He climbed over the wall then let himself fall to the ground, silently. The cemetery stretched out for miles in front of him. He headed north, among the tombs, going through the most ancient section of the graveyard. He knew were to go; his step was cat-like and confident as he made his way between the stones piled in a nostalgic chaos of fog and granite.
It was raining.
The tang of decomposing leaves and wet grass surrounded him. Although they were in California, the atmosphere managed to remind him of the gothic districts of nineteenth century England. The cold wind breathed life into the oaks randomly scattered between the graves. His footsteps remained inscribed in the decaying mud. A secluded mausoleum had been desecrated by vandals.
He followed the battered path that led to an ancient presbytery, then slid along the north wall of the ruined edifice. It led to a small square of cemetery, romantic and soothing with its winged angels and tranquil virgins.
That's where he found him.
Angel was leaning against a huge oak, lost in thought, weary. It was impossible to say which was holding the other up - the tree or the vampire.
"How is it goin', Peaches?"
"Yeah, well, nice to see you too."
Angel pushed away from the tree to meet his Childe.
The clarity of the moon revealed the faint smile that graced his lips. Illuminated the strong, harmonious traits. The deep-set, soulful eyes. The highly defined cheekbones. The preternatural, pallid skin. The smooth, aristocratic column of the neck above solid, broad shoulders.
Spike looked at his Sire. Unexpectedly, he remembered a night very much like this one in a graveyard near Westminster, over a hundred years ago.
And slow, passionate love on Spenser's tombstone.
Angelus had always been partial to graveyards. He liked the pagan company of the dead, one of the highlights of his obsessive tendencies, an obsession which had nothing to do with the 'constantia sapientis' of the stoicians - and more with the 'excess of perversity' Aristotle had written about.
A warm hand tightened around Spike's heart.
But his Sire was talking to him.
"I'm glad to see you made it back from Sunnydale in one piece, Will. So what did you get?"
Spike nodded soberly. Angel had the right idea. They didn't have time for this.
Back to business.
"The vamps who attacked Morghane belonged to the cadre of Nehemiah. No word on the warlock."
Angel frowned, unwittingly mimicking Spike's earlier reaction. "Nehemiah? That doesn't make any sense. They have no quarrel with the Guardian - at least nothing that warrants launching their best warriors after her. And what is such an ancient cadre doing in America anyway?"
The blonde shook his head. "No idea. But the vamps weren't the brains behind the whole operation if you ask me. The underground community in Sunnydale is scared shitless, and I don't see how a warlock or a cadre - however old - could generate that kind of fear. It feels more like an ancient master at work."
Angel nodded. "Yes, I felt it too. Here in L.A.. Whatever it is, I think it's safe to assume it followed Morghane from the Hellmouth."
"We have to find it, mate."
"Or at least put a name on it. That might help Giles with the counterspell."
"So what's the plan?"
Angel pointed towards the presbytery. "I've located your fledglings' current nest."
"The presbytery? You gotta be kidding."
Spike shrugged, unconcerned. "Let's get this show on the road."
Furtively, they made their way to the crumbling structure.
They didn't need to confer or discuss strategies and tactics. They moved effortlessly in tandem, weaving in and out of each others' familiar, interlaced shadows. Accustomed to the whispers, the patterns of their companion's blood.
Lethal and seductive, like two powerful felines on the hunt. Like the hounds of Hell.
They entered the old building through a side door, soundless, moving along the walls, gathering the darkness around themselves like a cloak. They went through an anteroom, then a study. Angel pointed Spike towards a door in the far wall.
The dust on the stone floor had been repeatedly disturbed - indicating a heavily used passageway.
Spike nodded his understanding. He approached the door and pulled on the knob. Encountering no resistance, he glided smoothly inside, his Sire at his back.
Soon they found a flight of stairs leading to the underground of the cemetery. They went down, ignoring the putrid smell of decomposing earth and decaying flesh.
They could feel the overwhelming presence of others of their kind down below.
At the bottom of the stairs, they followed a corridor which opened on a vast, brightly lit cavern.
There were vampires there.
Lots and lots of vampires.
"Damn it, Angel. Do you have to do everything the hard way?"
The older vampire did not bother with a response, taking the time to survey their surroundings. "Let's ask some questions."
Spike looked at him as if his Sire had just proposed a mid-day brunch at the terrace of a café on Hollywood Boulevard.
"Are you daft, Peaches? Don't you reckon two of us against twenty of them are somewhat staggering odds? I know we're good but still..."
"If whoever attacked Morghane is in L.A. right now, we need to know tonight. It's the biggest concentration of vamps I was able to locate on short notice and most of them used to work for you in Sunnydale. Maybe they'll cooperate?"
They exchanged a somewhat disillusioned look.
"Right," they murmured in synchrony.
They stepped into the open and immediately faced a horde of growling vampires.
"Spike...," muttered the tallest of the vamps.
He sported a nasty scar across his left eye.
"Ronald. How've you been?"
"What do you want?"
"Relax, Ronald. I just need an answer to a simple question. It's not that hard."
The vampire leaned towards Spike - a snarl deforming the scar on his face. "You left us behind in Sunnydale when things got tough and now you dare show yourself here and ask for favors. And you bring HIM along." Ronald pointed a clawed finger at Angel. "You're dead, Spike."
Spike vamped. "Okay, if that's the way you want it..."
Angel jumped into the fray alongside his Childe, his long black coat flowing around him like the shadow of death. They fought back to back, keeping close to the entrance - trying to limit possible angles of attack. They wanted to force the vampires to come after them one at a time, two at the most.
The tactic was successful during the first few minutes of the fight. Angel and Spike dispatched five opponents without much effort, but the remaining vamps wised up. A few of them climbed up to the catwalk circling the cave and dropped down on them from above.
Spike was driven back against the wall of the cavern; three vamps were on him. Two of them managed to get hold of his arms, restraining him against the rock. The third, Ronald, smiled as he drove his fist repeatedly in Spike's ribs.
The blonde freed one of his arms from their clutches, but Ronald grabbed a crowbar from one of his minions and brought the weapon down across Spike's shoulders. Spike grunted as he went down and Ronald moved to seize a stake stuck in his belt.
Sensing that his Childe was in danger, Angel roared, high kicking his opponent and following through with a punch to the throat. Pulling a couple of stakes from the deep pockets of his cashmere duster, the dark vampire simultaneously tossed one to his Childe and rushed Ronald, dragging him away from Spike - interposing himself between the blonde and the other minions. He knew that the vampires still occupying the center of the cave would not intervene before Ronald, obviously the leader of the pack, ordered them to do so. And Ronald was unlikely to call for help during a fight to the death with his former master. He would lose face in front of his underlings.
Unfortunately, Angel overestimated the vampire's pride.
Or underestimated his survival instinct.
Spike, armed with his Sire's stake, got rid of the fledglings trapping him against the wall. He faced his old lieutenant with a smile and a flash of his fangs.
"One on one, Ronny."
The scarred vampire must have read something unholy - all puns intended - in Spike's expression, because he yelled.
"Move it, you morons! What are you waiting for? Kill them!"
Angel still stood between Ronald, his Childe, and a whole battalion.
He was the first to go down.
Claws raked his throat, his back, his chest and he fell on his knees with a shout. Kicking out his leg, Angel managed to bring a couple of vamps down, but two more rushed him before he could find his feet. One of his opponents whipped out a knife and took advantage of the general confusion of flailing limbs to bury the blade through skin and flesh in Angel's stomach.
Then he twisted the handle.
Angel howled in pain.
Spike lost it.
The wholly familiar, compelling scent of his Sire's blood reached his nostrils and he felt something primal, something buried deep within him stir, then snap. He threw Ronald over his shoulder, slipped an arm around his neck and swiftly broke the vertebrae. Without pause he staked him, then moved through the dust to reach his Sire.
He couldn't hear Angel anymore. And the silence scared Spike more than all the screams of agony.
When he found the older vampire, Angel was on his stomach, his hand closed over his wound to protect himself - clinging to consciousness as a minion hammered on his shoulders with a baseball bat.
Spike jumped into the foray with an outraged howl. Using the crowbar he had stolen from Ronald, the blonde beat the fledglings back and away from his Sire. Grabbing Angel's duster, he dragged the dark-haired vampire to his feet.
His Sire moaned as the brutal movement jarred the torn flesh.
Spike promised himself to apologize at a safer time.
He shoved Angel towards the exit and followed into the passage after him. He could hear the remaining vampires gathering their forces and their wits after the demise of their leader. He unhooked one of the torches from the wall of the corridor, spun around, searched his pocket for his lighter and spread its fluid on the floor. The first couple of vampires rushed in.
Spike set the hall on fire and the screaming started.
It wasn't much, but it would gain them a few precious seconds. Without stopping to check the consequences of his pyromaniac impulses, Spike caught up with Angel.
His Sire held onto the wall, trying not to keel over.
Spike wrapped his arm around Angel's waist.
"Come on, mate. We're almost there."
Angel grunted and they made their way up the flight of stairs, through the presbytery and finally out in the graveyard again.
Once pale, Angel's skin was now positively ashen. He bit his lip deeply to keep from moaning in pain and drew blood.
The scent called out to Spike's frayed senses.
"You've lost a lot of blood," murmured the younger vampire, supporting most of his Sire's weight.
"I've had much worse. I'll be fine," Angel rasped out.
"We need to get you back home and feed you," said Spike, moving again.
"Shut up, Peaches. Just concentrate on not bleeding so damn much."