Rain Their Full Wrath

Author: Blackcat
Rating: PG to PG13 for violence, mild language
Pairings: No pairings
Spoilers: All of AtS is fair game, picks up from Not Fade Away
Fandom: AtS/BtVS
Disclaimer: The usual... I don't own these characters. Just had some fun playing with them.
Note: You want it for a fanfic site? Really? Feel free to take - just let me know where it's going.
Author's Note: HUGE thank you to Jo for being a wonderful beta. All mistakes and errors contained herein are mine and mine alone. Also, credit given to Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, for borrowing the quote, "Finish, good lady; the bright day is done, And we are for the dark."
Feedback: Does Angelus like blood? Send to blackcat333_99@yahoo.com



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Prologue

"Welcome to the Home Office"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


The Senior Partners know about dragons. They know that they are not the fiction of myth, but the reality that created it.

Dragons are creatures of power. This much is known about them. And yet their powers are shrouded in mystery. Commanding the force of the elements, destroying chosen targets on the one hand, granting boons of prosperity and rebirth on the other.

Destruction and rebirth, hand in hand. A linked cycle that perpetuates the continued balance of order and chaos, if one can but properly understand the linkage between the two. Order cannot exist alone, for without the variables that chaos brings life would remain static, frozen in a world that disallows change, for even the most minute change is an act of chaos. And yet chaos cannot stand alone, for without the stability of order the fires of chaos would consume the world, leaving a void of nothingness in its wake, destroying its very fuel for existence. And so the two work in harmony, acting as a balance whenever Beings would tilt the scale too far into an inevitable cycle of fire or ice.

Chaos dragons too are part of that balance. Fire, after all, can do more than destroy. It can purify. Unleashing the magics of a Chaos dragon can prove to be a tricky, though profitable, proposition to the magician. Riding the back of the dragon, the rider may find himself facing his worst enemy - himself.

The Senior Partners are counting on the devastating power of chaos to eliminate a problem. They've been perpetuating Hell on earth for millennia. Shifting the timetable to accommodate their fury at being thwarted by a mere vampire and his rag-tag foolish companions seems a reasonable option.

So they called upon the creature best suited to carry out their wishes. This dragon companion of theirs is, after all, the perfect weapon of chaos.

And so it came that Hell was unleashed in LA.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Chapter 1

"Where I Live"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


I thought I knew what hell was. I have personally participated in a couple of Apocalypses before, after all. My last one, I'd even been turned to cinders and ash. But this //never ending// onslaught raises the bar to a whole new level. I lost track of my companions a few minutes //felt like hours// ago, and the weight of exhaustion is starting to pull at my limbs. And yet every time I get knocked //and thrown and smashed// to the ground, I somehow drag myself back up to my feet and carry on, unwilling to give in. Maybe it's just sheer bloody stubborness, I don't know. But damned if I'm going to lay down and call it a night. That blasted dragon still hovers above, searching for an opening to join its cadre of determined, bloodthirsty compatriots. That kind of determination could get a bloke killed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


//Guess Angel's not down yet - he wanted to slay that monster, and he's just the stubborn sort to follow through.//

Three demon bodies flew through the air and crashed into the ground in front of Spike, revealing a disheveled Angel standing where they had been a moment before. Several more demons headed their way, and the two vampires joined forces in beating them back.

"Ol’ Bessie looks a bit lonely up there - thought you were going to take care of that." Spike tossed a quick smirk Angel's way, trying to gather himself for the next inevitable opponent.

"I am. //slash// Been a little //punch// distracted here."

Angel didn't spare so much as a glance at Spike, but the annoyance in his voice gave Spike a fresh spurt of energy to tackle his newest opponent.

//One more down, twenty thousand to go.//

"Your first plan wasn't half bad, mate. But the follow-though seems to lack a little strategy."

Spike looked behind them at yet another pile-up of demons battling a concealed Illyria and Gunn. He swiped a tired arm over his eyes, further spreading the smear of blood and rain water streaking down his forehead from a laceration in his scalp. He remembered the neat little glamour spell Angel had used on the towering giants headed their way back when they had initially engaged their opponents. The lumbering monsters would have turned them all to jelly quicker than you could say "stomp on Spike" - except the glamour Angel activated made them turn against each other, delivering fatal blows that had made Spike, for his part, breathe a sigh of relief. Of course, that had been a while ago, and the small fry demons who were left just kept pouring into the fray.

"We could use an assist here. Don't supposed you've got a few more tricks up your sleeve?"

Two more demons flew past Spike's head, missing him by inches to smash into the alley wall with an impact that pulverized their skulls into a blackened jelly.

//Where's he getting that energy?//

"Don't suppose //grunt// I do. Where's //Ouch! That hurt!// Gunn and Illyria?"

Spike knocked down a slavering Throndeeke and spared a moment to gesture towards the other fight taking place about 50 feet away. Angel flicked a quick, calculating glance at that group and then decapitated another charging Throndeeke. Twenty more headed their way.

"Close your eyes."

"What!?! You *trying* to get me killed?" Despite his protest, Spike backed away from an oncoming opponent and squeezed his eyes shut tightly.

Two seconds later a bright light flashed, and about two dozen demons staggered away, screaming in pain and clawing at their eyes.

"Now *that's* more like it! Got anything else in your bag of tricks?"

Angel sent a tight smile at the rapidly blinking Spike, his vigilant gaze taking in the chaos surrounding them, then focusing on //yet another// group of demons headed their way.

This new group got within 15 feet of the two vampires, then, for the first time that night... hesitated. Studied the scene in front of them. Took in the fallen corpses littering the ground between them and their target. Bodies decorated the alley walls with colorful splashes of unidentifiable substances secreted and sprayed from their torn and mangled forms. And the two vampires studied them in return, one still blinking to re-adjust his eyes from that blinding flash, the other staring at them with cold eyes, a sword in one hand, a faint smile touching the corners of his lips.

"Whatcha waiting for, children? I'm just getting warmed up."

The demons still hesitated, waiting for more to join them before initiating the next charge.

"Spike, get over to Gunn and Illyria, give them a hand."

Angel's free hand delved into a pocket of his now-tattered black duster, then tossed a tiny glowing orb at Spike, who gingerly caught it.

"How's it work?"

"Smash it on the ground."

"Right."

Spike turned to head towards the other group of demons, tucking the glowing orb into a pocket, and saw a Shretzu demon catapulted 20 feet into the air from the center of that melee. //Guess Blue is still swinging, at least.// Then he glanced back at Angel facing the growing throng of demons gathering for attack. Hesitated.

"You going to be okay by yourself?"

Despite being able to now only see Angel's back, he could hear the lingering smirk in his voice. "Get to the others. I've got a date with Bessie to keep."

//Crazy bastard. How's he possibly going to... Oh well.//

"Excuse me, coming through."

Spike started hacking his way to Illyria and Gunn, the back of his mind registering yet another low swoop of the screeching dragon.

He heard her before he saw them.

"You *dare* to think you could defeat me. You are less than the minute particles of a gnat."

Two more demons whizzed past Spike, broken and crumpled rag dolls before they even hit the ground.

//Blue and Angel - they're both packing some serious juice tonight. Wish I had a hit of whatever's fueling their fire right about now.//

"... In my day your masters merely crawled upon the surface of the ground, licking the feet of those who trod...."

Spike could see her now, and tuned out her self-important rhetoric. He'd heard it all before. She was poetry in motion, he had to admit. Demons were falling around her like insects getting a hit of nicotine sulfate. Gunn lay crumpled on the ground behind her, and it registered on Spike that Illyria was holding her specific position to protect their companion's fallen body.

//Is he dead or just down?//

Three seconds later and a path was cleared to rejoin her.

"How're you holding up here?"

Illyria threw a glance around, her face tight-lipped, set and cold, then stepped towards an attacking Zandu demon. It looked as solid as rock, granite-hewn features twisted in rage as it swung a thorn-spiked club at her skull. She smoothly ducked and then threw a punch of her own at it, connecting solidly with its head. The head shattered into flying particles, then the particles liquefied, with its body quickly following suit and melting into the ground before her.

"I do not require your assistance. I will make them pay for their transgressions."

Like the group of demons Spike had just left, this group was now pulling back slightly, gathering their numbers again to prepare for the next wave. Spike crouched down and checked Gunn. A faint pulse struggled on. //Still alive. Barely.//

"Their transgressions?... Forget it, you can explain later, your Highness, right now I need you to close your eyes."

Illyria cocked her head to the side in puzzlement at his command.

"Just DO IT. Now!"

The horde of demons charged again, and Spike didn't have time to see if Illyria was going to cooperate. He grabbed the orb from his pocket, hurled it towards the advancing enemies' feet, clamped his hands over Gunn's eyes, and squeezed his own shut. Once again the blinding flash of light flared, and the advancing charge disintegrated into a mass of confusion. Half a second later Illyria had whirled into the fray, taking advantage of the disabled state the other demons were in.

//Guess it's my turn to play watchdog over the human.//

Spike tracked Illyria's moves with admiration, wincing in sympathy when a heavy blow from behind flattened her to the unforgiving ground. The demon smiled in triumph, only to have a fist backed by pure rage punch through his body, leaving a ragged and bleeding hole in its wake. She dropped its dripping heart at its feet, then turned to her next target.

//She wasn't kidding about taking body parts for trophies, was she?//

A couple of demons headed Spike's way, and he stepped in front of Gunn's prone body, determined to protect it as long as it maintained a pulse.

//Where the hell is Angel off to?//

A furious bellow from an angry dragon answered his unspoken question.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Chapter 2

“A Neutral Word”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


When I chose to enter this fight, I was promised it would be hell. I could smell the apprehension the others felt towards the prospect, wafting off their skin like the heavy perfume of a scented rose. I understood the promise – but felt no fear. Hell is a neutral word to one who has walked all dimensions and seen the greatest shining heights attainable and the lowest blackened depths to sink beneath.

I have been humiliated by the cur agent of the Wolf, Ram, and Hart. Wesley referred to them as the Senior Partners. Once they had been a lowly, insignificant entity, beneath the notice of one who wielded the sort of power the gods themselves trembled before. Once they had feared me. Now I am diminished. And they think to mock a former god, jeering a fallen power toppled by the unforgiving ravages of time. My era of godship is over. I have come to accept that. But I still have power, lessened though it is. And I have a score to settle, for my own sake, and now for Wesley.

The Wolf, Ram and Hart can rain all the Hell they want at me and my new companions. I welcome it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


"You *dare* to think you could defeat me. You are less than the minute particles of a gnat."

The human, Gunn, had fought longer than Illyria had thought possible, considering the frailty of their species. He acquitted himself well in the fight. But eventually he had fallen, collapsing to the ground in a state of unconsciousness.

//“There is hope... for some.”//

Wesley was now past hope of life, but Illyria found herself moved to protect the body of his fallen comrade. Beyond recalling Wesley’s words of hope, she could not explain the instinct that prompted her actions. Perhaps later she could puzzle it out. But right now, she had an army of the Wolf, Ram and Hart’s lowly minions to destroy.

"You will learn to fear my name before this night is through. *I* am not some oozing muck crawler who is a pathetic parasite to his kind. In my day your masters merely crawled upon the surface of the ground, licking the feet of those who trod through the very veils of time and dimension."

And more demons fell before her blue-tinted fists of fury.

“You are mere maggots to wipe my feet upon.”

Spike rejoined her, offering assistance. //Why should I close my eyes?//

Heeding the white-haired half-breed’s warning, she discerned a brilliant light beyond her closed eyelids. Her eyes snapped open, surveying the results of that trick. //Clever trick. Sneaky.// Disabled demons now scrambled away, creating the perfect prey for a hungry predator. Illyria moved on the attack. Spike had offered his assistance, after all, so now he could watch over his fallen comrade. She was beginning to feel gaps in the focus of her anger //and grief//. Exhaustion was beginning to flicker at the edges of consciousness, slowing her down just enough to receive a painful blow that threw her to the ground. //Rage is a useful emotion in battle.//

Out of the corner of her eye, Illyria saw Spike maintaining guard over Gunn. //Good.// And yet another demon attacked her. She swiftly moved on the offensive, but the demon skittered to the side, forcing a blow that would have landed in the center of its chest to instead glance off its shoulder, knocking it to the ground. Three more of its brethren united in approaching her, so she shifted tactics and delivered a powerful kick into the body of the fallen demon that launched it straight into the bodies of the approaching trio.

// “Adaptation... is learning.” So be it. I too can learn to adapt to my lessened state.//

An angry dragon bellowed nearby, calling to mind the other vampire, Angel. She had caught glimpses of him fighting all during the long night, and he had been cutting a swath through their enemies with a single-minded purpose that she admired. She did not completely understand his way of thinking, or why he had rejected and destroyed the sort of power that demons - and Man – would kill to possess for themselves. But she did know that they shared a mutual enemy in the Wolf, Ram and Hart, and he was proving to be a warrior to be reckoned with. Her former Qwa’Ha Xahn had told her how humans had come to run this world. //“Extraordinary sneakiness.”// Such methods of deception had served the vampire Leader well in his tactics to destroy the Circle of the Black Thorn. He had fooled everyone //including myself//, and by so doing had won a victory over their enemies.

//His power has grown since I last fought him. He now serves blows beyond his former strength. How can he reject power and yet increase in it? It is a paradox that defies all logic.//

A new wave of opponents suddenly broke off the attack, gazing with eyes transfixed at the sky. Illyria tracked their stares, seeking to learn if yet another formidable opponent was approaching from the heavens. It was the dragon, and Angel was clinging to its back. She quickly killed several more distracted demons, making her way back to Spike.

Spike kept on fighting, but he couldn’t help noticing Angel’s newest opponent. Unlike some of the other demons, he wasn’t virtually immobilized with the distraction of the battle taking place above, but he too found himself stealing quick glances at the airborne battle. //He really does have a death wish, doesn’t he? How in the bloody hell is he planning to actually kill that thing?//

Illyria rejoined him, a smear of blood now crusting the right corner of her mouth, //She’s starting to show a little wear now// as a scream of pain from above assaulted everyone’s ears. //Dragon’s got a set of pipes, that’s for sure. Guess that means it can be hurt, at least. Or it's just pissed. Probably both. Angel does have that special little talent.//

Illyria noted Spike’s split attention, and chided him for it. “You waste time gazing at a battle that is not yours to fight. There are many of our enemies yet before us needing to be destroyed.”

“Bloody hell. Not every day you see a sight like that, you know. Besides, I’m doing my part, as my body count will attest.”

Illyria paused for a moment, her blue eyes studying his face. “You are worried for him. Don’t be. He will prevail or perish. Nothing we do here will change that.”

“Worried? About HIM? Maybe you’ve been hit by one too many of the uglies tonight, Blue, because your wires are DEFINITELY crossed.”

A few demons dragged their eyes from the sky and snarled as they approached Illyria and Spike. Gunn’s body, still protected, lay behind them.

“You waste time with your pointless protest. We have vermin to exterminate.”

And the fight raged on.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Chapter 3

“The Rules Have Changed”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


I have long since known I am a creature damned. Too many deaths, too much blood, too much evil have stained my soul over the centuries. There are times when redemption seems but an impossible dream - something granted to others but not myself. Never myself. The blood on my hands will not wash away, no matter how hard I try. The concept of hope that the members of the Circle of the Black Thorn had tried to eliminate - the hope of Shanshu, of becoming human and being able to at last cast away the sins of the demon - had never been the real key to redemption in my mind, however. Rewards for good deeds piled up was a nice thought, and the hope of being human was even nicer. But redemption isn't about merit badges. It's about facing consequences for choices made. Accepting the price to be paid, and making the best of it. This is a hard truth that I seem to have to learn and then relearn. And if I may say so, my months at Wolfram & Hart have hammered it home. //Our time never ends.// After all, could the lives of those innocents now dead ever be brought back, the lives of Doyle, Cordelia, Fred, Wesley, friends who had trusted and believed, who had hoped for the best, paying the ultimate price for their convictions? The life of my friend Drogyn? Bought and used to create an opportunity for destruction. Blood spilled for a purpose, blood now shed that could not be returned to its innocent vessel. Blood on my soul, not the demon's.

I am, after all, a creature of destruction. Soul or no soul. My evil self indulged his passion for destruction on humans, for the most part. My souled self... well, it's not hard to figure that out, is it? Change the target, indulge the passion. Killing humans, killing demons... different name, same game. My inner demon and I don't agree on much, but in the actual moment of a fight, we are in accord. The Senior Partners thought to exploit my buried passions, but they're not the only ones who can manipulate. My demon hates my guts, but he does love games. And destruction. And he has an ego. So that's what I gave him. Gave myself. A game to play. Beat the guys who thought they had the control. Who thought they were *more*. Whose passion for power blinded them //just enough// to the full risks of playing the game with someone who seems so damned predictable, and whose flip-side nature is... well, less predictable.

//"Everybody goes on about your soul. Vampire with a soul. Nobody ever mentions the fact that you're really a vampire with big brass testes. This is gonna be a circus."//

Change the rules, change the game. Lindsey did give me one good piece of advice awhile back. //"The key to Wolfram and Hart - don't let them make you play their game. You gotta make them play yours."// So I finally did. Stopped being the puppet. Stopped being predictable. Stopped being the Angel everyone thought they knew. And quite honestly, it was the only way I had a chance in Hades to pull it off. By loosening the leash my actions carried a grace note of honest ambiguity that was just enough to mislead in the direction *I* chose.

And what does that have to do with redemption?

Not everyone can truly understand what I am talking about. Even some of the people I hold dearest cannot truly comprehend the fine intricacies of redemption and hope. Wesley thought the Shanshu prophecy would equate redemption. That I needed that motivation of hope to continue trudging onward. He wasn't completely wrong, but he missed the real point of redemption. Perhaps that was my fault. Focusing on being a champion of other lost souls, it's easy to give a different shading to the meaning of our work. But there are a few who know the truth. Fallen souls who would forever live with the ghosts of their pasts. Like Faith, who would have to live to her dying day with the knowledge that she was a murderer. And like Gunn, whose nightly dreams would be forever tainted with the horror of guilt. And yet they all have hope. WE all have hope. A hope that can't be taken away, signed away, stolen away. As long as we keep trying, there is hope. Redemption. A concept that Beings like the Senior Partners could not comprehend, could not strip away, because they lack the ability to care. People who don't care will never understand people who do. An endeavor that is never-ending. A hope whose reward is the knowledge that you are doing the best you can to do the right thing. And sometimes you make mistakes. You fall on your face. But you keep trying. Fighting the good fight, whichever way you can. Right now my way was directing my talent for destruction at those most deserving of it.

The Senior Partners were doing their damnedest to rain Hell on my head for daring to defy them. For choosing the path of redemption over self-indulgence. I've been to hell already, several times, in fact. They think they know what hell is to a person like me. They have no idea. Redemption was hell. Fighting demons against impossible odds? So much easier.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


So far Angel was not having much luck finding a fatal weakness in the beast. Although it was admittedly difficult to explore options in that regard while being treated to a ride akin to the wildest of roller coasters without a safety belt. Sheer, determined tenacity kept Angel's fingers locked around the dragon's massive withers. There was nothing to provide a good grip, no give in the tough hide. Maintaining the pressure of a tightly gripping clamp was the only thing keeping Angel onboard the furious dragon's back.

He glimpsed a dizzying view of the alley below, saw the now-connected positions of his remaining team, and a sinking feeling that had nothing to do with the aerial acrobatics of the dragon hit his stomach. //Gunn is down.// The anguish of losing another friend gave him a fresh burst of determination to not let his friends have fallen in vain. But how to slay a dragon?

So many types of dragons enumerated in mythology, //Try separating fact from fiction and developing a winning strategy while engaged in a fight for your life. The timing sucks.// but the hope Angel fastened his mind upon was the more universal attributes associated with dragon myth. //Three guesses as to which type this monster is - my money is on the Chaos class.//

A half-forgotten memory of a passage read long ago flitted through Angel's memory, teasing him with a shadowed remembrance of a possible way out of the destructive trap the Senior Partners had unleashed. He shook his head in frustration, struggling to remember elusive words. Fact or fiction, at this point Angel was ready to grab any straw he could - grab enough straws, after all, and you can break the camel's back. So to speak.

Bits of the passage began to surface in Angel's mind - and with it, a new plan. //Maybe slaying the dragon is not the point - facing it, with all the terrible truths it can reflect - will be enough to alter the status quo in my favor. If this particular bit of lore is correct. IF my standing as the remaining sole survivor of the Circle of the Black Thorn will be recognized by the dragon. And if I can convince it that the upset in the chaos balance has been achieved to the point of now beginning the swing to rebirth - of something. Dammit - I'm going to get myself killed here.// And Angel slipped off the back of the dragon, landing in a slightly open spot in the alleyway.

On an almost subconscious level Angel noticed that the fighting all around him had practically ceased, demons caught in the thrall of watching the unprecedented sight of a vampire taking on a dragon. One moment later the dragon swooped down, scoring the ground in front of Angel with a blast of fire, incinerating the transfixed demons too foolish to move out of its way. Angel didn't flinch. With a heavy thump, the dragon settled onto the smoking spot it had cleared.

//"You and your friends, you're conflicted. You're confused. We're not. That is why you are gonna lose, because we possess the most powerful thing in the world. Conviction."//

The memory of Hauser's final words flickered through Angel's mind, steeling his resolve to finish playing the game out, however foolish and hopeless his methods may appear. Because he had initiated this chain of events, and his motives had been backed by the conviction that he was doing the right thing. He couldn't afford to believe otherwise. He wouldn't have made it this far had he wavered for one moment when making his play for the Circle. The dice were rolled, and the only thing left now was to see if they came up snake eyes. And the wild //insane// chance Angel was taking was being backed by the only real power left to him when facing a multi-ton creature who could //probably would// destroy him with one casual breath. Conviction. Conviction that he could face whatever the dragon would deal out //provided it doesn't chose the easy path and just crisp me where I stand//.

Angel stood between the dragon and his friends, and at this new development Spike, and even Illyria, joined the remaining demons in just staring at the scene transpiring in front of them.

"What the bloody hell is he doing?!" Spike was dumbfounded at the sight, disbelief and wonderment etched across his face.

Illyria tilted her head slightly, staring at the vampire who dared look directly upon a fire-breathing dragon face to face. Her suddenly expressionless face, combined with the intensity of her gaze, caught Spike's attention and he turned to her, although he was still unable to stop sending flickering glances at his apparently suicidal grandsire.

"Care to fill a bloke in on what's going on? 'Cause the way I see it the big ponce has gone insane. And I'm not talking like a fox. It's stark, raving nutters."

"He is looking to ride the dragon."

Illyria's explanation was not satisfactory. "He already rode the dragon, kinda fell off from the looks of it. Care to share a little more detail?"

After one final long look at Angel, Illyria turned to Spike, gazing directly into his eyes with a faint sneer twisting her lips.

"So very young. You lack the knowledge accrued through either experience or education in this matter."

Spike stiffened at the arrogant superiority coating her tone, but swallowed his resentment in favor of getting answers. "So enlighten me."

"Angel is being tested. Dragons have the ability to be weapons of chaos, but they can just as easily turn against their master if the chaos/order balance tilts too far. They can be commanded, but not owned. Reading into the heart of matters is one of their many abilities."

"So you're saying Angel's trying to turn the dragon against the Senior Partners?"

"No. Angel is accepting the challenge of being tested by the dragon, allowing it to read his heart and decide his worthiness... or lack thereof. He had at his fingertips the chance to grasp so much power, and yet he rejected it."

The naked lust for a power squandered coated Illyria's voice, and she paused for a moment, shaking her head in bewilderment of Angel's choices. Spike took the momentary pause to fit in another question.

"So why would the dragon even give Angel a chance? Why bother with the stare down? It could just toast him and problem solved."

Spike returned to staring at the now motionless giant monster whose malevolent yellow eyes were locked unblinkingly on Angel. //Gotta hand it to Angel - the world's biggest bluff, and he's not turning a hair.//

"Are you so ignorant of the intricacies of this matter? This species of dragon is an agent of chaos. Allowing the Wolf, Ram and Hart to direct its actions have given it opportunity to act upon its nature. But dragons are also creatures of wisdom and balance. I ... do not know for certain, but it is possible that allowing Angel to survive will bring greater chaos than merely destroying him would provide." Illyria smiled the cold, arrogant smirk that had frequently crossed her face back when she had possessed the power of a god.

"If bringing chaos in equal parts to the Wolf, Ram and Hart creates the necessary balance, the fact that they think to command the dragon becomes unimportant. *Where* the chaos takes place is less relevant to one who lives for the results themselves."

Spiteful venom infused her next words of explanation, reminding Spike that Illyria's grudge against the Senior Partners was very personal.

"They are not so powerful as they perceive themselves. Yet their power has foolishly blinded them to the reality of the fragile balance of chaos and order. They have brought much chaos to this world of humans, thinking to gain control through this unstable proxy. But balance will always assert itself in the end. One who seeks to destroy through mere chaos becomes vulnerable to the very forces unleashed. They were prepared for Angel to seek greater power. They were not prepared for his ambition to be the path of destruction. And destroying the Circle while yet a member of it has created a chaos for the Wolf, Ram and Hart that the dragon cannot be ignorant of."

"Sounds like Bessie and Angel have a thing or two in common." Spike didn't relax, but he felt just a smidgen better after hearing Illyria's convoluted explanation.

"Not to break up your tea party, but there are still some demons standing around that you might want to finish off. If it wouldn't be too much trouble." Angel wasn't sure what was coming next, but he didn't want his companions caught just standing still when it did arrive.

"Sure, we'll do the work while you make googly eyes at your new friend there," Spike shot back, all the while raising his sword back up and into position. //Makes it sound like we're just taking a walk in the park, and is he actually splitting his attention between that monster and *us*?// "Back to work, Blue."

Satisfied with the renewed sounds of fighting breaking out behind him, Angel pushed all his attention back to his immediate concern. He hadn't broken eye contact with the dragon since it had touched down. But now a strange feeling of peace was settling into his soul. Believing in his heart that he had done all he could, given the situation he found himself in, was providing an unexpected balm to his soul. He was grateful that putting on a front of bravado was not necessary - he was truly okay with whatever might happen next.

The dragon stirred. Broke eye contact, raised its head to the furthest reaches of its serpentine neck, and screamed a deafening bellow into the night.

//Okay, that didn't sound so good. Looking for another weapon might be a good idea.//

And then the rain stopped.

//Great. Here it comes.//

One huff. Two huffs. Angel carefully watched the beast's head, noticed smoke curling around the exposed fangs. //Snake eyes or sevens?// One slow, measured inhalation of breath later, and the alley //world// exploded into flames.

One moment later and the fire disappeared. A hushed silence permeated the now empty alley.

Angel looked around in disbelief. No dragon. No demon cohorts. He felt a little singed, but he was still there. Alive. //Well, undead, at any rate.// He felt like he was moving in slow motion, his head turning around, searching for his companions. There they were, standing almost frozen in position, clearly also assimilating their change in fortune.

Spike broke the silence first. "So... that's it? Game over?"

A wry smile flickered across Angel's face. "Apparently. For now, at any rate."

"Thoughtful of Bessie to clean up the mess. Otherwise the cops might've had questions come daybreak."

Angel blinked, took another slow look around. Not only were the dragon's former companions gone, but the remains of the many carcasses that had accumulated during the night were also gone. A few charred, greasy-looking spots showed through the rain-puddles, but not enough was left to cause the human world to ask awkward questions.

"And we didn't cook to extra crispy with the rest of them because...?" Spike queried.

"Sometimes you don't look for the answers. Just take what you're given and be grateful."

Illyria interrupted the vampires' survey of the alley. "The human's heart still beats. He needs medical attention."

Angel's head whipped to Gunn's prone form. //Gunn's alive?// There it was, a faint pulse. //"They are gonna keep coming, and we are gonna keep fighting."// Relief swept through him, making him feel a little lightheaded, like he could take on the world. Take on the Senior Partners. Hell, take on another dragon.

"Okay, let's get him to a hospital." Angel hesitated, taking in their collective bedraggled appearance. "It might be better if I get him to the hospital and you two clean up and then meet me there. I want one of us staying with him at all times until he's out of the woods. We'll do it in shifts, if necessary." Determination hardened his voice. "I'm not losing another friend tonight."

Illyria gave a brief nod of acquiescence. Spike frowned slightly. "Where are we supposed to clean up? We don't exactly have a home to go to."

Angel hoisted Gunn up into his arms, preparing to carry him to the nearest payphone to call for an ambulance. "In the Hyperion. Illyria should remember where our old rooms were. I stashed us some extra supplies there, clothes and whatnot. I'll be at St. Matthew's, if you could bring me a change of clothes." His eyes passed over the silent, mostly blue figure of their most recently accepted companion. "Illyria, you might want to do that appearance-altering trick Wes told me about when you get to the hospital. Pass for human. We want to keep a low profile. It's easier that way."

Illyria tilted her head in that now familiar gesture, considering his suggestion. "That would be acceptable. I will meet you there after I have rid myself of the stench and slime of our unworthy and vanquished foes."

"Good." Angel started towards the mouth of the alley, then looked back on hearing Spike's voice.

"So... we're all gonna die, huh?" Amused mockery lightened the shadows that had been in his eyes for the past several hours.

Angel grinned back. "Never hurts to be prepared. Just in case."

"At least now we've got time to figure out what comes next."

Angel considered his words for a second. Looked up at the stars twinkling through the rapidly dissipating clouds. //"Finish, good lady; the bright day is done, And we are for the dark."// One moment later he disappeared into the flickering shadows of the night.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Epilogue

"Sponsored By a Vampire"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


It's been two days since I got that letter. Package. Whatever it's called. Special Delivery. Two days since I haven't heard this quiet clock ticking in the back of my head. Two days since I've slept without a lot of tossing and turning. You want to know what hell is? Waiting for a phone call that might never come.

I still function normally, as far as I can tell. No funny looks from the others, no inconvenient questions needing to be dodged. Prison was a great teacher on how to duck below the radar. My shorter fuse is probably being attributed to PMS. I could care less. Because I'm gonna be on permanent rag behavior until I get that damned phone call.

It *will* come. He always pulls through the tough times, one way or another. I've been telling myself that. It's been my freaking mantra for the past two days. Waiting sucks. I'd rather be in a fight to the death than benched on the sidelines.

I tore through the package when it first arrived. Sounds like LA's gonna be a party, and does he ask me to join the fun? Nope. I'm stuck here, playing a waiting game. Because he asked me to. First time he's really asked me to do anything for him. Why'd it have to be this?

Screw him, sending me a letter like that. Why didn't he just send it direct to Buffy? Or Giles?

Alright, truth to tell, I know why. Issues galore between all them. But not me, apparently. Lucky me. I get to be the messenger of doom if he .... Nope. Not going there. Think of the mantra. So I'm the insurance plan. The "this is just a precaution" because "someone needs to know the truth about what's going on" in LA. He's always been good at the doom and gloom 'tude, but I don't remember him EVER taking this kind of "precaution" before. Back to the mantra.

When I get that phone call, maybe I'll just mosey out there. Take a vacation. See that he's okay with my own eyes. Give him that overdue hug. After I kick his ass. Just for the hell of it.

My cell phone rings. Once. Twice. Thre- Okay, that's all I could hold out.

"Faith?"

Heaven.


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