I crouched on the stone floor with the dust of the Mayve sifting over me. I heard rushing and whispering beyond the door and realized that her minions were fleeing. She was the last of the Ancients; they had little to gain by fighting now. I confess I was relieved that I wouldn't have to fight naked and without any weapons. My side was beginning to bleed profusely; the bandages were a day old now. I needed to find my clothes and the cauldron. I couldn't go back to Birog empty-handed. I had just begun rifling through the chamber when the door swung open.
Fiona stood with a large, ornate silver basin in her hands. She set it gently on the floor.
"The sun's down," she said.
"Has the order been sent?" I asked her.
She swallowed, hard.
"Yes, Angel. She sent it before you came,"
I stood up, ruffling the dust from my hair.
"Your clothes are in there," she pointed to the trunk at the foot of the enormous bed. "The next ferry leaves in an hour,"
I began to dig out my clothes.
"Take me with you," she blurted.
"Take me with you. I'll do what you will, I'll help you,"
"You're a demon, Fiona,"
"But you've won," she said, "You could rule here, but I know you'll be leaving. I want to go. I'll stay out of your way. I just want to be one of yours. I'll make no trouble, I promise it,"
"You can't always look to align yourself with whoever's in power," I said, "Sooner or later you have to be in charge of yourself,"
"Then I'll be in charge of myself in America,"
I was buttoning my shirt. "No, Fiona. And you'd better go, or I'll find time to stake you,"
"I'm going," she said, hesitating, "But remember this, Angel. I always wanted you. I always will. If you ever crave a little old-fashioned Irish comfort," her eyes swept over me, "Come back home,"
"Stay away from my family,"
She laughed shortly, "No one's been able to get near them. They're protected,"
I shrugged on my coat. I ripped a velvet bed curtain from the ceiling and wrapped the cauldron in it. Pity made me pause to look at her.
"I'll wait for you," she said, and then she ran. I shouldn't have let her go, but I didn't have time to pursue her.
I paced the deck of the ferry. I hated feeling so helpless. I needed to make calls. I was starting to loathe myself in a new way. Isn't my first duty to you? Shouldn't I have made sure that you would be protected before I left? I had done so many things wrong. You were the one who made a man out of a pathetic wasting wretch, didn't I owe you better than this? It was my fault and I was powerless to help you. I was flooded with nausea at myself, that I hadn't done better by you, that I had put you in danger. It was my fault for not taking more care, for not thinking ahead, for not telling you I was leaving, and it would be my fault if anything happened to you. It might as well have been done with my own hand, if any harm came to you.
I ran from the dock to the estate. John met me at the door. He took my shoulders in his hands.
"She's out," My heart actually stirred in my chest. "They've gone in to get her. Just a short time ago. The number's there,"
It was Xander's cell phone number.
"Yeah?" he said.
"Is she all right?"
"Yeah," he said, "I'm forwarding you to Giles," Something in me hated him saving you when I couldn't. Again.
"Xander," I gritted my teeth, "Where is she? Is she all right?"
"Right here," he said.
"She's with you?"
"Yeah, yeah," he said quickly, "Right here, yeah. OK, I'm forwarding you,"
"Angel," said Giles.
"Is she all right?"
"Y-yes...she's fine. It was a close shave, but we're all intact,"
I closed my eyes and allowed myself to feel a slight loosening of the muscles in my shoulders and neck. I swallowed.
"This is my fault," I said.
"I don't believe it is," he said, "I do know that there was a complication with the hiding of the Record-"
"-I should have-"
He interrupted me, "-That you could not possibly have foreseen. At any rate," he said, "Buffy is safe. And yourself?"
"Uh...the Mayve is dead,"
"Good show," he said quietly, "It will weaken infestation in the entire United Kingdom. You'll save a good many lives, Angel,"
"I had no right to put her at risk,"
"I don't believe that was ever your intention,"
"Are you quite badly injured?"
"I'll be all right," I shot a look at John.
"When shall I tell her you're starting back for the States?"
"I-I don't know if that would be the best idea,"
"You can't do much more good there," he said gently, "You're needed here,"
"It might be easier on her-"
"If you tell her before you leave town the next time," he said sternly, "But for now the best thing you can do, in all likelihood, is to come home,"
"Where are you going now? Are you being followed? How will-"
"We've got the best escorts that the United States government can afford," he said, "And we're headed for an undisclosed location in San Diego. I will phone you as soon as we are secured there, and I'll give you a number to reach her,"
I looked at the floor. "I don't know what I'll say to her,"
"Start with hello," he said dryly, "Followed with a genuine apology for going AWOL, and let nature take the rest,"
He hung up. I bent over slightly; my side surged with a deep, bitter ache. All of the pain I hadn't felt for several hours was returning. John helped me to a chair.
"There, now," he said softly, "And you'll be off to bed. That's enough for one night,"
"I want to show you something," I said suddenly. I pulled the bundle from under my coat and unwrapped it. "This is a real artifact," I said, "Do you know it?"
He took the cauldron reverently. "Yes," he breathed, "It's the cauldron of Midir, if I'm reading it right. I didn't know it was real," he turned it over in his hands, "See here, on the underside, there's a prayer. When you drink from it, you're praying at the same time. The legend is, this cauldron makes anything whole again. It heals wounds and arguments, even. Brings together what was lost,"
"I have to deliver it to someone,"
I hesitated. "It's...difficult to explain,"
He smiled wryly at me. "I might know more than you think. How do you think we found you in the storm?"
"How did you?"
He shrugged. "Had a dream," he said. He was beaming at me. "You've done it, then," he said. His voice was warm with pride, "The Ancients. You've done them all,"
I thought about it. I looked above the fireplace at Angelus, who scowled back at me.
"Yes," I suddenly felt weakness overtaking me. The room wavered. John played nursemaid again, putting me to bed.
And I am starting to nod off. You are safe, you are safe. I will say those words to myself, like a mantra, as I go to sleep. You are safe. That's all I want. It's everything to me.
I love you.
I will always love you.