"Angel, who did this to you," Willow asked, cautiously pulling back the cloth of his shirt now pasted to flesh by dried blackened blood and pus. She winced as her ministrations allowed the wound to open. It began to ooze and bleed and smoke. It did not smell that well either.
Andrew skidded, overshooting the foyer archway. "I got it!" he said, panting from the scramble for the first aid kit. He fumbled with the case's latch, opening it and putting it on the floor next to them."It was wedged in beside the refrigerator by a bent fork," he explained. "Oh, and I found all the lost silverware there too! Uh, they're a little bit furry."
"This is serious, Andrew," Willow snapped with a scowl. She unwound some gauze as she quickly rummaged through the kit. "This is not enough; we need the surgical kit from the infirmary."
"I'll get it," Andrew volunteered. The sight and smell of the oozing wound made him queasy and Willow noted the muffled retching and gagging sounds that followed him out the door.
"Here, Angel, put some pressure on this," she said, packing the wound with loose gauze.
Her hand accidentally brushed across the red and black jagged circle barely an inch from the wound, directly over his heart. She thought it was a tattoo, he had several, though she didn't remember him having one there; but tattoos don't bite. This one bit her like a spider startled by her hand. She jerked it away. The circle glowed with the incandescence of a coal starting to catch flame. The flesh beneath and skin along its edges began to smolder.
"No! Don't!" Angel rasped, his hand abruptly halting the gentle pressure.
The muscles in his jaw and neck involuntarily contracted as the gauze snagged on the rough edges surrounding the wound tearing them anew.
"No! No pressure...it's splintered...all directions...can't get it out..." he said, his voice faltering as it failed him.
Willow grabbed a pre-packaged gauze pad. "Oh no, no pressure," she repeated in quiet alarm, ripping open the gauze and putting it over the kindling circle not
knowing whether it would ignite or quench it.
The loose gauze in the wound was saturated and fresh blood and ooze began to trickle down Angel's chest leaving seared steaming rivulets in his flesh.
Willow was, as a rule, steady in these situations, she'd seen Angel hurt before, Spike as well, and injured vampires-just not as big a deal in the triage area as mortals, but she had never seen this.
Angel's skin, always pale, was chalky and looked very dry and ashen. She knew that vampires didn't, under normal circumstances, breathe, at least not often, but he was breathing, hard and labored, and if she was not mistaken, each exhale held a little more faint smoke than the last, and that smell...vampires usually smelled, well, good to her. Occasionally she'd come across one that was a little ripe or just plain unhygienic. Angel always smelled like cedar and spearmint mixed with leather and sorta licoricey. This smelled like dry-scorched death. Willow felt the panic escalate.
"Right, no pressure," she whispered. "I need help." She hit the intercom by the door. "Giles! Hurry!" she yelled.
She and Giles were working in the study when the security monitor beeped
indicating someone at the main gate, someone who couldn't pass without
intercession through the mystic locks and who didn't have a current access code
for the physical ones.
She wasn't overly concerned when there was no answer to her salutatory inquiries. The intercom at the gate was garbled, at best, since the Lei-Ach incident last fall. The main console would give a visual and she offered to go check it, needing a break from the routine research.
She checked the main security panel in the common living area pulling up video for the gate. There was no vehicle in the drive. She sighed heavily as she switched to the camera in the walk-up alcove, it was still spattered with exploded Lei-Ach, but she could see it was Angel. She wondered why he was here. He usually called first. He didn't look well. Something was wrong.
Willow began the incantation that would allow him to pass through the gate, hoping that enough of it made it through the intercom system to let him know when the mystic locks would allow him in.
It was apparent from the look on Angel's face that her words did not transfer through the Lei-Ach clogged speakers. Luckily, the click of the electronic door lock did the trick. He was in the compound, but he was not moving very well. I might have to go get him, she thought.
Willow hurriedly recited the spell to allow him into the main house as she headed to the foyer.
“Are we having company," Andrew asked, coming out of the kitchen, a large sandwich in hand. He’d overheard her invocations.
"It's Angel," Willow said, "he's here, coming from the gate, Andrew, he doesn't really look too good, can you go check and see if he needs help?"
"Yeah," he said, "just don't eat my sandwich," setting the plate down on the bookcase. He turned and opened the door. Angel was already there, in an upright slump against the barrier. Willow realized Andrew had interrupted her incantation before she’d spoken the last two crucial words.
"Come in," they both chimed. The barrier fell away and Angel fell with it, hard across the threshold taking Andrew down with him. Willow attempted to break their fall and went down as well, leaving them all in a heap just inside the doorway.
Andrew squirmed trying to get out from underneath, as Willow propped Angel up against the doorframe. She knew Andrew was all right by his wriggling and fussing, but Angel was hurt. There was a large oozing hole in his chest, gashes in an arm and a leg and a deep slash alongside his face from temple to jaw line.
"We need the first aid kit," she exclaimed, glancing at Andrew as she spoke, "...it's in the kitchen." Andrew scurried leaving her to attend to Angel.
"What happened," she asked, moving the lapel of his coat away for a better look at the wound, "Angel, who did this to you?"
"Willow! What," it was Giles dashing into the far end of the hall. "...Angel?"
"Giles, he's hurt bad," her voice telling fear and concern.
Giles quickly assessed Angel's wounds. Willow was not wrong, he was hurt - bad.
Xander arrived panting at the door. "I thought I saw..." he said catching his breath, "...I did!" He was never pleased to see Angel.
"He's been staked," Willow said, "and there's splinters."
"We need to move him," Giles said upon assessment of his wounds, "...somewhere with more light. Uh...the kitchen. Xander, let's see if we can get him up and get him in there."
Willow, Giles and Xander help Angel rise to his feet, halfway up a violent coughing fit abruptly halts their progress. Angel, nearly doubling over, expelling smoke and dust with each labored hack. He gestured for a little less assistance and grabbed the doorframe in effort to pull himself upright.
"Uh, gently," Giles offered belatedly, attempting to stabilize him. Braced by Giles on one side and Xander on the other, they began to trudge slowly to the kitchen, steadied by Willow from behind.
"What happened," Giles asked.
"It was Spike," Angel said, stopping mid-step to cough up more dust and smoke.
"Spike did this," Willow asked, supporting all of them through the coughing spell.
"We fought..." Angel continued, gasping for enough air to form the words.
"About what," Xander asked.
"Do we need a reason," Angel said with more force than he was able to triggering another coughing jag. His tone, more Angelus than Angel, making Xander promptly drop the questioning.
"How long ago, uh...where," Giles continued trying to get as much preliminary information as he could before they started the physical probing.
"The Mission, about eight, ten days ago...I don't re..." Angel's voice failed him.
Willow almost asked, what mission, but she caught enough of the recognition in Giles' eyes to know he knew exactly where. Her mouth opened in query but no words came out. Giles knows where Spike is, she thought, that opens up a whole new...she felt Angel flinch precursive to a cough...but this is not the
She concentrated on steadying them into the kitchen.
Andrew burst in from behind them offering the surgical kit as Giles asked, "You've been...like this, for ten days?"
Angel nodded, "It took that long to get here," he stopped to inhale sharply, "I can't get them out...they've been festering..." he gasped for enough air to continue, setting off further coughing, "...have to deconsecrate...splinters..."
"Deconsecrate," Willow asked, "Why?"
"Andrew, help us get him up on the table," Giles instructed.
"We..." Angel strained, "...knocked over a cross...a reliquary crucifix. It shattered."
"A reliquary? How old," Giles asked, removing Angel's jacket and shirt. He rolled them up as a headrest and eased Angel down onto the table.
"Fifteen..." Angel winced, "...fifteen hundred..."
"From the fifteen hundreds, then it can't be that..." Giles began.
"No, not 1500's...it's fifteen hundred years old...six...sixth century," Angel corrected.
"Oh!" Giles said in that tone that was usually proceeded by a 'Dear Lord' and a vigorous cleaning of his glasses. It was presently followed by the removal of the saturated gauze packing the wound and then by a heartfelt 'Dear Lord' as sinuses were offended and eyes watered all around the room.
"Sorry," Angel managed meekly.
"Camphor," Andrew interjected helpfully, holding out the small jar from the surgical kit. He was already sporting a generous moustache of it. Xander reached for it, gagging, then passed it to Willow who obliged a grateful Giles first then herself. She offered some to Angel whose face turned even paler.
"Wooden, I take it," Giles asked opening a bottle of saline to flush the debris from the main wound.
"H-harp wood," Angel managed to answer.
"Ash," Willow clarified.
"The reliquary, what was in it," Giles asked, dabbing gingerly at the wound.
"Two, two vials..." Angel began.
"Blood," Giles asked hastily with alarm.
"No...o-oil...and three...pigeon feathers. The vials...broke, saturated everything..." Angel winced in pain.
"This cross, did it have a name?"
"Cloves...Clover...Cloven..." Angel tried, but could not remember.
"Cross of Clovis," Giles inquired.
Angel nodded, unable to vocalize further.
"Holy Ampoulla, lovely," Giles sighed.
"Rollicksome wrecked reliquary, Batman," Xander chimed. Giles, Willow and
Angel all glared at him. Sobering, he asked, "If this cross is...how could Spike, I mean...he's not exactly..."
"...an altar boy," Giles finished for him.
"No, not yet," Angel said weakly, pacing his words with measured breaths. "He's been hanging around those robed types too long." He glanced at the wound in his chest, took a long labored breath and addressed Giles specifically, "...his weapon of choice of late..." then he wasn't able to say anymore.
Giles turned his attention to the small gauze pad, which was starting to char. He lifted it revealing an angry molten circle sinking into Angel's chest. He quickly replaced the gauze, dousing it with saline to keep it from bursting into flame.
"The Black Thorn," he whispered, barely audible.
"The tattoo," Willow asked.
"It's not a tattoo," he paused, "...it's a brand." He didn’t add anything more, it would not be helpful, and Willow, wisely, did not inquire further.
Giles studied the selection of scalpels in the roll pack of the surgical kit; none were adequate to the task.
"Uh, Giles..." Andrew said, "...sparklage."
"Giles!" Xander added.
Rupert looked up, "you've all seen vampires dust before,” he said calmly.
"Just not in slow motion," Willow realized.
"It has to come out, now!" he said, putting down the roll of scalpels.
"Hold him, all of you," he said grabbing the longest butcher knife out of the wooden block on the counter. With both hands and all the power he could muster, he plunged it directly into Angel's heart.
Willow and Xander both flinched as the knife penetrated flesh, bracing for a squirting spatter of blood that was not to come.
Andrew fainted, fortunately slumping over Angel's legs, his body weight
serving to hold him in place on the table.
Angel screamed, then spasmed and gasped, slipping into unconsciousness.
Willow was certain she heard the tip of the knife hit the table and she winced as she heard ribs and sternum crack as Giles pulled the knife steadily towards him with all the force he had, leaving a gaping hole.
Xander lunged for the sink and heaved, wet then dry.
Giles reached into the newly enlarged chest chasm and with no small effort, extricated the glistening splinter of ashwoodash wood from Angel's pericardium. He grabbed the flashlight from the surgical kit and rapidly inspected the wound, which was already beginning to seal, then the splinter. It had come out intact after ten days of sawing away at the membrane surrounding Angel's heart.
"Willow..." he said, examining the splinter more thoroughly, fascinated by its auto-restorative and self-cleansing properties, its tiny barbed projections now adhering smoothly to its pearly iridescent surface, like a living thing, now in repose. "What do we have in the vaults to deconsecrate the wounds?"
"Huh, oh...Breken's bile," she answered unsure if that was the best choice.
Giles nodded, "that should do it."
"Andrew," Giles said, "...Andrew!" he said louder, rousing him. "Andrew, the Hadean leaches you've been breeding, are they ready to feed?"
"Uh, leaches? Yeah, they're old enough."
"Good, after Willow deconsecrates Angel's wounds, let them feed. They can eat away the damaged tissue. Oh! Don't let them eat too much, we don't want them to develop a taste for living...or, uh, un-living flesh, just the corrupted areas, and see if you can get some of the girls to get the guest room ready and to help getting him up there when you’re done."
“I'll have them bring a gurney," Andrew said before heading out to the dormitories to collect the needed extra hands.
"I'll get the Breken's bile," Willow began, "...Giles, there are a few different spells I could use, any suggestions as to which one, I mean, how much, how...deeply, do I have to deconsecrate..." she looked toward Angel stirring
slightly on the table.
"Oh, uh, as you see fit. Willow, if he is conscience, let him tell you, he should know when it's enough. He should be able to feel it," Giles said, "...as should you."
"What should I do," Xander asked, wiping his face with a wet towel and dabbing off the rest of the greasy camphor.
"Just keep him from rolling off the table, keep him still if he wakes up before we get back, oh, and uh, see if you can find the ammonia sticks in the kits, in case he doesn't," Willow instructed.
Xander nodded, "and I'll put these," he motioned to the now disheveled
first aid kits"...back together."
"Thanks," Willow smiled at him.
Giles was leaving the kitchen, taking the splinter back to the study to be tagged with all the appropriate log entries.
"Giles wait," she said after him, catching up in the hallway. "That tat...the brand...what was…is, it? Angel didn't have it before, and I thought, vampires couldn't...shouldn't it have healed," she asked, hoping that he could decipher her questions.
"Circle of the Black Thorn," he said, "and it will never heal," he sighed.
Damn, she thought, he really has gotten good at this over the years.
"It's a leftover, I believe, from his association with Wolfram and Hart, by the hand of the senior partners."
"It's evil," she asked already knowing the answer.
"Um hum," he nodded.
"But, it seemed," she continued, "...was it..."
"The only thing keeping him from dusting...yes, I believe that would be an accurate assessment," he said studying the splinter and marveling, once more, this time at the smell it was now emitting... incense.
"It just seems so wrong," she went on, "to have to deconsecrate the wounds, to allow them to heal."
"It is, but, it's what we have to do," he said, "...or they won't."
"Isn't that what we, all of us, Angel too, are supposed to be fighting?"
"Giles are we winning," she asked as he continued down the hall, her voice sounding small and tiny.
There was no answer he could give.
This was the first thing I wrote when I started this story, this one first then the Cave Demon one. The first prolog is very pertainant to the story overall, this second one has a lot of little stuff that ties in with the story to come, and we will get back to the storyline introduced here at some point in the future - but for now it's the little stuff that's important.
Chapter one Section one is next.