat down, holding his ribs and staring at her with desolate, disbelieving eyes. "She's gone. They came…I tried…I tried to stop them."

She let go and sat back on her haunches. "They didn't hurt her?" she asked softly, trying to ignore the moisture glistening in his eyes.

He shook his head. "The old woman…she did something with her eyes, said something, I don't remember what…it made Jenny compliant. And when I tried to stop them from leaving the young man set upon me."

"It looks like he hit you with a two-by-four…several times."

He sighed. "Martial arts. Aikido, I think."

"Then we go after them. Airports, train stations, bus depots—they won't hurt her, will they?"

Giles shook his head and looked away. "It's no good," he whispered hoarsely. "You won't find them now. They wouldn't risk public transport. I've lost her…again."

Buffy saw a drop of moisture fall from his chin and clamped her mouth into a hard line to stop her lip from trembling, trying not to make it any harder for him.

…Until he made the smallest of noises and lowered his head, his shoulders trembling in spite of his struggle to maintain control. It was more than she could bear.

"No…" she half whispered, half sobbed and put her arms around them, holding him fiercely. At first he neither resisted nor moved. Then, at the sound of her quiet weeping, he choked and drew an arm around her.

Moments later Willow and Xander quietly looked into the kitchenette, unnoticed, investigating the barely audible, but heart-rending sounds coming from it.

"No…" Willow mouthed, and burst into silent tears, grabbed Xander's sleeve and pulled him away.

Once they were outside a frustrated Xander ripped his arm from her grip and rounded on her, only to stop abruptly when he saw her face.

"Would you mind telling me what's going on? I thought we were supposed to be helping?"

She looked at him with haunted eyes. "Xander, shut up."

"Shut up?"

"Yeah. Shut up. Don't you get it? Jenny's gone," Willow said tremulously. "We're too late. Buffy was too late. Again."

Xander opened his mouth to speak, closed it again, his dark eyes glistening in the bright light, tried once more to speak, turned and ran.

She closed her eyes and leaned against the porch wall. A moment later she opened them again. She knew what she was going to do. It was probably a dead end, but this time there weren't even any other roads…


*******


Willow knocked on the big doors.

"It's open," a muffled voice called from somewhere inside. She let herself in cautiously.

"Angel?"

Willow jumped nervously when he emerged wearing only dark jeans. Even his feet were bare.

"Willow?" He looked more closely at her and crossed the floor fast. "Willow, what's wrong?"

She turned her reddened eyes up to his. "They took Jenny. Buffy is with Giles."

"Who? Who took her?"

"The Gypsies…her people."

Angel dragged a hand through his hair. "Don't they ever let go…?"

"I know you know them. I…I thought you might know what to do," she said timidly. Then a little warmth came into her eyes. "What you did…thank you," she added softly.

An answering warmth lit his eyes momentarily, then his expression sobered again.

"I know them. But it's been a long time. I'll take you back, and we'll talk to Buffy…and Giles if he's up to it. There has to be something we can do."

"Then you think we can find her? Buffy said she was afraid, like if they took her we'd never see her again."        

Angel's face set. "I won't lie to you," he said softly. "The odds aren't good. In fact they're microscopic. They're different, the Kalderash people. I didn't know how different until I messed with them. Only they could have found that lost curse and made it work. Only the Kalderash witch, Azzara, had that kind of power. I thought they'd leave Jenny alone, that her death would have been atonement enough for what happened. I should have known. Even for Gypsies they're relentless…obsessive."

"But…but they won't hurt her?"

Angel shook his head definitively. "She's one of their own, a daughter of the clan. They want their pound of—metaphoric—flesh. They want the drama, the histrionics, of making her face the elders, and then the penance. The hurt will be to the spirit. She'll be tied to them for years, atoning for imagined sins. And she'll do it, because she's one of them…and for Giles.

Willow's eyes went like saucers. "They'd threaten Giles? They wouldn't—"

Angel looked at her with eyes so black Willow couldn't tell if it was rage or pain.

"Yes, they would…"

They arrived at Giles' apartment less than an hour later. Willow made a resolution never to set foot near another sewer…at least not unless it was absolutely necessary…

Angel's cloak-covered back was smoking like a Sunday barbecue as he rattled the knocker.

Buffy answered the door. Her face was devoid of make-up, her hair damp and flattened, as though she'd scrubbed her face under a tap. She let them in silently and took Angel's cloak when he shrugged it off.

Giles was sitting on the sofa staring at the cup of tea in his hand. The table in front of him was covered in books, papers, Willow's computer and a hoard of diskettes. He looked up when they approached.

"Oh…hello. The kettle's boiled," he said detachedly. Willow sat alongside him and Angel sat in the chair, Buffy settling on the arm of it, close to his shoulder, as though just being near him might give her strength.

Willow watched Giles lift the cup unsteadily to his lips. He grimaced as he swallowed then took it away again, his hand not terribly steady.

"We wanna help," she said softly. "Angel knows more about Jenny's people than any of us."

He closed his eyes. "Angel, if you have any information that will take me to her…anything that will help me get her back—" he said, his voice vibrating with the effort to control his emotions. "I have to get her back…"

Angel shook his head slowly. "It's been almost a hundred years. I was hoping…together …research," he said softly.

Giles laughed bitterly. Willow's hand instinctively went to his sleeve and rested there as he spoke to the vampire.

"Research?" He indicated the table. "I have all of Jenny's books, the back-up disks from all of her work, her research, her on-line activities. Even she had next to no recorded information about her own people."

"Do you know who they were, the ones who came for her?" Angel asked, not knowing what else to say.

"Only the woman. Jenny called her Zara."

Angel sat back in his chair. Buffy looked at him curiously. "Angel?"

"The Kalderash witch…the one who curse me…her name was Azzara."

"But…but Gypsies, even witches, aren't immortal," Giles objected.

"It's too much of a coincidence," Angel insisted. "Okay, maybe not the same person, but a descendent at least…a relative? And more importantly…another witch?"

"She was old," Buffy said thoughtfully. "Way old. Spooky old."

"Is it possible?" Giles asked hoarsely. "Her eyes…they weren't…they didn't seem human."

Angel sat forward again, his hands folding and unfolding agitatedly. "Anything is possible with witches, especially powerful ones, but if it was her…I'll go underground, ask around…if she's not mortal someone will know."

Giles' back had straightened. Willow could feel his pulse beneath the forearm her hand was resting on, and it was racing. She frowned. He was getting his hopes up, and all her senses warned her that was a bad thing.

"Giles…" she said quietly, her voice echoing with foreboding.

He turned to her and looked down at her worried face, put his other hand over hers. "What's wrong?" he asked gently, forgetting his own problems for a moment.

"I have a bad feeling about this. Don't…I mean…" Tears rose in her eyes from the strain of trying to feel her way, trying not to hurt him. "Don't get your hopes up until we know more. I know I'm just a kid but…."

Buffy slid off the arm of the chair and went to sit alongside her.

"Will," she said gently, "None of us have been kids for a long time. Giles knows that. What's bugging you?"

She closed her eyes. "Everything. It's a feeling…not something I can put a finger on. Deep inside me I can feel…wrongness…like everything about this is wrong."

"But you don't know what exactly? You're sure it's not a reaction to everything that's happened…?" Buffy's voice trailed off.

Willow's hand unconsciously tightened on Giles' arm. She shook her head. "No…no. This is different…like I can feel this energy. Especially here…bad energy."

Giles looked at Angel. "Is it possible they weren't really Gypsies? That they used a…a spell, or hypnosis or something to convince Jenny?"

Angel shrugged. "I can't know that until I ask around. I didn't see them, hear them… even smell them."

"Myrrh!" Giles exclaimed. "I didn't even think at the time…but it's been plaguing me since Jenny first said they'd been here…faint traces of myrrh. First yesterday, then this morning."

"Myrrh…As in frankincense and myrrh? You know what myrrh smells like? Giles, are you holding out on me?" Buffy demanded, half-seriously.

A gleam flickered in Giles' eyes in spite of himself. He knew what Buffy was up to, but it wasn't going to work.

"No…despite your insinuations about my great age, I wasn't at the nativity," he parried obligingly. "It's requisite training for all Watchers to be able to identify any herb or other ingredient used in spells. I happen to dislike myrrh intensely, which makes it easy to remember."

Angel frowned. "That might help, or it might be nothing. I can't guarantee anything, but it's unusual enough to be useful." He swallowed and looked the older man in the eye. "Giles, I'm sorry. I never meant—"

Giles raised a hand. "I know," he said. "But you had no way to know this would happen."

Angel looked away. "Don't. This is as much my fault as…" He closed his eyes. "…As it was the last time. They're doing this because of me. If I live to be a thousand years old without changing again, the Kalderash clan will still be trying to make me pay for my existence."

He stood up suddenly, snatched the cloak off the desk Buffy had left it on and was gone before anyone could speak.


*******


"No. Nobody goes up against Azzara, and that's final."

"But if you know where they are?" Angel demanded.

Whistler threw his hands in the air. "How many times do I have to repeat myself? It's over…finis. You ain't gonna get her back from them. By now they'll have her believing she never left, that her place is with her people. It'll be like she was never here."

Angel's face screwed up. "What? They can wipe people's memories? Since when?"

Whistler shook his head. "No, no…not wipe their memories…just stop them from remembering anything awkward…" He brightened suddenly. "You know that might be the answer: a spell to take away the Watcher's memories of your wish…unless of course you want to leave the poor bastard suffering again?"

Angel made a sound halfway between a roar and a wail, swung around in hunting mode and knocked the little demon to the floor. He got up holding his bleeding mouth.

"You had no call to do that. If you want me to go you should say so," he said, but the look his eyes was knowing.

"I have to find her," Angel hissed, ignoring him.

Whistler shook his head. "I could take you there, now…well, it'd take a couple of days, but the point is they're still in-country. Thing is, it wouldn't make a damn's worth of difference. Azzara won't be there unless she wants to be...which if she did would be very bad for us anyway…and the odds are Jenny Calendar don't exist no more. And Janna won't go with you."

"But…there has to be some way to counter Azzara's magic? To cure Jenny?"

Whistler tilted his head to one side. In spite of his throbbing mouth he was moved by Angel's desperation and frustrated that he had no answers.

"This is the witch who gave you a heart and a soul, remember? The only one who ever managed to do that to a vampire. Where are you going to find a force that strong to counter her power?"

"Willow?" Angel offered desperately.

"And she'd do it too…but the kid would get eaten for breakfast, and you know it."

Angel wheeled in frustration. "Giles…Giles knows magic…he could do it…or at least work with Willow."

"You're not listening," Whistler said softly, pity gentling his tone. "The two of them together couldn't stop Azzara from blowing her nose, let alone counter one of her spells. She's been around longer than the Gypsies have…at least the non-human part of her has."

Angel reverted to his human face. "Immortal? Demon?"

"Worse…think bigger."

"No…" There was only one other answer. "The First? It can't be…"

"Direct line," Whistler confirmed. "Why do you think the Kalderash are all whackos? Except of course, for this Janna, who not only got away from them early, but became a regular person…became this Jenny Caldendar with the life, the education, the career… people who loved her for herself."

Angel closed his eyes. "And now?"

He turned away. "The truth? Azzara wants those people to keep feeding on their hate…keep looking back, to the past. She couldn't afford to bring the future into their midst, to risk showing them what they could be. That's why I don't think you'll see Jenny Calendar again, even if you find Janna. "

Angel's face screwed up for a moment, then he focused on Whistler again. "Are you saying that it's me? That the First has been trying to recruit me all this time? That it may have manipulated me before?"

Whistler shrugged. "You're the one who picked that intellectually absent Gypsy princess. You tell me."

Angel put his head back. "God, I was so stupid."

"Hey, you were Angelus. Stupid was in there. Giving you a soul, that was the interesting part. The First went along with the clan's chosen punishment, thinking if you suffered for long enough you'd be beggin' to be Angelus again, just to stop feeling, no matter whose ass you'd have to kiss to get there. Then hey presto: Angelus, agent for Evil inc. It's a good thing it didn't know what a prodigious talent you turned out to have for brooding. Which also happened to be where I…" he looked up at the ceiling, "…we came in…"

"Then you're saying I can't make it right?"

Whistler sighed. "And here we are back at my original suggestion once again."

"But if I take away his memories of this time with her—"

"Then he's back where he was…healing, slowly. If you don't…he's in a worse place than he was a year ago, with a long way to go to climb out of it. And the others too…"

"How?"

"You have to do it. You brought her back, so you have to be the one who erases her again."

"But I don't have the—"

"Will you stop dithering like an old woman? I'm telling you that you can do it. Doesn't that tell you anything?"

Angel looked up, angry. "Yeah, it tells me you know way too much for a tiny, obnoxious demon."

"Again with the insults. I know what I know. I wasn't sent here for my pretty face, you know. And if you want my help you better start being nice. You want to ease your friends' pain, shut up and…"

"No," Angel retorted. "I know how much he loved—loves her…I know what it is to love like that. If it was Buffy I wouldn't want to lose even a single moment…no matter how much it hurt."


*******


Buffy came into the library with heavy feet, barely disturbing the big doors as she passed through them. By mutual agreement that morning, the guys had elected her to check on Giles at lunch, figuring the less fuss the better, and she'd agreed.

The place was deserted, neat as a pin and silent. She went through to his office and surprised him bent over an open book, his right hand on the back of his neck and his left holding something…a black cord hanging from his fingers.

"Hi," she said gently.

He turned quickly, dropping his left hand to his side. "Oh…hello, Buffy. What can I do for you?"

She shook her head. "Just a social visit…unless you've still got some of those English cookies—"

"Biscuits," he corrected absently. "Scottish shortbread. I think there's one or two left in the tin. Feel free."

"What are you reading?" she asked over her shoulder, turning on the kettle and looking for the tin.

"I had a couple more of Jenny's books in my filing cabinet…one in particular. The last thing she gave me, before…" He clenched his left fist. "I'd forgotten about it."

"Anything good in it?"

"Not yet," he said tightly.

Buffy returned with the tin and a mug of tea for him. "Patrol with me tonight? It's been a while."

He looked up at her fondly. "If you like."

"Cool," she smiled, and demolished one of the rich cookies. "I haven't been over to Blue Sky or Heaven's Rest in weeks. I thought we might check them out. You bring the tea and biscuits and I'll bring the weapons."

"Done," he agreed. "In fact, Heaven's Rest cemetery is quite close to Call's Beach. Isn't there a fire demon nest there?"

"One of several," Buffy agreed. "But let's not make work for ourselves. They've been quiet lately…why stir them up?"

Giles finished his tea and turned back to the book, absently resting his left hand on the desk and fingering the object in it. "Won't hurt to check."

"Okay," Buffy acquiesced, staring at the black cord with its rough-cut, rose quartz stone. "No harm in checking. See you tonight."

She made her way out of the library swiftly, swallowing hard and blinking back the tears she'd barely managed to hold back moments before. She'd seen that necklace before… when Willow had asked her advice about giving it to him.

Willow, Oz and Xander were still eating lunch when she reached the cafeteria. One look at her face and they refrained from asking questions.

"He's okay. Research mode again. He said he found some more books," she told them, sliding onto a chair. "I asked him to patrol with me tonight. It'll take his mind off things for a while."

"Good thinking," Willow agreed. "And you can bring him back to the library after. I've got a list of URLs to go through. They all have something to do with Gypsies and/or mysticism. We'll make it a real research party. Xander can get donuts and I'll bring some of that tea Giles really likes."

"The Orange something or the Lhap-something?" Buffy asked absently.

Willow giggled. "Buffy's actually starting to remember tea. It must be osmosis or something. He likes those, but I meant the one I brought last time…he had six cups."

"Will, we were up 'til four in the morning," Xander reminded her.

"I don't remember that one," Buffy mused.

"That's because it's just tea. Not tea bags. It doesn't have a fancy name. I can't remember the brand, except that it's supposed to be, you know, the best, and its grown in Sri Lanka or somewhere. My mom got it in one of those gift baskets…from her work, you know, with the coffee, the tea, teeny jelly jars and cookies and stuff, for her birthday."

Xander finished his spaghetti and looked at them as though they were nuts. "Why are we spending what little is left of our lunch period discussing TEA?"

Buffy and Willow looked at each other. "Because it's better than the alternative," Buffy said sombrely.


*******


Willow fed her new fish before turning to her computer. She'd missed it while it was away, but she'd have given anything not to have it back yet…

There wasn't much to clear off it, a couple of programs Jenny had installed to run files from her back-up diskettes, some stuff in her browser cache, but very little else. It didn't take long. Which was good. She wanted to get to the library, and get started on what was going to be a long, tedious net search.

She went on-line and collected her email. A hundred and fifty messages. She smiled. A couple of the lists she was on had been busy. A quick scan revealed only a dozen or so personal e-mails. The smile became a frown and she clicked on an unidentifiable one about half way down the list, hoping it wasn't another spam, or nuisance mail.

It was neither. As she read, her mouth fell open and her eyes widened. Her hand trembled as she clicked the mouse to scroll down and continued to read. When she was done she sat for a beat, swallowed and pushed her hair back off her face.

Then she was racing to her phone. There was no answer at Giles' apartment. Buffy's mother didn't know when Buffy would be back either…they were still out patrolling. She swore under her breath and pulled her address book from the side table. She didn't even know if the number would still work. Buffy had given it to her for emergencies three years earlier, in a different time…a different world: the only contact number they'd ever had for Angel. It was disconnected. She made a frustrated noise. Oz wouldn't be finished at the Bronze until about two in the morning…and there was Xander…but what could they do anyway…?

She sat for a moment, then picked up the phone and dialled Xander's number.

The night air was damp and cold. There was a noticeable breeze blowing off the ocean, noticeable enough to detect the tang of sea air in it as she and Xander slipped away from her house.

"Are you sure you want to go up there at this time of the night?" he asked. "I mean…this is important, right?"

Willow nodded, her red hair glinting in the glow of the streetlight they were passing under, then looked up at him. "I'm glad you came," she said softly.

He held her gaze and nodded self-consciously. "About before, I—"

She touched his arm. "I know. It's okay."

He shook his head. "Thanks. But no, it's not. I knew what was going on the same as you, but my mouth just shot itself off, like it always does." He wrapped his arms around himself as the breeze strengthened. "Do you think it could get any colder?" he added sarcastically.

Despite the worry, she giggled, snug in her fur-lined anorak. "There it goes again," she pointed out, and he finally laughed too.

The mansion looked spooky and dark as they climbed up to the entrance and found their way to the stairs that led down to Angel's living chambers.

Willow looked around doubtfully. There wasn't any light visible.

"Maybe he's not here either?"

"It's night…maybe he was hungry."

She scowled. "That wasn't funny."

"Sorry."

They stopped at the double doors and Xander knocked.

"Angel?" Willow called. There was no answer. They looked at each other.

"He must be out. Maybe he's helping Buffy too," she said dejectedly. "I'm going to leave a message…" She paused for a moment. "Funny, I can smell wood burning."

Xander sniffed. "Me too."

Willow tried the doors. They still weren't locked. Angel had a healthy fire going in his fireplace. The two of them made a bee-line for it and pulled up short when they were close enough to see the figure stretched out on the couch.

Angel was asleep, a book open on his grey-shirted chest, jacket on the floor, empty glass standing on the wooden frame of the sofa.

"I didn't think they ever slept," Xander whispered. "If you try to wake him, will he bite?"

Willow elbowed him in the ribs, then went to Angel's side and touched his shoulder.

He roused immediately. "Willow?" He sat up, blinking. "Xander? Something's wrong?"

"Are you okay?" she asked, momentarily diverted by the weariness in his face, the dark circles under his eyes.

He nodded. "I've been busy. I must've dozed off…I haven't slept since…" He frowned. "It doesn't matter. What's wrong?"

"Willow found something on her computer," Xander said, extraordinarily annoyed that her hand was still on Angel's shoulder. Then he frowned at his own childishness as she sat down alongside the big vampire and handed him the print-out of the message. She was as pale as Angel was.

He read carefully, his expression growing very grim. "Do we know where was it sent from exactly?

Willow frowned. "Geographically? I don't know. She used an on-line email account. It would take some time but given long enough I could probably hack into it and find out. It's… not legal, but it is do-able."

Angel nodded his head. "If this message is legitimate and it's true she's in hiding it may be the only chance we'll have of finding her. The important thing is that whatever Azzara did to her, she didn't take away her memory."

"I can't believe she escaped," Willow said softly. "The people who helped her…I thought Gypsies always stuck together?"

Angel nodded again. "They always have. It's part of the code, but you knew her…know her…she's a different generation, a different breed. The ones who helped her, who want to fight Azzara, they're probably her peers, people her age, her generation."

"Makes sense," Xander agreed. "But what do we do? We could be putting her and her whole group in danger by trying to find her, and she says in the message that she feels she has to stay and fight. Do we tell Giles?"

"How can we not?" Willow said softly. "He at least has to know that she's okay and that she's still Jenny."

Angel stared at the sheet of paper. "He has to be told." He looked up at both of them. "He also has to be told what Azzara really is and just how big a battle these people may be taking on."

"We're not going to like this part, are we?" Xander asked tensely.

"Whistler says Azzara is touched by the First Evil."

Willow stood up and faced Angel. "You mean that thing Buffy fought last Christmas? She said it was trying to make you…you know, bad...but I thought it was, well, destroyed?"

Angel shook his head. "Buffy took out the three Bringers it used to focus its powers here, but you can't kill something that isn't alive. It needs agents, familiars, to focus its energy in this dimension, but it's still there."

"But it can be fought…you and Buffy proved that," Xander persisted.

He nodded. "That was different. Neither of us are exactly ordinary people and they weren't exactly ordinary circumstances. These people, Jenny and the others, are putting themselves in grave danger. Just keeping themselves concealed from Azzara is going to be almost impossible."

"She's not coming back is she?" Willow said hollowly.

Xander looked away.

Angel swallowed and looked down at the floor before shaking his head slowly. "At least not any time soon…"


*******


The beach was relatively deserted and surprisingly cold. There was a brisk breeze off the
water and a lot of dampness in the night air.

"Great idea, Giles," Buffy muttered, shrinking into her jacket and thrusting her hands even deeper into her pockets.

"I thought so," he replied. "I must say I can't remember a night as quiet as this one."

"That's because all the vamps and demons are home by the fire, staying warm," she retorted.

He turned his head to look down at her. Her tired face was clearly visible in the moonlight. "Perhaps after we check the nest we should call it a night?" he suggested gently.

"My thoughts exactly," she agreed. "Willow wants us back at the library. At least it's warm there. Ready?"

Giles looked up at the cave mouth in the cliff ahead of them and raised his crossbow.

"Ready."

Buffy dropped her bag and pulled a sword from it before climbing the last few yards to the entrance.

"Come out, come out wherever you are," she called in sing-song fashion, but there was no sign of life. "They're probably all snuggled and warm," she muttered, shivering. "Cover me and I'll check it out."

Giles closed in right behind her. "Buffy, be careful…"

Buffy turned, surprised at the level of concern in his voice and smiled at him. "It's okay, Giles. They're only fire-demons."

"Nevertheless," he insisted.

There were four of them, two asleep near a small fire, which vented through a smaller hole in the roof of the cavern, and two feeding on something unidentifiable.

By the time Buffy had despatched the largest and Giles had taken out the second with a perfectly aimed bolt, the other two were awake and enraged. One of them knocked him off his feet while he was trying to reload, causing him to fall backwards. Then, before he could get up, the same demon charged at Buffy while she was busy dealing with its companion.

"No-o!" he cried as it used its full strength to king-hit her with a large, jagged piece of rock before picking up the sword she dropped as she crumpled in the shadows.

He scrambled to his feet and charged both bright orange demons, his eyes burning with rage. Using the crossbow as a two handed club he swung at Buffy's attacker, pummelling it with blows, blocking its ineffectual swings with the sword and finally knocking it to the ground, unconscious, its companion kept at bay by his frequent swings in its direction. He reclaimed the blade in one smooth movement and swiftly despatched the one that was down before dropping the crossbow and turning to the last demon.

As he expected, it fled the cave before he got within two feet of it. He dropped to his knees on the sandy floor and turned Buffy over. The fire was behind him, and almost out. He could barely see her face in the semi-darkness, but she was terrifyingly cold and limp in his arms. For the first time since he could remember he panicked blindly, adrenaline seizing him and squeezing his chest until he could barely breathe. And then he was groping for a pulse at her wrists, unable to concentrate, and lacking enough feeling in his chilled fingertips to find one.

"No…! You can't die…please God," he whispered, lifting her and carrying her out into the bright moonlight.

Once he could see her face he was able to focus enough to lay trembling fingers against her throat, to find the carotid artery…and a pulse. Unable to stop the sob that rose in his throat, he exhaled jaggedly and closed his eyes for a moment.

Then he was examining her injuries carefully. Her face was very pale, and he could feel a rapid lump forming on the back of her head where she'd been struck and his fingers came away sticky with her blood. Unwilling to take any chances he lifted her again, cradling her surprisingly small form protectively in his arms as he walked back to the car. They were almost there when she stirred, groaning.

He went down on one knee in the sand, but continued to hold her close.

"Buffy?" he said gently. "Can you hear me?"

She groaned again. "Giles? What happened?" she moaned very softly.

"You were hit from behind…I thought I'd lost you."

She turned her face into his shirt, where his coat had dragged open during the fight. "My head hurts."

"I daresay," he said quietly, unable to stop the reaction that was now setting in. "We'll get you home and have it looked at."

"You're shivering," she murmured snuggling closer. "But it's so warm."

He got up again and headed for the car. "It's nothing," he told her, folding her even more tightly in his arms. "I'll be fine."

Only when he slipped her reluctantly into the passenger seat, made her comfortable and did up her safety belt before tucking his overcoat around her, did Buffy really begin to come to her senses.

"Did we get 'em?" she croaked, trying to sit up straight.

Giles started the car. "All but one. How is your head now?"

"Like a watermelon somebody dropped," she complained weakly. "I screwed up, huh?"

He shook his head in the semi-darkness. "I did."

"Oh…that's okay then," she said, groaned and held her head in her hand. "You won't be yelling at me then."

"No." Giles swallowed. "No yelling."

Buffy turned her head sideways gingerly to look at him. He sounded strange. "You're still shivering," she said, surprised.

He turned on the heater and put the car into gear without looking at her.

She was beginning to remember a little, particularly about the fight. "I only got one," she remembered suddenly. "That means you bagged two. Way to go, Giles."

He half smiled without taking his eyes off the road, but it faded quickly. "I should have stopped them before you were almost killed," he said quietly.

Buffy frowned, which hurt even more than the constant throbbing. "I was almost killed? I thought I was only knocked cold…"

Giles' hands tightened on the wheel as the car swung into the main road that would take them back to the school. "You should have a fractured skull. If you hadn't been the Slayer, or if it had struck you any harder, or any lower…"

"Oh…" She sat back, unable to remember being hit at all, but starting to remember tiny flashes of the rest. "Giles, how did I get into the car?"

"You were unconscious. I carried you," he said simply and shifted gears again.

"Oh," Buffy said again, and concentrated on the fragments of memories that were coming back to her. Little things like being warm and protected and secure; faint cologne …a racing heartbeat…trembling arms.

She looked up at his profile again suddenly. "You were scared."

He flicked a startled glance at her, then back to the road. "Of fire-demons? Hardly," he said, deliberately misunderstanding.

"Giles," she said very gently, as he guided the old car into the school car park, slid it to a halt in its usual slot, and turned it off. "I'm not going anywhere."

For a long moment he sat motionless, staring at the windscreen, then he closed his eyes, hands resting on the wheel.

Buffy slid her fingers over his sleeve, squeezed his forearm.

"I'm sorry," he managed, finally. "I thought you were dead…I just…I can't lose you too."

Buffy rested her head against his arm. "I'm not going anywhere," she reiterated. "I've already been dead once. I didn't like it," she added mock-sulkily, and smiled into the fabric of his sleeve when, after a beat, she felt him chuckle.

"I'm glad to hear it. It's not a state of affairs I'm willing to countenance gladly, either," he said, his tone growing more sombre with each word.

"Especially now," Buffy said softly.

He looked down at her, sorrow in his eyes. "Especially now."


*******


"See, I told you it'd be warm in here."

Buffy was trying hard to ignore the continued throbbing of her head as Giles opened the side exit door to the library. He had insisted on the stop at the local ER, which had been pretty much a waste of two hours, but at least her wound was cleaned up and they'd given her something for the headache.

Willow, Xander and Angel were sitting at the reading table. Buffy and Giles could feel the tension right across the room.

"Hi guys," Buffy finally said. "No donuts?" She focused on Willow. "Aren't you supposed to be surfing the net or something?"

Giles put a silent hand on her shoulder. "Something has happened?" he asked them quietly, when Buffy subsided.

Willow nodded. "I found something on my computer…from Jenny."

His breath caught and he was at the table in a heartbeat. Buffy watched Willow hand him the print-out, wishing they didn't all look so miserable. Her gaze flicked to Angel for reassurance but he was staring morosely at the floor.

Finally Giles turned and came back to Buffy, handed her the sheet.

"She's alive, and she's herself," he said, a tremor in his voice.

Buffy finished the message and looked up. "We have to find her, help her."

Angel stood up. "That may not be an option," he said quietly and faced the older man.
"Azzara…she's more than just…Whistler told me…she's touched by the First Evil."

"The First? She's a Bringer?" Giles asked, shocked.

"I'm not sure…but it would make sense."

"Then Jenny is in grave danger."

Angel nodded. "Even with magic, I don't think they can fight the First. I'm not even sure they can fight Azzara alone."

Giles ran a hand through his hair, turned a circle, came back to where Buffy was standing and faced Angel again.        

"Can we…can Whistler find her?"

"I don't know. Whistler said he knew where she was taken. But that was before…she could be anywhere now."

Giles shook his head. "I can't…I can't just do nothing while her life is in danger; while she's fighting something so dangerous."

Buffy moved close to his left shoulder. "Giles is right. We have to do something. We're the experts…we should be dealing with this Azzara, not leaving it to a bunch of amateur Techno-whosits and regular people."

"Techno-Pagans," Giles corrected automatically. "And there is no evidence to suggest there are any others involved in this besides Jenny. Willow, can you trace this message back to some kind of address?"

Willow looked up unhappily. "I'm sorry, Giles. I already did that, while we were waiting for you. She gave a false address…there's no Springfield in Iowa."

"Damn," he said, almost in a whisper.

Buffy shifted so her shoulder was touching his arm, as she spoke. "There has to be something we can do—"

"I'll ask Whistler…and there are a couple of other sources I can go to…but it's going to take a while."

"Then I don't see what more we can accomplish here," Giles said wearily, rubbing his eyes. I think you should all go home and get some sleep and we'll reconvene here tomorrow after sundown."

Buffy walked to the main doors with Angel, behind Willow and Xander. They stopped as the others went through, leaving the doors swinging behind them.

"I'll walk you home," Angel offered.

"I'm not going home yet," Buffy said suddenly. "I'll be fine. Giles can drop me."

Angel looked over her head to Giles' office. "Good idea," he said. "Take care of him."

Giles was sitting at his desk staring at the print out when Buffy found him. He looked up, surprised.

"Buffy…I thought you'd all gone."

She shrugged. "It's warmer here."

He rolled his eyes up to meet hers and smiled wryly.

She smiled back. "So…there's a little mother instinct in me after all. Just don't expect it to last."

He gave a half-hearted chuckle, then grew serious. "Are we up to fighting the First Evil again…?"

Buffy sat on the desk. "We take it as it comes. Like we always have. Taking out the Bringers was only part of it last time. I know I didn't talk much about it…but what happened, with Angel and me at dawn…it was weird."

"The snow," Giles said softly. "Even the earth chilled. The snow didn't melt…"

"Something more powerful didn't want Angel to die, so Evil lost. I'm not sure we can count on that happening again."

He rubbed his hands over his face. "Yes, well, we can't all be destined for a higher purpose."

Buffy swallowed and looked away, the colour receding from her cheeks.

He saw, and regret clouded his eyes for a moment. Then he stood up and picked up the message from Jenny. "I'll take you home. There's no point in moping about here."

She nodded, schooling her expression into one of normality, and slid off the desk. "So you're just going to mope around at home?" she teased.

They crossed the library to the side exit.

"Very likely," he agreed.

"Then I think I'll go home after all," she decided as they stepped out into the night.


*******

Angel looked up at the sound of footsteps on the stairs. He put down the firewood he'd carried in and brushed off his hands, his shirt and straightened.

"Whistler—" he began, then froze when he saw the demon's companion.

"J—Ms Calendar…" he said hoarsely.

The computer teacher eyed him warily. There were lines of tiredness on her face, dark circles under her eyes. She was dressed in black jeans and a black duffel coat with a hood, and her hair was pulled back into a knot.

"Angel," she acknowledged. "Your friend said he could bring me here without being seen. He was right," she said flatly, wearily. "You know why I'm here, and you know why I can't stay."

Angel flashed a glance at the little demon.

Whistler shrugged. "I didn't want to get anyone's hopes up."

Angel nodded and flicked his eyes back to Jenny. "I'm glad you came. They want to help you fight, you know. We've fought the First before."

Jenny's eyes widened. "You…how? It's not possible."

"It wanted me...at least, it wanted Angelus. Buffy took out the Bringers." Angel looked at Whistler. "And I had other help…"

"And you defeated it?"

He shrugged. "All I know is it didn't win."

She shook her head in frustration. "I can't ask them to help. Buffy can't leave here…and the others would just get themselves killed."

Angel's face softened sympathetically. "You mean he'd get himself killed?"

She stared for a moment, then looked away. "How do you do it?" she asked quietly.

He frowned. "Do what?"

Jenny swung back to him, her colour high. "How do you live with it? You're exactly the way you were before…and I still can't look you in the eye, because when I look at you all I see is…him."

Angel stared at her, his expression bleak. "The same way I've lived with it for the last hundred years," he said softly. "Whistler will take you to Buffy's place."

"Why? The more I move the more I risk being seen—"

He stared at her for a long moment. "You can reach it without being seen. And I won't ask him to come back here," he said harshly.

Jenny's eyes widened, then narrowed. "What did you do?"

"He didn't tell you?"

She frowned. "I thought he did. I thought he told me everything. What did you do to him?"

Angel looked away.

"Angelus tortured him," Whistler said quietly. "For a long time." He looked up at his friend for a moment. "I'll take you to the Slayer's house. Angel…Angel will tell him you're going there, call the Slayer."

But Jenny was staring at Angel, pale and not quite steady. "He let you into his house. He helped you…"

Angel closed his eyes and his head bowed.

Whistler caught her by the elbow and eased her toward the door. "Time to go," he said gently, opening it.

"I don't understand," Jenny said miserably as they made their way back to the sewer access that brought them there.

"Don't you? It isn't about forgiveness. It's about your boy. He's something special. Part of him still hates, still hurts so bad…but unlike most people he sees the truth in things as clearly as you see your own face in the mirror. He knows in his heart Angel ain't the guy that did this to him. And for your average Human, it's some heart…"

The sewer was cold and clammy as they dropped into it. Jenny almost overbalanced before righting herself and facing the small demon.

"You can play those games all you want, but I look into Angel's face and I see my killer," she retorted, a part of her knowing she wasn't being logical, another too angry to worry about logic. "That doesn't change just because he's sorry."

Whistler's expression hardened as they began to walk. "You really don't get it do you? Do you understand anything about that curse of yours?"

Jenny turned her head at the deep, resonant note of anger in his otherwise even tone, but withheld the retort on the tip of her tongue when she saw the sadness in his face.

"Have you really thought about what it means to bring back a person's soul and put it in the same body with the demon who took it from him in the first place? To make that soul suffer and pay for everything the demon has done since he took that body? You tell me how the hell Angelus pays for any of it? No, he just sits back and waits for your brilliant curse to get broken then…party time. Nothing…not one damned thing changes for him. A hundred years of torturing a Human soul, and what…? You're left with exactly what you started with."

Jenny turned away, tears pricking her eyes. He hadn't said anything she didn't already know in her heart, but...Rupert's face floated into her mind's eye and she shuddered. He'd suffered so much…they'd suffered so much….

"Is there a reason for this lecture?" she asked bitterly as they turned yet another corner in the labyrinth of tunnels that made up the Sunnydale sewer system. "I mean beyond the morality lesson?"

Whistler laughed without humour. "Is that what you think it is? You tell me, or it's all pointless."

Jenny sighed. "You think the First is going to try to turn my hate in on me…that if I don't deal with it now, it'll destroy me."

Whistler stopped suddenly, the sound of stinking water splashing over his boots echoing in the empty tunnel.

"Now I get it," he said shaking his head. "Now I begin to see why Rupert picked you. You're full of surprises, aren't you?"

"Aren't we all?" she shot back. "I never said what my people did was right, except that it stopped Angelus for a hundred years. Gotta give them points for that. But Angelus is a part of Angel and nothing you can say or do will stop me from seeing him in my nightmares for as long as I live…or stop Rupert from seeing him in his. And neither of us deserve that either."

It was Whistler's turn to fall silent. A short while later they came to an access ladder. Whistler led the way up without further comment.

The Summers house was lit by a porch-light. Whistler saw her to the door, and waited after he rang the doorbell. She had the hood of her coat pulled over her head, her hands in the pockets. By the time the door opened, however, he'd faded into the night.

When Jenny turned back from looking for him, it wasn't Buffy's face staring at her in mute disbelief.

"Rupert…" she said, his gentle, spectacle-less green eyes almost undoing her self-control. "Can I come in?"

He continued to stare, his eyes growing brighter as he took in the reality of her. "Jenny," he whispered. "Are you…?"

She clenched her fists and moved past him into the hallway, ignoring his surprised, hurt look, and waited until he closed the door.

"How? How did you get away?" he asked, leading the way to the living room, then turning to face her again.

"Does it matter? Some of my people have been fighting for a long time to rid themselves of Zara's influence. I was never told. They came for me after she gave me to the Elders." She shrugged. "It's traditional. Any one being judged has to be handed to the Elders three days before the hearing. It gave them the perfect opportunity to rescue me."

"You don't know what you're up against," he said, wanting more than anything to take her in his arms. "You can't do this by yourself. I can help—"

"No, you can't. You know the others won't let you go alone. Do you want to get them all killed?"

He made a frustrated, tortured noise. "Of course not, damn it!" he cried. "But I don't want to lose you again. What more must I do? When is it ever going to be enough?"

She shook her head, withdrawing unconsciously from his hurt, his anger.

He saw and stepped back, sat down hard on the couch, his hands dangling despondently between his knees.

"Don't ask me to watch you walk out of my life again…please."

She closed her eyes, trying to hold together long enough to make him understand. "I can't stay, Rupert, and you can't leave. My people are being destroyed. They have no future, no hope, unless something is done, now. This group, they're not organised. Most of them aren't much more than kids and they have no real concept of what they're fighting. They need me…"

Giles lifted his head and the look in his eyes almost broke her heart.

"I need you," he whispered.

She struggled to stop herself from going to him. "I know," she said softly, beginning to tremble with the effort to maintain control. "But I can't let them be destroyed."

"Buffy," he said, desperately. "Buffy will help. We'll do it together. We've always—"

Jenny was shaking her head, cursing the tears that were blurring her vision. "Leave Sunnydale…for days, weeks, months? You know she can't do that. You know she can't leave the people here any more than I can leave mine, now."

He stood up almost reflexively, dragging a hand through his hair, and stepped toward her.

"Right now I don't give a damn about any one else," he said angrily, tremulously. "I do however give a damn about us. Jenny, I love you…more than I've ever loved anyone or anything in my entire life. I won't…I can't…" He choked. "Oh Christ…" he groaned and turned away.

She went to him, unable to stop herself, took his face in her hands and lifted his bent head until his eyes met hers again.

"I love you too," she whispered, and was almost undone when his eyes suddenly filled.

"It's not fair, Rupert," she told him, feeling the last of her control shatter as the strong, brave man before her wept silently. "It's never fair. I love you so much..." her mouth faltered, barely able to form the words. "But we both know I can't stay…"

Giles swept her into his arms then, both of them clinging to each other as if defying the currents and eddies they both knew were about to sweep them away from each other yet again. He could feel her trembling. He wanted to tell her not to go, wanted to pick her up and carry her to his car, to drive them to somewhere, to nowhere…anywhere away from demons and responsibility and duty…and pain. He wanted…to love her.

He bent his head and rested his brow on her hair, his insides aching, the words she needed him to say choking him.

"Then go," he said finally, wretchedly. "But remember: if you need me…"

But she was raising her face to his, pulling his head down to hers one last time.

He willingly claimed her mouth with a yearning and a hunger that took her breath. Then she was kissing him back, claiming his with the same hunger, the same need, tasting, consuming, plundering each other for what seemed an eternity, until somehow they were apart, only their fingers still locked together.

"Oh, Jesus…" he rasped. "I can't do this again."

She sobbed and covered his mouth gently with her fingers. "You can," she told him. "And you will do it, for me, for her, and for the people it will save."

He kissed the fingers and closed his eyes. "Will you come back…after?" he asked, very quietly, the touch of his lips and his warm breath almost unbearable as they brushed her fingertips.

Jenny trembled and took her hand away. "I don't know," she whispered. "I want to but…"

He opened his eyes again. "Jenny, please—"

But she was almost at the door, her hood raised.

"Jenny, wait!" he cried desperately.

She turned tearful eyes to him as she opened it. "I have to go, Rupert," she replied, and slipped out.

Giles lunged after her but by the time he reached the letterbox she'd vanished into the night. The streets were empty.

His chest was heaving and his fists were clenched into fierce knots, a blood vessel pulsed at his temple and his face glowed fiery red in the dull street light. Rage rose in him like a volcanic eruption, overwhelming, unstoppable, forcing his head back as though someone had struck him.

"N-o-o!" he cried, the sound of his grief echoing up and down the street.

Below ground, in the sewer, where no sound from above was heard, Whistler stopped and closed his eyes for a moment.

Jenny turned a ravaged face when she missed him. "Something wrong?" she asked.

After a beat he opened them again and shook his head, his face pale. "No," he said softly. "I thought I heard something, that's all…"


*******

"It's been hours," Buffy snapped, when Angel asked her to sit down for the fourth time.

The fire had burned low and he was watching her from the hearth, where he'd hunkered down to add more wood.

"Not really. Anyway, is that necessarily a bad thing?" he asked pointedly.

She looked at him. "It feels bad. Really bad," she said and began circumnavigating the room again.

Angel threw the last of the wood onto the now rising flames and dusted off his hands. He'd watched Buffy with Giles for three years now, seen the relationship between the Slayer and the man responsible for her slowly develop into a bond that was beyond friendship, beyond passion, despite its unspoken, often casual, nature. He looked up when she kicked his couch.

"That won't help," he said softly, wondering if she really knew. He thought she did, after the Cruciamentum. And after listening to her near hero-worship after they fought the Hellmouth demon, he was almost certain of it…but now, as he watched her prowl, he wasn't so sure.

Buffy was old in a lot of ways, but when it came to knowing her own heart she was sometimes little more than a child.

"Buffy," he said, raising his voice for the first time. "Come here."

She came reluctantly and sat down between his knees, leaned back against his chest. "What?"

"He'll be okay," he said gently. "And so will she. Whistler will make certain that no-one sees her…and if she chooses to leave, he'll see her out of town again, to where her contact is waiting."

He felt her sag a little against him then, and drew a comforting arm across her shoulders.

"It's not demons or vampires I'm worried about," she whispered. "I'm scared, Angel. I saw what it did to him last time…losing her."

He kissed her hair. "But he survived—"

"He didn't want to. I made him," she said sadly. "I begged him not to leave me, because I needed him. God, I was so…"

"…Young," Angel finished more kindly than Buffy herself was going to. "He knew that. And he knew how much you cared."

"Maybe, but let's face it, there are times when I look back now and I realise that I made Cordelia Chase look like Mother Theresa."

Angel chuckled. "Well, at least you recognise your own flaws, which is more than I can saw for Cordelia. Don't be too hard on yourself. You've had a lot to deal with in three short years and Giles knows that."

Buffy turned and faced him. "Yeah, but I had mom, you, him…what about what he's had to face, what he's had to deal with…alone? I can't believe how much I haven't thought about what it's been like for him. But you, of all people—"

He forced himself to keep looking at her. "Of course I know," he said softly. "And I know he's had to deal with it alone. But that's life. In the end we're all alone."

She looked away. "But he didn't have to be…"

"Maybe not, but he loves you, Buffy…as much as you love him…and that, ultimately, is what got him through."

She turned startled blue eyes back to his. "How do you…how can you—? "

But Angel was looking toward the stairs. Buffy turned swiftly, and was on her feet instantly.

"Whistler? What happened? Is she…?"

Angel, on his feet now, put a hand on her shoulder.

"She's on her way back to her people. You don't need to know where that is. The fewer people who know the safer she'll be."

"And Giles?" Angel asked.

"I don't know," Whistler said quietly, remembering the sound he heard. "But I can imagine."

Buffy looked from one to the other. "So, he's still at my place?"

Whistler shrugged. "She was in a real big hurry to get gone. I didn't see him."

She made a frustrated noise. "I'm going home," she announced and was halfway across the room before Angel caught up.

"I'll go with you."

She turned. "No…not this time," she said, surprisingly gently.

After a long moment he nodded, and she was gone.


*******


Buffy ran down the steps leading to Giles' door breathing hard. She'd been home only to find it deserted and locked up tight. The small porch was in darkness, which in itself was unnerving. Giles normally left the security light on.

She raised a hand to knock on the door, then hesitated, doubt suddenly gripping her. In his position all she'd wanted was to be left alone…to run away…far away. She swallowed, remembering. It had been the loneliest time of her life.

She reached for the knocker.

"It's not locked."

Buffy jumped, not expecting the verbal response to her tapping.

Giles was sitting at his desk, an unopened bottle of scotch and a glass in front of him. He hadn't even taken his jacket off, though his tie-less black collar was open and his hair was windblown.

"Hello Buffy," he said quietly.

"Hi," she said awkwardly, then nodded at the bottle. "You know that's not an attractive look for you?"

His eyes slid toward it. "I know," he whispered. "But it does dull the pain…and the senses."

"So what stopped you?"

He looked up at her with eyes she hoped she'd never see again. "I need…I want to remember. I don't want to forget…anything."

"Then…then you don't think she's coming back?"

He shook his head slowly.

"Giles, I'm sorry," she said very softly.

He cleared his throat and stood up suddenly. "Yes," he said uncomfortably. "Can I offer you a hot drink? Some supper perhaps?"

"Hot chocolate."

Buffy watched him go, her brow furrowed. She didn't really want the drink, but she wasn't about to deny him the escape, either.

When he hadn't reappeared after what seemed an age, and no sound could be heard in the kitchen, concern over-rode instinct and she went to check on him.

He was standing over the tray he was preparing, staring into space. The hot milk for her chocolate was boiling furiously in its pan and the teapot was still waiting to be filled. Buffy shifted the pan and turned off the heat before turning back to Giles.

She gently removed the spoon from his hand and put it down.

He looked down at her slowly. "Buffy…I'm sorry. I…"

"I know," she said softly. "We can do supper later. Right now I think maybe sitting down would be good."

He shook his head. "Let me finish this. It won't be long," he said haltingly. "Please…"

Buffy studied the pale, strained face, the frightening fragility of the normally steadfast features.

"No," she refused gently.

He closed his eyes. "Perhaps you should go home."

"No."

"I mean it, Buffy. Please…just…go home."

Buffy's eyes grew very bright. "Giles, don't make me hit you again."

He looked away. Then, finally, he faced her again, looking more tired and more alone than she could ever remember. "It's all right," he said quietly. "I'm not going to leave you."

"Don't do that!" The words were jerked from her. "Giles, I didn't come here for me."

"Then why?" he asked harshly, his hand trembling as he pressed it to his brow. "Why can't you just leave me be?"

A tear trickled down her cheek. "Because I can't let you do this alone," she whispered, her voice breaking.

"…Because I love you too much."

The hand fell away and the green eyes stared at her until she had to look away.

"I know how many times I've let you down." Buffy dragged more tears away with the back of her hand. "And I don't understand…I don't understand how someone can love someone and still hurt them so much. All I know is I don't want it to happen again..."

Giles remained silent.

She turned warily. He was still staring at her, but his eyes glistened, though not enough to obscure the overwhelming tenderness in them as they found, and held hers.

"Cliché or not, you've always been my hero," she admitted, holding his gaze, unaware of what it allowed him to see in the blue depths. "And always will be…no matter how self-involved, insensitive or ungrateful I've been, and probably will be again."

He chuckled damply, and gently pulled a stray blonde tress. "Very probably," he agreed wryly. "You've just described adolescence."

She smiled back for just a moment then reached up to brush the wetness from his face, as though she couldn't bear it to be there a moment longer.

Giles looked down at her, touched, but didn't move.

"Not a good look for you either, tough guy," she said gently. "But I like it better than all that stuffy English 'if I have a feeling my face might break' stuff."

He made a scoffing noise, but his expression was still tender.

She grew serious, looked into his eyes again and held them.

"I know how much she loves you, Giles, how hard this is for both of you. Been there, remember?" she reminded him. "Whatever she said, whatever she believes right now, when it's over, she'll be back. She needs you as much as you need her."

His face clouded. He tried to speak, shook his head, and dropped his chin to his chest. A moment later Buffy watched him turn and leave the kitchen.

He hadn't gone far. He was sitting on the sofa, head in his hands, trying to collect himself.

She went and sat next to him.

After a beat he lowered his hands. "I don't seem to be terribly tough lately," he observed in a wry, trembling voice, without raising his head.

"Who said you had to be?" she asked.

Surprised, he finally turned and looked up at her, the naked pain in his eyes bringing tears to hers again.

Then she smiled. "I know the old one would have had a heart attack, but does this new, improved Giles of yours have any objection to being hugged?"

He laughed then, his face lit with undisguised affection.

"You're a meddlesome girl," he whispered as she put her arms around his neck and hugged him hard.

After a beat he closed his eyes and returned the embrace.

Buffy rested her head on his shoulder, blinking away moisture. "Expect a lot more meddling from now on," she told him.

"Heaven help me," he retorted softly, not fooling her for a moment.


*******

"I think it's time I took you home," Giles said softly, when Buffy's eyes closed for the fourth or fifth time.

She sat up straight. "I'm fine," she squeaked. "So you were saying about the south of England? Or was that the north of Wales…?"

Giles chuckled softly. "Neither for the last half hour. I'm going to take this to the kitchen and then you're going home to bed."

"A trip down nostalgia lane and suddenly you're all 'take charge' guy again?" she teased sleepily as he deposited the tray on the breakfast bar instead.

"Come on," he said, coming back to the sofa and extending a hand. "You've finished your mothering duties for tonight."

She smiled, took his hand and pulled herself up. He was actually looking a little better, if you didn't count the cuts and bruises, the tired lines around his mouth and eyes, the weariness in his stance.

"Okay, already. But you don't have to drive me. I'm a big girl, I can take care of myself."

Giles raised an eyebrow.

Buffy subsided. "Okay. Fair's fair." She tilted her head to one side. "I mother you, you mother me. Let's go."

He snorted and put his hand in his jacket pocket looking for his keys, then frowned.

Buffy watched him draw them out, and a small envelope.

He stared at the writing on the front of it for a long moment then thrust it back into his pocket and shook the keys.

"Right," he said too briskly and opened the door for her.

Buffy refrained from asking. It was obvious he didn't want her to.

The trip home was quiet. Giles seemed to spend most of it deep in thought. Buffy, watching him, wondered in passing where his glasses had gone. She hadn't laid eyes on them all night, but he hadn't seemed to notice their absence.

Her street was deserted and the house appeared to be in darkness as they drew to a halt.

Buffy undid her safety belt. "Mom's gone to bed."

"It would appear so," Giles agreed as she opened the door. "Buffy…"

She turned.

"Thank you," he said quietly. "I wanted you to know…I…"

She smiled tenderly, reached up to put her arms gently around his neck again, and rested her chin on his shoulder.

"I know," she said and kissed his cheek. "I love you, too."

Then, suddenly she was out of the car. Giles shook his head and watched her wave before crossing the grass and letting herself into the house.

After a beat he cleared his throat, and started the Citroen. He was about to put it in gear when he paused again, turned on the internal light instead, and drew the small envelope from his pocket.

He didn't need his glasses to recognise the writing on it. He turned it upside down, over his other palm. A small metal object fell onto it and a card landed on his lap.

When he saw what the object was his fingers closed convulsively over it for a moment. Eventually he made himself put it in his shirt pocket and picked up the card.

He stared at the writing silently for several seconds. And then he laughed. He was still laughing softly when he turned off the light, put the car into gear and pulled away, his cheeks glistening in the silver halo of the streetlights.

Beside him, on the passenger's seat the words, in black ink, stood out against the plain card:


Dangle this for me…I love you

END