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A Week Ago

Wesley broke the surface of the water again, his breath coming in desperate gasps. Connor caught sight of frightened blue eyes before they sank beneath the clear water.

Connor didn't understand what was wrong. The pool was shallow -- barely six feet deep -- it should be an easy swim -- but Wesley acted as if he was drowning in an ocean.

"Wesley! Swim up!" he yelled.

"Don't bother young man," drawled the vampire, coming towards him without a fear in his old bones. "The Element of Water and the Element of Fire are fighting for control over his body. I think it's a little painful for him to bother with your calls."

Ignoring Koskov, Connor dove into the pool and easily got hold of Wesley. When he finally pulled the ex-Watcher out of the pool, Wesley could only lie on his side, gasping and coughing. Connor was shocked to see blood flowing freely from his nose and from the corner of his lips.

"Wesley..." he whispered, touching him tentatively. At his touch, Wesley shivered, pulling his knees to his chest. His eyes rolled back until only the whites of his eyes showed. To his horror, Connor saw Wesley's eyes turning red as the capillaries in his eyes burst.

"What did you do to him?" Connor hissed. But he did not get an answer. Instead, Koskov punched him.

Startled, Connor fell back hard. When his vision cleared, two identical blonde girls were looking down at him. This must be the man's daughters. The daughters that Wesley went to so much trouble for.

"Not so brave now, are you?" Koskov mocked. He appeared beside the girls stroking their long blonde hair with his hands.

"Shirley! Chloe!"

Koskov whirled to see Swanson running towards them recklessly, his eyes fixed only on his daughters.

"Hmm. I nearly forgot the man," Koskov murmured.

Koskov only watched as Swanson embraced his daughters, who only stood strangely still.

Connor took that moment to stand up. It was then that he realised what had happened to the girls.

Quickly, ignoring Koskov, he lunged towards Swanson and separated him from them. He pulled Swanson a safe distance away, but he made it difficult, struggling and protesting all the way.

"Shut up!" he finally yelled, his eyes still on Koskov and the twin girls. "They're not your daughters anymore!"

"What are you talking about?" Swanson said, his voice rising to a desperate plea. He was sweating profusely, his whole body trembling. "They're there, they're there!"

One of the girls took a step forward and smiled at Swanson. "Daddy. You took a long time to come. I was so hungry. And scared," she said. She looked confused and scared.

"Oh Chloe, I tried, I --"

And ridges formed on Chloe's forehead as she smiled her fang-filled smile. "But I'm not now," Chloe sang, her childish voice so out of place with the monster they saw before him. "I'm happy now. But I'm still hungry. And Shirley wasn't enough."

Connor shot a look towards the other girl. He finally took in her unhealthy appearance, the dark circles under her eyes and the blankness in them. She was still alive. Somehow Koskov kept her alive. Enraged, he met Koskov's eyes.

"What can I say. I like the romantic notion of a pair of twins -- separated by the wide gulf of immortality. One, an evil beauty, kissed by eternity-"

Chloe smiled, her face still hideous.

"-the other," he murmured, running his hands down Shirley's long hair, "-condemned to rot by her sister's hands--"

"NO!!" Swanson screamed in anguish, falling to his knees. "No, no, no, no..." he whimpered, covering his face with shaky hands.

Koskov smiled at Connor. "I know what you're thinking now. You're thinking that you can take me. That because you have the strength of a Slayer, you can dust me. And I'm all alone here."

Connor merely glowered.

"But I'm not just a vampire. I-" Suddenly, his expression changed to one of surprise. His mouth curved into a surprised 'O' and he disappeared into a cloud of dust.

"But you talk too much," said Wesley, holding a stake in his hands.

Connor smiled at Wesley gladly - even though the man still looked a mess. Blood still flowed from his nose, and his eyes were still blood-red, the pupils barely visible.

"Chloe-" Swanson reached for his daughter, who merely growled at him. She backed away from her father and cast Wesley a furtive glance.

Connor held the man back, then asked Wesley: "What are we going to do with her?"

Swanson sat back on his heels, staring vacantly at his vampire daughter. Shirley was still at the same spot she was beside Koskov, her empty expression unchanged. Now that he could see Shirley up close, he could see raw bite marks on her neck -- they were partially hidden by her long hair. Connor felt a twinge of pain at the sight of the girl. He could not imagine the pain she had been going through the past few weeks, witnessing her sister's death and her awakening ... he even felt guilty when he remembered telling Wesley to not go to their rescue -- but he was used to pain, having lived in a hell dimension. Sometimes, one has to go through pain for the bigger picture.

When the man did not respond, Connor frowned and asked, "Wesley?"

"Why must everyone look at me for answers?" Wesley murmured, his voice taking on an annoyed tone. "They never appreciate me for my efforts, you know," he said, his voice low with sadness. "It's always, 'Wesley what do you know?' or 'Wesley, we need your help'."

Wesley's bloody eyes moistened and a bloody tear trickled down his cheek. "They even asked for my help after they told me never to come back. But they could come to me. Just don't come to us, we'll come to you!" he sang, then laughed.

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about wasting time, that's what," he said. Then he began humming a tune, twirling the stake in his hand. "Wasting, wasting ..."

Oh great, thought Connor. He's having a crazy episode. Wesley had been warning him about this happening.

"Look," Connor went to Wesley's side, "we have to get these people out of here."

They stared at each other. Connor felt the seconds tick by as Wesley weighed the decision he would've usually made in a snap.

"No," Wesley said playfully. With that, he tapped Connor's chest with a finger.

Connor did not expect the strength behind that simple tap. He found himself flying into the pool, crashing through the surface painfully. He swam up quickly, sputtering his surprise. By the time he came up, Wesley was gone, the only mark of his presence the fading laughter from a distance.

"When I saw what he did on TV later, I knew that he had gone over the edge. Big time," Connor said as he finished the story.

"What happened to the girl?"

All heads turned to Earl, who twitched at the scrutiny. "Hey I'm a demon, doesn't mean I don't have a heart," he protested.

"I dusted her," Connor said after a beat. "Swanson..." he sighed. "...begged me not to do it, so I had to lock him up in a closet with Shirley and ... I dusted her," he shrugged. "It had to be done, you know."

"Yeah, I know how that feels," said Gunn from the doorway. "What's this? Some kinda white hat gathering?"

"He's dangerous sane. Now that he's insane ..." Giles sighed, then cast Gunn a distracted glance. "Hello," he murmured.

"What's this guy?" Gunn muttered, looking at Giles suspiciously. He turned to Angel for answers.

"Do you think we should?" Willow asked, ignoring Gunn's presence. Usually she wouldn't, but she was too rattled by everything that she had heard. Dealing with another apocalypse wasn't her idea of 'recovery time'.

Giles lifted a questioning eyebrow.

"Stop him I mean," Willow clarified.

Now it was her turn to be scrutinised. Willow nervously shifted in her seat but went on bravely. "I-I mean, from what I read -- and it's not that I'm like an expert on it or anything; I was just curious, you know like, that time I was reading the Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and I was at the letter E -- what I mean is, I think they're like some kinda thing that is there. You know, they're not exactly bad guys."

"And you have that on record?" Gunn demanded.

"Uh-huh. Whystone's Witchcraft Compendium, and uh, hi," she said, giving him a sheepish smile and a wave.

"What does a bunch of scholar folk know anyway?" Gunn demanded, ignoring her friendly overture.

Giles cleared his throat, looking offended.

"Charles," Fred chided.

"I'm not sayin' sorry, not after what I saw," Gunn said, the set of his jaw firm. "Wesley -- we gotta kill him, that's what I say."

"Charles, stop it. We're going to help him, aren't we Angel?" Fred asked, looking hopefully at the vampire.

Angel merely met her eyes without a word.

"Oh, like how he helped us when he stole Connor?"

"Let it rest already, big guy," Earl said, snorting.

Again, all eyes rested on Earl.

Earl shrugged uncomfortably, giving Willow a sheepish look. "I mean, I thought good guys forgive and everything. Sooorry if I'm wrong," he drawled.

"What did you see?" Angel asked quietly, ignoring Earl's words.

"Can't describe it. You gotta see it," at that, Gunn walked to the door, looking back just once to make sure Angel followed.

At the Offices of Wolfram & Hart

"I see. Our client is very specific about this. Hmm ... are you sure? Well, track him down, damnit! That's why we sacrificed two men for that spell!"

Lilah replaced the phone with a heavy sigh. She flicked her carefully coiffed hair irritably with a hand and tried her best to not look rattled. "Sorcerers. The excuses they give ..." she gave the client a perfect smile. "But don't worry, everything is going according to plan. The wheels are moving as we speak and the Elemental ... well, let's just say we have the work done for us."

The client smiled.

"Wesley couldn't have done this," Fred said quietly.

There were too many people in the charred apartment. Somehow, the police had left, leaving the crime scene full of yellow tape criss-crossing the small place. Now they were clumsily barging into a crime scene. Giles and Willow kept their distance from the group, observing quietly.

It was an apartment in the low-end area of LA. The area was full of high rise apartments, catered to the lower middle class. Blue-collared folks; people with families... this area was full of families.

Angel's boot crunched on something. He carefully removed a boot. It was a charred Barbie Doll. A single blue eye, strangely untouched by the terrible fire, stared up at him.

"This is not the only thing he did, Fred," Gunn said stoicly. He moved ahead to the master bedroom, located at the far right. He stood at the door, jaw working as he stared inside.

"Figured that the cops got spooked by what they saw and left in a big hurry. Probably to hug their wife and kids back home. I would too," he met Fred's eyes meaningfully.

Angel stopped at the doorway and stared. Just two seconds later he was walking out, walking past Giles, Willow, Fred and Gunn.

"Angel? What?" Fred stared after the retreating figure in confusion. Hesitantly, she approached the room -- and saw.

Her eyes teared and she covered her mouth with a trembling hand to keep herself from screaming - and throwing up.

"Oh my God," Willow whispered behind her.

The family had retreated into the bedroom, desperate to escape the threat that invaded their little apartment. The mother had held her baby to her chest in a vain attempt to protect it while the father stood before her and his two children -- a boy and a girl who cowered behind his legs -- bravely facing the monster that did this to them.

His bravery, however, did not disguise the agony in his face from being burnt to death. The children were the same, their eyes wide open in terror, their mouths twisted in agony. Even the baby, so young and uncomprehending, had howled in silent pain.

Now, all that was left of them was ash. It had been so hot that the ash had fused, turning into some kind of glassy rock. Some bits of flesh, however, survived the inferno -- the mother's face, turned into her baby's was still raw and black. A wisp of her hair fluttered in the slight breeze from the blasted windows.

"He's got to die," Gunn said quietly. "Because he's mad with power or some shit. And he doesn't care anymore."

Fred regained her composure and removed her hand from her mouth. An iciness crept into her heart where it once held regret and guilt for her former friend.

"Yeah. We've got to kill him," she said, her voice low.


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