Oz turned left.
They followed the tunnel for a few minutes. Vampires and Slayer could tell that Oz got more and more tense as they progressed - nearing his goal. Their taut muscles were strained, ready to take on invisible assailants.
The path widened significantly and Oz halted again.
"There's a cave up ahead."
Buffy squinted. "There's light."
Spike fetched a stake in one of his pockets. "Let's go."
They proceeded in utter silence - four predators acutely aware of their hostile surroundings.
Acutely aware that they could become the prey in the blink of an eye.
They reached the entrance of the cave. It was impressively large and deep. They were overcome by the stench of decaying earth. It was a miracle Oz had been able to smell anything at all. There were torches scattered here and there along the stone walls. As far as they could tell, the cavern was empty.
There was only one other entrance - across the cave.
Angel looked up, but couldn't see any other access. The threat couldn't come down from above then. He threw a glance at Buffy. She shook her head. She couldn't sense any vampire nearby.
Oz waited for the conclusion of their silent communication.
"We have to go through there."
Angel acquiesced and the werewolf took a few steps forward.
They entered the cave one after the other, hurrying to the other side - feeling exposed.
A few feet from the exit, Oz froze. He bent slowly and picked something off the ground.
A black cashmere coat and a pair of 501s.
"Morghane's," murmured Oz, shaken. "I can smell... her blood."
Spike nodded at Angel. He had picked that up too.
His Sire's face closed off.
"It's a trap."
As if they had been waiting for their cue, at least ten vampires appeared through the entrance they had just vacated.
More surged through the opening they had been walking towards.
The group fell back in the middle of the cave, back-to-back, battle-ready.
The second group of vamps parted like the Red sea and the striking figure of a young blonde woman appeared before them.
"Lisandra," whispered Oz.
The others had guessed as much.
"My, my, my..." the vampiress gloated. "Spike, Buffy and the infamous Angel... Is it Christmas or what?"
Muscles tightened to the snapping point.
"A little magic can cloud the senses of even the most powerful Slayer... But we will have ample time to chat later." She shrugged. "Take them. Try not to damage them too much. You can kill the werewolf."
Vampires and Slayer sprung into action. They might not be able to save themselves - but Oz would have to be killed over their dead bodies. They didn't have to exchange a word. They ran towards the pack guarding the entrance of the cave, away from Lisandra, Oz between them.
"Remember where the closest manhole is?" Angel ground out, shoving a stake in the werewolf's right hand.
"Then run. We'll hold them back as long as we can."
Angel forged ahead - Buffy to his right, Spike at his left - and the sheer fierceness of their attack startled the other vampires enough that a breach opened in their lines. They threw themselves brutally against their opponents - not trying to wound or kill. Just attempting to distract them away from Oz.
The werewolf ran mindlessly, ignoring the nagging little voice pointing out that he was abandoning his friends in the middle of a life-threatening situation for the second time that day. But he knew better than to falter. Once again, it was up to him to gather the reinforcements.
Although with Buffy, Angel and Spike out of commission, he had no idea who that might be.
He made it through the ranks of snarling vampires with little more than a scratch and took off running at full speed.
He obviously wasn't that important to the bigger plan - because no one went after him.
Back inside the cave, things were predictably going downhill.
Spike was the first to go down, smothered by five burly vampires armed with bats.
What was it with vampires and baseball bats these days?
He couldn't see for the blood in his eyes. He felt them pulling his arms roughly behind his back to tie him up. One shoulder dislocated, and he howled. He heard Buffy's cry not far from where he lay. But he couldn't even help himself - let alone rescue the Slayer.
He heard Angel's roar and pitied the poor chap who had laid a hand on her.
Buffy tried to get away from yet another set of claws ripping her back, but there was just too many of them. She had dusted two and they kept on coming, undaunted.
They barely made a sound. For some reason, that disturbed her. She was used to bragging, cocky bloodsuckers. Not those insensitive, MIB-types from Hell.
Spike was down, but there wasn't much she could do for him. He had been restrained - so chances were they had no intention of killing him right away.
At first, Angel had been covering her back, but they had been separated by the overwhelming number of their attackers. She had spotted Lisandra in a corner. The vampiress had been grinning, enjoying the show. Now she couldn't see anything anymore because her opponents had her backed against a wall. She felt the hopelessness of their situation, but ruthlessly pushed the thought away.
A vamp rushed her, bashing her head into the rock, and she stopped feeling all together.
Angel heard Buffy's cry of pain and saw her slid to the floor out of the corner of his eye. She was surrounded by half a dozen vampires.
Enraged and frightened, he roared, whipping out a stake. The devices attached to his forearms had already done some damage - but he had lost the advantage of surprise. It was back to the old-fashioned stake.
He held his ground a few more minutes, trying to edge his way towards his lover, but he knew the fight was lost. He made a last desperate attempt at reaching Lisandra.
A chain wrapped itself around his calves and he fell on the hard floor at her feet.
Another chain found its way around his neck, and he was pulled roughly on his knees.
He grabbed the links that were cutting off the blood supply to his head, struggling against the loss of consciousness.
Lisandra approached like a lioness on the prowl.
The chain tightened around his throat.
"The mighty Angelus brought to his knees." The vampiress giggled. "What a wonderful picture."
She snapped her fingers.
"Take them to the lair." She grinned. "Morghane was starting to feel lonely."
When he was roughly shoved through the door, Spike stumbled but righted himself up gracefully. The Slayer had regained consciousness quickly after the fight and she struggled behind him - cursing. He could feel his Sire as much as he could hear him. Angel was giving a hard time to his captors as well - except without the flowing string of insults and obscenities.
Spike almost smiled.
< Didn't know the Slayer possessed such a colorful mastery of the English language. >
When he finally focused on the scene before him, he didn't feeling like laughing anymore.
And the smell.
The cloying scent of blood, sex and fear.
He sensed Buffy and Angel at his side - suddenly quiet. The Slayer gave up a small, strangled sound of despair.
Spike felt his fangs drop.
Lisandra sashayed past them and waved her hand lazily towards the middle of the room with the disdain of bored royalty. "I have other matters to attend to, but I'll be back shortly."
Angel roared, in game face, going for her throat despite the fact that his arms were tied behind his back.
Two vampires intercepted him before he could reach their mistress. He was brutally shoved against a wall, an elbow pressing against his throat.
Spike and Buffy rushed to his aid but were quickly subdued - outnumbered.
Lisandra stood in front of Angel, regal. Her long, clawed fingers snaked inside his coat, along the seam of his shirt, and ripped the material apart, sending buttons flying everywhere. She pressed her palm against his firm, flat stomach, an eyebrow raised in obvious appreciation.
"You are truly deserving of your name," she murmured, leaning towards him.
She aimed for his mouth, but he turned his face away.
With a delighted laugh, the vampiress bent towards his left breast and slowly licked his nipple, over his unbeating heart.
Angel flinched despite himself - repulsed by her touch.
Buffy was fuming - biding her time.
Lisandra smirked, condescending. "You are more than welcome to try and escape. Not that I will ever need an excuse to discipline you, Angelus, but... Good luck."
She signaled her fledglings with the same air of annoyed superiority. Angel, Spike and Buffy were pushed forward. The door closed with damning finality behind them.
Angel's eyes were riveted to the silent figure chained in the center of the room.
Spike nudged his Sire gently - coaxing him out of his daze of fury and sorrow.
"Get my bonds, Angel."
The dark-haired vampire blinked slowly and nodded.
They stood back to back. Angel's agile fingers wrapped around the rope securing his Childe's wrists. He made short work of the knots. In a few minutes, all three of them were untied.
As soon as he was freed, Angel rushed forward - Spike and Buffy one step behind him.
Tentatively, he brought a hand up to Morghane's face and lifted her chin.
Her eyes were open. Tiny slits of darkness.
"Why did you come?" she rasped out.
Angel shushed her tenderly. "Spike, we have to get rid of those chains."
"I'll take care of it," murmured Buffy.
Horror was written on every line of her face.
Spike and Buffy went around the pillar to check the links.
"This is going to hurt like hell," whispered the blonde vampire.
Angel's eyes met the Guardian's - a question clear in their sable depths.
Her voice was so faint, he barely made out her words. Carefully, he put his arms around her shoulders.
Spike grabbed one of the links. The Slayer took hold of the next.
Together, they pulled.
The chain snapped.
Morghane collapsed forward in Angel's embrace with a small cry.
The vampire brought her to his chest. He carried her away from the one and only door - giving them enough space to survey the return of the enemy.
He let her feet slid to the ground and held her up with one arm.
"Buffy, help me get my coat off."
He held an arm out and the Slayer tugged on one sleeve - then repeated the process with the other. His coat came off. Angel kept on supporting Morghane as Buffy assisted the Guardian in putting the thick duster on.
The Slayer couldn't help but shudder. Morghane seemed to be swallowed by the garment - three times too big for her. She was so thin Buffy could count the ribs on her side. Under the bruises. Was that a result of the spell? When there was no magic left, would everything that was Morghane just... vanish into nothingness?
Amid the overwhelming avalanche of disasters this day had shaped up to be, this thought was too depressing to contemplate.
Angel gently settled Morghane on the hard ground, her back against a wall.
Spike offered his own leather jacket to cover her legs. The Guardian was shaking. Her lips had a bluish, unhealthy tinge. The cold, or lungs too exhausted to draw in sufficient oxygen - Spike couldn't tell.
Buffy sat on the floor next to Morghane and slipped an arm around her friend's waist. She was careful to keep Angel's coat closed. She was very aware of the Guardian's nakedness, of her wounds - grim testament of the abuse she had suffered at her captors' hands.
Buffy had seen the blood between her legs, and on her left breast - the twin holes of a fresh vampire bite. They all had. It called out to the vampires and, at the same time, made them want to heave.
Spike crouched in front of the Guardian. He lifted a hand to her cheek, then thought better of it and let it fall in his lap. She looked like a slight breeze could snap her in two. Her eyes were now closed as she lay - almost lifeless - huddled in the Slayer's embrace. Buffy was softly caressing her tangled hair, murmuring soothing, senseless words of comfort in her ear.
Spike settled for carefully massaging a chaffed, bruised wrist.
That provoked no reaction at all.
Angel loomed over them like the emissary of some forgotten god's divine wrath, both enraged and impotent.
The words had been uttered in a whisper.
Spike started nonetheless.
Spike raised his hand to silence his Sire. Icy blue eyes caught the bewildered stare of the Slayer then focused on the Guardian's drawn face. Morghane's eyes were still tightly shut.
"I won't kill you," Spike said quietly.
"You... you must."
Green irises flashed at him - the only sign of life he had seen in the Guardian since he had entered the room.
"I command you. Kill me."
Spike shook his head slowly, bringing mournful eyes to the Guardian's face.
"There is no more gais, Guardian. You're too weak. You can't command me anymore."
The blonde vampire had to avert his gaze. Morghane's fingers emerged laboriously from a too long sleeve and grazed Angel's pant leg. The older vampire went down on one knee next to her.
She wet parched lips with the tip of her tongue, searching for words.
"Don't ask this of me."
"You don't have to give up yet, Morghane. Giles is closer to finding the counterpell. We just need a little more time..."
"There isn't anymore... time."
Her eyebrows were drawn in pain, her voice quivered - desperate, pleading, exhausted.
And still Angel kept on bargaining with her.
"Just give us a chance, Morghane."
Suddenly, she wished he wasn't there. That she had left this world without having laid eyes on his beloved face again. "You don't understand." Her stare hardened. The experience of every single day of her 1700 years coming to the front. "You are not listening to me," she bit out as vehemently as she could.
Which wasn't much.
"I'm going to die. Even if Giles gets hold of the spell - which means going through the Council, by the way - he won't make it here in time." She breathed deeply. Buffy's hold tightened around her ribs to the point of painfulness. "If I'm out of the equation, Lisandra will be out of your way and you just have to worry about the First. There won't be too much of the three of you." Her expression softened as she traced the smooth planes of Angel's face. "You'll have to severe the bond between us. You're strong enough. I'm not."
She ignored him.
"I don't want you to share this with me. My death."
Angel shook his head, but she was already lost in a world of her own. She rambled on.
"I was selfish, you know. I could have broken the bond sooner. But I wanted to keep you with me. Now it's too late. I'm sorry."
Her eyes shone unnaturally.
She whimpered. "I needed you with me to stay strong."
Angel's lips thinned on a sorrowful smile. "Morghane, you're one of the two strongest people I've ever met."
Her eyes fell shut.
"If you're not going to kill me,, then I have nothing left to say to you."
Angel flinched away from her, stunned.
"Go away. All of you." She struggled out of Buffy's hold. Not knowing what to do, the Slayer just let her go. "I want you to leave me alone. Don't you understand what is going to happen now? What It will do?"
There was a vice around her heart which hadn't been there before. Before she saw Angel and had to convince herself to let go all over again.
Her last hope had suffered an agonized death the minute Spike, Angel and Buffy had been shoved through that door. How dared they? They had no right to risk themselves like this on her account. Too much rode on them making it through the next few years for them to take such a foolish, unnecessary chance. She thought Angel would have known better than to let Buffy tag along.
She crawled to the closest corner, leaving Spike's coat in a puddle of leather in her wake.
Angel took a step towards her and she snarled at him. Well, it was more of a pitiful sob.
The dark-haired vampire froze. Torn apart between concern, anger, hurt and helplessness.
Morghane curled up tightly on herself, pulling Angel's coat around her small frame like a shield.
Steeling herself against her own pain.