"So?" Buffy prompted.

Giles took his cue. "The Sepulcher is a demonic artifact that can be traced back as far as the beginning of ages - before humanity drove the demons out of this dimension. It can be utilized in conjunction with a specific incantation to disrupt the most potent spells by severing the magical ties between the spell and its recipient. The Sepulcher spell, however, takes several days to complete itself.

"It has been used against Guardians three times already. The last time, the Sepulcher was cast out of this plane to the ethereal dimension by the Guardian herself before her final death. I have no idea how it could have been brought back to earth. It would take an incredibly powerful mage to summon it back - or an even stronger demon."

"The demon connection would make sense, considering the number of vampires who took Morghane down," ventured Angel, who was leaning against a wall opposite Giles.

The office had been transformed into an impromptu replica of the Watcher's home. Ancient volumes littered almost every inch of space available. It had taken them about fifteen minutes to unload Oz's van. Giles had brought his entire library and Angel had carried his non-negligible personal collection up from his apartment.

"I agree," said the Watcher, keeping his gaze steady on the dark-haired vampire.

Angel had been quite subdued so far and Giles had some difficulty reconciling this new attitude with the menacing, cold, unforgiving voice on the phone.

Was it guilt?

Of course, this sudden turnabout could also be explained by Buffy's presence in the room.

As far as Giles was aware, the former lovers had yet to exchange more than a couple of strained 'hellos'. He didn't know what Buffy and Morghane had talked about earlier that morning. The Slayer had knocked softly on the door of his hotel room to let him know that she had made it back safely. She knew he had been awaiting her return to go to sleep.

Her eyes had been bloodshot, the tear tracks on her face unmistakable, but she had seemed more peaceful, lighter than she had been in a long while. She had admonished him to get some sleep with an enigmatic smile, before retreating to her own room.

The mechanical groans announcing the arrival of the freight elevator brought his silent musings to a screeching halt.

They all turned around to face Spike and Cordelia.

Their expressions were grim.

Angel gracefully pushed himself away from the wall to meet them. "How is she?"

Buffy inched closer.

"She finally fell asleep," explained the former May Queen. "I rebandaged her wounds. She... she's not healing... well."

Angel turned towards his Childe.


The younger vampire met his Sire's gaze with troubled blue eyes. "The pain is getting worse, Angel," he explained, his voice tight.

"We'll find a cure, Spike," assured Buffy.

It was so weird talking to him without any of the old homicidal feelings coming to the front.

Witnessing him care so much for someone who wasn't Dru.

Whatever else happened during this trip in L.A., things would never be the same on that front.

Angel clasped his Childe's shoulder with a none-too-steady hand. "Thanks for watching over her, Will."

Spike grunted, looking at the floor.

"Okay, people," said Buffy, taking charge once more. "Back to the Sepulcher."

"Yes," agreed Giles, readjusting his glasses. "The little research we've been able to carry out so far hasn't given us any inkling as to what the... counterspell might be. Maybe we should try contacting that other demon... Whistler, I believe his name was?"

Doyle nodded. "I'm already on it," he said from the back of the room, immersed in dusty old tomes.

"I'll get in touch with some of my old fledglings who've settled here in L.A.. They might know something," added Spike. "If that fails, I'll go back to Sunnydale. There might be a way to track where the army of vampires came from. You can't pull so many experienced warriors together, sending most of them to a certain death, without some cadres noticing."

"Very well. I also believe we should endeavor to try and locate the current Guardian in training." Angel and Spike winced deeply at this reminder of Morghane's ultimate fate. "It is not outside the realm of possibility that whoever attacked Morghane might decide to go after her successor as well."

With a sigh, the Watcher determinedly caught Angel's eyes.

"We only have a few days. You know everything that the completion of the spell entails, don't you?" asked Giles, not unkindly.

Angel tightened his fists at his sides. "Morghane's soul will be destroyed."

Giles nodded gravely.

"What... what do you mean?" asked Buffy. "Her soul?"

Angel opened his mouth to explain, but no sounds would come out. He shook his head.

"The spell will not only... sever the ties between Morghane and the magick that keeps her alive," explained Giles. "It will... it will destroy her soul. All that is Morghane will cease to be on any plane of existence. This would be quite a terrible fate on its own. But it also... means that all her knowledge... all the knowledge she has acquired over the last 1700 years will not be passed on to the next Guardian - as it would be in more... ordinary circumstances. And our side cannot afford to lose that much experience.

"The times are dire. Our enemies would not hesitate to launch a millennial war... if the new Guardian was to be so weakened. It would be such an opportunity for them - the likes of which haven't been known to occur for thousands of years."

"So... so that means that much more is riding on our finding a counterspell than Morghane's life..." concluded Willow.

A low growl erupted abruptly and they all turned to face Spike.

In game face.

"No, Red. You've got it all bloody backwards."

Buffy noticed that Angel's head hung low and that he was the only one in the room not looking at Spike. He already knew what the blonde vampire was going to say. His arms were wrapped around his chest, as if he sought to protect himself from a mortal blow.

"Then what..."

Spike's growl grew more ominous.

< Don't ask, Willow > thought Buffy, suddenly filled with dread.

But the little witch would not be deterred. "I don't understand..."

Spike took a step forward and snarled. "It fucking means that if we don't find a solution very soon the Guardian's going to fucking blow her own head off, Red. And considering the power she's already expended so far to heal herself, she won't rise again. That's what." He smiled harshly, baring his fangs. "And I, for one, don't give a bloody flying fuck about the rest of the world and the soddin' coming war. She's gonna kill herself, people. She won't let the spell come to completion - not on her life. She almost ended it in Sunnydale. But she'd summoned me and thought that it would give her enough time to warn the next Guardian. But she's ready. She'll do it if we don't fucking get off our arses and do something!"

Spike was practically yelling at that point. Until Angel came up to him and put a restraining, soothing hand on his arm.

"We won't let that happened, Will. I swear..."

Spike's stance relaxed as he lifted his head to look at his Sire.

A sad smile crossed his face.

"I know you'll do anything, Angel. I don't doubt it for a minute. And I'm pretty sure the Slayer here will, too. 'Cos that's the way she is. But them," he snapped, facing the Sunnydale crowd. And, most of all, Giles, "they don't give a shit. And the Watcher... he just cares about not losing his fucking war."

"Hey!" Xander protested loudly - while Willow spluttered, taken aback by Spike's brusque accusation.

Giles' eyes narrowed dangerously, and Buffy tensed.

Too many predators in one room. This could end badly.

But Angel quickly inserted himself between his Childe and the Watcher, turning his back on Giles. "That's not true, Will. Whatever his feelings towards Morghane, I know Giles would not let her die or sacrifice herself if there was anything he could do about it." Saying this, he turned to face the Englishman, one eyebrow raised, his hard expression contradicting the desperate plea in his eyes.

Buffy almost intervened, ready to vouch for her Watcher's honor. But she understood that the answer - the commitment - had to come from Giles himself.

He did not disappoint her.

Giles straightened, his posture purposefully controlled, then enunciated slowly, "I will not let her die, Angel. I would never let my personal feelings interfere with my duty to the Guardian."

Angel remained motionless for a moment, then he nodded very deliberately. "Good."

As the tension went down several notches, everyone released a small, relieved sigh as people returned to their respective books.

But Angel was still shielding Spike from the rest of the room with his own body, and he heard his Childe murmur behind him - so low that only his vampire hearing allowed him to understand his words.

"'Duty to the Guardian?' I'm bloody glad she wasn't here to listen to this."

Angel turned around slowly and exchanged a long look with the younger vampire.

Spike was right. Given a choice, Morghane would probably rather end her own life than accept any help the Watcher was ready to give merely out of a sense of obligation.

Angel felt his anger towards the Watcher rise once more, but tamed it quickly.

They just could not afford to do this without Giles. It really was no choice at all.