"Thank you, Malcolm. I'll keep you appraised of any developments. You have my number here if you need to reach me, right? Thanks again. Goodbye."

Wesley let the receiver fall back in its cradle with a sigh.

"I assume things are still going downhill."

The young Watcher turned to confront Giles, his expression grave and resigned. "Nothing that we hadn't anticipated already." He took a deep breath. "As far as the Council is aware, no other mage has received the mark."

"In other words, Lisandra remains the successor, although she's technically dead."

Giles let himself drop in an easy chair, massaging his aching eyeballs.

Wesley appeared to notice the slumbering bodies scattered all over Angel's apartment for the first time.

"I ordered the children to get some sleep," murmured Giles. "They are exhausted. I know Xander and Willow have been running themselves to the ground worrying about Buffy. And Doyle and Cordelia have really become attached to Angel, over such a short time. I have a feeling he is sort of a father figure around here."

"He always was, wasn't he?" observed Wesley, keeping his voice low. "In Sunnydale. Maybe more of a big brother than a father though."

Giles yawned and raised his eyes to the ceiling. "He used to be. Before he... changed. Before he returned and we pushed him away." He closed his eyes wearily. "Dear, do I get maudlin when I'm tired."

Wesley let a moment pass by, respecting the older man's need for a little quiet.

He looked at Oz and Willow, snuggled together on the big couch. Xander had found a comfortable spot on the carpet. Through the doorway, he could see Cordelia turning restlessly in Angel's bed, tangled in a red coverlet.

He frowned. "Where's Doyle?"

Giles' lids stayed shut.

"He went out to gather the last ingredients for the spell. I proposed to accompany him, in case he encountered any... resistance, but he refused. I think Doyle has some underground friends who wouldn't take kindly to the presence of a Watcher."

Wesley let this go without comment. He was somewhat used to the shenanigans of the Sunnydale crowd. Obviously the L.A. gang had its own idiosyncrasies.

He opened his mouth to ask Giles about Doyle. Then he noticed how exhausted and pale the other Watcher really looked.

"Are you all right, Giles?"

The older man didn't move. Didn't even seem to be breathing.

"I'm just trying not to think about how much pain they might be in right now."



"It's awfully pleasurable to torture someone so devastatingly handsome, you know that? In case you couldn't tell, I'm of the pain-is-sexy school of thought. And by God, Angel, don't you just look yummy in those chains. What do you think, Buffy?"

The Slayer fished for a suitable snappy comeback, but nothing came to mind. She was already expending quite a bit of energy trying to keep her face blank. Seeing her distraught would only spur Lisandra on and the sadistic vampiress really didn't need to be encouraged.

Buffy gritted her teeth.

Spike wasn't showing the same restraint. Bonded to the ethereal community or not, the blonde vampire had never been and never would be a poster child for impulse control. His ankle was bolted to the ground, just far enough that Buffy couldn't touch him, and he angrily kept on testing the strength of the thick chain. Buffy was similarly restrained. Morghane was huddled against the wall not far from the Slayer, still wearing nothing but Angel's duster.

The vampires hadn't bothered to chain her down - she couldn't stand on her feet - but Lisandra had fixed a choke collar around her slim neck with a nasty smile. The end of the chain tied to the collar was never far from the vampiress' hand.

The three of them faced Angel.

The dark-haired vampire was hanging from the ceiling a few feet away from them, his wrists imprisoned in solid manacles, his feet barely touching the ground. Lisandra had ripped his shirt away from him. She was circling him slowly with eyes full of hunger and lust.

She stopped not far from Spike and winked.

"You recognize the set up, William? I thought it would be a nice touch. It's been two weeks, and look" - she stroked Angel's exposed chest lazily - "he's all healed."

The First had disappeared soon after they were chained up. They hadn't put up a fight, since Lisandra had explained with force details what Morghane would be put through again if they attempted to resist. According to Morghane, it took a lot of energy for the First to manifest in this plane. So on top of everything else, Lisandra made for a good surrogate tormentor. The First had clearly shared its intimate knowledge of its' prisoners psyche and memories with the vampiress - and Lisandra was milking the information for all she was worth.

Buffy could tell that the little game was getting to Spike.

Not enough time had elapsed. The guilt was so very close to the surface, and the younger vampire didn't have that much experience dealing with it. Let alone when it came to his Sire.

Angel was the center of Spike's world.

Buffy didn't want to see Angel in pain. The thought of it made her feel like howling in grief. But she knew Angel would survive. He was the strongest person she had ever met, and God knew he had been through so much worse in Hell. Under the circumstances, the smartest thing was to keep a low profile and not draw attention to herself. She wouldn't have a chance in Hell to get them out of this hole if she was injured or weakened by torture.

The cold, calculating, predatory part of her - her Slayer instincts - forced her to clamp down on the powerful emotions triggered by the vision of her lover, her mate, threatened and chained.

Angel had always respected and admired the cool-headed, sometimes ruthless tactician she knew how to be.

Buffy put her game face on.

Her eyes locked with Angel's and he smiled weakly at her. He would make it. He could go through anything as long as she remained out of harm's way.

She got the message loud and clear.

His Childe, however, was another matter entirely.



Spike tugged on the chain tying him to the ground. He could feel the metal biting into the flesh of his ankle, but he didn't really give a damn.

The sight of his Sire chained up, at Lisandra's mercy - a flawless reenactment of his own torturing of Angel - was hurting him in ways he never thought were possible or even existed.

< Cor, only a couple weeks ago... >

His fangs itched, every muscle was coiled, his stomach churned, and he could have sworn that there were tears at the back of his throat and behind his lids. He was torn from the inside, ripped apart to the very core of that soul he didn't even possess.

He missed Angelus.

He hated Angelus.

He loved Angel.

He couldn't bear to think of him in that kind of pain.

The conflicting signals were driving him out of his bloody mind.

Watching Angelus fuck Drusilla over Morghane's wrecked form. Flashing back on Marcus tormenting Angel while himself enjoyed the show in the background after having administered his very own brand of torture on the older vampire. His personal touch.

Too many antithetic forces.

His brain was on the verge of shutting down. And amidst the confusion, only one instinct made any sort of sense.

One searing thought.

< Protect the Sire. >