Angel slowed the GTX as he neared the Hyperion, noting a movement in the shadows just to the left of the hotel. Cutting the lights on the car, he eased the car into a spot along the curb and braked to a halt. He sat motionless for several minutes, his eyes scanning the hotel and the surrounding area. The neighborhood was a mix of run-down and restored buildings, many of which were vacant, a collection of parked cars, some of which had been abandoned long ago, and darkened streets. After five years Angel knew each building, each winding alleyway and most of the local residents by sight. At least those residents that tended to roam the vicinity under the moonlight with other creatures of the night.
Like a predator his eyes inspected the area, methodically reassessing each section before moving on to the next. Patience, he’d learned over the years, could be the difference between living and dying. Headlights shone along the side of the building, then Cordelia’s jeep came into view. She turned left, away from him. He watched until the taillights disappeared from view before he opened his car door. Moving into the deepest shadows, he stealthily made his way into the hotel.
Crossing the marble floor of the lobby quietly, he paused at the counter to pick up his messages before heading up the stairs. He stopped first by Connor’s room, unlocking the door and opening it a narrow half-inch before peering inside. Connor lay on a blanket on the floor, his head resting on a stack of books topped off with a pillow and baby Amelia gurgling happily on his chest. He pushed the door open further, his gaze drifting over the occupants, a single lamp the only light in the room.
Fred was curled up on Connor’s bed, having falling into an exhausted sleep after feeding the baby a short while ago. Too frightened to stay in their rooms alone, she had crept quietly to Connor’s room with Amelia just after her husband had left to investigate a sighting of a suspicious creature just off Crenshaw.
“Everything okay?” Angel asked in a hushed whisper, a small smile curving his lips as Amelia giggled when Connor bounced her gently. He was genuinely surprised to see anyone else in the room beside his son.
“Yeah.” Connor replied quietly with a small shrug, lifting a leg to show off his still attached ankle chain.
Gunn had clearly taken his instructions to keep Connor locked up very seriously. Although, he probably would have been disappointed to know that his own wife, despite his warning to keep her distance, had kept the young man company for the better part of the night, not to mention had passed their daughter into his arms without hesitation when he asked to hold her. At the moment, Gunn trusted neither Connor nor Cordelia.
“Where’s Gunn?” Angel asked with a trace of alarm in his voice.
“Checking out some demon sighting or something. Got a call a little while ago.” Connor replied calmly, shifting his position slightly on the floor and adjusting Amelia on his lap.
Slightly vexed as to what to do, Angel considered whether he should talk to Connor now or wait until later, when Cordelia returned to the hotel.
“Get some sleep.” Connor said, as if understanding Angel’s dilemma. He made a face at Amelia then smiled when she let out what sounded like a hiccup and looked like a smile. His eyes returned again to his father’s face. “We can talk later.”
After a few minutes, Angel nodded. “Gunn will worry if they’re not in their room when he gets back.”
“I know.” Connor agreed quietly, glancing toward Fred’s sleeping figure. “He didn’t want her here but she said she was afraid to stay alone. And then…well, she just fell asleep. I didn’t want to wake her.” He shrugged slightly as his voice trailed off.
Debating the various reasons why Fred might be afraid to stay alone in the room she’d lived in with Gunn for the last few years and coming up with an answer that he didn’t like, Angel’s eyes narrowed and he pressed his lips together in irritation.
Sighing, Angel stepped into the room and gently lifted the still sleeping Fred into his arms. He carried her down the hall to her room, then returned and retrieved the finally drowsy Amelia. As he laid the small baby down in her crib, the crib that had once been Connor’s, he glanced down at her affectionately. Her presence in the hotel, in his life touched him profoundly. It made him feel that much more connected to humanity, that much more closer to redemption yet at the same time that much farther away from it all.
He smiled slightly as Amelia let out a sleepy gurgle, then soothed her hair and tucked her blanket around her a little more snugly. For a moment he was reminded of Connor as a baby, not so many years ago and yet a lifetime now. Holtz had robbed them both of so much. He’d scarcely dared to believe that he would have the chance to be a father – then to have Connor practically ripped out of his arms. They had both been cheated out of so much. it hardly seemed fair, but then, that was his life. He expected no less – it was all part of the price he had to pay for his atonement, his redemption.
What would Buffy’s child look like? What would their child look like? The thought seemingly came out of nowhere and slammed him in the gut, reminding him again of what he could not have. What he would not know. It was another price to be paid for his weakness as Liam, for the late night skirt chasing drunken stroll in the alleyway that had cost him his humanity.
Had that not happened, you wouldn’t have been here to meet the Slayer, you fool. Angel shrugged almost imperceptibly at the thought, adjusting the baby’s stuffed animals around her in the crib. No, he would have found her. Somehow, someway, no matter the time or distance. They were meant to be. If only he could offer her more than demons and darkness.
Forcefully pushing aside his disappointment, Angel quietly left the room, closing the door firmly behind him and locking it with the master key. He passed by Connor’s room once more and said good night, then made his way down the hall.
As Angel crossed into his own suite of rooms, his attention turned to the tasks ahead. First and foremost he wanted to see Nikkos, but that would have to wait until after sundown. In the meantime, he needed to deal with Cordelia and Connor.
He wasn’t looking forward to what he knew would prove to be an angry and difficult confrontation with the seer after the things that Connor had told him. When originally faced with the evidence of her treachery, he had first believed that it had been limited to his personal interest in the Slayer. That her jealously of Buffy had been the initial catalyst for her lies, lies that were further fueled by her own insecurities and vanity and later his own complacent slip into a relationship with her.
In no way did any of that excuse the fact that she had clearly turned into a murderer. If not by her own hand, then certainly her creation of the ‘Slayer Elimination Tournament’ classified her as one without debate. Not only did she seek to murder Buffy but she also had set up his own son to take the fall for her. Admittedly, he was skeptical of the degree of Connor’s innocence in the scheme but he didn’t doubt that the seer was the mastermind behind it all.
And if Connor were to be believed, her duplicity extended far beyond just driving a wedge between he and Buffy. She was quite likely responsible for the injury and death of more people that he knew, for Kate’s coma. Wesley.
He stripped off his clothing in the dark, his mind turning over the things that Connor had told him on the phone: the toxic I’lera demon that had slunk into Atlas Toys down on Vine; the vampire nest that Kate and her team had tried to take out on their own – both visions that Cordelia had but chose not to share for reasons he had yet to understand. He closed his eyes against the persistent guilt that swept over him, that ate at him, not allowing him to forget that in both cases he should have been there. He should have done something, anything to prevent what had happened.
The I’lera demon had left nearly a dozen children badly injured with chemical burns. Two of them died later and several of them were horribly scarred and had to undergo reconstructive surgery. Four children had never been found and the I’lera had escaped into the sewers. It slunk into a pre-school two days later, which fortunately had been closed for the day so the I’lera was denied any additional prey. He and Gunn had tracked the demon for three more days before they were finally able to trap it just on the edge of Sylmar park and destroy it.
As he started the shower, he recalled that night that the I’lera demon attacked clearly in his mind. It had been the night of Mr. Nabbitt’s Christmas party. Cordelia had wanted to go, but he had not. She was breathing erratically when she came down the stairs, anxious to go but he had made her sit for a few minutes, worried about her health. She adamantly shook him off, muttering something about “Not tonight. Nuh-uh, no way, forget it. I want fun. I need fun. And no way is that happening in my new shoes.” The words that made no sense to him at the time now chilled him when he thought that she had likely foreseen the demon, but had chosen not to tell him or anyone else at AI about it simply because she was more interested in her own fun and not despoiling new shoes.
Stepping into the shower, he attempted to shake off the memories in the relaxing heat of the water, but the other things that Connor had told him refused to go away. They clung to his mind like tentacles, wrapping around his thoughts and stubbornly demanding attention.
Was Connor telling the truth when he said that he had overheard a call from someone named Kate Lockley, and that she had pleaded for help to take out a vicious and brutal group of vampires but Cordelia never bothered to pass along the message?
He heard the events of that night second hand through another detective on the force, Vic Mackey. Kate and her team had been brutally mauled, two of them had died and Kate herself had been left in a coma. That had been just over four months ago now. They still didn’t know yet whether or not she would recover.
Shaking the soap and water out of his eyes, Angel rinsed quickly before switching off the water and reaching for a towel. After drying off, he pulled on his black sweats and a t-shirt then padded across the room to the bed. He sat heavily down on the thick mattress and ran a hand through his hair in frustration.
The reason he was in LA was redemption. It was about helping people find their way, about protecting them and others in the process. He’d thought once that he was succeeding, or at the very least making progress. Now he wondered if he were helping at all. For every person that he had helped or every good deed that he had done, his seer had quite possibly offset that with an inflicted harm or evil deed.
His eyes focused suddenly on the small scraps of paper resting on the night table near the bed. As recognition of the object dawned, he growled deep in his chest, angrily, unknowingly. The picture that he had left there of Buffy had been ripped into tiny bits. His eyes flickered with gold highlights as he stood abruptly and strode through his suite of rooms and out into the hall. It was the last straw. Yanking open the door to Cordelia’s room, he glanced inside. It was still and quiet.
Logically he’d known that she’d left the hotel earlier, but there was the slightest possibility that she had returned and he hadn’t heard her. Impetuously he grabbed one of her precious Lladro figurines off the nearby shelf and hurled it at the wall. It crashed and shattered into pieces, the sound nowhere near appeasing the rage that was boiling just under the surface. He grabbed a second and a third figure, tossing them just as hard and watching them explode into tiny bits from the force of his throw. He stood deathly still for a long moment, his tongue raking across his teeth and testing the sharpness of the fangs that had appeared along with his demon visage. After another moment, he turned and left the room slamming the door hard behind him.
Unable to sleep, Angel wandered to the kitchen and opened a bag of blood. He hadn’t fed in Sunnydale, and if nothing else, it would kill some time. Walking back into his bedroom, he stopped and stared at the trunk along the wall. After a brief pause, he opened it and searched through the contents until he found what he was looking for. Carefully he drew out a leather bound journal. It was a Watchers Journal of Wesley’s that had been delivered to the hotel along with a box of his other belongings not long after his death, 2 years ago now.
Angel wasn’t sure why he kept the weathered journal, given that his relationship with the former Watcher had never been repaired after Wes had stolen Connor and given him to Holtz. Rather, when the package had arrived one day from Wes’s former landlord, Angel had simply opened it and, after realizing what it was, he extracted the journal and tucked it into the trunk with his other keepsakes. Cordelia has been out shopping that day; when she returned she shipped the rest of the items off to goodwill without a backward glance.
He smiled slightly as he turned the book over in his hands. When Wesley had first shown up in LA as a “Rogue Demon Hunter” Angel had almost laughed. But in the following years, the prissy watcher had proven himself to be smart, persistent and extremely determined in his chosen craft.
With a twinge of regret, Angel opened the journal and flipped through the entries. The first few notations were about Wes’s last days in Sunnydale, about the Mayor’s demise and the ‘impertinent but remarkable’ Slayer, Buffy. Wesley had written with meticulous detail every conversation, every meaning and every possible strategy that had been discussed or considered.
Angel chuckled at Wes’s description of Buffy, but sobered slightly as he read the former Watcher’s point of view about ‘the vampire’s’ illness when Faith had shot him with the poisoned arrow along with Buffy’s unwavering determination to save him. The council’s refusal to help had led to her decision to quit the council, a decision that Giles apparently supported much to Wes’s dismay. He’d known, of course, that she’d broken off with the council around that time but he had believed that it had been because of a difference in opinion on their strategy to deal with the Mayor’s ascension. Here was another showing of her steadfast support, of her love. He grimaced at the reminder, vowing that he would one day make up for the lack of devotion he had shown her in return.
Flipping forward a few pages, he scanned various notes about some early cases that they had worked on together, about the Scrolls of Aberjaan. his possible Shanshu. He skipped ahead, not wanting to read the details, unwilling to get his hopes up just yet for something that may or may not come to pass.
Several pages later he was surprised when he came across a rather personal entry regarding Faith. Apparently Wesley had begun to visit Faith in jail some years after she had been imprisoned. He had never gotten over his feelings of responsibility for her and he deeply regretted the way things had turned out for her in Sunnydale. With renewed purpose, he had gone to see her, determined to help her any way he could. After several months of visits, he admitted that he thought himself to be in love with her, and that perhaps she was on her way to feeling the same for him, which both surprised him and scared him.
Farther along in the entry, Buffy’s name caught Angel’s eye. Faith had confessed to switching bodies with Buffy before showing up in LA with the intent to kill her ex. Her purpose was twofold: to hurt Buffy and to strike back at Angel for his rejection of her. Certainly when Angel greeted Buffy with a less than friendly welcome, Faith had been pleased and when he had slapped her, pleased quickly became ecstatic. If all else in her plans had failed, at least she had managed to ensure that “B.” got hurt badly by the one person that could do the most damage to the blonde Slayer: Angel. She couldn’t have planned it any better. Later, though, Faith admitted that she regretted what she had done. Despite their differences, Buffy had tried to be her friend, to help her and she had pushed her away out of jealousy and anger.
Angel reclined on the bed, propping one elbow on the bed and resting his head on his hand as he continued to read. Wesley had written extensively about Connor, his research on the prophecy that indicated that had led him to believe that Angel would kill his own son. leading to his misguided decision to entrust the infant into Holtz’s hands.
In the margin of one page, Wes had written the question “CC selling to W&H?”. There was nothing else, so Angel wasn’t sure what he meant.
Two hours past as he read, until he reached what appeared to be the last entry in the thick volume. Cordelia had called Wesley, claiming to have had another vision. In Wes’s words she sounded ‘desperate and afraid’ on the phone, reporting the rise of a new evil power somewhere in the area of Los Angeles just south of Venice. The demon in her vision was ruthless and strong; and would kill Angel should the vampire attempt to take him out. She’d seen it all with explicit detail in her vision.
Initially Wes was unconcerned. Given that he and Angel had never reconciled why should he care whether the vampire lived or died? But Cordelia pleaded with him to do this for her, for the love that she thought that they had shared once, for their friendship, and because it would prove to Angel once and for all that Wesley bore him no ill will despite everything that had happened between them. She then promised that she would continue her efforts to convince Angel to at least speak with him again. She said that she had done everything she could, but the vampire stubbornly refused to even hear the name “Wesley Wyndam-Pryce” spoken at the Hyperion. She was sure, however, that with a little more time she’d be able to change that.
Angel closed the book firmly.
Wesley had died that night. In a last desperate attempt to take out the demon, he had blown them both to bits. When the news of his death made it back to AI, Cordelia had sniffed disdainfully, claiming that Wesley’s own pride had caused his death. He should have called them for obviously needed backup, but his stubborn pride had prevented him from asking for help. Other that than, she had only mentioned Wesley’s name to disparage him or condemn him for what she considered his constant stream of betrayals; first Connor, then his relationship with Lilah, and then later with Faith. At no time had she ever tried to help patch up a relationship between the two men.
Here was proof of more of her lies. For reasons known only to her, she had lied to them both and kept them from perhaps settling their differences. And now Wesley was dead and they would not have the chance.
For the next several hours, Angel paced restlessly around the hotel, too keyed up to sleep yet trapped inside by the sunlight. Cordelia had not returned to the hotel and the delay in the confrontation with her was playing heavily on his nerves.
He had released Connor earlier and they had had a brief talk. They still had a lot of work to do to build any sort of relationship between them, but it started with trust. He told Connor that he would believe what he had told him about the seer; but he also warned him that this was his last chance. Angel would stand for no more lies, no more duplicity, no more half-truths. Any thing less than an open and honest relationship between them from here on out would ensure that they would have no relationship.
It was now mid-afternoon and Connor and Fred were sitting on the floor in the hotel lobby playing quietly with Amelia and occasionally casting glances at the obviously tense vampire roving about with barely controlled anger.
When the door rattled and swung open, all three pairs of eyes swiveled toward it apprehensively.
Gunn, covered in patches of mud with his clothes ripped in several places, held out his hands and grinned as he stepped through the door. “Well honey, I’m home.”
Fred breathed a sigh of relief and came to her feet, sweeping Amelia into her arms and rushing toward her husband. She hugged him despite the filth, relieved to have him returned safely.
“Uh, I guess I missed something here.” Gunn replied solemnly, taking in the worried expressions, the tense atmosphere.
“I’ll fill you in later. Where have you been?” Fred asked worriedly, still clinging to his side.
With a laugh, Gunn explained that the early morning call had been a false alarm. A large and rather mangy abandoned dog had been the mysterious ‘creature’ that had been sighted. Feeling rather sorry for the forlorn and obviously abused creature, Gunn had spent several hours trying to catch it before he succeeded, then a few more hours finding a rescue center that would take the animal in and take care of him until they could find him a home.
He said he called and left a message, but apparently none of them had thought to check the machine.
When he mentioned the phone call, Fred’s head shot up. In the edgy silence of the morning, the message had completely slipped her mind. Setting Amelia back down on the floor next to Connor, she rushed over to her desk and rummaged through several case files before she found what she was looking for. With a blushing smile, she handed the pad of paper to Angel.
“Sorry. You left that out one day and I didn’t think that- that well, that-” The young mother stammered as Angel looked down at the paper with the drawing of Buffy clearly visible on the top. Next to the sketch was a phone number along with the name “Rupert Giles” in Fred’s neat handwriting. She looked down as she finished. “I just didn’t leave it out.”
“Thanks.” Angel took the offered pad of paper from her hand and glanced down at the drawings.
“Mr. Giles has called several times. I told him you’ve been out.but have you even gotten his messages? If not, then-then I think Cordelia may have been taking them.” Fred added nervously as Angel looked at the sketches with a trace of surprise. He hadn’t realized that he’d drawn them, but obviously they were his.
Gunn glanced over Angel’s shoulder curiously, studying the girl’s image. After a moment, he tapped his finger on the paper. “Damn. She looks really familiar. I’d swear I know her from somewhere.”
“Buffy?” Angel questioned, his eyes looking up from the drawing to Gunn’s face. His eyes flashed with anger at Fred’s words that Cordelia had been stealing his messages.
“That’s your girl, huh?” Gunn studied the drawing again, searching his memory. After a minute he shrugged dismissively. “Must just recognize her from the picture in your room then.”
“So…” Gunn continued, taking in the relatively companionable group, not to mention Connor’s freedom. “What else did I miss?”
Angel sighed heavily. He’d need to explain some things to Fred and Gunn, but first he wanted to call Giles.
“I’ll explain later. Right now, just stick together. I don’t want anyone to confront Cordelia alone.” He met each of their eyes with his own, their deep brown depths effectively conveying the seriousness of his request.
They all trooped up the stairs together, then Fred, Gunn and Connor, carrying Amelia, turned to Fred and Gunn’s suite of rooms and Angel turned right, going to his own. Gunn was going to shower and change, so they agreed that the others would hang in their living room and watch TV while Angel made his call.
Angel checked the time as he picked up the phone, noting that it would be almost 11 pm in London. He hesitated briefly as he dialed, thinking of Giles’s illness, the late hour and his likely need for rest. Should he wait?
The ringing of tones as the line connected answered his question. He had completed dialing almost automatically.
A woman’s voice sounded on the other end, answering with a cheery hello.
Angel cleared his throat and asked for Giles. He gave his name when she asked them waited patiently.
When Giles finally picked up the phone, Angel was relieved to hear that he sounded the same, if not better, than he had in LA. At least the former Watcher’s illness didn’t appear to be any worse.
“Giles? It’s Angel.”
Angel waited as Giles acknowledged his greeting then offered his apologies for not returning his call earlier. They talked for a few minutes about Giles’s health and his return trip to London, then abruptly the former Watcher switched the topic to the real reason why he had been calling.
The sun had just slipped below the horizon when Angel pulled on his coat and grabbed his car keys. Cordelia had not returned to the hotel, but his impatience to talk with Nikkos was not going to allow him to wait for her.
Amidst protests, he ushered Fred, Gunn, Connor and Amelia out of the hotel, shoving a wad of bills into Gunn’s hand along with the instructions for them to have a nice dinner and to get a hotel somewhere else in the city tonight. He didn’t trust Cordelia at the moment and he didn’t want to put them at risk, especially when he’d heard about her veiled threats to Amelia.
He waited until they drove off, then went to his own car and headed a few blocks away.
The chime on the door sounded when Angel pushed it open and entered Magos Exousia. The small shop was actually quite busy for the time of the evening, several patrons milling about, browsing and collecting their various books and supplies.
“Angel! My man!” Nikkos greeted him cheerfully, coming around the small counter and extending his hand. He pulled Angel into a half hug, clapping him heartily on the back. “Good to see you. It’s been a long time.”
“Too long.” Angel replied as he stepped back from the smaller man, glancing again at the other people wandering around the small shop. He had hoped to be able to talk to Nikkos alone, but no matter. All he needed was information.
“How’s the P.I. business these days?” Nikkos asked earnestly, leaning against the counter and nodding at the small, wrinkled and bespectacled little man that stopped next to them, peering intently at the object in the counter display case.
“Fine. Busy.” Angel acknowledged, watching the little man next to them. The object that the man was staring at was a mummy’s hand. Written on a placard that was placed in front of the hand was a note that simply read, “Must be special ordered. Display not for sale.”
Briefly Angel wondered why mummy’s hands would need to be special ordered, but then dismissed the abstract thought as unimportant. Assured that the man was harmless, Angel spoke again. “I need some information.”
The man touched Nikkos on the sleeve and pointed at the hand.
“Mummy’s hands are special orders. Takes 3-6 weeks.” Nikkos replied to the mans’ questioning look.
The little man nodded resolutely, then moved away, drawing a small piece of paper out of his pocket and squinting at it determinedly.
“I take a month off and the first day I’m back everyone comes in wanting something. If I’d have been this busy before the holidays I could retired and stayed in Greece.” Nikkos joked as he moved behind the counter to ring up a sale from a young girl with cropped, dyed pink hair and piercings through her eyebrow, nose, belly button and most likely a nipple from the outline of the hoop evident through her thin t-shirt that read “I like boys. They’re stupid.” She glanced at Angel, now leaning against the wall nearby, forcing Nikkos to repeat the amount due twice in order to get her attention. She cast an irritated glance at the shop owner, paid for her various herbs, then flashed a flirty smile at Angel as she turned to leave.
Angel scarcely noticed her, his thoughts preoccupied, which Nikkos found amusing. He turned his attention back to his friend.
“So, what can I do you for?” He asked, a wry grin on his face.
“I need to know everything you can tell me about a magic spell.”
“Then you’ve come to the right place. Spells I know. What kind of spell are we talking?”
“Love spell maybe, or the opposite of a love spell. Something to freeze your heart, your emotions. Something to break a bond. I don’t know exactly.” Angel said, considering the possible ways to describe what Buffy might have done.
“I see. Problems at home?” Nikkos mouth twitched into a half smile.
Angel’s gaze swiveled to Nikkos abruptly. “No.” He replied with exasperation. “There was a girl in here. Probably three years ago. Beautiful. Blonde. About this tall,” holding up his hand, he indicated Buffy’s height, his tone taking on one of reverence for the subject.
“Three years? Beautiful? Um, nope. Not ringing a bell. And that sounds like one hell of a love spell. I’ve heard of lust spells like that before… a really good glamour perhaps.” Grinning, Nikkos studied the vampire’s expression, finding his tone and manner interesting. Leaning an elbow on the counter, he prompted. “What else can you tell me about her? Might jog my memory a bit.”
“Big hazel green eyes, full lips with a smile that can light up the room.” Angel closed his eyes, Buffy’s image coming into vivid view in his memory. “Glorious golden hair, soft and thick, creamy skin, so warm and smooth. like velvet. She’s slender yet perfectly form-” His eyes snapped open suddenly as he realized what he was saying. If he could have blushed he would have. He sounded like an adolescent schoolboy.
“Sounds like an absolute vision. Got a picture?” Nikkos asked as he turned to the young woman approaching the counter in a charcoal gray business suit. She sat two books on the counter, then asked him about various software packages and Internet resources. Nikkos answered her questions politely, stopping twice to extract cards from a file behind the counter containing information for additional contacts she might be interested in then rang up her purchases. She paid and left, studying one of the books she had bought intently on the way out.
“These techno-pagans are taking over the art, I swear.” Nikkos shook his head ruefully. “I tell you the days of the cauldron are numbered, my friend.” Lifted his brows in question to Angel. “So, picture?”
“Sorry, no picture.” Angel grimaced, mentally kicking himself for not taking one from the hotel. Why hadn’t he thought of that earlier? Although with Cordelia’s penchant for shredding them, they were becoming scarce. That reality combined with the fact that she had insisted that he take the picture of Buffy out of his wallet years ago – part of her whole moving on plan – further added to his anger and agitation. He cursed softly.
“So this beautiful blonde with the hazel green eyes and creamy warm velvety skin.” Nikkos asked with a grin. He’d known almost from the moment Angel spoke who he was asking about, he just wanted to hear what the vampire had to say first. “Would her name be Buffy, by any chance? As in Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer?”
“Yes. You remember her then?” Angel’s head shot up, his eyes seeking Nikko’s for confirmation. His muscles tensed in expectation of Nikkos’s response, even as he felt a spark of irritation at the warlock’s obvious game with him. “She was in here a few years ago and bought some sort of spell book, something that she used to ‘freeze’ her emotions. Lock them out somehow.”
“A spell like that can’t just be done by just buying a book and saying a few words and burning some herbs. That’s a very powerful and very difficult spell.” Nikkos declared indignantly. “Only a skilled practitioner can cast a spell like that successfully. It can be quite dangerous, that one.”
Angel stared at the smaller man with a piercing intensity, studying his face, his body language. His eyes widened as the implication of Nikkos’s statement struck him and his gaze took on a sudden intensity. Reaching across the counter, he grabbed the warlock by the shirt and yanked him forcefully forward into the counter between them, causing the objects in the display case to rattle and the pencil cup on top of the case to tip over, sending the pens, pencils and other things spilling out onto the counter and off to the floor.
“You!” Angel growled angrily, his eyes flashing with bits of gold. “You did it. You cast the spell on her.”
“Hey, let go of the shirt.” Nikkos stared back, unflinching, his pale blue eyes showing no signs of fear. “This is custom made Italian and I don’t appreciate the handling of it in such a manner. Nor am I able to think of anything you might be interested in knowing with you staring in my face and not breathing on me.”
Angel hesitated a moment longer then let him go, releasing his grip and stepping back slightly to force himself to calm. Whatever Nikkos had done, he could undo.
“I’m not saying I did.” Smoothing the wrinkles out of his shirt, Nikkos replied quietly as he smiled and waved at the two women that were openly staring at them after hearing the altercation. The women were new age type wiccas, as evidenced by their long, floating skirts and diaphanous tops, the masses of necklaces practically concealing their necks and chests and a multitude of bracelets around each wrist. The frowned at the two men and whispered quietly to each other, casting an occasional glance over their shoulders.
Nikkos turned his eyes back to the tense vampire and continued flatly, “And I’m not saying I didn’t. What’s it to you anyway? You got your girl now, your true love.”
Angel only snorted in reply, his eyes dark with anger.
“How is Cordelia anyway?” Nikkos asked amiably, his voice touched with a hint of remonstrance. He collected the pencils from the counter and put them back in the righted cup.
“She’s-” Angel stopped abruptly. What could he say? Oh, Cordelia? She’s evil. She’s a backstabbing, vicious, murdering shrew. Didn’t you know? Taking the route least fraught with difficulty, the vampire replied tersely. “We’re not together anymore.”
“Ah.” Nikkos noted with faintly raised eyebrows, stepping around the counter to help the two women reach something off a higher shelf. He chatted with them for a moment, chuckling slightly as he returned to his position behind the counter. “New agers. It’s all crystals and stones, sweetness and light. Get out a book on the darker stuff, the more interesting stuff and they’d run screaming.”
Angel looked at the two women briefly then returned his attention back to Nikkos. “Tell me-”
“You know, I have to say. Buffy just doesn’t seem to be your type.” Nikkos interrupted, his eyes shrewdly assessing the vampire once again. It was as if he were looking for something.
“Type?” Angel echoed gruffly, working hard to control his rage.
“All feisty with that bright eyed naiveté, the youthful energy and exuberance. Unselfish. Unaware of just how beautiful she is.” Nikkos continued with a flash of a smile. “Willing to sacrifice herself for the greater good. for her duty… for love.”
Angel knew that somehow Nikkos knew about his history with Buffy, the things that they had been through, the things that she had given up, that they had both given up. He paced in front of the counter, restlessly, affected by the truth of the warlock’s assessment of Buffy.
“The way I saw it, I was doing you a favor.” Nikkos continued genially, “Everyone knew how hung up you were over Darla and then, of course, Cordelia with that whole true love, destiny, fate, kye’rumption bullshit.” Pausing, he exaggeratedly covered his mouth as if he surprised himself; as if he had accidentally revealed a secret that he had meant to keep. Shrugging he picked up a box behind the counter and opened it, stacking the books on the counter. “Can’t say I care for your type but each to his own, man. Certainly they’re sharp looking babes but all-in-all real bitches.”
Angel picked up a small wand from the floor, one of the objects that had tumbled out of the knocked over pencil case. Inside the wand floated shiny metallic hearts and stars. The name Magos Exousia was embossed on the site. He toyed with it briefly as he contemplated Nikkos’s words.
Ignoring Angel’s obvious frustration, Nikkos casually picked up another box and carried it to the nearby shelf. Calmly he placed the books from the box on the shelf then walked back behind the counter. He tossed the box into a pile of empty boxes nearby.
Angel dropped the decorative wand back into the pencil cup and watched as the hearts and stars floated to the bottom.
Turning his attention back to Angel, his gaze direct, he added. “I just knew you didn’t want that little doe-eyed sweetheart tugging on your sleeve and crying on your shoulder about her little heartbreak. I did you both a favor, set you both free.”
“You know nothing about it. ” Angel muttered, his voice a low fierce growl. He faced Nikkos head on now, his hands resting with palms flat on the counter as he leaned slightly forward. His posture was aggressive, threatening.
“No?” Nikkos pleasantly asked, reaching in his pocket and pulling out a box of Altoids. He opened the can and offered one to Angel, who only stared at him. Shrugging slightly, he popped a chalky mint into his mouth and closed the tin. “You sure about that?”
“You stole something that belongs to me.” Angel growled angrily, furious now. He slammed his fist down hard on the counter, once more making the objects in the case rattle. His golden eyes glittered and the muscle in his jaw clenched as he fought to control his demon visage.
Behind him, the two new age wiccas that had been loitering about and watching the men covertly dropped their intended purchases and fled from the store.
“Yeah, what’s that? The girl?” Nikkos shrugged dismissively. “From where I’m sittin’ she didn’t belong to you. You left her. Did you forget that part? How about the part where you said you were in love with a new girl? Ring any bells?”
“It’s trespassing – you *never* break a bond between a vampire and his mate.” Angel snarled in reply, ignoring the questions that he didn’t feel were relevant.
“Really? Thought the bond thing only applies to vampire/vampire or vampire/demon mates…” Nikkos replied cheerfully, reaching to take a sip of tepid tea from a cup that had been sitting forgotten on a stack of boxes behind him. “Hold on, I got a paper on that here somewhere. We can look it up.”
Paying no attention to the angry vampire leaning on his counter, Nikkos bent down and rifled through a small filing cabinet full of papers.
“Nikkos, damn it-!” Angel roared, just as the door chime of the shop sounded. He bit off the rest of his sentence as a young Asian boy walked up to the counter. The boy blinked twice at Angel, then waited patiently for the shop proprietor to notice him.
“You know, I’m pretty sure that vampires never abandon their true mates.” Nikkos muttered, his head down and mostly hidden by the counter as he continued to sift through stacks and files of papers.
“Ah! Here we go.” He popped up from behind the counter, a paper held up in his hand triumphantly. “Oh, hey there, littlest Chieu.” Without losing a beat, the shop proprietor greeted the boy and reached over the counter to ruffle his hair. “How’s your Nana?”
The boy replied in Chinese and held up a small piece of paper.
Angel waited impatiently while Nikkos filled the list of herbs from the boys list. He jotted down the amount on a small tablet that he kept beneath the cash register then handed the bag to the boy. “Tell your Nana I hope she’s better soon.” As the boy walked out the door, Nikkos turned back to Angel. “She has horrible osteo-arthritis, poor thing, can’t even get out of her chair some days.”
Noting Angel’s grim stare, the warlock turned his attention back to their earlier conversation. He picked the stapled pages form the counter. “Ah, now, where were we? Oh. Here. See – this paper written by. where’s the damn name.” Nikkos muttered, flipping through the pages rapidly and scanning them with his eyes, “Ah! Here we go. Sam Winthorpe, a claimed expert on vampires says right here that vampires don’t abandon their mates, once they take one. For that matter, he says they don’t take human mates either.”
Angel blinked at Nikkos unbelievably, but the warlock was seemingly engrossed in the document in his hand.
“Course, he does also say that they absolutely must sleep in coffins and have an unnatural fear of disco music. that might cut into his credibility somewhat. But! It was published on the Internet, so it must be true.” Glancing up, he slapped the paper against Angel’s chest facetiously.
Angel grudgingly took the proffered document, scoffed at it with disgust and then tossed it forcefully into the garbage. After a brief pause, he asked quietly. “Why’d you do it, Nikkos? I thought we were friends.”
Thinking for a minute, the warlock replied. “You weren’t here, Angel. You didn’t see her. She’s an *angel* and she was so heartbroken, so devastated.”
“Why? What happened?” Angel inquired worriedly, his dark eyes filled with concern.
Nikkos stared back, mentally debating if he wanted to tell the vampire the events that led up to the spell. Sighing heavily, he rubbed hand across his eyes. His eyes met Angel’s again. When he finally spoke, his voice was solemn. “She was here in the store looking for a book. Your friends. they came in, they were talking loudly about you and Cordelia – how perfect, how together, how much in love, and so on and so forth. She heard every word and it broke her heart.”
Buffy’s words came back to him then, “Not knowing many Angels – um, people named Angel that is, and not many Angel’s and Cordelia’s that would be mentioned in the same sentence I guessed that maybe it was the same guy.” That was when she had seen Lorne. That was how she had known that they were friends. The very day she had broken their bond.
“I found her curled up in the back, sobbing. I haven’t seen too many people grieve like that.” Nikkos continued, his voice grave. “Damn. It just tore me up.”
Angel looked away, ashamed for the part that he had played in her heartbreak, her pain. Nikkos didn’t need to elaborate. Angel could tell by the look in his pale blue eyes that Buffy’s pain had truly affected him.
“You tell me you could take one look at her face, at those eyes filled with tears and not want to do what you could to help her out.”
It was an opening for Angel to turn the conversation. Everything was too confused for easy answers to anything. Of course, he would have done anything possible to help her. “Tell me how to break the spell.”
“Why?” Nikkos asked bluntly, his eyes once again fixated on Angel’s face.
Angel looked down, shuffling his feet slightly. He took an unneeded inhalation of air. When he spoke his voice was rich with emotion. “I made a mistake. I want her back. I want to make things right with her. I love her.”
“You really done with Whordelia then?”
Angel’s head shot up with a jerk, his expression one of surprise.
“Sorry, bad habit.” Nikkos apologized, but it was obvious that he didn’t actually mean it. “You know how rumors get started. First someone says something like, oh, she’s banging his son, then you hear that she’s giving it to some lawyer over that the old Wolfram and Hart offices, and then some supposed movie producer in West Hollywood. Hell, I think I ever heard that she boinked the valet at Barney’s to get better parking. So a few of the guys jokingly called her Whoredelia one day – it stuck. What can I say?”
Angel rubbed a hand over his face. He had no idea. He must be the laughing stock of the demon community. And you just figured that out now. Wow. Look how smart you are. Let me out, I’ll clean up the mess and restore my – er, your – reputation. It’s not going to be pretty, but hey – at this point, it’s necessary, you putz. His demon’s voice echoed through his head dryly, sardonically. For about a half second, Angel seriously considered the merits of having his demon handle the situation before he shook the thought away.
“Could all just be rumor man, I mean, what kind of woman screws the son of the man she’s living with, huh? Just between you, me and the mummy hand here, I’d have to say that’s beyond acceptable bounds of slut behavior. Besides, there’s no way any self-respecting man – or demon – would put up with *that* kind of bullshit. I’d have kicked her to the curb long before now, myself.”
Angel nearly flinched at the painful reminder of his complacency. Adding insult to injury, the rumors were most likely all true. What was that about Wolfram and Hart though? Was it the same thing that Wesley had alluded to in his notation? Curiously, he asked, “What did you say, about Wolfram and Hart?”
“I probably shouldn’t say. I mean, its just random gossip.” Nikkos reached into the display cabinet and adjusted the spacing of the orbs and stood up a couple of objects that had tumbled over earlier.
“But you’ll tell me.” Angel replied. It wasn’t a question.
“The word on the street was that she was selling visions to them, why I don’t know. Maybe she just needed more money for those expensive clothes and shoes and figurines she likes so much.” Nikkos shrugged, idly sweeping a hand across the counter and scooping the dust and paper clips into his hand. He dropped the debris in to the trash and then grabbed a towel and wiped his hands.
Angel rubbed his temple. What on earth was he going to do about Cordelia? With her? Why had the Powers not intervened, since they had sent her back here? Given every thing that she had done, the lives that she had cost, did he have a choice other than perhaps to. His mind veered away, unable to say the words “kill her” even though the thought was slowly growing in his mind. Was she beyond redemption? Had her demon nature become so dark, so strong that she was no longer able to control it? Undoubtedly, it would be a decision that he would have to make in the very near future.
Turning his attention back to the immediate task at hand, Angel demanded impatiently, “Tell me how to break the spell.”
“In fairy tales it’s always the handsome price that kisses the sleeping beauty. You tried that yet?”
Angel’s brow furrowed, his stance rigid. He crossed his arms across his chest and leaned heavily against the counter.
“What? You been around over 200 years and you’ve never read a single fairy tale? How about a Disney movie? Seen any of those?”
Staring at him in frustration, Angel growled roughly, “I did kiss her. Nothing changed.”
“Just kissed her.?” Nikkos asked. His smile was so outrageously benign that Angel couldn’t possibly miss his meaning.
“Kissed her. The rest is not any of your business.” Angel replied, casting Nikkos an appraising glance.
Nikkos shrugged, glancing meaningfully toward the vampire. “Well then, if you were human then I’d say then maybe you’re not her true love.”
Angel’s head jerked up and his eyes found Nikkos’s with a piercing intensity. The expression on his face was one of near horror.
“You’ve really tried the whole “loves true kiss” thing? You’re sure?” Nikkos continued to smile, his voice teasing. “Was there tongue involved?”
The scowl on Angel’s face deepened.
Both men glanced at the door when the chime sounded as the little bespectacled man that had been interested in the mummy hand finally left the shop, tucking the list that he had been staring at so intently into his pocket.
“All right, all right.” Holding up his hands, palms flat, Nikkos gave in with good grace at Angel’s angry stare. “Look, I’m pretty sure that touch helps – starts melting the ice but the ice will reform when you’re apart. That takes years and a constant amount of touching. Not that I wouldn’t mind with someone like Buffy.”
One of the vampire’s dark brows quirked up warningly, his aura taking on the greenish hue of jealously.
“Hey, I’m just saying it wouldn’t be a hardship, okay?” Nikkos winked with a grin.
His patience slipping away, Angel snarled. “I said I kissed her already. Do you know how to break the spell or don’t you?”
“You’re a vampire. What’s a vampire’s true kiss?” Nikko’s calmly queried, unintimidated by the vampire’s glowering stare and angry voice.
Angel paced back and forth in front of the counter restlessly, thinking over the warlock’s words. Suddenly he stopped and turned back to face Nikkos. A smile curved his lips.
“Whoa, now hold up there. Before you go rushing to Sunny-d to reclaim your mate, you need to know something.” Nikkos warned adamantly, waving his hand. The sapphire ring he wore on one hand flashed in the light.
“What?” Angel asked warily.
“All magic requires a balance; a price to be paid.”
Angel nodded; he knew that. He remembered the demons that were unleashed when he attempted the spell to open the portal to retrieve Connor. Those demons had almost taken over the hotel, had almost killed Fred.
“Well? What’s the price?” He wanted to know. More than that, he needed to know.
“You know, with that spell. hm. I think if you break the spell, her love for you will be stronger than before. Or maybe, if you break the spell, your love will be stronger.” Nikkos pondered, watching Angel contemplatively. He wanted to know the truth, the depth of the vampire’s feelings for the Slayer.
Angel studied the warlock thoughtfully.
“Or maybe, if you break the spell and you break her heart again, she’ll die. Or is that she’ll die if the spell isn’t broken..” Nikkos continued, tapping his finger on his temple thoughtfully.
“Damn it, Nikkos. Stop screwing around. Which is it?” Angel yanked him by the front of the shirt, pulling him around the counter and slamming him back into the wall. “Get your damn book and look it up!”
There was a short hostile silence and pale blue eyes met dark golden brown ones.
“No need to get physical.” Nikkos uttered as Angel flew back and slammed into the shelf behind him, the magic unleashed from the warlock powerful enough to ensure his release.
Pushing away from the shelf, Angel nodded warily.
Taking out his ladder, Nikkos climbed up to the top and slid back the secret door that hid his personal magic volumes. He perused them calmly while Angel waited restlessly beneath him.
“Hey – did you know, she did me a favor once when you couldn’t be bothered?” Nikkos replied conversationally, pulling out book after book in search of the particular volume he was seeking.
“What?” Angel glanced up at the man teetering on the ladder and leaning into the hidden alcove. “What are you talking about?”
“I called you – some wise-ass warlock out of Chicago was threatening to take over the shop; sent his nasty demon henchmen in and told me to get out within a week. You know me, I’m not good with the physical fighting thing. So I called you. Your girl said you weren’t available, not then and not any time soon so I called Buffy; she came down and kicked some ass. And, as you see.” Leaning back on the ladder, his arms spread wide, Nikkos grinned and almost fell. “I’m still here.”
Angel grimaced at the revelation of yet another thing that he hadn’t taken care of in his own city, for his own friend. For every step forward he had made in his quest for redemption, it seemed that Cordelia ensured that he took at least two backward.
“Ah! Here it is.” Nikkos pulled out the heavy book, blowing the dust from the cover with a puff of air.
Angel moved to the bottom of the ladder anxiously. “Well? What is it?”
“Keep your pants on.” Nikkos climbed down the ladder and set the book on the counter. He lifted the heavy cover of the book back carefully then coughed slightly from the dust. He cast Angel a brief smirking look, “Wait, I guess it’s too late for that isn’t it?”
“Well?” Angel shot him a dirty look and asked again, impatiently looking from the book back to Nikkos.
“I told you, it’s here. I’ll find it. Just chill out.” Nikkos replied genially, flipped through the various pages. “Now there’s something I never thought I would say to a vampire.”
Angel closed his eyes, certain that Nikkos was deliberately trying to test his patience.
“Ah, here it is.” Under his breath, Nikkos began to read the lines from the spell that Buffy once spoke as Angel listened quietly:”
My heart aches
My soul bleeds
My spirit weeps
Beloved, your vows are all broken
Heart of my heart, you have forgotten me
Soul of my soul, you have deserted me
Blood of my blood, I gave of my life ’til we be done.
Soul of my soul, let it be done. Let us be done.
“blah blah blah.” Nikkos continued reading as his fingertips passed over the heavily scripted words on the page.
It is the great cold of the heart, it is the dark
The woman lives, she passes, she dies.
“Ah. Here we go. love . blah blah. Yes. This is it. The price is loss of love in life… the price is life.”
“What does that mean?” Angel asked apprehensively, his expression worried. “Exactly?”
“If love is allowed to return – meaning you break the spell – it will be more powerful than before and therefore dying of a broken heart is a very real consideration. But she’ll die eventually if the spell isn’t broken. You can’t live without love, that’s just life for you.” Nikkos looked up at Angel and sighed. “That or if I’m reading it wrong her misplaced love ends up creating some sort of succubus demon that feeds off lust and love, taking it from others. To break the spell you have to find and kill the succubus. It’s kinda open to interpretation, but I’ll have to go with the first one.”
Angel, his palms flat on the counter drops his head. After a long moment of silence he rakes his hand through his hair in frustration.
“You did the spell knowing that those were the possible after effects?” He finally asked, his voice low.
“Of course.” Nikkos affirmed without hesitation.
Angel looked up them, studied Nikkos with a dark expression, his eyes filled with menace. A lesser man would have cowered in fear, but the warlock hardly even blinked.
“Well, she’s the Slayer, Angel. Just how long do you think she’s gonna live anyway?”
“What if you’re wrong?” The vampire questioned, his mind turning over all possible options.
“I think the bigger question here is what if you’re wrong? Let me be perfectly clear with you Angel. If you claim her again now, breaking the spell, then later you decide you didn’t mean it and you break her heart, she’ll die. Can you deal with that?”
“And the succubus?” Angel questioned, his eyes searching Nikko’s face for signs that the warlock was telling him the truth. This was too important to be another of the warlock’s games or jokes.
“No such creature. I needed to know where you stand.” Nikkos replied gravely, knowing that this was an important decision. One that the vampire couldn’t make lightly. He had to know the risks.
“Why?” Angel asked bluntly, wanting to know why Nikkos seemed to care so much.
“I take my business very seriously, Angel. If I use magic that powerful on anyone, it’s got to be for a good reason.”
Angel waited patiently for Nikkos to continue.
“The girl that was in my shop crying her eyes out had seen way too much of heartbreak and death. Given that she’s the Slayer too, do you think I wanted to see her live the few years of her short life left with no hope? You know what it’s like to live without hope, without love. Did you want the same for her? Think about that carefully. She doesn’t have the eternal life span that you do to try something else if the no love brooding thing doesn’t work.”
“Magic wasn’t the answer.” Angel replied with a sigh, absently picking up the magic wand that he had toyed with earlier.
“It wasn’t your decision.” Nikkos replied candidly, closing the heavy volume of spells.
Frustrated, Angel turned away. He knew Nikkos was right, but that didn’t mean he agreed. He watched as Nikkos climbed the ladder and returned the heavy volume of magic back to it’s hiding place.
“Does she know – about the risk?” Angel asked quietly, setting the wand on the counter and turning back to Nikkos as he returned to his position behind the counter.
“No. Why tell her?” The warlock was genuinely perplexed by the question. He took another sip of his tepid tea, grimacing this time at the bitter over brewed taste.
“You shouldn’t have hid it from her.”
“Yeah? I’m not the one that left her and broke her heart.”
Angel turned at the sound of the door chime sounding behind him, interrupting anything he might have said. A sultry redhead in a soft angora pink sweater, with a decorative cat pin on the collar, black pants and high-heeled black boots stood just inside the door. She clutched a black bag in one hand and a jacket in the other.
Nikkos glanced around Angel, his tall form blocking the door, to see who had just entered. He smiled and greeted the slender, beautiful woman. “Hey, Mona.”
“Nikkos.” Mona glanced warily at Angel as she flipped the sign from open to closed, turned the lock on the door and then approached them with a slow graceful walk.
“Everything all right in here?” She asked, her voice a low throaty purr.
“Fine, love, just fine.” Nikkos replied with a small smile, before adding apologetically. “I’m late again, aren’t I?”
“No, honey, you aren’t. I’m early.” Mona’s eyes shifted back to Angel, surveying him with casual interest. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I was anxious to see you.”
“Mona, love,” Nikkos smiled indulgently, his eyes drifting over the thick auburn waves of her hair, the voluptuous figure. “This is Angel. Angel, the beautiful Desdemona.”
“Nice to meet you.” Angel replied, extending his hand to shake hers in greeting.
Mona’s eyes raked over Angel appreciatively as she held out her hand. “Mmm, same I’m sure.” The throaty contralto voice purred like a lioness. Her lips curved upward in a smile, her eyes gleaming sportively as they traveled up and down the tall vampire.
As Angel released her hand, he was filled with an incredible sense of déjà vu. He would have remembered her, of that he was certain. She was striking. Her lively blue eyes looked strangely familiar.
“Darling, I thought we had dinner plans?” She pouted suggestively, turning her attention back to Nikkos and leaning on the counter. Her hip brushed Angel’s and she glanced at him out of the corner of her eye.
“Mona, sweets, we do. I was just talking to Angel here.” Nikkos replied, suppressing a grin.
“Always business before pleasure with you, isn’t it?” She teased, glancing at Angel again. She rolled lazily against the counter and looked the vampire into the eye. “And you Angel, sweetie, do you make your girl wait while you take care of business?”
“I did.” Angel’s eyes returned Nikkos, his next words intended more for the warlock than to answer the question. “But I won’t any more. That’s changing.”
“Uh-huh.” Mona replied skeptically, arching one eyebrow in appraisal as her eyes swept up and down his tall form again. “I’ll bet. Something tells me though, that your girl might not mind.”
“I’ll be sure to ask her,” Angel replied smoothly, “when I see her next. Thanks Nikkos, for the information. I’ll be sure to keep your advice in mind.”
Turning back to Mona, Angel nodded slightly. “Nice to meet you.”
“‘Night Angel. Very nice to meet you.” Mona winked lustily at Angel as she turned back to Nikkos.
“Oh, Angel?” Nikkos called just as Angel reached the door. When the vampire turned, Nikkos tossed the magic wand that Angel had been toying with earlier at him. “You’ll need this.”
Angel caught the object looking at it curiously before shrugging slightly and tucking it in his pocket. He nodded and opened the door, disappearing into the night.
When the door closed firmly behind the vampire, Nikkos turned to his long-time love. “So, Mona, love. How was Sunnydale?”