Title: The Soulryver: A Buffy-Angel Crossover Event
The Soulryver: A Buffy-Angel Crossover Event
The sun was already long set. Only a few irregularly spaced street lamps lit the tree-lined walkway, casting erratic patterns of shadow all about. Two young women walked the path, slowly, leisurely. Their comfortable pace betrayed nothing of their true purpose.
"...so I think it'll be a good time. A lot of people from our hall are going. You can come along with me and Oz. It'll be fun!"
"I don't know, Willow. Between school time and slayer time, there's not much time for fun... time."
Willow didn't say anything for a few footsteps. "Well, think about it."
They continued on in silence awhile longer. "Buffy," Willow suddenly began, in a different voice, "you can't hide forev—" She was suddenly cut short by a dark figure that launched itself from the shadows, knocked her to the ground, and began to flail wildly at her, attempting to bite at her neck.
"Hey, buster," Buffy called, drawing a stake from her pocket without missing a beat. The creature turned around. "Chew on this!" She quickly drove the stake into the creature's heart.
It wailed and fell to the ground beside Willow, screaming, blood pouring everywhere. Willow got up quickly, brushing herself off a bit frantically. She and Buffy stared at the writhing creature in disgust.
"Okay, you can turn to dust already."
"I'm not really getting the vampire vibe here, Willow."
The creature gave one last scream and died. Buffy and Willow examined it more closely. It was, or had been once, a middle-aged man, looking now rather the worse for wear.
"What on earth was it?" asked Willow.
"I don't know, but we're going to have to do something about... the mess."
"Eww. Vampires are so much easier to clean up after."
"Give me a hand here," said Buffy, grunting as she lifted and began to drag the corpse. "We'll hide it over in those bushes and then... find Giles! Y'know, being a slayer has lost all its romance."
As they struggled with the body, neither girl noticed the apparition of black smoke that watched for a moment from the bushes across the path before retreating slowly into the woods.
"Where's that book I asked you to shelve, Xander?"
"On the shelf."
"Where on the shelf."
"I used your crazy alphabet system, as requested. We pride ourselves on service."
"No, it's nowhere in the M's."
"M? I thought that was a V. That illuminated script is so hard to read."
"Xander, who would write a book entitled Vonstra Noctis?"
"Who would write a book called Monstra Noctis? The name is definitively goofy either way."
"Creatures of the night, Xander."
There was a knock at the door. Xander answered it.
"Buffy! Willow!" Xander smiled broadly. "What's u—"
"Hi, Xander," said Buffy, cutting him off and walking quickly past him. "Giles, we've got trouble."
Willow smiled at Xander for half a second and ran to follow Buffy.
"Please won't you come in?" mumbled Xander, closing the door. "I guess we know for sure you're not vampires."
"Willow was attacked in the park, but it wasn't a vampire," said Buffy to Giles.
"Buffy staked it," Willow said, shuddering, "but it didn't turn to dust. It screamed and bled a lot and then..."—Willow made a little despairing gesture with her hand—"...died."
"It was... human."
"It was awful."
"A human that acted like a vampire?" asked Giles, readjusting his glasses.
"I don't think it was human anymore," said Buffy. "At least I hope it wasn't."
Willow laid her hand on Buffy's shoulder.
Giles crossed his arms and looked thoughtful. After a moment, he headed for the books. "Well, I can think of a few leads," he said, selecting volumes from various shelves, "but it would be easier if we had one of the... creatures... to examine."
"We... do," said Willow, her voice catching.
"That's the other thing," said Buffy. "We've got to figure out what to do with the body."
"It's messy. Y'know, 'cause of... the gore."
Giles looked grim. "I guess there's nothing for it," he said after a moment, gathering his books into a bag. "We'd better get over there and examine the—the remains... quickly. Do you have more stakes and holy water?"
Xander looked doubtful. "How do we know stakes and holy water will do anything to these demon wannabes?"
"Well, a stake in heart was certainly effective," said Willow. "Not pleasant, but effective."
"Come on," said Buffy, steeling herself. "A little gore is all in a day's work for a slayer. Unfortunately."
"Uh, oh," said Willow, stopping short and putting out her hands to stop the others.
"What is it?" asked Buffy, peering into the darkness. "Another—oh!"
The flashing red and blue lights were just barely visible through the trees.
"It would appear that the police have beaten us to it," said Giles.
"Well, I guess it's back to the books unless another one turns up," said Xander, shrugging and turning back.
As if on cue, a dark figure hurled itself from the bushes at him, knocking him to the ground. Buffy quickly jumped forward and kicked the creature off Xander, then drew out a long stake and held it ready.
The creature ignored the threat and threw itself at her, and got a stake in the heart for its trouble.
"Ick," Buffy said, stepping back as the creature fell shrieking to the ground. "I didn't want to have to do that again."
"Get ready to do it again again!" said Willow, holding up her own stake as another creature emerged from the trees. It held back and began to circle the group, growling and wheezing.
Xander got to his feet and uncapped the bottle of holy water he was carrying. "Let's try this," he said, tossing the contents at the creature. It was a direct hit.
The creature stopped for a moment and sputtered. Then it turned to Xander, snarled, and jumped.
Xander gave a yell and tried to dodge, but he wasn't quite fast enough. "Once was plenty!" he protested as he fell to the ground with the creature clawing at his neck.
Buffy quickly knocked the creature off Xander, and Willow staked it, jumping back hastily as the creature screamed and its blood spurted.
"This gets old real fast," said Xander, rising to his feet and dusting himself off.
Willow looked like she was about to be sick. "Tell me about it."
Giles cast a worried look towards the police cars in the distance. "I've seen enough, I think," he said quickly. "I think we'd better get out of here before the police come to investigate the noise."
"Shouldn't we try to move—" Buffy began.
"No time," said Giles, seeing flashlight beams approach. "Quickly!"
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as they re-entered Giles's home.
"Any idea what we're dealing with here?" asked Buffy.
"Something that turns humans into soulless monsters," said Giles. "I remember reading about it once, somewhere. Where is my copy of Monstra Noctis?"
"Under V," supplied Xander.
"Right," said Giles, heading towards the bookshelf. After a few moments he found and retrieved the book.
"That's an interesting filing system, Xander," said Willow, with an amused look on her face.
Everyone sat down and waited impatiently while Giles leafed through the volume in silence.
"Here it is," said Giles, suddenly. Everyone was around the table in half a second. "There is a demon called a soulryver. It cuts, or ryves, the souls from creatures and feeds on those souls. This leaves the victim, usually a human, as a soulless monster, open to even the weakest of demonic influences."
"Great," said Xander sarcastically, "a freak factory."
"Once the ryver has rived and fed upon a soul, there is no way to return the soul to its original body. The victim, although its body lives, is effectively dead."
"Okay, overwhelming guilt lessening a little now," said Buffy, relieved.
"So how do we stop it?" asked Willow.
Giles frowned with concentration as he read the page. "Physical attacks are useless. The ryver can become insubstantial at will. It must materialize in order to rive the soul from a victim, but even if it is attacked then, it can recover very quickly. Crosses may ward off a ryver temporarily, but a strong ryver is likely to simply knock the cross away. Even holy water slows the demon down only a very little."
"Is it just me, or is this demon starting to sound just a tad invincible?" Buffy asked.
"It says here that there are spells specifically for dealing with a soulryver, but it doesn't say what those spells are."
"Well, that's a big help," said Xander.
"We'll have to search through all the spell books until we find something. Start with the books on banishing, exorcism, and demonic magic."
Everyone groaned but took the books they were handed.
"Why is it here? Has this thing been running around... ryving... for centuries?" asked Willow.
"It must have been summoned," said Giles. "A soulryver on the loose could wipe out the entire population of a country within a year."
"I'm tracking down this lunatic and revoking his summoning license... permanently," said Buffy, darkly.
"First things first," said Giles, pointing at the books. "We've got to find that spell."
The next few hours passed slowly, the heavy silence broken only occasionally by turning pages and soft whispers.
"Here it is!" Willow suddenly exclaimed aloud, making everyone jump. "This spell will render the demon unable to ryve the soul from any living creature," she translated.
"But how do we kill it?" Buffy asked, immediately.
"That will kill it," Giles explained. "Without new souls to feed upon, the ryver will soon die."
Xander still looked doubtful. "It's whole new method of demon killing: starvation. Not quite as exciting as a stake in the heart, but it has its... charm."
"There's a pretty nasty list of ingredients here," Willow said. "We'd better get to work on this soon."
"I'll help you to translate," said Giles, sitting down beside her.
"Hey, there's another spell here," Willow said, suddenly, running her finger across the page. "A soul-protecting spell." She continued slowly, hesitating on some words. "This spell will protect the soul of any creature from removal by any means other than death, including magic spells, curses, and... demonic ryving!"
"Angel!" whispered Xander, suddenly looking away.
"It might be a good idea to cast that spell on everyone here, if it's not too involved," said Giles.
"Moment of happiness," murmured Xander.
"This is even more complicated than that Indian curry you tried to make last month," said Willow, turning over pages to look at the procedure for the spell.
"He could..." mumbled Xander, then kicked the floor lightly. "Buffy..."
"We'll have to concentrate on that first list of components, then," said Giles, unamused. "Wait a moment," he added suddenly, "did you say curse?"
"The soul-protection spell. It protects against removal by curse?"
"Yes, that's... oh! Angel!"
Willow and Giles both turned to look at Buffy. "It would work?" she asked, after a moment's pause.
"Well, that's a curse," said Willow, "and this works against curses...."
"But we can't worry about that now," said Giles, turning back to the book. "We've got to stop the ryver." He and Willow started to translate the first spell, whispering to each other and passing dictionaries.
Buffy sat down in a chair and stared at the wall.
Xander glared at her angrily for a while. Then a guilty look crossed his face. He got up and started pacing.
Eventually, Giles and Willow leaned back in their chairs and sighed.
"All right, we've made the list," said Giles.
"Shouldn't you check it twice?" asked Xander.
"We need to get to work on collecting these items as soon as possible."
Xander glanced at the clock. "It's a little late right now." It was almost two in the morning.
"Then there's nothing else we can do tonight," said Giles. "We'll have to get the shopping done tomorrow. Fortunately, the soulryver cannot come out during the day, so we'll have some time. We can't get all of these things at one place, so let's divide up the list. You can each collect your items and bring them back here in the afternoon. That way, you can still attend class tomorrow," he added, looking at Buffy and Willow.
Buffy did not greet this remark with enthusiasm.
"I might have some trouble concentrating," said Willow, nervously.
"Are you going to be up to spell-casting tomorrow?" asked Buffy. "Not that I doubt you, at all," she added, quickly, "but we're all dead tired already. Oops. Poor choice of words."
Willow smiled. "I think I'll be fine. The spell isn't hard, just... involved."
"You'd better hurry home and get what sleep you can, now. But be careful."
Willow shivered. "What does this thing look like?" Buffy asked.
"You'll know it when you see it." Giles flipped a few pages and turned the book around. A large engraving showed a sinister creature rather like a grim reaper, without a scythe, but with long skeletal claws and black, flowing robes, shredded with decay.
Willow gulped. "I don't suppose that illustration is actual size?"
"No such luck," said Giles, turning the book around again. "A soulryver towers above most humans."
"Oh," said Willow. "It's just that the spell... the ryver has to be at close range for it to work." She forced a smile. "Fun, huh?"
"Let's get that list divided up and get out of here," said Buffy. "We need sleep if we're going to tackle invincible ryver demon tomorrow."
The shadows were lengthening when Buffy walked through Giles's door. "Hi there!" she exclaimed. "I got everything on my list. And staked two more soulless monsters," she added with mock cheeriness. She stopped and emphasized with her hands, "I really hope this spell works."
"It will," said Willow, with confidence, taking the bag that Buffy handed her as she sat painting an intricate pattern on a large board lying on the floor. "We're almost ready to go." She handed some of the bag's contents to Oz. "Here, could you mix these in that bowl?"
"Where's Xander?" asked Buffy.
"He had the longest list since he doesn't have any classes to attend," explained Giles. "He stopped by earlier and dropped off everything except for the mandrake root. Apparently, all the places that carry it are out right now."
"They would be," said Buffy, rolling her eyes.
"I won't need that until the last minute anyway, just a few shavings in the middle of the circle," Willow said, finishing the pattern. "There! What do you think?"
Buffy looked down at the intricate design on the floor. "It's very... mystical."
An hour later, night had fallen, but the spell was ready.
"Now we just need the mandrake," said Willow.
"And the ryver," added Oz.
Suddenly, Xander burst through the door and closed it quickly behind himself, panting heavily. "Here's your mandrake," he said, tossing the root to Willow. "And y'know how you said you'd need the ryver to be at close range?"
"Uh, yeah?" said Willow, already shaving the mandrake.
"I don't think that'll be a problem."
The door splintered. Xander dove for cover as shards of wood flew across the room.
There, standing in the ruined doorway, was the soulryver... in all its demonic glory. A cold wind blew into the house, ruffling the ryver's decaying robes. It turned its skeletal countenance on the human lying below it.
Xander grabbed a cross from his belt and desperately held it aloft. The ryver cackled and swiftly tore the cross from his hands. Xander quickly got to his feet and tried to back away, but the ryver grasped Xander tightly in its skeletal claws.
Xander yelled, and heard Buffy scream his name and Willow begin to chant the spell before his body went limp and his entire world became the painful embrace of the ryver.
The demon's hoarse, hissing voice echoed in his mind. "So your friends tried to use you as bait did they? And not for the first time, eh? No, don't protest, you know it's true." The ryver laughed. "And a fearful, miserable soul is so much more delicious. Did you really think that you and your pathetic little friends could stop me? Fools! First I'll take you, and then the soul of that little Wiccan pretender over there. Couldn't cast a spell right if her life depended on it. Yes, that's right, get angry. Livid. Enraged. You can do it!" The ryver gave an evil cackle.
"You're almost mine now. I can smell your soul, taste it." The ryver raked his claws into Xander's very being. "What's this?" Xander could feel the ryver probe his mind, but was helpless to prevent it. "Unrequited, eh? The best. And for a male vampire with a soul! You are an odd boy. Pathetic little closeted faggot, in love with a vampire. Hmm, I might have to stop by and see him sometime. Sounds like he has a wondrously tortured soul ready for the tak—" Suddenly, the ryver's voice was replaced by a strangled cry as Xander's senses jumped back to life. He could hear Willow completing the spell, and could feel wind blowing papers and books and furniture about the room.
The demon convulsed. There was a deep, hoarse, agonizing wail, and a muted chorus of hopeless screams along with it. The soulryver twisted and writhed, falling to the floor with Xander still tight in its clutches. Moments later, the demon released him and shrank into a thin wisp of jet black smoke, which fled from the room.
"Xander!" cried a chorus of voices, as his friends rushed to him.
"Angel!" whispered Xander's hoarse voice, as he lay shivering on the floor.
Willow lifted Xander into her arms. "Don't worry, Xander, you're going to be okay."
"Angel!" Xander rasped again.
"What, Xander?" Willow pulled Xander closer and turned her head to hear.
"The ryver... he knows." Xander coughed. "Must... help... Angel!" Xander said, more clearly, struggling to escape Willow's embrace and stand. When he did manage to scramble to his feet, he swayed, woozy, and had to place a hand on Willow's shoulder, placing the other over his forehead.
She grabbed the hand on her shoulder and stood up beside him. "What are you talking about?"
"When he was... was trying to take my soul," Xander stuttered, "he could read my thoughts. I could hear his, too." Xander shivered. "It was... kind of not good."
Willow wrapped one arm around him supportively and patted his near shoulder with her other hand.
"He knows about Angel, and he's going to... to ryve his soul."
"This spell will render the demon unable to ryve the soul from any living creature," recited Giles, tonelessly.
"Living creature," repeated a suddenly-enlightened Buffy, with emphasis.
"We have to—" Xander began.
"We have to save him! We have to stop the ryver!" cried Buffy, making a dash for the door.
"Wait!" Xander coughed again. "The sp—"
"The spell!" Willow exclaimed, making a dash for the book, leaving Xander clutching at a bookshelf.
Willow grabbed a sheet of paper and a pencil, and began, frantically, to translate the text.
"Willow will need to get to Angel as soon as possible," said Giles, speaking quickly and softly. "The soulryver will not be able to travel during the day, but at night, even in its weakened state, it can fly very quickly indeed."
"Willow and I can leave as soon as she finishes translating," Buffy stated, looking around as though she were about to start packing.
"Buffy, we need you here," said Giles. "There are too many of the ryver's victims on the loose here in Sunnydale, and we need to track down the summoner. Someone else will have to go with Willow."
"She can take care of herself, you know," mumbled Willow, without even looking up or stopping her pencil.
"There's too much at stake for her—" Giles stopped and pushed his glass back into place "—for you," he corrected, "to chance it alone. Besides, if you have trouble with the soulryver, you'll need help so that you won't be distracted from casting the spell."
"Oz?" Willow asked, finally looking up.
"It's my time of the month." Oz's voice and face were expressionless, but Willow looked ready to die.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, completely distracted from the book, looking forlornly at Oz. "I forgot."
Oz just shrugged and half-smirked. Willow brightened and suddenly remembered what she had been working on.
"I guess that leaves Xander," said Giles.
Everyone in the room turned to face him. Xander rolled his eyes. "I guess that leaves Xander," he mimicked. "Escort of last resort."
"I can't believe I'm driving all the way to LA just to do Deadboy and Buffy a favor."
"I mean, if you think about it, this is just a 'let Buffy and Deadboy start dating again' spell."
"Xander, Angel didn't leave just because of his curse. And if the ryver gets Angel's soul, we'll have another giant problemo on our hands."
"Oh, yeah, well, I guess that's kind of important."
"You were the one who started this."
Xander looked hurt. "Whatever."
Willow looked at Xander in confusion for a moment, then shook her head and launched into another rehearsal of the spell.
Angel was hanging his coat when he noticed the small flashing light on the answering machine. He tapped the button and sat on the edge of the desk, staring at the patterns of shadow cast by the setting sun.
"Angel. Rupert Giles here. We have been fighting a demon here in Sunnydale, a soulryver. It feeds on souls by ryving them from other creatures. We've been able to weaken it so that it cannot ryve the soul from any living creature, but it knows about you and knows where you are. Willow is on her way; she has a spell that will prevent the ryver from harming you, and, without new souls, it will eventually weaken and die. Please be careful. If the ryver takes your soul, it will become more powerful than ever. Call if you have any questions. Willow will be there soon."
At that instant, there was a knock at the door. He moved quickly across the room to answer it.
"Willow. Good to see you."
"Did you talk to Giles?"
"I got his message."
"I'll set up for the spell right away. It's a little complicated. I don't know how much time we'll have before the ryver finds us."
"Please come in." Angel gestured and Willow rushed into the room, emptying her satchel and arranging items on the desk.
Angel was about to close the door when he looked out again into the hallway.
"Xander. Come in."
Xander, wearing a heavy jacket, walked in and found a chair in the corner of the room. Willow was still cataloguing her paraphernalia. "Chicken gizzards... chicken gizzards..." she was mumbling, "I had a Ziploc bag of... oh, here you are."
Angel sat down across the room and watched in silence as Willow made her preparations, lighting candles, dripping wax, drawing patterns, and mixing vile concoctions. Finally she turned around.
"All right! You ready for some serious Wicca?" she asked, grinning at Angel.
"What do you need me to do?"
"Just sit there." She closed her eyes and held out one hand towards him, palm down, fingers splayed. Then she began to chant. Her tone quivered, uncertain, but she steadily recited the text, her voice rising to a climax. "...leat karnuum!" She opened her eyes wide and grinned, looking around expectantly, her arm still stretched out before her. The grin faded as it became apparent that nothing was happening.
"Hello?" she said after a moment, addressing the empty air. "Mystical forces? Are you there?" Finally she dropped her hand. "I don't understand. I did everything exactly as it said. I rehearsed it a million times." Xander dropped his head into his hands, muttering.
Willow pulled the original text from her satchel and started to review it. "Did I mistranslate? I thought I got everything right." Angel stood up and joined her at the desk. He glanced at the text and then walked over to his bookshelf to retrieve a dictionary. Soon they were going through the spell word by word.
Xander watched in silence. He would occasionally catch himself fidgeting—drumming on the chair, bouncing his knee—and force himself to stop.
Finally, Angel spoke. "There it is. Chicken livers. Not gizzards. Livers."
Willow threw up her hands. "They're grisly. They came from a chicken. Isn't that close enough?"
"I don't know," Xander spoke in a low voice, "but we'd better do something quickly. The sun's gone down."
Willow looked up at the window. "Oh!" she exclaimed, nervously. She turned to Angel. "Is there a grocery near here?"
"Yes, there's one two blocks that way."
"Will they have chicken livers?"
"I don't know, I've never had to go inside."
"Oh, right. That vampire thing. Where do you get your—"
At that moment, Doyle and Cordelia burst into the room. "In your dreams, Doyle. In your very sick, twisted—" Cordelia gave a short scream of delight as she saw who was in the room. "Willow!" She rushed forward a grabbed Willow in a bear trap of a hug. Willow, wide-eyed with surprise, returned it rather less enthusiastically.
"Willow!" Cordelia exclaimed again, finally releasing her hold. Suddenly her face fell. "Yuck! What did you do to my desk?"
"There's a really nasty demon after Angel and I have to cast a spell to protect him. Quickly. But I need chicken livers and I've got... gizzards. Angel said there was a grocery a couple of blocks away?"
"I'll take you down there and we can catch up! C'mon!"
Willow looked overwhelmed. Doyle cleared his throat, and Cordelia glanced at him.
"Oh, yeah, this is Doyle. He helps Angel. Doyle, this is Willow. We were in high school together."
"Pleased to meet you," said Doyle, extending his hand. "You talk a lot more than the last guest we had from Angel's past. Lot prettier, too."
"Ignore him," said Cordelia dismissively. "Let's go."
"Ladies, ladies, are you sure you don't need an escort?" said Doyle, already following them as Cordelia dragged Willow out of the room. "No really nasty demon's gonna hurt you when I'm around. No, sir. And if you can't find chicken livers here, I can hook you up with—" The rest of Doyle's banter was cut off by the closing door.
Angel turned to see Xander glaring after them. Xander's countenance blanked when he turned to face Angel.
There were a few moments of silence.
"We already covered that, didn't we? So, how've you been?"
"Okay. Nice office."
A few more moments of silence passed, during which Xander shifted uncomfortably.
"Can I take your jacket?"
"Yeah. Please. I am kind of hot—warm, I mean. Thanks."
"Why were you all bundled up?" asked Angel, hanging the rather heavy coat next to his own.
Xander stalled for a second, then spoke with forced ease. "Ryver attack. Left me with a bad, um, chill. Kind of like an ice cream headache, only worse."
Angel looked at him for a moment. "Can I get you anything?"
"No, I'm feeling better. Thanks." Xander stared at the floor.
Angel stared at him curiously for a while, then walked over to the desk and picked up a newspaper.
So neither noticed, twenty minutes later, when a thick, vile smoke began to filter into the room, slowly coalescing.
Xander shivered and looked up. At first, he was struck speechless with horror by the cloud forming behind Angel.
"Angel!" he finally shouted, when he got his nerves back. Angel looked up, surprised, and saw Xander rushing towards him.
A long black skeletal hand reached out of the cloud and effortlessly swatted Xander away. He flew across the room and landed with a thud and a groan, curled up in the corner.
Angel spun about to see Xander's attacker. The ryver's terrifying physical manifestation was completely formed, and it reached for Angel with its claws.
Angel beat them off, shifting to game face as he leaped away. The ryver calmly moved forward and grabbed Angel again. Angel struggled, snarling, but the ryver's grip was increasingly powerful.
Suddenly, the ryver's voice echoed through his mind.
"What a strong, yet tortured soul you have! The boy was right! And it will be such a pleasure to ryve it!"
It was all Angel could do to keep from screaming as the ryver, with its skeletal claws, plucked at his very being.
"How fortunate that pathetic little boy can't stop thinking about you! Or I might never have found you in time, and wouldn't that have been tragic?"
Angel tried to struggle but he was no longer able to control his body.
"Angel!" He could hear Xander, despite his own pain, scream his name as his body went limp in the ryver's clutches.
"Ah, beautiful! Still he yearns to save you. I'm sure that watching you lose your soul will make him positively suicidal. And a suicidal soul will make a lovely dessert after I've finished making a meal of you."
This time, Angel did scream. Not physically, but louder than a thousand mortal screams could ever be.
"What's this? You? The boy? This is better, far better than I expected. It's a dream come true!" The ryver's vile cackle echoed through Angel's mind. "And now your soul will die, knowing that it missed this chance at redemption! This one chance, perhaps its only real chance, at l—"
At that instant, Willow burst into the room. Without even blinking, she tossed a leaking plastic bag onto the desk and held out her hand towards the ryver. "Prennia rastrum leat karnuum!"
This time, something definitely did happen.
Angel's body convulsed as he suddenly regained his senses and his control. He struggled against the ryver, feeling it claw at both his skin and at his soul, wailing. But it was losing its grip, growing weaker. With a roar, Angel tore the demon from him and threw it against the wall. The ryver shrieked and dissolved again into a jet black wisp, escaping through an air vent.
Angel watched it flee and then suddenly collapsed to sit on the floor, shivering and clutching himself tightly.
"Angel!" Xander whispered, still out of breath. He tried to reach him but Willow was faster.
"Angel!" she exclaimed. "Are you all right? I'm sorry it took so long to find the liver."
"It's all right, I'm fine," Angel stammered, without conviction. His face had shifted to normal. "Help Xander."
"You're shivering like... a really cold guy. At least sit in a chair. Give me a hand, guys," she said, turning to Doyle and Cordelia, who had followed her into the room. They all helped Angel to a chair, where he continued to sit, holding himself, but shivering less.
"Xander..." Angel murmured.
"Where is Xander?" asked Willow, looking around.
"Xander's here?" Cordelia seemed astonished.
"Don't mind me," mumbled Xander, waving one hand dismissively, the other still clutching at his stomach where the ryver had struck him.
"Oh, Xander," said Willow, and proceeded to help him into a chair as well. When he was sitting upright, she coaxed his clutching hand away and examined his torso. "You'll be okay. Bruised, but mostly he just knocked the wind out of you."
"Easy for you to say," said Xander, wincing but managing a small smile. "Good spell."
Willow grinned at him and stood up. "Well, I think our work here is done!" she said, looking around.
"Not that we're not grateful for you saving Angel and all," countered Cordelia, "but I think you have a little mess to clean up." Cordelia nodded meaningfully towards the desk.
"Oh, yeah, sorry," Willow said, grinning apologetically. Willow walked over to the desk and began collecting the various spell components into plastic bags, which she then gathered in her satchel.
As she lifted the bag of chicken livers, chicken blood streamed everywhere.
"Oops!" said Willow, grinning even more widely. "Leaky bag."
Cordelia scrunched up her delicate nose. "That's disgusting."
Meanwhile, Angel and Xander, who had both been staring at the floor, looked up to find themselves each staring into the other's eyes. Xander immediately looked nervous, but couldn't turn away. Angel looked dazed, but... searching. Neither broke the gaze until Willow intervened.
"Xander?" she said, standing in front of him and waving her hand. "You there?"
Xander looked up with a start. "Yeah, sure."
"We've got to get back to Sunnydale."
"But you just got here!" Cordelia protested. "You haven't seen my apartment! I haven't even gotten to say hi to Xander yet. Hi, Xander!"
"Hi, Cordy," replied Xander, weakly. He then turned to Willow. "Do we have to go back right now?"
"Oz is wolfing out, Buffy may need help with the rest of the ryver's victims, not to mention finding the summoner, and we've got class tomorrow. No one said helping a slayer was easy. Okay, Xander? I'll drive."
Xander looked up at Willow, who had a rather eager expression on her face. "Couldn't we just—" he began. He paused, then gave in. "Yeah, sure. Just gimme a sec."
"Great!" she said, spinning around to face Angel, who had been doing his best to stare through her. He looked up at her suddenly.
"Angel, the soul-protection spell doesn't just protect from the ryver. It protects from spells and curses, too."
Angel looked at her closely, eyes twitching back and forth, trying to determine if she meant what he thought she meant. "Even...?"
"Even the terms of your curse. And the spell lasts forever. I think you just got your soul back for good." Willow grinned at him.
Angel reacted as if he had just taken a blow to the stomach. After a moment to recover, he looked up at Willow again. "Thank you."
"No problem," she replied, merrily, and turned back to Xander. "How are you doing?"
Angel quickly and silently slipped from the room. Cordelia was looking at the desk, Doyle was looking from Cordelia to Willow, and Willow was looking at Xander. Only Xander noticed Angel leave.
"You ready?" Willow asked.
Xander frowned. "Sure," he said, somewhat hopelessly.
Willow helped him up and herded him towards the door. "Sorry we can't stay," she said. "We'll be in touch. Bye, Cordy. Nice to meet you, Doyle. Good luck, Angel... Angel? He was just here."
"Vampires," Doyle drawled, "always skulking off somewhere. No manners. It was a pleasure to meet you, Willow. You're quite the Wiccan."
This last comment distracted Willow temporarily. "Thank you," she said gratefully, blushing slightly, then renewed her effort to get Xander out the door.
"Wait," protested Xander. "I'm cold again. I forgot my jacket."
Willow released him. "Please hurry," she said, under her breath, and headed into the hallway.
Xander walked hastily back to the rack and grabbed his jacket, pausing for just a moment to run his hand down the length of Angel's coat. "Bye, Cordy. Bye, Doyle," he said quickly, waving to each of them. Just as he was about to leave the door, a hand caught his shoulder. He started and turned about to face Angel. Xander looked somewhat afraid.
"Call me," Angel said, handing Xander a card.
Xander looked shocked and spoke without thinking. "What's this? A fountain?"
Angel closed his eyes and hung his head in frustration.
"Oh, sorry. I get it. That's pretty cool." Angel looked up and their eyes met for a moment.
"Come on, Xander!"
Xander made a half-gesture of farewell and ran after Willow.
Angel closed the door and leaned his head forward against it.
"What was that all about?" asked Doyle.
Cordelia ignored him. "Now just how the heck am I supposed to get chicken liver juice out of my desk blotter? Eww, it got all over the calendar, too. I hope you didn't have anything important to do Thursday, 'cause we'll never know what it was now."
Angel lifted his head slightly and let it fall.
After tumbling into the passenger seat of the car, Xander turned to Willow.
"Would you like to explain what the big rush is?" Xander asked, with curiosity rather than anger.
"I—" she began exasperatedly, then stopped and reconsidered. "I'm worried about Oz," she said, more calmly.
Xander looked at her doubtfully, but Willow's eyes were set on the road. Xander shook his head and leaned back into his seat. He surreptitiously pulled the card from his jacket pocket and stared at it while Willow tried to find the fastest route to the freeway.
"Success!" Willow exclaimed, as she walked through the splintered hole that had been Giles's front door and into the disaster area that was his front room. Xander followed her quietly, still wearing his coat.
"You guys are back quick," said Buffy, somewhat surprised.
"Is Oz okay?" asked Willow.
"He's fine," said Buffy, nodding.
"Are there any more of the ryver's victims on the loose?"
"I think I finally staked the last of them. Bleh," said Buffy, making a face.
"What about the summoner?"
"It turns out that he was the ryver's first victim," said Giles. "He didn't protect himself properly when trying to summon the demon. The police caught him attacking someone, and now he's being blamed for all the deaths. He was killed trying to resist arrest."
Willow stared for a moment. "And so the problem neatly cleans up after itself." She turned to face Xander, shrugging theatrically. "I guess we didn't need to hurry back after all."
Xander cast her a tired glance, walked over to a fallen chair lying in the middle of the room, righted it, and sat down, looking exhausted. Willow bit her lip.
"I don't think the problem's completely cleaned up," said Giles.
"What's left?" asked Buffy.
Buffy and Willow had given up on sorting books and were sitting in the middle of the floor, talking about school and gossiping about classmates. Giles was very carefully trying to repair an old leather-bound volume that had been damaged during the altercation with the ryver. Xander was wearily but carefully plastering a hole in the wall.
Suddenly, his hand froze and he looked up and stared blankly. No one noticed until moments later when the trowel dropped from his hand.
"Xander?" asked Buffy. "Narcoleptic much?"
"Angel!" Xander suddenly said, still in a trance.
Doyle was once again, in a circumlocutory fashion, trying to chat up Cordelia while she merrily printed up another invoice. Angel was sitting in a chair across the room, reading the newspaper. Suddenly, the paper fell from his hands.
Doyle turned around. "Angel? What's up?" Angel's expression was completely blank as he stared into empty space. "Are you getting the visions now? That's a relief."
"Xander," Angel whispered, too softly for either Doyle or Cordelia to hear.
"What, Xander?" asked Willow, getting up and crossing the room to kneel beside him. "What's going on?" She waved her hand in front of him but received no response. "This is looking not good," she said, turning to the others.
Suddenly Xander's trance broke. He sat back and shook his head a few times.
"You're back!" said Willow. "Where were you?"
Xander held his head in his hands. "The ryver. It... it's dead. I could hear it die. All the other souls... free."
"Angel?" Cordelia asked. "You're really creeping me out here. This is beyond brooding. Say something... do something... anything! Doyle?"
"Calm down, calm down," he said, reassuringly. "Maybe it's just some vampire thing. Angel? Angel, buddy?"
Suddenly, Angel shook his head and looked up at Doyle.
Doyle smirked. "That's what we were gonna ask you."
"You, like, totally zoned out there for a second... or actually longer."
"The ryver's dead," Angel explained.
"Ryver?" asked Cordelia.
"The... chicken-liver demon."
"How do you know it died?" asked Doyle.
"I could hear it. And all the souls it had taken. They're free, now."
"And that's a good thing, right?" asked Cordelia.
"Yes, that's a good thing," said Angel, looking away distractedly.
Willow put her arm around Xander. "You going to be okay?"
"Well, that's finally over then," said Buffy.
"Almost," whispered Xander to himself, as he fingered the card he still carried in his pocket.