The Tongues of Hell

Author: Alas

Summary: Subtlety never was Angelus's strong point.

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Rating: R

Notes: Rated for graphic imagery. Title taken from the poem "Fever 103" by Sylvia Plath.

 

**

 

She shifted in her sleep, hair falling across her face. He pushed the errant strand away and continued to study her. Bafflingly, infuriatingly, in slumber she retained that perfect innocence hed first found her with some years ago. Her features were serene and unperturbed; he hated her for it.

 

In his mind there were still memories, vivid ones, of how it felt to love her as a man did, though bit by bit they were becoming tainted with the demons obsession in the same way that blood colored water. He thought of Spike and Drusilla, their fondness for each other so human and irrational, so sickening. He didnt know how they could stand the sensation of being in love. Right now it was festering in him, putrefying in the pit of his stomach.

 

He wanted it gone, but he looked at her glowing face and felt that disturbing, inexplicable emotion again. Fury was hot in his veins. He needed her to suffer. As he thought of the many ways he would make that happen, an involuntary smile tugged at his lips.

 

Oblivious, Buffy breathed in deeply and let out a quiet sigh. She was so cute when she slept.

 

* * *

 

Ill admit, I do find Angels lack of action rather, well, distressing. Giles rubbed one eye tiredly before replacing his glasses. Of course, we cant rule out the possibility that hes found other things to do with his time, rather than interfering constantly in Buffys life.

 

The snort Buffy let out indicated her feelings on the subject. It didnt seem to her like Angel had many hobbies apart from being an utter pain in her ass at all times. The fact that they hadnt heard so much as a rumor about him or caught a glimpse of him around town was unsettling. If he wasnt making her miserable, what could he be doing?

 

Im with Buffy on this, said Xander. Its not like him to do anything but creep around and make empty threats.

 

Empty threats would be ones he didnt plan on actually carrying out. I think its pretty safe to say he means what he says, Willow pointed out.

 

Yeah, he thinks he means it, but come on, Buffy beats him to the ground every time. Its like a kitten versus a Rottweiler.

 

Before the two got much further in their discussion of action versus intent, Cordelia spoke up: Uh, couldnt he just kill her while shes asleep or something?

 

The rest of them exchanged glancesapart from Oz, who always seemed content to listen rather than participate. A vampire needs to be invited in before they can enter a house, Buffy explained patiently.

 

Cordelia was unfazed. Yeah, and he has been in your house. When this remark was met with blank stares, she rolled her eyes. Soul or no soul, hes still the same vampire. Am I honestly the only one who thought of that?

 

As much as Buffy wanted to scoff and tell Cordelia she was wrong, the idea had never occurred to her before. She had assumed, as the others likely had, that Angel losing his soul made him a fundamentally different creature, a different man. But Giles had said, hadnt he, that a vampire wasnt a person to begin with, just a demonand soul or no soul, Angel really was the same old vampire as before.

 

A tremor of anxiety ran through her.

 

Seeing this, Willow was quick to say, Well, if he hasnt done anything by now, maybe he hasnt realized he can get in, o-or maybe he forgot?

 

Or hes already let himself in, Giles put forth gravely. More so than most vampires, Angel has a particular talent for going undetected when he chooses to. In the past it made him an invaluable ally, but

 

Now it just makes him someone you really dont wanna piss off, Xander filled in.

 

Buffys mouth thinned into a hard line. Giles, we need to get him out of my house. Anything in your books about withdrawing invitations?

 

Well, I, erm, dont believe so, but it never hurts to check.

 

Whatll we do if we cant find the right spell? asked Willow, looking distinctly uneasy. The suns gonna set in a few hours, and Buffys mom is an open target.

 

It was the harsh reality of the matter. Every moment that Mrs. Summers was left unguarded after nightfall left Angel the perfect opportunity to strike. And if Buffy went out on patrol shed be all but sending him a telegram that said Please bite my mother. But asking the other Scoobies to patrol on her behalf would be unreasonable, not to mention reckless. Still, it wasnt as though any of them stood a chance against her vampire ex-boyfriend; if he was a kitten, as Xander said, then the rest of them were just mice.

 

She made the decision in an instant. I need to stay with her, she said. You guys can take over patrol if you want, but I justI need to be with my mom.

 

Giles nodded. Of course. I understand completely.

 

He, Willow, Oz and Xander were all up for the task of hunting down vamps. Ever the lazy and self-serving sort, Cordelia opted out, saying she had better things to do with her Tuesday night than get mauled to death. Buffy patted her on the shoulder, saying, Glad we can always count on you to be consistent.

 

She rolled her eyes. Whatever. Do you want a ride home or not?

 

Buffys eyes grew comically wide. Youre offering? Who are you and what have you done with Cordy?

 

Later that night, Xander found himself walking home from the fourth cemetery, stake in one hand and cross in his pocket. Theyd kept saying it wasnt safe to walk around alone in the dark, but he preferred the peace and quiet of a vampire-filled town after dusk to the sound of his parents bickering. Did it count as bickering if it was mostly one-sided? All right, he preferred it to the sound of his dad yelling drunkenly at his mom. Having declined Ozs offer to drive him, he took his time ambling down the streets.

 

Nothing jumped him along the way, which was a definite plus. He even took a few detours here and there to see if he would come across anything creeping or lurking, but it was all quiet. There mightve been something suspicious about that; Xander, however, tended not to look the gift horse in the hellmouth. Deciding he probably wasnt going to die that night, he stopped at a park just a block shy of his house and sat on the bench, looking upward.

 

The stars were bright. Willow had told him the names of a few constellations, pointing them out in the sky, but all he ever remembered was the Big Dipper. When he looked at them he just saw stars, small and shining and blissfully far away from this sucky little world. He sighed.

 

Didnt they tell you its not safe out here, boy?

 

Jumping, he whirled around in his seat to find Angel standing just a few feet away, legs crossed as he leaned against a tree. He had that stupid smug look on his face. God, what Xander wouldnt give to punch him right in the mouth.

 

Dont you have teenage girls to threaten? Maybe some puppies to kick, parades to rain on?

 

The bastard smirked, taking a few steps forward. Xander got to his feet quickly. He reached for the cross in his pants pocket, but Angel held out his hands palm-out in a non-threatening gesture. I just came to talk.

 

Xanders eyes narrowed. Yeah? Sure, maybe you can tell me all about the schemes youve been scheming up instead of tormenting us with your presence every night.

 

You know, Ive never liked you, said Angel. Oh, it was mutual. But Ive gotta give you credit: Your taste in womens not bad.

 

Somehow that doesnt seem like much of a compliment, coming from Sleeps with Crazy Vampires.

 

Ignoring him, he went on, Buffys easy on the eyesbut I guess I dont have to tell you that. Cordelia, though He whistled appreciatively. Wow. And you know what those two have in common, Xander?

 

Apart from the obvious? Cheerleaders with surprisingly high test scores? Xander replied, expression deadpan as his patience dangled on a thread.

 

Angel laugheda cold, condescending laugh, his eyes alight with cruelty. Im glad you can find humor in times like these. Its a healthy coping mechanism.

 

Enough with the games, the teenager snapped. If youve got a message to deliver, say it. Dont waste my time.

 

Drawing closer till just the bench separated them, Angel stared into him with those dark eyes; staring back at him was like looking into an abyss. He drawled out lowly, I fucked both of them before you could.

 

It took three seconds for the meaning of the vampires words to sink in, but he was gone in two, walking right past Xander and disappearing into the ether. Xander turned to give chase, running past the slide and the swings and merry-go-round as the bark chips turned to grass and then concrete, running till he reached his house and then stopping at the door. His hands and legs were shaking as he turned the key in the lock and walked in; kept shaking as he picked up the phone, dialing her number at warp speed; kept shaking as the maid told him Miss Chase hadnt made it home yet.

 

When he hung up the phone, he thought of picking up the receiver again to call Buffy and start a search. No, the night was still young Buffy had to stay with her momleaving to go to Cordys rescue was just the sort of opening that asshole would be looking for, and Xanders logical mind knew this full well. Willow? That would just put her in danger. And Gileshe couldnt remember Giless number. It was buried somewhere in the back of his mind where he was too frantic to even start to search.

 

Xander did the only thing he could think to do. He ran back out the door and kept running.

 

* * *

 

They didnt see Xander or Cordelia all through the morning and afternoon. Willow said they probably caught some kind of virus that was spread primarily through sticking your tongue down someones throat, but Buffy wasnt convinced. This was the hellmouth: When people went missing it was usually bad news.

 

After school ended they went straight to the library, Willow and Oz hand-in-hand. To their surprise, Xander was sitting at the central table, leaning forward on his elbows. Giles was pacing.

 

Xander, Buffy called out. Whats the

 

We were stupid, he cut in harshly. We thought hed just go after you. But thats not what this is about, is it? Its the people around you who He stopped, seething. They all jumped as he banged his white-knuckled fist on the table.

 

What are you talking about? What happened? Buffy demanded.

 

No longer pacing incessantly, Giles strode over to her. There was an incident last night, he told her in hushed tones.

 

Sirens went off in her head. Did he? Xander?

 

He shook his head. Cordelia.

 

Cordelia? She felt her lips tighten. Giles, what did he do to her?

 

He hesitated, lowered his voice and told her.

 

Willow let out a gasp of shock and clung to Oz, but Buffy just felt numb. Her mind replayed old memories like film, going shot by shot, each picture vivid. She had let those hands touch her, let that mouth kiss her, let him do things to her that no one else had done, all in spite of knowing that he had committed terrible, unspeakable acts in his past. Red had touched hershe had let it. But this wasnt about the past anymore. Just last night those same hands had violated Cordelia, marking her skin with their scarlet prints. She wondered if the monster had stopped to look at her, to memorize her expression of fear as he destroyed her universe and made the strong, vicious girl beg.

 

Without a word, Buffy tore out of the library and made for the restroom. She puked her guts out in the toilet, thinking about how much of an idiot she was as she retched into the bowl. Of course he wasnt going to target her househe knew better.

 

It was just as Xander said, or had begun to say. She may have been the almighty Slayer, but the people around her were the ones who paid.

 

She returned to find everyone talking about what their next course of action would be. Xander was up for a good old-fashioned hunt, which Giles rightfully argued would be a disaster. That was the exact thing he would want, for them to charge in, crossbows blazing, only for it all to be a trap. Willow, meanwhile, pointed out that they didnt know what he would do next, and if this was the game he was going to play then anyone could be a target.

 

Not just anyone, Buffy interrupted. Angel She stopped, lips pursed, and shook her head. Angelus thrives on psychological torture, doesnt he? He gets off on it. The way I see it, he has a plan. I think he wants us to know who hes targeting so he can laugh in our faces when we cant protect them. And I think I know who hes going after next.

 

The four of them looked on blankly. Willow asked, hesitant, Who is it?

 

You, Will.

 

The redhead gaped at her in alarm. W-why me?

 

Hes been in your house. Since hes not dumb enough to try coming after me directly, hes probably gonna hit up the only other Sunnydale residence where someones handed him a key. And that means you.

 

Momentary silence ensued. Then Giles cleared his throat, looking rather sheepish as he cleaned his spectacles meticulously. Well, II wouldnt be so hasty to assume, he muttered.

 

The look Buffy gave him could make it snow in hell. Giles, do you have something to tell us? she gritted out.

 

Oh, erm, just that he was in my flat once. Or twice. Possibly a few times, now that I think about it, he said eventually, reddening. He was a great asset, you know, inin research for many of the demons weve gone up against this past year. And in some of the spell work involved. But, naturally, if I had known He didnt need to continue. All of them would have done things differently if they had known what would happen, Buffy most of all. Now, if were right in assuming Angelus plans to target each of us in turn, then currently Willow and I are in the most dangerand Buffys mother, of course, he added. Our focus should be on research. Once weve revoked his invitations, we can begin to plan our next course of action.

 

Much as she was itching to get her hands on that son of a bitch, Buffy knew Giles was right. First the spell, then the ass-kicking. If need be she could have Willow crash at her place, but that left the Watcher unprotected; still, he was better able to defend himself than an ordinary teenage girl.

 

She exhaled at length, running her fingers through her hair. Xander, is Cordelia Is she gonna be okay wasnt the right thing to ask. It was stupid, insensitive. Is she safe? Does she need anything?

 

Xander hadnt said much of anything since his earlier outburst. He was leaning back in his chair with crossed arms, as though trying to distance himself without getting up and leaving the room. Shes at home, he answered. Hasnt left her room since last night. His jaw clenched; she saw the fabric of his sleeves bunch as he gripped them in tight fists. She didnt seem to want me in there.

 

And that didnt make sense from a logical standpoint. Xander hadnt done anything wrong, had only looked out for her and been enraged and concerned on her behalf since the incident. But Buffy could think of a few reasons Cordelia might not want him around: shame, fear, trauma. And god knows what Angelus had said to her. If he could gleefully drive a chaste Christian girl to madness, there was no telling what else he could accomplish.

 

Do you think she wants company? Willow inquired with gut-wrenching sympathy in her big eyes. We could, I dunno, maybe visit her?

 

Much as I hate to say it, interrupted Giles, solemn, our priority for now is to find this spell as soon as possible. As long as Cordelia is out of harms way, we cant afford to worry.

 

She nodded, shoulders drooping. Ozs hand was tight in hers and Buffy envied their solidarity. Well, I could maybe ask Miss Calendar? She might know something that we dont.

 

Slayer and Watcher exchanged looks of discomfort. Whatever it takes, Buffy said.

 

Jenny had the spell stashed in her collection and was quick to hand it over, along with a few of the herbs theyd need for the ritual. They took care of Giless apartment first, since they needed a large collection of crosses and holy water from there anyway, before heading to Willows conspicuously empty house.

 

A note on the pristine fridge said her parents had gone out for dinner, which served as a surprise to Willow, who told Buffy she couldnt remember the last time Sheila and Ira Rosenberg had gone out for a romantic evening, if ever. Still, she said theyd been trying to work on their marriage as of late, having been distant from each other and their daughter for a good many years. So maybe it wasnt all that strange, really.

 

Then they hurried to the Summers residence, completing the ritual just in time to prevent the demon from crossing the threshold.

 

Buffy stood on the other side of the barrier. She eyed the creature that wore the flesh of her former love with loathing, unable to keep the look of disgust from rising to the surface. Sorry, Angel, she said coldly. Changed the locks.

 

As she closed the door she thought she saw a smirk flit across his features. A violent shudder ripped through her and left her freezing. Her instincts told her he was already long gone, her Slayer blood cold from inaction, but no amount of distance between them could shake the horrible feeling in her gut.

 

Hey Mom, she called, somethings come up. Willow and I need to go back to her house.

 

Joyce was as far from pleased as Buffy had seen her in a long while; her curled hair was frizzy and her brow was knit with distress, and there was anger there, disbelief. The teen hadnt heard their exchange outside, but she did have an idea of what Angelus could say to make her mother so frazzled.

 

Its an emergency, Buffy stressed. I promise Ill be back as soon as I can.

 

She relented. All right, Ill drive you over there.

 

No! Buffy scrambled around for an excuse, glancing to Willow for help.

 

UmahhhXander might call! Willow improvised. Andand if he calls here while Buffys gone, we need you to tell him were at my place.

 

Joyce was unmoved. Why dont you just call him before you leave?

 

We we dont know if hes home, said Buffy. Sowhen he gets home, he might call. But if he calls and no one answers, hell think somethings wrong.

 

Throwing her hands in the air in surrender, Joyce walked off, probably to have a tall glass of wine. Buffy and Willow grabbed a few stakes, a crossbow and as much holy water as they could carry before setting off.

 

So whats the deal? Willow asked once they were out of the house and tearing through the streets. Why the rush to get to my house again? Its safe, isnt it? Her tone had lost its certainty. Clearly she no longer thought her house was all that safe.

 

I dont know, Will. But were about to find out.

 

Once they reached the house, Buffy had Willow walk right behind her as they did a quick sweep of the perimeter. Then she took her friends house key, slowly turned it in the lock, and led the way inside.

 

It was just as they had left it, not a hair out of place. But the car was gonethey cared quite a bit about the environment, the Rosenbergs, and had just a single vehicle between themand her parents were still absent.

 

Im gonna take a look around upstairs, said Buffy after they finished inspecting the kitchen once more. Just stay here, all right?

 

Climbing the staircase at a cautious speed, she brandished her stake, trying, as Giles had taught her, to reach out with her senses. No sounds were audible but the tap of her soles against the steps, her quiet breath, and the hum of a car passing outside. Nothing was visibly out of order, though in a place like Sunnydale appearances were often misleading. She had learned that the hard way.

 

She first checked the master bedroom. The bedsheets were immaculate and the nightstands had been placed in exact symmetry on either side of the mattress, the arrangement eerily perfect. If someone were to set a level on top of any piece of furniture or frame in the room, Buffy had the feeling it would all be absolutely parallel to the ground. This, more than the frightening stillness and silence, made her shudder.

 

Searching the closet and en suite bathroom and balcony, she found nothing, even peeking under the bed and behind the curtains. Everything was fine, from the dustless surfaces to the hospital corners of the sheetsyet the uneasy feeling, the sensation of icy tarantula legs creeping down the back of her neck, refused to abate. With her mouth set in a grim line she continued on, checking the linen closet, the hall bathroom and the office, until at last she found herself standing before Willows room.

 

Never had she felt such a sense of foreboding just approaching a room. Even when she had walked knowingly toward her death at the hands of the Master, it had at least been known what she would face. Whatever lay on the other side of this door was a formless shadow. Clutching the doorknob, the Slayer raised her weapon in preparation for an ambush. She swung the door open.

 

Nothing.

 

Nothing under the bed or desk, nothing on the balcony ledge, nothing behind the bookcase. Maybe that shouldnt have been surprising; Buffys life revolved around the scary things that lurked in the dark, and having been a child once she knew the most likely place for monsters to hide. Her eyes drifted to the opposite side of the room, resting on the closet door.

 

At first she recoiled from the handle. A smell, however faint, hit her nostrils. It was a familiar odor, yet she couldnt quite put her finger on it. It was only in the microsecond before the door opened all the way that she realized it, her eyes widening to their limit while her jaw dropped in a silent scream.

 

The meat hooks swayed. Blood like molasses oozed down the skin of the hanging limbs, still not quite dry. The cuts were all clean. Almost surgical. They were as perfect as the dcor of the home, severed flawlessly and hung in an organized fashion. The eyeballs had been carefully removed so the heads dangled from their hooks by the sockets.

 

Her stake fell from her grasp, thudding on the floor. She slammed the door shut and stumbled backward.

 

Buffy? Willow called up the stairs. Did you find anything?

 

Buffy tore out of the room, charged down to the first floor, and sought out a phone with the kind of immediacy granted only by adrenaline. Her hand slipped as she tried to dial Giless number, and once successful it seemed to ring for ages.

 

Hello?

 

Come to Willows now, she ordered without preamble. Armed. Dont stop for anything.

 

He asked no questions, simply replying, On my way. After that she called Oz, gave a similar command, and hung up the phone in a jerky motion.

 

Willow looked nothing short of frantic. What happened? Whats up there?

 

Your butchered parents lined up in your closet like a slaughterhouse. Another message.

 

When she glanced over the note was still stuck to the refrigerator, penned in the tidy scrawl of Mrs. Rosenberg. Or maybe just made to look that way.

 

Oz lived closer and thus arrived first. Buffy took her friend by the arm and hauled her to the door, ignoring her confused protests. Get her out of here, she told him. Giles and I will take care of things. Make sure to pick up Xander, too. Well meet you in two hours at Giless; Willow knows where the spare key is. Got it?

 

He nodded and finally spoke: Here, I found this at the doormat just now. He pulled an envelope out of his back pocket and held it out. Buffy took with a trembling hand but didnt break the seal.

 

They left just as Giles arrived. Buffy couldnt explain to him what had happened, just told him to check Willows closet. She heard him let out a cry of surprise upstairs before shutting the door just as quickly as she had. He was coming back down as she opened the envelope, his face contorted in disgust and anger and shock.

 

Even for Angelus, that was on the excessive side, he muttered with venom. Buffy hardly heard him, unfolding the crisp sheet in her hands.

 

Dark things still move in the daylight, lover.

 

The paper crumpled in her clenched fist.

 

With how precise the vampire had been, there was very little evidence for the two of them to dispose of. They filed a report to the police saying the Rosenbergs were missing without a trace, having Willow claim a strange man had been lurking outside their house recently. Naturally, they didnt give the killers real description; to do so would be to endanger ordinary people, whom Angelus could tear apart in moments.

 

Willow spent two solid hours crying in Buffys arms when the blonde told her her parents were dead. She didnt ask how, probably didnt want to knowand Buffy couldnt blame her after what shed witnessed. All she could do was let Willow stay with her, away from that haunting scene where the bodies had been found.

 

Buffy took care not to mention that Willow let out horrific screams late at night, jolting her from her own slumber. Shed see the quivering shape of Willows body beside her and pull the covers up higher over the both of them. She didnt know what else to do.

 

* * *

 

Hey.

 

She spoke softly, tentatively, unsure if her presence in the room was a welcome one. Cordelia didnt look at her, but she didnt tell her to go away either, and she took that as a good sign.

 

The room smelled of must. How long had it been since she let the maid in or kept a door or window open? Buffy sneezed once, twice, sniffling miserably. She held up the stack in her arms. I, um, brought all the homework you missed. Figured you wouldnt wanna flunk your junior year.

 

From her place in the sunlit window seat, a subdued Cordelia replied, Thanks.

 

No big. After setting the pile on the desk, she stood awkwardly, gazing around at the lavish room. Lots of mirrors, she noted, and a balance of antique and modern furnishings. The double doors of the walk-in closet were ajar, yet Cordelia was clad in silk pajamas and didnt look like shed bothered getting dressed in days. Something about that sent pangs through Buffys heart. To fill the silence, she added, Its the least I could do.

 

Now the brunette looked over. Her face was, for the first time Buffy had seen, clear of any makeup. She was still gorgeous without it, even in spite of her chillingly blank expression. Why do you say that?

 

Its my fault all this happened, isnt it? I know thats what everyones thinking, Cordelia. Willow hardly talks and Xander wont even look at me. She laughed without humor. Starting to get what they mean about the Slayer being alone.

 

Dont be stupid. Cordys eyes narrowed into a glare. Are you the one who raped me, Buffy?

 

The word rape shouldnt have made Buffy flinch as hard as it did. She frowned. But its my fault he

 

Would you stop being the tragic hero for two seconds and listen to me? Cordelia snapped, emotion surfacing on her face at last. Sure, maybe we wouldnt have another evil bloodsucking monster on the loose if you hadnt gone and slept with your boyfriend, but the only one who had any way of knowing that would happen was Miss Calendar. And she didnt do anything to stop it.

 

It was true. Even though the Romani woman had supplied them with the spell to keep Angelus out, Buffy was still far from forgiving her. While she knew playing the blame game was petty and unproductive, she couldnt help but agree with Cordelia.

 

Do you know what he said? Cordelia asked suddenly, her eyes glazing over as though in a trance. He congratulated me on not crying as much as you did.

 

Not for the first time that week, Buffy felt sicker than death.

 

* * *

 

The less she slept, the better off she was. Her dreams all starred Angelusor maybe Angel, as she was starting to forget the difference. Sometimes he stood over the bodies of her friends; other times one of them would kill the other. But the worst, the most dreadful and unconscionable, were the ones she started to have in the weeks following the slaughter.

 

The ones where she loved him.

 

Hed hold her, kiss her jaw, murmur into her ear while the world turned to ash around them. She adored him all over again and would wake up with sorrow caught in her throat, excreting guilt from her every pore as she glanced at the vulnerable girl lying beside her.

 

She awoke from one such a dream to find Willow looking at her tiredly, just inches away. A curtain of hair hung in front of one eye. You looked happy, she observed. Was it a nice dream?

 

Buffy shuddered. Not really. Whatre you doing up, Will?

 

I havent been able to sleep. I was thinking about something I talked with Miss Calendar about, she said.

 

Mention of that woman still brought on a twinge of fury, but Buffy quelled her anger and asked, What was it?

 

Willow was quiet for a long moment, just giving Buffy a calculating look. Minutes later, the silence long and deep enough by now to hold the ocean, she responded, She found the spell to give his soul back. We just arent sure if its a good idea.

 

Not a good idea? The Slayers heart skipped a beat. This was almost better news than she could have hoped for. With his soul back hed be Angel again, no more blurred lines between who he was and used to be. He would be hers again, good and just and righteous and remorseful

 

But she wondered: How could he possibly bear the burden of what he had done? How would he ever be able to smile or look happily on the world again, knowing how much pain hed caused in the name of foolish revenge?

 

I said it would be more humane to kill him, continued Willow. He was good. I know the others dont agree, and most days I dont either. But without him I dunno how things wouldve turned out. Maybe youd still be dead and the whole town would be overrun with vampires. She shrugged one shoulder. She decided to go ahead and try the spell anyway. Shes probably at the school right now.

 

At thenow? The clock read 2:19. The absolute dead of night. Panicked, Buffy threw the covers off and scrambled out of bed to get dressed and arm herself. Why didnt you tell me sooner? she asked, yanking her jeans on.

 

Willow was sitting up now. Her head was cocked to the side in curiosity, expression otherwise impassive. Whys it matter?

 

Willow, she could die, Buffy snapped, quiet enough not to disturb her mother.

 

The redhead seemed truly puzzled. So?

 

Seething as she finished loading up her weapons, Buffy opened the window and, crossbow in hand, hopped out nimbly. As soon as she was on the ground she broke into a full sprint and didnt slow down for anything.

 

One thing about Sunnydale High shed never understood was the number of doors kept unlocked at night. Most of the school was secured, but there were enough gaps in that security for it to be more than a little disconcerting. A hellmouth, of all places, shouldnt be so lax about these things. For once, though, it proved beneficial: She tugged on the handle of the first door she saw, opening it with ease.

 

She made a beeline for Jennys classroom. Upon reaching it she paused, her Slayer senses kicking in. Whirling around, she came face-to-face with Angelus.

 

I didnt expect to see you here, Buff. And he did wear a look of pleasant surprise, eyebrows raised and one corner of his mouth curling into a smirk. Dont tell me youre playing guard dog to the gypsy. I thought you were smarter than that.

 

Im not here to help her with the ritual, just to make sure you keep your distance. And youve risen pretty high on the list of people Id rather stab with a pointy object than talk to, Angelus, she grit out coldly. If I were you Id cut the small talk and make a run for it.

 

He made a reproving noise. Now, see, that hurts. You used to call me Angel.

 

You used to call me Buffy, she shot back.

 

That got a chuckle out of him. He came a few short steps closer, just out of arms reach, and she began to notice just how much he had changed. His skin had gained a deathly pallor, less like a sun-deprived man and closer to a plague victim. There were circles under his eyes so dark it was as though he hadnt slept in weeks. He had been dead the whole time shed known him, true, but only now did he look the part.

 

Her observations were interrupted when he said, I think I know whats wrong. Youre upset about the little thing with Cordelia, is that it? I know you and I never really broke up, but given the circumstances I think its best if we see other people.

 

Buffy hadnt hated him before. Shed resented him, been infuriated with him, wished a gruesome fate on himand now, with that passing remark about Cordelia, she finally hated him. Fury bubbled in her hotter than the suns core, but she knew from that growing expression of amusement on his face that he wanted her to lash out.

 

With the utmost frigidity, she said, Go to hell.

 

She tore into the classroom, not waiting for a reply, and found Jenny Calendar standing in the corner, alive and well, a cross in one hand and glass orb in the other.

 

Maybe Cordelia was right to say it was her fault, and maybe Willow had good reason not to care what happened to the woman, but she was still an innocent human being and still the only person shed known Giles to love. That, to her, was enough to make saving her worth it.

 

Lets go. Hes not coming back tonight, she told the teacher.

 

Jennys pretty black eyes went wide. Go? I cant, I have to

 

What? Buffy demanded. Make an innocent man suffer? I cant let you put his soul back in. Its torture.

 

No further argument was made. Once they arrived at Jennys car she offered to drive Buffy home, but the Slayer declined, saying shed skipped patrol for the night anyway and wouldnt be averse to making sure the town didnt burst into flames overnight. She didnt add that being around Miss Calendar gave her no pleasure, and she preferred the towns promise of malicious undead to several minutes of uncomfortable silence.

 

Before they parted ways, Buffy said, Wait, holding out her hand expectantly. Give me the orb and disk.

 

Jenny gave the items over with reluctance, her Orb of Thesulah glowing as it changed hands. She sighed. So thats it, huh? Youre really gonna kill your ex-boyfriend?

 

Buffy shrugged, aiming for indifference. Looks like it, she replied.

 

Im sorry. For what its worth.

 

After mulling it over for a moment, lips pursed, Buffy said, Its not worth much.

 

It took four times as long to get home as it had to arrive at the school, giving her plenty of time to regret not staking Angelus on the spot. Every time she failed to kill him, all his subsequent deeds were her responsibility. If she had just taken care of him back after obliterating the Judge, none of the rest of this would have happened.

 

Willow was still sitting up in bed, watching as Buffy climbed back in through the window. Make it in time? she asked.

 

Yep. No people dead, no souls restored. Fun times were had by all.

 

She nodded. Good, she said. Tell me when you kill the son of a bitch.

 

It looked like Buffy would get her minutes of uncomfortable silence after all.

 

* * *

 

How many times?

 

How many times had she told her mom, emphatically, not to invite any strangers into the house? How many times had she warned her not to go out at night? How many times had she said Angel and his friends were dangerous and not to be trusted?

 

Not enough.

 

When she got home, Drusilla was waiting in the kitchen, sitting on the floor with Joyces head cradled in her lap. She stroked it as lovingly as one would a small dog.

 

Shhhh. With her free hand she raised a finger to her lips. The babys sleeping.

 

Buffys mouth went dry as she saw the mark on her mothers neck, scarlet seeping from the small holes; it was only when she saw a cross-shaped welt on the side of Drusillas face that she sprang into action, stake in hand. But the crazed vampire moved too quickly, darting out through the open door.

 

She was at her moms side in an instant. She felt for a pulse, found none, and started to hyperventilate, eyes as big as saucers and shining with unshed tears. Mom. Mom, come on, youre okay, she insisted desperately. Wake up. Wake up!

 

She felt Willow behind her before she saw her. The girl had a deep gash in her cheek and several on her arms, claw marks that had torn through her clothing. She smelled like fear.

 

I tried, Willow choked out. I-I tried toI d-didnt mean

 

When did the floor turn to liquid under her knees? Even sitting down she could feel herself sway. I need Giles, she told Willow without thinking. Call him.

 

And with the gentle hands and voice of a father, Giles pulled her aside and told her exactly what she hadnt wanted to hear: Joyce might turn, and if they didnt act soon she could rise again. So it was with a heart heavy as lead that Buffy rammed the stake into her mothers chest, like Arthur Holmwood stabbing his beloved Lucy. The corpse turned to ash under her hands.

 

In the daytime they made for the factory. Angelus and Drusilla werent there, but Spike was, and that was good enough for her. He lasted for only a few minutes, getting in a callous remark here and there, before she pulled out a newly-acquired machete and sliced off his head, the spine providing minimal resistance against the blades edge.

 

He was dust before his open-mouthed head hit the ground.

 

They burned the factory to cinders. It was a better fate than that miserable prison deserved. With any luck its other residents would follow soon enough.

 

Im all for bringing down Angelus, Buffy, said Xander as she shot another target right in the bulls-eye, but dont you think you should slow down, maybe take a break?

 

She shot him a glare and, without a glance toward the targets, loosed another bolt. It hit dead center.

 

Or not, he added quickly.

 

I think shes got the right idea. Cordelia was leaning back against a shelf, all clad in long sleeves and loose-fitting pants and wearing her hair conservatively. It was quite a changebut maybe not all that shocking of one. If youre gonna hunt down a vamp, might as well be prepared.

 

Im not hunting him down, Cordelia, Buffy said as she reloaded the crossbow. Im inviting him in.

 

Everyone let out simultaneous cries of protesteven Willow, who had become even more laconic than her (ex?) boyfriend. It sounded like an insane idea, probably because it was.

 

Willow can go stay with Xander or Cordelia. Ill wait for Angelus to come around, and if you dont hear from me in an hour you can run in with swords drawn and torches litwhatever you want.

 

Expression that of intense disapproval, Giles asked, How do you even plan on contacting him? Weve no idea where hes moved, no way of knowing where he might be hunting He stopped when a bolt went flying past his ear.

 

Buffy lowered her weapon with a sadistic grin. Ive got it all worked out.

 

There were seven vampires living in the squalid shack. She made short work of the first five, leaving the last ones cowering on the opposite corner of the room. It was broad daylight and they had no way of getting out.

 

She tapped Mr. Pointy against her thigh as she took slow strides toward her prey. Now, Im pretty sure the two of you know where to find Angelus.

 

The mansion on Crawford! one of them burst out, shrinking against the wall. He was a teenager, maybe a year or two younger than heror he was when he was alive, at least.

 

She smiled, eyelids lowered in a sultry gaze as she leaned in and murmured, Oh, Im not asking for directions. I want you to be my messenger boy. Addressing both vampires, she continued, Tell him the Slayer wants to play tonight.

 

They exchanged fearful looks. Now? one croaked.

 

If you run fast enough you might make it. Without warning she whirled around and put a fist through the window. The ratty curtains fell off and sunlight burst in, leaving the pair of screaming vampires to make a dash for the shade.

 

Hours later, she worried her messengers had really burned up without delivering the invitation. If Angelus didnt show she would have to wait an entire day to set it up again. Luckily, the knock sounded on her door at eight oclock sharp.

 

Come on in, she said, gesturing with her hand. He stalked in with his brooding eyes and silk shirt and leather pants. It was a shame he was evil; youd have to be blind not to see how good he looked.

 

They didnt fight, not at first. She offered him a drinkcoffee, wine, O pos? He declined, asking instead if he could smoke. Go ahead, she told him. There wasnt much of anyone left in the house to care about lung cancer anyway. Then the two stood opposite each other for a while, her with crossed arms and a blank stare, him with smoke streaming from his lips as he pressed his back against the doorframe. She wondered how it was that a vampire could smoke if they had no breath. It seemed as paradoxical as two people in love causing each other pain.

 

So, Buff, he began between drags, whats the occasion?

 

Im going to kill you, and I wanted it to be on my terms. No tricks, no surprises, no pointy-toothed minions. At his continued look of skepticism she added, But first I wanna talk.

 

With a snort he dropped his cigarette to the floor and crushed it with the sole of his shoe. Yeah? Gonna give some big heroic speech about how I have to die because Im evil and theres no place for me in this world?

 

She shook her head. No. I just thought you should know how pathetic you are. You didnt do all this just for fun, Angelus. Youre scared of how much you loved me. How much you still love me. It just tears you apart, doesnt it? All those warm, fuzzy feelings cutting into your evil plans, making you think

 

Dont kid yourself, he barked. I dont love you. Dont mistake me for that weak idiot with a soul. I dont love anything, least of all some dumb kid who doesnt even know how to lie down and take it without crying, you got that? He had turned almost hysterical, his chest heaving even though his lungs were empty.

 

She walked up to him then, stopping when their bodies nearly touched and she had to crane her neck to look him in the eye. Im the only thing your sad, shriveled hearts ever loved, she whispered, venomous, and you cant stand it.

 

A growl escaped him before he pressed his mouth to hers, forcing the most vicious, sharp, angry kiss on her shed ever experienced. It hurtnot just physically, but deep within her, stinging and burning. For one brief moment she kissed him back, tasting tobacco and death, then shoved him away as their last fight began.

 

And later, when Giles came bursting into the house, he found a pile of ashes and streaks of blood on the living room floor, but no Buffy in sight.

 

Three days, three nights. They all wrote off school completely, lying in wait on Giless couch and floor, drinking his coffee and staring at the doorway, the phone, hoping for some sign to herald the return of their savior.

 

On the third night she arrived, ragged and gaunt and bloody, looking for the world like she had been run over by a semi. Her eyes were tired and haunted, but she was smiling. Giles wrapped her in a tight embrace as tears of relief ran down his cheeks.

 

Im so glad youre all right, he said, voice thick with tears and muffled by her hair. We were so worried about you.

 

She squeezed back, her eyes fluttering shut. Im home, she murmured. Then, in one abrupt motion, she grabbed hold of his head with both hands and twisted.

 

Willow screamed. Oz and Xander gaped. Cordelia stumbled back into the far wall.

 

As Buffy let Giless limp body crumple to the ground and stepped around it to cross the apartments threshold, she looked on at all of them with eager anticipation, a child in front of the Christmas tree. Arent you guys happy to see me? she asked with a fake pout. I went through all this trouble to get herekilling little old Angel, dying, hunting down Drusilla. Dont I get hugs?

 

Already Xander had brandished a cross. The hand he held it in shook violently. Buffy let out a sigh and cracked her neck.

 

Fine, be that way. I could use a workout, I guess. A wide grin spread across her face. Say hello to the new bad.