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Author's Note: I've moved Faith's arrival further into my cannon, which gives me the chance to explore Angel's return more fully, which I felt was needed in a rewrite which attempts to keep B/A romance surviving despite the odds. I have also made this continue on from Acceptance, and a cliffhanger ending which will continue in The Power of Souls.

I felt such focus was missed in JW's cannon, which was due to Buffy feeling she had to keep Angel's return a secret from everyone, and which complicated her relationship with him. As I have made the slayerettes closer in mine, I felt shrouding his return in mystery was unnecessary.

This episode continues the dream themes which I explored in both Anne & Acceptance, which will be explained in The Power of Souls. These dreams include scenes from The Prodigal, Becoming, & Amends as well as my own creation. Enjoy.

An Uncertain Return.

With gentle tenderness Buffy lifted Angel's head into her lap, softly stroking his hair and skin. The former was dirty and greasy from neglect, while the latter felt fevered, despite the fact that being a vampire, even a souled one, he should be insensible to internal body temperature.

He also seemed insensible to her comforting gestures, continuing to shiver and mutter incomprehensibly to himself. She had prepared herself for this possibility, for her worse fears to become reality, but preparation meant nothing when presented with the very scene before her eyes. At that moment, a moment she knew that she would remember for the rest of her life, she felt her guilt and culpability for causing his suffering to be at their fullest.

For what seemed to a long minute in time, the others stood around the couple, stunned by the scene before them. During the hours of research each had forced themselves to be resigned to the possibility that they could never bring Angel back from hell. Each had imagined what suffering and torture he could be enduring in this nightmare other world, but like the slayer, none of them had been prepared for the reality of it. Giles was the first to move, placing a thick blanket over Angel's shivering body, which like the slayer's comforting movement, seem to have little effect to alter the souled vampire's condition.

"Cordelia, Oz," he said to the two, who dragged their gaze away from the couple on the floor towards him, "do either of you have your cars?" Both nodded. "Right, I need one of you to go the hospital and raid their first aid supplies. We need gauze, bandages, antiseptic lotion, as much as you can find. The other needs to go to the butchers and pick up some blood, as fresh and as much as possible." He handed over his credit card for the bill.

The two slayerettes left the living room, and Giles turned to everyone else. "We need to get him upstairs into a bed. Comfortable surroundings might persuade him that he's out of the hell dimension."

Buffy reluctantly rescinded her position and helped to carry her soulmate upstairs into the large bedroom on the first floor. None of them had scene the upper floors of the mansion before, but now was not the time to explore, as they manoeuvred Angel from their arms into the bed which only now they had discovered existed there. She sank on to the duvet, unable to resist reaching out to clasp his hand in hers, even though, as before, he appeared to remain insensible to any form of contact.

Willow, Xander, Joyce were reluctant to leave the slayer alone in her quiet attendance, but Giles silently gestured for them to leave the bedroom. "I think his recovery will take a long time, and he'll need constant attention," he said to them outside the room. "I suggest we work in shifts, for which we need to sleep. We also need to cover for ourselves with the school and your parents," he directed this to Willow and Xander, "and aside from the necessities I sent Oz and Cordelia to get, we will need to check if this place is still producing hot water and wired for electricity."

The three nodded at him and went to accomplish those tasks, leaving him to turn back to the open doorway, where the scene behind was still unchanged. "Buffy," he began, "I probably already know the answer to this, but I must ask anyway. Would you prefer to take the first shift? Are you able to do so, after all that has happened?"

"I can't leave him, Giles," Buffy replied. "What happened to me is nothing by comparison. I need to stay with him as long as I can."

"He is not likely to recover for a while," Giles warned her. "Are you sure?"

"I am," Buffy replied firmly, and he could see that there was no use arguing further with her. So instead he headed for the stairs down to the double height living room.

Buffy turned her gaze back to her beloved, inwardly grieving at the suffering she had caused him by sending him to hell. At the time she believed that she had no choice, but hindsight was creating doubts within her mind as she gazed down at his shivering, fevered body, until she felt sure that she could have done something different, something which would have prevented this traumatic scene from occurring.

Abruptly, while she sat there thinking this, he opened his eyes, his black pupils seeming to fix on her. Daring to hope, she spoke to him. "Angel, it's me. You're safe now. No one here will hurt you." Hesitantly she reached out to touch his face. "Can you hear me?"

He shied away from her touch, burrowing deeper into the pillows, sheets and duvet, causing her hand and voice to cease their actions. His eyes closed, and she felt her own begin to weep with tears, as her mind convinced her once more that he blamed her. Unable to bear it, she attempted to rise from the bed.

But his hand, the one which she held in her own, tightened their grip, compelling her to remain. All his strength seemed to be tied to keeping her hand within his, as though some part of him remembered what they had been to each other, and derived comfort from it. No longer able to analyse and understand, she resumed her seat and waited silently for him to begin to recover.

 


She saw herself standing before a well, as the sun was beginning to salute the horizon with its traditional morning kiss. Dressed in clothes more suited to a different time and a lower class, as she filled the pitcher she was carrying with water.

"Anna," a voice uttered, and she felt herself respond, turning round to discover the source. She saw nothing but a figure standing in the open doorway, seeking support from the frame. Nevertheless, a part of her seemed to recognise him. "Master Liam?"

"Anna, come closer," he insisted, remaining in the shadows.

"Master Liam, your father..." she began to say, as he moved unsteadily closer to her, putting a stop to the rest of whatever she was about to say. "Will be off to church by now, repenting of his sins, and well he should. Closer, Anna."

"Why do you keep to the shadows, sir?" she heard herself ask. "Are you not well?"

"The light," he answered. "It bothers my eyes just now."

"And I know the reason why," another voice remarked, disapproving and stern, as he pushed him out of the shadows and into the morning sunlight which caressed the courtyard.

"Up again all night, is it?" he asked, but without need for an answer. "Drinking and whoring. I smell the stink of it on you."

She watched as Liam picked himself up from the sun-baked stone floor. "And a good morning to you, father."

"You're a disgrace," his father declared.

"If you say so, father," Liam replied, but with none of the remorse or guilt his father wished for him to possess.

"Oh, I do. I do say so," she heard his father continue. "Have you not had enough debauchery for one night?" He asked. "Must you corrupt the servants as well?"

"Servant, father," Liam corrected him. "We have one servant. Anyway, - everyone gets corrupted, - but I find some forms of corruption - are more pleasant..."

His father cut him off, bestowing a violent slap upon his face. "I am ashamed to call you my son. You're a layabout and a scoundrel and you'll never amount to anything more than that."

She watched Liam stumble to his feet once more, then felt herself curtsey as his father told her to take the pitcher to his lady wife. She carefully carried the wooden object into the darkness which first the son then the father had previously emerged from, only to find herself back at the mansion, at Angel's bedside.

It was nothing more than a dream. She opened her eyes, blinking away the sleep, to find that it was indeed morning, as a slight outline of sunlight cast itself across the room from the edge of the heavy black curtains which covered the window. Following it's journey to the end, she found her mother sitting the other side of the bed, watching her.

"Another dream?" Joyce asked her softly.

Buffy nodded, before turning to Angel, whom she realised now, had been the wayward son Liam in it. "How is he?" She asked.

"He's sleeping more peacefully now," her mother replied. "Occasionally he will mumble to himself, but it is less violent that it was before."

"How long have I been asleep?" She asked.

"Only when couple of hours," Joyce informed her. "You should go and get some more. We made up some bedrooms on the upper floors."

Her daughter shook her head. "I can't leave him, Mom. I tried earlier, when he shied away from my touch. But then he refused to let go of my hand."

Joyce inclined her head in understanding. "Some part of him recognises you as comfort. It's a good sign that, given time, he'll recover."

Buffy took that in, but her fears doubted the soundness of that possibility. "Did Giles tell you about him?"

"I know he was made a vampire over two hundred years ago," Joyce revealed. "And I know he was cursed with a soul by the ancestors of Miss Calendar. And I gather that none of knew that the curse would be removed if he forgot the crimes of his inner demon."

"That happened the night of my birthday," Buffy explained, her face unable to conceal a blush at the memory. "We had been dealing with this demon called the Judge, who could burn all the goodness out of you with one touch. He had been defeated before, his body parts spread across the world, and Spike and Druscilla were trying to reassemble him. We manage to snatch one of the pieces from them. Miss Calendar advised that Angel took it as far away from the hellmouth as was possible." Buffy paused as she remembered that night. "I know now that she did it to keep the two of us apart, as her relatives feared the lifting of the curse. But we had no idea that was possible. I went with him to the ship he was to travel in, but we were attacked by vampires, and the box was taken back. We fell in the sea, and what with the storm, ended up seeking his apartment for shelter. Where we......" she trailed off, embarrassed to say the words.

"I think I can guess what happened," her Mom said. "And in the morning his curse was lifted?"

"I think it happened during the night," Buffy replied. "I woke up alone. Anyway, that was when Angelus; his demon, decided to stalk our house and send me those black roses, basically cause me as much trauma as he could devise. Until after he killed Miss Calendar and we discovered that she had found the incantation to return his soul to him. And you know the rest, I think."

"I do," Joyce nodded. "How did you two meet?"

"When I went to the Bronze, that first night after school, he was waiting for me in the alleyway. He gave me the cross," she gestured with her free hand at the necklace before going on to describe the rest of that first meeting. "I'm not sure how he knew I was going to be there. But I'm glad he was. He's saved my life, the life of my friends so many times."

Joyce descried the remorse, the guilt within the undertones of her daughter's voice. "Buffy, you must stop blaming yourself. You had no choice."

"I'll try, Mom," she replied, but without conviction. "Where are Giles and the others?" She asked in a clear attempt to change the subject.

"They're downstairs," Joyce answered. "Giles thought it best that they continue to go to school, but come back here as soon as lessons were finished, and take over from our shifts so we can get some sleep." The last word was uttered pointedly, with deliberate meaning.

"Message received and understood," Buffy replied, and carefully attempted to extract her hand from Angel's grip. This time she was met with success. "I'll go and get some now. But you will wake me if there's any change?"

"I promise," Joyce replied.


The bedrooms on the second floor were almost the same size as the one on the first, both equipped with ensuites, conveying the fact that the mansion had been occupied at one time by humans before being forced to endure vampire habitation.

Buffy chose the one which lay situated above the room Angel was recovering in below. She underwent her ablutions then divested herself of her clothes, before covering herself in the sumptuous duvet. As she closed her eyes, her thoughts focused on the dream she had awoken from, wondering why she would dream that she knew Angel before he became a vampire. Perhaps because she wished, never for her own sake, but for his, that something would make him human, ending the suffering she believed his soul did not deserve. Yet that did not explain her imagination depicting him as the drunken, whoring, wayward son, feared by the domestics and treated with contempt by his father. The last illusion to such a description had been from her previous dreams, the one she dreamed the night after she returned to Sunnydale, at Giles' apartment. At time she had distrusted the demon's judgement on Angel's human past, but obviously a part of her had chosen to believe Angelus' cruel words. Clearly her subconscious was expecting her to learn something from these dreams, however indistinct their symbolism appeared.

And the only way to gain a clue to their meaning, was if she continued to experience more of them.

With this resolve in her mind, she closed her eyes.

 


This time she was not a servant. Instead her clothes were made of richer materials, corseted tight and revealing, with her blond hair caught up in an elaborate confection of curls and ringlets. Her gaze was not on her appearance, for somehow she knew she was designed to be seductive and beautiful, but on a brawl taking place in front of her.

"Who is he?" She asked a passing tavern maid. Her voice was cultured in tone, referring to a pedigree and elegant breeding

"Who, that one?" the maid indicated the victor, who was presently taking a drink from his tankard of ale before returning to the brawl.

"Yes," she heard herself confirm. "He's magnificent."

"Oh, yeah, God's gift, alright," the maid agreed.

"Really?" she heard herself query. "I've never known God to be so generous."

"Oh, his lies sound pretty when the stars are out," the maid remarked. "But he forgets every promise he's made when the sun comes up again."

She returned the smile he sent her. "That wouldn't really be a problem for me actually," she heard herself utter to the maid.

She watched him walk towards her, but someone broke a bottle over his head, causing him to return to his fight. Knowing she had captured his interest, she left the tavern, walking into the darken streets, waiting for him to join her in the alley.

It did not take long. He strode confidently towards her, obviously drunk, but a great deal sober than he had seemed before.

"So, I ask myself, what's a lady of your station doing alone in an alley with the reputation that this one has?" He remarked.

"Maybe she's lonely," she heard herself reply.

"In that case, I'd offer myself as escort to protect you from harm and to while away the dull hours," he continued.

"You're very gracious," she heard herself say.

"Hm. It's often been said," he agreed.

She turned to face him. "Are you certain you're up to the challenge?" she asked.

He advanced closer to her. "Milady, you'll find that with the exception of an honest day's work, there's no challenge I'm not prepared to face." He came to a halt just before her gown. "Oh... But you're a pretty thing. Where are you from?"

She felt herself smile. "Around. Everywhere."

"I never been anywhere myself," he informed her. "Always wanted to see the world, but..."

"I could show you," she heard herself offer.

"Could you, then?" he asked.

"Things you've never seen, never even heard of," she added.

"Sounds exciting," he decided.

"It is," she heard herself agree. "And frightening."

"I'm not afraid," he assured her. "Show me. Show me your world."

"Close your eyes," she heard herself say, and when he did, she watched her hand place itself on his shoulder. She felt her forehead crease into hard ridges, and a growl come from deep within her throat. She saw herself bite into his neck, hearing him gasp from the shock and the pain. She felt herself let go of his neck, to stand before him. Her eyes were upon him as she put a slender finger to her heaving chest and scratched away the skin to reveal a thin trickle of blood. She felt herself taken him by the neck and press his mouth to the wound, forcing him to taste her blood as she had just tasted his.
As he surrendered, she closed her eyes in pleasure.


Buffy woke up gasping. With a rush she sat up in the bed, gathering her legs towards her, resting her head on them for support as she attempted to comprehend what she had dreamed. There was no doubt in her mind now that she was definitely dreaming about Angel's past. It had to be a product of the slayer within her, for he had been reluctant to tell her anything of his origins. She felt shocked by the vividness of it. Everything, from the detail of her surroundings to the feel of the gown she had worn appeared astonishingly real to her senses and mind. And yet she had experienced a certain detachment from the scene, as though she had little control in what she was saying or doing.

She wished she could verify the truth of this dream, and the one before it, but there was no way to do so, for she doubted the Watcher's or slayer's diaries contained a eye witness account. There was only one person still existing who knew the truth, and he was lying in the bedroom on the floor below her, his conscious probably still too traumatised to satisfy any of her questions.

Dressing in the clothes she had worn the day before, she made her way down stairs to that bedroom, where she found Oz and Giles in attendance. Both looked up at her entrance, the former putting the spoon he had been holding to Angel's mouth back in the gently steaming ceramic mug his other hand held.

"I thought we best try to get some...... nourishment into him," Giles informed her as she entered the room.

"Everyone else is resting downstairs," Oz added, as she joined him at the beside. He handed her the mug, and she turned her gaze to Angel.

His eyes were open, their gaze trained on the silver spoon end they could see sticking out of the ceramic. Understanding the silent focus, she took it out and carefully placed a teaspoon of blood before his lips. His delicate, tentative consumption was such a contrast to the dream's depiction of his first time. She forced the images away from her mind's eyes, and directed it's attention on him. He seemed more aware of his surroundings than before, yet still too afraid to speak or move, or take control, lest the reality was destroyed as a consequence.

Silently she continued to offer him spoon after spoon of blood, until the mug was drained of it's contents, whereupon she set it aside on the nearby beside table. His eyes watched its journey, then abruptly fixed themselves on her. She returned the deep, penetrating stare, trying to determine the nature of his being from it just as surely as he seemed to be doing with his.

"Angel?" She asked even before she was aware of her lips moving to form the word.

He continued to gaze into her eyes, perhaps waiting for more.

"Do you know where you are?" She asked softly. She wanted to ask if he knew who she was, but she feared the reply.

Solemnly he shook his head.

"You're in the Mansion on Crawford Street, in Sunnydale," she softly revealed to him. "You were returned here almost two nights ago." She paused, reluctant to ask this next question, but knowing she must. "Do you know where you were?"

He nodded. "Hell," he whispered, and despite herself, it was a relief to hear his voice.

"Yes," she confirmed, "but you're not anymore. You're back in my freaky world," she added, hesitantly smiling at him.

"I'm the one thing which makes sense to you," he uttered, and she gasped, realising that he remembered that moment when she told him those very words, and that this would be a sign to his impending recovery.

"That's right," she uttered, reaching out to stroke his face. This time he leaned into her touch, allowing her to caress him back to sleep. When his eyes were closed, she leaned down and gently bestowed a kiss on his no longer fever temple, before turning to her watcher.

"Yes, Buffy, I think we can be hopeful that he's over the worse of it," Giles assured her, anticipating her question.

"Thank you, Giles," she uttered. "I'll take over now. I think I've had enough sleep to last me for a while."

"Why, what's wrong?" He asked.

"Nothing, just more dreams." She shook her head, dismissing any further enquiry.

Giles gestured to Oz, and they left her to it.

Buffy sat in the chair by the bed which had been placed their sometime during her absence. Her gaze drifted over Angel as he lay sleeping before her, while her mind dwelt on all which had just occurred. She had not expected such a sign to recovery so soon. Not after his condition when he arrived, and her experiences of different dimensions. If she had not fought her way out, she would have been left an old woman, aged a hundred years in a single day. She had no idea if the hell she consigned him to underwent the same time variation, but even if it did not, those three months of likely continued torture, would have been enough to traumatised him for life.

Instead he had survived. Once more he had proved wrong those who thought he wasn't strong enough in mind and body to endure the horrors inflicted and come through them triumphantly. She felt proud of him, pleased for him, but above all, she loved him as much she had before she sent him to hell, perhaps even more.

She wondered what he thought of her, aside from his recollection of her words to him when he proposed a skating trip one night in her bedroom. She longed to ask him whether or not he blamed her for what she did. Whether still loved her, and was willing to resume their relationship. She knew now, as before, that she could not choose someone else over him, that she would love only him and no one else, even if he told her otherwise. She hoped he would never do so.

Repositioning her posture, she gently took his hand in hers, watching him sleep, for the first time, hopeful about what the future might bring.


Within Angel's sleeping world, his subconscious silently attempted to acclimatise him to his new world. He knew that his senses were not deceiving him, that he was not imagining himself back in the real world, while his body was still undergoing torture in hell. Even now, a part of him could still feel the pain the weapons the torturers used to inflict on him, hear their mocking laughter produced by his suffering. Yet he also knew that it was only a memory, that it would soon fade into such, gradually losing the power which it presently held over him.

Resolution now settled within his mind, he turned his thoughts to her, the girl who his vampiric senses could feel sitting by his bed, clasping his hand in hers. The girl whom he had fallen in love with from the first moment he laid eyes on her. The girl who was the slayer. He wondered what she thought of him. He remembered now what he had forgot before, what the demon had done to her in return for union of their love. He had betrayed her, abused her, forced her to kill him, and yet she remained, watching over him. Caring for him. Loving him.

He doubted whether he deserved such love, even though he craved it and was glad of it.

Perhaps only time would tell. He had been granted a reprieve, an escape from the hell his demon's desire to inflict Armageddon had consigned him to. He had to ensure such a thing never happened again. To do that would limit whatever relationship he might now have with her, if she still wanted one. Could he let her accept that limit, could he live with himself for enforcing it upon them? He didn't know. But he knew that it had to be done, if he still wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.

These resolves now fixed in his mind, he let himself return to a deeper sleep, one of healing and recovery. She needed him to be strong when she felt weak, he had known that from the beginning. There was no telling when the next danger would come, or from where, and it was important that he was as prepared for it as herself.

His mind relaxed into memories, recalling up a scene for him to dream of while he slept. The memory was old, or young, if one counted as a part of the life he spent in nothingness, while the demon controlled his body. Whether it was part of the curse or part of the vampiric state, he did not know, but he remembered the scene with too much detail to accept that he was not present when it occurred.

He was back in Ireland, eighty-five years after Darla had sired him. She was at the hotel where they had booked their rooms, most likely dining off the manager, to ensure that their occupation of the suite what not questioned. He waited in an alleyway off one of the main streets, watching the Dubliners pass him by, trudging through the snow, dressed warmly in preparation for the remainder of winter ahead of them.

One man hurrying along the street caught his eye. He seemed concerned with the possibility that someone was following him, as he continued to take glances behind him, searching for a sign to confirm his suspicions.

Angel felt his demon smile evilly, then grab this man, snatching from the busy street into the darkness of the alleyway, throwing him upon the snow-covered cobblestones.

The man rolled over, looking up to see who attacked him.

"Daniel," Angel heard his demon say. "Where were you going?"

"You!" Daniel cried. "You're not human."

His demon nodded in agreement. "Not of late, no."

"Wh-what do you want?" Daniel asked fearfully.

"Well, it happens that I'm hungry, Daniel, and seeing as that you're somewhat in me debt..." Angelus let the sentence fade into deadly silence.

"Please, I can't!" Daniel begged, frightened.

"A man playing at cards should have a natural intelligence or a great deal of money, and you're sadly lacking in both," Angel heard his demon advise.

Daniel rose with a rush to his feet and attempted to run away, but Angelus was too fast for him, and grabbed him, holding his body against his chest.

"So I take me winnings me own way," his demon finished, adjusting the man's head to gain better access to his neck.

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want," Daniel began, reciting the palm in hopeful plea. "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures..."

Angelus could never stand biblical references. "Daniel, be of good cheer. It's Christmas!" He cried before placing his mouth on the man's neck, sinking in his fangs below the skin, draining the man's blood.


Angel woke from the dream with a shock, to find that he was back in the bedroom of Crawford Mansion. Sitting up, he gathered his legs to his chest, and cast a glance round the room. One of the less dubious blessings of his vampire symbiosis was an ability to see in the dark, which helped as the room was bathed in such nocturnal settings. His eyes defined the shape of the bed in which he lay, the small three drawer chests either side of it, the black curtains covering the window, in preparation to shield him from the eventual dawn.

He found his beloved girl sleeping in the chair across from his bed, curled against the back, a feat of slayer ability combined with gymnastic talent. For a moment he gazed at the scene, wondering of what she dreamed, while his body calmed down from the violent end to the sleep he had just awoken from.

Feeling more like himself than he had done since before his demon consigned him to hell, Angel decided to rise, and change into the clothes he saw lying on the bed for just such an occasion. When he was dressed, he turned back to his beloved, and with the greatest care, gentleness and tenderness, he lifted her from the chair to place her beneath the duvet of the bed. Leaning over her, he bestowed a breath-like kiss to her brow, before leaving the room.

He found the double height living room devoid of occupants, for he knew,- another less dubious blessing of his vampiric symbiosis, -that the rest of the slayerettes, including Giles and his beloved girl's mother, were somewhere about the mansion.

Silently he cleared a space for himself away from the windows and doors, before sinking into the movements of Tai Chi. It was a discipline which he had acquired after he was cursed, finding the moments beneficial to both his body and his mind. It reordered them, adjusting himself to the symbiotic relationship which existed between his soul and the demon within, forcing the latter to accept the former's reign over the body they both resided in, achieving a state with which to live by.

He went through the excises one by one, until his senses became aware that he was no longer alone, whereupon he brought his arms down in front of him into a position of prayer, before opening his eyes and fixing their gaze on his beloved girl.

She advanced hesitantly towards him. "I'm sorry."

He had not expected her to say that. "It wasn't your fault," he tried to assure her. "It was mine. You did what you had to do. I'm proud of you. If anyone is to blame, it is me, for losing myself within you."

As he uttered the last sentence, he saw someone emerge from the shadows to join them. To his surprise and his horror, it seemed to be the man his demon had drained the life of in his dream.

His beloved girl shook her head at him. ""I can't accept that. You weren't to know your curse had a clause," she replied, before taking another step towards him. "What happens now?" She asked, yet not to him, but in the direction of the man behind her.

Angel could not answer. He could stare at the two of them, wondering what new torment his torturers had decided to visit upon him now he thought that he was free from their grasp.


She was hurrying along a street, glancing behind her, worried that the people who she had been gambling with were following her in an effort to claim the money his defeat granted them right to. Such an event was impossible, for she had no money. Nor did anyone seem to be following her. Everyone around her were too concerned with what to purchase for the forthcoming festival to worry about one man who could not honour his debts.

Suddenly she felt herself being snatched away from the busy street into the darkness of an alleyway, before being thrown upon snow-covered cobblestones. She rolled over to see who had attacked her, to find a human with deep, hard forehead ridges and white glistening fangs, looming over her.

"Daniel," this demon said to her. "Where were you going?"

"You!" She heard herself cry. "You're not human."

Her attacker nodded in agreement. "Not of late, no."

"Wh-what do you want?" she heard herself asked fearfully.

"Well, it happens that I'm hungry, Daniel, and seeing as that you're somewhat in me debt..." her aggressor let the sentence fade into deadly silence.

"Please, I can't!" she heard herself beg, frightened.

"A man playing at cards should have a natural intelligence or a great deal of money, and you're sadly lacking in both," this demon advised.

She felt herself rise with a rush to her feet and attempt to run away, but her attacker was too fast for her, and grabbed her, holding her body against his chest.

"So I take me winnings me own way," the demon finished, adjusting the her head to gain better access to her neck.

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want," she heard herself recite a palm in hopeful plea. "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures..."

Her attacker had no time from such biblical references. "Daniel, be of good cheer. It's Christmas!" He cried before placing his mouth on her neck, sinking in his fangs below the skin, draining her blood.

To Be Continued In
The Power of Souls.