Buffy sat on the grass, feeling moisture seep into her pants, the chill in the air taking residence within her bones. She didn't know how much time had passed. In the end it didn't matter – minutes, hours, days – she was being asked to make an impossible choice.
She remembered asking Giles once to lie to her, to tell her that it would always be obvious what was the right thing to do. Now her life was permanently shrouded in fog, no sharp edges of clarity. The beloved was now the betrayer.
The end of all magic. According to Angel, it was the only way. She tried to remember her life before magic. Could she be a normal girl again, where her biggest worry would be whether she could afford those cute shoes she liked instead of whether she'd even live to wear them? She doubted it. But that wasn't the issue. She had figured out a way to live her life when normal suddenly fell by the wayside. She would figure out how to live it when normal (or some semblance of it) was all that was left.
After returning from her "vacation", she had snuck into the library one evening after patrol. Giles would have been amazed to see her turn into super research girl as she opened dozens of arcane volumes, searching for the reference she needed. Finally, after two hours of poring through dozens of increasingly boring and heavy texts (there seemed to be a direct correlation between number of pages and exactly how tedious the book was), she found it. A half page reference to Acathala, and an artist's rendition of what the world would look like if he was awakened.
She wanted to slam the book shut as soon as she even glanced at it, but she forced herself to take in every detail. Heads on pikes, a demon tearing into a child's flesh, women being raped by things too terrible to contemplate; the entire picture was more horrible than any nightmare she had ever dreamed. This was what she had prevented when she had killed Angel.
She had thought it would make her feel better.
And now here was Angel, telling her hell on earth was fast approaching again, unless she killed him.
Funny how things tended to go full circle.
She wondered what Willow would do if there was no more magic. Her eyes widened. She hadn't considered Willow until just now. If there was no magic, then it couldn't consume her best friend again. And she would never be forced to kill her in the far future. Each time she saw Willow, she saw herself stabbing her in the heart. She could save Willow and save the world.
No more magic. No more witches. No more demons. No more slayers. No more -
Buffy stood back up, stretching her back, releasing the kinks from her neck. She needed to talk to Angel. Her decision was made.
She found him several hundred yards away, leaning against the entrance to a cave. When he saw her, he pushed off and stood upright, his expression giving nothing away.
"I've been thinking about what you said," Buffy said carefully, walking until she was only a foot away. He had changed clothes while she had been thinking and was no longer wearing that ridiculous low-rent superhero get-up. Instead, he was wearing his usual GQ attire – dark pants with a knife edge crease and a camel colored shirt that draped perfectly across his chest with the top button undone, exposing his moon-pale skin. Somehow that made it all worse. He looked like he always had, but this couldn't possibly be the man she had known, could it?
"What happens to the demons that aren't evil?"
"Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the greater good."
"What happens to Oz?" Angel didn't answer, just ducked his head slightly. "What happens to my sister? Or since it's my sister and not your son that gets affected, it's all right?"
If she thought he'd be surprised that she knew about Connor, he didn't acknowledge it. She stared at him, a terrible fury etched onto her face. "This isn't going to happen. We find another way."
Before she could react, he took a half step towards her, clamping his hands tightly around her wrists. "You've always been a terrible listener." The calm in his voice belied the anger riding just below the surface.
"That's because I'm more of an action girl," she said, jerking her arms down hard and then quickly up, breaking his hold on her. She turned, intending to walk away, when he reached out yet again, yanking her hard against him.
His left arm was across the top of her chest, his large hand holding the top of her body against his. His right hand was wrapped firmly around a stake, the point pressing against the swell of her breast, above her heart. It wasn't hard enough to hurt, but the slight pressure dimpled her skin. He curled downward, his lips just inches from her ear. "Either you cast the spell to cast out magic or the slayers need to die. Those are your choices."
His voice was soft, the slow drip of honey being poured over her, each word a puff of air rustling the hair near her ear. She was aware of her shoulders pressed against his back and the broad, unyielding strength she felt there. He used to hold her like this, wrapped in his arms. She had always felt safely cocooned, protected briefly in a bubble of their own making.
The stake pressed the tiniest bit harder, reminding her that this was not exactly the past. "Are you planning to kill the slayers by starting with me?" she asked sarcastically. A small part of her yelled that goading the guy with the weapon was not the greatest move.
"If I kill you, the rest will be easy to pick off." His voice was flat and businesslike, as if he was trying to convince her of what he was saying. Or maybe convince himself, she thought.
"The slayers no longer have any power. They gave it back. There's no reason to kill anyone." Even now, she wasn't worried. Things would have go Defcon 1 before she'd entertain the thought that Angel would actually hurt her.
"The power is in the earth, still tethered to them. Unless you get rid of it, it's going to go badly for the entire world. Did you think that creating all those slayers wouldn't have a cost?"
She didn't say anything, but her internal reaction was, "Duh, really?" She was the queen of consequences; she was Murphy's poster child. And it had all started with him when you got right down to it. Every relationship she'd had post Angel had been doomed to failure. He was both the best thing and worst thing that had ever happened to her. And it looked like they were going to take their dynamic to new levels of awful; she couldn't wait.
Mentally slapping herself, she focused. Now was not the time to revisit the past, especially when the past was holding a stake, point ready to pierce her flesh. Her hands slowly moved through the air, until they lightly settled on his wrists. She could feel him stiffen slightly behind her. "You expect me to let someone kill hundreds of innocent girls? Most of them aren't much more than children." Her fingers lightly traced the skin of his arms.
"Once they dusted their first vampire or killed their first demon they weren't innocent any longer. They're warriors and this is a war. Soldiers die in battle every day." His thumb was brushing against Buffy's collarbone, making it hard for her to concentrate even though his voice got harder.
"There's a difference between dying because a demon bested you and being led to the slaughter. There has to be another way."
"The vision was clear. The world will end unless the magic contained within the slayers is somehow destroyed. There are only two ways to accomplish that."
Angel was still finishing his sentence when she knocked the stake out of his grip and twisted in his embrace so that she was now facing him.
His arm which had been formally across her chest now rested against her back. His other hand gripped her left hip. Meanwhile, her arms were still in front of her, her hands now fisting the front of his shirt.
"Slayer," he hissed. She didn't recall him ever calling her that and it stirred something primal within her.
"Vampire," she tossed back at him, her tone equally challenging. Deliberately, she relaxed her hands, her fingers spread wide over his pecs. Slowly, she allowed her hands to caress his shirt, luxuriating in the feel of his body underneath her exploring fingers. Her hands kept moving upwards until her hands slipped behind his neck. She was acutely aware that Angel's hands were also traveling up her back, each touch awakening her body. When his hands pushed through her hair, she tilted her head back, their eyes locking.
His harsh expression had softened into something else entirely. He was staring at her as if she was the only thing in the universe worth looking at. She was finding it seriously hard to have any thoughts when he was drinking her in like this. She amended that. She was finding it hard to have any rational thoughts. Because oh, boy, she was having plenty of thoughts.
Past and present began to blur together as his scent enveloped her. That expensive cologne he always wore with hints of cloves and autumn leaves, a minty smell that made her mouth water and as always, a sharp, bright metallic note that made her heart race. Her tongue darted out moistening her lips as she noted with pride that his eyes had darkened to black.
His lips slanted firmly against hers as she eagerly opened her mouth. A noise somewhere between a growl and a sob was pulled from deep within his chest as his tongue explored her mouth, first teasing, then bold. Crushing herself flush against him, coherent thought fled as she felt how hard he was. One of his hands moved back down her body, cupping her ass, causing her to moan. She pulled back from his mouth, kissing her way down his chin and neck, finally biting down with blunt teeth at the juncture between neck and shoulder. His reaction was immediate, as he lifted her in the air, causing her to wrap her legs around him; Angel shifted them so her heat was pressed right against his erection. Her hands cupped his cheeks as she kissed him again, his tongue flicking in and out of her mouth, as their lower bodies ground together.
"Don't stop," she gasped as he briefly left off kissing her, in order to tug an earlobe gently between his teeth. Their movements began to get more frenzied as their hands touched anything they could find, intimately sliding against each other in a hard rhythm. Buffy closed her eyes, her fingertips digging hard enough into his shoulders to leave marks as her orgasm swept through her, leaving her breathless. She could tell that Angel followed her, his body shuddering in her arms.
He nimbly set her down, his dark eyes gentle yet resolute. "Don't ever doubt that I love you," he said quietly. "It probably would be better if I didn't but you're one of those things I've never been very smart about." He stared at her, his eyes traveling over every inch.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, and then he ducked inside the cave's entrance.
Buffy reacted immediately, but ten feet in, the path split. She hesitated for only a second and then went right. Another fifty feet and the path split again. After the third fork, she came to the reluctant conclusion that she had no idea if she was even going the right way and that if she didn't turn back, she could be lost in here for days. She sighed, frustrated. If Angel didn't want to be found, there wasn't anything she could do about it at the moment.
One month later, she received a hysterical phone call from Natalie, one of the three slayers who covered Latvia and Lithuania. The three of them had been ambushed by a vampire and she had barely escaped with her life. The other two girls hadn't been as lucky. Buffy's mouth went dry as Natalie described the attacker, ending her description with the fact that he hadn't fed on the girls, just killed them.
Shortly after, Buffy sent out a high priority e-mail to every slayer, complete with a picture of Angel, stating that he was highly dangerous and that he needed to be staked on sight.
She could still taste him.