tamibrandt (tamibrandt) wrote,

How to Treat Your Lover (A(us)/S, Buffy) NC-17 64-B/?

Title: How to Treat Your Lover (Book 4)
By Tami (tabrandt @ hotmail.com)
Disclaimer: The characters from ATS / BTVS are owned by Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and Fox studios. This story is not meant to infringe upon anyone's rights, only to entertain.
BETA: Myself, Morgan
Rating: NC-17
Pairing – M/M, Angelus/Spike, Angel/Spike
Timeline – ATS Season 4/BTVS Season 7-AU
Summary - With both Angel and Cordelia still missing, Fred and Gunn try to keep Angel Investigations running while they search for their friends. Ironically, the man everyone believes betrayed Angel is the one who finally comes to Angel's rescue. Then, as suddenly as she had vanished, Cordelia inexplicably reappears with no recollection of her life or her friends. Unbeknownst to the team, things aren’t always what they appear. Even as Cordelia regains her memory, she harbors a secret that will change their lives forever. Finally, Spike returns from his sojourn abroad with his gift to Angel that leaves him mentally unstable. Meanwhile, in Sunnydale, Dawn starts her sophomore year at the new Sunnydale High School with a mysterious new principal that may shake things up. Oh, and there's an apocalypse a'comin' on two fronts.
Feedback – It would be appreciated. My plot bunny has been lagging lately.
Author's Note - This story came to me after watching how Buffy treated Spike in SMASHED - AS YOU WERE (BTVS, Season 6). I wondered how Angel would truly feel, if he really knew how Buffy mistreated Spike. Yes, Spike is the Big Bad, and he and Angel normally don't see eye-to-eye, but they are family nonetheless
A Surprise Special Guest Appearance in this Chapter
Word Count: 10,425 overall

How to Treat Your Lover Soundtrack (Feel free to suggest a song/scene)

( Book 1 )
( Book 2 )
( Book 3 )

( Previous Chapters for Book 4 )

**************************



Chapter 64-B: Step 4 – Reconciliation (Part 14)



Buffy and Faith patrolled the graveyards, attempting and failing at small talk until they spotted a Bringer and began following him at a safe distance.

“No eyes, but look at him go. He got sonar or something?” Faith whispered.

“Or something, I guess,” Buffy shrugged. “They’re pretty good when they attack.”

“Do they roam freely around town?” Faith asked critically.

“Well, that lends weight to the whole it’s a trap theory, Faith commented dryly.

“I’m through waiting around for people to attack us,” Buffy snapped.

“Hey, I’m with you,” Faith defended. “Drop me in the hornet’s nest, what the hell? You got a rough sitch here, though, trying to turn a bunch of little girls into an army–”

“They’re Potential Slayers, just like we were,” Buffy interrupted.

“Right, maybe they’ll do as good as us,” Faith’s sarcasm was apparent.

“They’re getting better,” Buffy argued.

“I’ll work with them,” Faith offered. “Some of ’em seem real eager. Fashion disasters, yeah, but they’re ready to fight.”

Buffy stopped walking. “Why did you come back?” she asked with an accusing edge to her question.

“Willow said you needed me,” Faith replied, adding defensively. “I didn’t give it a lot of thought. Do you – Am I getting you want me to not be here?”

Buffy sighed. “No, that’s not what I meant. I’m – glad that you’re here. It’s good. Thank you.”

Faith fell in step when Buffy continued to walk. In a softer, self-deprecating tone, Faith said, “No problem. You know me. All about the good deeds.”

“So, why did Spike come back?” Buffy inquired.

“Angel sent him back to help – if he can, but mostly he’s here to close down the mansion and move to L.A., permanently. He shipped out the first load of boxes today, cost nearly a grand for a delivery,” Faith told her.

“Willow mentioned you helped out Angel,” Buffy remarked, distracted by Angel’s name more than about the story of Spike’s costly delivery woes.

“Yeah. He says ‘hi,’ by the way,” Faith replied.

“Really?” Buffy was surprised.

“Sure,” Faith wondered why the blonde seemed surprised.

“How is he?” Buffy asked.

“Better. I had to do this whole magical-mind-walk thing with him,” Faith said.

“You were in Angel’s mind?” Buffy’s jealously reared its head.

“Buffy–” Faith began to explain, but stopped, looking toward the barn the Bringer approached. “What is this place?”

Buffy examined the building too. “Look, there are more of them.”

“I think we just found our hornet’s nest,” Faith observed.

“Let’s get the cavalry,” Buffy told her, and they both fell back into the shadows.

**************************


Hell Dimension

Skip and Angel were still fighting. Skip slammed Angel to the ground.

Walking up to Angel, Skip taunted, “Well, now, this is embarrassing.”

Struggling to his feet, Angel panted, “Tell me – what happened to Cordelia?”

“Or what, you’ll bleed on me some more?” Skip sneered.

Angel threw a punch at Skip, but he was outmatched. None of his punches fazed Skip, who just rained blow after blow upon Angel in return, crushing him to the ground.

“You know, I’ve always wondered,” Skip mused thoughtfully, “How many chunks do you gotta hack off a vampire before he goes all dust bunny?”

Angel got to his feet again. “Tell me what happened –”

“Yeah, I heard that part,” Skip cut in.

Angel punched Skip in the torso several times, and when Skip punched back, he ducked then leapt up to grab onto a chain hanging from the ceiling, swinging over Skip’s head and landing across the room. When he landed, Skip was waiting to knock him to the concrete with a powerful blow.

“What are you, Tarzan? See, this is the nefarious meat of it, pal. You die never knowing what really happened to the woman you care about,” Skip taunted. “Gotta respect the classics.”

Angel grabbed a section of chain from the wall, using it to stand up. Then, he suddenly swung the chain at Skip, catching it on a spur of Skip’s hand, pulling and ripping off the spur. Swinging the chain repeatedly at Skip’s face, he ultimately caught it on a large spur of Skip’s head, ripping it off. Skip screamed in pain, briefly holding his hand to his head before going after Angel again, but Angel punched him repeatedly in the face.

Skip staggered around. “You really think that’s gonna –”

Angel reared back, punching Skip again, with far more power this time. Skip fell to the concrete, unconscious. Angel looked down at Skip’s inert body then looked at his hand – and the chain he’d wrapped around it.

“Yeah, I do,” Angel remarked casually.

**************************


Hyperion Hotel, Lobby

Fred, Wesley, Gunn and Lorne were researching in the lobby. Fred was pacing and reading an article.

“Hey guys, here’s something. Maybe I can –” she started to say, jumping when a cross-dimensional portal opened up right behind her.

Suddenly, Angel and an unconscious mercenary demon were in the middle of the hotel lobby with them. On the floor beside the demon, the metal disk that Angel took with him, spun around until it came to rest.

“—have an embolism!” Fred cried as the portal pushed her back against the reception desk.

Wesley, Gunn and Lorne rushed around to the front of the desk and looked down at the demon in shocked surprise.

“What the hell happened?” Wesley asked anxiously.

Angel was bent over, hands resting on his knees, panting. He glanced up at Wesley with a cynical expression. “We had words.”

Lorne looked from the unconscious demon back to Angel. “Between pummelings?”

“Whatever’s happened to Cordy, he’s a part of it. We need to bind him to this dimension.” Angel groaned with the aches and pains of walking to the settee, collapsing onto it. Everyone else continued standing around, gawking at the demon until Angel raised an eyebrow at them. “Before he wakes up would be nice.”

**************************


A Back Alley in Los Angeles

A teenaged girl dropped her school books, backing away as a vampire stalked after her.

“Mmm,” the vampire growled, looking at the girl like she was a Thanksgiving dinner. “I really love virgins.” He lunged forward to sink his fangs into what he anticipated being an easy meal, but he turned to dust before sinking a single tooth into her. When the dust cleared away, Cordelia stood in the vampire’s place.

“Are you all right?” Cordelia asked.

“H-h-he tried to kill –” the girl started to say.

“I know,” Cordelia interrupted before asking, with faux concern, “Did he hurt you?”

“No,” the girl confirmed. “You stopped him. Th-thank you.” She suddenly started crying in relief. “Thank you oh-oh God, thank you so much. Th-thank –” In mid-gratitude, Cordelia punched the girl in the face, knocking her unconscious.

**************************


A Warehouse Somewhere in Los Angeles, Night

Cordelia tossed the insensate girl on the concrete floor of a warehouse like a sack of damaged potatoes. Her face was bruised and bloodied from where Cordelia hit her, and Cordelia stared at the girl with glassy eyes for a long moment before walking over to a scrying bowl filled with blood. Her eyes rolled up, revealing the whites, as she awaited the next instruction from her visions.

**************************


Los Angeles, Hyperion Hotel, Lobby, Night

Skip, the mercenary demon, stood inside a cylinder of red light. At his feet was a circle of red sand. He reached out to touch the light, retracting his hand as if he'd been electrocuted. The light became an invisible barrier.

“Sand of the red palm,” Skip chuckled. “It’s a child’s trick.”

“Then why don’t you come out and play?” Gunn asked provocatively.

Skip sneered. “In time.”

Angel crossed his arms, staring at the demon. “You’ll have a lot of that after we make your accommodations a little more permanent.” He stepped closer to Skip, prompting, “Fred?”

Fred held an open book in her arms, displaying the marked page to the demon. “Sphere of the Infinite Agonies. Every second a lifetime. I should be able to whip one up in say, twenty minutes?”

“Everything you know, or she starts whipping,” Angel demanded in a low, dangerous tone.

“Hey,” Skip held up his hands in surrender. “Whoa, I’m just a merc. I go where the deal is – and not getting stuck in one of those?” He gestured toward the book. “Bargain. Anyone got a cigarette?”

Angel paced. “Cordelia. Where is she?”

“I don’t know,” Skip shrugged. “This is your dimension, man. You tell me.”

“I mean the real Cordelia, not this thing that’s been posing as her,” Angel clarified.

Skip shook his head disbelievingly, rolling his eyes. “How’d I ever get spanked by such a chump nut?” He looked Angel up and down, sighing in agitation. “That thing which has turned your life into a burning ring of fire? She is the real Cordelia.” He shrugged. “Or at least she’s in there somewhere. This whole thing –”

“Is it Cordy or not?” Gunn interrupted impatiently.

“Oh, it’s her,” Skip established. “She just ain’t driving.”

“Something took control of her on the higher plane?” Angel posed thoughtfully.

“Drill a little deeper, Hoss,” Skip replied. “How do you think she got there in the first place?”

“You’re saying her ascension was all part of this thing’s plan?” Wesley postulated.

“No, Cordelia was chosen to become a higher being because she’s such a pure, radiant saint,” Skip replied sarcastically. He scoffed. “Puh-lease.”

**************************


A Warehouse Somewhere in Los Angeles, Night

Cordelia sat on the floor, in the middle of a circle lit by white candles, chanting. The scrying bowl of blood sat on the floor in front of her.

“Vanu’esh. Katahn darh’im. Vajra’ha’esh. Vanu’esh. Katahn darh’im. Vajra’ha’esh,” she chanted.

The girl woke up, her hands bound behind her back, and her ankles tied together.

“Please,” she begged softly. “I have to get home. My mom will be so mad.” Cordelia ignored her, continuing to chant and the girl began to cry. “I won’t tell anyone, I promise. Please, just let me go.”

**************************


Los Angeles, Hyperion Hotel, Lobby, Night

Angel, Wesley, Gunn, Lorne and Fred stood in a semi-circle around Skip, still trapped in the cylinder of light created to cage him.

“You really think it matters?” Skip asked. “I mean, nothing I tell you is going to change what’s going to happen.”

“Cut the doom and gloom,” Angel said. “What’s taken over Cordy?”

“Something that is beyond your comprehension,” Skip replied. “To give it voice would rend your feeble brain into a quivering mass of –”

Angel glanced at Fred. “Fred, infinite agony,” he instructed before walking away.

Fred rose, holding the book the way she’d wield a weapon, but before she could utter the first syllable, Skip hurriedly said, “Okay. You got me! It doesn’t even have a name.”

“Then what do you call it?” Gunn inquired.

“Oh, Master or ‘Hey’,” Skip replied.

“Huh. There’s unspeakable horror – for real, this time,” Lorne observed thoughtfully.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Angel commented. “Cordy was made a higher being because she proved herself to the Powers by bearing their visions. This couldn’t have –”

“Unless it maneuvered her to inherit the visions in the first place,” Wesley interrupted.

“Uh-oh, better step on it,” Skip commented. “The rubes are catching up.”

“It wasn’t just her ascension. Everything that’s happened to Cordy in the past few years, all of it, was planned,” Angel finished the extrapolation.

“Do you really think it stops with her, amigo? Do you have any concept of how many lines have to intersect in order for a thing like this to play out, how many events have to be nudged in just the right direction?” He looked at Lorne. “Leaving Pylea.” He glanced at Gunn. “Your sister.” His gaze passed over Fred. “Opening the wrong book.” He pointedly stared at Wesley. “Sleeping with the enemy.” After giving it all a moment to sink in, he chuckled mirthlessly. “Gosh, I love a story with scope.”

“No way,” Gunn protested. “We make our own choices.”

“Yeah, sure; cheese sandwich here, when to floss, but the big stuff, like two vampires existing in the same plane with souls? She’s not the only one either. There are more people like her, all over the world.”

“Being inside a human makes it vulnerable, doesn’t it?” Angel asked. “That’s why it had to stay hidden, why it needed to create something stronger to pour itself into.”

“Wait. So, the big nasty inside of Cordelia is going to give birth – to itself?” Gunn grimaced at the image that created in his head.

“Not so much ‘give birth’ as use her up until there’s nothing left then take over,” Skip clarified. “That’s why it’s called possession.”

“How do we stop it?” Angel demanded.

“That’s easy, slick. All you gotta do is find Cordelia and chop off her head,” Skip replied matter-of-factly.

“There has to be another way,” Angel declined that as the only answer.

“Sure,” Skip assented, nodding. “Stab her in the heart, kidney, couple pokes in the lung–”

“A way that won’t kill Cordy in the process,” Angel interrupted tersely.

“Takes a whole lot of cramming to get that much sweetness into a human. It’s in every hair, every cell, every molecule of Cordelia’s body – and it ain’t letting go,” Skip explained.

“What happens to Cordy then?” Fred asked apprehensively.

“She just becomes an empty vessel until it’s bored and moves on,” Skip replied.

“It’ll kill her?” Angel asked.

“Or she’ll end up in a coma,” Skip retorted.

“What do you wanna do?” Wesley asked Angel.

“The only thing he can do,” Skip cut in. “Kill the woman he loves to save the world. Times like this – really has got to suck being you.”

“How do I find her?” Angel asked, but Skip declined to answer. “How?!” Skip remained closed-lipped and impassive. “Fine.”

Angel grabbed a weapon and his coat. “Wes, start working on a locator spell. When you find her, call me.” With that order, he headed out of the door. He punched a number into his cell that he thought he’d never use. A former client he helped to clean out a vampire nest a few years back, to reclaim his friend’s watch, was actually a supernatural hunter. That was to say, the guy hunted things that were supernatural, not that he was supernal in any way, himself. There was a remote possibility that he might know a means by which to exorcise, or otherwise get rid of the thing controlling Cordelia.

“This is John Winchester. I can't be reached. If this is an emergency, call my son, Dean. 785-555-0925. He can help.” Angel disconnected then punched in the alternate number.

“Yeah, who’s this?” a husky voice answered.

“Hello? My name is Angel, I run a private detective agency in Los Angeles. We investigate the paranormal, and a few years ago I worked with your father on a hunt. I need help with an anti-possession spell.”

“Well, I’m nowhere close to California right now, but I have a brother in college, in Palo Alto. Haven’t spoken to him in a year or so, but maybe he can help you.”

“Thanks,” Angel said, memorizing the third alternative phone number and address before hanging up. He slid into his black, 1967 Plymouth Belvedere GTX convertible and sped out of the parking space.

**************************


Los Angeles, Hyperion Hotel, Lobby

“Do you think he’s really going to do it?” Fred asked. “Kill Cordelia, I mean?”

“He doesn’t have a choice,” Wesley replied glumly.

**************************


Palo Alto, California, Stanford University

Angel stood in a copse of ornamental trees, cloaked by their deeper shadows. According to the woman in the admissions department, Sam Winchester was tall, dark, and lanky, and took classes for pre-law in the building adjacent to where Angel stood, looking for him.

Half an hour later, when classes let out, a tall young man with dark brown hair that curled around his ears, and bangs in his Labrador puppy-like eyes, walked outside with a stack of books under one arm and a pretty, petite blonde under the other. Angel could tell the man was listening to her conversation with only half an ear while his dark, intelligent eyes maintained constant vigil, restlessly roaming the people and campus – alert and wary.

Angel walked through the copse, back to his car, following Sam back to his dorm, where he waited patiently until midnight, when most of the lights went out, watching the light from Sam’s room on the fourth floor – and finally getting out of his car. He jogged effortlessly across the street and down the steps. Opening the door at the bottom, he walked swiftly up the four flights of stairs. At the top of the stairs was a registrar of the rooms with appointed names. Finding Sam’s, he slipped down the hall until he found the appropriate door.

Inside, lying in bed, Jess finished reading a chapter of her homework, set aside the book on her nightstand, and turned out the light. She barely made a sound when she slipped out of bed, tiptoed across the room, and moved up close behind Sam, who was poring over his own homework at the desk.

“Are you coming to bed soon?” she asked, leaning over his shoulder.

“Yeah, in a bit. I have a couple of more pages to go through,” Sam replied automatically, without looking back at her.

Jess hugged his shoulders from behind, kissing his cheek. “Don’t stay up too late.”

Sam turned his head to look at her then, giving her a small smile. “I won’t.”

About thirty minutes later, Sam was nearing the end of his assignment when there was a knock on the door that startled him out of his concentration. He rose quickly, glancing over his shoulder at Jess, who was sleeping soundly, before hurrying to open the door before a second knock threatened to wake her.

Opening the door, he discovered the late night visitor was a dark-haired man about his brother’s height, but broader through the shoulders, standing on the other side of the threshold dressed all in black.

“Can I help you?” Sam asked, wondering what brought this man to his door at this hour, but assuming he'd gotten the wrong room.

“I hope so. I have a possession problem and Dean said you might be able to help,” Angel told him bluntly, seeing no reason for subterfuge.

“Dean? When did you –? Where is he? Is he okay?” Sam asked worriedly.

“He’s fine, I guess, but nowhere near here. At least, that’s what he told me when I called him,” Angel replied. “Look, a friend of mine is possessed and I need –”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what Dean told you, but I don’t do that kind of thing anymore,” Sam apologized, shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot. How did this guy know what we do at all? Why did Dean tell him where to find me?

Angel sighed. “I tried calling John –”

“You know my dad?” Sam interrupted, surprised.

“Yeah, we worked on a case a few years back. Anyway, I got his voicemail which told me to call Dean, but when Dean said he couldn’t help because he was preoccupied –”

Sam snorted at that, imagining just what, or who, Dean could be preoccupied with.

“He told me to contact you,” Angel finished.

“Sorry my brother couldn't help you.” Sam apologized again. “What was the nature of your problem again?”

“A friend of mine is possessed, and I need a spell to get rid of it. This thing seems to have hitched a ride when she came back from Heaven,” Angel explained.

“She – returned from Heaven? How? Did you use an incantation? Make a deal with a Crossroads demon?” Sam's questions were fired like accusations.

“No.” Angel was surprised by the youth's vehemence. “She was just standing in the lobby of my hotel when my co-workers and I got back from another case. She had a case of amnesia, but a friend of ours performed a memory spell and it woke up this – thing, I guess. Anyway, I’m sure you’ve seen the never-ending midnight in L.A. on the news; that was a byproduct of this thing, which was also controlling a big beast made of rock. Listen, it’s an even longer story, but the short of it is – I need to dispossess her of this demon, or whatever it is. So, can you help me or not?”

“Wait here,” Sam told him, walking away, leaving the door ajar.

**************************


Sam tried to be as quiet as possible while packing a few things for what he hoped would be a short trip, but Jess turned over in her sleep, waking and looking up at him blearily.

“Are you coming to bed?” she asked.

“Not yet. Someone’s waiting for me, actually. A friend of my father needs help, and Dean sent him to me,” Sam replied quietly, his back to her as he slid a large, hook-shaped knife into his bag of supplies, thinking, better safe than sorry.

That woke up Jess, and she sat up in bed. “Your brother, Dean?”

“Yes,” Sam replied.

“How long are you going to be gone?” she pursued information.

“A day or two at most – probably,” Sam tried to sound reassuring. He turned around then, looking earnestly at her. “Everything’s going to be fine, really. I’ll be back here before you have time to miss me.”

“What makes you think I’ll miss you?” she asked with false coquettishness.

Smiling, he leaned down to kiss her deeply. “You’d miss me,” he teased with playful assurance before picking up his bag and walking out of the room, closing the door behind him.

**************************


Sunnydale, Wine Cellar at Shadow Valley Vineyards

Buffy cautiously descended the steps into the wine cellar, followed by four of the potential Slayers; Molly, Kennedy, Rona and Chao-Ahn.

Molly looked around apprehensively. “What is this place?”

“Looks like an old vineyard,” Buffy observed.

“An evil vineyard, huh?” Kennedy remarked skeptically.

“Like Falcon Crest,” Spike added as he followed behind them.

“Stay alert, you guys. Bringers are here – somewhere,” Buffy cautioned as she peered into the deeper shadows. “Just need to find out where.”

“Shouldn’t be too hard,” Spike postulated, but before he could say more, if that was his intention, a group of the harbringers surged out of the shadows from behind the barrels of wine, attacking the surprised group.

The fight was evenly matched, each side delivering equal damage until, as suddenly as they'd appeared, the harbringers melted back into the shadows. Another shadow separated from the gloom and Caleb sauntered into the light.

“Well, now, you girls are just burning with righteousness, aren’t you?” he commented with a smirk. “Problem is, you think you’re blazing like suns, when really you’re burning like matchsticks in the face of the darkness. You having fun? Now, I hope my boys haven’t worn you out too much – I need you fit for when I purify you.”

“Save the sermon, padre,” Buffy sighed, annoyed. “I heard you have something of mine.”

Caleb chuckled as if he was in on a joke no one else knew. “Well, I do now. You liked my little message, did you? You know, I ruined a perfectly good knife on that girl, got her soiled blood all over the place. I may have to get a new truck.” Buffy looked taken aback at his lack of concern for human life, and she remained statue-still as he took a step closer, examining her features. “So, you’re the Slayer? The Slayer. The strongest, the fastest, the most aflame with the most precious invention of all mankind – the notion of goodness. The Slayer must indeed be powerful.” He looked at her reverently before, with a single, powerful punch, he sent Buffy flying across the room. He looked around at the others who were staring at him in shock. “So, what else you got?” he asked smugly.

Spike’s human face slipped into his demonic visage and he lunged at Caleb, who easily shoved him down. Spike started to rise, but Caleb head-butted him then threw him across the room into a huge wine storage tank which burst apart, spilling its contents across the floor in an ominous crimson flood. Kennedy and the other Potentials surged forward to join the fight.

Amidst the harbingers that were surging out of the shadows to fight the Potentials, Caleb single-handedly incapacitated them all. He punched Kennedy with such force that she flew back into a stack of wine barrels. When Rona charged forward to aid her fallen friend, Caleb cut her off. She swung a spiked baseball bat at him, but he caught it and stared into her eyes.

“Miss, I do believe you have your own problems you should be worrying about,” Caleb remarked – just before snapping her arm with laughable ease that sent her reeling back in agony. He was about to engage Molly when he saw the second wave of fighters arrive, led by Xander, who was armed with a bow. An arrow was already embedded in a staggering harbinger. “Oh, good. There’s more of you.”

Faith charged Caleb at the same moment that Xander saw Buffy lying unconscious against the wall where she'd fallen when Caleb threw her. Xander ran to Buffy, fighting off harbingers, as he made his way to her side.

Holding a knife in each hand, Faith slashed at Caleb over and over, but she was unable to penetrate his defenses.

Looking her up and down, Caleb observed, “Well, you’re the other one, aren’t you? You’re Cain to her Abel.” Faith hurled a knife at Caleb, which he dodged with inhuman ease. “No offense meant to Cain, of course.”

Faith lunged at Caleb with her other knife, but he grabbed her arm, twisted and crossed it with her other arm, immobilizing her, but she still continued to glare at him. He applied pressure, squeezing her hands until she was forced to drop the knife. Faith kneed him in the crotch, causing Caleb to relax his grip just enough so that she could slip his grasp before spinning and backhanding him across the face.

“I never was much for the Good Book,” Faith declared through gritted teeth.

“Oh, it has its moments. Paul had some good stuff, for instance, but overall I find it a tad complicated,” Caleb casually observed, slapping Faith. “I like to keep things simple.” He kicked Faith across the room, into a stack of wine barrels, with demon-like strength. “Good folk, bad folk.” Chao-Ahn swung at Caleb, but he grabbed her sword then her face. “Clean folk, dirty folk –” Caleb snapped Chao-Ahn’s neck and dropped her to the ground.

Seeing Caleb kill the girl, Molly screamed, “No!”

“Yes,” Caleb contradicted, walking toward her.

Xander crouched at Buffy’s side, guarding her as she recovered, waiting for her to get back to the fray. She struggled to rise and ordered, “Xander, get them out of here. We have to retreat. Do it.”

Xander reluctantly nodded, getting up and leaving her side. Caleb stalked menacingly toward Molly, who slowly backed away, her face a mask frozen with fear. At the last moment, she drew back her arm to stab him, but he grabbed her wrist with one hand and her neck with the other. Buffy got to her feet just as Caleb squeezed Molly’s neck, lifting her clear from the floor. Buffy fought to get to her, but harbingers kept attacking, slowing her down.

“What can I say? I work in mysterious ways,” Caleb declared, before he stabbed Molly then opened his hand, letting go of her neck, dropping her on the ground. “Also some fairly straightforward ones.”

Enraged at seeing what he did to Molly, Buffy charged Caleb, lashing out furiously, avoiding his punches with greater expertise, and landing a few of her own. One of her punches contained enough power to send him flying across the room.

Before she could pursue Caleb, clearly single-minded in her desire to finish him off, Spike grabbed her arm. “We’re all leaving. Now!” And he dragged Buffy away from the fight.

Xander hurried to Kennedy’s side, crouching. “Are you okay?” When she nodded, he told her, “Okay, let’s go.” He helped her to her feet, noting that Spike had come back and was escorting Rona out of the building. “Let’s go!” Xander shouted, waving at the others.

Caleb grabbed Xander, turning him around so that he was facing Caleb. “You’re the one who sees everything, aren’t you?” He drew back his hand in front of Xander’s face, the young man staring as if he was a cobra hypnotized by a snake charmer. “Let’s see what we can’t do about that,” the evil priest commented casually before plunging his right thumb into Xander's left eye, gouging it out.

Blood coursing down his cheek, Xander screamed in agony, drawing Spike's attention. The platinum blonde vampire charged Caleb, knocking Xander free from the priest's grip. Blinded by pain and blood, Xander stumbled back, falling to the floor before a rack of wine barrels. Buffy and Spike rushed to Xander’s side, lifting him to his feet and carrying him out of the cellar, one supporting each of his arms.

Caleb sat up, but didn't pursue them as they struggled up the stairs. He rose slowly, with an unhealthy, knowing smile, watching them leave.

**************************


A Warehouse Somewhere in Los Angeles, Night

Cordelia dragged the virgin girl across the concrete floor, into the center of the circle where she'd been chanting earlier. The girl looked up in a confusion of fear to see Cordelia swinging a huge butcher knife toward her.

“Oh, my god, no! Don’t –!”

The girl’s horrified pleas abruptly ended when Cordelia drove the thick blade heavily into her chest, slicing straight to her heart with a meaty thwunk. There was a sound like spattering raindrops as Cordelia struck the killing blow, the girl collapsing in the middle of the circle.

“There. That wasn’t so hard, was it?” Cordelia remorselessly asked herself.

Kneeling, she placed the palm of her hand in the crimson ichor pooling around the dead girl. Then she rose, returning to her scrying bowl, continuing to chant, “Vanu’esh. Katahn darh’im. Vajra’ha’esh.” Suddenly, she smiled with twisted exultation. “It’s coming; the beginning of a new world.”

“Or not.”

Cordelia turned to find Angel and another man standing behind her. Angel carried a sword in his hand with loose confidence. Sam held a hook-shaped knife in one hand and an open notebook in the other.

“You’re not Cordelia,” Angel stated flatly.

“When are you going to get it through your Neanderthal head that I am Cordelia?” she asked, starting forward, only to trip a wire which caused a torrent of salt to rain down in a circle around her. “What is this? What are you doing to do?” she challenged.

“Something that has to be done. I’m so sorry,” Angel replied. “Sam?”

Sam looked down at his notebook, reciting in Latin, “Regna terrae, cantata deo, psallite domino, tribuite virtutem deo, exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus, omnis satanica potestas, omnis incuriso infernalis adversarii, omnis legio, onmis congregatio et secta diabolica, ergo, perditionis venenum propinare. Vade, satana, inventor et magister omnis fallaciae.” A gust of wind circled through the room, teasing at the hair of the men and woman. “Hostis humanae salutis. Humiliare sub potenti manu dei. Contremisce et effuge. Invocato a nobis sancto et terribile nomine. Quem inferi tremunt. Ab insidis diaboli, libera nos, domine. Ut ecclesiam tuam secura tibi facias, libertate servire, te rogamus, audi nos.” Cordelia’s face and body began trembling and contorting. “Ut inimicos sanctae ecclesiae humiliare digneris, to rogamus audi. Dominicos sanctae ecclesiae, terogamus audi nos, terribilis deus do sanctuario suo deus israhel. Ipse tribuite virtutem et fortitudinem plebi suae, benedictus deus, gloria patri.”

Cordelia threw back her head, screaming in agony, muscles in her neck corded, spine arched to point of snapping. The evil entity burst from her stretched mouth in a black cloud of smoke, hitting the ceiling of the room before escaping through the doorway – vanishing.

Cordelia dropped to the floor like an unstrung marionette, unconscious.

Angel lowered his sword, cautiously approaching her inert body. Laying aside the sword, he knelt beside her and felt her neck for a pulse, finding a faint rhythm.

“She’s still alive,” Angel announced, sliding the sword through his belt then picking up Cordelia, cradling her against his broad chest.

“That’s good. Most demons use up a host’s body, burn it out – in my experience,” Sam told him, somehow feeling slight in comparison to Angel, who was actually his brother's height, but broader.

“Thank you, for helping me. If there’s anything I can do for you or your family in return –” Angel offered.

"You’re welcome,” Sam interrupted, thinking of Jess and only wanting to get back to her arms.

They walked out of the building together, Angel carrying Cordelia with a quiet air of triumph to his stride.

**************************


Sunnydale, Summers’ Residence, Night

Buffy walked through her living room, which was currently filled with potential Slayers who were tending to the wounded, including Kennedy. Buffy looked away from the chaos and Dawn watched her sister walk out of the room. A moment later she heard the front door close as Buffy left the house – and all of them.
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