Chapter 1: Coming Home
Buffy fought with a fierce power that she had rarely felt before, landing blow after powerful blow against her opponent — quite possibly the most challenging opponent she had ever faced, she had to acknowledge. But she took no time to revel in the thrill of the battle, the surge of strength and adrenaline she felt with every well-timed step in the deadly dance they were engaged in.
And at any other time, Buffy would have taken great pleasure in the beating she was administering to this particular vampire.
The bane of her existence for the past year, during which it seemed he had taken every measure possible to make her life miserable. The past week of strange, frightening attempts on her life by a series of otherworldly assassins — well, that was just the disgusting, gooey icing on the burnt, tasteless cake.
Oh, he was giving as well as he was getting at the moment — but she was more than holding her own; and she would gladly have savored every blow, every kick, allowing her mind to go over every single last reason he had given her over the past few months for this spectacular kicking of his butt.
But at the moment — there was no time for all that.
At the moment — he was nothing more to her than the thing standing in her way.
She had to get to Angel.
As Spike swung another punch toward her face, Buffy ducked under it, catching his arm and holding it back as she delivered two sharp blows of her own. Taking advantage of his moment off balance, she gripped his coat and slung him several yards, watching with grim satisfaction as he crashed into the wall and slumped to the floor, dazed.
She had no more time to waste on Spike at the moment — she had to get to Angel before it was too late.
*Just a little longer…please hold on, Angel…* echoed through her mind as she rushed toward the altar and drew the dagger from Angel’s and Drusilla’s joined hands. *Please, Angel, please be all right…*
She glanced over her shoulder as she reached for the bonds that held the two vampires together, and to the altar, noting with relief that Spike seemed to be distracted at the moment, dealing with Willy, who was making his attempt to escape.
As she turned back to focus on the tight, complicated knot that did not seem inclined to yield to her shaking hands, she noticed that Drusilla seemed to have come out of whatever magically induced trance she had been in, and was looking at her hands on the ropes with dismay in her dark, mad eyes.
“Spike!” the weakened vampiress wailed out desperately, her eyes rolling back over her shoulder as she sought the attention and aid of her lover.
*Great,* Buffy thought, her jaw setting with determination as she doubled her efforts on the stubborn knot. *Just great…all I needed was a few more seconds, you crazy nut job vamp ho!*
Even as she heard Spike coming up behind her, she focused on getting Angel free — until Spike grabbed her and slung her away from the altar, shoving her to the floor. She tried to rise, but he delivered a powerful backhand blow to her face that momentarily dazed her. As she fell back to the floor, her face inches from the discarded dagger, her hazy thoughts leveled an irritated accusation at her.
*Dagger…stupid dagger…could have cut the stupid ropes, stupid Slayer…*
“Sorry, Baby,” she vaguely heard Spike’s voice through the haze that was just starting to fade from her mind, and she glanced up with an effort to see him easily tearing the ropes that bound Drusilla to her sire, scooping the barely conscious vampiress up into his arms and heading toward the door. “Gotta go…just hope that was enough…”
As the ropes fell away, Angel collapsed to the floor, unheeded by the fleeing vampire couple.
Suddenly alert, but not yet feeling strong enough to get to her feet, Buffy crawled to his side. He was completely unconscious; she glanced up anxiously, not sure what she was looking for, her thoughts still muddled by the powerful punch Spike had given her.
*Stupid vampire…* she thought with bitter resentment, just as her eyes came to rest on him, a few yards from the door. *Stupid vampire…who is currently about to escape with his stupid ho-bag sire…not on my watch!*
Scrambling to her feet, already looking around for a weapon, Buffy grabbed the nearest thing that came to her mind — the censer from the altar. She gave it a few healthy swings by its chain, before letting it fly. Her aim was true, and it hit Spike in the back of the head, knocking him to the floor on top of the keyboard to the organ.
A grim smile crossed the Slayer’s face, as she felt a sense of satisfied pride go through her. “I’m good,” she remarked mildly.
Just then, she found out *how* good, as the rest of the organ’s working fell from the platform above Spike and Drusilla, covering the two vampires with hundreds of pounds of stone and metal and other heavy rubble. Satisfied that they would not be posing a problem to her any time soon, Buffy turned her attention back to Angel, who was just beginning to regain consciousness.
And then, everything began to move very fast.
The fire was spreading quickly now, filling the room, and it was Kendra who called her attention to the fact that they had to get out, before it was too late to do so. The two Slayers supported the injured vampire out the door and to the safety of his own underground apartment, where Kendra left Buffy alone to tend to him.
He was barely conscious, hardly responding to her attempts to talk to him at all — and although she knew in her head that he was not dead, not unless he was dust, she still found herself on the verge of panic. She had no idea what kind of magic Spike had used for the ritual, how much blood Angel had lost, or what the combined effect of the two factors might be on the vampire she loved more than her own life.
*Do you really, Buffy? More than your own life?*
Her eyes widened as the thought echoed through her mind, and she reached into her pocket for a small, sleek dagger that she usually carried with her on patrol, just in case she met something that she could not kill with a stake through the heart — which was actually a very frequent occurrence.
She held the slim blade across her wrist, her heart pounding with fear and adrenaline, and she swallowed hard, her jaw set in determination again.
Maybe he would live, without it.
Maybe he wouldn’t.
Buffy was not willing to take the chance.
Before she could allow her fears to make her rethink the whole thing, she plunged the dagger nearly an inch into the flesh of her arm, a few inches up from her wrist, and watched as the thick, red blood immediately welled out of the slit she had made in her own flesh.
Beside her on his bed, Angel moaned softly, his head turning toward her in a nearly unconscious reaction to the powerful scent of her blood. Encouraged, Buffy raised the wound to his lips, reaching her other hand around to carefully raise his head.
“Come on, Angel,” she whispered, not really thinking he was hearing her — not that it mattered; she wasn’t really talking to him. “Come on…drink…*drink*, damn it!”
The weakened vampire’s eyes suddenly opened wide, staring at her with a sort of shock — and something else, something she could not quite read in his dark, piercing eyes.
For a moment, her heart sank, thinking that she would have had a better chance of getting him to accept her blood, if he had remained only semi-conscious. Now, they would have to be all with the pleading, and the arguing, and the noble refusals, until she finally had no choice but to force her bleeding arm into his mouth and feed him against his will…
A sharp gasp left the Slayer’s throat, her head falling back, her eyes drifting close in a sort of hazy disoriented feeling, as without a moment’s further hesitation, the vampire’s mouth locked onto the wound, drawing deeply of her blood, until she felt light-headed and dizzy from the rush of rapid blood loss.
Later, she remembered wondering at the sharp, sweet arousal that she felt deep within her, at the sensation, and thinking that it was probably a very dangerous thing for a Slayer — or anyone, for that matter — to get off on a vampire bite…
The next thing she remembered was waking up in Angel’s bed, tucked carefully under his blankets, with him seated by her side in a reversal of their previous positions. He was tenderly stroking her hair back from her brow when her eyes fluttered open, looking up at him uncertainly, and he gave her a soft, affectionate smile.
“Buffy,” he whispered. “You saved me.”
She felt tears well up in her eyes, as she raised her hand to cover his on her cheek, vaguely noticing the soft white bandage that had been placed carefully over the wound on her arm.
“I almost didn’t,” she whispered in reply, the ache in her heart swelling up to fill her throat.
“Shhh,” Angel urged her gently, shaking his head as he leaned in to kiss her lips slowly, tenderly. “Don’t think like that. You *did* — that’s what matters, Buffy.”
As his lips met hers, she leaned hungrily into his kiss, tears of relief streaking her face, as she wrapped her arms around him, pulling him down so that he was halfway on top of her, her fear of what she had almost lost that night deepening the intensity of her kiss. Her eyes shot open with a soft gasp, when she suddenly felt an odd pressure against the side of her thigh — and Angel suddenly pulled back, his eyes averted.
“I-I’m sorry, Buffy,” he began awkwardly, with a soft, nervous little laugh. “I guess we shouldn’t…”
His words were swallowed up in another kiss, as the Slayer used her strength to pull his slightly resisting mouth back to hers, drawing back just slightly after a moment to whisper against his lips, “I don’t care if we shouldn’t…I want you, Angel…I — I need you…I don’t ever want to lose you again…”
“You won’t,” he whispered back, with an effort ending the kiss, his forehead resting against hers, his body almost completely covering hers now. “Buffy, you won’t…but we can’t…” He hesitated, looking away from the uncertainty, the slight hurt in her eyes at his words. “You’ve already given me so much tonight, Buffy — I don’t want you to feel like you have to…”
“I *want* to,” she cut him off, almost fiercely, raising herself up slightly on the bed, her eyes searching his intently, pleadingly. “Angel, I want to…I want *you*…I — I *love* you…”
His resistance was apparently shattered by those words, as he did not argue further with her, simply stared into her eyes with a look of hope and disbelief mingled in his own. “Buffy,” he whispered, shaking his head slightly as he slowly lowered her back to the bed, his lips hovering inches above hers as he continued, “Buffy, I love you…”
Buffy would remember that night for the rest of her life — but not for the reasons she might have hoped.
Across town in the old church where the ritual had taken place, all was still, with the exception of a few flickering piles of tattered, charred fabric in a couple of corners of the room, and some places that were red and glowing with slowly smoldering embers.
And then, the huge pile of mostly non-flammable rubble in the center of the room, where the pipe organ had fallen, began to slowly shift.
Graceful, almost regal, the dark vampiress rose from the ashes of the disaster. The frail, weakened creature she had been was no more.
The ritual had worked.
As she rose to her feet, the rubble behind her shifted again, just slightly, and a weak, shaking voice behind her could clearly be heard by her sharp vampire ears.
She ignored it.
A distant expression of euphoria began to come over her face, a slow, wicked smile that bloomed into a dark laugh of joy, as she began to twirl and twist her body in an eerie dance of evil celebration.
“Pet,” the broken voice behind her tried again, a little stronger. “Please…help me…”
“Shhh,” she rebuked him sharply, turning toward the pile of rubble with a finger to her lips. “No time…got to go get ready…”
But she was already headed toward the door, her every move part of a flowing, ethereal dance to music only she could hear. But just before she stepped out the door into the night, Spike heard her final few words, and his heart sank at their devastating meaning.
“…Daddy’s coming home…”