• Thank you for visiting Buffy-Boards. You obviously have exceptional taste. We just want you to know that:
    1. You really should register so you can chat with us!
    2. Twelve thousand people can't be wrong.
    3. Buffy-Boards loves you.
    4. See 1 through 3.
    Come on, register already!

Coming of Age


Oct 23, 2018
This is a short story I wrote for Angel the Series 21st Birthday (today 5th October 2020). It will be 8 chapters long. It is set in the AU of my Doyle lives rewrites but it's set in 2020 so it doesn't really follow on from them. All you need to really know is: Connor never went to Quortoth so he is coming up on his 19 birthday.

If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run, yours is the earth and everything that's in it and - which is more - you'll be a man, my son.
If - Rudyard Kipling

What You Do Afterwards: Coming of Age
The Unforgiving Minute
Part One

The still and comforting darkness was shattered by a loud shrieking and a relentless pounding that seemed to make the whole world shudder and quake beneath him. Doyle pried open one eye and peered blearily up at the small creature causing the disturbance, then he grunted, rolled over and poked his still sleeping wife in the ribs. 'Your daughter's awake,' he murmured in a voice made thick with sleep.
'Nuhuh,' she was face down in the pillow - but she still shook her head. 'No way, buddy,' she mumbled, 'this early in the morning she is definitely your daughter.' She refused to turn over, lying completely still, and a moment later, a loud snore told him Cordelia had fallen back asleep already.
Meanwhile, the little girl at the end of the bed was still bouncing - higher and higher - her squeals getting louder. Doyle forced his eyes open again. 'Cara - princess…'
'Can we get a puppy? Can we?' She was still bouncing. He wondered where this had come from, and why it had led her out of bed so early.
'No - you should be in bed.'
'It's morning, daddy!'
'It's still dark - stop jumpin'. Go back to your sister.'
But Cara blew a raspberry - she had learned that from her mother. 'Prim's asleep.'
'Well so was I!'

The little girl squealed in delight and then launched herself downwards, towards her father - who only just had the presence of mind, in his still sleep addled state, to stick his arms out and catch her before she crashed on top of him. Giggling, she snuggled into his arms, 'well, I think we should get a puppy.'
'Well I think we should go to sleep.'
'You're so old, daddy.'
'Yes, yes I am. An old, old man - and you should take pity on me and let me rest my weary bones.'
She giggled again - and dutifully shut her eyes. Doyle did likewise, her tiny little hand was clasped in his and her tight black curls were tickling his nose. There was a moment of perfect hush and then - her dark eyes snapped open again. 'Who do you love more, daddy, me or Primrose?'
'I love you both equally - go to sleep.'
'Well who do you think is prettier, daddy, me or Primrose?'
'You're both the most beautiful girls in the world - go to sleep.'
'Well - who do you think is gooder, daddy? Me or Primrose?'
He pried an eye open and stared down at his tiny daughter, curled against him, looking like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. 'Primrose - definitely Primrose!'
'Daddy!' She pulled her hand from his and brought it across her body to slap him on his other arm.
'Ow! Daddy doesn't have slayer strength - don't hit so hard.'
But she only giggled, 'it was just a smack. So - when we get a puppy I was thinking we should call her Tinkerbell or maybe Princess Isabella Sofina - what do you think?'
'I think I haven't agreed to a puppy, and you need to go back to sleep.'
'If we got a puppy then we'd have an excuse to leave the hotel more often - 'cause we'd have to walk it,' Cara said.

Doyle opened his eyes at that, considering it. The team had … well … lockdown had been hard on all of them. Angel had gone … funny.
'Of course we might end up getting a boy puppy,' Cara was saying, her voice very serious. She had slipped her hand back into Doyle's, he closed his eyes again and grunted in acknowledgement of the fact that - yes - a puppy might indeed turn out to be a boy.
'And then I would call it Angel or Spike,' she decided. 'Daddy - who do you think I should marry when I grow up? Angel or Spike?'
His eyes flew back open. 'Neither,' he said without a moment's hesitation. 'Slayers shouldn't marry vampires - it ends badly, the pair of them should know.'
'Mommy married you.'
'I'm not a vampire.'
'You're a demon.'
'Yeah - I can't help havin' demon DNA,' he tickled her, 'what's your excuse?'
She giggled again, 'I'm not a demon!' she squealed indignantly.
'Couldda fooled me!'
'You know -' Cordelia's voice suddenly interrupted them, still from face down in the pillow, 'I once heard a woman got off on a double homicide charge because the people she killed wouldn't stop talking whilst she was trying to sleep. Turns out no jury in the land would convict her…'
'See - now your mommy's makin' death threats, I told y' we needed to go to sleep.'
'Damn skippy,' Cordelia nodded into her pillow.
'Damn skippy,' Cara echoed her.
'Don't cuss.'

There was a moment of quiet - silence reigned over the room, save for the deep, regular breathing of people slowly falling back asleep. And then the bedroom door slammed open. 'Mooom!' Their eldest daughter was standing there, in her white nightdress, 'Cara's not in her bed.'
Cara sat up, 'I'm here!'
'Why didn't you tell me you were coming in?'
'Oh for god's sake!' Cordelia cried, sitting up from her pillow at last. 'Prim, honey - either climb in with us, or go back to bed - and then everyone zip it!'

Primrose ran across the room on her bare feet and, like Cara had done, launched herself in between her parents. There was a moment of fidgeting and fussing and fighting for space, now four people were crammed into a bed meant for two, and then the two little girls cuddled up in the dip in the middle, Doyle reached across to wrap his arm around them, and at the other side, Cordy did the same, their hands met in the middle and their fingers intertwined - and then, finally, the whole family fell back to sleep.
It seemed a cruelly brief amount of time, after consciousness was lost, that the beeping of the alarm forced them back into wakefulness, telling them it was time to get up and start a new day.

Cordelia stood in front of her class - teenaged slayers, still considered too young to go out and fight but old enough now to commence their training. It seemed insane that, back when she was their age, Buffy was the one and only chosen in all the world - fighting evil on a daily basis - the powerless scoobies her only back up. It seemed crazy that, at their age, Cordy - with no training, no weapons and no super strength - had been out in cemeteries after dark, hunting the undead, and now these packs of girls, superheroes from birth, were taught together in classrooms and only taken out into the field under extreme supervision until they had clocked enough hours and turned 18. It was just one of the ways the twenty-first century had proved to be completely different to the nineties … it might be one of the very few ways the twenty-first century proved to be better.

'OK,' she said, holding her sword out in front of her, the younger slayers copied her hold, with swords of their own, 'from en garde we're going to parry left. We step back our left foot, slide back out right foot - and pull the sword back to waist level.' She demonstrated - the younger slayers copied. 'The tip of your sword should be pointing towards your opponent. So - visualise your opponent - is the tip pointing at them?'

She moved back into her starting position, 'remember parry left is turning to your left. If we parry right, it's the same move, but this time, we step back with our right foot and slide our left - our bodies and swords are pointing right so - on three, parry right - one, two three, step back, slide, pull back, point.' She went through the steps, and the girls followed along in perfect time. 'You're going to want your blade to be pointing upward, so you turn your wrist as you pull back,' she reminded them, 'hold position - I'm coming round to check.'

Breaking her own stance, she lowered her sword and walked purposefully between the rows of girls, checking posture and grip and blade position - readjusting a few, but always with a couple of words of encouragement. Once she was happy everyone was doing it right, she split them into pairs and had them practice thrusting and parrying. Again she walked round the training room - the old ballroom of the Hyperion repurposed for the slayers to train in - and corrected and praised their techniques. 'Don't stick your sword out too far, when you parry,' she told one pair of slayers, 'keep it close, remember you don't need her sword to do anything but miss you - all you gotta do it block it - you don't have to push it away. The further you move your sword, the more you open yourself up - keep it closed.'

The girls continued, thrusting and parrying until the clock told Cordelia it was time to call the session to a halt. 'Right -' she picked up a pack of anti-bac wipes and sighed to herself as she walked through the room, holding the packet out for the girls to take one. 'Remember to wipe down the hilt and carry your sword back to the racks with the wipe still wrapped around it. Wipes go in the trashcan on the way out, don't forget to use hand sanitiser before you leave. It's time to shower and change, ready for your next lesson.'
The slayers followed her instructions and filed out, Cordelia checked over the swords - making sure they were properly put away, grumbling to herself the whole time, 'stupid pandemic, I'm so ready for all this to be over…'

Once she was happy with the state they were leaving the training room in, she picked up her water bottle and towel and, dabbing at her face and neck, left the old ballroom and headed back to the hotel lobby.
Angel was leaning against the counter, he wore the angry expression he reserved specifically for when he was using his smartphone - but he was always on it these days. Despite being a total Luddite and a technophobe, he had somehow - and Doyle swore blind he had not helped him out - managed to download a tracking app onto his phone so he could track Connor throughout the day, as the young man started out Freshman year at Stanford. 'He's going out too many places,' he muttered to himself, under his breath, staring at his screen, 'he'll be in contact with too many people.'
'Connor will be being careful,' Fred said absently, she and Gunn were sitting behind the counter at the desks, heads together, poring over a prophecy.
'Careful, hell,' Gunn snorted, 'kid aint been ill a day in his life, he don't need to worry and neither do you.'
'We don't know that - what about that time when he was a newborn, huh? He had that weird little rattly wheeze thing going on, I could hear it…'
'The doctor said that was just his digestion,' Cordelia reminded the vampire, coming up to the counter and putting her towel and water bottle down on it. Angel frowned at them. 'Hand sanitiser,' he said to her.
'I just did it - before I left training.' But he continued to stare at her, his brow furrowed, and, with a sigh and a scowl, she squirted a blob of gel into her palm and rubbed it in. 'We're a bubble,' she pointed out.
'We're a big bubble, we can't be too careful.'
'You're a vampire - hello!' But he wouldn't listen to reason and so, with a snort of disgust, she headed over to the others, 'Fred - you're up,' she said to the other woman.
'Oh - already?' She glanced up at the clock, her eyebrows shooting up her forehead when she saw the time. 'I guess I just got lost in the math here - it's fascinating … and worrying…'
'Yeah well, fascinating and worrying math aside, there's a whole bunch of slayer types waiting on a chem class.'
'I'm on it.' She gathered her things together and got up from her desk, hurrying off to the part of the hotel which now served as the older girls' classroom.

17 years on from Willow's spell, brand new slayers were still being born nearly every day - right across the world - and, as more of the original potentials called came of age and grew up, more and more slayer schools were able to open up on different continents, meaning more and more girls could stay closer to home for their own slayer Hogwarts experience and not have to travel to Giles in London. The team had been running the West Coast school for 15 years now, sharing the normal school lessons and the slayer training and study - which made up the girls' education - between them. Faith and Robin ran a similar school on the East Coast - there was even a bit of a rivalry building up between the two.

Once Fred was gone, Cordelia sat down at her own desk and checked the phone messages, frowning when she saw how many there were. 'Angel, have you done any work?' she asked him. He ignored her, there was a look of extreme concentration on his face and - from the painful and laborious way his thumbs were moving - she could tell he was attempting to send a text message.
Shaking her head, she glanced over at Gunn. 'what about you? How goes the prophecy - is the world ending?'
'Might be,' he told her. 'Fred's working on the math, but it's even givin' her head a spin, it's so complex. I got my demon lexicon here,' he held up the large book he was using to help him, 'my translations coming along, but …'
'It could be days or even weeks before we know anything?'
'And by then the world might have ended,' he shrugged.
'Well, I guess sometimes it can be nice to be surprised.' She turned back to the messages and began to read through them, her frown becoming deeper. 'There's some pretty funky stuff going on out there,' she said, after a while. 'You know - beyond the usual, or what passes for usual this year. There's a report here of someone's lap pool turning red with blood. Another here of screaming portraits and smashing mirrors in a house in Pasadena. Oh - and a - yeuch! Someone found a slaughtered calf in their backyard this morning, the markings on it look ritualistic - maybe linked to dark rites. This is "end of the world" kind of stuff.'
'Backs up what I'm not getting from this prophecy,' Gunn told her, 'there's some words here, but …' he shook his head and started to leaf through the lexicon, hoping to find the words he was missing. For all it was 16 years since he had lost his knowledge of demon languages, and started to learn them the hard and slow way, he still didn't have anywhere near the level of fluency he had once enjoyed. There were just too many demon languages to learn - and this was one he had never seen before.
'Well, I guess someone should go check these out,' Cordelia said. She looked up expectantly at Angel, who was still fighting with his phone and ignoring their conversation completely. She sighed, 'so I guess that would be me then,' she stood up and picked up her purse.
'Want me to come with?' Gunn asked her. But she shook her head. 'No - we need you working on that prophecy, I'll grab Doyle. He can sidekick today.' She cast a sidelong look at Angel as she walked past him. 'Don't spend all day on that phone - and don't be bothering Connor every two minutes - he's supposed to be getting his first taste of independence.'

Connor rolled his eyes as his phone vibrated yet again. He glanced at the screen, knowing exactly who his latest message was going to have come from. Sure enough, when he clicked on through to his texts, it was his dad's name that came up. He read it - it took a while to decipher the words, Angel being no good at either touch screen typing or checking the mess predictive text made of his sentences. But in the end he got the gist of it:

You shouldn't be in a coffee shop. Keep your mask on. Stay 6 feet apart.

He rolled his eyes again and put the phone back on the table. He couldn't keep his mask on if he was drinking coffee - surely even the world's most paranoid vampire could work that out? And everyone was staying six feet apart, the whole place was carefully set up - hardly anyone was allowed in at once, he was lucky to be here at all.
'That your dad again?' his new friend, Madison, asked him. He grinned at her, 'yeah he's having trouble letting go - you know, adjusting. He's pretty old so - I guess change is hard for him. Plus somehow he managed to download a tracking app - never used an app before in his life and now he's tailing me like he's in the CIA or something. It's pretty nuts. He's pretty nuts.'
Madison only shrugged. 'My parents are having trouble adjusting too. It's not just getting used to me not being home any more - but I guess they never figured my Freshman year of college would take place during a global pandemic.'
'Yeah - I don't think that one was on anyone's bingo cards.'
'Wish I could go back in time and put money on this - you'd get good odds.'
'Wish I could go back in time and not have to wear a mask to a grocery store.'
She laughed, 'got that right.' She checked her watch, 'we better get going - we'll be late.'

They got up, put their masks back on, now they were no longer drinking coffee, and took a squirt of hand sanitiser before they left the shop. The new normal did not get any more normal, no matter how long it went on for - and the longing for everything to go back to the old normal never went away.
Not that everything would or even could go back - there were things lost now that were gone forever. Like his first few weeks as a college Freshman - spent taking online classes or in socially distant lectures, social events and study groups conducted over zoom… this was meant to be a time to cut loose and go crazy, his first time away from home, and instead he got … this.
And it wasn't just Freshman year that was looking like being a total washout, he'd lost Senior year of high school too. Classes had been cancelled, in favour of remote learning, their final grades were just sort of … made up, prom had been a joke and the graduation ceremony hadn't even happened. So much for all American rites of passage...

As they headed towards the quad, Connor felt his phone vibrate inside his pocket. He rolled his eyes again and took it out to check. Yep - he knew it - from dad.

Using a paint brush, and with his tongue sticking out between his teeth, Doyle liberally applied glue to the half blown up balloon. Then he stuck a wodge of newspaper onto it, and then glued over the top. 'See - you gotta be careful,' he explained to the roomful of little girls, 'especially with your meaty slayer hands, you put the newspaper on the balloon and layer it all up - that's how you make the papier-mache. Once it's dry, we can stick a pin through and pop the balloon and it will keep its shape.' He handed the balloon to one of the little girls, 'there, that one's Neptune. So…' he picked up a balloon that was further inflated, 'which one do we reckon this is? Prim?'
His blonde, elder daughter had stuck her hand up, 'that one's Saturn.'
'Good - who's gonna take this one?'
All the girls stuck their hands up, he shook his head, 'younger ones get bigger balloons - 'cause you don't have to be as careful with them. Older girls get the smaller ones - you can help the others when you're done.' He handed Saturn to the little girl sitting beside Cara. 'OK so - Emma - you're the oldest here, which means you get the smallest - which planet do I give you?'
She wrinkled up her nose and thought about it, 'Mercury?'
'Yep - closest to the sun and the smallest - o' course in my day, there was a smaller one still. Called Pluto - right out on the edge it was - but they declassified it back in 2006. Cryin' shame. So now there's only 8 planets in the solar system. Who's gonna name 'em all for a gold star sticker?'

Again all the hands flew straight in the air and Doyle pointed at one of the young slayers, who stood up and started to reel them off. He smiled as he listened to her. Back when he had discovered his demon half, he had never thought he would get a chance to be a grade school teacher again and - much as being a seer and a sidekick was never a dull life - he had always missed it. But since the slayer school had opened, he'd pretty much had free reign over all the grade school age girls, and he didn't even have to worry about sneezing in front of them - because they already knew about his cactus face.

They took most girls in from the age when they should have been starting first grade, the little slayers were already too strong to go to normal school and too young to control their powers, the way an older slayer could. It wouldn't be safe and it wouldn't be fair - on the girls or on the normal children. Some who lived close enough still went home at the end of the day, those from further afield would board at the hotel. As more and more slayers were born, more and more the world became aware of … something, something not being quite right. It came as less and less of a surprise to the parents, when they were visited by a scoobie, or a slayer, or a team member who explained to them what their daughters were and what the schools had to offer. For many, it came as a relief - to understand why their daughters were so strong and know there was help out there, though as more parents were found - and support groups between them were created - most were able to stay close and maintain good relationships with their daughters.

It wasn't always the case, though. One of the downsides of Willow's spell was that some of the young slayers found themselves abandoned by their families, some at very young ages. It was how Doyle and Cordelia now had two daughters, neither of which looked anything like either of them. Both Primrose and Cara had been abandoned by their birth parents only months after they were born; they had never known any parents but Doyle and Cordy - or any life outside the hotel - and obviously Doyle wouldn't give up his girls for the world but … it still made his heart hurt that, all these years later, families were still being ripped apart by the consequences of Willow's spell.

The girl finished reciting the planets, the rest of the class gave her a round of applause and Doyle gave her a sticker. Cara's hand shot up in the air, 'Cara,' he said.
'Daddy,' she flashed her biggest, whitest grin at him, 'you know that planet that's not a planet any more?'
'Yeah … Pluto is Mickey Mouse's puppy. Daddy, can we get a puppy?'
'No - so … here's the biggest balloon, I blew this one right the way up. And if we count the balloons I got nine of them, but there are only 8 planets - so who can tell me what this one is supposed to be?'

Once more the hands shot into the air, just as there was a knock on the door - and Cordelia entered the classroom, with Lorne behind her. 'Sorry to interrupt,' she said - as Cara jumped out of her chair and launched herself at her mom, wrapping her arms around Cordy's waist in a big hug. Cordy hugged her back, even as she told her to sit down and behave herself - she was in class. 'Something's come up,' Cordelia told her husband, 'we need to investigate.'
'Which means it's time for a music lesson with Uncle Lorne,' the anagogic demon told the girls, 'so you munchkins tidy up all this …' he waved his hand at the newspaper and glue and mess, 'papier-mache hell you're creating and we'll do some singing.'

The girls set to tidying up, Lorne took over from Doyle at the front of the room - and the Irishman followed his wife outside. 'What's goin' on?' he asked her, as they left.
'The world is ending.'
'Oh - OK then.'

Angel looked at the clock, and then down at his hands. It had been a while. He glanced back at where Gunn was still sitting, head bent, poring over the prophecy. No one else was around. He looked back at his hands - and then slipped off to the bathroom.

He sang 'Happy Birthday' twice, as the warm water cascaded over his hands, and he scrubbed soap between his fingers. The smell of smoke in the air alerted him to the fact he was no longer alone, he looked around and - sure enough - Spike was standing in the bathroom doorway, smoking a cigarette and grinning it at him. 'You're quite the idiot, you know that, mate?' the blonde vampire said to him.
'You gotta keep your hands clean.'
'Uh - I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you're 270 years too late to be worrying about catching a deadly disease.'
'But that doesn't mean I can't be a carrier - I could be like Typhoid Mary - going round, infecting people left right and centre. I could infect Connor…'
Spike rolled his eyes. 'The bloody world might be ending, and you're worrying about infecting a healthy kid - who has never been ill and doesn't even live here any more - with a virus with a 96% survival rate.'
'It's the responsible thing to do.'
'Looking into the slight apocalypse we have going on right now is the responsible thing to do. Not compulsively washing your hands, Lady Macbeth. What's with you, Angel - you've been completely driven out of your tree. The world is ending - hello!'
Angel tutted impatiently. 'The world is not ending. It never is. We always say "end of the world" - and it never happens. This time is no different.'
Spike took a drag on his cigarette, 'is that a fact?'
'If the world were ending, there would be signs.'

Connor sat in the lecture hall, 6 feet away from the nearest student and with his mask on, and doodled across the poem they were studying. 'In its time - this poem was massively popular, and still resonates with people today,' the professor, down at the front, was telling them. 'It's didactic tones, speaking directly to the reader and imparting the wisdom the poet has to share. How to live. How to face the world. How to face friends and enemies alike, how to to be humble with your strengths and courageous with your weaknesses.'
The professor stopped to take a sip of water, lowering his mask for only a second before replacing it over his mouth and nose. 'And yet - over a hundred years on, do these hardy Edwardian principles still mean anything to us? Is this the way we should lead our lives - meet triumph and disaster - never giving in to the emotions, to the extremes? Always stoic, always a blank canvas - keeping it all inside…'

Connor chuckled to himself, 'sounds like my dad,' he muttered under his breath. He thought about that for a moment - well, how his dad had always been up until Connor had left home. Angel had started to unravel the closer and closer it got to Connor going to Stanford. He frowned. Phones weren't allowed in class, but he'd text when he got out - just a little something to try and put Angel's mind at rest.

'This is the question we must ask ourselves,' the lecturer was saying, 'especially in these uncertain times. Are these lessons still valuable - are they even possible? Has there ever been such a person who can "make a heap of all their winnings and risk it all on one turn of pitch and toss, and lose and start again at their beginnings, and never breathe a word about their loss"? Should we aim for the unattainable? - and is it even desirable? Is it a good thing if "neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, if all men count but none too much"? Is that a virtue now? Was it even a virtue when the poem was written? And what does it say about our society, or turn of the twentieth century society? Four years after this poem was written, the very men it was inspiring were sent off to the most terrible war Europe had ever seen - how did this line of thinking influence these men and their actions?'

Connor continued with his doodling, he'd drawn a wiggly line all the way around the poem now and was onto shading in all the round shapes within the letters. Maybe when he texted Angel he would ask him what the men of Europe were thinking when they went off to war, so that when he handed his paper in he could have a definitive answer straight from the horse's mouth. There were definite upsides to having a 270 year old dad.

'With all these lofty ideals, these virtues instilled in their mind, the importance of stoicism and diffidence …' the professor said, 'to then find themselves in the mud, facing machine gun nests, watching childhood friends and brothers die - and unable to articulate any of how it made them feel because that would make them less of a man - it must have felt like their very world was ending, the whole earth shaken beneath their feet…'

He cut himself off as he heard a distant rumbling sound, growing louder as it grew closer. Connor looked up - alert - the other students too, were looking around, anxious murmurs broke out from every corner of the lecture hall. And then the wall began to shake, the ground trembled, the furniture - anything that wasn't nailed down - began to rattle. Plaster fell from the ceilings in little clouds of dust. The professor's desk vibrated so violently that his laptop seemingly jumped by itself across the surface, and he only just caught it from toppling to the ground and smashing.
The rattling and shaking grew stronger, the light bulbs dimmed and grew brighter and dimmed again - and a great crack appeared in the wall and began to snake its way down to the floor. The whole room shuddered and shook - and then, just as suddenly, everything went still. The silence of the aftermath was as shocking, and somehow more frightening, than the quake had been.



Oct 23, 2018
Part Two

'OK we're gonna try that chorus again,' Lorne told the group of young slayers, sitting cross legged in front of him on the floor. 'And remember, this is Marvin Gaye - so let's try and put a little soul in it, hmm? Sit up straight - straight backs - free up that diaphragm - ready? Two, three four … 'cause baby there aint no mountain high enough, aint no valley low enough, aint no river wide enough, to keep me from getting to you, babe…'

He gestured to the girls, telling them, with only his hand signals, to fade out and stop singing, and then he smiled around at them. 'Well that was just smashing - I oughtta put you on the road, the new family Von Trapp - I'll call you 'the soul slayers' - we'll travel this land bringing grown men to tears with your sweet sweet …' he broke off frowning, as he heard the distant rumbling. Glancing upward, he saw the way the ceiling was starting to tremble, the artwork pegged to washing lines began to flutter as though in a breeze and the wire holding them up began to vibrate.

Realisation clicked in his mind. 'Quick,' he yelled, 'under the tables - now!' There was a sudden desperate scrummage, as the girls scrambled up and began to crawl away to the desks, keeping low. The whole floor was a sea of arms and legs and pushing and shoving as they struggled to safety, the rumbling getting louder the whole time. Cara got to her feet to make a dash for it, but immediately Primrose reached out and grabbed her, pulling her back down, 'get down,' she hissed at her younger sister, hauling her over to the nearest desk and thrusting her under, 'stay low'.

The rumble reached its thunderous crescendo and the whole room shook and shuddered. Cara clapped her hands over her ears and closed her eyes. The table, above her, was vibrating away, starting to judder away down the length of the classroom. Their papier-mache planets rolled off the side, where they had been stored, paintings and posters fluttered down from the walls, a pencil pot tipped off a desk top and crashed to the ground, the pencils spreading out and rolling away.
Lorne had made a dash for the doorway, and stood braced in the frame staring round the room - his red eyes so round and wide that the whites were visible. The shuddering and shaking came to a stop and he waited a few moments to see if there was any more to follow. But all was stillness. Some of the girls had begun to cry. 'It's OK,' he said, taking a deep breath, his voice was shaky when he spoke - he felt shaky as well, jittery and unsettled, but he sought to reassure the young girls. 'it's OK, munchkins - just an earthquake - nothing to worry about...'

As he had felt the vibrations beneath his feet, Angel had got up from his desk and run to the office door, like Lorne, bracing himself under the frame and waiting for it to be over.

'Nothing to worry about?' A sardonic voice said, floating over from the middle of the lobby. Spike was sat casually on the round sofa, beneath the rattling and shaking chandelier, smoking a cigarette, as if he didn't have a care in the world. 'If it was the end of the world there'd be signs, would there?' he snorted in disgust, 'ponce.'
Angel looked around him frantically, 'this is bad.'
'You reckon?'
'This is … the world is ending.'
'Well - yeah.'
'Nothing good ever comes from earthquakes - GUNN!' the quaking and rumbling came to a sudden stop just as he called across to the other man, and his voice came out very loud in the unexpected silence. He shuffled awkwardly, 'I mean … Gunn,' he said at a more reasonable level.
'Yeah, boss?' Gunn crawled out from under his desk, working his neck and shoulders to ease out the cramps tucking himself in such a small space had caused.
'You were looking into a prophecy earlier?' Angel asked him, 'did it say "end of the world"? Did it mention earthquakes?'
'I'm still workin' on it.'
'Well work faster - where's Fred? She should be here working on the math.'

Spike threw his cigarette onto the lobby floor and ground it down under his heel. 'She's teaching the slayers - don't worry about it, unlike you - Fred was already on top of the whole end of the world situation. Keeping her eye on the prize, so to speak.'

Angel wasn't really listening. 'And where are Doyle and Cordy? - Someone needs to call them, we need to get them back here - the world is ending.'
'They're out investigating the end of the world, mate,' Spike told him, rolling his eyes. 'Like I said, literally everyone else was all over this like a rash from the minute we unearthed that damn prophecy from the musty old books. It's only you who's been so caught up in hand washing and your smartphone that you failed to notice an entire apocalypse going on around you.'
'Well it stops now.'
'About bloody time.'
'We need tacticals and weapons checks and flamethrowers, lots and lots of flamethrowers. Gunn -' Angel turned back to the other man, 'get working on that prophecy, and call Doyle and Cordy, tell them we need them back here. We got a world saving mission to organise.' He looked around the lobby, in panic, as if seeing it clearly for the first time, 'I need to go check everybody is OK,' and he hurried off towards the classrooms to check on their young charges.

Left alone in the lobby, Spike and Gunn exchanged a knowing glance. 'I guess better late than never,' Gunn said. Spike snorted in disgust, 'he's gonna wanna take over the running of the whole thing now, you know Angel - always has to be in charge. It was probably better for us when he had his head stuck up his … smartphone.'

Cordy and Doyle had started out their day's investigation at the lap pool whose water had turned into blood. It had been at a fancy house up in the hills, and the rich lady who let them in and showed them to the pool was all of a quiver. 'It was just so disgusting,' she was saying from a distance of six feet, as she clutched a mineral water in her finely manicured hand and pulled down her designer face mask to take an anxious glug. 'I don't understand how this can happen, should I fire my pool guy?'

The married couple glanced at each other, eyes meeting over their own masks, 'it's probably not his fault,' Doyle told her, 'so - out here?' They walked through the glazed bifold doors and out onto a patio. Tastefully expensive rattan furniture decorated the sides of the pool. 'So … when did you notice something was wrong?' Cordelia asked her, squatting down to get a closer look at the blood.
'I do Yoga out on the lawn every morning at sunrise, and then I swim 2k...'
Doyle whistled, 'that must take a bit o' time.'
The lady continued, as if she hadn't been interrupted. 'I remember first seeing the red on the water when I went into downward dog.'

Doyle snorted; still crouched by the pool, Cordelia swatted his leg with the back of her hand and he managed to turn his snort into a cough, 'sorry - please continue.'
'I thought it was just, like, the sunrise reflecting on the water, you know? I didn't realise … but then it looked so red. By the time I struck my warrior pose - I knew something must be up, I'd never seen the water look that way before.'
'So that's when you went to investigate?'
'Well, no - I had to finish my routine, it would be bad for my energy to just stop in the middle.'
Again, the married couple exchanged a glance.
'But, as soon as I'd centred my breathing and finished with a Namaste, I went over to look. It was all red, and gooey and I dipped my hand in and… ughgh.' Instead of finishing her sentence, she shuddered and took another glug of mineral water.

Cordelia dipped her hand into the viscous liquid and then brought it back out. She straightened up and showed the redness on her fingers to Doyle. 'Definitely blood,' she said. She looked at the woman, 'and it was water when you came outside to do your Yoga? No one could have done this over night, you're sure?'
'No - I mean, yes I'm sure - no one did this overnight. It was water when I walked past the pool to the lawn, it was blood by the time I came back.'

'What do you think?' Cordelia asked her husband. He shrugged. 'Standard plagues o' Egypt stuff. It's a symptom - not a cause.' He turned back to the lady, 'look, I think it's just best if you get your pool drained, scrub it out and then fill it back up - with water, I mean. Not blood. There's nothin' to suggest this wasn't just a freak occurrence and no reason it should happen again.'
'But how could this happen in the first place?'
'We've seen occurrences like this plenty of times before, ma'am,' Cordelia assured her, 'sometimes it just happens. It usually means something bad is coming to town - but there's nothing to suggest your pool is actually linked to that, it's more like a harbinger. Just one of the signs for us to follow. You'd be best to do what Doyle says and just forget this whole thing ever happened.'
'So - I don't fire my pool guy?'
They exchanged one final glance, 'not unless you wanna drain all that blood out yourself,' Doyle said to her.
Next they had gone to the house in Pasadena where the portraits were shrieking and the mirrors had all smashed. A quick scan around with one of Fred's hand held inventions told them there were no trace signatures of disembodied entities in the house, and no ectoplasmic residue to be found on any of the surfaces. 'That means it's not a standard spirit haunting,' Cordelia told the homeowner, 'but not to worry - it could just be a regular demon possession, we've had plenty of experience dealing with those. Just collect up any pets and valuable items and go stand in the yard, and we'll have a go at exorcising the little bugger right out of here.'

Looking alarmed, the homeowner did as she said and, once they were alone, they pulled their masks off and Doyle took out a little flask of holy water, sprinkling droplets of water into every room. Then he took a cross, held it up, and started to chant in Latin. Cordelia had taken a handy little axe out of her purse and stood ready and alert for if anything hairy went down. But by the time the chanting was over, nothing had happened and the portraits were still screaming.
'Anythin'?' he asked his wife.
'Nuhuh - zippo.'
'So - not a demonic possession, then?'
'Doesn't look like it.'
He rubbed the back of his neck, awkwardly, 'so - what are we gonna tell the homeowner?'

Cordy put her axe away and took her phone out. 'Here,' she said, after a quick google, 'Tácere Powder, it's used in magics to smother or silence, if they sprinkle some on each picture - it won't actually shut them up but it should at least make it so we won't be able to hear it anymore.' She pulled out her notebook and scribbled down the name of the powder, the instructions for using it and the address of the nearest magic shop. Then she and Doyle - masked up once more - went out into the yard and she handed the note over to the confused looking homeowner; holding it gingerly at one end with two fingers, so they could take the other end without coming into contact with her skin, and then backing off. 'This place is run by a guy called Rick,' She told them. 'Tell him we sent you, and ask for this powder - he'll see you right.'
'But what's in my house?'
'As far as we can gather … nothing. There's some bad boo going on around town. I'm afraid you got some of the splashback is all. Yours is one tiny tile in a hideous mosaic of badness that just happens to be centred on L.A right now. But we're working on the whole mosaic - so to speak - when we've sorted that, everything should go back to normal. But this powder will tide you over for now.'
They were in the car, driving to their next job, when the earthquake hit. Doyle pulled into a large parking lot - staying well away from any of the buildings surrounding it, switched the engine off and put the car in park. 'This can't be good,' he said.
'Nope - from Buffy dying to you kidnapping Connor, earthquakes bring a world of bad.'
'You know, we don't have to bring that up every time there's an earthquake, or a thunderstorm, or the sky's kinda grey … or you just remember it happened. What happened to forgive and forget, huh? It's time to move on.'
She glanced at him, smiling, 'I married you didn't I? How much more forgiveness do you want?' Still smiling, she leaned over and kissed him. He pretended to continue grumbling for a moment, but then gave in and started kissing her back. They were still kissing when the world went still. 'Earthquake's stopped,' Cordy said, pulling away.
'There might be aftershocks,' he warned her, and pulled her in for another kiss.
Now they were out in the backyard where the slaughtered calf had been found. It was as Cordelia took photos of the scene that Doyle's phone rang. 'Hey Gunn, what's up?' he asked as he answered it.

Behind him he could still hear Cordelia talking to the disgusted man who had found the calf. The man was hanging well back - part social distancing, part sheer horror - Cordy however, was stuck right in examining the cow corpse. 'See the way it's eyes have been mutilated?' she said to the horrified man, 'and it's tongue cut out - definite signs of occult rituals. Some kind of demon worship - maybe Lamashtu, though she's more commonly associated with donkeys rather than calves. Or maybe a Pishachas. Looks like whoever did this drained it's blood as part of a sacrifice but then kept some parts for their own use.'
The man wrinkled his nose up, 'but why is it here?'
'Are you on any ley lines, or cosmic hotspots?'
The man stared at her like she was crazy, 'in Reseda?'
She stood up and brushed her hands down, 'then I guess they were just dumping the body. Call a hazardous materials unit and they'll come and take it away. We'll look into who might have done this, when we get the chance, and follow it up - make sure this doesn't happen again.'
'OK - thanks - I guess…'
'No problem,' she turned to her husband, just as he hung up the phone. 'What did Gunn have to say?' she asked.
'They want us back at the office,' he told her, 'apparently the earthquake has opened up Angel's eyes to the possibility that the world might be endin'.'
'About damn time.'

Class had been let out as soon as the earthquake was over, well - no one had been in the mood for poetry analysis after that. Leaving the auditorium, Connor could hear the excited buzz from his fellow students as they talked it over - many of them were not California natives, and this was their first rodeo. Connor, however, had been in more than his fair share of quakes, since pretty much straight after he was born, and he always knew they boded ill. His dad would probably be super freaking - more so even than usual.

He pulled out his phone and checked his messages. Sure enough:

Did you get the earthquake?
Or an approximation of that, autocorrect always did a number on Angel's messages. His phone beeped, even as he was looking at it:

Are you OK?
He started to message back - telling his dad the quake had hit in class but he was uninjured and headed back to the dorms. But apparently this was taking too long for the impatient Angel, who sent another message as Connor was typing out his own.

Why aren't you answering? Is everything OK? The world might be ending.

Connor abandoned his longer message and sent a two word one in its place: I'm fine. Hopefully that would help to put his dad's mind at ease, whilst Connor wrote out a longer and more detailed text.
I was in class, we're not allowed phones - I just got out. Yes we got the -
His phone beeped again. He rolled his eyes:

That's not much information, where are you? Did you get the earthquake? Are you OK?

'My dad is nuts,' he muttered under his breath and carried on with his reply - Yes we got the earthquake, class is cancelled, I'm headed back to the dorm. Don't worry - I'm fine.
'Don't worry' - fat chance. Since Connor had left home, all Angel seemed to do was worry - about a thousand different little things: how often people washed their hands; if they were six feet apart; if the paint in the lobby needed a new coat; if Wolfram and Hart were somehow behind the spread of Covid 19; how fast the polar ice caps were melting … it was all just displacement worry because he was having trouble letting go of Connor. Considering the tracking app and the constant messaging, it was actually kind of terrifying to consider just how overbearing Angel would be, if he didn't have a global pandemic to offer a distraction.

But still - maybe in this one case, Angel was right to worry … he said the world might be ending and if there was one thing the vampire knew, it was the end of the world.
His phone went off again:

Maybe you should come home.

'Dad!' he said from between gritted teeth, rolling his eyes even harder.
I don't need to come home - it was just an earthquake. Shifting land masses. Tectonic whoosits. They happen. I'm fine.

But even though that was what he told his dad, he had a feeling in the pit of his stomach that maybe it was more than that. Maybe he wasn't really fine. Maybe something was coming. Something big.

The kids around him were still talking - fizzing with excitement, some were phoning friends and family out of state to tell them what had happened, and when they talked about it they made it sound like a big ol' adventure. The knot in his stomach tightened. These people were oblivious. They weren't getting messages from their vampire dad telling them it was the end of the world. They didn't know about prophecies and omens - and all the stuff Connor's family dealt with every day. Connor had been kept away from all that as much as possible, when he was growing up - had gone to normal school instead of learning alongside the young slayers, hadn't been trained or gone out on patrol - it was the way Angel wanted it to be - he wanted Connor to have a normal life, the kind of life Angel could never have, but - out of the loop as he was - Connor still knew the score.

Something was happening, there was change in the air. He listened to the other students planning an aftershock party in the dorms that night - and wondered if it would turn out to be a party that ushered in the end of days.

When Cordelia and Doyle walked back through the front doors of the Hyperion, it was to find the whole team gathered in the lobby, looking very serious. Slayer classes had been dismissed and the girls either sent home, or were up in their rooms - the older girls being paid to babysit the younger ones, which they were all too happy to do for a bit of extra cash.

'Oh god,' Cordelia said, seeing their faces, 'the world really is ending isn't it? Did you find anything out?'
Gunn cleared his throat and shifted his feet, looking troubled. He was leaning with his back against the counter and his arms folded, but he reached out to pick up the prophecy in order to answer her question. 'Well I've been looking at this for a while now, y'all know, and - damn - there are so many demon languages and a brother can't know 'em all, know what I'm saying? But I've been doing what I can. This prophecy is in a kind of proto Hasharic. Now I don't speak much Hasharic - never mind the proto kind - but it does share a root with Wushri and I do know Wushri, so I've been able to pick up little bits and pieces along the way. Some things I've recognised…'
'Like what?' Angel asked him, 'give us it with both barrels.'

But instead of answering, Gunn looked even more uncomfortable and asked Fred how her calculations were going.
She was sitting on the red sofa, outside the office, her glasses on and her papers spread around her as she scribbled notes and equations. Her nose was crinkled up with thought. Hearing her name, she glanced up, 'oh - I … I'm getting close. Not there yet but - you know, soon.'
'Well if we don't speed things up, "soon" might not be fast enough, pet,' Spike said to her.
She shook her head, 'I'm working as fast as I can - but some of these formula … I've never seen math like it.'
'So we've got math we don't know and a demon language we don't know - come on, we must know something,' Angel sounded irritated.
Lorne took a sip of his seabreeze, 'easy there, champ - they're doing their best.'
'And unlike certain vampires we can all mention - Angel breath - these guys have been working on this for days, now, taking the whole apocalypse seriously. You're the one that's late to the party,' Spike pointed out.

Angel opened his mouth to fire off a retort but Cordelia, rubbing her temple wearily, got there before him. 'Don't - the pair of you - just … stop.' Between Angel and Spike and Cara and Primrose, she really had enough of bickering. She shot the two vampires a furious look, daring them to continue … they backed down.

Doyle, however, was watching Gunn carefully, noting the troubled look on the other man's face and realising that he knew something he was not letting on. 'Gunn,' he said quietly, 'what did you manage to understand in that prophecy?' His eyes were narrowed and searching, 'there was somethin' wasn't there? Somethin' you don't wanna say.'

Everyone except Fred - who still had her nose buried in her calculations - turned to look at Gunn. He looked even more uncomfortable and cleared his throat again. 'Uh - yeah,' he cast a worried glance in Angel's direction. 'There was some words I recognised - from a long time ago. Now - I wanna make it clear, I don't know the specifics, I don't know exactly what it says about this. I just know the words are in there - but I can't tell you what it means. Like I said proto Hasharic is…'
'Gunn,' Angel interrupted him. 'You're stalling. What is it? What do you know?'

Gunn took a deep breath, and cast another worried glance in Angel's direction. 'There was … the prophecy … it mentioned - only mentions remember - I don't know what it means…'
'Yeah - sorry. OK. The prophecy - it contains the words … Tro Clon ... and then something about "The Destroyer".'

It was like his words cast a magic spell over them all, and a heavy silence descended on the lobby. Everyone had tensed up. Doyle and Cordelia glanced awkwardly at each other and then looked away when they caught the other's eye. Lorne downed his seabreeze in one great, nervous gulp. Angel was rooted to the spot.
Spike looked around at them, his brow furrowed, and took a drag on his cigarette. 'Tro Clon? What the bloody hell is that?'

No one answered at first, and then - with another awkward glance at her husband, Cordelia filled Spike in. 'Years ago - like decades, before you joined the team - we got hold of these scrolls. Wes was our translator guy back then. He found a whole load of prophecies in the text, spent his time decrypting and decoding and deciphering, all sorts of stuff - and, anyway, he discovered this thing called the Tro Clon which was a confluence of events which would bring about the end of the world. The thing was - this confluence was all centred around …'

'Connor,' Angel choked out. 'It was about Connor. And if this new threat is somehow linked to the old one…'
'Then everythin' that's happenin' now is about Connor as well,' Doyle finished up.

Another silence fell over the lobby - as if everyone was too stunned, too shocked and too worried to fly into action and start making plans. Again, Cordy and Doyle briefly made eye contact, and then looked away. Lorne was looking mournfully into his glass - as if wishing there was more alcohol in there, Spike was dragging on his cigarette and Gunn was looking guilty about being the bearer of bad news. The pall of heavy unease was becoming smothering.

And then, 'Aha!' Fred's triumphant cry broke through the silence and she looked up at them all, excitedly, pushing her spectacles up her nose. 'I've got it,' she told them. 'The math - I cracked it. I was concentrating on the associative laws when I should have been following the distributive ones - all these non sequential demonic numerals and runic symbols where the letters should be fooled me into thinking it was harder than it was - but in the end math never lets you down and …'
'Fred!' Angel yelled at her, interrupting her as she appeared to be getting a head of steam onto her yammering.
'Oh - right,' she looked flustered for a moment. 'The bad thing we're waiting for - I have a time frame for it. It should be happening in …' she looked at the clock on the screen of her phone, 'three … two … now!'
An earthquake - much larger than the first - hit the city, sending shockwaves miles through the state. Roads buckled and trees fell, cars swerved and crashed to avoid the sudden obstructions and pedestrians screamed and collapsed to the ground as the whole earth moved beneath their feet.
Up in Stanford, Connor lay on his bed feeling the whole room vibrate around him. He could hear the frightened screams of the other students coming from down the hall. The lights flickered again and then went out, plunging the dorm into darkness, making the students scream louder.
In the bedrooms at the Hyperion, the young slayers cried out in alarm as, once again, they felt the world shake beneath them. Clouds of dust rained down on the huddled girls, settling as white powder in their hair and making them look like they had suddenly aged many decades. Primrose and Cara clung to each other, their eyes screwed tightly shut, their arms wrapped around each other, as their toys and books fell from their shelves, their closet swung open and clothes came tumbling out and Cara's lamp crashed down from her nightstand and smashed on the floor.
Down in the lobby, the chandelier was rattling above the team's heads - the crystals clanking and clattering against each other as the whole light fitting swung wildly and dangerously on it's stem.

Cordelia jumped up from the round sofa, 'the girls!' she cried and started to make a mad dash for the stairs, to go and check on her daughters. Doyle caught her about the waist, trying to stop her from doing something so reckless - but he was no match for her strength, and she tore free and raced up the staircase. After a moment of agonised indecision, Doyle ran after her, following her through the quaking hotel - struggling to keep his feet as the floor bucked beneath him, dodging raining debris and tumbling furniture the whole way.

Plaster fell from the ceiling, the window panes shuddered in their frames until the strain was too much and they shattered - sending a hailstorm of glass shards inwards. And then a great, long crack opened up at the edge of the lobby and began to snake along the floor - like a dark river splitting it's way down the marble. Another crack crept down the wall by the office and - with a yelp - Fred jumped clear of the sofa, in case the whole wall collapsed right on top of her.
The quake went on and on, shaking and shuddering and rattling - bringing the whole city to a halt, making it fall to its knees and wait helplessly for it all to be over.

In a long forgotten building, desolate, damp and abandoned - the walls - what was left of them - began to shake. The floor began to vibrate and the whole structure rattled and juddered making the long forgotten furniture tremble and shudder.

In the corner of the room, on a long forgotten shelf, a long forgotten urn began to twitch and jump as the vibrations ran through the ground and up the wall. It seemed to dance - by itself - rocking and shaking and inching its way ever close to the edge until…
Smash. It fell through the air and then crashed on the hard ground - breaking into a thousand pieces on impact, destroyed irreparably - nothing left but dust and fragments and long forgotten memories.

And then, at long last, the quaking and shaking stopped. The trembling ceased and the earth stood still. The whole, empty room held its breath - waiting … and then an essence, blurry and insubstantial, seemed to rise up from the shattered shards. It was wispy, as barely there as wind or moonlight, but the longer it twisted upward through the air, the more it seemed to solidify. It began to coagulate and grow dense and then a shape was discernible, and the shape became a figure and the figure became more detailed, more substantial, more real - until a long haired, long robed, crack skinned demon was standing in the middle of the room where before there had been nothing but dust.

Sahjahn looked down at the destroyed remains of his Reisekhian prison, and then down at his corporeal fists - which he clenched as he remembered the strength they now held. He looked around at the abandoned and derelict building, saw the dust and the damp, and understood he had been gone a long, long time. Long enough to turn this place - the palace of his old enemy, Vail, he recognised it - into nothing but a decaying ruin. Vail was gone, his home destroyed, his power taken and disbanded - maybe aeons had passed since Sahjahn had last walked this earth.

But now he was back, truly back - no longer an immaterial spirit who had to rely on the hands of others to bring about his plans, but flesh and blood, corporeal and powerful, with the strength and will to do damage of his own. He was back from deathless sleep, and now the world would tremble, and the stars themselves would hide. He took a deep breath, 'I don't know about anyone else, but I'd kill for a smoke,' he said.


Oct 23, 2018
Part Three

The end of his robe trailed through the plaster and dust which had settled on the floor, shaking free of the last fragments of the Reisekhian Urn. That was utterly destroyed, it could not hold him again - he could not be forced into another waking purgatory. He was free.

And from the looks of things, his enemies were long dead. He began to chuckle softly to himself. Whatever had happened to Cyvus Vail, it had been cataclysmic. Final and brutal. And hopefully painful. This place had once been a magnificent palace, a stronghold - a fortress of Vail's power and his paranoia. There had been opulent marble, and velvets and Gold, priceless treasures and hired muscle to guard it all … and now it was gone. Dust. Ashes in the wind. The walls were crumbling; pillars had fallen; the roof had great gaps in it, meaning Sahjahn could see right out to the stars. There were burn marks and even bloodstains - seeped into the marble of the floor, looking like red smears of patterning - but the demon could see it for what it was. When the end had come, for Vail, it had come hard - and by the looks of things, that end had been many years ago. There was an emptiness, an echoing loneliness and an air of melancholia that told him this place was long forgotten, had stood abandoned for many a long year - and he had been abandoned inside of it.

But how like Vail to get hold of the urn which imprisoned Sahjahn, to keep his enemy as a curio on his shelf. He wondered why the old warlock had never done anything more permanent with him - it was one hell of a loose end to just leave lying there, gathering dust. And it was a mistake as well, for here they were years - decades? Centuries? Later and the wizened sorcerer was long since dead - his bones had been half dust already anyway - and Sahjahn was free. Sahjahn had won.
He looked up into the dark of the night sky, visible through the gaping holes of the roof of this once fine palace - framed by the broken struts which had once held up an ornately painted ceiling and now stuck out like jagged bones in an elephant's graveyard. It was time to get out there, to see what had become of this world in the time he had been gone, and to see how he could bend it to make it his own.

Deciding that phone calls and text messages just weren't going to cut it, this time - Angel waited until it got dark and then took the Plymouth and drove up route 5 to Stanford. If he really pushed the pedal to the metal then he should be able to do the whole round trip before sunrise. And as he wasn't leaving the campus without his son, if the worst came to the worst, Connor would just have to take over and drive the last stretch home.

He was in luck - the roads were pretty empty, the earthquakes had frightened most people off from leaving their homes, however he did have to skirt around the occasional diversion - where the quake had caused cracks in the road, and one place where an eighteen wheeler reticulated truck had crashed. The driver had lost control of the wheel in the quake, the truck had toppled and then slid on its side for a hundred feet, felling trees and telegraph poles along the way until it finally screeched to a halt. The destruction was pretty impressive, but all Angel cared about was getting past it and on his way up north. 'Come on, already,' he muttered between gritted teeth, as what little traffic there was slowed down past the crash site - his fellow drivers rubbernecking at the chaos as the local sheriffs waved them on through.

As he finally reached the town of Stanford, he was able to see the damage the earthquakes throughout the state had caused here. Although it was to be expected, Stanford was pretty much right on top of the San Andreas Fault Line, he still noted it grimly, taking it as more evidence that the end of the world was well and truly nigh.
He drove onto the college campus, trying to recognise something that would help him find his way to Connor's dorm. The whole team had driven up to help settle him into college life just a few weeks earlier but Angel, unable to go out in the sun, had been stashed under a blanket in the back of the car, when they arrived, and had to wait for the sun to go down to take his leave of his son. His knowledge of campus geography was hazy at best.

He drove along Palm Drive, knowing he needed to turn off … somewhere. He reached a big fork in the road… was this?... He was too busy staring around wondering if anything looked familiar, that he missed the turning and carried on straight ahead. Dammit - well - maybe there would be somewhere to turn around…
He was in luck, the road ended in a big sweeping oval and all he would have to do was follow it around and then take the turning he had just missed. Unfortunately that was as far as his luck extended.

There was some kind of protest happening out on the oval, a gathering with placards and lots of chanting. It didn't surprise him, exactly, every city in America was a focal point of some kind of demonstration or other - from the angry, gun laden anti-lockdown protests to the Black Lives Matter marches sweeping the nation; protests and counter protests, riots, rallies and demos; pro Trump, anti Trump, there had never been a time of such social division and unrest … it was all the average vampire with a soul could do to keep six feet apart and his hands properly sanitised at all times. The world was sweeping into chaos and entropy at an alarming rate, it was real last days of Rome stuff out there - and now with the earthquake …

'The world is ending,' he hissed between gritted teeth as the protesters surrounded his car and blocked his path back out of the oval, 'we've just had two major earthquakes, do you people not have better things to do than get in my way?'

The demonstrators surrounding him began to hammer on the car, on the windows and windshield. 'Don't you know the world is ending?' one kid yelled at him through the glass.
'Yeah - I know, that's why I'm here…'
'The planet is dying - why are you driving this old thing?' The kid hammered his fist on the door. 'You're killing us all.' Angel caught sight of the hourglass symbols on their banners and sighed. It was the Extinction Rebellion lot. Well, if they didn't get out of his way, that extinction might come a lot quicker than they thought.
The crowd had surrounded him completely now - trust his luck to drive a gas inefficient classic car into the middle of an environmental rally - and there was no way he could drive on out of here without putting his foot down and mowing them all down. He made his decision, readied himself and then opened the door - battling his way out into the braying mob.
'Wildfires are destroying the countryside,' the kid yelled at him, 'California is burning.'
'I know - I care about the wildfires…' he tried to push his way through. But the kid was still screaming in his face. 'You're the problem, my dude; old, white guys like you have ruined the planet for the rest of us.'
'You think I look old?' He took offence. 'I pass for a millennial.' He looked younger than Cordelia, now - and she was a millennial. An older millennial, sure, but definitely in that age bracket. He shoved his way through the crowd - the kid yelled at him the whole way, 'gen Z wants our planet back - you stole our future!' But he ignored them and carried on shoving the throng aside to get to freedom. He grabbed another kid on the edge of the demo by the lapels, 'how do I get to Wilbur Hall?' he demanded.
The kid looked startled - and pointed a finger in the general direction of the east campus. 'That way, man.'
'Thanks,' he dropped the kid and, abandoning his car for now, took off on foot towards Connor's dorm.

Connor lay on his bed and tried not to worry. The power was still out in the dorm, and he spent so long on his phone - as his only form of entertainment - that the battery was now low and he had no way of charging it. He could hear the steady beat of music coming from downstairs, obviously someone out there had used their battery life more wisely, and was now blasting their spotify playlist at the partying kids downstairs.

He wasn't inclined to join them, not least because - in the absence of power - they would be lighting the halls with candles. Candles and a load of drunk kids … it wasn't gonna be a good combination. More than that, they were partying because they thought the earthquake was a big event - the big event - and they were celebrating it. Whereas Connor had reason to believe it was just a forerunner, a harbinger, a symptom of what was yet to come. And whatever that thing was, it was not something to be celebrated.

Plus they were currently playing Cardi B - and he didn't like Cardi B. Maybe it was Lorne's influence on him, preferring soul and songs with a good melody, that made him a bit of a music snob ... though in his darkest heart he feared it was because he was more like his dad than he cared to admit, and was a bit of a Manilow fan.
His musings on 'Mandy' and whether he did really like it, or if it was just because he knew the words that caused it to hold a special place in his heart, were cut short by a sudden hammering on the door. Expecting it to be a drunk classmate trying to get him to join the party, he crossed the room slowly and opened the door, thinking he was going to have to come up with an excuse to get rid of them. 'I mean, it is pretty,' he thought to himself, his mind turning once again on 'Mandy' ...

It wasn't a classmate behind the door. In fact, when he first saw who it was, he thought he must have conjured him there with his thoughts of Manilow. He burst out laughing, 'you know, dad - the constant texts were one thing, but actually showing up at my door? Wow that's extra.'
But Angel just pushed right past him, into the room. 'You need to pack a bag, I'm taking you home.'
'What?' Connor was incredulous. 'Look, dad, I know there's something going on. I know it's big, but …'
'You're right - it is big. And you can't be here, it isn't safe. I need you at home. Pack a bag.'
'I've got class!'
'If the world doesn't end, you can come right back. If it does…' he left that dangling. There was no point in finishing it. Reluctantly, Connor nodded, gathered some t-shirts, jeans and underwear in a holdall and then shrugged. 'Right - lead on Macduff, I'm ready.'
The car, when they found it, was still surrounded by the yelling crowd and their placards. 'You parked in the middle of an Extinction Rebellion rally?' Connor raised an eyebrow in disbelief and shook his head, 'talk about living on the edge.'
'I didn't mean to,' Angel said awkwardly, '...I got lost, there was a rally, I got stuck.'

They were spotted by the crowd. 'Hey, the old dude's back,' it was the kid yelling again. 'Stop killing our planet! Stop killing our planet!' the rest of the rally took up the cry. Connor cast his father a sidelong glance, 'just to be clear - I'm not with you.'
'It's all just a misunderstanding,' Angel muttered, he gestured at the group of kids, and his tone became defensive, 'it's not like they don't all have cars too.'
He battled his way through the surging throng, 'these kids better pray my car's OK,' he muttered quietly to himself. 'Connor - you OK?'
'Keeping a safe distance, blending in with the crowd,' his son yelled back. 'Save the planet - go vegan!' he called, as he backed his way up to the passenger door.
But the kid from before was still hounding Angel, 'hey - you think we're just gonna let you drive off in that thing? The world is ending, my dude!'
Angel shook his head, 'I miss the nineties,' he muttered - and then vamped out and growled at the kid, who shrieked, dropped his placard and ran away. He growled at a few more of the crowd, who all began to back off slowly, their chants getting quieter and quieter, until there was room for Angel and Connor to get in the car and drive off.

'You know, it's OK, just turn up on campus and freak everyone the hell out - I didn't even want a social life, so that works out great,' Connor said, getting into the passenger seat.
Angel, looking human once more, grunted apologetically. 'We need to get home.' Their doors slammed shut and he began to drive back out of the campus. Connor looked at him, he was gripping the steering wheel, his normally prominent brow furrowed to the extreme. 'So… are you gonna tell me what's up?'
Angel grunted again but didn't reply.
''Cause you know, it's a five hour trip. That's a long time to sit in silence and stare pensively and mysteriously out the windshield.'
Angel just gripped the wheel tighter, and continued to stare pensively and mysteriously out of the windshield. Connor chuckled to himself softly.

Sahjahn had left the ruins of his old enemy's palace far behind him, and was now walking the streets of the city, a grin on his face. This was great - this must be … fifty years at least since he was last here - maybe hundreds. The buildings were all falling down, places were on fire. People were running through the streets, screaming. He had awoken to a post- apocalyptic hellscape. Everyone had masks on, he figured that must be some post nuclear fall out thing.

This was a very different world to the one he had left. He laughed. A woman running past him gave him an odd look - as if wondering what he found so funny in all this hell on earth. Weird, he thought, hundreds of years and the fashion hadn't changed that much. Jeans were the look humanity decided to stick with in perpetuity, who'd have thought it?

And … the cars weren't that different either. Now he looked at them. They didn't look like they could fly, or anything. Sure, more of them were on fire than was normal… and the buildings, yeah a lot of them had cracks in them but… he narrowed his eyes, they were the same buildings that had been here when he was last free.
A feeling of suspicion lodged in the pit of his stomach, and he walked on through the streets until he found an electronics store and - just as was always the case - televisions were switched on in the window, being used to advertise the store's wares.

Now the TVs - they looked different. Massive things, with flat screens, some of them curved right round and the picture was clearer than anything he'd ever seen before. But … they were still recognisable as televisions. This wasn't a hundred years of technological development, this wasn't very long at all...
One of the screens was showing a local news channel, a reporter was standing in the middle of some street - maybe not that far away - and reporting on... 'an earthquake?' he said incredulously, he stared around the street at the destruction. 'That's all this is? An earthquake? What's with the masks…?'
He moved along to the next screen, a news anchor was standing in front of a big CGI graph, waving his arms around explaining the latest covid figures. 'A plague?' Sahjahn said. 'So we got an earthquake and a plague. Maybe it is the end times after all. What do we have behind door number three?'
He moved to a third screen, this one was inside the Fox studio and was running an election special. 'An election,' Sahjahn nodded his head, 'OK OK - what are our choices?'

A ghoulish looking woman with long blonde hair was ranting away, whilst some guy stuffed in a suit chuckled along at what she had to say. 'If the Democrats think they're gonna find the success they didn't get in 2016 with Joe Biden, then they have a lot to learn. They lost for a reason, they lost under Clinton and they'll lose under Biden because they are not listening to what middle America wants - You wanna win, you gotta appeal to the swing states. To win decisively you gotta turn those red states blue - and what's Biden promising? More electric cars? Letting in the immigrants? How is that gonna appeal to farm country? I tell you now, Tucker, it's not. Donald Trump is gonna wipe the floor with them, and the Democrats - they can't find their own ***' the word was bleeped out, whilst the suited pundit roared with laughter. 'They're not gonna know what's hit them.'

Sahjahn stared in horror at the T.V. The pandemic, the Biden Vs Trump election, the forest fires he could see being reported on a different screen… he knew when this was. As a Timeshifting demon, he had travelled through aeons, pulling centuries aside as if they were nothing but mist - going back and forth - he had seen all this. He had always avoided it. The most desperate and dangerous and miserable period of time in modern history. A collection of years where nothing good happened. And somehow, this was where he had ended up. 'Oh crap,' he muttered to himself, 'it's 2020.'

Despite the long drive and the lateness - earliness - of the hour - when Angel and Connor walked through the front doors of the Hyperion, it was to find the rest of the team still up and waiting for them. 'Woah,' Connor said, when he saw the way they were gathered around and their serious expressions, 'what is this - an intervention?'
'What did you tell him?' Doyle asked Angel.
'Nothing - yet - I thought it better to wait until we got back.'
Connor shifted awkwardly, looking between his dad and his uncle - and then staring round at the rest of his family. 'What's goin' on?' he asked, nervously. The faces that looked back at him were still blank and serious.
'Connor, son,' Angel said, 'I think you need to sit down. There's some things I need to tell you … about what happened around the time you were born...'

Sahjahn was pissed. He stormed through the streets, snarling at the little people scurrying by in their faces masks, ignoring the flaming cars and the wail of distant sirens. 2020. 20 fricking 20. It was like some cruel, final joke Vail had set up for him - for long after he was dead - keep him prisoner, like a genie in a lamp, and then unleash him right when it was probably the best time to be safely stuffed inside your Urn.

He crossed the street, ignoring the blaring of horns and swerving of cars, as he stepped out into traffic - and turned the corner onto the next block. He came face to face with an enormous billboard - and what he saw up there made him even more pissed than being trapped in this early twenty first century hell. The poster, up there, had a white background and there was a squiggle in the middle of it… maybe a lobster? Or a butterfly? An owl…? Anyway, the weird symbol wasn't what was causing his anger. It was the writing above it: Angel Investigations. We Help The Hopeless.

The vampire was still alive. And still in town.

Connor sat on the red sofa, the whole gang was grouped around him - which wasn't doing much to ease his nerves. Angel sighed, and sat down next to him. The vampire looked awkward, as if he wasn't sure how to start - but knew he had to start anyway. He glanced up at his friends, Cordy gave him an encouraging nod. He sighed again. 'Connor,' he said heavily, 'you know your being here … your being born, it was a bit of a surprise. The greatest surprise of my life,' he added quickly, 'you were very much wanted … by me…' Darla had been less thrilled at the prospect, until Connor's soul took her over and made her feel things she had never felt before, things she had never been capable of feeling.
'I know,' Connor nodded. If there was one thing he had always been sure of, growing up, it was how much his dad loved him - no way could an old man worry that much for any other reason.
'Right - but even though your mom coming through those doors pregnant was the biggest shock of my life…'
'And that aint no short life,' Gunn pointed out.
'See, the thing is,' Angel continued as if he hadn't been interrupted, 'your birth was actually foretold.'
'What?' He stared at his dad, and then looked around at his uncles and aunts, this must be some kind of joke … some weird, inappropriate joke at his expense that they were playing as … an extremely late April fool? Because the earthquake had sent them a bit screwy?
'I never wanted to tell you, because - I didn't want to worry you, or put this kind of pressure on you. But I guess, you're not a kid anymore - and you deserve to know… we found these - these scrolls... '
'Nyazian,' Fred said, 'ancient and written in ga-shundi, which is one hell of a language to try and translate … which led to some problems down the line…' she cast a glance at Doyle, who shuffled awkwardly.
'Right,' Angel nodded, 'and these scrolls told of something coming - something that had been impossible before. A child of two vampires. You, Connor.'
'But .. why would some ancient prophet take the time to record me?' Connor looked confused, 'I mean, I get that vampires can't have kids but - it's not really that big a deal is it?'
'The Nyazian scrolls talked about a lot of things,' Cordelia said to him, 'you were just a part of it - a part of the … um - the things that were to come.'
'But it got things so right - I mean spot on,' Angel said. 'It said that when the heavens opened and the skies wept, there would be no birth - only death. And you were dying, inside your mother, Connor - and we didn't know how to save you. We couldn't… and there was this terrible rainstorm, and we were being hunted, and Darla couldn't go any further. She collapsed on the ground, in the rain, and felt you dying inside of her. And your mother - she was a soulless vampire, as evil as they come, but in those last few moments, she loved you - so much. Completely. More than she ever loved anything in her life. We did a lot of bad in our day, your mother and me, but as she lay there in the rain she told me that you were the one good thing we ever did together, the only good thing - and she told me to tell you that… and then she dusted herself. She sacrificed her life for yours - her body disintegrated, and you were left lying there, on the cold, wet ground. There had been no birth - only death.'
'Shame it didn't foresee the destruction of my club,' Lorne said, sipping at his seabreeze. 'That could have been a handy heads up to have.'
'Shame it had to be so cryptic,' Doyle said, 'not sayin' things straight led us into a lot o' trouble…' he coughed and looked down at his shoes.
'What do you mean?' Connor looked at Doyle and then back at his dad, searching for answers.
'Well …' the vampire cleared his throat, 'we were desperately trying to understand everything about the prophecy. Like Cordy said - it wasn't just about you. It spoke of something called the Tro Clon. A confluence of events - of which you were a part. It was vague. The Tro Clon might end the world - or purify it. We didn't know, and we didn't know how you fit into it - and we needed to. So we kept on plugging away. Maybe we should have just left it.'
'How do you mean?'
'There was a prophecy in there - it said…' he sighed, 'it said the father will kill the son. Your Uncle Wesley translated it, it's how come he took you away.'
Doyle coughed and shuffled even more uncomfortably.
'Oh yeah - Doyle helped as well.'
'Thanks, man,' the Irishman said. Cordelia patted her husband comfortingly on the shoulder. 'It was a long time ago now, sweetie,' she said.
'So … why?...' Connor was looking even more confused.
'The whole thing was a fake,' Fred told him. 'It had been planted there, by a demon. The real prophecy said the vampire's child would kill Sahjahn.'
Spike wrinkled his brow, 'who the bloody hell is Sahjahn?'
'Exactly what I was thinking,' Connor nodded.
'He's a nobody. A Granok demon. He's the one who changed the prophecy, trying to get Connor killed before Connor killed him,' Angel said.
Connor looked underwhelmed. 'So that's it? My destiny - my purpose - is to kill some demon? You guys do that every day - still not getting why there's prophecies about it. Or why you felt you had to keep it a secret.'
'Well, there is still that whole Tro Clon thing,' Gunn said to him, 'you still might end the world.'
'Or purify it,' Cordelia added hastily. 'Glass half full, people.'
'OK so,' Connor gave an amused smile, 'I'm either Jesus or the antichrist. Good to know. Why are you telling me all this now?'
'Gunn?' Angel looked up at the other man, who pulled the new prophecy out and handed it over to Connor. Connor looked at it blankly, 'this isn't in English,' he said at last.
Gunn cleared his throat. 'It's an ancient demon language, one I'm not overly familiar with. But this word here…' he tapped a series of curling symbols which represented demonic letters, 'this says Tro Clon.'
'And that's my end of the world thingie…'
'In a nutshell,' Angel said, 'and what with the recent earthquakes…'
'What?' the boy laughed, 'I'm not gonna end the world - I mean, I don't have any plans to…'
'I know you're not, son - but I think now is the time that your destiny is ready to be fulfilled.'
'Speaking of destinies…' Spike threw the last of his cigarette onto the floor and ground it under his foot, ignoring the disapproving looks everyone else gave him, 'what about this sha ... jar … this demon guy? Connor's destiny is supposed to be about killing him, right?'
'Sahjahn. He's nobody - he's contained,' Angel said.
'Yeah, years ago - in a special urn that holds Granok demons.'
Spike looked at his grandsire speculatively, 'and do we know that he's still in it?'

Sahjahn just stared up at the billboard. Of course the vampire was still alive. It had only been what - twenty years - not even that - since last time the Granok demon had been here. If Angel had survived the two centuries between Sahjahn making his pact with Holtz and waking the demon hunter up, then of course he would survive the next two decades. Probably hadn't even changed so much as the brand of hair gel he used. Twenty years was nothing to a vampire.

His heart froze in his chest. Nothing to a vampire - no. But twenty years would make one hell of a difference to the kid. The child born of two vampires who would grow to manhood and kill Sahjahn. Him. It had been a mewling baby in Arizona last he had seen it. It would be man now - or close enough. Just the right age to fulfil a destiny.

He'd gone to so much trouble, centuries of work and finely crafted plans, to get rid of the kid - only to get himself trapped in a Reisekhian urn and released exactly at the moment the kid was best placed to kill him. Well... He was not gonna let that happen. This was not going to be the hand destiny dealt him. He felt rage began to build inside of him - at the unfairness of it all. The irony.

There was a blaring of a horn from behind him. He turned around - a pickup was stopped in the middle of the road, it's driver half hanging out the window. 'Hey, dude - shift your ass,' the driver yelled at him. Sahjahn just stared.
'Come on!' the man yelled, and hit his horn again. Sahjahn walked towards him and then - with one hand - flipped the truck in its entirety right on to its back. Its wheels spun madly in the air. And then - his rage burning hotter and hotter - he picked up a parked car and hurled it at the nearest building. It crashed through the walls, breaking the windows and sending plaster and dust and bricks flying everywhere. And then he turned around to see what more damage he could do.

Doyle sat in the middle of the lobby floor, a bowl of water was set down in front of him and he gripped a crystal, tied to a string, in his left hand. Cordelia sat opposite him, cross legged, and dripped three drops of Eusynthius Powder into the water before stirring it all counterclockwise with a silver spoon. 'You ready?' she asked her husband. He nodded and loosened his grip on the string, so the crystal would dangle over the water.

He was scrying, a form of magic only very powerful seers could perform, using the water as a mirror in which to search out truths and hidden answers. In this case, he was searching for any sign of the Reisekhian Urn and proof it was still all in one piece. As he took a deep breath, and allowed his mind to relax, using only his inner eye to see - he felt, rather than saw, a series of images suddenly unfurl in his mind - like a flag: a ruined palace, it's halls standing open to the stars, and inside - amidst the rubble and debris - the shattered pieces of a mystical vase...

Across the room, Angel was talking to Fred and Gunn, worrying. If Sahjahn was free then they would need to find him. Deal with him. But how would they go about tracking him?

In the office, Lorne and Spike had switched the TV on. It was local news. The two demons looked at each other when they saw the report. 'Uh - Angel - cinnamon bun?' Lorne called out, 'you might wanna come in here.'
'What is it?' The vampire sounded irritated as he arrived in the doorway.
Spike pointed to the television, 'about tracking that demon guy? I don't think you're gonna have too much trouble, mate.'
They all stared, open mouthed, at the destruction on the news - as a demon stood, on screen, in the middle of Downtown, hurling trucks around like they were Tonka Toys.


Oct 23, 2018
Part Four
Cars were strewn all over the road, as if a gigantic fist had come down from on high and smashed into the street below. But in fact it was all Sahjahn, hurling truck after car after van into the already earthquake shaken buildings, or flipping them over or sending them hurtling down the block. A fire hydrant had been knocked open and a fountain of cold water spurted up into the air, showering the pavement. One crumpled sedan lay hopelessly upside down, its hazard warning lights blinking away and its alarm shrieking out into the night.

There was a shout from behind him, and Sahjahn turned to see a squadron of tiny, human police running towards him, pointing their guns. He ripped up a bench from the sidewalk and threw it at them, knocking them down like bowling pins. Then he brought his fist down on the pillar of a lamppost, snapping it in two. The police had got back to their feet and were starting to retreat, but Sahjahn hefted the broken part of the lamppost and hurled it after them, knocking a few of the stragglers down and squishing them beneath its weight.

He had almost forgotten what had set him off in this frenzy of destruction, he was now just having a good time tearing up the place, causing chaos and mayhem, pain and anguish. This was how it had always been with the Granok demons, it was their raison d'etre. They were all about torture and death, all about trouble. There was no plan, no point, no purpose beyond razing the world to the ground and revelling in the wreckage.

That was how come they had been changed in the first place. The higher powers, some form of them, had grown weary of the chaos and disorder and simply altered them all. Every Granok was taken down in their prime and rendered as incorporeal as a wisp of smoke, unable to physically affect the world around them. And that was that - until, in the fight in Arizona between the Brit, the vampire and the lawyers, all trying to get their hands on the kid, and suddenly - miraculously - Sahjahn was a real boy again, flesh and blood, and able to wreak his own destruction with his own two hands.

But he had got carried away. He had been too busy beating on the men that he didn't keep an eye on the women. Didn't even notice them smuggle the baby out of the back window and drive off into the sunset. Despite being able to do damage of his own, he had still failed. And then he decided, whilst they took the slow road back to town, to pay old Holtz a visit, seeing as the vampire hunter had let him down so badly and now he was able to really express how that made him feel.
Only he made the exact same mistake - right after the first one. He had been so busy beating up Holtz that he completely missed the vampire hunter's crazy eyed, redheaded chickipoo sneaking up on him with a Reisekhian Urn.

She had trapped him, and he had been left completely unaware of what was happening or even how long he was imprisoned for. But now he was back - free and with all his strength - after aeons of life as nothing more than insubstantial mist, and decades trapped in a jar. He had forgotten just how good chaos and destruction tasted; he savoured every moment - the cars hurtling through the air in graceful arcs, following their trajectories as they went up and then fell back to earth, listening for the crunch and the smash, the crumple of metal and the flying shards of glass, as they slammed heavily back down on the asphalt.

So what if the kid was out there, man sized and looking for trouble? The vampire wasn't enough to defeat Sahjahn, was its brat going to be any better just because some ancient guy had scribbled a couple of rhyming couplets down on a dusty old scroll? Sahjahn had his powers back now - and too many aeons of impotence to make up for, too much destruction to catch up on. Let the kid come, it wasn't going to be any match for a Granok in its prime.

Back in the lobby of the Hyperion, the team were thinking along similar lines to Sahjahn himself, remembering his monstrous strength, the way he had thrown Wesley so that he had been impaled on a fragment of wood and nearly died (though Angel had helped with that part, twisting the fragment in Wesley's gut, out of rage that his friend had betrayed him so badly and stolen his son). They remembered - all too clearly - the way Sahjahn had hurled Lilah's commandos around the little house, throwing them clean through walls and nearly snapping one of them in two … it was only the Granok demon belatedly noticing Cordy and Fred escaping with Connor that had prevented the men from being pretty seriously killed.

And now Sahjahn was back - and whilst Angel and Spike remained immortal, the truth was: Wes was long dead and Doyle and Gunn were older now and didn't move as fast or hit as hard. The flip side of the men weakening was that Cordy and Fred both now had superpowers of their own that they hadn't had back in the day - back in that particular fight - but even souped up as they were, like the men - both women were heading into middle age; despite still being super strong, the peak of their strength was behind them. Sahjahn, meanwhile, would be just as formidable as he had always been.

So, despite the flurry of activity as they got ready and made their plans, there was definitely an undertone of panic to the proceedings. 'Do we have the flamethrowers?' Angel checked - he was standing in the middle of the lobby, directing rather than doing.
'Got 'em here,' Gunn said, coming out of the basement with the weapons in question, 'two of them ready to be used.'
'Just two?' Angel's face fell.
But Gunn only shrugged, 'not been able to keep up with maintenance and upkeep in lockdown,' he said, 'we're low on gasoline.'
Angel sighed, 'OK - you and Doyle take them then, Spike - pick some kind of blade - not my broadsword!' he added, raising his voice as the blonde vampire selected the broadsword from the weapons cabinet. Spike ignored him, so Angel snatched the blade from him. With a shake of his head and roll of his eyes, Spike went back to choose another weapon, 'great tit,' he muttered.

'OK,' Angel looked around at his team. 'Cordelia, I want you to select a group of the girls - the older ones who have had the most field training - you're going to lead a slayer squadron. I want you to attack him from the right. Spike, you're heading up the team with Gunn and Doyle - the three of you are going to attack from the left, we'll create a pincer movement. Then Fred - you got your jewel?'

She held up the jewel pried from Illyria's sarcophagus, which was now tied around her neck on a piece of string. Although the infection of the Old One always lingered inside Fred's body - giving her extra speed and strength, the jewel really brought Illyria to the fore, making her almost unstoppable. Plus it allowed her to create the time waves which slowed her enemies to a glacial pace.

Angel nodded, 'right - I want you to attack from behind. And then I'll attack from the front. Once we've got him surrounded, send out a time wave … and I'll do the rest. Lorne,' he finally turned to the anagogic demon, 'I want you to stay here and watch the girls and Connor.'
'I don't need watching!' Connor burst out.
But Angel didn't have time for his arguing. 'Son,' he said with a shake of his head, 'just … do as you're told. You staying safe is all that matters to me.'
'And killing this Sahjahn fella,' Spike said.
'Well … yeah.'
'Uhuh,' the other vampire raised an eyebrow, 'they way you told it, though - you can't do that. Only he can.' He nodded in Connor's direction.
'Connor's not getting involved in this,' Angel said firmly.

The team all glanced at each other, Angel could be obstinate - pig headed, Spike would call it, if he was feeling polite - he would have other choice words to describe Angel's stubbornness as well - they all had experience of having to talk him round. 'Angel,' Cordelia said softly, 'the prophecy said…'
'I don't care what the prophecy says, we're gonna go out there and defy prophecy - we've done it before.'

They all exchanged another look. 'It might be the only way, bud,' Doyle said to him. But Angel only looked at him like he was crazy. 'I'm not letting my kid go into battle!' he said, he stared right into the Irishman's eyes, 'you - out of everybody - should understand that. Would you let yours?'
'My girls are 9 and 6,' Doyle pointed out. 'But one day … it's their destiny, man, what they were born to do - doesn't matter if I like it or not. I'm not crazy about Cordy havin' to do it, never mind my kids. But I can't stop them from meeting their own destinies - and you can't stop Connor from doin' the same.'
'We're not having this conversation. This is not a conversation we're having,' Angel said stubbornly.
'Don't be a wanker.'

Fred cast Spike a disapproving glance and, when she spoke, her own voice was more ameliorative, 'I'm not sure there's much of a choice - if it's written…'
'Then we don't read it,' Angel interrupted her, 'he isn't trained, he's never been out in battle, he isn't starting against a demon that has destroyed half of Downtown and personally kicked most of our asses back when we were all younger and fitter than we are today.'
'Everyone's gotta start out somewhere, cream pie,' Lorne said gently.
'Not here, not now.'
'Angel, man, he'll have all of us at his back - I started fighting vamps when I was 12 years old,' Gunn pointed out.
'You didn't have a choice!'
'And I do,' Connor raised his voice to be heard over his increasingly irate father. 'Dad,' he made his tone softer, 'I get why you don't want me to do this. Hell - I don't want me to do this. But if what you just told me is true - then it's something I'm going to do, whether I go out and do it now or if I run away and wait for it to find me.' He shrugged and smiled, 'it's destiny. I'm destined for it. Maybe you coming to get me from school happened for a reason - maybe now is the time.'
'Seems to me like if we go out there and face off this all powerful hell beastie without the wonder kid destined to put him in the ground, then we'll fail - for sure,' Spike said. 'If we take Connor along … maybe that evens our chances up. Tilts things in our favour. Know what I mean?'
'Connor doesn't have to lead, he doesn't even really have to fight,' Cordelia said to Angel, her voice was soothing. 'We can do all the work, all of us. But - for whatever reason - it's Connor that's destined to strike the killing blow. There's no point going out there to get our asses kicked, if we don't take the one person that can actually kill Sahjahn.'
'She's right, man,' her husband agreed with her. Angel stared around at the whole group in frustration, they were all nodding in agreement. He sighed very deeply. 'Fine,' he said at last, then he looked directly at his son, 'I'll pick you out a blade, something easy to use, but if you get yourself killed … you're grounded.'

They moved out. Cordy, having picked her squad of slayer backup, kissed her husband goodbye and then led the girls out to their car. Doyle - as part of the other half of the pincer movement, was going in the truck with Gunn and Spike, they wouldn't see each other again until they closed in on Sahjahn. And if this all went wrong, they might just have time to see each other one last time before they were both horribly killed. Hence taking the time to linger over their goodbye kiss.

Angel and Connor were back in the Plymouth, with Fred sitting in the back - her long hair blowing out in the breeze behind her. The vampire was taking this moment, as they drove through Hollywood towards Downtown, to coach his son in some of the basics. 'Now you just hold onto the hilt - that's like the handle, the none pointy end…'
'I know what a hilt is, dad.'
'Good - great - so, you just hold the hilt nice and tight and point the blade - the pointy end - at the bad guy.'
Connor rolled his eyes, 'I know you never trained me - but I've seen Game of Thrones, I know how to stab people.'
'Right … Good…' He suddenly looked worried and turned back to Fred, 'is Game of Thrones appropriate viewing?'
She shook her head, 'not so much. There's a lot of … it's a pretty naked show.'
'Huh,' he tilted his head, as if considering whether he might like to binge watch the box set and then shook his head. 'Well, we'll worry about that later, for now you gotta…'
'Stick him with the pointy end? Yeah - I get it.'
'Yeah - but it's best if you keep back, until we have him on the ropes. He's strong and this is your first fight - better leave it to the experts. And even when it comes to killing him - I mean, you don't have to do that alone.'
'What?' Connor breathed a laugh, 'you're gonna hold him down whilst I stab him?'
'Doesn't say anywhere that I can't.'
'That doesn't seem very fair.'

Angel shook his head, 'we don't worry about fair,' he said - he was grinning at Connor's words, even though the situation was so serious. Behind them, Fred gave a peel of laughter, suggesting she too found what he had just said to be ridiculous. Connor frowned, 'maybe you should,' he said, twisting his neck to include both Fred and Angel in his conversation. 'You guys are the good guys - or you're meant to be. If you don't care about fair, who else is gonna?'

'Connor - the bad guys don't care about a fair fight,' Fred said to him, 'they don't care how defenceless or vulnerable you are - whether you're just a girl in a library reading a book, or a scientist in a lab examining an ancient artefact or anything else for that matter. 'Cause you don't matter a damn to them. If they want ya dead, they're gonna kill ya, and they won't give you time to pick up your sword first.'
'Sometimes you have to be willing to do whatever it takes,' Angel agreed, 'and that isn't always pretty - but the first rule of being a champion is "don't die". You can't be the brave protector, the mythic defender of the weak, if you're dead in your first battle. We fight to make the world a better place, but that doesn't mean that - when we do fight - we're necessarily at our best and most honourable.'
'Well maybe that's exactly when you should be at your best and most honourable? When else does it matter?' The boy shrugged, 'anyways, I just figure if I'm gonna do this, then I gotta do it my way - and I'm not a bully…' he looked uncomfortable, 'of course, I don't know what 'my way' is.'
'You got your whole life to figure that out,' Angel told him, not taking his eyes off the road as he took a left and headed deeper into the city.
'Might as well start figuring it out now,' Connor replied.

They fell to silence, driving through the streets, the breeze blowing their hair around, thinking their separate thoughts about the upcoming battle. 'Look-' Angel said eventually, 'Sahjahn's strong, but you're much faster than he is. Use it. He talks a lot, he'll try to lull you into slowing down - don't let him. Hit him quick, keep moving.'
'Is that advice for everyone?' Connor asked.
'We've all faced him before,' Angel said grimly, 'and worse besides. This is your first time out. He's gonna talk to you, don't let him distract you.'
'I won't.'
'Even if he's on the ground - do not take your eyes off him.'
'Whatever you do, do not -'
'Dude, you're starting to freak me out!'
'Right, sorry - ' Angel looked sheepishly in the driver's mirror at Fred, who smiled at him sympathetically. They turned another corner - and heard a blare of sirens and then the smashing sound of a car hitting the sidewalk, 'sounds like we're there,' Angel said grimly. He picked up his phone and clicked through to the prearranged zoom meeting - they were used to zoom meetings these days - to check that the others were ready and getting into position.

Sahjahn stood in the middle of his wreckage, standing in the middle of the road surrounded by the gushing geysers of the fire hydrants; the jumping, flickering flames of the cars on fire; the metal twisted into modern art; the broken glass; the splintered benches and the snapped in half lampposts. And best of all … all the little people, the ones stupid enough to try and stop him, the ones that had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time - they lay strewn around him, scattered like bodies on a battlefield: broken and bleeding and whimpering.

As he strode around, surveying his work and looking for something else to destroy, his sandalled foot stepped on a long, ragged strip of white paper. He could just make out some of the writing 'We Help the …'

Oh yeah - the vampire. The billboard had been one of the first things he had destroyed, had picked up a car and hurled it right at the advertisement bringing it crashing down. But he must have caused enough destruction by now to have been noticed by that prancing pot of hair product in a swirly coat, the dark avenger should be bearing down on him in three… two … one…

There was a screech of tyres and a squeal of brakes and then he was blinded by two sets of headlights bearing down on him from either side. He raised his hand to shield his eyes - the car to his right slammed straight into him. He didn't even flinch, but - peering through the windshield, he recognised the woman at the wheel. She was older, her hair was longer - but it was her … the damn meddling bitch that had smuggled the baby away from the fight all those years ago.
With a roar, he put one hand beneath the hood of the car and flipped the whole thing.
Inside, Cordy and her slayers screamed as their world was turned suddenly upside down, there was a terrible moment of freefalling through the air … and then they crunched back down to earth, and everything went black.
'Cordelia!' Gunn's truck was still moving when Doyle jumped out of it - leaving his weapon behind - and began to race across the road to where his wife lay unconscious and trapped in a smashed up vehicle, the horn was blaring out in one deafening note - but he couldn't hear it over the ringing in his ears and the pounding of his heart.

He didn't get very far. Recognising another of Angel's interfering bosom buddies - this one the ludicrous, little half breed, Sahjan smacked out his fist and sent Doyle flying, before Doyle had even noticed he was in danger. Much like his wife's car had done, he flew through to the air and then smashed to the ground. He didn't get back up again.
There was a sudden burst of flame from behind the Granok demon - and he turned to see Gunn - out of his truck and aiming his flamethrower - bearing down on him, a determined look on his face. Spike had taken up Doyle's abandoned flamethrower and the two of them closed in on Sahjahn, blasting him with flames.
He laughed out loud. 'Is that it?' he cried, 'is this the best you can do?' He simply walked through the flames - as if they didn't hurt at all - grabbed the gun out of Spike's hand and then used the handle to knock him out. The vampire went down like a ton of bricks. Gunn yelled out and released another burst of flame, but Sahjahn only laughed again and threw Spike's flamethrower as hard as he could at Gunn's head.

Just before impact, Gunn's wild eyes made contact with something over Sahjahn's shoulder, but then he was hit - and out for the count. Sahjahn spun around to see what the man had been looking at, just in time to catch Fred's wrist as she threw a punch. 'Ah ah - caught you,' he said and pushed her away.

She stumbled backwards. Sahjahn looked her up and down, 'well - you're the other one aren't you? The other little baby snatcher. I tell you, you climbing out through that window caused me a whole world of problems. But what's with the blue?' He indicated her cold, crystal eyes and the one blue lock of hair which framed her face. 'I don't remember the smurf look back in the day.'
'I levelled up,' she threw another punch. This one hit, but didn't make much impact.
'Yeah? - I hope you got more powers than hitting like a sissy.'
'One or two,' she waved her arm and sent out a time wave, trapping Sahjan inside. She raised her sword to strike him down whilst he was stuck … only he wasn't there. She looked around. He was standing right beside her, though the time wave was still in place, blurring the road ahead of her. '...How?' She asked.
'I'm a time shifting demon. How stupid are you people?'

He hit her, she staggered back - but didn't fall - Illyria's powers keeping her on her feet. 'You're one tough cookie,' he said. His eyes fell on the crystal tied around her neck. 'Is that your power source, honey?' He ripped it from her throat - and her eyes immediately turned warm and brown again. Laughing, he threw the crystal as far as he could. 'Well fetch, bitch,' he hit her again, and this time her head snapped back and she flew through the air, crashing back down onto the asphalt a hundred feet away from where Sahjan stood, and went still.
Sahjahn threw his head back and laughed. 'I've taken out all your minions,' he yelled up into the sky, 'where are you then, vampire?'
'I'm right here.' The voice came from behind him and Sahjahn turned to look - yeah, there he was: same glowery forehead; same righteous smoulder to his eyes; same dumb hair that went straight up. 'Well look at you,' Sahjahn grinned, 'you haven't aged a day!'
Angel didn't answer, he just pointed his broadsword straight at the Granok demon.
'What? It's been twenty years - we can't catch up? Shoot the breeze? So how have the decades been treating you? Me - I was stuck in a jar, but maybe you got up to something a bit more exciting? Come on - regale me with your do-gooding adventures.'
'Lord,' a voice said from behind Angel, 'he does talk a lot.'
Angel shifted uncomfortably and glanced behind him, 'Connor, stay back. Remember what I said.'
'Oh -' Sahjhan peered around the vampire to get a better look. 'So this is him - is it?'
'Stay away from him,' Angel warned. 'Connor - remember your sword.'

Connor gripped his sword more tightly, keeping the pointy end held directly out at the Granok demon. 'Yeah,' he said, trying to hide the waver in his voice as this giant, scarred, monster looking thing focused all its attention on him. 'I am him - he is me. Hi.'
'Connor - ' Angel warned, still trying to block his son with his body. But Sahjahn was laughing again. 'This is it?' he cried out, 'this - this - is The Destroyer? This is what I spent all that time and effort trying to get rid of? This prancing light weight? This … Peter Pan.' He laughed again, 'hey - kid - how about I fix it so you never grow up?'
With a snarl, Angel swung his sword. Sahjahn jumped backwards, 'careful now.' But Angel went on the offensive, vamping out, he ran straight at the Granok demon, sword lifted high and ready to swing.

Sahjahn threw a punch at him, he ducked it, rolled across the ground and swung his sword at Sahjahn's unprotected neck. But - now he was separated from Connor - the Granok demon had lost interest in the vampire and was now bearing down the boy. He stepped forward just as Angel swung the sword - and his blade whistled threw clear air, hitting nothing.

'No!' He sprang forward, somersaulting over the top of Sahjahn's head and landing heavily on the ground between the demon and his son. He swung his sword one more time, but Sahjahn grabbed him round the throat with his right fist and grabbed Angel's sword hand with his left. Then he squeezed - using all his terrible strength - until Angel was forced to drop the sword. It fell from his hand and clattered on the ground.

Pleased with the result, the Granok demon then balled his left fist and - still gripping Angel by the throat - began to repeatedly pound on the vampire. Angel's head snapped back and forth, blood spurted from his mouth, bruises began to bloom across his nose and around his eyes. He groaned and struggled, but could not get free from the demon's grasp - and all the time he was taking the relentless beating.

'You know I can't help but notice the bookworm Brit's not here,' Sahjahn said, still whaling on Angel. 'Guess you never forgave him - huh? Never let him back in the family.'
'That's not -'
'Can't say I blame you, taking your son like that, that must have felt terrible - hey,' he grinned, 'how do you think it's gonna feel once I've killed him?'
Looking alarmed - terrified even - Connor gripped his sword and circled the fight. Not knowing what to do, or how to help, not daring to get too close in case he just made things worse.
'You just hang in there, Little Peter,' Sahjahn said to him, still hitting Angel over and over, 'I'll send you to Neverland once I'm done with daddy.'

Angel's legs buckled beneath him, he was held up by only Sahjahn's hand about his throat, and the rainshower of knucklebusters just kept on falling. He grunted, his head snapping once more as he was hit. He felt a fresh burst of blood from his nose. His left hand still throbbed from where Sahjahn had crushed it, but he balled it into a fist and tried to hurl a punch. He made contact - but not impact. Sahjahn just looked irritated. 'You know- I think I'm done with the warm up act, time to take on the headliner.' He got in one last, eye glazing, mind dazing hit and then threw Angel away from himself.

Like all his friends had done, he fell through the air and smashed onto the ground. He was broken and bloody and he ached all over, but he fought off the blackness which threatened to engulf him and rolled over, coughing and groaning, so he could still see Connor.

Connor was backing off, though he still held out his sword - he held onto the hilt with both hands, so tightly his knuckles had turned white. Sahjahn bore down on him, he tried to keep his weapon steady. 'Stick him with the pointy end, stick him with the pointy end,' he muttered to himself, over and over, beneath his breath.

'You know that's pretty good advice,' Sahjahn said, stepping closer, 'I'll be sure to follow it.' He reached out and snatched the blade right out of Connor's hand, turning it so the sharp end now pointed at the boy. Connor stumbled and fell over backwards, he stared upwards at the Granok demon; unprotected, defenceless…

Sahjahn grinned down at him - the great destroyer - helpless on the floor. 'You know I went to a lot of trouble to get rid of you, kid,' he said, 'there was a lot written about you - I figured you'd grow up to be a lot more intimidating… taller, bigger muscles … something. I guess these prophecies are turning out to be overrated - 'cause I gotta tell ya, you're making an excellent case for free will.' He raised the sword high over Connor - and then plunged it down …


Oct 23, 2018
You'll Be a Man, My Son
Part One

The fall knocked the wind out of Connor, the ground was hard - and damp from the spray of the fire hydrants. He stared up at the demon, grinning down at him - Sahjahn seemed monstrously huge from this angle and Connor suddenly felt more vulnerable and exposed than he had ever felt before in his life. 'You know I went to a lot of trouble to get rid of you, kid,' Sahjahn said, though Connor wasn't really listening - he was too busy looking at his own sword, now in the hands of his enemy; watching the light from the fires dance on the blade.
'There was a lot written about you. I figured you grow up to be more intimidating - taller, bigger muscles - something. I guess these prophecies are turning out to be overrated - 'cause I gotta tell ya, you're making an excellent case for free will…'
Connor's eyes had focused on the very tip of the sword, as it pointed straight down at him, they widened in fear as that sharpened tip suddenly fell - plunging downward, closer and closer - headed straight for him…
Lying on his back, coughing up blood and groaning, Angel suddenly became aware of the scent of Connor's fear - sharp and tangy, cutting right through the blackness that lingered on the edges of his consciousness - wanting to take him under, and leaving everything suddenly crystal clear.
'Connor!' He moved - faster than he knew he could, faster than this aching, creaking pile of bleeding bones should be able to. In less than a second, he covered all of the ground between himself and his son and threw himself forward, in blind panic, just as the sword fell. There was a burning, agonising, stabbing pain in his side but he barely noticed it beneath the warmth and relief of knowing the pain meant the sword had struck him - and Connor was safe.
He hit the wet ground - and that was when the pain came rushing back in. The blade was sticking out from his side and seemed to radiate agony out in little rivulets all through his body. He gasped and clutched at his injury, feeling the slipperiness of the blood on his fingers.
Connor was by his side, in a moment, 'dad?'
Angel shook his head, 'I'm OK - don't take your eyes off…' he blinked, and winced in pain, 'don't take your eyes off…'
A dark shadow loomed over them. 'Typical,' Sahjahn said. 'I try my damnedest to end the kid and the dad gets in the way - just like how it always was. I guess I better finish you off properly before Junior and I duke it out, huh?'
He reached out to pull the sword from Angel's abdomen. Realising what he was about to do, Angel grabbed at the blade with his bare hands - ignoring the way it sliced into his skin, and grimly clung on - determined not to let the Granok demon get hold of the sword; knowing that, if he did, Sahjahn would behead him whilst he lay helpless on the ground - and then he would turn the weapon on Connor.
Over in the upturned car - Cordelia was the first to come to. Her head was groggy and her eyes were bleary but she fought her way back into consciousness - only to discover she was held in place, upside down, by her seat belt. Releasing the catch, she fell down into the roof space of the car - which was now the floor - and then crawled her way out to freedom through the shattered window.
She staggered a little, and did a double take when she saw the destruction of the street around her. Her head was pounding like a jackhammer and she couldn't see straight. She had a confused impression of flames and fountains and bodies lying still on the ground. But it was like peering through mist ... until her brain focused on one such body - dark hair and an ancient tan leather jacket - lying face down and still on the road. 'Oh god - Doyle,' she staggered across to him, her heart now pounding in her mouth, and crouched beside him.
He was bleeding, his eyes were closed … but he was still breathing. Gasping in relief, she looked around, wondering how to get him out of here - and that was when she saw Sahjahn standing over Angel - fighting for the sword.
Leaving her husband - there was nothing she could do for him right now - she got back to her feet, picked up the flame thrower which lay beside Gunn, and headed over to the fight.
Meanwhile, right the way down the road, Fred also opened her eyes - groaning in pain as the return of consciousness allowed it to flood her body all at once. She winced and rolled over, struggling to pull herself upright. She had landed right beside Illyria's jewel, it twinkled pink on the black asphalt, like a star shining in the night sky.
She groaned again - and rolled her shoulders, trying to grow accustomed to the pain or balance it out evenly throughout her body so it was easier to bear. It was as she finally made it into a proper sitting position that she noticed Sahjahn and Angel and Connor - a hundred feet away, but she could still make out that her friends were in trouble.
She snatched up the crystal, her eyes turned blue and, as Illyria came to the fore, the pain receded. She got back to her feet, picked up her fallen sword and marched down the road.
Sahjahn was still fighting with Angel over the sword. Angel lay on the floor and wriggled like a worm on a hook, grunting and gasping in pain as the blade twisted and turned in his gut and sliced at his hands at the same time. But he was determined not to let it go - that would be the end of everything.
Concentrating on the sword, the unexpected burst of flame nearly knocked Sajahn off his feet. He turned around in annoyance, letting go of the hilt, and - relieved - Angel began to crawl away, leaving a trail of slick blood behind him.
Cordelia walked closer and closer - still firing the flame thrower. Now he was expecting them, the flames bothered him no more than they had last time - and he walked towards her. 'Bring it on!' he yelled at her, 'take your best shot.'
She fired again, the flames hit him. 'Toasty.' He sounded distinctly unimpressed. 'Here's my best shot.'
He swung a massive fist, but Cordy, quicker by far than Gunn or Doyle, ducked it and then sprang upward and headbutted him right between the eyes. He staggered back. 'Ow! You're strong for a human. I don't remember that.'
'Yeah - the world changed whilst you were out.' She swung her own fist and connected. His head snapped back, but he didn't move otherwise.
'Tell me about it: plagues, earthquakes, long dead old enemies. It's like hell came to town and put down some roots.' He swung another punch at her, she ducked again.
'Welcome to 2020,' she said - and fired the flamethrower once more.
Meanwhile, Fred came up behind them, her sword pointed and ready. As Cordy began to force Sahjahn backward - with a mixture of punches, kicks and fire - Fred stood her ground and waited, blade ready.
Eventually, he backed right up to the edge of her sword and - feeling its sharpness - spun around to see what was there. Fred hit him - a right uppercut. The force spun him again, so he was face to face with Cordy - who threw an uppercut of her own.
Trapped between the pincer movement of a slayer and an Old One, Sahjahn drew his fist back and punched Cordy and then elbowed Fred with the drawback. Both women stumbled, but neither fell - and they both paid him back in kind. He flung Fred away from himself - allowing a little space to open up, and that was when he saw the empty patch of ground where Angel had been. There was a trail of blood - but the vampire, and his kid, had vanished. 'Son of a…'
The women were closing in on him again and - with no reason to stick around and no wish to get pummelled any further - Sahjahn simply blurred out of this reality, teleporting away from the fight.
The two women came to a stop, looking disconcerted. 'Where'd he go?' Cordy asked.
'Somewhere. Not here.' Fred shrugged, she looked around at the devastation surrounding them, 'what do we do now?'
'Get everyone back up on their feet,' Cordelia told her, 'we need to get back to the hotel.'

Although much may have changed in the world since his imprisonment, Sahjahn was not surprised to find his old underground lair remained much as it ever was. No one would have had reason to come here, no one would find it - buried so deep beneath the earth - and so it remained, untouched, abandoned and simply gathering dust.
The computer Holtz had used to learn about the world sat in the corner. It no longer worked - although it had been the current tech of its day, Sahjahn had seen the modern televisions and computers in the window of the electronics store - this boxy old thing would be slow to start up, and connected to the internet via a system that no longer worked. It was like a gas lamp, or a stone axe - obsolete, nothing more than a curio, useless in a world moved on.
Once, Sahjahn had been the one to know about the modern world, to guide a long rested sleeper through an era which made little sense and was disconnected from everything that had come before. But now the Granok demon found himself in Holtz' position. He had little idea of what had transpired in the past two decades, and the old artefacts of the early twenty first century would not help him navigate this new now. As impossible as it was, it felt like the world had changed as much between the last time Sahjahn was here and today, as it had between the time Holtz went to sleep in the 1700s and woke up in the brand new millennium. There was so much Sahjahn didn't know.
He only had snippets, things he remembered seeing as he timeshifted through the aeons - though he saw so much, didn't always get audio, and viewed world events without any kind of linear chronology, that even that much was only little help. And he had what he had learned since he had hit the streets: the year, the virus … and the kid.
That was what was important. He would have the rest of eternity to find out what he had missed, or timeshift away to a less crappy couple of years once the kid was dead. But as long as the boy survived, then Sahjahn was in danger. So the boy had to be killed - it was nothing personal, little Peter Pan seemed like a good kid; brave, loyal to his dad, all that folksy homespun crap - but it was a kill or be killed situation they were in here - and Sahjahn was going to be the one who came out on top.
He moved around the underground lair, gathering the things he would need - searching out forgotten items, blowing the dust and cobwebs off objects that had lain unused for too long. The tech might have moved on so far as to become mystifying, become so shiny and whizzy it might as well be magic, but magic itself - real magic, dark magic - that never changed. And Sahjahn was an old mystic.
He set seven stones down on the ground in a circle, and then lit seven candles. He took a knife and cut his forearm, allowing his blood to run out onto the stones, and then he began to chant in a strange, undulating, demonic tongue. He was going to use magic to get to the kid - and somewhere out there, there was a soul which still owed him a deep debt. It was time to get paid.

The lights were on in the lobby and the whole place was packed, heaving with activity. A group of middle school aged slayers had been called down to fix up the bruises and cuts on the older slayers who had been in the car crash. Along with teaching the girls how to fight, Cordelia also gave them training in first aid - teaching them to be battlefield nurses as well as warriors. And the aftermath of a battle like this was too good of a learning opportunity to pass up.
She only let them work on the other girls and Fred though, although - once they were grown - the slayers would have to deal with whatever injury came their way, and whoever was injured, the thought of little girls fixing up injuries on grown men just didn't sit right with her. Besides - she remembered all too clearly the injury Doyle had suffered at the claws of the Vartite monster all those years ago … some wounds would just not be appropriate for a young girl's eyes. So she worked alone on patching up the male members of the team.
Spike and Gunn had got off the most lightly - just the head bumps where they had been knocked out, and Spike was already well into recovery. An ice pack and some aspirin did for Gunn. Doyle was in similar shape, but he also has a nasty cut on his forehead. But once she'd cleaned that up and stuck on some sticky sutures he was given the all clear and he went up to check on his sleeping daughters.
Connor wasn't hurt at all - just badly shaken, and with the beginnings of starting to blame himself for not doing better. It was Angel who needed the most care and attention - from the stab wound in his gut; to the way his hands were all sliced open; to the bumps and bruises on his head. Cordy tutted to herself when she saw the damage, and worked swiftly to clean it all up and start bandaging him. 'How does that feel?' she asked.
'Like I got my ass kicked.'
'Well, I'm afraid that's an unfortunate side effect of getting your ass kicked. But how's the pain?'
He winced, 'I'll live,' he told her.
'Well at least you heal quickly.' She began to dab at the cuts on his hands, he winced again and gasped in pain. 'Big baby,' she shook her head.

The girls were fast asleep, the light switched off, when Doyle checked on them. Cara was snuggled under the covers with her arms tightly clutching the three stuffed animals, four barbie dolls and the picture book she currently took to bed with her every night. Doyle smiled, as he stroked her hair and kissed her goodnight, wondering that there was any space for her left at all, she packed her bed with that many toys.
Across the room, Primrose had thrown the covers off herself, her little face was flushed and red and her arm was gripped tightly around the stuffed penguin she always slept with. Doyle sat on her bed, and brushed some of her sweaty hair away from her face before he kissed her goodnight as well. She mumbled something and then her eyes drifted slowly open, 'daddy?'
'Hey, princess, I didn't mean to wake you - are you too hot?'
She nodded and he went to go open the window a crack to let a breeze into the room. 'How did your fight go?' Primrose asked him sleepily, her voice was thick and her eyes were fluttering closed then open and then closed again.
'It was … big and fighty.' He went back over to her and sat down next to her, holding her hand.
'You got hurt,' she said to him.
'What makes you say that?'
'You got a big cut on your head.'
'Oh,' his free hand touched the sore spot on his head, 'right.'
'Is mom OK?'
'She's fine - she'll be up to check on you in a minute. You should go back to sleep.'
Primrose yawned hugely and nodded, 'stay with me until I fall asleep?'
She smiled sleepily, rolled over and closed her eyes. Doyle watched her, for a moment, wondering if she had drifted off yet. He shifted, getting ready to leave, when she spoke again, 'daddy - are you going to have to fight again?'
'We always have to fight again, princess.'
'I know,' she yawned once more, her eyes were still closed, 'but are you going to have to fight this demon again?'
He sighed heavily, 'yeah … yeah I think we are.'
'You gotta be careful.'
'Always,' he leaned down and kissed her again, 'now go back to sleep.'
She nodded, yawned one final time and snuggled down even further. 'Night dad.'
'Night princess.'

After the dark stillness of his daughters' room, the bright busyness of the lobby seemed harsh and frenetic when Doyle returned. Most of the slayers were clearing out - headed on up the stairs, to bed. They said 'night' to him as they passed him on the staircase. But in the centre of the room the team were still gathered, and it looked like there was still miles to go before they could sleep.
Cordelia was just finishing up with Angel, sticking down the last of his bandages and tidying away her first aid kit. 'How are the girls?' she asked her husband, seeing him return.
'Fast asleep.'
'Good,' she walked off to put her kit away and Doyle sat down beside Angel. 'How about you, bud?' he asked, 'how are you doing?'
Angel glowered, 'we were completely flattened out there,' he said, 'we escaped on nothing but luck.'
'Well, Granoks have a reputation for bein' a bit ... prickly. It's how come they got made incorporeal in the first place.'
'Yeah - well now Sajhan's corporeal and he corporeally kicked our combined asses. We need to hit serious research mode - we need to be better prepared, we need to find weak spots, vulnerabilities, allergies - whatever, we need to find a way to take him down. 'Cause unless someone has got a handy Reisekhian Urn stashed away in their underwear drawer, we're gonna need something new this time.'
'Me and Lorne'll get on it,' Gunn said, still clutching his ice pack to his head, 'first thing tomorrow - we'll hit the books, find out everything we can. Right Green Jeans?'
'Count me in. Spikester?'
The vampire raised an eyebrow, 'always happy to help out. You know me - Mr. Helpful.'
Angel snorted, 'and we've still got that prophecy to be working on - we can't lose sight of that either.'
'I'll keep plugging away at it,' Fred promised, 'maybe if Doyle can help me - maybe he can see something in the patterns…?'
'The Crossword King, Lord of the Word Jumble and Grand High Duke o' the Sudoku is at your service,' the Irishman winked at her, she giggled and rolled her eyes. 'See?' Doyle said to Angel, 'it's a team effort - we'll all do somethin'.'
'Yeah - you'll all do something,' Connor was sitting at the counter, he rubbed his face wearily, 'and I'll sit here and do nothing - until my destiny comes to find me again - and then I'll do even more nothing.'
Angel frowned, 'what are you talking about?'
'Oh come on, dad - you saw me out there, I choked!'
'We all got beaten up pretty bad, son - you didn't do any worse than Spikester, here, out on the first hit.'
'Hey!' Spike started to protest.
But Angel ignored him. 'Most of the slayers didn't even make it out of the car.'
'Yeah - but none of them are the ones who are supposed to defeat this guy, are they?' Connor asked. 'It's written - someone wrote it - that I'm the only one who can do that and what happens? My whole family is beaten to a bloody pulp and I just stand there and watch. I couldn't even stab the guy.'
'Connor, sweetie,' Cordelia's voice was soothing, she was leaning on the door frame to the office - where she had been standing since she had finished tidying up her first aid kit. 'Tonight was your first night out. No one does much more than stand there and stare their first night out. We went in there all guns blazing and we shouldn't have - that was on us, we're the ones who have fought him before, we're the ones who know how strong he is. We didn't fail tonight because of you.'
'We didn't exactly succeed tonight because of me either - and now you all are injured and no one knows what to do next, least of all me.'
'We'll be better prepared next time,' Angel assured him.
'Dad - I could barely hold my sword straight. I was … terrified at the thought of lunging forward and actually sticking him with it. I don't know I could have done it. It's … it's not like watching Game of Thrones, not when you're really out there. I didn't know what I was doing - and I was too scared to try anything. I think maybe this destiny thing … it's just all some big mistake. I'm not you. I'm not a fighter. I'm not The Destroyer … I'm nobody.'
'You are somebody,' Angel said firmly, 'you are my son - you are the one person on this planet the universe has decided will kill that scarfaced son of a bitch, and believe me the world will be a better place when he is in the ground.'
'I don't know what I'm doing.'
'Then I'll train you - tomorrow. Me - and Cordy,' he looked at his friend questioningly, she nodded in agreement. 'We'll get you ready to face this thing.'
'Right,' but Connor still looked weary. And afraid. 'Tomorrow you'll teach me how to be a killer - in one day.'
'I know it isn't much but - like I told you before - there's nothing to say you can't have help. Destiny says you will strike the killing blow - but that's only one blow - nowhere does it say you have to do the whole fight alone. So - if you're not sure you can stab something, we'll get you ready, we'll get you sure. And by the time we're done, Gunn and the rest will have found this bastard's Achilles heel.'
'Yeah - OK - whatever…' Connor shook his head, 'if it's all the same to you, I think I'll go to bed. It's been a long and … really weird day.' He slid down from his stool and started to walk across to the staircase, his head was hanging low and his shoulders were hunched.
Angel jumped to his feet, 'Connor -' but the boy trudged wearily past, ignoring him. Once he was gone, Angel - looking lost - wandered out to the courtyard. Cordy followed him with her eyes until he was out of view and then looked across at her husband. 'You should go talk to him,' she said, 'I'll go say goodnight to the girls - everyone else,' she looked around the room at the rest of the team and her voice became commanding, 'bed! We have a lot of work to do in the morning.'

Cordelia leaned down and kissed Cara on her forehead, sweeping some of her dark curls out of her face. As she straightened up, she spotted the open window - tutted in annoyance and crossed over to shut it.
'I was too hot,' a little voice said from the direction of Primrose's bed. Cordy shut the window and turned to look at her eldest daughter, 'and that's what air con is for, sweetie. But you don't sleep with the window open - the bugs will get in. Any idiot should know that.' She went to sit on Prim's bed and took her phone out, fiddling with the smart home app until she had successfully altered the temperature controls. 'Better?'
Primrose nodded.
'You should get back to sleep - daddy said you were asleep.'
'I was faking, he needed to get back to you - I could tell.'
'You could, huh? Well - now it's time to sleep for real. Close your eyes.'
'What if I get cold now?'
'Put a sweater on.'
The little girl giggled, 'in bed?'
Cordelia smiled and reached out to stroke her hair, 'OK - how about … if I leave my phone in here with you, and you can change the temperature if you get cold?'
The little girl's face lit up in delight.
'But only if you get cold,' her mom warned, 'no messing around with the controls just 'cause you can. Here-' she showed the screen to her daughter, showing her the scale '-you just slide it up and down if you wanna make it warmer or colder, got it?'
Primrose gave her mother a pitying look, 'I know how to work a smartphone, mother.'
'I'm sure you do,' Cordy said drily. She put her phone down on the nightstand, 'now - sleep - and no faking, you can't fool me as easy as you can your dad.'
'I know.' She lay back down, Cordy leaned down to kiss her goodnight. 'Mom?' her voice was small again, 'something bad's coming, isn't it?'
Cordelia pulled back and frowned, 'what makes you say that?'
'I can see it - in your eyes.'
'Maybe it's just the light,' she said lightly.
But Primrose shook her head, 'I could see it in daddy's eyes too. He tried to pretend everything was OK - but he was faking. I could tell.'
'Well,' she fought to keep her voice even and light, 'it seems like we're a whole family of fakers then, doesn't it?'
Primrose smiled up at her, 'whatever it is, mommy - you and daddy can handle it.'
'You think so?' Cordy smiled too.
'You can handle anything.'
'Damn straight,'
'Damn straight.'
'Don't cuss - now go to sleep, baby.'

It was still warm when Doyle stepped out into the courtyard - despite the extreme lateness of the hour. He could see Angel sitting out on the bench, glowering up at the sky - and he suddenly wondered how many quiet talks the team had had out here, over the years - always when something was going wrong. This was the place the family went when their heart was breaking, and where the person sent to comfort them would try to make everything better; try to put the broken pieces back together. It always worked, because here they were - all these years later - still together, still a family and all in one piece … nearly all in one piece. They would always be one man down.
'You know,' he said, 'the sun will be comin' up soon - out here is maybe not the safest place for a man o' your persuasion to be sitting.'
'I got a while yet,' Angel said, not looking around, 'vampires can smell the sunrise.'
'Well that's…' he frowned, 'just ... weird.' He left the verandah and went to sit beside his friend.
'What do you want, Doyle?' Angel asked him, still looking upward at the night sky. For once there were some stars visible. There were never stars visible in L.A - not for decades, too much pollution. But the lockdown had caused the worst of the smog to clear and - for now, at least - a smattering of tiny, silver pinpricks glowed in the inky black.
'I wanna talk to you,' Doyle said affably, 'see how you're doin'.'
There was a moment of silence and then - 'I don't wanna do it,' Angel said, his voice was heavy and sad.
'Do what? Exactly?'
'Turn my son into a killer. I don't wanna have to train him. For so many years - his whole life - I've tried to keep him away from all this and now …'
'Now his destiny has come callin'. And there's no escapin' it.' The half demon chuckled wryly, 'believe me - I know.'
'How do you do it, Doyle?' Angel asked him, finally turning to look at him.
'Ah - do what? Balance bein' The Promised One, a former higher power and a damn handsome rascal all at the same time? It's a job o' work let me tell ya.'
'How do you live with the knowledge that one day your little girls are going to go out into the world - and fight? That they're going to be moulded and shaped into warriors, that the only life they're ever going to know is bloodshed and violence and that every minion of hell out there is going to zero in on them. And that the fighting won't stop - it'll never stop - not until …'
He trailed off and looked awkward. Doyle shifted uncomfortably. 'I mean, I try not to think about it, you know? It's a long way off. And maybe they won't choose to fight - maybe they'll get their trainin' and then go off and be a - a ... horse dentist or whatnot. Not all slayers have to fight til they die, they got a choice now - for everythin' Willow's spell took from them, it gave them that at least.'
'And you're saying you don't ever lie awake at night and worry about what choice Prim and Cara will make?'
'OK … yeah,' Doyle shrugged. 'You got me. I worry. But I also know they're gonna have received the best trainin' possible, I know that - whatever decision they make - they'll make the one that's right for them and … well, I guess I know it's their destiny. Whatever happens - the universe chose my girls to be fighters against evil, and I know they'll be up to the job - 'cause it's what they were born to do.' He gave Angel a sidelong glance, 'and what's goin' on right now - that's Connor's destiny. And he'll be ready for it, and he'll meet it because this is the work he was born to do. We're not like other people, bud - and neither are our kids, we can handle more than most. You just have to trust he can handle this - because the universe has already decided he can.'

It took Connor a long time to fall asleep. He hadn't expected to return to his own room, sleep in his own bed, so soon after starting college - but now here he was, and it wasn't even because classes were suddenly cancelled due to the pandemic - which he had always been half expecting - it was because he had a destiny. Or something.
He felt too warm, and squirmed under the covers before throwing them off completely. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw the scarred face of Sahjahn and the tip of the sword dangling above him. Fear and memories and even anger kept him wide awake, when he was already so tired his eyes ached.
It wasn't until the sun was rising in the sky that sheer exhaustion carried him off to sleep - but even then he didn't rest much, he was fitful - and he dreamed.
He was standing in a ranch house, there were mountains outside - the sun was rising over them, turning them blue and purple as the sky blazed crimson. The house was abandoned - though there was a crib in the bedroom and baby clothes strewn on the bed. The whole place looked like it had been deserted in a hurry - and then left to rot. He heard a noise behind him.
'You've grown since last I saw you,' a gravelly voice said. He whirled around and came face to face with a short man who sported a long coat and a little goatee. His accent was strange to Connor's ears - English, he thought - though the only English person he had ever known was his Uncle Wesley … and this was not his Uncle Wesley.
'Do you know what this place is?' the man asked him. Connor shook his head. The man walked further into the room, brushing past him and looking around. 'Utah,' he said, 'I brought you here, many years ago. We were to be a family. You and I, and Justine would play your mother. I hoped to save you.'
'Save me from what?' Connor asked awkwardly, looking around and wondering if there was anyway out - of the room, of the weird conversation.
'From damnation. The bastard child of two demons from hell - you were born to bring suffering and pain to this world.'
'I don't think…'
'How could you not? Being what you are? It is in your very blood. But I hoped to save you. Your father killed my son - so I took his, and hoped to raise you to manhood - in God's light. But now here you are - raised by your vampire father, a creature of evil.' He shook his head sadly. 'I wanted to save you, to stop you, to show you there could be another way than the path of destruction you were destined to follow. I wanted so much more for you... Stephen.'


Oct 23, 2018
Part Two

They had not had much sleep - so late to bed, and a situation so pressing they had to be early to rise, meant it felt like they had barely hit the mattress and closed their eyes before it was time to be up again - up and working. As a result, tempers were a little frayed, the family were snappish and sluggish - with dark circles under their eyes and only powering on through with the help of coffee. The slayers had been given the day off, it was the one, unfortunate downside of the school - that classes had to be cancelled every time an apocalypse came up, but the team could not afford to be taking time out to teach lessons, right now - each one was needed, one way or the other, to work the Sahjahn problem.
Heavy black out curtains had been pulled down over the windows of the ballroom, so Angel could train Connor in there that morning. Even so, a little trickle of early morning sunlight crept in around the edges of the blinds, piercing the gloom. Angel just had to be careful to avoid the cracks in the dark the rays created.
He and Cordy were in there with the boy, they had spoken privately earlier to discuss a strategy. Cordelia was worried about how hard Connor was taking the night before, and Angel was still reluctant to turn his son into a killer, to drag him into the world he had tried for so long to protect him from. But, if they were going to have any success at all; teach Connor anything that would help keep him alive, then Angel needed to put his distaste to one side, and the young man needed to move on from his first battle and the way he had frozen up.

But Connor, still too inexperienced to understand every champion got their ass kicked every once in a while and suffering from too little sleep and being haunted by bad dreams, was still feeling surly.

Cordy - trying to squash all her qualms right down, gave him her biggest, brightest smile. 'OK - before we start, we better stretch out. You don't wanna pull anything. We need to warm your muscles up.'
He gave her a disbelieving look. 'This isn't a Phys Ed class,' he said.
She looked around at her training room, 'of course it is. I'm educating you in how to physically fight. Like I do with the girls every day. Now less chatter more stretch. Follow me.' She put her hands on her hips and began to roll her neck from side to side.

Feeling a little ridiculous, Connor copied her. After they'd exercised their necks, they began to roll their shoulders, forward and back, and then moved onto stretching their arms. Bit by bit they worked their way down their bodies, preparing their muscles for a work out. It was as they bent to touch their toes, that Connor caught sight of his father, lurking behind him and not joining in. 'How come he doesn't have to warm up?' he asked.
'He's a vampire. He can stretch 'til the cows come home, his muscles aren't gonna warm up. No blood flow. You gotta remember, no matter how different our circumstances or abilities, we still have human bodies. They work the same as regular bodies even if they're enhanced. 99 times out of a hundred, the thing you're fighting will not be the same. Demon bodies work differently - we gotta be prepared for that, and prepare ourselves as best we can. And that means making sure our muscles don't seize up halfway through a backflip.' They straightened back up, and she flashed another grin at Connor, 'now - we're gonna jog on the spot to get our heart rate up.'

Once they were done, Angel handed Connor a sword. It was lighter than the broadsword Angel favoured, but it was still sharp enough to get the job done. 'Here, we talked about it and this is probably the best weapon for us to train you with.'
His son looked down at the blade in his hand, the doubts were plain on his face. 'But I had a sword last night - I choked with it.'
'That's because you didn't know how to use it,' Cordelia told him. 'It was your first time out and you froze up. It's natural - and it's our fault, not yours, for taking you out there unprepared. It won't happen again.'
'What if it does, what if I'm just not cut out for this?'
Angel and Cordy exchanged a look. 'Then you kill this one little demon and never do anything like it ever again,' she said. 'Connor, it's written you'll do this - so you'll do it. There's not much point worrying more than that. Destiny is destiny for a reason. Because it's fated. Written in stone … or on an old scroll, in this case. No matter what happens - you are gonna kill Sahjahn. Just accept that and let everything else fall away. Doesn't matter how badly the fight goes - what matters is: we know you'll be the one left standing.'
'What if nobody else is left standing? What if I mess up so badly I get everyone else killed?'
The two adults exchanged another glance. 'We've been doing this long enough, we know the score,' Angel told him. 'You don't need to worry about us - we can all take care of ourselves.'
Connor shrugged and shuffled his feet. 'I just … I choked so bad.'
'You didn't,' his father said intently. 'You didn't die. What did I tell you the first rule of being a champion was? "Don't die".'
'I didn't die because you bailed me out.'
Cordelia blew a raspberry. 'Connor, do you have any idea how many times your dad hasn't died because I bailed him out? Or Gunn? Heck - even your Uncle Lorne's hit a high note that has downed the bad guys and got your dad out of a sticky spot on more than one occasion. It's why we're a team. It's why we have back up - because no one can win every fight by themselves every time. And no one is ever keeping score about who saves whom. You need to forget about last night and concentrate on this morning.'
'And on the moves we're about to show you,' Angel said. 'Now - don't expect to get everything right first time, don't be discouraged if you get things wrong or have to try a couple of times to get it right. We're not trying to turn you into a master swordsman - and even if we were, that would take years. We're just trying to get you used to the weapon, 'cause a weapon you don't know how to use is a weapon your enemy will use against you.'
'You mean like last night?'
'We're not thinking about last night. Last night you were unprepared - today we're preparing you. It's a whole new world. So - show me how you would hold a sword.'
Reluctant, and more than a little nervous, Connor gripped the hilt and extended the sword out in front of himself. Both Angel and Cordy examined him. 'Not bad,' he father said, 'try putting your feet a little wider apart - about hip width, it'll give you a more stable stance.'
'And turn your wrist so the point of the blade is pointing at your opponent,' Cordy said, giving Connor the same advice she had given her slayers the day before. 'Here,' she put her own hand on top of Connor's and adjusted his grip, then took her hand away. 'Good.'
'OK - let's see you get into that position yourself,' Angel said. 'Start with the sword by your side - go.'

Connor lowered the blade and then raised it again, planting his feet a hips width distance and turning his wrist so the pointy end was directed straight at Angel. 'That's really good,' the vampire enthused, he turned to Cordelia, 'he's really good!'
She smiled at her boss, 'kid's a natural.' The way Angel's face lit up when she said that made her laugh out loud. He was still such a dork. But Angel couldn't help it, or explain it. For all he remained reluctant to turn his son into a killer, seeing Connor hold a weapon like he was a trained warrior just made him well up with pride.
And his enthusiasm was even beginning to infect Connor himself, shine some rays of light through his fit of the sulks. 'Yeah?' He smiled, his first smile that morning.
'Yeah - now, we're gonna teach you to block, stave and parry, pretty standard moves but they're the basics that will keep you alive out there.'

Down in his underground lair, Sahjahn lit a cigarette and then took his knife out again. If he was going to keep getting into the kid's head, keep on undermining him, then it would require another blood sacrifice. The soul of the vampire hunter might still owe him a debt, but that did not mean that the spirit world which guarded it would be happy to keep letting it cross over.

Balancing the cigarette between his lips and ignoring the way the ash built up and then dropped off the tip, he raised his left arm and used the knife in his right hand to slash across it. Then he let the red droplets drip onto the stones and began his eldritch chant once more. By the time he was done, that kid wasn't going to know which way his head was on.

After an hour or so of blocking and parrying, the three of them took a rest - so Connor could take a drink of water and catch a breather. 'You're doing great, son,' Angel told him, 'you really are a natural with that sword.'
'Thanks - I guess.'
'Are you feeling any better?'
'I dunno…' He rolled his shoulders, easing out the aches, and looked worried. 'I didn't sleep well last night. I figure a good night's rest is probably pretty key before a major showdown but I kinda feel like I'm moving through a fog. Everything's groggy.'
'You didn't sleep well last night?' Angel was concerned, he turned to Cordy, 'he didn't sleep well - how come he didn't sleep well?'
'Um - I dunno - how about his first epic fight to the death weighing on his mind? I didn't sleep for a week after that night in the library, with the master and that… tentacle thing.'
'But this isn't good. This could be…'
'Stop freaking out,' Cordy interrupted him, before he could build up a worried dad head of steam. 'And Connor - don't you freak out either. We're not gonna take you out to battle until you're ready and rested - there's no rush. You can kill Sahjahn just as dead tomorrow.'
'Right - but I can't kill him by blocking and staving can I. There's more, isn't there? More crucial stuff you have to teach me.'
Once again, Angel and Cordy exchanged a worried look. 'There's nothing more crucial than you staying alive,' Angel said to him, 'and for that - the defensive stuff we taught you really is key. But - you're right. If you're the one that's gotta strike the killing blow, then we gotta teach you how to do it.'
'That's the part that scares me. I don't know I can.'

But Cordelia got back to her feet and dusted her hands off, matter of factly. 'We'll get you ready.' She crossed the ballroom and opened up the store cupboard, then came back wheeling a life sized straw man. 'The slayers practice with this a lot,' she told Connor. 'It gets them ready - for knowing how much pressure it's gonna take to pierce the skin, for preparing them for what that's gonna feel like, and for letting them psych themselves up to it. The first time you stab something is the hardest, no question - but once you've done it once … heck, soon you'll be stabbing and beheading in your sleep.'
'Not that's there's any need for that for you,' Angel quickly interrupted, also getting to his feet. He was starting to look worried again. Training alongside Connor had filled him with a kind of pride and satisfaction that made him wonder why he had avoided it all these years… but that was when they had been practising defensive moves. Now, what Cordelia was talking about was taking the offence, and not just the action of it - but psychologically building Connor up to take a life. It was this part that would turn his son into a killer - and all of a sudden he had cold feet and doubts once again.

But Cordelia was already positioning Connor in front of the straw man. 'Hold your sword like we told you. Legs apart - dominant foot forward. Now…' She picked up her own sword and copied his stance, standing beside him. 'When you're ready - you're gonna lunge forward, your knee will bend slightly and you're gonna thrust that sword out. Here - back up a couple of steps and practice without the dummy.'

Connor backed up and lunged - his blade stopping just short of the stuffed abdomen of the straw man. He tried again and again. Cordy nodded approvingly, whilst Angel watched on nervously - wishing he could open a window into Connor's mind and see what was going on in there.
After a few practice lunges, Cordelia told him to move forward so that this time his sword would pierce the dummy once it was extended. 'Take your time,' she said, 'deep breaths… and when you're ready - go for it.'
Connor nodded, rolled his shoulders, shaking his arms loose and took a few breaths and then stared intently at the straw man.

Angel stood at the side, watching nervously. Connor stared for a long time and Angel could smell the anxiety on him. It wasn't quite as potent as fear, but it was still clear and sharp on the air. And behind that was the adrenaline rush, building up. Angel could hear his son's heartbeat, getting faster and faster, could smell the slight sheen of perspiration and knew he was psyching himself up - talking himself into taking the plunge, building up to the moment, daring himself to just go for it.

The air became thick with tension, as Connor stared at the dummy so long his eyes began to go dry and scratchy from not blinking - willing himself to move. He could do this, he thought to himself. He could do it. Just lunge forward. One step and thrust out his sword. And then it was done. He could do this. It wasn't hard. He just needed to … he focused his attention on his right foot trying to force it forward. He could do this, he could…

He stood so long, the atmosphere grew so thick and everything that was pouring off Connor was overwhelming Angel's senses so much that he was about to call a stop to the whole thing, when Connor suddenly let out a cry, lunged forward and stabbed the straw man straight in the gut. The sword stuck and Connor gave a yelp, let go and stumbled backwards, breathing heavily. His eyes were wide - and both fear and relief poured off him in waves.

Cordelia was at his side, instantly, calming him down. 'That was great,' she said. 'You did really well - remember, the first time is the hardest and you've done it now. It's only gonna get easier.'
Connor was beginning to smile. 'Yeah?' He was still shaking a little.
'Sure, isn't that right, Angel?'
Angel forced his mind back from the overload of everything that was going on. 'What - oh yeah - great, next time will be easier...' He trailed off.
Cordy gave him a strange look, her lips pursed reprovingly, but then she smiled at Connor once more. 'You ready to go again?'
'Uh - yeah - I guess.'
'OK, see if next time you can't keep hold of your sword and pull it back out again.'

Connor thought of the way it had felt as the blade sliced through the dummy; the sword wasn't a part of him and he shouldn't have been able to feel it so intensely, but somehow the change in texture had run right the way up his arm, like an electric shock - and he was none too keen to experience the sensation in reverse. 'Can't I just leave it in there?'
'It's inadvisable - if that was Sahjahn, and you'd missed his vital organs so he was wounded but not dead - what would happen next?'
Connor stared at his sword sticking out of the straw man, 'well … I don't have my weapon anymore…'
'No - who has it?'
'... Sahjahn,' he said, after a moment.
'Right - always keep hold of your weapon if at all possible. OK - get into position.' She smiled at him and he smiled back, his confidence beginning to grow. He retrieved his sword and stood ready - staring at the dummy. 'You want me to count you in?' Cordy asked. He nodded, trying not to sweat. 'OK - on three, one ... two … three.'
He yelled again, lunged forward, stabbed the dummy and then pulled his sword straight back out. He stumbled back again, but this time he was laughing. 'I did it!'
'You did! You were great … right, Angel?'
'Uh - yeah - great.'

She gave her boss another look and then smiled at Connor, once more. 'So now I want you to just keep on practising, the more you stab the easier it gets - I promise.'
He nodded, and took up his position again, looking more enthusiastic than he had all morning. Cordelia then pulled Angel to one side. 'OK what gives?' she hissed.
'What gives what?' He feigned innocence.
'You - with the moping and the not helping. What's up?'
Behind them, Connor continued lunging and stabbing, with the occasional grunt or yelp.
Angel sighed. 'I'm just not comfortable doing this.'
'But it needs to be done.'
'I know…' He looked sulky, put his hands in his pockets and shuffled his feet. 'Doesn't mean I have to like it, though.'
'But look,' she pointed at where Connor was now leaping around, stabbing at the dummy from different angles. 'He's really enjoying himself.'
'I never wanted him to be a killer.'
'That doesn't mean he can't train as a warrior. And he's a natural at it - look how good he is!'
A shy but proud smile spread across Angel's face. 'He is good, isn't he?'
She smiled back at him, 'he takes after his dad.'

There was the sound of a blade whistling through the air, something being sliced and then a loud thump as something heavy hit the floor. 'Uh -' Connor called to them, sounding uncertain, 'I just beheaded the straw man. Sorry.'

Cordy left Angel's side, picked the head up, crossed over to the dummy and rammed it back on. 'It happens all the time - don't worry about it.'
Connor nodded, then lowered his voice, 'is my dad OK?' he asked her. 'He doesn't seem very happy.'
'He's just grouchy - you know what he's like.'
'But I'm doing OK? He thinks I'm doing OK?'
'He thinks you're doing great - you are doing great.'
The same shy and proud smile that had spread across Angel's face now spread across Connor's, lighting him up. 'For real?'
'Sure - you're a natural. The son of two vampires? - It's what you were born to do.'

The smile froze on Connor's face, as he remembered the exact same words being spoken to him by the strange man from his dream. Only that man seemed to think his heritage and destiny meant he was born to do terrible things. He looked at the slightly collapsed dummy, sagging on it's stand from where he'd relentlessly attacked it over and over. They'd put a sword in his hand and he had gone to town with it - and suddenly he wasn't quite so sure if that was something to be proud of.
'Um - do you mind if we take a break? Dad?' He called across to Angel as well, 'can we stop for a while? I'm just … I guess I didn't sleep well. I could use a breather.'
'Sure thing,' Angel nodded, though he looked worried at the reminder his son was not sleeping, 'we'll pick back up whenever you're ready.'
'Thanks.' He dropped his sword to the floor and walked off out of the ballroom without looking back.

Down in the lobby, the team were spread companionably out across the desks, drinking coffee and working the case. Gunn, Lorne and Spike were hitting the books - searching for any weakness in Granok demons, whilst Doyle and Fred worked on the prophecy - Fred fighting with the math, whilst Doyle scanned for any patterns, any changes in meter or language or mistakes in Fred's transcribed numbers which just popped out at him. So far he was getting nothing.

'Oh here we are,' Lorne tapped the page of the hefty, leather bound tome he was reading. 'You boys had trouble with the flamethrowers yesterday? Turns out Granoks are forged in flame, they just sorta … hatch out of it. Would explain why the fire didn't bother him.'
'Well that's just gravy,' Spike muttered, his head bowed over a book of his own. 'Fire won't kill him - any word on what will?'
'Says here beheading oughtta do the trick,' Gunn said, he lifted his book so the others could see the page.
'That does kill most things,' Doyle said absently, still poring over his patterns - or lack thereof.
'And here,' Gunn continued, turning his book so he could read from it once more. 'Apparently if you cleave their limbs from their body and then pierce them through the heart that should kill 'em too.'
'And on a level of one to ten - how likely is the average Granok to let that happen?' Lorne asked, wryly.
Gunn smiled, 'yeah - it's certainly not our easiest option.'
'Hang on a minute,' Doyle suddenly looked up from his scroll, 'I think I got somethin' - Fred - are these numbers? Is this your jurisdiction?'

Fred came to peer over his shoulder - he showed her what he was looking at, the strange demonic symbols that made up the prophecy. She wrinkled her nose and then shook her head. 'I think they're runes - not numbers. You need to speak to Charles.'
'G-man to the rescue, what's up?' Gunn abandoned his book and came over to look at the scroll. Doyle showed him what he was looking at: 'this bit - it's different.'
'How so?'
'Well I don't know - do I? I don't understand this stuff, I can just see the pattern. And right here, is where it changes. This is what you need to translate.'
Gunn frowned, and took the ancient parchment out of the Irishman's hand. 'Well I'll get right on it. You take over for me on the books in English. Find out how to kill old scarface.'
Grumbling, Doyle shuffled off to sit with Spike and Lorne and join in on the research party. Gunn took the prophecy and sat down next to his wife so they could work on it together.

In the bathroom, Connor ran the faucet until the temperature was just right and then splashed the cool water on his face. He felt overheated - both from the morning's exercise and from the sudden prickly remembrance of his dream. It played on his mind, worrying him … but the water cooled his skin, felt like it was bringing down a fever. Not that he'd ever had a fever, but … what he imagined a fever must feel like from the descriptions of people who got sick.

He wondered, suddenly, why it was he never had got sick. Not a single day in his life. Not so much as an ice cream headache. That was weird… was he just lucky? Or was it more than that? Was it because of what he was … he thought of Cordy's and the creepy man's words: "the child of two vampires".

He splashed more water on his face and then blindly groped for the towel. He rubbed his skin dry and slowly straightened up. As he opened his eyes, he saw his own, pale reflection and - behind him - the short man from his dreams, standing plain as day right in the middle of the bathroom.
'I saw what you did this morning, Stephen,' the man said in his gravelly voice.
'My name is Connor. If you're looking for Stephen … maybe you're haunting the wrong bathroom?'
'Connor is the name of the demon's child. The vampire's bastard. The Destroyer. He that will bring about such death, sorrow and bloodshed on this earth that it would be better if he had never been born. The one who comes to end it all. Stephen is who I hoped you would become instead.'
'Look - I still think you have the wrong guy.'
'You enjoyed it, didn't you?' the man said, abruptly, ignoring Connor's words.
'Enjoyed what? Exactly?'
'The feel of the blade in your hand. The feel of the kill. How it was to slice through a man's skin and penetrate what lies beneath.'
'I mean … the man was made of straw. No one got hurt.'
'But the lust … the desire to hurt, the sudden realisation that in your hands was the weapon you were born to wield and with it came the power to unleash all you were born to do. It brought you alive, my son, more alive than you have ever been. I felt it. I felt the violence and the darkness inside your soul. I am sorry, Stephen. I hoped to save you from that, but now it is a part of you - and there can be no turning away. You are a creature of evil, you will destroy this world. It would be far better if you were not in it…'
'Hey!' he spun around to confront the man, 'now wait a…' but the bathroom was empty, the man was not there. '...minute.'

Angel and Cordy joined the others out in the lobby. Cordy made herself a coffee and then went to sit beside her husband, giving him a swift kiss. He smiled at her - and then stole her coffee from her. 'Hey!' she protested, before rolling her eyes and going to make a second one.
Angel leaned on the counter and glowered. 'What have we got?'
'Not a lot,' Spike told him.
'You've been researching all morning!'

Doyle took a sip from his stolen coffee cup. 'Well - after many hours searchin' - we have discovered that a Granok can possibly be killed by cutting its head off.'
'Everything can be killed by cutting its head off,' Angel said witheringly, 'that doesn't help get us close enough to do it. He's … I mean he's pretty strong. Does he have any weaknesses?'
'Few and far between, corn muffin,' Lorne said to him, looking up from his own book. 'Half the trouble is that the Granoks were changed so long ago that none of these books are primary sources. They're just records of records. Rumours. There's nothing that's straight from the horse's mouth. We'd need to find something even more ancient than the Granoks to tell us the real score.'
Angel looked thoughtful. Cordelia gave him a shrewd look. 'You're thinking of doing something stupid,' she said.
'No I'm not.'
She snorted. He ignored her. 'How's the prophecy going?' he asked Fred and Gunn.
Fred pushed her glasses up her nose and sighed. 'The math is all over the place,' she admitted. 'We know there was a big moment last night - I'm guessing that's when Sahjahn got free, in the earthquake. His jar must have smashed. But after that it gets more … vague.'
'Vague how?'
'Vague as in no real time frame. Whatever's coming could happen now or fifty years from now. Even the math doesn't really know, let alone us.'
'Well that isn't good enough.'
'I'll keep working on it.'
'Good - Gunn - anything?'
'A little.' Gunn scratched his head and then looked up at Angel, gathering his patience so he could explain this to the vampire and not lose his cool no matter how many irate interruptions Angel made. 'Irish was able to decipher a change in the rhythm of the prophecy. From what he said, he's recognised the - uh - what are they, Irish, metric feet?'
'Yep. Whole things in Iambic tetrameter.' He shook his head, 'I had to learn so many poetry words since I got cursed with this cryptographer mojo, anyway - there's three stanzas - all with the same feet. But the last stanza is the biggie.'
'So what's it say?' Angel looked between Gunn and Doyle. The two men looked at each other, wearily, and sighed. 'We don't know that yet,' Gunn said slowly. 'Transcribing takes a minute, you know what I'm saying? But I'm thinking the whole thing is a bit like a syllogism and this last stanza is the conclusion.'
'Whats a syllo ... thingie?' Cordelia asked, looking confused.

It was Spike who answered her. 'It's a constructed argument, pet. A conclusion formed from two presupposed positions… Old poems use 'em a lot, I … might have followed the structure once or twice,' he said by way of explanation, when he saw everybody's look of surprise.
'Right - but what Gunn's got is not a well reasoned argument as to why Cecily should marry William,' Angel said.
'Rack off!'
He ignored the interruption, 'so what is it?'
'Well - that's what I'm working on,' Gunn said, trying to keep his voice even. 'But I'd hazard a guess it's the conclusion about what the Tro Clon's gonna do.'
'If this is about Connor - and Sahjahn - we need to know everything,' the vampire began to pace. 'This is taking too long.'
'Well what do you bloody well suggest?' Spike asked.
'I'm gonna take a short cut.' He grabbed his coat and headed for the door. 'I'm gonna talk to someone ancient enough to remember the Granok demons before they were changed.'
'Angel- ' Cordy cried after him, 'who?'
'The person who changed them.'

The elevator bell dinged and the door slid open. As Angel stepped out into the lobby of Wolfram and Hart, the alarms went off. They weren't vampire detectors, Harmony was still there at the front desk surrounded by her unicorns, they were Angel detectors.

Sure enough, as he stepped over the threshold, Lilah was standing right there - her arms folded across her chest and her face like thunder. 'What the hell do you think you're doing here?'
'I don't have time for this, Lilah,' he strode off through the lobby.
She scurried after him. 'Hey, lunk head, in case you hadn't realised, it's been 16 years since you were king of this castle. You don't work here anymore.'

'Hey bossy!' Harmony greeted him as he walked past her desk, 'long time no see, can I get you your cup of otter's blood?'
'Shut up, Harmony!' Lilah barked. 'You need to get out of here, wonder bread, before I have you thrown out.' He continued ignoring her and approached the elevator he was looking for. He pressed the bell. The door opened and he stepped inside.
'I'm not having you just walk in here like you still run the place and…'
The door slid shut in Lilah's face and - left in the peace and quiet - Angel punched in the code and then pressed the large, white button that mysteriously appeared from nowhere. He was headed for the white room and he was going to speak to the conduit.

Connor stepped out into the courtyard, letting the sunshine chase away the memory of the creepy dude and his gravelly voice. Prim and Cara were out there, playing their slayers version of hide and seek. Primrose was the vampire and she was hiding, whilst her little sister, clutching a twig she was pretending was a stake, hunted her through the garden. Every so often, Prim would pop out, Cara would scream and they would chase each other around until they melted into a fit of giggles.

The young man sat on the railing of the verandah and leaned against a post, watching them play - smiling at their games.

'You can't slay me!' Primrose called out from her hiding spot.
'Oh yes I can!'
'You can't stop me, little girl - I'm the all powerful uber evil.'

Connor chuckled to himself.

'I'll stop you,' Cara called out to her sister, clutching her twig so tightly her little knuckles bulged beneath her dark skin. 'You're a creature of evil,' she called to her sister. 'The world would be better off without you!'

As Primrose popped out and Cara screamed and the little, blonde girl chased her younger sister, the pair of them laughing and yelling their heads off, the smile slid off Connor's face... and suddenly even the sunshine couldn't wash away the words of that creepy guy.

Angel stepped out into the blinding whiteness of the white room. As ever it was massive and completely empty. He took a few tentative steps … wondering if the big cat was suddenly going to show up and, if it did, whether he would be able to talk to it. Gunn was always the one who had been able to speak to the big cat.
'Hello?' he called out, his voice hesitant, 'here, kitty kitty.'

He heard the sound of footsteps behind him - not cat's paws but human footsteps. 'I'd say that was a rather demeaning way to speak to a being you are hoping will help you,' a clipped, British voice said. 'But then you never were much one for propriety.' He whipped around, and his mouth fell open - as he saw the tall, dark haired man standing in front of him. It was a face he had not seen in a very long time, the missing piece of his family jigsaw puzzle.
'Hello, Angel,' the conduit said.

Angel just gaped at him. '...Wes!'


Oct 23, 2018
Part Three

Everything in the lobby was still, save for the occasional turning of a page. Despite them all being in there, they had gone quiet, since Angel had left. Their boss might be taking a short cut, but they still had to follow the slow road, in case Angel didn't find what he was looking for. Cordelia rested her elbow on her desk, her cheek on her knuckles, and sighed deeply. The words were starting to swim in front of her eyes, and she wondered if maybe Connor was ready to pick up training again - let her escape this research hell. Beside her, Doyle reached out and squeezed her leg comfortingly, but never looked up from his own book.
After a long time working, Gunn got up from his seat and headed into the office, meaning to check another book that was kept on the shelves. He found Spike already in there, his feet up on Angel's desk, drinking a shot of bourbon. 'Isn't it a little early in the day for that?' Gunn asked.

Spike took a sip, bracing as the acrid taste hit the back of his throat, 'sun's over the yardarm somewhere in the world, I'm sure. Besides, if the world's gonna end - might as well go out having a party.' He raised the glass to toast Gunn and then slung the rest of the drink back.

'You think this time is the real deal? The big black out?' Gunn crossed to the shelves and started to scan for the text he needed.
'Don't you?'
He shrugged, 'the more I'm reading, the less I feel I know. Somethings comin' - change - I can tell you that, but…'

'For the love of God, somebody get me a seabreeze,' Lorne turned up in the door way, did an exaggerated stagger and then went to the liquor cabinet. 'I see you're way ahead of me, Blondie Bear.' He began to pour and mix, 'if I have to read one more sentence of one more page of one more of those Verfluchten books then I'm gonna pop my own eyes out and sell them to a group of Wrymler flesh eaters. They eat the eyes of the green skinned because they believe it gives them magic powers...' he chuckled, 'takes all sorts to make a world go round.'
'Until the day that world stops turning,' Spike said.
Lorne's face fell. He finished mixing his drink and took a sip, 'way to bring down a room, sourpuss.'
'Just giving us all a reality check. Maybe we'd be better off reading the book of revelation - checking for them four horsemen.'
'The way this year's been goin'...' Gunn shook his head, 'I guess it's felt like the end of days for a long long time.'
'And it's safe to say pestilence is already here,' Lorne took another sip of his peach cocktail, 'we just gotta wait for war, famine and death to show up.'
'Death's already here,' Spike said heavily, 'he's always here. He's always everywhere. Busiest bugger on the planet, our friend on the pale horse.'
'Well, gee - I'm really glad I came into the uber depressing room,' Gunn said, 'I'm gonna leave you guys to your alcohol and bitterness - get back out there with the worker bees.' He nodded through the door to where Fred, Doyle and Cordy were all visible - still working the case. 'Maybe find a way to make the books not say what I think they're saying.'
'Yeah - How's that syllogism going?' Spike asked him, raising his eyebrow.
'It's the conclusion about what the Tro Clon is going to do,' Gunn said. 'Point one tells me that the Tro Clon will come of age in a time of grief and turmoil.'
'Happy 2020,' Lorne raised his glass in a toast.
'Point two tells me old enemies will walk the earth and bring about horrors.'
'Like Sahjahn.'
'Point three tells me how it all ends. … I just haven't had much luck translating it yet.' He pulled the book he wanted from the shelf. 'But this should help.' He took his book and headed back out the door, leaving the two demons to their drinking and brooding session.
The pair of them looked at each other, shook their heads and poured more drinks.

Angel took a step back, still staring at the man in front of him, 'Wesley … I… I was expecting the cat.'
The man tutted, 'the form of the conduit is determined upon by the viewer. You had no wish to speak to a jungle cat with which you couldn't communicate. You want answers.'
'You're … not really Wesley.' He felt his heart sink a little in his chest. After all these years, he still missed his friend.

The conduit looked down at his own form. 'No - I'm really not. But I do bear a striking resemblance to Mr. Wyndham- Pryce, wouldn't you say?'
'So … I mean, you don't have his memories, his knowledge…'
'The conduit knows all. I am a perfect facsimile of our former employee, but I am not him. Or at least - I am more than him. I wear his form, I bear his memories, I speak in his voice, I can even think as he thinks, so - in a manner of speaking, he and I are one - but the conduit is more than any one mere mortal. And that is not what you are here to discuss. Tell me what it is you want to know.'

Angel looked unsure for a moment, 'if the conduit knows all, shouldn't you already know that?'

But the figure dressed as Wesley only smiled, superciliously, and began to circle the vampire. 'I know exactly what you want, Angel, I knew what you wanted before you entered the white room. I felt you coming before you even made the decision to try here. That is not the point. I want to hear what you have to say for yourself. And as you are here begging my favour, you'll humour me.'
'The world is ending,' Angel said.
The conduit nodded, 'as ever, the apocalypse machine grinds on - you know what a pet project that is of The Senior Partners. They might have suffered blows in the past,' he gave Angel a pointed look, 'but they do not ever give up. Surrender is not an option. I'm sure you and your powers would agree that much.'
'But right now - is it coming right now?'

The conduit looked amused, the small smile lighting up Wesley's eyes, 'you can't possibly expect us to share our schedule with you?'
'If this is The Senior Partners doing - it seems only fair. Epic fight between two sides, we both gotta know what page we're on.'
'Hmm, like you gave The Senior Partners a heads up before you slaughtered their Circle of the Black Thorn?'
'That was -'
'Attempted suicide? Yes, very noble. But you see - there is no Gentleman's agreement in place that one side must tell the other what it is planning.'
'Well - is Sahjahn part of the great master plan?' Angel demanded. 'He's here, is that what The Senior Partners wanted all along?'
The conduit snorted in contempt. 'Sahjahn - he's nothing. Just an instrument of chaos. We hate chaos, we would never use a Granok for our own ends. Too unpredictable.'

Angel thought about this, he blinked a couple of times, 'then,' he said slowly, 'Sahjhan isn't working for you.' He looked up at where the conduit still circled him, slowly. 'So in that much at least - we're on the same side.'
'I suppose in this one matter the enemy of my enemy may turn out to be my friend.'
'Look,' he sighed, 'Wes - conduit - guy … Stop walking and talk straight.'

The conduit came to a halt and raised an eyebrow.

'Thanks. Now I don't know what intel The Senior Partners are dealing with, here, but we have this prophecy. Seems to be talking about the end of days, the big light's out. Then Sahjahn turns up. He's here - if he's part of it… then this apocalypse isn't running to the Partners' schedule. They want me to stop it. They've helped us out before, with The First, they were grateful when I took out Jasmine… I know they want me to stop Sahjahn. So tell me what you know.'

But the conduit only snorted again. 'I told you, Sahjahn is only a concern in as much as he is a loose canon. He's nothing. He's certainly not capable of bringing about the end of the world.'
'But the prophecy-'
'Has deeper meaning. One you and your friends need to discover. But in the meantime, there is Sahjahn.'
'Walking around, threatening my son,' Angel said angrily.

That made the conduit smirk again. 'Ah yes - Connor. In this form I can feel Mr. Wyndham-Pryce's love for the child. Still. After all these years. What things the both of you did to protect him. Terrible things.'
'There is nothing I wouldn't do to protect Connor.'
'And yet in this case there is nothing you can do to protect him. Sahjahn is determined to have his way - I can feel that. He's going to try and bring everything to an end.'
'I thought you said he wasn't behind this apocalypse.'

The conduit gave him a pitying look. 'He isn't. Granoks do not have a master plan, a big picture. They never do. They're all about the chaos. They like the rush, the crunch. Crush, kill, destroy - that's their M.O. And they're good at it too - as the bruising on your face will attest. But they serve no purpose, they follow no design - that's what makes them so chaotic. They live for the slaughter, they think nothing beyond their next kill. If they even think that far ahead.'
'Maybe that's how it is with most Granoks,' Angel said, 'but this particular one was big with the plans back in the day. Bringing Holtz through time, planting false prophecies: The father will kill the son. If anyone oughtta remember that, Wes, it should be -'

But the conduit held up its hand. 'You forget. I am not Wesley. I am so much more. You are not speaking to your friend. I am not your friend - not now, not ever. And yet even so, I remember perfectly well.' The conduit's eyes - Wesley's eyes - grew distant and fogged. 'Finding those words among the Nyazian scrolls, searching every source possible to prove it was not true, following the signs… I remember it all. And what I - and Wesley - can both tell you is: Sahjahn does not and never did have any interest in ending the world. He is in the world, why would he wish to destroy it? There is no crush, no kill, no slaughter in the black void of eternity. An apocalypse - beyond the thrill ride of the end battles - holds no lure for a Granok. They do not desire death for themselves. And therein lies Sajahn's only motivation. All he has ever cared about - not dying. He only ever made plans to support his continued survival - and every single one of his dark little schemes always revolved around…'

'Connor,' Angel said.

The conduit nodded. 'Nothing has changed in that regard. If you want to get to the bottom of your apocalyptic prophecy, Sahjahn is not the place to look. You need to start far closer to home…' he gave Angel a meaningful look.

'Connor,' Angel said again, more softly.

Connor was still out in the courtyard. Cordy had called her daughters in and gone to make them some lunch. She'd offered to make Connor a PB & J sandwich whilst she was at it, but he'd shook his head - he wasn't really hungry. He would fix himself something later, he told her. So she'd left him to it - and he sat down on the bench, where his father had brooded just the night before, and took up the family pastime.

The words the girls had said, innocently, in their play, were weighing on his mind. As was what Cordelia had said to him at the end of training. It worried him that everything creepy guy had said to him kept being repeated from the mouths of others - like maybe it really did mean something. Like maybe there really was a message coming through from higher up.

It worried him that he'd seen the creepy guy whilst he was awake, as well. At least, he figured he must have been awake - he had been standing up. He could dismiss the dreams as exactly that - dreams - nonsense his overloaded mind made up in an attempt to process the crazy day he had had and all the insane news about his birth and his destiny he had been given. But seeing him in the mirror, in the broad light of day … maybe this guy was real, somehow - or had been real. Maybe a spirit or a ghost, but more than a figment of his overactive and overtired imagination. And if the guy was real - maybe what he said was real too.

There was certainly some truth in it. The guy knew who his dad was. Connor frowned, he'd said his dad had killed his son - and that was why he'd taken Connor, But as far as Connor was aware, only his Uncle Wesley had ever taken him away, and that had been for both Angel and Connor's goods - or so Wes had believed at the time. They'd lived in Arizona together, until Angel brought him home … but creepy guy said the ranch house they were standing in was in Utah. That they'd lived in Utah - that Connor had had a mother there. Not his real mother, he knew her name - had seen pictures, old daguerreotypes of her in Victorian dress - and knew she had died in childbirth, killed herself to save him. The woman in Utah - whoever she was - had not been his birth mother. Maybe she was just creepy guy's girlfriend.
But whatever was going on - there was some kind of missing piece to a puzzle here, only he didn't know what the puzzle was, and didn't know what piece was missing. He should probably tell his dad about creepy guy. He hadn't felt the need to when it was just his dreams being haunted, but if it was happening while he was awake - then that was the sort of weird that AI dealt with on a daily basis. His dad would want to know. Unfortunately, Angel had gone out for a while, Cordy had told him, so he couldn't speak to him.

He wanted to though, he wanted to find his dad and blurt it all out right away. There was just something about this short man with his gravelly voice that chilled Connor to the marrow. Not just the words he spoke of death and destruction, but … an aura about him. One of complete malice. He spoke about wishing things were different, about wanting a better life for Connor - but there was a glint in his eyes, a vengeful curve to his mouth and an air of cold fury about him that told Connor that, even if this ghostly dude couldn't physically harm him, he wished harm upon him. Maybe he believed that harm would be for the greater good, that it would save the world, or maybe he just wanted to hurt Connor - but either way, Connor knew this man hated everything about him and that thought left him cold.

He glanced inside, to where he could see his family still working on the prophecy and the books, trying to sort the end of the world out. The end of the world he might be about to cause. That thought left him cold too. Only Cordy was missing - apart from his dad - she would be down in the kitchen with the girls.

He was suddenly antsy - had had enough of sitting there, brooding - but both his trainers were otherwise occupied. He could not get out of his head by asking them to continue the session … But, he got to his feet, there was nothing to stop him practising alone.

He headed back inside, dodging down the corridor so he didn't have to speak to anyone and went back to the ballroom. Either his dad or Cordelia had picked up his sword, from where he had abandoned it on the floor, but it was still out. He picked it up and headed back outside.

Back out in the sunshine, he held the sword a little tentatively at first and - with a nervous glance back at his family to check no one was watching - started to move through the defensive steps his dad had taught him. He started slow, step by step, swing by swing - but he found he remembered the moves perfectly and began to speed up a little.

He went faster and faster, and each time his feet and his sword movements managed to stay perfectly balanced, getting every move right. He was good at this - he was a natural, the blade felt right in his hand and - now he knew what to do with it - he enjoyed holding it, swinging it. His heart began to beat faster, he felt the adrenaline course through him.

After he'd practised the defensive manoeuvres he glanced back at his family again - they were still heads down, busy busy - and then began to practice thrusting his sword forward. There was nothing to really stab out here, but he kept on lunging forward and yelling, getting used to it. After a while of slicing through thin air he started practising on the jasmine bush, the leaves rustled and the branches shook and flowers began to drift to the floor as he attacked it over and over. Then - with a mighty yell - he raised his sword high and swung it at the bush with all his might. The top of it was sliced clean off and went flying through the air, before hitting the ground. Connor winced and looked about guiltily.

'See how much you enjoy it,' the gravelly voice said.
He spun around, his sword still clutched in his hand, 'seriously? Dude - come on, leave me alone.'
'I wish that I could, Stephen.' The man walked the couple of places over to the bench and sat down on it, wrapping his long coat around himself. He looked up at Connor. 'But the more I see, the more I know how right I was to try and stop this from ever coming to pass. To try and stop you.'
Connor just sighed. 'I should tell someone…'
'It feels right, doesn't it?' Creepy guy interrupted, 'that blade in your hand. The way you work through the moves.'
'My dad's a champion - maybe I take after him,' he shrugged.
'Your father is a killer,' the man hissed, 'the most vicious, evil, twisted creature hell ever spat forth.'
'He's changed.'
'Demons don't change, son. Your mother was a whore, your father was a drunk and they were both a part of the foulest evil which pollutes this planet. And yes, boy - you do take after him. Did he ever tell you,' his voice went quieter and he leaned his head to one side, 'what he did to my son? My tiny, infant boy, how he dashed his brains out against the wall and then feasted on them? My boy weighed so little when I buried him that I had to open the coffin to check he was inside … my boy.'

Connor just stared at him.

'Did he tell you about what he did to my daughter? My beautiful, innocent Sarah - whom he changed. Drained her blood and then made her a devil like him. Or what he did to my wife? How he violated her, again and again as he drained her heart's blood and then left her dead on the floor. For centuries this is what your father was - what he did. Your mother too. How many families dead on the floor? How many lives ruined and hearts broken? That's all he is, and it's what's inside of you.'
'You ... you just want revenge - on my dad,' Connor said hesitantly. 'That's why you're telling me this.'
'Revenge?' Creepy guy gave a dark chuckle. 'I served vengeance in life, boy - but I am beyond that now. I'm doing your father a kindness.'
'A kindness?' His voice was scornful and disbelieving … but his eyes were worried.
'Yes indeed. I told you of my Sarah. I found her beside her dead mother. I was … I thought I had lost everything and then there she was, my beautiful girl. I clasped her to me - so thankful, so joyful in that moment of horror. And that was when I saw the bite marks. My daughter was just as dead as her mother, but a demon resided in her body and her soul - her precious, innocent soul - was damned for eternity.'

Connor was holding his breath, frightened of what he was going to hear.

'As the sun rose, I picked my daughter up, held her in my arms one final time and carried her out of the house. She screamed and begged and wept, calling me 'papa' like she had in life, but I had no choice. I threw her out into the daylight, I saw the monster inside of her then - disfiguring her little face for just moments before she caught fire and burned up. My little girl, my beautiful daughter - ash on the wind and burning in hell…' He looked down at his clasped hands, thoughtful for a moment, reflective, before looking back up at Connor. 'I know the pain of what it is to have to kill one's own child, to see them corrupted and evil and have to end their life before they end the lives of others. You are a creature of pure evil, my boy, you will harm many people, destroy this sorry world and burn everything down. I tell you this now in the hope of you doing the right thing … In the hope of saving Angel from the pain he caused me, the pain of having to murder his own child.'
Cordelia came back up from the kitchens, brushing her hands against her pants to get rid of the last of the crumbs. She stepped by the french doors and frowned. 'Doyle!' she called to her husband, 'come here a minute.'
He abandoned his book and ambled over to her side, 'what is it?'
She was still frowning, she pointed out into the courtyard. 'Does it look like Connor is talking to himself, to you?' she asked.

The conduit had started to circle around Angel again, the vampire could feel Wesley's blue eyes on him- they were as searching and as curious as the real thing had always been, but far more cold and calculating. 'You are worried,' the conduit said.

'Well - an unkillable monster is gonna try and kill my son and you're telling me there's nothing I can do about it so … yeah,' he folded his arms tightly across his chest.

But the conduit shook his head, 'no no - you mistake me. You are not worried about Sahjahn … you are worried about your son. What he is - what he might become.'

Angel looked angry, 'I know who Connor is - I don't need to worry about that.'
'Then why did you hold back from training him all these years, not tell him about his destiny?'
'I wanted to protect him - from this world. From the darkness. I wanted him to have a normal life, he has a shot at that.'
'Is that true?' The conduit continued its pacing. 'Or were you trying to prevent him from becoming all that he was prophesied to be?'
'You can't prevent prophecy. God knows, we've tried.'
'And what is the prophecy about you? - The vampire with a soul, destined to play a pivotal role in the apocalypse… though nobody knows for which side.'
'Have I not done that already? With the Circle? Was that not apocalypse enough for you people? You think that destiny's still going?'
'I do.'
'Well it's not - OK? I've averted Armageddon more times than I can count, I signed away the Shanshu…'
'Did you?'
'...so it's done. It's over.'

That made the conduit laugh. 'It's never over - not until you're dead.'
'I already am.'
'Not until you're dust then - and even then, who's to say you'll stay that way? You've come back from hell before. Your role in the apocalypse is still waiting to be played, and now you're afraid, Angel, you're terrified that your role in averting the apocalypse will come in the form of killing your own son. That's why you never trained him, isn't it? In your secret heart you know - you didn't want your boy to be The Destroyer.'
'Look,' Angel snapped - losing his temper, 'I didn't come here to talk about me or Connor or why I make the choices I do…'

The conduit raised an eyebrow, 'seems I've touched a nerve.'

'I came here to talk Sahjahn. Help me stop him.'
'You can't do that. Only one man can - you know which one.'
'He isn't a man - he's a boy. And he isn't ready for this,' Angel argued. 'Just - please… anything you can tell me to help. What he's planning, what he's going to do, anything… Wes...'
'I'm not Wesley. But out of the friendship he bore you, the kinship I feel for you in this form, I'll tell you this much: He isn't planning anything. Beyond killing your son, of course. He just wants to live. He just wants to destroy everything in his path for the sheer pleasure of watching it smash to a thousand pieces. He's a violent animal. That's all Granoks are. Lords of chaos. It's how come we changed them in the first place.'
'You made them incorporeal,' Angel said, 'so - I know you can do it - do it again. Change him back.'

The conduit laughed, truly laughed - sounding deeply amused at Angel's request. 'But it was on your request that we made him corporeal in the first place. Remember?'
'I remember. And now I ask for you to change him back.'

But Wesley's form shook his head slowly, 'my predecessor granted the request knowing you would come to regret it. I'm sure she had no idea just how delicious the pay off would be. This is the bed you made, Angel - all those years ago. Now you must lie in it.'
'It's not me in danger. It's Connor.'
'And now to protect him you must turn him into the one thing you never wanted him to be.' It chuckled again. 'What a tangled web. Like you said, you can't fight prophecy - and you're attempts to prevent it, Mr. Wyndham- Pryce's attempts to prevent it, are what has led you to where you are today. Embrace the path you have taken, Angel - it is time to reap what you have sown.'
'You are dismissed.'

There was a sudden glow of blinding white light, and when it faded again Angel was alone and back in the elevator. He thumped the wall in frustration and keyed the code in once more. But the white button did not appear again, the white room would not have him back and the elevator began to take him back down to Lilah.

Connor felt the lurch of dread in the pit of his stomach, when he heard what the man had to say. 'My - my dad would never kill me,' he said, but his lips stumbled over the words and his voice was hesitant.
'Is that so?'
'He loves me.'
'I loved my daughter - more than you can know. But I cast her out and let her burn, because it was the right thing to do.'
'She - she was a vampire.'
'Yes,' the man agreed, he sounded almost cheerful as he said that, 'your father made her so. He put that evil in her and the only thing to do was to kill her and destroy that evil… But she was not the only child he put evil inside…' he stared at Connor pointedly.
'You mean - you mean me.'
'You don't want to destroy the world, do you, my son?'
'But you will.' He got back to his feet. 'As sure as the sun will set this evening and rise again tomorrow, the evil inside you will rise up - it will take over.'
'It will consume you and all that you are until there is nothing left but The Destroyer. Those pretty little girls who played here before? You'll kill them. You'll kill their parents.'
'You'll kill the green fool and the white haired vampire. The black man with his books and the little woman who works beside him and every girl who learns her trade of death in this building. And then you will go into the wider world and burn and slash and drag everything down into degradation and misery until the world is a used up husk and all who lived here have perished in agony.'
'No - why would I …'
'Because it is in you, my son, it is what you are, it is what you are born to do. Come,' he gestured to the sword in Connor's hand, 'look how naturally you took to the arts of war, how gifted you are when it comes to dealing in death. Look into your heart, Stephen … see how much you already enjoy it. How you love it. How you live for it. You are The Destroyer.' His voice became a low and menacing hiss. 'The focal point of the Tro Clon - born to end the world, there is nothing you can do to stop it. Nothing you can do to prevent yourself from becoming what it is you hate - what it is you say your vampire father stands against.'
'But -'
'And he will stand against you. If he is the champion you claim, if he has sworn to protect this world then protect it he shall - even from you. Father and son will meet on the burned out battlefield at the end of the world, as fire falls from the sky and the stars themselves hide their heads in fear. And there will be a fight - such has never been seen before on this earth.'
'You're lying,' Connor said, though he didn't sound too sure about it.
'What do you think it is they are translating in there?' He pointed towards the lobby, where the whole team were still buried in the books. 'What do you think they will find on that ancient scroll? What will they try and do when they finally uncover the truth?'
'They won't believe it.' He sounded unsure.
The creepy man laughed mercilessly, 'they know enough about prophecies by now to believe in them.'
'My dad won't let them do anything to me.'

The man stopped laughing and shook his head sadly. 'No - he won't. You are quite correct. And he will pay for that weakness - as shall all the world. Because he could not take your life when he had the chance, he will face you on that final battlefield, once everything is lost and turned to ash. A fight to the death - only one of you left standing. And though it will break his heart, though it will destroy everything inside of him and though there will be nothing left but bones and bitter regret once he is done, he will face you, he will strike you down and he will fulfil that ancient prophecy: the father will kill the son.'

'No…' Connor shook his head, his eyes were wide and horrified - his mind saw visions of rains of fire and charred earth and his father, bloodied and broken, defeated in spirit, taking up his broadsword for one last battle. 'That can't be true.'
'Look in your heart - you know it is. You have just started touching the darkness inside of yourself - how much more depth is there to plumb? Can you bear to become what you were born to be … look at your hands, boy - do you want them to snap the necks of those little girls? Crack them like kindling and watch the life drain from their eyes? To take the life of all the people who have raised and loved you? To strike the match that will scorch the earth and destroy everything in its wake?'

Connor looked down at his hands - he saw the sword there and he dropped it, it clanged against the ground - sounding like a death knell to his ears. 'There must be another way.'

The man smiled, grim and satisfied. 'There is, my son, there is - but only one.'

Connor looked back up at him, 'what do I have to do?'

Lilah was waiting when the elevator door opened: 'You got what you came for - now get out.'
Angel shouldered past her, 'I'm going…' He headed for the lifts which would take him out of the building.
'You can't keep coming here,' Lilah yelled after him. 'We're mortal enemies - our resources are not here for you to use. Pull this crap again and I'll have the shamans turn your whole outfit of dogooding whitehats into hopping toads.'
But Angel wasn't even listening. He pulled his phone out and rang Cordelia.
In the lobby of the Hyperion, Cordy sent up a prayer of thanks when her phone began to ring - giving her an excuse to quit the books, if only for a moment. 'Hey Angel, what's up?'
'Is Connor with you?'
'Not right now - he was outside.'
'Check on him for me?'

She got up and crossed the lobby, 'he was just practising his sword…' She came to a stop by the doors. She could see every inch of the courtyard from here. It was empty. The gate to the street was hanging open. Connor was gone.


Oct 23, 2018
Part Four

By the time Angel arrived back at the Hyperion, the alarm had gone up and the team had abandoned their books and started searching every corner of the hotel for any sign of Connor. Every slayer in the building was quizzed as to when she had last seen him. But that gate, hanging open onto the street, told its own story: Connor had left the building.

'This is all my fault,' Cordy said, pushing her hands through her hair and leaving it sticking up on end, 'I saw him being weird and I didn't do anything about it. I should have spoken to him - I just thought … he seemed like he needed some space, y'know?'

She turned beseeching eyes onto her husband, pleading with him to tell her this wasn't her doing. He obliged. 'Hey, this isn't on you - you know?' he said comfortingly, 'you're not the kid's sitter. He's old enough that we should be able to leave him in the garden without constant supervision - we let the girls do that, and Prim's ten years younger than he is!'
'But he was going through stuff.'
'Welcome to the world - He's old enough to be left alone and he's old enough to leave the hotel by himself. I'm not sayin' we don't need to find him - I'm just sayin': this isn't your fault for not keepin' him on a short leash.'
'That's not what Angel's gonna say.'
'Yeah well - he left him alone too.'

That moment, the basement door was flung open and Angel arrived back, looking slightly wild and more than a little panicked. 'What happened?' he demanded, 'where is he?'
'He was out in the courtyard - I saw him there and then you rang, it was only minutes later, and he was gone.'
'Well - what was he doing out there?'
'He had his sword but … um - I guess I saw him talking to someone.'
'Who?' Angel was starting to look angry.
'Well, there was nobody there.'
'Look, bud,' Doyle stepped in to break the tension building between Angel and Cordy. 'There was no sign of a struggle, the gate was open - seems the kid just walked out of his own volition. We just need to find out where he went.'
'How the hell are we gonna do that?'

The French doors opened and everyone turned, expectantly, hoping to see Connor returning - but it was only Fred, her glasses on and one of her home built scanners in her hand. 'There's been no demonic activity out there beyond .. well, you know… the demons we keep in-house,' she told them. 'But the scanner is set to allow for you four boys - there's been nothing else out there of the scaly or horny variety.'

Everyone stared at her.

'Horned variety,' she corrected herself. 'But I did pick up…'
'There's been some kind of spectral presence out there,' she told the anxious father. 'Not a ghost as such but... a spirit. Or something. A dark manifestation, maybe. It isn't there anymore, it must have left with Connor, or gone back to where it came from. I guess I could use the scanner to try and trace where it is, if it's still out in L.A. The analysis is flashing pretty big and red, whatever it was, it isn't meant to be here - as in, the universe didn't want it there - not just it doesn't belong in the garden. Like, somehow it had been pulled back over from where it was into this plane of existence - but I don't know who or what or how…'

'Magic could do that,' Angel said, his voice was grim, 'dark magic. Something was out there talking to him, something only he could see.'
Fred looked confused, 'but how - or why?'
'It's gotta be Sahjahn doing this, he'd have that kind of power.'
'But the kind of power to do what?' Cordelia asked. 'What did he bring across - and what has it been saying to Connor?'
'I don't know - but we need to find him before Sahjahn does.'
'He left this behind,' Fred raised the sword she had found lying on the ground outside, 'he didn't take it with him.'
'Wherever he's going - he doesn't intend to fight,' Angel realised, '... Sahjahn doesn't intend for him to fight.' His voice rose in panic again, 'we need to find him - before he gets where he's going.'
'The scanner can only trace where the spectral disturbance has already been,' Fred told him. 'I can't get ahead of them, and having to stop for readings means we're unlikely to catch up.'
'Then we need to find another way.' He glanced around the lobby, 'where's everyone else?'
'Gunn went to check in the coffee shops across the road, Spike and Lorne are still searchin' every nook and cranny,' Doyle told him.
'Get them all back. He isn't playing hide and seek in the attics and he didn't slip out for a quick frappuccino. We need to ante up and we need to get out there.' He slammed his hand down on the counter, as Doyle scurried away to make the phone calls to bring the rest of the team back. 'Where would they go?' The vampire looked around at his friends, but they had no more answers for him.

Spike and Lorne returned from the upper storeys immediately, and Gunn - only across the road - was only a minute or so behind. But by the time he returned, the team had made no further progress - had no more clue of where to start looking.

'He's going to Sahjahn, we're agreed on that much,' Angel said, wheeling out their map of the city, 'so where would Sahjahn be hiding?'
'Aint he a timeshifter?' Gunn asked, 'can't he move between dimensions?'

Spike raised an eyebrow, 'so, what? He could be literally any time in history and any place in the universe? Well… that narrows it down then.'
'No, he's still here,' Angel disagreed. 'Connor's going to him. He's here in the city, but where?' He thumped the map.
'Calm down, bubela,' Lorne said to him, gently.
'Calm down? Calm down? My son is missing!'
'And you're not gonna get him back by panicking - we're gonna need level heads and clear vision on this one.'
'Don't tell me to keep a level head!'
'Calm down, you wanker.'
'Don't you start on me, Blondie Bear…'

As the rest of the team descended into bickering, fighting, accusations and recriminations, the sound suddenly faded away for Doyle. It was like the whole world went on mute. And then the angry faces of his family began to blur and in their place he saw Sahjahn, sitting in his dark lair, his stones and his candles laid out before him. And then he saw Connor - marching through the streets, pushing his way past the people - a look of single focused determination on his face. And there was someone with him, someone more blurry, less corporeal - but in his vision state - Doyle could see it all. He stared at the short man in his long coat. That was a face he hadn't thought of in a very long time - a face that had caused them all a world of trouble once upon a time, but which had long since been put to rest - by a bullet from Wesley's gun.

The vision faded out and the noise and the sight of the team arguing came back into sharp relief. They hadn't even noticed he had spaced out. It was a long time since the visions had hurt him. Once he'd reached his atonement, the pain had stopped and he had been left with these much clearer, less art-house style images which told him everything he needed to know.

'You know if you all had just been paying closer attention in the first place…' Angel was yelling.
'If you hadn't sodding gone running off to your bezzie mates at evil incorporated,' Spike yelled back. 'Every drop of a hat - hi Lilah, can you solve my problems for me and while you're at it can you wipe my…'

'I know where Connor's goin',' Doyle announced, his voice cutting through the fight just before it turned into a bout of fisticuffs. Every head whipped around to look at him. He took a deep breath. 'I had a vision. Of Sahjahn. I saw Connor headed straight to him. I know where his lair is and…' He took another deep breath, and raised his eyes to look solely at Angel. 'I know who Sahjahn has raised to get into Connor's head, who it is who made the kid go walkabout … It's Holtz.'

'This way,' Holtz said, leading Connor through the streets. 'Not far now - and then it will all be over and the world will be a better place.'

Down in his lair, Sahjahn scratched a circle into the sandy floor and then cast some bones. He traced a finger over them, where they had landed, reading how they had fallen. He began to grin. So the kid was on his way. Finally, after more disappointments than could be counted, the vampire hunter had finally come through - held up his end of the bargain. The debt was nearly paid.

'Yeah?' He reached out and picked up the bones again, 'and what's Peter Pan's mental state like?' Sahjahn asked. He shook the bones in his fist, before he cast them, hearing them rattle - and then spilled them out across the floor. 'Well I'll be damned,' he grinned even wider. 'That old bastard has really done a number on him, this should be easier than I thought.'

Lorne had been left behind to watch over the young slayers. The rest of the team were bundled into the Plymouth - and it was speeding through the streets, Gunn at the wheel, whilst Doyle sat upfront and yelled directions. Fred had her scanner - it was still blinking bright red, telling them Doyle was leading them right - Holtz had been here. The jewel around her neck made her eyes shine blue. The rest of them were bristling with blades, axes, swords, crossbows - they'd emptied the weapons cabinets, determined to put on a better show than they had the night before.

The wind whipped through their hair, sending Cordy's and Fred's long tresses streaming backwards. The two vampires were huddled in the foot-wells, hiding under blankets and tussling for room in a confined space. 'Oi gerroff,' Spike was heard to bark, 'move over, you great ponce.'

'Take a right here,' Doyle yelled. Gunn swung the wheel and they squealed round the corner. Fred's scanner lit up even brighter. 'We're gettin' closer,' she shouted over the noise of the engine and the sound of the wind blowing past.

'Connor's on foot,' Doyle said, leaning back to look at the four people squashed in the backseat. 'So we should be able to catch up with him - maybe even get to Sahjahn first. But we're gainin' on him.'
'What is he thinking?' Angel asked from down on the floor, his voice muffled slightly. 'Why would he listen to what some crazy, dead guy had to say and walk off to find someone he knows wants him dead - without even taking a weapon?'
'Holtz has been poisonin' his mind,' Doyle called back. 'Really gettin' in there and making him afraid of what he is, what his destiny means. He's convinced him he's gonna destroy the world and Angel will have to kill him to stop him. He's told him there's only one way to keep it from happening.'
'He thinks sacrificing himself to Sahjahn is the only way to protect the world and stop Angel from having to kill him,' Gunn surmised.
'Pretty much.'
'So the kid's gone daft in the melon,' Spike said, from beneath his blanket. 'It's not looking so great for him being the one to kill Sahjahn then, is it? Looks like we might all be in for another spot of ass kicking.'

Cordelia frowned down in his direction, then leaned forward to speak to her husband. 'As indelicately as he put it, Spike has a point. If there's something messing with Connor's head, then this is gonna end badly for all of us. We need to hope there's someone up there, watching over him tonight.'
'There's always been someone up there on our side, one way or another, Princess.'
'Well let's hope that today they're paying attention and have something up their sleeves.' She frowned again, 'Do higher powers have sleeves?'
'I did - I was wearin' the t-shirt I'd slept in and my little tighty whities, talk about embarrassin'... couldda been worse, I suppose.'
'Oh yeah - well, whatever our guardian angel happens to be wearing, let's hope they can pull something good out of it - 'cause we're gonna need all the help we can get.'

Connor had left the world above behind and was now in the earthy passageways which led to Sahjahn's underground lair. His path was lit by flaming torches, attached in brackets to the rocky walls, and Holtz showed him the way. 'This must feel like a descent into hell,' the vampire hunter said to him, 'leaving behind all that is good: the freshness of the air, the brightness of the sun - to come down to this dank and dismal place to die. But I assure you, this is no hell like the one you would descend into in your mind if you stayed above, this is no hell like the one you would bring to earth.'

Connor said nothing in return. His eyes were strangely blank - as if he were working very hard to repress any kind of emotion or betray no flicker of fear.

'You are battling with yourself,' Holtz said to him, 'I can feel the struggle within your soul. You want to cut and run - head back to your father, let your cowardice win … That would be a mistake, you know it would be a mistake, my son.'
'I know it.' He struggled to get the words out.
'Good - for if you run now, then you are running full tilt into your destiny. The only thing standing between this world and a reign of destruction and bloodshed is your putting one foot in front of the other and choosing an early death instead.'
'If I die - everyone else will live, everyone else will be safe?' Connor asked. 'The girls? My family? My dad?'
'They'll not only be safe, they'll be better off,' Holtz assured him, leading him around a corner. The torches cast a flickering pattern on the floor, which made it look almost as if the ground was alive. The naked flames were oppressive in their heat - but the air in the spaces between them was cold. 'A creature of evil such as yourself can only bring suffering, can only cause harm - to those you love and to anyone else who crosses your path. Your father has carried the weight of your destiny for nineteen long years, boy, carried that fear in his heart … You will be relieving him of the most terrible burden he has ever known, worse even than the soul which curses him.'

'My dad … my dad doesn't want me to die,' Connor said, uncertainly. 'He would tell me not to do this.'

Holtz chuckled, dark and grim. 'Then why isn't here to stop you, my son? He may not even admit it to himself - but he is letting you do this. Letting you make this choice, to remove the burden from him. He is willingly not lifting a hand to save you. A creature of evil, like you, there is nothing out there - no higher power, no guardian angel - that is willing to save you.'
'Now that just isn't true, is it?' A soft, sweet voice said - as if from nowhere. A white clad woman melted out of the darkness. She was smiling, but there were tears in her eyes as she looked at Connor.

He stumbled to a halt and stared into the face of his mother.

'My boy,' Darla said to him, her voice was gentle but sad. 'My darling boy.'

Sahjahn paced up and down in his cavern. The kid should be here by now. He checked his watch - what was taking so freaking long? If that vampire hunter had messed up again… His patience snapped and he lit a cigarette, planning to chain smoke away the anxiety.

The spirit of Holtz glared at Darla. 'You would dare show your face here?' he hissed. His voice was low and menacing. His expression was furious.

'We hurt you, Daniel,' Darla said to him, 'we did the most unimaginable things … and I couldn't imagine it, couldn't feel it. Not until I had Connor's soul inside of me, guiding me. And then I understood what I had done. To you. To everyone. I'm sorry, Daniel, for how I hurt you …' Her voice and her eyes became harder, 'but I will not let you destroy my son. Serving this vengeance will not bring back what you lost - it will not make anything right.' She looked then at her son, and reached a hand up to caress his face. 'You've grown so much, you make me so proud … please don't give in to these lies.'

Connor stared down into her face, she smiled back up at him and her eyes were blurry with tears. He felt the same tears begin to prickle in his own eyes, as he looked at his mother for the first ever time. 'Mom?' His voice came out as a hoarse croak and it trembled, like he didn't quite believe what he was seeing. She nodded.

'This thing is not your mother,' Holtz told him, he sounded sure - but angry. 'It is a lie sent to trick you.'

Connor stumbled backwards away from his mother's reach.

'No!' She protested.
'Darla was a creature of evil. A cancer that walked this earth killing and maiming as she pleased. This pretty ghost in a white dress is not your mother. She was never this.'
'This is what you made me, Connor,' she said to him. 'Holtz is right when he says I did terrible, terrible things in my life. But I was a demon - that was my nature… until you saved me. You saved me, Connor. 400 years and I had never loved anything, never cared for anyone. But, when you were inside of me, I felt a whole world I had never known: possibilities and love and hope and I wanted it all for you. You nourished me and you taught me and I was so afraid to go back to what I was. I gave my life for you and I would die every day for an eternity to keep you safe, because you are good. I felt it. If you were evil I could not have sacrificed myself for you, it was your goodness, not mine - and your goodness led to my salvation.'

Connor glanced between his mother and Holtz, not knowing what to believe. As he looked to his mother, his expression was filled with such yearning; to believe her, to believe she was real and he was truly speaking with his mother… But, as he looked back at Holtz, the fear flickered across his face once more, casting shadows in his eyes.

Holtz saw the hesitation - and pounced. 'It tells such pretty lies, I see you want to believe them.'
'A - a vampire shouldn't be able to sacrifice itself,' Connor said, though his voice was unsure. 'Something must have made her… and if that thing was me…'
'That's right,' Darla smiled encouragingly.
'It's a lie,' Holtz snapped. 'It's true Darla killed herself in childbirth - but not for the reason this figment whispers in your ears. Tell him the truth - if you are really Darla - how when you learned of his presence inside of you, you tried to get rid of him. How you visited every shaman in the western hemisphere looking for some way to abort the monstrosity that grew in your womb. It was unnatural - and you hated it.'

Connor was staring at her now - but his eyes were fearful and hurt.

'No - Connor, it wasn't like that…'
'It was exactly like that,' Holtz said. 'You tried everything you could to be rid of him and, when that didn't work, you sought out your old lover and he and his company of fools took over trying to find a way to end the boy's life before it had even begun.'
'It's true, Connor,' Holtz told him. 'Your father did not want you, your family tried to aid him in terminating the pregnancy before it came to term. Everyone you have ever loved, everyone who had a hand in raising you - they all tried to murder you before you were born.'

Connor had brought his hands up to his head, his eyes were closed tight shut as if he were trying to block out the words, but Holtz kept on hissing into his ear. 'They were terrified of you. They knew what your destiny was - it was right there in the scrolls - and they thought the best way to avert it all was to destroy you before you slithered from your mother's body. They feared you then, they fear you now - why do you think they never told you what you are, boy? Why do you think your father never put a weapon in your hand? You are evil - and they all know it, and your mother killed herself because she was too afraid to live in a world with you in it.'

'No!' Darla cried out again.

Connor's hands had curled into fists, clutching at his hair. 'Stop it!' his eyes snapped open. 'No more.'

'But there has to be more, son,' Holtz said, his words sounded more gentle now, more compassionate. 'I wish there could be another way, but there is not. This thing is not your mother - your mother is in hell, where she belongs. This is a trick - sent from the powers of evil. You are doing God's work in sacrificing yourself, boy, dying so that others will live. The devil does not want that - he wants his tool on this earth. The Destroyer. He has sent one of his own, in your mother's form, to lie to you - to tell you pretty words of your own goodness and worth - so you will walk away from your own demise… and the destruction of the earth will be guaranteed. If you listen to this thing - that battlefield at the end of the world awaits. Save your father that heartbreak, my boy - save the world from that bloodshed. It is the one good act a creature of evil such as yourself can do…'

Slowly, Connor's fists uncurled - and he nodded.

'No, Connor,' Darla started to say … but he shouldered her aside and began to walk down the passageway, headed once more to Sahjahn's lair. 'This is what I have to do,' he said, as he heard his mother calling after him. 'This will make me a champion … like my dad.'

Sahjahn heard the crunch of footsteps and smiled. He stubbed his cigarette out. 'About damn time.' He turned around, Connor was standing in the mouth of the cave - his eyes were dark, but his hands were weaponless.

'So … you're here about a destiny?' Sahjahn said to him.
'You can stop it?' Connor asked him, taking a step into the lair, closer to the Granok demon. 'You can stop me from becoming The Destroyer?'
Sahjahn grinned. 'Kid - it would be my pleasure.'

Connor took another step closer. His knees trembled but he managed to keep himself upright, and he forced himself to look Sahjahn in the eyes. 'Do it then,' his voice shook, but he steeled his nerves and held himself steady. 'Make it quick.'
'You know, kid - I'm impressed - you're taking this like man. A real champ.'
'My father taught me.'
'Any last words? Requests? You wanna drink before you go?'
'Just - do it.'
'OK kid,' he shrugged and raised a sword, 'as you wish…'

There was a whirring sound - something sharp flying through the air - and then an arrow buried itself into the skin of Sahjahn's hand and he dropped the sword to the ground. 'Owww!' He turned around to find himself face to face with Cordelia and her crossbow. 'I'm sorry,' she smiled, 'was I interrupting something?'

He roared out, smacked her a hard backhander and sent her flying across the cave. When he looked up, he saw all the rest of the team standing there; blades raised and ready. 'You get away from my son, Sahjahn,' Angel said to him. His voice was quaking with fury.

'Dad!' Connor croaked.
'It's OK - we're getting out of here.' He advanced on the Granok demon. 'You know, I think I'm gonna kill you just a little bit harder than I've ever killed anything before.'
'Oh yeah? Were you watching a different fight last night or something? When are you gonna learn, Angel - you can't beat me. No one can. No one but the kid - and he's a messed up schmuck. It's destiny.'
'Well we're here to prove the existence of free will.' The vampire launched forward - but Sahjahn plucked the broadsword from his hand with ease, grabbed hold of him and flung him backwards into the rest of the team. They were all knocked down like skittles.

Spike got to his feet first, vamped out and charged. He was spanked so hard with the broadsword that he flew through the air and smacked his head against the crumbling rock wall.

Gunn and Doyle worked together. They each carried an axe and ran at the demon from opposite sides. But Sahjahn grabbed their axes, with them still attached, lifted them bodily into the air and spun them around and around, before abruptly letting go and sending them hurtling away. Both men landed with a heavy crunch.

'It's his weakness you see,' Holtz appeared at Connor's side.

Connor hadn't moved since his dad had arrived and the fight had begun. He looked at the short man. 'What do you mean?'
'He's come here to save you, because he loves you. Even though he knows, in his heart, this is the worst thing he can do for the world - still he cannot bear to see his child harmed.'
'Maybe he believes in me - believes I can … not destroy the world.'
'He doesn't truly believe that - he just wants to pretend he does.'

Angel was back on his feet and circling Sahjahn, though the demon now had his sword. Cordelia fired another arrow, but Sahjahn plucked it straight out of the air and then used it to stab Spike, as the vampire came running at him. He dug it straight into Spike's gut and then twisted, and the blonde vampire collapsed to the ground.

Fred threw a hard right cross at Sahjahn, and Cordy followed it up with one of her own. Together they closed in on him, ducking and jumping his sword swings.

'Hey, Angel!' Gunn threw his axe to the weaponless vampire and - armed once more - Angel took the offensive, charging at the Granok.

'It would hurt him more than he can bear for harm to come to you,' Holtz said, conversationally - as if a battle wasn't raging on in the background. 'So he has come here to save you - even though he knows this sorry world and everyone in it will pay for his weakness.'

Sahjahn grabbed Fred by the hair and threw her at Cordelia, both women tumbled to the ground in a tangle of limbs. Doyle, spikes on, ran at the demon. But Sahjahn simply reached out and snapped his neck - dropping him to the floor like a dead weight.

Holtz watched, as Angel and Sahjhan clashed the sword and the axe against each other, swinging and missing and striking and hitting. Circling and dodging and weaving. 'It is you who will have to be strong, this time,' he said to Connor. 'Be the champion your father cannot be. If you do not die now - he will have to kill you. Spare him that pain, if you love him - be strong for him when he is being weak.'

With a great cry, Angel swung the axe. Sahjahn blocked - the two blades clanged together in a deafening clatter of noise which reverberated around the cavern. They stood for a moment, weapons locked, straining.

'If he kills Sahjahn. He will have to kill you. Everything he is will be broken. Spare him from that Connor. You can do it.'

Angel pulled his axe down. Sahjahn's midsection was exposed and the vampire swung with all his might...

'No!' Connor launched forward, grabbed hold of his father and rugby tackled him to the ground before he could strike the killing blow. The force of them knocked Sahjhan off his balance, he staggered a little and the sword fell from his hand.

Angel rolled over, coughing. 'Stay out of this,' he barked at his son, before scrambling back to his feet and grabbing the axe once more.

Connor rolled over as well and got to his knees. He was right beside the fallen sword. His muscles ached from the fall.

'Well done,' Holtz said to him, 'but it was not enough.'
'I know.'
'You must die.'
'I know.'
'The sword, pick it up.'
Connor did so - and got back to his feet.
'Now, give it to Sahjhan.'

'Don't do that, baby.' Darla had appeared again.

Behind them, the team - apart from Doyle who was still out cold - were rounding on Sahjhan. Weaponless, the Granok was depending on his fists - though they were more than enough. He pushed Gunn away from himself, launching him backwards through the air. Gunn landed awkwardly. He hit a wooden chair, which smashed into splinters on impact and then he crashed heavily to the ground, his leg bent at an unnatural angle.

'You will not listen to the lies this woman feeds you,' Holtz said.

'I…' Connor was frozen. He stared between the two of them. Holtz was inside his head too much to shake off, everything he said had the ring of truth to it … But he wanted so badly to believe in his mother, to believe she was real and to believe what she had to say. But then the devil on his shoulder told him that was his weakness talking, and that that weakness would destroy the world and condemn his father to the pain of having to murder his own son. 'I don't know what to think.'

'Be a champion - don't give into weakness.'
'Strong isn't dying, baby,' Darla said to him. 'Strong is fighting. It's hard and it's every day and it's never over. It's what your father does, it's who he is - and it's who you can be too.'
'But … if I'm The Destroyer...'
'Your father is a vampire. Yet he works for the good of the world. We can all be more than we are born to be. Your path is your own - you just have to choose it.'
'I ... don't have to be evil.'
'Yes - you do. It is your nature,' Holtz said. 'Your father is cursed with a soul, take that away and he is the self same animal that killed my Caroline and turned my Sarah. There is no gypsy curse to stop you from becoming what you are, boy. Your mother was a killer, your father was a killer and there is no goodness in you.'

Connor was looking more troubled, his eyes grew darker. The voices beside him whirled inside his head until he didn't know which way he was pointing or what was right or wrong.

Gunn and Doyle were now both down and not getting back up. Fred kicked Sahjahn, right in the face. He stumbled back and Spike was waiting - he threw a punch. Sahjahn grabbed the arrow still sticking from Spike's gut and ripped it out. The vampire screamed and collapsed again and - almost blurry with speed - Sahjahn used the same arrow to stab Fred. Like Spike, she collapsed on the ground.

'There is goodness in you, Connor,' Darla told him. 'So much goodness. I felt it. I did so much evil in my day - and you are the one good thing I ever gave to this world.'
'You are her masterpiece,' Holtz said. 'But think what she is - what would the masterpiece of a creature of evil look like? You are the very worst of Darla and Angelus.'

Connor shook his head- trying to shut it all out.

'No - listen to me, Connor, you are good. I know it to be true.'
'She wants you to end the world,' Holtz warned.
'I want you to save it - I know you can.'

But that made the old vampire hunter laugh. The sound echoed inside Connor's head - taunting him. 'She speaks of goodness, of salvation - tell me, Darla, what would a bitch from the depths of hell know of either? Look around you, Connor, the only one who sees any good in you is this spawn of the devil herself, this creature of evil. Evil aligns with you, evil is what you serve and it serves you back in kind. There is no one else in the universe on your side.'

A balled fist suddenly flew out of nowhere, striking Holtz in the face and knocking him to the ground. Wesley stepped out of the shadows, straightening his tie, 'that is not entirely true.'

Doyle groaned as he came to. The ache all over his body told him he had had his neck snapped - again. He cracked it back into place and shook off his spikes just in time to see Cordelia flung across the cavern and hit the opposite wall before crashing to the ground.

Holtz brought a hand up to his stinging nose, 'what's this?' He got back to his feet. 'Another trickery from the devil?'
'Another soldier of the powers,' Wesley corrected him. 'And we are sent to help out a brother warrior.'
'Connor.' His fist whipped out again and he knocked the vampire hunter off his feet one more time.

'You see, Connor,' Darla said, her voice hurried and urgent as her son still stood inactive - frozen with fear and indecision. 'We were sent here to help you out by something far greater than ourselves, something out there believes in you - and so do we.'
'A kidnapper and a whore,' Holtz growled, 'what champions you have to defend your honour.'
'A mother,' Wesley kicked Holtz whilst he was on the ground, 'and a man who did wrong but loves you as a father.' The watcher turned to look at Connor, his blue eyes shining furiously, 'I wronged your father when I took you away Connor, but I did it to protect him - he was worth that sacrifice. Because he is a good man and you can be one too. A child born of two vampires was both a miracle and an unknown terror, we were afraid. But, from the moment we knew of your soul, we loved you and wanted nothing more than to protect you and keep you safe. It's why we did what we did - why all of us have done the things we have, over the years. No price was too high to keep you safe, Connor.'
'Don't throw that away now,' Darla said. 'All our sacrifices, don't repay everything we gave by listening to our enemies. There are forces out in the world that look to destroy us - always - but your family loves you, Connor, they will always do what's best for you. You have to do what's best for them.'
'That's sacrificing yourself,' Holtz said. 'Destroying the evil inside of you.'

Connor inhaled sharply. His head was hung low, one of his eyes was beginning to twitch as the onslaught of conflicting information rained down on him from every direction.

'Connor, listen to me,' Wesley said, his voice was sharp and clear. 'Your life is a miracle. Each child holds within them the power to heal the world or destroy it - and you are no different. But you have been raised well by people who love you, by champions to guide you. Right now you fear there is nothing of goodness and light inside of you, and yet here you are: to sacrifice your life for the good of the world, to spare your father the pain this vengeance hungry creature tells you is coming Angel's way. He is preying on your very goodness to make you come here. If you were not inherently good - you would not be here to die for the good of others. You have the power to be whatever man you want to be, but you need to find that strength inside yourself. The miracle child was not born to be killed in some dank underground cave by some run of the mill Granok demon.'
'He was born to destroy the earth,' Holtz snarled.

Connor flinched.

Sahjahn and Angel - alone in the fighting now- were both weaponless and duking it out. Angel was not a match for the Granok demon's terrible strength and he crumbled beneath the blows. He ducked and weaved as best he could, hoping to tire Sahjahn out - but it was him that was tiring. His legs felt like butter. He stumbled back and collapsed amongst the splinters of the chair Gunn's fall had broken. Sahjahn bore down on him; grinning, as he reached down to pick up a fragment of splintered wood.

'You could destroy the earth,' Darla said to her son, 'you were born with so much more power, so much more potential than most. But it doesn't have to be that way. You can choose your own path, baby. The Tro Clon could bring destruction or salvation. I know you are here to save this world, to make it better.'
'Lies,' Holtz hissed.
'Just before you were born, I took you up to the top of a bridge and we looked out over the city,' Darla said. 'I was so afraid. Of what I would become once your goodness had left me, of how I might hurt you, of how I wouldn't even remember that I had loved you and would care even less. I could not bear to go back to what I was. And I was afraid for you - having to live in this terrible world. And I know things have only got worse since then, but I realised you can change everything. That's why I sacrificed myself- because your life is worth more than mine. You can make everything better. You can help people. You can be a champion, like your father … but you have to do that by being strong, by fighting. You were born to save this world.'
'You are a creature of evil. You were born to destroy it!' Holtz said.

The sword twitched in Connor's hand.

Down on the floor, Angel tried to slither backwards out of the reach of Sahjhan's makeshift stake. But he was aching and bleeding and he was moving too slowly. The Granok demon pulled the stake back.

'Act now,' Holtz said. 'Don't give in to weakness. Don't listen to the lies.'

The sword twitched in Connor's hand again.

Angel stared up at the stake in Sahjan's hand. Sahjahn laughed. 'You know, all that time I spent scheming to get you killed … gotta tell ya, it's pretty sweet to do it myself.' The stake lunged downward…

There was a whistling sound of a blade swinging through the air, and then a slicing sound … and then Sahjahn's head rolled off his body, his dead hand let go of the stake and his now headless corpse followed it down, falling forwards. Angel only just rolled out of the way in time before it landed on top of him. It smashed against the earth instead. As the one who had summoned him lay dead, the spirit of Holtz melted away - back to whatever afterlife Sahjahn had pulled him from. Darla and Wesley remained: watching the scene unfold.

Angel looked up in shock. Connor was standing where Sahjahn had stood, sword raised - his expression unreadable.

The vampire coughed, 'Connor - '
Slowly, Connor lowered his sword. 'I think I'd like to go home now,' he said - and then limped out of the cave.

Groaning, Angel got to his feet and staggered after him. Spike and Fred helped Gunn up and - with one of Gunn's arms around each of their shoulders - they followed their boss out.

Doyle helped Cordelia back to her feet. 'I don't get it,' she said, looking down at the headless body. 'What made him suddenly step up and act?'

Doyle - the seer, the former higher power - was able to see far more than she could. His eyes met Wesley's. Wesley nodded at him, he nodded back and then the watcher and Darla faded away. 'Not what,' Doyle said softly, 'who.'

Connor had gone back to Stanford. He had just bundled up his stuff and gone out and caught a bus - he wouldn't even let one of his family drive him back. Angel was off somewhere, brooding. The rest of the team were gathered in the lobby, battered, bruised and broken. Gunn was on crutches, Fred and Spike had had their stab wounds bandaged up and ice packs were in abundance.

'So - the kid came through in the end?' Lorne said, taking a sip of his ever present seabreeze. 'Gotta say - it's a battle I'm not sorry I missed. Although,' he chuckled, but it was a dark little chuckle: 'all those things Sahjahn did to prevent Connor from killing him, all those schemes across centuries - and in the end, they all led him right to the slicy end of Connor's sword. I guess that's just fate, huh - she really is a wily mistress.'
'I guess it's true - you just can't avoid your destiny.' Fred winced as the wound in her side twinged with pain. 'Though I might have liked it better if my destiny hadn't involved gettin' stabbed by an arrow.'
'You and me both, pet,' Spike flashed her a sympathetic grin. 'Speaking of … what does this all mean for that end of the world mojo we were dealing with? The big black out? What's up with the Tro Clon?'

Gunn was sitting on the round sofa, his broken leg up on a footstool and his crutches balanced beside him. 'I did some more translating on that,' he said. 'I'm thinking we might be in the clear.'
'How's that again?' Cordelia frowned.
'Well - it was in three parts, just like Irish said. The first part was detailing the focal point of the Tro Clon coming of age.'
'You mean Connor?' Cordy checked.
He nodded, 'yep - the boy himself. Now the Tro Clon's got serious mojo in it's own right. So when it matures … things are gonna get a little freaky. You get harbingers, birthing pains sort of.'
'You mean like rich ladies with swimmin' pools full o' blood?' Doyle asked.
'For starters - but it's bigger than that. Everythin' about the world right now is a part of it. Why it is the way it is - why it's so damn crazy. It's because the Tro Clon is in effect, it's all grown up and ready to be resolved.'
'So we have Connor to thank for Covid?' Lorne asked.
'No, we have folks eating live bats to thank for Covid,' Gunn corrected. 'But like everything else that's goin' down - it's all just a harbinger.'
'So what did the next part say?' Fred asked.
'Well - like I said before, the whole thing is a constructed argument. The first point presupposes the Tro Clon coming of age will bring about turmoil, the second point argues that that turmoil will bring about old enemies returned to earth.'
'The earthquake brought about Sahjahn, Sahjhan brought about Holtz,' Lorne said, counting on his fingers to keep track.
'Right - and the final part is the conclusion. If the Tro Clon has come of age, then his enemies are going to walk the earth … so this is what's gonna be done about it.'

Everyone stared at him. 'Did I miss something?' Cordy wrinkled her brow, 'what's gonna be done about it?'

But Gunn only shrugged, 'whatever the hell Connor wants to do about it. The choice is his. That's why Fred couldn't get a fix on the math - kid's got his whole damn life to figure it out. '

It was starting to get dark outside. Angel came down the stairs, but he didn't speak to or look at anyone. He just drifted out through the French windows and was then visible, sitting on the bench, his shoulders hunched: brooding. Everyone turned to look at Doyle. The half demon nodded, 'I'll go talk to him,' he said, getting up.

'They sent you out here?' Angel said, when he heard the doors open, he didn't bother looking up.
'They figured you could do with some cheering up.' Doyle sat down beside him.
'He wouldn't even talk to me.'
'He'll come around - kid just needs some time.'
'I never wanted him to have to do that,' Angel's voice was heavy.
'It was written in the stars, bud. You couldn't stop it.'
'Maybe I could have done something, tried harder, fought better…'
'Don't beat yourself up - Sahjahn already did that.' That managed to get a wry smile out of the vampire.

'I just … I thought we'd have more time. You know, before we got to destiny and life and death and … I didn't want him to become a killer, not so young. I wanted more for him, something different than what I had. Not prophecies and set in stone and fate and duty and honour. It's too much for him. He's just a boy.'

Doyle shook his head. 'I guess maybe he isn't just a boy, anymore. We forget - how fast they grow up.'
'I wasn't ready.'
'I don't think parents ever are - but it's inevitable. It's destiny.'
'Connor's destiny is bigger than most.'
'And now he's met it,' Doyle said. He turned to Angel. 'Everythin' we worried about - back in the day - it's over now. Done.'
'Back in the day,' Angel sighed, deeply. 'You know, when I went to see the conduit - it appeared to me as Wesley?'
'And for a moment - I just - I thought it was him. But it was something ancient and evil, wearing his skin.'
'The whiteroom, man, nothing's ever what it appears in there.'

Angel looked up at the stars, as if searching something out. 'I guess it just got me thinking - about the path that led us here, where it all started … I wonder if Wesley was watching us tonight?'
Doyle smiled. 'I'm pretty sure he was there with us in spirit.'
'You think?'
'I think family's always there when you need it most. And Connor's got a lot o' people watching over him. Even when you're not there to do it.'

Angle shuffled a little on the bench. 'I just - I never realised how hard it would be. Letting go, not being there for him every minute. I'm - I'm not ready for him not to be my boy anymore.'
'He'll always be your boy, man - nothing can change that. Not even him growing up…' He nodded his head slowly, 'but you do need to let him go. It's time, man - you did a good job, he's got a good head on his shoulders and now he's got his whole life in front of him - free to do whatever he chooses, be whatever he wants. That's what you wanted isn't it?'
'Of course.'
'Then you gotta stand back and let him. You gotta let him grow up into the man he's going to become. He'll never do that if you keep treatin' him like a child. It's time for him to stand on his own two feet - he proved tonight he can do it, question is - can you let him?'
'I don't know … you think it's that easy?'
'Nope,' Doyle chuckled wryly and shook his head. 'I think in ten years time you'll be havin' this exact same conversation with me over Primrose. It's the way o' the world. It's bein' a dad. But right now - your job in bein' a dad is to take a step back, and I'm here to tell you that. I know you'll repay the favour when the time comes.'

Angel smiled, 'count on it.'

'Well,' the half demon checked his watch, 'I better go help Cordy put the girls to bed - you OK, man?'
'Yeah - I'm just gonna… stay…' He stayed sitting on the bench and, after a moment, Doyle left him alone and went back inside to his own little family. Angel stayed outside for a long while; long after the moon had risen and the last of his family had deserted the lobby; thinking about Connor and destiny and the way time moved too quickly.

Once the lobby was empty, he got up and went inside. He took out his phone and opened up the tracking app - looking at the little dot that was Connor in his dorm room. He stared at it for a long, long time and then - reluctantly - he reached out his index finger … and deleted the app.

The next day, Connor was back in his poetry lecture. It seemed surreal - everyone sitting here, six feet apart, masks on, as if nothing had changed. For Connor, everything was different; everything looked different and felt different and nobody around him knew. Nobody could see the change in him - but he could feel it, deep in his soul, and down to his toes and through to his bones.

'Poetry is about subjective feeling, it speaks to us on a personal level and that's what I want you to think about now,' the lecturer said, down at the front. 'So we're going to look at these last four lines: the conclusion, the denouement - what it has all been building up to.'

Connor looked at the printout as the lecturer read the words aloud. 'If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run, yours is the earth and everything that's in it and - which is more - you'll be a man, my son… I just want you to take a moment to write down what that sentiment means to you.'

A lecture hall full of heads bent down and began scribbling on their notes. All except one. Sitting alone, in the back of the room, Connor just looked at the final words of the poem - and smiled to himself.

The End
Top Bottom