Buffy listened for an answer, but the room gave none. She sniffed and looked
out the window. Damn. She still needed to get blinds. She closed her eyes,
shook her head rapidly, trying to shake off the mood, and sighed. She turned
I remember every nuance of you inside, every soft curve, every grip, every undulation. It's a place I wish I could spend eternity in, it's home, it's heaven, to be inside you, but if I'm denied it I can sustain myself on the memory while I rock you to sleep, while you drift off with your head on my shoulder, your breath slipping softly over my neck, your eyelashes fluttering with your dreams. If I can only watch you sleep, if I can only kiss you, rock you, shelter you in my arms, if I can only smell you, rub my face in your hair, kiss your nose and your sweet, rich mouth and the tender soles of your little feet, if that's all I can ever have, then I will be happier than any other man has the power to be. It's not a compromise, it's a blessing. I believe John is right, that we can find a way. I have to believe it, I'm clinging to it like a priest clings to faith, not only as a comfort, but as a justification for getting out of bed and getting on with existence.
There was a tap on the door, and then footsteps creeping away, and I remembered fully where I was. On the floor in the hall was a bar tray with a towel over a mug of blood, very fresh. My eyes stung. Sooner or later, I might grow used to this. No one, for literally hundreds of years, has lavished kindness on me but you.
I met John and Betina downstairs. Betina smiled at me warmly and put her hand on my shoulder.
"It's like going back in time, looking at you," she said softly, "My young John, right here. Brings the memories back," she winked at me.
"You aren't coming to Galway," I said.
"No," said John, "Someone's got to check the books," They looked at each other, and had a complete conversation in one glance. She didn't want to stay, but she would. She smirked at him, and he turned to me.
"We're ready, then," he said.
"Please stay here," I had to give it one last try.
"Have a little faith in your nephew," he said, "My fighting days aren't over yet,"
"You promised me," I said, "That you would follow my advice in this,"
"And I will," he said lightly, "But now we should be leaving,"
Betina caught me in a hug. "Be careful," she said. I went out to throw my bag in the car and to give them time alone; this wasn't a small matter, and they knew it. I waited outside for him.
Distances in Ireland are nothing like they are in America. I wonder if you would be claustrophobic here. It's three hours to cross the entire country, from Dublin to Galway. Galway was foggy. We pulled onto the entry road to the estate, rounding the circular cobblestone drive, and I was warmed; there it stood, the house I was born in, with light in it's windows, and even hidden partly in mist, I knew it had been beautifully kept. I made John stay in the car while I checked the walkway beyond the gate, then we went inside.
Two young men stood inside the doors, their faces alert and sober, but they both grinned at me.
One of them laughed, "Devil take me if you aren't family!"
The indelible stamp was on all of us, it was true. He was Mark. Slightly taller, and more remote, was Johnny.
It's what some people call a grand old estate, a long, rambling structure of gray stone that once was home to a sprawling family and servants, with stables in the back and surrounding gardens, very opulent, at one time. We stood for a moment on the gleaming tile of the entryway, and my eyes became glued to the staircase. The old portraits were still there, stern, dark faces of ancestors and relations, a line of them spiraling up. I swallowed.
John's hand rested gently on my arm. I finally gathered myself.
"Have a whiskey, Uncle?" he asked gently.
We went into the drawing room; a fire had been built, and I took a chair; it was odd, because this was serious business, but I felt a kind of peace settle over me. This was the drawing room my mother and I had spent long hours in, talking together, reading, sharing silences by the fire. Of course the furniture was different, and the rugs, but there was Angelus, Killer of English, staring down at me from high above the fireplace. Mark and Johnny made every effort not to stare. It was easier for Johnny, who cut to the chase immediately.
"How will you start?" he said.
"He'll be waiting for me," I said, "I'm expecting a messenger soon, if not tonight,"
"What does he want?"
"Me. And you, and Betina, your wives, your friends, everyone,"
"Why?'" that was Mark.
"I killed a vampire in LA. Very old, from the Monaghan clan,"
"An entire clan of vampires?"
"A cadre. They aren't real families, they're more like armies. There's a network of cadres here, very old,"
Mark's eyes were enormous. Johnny's were slits.
"Where?" asked Johnny.
"Catacombs. The living no longer remember them. Also in the hollow hills, the old mounds. All over the country. But they can be weakened,"
"How?" he asked.
"By killing the Ancients. There are three. If I can take them, they're followers will be deprived of power, and they'll be weak enough to kill easily. I have to get to the Ancients,"
"And so you wait for a message from them?" asked John.
"The first one, the one who's right-hand man I killed. But there's more to that. We've been at war for a long time, but now he fears me. He invited me here to get me away from Buffy, because he knows I'm weaker without her,"
"The Slayer girl," said Mark, "Why couldn't she come with you?"
"I didn't tell her I was leaving. This is my fight,"
They were solemn then, they understood me completely. But then Mark added,
"You'll have another war to fight when you get back,"
I laughed. They joined me.
"The toughest of them all," I said.
A soft sound began, we heard it as we paused in silence. It became a remote wailing, or song, and escalated. A woman's voice. All four of us went to the window of the drawing room, which looks out over the lawn. A ghostly figure wandered there, trailing mist and singing a dirge, slightly off-key. She paused in the song, threw back her head, and keened.
"A banshee?" John leaned toward the window and gazed out, "Are there such things, then, Uncle?"
"That's not a real banshee," I said, stepping past Mark and toward the door, "I'll be back,"
"You can't go out there," said Johnny, taking my arm. Our eyes locked.
"The banshee calls for the death of the living," I said, "I've long since crossed that road," I gently pried myself from him and picked up my crossbow; I opened the door and shut it quickly behind me. She was wearing a white dress, with a sheer white shawl coyly wrapped around her rusty hair. She turned, batting her eyes at me, and snickered. A wind came up and the shawl fluttered, luminescent in the moonlight. Very effective costuming.
"Fiona," I said.
"Angelus, is that you?"
"You know it isn't. Do you have a message for me?"
She sighed. "You were so handsome then. Look at you now. All soppy and sad. I miss the boy I knew, that pure animal. And now you talk like a brassy American. It's sad, so sad..." she turned and looked up, giving a convincing, if silly, wail.
"Cut the crap, Fiona,"
She lowered her chin; a dark red curl escaped the shawl and trembled on her cheek. "Midir the Proud would see you,"
"Is that what he's calling himself, now?"
"That's what He is. He's grown, He's gained more power. A few years ago He drained a Slayer, and His power grew. He's the guardian of all the catacombs, He rules the hollow hills, He is the lord of the underworld, the King of the Ever-living,"
"We're not the Ever-living. We're not gods. We're un-dead,"
"If an un-dead can become a god, he has,"
"He's got himself a cult, now, has he?"
"Come back to us," she simpered, "We'll take you. You'd have real power, Angel. Not like in those little American Cadres. Real power, the power of the Old Ones. Great magic, the magics of disappearing and moving unseen,"
"Any vampire can do that, comes with the territory,"
"The old stories are real, Angel. We can make them come alive again. We can walk free, we can rule once again, the way it was meant to be. He's offered to receive you,"
"Did he really think I'd go for this little infomercial?"
She tossed her head impatiently, then looked directly at me.
"Why did you do it?"
"I fight you, now,"
"But he was one of the Ancient clans. It's not done, Angel. It's not done,"
"It's done when I'm around,"
"For the LIVING you'd do it?" she had dropped the pretense. It was a relief, but it was also disconcerting. Her features were changing as she raged at me, hazel eyes going yellow; Fiona is ugly in game face. Very ugly. "For the living you'd murder one of your own?"
"Not one of my own. A demon,"
"And His favorite,"
"That's not my problem,"
"Sure and it is, now," she hissed, "You'll have problems now, Angel,"
"Unless you have anything else," I said, "I'm going inside. I'm going to sit by the fire with my family. Tell Midir the Proud that I'll be coming around soon enough, but I suggest he move his minions out of the old factory tonight. We can't have them so close to the tourists,"
"I'll eat the heart of your nephew," she had barely released the words, and I was unprepared for the power they had over me; suddenly the scruff of her neck was in my fist, and she was squirming in the air.
"Take the message to him," I said, speaking through fangs, because they had come up in my mouth so quickly, "And if you miss Angelus so much, come back.
I'll rip your throat out like he would have, tendon by tendon. Threaten my family again, and I'll take you apart like the butcher does a cow. Tell him," I tossed her and she fell in a heap on the grass, "Get moving," I said.
"The devil will swallow you sideways," she said. It's an old-fashioned curse, but it was the wrong one to use on me.
I laughed. "He already did," I said. "Get off my land,"
I will give him a chance to get his minions out; I need to know how he's going to play. If he refuses, and sends aggressive action, he'll be flat-out from the beginning, and I'll have two advantages: he will be in a hurry, which I am not, and he will have limited troops. If he concedes and withdraws from the factory, then we are in for much more. I will know he has numbers. And, I will know that he's confident. That, also, can be an advantage. It would be foolish for him to sacrifice his minions in the factory, but withdrawing them also shows an access of pride; it was enough of an achievement to put them there. It would cost him time. I know my family are wondering why I didn't just go and wipe them out tonight, give him a taste of me. I don't want him to have one. He doesn't know my strengths or weaknesses first hand. If he counts on weakness, I can use that. If he fears me, that, too, could be useful. We will have to wait.
I always think of what you would do; I learned so much of strategy from you, but even more, I learned about heart. Bravery is an expensive word, and it doesn't always apply. Bravado is not courage. Courage, in my mind, will always be you; you, at sixteen, in a prom dress, carrying a crossbow, going to your death, going to take the Master with you. The first time I saw you, you transformed me from nothing into someone who wanted to count, but seeing you come back from death, standing tall and with a steely strength that made me tremble, showed me the meaning of courage, of real guts. It changed me. I am going to play this the way you would.
I am playing to win.
I love you.