Ripper’s bike roared up to the mansion door. As he parked, he saw Xander’s jeep and Oz’ van already there. Bounding up the steps to the front door, he couldn’t keep a smile off his face, despite having woken up alone, as he wondered if Oz had found his quarry. There would be trouble coming with Cordelia’s vision, but they had handled such things before, so why worry in advance? He let himself in the mansion with his key. “Angel?” he called, “Cordelia?”

“In here, Rupert,” the vampire’s voice came from the big living room.

Ripper breezed in the doorway and something in the faces turned towards him made him stop dead. Oz, in an armchair near the garden doors, fists clenched, looking like he’d been gut kicked. Cordelia, near tears, in the Queen Anne; Angel behind her, but by the wall, as far behind his lover’s chair as possible while still in the room. Xander and Willow, on the couch, Xander’s arm wrapped fiercely around her and Willow leaning into him for comfort. There was a scared, panicked look on Willow’s face that Ripper vaguely remembered.

Angel crossed to Rupert and his face was like stone.

“Angel?” Ripper asked.

“I’m sorry, Rupert. Cordelia and I didn’t want to tell you until we were alone.”

With effort, the older-looking man kept his tone even. “Tell me what, Angel?”

Angel had insisted, earlier, that he be the one to tell Rupert. Not just to spare anyone else the task, not just to take the blame that was, after all, his from the beginning, but to be the first to face his reaction, as either comforter or target. “Cordelia saw Drusilla in her vision. We think she’s trying to come back.”

All color fled from Rupert Giles’ face, rivaling Angel’s for lifelessness. Angel felt him tense, sensed his fists clenching, waited for the blow and promised himself not to duck it. The ex-Watcher closed his eyes, breathed deeply, opened his eyes to Angel’s and asked, “How?”

“We’re not sure,” Angel replied.

“How?” Xander’s voice was angry, but essentially undirected. “Is that all?”

Ripper’s face turned to him and the soldier was haunted at what he saw there: a face sculpted with tension, and something more terrible in the eyes than Xander ever remembered seeing, even in the demons he’d killed. Except he’d seen the same thing in Angel’s eyes.

Angel turned those eyes on Xander and started to move, but Ripper’s arm blocked the vampire, not gently. His voice was terribly clipped and cool as he replied, “There’s a great deal I could say, Xander, but how she might come back seems to be the most important question.” Ripper’s arm fell back to his side and Angel retreated behind Cordelia’s chair. But he didn’t touch her.

Ripper stepped down into the living room proper but ignored the large easy chair he usually took at these conferences. Instead, he stopped by the fireplace mantle, propped one leg on the stepped hearth, and one arm on the mantel. For a moment he lowered his head down on his raised arm, and for a moment, no one dared speak.

Only Cordelia would brazen the silence, her voice gentle. “We called Wesley and Anya, Rip. They should be here soon.”

“Right.” Ripper raised his head, no sign of tears on the chiseled mask of his features. “What do we know?”

“We don’t know how it’s possible,” Willow said, her voice weak and stricken. “A-Angel sent her to Hell with the sword, and, and Acathla, and we don’t know how anyone could come back from there.”

Her fiancé frowned next to her. “Wesley was saying something about portals yesterday. Little portals.”

Ripper spoke up. “They’re usually very small, nothing as powerful as Drusilla could fit through. And I don’t think it’s possible to open one from Hell, or we’d be up to our ears in little nasty demons.”

“More than usual?” Xander quipped, trying to lighten the mood. It didn’t work.

Ripper turned to Cordelia, his voice strained now. “Can you tell us more of what you saw?”

Her voice was miserable, and she squirmed in the chair. “Well, it was tough to see, but first there was the big wheel of cheese with the scribbling on it, then a whole bunch of windows with some creepy things outside... and then I saw Drusilla right up against one of them, staring at me.” She visibly shivered. “And I could tell she wanted to get in. That she was going to get in. Oh!” she cried. “And fireflies.”

“Fireflies?” Oz asked, his first word since Rupert had come in. He looked like someone grasping at a straw.

“And cheese? Add a large pile of drunken fat men, and you’ve got my Uncle Rory’s Summer Wine Tasting Party.” This time, Xander’s humor did get a brief relaxing of Ripper’s face. But only brief.

“You know, these things are not like IMAX,” Cordelia complained.

Angel started pacing. “Anything about the girls?”

“There are girls?” Xander asked.

“Two of them,” the werewolf said. “At the Bronze. They might’ve sparked Cordelia’s vision.”

“Not necessarily,” Ripper said distractedly. “Cordelia’s visions are unpredictable.”

“One of many words I’d use for them,” the bartender frowned. “Along with painful, inconvenient, uninvited—”

“Cordy,” Oz soothed.

“What? I’m just saying.” She shrugged. “The girls did say they were new in town.”

Angel kept looking back at Rupert to see if he could tell how he was doing. “They gave me a bad feeling,” he told the ex-Watcher.

Speaking of bad feelings, Ripper thought, as a knock on the door heralded Wesley and Anya’s arrival.

Angel went to let them in. They preceded the host into the living room.

“Told ya you should keep nighttime hours, Wesley,” Xander greeted them.

“A good night’s sleep helps me in being prepared,” the bespectacled man replied.

Anya reached over to fix Wesley’s tie, which was half an inch askew.

Wesley sighed, then seeing Mr. Giles’ usual chair empty, quickly took it. He tried to put his feet up on the ottoman, but it was too far away for his legs and his heels hit the floor. He pretended that was what he’d planned all along as Anya copped the ottoman for herself. “What great and terrible evil do we face today?” he tried to ask brightly, finally sensing that the troops needed morale boosting and that Mr. Giles was unusually silent.

Oz couldn’t resist dropping the bombshell. “Cordelia saw Drusilla in a vision; she’s coming back to make our lives another big party.”

The Watcher’s jaw dropped and he looked helplessly from face to face, finally getting a nod from Angel. “But... but... but she’s dead.”

“She’s in Hell,” Angel pointed out. “That’s not the same thing.” As I can attest to, he thought, looking at the top of Cordelia’s head.

“Well,” Wesley recovered somewhat, “this explains some of the information I have been astutely gathering.”

Ripper broke in coldly from behind him. “Demons uneasy, something big, hasn’t been felt for years.”

Wesley frowned, then cleared his throat. “Yes, well, exactly. I have my notes in the car, but you see, I’ve been cross-referencing some prophecies from the Tiberius Manifesto with some of the entries we’ve encountered as per Hume’s Paranormal Encyclopedia—”

“Wesley,” Oz interrupted, “we don’t need to see the math.”

“What?” the young Watcher flustered. “Oh, yes. Well, before the next full moon, I believe that a dimensional portal will open, somewhere in Sunnydale.”

Angel stopped pacing and turned towards Rupert, as if they were the only two in the room. “Can she get through it?” he asked quietly.

Rupert looked back in the same manner. “If there’s a way, she’ll find it.”

Cordelia bit her lip. Willow’s eyes filled with tears. Oz growled from his chair. Even Anya was shaken, reaching to hold Wesley’s hand tightly.

Ripper tried to make his voice light. “I’d ask if anyone wanted out, but I might end up talking to an empty room.”

“No way,” Xander and Anya spoke at the same time.

“Not in Hell or out of it,” Oz was deadly serious.

“How could you even ask?” Willow wiped her tears away and sat up by herself.

“Hey, I’m in this whether I want it or not, by virtue of vision,” came Cordelia’s wry comment.

“He knew we all wouldn’t,” Xander insisted. “Didn’t he, Wesley?” he added pointedly.

Wesley sat up even straighter. “Need you even ask? I am—” his voice swelled with importance even as Xander and Willow rolled their eyes, “—the Rogue Demon Hunter.”

Angel looked at Rupert and it was all in his eyes. But he said, so they would all know, especially Cordelia, “This time I’m not stopping till she’s dead. This time I kill her.”

“Not if I get her first,” the hard, brittle edge was back in Ripper’s voice. Finally, he stepped forward and took charge. “Cordelia, I’d like to have you go with Willow to the shop.” He turned to the witch. “Have her go through Tascen’s Symbology, it might help identify the inscriptions she saw in her vision.” Willow nodded, and he continued. “Xander, if there are any resources you can offer?”

“Whatever the base can provide. And that doesn’t get me thirty in the stockade.”

“Wesley, I’d like you to search for something that describes or even locates this portal.”

“Of course. The most salient volumes are back in my collection—”

Ripper stopped him with a raised hand. “Bring what you find to the shop before nightfall. Angel,” he said, knowing it was futile to give him any other assignment, “take demon relations. Willy’s and everywhere else. Any signs, any hints, anything.” The vampire nodded, his eyes gleaming. “And Angel,” Ripper added, “be discreet for now.”

Angel nodded again, this time with reluctance.

“And me?” Oz asked.

Ripper turned to him. “You and I are going hunting for those girls, only this time we’re going to be serious about it.”

Oz nodded once, a feral gleam in his eyes.

“What girls?” Anya piped up.

“Two girls at the Bronze,” Willow explained, “they may have sparked Cordelia’s vision.”

“Did you get their names?” Xander asked the brunette.

“Well I think I heard their names, but then I was having a demon coronary at the time.”

“Try to remember,” Oz coached.

Her brow furrowed. “I sort of remember one… began with an ‘f’… Fay, Fabian… Fate…”

“Faith?” Wesley suggested in a small voice.

The bartender pointed a finger at him. “Faith! That was it.”

Ripper blinked, a thought tickling his mind. But it was interrupted by Oz’ voice.

“Well that’s something to go on, anyway,” the wolf said. He drew himself up in his chair. “Are we finished?”

The ex-Watcher turned his attention back to the group. “Yes. Let’s get to it.”

As the group took to their cars and assignments, Ripper pulled Oz aside briefly. “I never asked,” he said in low tones, “did you find the brunette last night?”

“Nope. Not even any vampires. And no sign in the sewers.”

He sighed. “Can you start checking the eastern motels?”

Oz tilted his head. “She didn’t tell you where they were staying?”

“No, she was—” Ripper stopped. “How did you know?”

“You didn’t ask about the blonde.”

“That was silly of me.”

“Get any information?”

“Not really,” the ex-Watcher admitted, “but the next time I find her, it’ll be a very different story. By the way,” he added, “her name is Annie.”

“Annie,” Oz repeated. “Nice.”

“I’m beginning to doubt it,” Ripper replied.

*   *   *   *   *

Annie let herself into the motel room softly so as not to wake Faith. The brunette was frowning in her slumber, so Annie lowered herself onto the bed and kissed Faith’s hand gently. The blemish vanished from the serene face.

She stood again, taking off her coat and undressing quietly. She set the jacket across a chair but it lay funny. Annie reached into an inner pocket and took out her sheathed knife, looking at it a moment before gingerly setting it atop her clothes. She went back to the bed.

Lying across from Faith, Annie tried to remember things as they were before she and Faith had taken to the road. How long ago was that? Annie concentrated, but couldn’t place what day this was. Was it two years since they’d left Boston? Three? A long, hard journey here.

No, not here. They weren’t stopping here.

Some nights they’d spent with others, as Annie had last night, as the mood suited. But always, since they’d first become one another’s support system in earnest, this had been the truest thing. Annie leaned in to kiss Faith’s forehead, her hand brushing a lock of hair behind the girl’s ear.

“Love you, B,” Faith murmured.

The blonde Slayer smiled, sadly. “Love you too,” she whispered.

Annie rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling. She thought of Faith’s words the day before. There was something to this town, something in the air that affected her somewhere between setting her teeth on edge and setting her heart on fire. She leaned towards the former.

But she’d had feelings like this before. She was the Slayer, right? (Or one of them, she thought, glancing sideways.) Slayers got these sensations.

So why, she kept asking herself as she finally drifted to sleep, safe beside Faith, did it feel different this time? Why did some voice deep inside keep whispering that perhaps, in this place, she might find a different, truest thing?

*   *   *   *   *

Xander looked in his rear view at Oz’ van behind them, and could see the lack of conversation the wolf was having with their old classmate. Cordelia was having a bad time of it, and Oz had volunteered to drive her over to the R & W, knowing he was the best among them for peaceful silence.

Xander noticed Willow watching him sidelong. “I can’t imagine what this is like for her,” he said.

She smiled softly. “And this from the treasurer of the ‘We Hate Cordelia’ club.”

He returned her smile weakly. “Lot’s gone on since then, I guess.” His face turned serious. “How are you dealing?”

She looked at her hands, her shoulder-length red locks hiding her eyes from him. “Oh, I’m okay.”

“Like I’ll believe that.”

“Drusilla…” her voice was strained. “They hurt all of us, Xander.”

“But a few more than others.”

She looked out the window. “They didn’t touch me.”

“Will, Jenny was like a mother to you.”

The witch flared. “What do you want me to say, Xander? That this is killing me? Because I remember what it was like. I remember dragging Rupert out of bed every day when all I wanted to do was die. To lie down, just like him. And I remember nursing him back to health again when Dru and Veruca had played their little bondage games. So what is it you want me to say?”

He lifted her hand from the seat between them, and laced his fingers with her own. “Nothing.” He kissed the back of her hand. “Just want you to know it won’t happen this time. We won’t let her come back to hurt us again.”

She glanced in the mirror. And he realized that Angel had probably said those very words to Cordelia. And Cordelia had probably hoped them true as well, while not entirely believing.

*   *   *   *   *

Wesley had been silent for most of the trip back to his apartment, and that alone was enough to make Anya worry. If there was one thing they had in common, it was an interest in demons and the supernatural (a particular boon in Sunnydale). And normally, with such events in store as what they’d all discussed this morning, Wesley would have been chattering on about prophecies and unnatural forces and various others of his favorite topics. Yet aside from a polite and wholly unnecessary request for her to help him with his research, he’d been entirely lost in thought. And Anya was bored.

“Okay, major vampire afoot, demon portal opening, and you’re giving me the silent treatment,” she pouted.

The Watcher startled. “What? Oh, ah…” he looked over at her. “I’m sorry, dear, I’ve just got a lot on my mind.”

“Which usually comes spilling right out of your mouth.”

He blinked at her.

“And I like that,” she explained.

He smiled at her thinly. “Extraordinary,” he said. “I was ribbed mercilessly for it at university. Called me Wesley Wyndham Prattle-Pryce.”

“Well, they didn’t know you,” she soothed him.

“Actually, they did, which was part of the problem.”

“Okay, they didn’t know you like I do then,” she frowned.

He thought a moment. “Well—”

“Alright, they were stupid,” she interrupted. “How’s that?”

Wesley took her hand gently. “Extraordinary.”

Anya blushed. In twelve hundred years, she didn’t think that had happened with anyone else. “So,” she took a deep breath, “what is it you’re thinking about?”

“Oh, Drusilla, I suppose. Her presence gives an interesting twist to the prophecies I’ve been studying, one that I’m eager to research.” He glanced at her. “I’m also intrigued by what inscriptions Miss Chase saw in her vision.”

Anya thought silently. “It’s ironic.”


“That the visions that Drusilla passed on to Cordelia might let us prevent Drusilla from coming back,” she mused.

The Watcher chuckled. “I suppose that is ironic. The twists of fate on a Hellmouth.” He looked to her again. “I appreciate your helping with the research.”

“Of course,” she said.

“It may take until quite late… might you be able to stay?”

Anya smile inwardly. Always so proper. “Yes, if need be,” she said with mock irritation. Then she puzzled. “Wesley?”

“Yes dear?”

“How did you know the girl’s name?”

She could see a faraway look enter his eyes, though he was watching the road ahead very carefully. “Just a small hunch. One I’d like to investigate before I say more.”

Anya nodded. Then she heard him chuckle again. “What?”

He took a deep breath. “The twists of fate on a Hellmouth,” he said, cryptically.

*   *   *   *   *

After everyone had left on their tasks, there was only silence in the room with Angel. Cordelia hadn’t even said goodbye. He sat in the Queen Anne, leaning back, eyes closed.

A room full of people, and not one untouched by his past. Even the one who’d been a demon, he thought with irony, who’d changed his life so dramatically a hundred years into that past. Changed it for the better, whatever else came of his sins.

And nothing more would, he decided.

Discreet, yes, Rupert, but I will find her and kill her even if Hell should bar the way. Angel’s eyes opened and gleamed, his incisors starting to show. I already know the way to Hell.

*   *   *   *   *

But for the squeak of glasses being washed, it was quiet. But for the man washing, it was empty. Willy liked this quiet time, mid-morning, vamps gone, demons gone, delivery guys come and gone. It was one of the few points of the day he could really be alone with his thoughts.

Not that Willy had a whole lot of thoughts. But when he did, this was the time he’d go about thinking them. He hated to lose it.

So when he heard the light step just inside the back entrance his first reaction was to get angry. Rarely a good reaction in his line of work, but still, his first.

“Hey, we’re closed!” he called out, laying the towel over his shoulder and stretching up to the rack over the bar with the glass. “Don’t you guys ever sleep?”

“I think I’ve been sleeping quite long enough,” responded a low, dangerous voice, and the glass never made it to the rack but instead shattered on the concrete floor.

“Ver, uh, Veruca…” the barkeep spun on his heel. “Long time, no see.”

The she-wolf emerged from the shadows of the back room and approached the bar, looking around as if she were just out for a country stroll.

“I, I didn’t hear that you were up and about,” he tried to sound casual, poorly. Shards of glass crunched under his feet and he dove to start gathering them up. “Word on the street was, you might not be visiting us for a, awhile.” He stuck his head back up above the bar. “You know, what with Oz hurting you pretty bad and all.”

She looked at him askew, kept touring the room. “Kept it quiet,” she said. “Keeping it quiet.”

“Oh, uh, yeah,” Willy stammered, “of course. Mum’s the word.” He crossed his arms on the bar, still kneeling. “Is there something I can help you with?”

Veruca stopped over by the far wall. Her voice sounded funny to Willy, but he couldn’t place it. “Looks different.” She met his eyes. “Did you change it?”

His eyes shifted about. “No, not really. Oh!” he brightened, “I did get the new light,” he pointed behind the bar, “from Black Angus.”

“No,” she shook her head. “Looks bigger.”

Willy cocked an eyebrow. “Same size.” Then he realized he was kneeling. “Well, maybe from down here.”

For some reason that seemed to click with her. Eight months in a coma must do that to a person, he guessed. Willy started to climb to his feet, and suddenly found himself reeling, nose bleeding from having struck the bar. He hadn’t seen her move, yet her small hand gripped his hair tightly and she pulled his face close to hers.

“I want Spike,” she growled, low and savage. “Find me Spike, and I won’t come back and rip out your tongue.” Then she moved closer, sniffing him deeply. His teeth chattered. Her eyes seemed to roll back in her head at his smell. Then she let him go.

“I’ll see—” he began automatically, then stopped as her eyes popped open. “I’ll get him.” He daubed the towel at his bloody nose as she turned and walked away.

“You do that,” Veruca said, before she vanished into the shadows and out the back again.


V: Dread