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Children’s Hour


 

Author: Dark Star

Website: Dark Star's Portal

Timeline: The start of Angel’s Season 2

Disclaimer: All characters, situations, etc, belong to Joss Whedon; I’m just playing with them.

Rating: 13 plus

Summary: Buffy and Angel must join forces to save the lives of three children

Notes: The poetry extract used is from ‘The Destruction of Sennacherib’ by Lord Byron

 

***********

"Do you like my shoes?"

Angel blinked. Judging by Cordelia’s expression, the shoes were probably new.

"They’re…nice." He offered. "And expensive?"

"They certainly were." She confirmed, pleased that he’d noticed. "And more than I can afford on what you pay me." She looked at Angel hopefully. Apparently, no raise was forthcoming and she sighed dramatically.

Wesley arrived with coffee for everyone. "Perhaps you should buy cheaper shoes." He commented, sipping his coffee.

"I have no intention of …oh, no…"

Angel recognised the pained expression and bounded to her side. He caught her as she toppled forward, dimly aware that Wesley was saying, "Vision!"

Pain…

She saw children, pitifully huddled together in a dark dungeon or cavern...

Paaiiiin…Oh God…

She felt sheer terror from the children, a terrible sense of hopelessness and dread…

Pain, slicing through her skull with every shifting image…

She was awash with the smell of decay; the stench so overpowering it made her want to gag…

Pain, hammering away at her brain, punctuating every horrifying scene…

An impression of something huge with glowing green eyes and death in its jaws…

Oh…

Angel held her firmly against his chest, her body squirming in agony. He waited for the vision to pass, his grip on her arms firm and gentle, and his eyes echoing her pain as he wished he could do more for her. Finally, the vision passed, and she sagged, exhausted, back into his embrace.

He heard the phone ring as he carefully steered her towards a chair. He ignored the incessant ringing, more concerned with Cordelia’s welfare than with clients. Wesley snatched up the receiver as Angel fussed over Cordelia, trying to make her more comfortable.

"What did you see?" He asked softly, when she had recovered enough to understand him.

"Children." She managed to say, her voice raw from screaming." Three children. Angel, they were so scared…"

"Ssh." He soothed her. "We’ll help them, Cordy, I promise. Can you tell us where they were? Anything to go on?"

Cordelia looked distressed. "I’m sorry, I…I don’t know where they were. Somewhere underground, I think. Somewhere cold…and…"

"It’s okay." Angel assured her, with more confidence than he felt. "We’ll find them."

"I may have a lead there." Wesley walked over to join them. Angel looked up enquiringly.

"That was Mr. Giles on the phone. He’s coming here to Los Angeles. It seems he needs our help. Something about lost children…"

Cordelia’s face darkened even further as she stared at him. "And is…Buffy coming too?"

"Yes, Buffy and Willow will be coming with him."

"Great." Cordelia glanced at Angel, whose expression was unreadable. "The day just gets better and better."

* * * * *

The group arrived from Sunnydale later that afternoon. Angel offered them accommodation at the Hyperion, since there was plenty of room. Cordelia organised everyone, making sure that Buffy’s room was as far from Angel’s as she could find.

"Just in case." She insisted.

Giles filled them in on their problem. They had discovered that three local children had mysteriously vanished, one right in front of their parents’ startled eyes. Research had led them to Los Angeles, but it was a big city and they’d felt the need to contact Angel for assistance. Further research had revealed other disappearances in previous years from LA and the surrounding areas, and they had uncovered several promising leads.

At nightfall, Angel said, "I’m gonna hit the streets. See if I can find anything else out."

"Good idea." Wesley agreed. "We ought to try all avenues."

Angel grabbed his coat, and hesitating for only a moment, he turned back to Buffy. "Would you…" He began.

"Thought you’d never ask." She grinned back at him. She paused only long enough to pick up her jacket, and she followed him to his car.

The journey to find Angel’s contact was incredibly uncomfortable. Conversation was stilted, even by Angel’s standards, and was spaced with awkward silences. By the time Angel stopped the car and they got out, they were both tense and irritable. They found Angel’s contact – a small green skinned demon – drinking alone in a dingy bar. He jumped, startled, when Angel appeared unexpectedly beside him.

"Hello, Sam." Angel said pleasantly.

"What do you want?" Sam snapped back, trying to sound annoyed. But he was afraid of the vampire, and knew from experience what Angel could do if he was in the mood.

"Just looking for some children, Sam." Angel said, in a conversational tone. "Taken from their homes; I’m thinking maybe by magic."

Sam rolled his eyes, and decided to go for innocent. "I don’t know nothin’".

Angel sighed. He grabbed the frightened demon by his collar, and hauled him to his feet.

"Outside." He growled. "Now."

Slowly, Sam made his way out to the back alley, Angel and Buffy right behind him. When they reached the alley, the little demon decided to make a run for it. Which way? He’d tangled with Angel before, and still remembered how painful that had been. The little blonde didn’t look so tough, so he decided to go for the easier option; all he had to do was push her out of the way and sprint past. He grabbed her…and found himself flat on his back in the filthy alley with the blonde standing over him.

"Now that wasn’t very friendly." Buffy admonished. Angel strode up and Buffy teased, "You’re slowing down, Angel."

"Well, you know…I’ve got a few years on you."

"You got that right." Buffy agreed, moving out of the way so that Angel could tower over the hapless Sam. He placed his foot on Sam’s chest, and exerted just enough pressure to make the demon gasp.

"Now. Missing children. What do you know?"

"I don’t know anything…"

Angel’s foot came down harder and Sam cried out.

"If you don’t talk to me Sam, you’ll be eating that spleen of yours." He warned.

Sam’s hand came up, to indicate surrender, and Angel released the pressure a little.

"I heard that the kids were being sent to the demon Egraih."

"Why?"

"I don’t know." He watched Angel’s jaw clench, and he added hastily, "Really, man, I don’t. I heard he’s got a colony outside LA. I don’t know why he wants the kids, but I’m betting it ain’t healthy."

Angel removed his foot, and watched as Sam scurried off into the darkness.

"We’d better get this information back to the others." Angel said. He frowned at Buffy’s expression. "You okay?"

"Fine." She caught Angel looking at her oddly. He knew her too well to be fooled like that. "I’m kinda tense; I really need to pummel something. You got any vamp territory round here?"

"Yeah." Angel grinned at her. He knew that feeling well. "Look, I’ll just get this info back to Wesley…" He pulled out his cell phone as he spoke "…and then we’ll go find some action. Deal?"

"Deal."

After dusting several vampires and using up some of her excess energy, Buffy cheered up noticeably. On the way back to the Hyperion in Angel’s car, she kept stealing little glances at Angel’s profile. Finally, she said, "You’re not going to ask me, are you?"

Puzzled, he glanced at her. "About what?"

"Riley."

Angel shrugged, and returned his attention to his driving.

"I figured it was none of my business."

"None of your…does that mean you don’t care?"

Angel sighed. "Buffy…" He started to say, but something in her expression made him ask, "Is everything okay?"

After a long pause, Buffy murmured quietly, "We…split up."

"I’m sorry."

Buffy shot him a quick look to see if maybe he was being ironic, or secretly pleased, and immediately felt bad for even thinking such a thing. Angel loved her, she knew that; and he would be genuinely upset for her.

"Hey, it’s no big." She tried to sound perky. But she added under her breath, "I never could keep a man, anyway."

"Buffy, I didn’t…"

"…Want to stick around. Yeah, I got that."

"That’s not true." Angel shot back, trying to ignore the pain in her eyes. "It killed me to leave you, but it was the right thing to do."

"For who?" Buffy blazed at him. "For me? You think it was right to tear away my support? To take away the one person I could lean on?"

"You didn’t need me. And you had Giles and Willow to lean on."

"It wasn’t enough." Buffy’s voice was so quiet that Angel almost didn’t hear her. "It was you I wanted, and you didn’t care enough to stay."

"It’s because I care, that…"

"Don’t." Buffy snapped. "Just don’t, Angel. I don’t want to hear any crap about it being for my own good."

"It’s true."

"Says who? You always think you know what’s best for me. What about what I want? Don’t I get any say in who I spend my life with?"

****

The lobby of the Hyperion was the scene of hushed research, until the door slammed open, and the whirlwind that was Buffy stormed in.

"Tell me that you guys have found something. Because I really, really, don’t want to spend another day with him." She gestured to Angel who had followed her dourly in and was standing beside her.

"Then how about three days?" Giles asked quietly.

"Huh?" Buffy blinked in surprise.

"What have you found?" Angel asked, moving closer.

Wesley and Giles looked at each other, and Wesley took up the narrative.

"We’ve located the colony. It’s a sect that worships the demon Egraih, and they’re taking in new members. Willow’s managed to hack into their computer system, and thinks she can get someone in; undercover, so to speak."

"So, what’s the prob?" Buffy asked. "Get me in, and let me do what I do."

"It’s not that simple, I’m afraid." Wesley replied. "The sect will only accept couples. If you go in, you have to go together."

Buffy took a sideways glance at Angel. Three days alone with him? Oh my God…

"I told them, bad idea." Cordelia put in helpfully.

"Yes, It is." Angel agreed. "There must be another way."

Buffy glared at him, irrationally hurt that Angel didn’t want to be with her.

Wesley shook his head. "We don’t like this any more than you do. But there’s no other way."

****

Angel pulled his black convertible into the spacious parking lot. In front of them, the darkness was broken by a myriad of lights from a very gothic-style building.

Buffy and Angel removed their bags from the car, and made their way along the gravel path toward the building.

"Why is it," Buffy muttered ruefully, "That I have a bad feeling about all this?"

Angel exchanged a glance with her, and they stepped into the brightly lit Reception area; empty, save for an attractive blonde girl at the desk.

On seeing them, she came from behind the counter, smiling a greeting.

"You must be Buffy and Angel. My name is Karen. Welcome."

After a brief exchange of greetings, Karen said, "I have all your details on the desk. We always appreciate new members. There is, however, one formality to go through."

Karen led them through into an adjoining corridor.

"We’ve had people trying to infiltrate our group before. Because of this, we ask that you have a brief meeting with Charlotte. She’s an empath."

Following behind Karen, Buffy dropped back a couple of paces, and hissed to Angel, "She’ll know! She’ll read our minds, and…"

Angel shook his head. "She’s an empath, Buffy. She senses things, she can’t read our minds."

"But…won’t she be able to sense our intentions?"

Angel’s eyes met hers; he had no answer to give her. Buffy sighed, and quickened her pace to catch up with Karen.

After entering Charlotte’s tiny office, Karen withdrew and left them facing a middle-aged woman, dressed formally in a suit.

Charlotte rose from behind the desk and came toward them. "There’s no need to be nervous," She told Buffy, which for some odd reason seemed to make her more nervous. "All you have to do is let me hold your hands."

Charlotte held out her own hands, trusting them to do the same. Buffy glanced at Angel, and shrugged. They held out a hand each, and allowed the empath to grasp them. Instantly the woman’s body stiffened, and she let out an involuntary gasp. She blinked several times, trying to focus, and then she released their hands, with a warm smile.

 

"Your love is strong." She informed them. "That’s good."

When Buffy and Angel left the office, Charlotte watched them go; a thoughtful expression on her face. They certainly made a handsome couple; but it was the chemistry between them that intrigued her. Contact with them had produced a wave of energy so powerful it had taken her breath away. They would be perfect to serve the master.

Karen showed Buffy and Angel to their room, which turned out to be a small cabin situated in the grounds of the building. She left them to settle in, and said there was a gathering in the main hall in two hours.

Buffy perched herself on the edge of the bed and looked around. It was a room designed for comfort, with soft sheets and huge overstuffed chairs. Under other circumstances, the opulence of the room would have made a lovely place to spend time with Angel. Right now, it was just making her nervous.

"Did you see anywhere that they might have stashed the children?" Buffy asked, more to take her mind off being alone with Angel than anything else.

"Not so far." He replied, taking off his duster and laying it over the back of the chair. "So, what’s the plan?"

"We find monster, I slay it, we collect the children and go home." She grinned at him.

"I like it." He replied. "A little simplistic, perhaps."

"That’s me." Buffy got up off the bed. "Simplicity girl."

****

At the appointed time, Buffy and Angel made their way over to the hall. It was full of people, eating, talking and laughing. And apparently having a good time.

"Let’s mingle," Buffy suggested. "See if we can find out anything."

Behind her, Buffy heard an odd gurgling noise. Curious, she turned and saw a woman clutching a very small baby.

"He’s beautiful." Buffy couldn’t help saying.

"Thank you." The child’s mother replied proudly.

Buffy wiggled her fingers over the tiny baby’s face, and tried to ignore Angel’s little smirk at her antics.

"Does he have a name?"

"Ben." The woman eyed Buffy and smiled. But somehow her smile didn’t seem to reach her eyes.

"My name’s Mary. You’re new here, aren’t you?"

"Buffy. Yeah, Angel and I only just arrived."

Buffy’s eyes were drawn back to the child. She had always wondered, if she managed to live long enough, if she would have a child of her own, one day. Definitely not if you’d stayed with Angel…

Aloud, she said, "You’re very lucky."

"Yes." Mary replied simply. "He is my gift."

"He is that." Buffy agreed. Mary moved away, and Angel lightly touched her arm.

"Buffy, something’s very wrong here."

She looked at him questioningly.

"Have you seen their eyes?" Angel indicated the surrounding crowds. "Blank, like empty vessels."

"Nobody’s home." Buffy murmured, thinking of Mary’s vacant look. She glanced around, Angel was right. Nearly everyone had the same distant look, and Buffy shuddered.

"This is creepy, Angel. Let’s get out of here."

She led Angel to a side door that she had seen other couples using, and knew that it went outside. A set of wooden steps wound downwards and together they followed its path, gently illuminated by the moon. The steps came out onto the beach, and they walked slowly along the sand.

"Did you hear anything else?" Buffy asked, enjoying the peace after the noise in the hall.

"Only that the meeting for Egraih is tomorrow night."

Yeah, I got that too."

Buffy, paused, realising that they had walked out of sight of the complex. She didn’t mind that, the place gave her a major wiggins anyway. But it also occurred to her that she and Angel were alone on the beach. She blinked. Alone. With Angel. On a romantic moonlight beach…

Angel was looking at her oddly. And he was so damned close…

"Are you all right?" He asked her with concern.

Without a word, and she had no idea why she did it, she stepped forward into Angel’s embrace. His arms felt wonderful round her. It’s been so long…

"What is it?" Angel asked, gently stroking the back of her head. "What’s got you so spooked?"

"I don’t know. This whole place is just…creepy?" She looked up at Angel for confirmation, and her eyes instantly locked on his. Uh-oh. After moments that felt like forever, Angel’s lips finally came down on hers. Oh yess…she responded to him with a passion she hadn’t felt in a long time; her desire for him spreading through her body. She revelled in the feeling of being so close to him – just as he broke the kiss and pulled away, panting heavily.

"This isn’t a good idea." He finally managed.

Buffy’s whole body cried out at the lack of contact, but she ruthlessly pushed her thoughts away. She knew Angel was right.

"I know." She agreed sadly. "No touching."

"Buffy…if you need my…support, I’ll give it, as always. It’s just that we can’t…" His words trailed off. She knew the score as well as he did.

Buffy sighed. "We’d better get back anyway, before they miss us."

"Maybe we should split up." Angel suggested. "Take a look around separately."

"Yeah, " Buffy agreed. "Covers more ground that way." But she knew that Angel was really suggesting they put as much space between them as possible.

****

Angel returned to the cabin, shortly before dawn. He had deliberately stayed out all night, to lessen the temptation. Being with Buffy, yet not being able to actually be with her had opened up a lot of old wounds, and he didn’t really want to deal with them right now.

Watching her as she slept, he couldn’t help thinking how beautiful she was; She deserved so much more than he could ever give her. She stirred restlessly, and Angel had to fight the urge to pull her into his arms. He made himself move away from the bed, and he settled himself in one of the huge armchairs, where he could observe her until daybreak.

The following morning, Buffy slowly surfaced from a dream where she and Angel were together, and very much in love. Even before she opened her eyes, she could feel him, she knew he was in the room with her.

"Hey." Angel’s soft voice was the first thing she heard.

"Hey, yourself." She replied, feeling a little shy with Angel’s attention on her. Had he watched her all night? Oh my god, I must look awful…

Angel watched her as she sat up, and swung her legs out of bed. She looked gorgeous; he could watch her all day. Or all night…Buffy stretched, and went off for a shower. When she returned, they discussed what they’d discovered the previous night.

"Not much," Buffy said. "I found a restricted area, but before I could find out anything they discovered me, and ever-so-politely insisted I leave."

Angel nodded. "Heat sensors." He told her. "I found it too. There’s an entrance leading underground. Something big’s down there, Buffy, but I couldn’t find out what."

Buffy shuddered. "It’s not looking good for the children, is it?"

"I think they’ll be safe for a while." He told her, moving closer. He was drawn to her anguished expression, wanting so badly to comfort her. "Until tonight, at least." He added. He stopped, just in front of her. Not trusting himself to go any closer; the need to touch her was overwhelming. Buffy’s eyes met his, and he swallowed. She slowly closed the distance between them; she was breathing fast, and her skin itched, she wanted him so badly.

After an age where neither dared to move in case the unthinkable happened, Buffy finally turned away.

"I think I need to be elsewhere." She edged towards the door. "Maybe you should get some sleep, Angel."

Some chance of that, Angel thought. Aloud, he said to her retreating form. "Good idea. But I think I’ll have a shower first." A cold one…

*****

At dusk, Buffy returned to the cabin. She could sense Angel pacing restlessly inside.

"It’s crazy out there." She informed him, trying to keep her tone light. "Things are really tense."

"Yeah, I can feel it in here." Angel said, curtly.

Buffy frowned as he continued to pace, keeping his distance from her. His movements reminded her of the restless pacing of a caged tiger.

"Did something happen?" She asked worriedly, moving toward him.

"Like what?" He growled at her. "With me stuck in this…prison all day?" Buffy winced at the venom in his voice. His whole body was tense with barely controlled fury.

"Angel, you couldn’t go out, it’s daylight…" She said, hoping to placate him. She had never seen him so edgy. Instinct drew her to his side, but his agitated pacing was starting to irritate her. She grabbed his arm. "Stop…"

Her words were cut off abruptly as Angel whirled, grabbing her arms roughly, and pulled her against him. His mouth came down on hers in a harsh kiss; startled, Buffy started to pull away, but somehow she couldn’t. Her rebellious arms snaked round his back as she hungrily returned his kiss.

"Angel…" She whispered against his neck, her skin on fire for his touch. But it was only when Angel slid his hands up inside her shirt, and she felt his cool touch on her inflamed skin, that reality set in.

Oh my god…

"Angel…we can’t…"Buffy forced herself to gasp out the words, but he didn’t seem to hear her. His hands continued their frenzied assault on the smooth flesh of her back. Panicking slightly, Buffy used her strength to push him away… and gasped in shock. For, although Angel’s face was human, his eyes blazed amber.

Buffy took an involuntary step back.

"Angel?"

Angel stared back; he took a step toward her, his eyes still the colour of the demon.

"Angel!" Buffy cried, her body instinctively on the alert. She didn’t dare touch him, afraid that it would make him worse. "Angel!" Angel hesitated, and forced away the demon’s eyes.

"Buffy?" He blinked in confusion.

"What happened to you?"

"I… don’t know," He replied, confused. "God, Buffy, I’m sorry."

"What the hell’s going on?" Buffy exclaimed. "We can’t keep our hands off each other, half the residents are wandering around like zombies…" She broke off, at a loss to know what to say.

"Maybe it’s all connected," Angel offered, rubbing his eyes, tiredly.

"Something in the food?" Buffy suggested.

"I didn’t eat the food." Angel reminded her.

"Well, I say we go find out." Buffy expression turned grim. "I don’t know about you, Angel. But I’m in the mood for some serious butt-kicking."

"I’m with you on that one."

The meeting for the summoning of Egraih was held underground. As Buffy and Angel picked their way through the crowd, they could feel the expectancy in the air. Several of the couples were engaged in heavy make out sessions, and these Buffy ignored. The last thing she needed right now was watching other people do what she couldn’t.

At the far side of the room was a huge pit, surrounded by iron railings. To the left of this was a platform, and it was to here that Karen, dressed in white robes, climbed.

"Followers of Egraih, rejoice!" Her voice boomed out across the room and everyone grew quiet. "Today is the Time of Summoning, and the Master will be with us!"

Standing a couple of rows back from the front, Buffy and Angel scanned the group. Everyone had a kind of dazed expression: all waited patiently for Karen’s next exalted words.

"Buffy." Angel’s quiet voice sounded oddly troubled. Buffy glanced at him, and he nodded over to an area behind an opaque screen. Buffy followed his gaze. Three women, including Mary, stood rigidly. They were all dressed in white, and all clasping their babies, who were similarly clad in white. Buffy frowned, not understanding, and looked back at Angel. She was disturbed by his grim expression. But before she could ask what was wrong, Karen’s voice rang out again.

"In this time of joy, we must welcome the Master with joy. Bring forward his gifts."

It was then that Buffy understood.

‘He is my gift…’

A chill began at the back of her neck and spread down her arms and across her chest. Totally shocked, she gasped, appalled, to Angel, "They’re going to feed it their own children?"

Angel’s expression told her he’d already reached that conclusion. Shock turned to anger as she started forward, heading for the platform. "Not if I can stop it." She vowed.

"We praise these gifts…" Karen was droning, when Buffy pushed in front of the children and said, "I don’t think so." She sensed Angel moving into place beside her.

"This isn’t appropriate," Karen admonished. "The Master…"

"…Will have to go to bed without his dinner." Buffy grinned at her.

Karen stared at her, apparently not believing what she saw. "You should not be resisting us. It’s not possible…"

"Why?" Buffy asked. "What did you do to us?"

"I did nothing. Your own lust should have incapacitated you."

"Huh?"

Beside her, Angel swore. He said, "So that’s it. We were meant to make love? And then what? Your master feeds off our…energy?"

"Yes, he is attracted to courting couples. He feeds on their sexual energy, and rewards his followers with bliss."

Bliss? Oh, my God…

"More like Zombies." Buffy snapped. That had been close…

"I don’t understand." Karen glared at them. "There is no way you should have been able to resist each other."

"Yeah, well…" Buffy muttered. "We’ve had a lot of practice."

Then, everything seemed to happen at once. Karen raised her arm and guards began to flood into the chamber. Buffy started to usher the women and babies backwards, when a huge rumble shook the chamber and a massive snake like head erupted from the pit with a deafening roar.

Angel moved in front of Buffy, who had positioned herself between the women and the approaching guards. He instantly morphed into the stronger countenance of the vampire, relieved to finally have an outlet for his pent up frustration and anger. Behind him, Buffy fought the guards with a fury she rarely felt, and they fell like flies around her. She stole a glance at Angel, and even she was stunned by the violence in his assault. Several of the guards were picked up, and hurled bodily into the pit. Egraih latched onto the unfortunate victims with its forked tongue and sucked them back into its huge jaw. The screams of the men mingled with the roaring of the beast, creating terror in the chamber. People began to flee from the chamber, until finally, Buffy and Angel were alone with the monster.

Angel eyed the creature, wondering if he could climb on the enormous back and do some damage to it before he got himself killed

Buffy, however, had a better – and simpler plan. Vaulting up onto the platform she snatched a flaming torch from its rest on the wall, and hurled it down the throat of the beast.

Egraih bellowed in agony, its sinuous form thrashing in pain. Angel waited for the mouth to open again, and he threw a second torch down the gaping hole.

The creature gave a bloodcurdling scream, much higher pitched than the others. Angel staggered back, his hands clapped over his ears to shut out the shrill sound. Egraih snaked back it the pit, its screams still audible long after the body had disappeared back into the earth’s interior.

Buffy bounced to Angel’s side, much more her old self now that her frustration had been channelled elsewhere. Angel half-smiled at her, his ears still ringing, but he knew that would soon pass. The room was darker since half the torches had gone down the monsters throat, but Buffy figured that was okay, since she was still breathing.

"Think we’ve blown our cover?" She asked Angel with a grin.

"I’d say that’s a given."

"Okay, then." Buffy’s expression grew serious, "Let’s go find those kids."

She led the way from the chamber, and started toward a set of stone steps that led downward. Angel caught her arm.

"I think they would have been brought up here – be nearer for the ceremony."

Buffy nodded. It made sense. She changed direction into a side corridor. Several doors led off from it. Buffy groaned. Searching them all would take forever. Angel went past her, concentration etched on his face. Was he sensing something? Then she realised that he was smelling the children’s fear, and judging by his expression, there was a lot of it. He stopped by the fifth door along, and nodded briefly at it. Without a word, Buffy stepped past him, pulled back the bolt and gently pushed the door open.

Two small girls huddled together in the shadows at the back of the room. They were clearly terrified, their tiny bodies looking frail and distressed. The children’s plight pulled directly at Buffy’s heartstrings, and as she hurried forward, a howling shape darted from behind the door, an arm raised to strike her. Angel grabbed the figure by the scruff of its neck and hoisted it effortlessly into the air.

"Let me go, let me go!"

Fear hit Angel’s senses full blast, and his stomach clenched in hunger. Pushing the dark hunger ruthlessly away, he studied his prize with interest. A boy, perhaps thirteen or fourteen, thrashed and writhed helplessly in Angel’s grasp.

 Buffy’s hand rested gently on Angel’s arm.

"Put him down, Angel. You’re scaring him."

"I think he was scared before we showed up." Angel replied, but he released the boy.

Guessing that she would be less threatening than Angel to the frightened boy, she stepped closer.

"We won’t hurt you." She said softly. "We’re here to help."

The boy’s eyes darted about frantically, his demeanour that of a trapped animal.

"You won’t take me," He hissed. "I won’t let you."

Buffy studied the boy’s terrified expression, wondering how best to reach him.

"You know, you’re kinda hurting my feelings here." She said conversationally. The boy blinked, it wasn’t what he’d expected to hear, and Buffy added, "No wonder I can’t get a date if I scare you guys so badly."

The boy stared back at her. Slowly it dawned on him that she was trying to joke with him, and he couldn’t help giving her the ghost of a smile in return. He liked her, and she was kinda pretty, too. He gazed from the small blonde to the big scary guy. He hadn’t seen either of them before, so maybe…?

With the boy calmer, Buffy returned her attention to the girls, who were watching the proceedings with interest.

"Hey." She crouched down in front of them. "My name’s Buffy. What do you say we get out of here?"

Buffy swallowed quickly, when she saw hope surge through the girls. Who knew what terrible things they had been through, what horrors they had witnessed?

Scooping up the smallest child, Amy, in her arms, Buffy led the way from the chamber and back into the corridor. Picking her way through the maze of tunnels, they eventually made it outside. Twice guards stopped them, and these Angel despatched in short order.

They made their way along the beach, eventually finding a path that led upwards. Progress was slow until Angel picked up Mandy and settled her on his broad shoulders. The path was long and steep, but both Buffy and Angel were sure-footed in their ascent. Peter managed the track as best he could, doggedly refusing assistance, but generally doing quite well.

When they had covered a respectable distance, and the track had begun to level out, the girls were allowed to walk. They skipped ahead happily, pleased at the new freedom, and navigated the undergrowth with childish enthusiasm. There was the slightest of tremors in the ground, and without warning, Mandy disappeared from sight when the ground under her caved in.

Buffy and Angel both dived for her in the same instant. But Angel was closer, and he threw himself forward with inhuman speed. He managed to grab the girl’s shirt as she plummeted over the edge.

The child was screaming in terror as she dangled in mid-air, her eyes wide with horror as she stared down at the black abyss yawning underneath her. Angel hauled her up by the collar on her shirt, praying that the thin fabric would hold up under the strain. He cradled the distraught child against his chest, where he murmured soothing noises and waited for the crying to stop.

Except it didn’t. Her sobs went on and on, and he shifted uncomfortably as her tiny body clung to him in desperation, her pitiful sobs soaking his shoulder as she wept.

He could smell her fear, and sense the adrenaline coursing through her blood. He tried to release the girl’s grip on his neck, but she only clung tighter and sobbed louder. Damn, he was hungry.

Then, thankfully, Buffy was there, gently prising Mandy’s fingers from Angel’s neck and pulling the distressed child against her body where she rocked her gently.

Angel led the way along the track, scouting ahead to find a safe place to hide the children. Buffy brought up the rear, Mandy perched uncomfortably on her hip, Amy clutching her hand fearfully in case the ground opened up and swallowed her. Amy yelped when Angel suddenly appeared out of the bushes.

"There’s a small cave up ahead." He said to Buffy, veering off the path and leading up through the undergrowth. The cave wasn’t all that deep, but it was well concealed by the undergrowth and couldn’t be seen from the path.

Buffy ushered the children inside. Angel turned to Peter and said, "Buffy and I need to check that we haven’t been followed, but we can’t leave the girls unprotected. I saw how brave you were when we rescued you. Think you can handle it?"

Peter swelled with pride, standing as tall as his fourteen years would allow, and said, "I can do that."

Angel smiled at him and handed him a thick branch to act as a makeshift weapon.

"Buffy and I won’t be far. Call us if there’s any trouble."

Peter took the weapon and tried to look threatening. He watched as Angel followed Buffy from the cave, and then stood guard close to the entrance.

When Angel returned a short time later, he was disturbed to find the two girls crouching at the back of the cave, and Amy crying softly. Peter stood nearby, looking out of his depth and totally uncomfortable.

"What happened?"

"Dunno." The boy shrugged. "She started just after you left."

Angel went over to the girls and hunkered down in front of Amy.

"Are you okay?"

The little girl didn’t look at him, didn’t answer, she just carried on crying.

"Are you hurt? In pain?"

No answer.

"Hungry?"

No answer.

"Uh, tired?"

No answer. Frustrated, Angel turned to Mandy and asked if she knew what the problem was, but the girl just shrugged. A soft rustle at the cave entrance announced the arrival of Buffy and Angel gratefully moved out of the way to let her deal with it. She shot a questioning glance at him, and he shrugged back.

"Hey." Buffy murmured to Amy. "You want to tell me what’s up?"

The girl flung her arms round Buffy’s neck and whispered in her ear. A tiny smile quirked at the corner of Buffy’s mouth, and she said, "Well, we can sort that out." She said something to Mandy, who shook her head. Buffy stood up, hefting Amy onto her hip, and moved toward the cave entrance.

"Excuse us, guys." Buffy grinned as she passed by, "But we have to go and find a bush."

Ah…

"You could’ve told Angel, you know," Buffy’s voice drifted back. "He’s really quite broadminded."

****

Later, waiting for the general chaos at the complex to die down, Angel found Buffy standing on the edge of the hill, staring down into the darkness. He went to stand beside her; she was worried about something, he knew that from her expression. He waited for her to speak.

"All those children, Angel." She said sadly. She hadn’t turned to face him, but he knew she was upset. "How many have died down there? How many couldn’t be saved?"

"I don’t know." He replied honestly. "But it ends tonight, Buffy. There’ll be no more."

"Yes."

Angel studied her profile in the dark. She seemed distracted, and he knew something else was bothering her. He waited in silence. Finally she turned to face him.

"What happened between us down there, Angel? Was it all… artificial?"

Angel stared back, confused. What did she want him to say? Did she doubt him? Herself, perhaps?

"Karen said that the attraction between us was strong." He said, carefully. "And… you know how much I…" he faltered, not knowing how much he ought to say.

Buffy looked up at him, anguish evident in her expression.

"If you still feel it, Angel, say it." Her eyes caught his. "I really need to hear it."

Angel moved closer, drawn by the intensity of her eyes. Then, without the slightest trace of embarrassment, he said, "I love you, Buffy. That won’t change; it doesn’t matter how far apart we are, I will always love you."

Buffy held his eyes, searching his face for what she most wanted to believe. Pulling her gaze from his, she laid her head on his shoulder, effectively deflecting the kiss that hung in the air between them.

"I knew that, really." She sighed. "And I love you. It just got kinda… muddled, there."

"Yeah." He held her gently, his fingers stroking her hair. Eventually, Buffy stepped back from Angel’s embrace.

"Take the children home, Buffy." Angel suggested. "I’ll go down to the complex and finish this."

"I think you’ve got this Slayer thing all wrong, Angel. Scary monsters… that’s my job."

Angel shook his head.

"Not this time. They’ve got Thermal Sensors down there, you won’t be able to get in without being seen."

Buffy scowled, and looked as if she was going to object. Then she nodded, reluctantly.

"I’ll come back for you," She promised.

"No need. I’ll make my own way back."

Buffy reached over, resting her hand on Angel’s arm. "I’ll be back." She promised, and he nodded in acceptance.

***

The explosion ripped apart the fabric of the Gothic building, sending flames shooting into the air and showering burning debris down into the courtyard.

On the hill overlooking the complex, the dark clad figure surveyed his work with grim satisfaction. Content with the result, he spun on his heels, and with his coat billowing out like wings behind him, he strode purposefully back down the hill.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast

And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;

And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill

And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still

 

 

The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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