Either of the two occasions during a year when the sun crosses the equator, making the day and night everywhere of equal length.
TIMELINE: Set five years after True Colors. (It’s not vitally important that you’ve read the Linkverse Trilogy first, but it helps put things in context). An updated version is now available at http://www.dark-solace.org/elysian/viewuser.php?uid=44
SUMMARY: Life in the Grey household takes an unexpected turn with the arrival of a new Slayer
He could sense that Buffy and Spike weren’t that far ahead of him but, no matter how fast he moved, he couldn’t seem to catch up to them. He’d worked out where they were headed though, and it was times like this that he was glad of his near-photographic memory, being able to draw upon long disused internal maps to guide his way.
Reaching the end of one tunnel, he rounded the corner and ran straight into four armed Council operatives. It was a toss up as to who was more surprised.
In no mood to deal with another group of incompetents, he snarled at them in full game face, fangs gleaming in the glow of their snazzy hi-tech cap-lamps.
Never having had that much field experience with a real live vampire, they panicked; screaming and scattering like a group of terrified teenage girls. The reaction merely delayed their fates.
In a matter of seconds, Angel was once again running through the tunnels leaving their beaten bodies behind him.
He didn’t look back.
The closer Buffy and Spike got to the Hellmouth, the wider the tunnels became, but they weren’t the only thing that was growing.
“Can you feel that?” the Slayer asked, waving a hand through the dissipating remains of the vampire she had just dusted. “Or is it just me?”
“Damned spider sense is makin’ my neck itch.” Spike scratched at his nape, and then twitched his shoulders, trying to shake it off. “Loads more vamps hangin’ ‘round up there.”
“And a few not-vamp types, too. It’s that demonpalooza time of year again. How festive.” Buffy peered into the darkness as though she could see through it to the chamber where the Hellmouth opening was currently situated. She sighed. “I hope he’s okay.”
“’Course he is. We’d know if he wasn’t.” Spike tipped his head, a tiny hint of uncertainty creeping in. “Wouldn’t we?”
Buffy pondered the question. “I think…yes. Definitely.”
“Yeah.” Spike nodded and straightened. He took a deep breath, bracing himself for the continuing fight ahead, and took a few strides forward. “Once more unto the breach, hey Sunshine?”
A dull roar echoed along the tunnel, booming like thunder, and then the world moved around them, bouncing them off the walls like marbles in a bottle.
After it steadied, Buffy turned wide eyes to her husband. “Aftershocks?”
“Or a whole new quake.”
The sound of pounding feet distracted them from this latest crisis and they turned to see Angel come flying out of the darkness. He ran past them and straight at three frightened-looking vamps who had chosen that unfortunate moment to emerge from the opposite direction. He dusted two on impact, and tossed the third back past his dumbfounded audience to smack into a rear wall.
“Or Peaches running.” Spike pivoted to watch as his Sire passed by again to haul the vamp upright. “What’re you doin’?”
A succession of quick punches, then a grab-twist-and-jerk and Angel had beheaded his rather unresisting opponent. He glared back. “What does it look like I’m doing, Spike? I’m helping you.”
“Don’t recall asking for any help. As a matter of fact, I distinctly remember tellin’ you to keep out of it.”
Angel rolled his eyes. “That was before this morning’s ‘all hands on deck’ deck speech. Or has that already slipped that tiny mind of yours?”
“Hey!” Buffy protested. “Watch it with the name-calling. His mind is so not tiny.”
“Maybe not the part he shares with you.” Angel gave a small shrug, barely discernable in the dim light. “But the rest…”
Spike pursed his lips in annoyance. “Still haven’t said why it is you’re here.”
Angel sighed. “I couldn’t stay there any more. Willow…She did a spell to protect Dawn from me. She actually thought I’d hurt her. They all did.”
“You know,” the younger vamp mused, “In all fairness to the Scoobies, you haven’t really given them a reason to think that you wouldn’t.”
Spike went on like he hadn’t heard the interruption. “You’ve spent most of your time lurking about like a great brooding git, all woe-is-me an’ guilt-ridden - tends to breed suspicion. Maybe if you lightened up a bit, they’d treat you a good deal different.”
Angel blinked, then repeated, “What?”
Buffy sighed. “Give it up, honey. If he hasn’t got it by now, he’s never going to.”
Spike waited for a moment, eyes still locked with his Sire’s, hoping against hope that he was finally getting through.
He rolled his eyes. “Gettin’ tired of repeating myself ad nauseam, but here’s a last bloody ditch…Seems a bit of a waste to me, but it’s your unlife, Angel. Destiny or no, you’re the one who’s ultimately in charge. I know you’ve got some ridiculous fantasy floatin’ around in that big head of how your life’s supposed to be, but you can’t keep buildin’ castles in the sky when there’s more fun to be had in the real world. A bird like Cordelia’s not going to wait around forever. Do something about it, eh?”
With that, the younger vampire shouldered his axe and headed down the tunnel. Buffy followed him without another word. Their only mission was to find their son, nothing else mattered. Angel envied them that.
He stared contemplatively at their retreating backs. He’d come to Sunnydale in order to protect what he’d managed to gain in his life, not to throw it away; to be a good friend, a good ally, and maybe try to be a better Sire. Dawn’s arrival had distracted him from that mission.
Spike was right, he couldn’t do this anymore. He couldn’t change his past; he could only learn from it and move forward. And he couldn’t keep trying to save people that didn’t want or need it. Not only wasn’t it his place to try, it wasn’t worth the price he’d have to pay.
Angel sighed, picturing Cordelia’s beloved face in his mind’s eye. She’d told him the last time she’d called that he had better get his ‘dumb-as-a-post, emotionally retarded ass’ back to LA before the end of the week, or she was going on vacation without him. He’d snapped at her for being self-centered.
He looked around at the sewer walls. It was a strangely appropriate place to be having an epiphany. He was standing in ankle-deep sludge, his shoulders aching from the fight; he felt old and worn, bone weary.
Now that he thought about it, he could really use a vacation…
There were too many.
Dawn wiped a weary hand over her sweaty, dust-covered face. She’d lost count of how many vamps and demons she’d slain, let alone how many Seth had slain – seriously, how weird was that? – And they just kept coming. She was exhausted.
Seth on the other hand, had barely even slowed down. The kid was relentless. At first, he was like some kind of homing beacon thingy - all ‘get to the Hellmouth and don’t spare the horses’, except much less Watcher-speak-ish and a whole lot more five-year-old-ish.
Along their journey, he’d slowly changed. There was very little of him that resembled a five-year-old by this point.
From the moment she’d laid eyes on him back at the magic shop - actually more like since Willow had performed that first calming spell - she’d known that he was the one in control of this situation, that something much more powerful was at work, and that she had to do what he wanted. It was like that freaky moment they had in the training room that one time, only magnified by a thousand. She didn’t know how he was doing it, just that he was and that the outcome was very, very important.
That simple spell had revealed so much. All her scattered thoughts had come into focus with diamond-sharp clarity. She could see things in a way she never had before, from a new and far more mature perspective. Like the final piece of the melodramatic puzzle that was Dawn had finally slotted into place and now she could see outside herself to the bigger picture. The schoolgirl dreams about who and what Angel was had been dashed in the face of his so-very-human failings. Her calling was no longer the burden she’d thought it to be - it was a gift, one that she had been squandering, defiling in a way, with her own narrow, selfish desires. She was part of a huge legacy, something much larger than she could ever hope to grasp. She knew that now. She only hoped she could live up to the high standard her sister slayers had set.
“We’s here,” Seth announced, turning those glowing gold eyes on her. Which, Dawn had to admit, looked really creepy down there in the dark. She sighed, partly in relief.
The moment he crossed the threshold into the cavern that housed the Hellmouth it was like a chain reaction had been set off - the earth roared and the heavens trembled, and it all began to crash down around them.
Dawn flattened her back against the cavern wall, trying to avoid the falling dirt and rocks. The whole place was moving, like the Hellmouth was trying to shake them off its back, a giant dog with pesky slaying fleas.
Seth continued to walk, unhindered, straight into the centre of the chaos.
Angel stormed into the chamber just in time to almost get beaned by a cascading rockslide. He was rescued by Buffy, who yanked him down beneath the same outcropping of rock she was sheltering under.
“Seth’s right out there in the middle,” she hastened to explain. “We think he’s probably causing the quakes.”
“Yeah. Spike told me to wait here while he went to get him ‘cause he didn’t want to risk both of us, but there’s vamps and demons everywhere and Dawn was fighting alone, and he got distracted trying to help her, and then…”
“Whoa! Hey, Buffy, take a breath. It’ll be fine. Spike will take care of it.”
The Slayer peered at him with big, anxious green eyes, her lower lip trembling. “My baby boy’s in trouble, Angel, and I can’t do anything to help him.” She suddenly lunged forward and viciously drove a stake through the chest of a vamp who’d tried to hide with them. “I hate being useless.”
Angel shook his head, wondering at her definition of the word, waved the dust away and stared up at the enormous crack that had appeared in the cavern’s ceiling. Pinpoint rays of sunlight were beginning to filter through. No wonder that vamp had risked a staking; it was getting pretty bright out there. “What’s above this place now?”
Buffy spared a quick glance upward herself. “A park. The Richard Wilkins’ Memorial Gardens.”
Angel frowned. “They built him a memorial? Even after the Ascension?”
“Well, he was the Mayor for like, a bajillion years. We’re actually really lucky that they didn’t rebuild the High School. Giles did some friends-in-high-places, string-pulling thing down at city hall and got it moved to a new site.”
“This town…” Angel shook his head is disbelief. “You know, you should really consider moving after this.”
Buffy shrugged. After a beat she asked, “What time is it?”
“Around twelve o’clock. Why?”
“It’s noon. The sun’s directly overhead. That can’t be a fun coincidence.”
“Oh.” More cracks appeared, the fissure widening to let in even more sunlight, and Angel began to back up, looking around for more cover. “You’re right. That’s not good.”
All around the cavern, other vampires were doing the same thing. Those who were a little slower on the uptake began to smolder, one or two bursting into flame before they even realized what was going on.
At the very edge of the Hellmouth, Seth spread his arms wide as though offering himself; the prophesized Aureus Prodigy ready to fulfill his obligation. A single shaft of light pinned him in place, seemed to be absorbed through his skin until the deep gold of his eyes took on a life of its own, brightening to a blinding intensity and shooting outward like laser beams, obliterating all the vamps and various other demons in their path.
The earth buckled and groaned beneath the boy’s feet, the Hellmouth protesting against this onslaught, but he didn’t even flinch, not until Spike appeared on the opposite side of the gaping maw.
“Nip!” he roared. “You okay?” He was in full battle mode, or as near as he got to it these days - ridge-free, but with his own eyes flaring a demonic yellow.
Seth shook his head, but wouldn’t – or couldn’t – move. “It stings, Daddy.”
“Yeah, reckon it would at that. Hold on, I’ll be right there.” Spike circled the rim, trying to reach his son’s side, battling past the myriad hysterical demons in his path. He was shouting one name at the top of his lungs as he went, striving to be heard over the din, “Buffy!”
Seth looked over in their direction, drawn by the sound of his mother’s voice, and Angel ducked as a deadly sun-bolt blasted by close enough to singe his hair.
“Oh, crap.” Buffy yanked his leather coat down his arms, and then flung it over his head, pushing him further under the ledge. “You’re not sun-proofed, so stay here and stay down.” She scrambled to her feet and headed out into the front line to join her husband. “Coming!”
She reached Seth’s right side, just as Spike arrived on the left. They fell to their knees and the boy grabbed blindly for their hands. They instinctively took them, and then joined their own free hands together, completing some kind of cosmic circuit in the process. Seth threw his head back and screamed.
It was like a bomb had gone off.
The light and noise intensified a hundred-fold in a flash so intense Angel swore he could see the bones through the skin of the hand he’d hastily thrown over his eyes.
When he risked looking again, the cavern had become an open pit, the entire ceiling blown away. The little family stood in the centre, still joined and now coated in a thick layer of dust, but the space around them was bare, stripped of every living thing bar the shining sunlight, the demons having been obliterated in the explosion. He could see Dawn on the opposite side, sword still raised in abortive attack. She appeared just as bewildered as he felt.
“What the in the hell was that?” she asked, lowering the weapon and using her free hand to shield her eyes against the harsh light of day.
Spike coughed and peered into the smoking hole at his feet. “Might want to rephrase that, Niblet. Looks to me like hell’s taken a powder.”
Buffy lifted a dazed and confused Seth into her arms, sparing only a quick glance into the opening herself. “He’s right. The Hellmouth’s gone.”
The elder slayer nodded. “And utterly. Closed up tight.” She hugged Seth tighter. “Way to go, baby.”
“Yeah,” he murmured, blue eyes hooded and tired. “’M sleepy,”
Spike caressed his son’s blond curls with a loving hand. “Reckon you’ve earned yourself a bit of a kip, mate.”
Buffy smiled. “I think we all have.”