When Angel came to, he was curled up in a tight little ball, tears streaming down his face.

The afterimage of Angelus impaled in Morghane, swelling inside of her, ripping her apart, his belt wrapped around her neck, literally riding her while Drusilla carved intricate patterns on the Guardian's chest with her infernal blade, was imprinted on the back of his lids.

It took him a moment to remember where he was and why, but when he did, his first thought was to check up on his companions.

He found Spike stirring next to him, in game face. He raised his head a little and his eyes fell on Buffy's hunched form. The Slayer lay in Morghane's arms, crying softly while the Guardian murmured soothing reassurances, caressing her blonde hair. The scene was a startling, reversed reflection of his last recollection of Buffy comforting the wounded mage.

Reaching back further, Angel went over his memories of being captured, finding Morghane, arguing with her and then searching their prison for means of escape - in vain.

He didn't remember falling asleep, but then again, the drama he had just been forced to witness had hardly been a dream. More like a hallucinatory flashback.

This little production had the First written all over it.

He lifted a trembling hand to Buffy's shoulder, then thought better of it. He didn't see her as being able to look him in the eye anytime soon - if ever again. Not after watching him rape Morghane so ruthlessly.

He retreated against the wall, brought his knees to his chest, wrapped his arms around his legs and willed himself to stop shaking.

He was in shock.

He didn't even know a vampire could be in shock.

Wasn't that a medical condition?

He rocked a little, falling back on the age-old gesture of self-comfort. His thoughts were a maze, scattered in a million different directions. He still struggled with the somatic memory of Angelus' cock - his own cock for the love of God - skewering his insides.

He felt sick and dirty, tainted.


< Oh God, Morghane. What did I do to you? >

How could she even bear to be in the same room with him?

To touch him? Let him touch her?

A sob broke free and Angel brought a hand up to cover his mouth, eyes tightly shut, tears spilling over his lids.

He didn't want to burden the others with his anguish. He had no right. He deserved every last shard of pain, he deserved to be abandoned and scorned and humiliated.

He wasn't worthy of the gentle hands even now soothing his fevered brow and lightly stroking the nape of his neck. He heard a profound rumbling sound and instinctively leaned towards it. It felt safe. And despite his never-ending shame, now more than ever Angel wanted to feel protected and cared for.

His cheek encountered a firm, cotton-clad chest and he nuzzled into it, lost in the chaotic labyrinth of his own mind. He fought to keep the demon in its cage. Its dark shape rattled against the bars of its virtual prison, excited by the reenactment of Morghane's violation, wanting Angel to share its arousal and pick up the Guardian's punishment where it had left off.

Angel wanted to vomit.

The rumbling deepened, as if reacting to Angel's agitated state, and the dark-haired vampire recognized the sound for what it really was.

Spike purring for him - like a mother cat consoling her kitten.

The tears fell harder.

He clutched Spike's shirt like a drowning man.

"Shh, Angel. It's... it's okay. We're not mad at you. We love you, Angel. Shh."

The tremors subsided a little and the older vampire blinked like a tired child - the tears coursing down his cheeks now slow and quiet. But he didn't move. He felt hollow, drained, exhausted down to the marrow of his bones, and Spike's embrace was familiar, solid.


It felt good to relinquish for a while the responsibility of being the strong one, the stoic one. Angel thanked whoever was watching down on them from above for Spike's presence. It meant that he wouldn't have to burden Buffy while he went ahead with this little mental breakdown.

Just how much guilt was he expected to heap on his own shoulders anyway?

He knew what Morghane had meant now.

Rest. Oblivion. Death.

Death sounded really inviting right about now.

But, after last Christmas he had sworn to himself that he would never go down that path again. At least not while Buffy was alive. It would hurt her too much, and he had hurt her enough.

"Angel, you're scaring us. Please... Sire..."

He stiffened.


< Buffy. >

The fragrance of daffodils enveloped him.

A soft palm fell loosely on his breastbone and just stayed there. Not stroking, not caressing, not coaxing. Just resting there.

An anchor.

There was silence and the hand did not move. Just laid over his heart as if something was supposed to happen - as if the dead organ would miraculously start beating somehow.

"Angel, you're not alone." Buffy's voice was steady and clear. "Please, come back to us. There's nothing to fear."

He burrowed more deeply into Spike's lean chest.

"I can't... I can't..."

Was that his voice? This pitiful croak?

"Yes, you can." Morghane. It was barely a murmur, but she kept on. "You can... look... at her. You can look at... me. Nothing's... changed, Angel."


He choked.

"You're what? Worthless? A... monster? Undeserving?"

A sharp laugh.

There was life again in Morghane's voice.

Hands pulled roughly at his shoulder, dislodging Buffy's palm. Morghane threw herself in his face, gasping shallow puffs of air, and Angel thought fleetingly that she must have exhausted herself, trying to drag him away from Spike.

More guilt.

"Look at me, Angel."

He did, and there was life in her eyes too.

"Do I look... stupid... to you? Do you... think I'm some sort of... m... masochist?" she stammered. "Do you believe I would tolerate... your presence - call you... my... friend - if I thought for one... minute that you had... anything... anything to do with Angelus hurting... me?" Deep breath. "Answer me, Angel."

Buffy squeezed his hand lightly.


"No... what?"

"No, you don't look stupid?" he murmured, hopeful.

Like an abused child who needed to be persuaded over and over again that he hadn't deserved to be hurt by those he trusted the most.

"Glad... to hear it."

"What an entertaining little display."

They should have pulled apart at the interruption, startled that not one of them had managed to pick up on the rattle of the opening door, but they didn't bother.

Just tightened the ranks around Angel.

A young red-headed woman, no taller than the Guardian, stood at Lisandra's side, backed by half a dozen vampires.

She was smiling.

"Hi. I'm Maureen. Morghane's sister."

"And I'm Xena Warrior Princess," Buffy replied, baring her teeth.

Maureen laughed. A clear, chiming sound.

"Did you like my little guided trip down memory lane? It took some work to summon all those delightfully powerful emotions, but Lisandra here was really helpful."

Spike growled, clutching his Sire. Incandescent gold flecks lit up in his icy blue eyes.

"Sod off, First."

"Why, Spike. Such a shame. You had so much potential. Who would have thought that you would turn out like your pathetic Sire over there because of that pesky gais? But I'm sure we can work out some sort of understanding."

"Get a dildo, you skanky bitch."

"Now, now. Is that a way to address the Guardian's sister?"

Angel pulled away from Spike and rose to his feet, gritting his teeth. His Childe stood behind him, balancing on the balls of his feet, ready to charge whoever threatened his Sire at the slightest opportunity.

Buffy made a move to follow, but Angel shook his head imperceptibly. She nodded, understanding, and remained by Morghane's side.

Maureen chuckled derisively.

"Straight to business. No pleading for your life." She frowned. "How disappointing." She shrugged. "No matter. What I want is actually quite simple. We're going to stay here until Morghane dies and my dear Lisandra gets through the Rapture. Easy as that."

The First threw a few wisps of hair out of her face and inspected her nails distractedly.

"However, since Morghane has been a real thorn in my side for quite a while, now - as have you, Angel - and since I'm the kind of, shall we say... - person? - to hold a grudge, well... in the meantime, we get to play." She giggled. "And then, when Lisandra is the Guardian and Morghane's soul is destroyed, we'll see what we can do about bringing back my sweet Angelus." Angel growled. Maureen ignored him all together. "I figure Spike can still be... reeducated. As for Buffy..." She licked her lips, drawing it out. "The idea of a vampiric Slayer greatly appeals to me." Her eyes lit up as they fell on Lisandra. "A matched set. What do you say?"

Spike and Angel tensed, ready to protect the Slayer.

The First appeared vastly entertained.

"Don't panic. I won't do that right away. Why, we have this exquisite Greek tragedy which puts Eschyle to shame, staged like some private divertissement. Angel here is bonded to Morghane. Spike is his Childe, Buffy his lover."

She pointed at each one of them in turn, as if explaining some cosmogonic joke to a bunch of retarded children.

The Guardian's eyes glistened with tears.

Tears of rage.

< One step backward. >

There was no more room for self-pity or resignation. Just stark, all-encompassing anger.

The First had really calculated its every move. By hurting Angel, it hurt them all. The Guardian would be lucky if the emphatic emotional backlash didn't land her in a coma. The aftereffects would shake the ethereal community to its core.

Blinding rage.

Morghane didn't mind Lisandra fucking with her. She could take it. She had been through much, much worse over the years. Her _soul_ had been raped by countless entities during her battles. The last Millennial war... just did not bear thinking about. Being raped by Lisandra and Angelus had been tame by comparison.

What she couldn't take was Buffy and Angel having to endure what she had just been through.

Maureen's eyes locked on hers.

The bitch was reading her mind.

Yet another fucking rape.

Maureen glided towards them and Angel stepped in front of Spike, shielding them all. Morghane put a restraining hand on the Slayer's arm. Buffy wouldn't achieve anything by going after the First this way. The Guardian could only hope that the thing wearing her sister's face would be too taken with Angel to bother with Buffy. The First really had it in for the vampire since it had lost its bet last Christmas.

With any chance, it might just forget about Buffy altogether.

Maureen was practically on top of Angel and he tried not to cringe.

She snickered.

"To quote my favorite demon, sweet, sweet Angel," she paused with a smirk that put Angelus' to shame. "I really, really want to torture you."