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Author's Note: I meant this to be a stand alone at first, but then all my disagreements concerning the season came back to the fore, as Angel began its first year on Five, whereupon it turned into a new series. So, take yourselves back to the end of Heartthrob, where Angel has just finished talking to Cordelia about how he feels. This continues from there. As for Charmed, its non-cannon orientated, and has Paige in and Prue alive.

Intervention.

I have to say goodbye.

At least, that was what he said to Cordelia when he left. The closer he got however, Angel doubted he ever really could. James' words had made him realise how numb he had been feeling, even in the monastery where he was fighting demons and trying to mourn for her. Truth was, the reality still had not set in. He had only heard the news, not witnessed it set in concrete. He never attended the funeral, for reasons he still had yet to explain to his friends. To this day, he had not even seen her grave.

Now, he was standing in front of it, stunned at the surroundings. The area itself was deserted, but Angel could tell that a few minutes ago it had contained people. He could smell magic in the air. Along with fresh blood. He noted the broken ancient pot, and the remains of its ingredients scattered in the ground. As he dropped to his knees to examine the scene more closely, the earth suddenly shook. The grass shifted apart, as a hand, followed by another, crawled its way out the grave.

Angel was still in shock by the time the person had finished climbing out of the grave. He stared at her, his lips forming her name aloud. "Buffy?"

She seemed lost, as if the scene was unfamiliar to her. Then her eyes locked upon his form. A cry was wrenched from her mouth. "You? How could you?" She threw herself forward, pushing him to the floor, her fists pounding against him in anger. Crying over and over, as she poured out her grief at being brought back.

Angel let her pummel him, her strength preventing him from doing much else. When she paused, he rapidly took control, rolling her on to the ground. He wrapped his arms around hers, stopping the pounding.

"Buffy," he began. "Buffy," he repeated until she looked him in the eye. "I swear to you I didn't do this." He relaxed his grip a fraction. "I knew where you ended up. Willow, the others, they all believed you were trapped in some hell dimension."

"Then, why are you here?"

Angel made to reply, but chuckled, as he realised the irony. "I came to say goodbye."

She chuckled as well; a soft laugh, signalling to him her mood. He got up off her and gathered her into his arms as the tears started to fall. Without a word he let her lean into him, kissing her hair and softly stroking her skin until she was spent.

When she had been quiet for a while, he spoke, his voice quiet to the ear. "What do you want to do?" He hesitated then, reluctant to let her go, but knowing that he had to ask. "Do you want to see the others?" She shook her head in a resounding negative. "Do you want them to know that it worked?"

"No," she answered, fear in its tone, as though she thought he would make her. Clinging to him, she repeated, "No. Please Angel don't. I don't want them to know. I don't want to go back. Please don't take me back."

He was silent for a minute, which turned out to be his undoing. Her fragile calm shattered. She broke into tears again, begging him over and over to take her away from them, until he was powerless to resist.

 


"Where did he say he was going?"

Cordelia turned to the speaker, half irritated by their persistence by now. "I told you, he didn't say. He just wanted to say goodbye."

"And he didn't say how long he would be?" Gunn asked.

"No, he didn't," her fuse shorted out. "What am I, his messenger? He'll be a long time, so just be......."

"Oh my god." That was Wesley.

"Patient," Cordelia continued, turning to face the Hyperion doors, which he had been watching, before gasping in shock herself. "Buffy?"

The slayer made no reply, and neither did her knight in leather, as he quietly carried her to the circular chair that was in the foyer and laid her down upon it. Brushing her hair away from her closed eyes, he looked up and started to explain. "When I arrived, the place was deserted. I think they brought her back. I saw remains of a ritual, enough to see that it was a dark one."

"Are you sure?" Wesley queried. "Because if it was, it wouldn't have worked. She would not have come back."

"I know," Angel replied. "And we need to find out why."

 


"What's going on?"

Gunn looked up to see Fred at the top of the stairs, gazing down at the scene below. "Hey," he answered in greeting, "how are you doing?"

"Okay I guess." She tentatively came down the rest of the way. "What's happening?" She glanced over to where Angel was. "Who's that?"

He was about to answer, but the doors opened, and another voice did that for him. "Well, I'll be blue suede shoed. What's the slayer doing here?"

"That's what we hoped you could find out," Wesley answered, moving from his post at the other end of the sofa, so the host could do his work.

Lorne looked northwards. "Will he move?"

The trio glanced at their namesake for their firm, who had not moved since he arrived at the place. In response he removed his eyes from her and looked up at the Host. "Help her," he half commanded, half pleaded, before relinquishing his guard.

They moved away from the sofa back to the desk. "I thought she was in a hell dimension?" Cordelia began.

"She wasn't," Angel replied. "She felt at peace." He paused, casting a worried glance back to her. "I felt her happiness."

"How?" Gunn asked.

Angel gestured to Wesley, who took over the explanation. "When vampires fall in love, they form a bond with their mate, through which they can feel their emotions, know when they are in trouble, and when they die."

"If she was at peace then, why did Willow bring her back?" Cordelia queried.

"Because they believed she was suffering."

"Couldn't you tell them, Angel?" Fred asked.

"I tried, and Willow assured me they wouldn't do this," Angel leant against the surface of the reception desk. "But Giles phoned a few weeks back with the suspicion that they might be trying something like this." He sighed. "I still don't understand why it worked."

"Well, she's a champion for the good isn't she?" Fred offered.

"Yes, but there's one slayer in every generation," Wesley commented. "When one dies the next is called. And the way magic works in this world, is due to the balance of good and bad, and the will of the Powers That Be. The only way for a ritual using dark magic to work, is if it is the will of the Powers to grant it. Which means that she wasn't meant to die."

"Wesley's right," Lorne had come back into the reception area. "She wasn't meant to die, Dawn was. With the right intent, a key can both open and close a doorway between dimensions. Of course the PTB forgot to remind the monks of that."

"How is she?" Angel asked.

"Considering she's been down the harsh stairway from heaven, not bad. Her healing will require more skill than I have though."

"So who can?"

"The Charmed Ones."

There was a mixed reaction. Wesley and Angel uttered a quiet gasp of awe. Cordelia, Fred and Gunn looked mystified. The latter was the first to speak. "Okay I'll bite. Who are the Charmed Ones?"

"Four extremely powerful witches," Wesley explained, the wonder still in his voice. "Their coming from the Warren line has long been prophesied."

"Well they go by the name Halliwell now," Lorne continued. "You'll need to go to San Francisco. Take Cordelia with you, their contact from the Powers will recognise her. The slayer's in no condition to explain anything."

 


Seven hours and a morning later, a black convertible drew up outside one of the old style streets that the city was famous for. Darkness had hit some hours ago, so after a bit of manoeuvring, the doorbell of thirteen twenty-nine Prescott Street was pressed.

A minute or so passed before the door was opened by a dark haired woman. She looked at them with the usual expression one deals to a total stranger calling in the middle of the night. "Yes?"

"Is this the Halliwells?"

Another expression came over her; one that Cordelia was used to seeing on Angel or Buffy. The kind reserved for suspicious demons. "Yes, why?"

Cordelia dropped the usual protective response. Truth was best in this case. "I was told you could help us. And that your contact with those above would recognise me, and assure you that we could be trusted."

The woman hesitated, looking her over, then stepped back. "Leo," she called out, her eyes not moving from their previous position.

A fair haired man came out of the room to her right. He took a look at her and then turned to the woman. "Its all right, Prue, you can let them in."

"I'm Cordelia," she explained, stepping inside. "And you have to verbally invite him," she added, gesturing to the man behind her.

"Why?" Prue asked, her suspicions back up.

"Don't worry, he's one of the good guys," Leo replied.

"Alright. Come in."

"Thank you," Angel said, gently carrying his mate inside. They followed the two into the lounge, where three other dark haired women, two of whom made space so he could lay her on a sofa.

Prue and Leo followed him, the latter expressing a surprised breath as he recognised the girl. "Of course, I understand."

"Understand what?" One of the women asked.

This was why I was a little late in getting home," Leo explained as he rested on the arm of the sofa. "The Elders were telling me about this. She's a chosen warrior for fate. They wanted her brought back, as her death was not meant to be, but the only way was through dark magic, so we need to heal her."

"We?"

"Yes, there should be something in the Book of Shadows."

"I'll go and get it." Prue left the room.

Leo turned to the newcomers. "I guess I should make the introductions. Piper, Phoebe and Paige, these are Cordelia Chase; a seer, Angel a vampire and Buffy the vampire slayer."

"You're a vampire?" Paige repeated, staring at Angel.

"He was cursed with a soul by Gypsies over a hundred years ago," Cordelia answered for him. "Now he helps the helpless."

"I was sent to watch over her." Angel gestured to the girl lying in his arms.

"But they fell in love," Leo added.

"And the rest is a long story," Cordelia finished.

Prue returned with the Book. She laid it on the table. The ancient heirloom opened instantly, its pages flicking in search of the required spell. "Here it is," she answered.

Her sisters rose up to stand or sit by her so they could read the incantation. Leo stood over Buffy's form, his hands raised to heal. "Internal wounds hear our prayer. We call upon the Powers That Be. Allow us to heal this warrior of her scare. Let her be forever free, of the dark magic that has surrounded thee. Clothe her in the power of the light, and put to death the night. By the Power of Four, no evil is to be within her ever more."

A glowing aura, generated by Leo's hand rose around Buffy, and upon the completion of the spell, went inside her. A small dark cloud came out and rose to the ceiling, where it disappeared.

 


The slayer opened her eyes. She saw a room she did not recognise, with its curtains closed against the light of day, and lit lamps. "Where am I?" She asked.

A face came into view; Angel's. "In San Francisco."

"Why do I feel normal?" She asked, sitting up. "Well," she elaborated, "normal for me, that is."

Slowly, Angel explained. When he had finished, Buffy turned to the four witches in the room. "Thank you." She paused. "Do you know what I am meant to do now?"

A cloud of light sprinkles appeared as Leo entered the room. He kissed his wife in greeting, then sat next to her, opposite Angel, Buffy and Cordelia. "The Elders informed me of their change in your destinies. They were also able to get a few things fixed at last." He rose up and stood in front of Cordelia, his hands over her head. They glowed for a few seconds, then he removed them.

"What did you do?" Angel asked.

"I've given her the ability to experience the visions without it killing her."

"They were killing you?"

"I didn't want to tell you," Cordelia replied. "But I'm fine now, so don't brood over the matter."

"And now for you," Leo announced standing over him. His hands came over Angel's head, glowed and then he removed them and went to sit back down. "He's like you now," he remarked to Buffy. "A chosen human warrior."

 


When darkness came again to San Francisco, the black convertible made its way back to the City of Angels. Its driver turned his head to face the front passenger. "What do you want to do now?"

"I don't want to go back to Sunnydale," Buffy replied, speaking in a low tone for Cordelia who was sleeping in the back. "That last year there was hell." she sighed. "I can't forgive them for what they did to me. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to." She turned to face him properly. "If you'll have me, I'm offering my services to Angel Investigations."

"I can't speak for Wesley," Angel replied, "but....." he drifted off, pulling the car to a halt for a stop sign. Silently he shook his head. "I can't. I'd be too arrogant even to ask."

"Angel," Buffy smiled at him. "Ask away."

"Alright," He turned to face her. "Buffy, I know we have been apart for two years. I know things have changed for both of us during that time. But I still love you. And I would be honoured if you stayed. Not just for the job, but for me. If you'll have me."

"My answer was decided the moment Leo healed you." She leant forward and kissed him, claiming an instant and passionate response.

Angel pulled slightly away after a few moments. "There are some things that have happened to me that you won't like," he cautioned.

"I know," Buffy replied with calm surety. "I felt a lot of that through our bond. I would have come to help, but, after the last, I wasn't sure that I'd be welcome."

"It was better that you didn't. I wasn't in a very good place then. Things might have got out of hand."

"Well, we have a long drive ahead of us," Buffy smiled. "Lets exchange details. About everything. No secrets."

"Agreed." Angel took off the breaks, and the black convertible made its way back to Los Angeles.

The End.
To Be Continued In:
Job's Plight.

Chapter Text

Job's Plight.

Lilah Morgan, Head of Special Projects at Wolfram and Hart, paced outside the double doors of Conference Room 101 with a heavy heart. She did not want to be the bearer of this particular piece of news, especially since this law firm tended to the take the phrase 'kill the messenger' literally. However, in this case, delegating the task to someone else would not be the lesser of two evils.

Checking her watch for the fifth time Lilah sighed in frustration. Why had she not seen this coming?

The case had started off so well......

 


Forty-eight hours earlier.......

"So, Angel told you everything?"

Buffy moved her chopsticks back into the take-out box she was holding. "Yep, everything."

"Even when he was human for a day?"

"Yep."

"His Shanshu?"

Buffy smiled, leaning back into the topic of conversation's arms, in which she had been relaxing in most of the day. "That was kind of a non-issue, but yeah I knew."

"Darla?" Cordelia tentatively asked last.

"Even that."

"Well, colour me stunned." The seer popped a bit of Chinese in her mouth, swallowing it before continuing. "You're taking it all rather calmly."

"I know," the slayer replied, "but I don't really see why I need to be angry or upset about it. We both did some unconscionable things in the past. But none of it should matter if we love each other."

Angel nodded in agreement. "Sounds corny, but its true. We have a chance to make this work, and neither of us wanna lose that."

"Er, hi."

The group turned from where they had congregated to welcome the new arrival. "Fred," Wesley began, "you coming to join us?"

"Thought I would try." The young woman made her way into the circle, looking shyly around at everyone.

"Hi," the slayer began, holding out her hand, "I'm Buffy."

"Nice to meet you," Fred replied, shaking her hand. "Wes filled me in."

"Me too." Buffy came out of Angel's arms. "We saved some take-out for you." She led her off into the kitchen area of the hotel. Cordelia turned surprised eyes to recently shanshued.

"Look, I've been hinting that Fred needs a friend that's a girl ever since she got back," Angel replied, "and you haven't taken it."

"Hello," said a voice suddenly, "which one of you is Mr Pryce?"

"Whose asking?" Gunn replied as the gang turned to face the newcomer.

"He's Gavin Parks," Wesley commented in a deadly tone. "Of Wolfram and Hart."

"I'm here to deliver a list of fifty-seven city codes which this building is violating; including earthquake proofing, asbestos and termites." He laid the thick pile of paper on the circular seat nearby. "You should also be aware that I have filed a copy of this with the city planning office."

"Gee, fifty-seven," Angel deadpanned. "Is that a lot?"

Gavin Parks merely stared at him. It was a brief contest, Angel emerging victorious, as the attorney closed his briefcase and delivered his parting words. "We'll be in touch."

Gunn waited until the door was closed before commenting. "You know, for a recent ex-vamp Angel, you still can do the role."

"Its a shame," Cordelia remarked, as Buffy and Fred came back into the room, "why is it only villains know the true value of good chinos."

No one had time to formulate a reply on that, as she suddenly stumbled, a vision hitting her mind. After it was over, Cordelia slowly sat up, muttering to herself, "I thought they wouldn't be like that anymore."

"Cordelia?" Angel, who had been close enough to hear her, queried. She seemed to come back to earth then, and quickly got up. "I'm fine, its nothing. There's this coin you need to find. In a herbalists. A demon with er, five claws."

"On it," Buffy replied, grabbing a city directory and flicking through. Wesley walked over to the books, selecting a volume to flick through also.

The seer quietly slipped out to a bathroom. Inside she cautiously lifted up her top to see the deep cuts that had accompanied the first vision she had had for a while. Staring at her reflection in the mirror, she softly uttered to herself, "what's happening to me?"

 


It was only the boys in the end that went to fetch the coin in Cordelia's vision. Buffy, who was still recovering from coming back from the dead, together with Fred, saw the seer back to her apartment.

Cordelia came into her living room, fully into her role of fake exhaustion, only to find one occupant as a pose to two. "Where's Fred?"

"Rediscovering the wonder that is your tub of peanut butter," Buffy replied, looking at her host carefully. "Are you sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine," Cordelia answered breezily. "There's no need for you two to be here, honestly."

The comment might have worked, had not another vision decided that the timing was right to kick in. Cordelia collapsed to the floor screaming. Buffy called out to Fred, as she took out her mobile, ready to call the guys. Just as the latter crouched down beside them both, the torment passed, burns appearing on her head.

Buffy stared in shock at the sight for a moment, before opening her phone again. "This isn't right," she said to Fred. "The visions aren't meant to hurt her anymore."

"Do we call someone?"

"We can't explain this to a doctor. We need to find out why this is happening."

"You mean like asking the powers?"

"Exactly. But first we have to find out a way of contacting them."

"Why don't we trace the source?"

"Trace the source?"

"Lorne. He could."

Buffy directed her to Cordelia's home line. "You call him, I call the guys."

 


When Angel, Wesley and Gunn had arrived back from the herbalists with the coin in hand, Lorne was already in with Cordelia, preparing to trace the visions through a reluctant seer. Her insistence that the Powers were responsible however, was getting no support.

"I agree," Angel remarked to his mate after she had explained her theory, "but can they actually do that?"

"I've heard its possible," Wesley said, as he looked at the artist impression of the new item they needed to retrieve. "I think I know what these do now, but I need to go back to the Hyperion to confirm. It also looks like that the demons we killed to get this were actually on our side."

"Damn," Gunn muttered, "its so hard to tell these days."

The Host returned from the bedroom. "Well, you were right, its not the Powers. The Charmed Ones took care of the damage that their visions do. These are definitely of the man made variety. I suggest you guys start looking at your enemies for the root of this vision problem."

Angel nodded in thanks. "I'll go and get that key. Then pay a visit to a certain law firm we know."

 


It was what happened next that had annoyed Lilah Morgan the most. She had prepared everything so well........

After parking the two limousines at the meeting place, she stepped outside to face Angel standing in front of the car which held the man she had wanted him to retrieve. Then with a single glance, she had turned to motion her weapon to withdraw the pain and injuries they had inflicted on Ms Chase. She watched the car as Mr Pryce dialled a number on his cell, listened for a moment, before putting it away, and nodding at Angel.

Lilah watched him as he retrieved the client out of the car and handed him over. She saw Billy to the second limousine, closing the door.

Then, the entire plan went to hell. There was a sound of something slicing through the wind, and Lilah turned to see a piece of pipe thrown through her physic contact by Angel. Barely had she time to recover before the sound occurred again. She turned to the other car, her worst fear coming to the fore.

Another piece of piping was through the head of Billy. From the other side of the limo the person responsible popped up from where she had been in wait since the cars had arrived in the meeting place. "Hi," she had begun. "Just thought I ought to let you know I'm back. Nice meeting you."

"Don't ever come to us through Cordelia again," Angel then delivered, leaving Lilah to watch stunned as they left the scene.

The doors of Conference Room 101 opened, revealing her most recent enemy in the firm. Lilah silently groaned. "Parks," she muttered in acknowledgement.

"They're ready to see you now," the new attorney assigned to Special Projects seemed especially smug.

Lilah tried to pay no attention as she walked inside. "I came to inform you of a piece of news which has recently come to light concerning Angel." She reached inside her briefcase and drew out a large photograph, turning it so it could be viewed by her superiors, trying not to rejoice inside so soon as she saw Gavin Parks gasp in surprise. "It seems we have a problem with our main objective."

The photograph was blurred; a shot of someone firing a crossbolt, the face obscured. It had only two words as its heading. Unknown Player.

 


"Seriously, thanks you guys for not listening to me," Cordelia began, laying out the plates before the rest of Angel Investigations.

"Is this safe to eat?" Wesley asked with a smile. The seer shook her head in exasperation. "Yes, don't worry. I just thought we should use this large kitchen that we have for once." She turned to the others. "Er, guys, just because neither of you have eaten much since his Shanshu and your death reversal, doesn't mean you can inhale. Its disgusting."

"Sorry Cor." Buffy smiled at them all. "Its just they're good, and its kind of late."

"It is," Angel agreed, pushing the plates away and grabbing her hand. They rose from their seats. "Goodnight."

Leaving the rest to shake their heads, the two human warriors made their way upstairs to their rooms. Inside, conversation and everything else was soon forgotten as they moved in the ancient and oft repeated ways of celebrating love.

Afterwards, as they lay in blissful exhaustion among the sheets of the bed in their suite of rooms, the two needed no words to be exchanged about how each other felt. For they both felt the same thing.

This was completely and finally, right.

 


Two hours away, there lay a town that had seen so much suffering over the past days. Its unknown saviours, still recovering from the fights and injuries, gathered around a marble effigy in one of the graveyards.

"It didn't work."

"Don't worry Willow. We can try again."

The wiccan nodded determinedly. "We will bring her back."

Little did they know that they already had.

The End.
To be Continued In.......
Shades Of Grey.

Chapter Text

Author's note: I pulled a lot of dialogue from the actual episode of That Old Gang Of Mine, but the plot has still been rewritten, due to Buffy's presence. Enjoy.

Shades Of Grey.

He watched as the person he had once loved more than any other in the world, turn into dust, courtesy of the stake he had stabbed through her unbeating heart. Then, as he waited for the wretched feeling within him to grow, another thing abruptly entered his world, beeping insistently.

Gunn opened his eyes, and, realising his surroundings, suddenly sat up. He reached across to the table beside his bed, clasped his pager and brought it into his vision, shutting off the beep. With the images of his dream still resonant in his mind, it took some time before the meaning of the message was understood. As soon as it did however, Gunn felt the frustration which had originally emanated from his dreams, returning.

He did not need this sort of case today.

His mind attempted to keep itself open regarding preconceptions about this case until he arrived at the crime scene. There, the immediate surroundings were enough to confirm his original conclusion.

"Who died?" He asked, nevertheless.

"Merl," Wesley replied, pausing from collecting evidence.

"Where's the body?" Gunn queried, though, as he glanced around the room, the horrible answer came to his mind.

"Splattered around," Angel bluntly confirmed his suspicion, gesturing at the walls, which were covered in what could only be described as slime.

Gunn took another glance around the room. Apart from Angel and Wesley there was also Buffy present, collecting evidence. The first thought that entered his head, caused by the emotional effects of the dream, was that they did not need a fourth. "So," he began, "why did you call me?"

"There's been several deaths with the same MO like this recently," Wesley replied. "I thought you could see if anyone knows about it."

"Is this really the kind of thing we should be spending our time on? I mean he was what he was, right?"

Angel looked up from his crouch upon the floor. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing. It means what it means. Somebody killed a demon. Hello! We do that every day."

"Merl," Wesley emphasised, "was harmless."

"Okay," Gunn threw up his hands in surrender.

"Sure you're not just bent because maybe we interrupted something you'd rather be doing?" Angel asked in a deadly voice.

"No."

"Okay," Angel did not sound convinced. "Usually doesn't take you two hours to answer a page, that's all."

"Excuse me, but did somebody put you back in charge? Because if they did they forgot to tell me about it."

Angel advanced forward, causing Wesley to stand between opposing battle-lines. "All right. - Gunn, if this isn't something you can get behind, we'll understand. For now why don't you just go on home."

"You know what? That's probably a real good idea."

Gunn walked out, slamming the door to the stairs on the way. Angel stopped looking through Merl's rolodex to glance at Wesley. "What's eating him?"

"I'm not sure," Wes replied, as Buffy closed Merl's wardrobe and came out into the main room to join them. She met Angel's look with one of her own.


Some time later, Gunn pulled up outside an iron rod fence. Climbing out of his truck, he thought about the last time he had visited this place. Ever since Wesley had reformed Angel Investigations almost a year ago, He had never returned to his old hang out. He still was not sure why sometimes. Too many painful memories perhaps. Today however, he felt a sudden yearning to return to simplicity of those days. When he fought to keep his brothers alive in a vamp infested neighbourhood.

Walking in to the first room, Gunn saw that its appearance had hardly changed since the last time he was there. Then he felt a sharp point in his back. He turned to see his attacker, and parried the moves efficiently. Seconds later he had taken the staff from his opponent, and was now pointing the sharpened end at his neck.

A loaded crossbow matched the position on him. "This is a situation you might wanna rethink," announced its owner.

Unperturbed, Gunn turned to look at the crossbow. "Nice rig," he commented calmly, with the point of the bolt just inches away from his face.

"I'm glad you like it."

"He should," answered another as he came out of the darkness, "He built it. - Gio, you wanna get that thing out of my boy's face?"

Gunn dropped the staff and held out a hand to help his first attacker up. Gio pointed the crossbow up at the ceiling "I see you're still passing along a little something of what I taught you," he remarked, exchanging a handshake with his old buddy Rondell.

"Word's out, brother. Vamps know better than to even cross Venice Boulevard these days. Crew's as tight as it's ever been - even back in your day."

Gio pointed at Gunn in sudden realisation. "Charles Gunn?"

"That's right."

Gio put his crossbow down to come close to his hero. "I know all about you. That name is part of the reason why I came out here."

"Gio's from Miami," Rondell explained.

"Ah, coast to coast, huh?"

"Little something like that. - Hey, you might be able to help me out. Why is it - that places like LA and Miami bring out the teeth you suppose? I mean, you would think that the vamps would wanna hang in less sunny climes, you know what I'm sayin'?"

Gunn felt himself relax. "Yeah, I think I do."

It was not to last. "Well, maybe we could ask your boss why that is."

Rondell shook his head in exasperation. "Yo, Gio."

Gio ignored his leader. "You can't beat 'em, right, Chuck?"

Gunn shook his head "It ain't even like that."

Gio remained sceptical. "Nuh? - Okay. If you say so. See, 'cause I heard - that you was like this - big time, alpha vamp killer - and now you working with one? What's up with that?"

"Gio," Rondell began, "who's supposed to be on point out back?"

"That be me," Gio answered, still not taking his eyes off Gunn.

"So why aren't you back there?"

Gio sniffed at Gunn, then gave a little laugh. "Yeah. A'right. It's cool. Y'all can have your nice little visit." He turned to go with another laugh. "You might wanna do that outside - in the sunshine - just to be on the safe side, you know?"

Gunn turned to watch him go, then faced his friend once more. "I guess that's the word on me around here nowadays, huh? Traitor? Vamp lover?"

"Hell, don't go listening to Gio, man. He don't know you. Come on."

They separated from the crowd and walked outside into one of the buildings that surrounded the hang out.

"No," Gunn continued, "but you do. So what you got to say, Rondell. You think I turned my back on you all to hook up with one of them?"

"Hell, I don't know. I haven't even seen your back in months, bro. I don't know which way it's facing."

"That's no answer."

"Truth? I ain't heard word one from you - not since we spread what was left of George in the river. Some of us were even starting to wonder if you were still in this world."

"I didn't mean to disappear on y'all. I didn't plan it. - Guess after George..."

"You were gone way before George. - It was Alonna, man. Things - they were never the same after Alonna."

"Couldn't keep my own sister safe. What can I do for the rest of you?"

"A lot, man. You done a lot. There's people alive today because of something you started."

"No, man. Something we started."

Rondell smiled. "You got that right. You free to stick around for a while?"

"Yeah, I think I am."

Outside the large entrance to the building the slayer quietly stepped away. She had heard all she needed to hear.


"She's had time alone. Five years. I think that's the problem." Angel slid off Hyperion's counter to meet his girlfriend while he continued to press his point home. "She's been back in this world for three months and she still hasn't gone out into it." He kissed his beloved. "Hi. Find anything out?"

"Think so," Buffy answered. "Could do with a further check though. I'll go back later. What's going on?"

"I'm trying to point out to Cordelia that Fred needs to interact with the world a bit more than she's doing at present."

"Right," the brunette began. "And it's not like the last time she went out into it she got sucked into an inter dimensional portal and ended up living like a hunted animal in a hostile demon alterna-world or anything. Oh, wait. Kinda is, isn't it?"

"Which is why I'm asking you to, you know, talk to her."

"I'm not so sure that's a great idea."

"You don't like her?"

"Sure I like her. What's not to like? She's sweet and adorable and...... seems to be laughing at something that shrub just said. Look, it's not that I don't like her. It's just..... I don't get her."

"I'm not asking you to 'get' her. I'm just asking you to - talk to her."

Buffy smiled and kissed him in temporary farewell. "Come on, Cor," she remarked, "we'll go together."

Angel walked back to the counter and picked up the paper that was lying on it. "What's this?"

"Enemies of Merl list," Cordelia replied.

Angel looked at it, then followed her into Wesley's office. "Hey. - Why is my name at the top of this list?"

"Ah - 'a'?" Cordelia answered.

"Merl and I where not enemies."

"Oh, okay, my mistake."

"I'm the one that found the body, remember?"

"Oh," Cordelia commented sceptically. "And that's not suspicious. The one time you pay Merl a social visit and he ends up - dead?"

"I recognise quite a few of these names, actually," Wesley remarked, examining the papers.

"You should," Cordelia added. "Half of them weren't 'enemies of Merl' until we made him snitch on them."

"I went to apologise to him," Angel continued his defence. "At your instigation, remember?"

"We'll work backwards, end with the 'a' s. How's that?" Wesley stood up from his chair. "We should start tracking these names."

"Guys," Buffy rose from her lean against the wall, "stop teasing him. He's human now."

"And ask yourself this: if I'd killed Merl would I've brought donuts?"


The search was still going when night came over Los Angeles. Splitting up into groups of two and three, Buffy with the girls, Angel and Wesley together, they continued checking off names.

Angel stopped in front of door number 424 of the block of apartments they were currently inside. "What's this one?" He asked.

"Samuel Larch," Wesley answered, reading off the list, "a bookie. Merl owed him quite a lot of money."

"Demon or human?"

"I'm not sure."

"Care to find out?" Angel kicked in the door. Wesley watched him walk across the threshold, pulling out a dagger before following. They looked around the room. It was completely ransacked with yellow slime splashed on the walls and broken furnishings.

"I think," Angel replied, his voice grim, "when we find whatever is doing this - we're gonna need Gunn."

"I agree. From the looks of this, whatever we're up against is - quite big. Extremely powerful..."

"...and really pissed off."


Across town, down in the sewer network, something else was making its way home, little knowing that it was also being stalked. Suddenly caught in a beam of light, he turned round, clutching at his big milkshake in fear.

"Who's there?"

That was the signal. The gang surrounded him, readying there attack. The monster- though hardly deserving that title -back against the sewer wall, thinking his fate decided. Then suddenly there was the sound of a punch hitting home several times, followed by total silence. Cautiously peering forward, the monster gasped in surprise at his saviour.

"Come on," Buffy began, smiling at him, "lets get you home."


Wesley conducted a thorough search for clues over Larch's apartment. He picked up a crossbow bolt to examine more closely when two boots appeared in his line of vision. "Gunn," he acknowledged.

"Hey." He moved out of the doorway. "Got your page. Where's Angel?"

"He's checking on something else. Come in. The victim's name was Samuel Larch. We found him last night."

Gunn glanced around the room, taking in the yellow stains. "The guy was a demon."

"Yep."

"Wesley," He suddenly appealed, "what are we doing, man? Who are we supposed to be working for, anyway? Did the Powers send us here? Did Cordy get a vision?"

"No."

"Then what?"

"Charles, things aren't always so simple as - going out and slaying the big, bad ugly. There are in this world shades of grey..."

"Yeah," Gunn cut in, "and shades of green, and a kind of sickly looking yellow with pink eyes and sometimes puce with horns, too. I get it. What I don't get is why we're suddenly playing cleanup crew to a bunch of lowlife demons! - I mean, okay, so we - we bust our butts day and night until we find whatever it was that did Merl and this Larch guy..."

"And six other victims we believe we've linked to it."

"So we find this demon killing machine. What then? We gonna stop it? Or thank it?"

Wesley hesitated, the remark catching by surprise. "I don't know."

Gunn turned away, shaking his head. "You don't know."

Wesley put the arrowbolt in a little plastic bag and added it to the other neatly labelled bags lying on a sofa table. "From everything I can determine, this victim was fully assimilated. No history of violence, no threat to anyone. Of the other six, at least two of those would have to be classified as irredeemably evil."

Gunn sits down on the sofa, suddenly tired by the complications of the world he inhabited. "So what are you saying then?"

"I'm saying that whatever is responsible for these attacks isn't making any distinctions. It's just killing. Randomly."

"You were right," Angel suddenly appeared in the doorway, followed by Buffy. "It almost happened again."

"Where and what?"

Gunn took the opportunity to pick up the bag with the arrowhead off the table. A theory formed in his mind.

"A Yarbnie was nearly eviscerated in the sewer near Century City."

Wesley walked over to his satchel to get something.

"A Yarbie, what's that?" Gunn asked, getting up from the sofa, casually pocketing the bag with the arrowhead.

Wesley, still looking through his bag, explained. "Yarbnie. It's a - balancing entity. They tend to nest in urban areas under roadways - utterly non-violent." He made some notes in a book.

"You know what?" Gunn suddenly volunteered. "Uhm, maybe I should hit the streets. You know, see if I can shake anything lose. I mean, if you want."

Wesley looked up at him. "Yeah. That's probably a good idea."

Gunn made his way out. After a minute or so, Buffy nodded at the other two and also exited the apartment. Wesley looked to Angel. "So what really happened?"

"Buffy and I checked out his old gang. They tried to attack the Yarbnie. We managed to knock most of them out and get him home."

"So," Wesley started packing away the evidence bags, "what do you think we should do? Confront him?"

Angel shook his head. "Let's see how things pan out."


"So, you wanna explain this?"

"It was dug out of the wall of an apartment over on the Miracle Mile."

"Yeah, so?" Rondell queried nonchalantly.

"So, I recognise it, Rondell," Gunn answered. "It's out of my old rig. The one Gio's been using."

"Okay."

"Look, I just came by here to give you a heads up, alright? I think you got a rogue on your crew. Your boy Gio's been out there killing anything that moves. Now somebody, meaning you, has got to have a sit-down with him, man. Let him know that this ain't the way we do things down here."

"You say you dug this out of an apartment up on the Mile?"

"Yes."

"Tall white towers?" Gunn nodded and Rondell let out a laugh. "This is funny. Gio ain't no rogue. Yeah, he found the place, but we was all there. The whole crew."

"You?"

"Bro, the thing living in that apartment? It wasn't human. We took care of it."

"But - did it attack anybody?"

"No. We got away clean."

"No, I mean before you broke in."

"No, man, we didn't give it a chance to. - What's the matter?"

"Nothing."

"Yo, Rondell!" Somebody interrupted. "Everyone's here, man."

Gunn spotted the machine guns instantly. "What, you guys packing heat now?"

"You can never be too careful. I got to go. Hey, you wanna come out with us tonight? Gio says he found a nest or something. Primo hunting."

"No, man. I got something."

Rondell pointed a finger at him as he turned to go. "Be good."

Gunn turned to go, but found Gio standing in the way. "Hey. You know something? - He still thinks you're some kind of hero. But me and you, we know better, right? Yeah. Yeah, we know better."

Gio chuckled as he walked past Gunn to follow the others, grinning at Gunn as he pulled the sliding door shut with a bang.

"You made the right choice," a voice suddenly remarked. Gunn looked back into the darkness to see the slayer standing in front of him. "You got me tailed now?"

"I had a friend a few years ago," Buffy remarked, "Quite normal to all appearances. Attended college, dated one of my best friends. Thing is, every three days around the full moon, he turned into a werewolf." She paused to look him in the eye. "What would you consider him? Friend, or foe?"

"I don't know." Gunn sighed. "I guess I'd have to be there."

"I could have been like you, you know," Buffy continued. "When I was first called, I was living here. My first watcher, the one who introduced me to all of it, was killed, because I didn't understand enough about the underworld to help him. If it hadn't been for a friend telling me what I needed to hear, I would have ran to the streets. Maybe ended up with a crew like yours. But what they're doing isn't right, and you know that. Your part of a team that helps the helpless, Gunn. We don't specify in that motto. And now some demons that just want to live out their lives in peace need that help. So, are you willing to help them? Or do you want to return to their attackers?"

Gunn sighed. "Life was a lot easier with them."

"I'll let you into one of the truths of this world," Buffy replied. "Life is never simple." She gestured ahead. "Come on."

She held out her hand. Gunn slowly took it.


The hostage situation at Caritas was already underway by the time Gunn and Buffy, along with Angel who they met at the Hyperion, arrived on the scene. The recently shanshued turned to his junior. "Do you think we'll be able to get through to them?"

"I don't know," Gunn replied. "Gio will take a little work."

They made their way down the stairs and into the bar. "Here you are," Gio greeted them, crossbolt at the ready. "What, can't the vamp protect himself?"

"He's no longer a vampire, Gio," Gunn said, coming up in front of the weapon.

"What?" Rondell queried.

"Its true," Buffy intervened. "Because of all that he has done to help the helpless, he was given back his humanity."

"But even if he wasn't," Gunn continued, "I'd still choose him. You lost the mission, bro. He's still got it."

"You guys just gonna stand here and listen to him?" Gio accused the rest of the gang, glancing around."

No one had time to answer. A flash flicked over the room, causing the lights to go out, and a demon hostage rose from his chair, shredding his skin.

There was a loud crunch, then silence. The lights came back on abruptly then, revealing a room being empty of Rondell and company. The headless remains of Gio lay on the floor.

Wesley made his way over to Gunn, while the rest of Angel Investigations stepped forward to help Lorne clear up. "If you ever withhold information or attempt to subvert me again, I will fire you. I can't have any one member of the team compromising the safety of the group, no matter who it is. If you do it again you will be dismissed, bag and baggage, out of a job onto the streets."

He turned to help the group, leaving Gunn in thought at all the events of the last forty-eight hours. One thing he was sure on. He did not want a day like this to happen again.

The End.
To Be Continued In.........
Paterfamilias.

Chapter Text


Author's note: Some of the dialogue in this has been taken from the actual third season fourth episode of Angel; Carpe Noctum.

Paterfamilias.

From the Latin, 'Father of the Family.'

Buffy opened her eyes. Instantly she stilled, not wanting to believe what was above her. She felt the confines of the light soft padded lining all around her. Sadness emerged. A single thought came to her mind. They had brought her back. Anguish followed, as her hands formed fists. Slayer instincts were at the ready. She allowed them to take control, pushing herself behind them for protection. Her hands rose up, ready to punch her way out of the coffin and the earth above it.......

Only to hit nothing but air. She blinked, adjusting her vision. Instead of the lining of a coffin facing her, there was the pale skin of a male chest. Buffy relaxed, a smile coming immediately to her face. It had just been a dream. Or rather the memory of a past, but very real, event. She had woken up in that coffin a few weeks ago.

But after fighting her way out of the lining, wood and earth above her, it had been Angel, and not the faces of the people she had once called friends, who greeted her. Buffy sighed. She knew that she should not blame them for doing only what they felt was in her best interests, yet she could not quite forgive them either.

They had believed she was trapped in a hell dimension, when the reality was, she had gone to heaven. After sacrificing herself for a sister who never should have existed in the first place. Well, that was only partly true, she reminded herself. Death at the time had been as much a matter of relief as self-sacrifice.

Life had lost its fascination for her a long time ago. Even before Angel's departure from Sunnydale. But the last year had been the worst. Forced to be everyone's saviour, while she was falling apart inside. She had been ready to break down so many times. Something had always kept her back, however. The need to receive understanding, compassion, and relief. Three things she had known that she would never get.

Suddenly, as if he knew what thoughts were going through her mind, Angel's arms tightened around her, followed by a kiss to her hair. Buffy smiled, and pushed those dark thoughts away. All that was in the past.

She turned, pressing a kiss to the piece of skin that covered his newly beating heart. She had the future now, and it was bright. She moved upwards, seeking his lips. He obliged, as their bodies familiarised themselves with each other once more. No words pass between them, a method of communication they had long since grown out of, as he rolled her underneath him, so his lips could worship the rest of her.

The phone rang, halting any further activity. Angel groaned, tempted to ignore it, but knowing that he had left instructions for them not to be disturbed unless it was a case. He stretched an arm out and picked up the receiver. "Yes, what is it?"

"Do you have any idea how cool it is not to receive painful visions anymore?" Came back the voice of the firm's seer.

"I'm sure its wonderful," Buffy said, as she moved to rest against Angel once more, "but could you please get to the point of why?"

"Oh, not again! You've been together for practically a month, haven't you got sick of it by now?" Was the reply. "Just get down here, we have a case."

"Is she needing someone, or is it just me?" Buffy asked as she and Angel climbed out of bed to get changed.

"I think she's missing Groo," Angel replied. "Either that, or she's happy for us, but she's trying not to show it."

They finished dressing and made their way downstairs to find the rest of Angel Investigations already assembled around what was once the check-in desk when the Hyperion was a hotel.

Wesley looked up from the paper he was reading to greet them. "Evening, Buffy, Angel. Have you seen this?" He handed them the article.

"Police found the body of a twenty-six year old Woodrow Raglan in a two-bedroom suite at the Elondria Hotel," Angel read aloud. "Unnamed witness said it was as if his insides had just collapsed." He paused thinking. "Wasn't there something like this last week?"

Wesley held up a paper clipping. "Ten days ago. Another young male, found in a hotel in similar conditions."

"This was what my vision was about," Cordelia added.

"So, what do you think?" Buffy began. "Spell, curse, serial demon?"

"Could be all three," Gunn replied. "Let's open up a case file."

 


"Good morning, Lilah."

Lilah Morgan came to a halt at the door to her office, a groan automatically coming to her mind. Since her announcement to the heads of Wolfram and Hart concerning the blurred photograph which only she knew to be of Buffy Summers, business at the firm had surprisingly carried on as normal. She had expected chaos, the killing of a few department heads. The abandonment of a few ventures. Including those of her latest pest. "Good morning, Gavin. Well, here we are at my office. Bye."

Gavin Parks moved not a step. "You're a tough one. I know I'm gonna have to earn your respect. But give me a little time. You'll see I'm a creative guy."

"Oh, like your 'lets torment Angel with building code violations' idea?" Lilah scorned. It had been quite a good idea, and with a few more things thrown in, it might have worked, but she was not about to let him know that. "Uh, so Machiavellian!" She added sarcastically. "We'll just drown him in red tape!"

Gavin did not seem in the least perturbed by her attack. "There are other level's to this, Lilah. Avenues of interest I have... One of them being: does Angel even exist?"

"Are you getting metaphysical on me?"

"No. The guy has no social security number, no tax payer ID, no last name as far as I know. How can he go down to the building department, or anywhere else in officialdom for that matter? - He's the rat and we're the maze. Don't you wanna see what he'll do next?"

"He might just rip out your throat," Lilah replied. Something I wouldn't mind witnessing.

"Do you think he'd do something that cliched? Gosh. Maybe you don't know him as well as you think." And with that last parting words, Gavin ended the repartee, by walking down the corridor. After a minute of watching him, Lilah came to a decision and turned to her secretary.

"Get Carter Williams on the phone. The graphic artist? Look under 'F' for forger."

 


"There was a third victim five weeks ago," Wes said when they had come to the end of their researching. "They were all young, healthy males. They all died in expensive hotel suites."

"Can you imagine shelling out all that money for a snazzy suite and then kerplop, you're a big bag of mush bones?" Fred wondered aloud. "I guess it wouldn't be good wherever that happened." Wes looked at her with a silent message, instantly understandable. "Oh - please continue."

"I'm meeting a contact of mine from the coroner's office in thirty minutes," Wesley continued. "See what I can learn about these bodies. Gunn, I was thinking, could you interview the staff of these hotels where the guys died?"

Cordelia collected the print out of some information she had collating. "They were all members of the same health club. The bodies - when they weren't - you know - dead ones."

Angel grabbed his keys, chucking his girl her coat. "Buffy and I will go and check that out."

"Why don't you and Cordelia see what we have on demons and spells and curses," Wes directed Fred. "Everybody sorted? Good, let's go."

 


"Do you think Fred and Cordelia will be alright left alone?" Buffy asked as they entered the gym.

"I think we're better off not knowing," Angel replied, as he looked around for a club attendant. "Hi. My name is Angel. Do you mind if we ask you a few questions?"

"What about?"

"We're investigating the deaths of three members," Buffy remarked, carefully making her tone sound official. "Does this club condone steroid abuse?"

The attendant glanced around evasively, expecting people to come at him at any moment. "No. No, no, no a-a-absolutely not."

"Then we should probably keep this between ourselves, don't you think?" Angel said in a consoling tone. "We'll just take a look at their records and then get out of your hair."

"Er, right this way."

As they were glancing at the records, Buffy looked around the empty exercise room they were in. The reflection of the light off two circles from the window in the building across from them caught her eye immediately. "Angel," she gestured with her eyes to what she had spotted.

Angel wrapped up their inquiries and made his way over to her. "Let's go check it out."

They made their way out of the building and across the street. Monserrat retirement community, the sign said. They went upstairs to the room in which stood the person they had both spotted staring at the gym.

A weathered man with glass opened the door to them. "Mr Roscoe," Buffy began, having read the name off the door, "my name is Buffy and this is Angel." She handed him the firm's card. "Do you mind if we asked you a few questions?"

"Well, its ah pretty late," Marcus Roscoe began, uncertain.

"Shouldn't take too long," Angel assured him, stepping inside. He made his way over to the window. "Nice to have view. I bet you, ah, spend a lot of time enjoying it."

"Not that, uh, much..." Marcus dissembled.

Angel held up the pair of binoculars he had found on the window sill.

"Uh. - Well, I don't see any harm in looking. That's about all I can do anymore. Uh - what is it you want?"

"Your help." Angel put down the binoculars and pulled out the newspaper clippings they had collected. "I wonder if you've seen either of these men across the way in the gym."

Marcus looked over them. "No. I don't think so. I'm more of a girl watcher." He turned to stare at Buffy for a moment. "You know what I'm saying? - Jeez - they all died? How?"

"That's what we're trying to find out."

"You work with the police?"

"We're private investigators."

"Hmm, sounds nice. I was a salesman. Worked alone for fifty years."

Buffy, who had been looking around the room, while this conversation was going on, abruptly stopped as she recognised an object. "Nothian herb jar," She said out loud, turning to face Mr Roscoe. "That's a - pretty exotic item. Did you, ah, deal in the occult?"

"Occult shmuccult. I travelled a lot. Picked up some trinkets."

Angel joined in his girlfriend's curiosity, spotting some extreme sport magazines. "Do a lot of bungee jumping, Mr. Roscoe?"

"More than you might think, Mr. Angel."

"Just Angel."

"I'll remember that." Marcus took off his glasses and stepped forward. "Alli permutat...."

Two words was as far as he got. Buffy, realising just before he had begun that Mr Roscoe might be in to spells as well as the trinkets of occult, had grabbed one of the less harmful souvenirs and knocked him over the head. He dropped to the floor, passed out.

"Thanks," Angel replied, as he surveyed the unconscious attacker.

"What do you think he was trying?" Buffy asked as she began picking up the occult objects, so one else had a chance to try them out.

"Some sort of soul swapping I think," Angel replied, coming over to help her. "Judging by the first two words, anyway."

"So he was trying live young again," Buffy concluded. "Case solved."

 


They arrived back at the Hyperion to find the rest of the firm enjoying some burritos from a local take-out.

"Algurian body-switching spell," Wesley explained, as the couple handed him all the occult trinkets they had picked up from the retirement home.

"That was easy," the slayer commented, sitting on the check-in desk. "Almost too easy. Do you think it was meant to be?"

"They never usually are," Cordelia agreed. "All vision related ones are normally very messy."

"Could have been if you hadn't been here," Angel pointed out, coming stand beside her. "If you hadn't knocked that guy out he could have swapped souls with me."

Buffy shivered. "Scary thought. So glad that did not happen."

"So are cases gonna be this easy from now on?" Gunn queried. "As we have a slayer on our team?"

"Didn't make any difference in Sunnydale," Buffy mused. A moment silence arose as the gang realised it was the first time she had mentioned the place since her arrival. She looked up to find them staring at her. "Hey guys, relax. I'm fine."

"Well, Lilah Morgan came round while you were all out," Fred said. "She delivered the certification documents on all that safety stuff Gavin Parks said we were missing."

"Nice to know that Wolfram and Hart are keeping up their policy of one up man ship on each other," Wesley commented.

"So I guess we can all relax for a while," Angel remarked.

 


Two hours away, in one of the many graveyards that littered the small town, four people gathered around a seemingly normal looking grave. Nothing remained of the ritual they had tried to carry out. No sign of success or failure.

"I don't understand," Willow began, surveying the ground. "I followed the ritual precisely. Something should have happened."

"Well, we were interrupted," Xander pointed, taking the shovel that was in his hands and putting it into the ground. "Those demons on bikes have kept us occupied. Maybe we just missed something."

"Rise!" Willow commanded suddenly, her eyes turning red. Xander abruptly stopped his digging as the ground turned over by itself, raising the coffin. "That saved a messy job," he commented instead.

"I still don't think we should be doing this," Tara remarked as her girlfriend stepped to the coffin, examining the locks.

"That ritual should have worked," Willow explained. "I'm just trying to find out why."

"What the hell are you all doing!?!"

The four members of the Scooby gang jumped in surprise and turned round. Willow was the first to speak. "Giles! You're back."

"Yes, I arrived an hour ago. Spike told me where you were." Giles looked up from the ground to show them his grim face. "And I see now that his story was not as preposterous as I thought it was at the time."

"We were only," Tara began in an effort to placate. Giles was not in the mood.

"I thought that I had made it clear to you all not to try to bring her back!"

"Giles, she's in a hell dimension! We have to try!" Willow cried.

"Has it not occurred to you that if she were, the Powers That Be would have rescued her?" He asked them. "They did for Angel." He stepped forward. "She sacrificed herself in order to save Dawn. We still have her body. I think her soul went to heaven. You have to face up to the fact that's she's not coming back."

"But Giles.."

"No, Willow, you're not trying again. You're using far too much power as it is. Now go home, all of you. I'll clear this up."

They trudged their way out of the graveyard. Giles watched them go, then turned to look at the raised coffin.

And gasped, as he suddenly realised something.

 


This time no one interrupted them. Afterwards Angel held her close, still lying inside her, gazing into her eyes. "Are you sure?" He asked.

"I'm fine," Buffy assured him, smiling. "Stop worrying."

"I can't help it," he confessed. "I think of how much you suffered there, and my heart twists inside."

"I doubt your staying would have changed anything."

"I'm not so sure."

"Angel, things were hard, even when you were with me. I think it began after I came back, two years ago. I no longer trusted them, and they expected me to cope with everything that fell on us. When you left, I formed a wall between my true self and the slayer. It helped me survive, but it also hurt me. No one seemed to notice had badly I was suffering. Not even Giles, or Riley."

"Why did you never tell me this?"

"I was afraid. I worried that if I called you, I'd break down and make you feel guilty for leaving. I was also angry with myself for not being able to fulfil that wish of yours."

"At times I regretted making that wish," Angel kissed her.

"But we're together now," Buffy reminded him when they stopped. "And we don't need to worry about that pesky normal life you wanted me to have. I have it. With you."

They moved to kiss again, when the phone rang. Buffy groaned. "I knew that case was closed too quickly." Reluctantly, she twisted out of Angel's arms, and grabbed the phone. "We're up, what is it?"

"You better get down here," Wesley answered on the other side of the internal line. "There's someone who wants to see you."

Buffy put the phone down and glanced at Angel. "I think someone from Sunnydale has done a little grave digging."

"But I made sure that there was no way they could find out," Angel assured as he got dressed. "How on earth did they know to dig?"

"I don't know."

They made their way out of the suite to the landing that overlooked the lobby. Buffy peered over the railing, and identified their guest. She glanced at Angel and sighed, before walking to the stairs. "Hi Giles," she greeted when she had reached the bottom.

The ex-watcher looked at her with a gasp. "So its true then," He said. "The spell worked."

"Yes it did." Buffy looked at him coldly. "Did you have a hand in its application?"

"No," Giles replied. "I've been in England since the funeral." He stepped forward, halting when she shied away from him. "I had no idea they would try this."

"You weren't the only one," Buffy acknowledged.

"Why are you here?" Giles questioned, sensing from her tone that, despite his non-participation in the ritual that had brought her back, he still was not welcome in the Hotel.

"There's nothing for me in Sunnydale," Buffy stated. She turned and walked to the doors that led to the little inner courtyard. She wanted to conduct this particular argument on her own terms.

Giles found himself at a loss as he followed out into the sunshine. "What do you mean there's nothing for you in Sunnydale? There's your friends, your education, Dawn. Your duties as the slayer."

Buffy chuckled, cutting him off. It was a cold chuckle, like how most of the conversation had been. "You need to look up the definition of that term. As far as I'm concerned, I have no friends in Sunnydale."

"Buffy, that is unkind."

"Is it?" She shot back. "If they were friends, they would have noticed a long time ago that my death was inevitable." She paused to turn and face him. "As for my education, that has been interrupted by demons, Initiative, murdered teachers, Glory, and the death of my mother. I think that's a sign that I don't need it."

"What about Dawn then?" Giles asked, still shocked at how different she was.

"A sister I was never supposed to have. Thank god death restored my original memories."

"Buffy!?!" Giles uttered, appalled by her lack of emotion.

"What? Its all true. Dawn is a key, Giles. They can both open and lock things. Even different dimensions."

"If you believe that, why did you sacrifice yourself?"

"I didn't know that at the time. And it was more of a release than a sacrifice."

Giles shook his head in astonishment, but dare not query it. He realised that he did not want to learn the answer just yet. "What about Willow, Tara, Anya and Xander? Don't you think that they're missing you?"

"They're missing the slayer to come and take care of things, not Buffy. I left them a long time ago. They didn't even notice."

"Do you not think that you should at least let them know that you're alive?"

"No, I don't."

Giles advanced closer to her. "All right, what the hell is wrong with you? I know coming back from the dead is difficult......"

"You're right, Giles," Buffy interrupted. "It was difficult. Heart-wrenching, in fact. They all thought I was trapped in a hell dimension. They were too selfish to think that I might actually be someplace else. And that I might not want to come back."

"What do you mean?"

"She was in heaven, Giles." Said a new voice. Giles turned round and gasped as he watched Angel standing in the sunlight. Then he realised what he was saying, and turned back to the girl he had once thought of as a daughter. And still did, he realised. "God, Buffy, I'm sorry. I swear I didn't know."

"You warned Angel about them trying a spell," Buffy pointed out.

"I did, but they stopped when I warned Willow that she was playing with dark magic. Then I left for England. I didn't see the need in staying. If I had known...." he trailed off, as a thought occurred to him. "But, if you were in heaven, it wouldn't have worked."

"It did, because the Powers wanted it to," Buffy explained. "They brought me back, because I had a new destiny, and they had a few things to fix. We visited the Charmed Ones, who restored the balance in me, fixing the damage that the dark magic had done, and then gave Angel his humanity."

Giles smiled, turning to Angel. "Congratulations. To both of you," he added, turning back to Buffy. "Are you happy?"

She smiled, her first real smile to him in a long time, he realised. "Yes, very."

"Then I won't argue in favour of the hellmouth any more," he said, pulling her into a hug. "I've missed you, Buffy."

She smiled and buried herself into his comforting embrace. "I've missed you too."

 


"Do you think you will ever want them to know?"

Buffy leaned back in her chair and looked at her watcher. After their hug they had talked for a long while, as she told him the truth about everything since she had run away two years ago. How she had been just existing as the slayer. And not living as Buffy as well. And what had happened since she had come back to life. "I don't know," she answered him now at last. "I still haven't forgiven them yet. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to."

"And Dawn?"

"I don't remember her anymore. At least, not as she wants me to. As my sister." When she had died, all her original memories of her years without a sister had been returned to her. Along with the memory of the forgotten day. "Its easier for her not to know either."

"I understand," Giles replied. "And I'll try to keep them from doing anything else to bring you back."

"You don't have to," Buffy tried to assure him, "I know you miss England, and there's no reason why you can't go back."

"I want to," he assured her. "And I will need to, because any spells they try might affect you. Once they're set to cope without you, then I'll go." He glanced at his watch. "Speaking of which, I ought to get back, and make sure things are still alright."

Buffy stood up, and hugged him again. "Thank you, for understanding and supporting me," she said.

"I care about you, Buffy. I always have, despite times I may not have shown it. I intend to from now on."

"Well, goodbye for now," He remarked. "Be happy, and live. I'll let you know if anything occurs."

Giles got in his car, watching as Angel came and wrapped his arms around Buffy. He saw her smile, and smiled as well. Everything was fine in LA, he realised. He just had to make sure that Sunnydale did nothing to change that.

The End.
To Be Continued In
Special Effects.

Chapter Text

Author's Note: Some of the dialogue is taken from the actual season three episode Fredless.

Special Effects.

"Are you sure we'll be okay?" Fred asked.

"Positive," Buffy assured her.

"Cordy?"

"No, Fred, we'll be fine. We used to do this every night in Sunnydale. Only when Buffy was sick did we really need more than two."

"You get sick?"

"I'm not your traditional comicbook heroine. I'm just human, with added benefits." The slayer crouched down. "Okay, we're here. Quiet now. Don't wanna wake them all up."

The three girls advanced into the sewers. Previously, their evening had been taken up by a good, old-fashioned chick-flick evening at the cinema not far from the Hyperion. That was until a demon had dashed in front of the screen, surprisingly unnoticed by the rest of the paying customers. The three of them had given chase, and were now entering the sewer network which they had seen the demon run into.

Fred was behind both Buffy and Cordelia. As she followed them, she reflected on the evening, along with everything else that had happened since the former had joined them in Los Angeles. She had expected to hate Buffy. That was required. She had had a crush on Angel ever since he had rescued her, and hating the competition was supposed to be part of the deal. Except when she met Buffy, Fred had not felt hate.

The emotion had never entered her head. Nor had she felt jealousy. Instead, as her eyes caught sight of the unconscious girl in the arms of her champion, Fred had experienced a few revelations. One, her feelings for Angel were nothing more than a mixture of a mild crush and gratitude.

Two, if they had been any stronger, it would not have mattered. For she was no competition. Angel's heart had never been up for grabs in the first place. So, instead of hating the soulmate of her champion, Fred had found herself becoming her friend. And liking that she was.

"So, why do you think it chose the cinema?" She now asked in a whisper.

"I dunno," Buffy answered. "Durslars tend to avoid public notoriety." The slayer chuckled suddenly. "God, I've lived around Wes too long."

"Speaking of which, what do you think the guys are doing?"

"Angel's probably brooding, or training," Buffy guessed. "Either that, or Wesley has conned him as well as Gunn into organising something."

"Yeah, he's into a whole inventory thing lately," Cordy remembered. "So glad we escaped that this evening."

"I'm sure Angel and Gunn managed to as well," Fred decided.

"Hopefully they decided to do a patrol," Buffy remarked, just before catching sight of their prey. "Gotcha. Okay, you guys stay here. I'm going in."

 


"You wouldn't dare. You were just going to toss in a Prothgarian broadsword with a third-century ceremonial Sancteus dagger?"

"Hmm. Let's see. Long, metal, pointy. Yup."

Wesley shook his head. "Gunn! The purpose of an inventory..."

"Yes, give us that," Gunn paused to affect an English accent, "purpose of an inventory speech, again."

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, former watcher, former rogue demon hunter, now head of Angel Investigations, ignored the mocking in his colleagues' tone. "Three-pronged Scythian death spear, category six. Weapons cabinet, third shelf." He paused as he put it in the weapons cabinet, then reminisced. "You know, back in my days as a rogue demon hunter I once used that very spear to pin down what I thought was a small Rodentius demon. The poodle's owners weren't very happy."

"Ouch."

"I know, it was really embarrassing."

"No! Ouch!" Gunn leapt up and turned round to see what had knocked into his shin. "Oh, that thing that Fred was fiddling around with. What do you think it is?"

"I'll say. It almost looks like a spring-loaded decapitation device," Wesley commented, intrigued.

"Are the girls back yet?"

"Angel, man, good to see you!" Gunn turned from the weapon. "I was just helping Wes with his weapons inventory, but if you need me on a demon hunt, I'm sure he won't mind me going."

"No, I just came down to see if the girls are back," Angel said, then gesturing to the book in his hand. "I'll go back to my reading now."

"Actually, Angel, three people on this job would get it done faster."

"Wes, as I said after the girls left, I don't think we need to have the weapons in order. We just tend to grab whichever one looks like it could do some damage."

"Ah. Excuse me! Ah, is this Angel Investigations?"

The trio of men turned round to see a middle-aged couple standing just inside the front doors of the Hyperion Foyer.

"Yes. Can we help you?" Wes asked, the inventory forgotten.

"I sure hope so. I'm Roger, and this is my wife, Trish. Ah, we're sorry to barge in on your... arsenal here, but we really need to talk to you."

"Of course. Please, step into my office."

Once they were all inside his office, Wes sat down and made the introductions. "I'm Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. These are my colleagues, Angel O'Connor and Charles Gunn. What can we do for you?"

"It's our daughter," Trish began. "She's missing."

"Kidnapped?" Angel asked.

Trish shook her head, uncertain. "We're not sure."

"I see," Wes said, jotting down notes. "Was your daughter involved in any kind of demon worship?"

"Of course not!" Roger cried.

"Could be a vampire," Gunn mused. "Hard luck tracking one of those in a city this big, but don't worry. We're detectives. We can find anyone."

"We already hired a detective," Roger said.

"And he couldn't locate her?" Wes guessed.

"He said she was staying here - in your hotel," Roger said.

"Her name is Winifred Burkle. We call her Fred," Trish added helpfully.

Wes looked up from his notes to Angel and Gunn. Like him, they had surprise written on their faces. Outside, unbeknownst to them, Fred had returned just ahead of Cordelia and Buffy. She glanced into the office window, then gasped. Horror took control of her. She never thought to see them again. Quietly she dashed to her room.

"Fred's your daughter?" Gunn queried in surprise.

"Yes. You know her?" Trish asked.

"Is she here? Is she alright?" Roger followed up with.

"She's fine," Wes assured them. "And... out at the moment, with two of our associates. Who are not demons or vampires, because they don't exist. In case you aren't familiar with our LA gumshoe detective slang."

"But what happened to her?" Roger asked. "It's been five years.... has she been with y'all this whole time?"

"No. Ah, we've only known Fred for a few months, really." Wes paused, wondering what to tell them. "You see we found her in......."

"Ah, a fit of depression," Gunn cut in.

"Fred was depressed?" Trish asked "Over what?"

"She had recently relocated and was having trouble adjusting." Wes explained. "So, how did you come to find her again?"

"Oh, about a month ago we got a letter from her in the mail," Trish said.

"But she didn't leave her return address. In fact she said she was fine and we shouldn't bother looking for her, but..." Roger trailed off.

"Five years of not knowing whether your daughter's alive or... Well, how could we just let it go?" Trish asked.

"So we hired the private eye." Roger said.

"And he tracked her down through an unaddressed envelope?" Gunn queried. "We could do that."

"Hi you guys," cried Buffy at that moment as she and Cordelia entered the office. "Wait till you guys hear what happened at the movies! Ordinarily these things don't put up much of a fight, but this one? I think I'm gonna have it..." She caught sight of the visitors in Wes' office. "...mounted. Hello."

"Buffy, Cordy You're.... here," Gunn said in a rapid effort to cover. "And... and you brought ... a prop! From your movie!" He turned to the Burkles. "Buffy Summers and Cordelia Chase are our other associates. They make monster movies in their spare time. Buffy, Cordy, these are Fred's very normal parents."

"Ah. Fred has parents," Cordelia stated, while Buffy put the head behind her back. "Well it sure is nice to meet you both."

"Er.... Your prop is dripping." Roger pointed out.

Buffy laughed nervously. "Oh, yeah. This is so totally fake. You know, a little glue, papier-mache..." She quickly tossed it behind her back into the lobby. A crash some seconds later told her it had landed. "....possibly some lead. So, Fred's parents, we've heard so much... Well, uhm, sure is nice to meet you folks."

"No address anywhere on the envelope?" Gunn asked.

"None," Roger replied. He turned to the girls. "Do you know when Fred will be back?"

"Well, yeah, ah, she was ahead of us, so I'm sure she's up in her room, right now."

 


The gang entered the room a few minutes, surprised to find it empty and rather tidier than when they had last seen it.

"Fred?" Trish called out.

"She's not here." Roger said, looking around.

"No. But she was," Angel remarked, as he picked up an ice cream cone wrapper.

Trish looked at the walls, her puzzlement increasing. "This - it's her writing. But what does this mean? It's just crazy."

"We might have to call them in sooner than we thought," Roger uttered quietly too her, anxious not to be overheard.

"Guys," Cordy whispered to the rest of them, "when was the last time Fred ever left the hotel by herself?"

"A couple of weeks after never," Gunn answered.

"We want our daughter," Roger said.

"So, what is she running from?" Wes remarked in a low voice to the others. They all turned silently to look at Fred's parents, new suspicions crawling up their respective spines.

Outside meanwhile, with only a backpack to keep her company, a very scared Fred was walking away from the Hyperion as fast as she possibly could.

 


Back in Wesley's office, the rest of Angel Investigations had managed to secure some time alone to air their suspicions as to why Fred had disappeared.

"There's just something off about them. I can't put my finger on what," Cordelia remarked, glancing surreptitiously out the window at the Burkles.

"Fred must have returned while you were in here," Buffy conjectured, "seen her parents and..."

"Took off." Angel finished. "That's not a good sign."

"They said she sent them a letter," Gunn mused puzzled. "Can you picture Fred sneaking off to send a letter?"

"This could be a ruse, to trick us into letting them get close to her. Making it seem as though she'd initiated contact," Wes pondered.

"On the other hand," Angel added, "if the letter is real and she told them not to look for her, there's got to be a reason for that."

Cordelia nodded. "Fred never talks about her family."

"So, where do we start?" Buffy queried. "Where would Fred go?"

"We could hit all the local taco stands," Gunn suggested, then backed down when they all looked at him. "Joke! Kind of."

"Come on, guys, think! What do we know about Fred?" Angel asked.

"Well, I knew about the tacos."

"All right. She seemed pretty comfortable in the sewers. They're dark, cave-like. She felt safe there. I'll head back down there, see if I can find her." Buffy decided.

"She worked at the Public Library. There may be colleagues there she trusted," Wes decided.

"What about them?" Cordelia asked, gesturing to the Burkles who were quietly chatting amongst themselves. "We can't just leave them there! What if Fred comes back?"

"Then they come with us," Wes decided, and walked out of the office to their visitors. "Mr. and Mrs. Burkle, we're gonna try a few places we think Fred may have gone. Would you like to come along?"

"Ah, all six of us?" Roger queried. "Wouldn't it make more sense to split up, cover more territory?"

"Well, Angel and I are gonna check out some of my, ah, industry contacts. So it'll just be the five of you," Buffy said.

"Industry contacts?" Trish queried, confused. "Why would... Fred's not 'making movies,' is she?"

"Movies?" Angel repeated before he realised what she meant. "Oh, you mean... No! No, no, of course not. It's just some of these contacts they know things sometimes. They're, ah, underground."

"Right. Uh, shall we go?" Wes began, leading the way.

 


Lorne, smoking a cigarette and wearing a white, terry bathrobe, made his way from his bedroom through a bead curtain to answer the door. "Figures," he commented to himself. "Right when Judge Judy is about to lay the smack down. I'm coming! I'm not deaf you know."

Walking through the bar, he put his cigarette into an ashtray on one of the tables in his deserted bar. The table abruptly collapsed, sending the bottles which were sitting on top of it crashing to the floor. Lorne ignored the destruction that one action had made and continued to the bar, pushing a button down and unlocking the door. "Can't you read the sign on the door? Se habla 'closed.' Oh, Fred, it's you. The bar is closed. Good seeing you. It's been fun. Bye-bye."

Fred did not turn away. Instead she took a deep breath then sang, "row, row, row your boat."

"Ouch!" Lorne said immediately, putting a hand to his head. "Turn the sirens down a notch, would you? All that fear and panic's blowing out my fuses."

Fred stopped singing. "I'm sorry. It's just - something awful has happened."

"Oh really? I wonder what that's like."

For the first time since entering, Fred took a look at Caritas. "Oh, no. Was there another massacre?"

"Oh, no. No. Just the one. But it turns out massacres are a lot like sitting through Godfather three: once is enough."

"I'm not... I mean, I don't wanna sound... Why is it still like this?"

Lorne looked at her, his ability detecting her clear and very still present fear and pulled out a chair from one of the intact tables. "Ah, Fred, honey, I don't think you're here to discuss interior decorating. Am I wrong? Now, what can I do for you?"

"I - I need cash. I don't wanna talk about it, because I think my head might go a little twang and I'll sing if I have to. Row, row, row..."

"Easy! Easy! Forget the singing, sweetheart. Your aura is practically screaming! Yeah, you are in a bad place, aren't you doll? You thought you could outrun them and maybe you were free. But those old monsters hunted you down. I know why you're running away. you know what your problem is?"

Fred sighed. "I'm not strong enough to stay and face my fear."

"No. You haven't run far enough."

 


"Does Fred come to the library often?" Trish asked.

"Uh, well, this was the first place I ever saw her." Cordy explained.

"She used to love our little community library back home. Every afternoon, I'd pick her up there after my rounds."

"Oh, a doctor! No wonder Fred's so smart!"

"I drive a school bus."

"Oh. Well, I've actually never, ridden in one of those, but I hear they're very nice."

"What exactly does Fred do for you people?" Roger asked. "It strikes me a little odd, a physicist working for a detective agency."

"Uh, well, Fred's ah... gone through some changes."

"And whose fault is that?" Roger asked.

"We've swept all the floors," Wes said at that moment as he and Gunn returned from the elevators. "Nothing."

"So. What's next?" Roger asked.

"Give me one second to confer with my colleagues," Wes began. He pulled the other two out of hearing distance. "So where do we go next? Where would Fred go for help? For guidance?" He paused suddenly realising. "We're idiots sometimes." He took out his cell and dialled. "Buffy. We think we have a location."

 


"Well, isn't this a lovely surprise." Lorne commented when they all turned up at Caritas a few minutes later.

"He's surprised. I didn't think he owned terry cloth," Cordelia muttered.

"Hmm. Such a small entourage tonight. Hey, Gunn, why didn't you bring your other friends? 'cause they make a party."

"Maybe I should wait outside," Gunn began, looking to the others for agreement.

"You know, I'm not entirely uncomfortable with that suggestion."

"What kind of a place is this?" Trish asked.

"Oh, do you like it? I was kinda going for a Dresden after the bombing sort of feel," Lorne replied, still continuing to deliver digs at the interior designers.

"Ah, is this one of your big industry contacts? Some guy in a bathrobe, wearing makeup and fake horns?"

"They're not fake! And it's only a little eyeliner."

"Lorne, I'd like you to meet Fred's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Burkle." Wes began. "They're here visiting from the country."

"Yeah. You have to forgive us hicks. Down in Texas we don't get a lot of guys who wear eyeliner, not for long anyway," Roger said.

"He's just teasing you," Cordelia rushed to cover. "He probably just got back from a shoot. He and Buffy do monster movies together! Right, Lorne?!"

"Ah, no," Lorne answered, not in the mood to play cover up.

Angel pulled him aside. "Can I talk to you for a second? Look, Lorne, I'm sorry about the bar, but right now Fred is missing and we need your help."

"Oh, really? Yeah, well, I'm not just some mystical vending machine here to spit out answers every time you waltz in with a problem. I have a heart. Granted it's located in my left butt cheek, but it's still a heart. And that heart is broken! I mean, why is it no one ever cares about my destiny? Everyone who walks through that door is all about me, me, me. Well, what about my me? My me's important."

"You know where she is, don't you?" Angel persisted.

"And another thing, how... how do they get the pimentos in the olives, huh? There's a mystery for you. You know, do they stuff each one by hand, 'cause that seems a little time consuming, or do you think they have a little pimento stuffing machine ..." He caught Angel's look and relented. "Fred doesn't want to see her parents. She has a reason for that. I mean, why force a showdown if you don't have to?"

"Because it won't be over. They found her once, they'll do it again. At least this time we can be there to protect her," Buffy answered as she joined them, her tone full of self-experience. "Please. Tell us where Fred is. I know you're not a vending machine. You helped me when I had few else to turn to. And I'll always be grateful for that. As is Angel."

Lorne looked at the two of them, feeling the sympathy and fear for Fred and their own recent happiness coming off them in waves. Sighing he capitulated. "Alright, but play this one delicately. Because it's gonna get messy."

 


Not too far away, Fred sat waiting for a bus, clutching the ticket in her hand like a security blanket. She had thought that she could escape them. That as long as she stayed in her cave, she would be safe. She would be able to believe the lie. That everything in Pylea was a dream. But they were not going to let her. Which was why she was running again. For she had no desire to face reality yet.

Catching sight suddenly of who she was running from, Fred let her despair finally have a voice. "No, you're not here! Go away!"

"Fred, honey, it's us!" Her Mum tried to assure her.

"No. You're not them. You can't be them, because they don't know."

"Sweetie, it's mom and dad."

"Shh! Stop saying that. You can't be! I was five years and so lost and, and at night I would... I was all by myself and you weren't there!" Tears began to run down her face.

"Fred, I don't understand," her Dad began.

"I got lost. I got lost, and they did terrible things to me, but it was just a storybook. It was just a story with monsters, not real. Not in the world but - but if you're here and you see me then it's real! And it did happen. If you see what they made of me..."

"Oh, honey, it doesn't matter what they did to you," A tearful Trish assured her, taking her into her arms. At last Fred accepted the comfort. "Mommy."

"Oh, we're gonna make it all right."

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I got so lost."

"It don't matter. You're our little girl." Her Dad assured her, wrapping his around her as well. Fred clung to them gratefully. "I missed you so much. I didn't mean to..."

"Shh..."

"Everything's okay now. You'll see. You're safe now." Roger paused, then clutched his daughter tightly as something suddenly jumped down from the ceiling. "Whoa! Tell me that's something from the movies!"

"No. That's something that's gonna kill us," Cordelia stated with dead certainty.

"Everybody outside." Angel commanded.

"Angel..." Wes objected.

"Angel's right, Wes," said Buffy. "Get them out of here. We can handle this. Move!"

"Let's go!" Gunn decided.

"What the hell is that?" Roger asked when they were outside.

"All our weapons are back at the hotel!" Cordelia cried.

"Angel said they could handle..." Angel and Buffy came flying through the closed doors, smashing them, coming to rest across the street at Gunn's feet. "...it. Maybe there's something in the trunk."

Angel rose up from the floor and charged at the bug-like demon again. Buffy followed him a second later, turning briefly to the others. "A stake, anything pointy would be preferable to bare hands right now, guys!"

Wesley spotted the luggage nearby and grabbed the golf clubs. Gunn went for the compound sports bow and loosened an arrow. The bug shrieked and punched Angel and Buffy down again, just before Wes and Cordelia rushed in, golf clubs at the ready. Gunn grabbed a club of his own and joined the fray. The bug managed to knock a club out of someone's hand and it slid across the ground to come to rest in front of Fred. She forgot her fears and reacted, wanting to save her new friends, picking it up and rushed forward to where the bug had pinned Buffy to one of the bus wheels. She hit on the bug from behind, turning its attention towards her, giving Buffy a chance to get out of the way. Angel rushed forward to assist his girlfriend, pushing Fred out of the way, but not before the bug managed to slice Fred's arm, before getting hit over the head with a metal cylinder by Roger Burkle. "That's my daughter you damn cockroach!"

Angel and Buffy turned back to the bug, ready to attack again, only to watch it get smashed by a bus.

The vehicle ground to a halt and Trish stepped out. "Did I get it?"

 


"I almost hate to ask, but you do a lot of bandaging in your line of work?"

They were all back at the Hyperion, tending to wounds, and doling out the truth. Cordelia now turned her attention from Fred's arm to reply to Mrs Burkle. "Mmm. Occupational hazard. I mean, sure there is the occasional demon who tries to kill us with pillows, but, sadly, those cases are few and far between."

"How about this guy? Was he a demon?" Roger asked, pointing to the head brought back earlier.

"I think Buffy called it a Durslar beast. Me, her and Fred tracked it down after it attacked us when we went out for ice cream and a movie."

"You mean you know how to track these things, Fred?" Roger asked.

"No. Mostly I was just there for the ice cream."

"Buffy is a vampire slayer. She sort of has a sixth sense where demons are concerned," Cordelia explained.

"I wish she hadn't brought that thing out again. It gives me the willies," Trish Burkle shuddered and turned her eyes away from the thing. Roger shook his head. "Oh, don't be silly Trish. It's just a severed head."

"I got it. The lady makes bug soup with a ten ton bus, but show her a papier-mache head, she gets the willies. Ha. Women." Gunn set the head down on the reception desk beside Buffy and Angel.

"Uh, Gunn, you do know it's not papier-mache?" Buffy checked.

Gunn took his hands off the head. "We still got that bleach in the bathroom?" He made his escape, leaving the soulmates to look at Fred and her parents.

"I got to say this is not how I pictured this turning out," Angel mused.

"They look happy, don't they?" Wes agreed from his post nearby.

"Voila! That's French for 'I think we stopped the bleeding.'"

Fred checked the bandage and smiled at the seer. "Thanks Cordelia."

"Next up: multiple stab wounds. Angel! Buffy!"

The chosen warriors made their way over to the triage that was the foyer sofa. Fred joined Wesley in their absence. "How does it feel, Fred?" He asked her.

"Kind of like a giant bug tried to rip my arm off and Angel and Buffy saved me."

"They seem to do that a lot, don't they?" Trish queried.

"It's what they do," Fred replied. "Angel's the champion, Buffy's the slayer, Wesley's the brains of the operation, Gunn's the muscle and Cordy's the visions, and I'm..." She trailed off abruptly, suddenly at a loss for a reason as to why she was in the team. And whether or not she should be at all.

"And to think, we were wondering when to call the cops on a bunch of superheroes!" Roger mused.

"Oh, we're not really a heroes." Angel commented.

"You saved my little girl. What else do I call you?"

"Well, I wouldn't of had to if she hadn't gone all Amazonian and whacked that thing with a golf club."

"Well, I tell ya, I hadn't seen a stroke like that since Nicklaus took on Gary Player in the '63..."

"Bob Hope Dessert Classic," Angel finished in unison.

Buffy shook her head and joined Fred at reception. "So how you doing?"

"Oh, ah fizzy. Kinda weird and... fizzy. But excited. And a little sad. Thankful. Sorta cautiously happy. Relieved and worried at the same time. Slightly nauseous while still bein', hopeful?"

"And that about covers it." Buffy smiled. "You're really lucky, Fred. And you're unique among this club which we call guys who save the world on a daily basis. The one who has parents that understand and support, instead of freaking out and taking up denial."

"I know," Fred agreed, a little too quietly. "Which is why I'm wondering; is my place really here?"

"Fred," began Trish, catching her last words, "we only came to find you. Not to take you back home. Not unless you wanted to come."

"Yeah, Fred, your place is here," Buffy assured her. "Trust me. We need three of us girls to keep an eye on these guys."

"And your weapon designing," Wesley agreed. "What does that contraption of your do anyway? I think it's some sort of mechanised weapon, possibly influenced by the medieval catapult, designed for serious to fatal wounding, if not complete decapitation."

"Or it makes toast," Buffy added with a smile.

Fred looked at them carefully. "Are you sure?"

"Let's get a vote," Buffy began, not needing to glance round to see if all hands were raised, she knew they would be. "I think that's what you call unanimous."

Fred smiled. "Thanks." She turned to her parents. "Mamma. Daddy. This, saving the world as it were, is my life now."

Trish smiled at her, holding back the tears at seeing her daughter realise that it was time to leave the nest of family for another kind of home. "We were kinda hoping you wouldn't figure that out."

"Of course we'd have to sick around for another couple of weeks," Roger joked. "Days. You know, just to catch up and get reacquainted, and to make sure that you are positive about your decision."

"Oh, I think I know where I'll end up."

 



"Now, Spiro Agnew, I know he was..."

Angel turned to Mr Burkle in surprise, finishing his sentence. "A Grathnar demon! You knew that? I thought I was the only one that knew that!"

"What else would he be, but a demon?"

It was the next day. The Burkles had spent the rest of the night before catching up on the characters that had become their daughter's friends and now they were participating in the next project of making Fred feel at home. Decorating her room. Wesley came into Fred's room at that moment, joining them in the painting, carrying another can of paint. "Not horizontally, vertically!" He cried at Gunn. "Otherwise you..."

"Look, I'm telling you, if you do it vertically you're gonna get those ugly drops.." Gun objected.

"Now, boys," Trish admonished. "I don't wanna hear any fighting over there."

"Okay," the boys uttered in unison.

"Did someone here order a pizza?" Cordelia asked, entering with some pizza boxes. "Hey Fred? Pizza?"

"In a minute, I just wanna finish this section." Fred moved over to the section of the wall where her past life story was, featuring a drawing of a figure on a horse, rescuing her. She turned and looked round at the group, remembering how much they had done to help her feel that this was where she belonged. It was time to stop playing the role of a damsel in distress, and become one of the champions. She turned back to the wall and put the roller on the sketch, painting over it.

The End.
To Be Continued In....
Pieces Of The Puzzle.

Chapter Text

Author's Note: Some dialogue borrowed from Billy. Enjoy.

Pieces Of The Puzzle.

Los Angeles was resembling an old abandoned and deserted western town this morning, despite daylight having hit some hours ago. Looking at it, one would almost expect tumbleweeds to roll across the road, followed by a load of dust and a whistling wind. Of course, there was the very conspicuous buildings and objects of the twenty-first century, but the atmosphere was still there.

Two lone figures emerged out of an nineteen twenties/thirties style edifice to alter this cowboy ghost town western image. One was the classic, tall, dark and handsome. The other, a blond slip of a girl, though she had hit womanhood a long time ago. They walked out from the entrance and down the steps. The couple took their time, a luxury they had only acquired the ability to enjoy recently, despite there being a deadline one of them needed to stick to on this particular occasion.

At the foot of the stairs, the couple came to halt, where a black, 1967 Plymouth Belvedere GTX convertible, had been parked on the road in front of the building, waiting. The blond slip of a girl turned to face the tall, dark and handsome, who without a word of prompting, put his arms around her. The blond pressed herself close to her companion, resting her face on the dark sweater he was wearing under the long leather coat, inhaling his unique scent. The dark one rested his head on her blond hair, inhaling hers.

Silence took reign over the city of Angels again. Neither one of the couple currently embracing each other wanted to break it by parting or speaking. Time seemed to stop, freezing the rather appropriately filmic scene for all eternity. But, in reality, like everything else in this world, the scene could not remain unchanged forever. Any moment now, a band would strike up for the traditional musical overture, followed by a director shouting 'cut' or 'that's a rap!'

Aware of the pressing engagement before one of them today, the nestling contrast of heads slowly moved from their positions, and gazed into each other's eyes. Formulating resolves. A moment later the dark's arms loosened their embrace around the blonde's slender waist, and the girl softly parted from his protection and comfort. Silently, she held out her hand to him.

His hand moved to a pocket in his leather coat, slipped inside, and brought out the required object. He threw it into his girlfriend's hand. "Remember," he spoke, finally breaking the odd silence of this morning. "Not a scratch."

The blond chuckled, smiling innocently at him. "Scout's honour," she replied, before moving to unlock the driver's door. "Or should I say slayer's?"

"That's what I'm afraid of," her companion replied, before the teasing banter came to an end. His face went solemn. "Seriously, take care."

"I always do," she replied, just as solemnly, looking back at him. Suddenly, a soft sigh escaped her and she put her arms around his neck. "I love you, you know."

Their lips touched. Not in a kiss reserved for the long departures from each other, nor the one reserved for the brief ones. Rather a kiss of confirmation, for what they felt for each other. Renewing the eternal vow of togetherness.

"I know," he added to her when they had pulled apart for air. One of his hands went to the car door and opened it for her. He watched her get inside, then closed it. Slipping his hands into his pockets, he took a step back, and watched her as she put the key into the ignition and started the engine.

The car alive and rearing to go, she turned and gazed up at him through the open window from the driver's seat. He returned the expression of affection instantly. Then she placed her hands on the wheel, and turned.

The Plymouth moved out on to the road. His eyes fixed on the blond head of driver, and silently watched as the vehicle drove off into the distance. Only when it was nothing more than a blip in his vision, did tall and dark move from his spot.

 


In the business district of the city, the offices of Wolfram and Hart were also one of the few industries awake and active at this time of the morning.

Lilah Morgan, Head of the Special Projects Department, walked with catlike grace down one of the many corridors. Her head was raised, eyes straight ahead, focusing on the destination. In her hand she carried a slim file of papers. Her entire attitude screamed what it had always screamed recently. Keep away.

She came to a halt outside her office. Reaching into her pockets, she drew a key and put it into the lock. Such security in a firm who made it daily practice to watch its employees as much as they watched their clients, was technically pointless, but on this occasion, the measure was both necessary, and reassuring.

Quickly she stepped inside the large office, locking the door behind her. A swift glance around the room confirmed that the surveillance devices were still switched off. Usually there was someone who would immediately notice such an incident and turn them back on, but then this law firm had not been having a good week. Or to put it more accurately, a good few months.

Things had gone to hell in a hand basket approximately three months ago. Since the discovery of a major hiccup to their plans for their main objective; things at Wolfram and Hart had resembled a scene like Dresden just before the bombs came crashing down. Each member of the law firm, board members included, now wore expressions of dread on their faces, as though the sky was going to fall at any moment.

Like most of them, Lilah Morgan had been just as stunned at the bolt of blue turning of events. At first, that is. Then she had taken a step back, and looked at the situation objectively. Though it might have taken some time, a plan had soon emerged before her analytical mind. Ever the lawyer, she had let it remain nothing more than an idea for some time, while she carefully examined it from every angle, evaluating options, outcomes, consequences, and worst case scenarios.

When the plan had become a viable one, only then had Lilah decided to act upon it. And today was that action day.

She walked further into her temporary hideout- for temporary it was to be until the internal security was fixed -and set the file she had been carrying on her desk. Then she turned to the wall opposite, walked forward, an picked up one of the displayed objects upon the shelves. Slowly she set it on the floor.

The object was different from all the other objet d'arts currently on show in her office, but similar at the same time. Though its arrival had been more recent than the rest, its surroundings had long been set up with the idea in mind to make it look like the object had been present in this room since time immemorial.

Lilah sat behind her desk. She gazed at the large, ancient urn on the middle of her office floor for a moment, considering. A part of her was wondering if she stared at it long enough, the urn would send her sign as to whether this plan would actually work to her's and the firm's advantage in the long run. The urn stared back, revealing nothing.

Lilah sighed. Then she lifted up the file on her desk, opened it, and began to read.

 


The Plymouth had been on the main interstate for no more then twenty minutes when the driver turned off at the required exit. Moving on to a less crowded highway, the vehicle remained on the road for another few miles then turned into the driveway of the destination. After the appropriate identification had been given and authorised, the car was parked in one of the many empty places reserved for visitors. Ignition was turned off, driver's door opened.

Blond gracefully exited the car. Carefully, she shut the door, applied lock, then alarm before stepping away. Turning round, she established her bearings, then made her way to the entrance.

Showing her identification and pass to one of the security officers inside, she stood silently in wait for them to be checked. When authorisation had been granted, she walked through the metal detector. A beep sounded. Automatically she held out her arms and stood still as the remote device was swept up and down her body. Calmly she showed her jewelry to the officer, who nodded and pronounced her clear.

Another officer took her down the long corridor to the next destination. A few doors were passed, followed by blank, reinforced walls, then bullet proof glass. The officer came to a halt and reached for her keys. The entrance was unlocked. The officer then stood back, holding the door, and allowed the girl to go through.

Walking forward, the blond came to a halt at the further glass and wall barrier which split the room in half, and sat down in one of the chairs.

In the distance, noises could be heard. Someone moved to unlock a door. Footsteps sounded on a floor, gradually getting louder as they came closer. The blond in the chair sat up, alert and waiting. A loud click was made as the entrance to the otherside of the room was unlocked and opened.

The dark-haired woman which stepped into the room did not appear surprised to see a blond instead of the dark that usually visited her. But then she had known that the blond would be coming since this morning. Silently she nodded to the guard and walked to the chair in front of the glass and wall barrier, opposite her waiting visitor, and sat down.

Half a second later, the blonde's and dark's hands moved as if one, to the handset in the narrow wall either side of them, which divided them from all the other occupants. Together they picked up the black receiver and put it to their ears.

The dark haired one spoke first.

"Hey, B," she remarked into the receiver.

"Hey, Faith," replied Buffy.

 


Lilah Morgan finished reading the last document, and closed the file resting in her hands. Silently she set it on her desk. Raising her head, she glanced at the urn that was still standing in the middle of her office floor.

What she was about to undertake was extremely risky. Not to mention dangerous, for all involved. But it could also prove highly lucrative. In other words, if she pulled this off, the firm would be offering her everything she had ever wanted. Power, prestige, riches, could all be hers.

As long as this worked, that is. If on the other hand the plan went the way of the last plan she had undertaken, then it would not be too long before she found herself having to follow the example of the last Head of Special Projects and hightail her way out of here. While she was still breathing and whole.

Over the recent weeks Lilah had come to look upon her previous rival and joint legal partner in this department with something approaching grudging respect. While his motives for departure may have been ones she did not agree with- nor ever would, she believed -she could not deny the possibility that it might have been a wise move. Especially considering all that had come afterwards.

But Lilah Morgan had never been one who gives up when the going gets tough. Her mind had always maintained the ability to find another solution, even when the situation seemed impossible to resolve.

This thinking was the item which had brought her to the current situation she was now in. It had brought her to the action of taking the urn from the vaults during one late night all security blackout- Wolfram and Hart had been experiencing a lot of those lately, all seemingly without any cause or point of origin -and moving it to her office. This same thinking had also led to her hiding said urn in plain sight for several days, so no one would notice the sudden appearance and disappearance of it in her office and ask why.

Now it was to lead her to the next stage of her plan. A plan which she could no longer avoid putting into action. A plan, which, because of the many risks involved, she had delayed until precisely this moment.

Rising from her chair, Lilah Morgan walked over to the urn. Coming to a halt before it, she reached into the pocket of her designer business suit, and took out a folded piece of paper. Slowly, she read aloud the printed words of the incantation contained upon it.

The air seemed to crackle around her. A mist slowly swirled out of the top. Spiralling towards the ceiling. Leadenly it settled into its new and larger surroundings, gradually taking shape and form.

Lilah stood watching it, a phrase passing through her mind. The genie was out of the bottle.

 


"So," Faith began, "long time no see."

Buffy nodded. She settled into the chair, adopting a sense of causal. "How's things?"

"Aside from living the life of a nun, five by five." Faith smiled. "You?"

"To say that things are a lot better than when we last saw each other, would be an understatement." Buffy returned the smile.

"Really?" Faith queried, without any need for confirmation, casting an evaluating eye over her 'sister.' "So, slaying in L.A?"

"You could say that. Though lately I'm more of a rogue vamp slash demon hunter."

Faith blinked in surprise at the phrase. "You and Angel are back together?"

"Yep," Buffy grinned, letting the all the joy she felt due to that show on face. "He's helping me live the life I want to live, slaying included, and I'm helping him get used to the fact that he no longer needs to be a monk."

The dark haired slayer sat listening in silence for a moment as the sentence finished. Then a wicked look came over her. "No, way!?!" She leaned back in her chair. "What happened?"

"About a year ago I suddenly gained a younger sister," Buffy began, her tone changing as she summarised a story for Faith which, still had the ability to affect her, even now. "The PTB sent her to me for protection, from this annoying, demon god, anxious to open a dimension between our worlds. Through a notion born out of tiredness, loneliness, depression and stupidity, I decided that Dawn's life mattered more than mine, and sacrificed myself for the greater good."

"Whoah," Faith commented, "how did Angel get you out of that one?"

"Angel had his own problems back then," Buffy replied, before proceeding to fill her on in the rest of his story. "Anyway, while all this was happening, I died and went to heaven. But the PTB forgot to tell me that Dawn was a key that could unlock and lock up dimensions. Needless to say, I wasn't too impressed. But I was also happier than I had been in a long time, so I let the matter lie."

"And who woke up the sleeping dog?" Faith asked, without any intent to insult.

"The Scoobs. Or should I say more precisely, Willow and some black magic."

Faith swore in shock. "No way. Even Giles?"

"No. Giles was the only one not involved. But the rest conducted a spell to bring me back from the dead."

"But, I thought dark magic wasn't supposed to work unless it was the will of the PTB?" Faith said puzzled.

"Turns out, the PTB had another destiny in mind for me. They allowed me to be brought back. But they didn't think to the stop some demons ransacking the hellmouth in the process. So I crawled my way out vamp style, only to find a souled one staring back at me, having come to wish me goodbye. After I'd ranted and railed at him for a while, he convinced me that he'd nothing to do with it, and brought me to L.A. We went to some high powered witches on the side of good to rid me of the bad magic inside brought on by the spell, then restored Angel's immunity to sunlight. I then offered my services to Angel Investigations."

"Wow," Faith uttered in reaction. "Did the Scoobs find out this?"

"Not yet," Buffy replied, touching the wooden panel which held the phone for luck. "Giles came back from England recently though, and he guessed. Fortunately, he was considerate enough to hide the evidence before it could be searched and confront us on his own. Now he's back at the hellmouth, making sure they don't. Or at least, the chance to make sure we're warned first." Buffy paused to adjust her posture. "I'm happy, Faith. For the first time in a long while. I'm actually learning to enjoy slaying on a daily basis."

"And of course you have Angel."

"And of course I can 'have' Angel," Buffy added, allowing a wicked look to grace her face, making Faith chuckle at the turn of phrase. "And, between you and me, two hundred years and more does a lot to improve a man."

Faith laughed out loud, and Buffy joined in. She was glad that things between her and her sister slayer could finally be the way she had always wished for them to be. "Oh, B, its good to see you."

"Right back at ya," Buffy uttered, still smiling.

"So," Faith said when she had calmed down, "did you bring the brooding man with you, by any chance?"

"'fraid not. He doesn't want Wolfram and Hart to know that he can walk in sunlight now. Thinks it might cause them to step up their ante on us."

"Yeah, from what he and Wes told me about them, I can understand why." Faith paused, just as something else occurred to her. "He let you drive the Plymouth?"

"Yep."

"How did you manage that one?"

Buffy smiled wickedly. "I have my ways," she replied, causing Faith to laugh again. When they had both calmed down again, she changed the subject. "So, do you have a timetable of when this is gonna end for ya?"

 


Later on, when the sun had passed its highest point of ascendent, Buffy drove the Plymouth back down the highway to the interstate. She smiled as she entered the turn. Visiting Faith had gone even better than Angel had predicted. The two of them had gotten on like a house on fire, only this time without the literal meaning intended.

Despite their rather explosive parting almost a year ago, nothing had changed their friendship. Admittedly, theirs' had been an odd one from the beginning, but time apart and in each other's body's had brought them both a better understanding of each other. Resentment and jealousy had given way, in favour of a common destiny, and the discovery that they were more alike than either had previously been willing to admit.

The required exit came up, and Buffy turned the car on to it. She had come to put- excuse the pun -a lot of faith in unconventional friendships recently. After losing what little remained of her family and her first fighting set of friends in Sunnydale, she had not expected to pick up some more as quickly as she had. But not only had they appeared, but they were also proving to be far better, and more truer friends than the first set had ever been.

Faith, Wesley, Cordelia, even Angel, all were older and wiser than those back at the hellmouth. And the better for it. She had responded to them, because she was old and wiser too, due to her experience in both towns. As for Gunn, he reminded her a lot of a friend she once knew, back when Merrick was her watcher, and she was refusing to see the benefits of slaying in L.A, while Fred was proving to be a more worldly Willow, without the tendency to indulge in the white, or black arts.

Buffy turned on to the road which the Hyperion was situated on. She drove along until she saw the building, then parked the car. Stepping out of the car, she smiled as her slayer senses picked out her boyfriend's presence in the shadows of the entrance. She ran up the steps and leapt into his arms. He returned her smile, and reached for her lips. She returned the kiss wholeheartedly.

Five years, nearly six years as a slayer, she had lived. But it was not until a grave raising night three months ago that she had actually started to live.

She had come home.

 


The mist finished acquiring its shape and form. After taking a look at its new surroundings, the form gave a small nod of acknowledge to its Aladdin. "My thanks for the rescue. Now, what can I do for you?"

Lilah Morgan smiled and leaned back on her desk. "I think you know that already," She replied.

"Indeed I do," Sahjhan answered.

The End.
To Be Continued In....

Absent Enemies.

Chapter Text

Author's Note: Some dialogue borrowed from Offspring. Enjoy.

Absent Enemies.

"Okay. Last time we were working on not pulling your punches and your kicks. Right?"

Buffy and Cordelia nodded, while Fred looked at him dubiously. "Are you sure this is wise now, Angel? You weren't human the last time."

"I may be human, but I'm still equipped with demonic strength. So come on. Who's first?" He turned to his lover. "Buffy?"

The slayer obliged and sent a punch to his face. Angel stumbled, bending over, then rapidly straightened, trying to pretend that it did not hurt.

"Sorry, honey," Buffy remarked immediately. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, just alittle out of practise."

"You're off your game," Cordelia observed. "It's because of the prophecy Wes and Gunn are trying to get their hands on. You think the end is coming."

Angel picked up one of the swords in the foyer, silently gesturing for the others to follow suit. "The end is not coming. Someone is always uncovering some ancient scroll, and they're always saying the same thing: that something terrible is coming. Do you know how many of these things I've seen in my very long life?"

"Four?" Cordy guessed.

"Three," Angel answered. "But there's nothing to worry about."

"Then why are Gunn and Wesley breaking and entering right now?" Fred asked.

"Breaking and entering is such a negative term. They are simply retrieving some missing pieces from the Nyazian Scroll. Just to make sure..."

"That the end is coming," Cordelia finished. "Well, all we can do is live each moment to the fullest and be grateful that we didn't throw too much money at the NASDAQ."

 


Meanwhile, in one of the rich neighbourhoods of Los Angeles, a large house was sitting pretty, having no idea that two defenders for the good fight were about retrieve a particular document from it's interior. Without anyone noticing, if they could help it.

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce crouched quietly near one of the large windows. Silently he gestured for Charles Gunn to join him. "Step one: Dobermans are happily gnawing on the steak. Alarm and vid lines are disabled," he trailed off to glance at the scanner in his hand, "and no infrared. Caught a break there. Step two: we cut a hole in the glass, snake in the mini-cam and scan the interior."

Gunn had been checking the window at this point, and as Wes placed a suction cap on it, he moved to the door. "If it's all clear, we disable the locks and bolts on the side door thus completing..." he trailed off as Gunn merely opened the door, "step three."

The two men entered the house. A cursory look around the room caused them to come to a halt, stare and whistle in appreciation.

"Can you believe this?" Wesley queried.

"Some guys collect old cars, some guys collect..." Gunn trailed off as he took a closer look at one of the demon heads in the collection. "It's like - the eye follows you wherever you go."

"Alright," Wes remarked eventually. "If you were the priceless remnants of the lost Nyazian Scroll, where would you be?"

"If I was priceless - I'd be in the vault," Gunn answered.

"The vault?" Wes repeated, turning to him in astonishment. "Your snitch never said anything about a vault!"

"I got a bad feeling about this," Gunn muttered.

"We'll figure something out. It's just a vault."

"Actually my bad feeling is more about the man standing behind you with the large revolver."

Wes turned to see the guy standing at the door. "Move and I'll kill you." He moved to pick up the telephone, gun still pointing at them.

"I hope you're calling the police," Wes remarked in a calm tone.

"You bet I am," the man replied.

"Good. You can explain to them why you keep so much GHB on hand." The ex-watcher moved to pick up a bottle he had taken a sniff of earlier. "You know, Rohypnol, the date rape drug."

"What?"

"Muslok Trancing Amalgam. Under the microscope it's virtually indistinguishable from GHB."

The man put down the receiver. "Alright. I won't call the police."

"I'm glad we understand each other."

"Until after I kill you."

"Oh."

Gunn meanwhile turned and picked up four glass red balls. "Hey, these worth a lot?"

"Yes. They're Cyopian conjuring spheres," the man replied.

"How much? Four figures each? Five? More?" He started juggling them.

The man looked concerned now. "Stop that!"

"Put the weapon down," Gunn countered. He waited a beat, then dropped one of the spheres. A large crash sounded. "Kind of delicate. Look, we're not thieves, we're investigators. Now, we need to look at your Nyazian Scrolls. Put the weapon down, because I'm getting kind of tired here."

The man finally yielded. "Alright!"

 


"Ow. That doesn't feel right," Cordelia was heard to remark as Wes and Gunn returned to the Hyperion with the document.

"Just relax. You have to bend."

"I don't bend there. - Okay. Now that's downright unnatural."

Buffy smiled at Cordelia's comments as Angel tried to help her position. "I know it feels strange, but if an attacker comes at you from behind, you wanna be able to shift all your weight immediately to your other foot so you can spin and kick. Here, you try it," She explained to others.

"Okay. That's probably enough for today."

"I'll say, or I have to ice every bone in my body," Cordelia remarked as she put her sword away and moved to sit in the nearest chair. Fred walked up to the computer, while Angel turned to his soulmate. "You ready?"

Buffy raised her sword to her face in classic duelist salute. "Bring it on."

Gunn moved to see what Fred was doing at the laptop. "What are you doing there?"

"Trying to narrow down a date. Oh, it's a simple equation. The ancient Roman calendar has fourteen hundred and sixty-four days in a four-year cycle. The Etruscan, Sumerian, and Druidian each have their own cycles. You work forward from the presumed day of the prophecy under each calendar, factoring in our own three hundred and sixty-five day calendar and accounting for a three day discrepancy for every four years and..." she trailed off as the first result came up. "Oh. That can't be right. Unless the world ended last March."

"So, are we talking Armageddon - or bad house number?" Gunn asked, throwing another glance to the sparring match. "Is it a bad event - or a bad guy?"

"It's not clear on that," Wesley answered him, looking up from the scroll. "It predicts the arrival or arising of the Tro-clan, the person or being that brings about the ruination of mankind. And I'm not sure on the translation. Ruination may in fact mean purification."

"Purification?" Gunn queried. "So this Tro-clan is a good thing?"

"I doubt that. But it's purification in Aramaic, ruination in ancient Greek and in the lost Ga-shundi language it means both."

"And you don't want to make the same mistake twice," Cordelia commented.

"No," Wes agreed curtly.

"What mistake?" Fred asked.

"The Shanshu prophecy," Wesley explained. "Originally, I thought the word meant Angel would die, when in fact," he gestured to the now living person in front of them.

"There. That came out better," Fred remarked, looking at second result on the laptop. "Oh. No it didn't. It's still very preliminary, but if these calculations are correct, this bad thing should already be here. Well, I-I guess not right here, but - here in LA. Let me run these numbers again."

Gunn turned to watch the sparring match, then jumped from his seat and walked over to them. "Mind if I join in?"

Angel shook his head and stepped back, handing him the sword. He smiled at his girlfriend. "Go easy on him."

"Hey," Gunn commented. "I'm human too you know."

"Yeah, but you're not a natural born slayer," Buffy commented as she saluted him. "Ready?"

Gunn nodded. "Bring it on."

 


A busy arcade, kids and noise everywhere. A little blond boy stands in the middle of the confusion, looking around.

"Mommy? - Mommy? - Mommy?"

A young looking blond woman walked up to him. "What's wrong, honey? Lost your mommy? Let's go find her together, hm?"

The boy nodded and took her hand. As the two walked off into the distance, the vision faded away.

And the seer practically screamed.

The entire ensemble of Angel investigations stopped at the sound. Gunn and Buffy put an end to their sparring, the former looking grateful for the interruption. Fred looked up from her laptop, Wes from the ancient scroll translation. Angel wandered to her side. "Easy, easy! What did you see?" He asked her.

"Darla," Cordelia replied, grimly. "She's back."

Buffy and Angel scrambled up to grab some stakes and their jackets. "Where?"

 


"Ma'am," the little boy began, "I don't think my mom is back here."

"Are you sure? Did you look?"

The boy looked around. "I don't see anybody." He turned back and screamed as the lady showed her true face.

Suddenly a whistling noise sounded through the air as a wooden tipped arrow headed straight for the blond woman, landing in her chest near her heart. Darla looked up as she received the shot to growl at the shooter as she recognised her. "You again."

Angel left the slayer's side at that moment and ran across the arcade games, tackling Darla against the wall. He had a stake in his hand and thrust it towards her heart. Darla put a hand up and deflected the stake's trajectory, letting it pierce her hand. The boy ran away into his mother's arms as the area rapidly deserted.

Darla pushed Angel away, and he landed on one of the tables nearby. Buffy reloaded her crossbolt.

Her soulmate rose up from the table, throwing a punch on Darla as she came up to him. "You haven't got tired of her yet, Angel?" She asked her old paramour as she easily countered the punch.

"What can I say," Angel countered her remark, "I prefer my own kind."

"Your own kind?" Darla repeated. "You're a vampire."

Buffy fired her shot. Angel heard the whistle and stepped out of the way.

"Not anymore."

Darla only had time to wonder at the phrase before turning into dust for the second time. Angel stood looking at her remains for only a moment. "I hope this time, no one calls you back."

 


"Well!" Cordelia remarked when the two had returned. "Another big fun day at Angel Investigations. What do you say we pour ourselves a good stiff..."

"Uh-oh," Fred remarked suddenly.

"A good, stiff uh-oh?" The seer repeated.

"Remember before when I said I thought that maybe, possibly, perhaps I might have been off in my earlier calculations? And Wes thought if the Tro-clan was prophesied to arise or be born or it could be both? And we all know that the Latin for arrive is arripare, to come to land or possibly in this instance simply to come to, as from a deep sleep? Right. I believe that whatever this thing is, it's arriving right about, three, two, now."

The gang stood silently waiting. The slayer was the first to break it. "Usually, when Giles remarks 'oh dear,' the customary warning of impending doom, it tends to burst in right about now."

"Over here," Gunn remarked, grimly, "it tends to happen at Wolfram and Hart."

 


In a round chamber, lit by fires in the alcoves along the wall, with a pillar supported ceiling and a stone statue forming a triangle with another couple of bowls of fire, a demon came to a halt. The same demon that Lilah Morgan had decided to let out of a urn a few nights ago.

"The weight of time is heavy on the world. And all men born must die. But there are worlds unknown, where dreamers dream and sleepers sleep, and patiently await. As pledged in Caladan by Cod-she," Sahjhan paused to throw some powder at the statue. "One shall awaken in the first year of the final century. That one, who lived before and joined Cod-she in the great sleep. Arise, as was promised and foretold. Arise. Arise!"

Nothing happened. The demon turned away and walked over to one of the fires and lit himself a cigarette. Turning back to watch the statue, he checked his watch and took another drag.

Suddenly the room began to shake and blue lighting flashed. The eyes of the statue turned into two open, human pupils. The statue cracked then crumbled to the ground in a cloud of dust.

Sahjhan put out his cigarette and walked over to the figure huddled in the middle of the remains.

"Welcome to the twenty-first century. Angelus is here. You'll see him soon. You haven't used your muscles in a very long time. It will be a while before you're strong enough to..."

The figured straightened. "Just tell me where he is," Holtz remarked.

The End.
To Be Continued In
Of Past & Future Concern.

Chapter Text

Author's Note: Some dialogue was borrowed from the episode 'Quickening.' but the plot itself has been changed. Enjoy.

Of Past & Future Concern.

"You sure they can't trace this? Very funny. I have to be paranoid for awhile. This thing is too good to be ruined by them right now. Or in the future for that matter. I know, I know. But its not going to be pretty when I do. Anyway, so when will we see you?"

"Is that Giles?" Wesley Wyndam-Pryce asked as he came out of his office and saw the most recent employee of Angel Investigations with a mobile phone headset attached to her ear.

Buffy nodded, then spoke to the caller once more. "We'll see you then. Oh, have you a moment to speak to Wes? Okay, I'll put him on." She handed her colleague the phone and earpiece. "Where's Angel?" she asked before he put the latter in.

"His office I believe," Wesley answered.

Angel Investigations had remained quiet, despite the expectation that something big was coming, and from the offices of Wolfram and Hart. As yet however, the group had not heard any evidence of its arrival from their contacts, causing them to put it to the back burner, in favour of savouring what they had in the meantime.

Her soulmate looked up as she entered his office, and smiled at her, causing an instant smile in return. "How is Giles?" He asked her.

"Well. He's coming to visit us this evening. Wes is talking to him at the moment."

"Probably about the big bad. See if he has any info."

"Thought so." Buffy walked round the desk. Angel automatically pushed back his chair, so she could sit in front of him. "So," she began in a different tone, one he had come to recognise since her return from the dead, "any new cases while I was on the phone?"

"None," Angel replied, eyes raking over her form once more, admiring the short skirt, knee high boots and long sleeve top, how well it matched her long blonde hair, finally coming to rest level with her eyes, noting the desire within.

Silence enveloped the office. His fingers ran up her thighs, pushing up the line of the skirt. Her hands wrapped around his neck as he stood up. Lips met lips. Desire met desire, and he moved to worshipping her neck, while his hands slipped underneath her long sleeve top.

As her hands slipped leisurely from his neck to the buttons of his shirt, Angel temporarily withdrew from her embrace to lock his office door.


"I know it seems like only a moment to you. But two hundred and twenty seven years have passed since our agreement. Empires have risen and fallen. Mankind has harnessed the power of the sun, walked on the moon, and turned arid desserts into fields of green."

Holtz, his eyes still on the television screen, withdrew part of his focus from them for a moment to ask Sahjhan a question. "What of England? Has it survived the years and destruction?"

"Yes. It went through a rough patch about sixty years ago, but it's mostly unchanged. Warm beer, boiled meat, bad teeth. That's why I moved to LA. Have you followed this part of the history? American Revolution, manifest destiny, westward expansion, the Beach Boys?"

"I understand enough. One thing baffles me. These visions, wars, the weapons of destruction, how is it no one has killed Angelus?"

"That's why I brought you here, remember? Because your fate and his fate are entwined."

Holtz stood up. "Then let's go. Let's finish this. I want Angelus."

"I know. I want him, too. But we're going to do it right. I haven't waited two and a half centuries to mess it all up."

"You have been tracking him this entire time?"

"Yes. But not in the way you imagine. There are other dimensions, other worlds where time behaves differently. I have an ability to navigate those dimensions."

"And is that why you haven't aged?"

"That, and I had a little work done. Mostly around the eyes. Now get some rest. You're going to need it."

Sahjhan stepped back into the shadows. Holtz sat down and continued to watch the televisions.


"Good morning, Miss Morgan."

Lilah looked up from the contract she had just finished putting her blood signature to, and replied to the mailman. "Morning. Would you take this to Pinderhook down in Demon Resources for me?"

"Sure." The man paused, then added, "Miss Morgan, I hate to bother you. But I just thought you should know about this," he handed her a CD.

Lilah opened her drive and put the compact disc inside. There was a quiet noise as the computer recognised the new information and brought it up.

It was a clip taken from Wolfram & Hart's surveillance department, she recognised that first. Then she saw what it was watching.

"Who," she began, then looked up and realised the mailman had gone. She turned back to the screen and switched it off. "Doesn't matter, I think I can guess."

She got up from her desk and walked out of her office, taking the elevator all the way to the basement.

"Keee-yi-ha ow. Someone doing an incantation?"

The transcriber looked up and paused his writing in order to answer his superior. "No. Martial Arts training."

"Any tech problems?"

"Just a couple glitches. Don't sweat it though. I've been staying late." He reached out and lifted a thick document, handing it to him. "That is the transcription of everything up to last week."

Lilah chose this moment to make herself known. "How about that? I just asked myself, if I were a cockroach, where would I hide? And viola!" She held up the disk she was carrying. "I presume surveillance was your idea?"

"What I can I say?" Gavin Parks answered. "I'm genius."

"Is this your convoluted pathetic way of asking for my help? Because you sure need it. You're understaffed, underfunded, and clearly undertalented." She deftly snatched the thick file from him. "So, what have we learned here?"

"We? There is no we. I just decided it was time you understood the full scope of what I've been doing these past few months."

Lilah scanned the first page and picked out the first interested point. "Who's this 'unidentified blond young woman?'"

The transcriber answered her. "I don't know. We lost audio for a couple of days last week. I can pull the tape."

"See? Need me."

Gavin looked discomforted, while the transcriber put the tape into the VCR. The television screen blackened, then return to colour, with a picture of a blond, young woman walking on to the screen.

Lilah watched as Angel walked up to the girl and kissed her, but she did not need any further confirmation. Silently she took out her cell and dialled. "Linwood It's Lilah. You're not gonna believe what I'm looking at."


When the two at last emerged out of Angel's office, they found the rest of their colleagues at lunch, grouped around open delivered pizza boxes in the reception area. All looked up at their entrance.

"Sorry," the seer greeted them, holding a slice in her hand, "would have checked in, but clearly food was the last thing on your minds."

Angel and Buffy reddened, then joined them on the floor. "We weren't loud, were we?" The slayer asked embarrassed.

"No, the locked door was enough," Gunn answered.

"Its nice," Fred remarked. "I'm glad you guys are happy."

"Totally," the rest answered, their mouths full of pizza.

Angel bit into his slice and Wesley turned to Buffy as she picked up a second. "So, what time is Giles arriving?"

"You talked to him for a whole hour and you didn't ask that?" Cordelia noticed.

"I was more concerned about if he could find information on the big bad referenced in the Nyazian scroll remnants," Wes answered as he took another slice of pizza.

"Sometime this afternoon," Buffy answered as she finished her current slice. "He said he had a some pieces of news for us."

"Why do I feel concerned?" Cordelia commented.

"He assured me that none of its bad," Buffy continued.

"How is he managing to keep his contact with us secret anyway?" Fred asked.

"He brought a private line when he returned to the Hellmouth," Buffy explained. "Its untraceable as he uses a separate phone for it, and no one knows its location but him."


Holtz paced the floor of the warehouse until he heard the tell tale sign of the entrance being opened. "You've kept me here long enough. Where are they?"

Sahjhan tried placation. "It's not that simple."

"I'm tired of waiting!" Holtz shouted and grabbed Sahjhan.

Only for his hands to pass right through him.

"Like I said; it's not that simple. Do think I'd go to all this trouble of transporting you two and a half centuries if I could walk up to Angelus and stake him myself? Please! There are rules and timetables and forces at work far greater than either of us. Boy, you vengeful types aren't real good at playing with others, are you?" He passed his hands over his face, converting it to human appearance. "It's my street face. I've lined up some men to help us."

Outside, Sahjhan continued to update his chosen warrior. "The buildings are taller, machines more powerful, but the thing to understand is that people are the same today as they were in your day. They drink too much. They fight. They work hard. They fall in love."

"They have families," Holtz murmured.

"Yes, they still have families," Sahjhan agreed. "And not just the humans."

"I hope these men you've hired are ruthless bastards."

Sahjhan came to a halt and opened up another warehouse to reveal some tough, constantly combative demons. "This is where we'll get your men."

"These aren't men," Holtz observed.

"Once again: gender; not species. I should have said minions. Have you seen Grappler demons fight? Not the sharpest pencils in the box, but merciless in battle." He turned from Holtz and addressed the demons. "Okay, guys! Over here! Time to meet the new Jefe. And Flarmar, leave the head in the ring, okay?" Sahjhan turned back to Holtz. "Ready to command your troops, captain?"

"Any other surprises I should know about?" Holtz asked.


"I cannot believe this," Linwood remarked, his eyes on the television screen. "Heads are gonna roll if the Senior Partners hear about this."

"They won't," Gavin answered. "That's why we came directly to you."

On the screen, the members of Angel Investigations continued to eat pizza, oblivious to the sudden activity behind the surveillance cameras.

Linwood was still shocked. "The return of the slayer. How did we miss this?"

"I'm sequestering the psychics and the mind readers in the conference room," Lilah, announced as she closed her cell. "We will get to the bottom of this."

"Man works hard, builds something, waters it, grows rich and powerful. Leaves his wife for a younger beauty. These are the reasons we take certain blood oaths. And to have it all vanish because..." Linwood trailed off.

"Sir, I can't stress enough. There is no way we could have foreseen this," Lilah assured him.

"She's right, sir. No one could have known," Gavin agreed.

"All right. Lets gather the facts. How long has she been there?" Linwood asked.

"Well, surveillance was begun about three months ago," Gavin answered. "But, from what we can gather from the first tape, she arrived long before that."

"We never did identify the mystery shooter of Billy," Lilah murmured, as if in recollection.

"You never identified the shooter," Gavin pointed out.

"The car hid whoever it was," Lilah countered.

"So," Linwood concluded, "she has been here since the end of the summer. I thought our satellite office in Sunnydale was meant to inform us of any changes."

"They did, when she died," Gavin remembered. "No one said she had been brought back."

"The witch they have is capable," Linwood pointed out.

"Yes, but I checked with our Sunnydale contact a day ago," Lilah remarked. "And they mentioned that they have been unsuccessful in raising her from the dead."

A cell suddenly rang, causing the discussion to pause. Gavin answered it. "Berlin's on the phone for you, sir."

"Oh, god. If they've heard about this in Berlin, Singapore and Muncie can't be far behind. Now listen, if the Senior Partners are looking to assign blame, the buck stops here, you understand me?"

"Not exactly, sir," Lilah answered.

"If the Partners are looking to place blame, I'm gonna have to step forward."

Lilah breathed a sigh of relief. "That's inspiring, sir."

"Yes, I'll step forward and blame you. Buffy was resurrected on your watch. I can think of no better scapegoat."

Linwood patted Lilah's shoulder then walked away to answer the cell. Gavin grinned at her future sacking.

Lilah merely stared at him. "You think this is over? Watch and learn, rookie." She pulled out her own cell, just as it began to ring. Glancing at the id, she turned to Gavin with a superior manner. "Excuse me, I have another client."

She did not press to speak until she had exited the basement offices. "Sahjhan, your timing could not be better. What's wrong? Oh, nothing that your buddy can't take care of. Just tell there's one extra member to the team. No need for names. You're wanting the address? The Hyperion Hotel. Yes, that's the one. Goodbye."

She put the cell in her pocket with a smile.


"So, what's all of the news?" Buffy asked her ex-watcher.

"Firstly, Xander and Anya are getting married," Giles began. He had arrived a few minutes ago, walking into reception after they had finished tidying away empty pizza boxes.

"Xander and Anya? That's unexpected," Buffy mused.

"Who's Anya?" Cordelia asked.

"Former vengeance demon," Buffy replied, causing the seer to laugh.

"Secondly, the Council called, wondering why no slayer had been reactivated, so I've got to go to England for awhile and explain this to them, with your permission, Buffy. I promise it will not get further than them."

"Well, I suppose they have to know," Buffy mused. "Though it would be useful if they could activate another slayer. Provide deception."

Giles shook his head. "They don't know how. Anyway, I won't be gone for long."

"And the grave digging?" Angel asked.

"Nothing yet," Giles answered him, but with a serious face. "But Willow has been using a lot of dark magic recently. Tara's concerned now. I've hidden what I could of the volumes which contain the magic for bringing someone back, but there's no guarantee she won't try anyway."

He reached into the bag he had been carrying. "Here's the books you wanted, Wesley. They contained most the common confusing translations, and references to the scrolls. Its all I could find. I'll see if the Council have anything else."

"Thank you, I would be grateful if you did," Wesley replied as he took the books.

"When do you have to leave?" Buffy asked.

"Not until late this evening," Giles answered.


It was almost midnight when the members of Angel Investigations returned to the Hyperion, after saying farewell to Giles at the airport. After recapping on news, he had talked with Buffy, giving her more information about slaying and some of the slayer diaries which he had brought with him last time for her to keep in L.A.

Talking by phone since his discovery of her renewed existence, had been done by convert calls, most of which had been abandoned due to Willow or the Hellmouth causing trouble. Careful not to draw suspicion, they had limited the calls to only half an hour, which was not enough to exchange all information.

In particular, Buffy wanted to know more about the origins of a slayer, and the exact nature of her strengths. But most important of all, she still looked to Giles as her surrogate father, and he his daughter, and the occasional visits provided them a chance to rebuild that relationship.

The gang entered the hotel, Angel foremost, and instantly came to a stop, as they noticed the pitch black which surrounded them. In one motion, they adopted fighting stance positions.

The lights were turned up to dim, making all of them blink, then take in their surroundings, as their enemy stepped forward.

"Angelus," Holtz remarked. "I've been looking for you."

To Be Continued In
Negotiations.

Chapter Text

Author's Note: Apart from a few lines taken from Lullaby, the episode continues from where Of Past Regret and Future Concern left off. And I included a nice B/A scene for you. Enjoy.

Negotiations.

The lights were turned up to dim, making all of them blink, then take in their surroundings, as their enemy stepped forward.

"Angelus," Holtz remarked. "I've been looking for you."

"Holtz," Angel murmured in surprise, as he and his team came to a halt. He took half a step forward, while Buffy stayed back, and whispered to the rest of the group. "Holtz was one of Angelus and Darla's enemies back in the late eighteenth to nineteenth centuries. They murdered his entire family, and turned his daughter, and left them for Holtz to find. In revenge, he made the rest of his life a mission to hunt them down and kill them."

"I must confess that I was surprised to learn that you have lived this long," Holtz remarked, "but I see now that you have acquired more helpers." He looked at the group of people behind his enemy, a slight puzzlement cresting his expression. "I see that there are a few new faces to this team, and a few which have disappeared. Where is Darla?"

"The Tro-clan - the prophecy - raised up from darkness to bring darkness. That's you," Angel concluded aloud. "My god."

"You have no god, demon. And as for you raised me, you did. You and your demon bitch. For two hundred years I slept. For two hundred years I dreamt of nothing but this moment."

"Which would explain why you look so well rested," Buffy remarked, stepping forward, coming to a halt at Angel's side.

Holtz turned to look at her. "You're new. Darla must hate you."

"Darla's dead," Buffy replied. "She died a long time ago," she added, which was not entirely true, but this was a negotiation for her soulmate's life; they did not have time for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. "As did Angelus."

"Then why do I see him standing before me?" Holtz countered.

"Because one lonely night in Rumania, in 1898, the vampire Angelus was cursed with a soul," Buffy replied. "For the next hundred years he learned to fight the good fight, and then was granted the gift of humanity."

"A soul?" Holtz queried. "That's impossible."

"As impossible as you, a man who was born in the eighteenth century, suddenly waking up in the twenty-first?" Buffy countered.

"Who brought you back?" Angel asked. "Was it a demon or something else? Did something come to you, or did you seek it out? What did you have to give up for this second chance?"

"Give up?" Holtz echoed. "I had nothing to give up. You saw to that."

"We took a lot from you, that's true," Angel admitted. "But we didn't get everything. We couldn't take your soul."

"What do you know of a soul?" Holtz asked. "And do not repeat that story of you being cursed. That is a lie you can tell to the woman who warms your bed, not me."

"I know yours will be destroyed if you allow yourself to be used in the service of evil. You're a good man, Holtz. A righteous man, and you're being used, for some purpose other than justice."

Holtz stepped forward, puzzled once more. "Could it be you really have changed? I don't remember you ever pleading so cravenly before."

"He has changed," Buffy replied, stepping forward, walking until she was standing in front of Holtz. "As has his team. For one thing, I'm not just the woman who warms his bed." She shot a glance at the lackeys behind him, "Why don't you ask your demons who I am."

Holtz did not turn, keeping his eyes on Buffy as he asked. "Who is she?"

"She is the vampire slayer, Captain," replied one of the demons. "It would be wise not to anger her, sir. She is very powerful."

Holtz looked at her, even more puzzled. "A vampire slayer? What kind of a vampire slayer has, whatever you are now, for a lover?"

"A vampire slayer, who encountered Angelus cursed with a soul over six years ago," Buffy replied. "Who fought beside her, until the time came for him to seek out his own mission to fight the good fight. Until the Powers that be rewarded him by granting humanity." She reached up to her neck, and undid the necklace she wearing. Slowly she handed the sliver cross to Holtz. "Angel gave me this six years ago. As you can see, it is a perfectly ordinary cross. Touch it."

Holtz obeyed, then Buffy raised her hand in the air. "A cross should burn a vampire, should it not?" She waited for the man to nod, then she turned her head to those behind her. "Angel, catch."

Angel deftly caught the cross which was flung at him with one hand. Understanding what his girlfriend was trying to do, he clasped the cross in his hand, careful not to crush the sliver. He then put it around his neck, the chain being big enough to let the cross rest on the same spot where it had burned him so many years ago, after Buffy had kissed him for the second time. Then he raised his hand and held it up palm open to Holtz, so he could see that it was completely unmarred by burns.

Buffy silently motioned him to come forward. Angel joined her, lowering his hand as he did so. He came to a halt by her, facing the still startled Holtz, and stood still as Buffy opened his shirt to reveal his bare chest, then took Holtz's hand and placed it on Angel's chest, on the patch of skin which covered his heart. "There," she remarked, "can you feel it beating, Holtz? The Angelus you knew, was vanquished by the gypsies a long time ago. The Angel you see before you, carries his memories, inhabits his body, but his soul is Liam O'Connor's soul, and his humanity was a redemption from the Powers that be."

Holtz rested his hand on Angel's chest, felt the beating of his heart beneath the skin, and began to believe.


"And his humanity was a redemption from the Powers that be," the slayer finished, before a hand came out and stopped the surveillance tape from recording.

Lilah Morgan ejected the tape and rapidly inserted a blank one, thankful that only herself was in the basement, home of Parks' 'little project' and thus the only one to discover this new piece of new information. Suddenly all her plans, as well of those of her colleagues at Wolfram and Hart, were all gone to hell.

She had arrived early, long before her colleague Gavin Parks, and had come down to the basement to see how Sahjhan's minion Holtz would deal with Angel and the slayer and the team, hoping to see all her problems taken care of. However, the slayer had managed to talk Holtz down, and reveal an interesting, if rather annoying fact about Angel.

He was human. Human. How on earth had they missed that? When had he ceased to be the cursed vampire that was so useful to all of them, bar herself, who wished for him to simply be killed now?

Lilah locked the basement door, then took the chair in front of the surveillance cameras, viewing the next footage, though her mind was no longer listening to the conversation. Instead she was trying to figure out exactly when this change had taken place.

It had to be out of town, she concluded. The surveillance had begun shortly after the Hyperion was swept for insect infestation, and none of the team had been out of the city since then. So it must have been in the summer, when Lilah had heard about the death of the slayer from their contacts in Sunnydale.

Suddenly she had a few more pieces of the puzzle. The slayer's witch friend, must have raised her from the dead. She had the power to do that. But Angel's humanity, and the slayer's cleansing from all the dark magic which was used to raise a dead person- the only such magic which could be used for such a spell -must have done by much more powerful and much more knowledgeable about good magic, witches.

The Charmed Ones. Lilah had heard about them through Wolfram and Hart's San Francisco office. They had managed to cost that branch's once most powerful asset; Assistant District Attorney Cole Turner, into ally for good. And now they were responsible for giving Los Angeles a human Angel, and the return of the most powerful slayer.

Lilah had no idea what would happen next. None of this the psychics or mind readers had seen this coming. A human Angel was not part of their plans or agendas.

A human Angel was useless to all of them. Along with Sahjhan and Holtz.

Lilah smiled, and took out her cellphone.

Well, at least she could take care of two of them.


The demons were sent out of the Hyperion after that. At first they had objected to Holtz's order, but then Buffy had offered to fight one of them and any objection was done away with.

Holtz was then introduced to the rest of the group, by Wesley stepping forward and telling him of his background and his present status as leader of this group, in which Buffy and Angel were the most powerful warriors for the good fight. He also came to learn of other things.

"So you killed Darla?" Holtz asked Angel, a part of him still startled to believe that he was sitting across from the person who was once his greatest enemy.

"Yes I did," Angel replied. "Twice."

"Twice?"

"Darla was first killed by Angel about six years ago," Buffy explained. "In killing her then, Angel saved my life. But recently, a powerful law firm here, Wolfram and Hart, brought Darla back from the underworld and turned her, then sent her after Angel once more. She was killed again by him just a few months ago."

"But you were her companion for so long."

"Angelus was," Angel replied. "And he knew nothing of love. When I was given my soul, I left Darla, and wandered the world. When I met Buffy, that is when I knew what love was." He looked at Holtz. "I wish I could bring back your family. I wish what happened to them, hadn't happened. But I can't and it did."

"I know that now," Holtz replied. "Perhaps I should not have accepted him."

"Who?" Buffy asked.

"Oh, it doesn't matter, I'll take care of him. Then may be, I can begin to mourn their deaths, something I never did in my desire for revenge."

"You're welcome to join us," Wesley offered. "I know Angel would have no objection. We could use someone like you."

Holtz shook his head. "I don't think so. I have very little idea of how to live in this new world. No, I have something to do, and then perhaps I shall join a monastery. You still have those?"

"Yes," Angel replied. "Catholic, still?" Holtz nodded. "We'll look up the nearest one in that faith and give you the directions."

"Thank you," Holtz replied, before chuckling. "Though I never thought I would say that to you, of all people."

"I never thought I would see you again," Angel remarked. "Or be redeemed, for that matter."

"This future is very strange," Holtz agreed. "I shall be glad when I can shut myself away from it, and grieve."


"So, you think it really was just Holtz?"

Buffy looked up at her soulmate, and there was a small pause as her mind returned from the afterglow of their loving making session, which they had begun since darkness had struck the city of angels, which was some hours ago. "What was?"

"That the Nyazian scroll foretold the birth of," Angel added, repeating the conclusion which Wesley had formed after looking at the scroll once more when Holtz had left them.

"Him, and whoever or whatever it was that called him," Buffy decided, as she rested her hair against his chest, listening the beating of his heart, which was but a short distance from her ear. "Was that all that you were thinking about?" She asked coyly.

Angel drew his arms around her more securely. "No, of course not. I was also remembering our first time. Just before we fell asleep, listening to the sound of the rain pounding on the window." He bent his head and kissed her blond locks. "Holding you in my arms, and feeling alive for the first time in over two hundred years." He dealt another kiss. "I'm just sorry that the morning after ruined your first time."

"It didn't," Buffy replied.

"It didn't?" Angel echoed.

"No," Buffy assured him, turning over in his arms so she could she see him better. "True, I was upset after I visited your place and saw him, but when I thought I had lost you forever, I learned to focus on the night itself, and the act. And how you made me feel." She paused to smile at him. "And I realised that I could not have had a better first time. You made me feel safe, protected, beautiful, precious and loved. I couldn't have asked for anything more."

"I meant what I said to you when I withdrew," Angel said softly, looking her, with the expression that Buffy could swear was the same one which had appeared on his face that fateful night. "That being inside you made me feel like I belonged, for the first time in my entire existence."

"And I meant what I said to you. That I can never love anyone else the same way." Silently she moved forward and sealed the declaration with a kiss.

"Turn round," Angel uttered softly when they parted, "it time I returned this to you," he added by way of explanation, as temporarily withdrew his arms to reach behind his neck with his hands and undo the clasp on the cross' chain. Then he moved and put it back around her neck.

Buffy leaned forward, sitting up so he could fasten the clasp, shivering a little as the cold metal touched her skin once more. It had been pure luck that she was wearing the cross today, although she often wore it of late, she also wore other crosses which she had been given or had brought over time. But this one was special.

Angel's hands gently clasped her bare shoulders when he was done, and bent his head to kiss her skin across the blades. Buffy sighed in pleasure and tilted her head, giving him access to her neck, which he obligingly began to kiss a few seconds later. His hands slid down her arms to caress her breasts, making her shiver once more, but this time for an entirely different reason.

Buffy closed her eyes, relishing the feel of his hands on her nipples and his mouth on her neck, until the pleasurable torture became unbearable and she began to crave a deeper connection. Then she turned round and caught his lips with hers.

Angel ran his fingers down her spine, and put his tongue to duel with hers. He groaned when she parted her legs to wrap her hips around his abdomen, grinding her sex against his own. Without separating from her lips, he drew them down back on to the silk sheet covered mattress, and gently entered her.

The rain outside soon became inaudible to the chosen warriors once more, as they grew accustomed to hearing nothing but the pounding of their hearts, as they made love, reaffirming their connection to each other's souls once more.


"You knew. You knew and you didn't tell me."

Sahjhan backed away from his once ready to do his bidding colleague. When he reached the wall, he admitted the truth. "Okay! So I left out one teeny weeny little detail. It didn't seem all that important."

"Not important? Angelus with a soul?"

"It doesn't mean anything!" Sahjhan protested.

"It means everything," Holtz countered.

"See? This is why I didn't mention it. So Angel has a soul. Big whoop! So did Attila the Hun! Not to mention a heart as big as all outdoors when it came to gift giving. He is still a vampire! Angel, not Attila."

"He's not the same vampire."

"Of course he is! His hair is a little shorter, a little spikier. He's using product. But it's the same guy."

"No. He's changed. He's different."

"Look. I don't know what kind of moral mind games you've been torturing yourself with, but you can't let this soul thing get in the way of what you swore to do."

"Get in the way?"

"That's what this is about, right? You find out Angel has a soul, now you're wondering if things are a little murkier, ethically speaking."

Holtz took out his sword and pressed its point against Sahjhan's neck. "Things have never been clearer."

He gripped his sword and readied himself to push the point home.

Which was exactly when Lilah's clean up crew decided to strike. They took the two enemies by surprise. They went about their jobs efficiently, taking care of both of them for good. And leaving no trace that any of them had ever been there.

The End.
To Be Continued In
Disclosure.

Chapter Text

Author's Note: Some dialogue borrowed from Dad. Enjoy.

DISCLOSURE.

"Buffy."

The slayer opened her eyes at the sound of her name, only to discover that it had been muttered unconsciously, while asleep, by her boyfriend. Currently he rested behind her, an arm wrapped securely round her, under her breasts, his head next to hers on the edge of his pillow. She smiled in contentment.

Feeling awake, she glanced at the time, and then slipped out of his arms, out of their bed, into his shirt, and downstairs to the entrance lobby of the Hyperion. Finding it deserted, as would be usual at this time of the morning, she made her way to the phone on the reception desk.

Ever since he had learned of her return from the dead, Giles had set up a system for their weekly conversations concerning events on the hellmouth. In the morning of the day assigned for a call, she would dial the number of his second line, and, speaking into a voice disguiser, say the time for him to phone, along with a password. It sounded like somewhat of a elaborate set-up just for a simple phone call, but history had long since taught both of them to be careful when it came to keeping a secret from the rest of the world.

When she had finished, Buffy returned to her lover. She slipped quietly back into the room, but even so, he opened his eyes as she sat down upon their bed.

"Hey."

"Hey," she returned. "I just set up the call to Giles," she added in explanation for her absence. Angel nodded, his eyes still on her. "What?"

"Nothing. I'm just suddenly realising the whole thing about women wearing their men's shirts."

Buffy leaned over him. "What about it?"

"Its a complete turn on." He pulled her down for a kiss. A long, luxurious, passionate, satisfying kiss.

When they parted, she sat up and slowly began undoing the buttons. The long strip of skin revealed, he pulled her down once more, rolling her on to the bed before kissing her again.

Buffy loved this. Not just the act, or Angel, but the mere fact that they could, after so many years apart, and so many trials. Their bond with each other had stood the test of time, and improved with age.

Angel's lips slipped from hers to her neck, letting them breathe, and she marvelled at the novelty of his warm breath upon her skin. He had been human for two months, but it still felt fresh to the both of them.

He moved to her breasts, and Buffy stopped thinking, letting herself slide into the moment, to enjoy it to the full. She arched her back as he licked her nipples, before taking them in his mouth one by one, then sliding his lips under them to continue his journey to her toned stomach and beyond.

When he rose back up to her lips, she grabbed him by the arms and rolled them over, to return the favour.

As her lips kissed his chest, Angel recalled the memory of the day three years ago, when she had licked ice cream off him. What was nicer about this moment, was that both of them would remember it, instead of one waiting until she was dead to have it as a recollection.

Then she rose up to meet his lips, and both of them stopped thinking altogether.

 


Office hours arrived, and the team of Angel Investigations gathered in the entrance lobby, occupying themselves with files of current cases.

The phone rang, causing the slayer to put down her file and pick up the receiver. "Hey Giles. How was England?"

"I wouldn't know, " the watcher replied, "I didn't see it anything of it but Heathrow, and the inside of a conference room."

"Took awhile to get through the Council that I'm alive?" Buffy guessed.

"You could say that. I had to show them the spell, describe the ritual, even phone the Charmed Ones to confirm everything. Then I had to convince them that it was all right you being two hours away from the hellmouth." He paused to take breath. "Then I got back here."

"That doesn't sound good," Buffy said, concerned.

"Don't worry, they haven't tried anything. Infact, Willow is on the wagon as it were. She got addicted to magic, and almost killed Dawn in a car crash. Tara and her have split up. So, raising you from the dead is on hold for now."

"Good to know." Buffy paused. "How is Tara taking it?"

"She's not hiding it well, but I think she's coping better than Willow." He paused. "How are things your end?"

"We had a small run in with a former nemesis of Angelus by the name of Holtz. A demon brought him from the past to try and kill Angel, but of course without letting him know it was Angel. Fortunately there was enough time to explain everything before anyone was hurt."

"Good God," Giles exclaimed. "I read about Holtz in the diaries. Is he still a threat?"

"No, we managed to explain everything. The last we heard he was going to a monastery. We've heard nothing from the demon who raised him, so that's still a concern to keep us on alert at the moment."

As though her words had tempted fate, the office fell silent as the sound of someone stepping up to their front door became audible. The slayer paused, Gunn hefted an axe and Wesley and Angel aimed crossbows at the entrance.

The door opened. A black umbrella emerged. Whatever was behind it lowered it slowly, then looked in surprise at the amount of weaponry aimed at him.

"Now is that anyway to welcome a houseguest?" Lorne asked.

Everyone lowered their weapons, and the slayer resumed her phone conversation.

"Houseguest?" Gunn queried.

"Well, I figured since you all managed to destroy my club, that I wouldn't be imposing if I hit you up for a place to stay. Although I do have a standing offer from a marginally attractive Mulix demon."

"Well, if he/she/it has more suitable accommodations..." Wes remarked.

"Is that any way to return the debt of wrecking the nightbar whenever I let you in?"

"He's right, we owe him," Angel pointed out to Wes.

"Its all right, Angelcakes, I sensed the sarcasm," Lorne put his bags down. "Hey, are there any fluorescent lights in here? I keep hearing this hum. Plus, fluorescent - green light, green skin - it's all bad." He paused to look at his audience, then, "I'll take the blank stares as a big fat no." He picked up his bags. "I'm just gonna find myself a room."

Buffy finished her phone call to Giles, then announced to the team at large, "you'll be pleased to know a certain witch is banned from using magic, so no spells around my gravestone for a while."

"Good to know," Cordelia remarked as she put down a file, "'cause I just saw some vamps which need dusting."

Buffy put on her leather jacket and started grabbing stakes. "Where?"

"Deserted warehouse on Bishop and Union." Cordelia closed her eyes, returning to the vision for a moment, then added, "they had some hostages."

The slayer tossed her soulmate a stake, as he replied, "we're on it."

 


In the end, the whole team save went out, which was just as well, for when they got to the warehouse, there were a dozen hostages and about twice as many vampires surrounding them. Gunn, Fred and Cordelia burst through the front doors, while Buffy and Angel dropped through from the floor above.

Rapidly they set to work, the former taking on three to four, while the chosen warriors took on six each, stakes operating on overtime as they tried to dust as many as they could, until enough were gone to get the hostages out.

When that was done, the Gunn shielded Fred and Cordelia as they freed the hostages, leaving Buffy and Angel to take care of the other vampires.

This was the first large nest of vamps since she had come to Los Angeles. Buffy had been concerned that she would not be able to take them on; it had been so long since she had to fight so many vamps.

But she need not have worried. Her natural slayer instincts, strength, and everything else that came with the package of being a chosen one, were still alive, and active. The strains of all which came from the primitive, were still within her, and running through her veins.

Infact, she was so on top of her game, that when there were only five left, and the hostages were out safe in the sunshine, the rest of the team present stood back and watched her, as she dealt with the remaining vamps.

"Amazing," Gunn uttered. "I mean, I've seen you take on vamps, but her...." he trailed off, content to just watch.

"That's the power of a slayer," Angel replied to Gunn, his eyes also on his beloved.

Oblivious, Buffy continued to fight the vamps surrounding her, dusting them off one by one until there none left.

She turned to find them still staring at her. "What?"

"You were tight," Gunn remarked in explanation.

"Oh, that was nothing," Buffy said. "You should see me taking on ten. Now that's something."

"Ten? At once?" Gunn glanced at Cordelia and Angel. "Is she serious?"

"That's what it was like when our high school blew up," Cordy replied. "We had an entire army, then."

"I think that's one story I haven't been told."

"We tell you it on the way home," Buffy assured him.

 


They arrived back at the Hyperion to find Lorne manning the desk. He walked out from behind it when they entered. "Welcome back. All was quiet while you gone, except the humming that is."

He walked over to Angel and put an arm on his shoulder. "You got to figure a guy like you, a place like this, the only truly safe room would be the janitor's closet."

"Thanks for the tip," Angel remarked before walking away from him.

 


That was the moment, as they were to realise later. The moment that Angel Investigations realised that someone had been watching them for months. The moment when they would meet in the janitor's closet and arrange a time to disable all the surveillance devices. But the people who had put them in, the lawyers of Wolfram and Hart, would only discover this later.

At present, Lilah was watching the monitors alone. Parks' people had set up recording devices for the transcripts, so they could get some rest, and she was grateful for this development, as it enabled her to learn an important revelation.

Angel was human. She had known this piece of information for several days now and it was still as much of a shock as it had been the first time she had heard it.

Lilah had told no one yet about she had learned. This piece of news was just as much a death warrant to the messenger as it was to the pet project of Special Projects at Wolfram and Hart. None of them had prepared for this. Oh, they knew about the Shanshu, but that had been decades in the future, and if their plans worked, it would never become a problem.

Yet shanshued he had now, sabotaging all their plans to turn him to their side in the upcoming apocalypse.

The fact that only she knew about it should give her some advantage, if only she could see one that would persuade the Senior Partners not to kill her.

"Liking the show?" A voice asked her suddenly, disturbing her thoughts and her privacy.

Lilah did not need to turn around to know that Gavin Parks had entered the room. She kept herself facing the monitors as he walked to stand beside her and added, "I've gotta ask, is this becoming a hobby for you?" He levelled with her. "You should check out the footage we get of Angel's suite."

Lilah turned to him, realising that if they had footage of the slayer and Angel together, Gavin would learn the same discovery she had. "What?"

"Don't look so outraged, I was just joking. I didn't have enough bugs, unfortunately."

"You sound really disappointed," Lilah remarked, "like that sort of stuff do you? Get your ya-yas from it?"

"I'll take that comment as part of your jealousy that you didn't come up with this."

"Surveillance?" Lilah scoffed. "Its hardly rocket science. Suppose they find out about it? What are you gonna do then?"

"They haven't yet," Gavin pointed out.

As if Lilah had tempted fate, it was at that moment that the monitors cut out.

 


"Urrgh!" The slayer shivered as they assembled in the lobby after cutting the surveillance. "I'm so glad nothing was in our bedroom."

"I know the feeling," Angel agreed.

"The question is; how much did they learn?" Fred asked.

"Well, they probably know I'm human now," Angel answered, "so I guess that loses whatever advantage we had from that. Who do you think set it up? Lilah?"

The slayer shook her head. "From what you've told me of her, and my impression of her when I put an arrow through Billy, I don't think its her style. I'd say it was Gavin Parks."

"Makes sense," Wesley agreed, nodding. "I bet he had them installed when Fred and Gunn returned here and found some guys allegedly being pest controllers."

Gunn nodded. "The guys certainly scarper'd quickly enough the minute we confronted them. At the time I figured they hadn't had time to do anything."

"Don't blame yourself," Wes remarked, "you couldn't have foreseen it. None of us could." He turned to Lorne. "Thanks."

Lorne shrugged. "Least I could do, for my sake as much as yours. Wouldn't have been able to sleep with all that humming going on."

"The stakes are evened again," Wesley decided.

"As much as they can be against an army of demon lawyers," Cordelia added.

 


"Welcome back. All was quiet while you gone, except the humming that is. You got to figure a guy like you, a place like this, the only truly safe....."

"Back it up," Linwood commanded.

The video tech complied.

"except the humming that is. You got to figure, a guy like you..."

"Stop it right there! Magnify one hundred times. Again."

The screen filled with an enlarged image of Lorne slipping a folded piece of paper in Angel's pocket.

"There," Linwood remarked. "That is when he gives Angel the note."

The monitor continued to play the rest of the conversation. "The only truly safe room would be the janitor's closet."

"Thanks for the tip."

"And tells him where to read it," Linwood continued. "The janitor's closet, where we don't have surveillance."

Lilah was appropriately smug. "That green houseguest could hear the hum of your transmit frequency. What are the odds?"

"All that Sturm and Drang was just a performance," Linwood concluded.

"He did a good job," Lilah remarked. "Who knew Angel had the acting chops?"

"Are you kidding?" Gavin scoffed. "It was one note. Felt forced."

"Funny. You bought it at the time."

Linwood switched the monitor off, then dismissed the video tech. "Well, this surveillance was handy, but now its a serious mistake. And someone has to take the blame."

Lilah nodded. She had just realised her advantage. "You're right, sir. Particularly when he neglects to tell you about Angel's Shanshu."

Linwood looked at her. "What?"

Lilah glanced at a shocked and for once uncertain Gavin, then launched into her own performance.

The End
To Be Continued In
LEARN TO SEE THE ORDINARY.

Chapter Text

Author's Note: Just a short viginette here, which in view of the title, I felt was appropriate. A few lines taken from the original episode, 'Birthday.' Enjoy.

Learn To See The Ordinary.

"It takes a lot of imagination to be a good photographer.
You need less imagination to be a painter, because you can invent things.
But in photography everything is so ordinary;
it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the ordinary."

David Bailey (1938-); English photographer,
from an interview in The Face, Dec 1984.

"Hey guys."

The rest of Angel Investigations turned in the direction of the voice as the doors opened to reveal the female contingent of their team return from a shopping trip.

"Hey, have a good time?" Angel asked as he stood up to greet his girlfriend with a kiss.

"Yeah, it was great sale," Buffy replied, handing her bags to the seer. "Cordy, could you....?"

"Put these aside while you two make the rest of us jealous over your perfect love life?" Cordelia answered with a smile to show it was kindly meant. "Sure."

Angel wrapped his arms around his soulmate, who leaned in to him as she watched the seer walk off with her designer bags. He waited until she had signalled, by inclining her head, then he asked softly, "Does she know?"

Buffy shook her head as Wesley took a couple of large, very full bags from their hiding place in the reception desk.

By the time the seer had finished off loading the bags, the gang had gathered together to support a birthday cake with candles and a picture of a fortune teller and her crystal ball, and struck out an acoustic version of 'Happy Birthday.'

Cordelia smiled, touched. "Oh you guys. I can't believe you did this."

"Don't just stand there," Gunn admonished. "Blow out the candles, girl."

Cordy closed her eyes and obliged.

"Did you make a wish?" Fred asked when she had opened them once more.

"I sure did," Cordelia replied, glancing round. "Ah, Jude Law was a little busy, huh?"

"Oh, how disappointing for you," Wes teased. "Well, I guess you won't be wanting the presents we..."

"Oh, wanting. Wanting presents."

"You'll have to forgive the wrapping," Buffy remarked as they emptied the bags and presented her with them. "Some of us, and I'm not naming names, seem to have fostered a strange addiction to Scotch tape."

"I see what you mean," Cordy commented as she took the first present which was decorated with a huge bow, and sealed with a large amount of tape. As she studied the box, trying to work out where there was a gap so she could unwrap it, a vision rocked through her mind, making her crease the paper.

All thoughts of birthday celebrations were at an end as the team, seeing the stance of their colleague, put the rest of the presents on the floor to one side with the cake and prepared themselves for action.

"There's a teenager, a girl," Cordelia began, her eyes closed as she examined the vision carefully for all the clues she could. "She... she.... She's in a house on Oak street in the middle of Reseda. Number 171. She's drawing a pentagram on the floor. A book's beside her, I think its a spell book, but....." she paused, screwing up her eyelids to concentrate on the object, "its got stains of some sort on. I think she's gonna mess it up."

Cordelia opened her eyes to find the rest of her colleagues grabbing weapons and outdoor clothing. "Let's go," she mused to herself.


A couple of hours later they returned, mission accomplished. The girl, Cynthia, had been trying to summon her dad back to home, to prevent her parents separation. Instead a three-mouth, no-eyed monster had appeared, requiring Buffy, Angel and Gunn to take him out, while Fred, Cordelia and Wesley comforted the girl, then worked out how to tell her parents so the family could resolve the reasons why the spell had been tried in the first place.

They entered the Hyperion and resumed celebrating Cordelia's birthday, helping her open her presents, eat her cake, indulging in a relatively normal office party.

Halfway through, when all the presents were open and the cake was in the process of being sliced, the telephone rang at the desk.

Cordelia rose up and answered it. "Angel Investigations."

"Happy birthday, Cordelia."

"Thanks Giles," the seer replied, making the rest of the group turn to the phone, in a mixture of expectation and concern. "Hang on a minute, I'll put you on speaker phone." She pressed a button, then put the receive down.

"Hey, Giles, I assume this isn't a regular chat," Buffy began.

"Well, it was going to be," her ex-watcher admitted, "until the latest big bad of Sunnydale decided to announce themselves to us today."

"Themselves?" Angel queried.

"Yeah. Warren, Andrew and Jonathan."

There was a moment of collective silence, then Buffy spoke. "Okay, lets take a minute to confirm IDs. Warren as in the guy who built the April and Buffybots?"

"Correct."

"Jonathan who tried to kill himself in the clock tower during my being able to hear people's thoughts moment, and made himself the combination of a superstar and superhero which everyone turned to right in the middle of the Initiative problem?"

"Yep."

"And Andrew is?"

"We asked him that ourselves. Apparently he summoned the flying monkeys which attacked the school during the school play. Oh and he is also Tucker's brother."

"Of the Prom hell-hounds fame?" Buffy sought to confirm.

"That's the big bad. Or the Trio as they're calling themselves."

"Is it just me, or has evilness really gone downhill since I left the hellmouth?" Buffy commented rhetorically.

"After Glory, earthbound villains do seem tame," Giles agreed.

"How much damage have they done?"

"Minor things really, compared to the rest. Stealing a diamond from the museum to turn people invisible, turning one day at the Magic Shop into a scene from Groundhog Day, speeding up time, creating imaginary demons. When they presented themselves to us, however, they seemed more content to argue amongst themselves over various pop culture quotes, stars and events."

"What's wrong?" Buffy commented, her hearing picking out the mixed emotions within his tone of voice.

"Truthfully? I'm missing England," Giles confessed. "That brief visit to tell the Council you were alive turned out to be more of a siren call than I realised it could be."

"Well, why don't you go back?" Buffy suggested. "I'm not wishing you away or anything, but, there's not much left on the hellmouth now."

"But what about your grave?"

"The Trio will keep the Scoobies busy for a while," Buffy replied. "and from the sound of things they won't do too much damage. And if I'm needed to intervene, well, Cordy will have a vision. Plus, if you're in England, we can talk more, without discovery."

"You're right," Giles conceded, pleased she was fine with him going. "I won't go straight away. I'll tell them and leave after Anya and Xander's wedding. Give them a chance to get used to the idea."

"You could fly out of LA and visit us on the way," Buffy suggested.

"I'd love to," Giles acknowledged, before signing off.

Cordelia pressed the speakerphone to off mode once more and returned to the group, where Wesley began to cut up the cake.

Angel turned to his soulmate. "You okay, about Giles returning to England?" He asked her softly, pulling her into his arms.

Buffy snuggled into his embrace before she replied. "I'll miss him. He's the father I always wanted. But there's nothing left for him here. I've moved from the hellmouth, which no longer needs my protection according to the Powers That Be, leaving ownership of the Magic Shop and an apartment to only tie him to Sunnydale. He misses his home, and I know how that feels."

"What do you mean?"

Buffy turned in his arms, and looked up into his face. "When we apart, I felt like I didn't belonged anywhere. The moment we got back together, I realised that my home was wherever you were."

Angel smiled at her, touched. "I feel the same way," he replied softly, before inclining his head, and capturing her lips with his. The kiss was allowed a five minute's grace, then the Chosen Ones had to return to reality.

"Hey, break it up," Wes remarked. "Cake to eat."

Buffy and Angel broke away from each other with a smile, then proceeded to immerse themselves in celebrating Cordelia's birthday.

The End.
To Be Continued In.
1,000,000 Monkeys

Chapter Text

Author's Note: Some dialogue taken from Provider, and watch out for the cliffhanger at the end.

1,000,000 Monkeys

"We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters
will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare.
Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true."

Robert Wilensky, (1951-)
American academic,
in the Mail on Sunday 16/02/97
'Quotes of the Week'.

It was quiet at the Hyperion. Too quiet someone decided.

Buffy and Angel awoke from the spell of their usual post morning waking activities to smile at each other as their super-hearing abilities detected the once hush below them which now threatened to turn into a full blown shouting match. Without a word to one another they slipped out of bed and began to dress.

They had already identified the speakers before they reached the final stair that led into the hallway.

"I'm not saying it isn't a good idea," Cordelia tried to placate as the couple entered the lobby of the once hotel. "I just wanna make sure we don't lose sight of the mission."

"It also could cause a lot more trouble than its worth," Wesley argued. "It would be on a public domain. Anyone could have access to it."

"Like the helpless, for example?" Gunn commented.

"Or the hellmouth," Buffy answered, surprising the four grouped around the front reception desk.

Fred rose up from her place of retreat by the computer, a contrite expression upon her face. "I'm sorry, Buffy, I didn't think......."

"Fred, it's okay. It is a good idea though. Can I have a look?" The slayer smiled at her to show she was not mad before she joined her at the terminal.

Angel watched her go before turning to the trio who were left at the desk. "When did this idea come up?" He asked.

"You remember that vampire pyramid scheme Harmony led us to?" Wesley remarked, causing Angel to nod. "Well Fred was doing a search on the net and she found a website concerned with it. And she thought we should have one."

"Which is a good idea," Gunn asserted.

"I'm not denying it," Cordelia countered.

Seeing where this was going, Angel sought to calm them back down. "Hey, easy you two. Buffy and I aren't arguing on that point either. It would generate a lot of business, but there is Sunnydale to consider. Willow was a net whiz before she turned to magic. One search could bring up the site, and if Buffy's name is mentioned....." he trailed off, leaving them to imagine the rest.

Gunn nodded slowly as he realised the consequences. "And yours?" He turned to Cordelia.

"My concern is that we'll have so many clients from the net that we'll ignore the visions of the really helpless ones," the seer replied.

"How about this?" Buffy uttered as she and Fred returned to the desk. "A trial period? One week online, one week off, and we'll decide then if its something we should have."

"And what about the hellmouth?" Angel asked.

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it." Buffy smiled to show she was happy with her member status of Angel Investigations going public. "The site's really good, you should come and take a look."

Angel obeyed his soulmate and stood behind Fred at the terminal to look over the website. Wesley followed.

Fifteen minutes later, despite their misgivings, the site went online.

 


The next day, Angel Investigations was a hub of activity.

Buffy walked out of the firm's weapons training room- or gym as it was described on the website -to find Lorne had even been roped in to help with the sudden influx of visitors to the Hyperion. He was talking to three grey coloured demons, attired in monk style robes and silver face masks, in a language which, despite all her experience and knowledge of a seven years slayer, sounded like a mixture of clicks, whirr's and pops.

He looked up from them for a moment to find her standing on the threshold of the now busy reception foyer. After he indicated her to the demons, then walked over to her.

"Hey. The guys with the chrome face plates, they're called Nahdrahs. I speak their lingo, sort of. If I understand them correctly they've got a job for our leader. Well, our leader in this instance being Wesley. They saw his web articles on DNA fusion comparisons in Tri-ped demon populations."

"Any handle on what sort of job?" Buffy asked cautiously.

"They won't say until they've met Wes. They were very clear on that."

"Okay," Buffy replied, as her eyes caught the man in question coming out of his office, a flock of people following him. She waited for them to take their leave, then gestured for him to join Lorne.

Once they were installed in Wesley's office, the slayer made her way to Angel and Cordelia, who were manning phones.

Gunn intercepted her, a young blonde woman in tow. "Hey, office free? It's kind of personal."

"Yeah. Go." Buffy smiled at the client and indicated for her to follow him.

She joined the duo at the reception desk. "We're getting stretched a little thin here?"

"You don't say?" The seer replied sarcastically as her caller paused for breath. "Care to help by picking up lines two, three and four?"

The slayer turned to see Angel pausing his own caller. "Okay. How urgent is it? Uh-huh. Could you hold for just one second, please? Thank you." He turned to his soulmate, who took in his look with one word. "Trouble?"

"A guy who owns his own company, is being conned by a vampire nest who are operating a protection fees extortion racket."

Buffy matched his sceptical expression. "Really? Sounds way too gangster to be that simple."

"My opinion also. Where should we rank it?"

"Glad to know you guys are in agreement," Cordelia interrupted as she finished her call and moved to pick up another. "Now, could you please move on?"

"Sorry Cor," Buffy replied before picking up a line.

Angel returned to the guy. "Thank you for holding. If you could just give us the addresses, we'll send someone tomorrow to take a look." He wrote down the necessary information, then ended the conversation. Then he picked up line four. "Hello, Angel investigations, here. How may we help you?"

 


"I don't sleep. I'm afraid to go out or answer the phone." The blonde girl, called Ally, was saying to Gunn in Buffy's office.

"Yeah, I hate stalkers," Gun remarked, pouring tea. "Look, don't worry. We'll put a stop to it. Have a seat."

"Thank you."

"So, do you know who this guy is?"

"Yeah, well, it's- it's Brian, my ex-boyfriend."

"Have you been to the police?"

"Yeah. They act like I'm some kind of nut. Just like I'm making it all up."

"Yeah, you go to the cops for help they don't do a thing until somebody ends up dead."

"Somebody is dead."

That made Gunn look up. "Who?"

"Brian. Isn't that the kind of stuff you guys deal with?"

Gunn rapidly recovered. "Yeah. All the time. So, Brian, your dead boyfriend, is stalking you?"

"Well, I mean, he's not my boyfriend now."

 


In Wesley's office, an entirely different case was being translated.

"The Internet article I'm currently writing posits a formula for the genome mapping of creatures who don't have genes." Wes paused in appreciation. "It's an exciting arena."

"One I'm sure we can all download at 'I'll never know the love of a woman.com,'" Lorne remarked sarcastically, causing Wes to give him a look. "Ah, can we get down to business? They want to buy your head." He paused before adding, "little rusty with the language. I should probably clarify that."

He turned back to the Nahdrahs. After a series of clicks he clarified. "They want your mind. They're celebrating their prince's, uh..... it's like a birthday, only they're not born so much as disgorged. They need you to solve one of their traditional puzzles so they can give it to him. It's quite an honour."

"Could be interesting," Wes answered politely, just as there was a knock on the door. "Come in."

Fred entered, closing the door behind her. "I might need you after these puzzle people have left."

"Thanks, I'll be right with you." Wes paused as her words caught him. "Puzzle people?" He echoed.

"Sure, these are puzzle people," Fred replied, indicating the Nahdrahs. "Did you notice the designs on their tunics? Geometric shapes. Each a prime number, if you count their edges, arranged in ascending order of exponential accumulation."

"Yes, I did not notice that at all," Wes answered. He gestured to Lorne. "Could you introduce Fred to them? I think she can deal more with your problem." He rose up from his chair as Lorne translated and left them to his office.

 


At midday, the members of Angel investigations received a temporary relief from the countless phone calls and visiting clients. Taking complete advantage of the temporary peace and harmony, they gathered in the kitchen area and left the answer machine in charge of reception.

"Anyone else tiring of this trial period already?" The seer asked as she collapsed into a chair.

"It is a little frantic," Fred agreed.

Cordelia turned to her; ready to counter sarcastically, causing the slayer to enter the conversation. "Hey, we've all had a rough morning. Let's move past how many clients we've got, and work out a priority list."

"Well, there's something fishy about the corporate guy; Mr Elster," Angel remarked, leaning forward from his seat. "I think that calls for more of a raid than a 'helpless' scenario."

Buffy turned to Wes and Gunn. "You guys were closeted with Ally's case for most of the afternoon. Anything serious?"

"Yes, her zombie boyfriend is stalking her," Gunn answered.

"And Fred and Lorne's..... come to think of it, where is Lorne?" The slayer glanced around the room.

"The Nahdrahs left soon after Wes handed them over to me. Lorne said they needed to consult with their prince or something. He got up to follow them, 'cause he wasn't sure about the translation."

"So, should we split up? Fred and Lorne handle the Nahdrahs, Gun and Wes the zombie, while me and Angel raid and bust the vamps?"

"Leaving me to do what? Handle phones?" Cordy held up her hand, and spoke more calmly. "Seriously, I don't think it's such a great idea to be working on so many cases at once. I mean, what if we're all out making money and some poor devil stumbles in here and needs our help?"

The door of the kitchen opened suddenly to reveal such a stumbling person.

Or rather, Lorne, carrying a suitcase. "Bon giorno, everybody, bon giorno."

"You've been drinking?" Angel stated cautiously.

"Oh, I can hold my liquor, Mister. Unfortunately I can't say the same for my firewater." Lorne giggled drunkenly.

"Aren't they the same thing?" Fred asked Wesley.

"Hey, Fred-girl! No, this is special firewater, used to loosen the tongue of my Gar-wak snitch. They light the water on fire and there's chanting and a bong, and look out, Houston!"

"Okay, enough with the firewater," the slayer decided. "What about the Nahdrahs? Do they want Fred? And if so for what?"

Lorne seemed to sober up a little. "Her enormous brain. They're convinced she can solve the puzzle they wanna give to their prince. They weren't offended by you before, they were impressed."

"Really?"

"They live on a barge, currently docked in the marina. And a day or two, depends on how long it takes her to solve it."

Wes turned to Fred. "You game?"

Fred shrugged. "Sure."

"Wait a minute. I haven't given you the best news yet. For this puzzle they will pay," he paused to open the metal suitcase he had somehow carried back with him, "Fifty thousand dollars!"

"Fifty..." Angel began to echo.

"..thousand..." Cordelia followed suit.

"......Dollars?" Fred finished.

"That's not even the best bit. When I speak of them wanting her enormous brain? Well, I mean they want it in the literal sense."

"What?" Buffy queried in horror.

"After they gave me the money, I figured it was a bit much for just a puzzle and went to my snitch. He told me that there were a group of demons looking to heal their sick prince by replacing his brain."

"Gross!" Cordelia was the first to recover. "I vote we keep the money, tell them we're flattered, but Fred is valued employee."

"I think that solution might be a little too simple, Cor," Angel remarked. "Wes, what do you think we should deal with first?"

"The zombie, then a raid on Mr Elster and the Nahdrahs."

"And then we take the website offline?" Cordelia queried.

"Zombie and demons and first, technology later," the slayer decided, grabbing her coat.

 


Darkness fell and as the bright florescent streetlights switched themselves on, so did the lamps of the Hyperion as seven exhausted people slowly entered the reception foyer.

The zombie had turned out to be the girl's ex-boyfriend whom she had poisoned when he got over-possessive concerning the quality of her new boyfriends. After what seemed a frantically short half hour of barricading the house from entry; consisting of locking doors, windows and anything else they saw, Brian the Zombie had entered through the forgotten skylight in the kitchen, to be knocked out by Gunn with the help of a baseball bat.

When Brian the Zombie had come round, the members of Angel Investigations watched with a mixture of surprise and disgust, the scene of him and Ally agreeing to give their relationship another go.

Still mulling over this somewhat weird end to a case, they had moved on to the next one; the Nahdrahs. Unfortunately for the latter, they refused to listen to a reasonable and polite refusal from Lorne concerning the availability of Fred's head, causing all the seven to start, and finish what was, for many of them, their first fight where the arena was a marina docked ship.

Three hours later, trying to ignore the various bruises and minor injuries which said fight had incurred, the seven had arrived at Mr Elster's vampires' nest.

Only to find out that Mr Elster's real name was Sam Ryan, and that the protection racket scam, was indeed a hoax. In truth Sam's friend had died, attacked by seven vampires, who decided to chose the telling of the former's explanation, as a good moment to return to their lame hideout.

Fred got Sam out, while the others set themselves on the vamps, Buffy taking two on to even up the fight. When all seven were nothing more than just separate piles of ashes on the floor, the former librarian returned with their client, whom they helped reclaim his late friend's personal effects.

Now, in their previous mentioned exhausted state, the seven entered the foyer and collapsed on the soft furnishing provided.

"Shall we take the website offline?" Fred queried.

"Definitely," Angel decided. "Super powers aside, I don't think we can take this week after week."

"Seconding that opinion," Wes added as he closed his eyes. "Anyone else need an aspirin?"

"I'll get them," Cordy slowly rose from her seat and made her way to the first aid cabinet. "I'd say I told you so, but I think the fights thumped that point home."

"Noted anyway, Cor," Buffy uttered as she worked out a kink in her back. "Do you think any of the people we did not want to know about our .com enterprise, know?"

"If they did, they'd be here by now," Wes argued, pointing to the large wall clock.

All seven glanced at the time. "I'd move," Gunn uttered, "if I thought was capable of reaching the stairs, let alone my bed."

"I'd better take the site offline," Fred commented next to him.

He stopped her from moving with a touch to her shoulder. "There's no need to now," he began, before turning to the slayer, "is there?"

"No," Buffy answered as she settled next to Angel. "Wes is right, they would have spotted it by now."

 


Unhappily, fate had other ideas. Ones which even the Powers that Be had not foreseen.

Willow struggled to close the spell book. When her hands and her mind had finally won the battle, she threw it out of reach and leaned back in her chair. Fingers went up to rub her temples, as her mind wondered silently if the headaches would ever go away.

Or her addiction to magic, for that matter.

When the throbbing pain and dulled to manageable, Willow opened her eyes and glanced around the dining room of Revello Drive, where she and Tara had moved in to take care of Dawn after Buffy's death, in search of a distraction to her fevered mind.

Tara. Buffy. Dawn. Three subjects she did not have time or inclination to think about. Instead, another trio required her attention; Warren, Andrew, and Jonathan. Their hiding place, to be more specific.

Her eyes unexpectedly found the answer to her present dilemma, resting on the dining room table.

Headache abruptly gone, Willow rose up from the chair and seated herself in at the head of the table. Leadenly she lifted up the screen of her neglected laptop and pressed the switch on button.

After the welcome screen had faded away to her personal desktop, she double-clicked the internet icon and waited for the service provider to answer.

Default home page on screen, Willow typed her queries into the search engine. A few clicks and whirr's later, and the results page came up.

If it had not been on the bottom of the first ten listings; she might never have seen it.

www.angel-investigations.com

Magic addiction forgotten, Willow clicked the link. Seconds later the site's default entry page came up, displaying a typical frameset, with navigation to one side.

'Bios' was third in the navigational list, under 'contact' and 'about.'

After Wesley and Angel's pages, came that of Buffy Summers.

To Be Continued In....
And A Ballet In The Evening.

Chapter Text

Author's Note: I was going to continue the Sunnydale scene at the end of the last episode, but I decided it worked better if I didn't. So you'll get all of that in the next episode. Now for a complete rewrite of Waiting in the Wings, my most hated episode of Angel. I have changed the disgusting bit that was Cordy and Angel, to Buffy and Angel. Prepare for some steamy B/A scenes, including a NC17 one at the end. Enjoy.

And A Ballet In The Evening.

"Miles of cornfields, and a ballet in the evening."

Alan Hackney, British novelist,
from Private Life (1958)
(later filmed as I'm All Right Jack , 1959),
on describing Russia.

 

She is mine.

There was a hush about the City of Angels National State Theatre tonight. A soundlessness born of expectation. Of knowledge that the occupants of the burg were about to be presented with a great honour. And with it a certainty that such an event would go down in the annals of the state's history as a evening of momentous proportions.

Backstage was a natural counterbalance to such expectations. The hubbub of activity one would anticipate, but with a need for quietness that was mindful.

On the floors behind the curtains and picture-frame, a representative of the Los Angeles district council was walking with the company director who had arrived very unexpectedly last night.

"It's such an honour to have the company here, I have to say. All of LA is buzzing. To have the Blinnikov performing Giselle... I can't imagine what's tonight's going to be like."

In contrast to the over-enthusiastic official, the company's director was a reserved gentleman of aristocratic poise. "It will be the performance of a lifetime. I guarantee it."

The official was not offended by such a short response. He had foreseen as much from the director's appearance. "I don't suppose I would be able to meet the prima-ballerina?" He asked nervously.

Count Kurskov smiled for the first time. "Well, I shall have to ask her, but I'm sure there will be no refusal. After her performance, of course."

They had by now reached the entrance to the dressing rooms.

"Of course," the official was ecstatic. "Thank you so much, sir." He shook the Count's proffered hand then exited stage front.

Count Kurskov opened the doors and stepped through to the corridor behind. He walked down to main dressing room.

The door was open, as always. The prima-ballerina sat delicately in the chair before the dressing table as usual. From her sorrowfully solemn face the eyes gazed into it's mirror, wondering if tonight would be the night.

Kurskov watched her slender hands caress the elegant hairbrush, perfume bottles and powder compacts before her; picking up this, adjusting that. For the second time he allowed himself to smile.

She is mine.

 


Wesley chuckled at his colleague's assumption. "She is not mine."

Cordelia was sceptical. "Really? Then how come every time she was walks into a room all you can do is stand and stare?"

The head of Angel Investigations chuckled once more, then handed the seer the leatherbound ancient volume he was examining, open at the appropriate page. "Sorialus the Ravager."

Cordelia took a look at the picture. "And, yeah, she's the one from my vision."

"Coming to destroy the humans that killed her mate."

"But not for another month or so. I'll file her under 'pending.'" The seer paused to write down the needed information for elimination. "So, you're serious?"

"About Sorialus the Ravager?"

"Fred."

"I'll admit, there was a time when I thought she was the loveliest thing in the world....." Wes trailed off with a shrug. "But from what I've seen recently, I'm not the one. And when I realised who was, it didn't hurt as much as I thought it would."

The former cheerleader gazed at him with understanding. "You know, there was a time when you thought I was the loveliest thing in the world."

"Well, I... you're an extraordinary woman...... I mean..."

"At ease, soldier. Just like to hear it every now and then. I was the ditziest bitch in Sunnydale, could have had any man I wanted. Now I'm all superhero-y and the best action I can get is an invisible ghost who's good with the Loofah."

Wes blinked then returned to the tome in his hands. "I'm sorry. I missed that last part."

"You are a gentleman."

"Who's doing what with the Loofah?" Angel asked as he entered the room.

Wes rapidly covered. "Not Loofah, Looh-fah. Nooctm... Skumth. It's a demon."

Angel missed the attempt completely. "Ask me why I'm smiling."

"I will, because it's scaring me," Cordelia commented.

"We, are stepping out."

"Where to?" Asked the slayer as she walked into the lobby.

Angel produced the tickets with a flourish then bent down to give her a kiss. He was about to answer when Gunn and Fred's entrance forestalled him.

"Morning friends and neighbours," the former uttered in greeting. He noticed the bits of paper in Angel's hand. "Ooh, are those the tickets? You got 'em?"

"Well, I got to the ticket place and..."

Gunn interrupted him. "I'm paying you back. This one's on me. Mahta Hari is the tightest band in LA. You guys are gonna be trippin' out."

Angel tried again. "The only thing is..."

Gunn was having none of it. "Look, I said I'm good for it, man. Don't have to worry about dippin' into the Investigations' fund." He took the tickets from Angel's hand. "The time I saw the Mahta Hari at the Troubadour they were......." he trailed off in surprise as the words on the tickets came into focus. "Blinnikov World Ballet Tour." He looked up from the tickets to the man he had sent to fetch them. "What's going on?"

Angel was still smiling. "I was trying to tell you. I got to the ticket place and boom! Tonight only!"

"But you got ballet on my Mahta Hari tickets." Gunn was crestfallen.

"This is the Blinnikov World Ballet Corps."

"He's been saying that like it has meaning," Cordelia muttered aside.

Angel ignored her. "This is one of the premier companies in the world. And they're doing Giselle! It's their signature piece."

Gunn's expression was a mixture of defeat and disbelief. "This is all like some horrible dream."

"I think I've heard of them," Wesley commented. "Very ahead of their time."

Glad to have someone on his side, Angel added, "oh, yeah. I saw their production of Giselle in eighteen-ninety. I cried like a baby. And I was evil!" He turned to his soulmate. "Do you mind?"

Buffy shook her head. "Not at all. It sounds exciting."

"Yes," Wes added.

Gunn still could not see the joy in it. "No. No! This is not Mahta Hari. This is tutus, and guys with their big-ass packages jumping up and down. This is just..." this to Angel, "I will never trust you again. The trust is gone."

"Oh, get over it," Cordelia commanded. "Do we get dressed up?"

"Of course."

The seer smiled. "I'm in."

"Me too," Fred uttered.

Angel turned to the last dissenter. "Guys, seeing real ballet live it's... it's like another world. Gunn, these guys are tight, and you're gonna be trippin' out."

"Don't be usin' my own phrases when we lost the trust."

"Gunn, I saw a production at UC Sunnydale," Buffy tried to reassure him. "Trust me, it will spellbound you."

"Okay. But I'm not still paying, right. Because this is... this is... It's like a nightmare."

 


"Are you certain this is the place for us?" Fred asked.

She, Buffy and Cordelia stood before the threshold of an elite, designer-clothes shop.

The latter now shrugged. "Well, we could always get our outfits at 'Cave-girl's House of Burlap,' but that's just so last season."

Buffy laid a consoling arm around Fred's waist. "Trust us, Fred. The guys are all renting tuxes. We gotta step up."

The former physicist was still unsure. "But aren't we, you know, poor?"

"There is a custom amongst my people," Cordelia assured her as they entered the shop. "It's called 'buying a dress, wearing it once, and returning it the next day.' It's all about hiding the tags while it's on."

"Usually, I'm all for that," Buffy remarked, "but for this night, we have been given a very special gift!" She brandished an old-fashioned money clip.

Cordelia gasped. "Is that what I think it is?"

"If you mean, Angel's wallet, then yes. He gave it to me before we left, along with making me promise that we splash out."

"Oh. Okay. I'm very excited about tonight." Cordelia said unconvincingly.

"Me too," Fred sounded more truthfully. "I love the ballet! I mean, I haven't seen that much, but my family used to go to the Nutcracker every Christmas, and I had my first sexual dream about the Mouse King."

Cordelia raised an eyebrow and walked to another selection. Buffy simply shrugged and held up a dress. "Face me," she requested to Fred.

Fred obligingly held the dress before her. "Can I ask you something?"

Buffy looked at her face and smiled, guessing the answer. "I think you guys are perfect for each other."

"It ....it's not like we've said anything or... but he's so sweet... and commanding, and I feel so comfortable around him....." Fred trailed off, gazing down at herself in a moment of despair. "I mean, I don't even know if he feels..."

"He feels," Buffy assured her.

"Feelings?" Fred looked up.

"Oh, there is definite feelings. We find the right outfit for tonight, there may be actual feeling."

"And then we have to find a dress for you. Something that will make Angel crazy."

Cordelia returned then. "Fred, sweetie. Angel is crazy." She handed the dress she had been holding to Buffy. "But then so are you."

"If you mean in love, then yes I am," Buffy smiled at her two friends as she admired the dress in the mirror nearby. "Or rather, yes we are."

"I actually meant about the ballet."

"The UC Sunny production was amateurish at best," the slayer admitted, "but the story is powerful."

"Well, I'm not much of a ballet fan." Cordelia confessed as she found her dress for the night. She turned to the others. "So, are we satisfied with our choices?"

"I think so," Fred uttered, as she looked in the mirror one final time. "I just hope he likes it."

 


"You got to promise not to laugh."

Fred smiled. "I promise."

Gunn was not so convinced. "It's gotta come from the heart."

"Will you stop being such a little girl? I said, I promise."

The former street-fighter cautiously stepped out of his room in the Hyperion. He gazed at the woman whose opinion he trusted.

Fred took one wide-eyed look at him, and then laughed.

Gunn was injured. "This is what your promises are worth? I'm having a lot of trust issues at this time in my life."

"It's just - my god, you're so pretty."

"You know there's not a lot of people could say that to me and live. But...." he trailed off as he saw what she was wearing for the first time. "The way you look...... there is no way I can fight you."

She blushed. "Tonight feels... I don't know, kind of magical. Is that stupid?"

"Not at all," Wes remarked as he came towards them." He glanced at Gunn. "Finally came out of hiding, eh?"

Gunn gestured to the girl before them. "And look at my reward."

"Yes. Isn't she a vision," Wes uttered softly.

"A lot of that going around," Gunn added as he saw Cordelia coming down the stairs, resting her arm on Lorne.

"Thank you, but no thank you," the seer uttered. "There will be no visions tonight."

"How can you be sure?" The slayer asked as she and Angel joined them.

"I had a vision."

They all laughed at that before walking out to the car.

 


"Sorry they're not closer," Angel apologised as he and Buffy sat down next to Lorne and Cordelia in one of the upper dress-circles. "Getting seven seats together..."

"Don't be silly," Wes uttered from his seat in the row below. "Best place. We get the whole panorama from here."

"Besides, back here we stand less chance of setting off the 'monster' alarm," Lorne mused as he got comfortable.

"Or the over seventy," Cordelia muttered aside.

Gunn and Fred sat next to each other silently.

"Back in the day I'd always get box seats," Angel commented wistfully.

"Or Angelus would just eat the people who had 'em," Buffy uttered with a smile to show it was kindly meant. Angel helped her tidy her stole around her upper arms.

"Don't lets reminisce," Lorne voiced as the lights dimmed. "We're here. Enjoy."

The curtains opened to reveal a country lodge where Giselle and her mother worked as a chambermaid and a housekeeper. They were waiting for a hunting party to arrive.

Giselle had fallen in love with a man called Albrecht, despite being engaged to another, a gamekeeper by the name of Hilarion, who loved her dearly. Seeing her and Albrecht together, Hilarion is consumed by jealousy and a fight ensues as he breaks them apart.

The fight is ended by the villagers returning to celebrate the grape harvest. Berthe tries to make her daughter see sense over her beaux by telling her the story of the wilis, vengeful spirits of virgin-brides who were abandoned before their wedding night. The Wilis haunt forests, making young men dance until they die as revenge.

After this tale the hunting party arrives, led by the Duke of Courland and his daughter Bathilde, who is engaged to be married to a Count.

Giselle meets Bathilde and speaks of her love for Albrecht. Wishing her happiness, Bathilde gives her a necklace as a wedding gift. Little do either of them realise that Albrecht and the Count are one and the same.

During the celebrations of the grape harvest where Giselle is crowned Queen of the Vine, Albrecht's real identity is revealed. Feeling wretched over his duplicity, Giselle loses her mind and mortally stabs herself.

At the end of the first act, everybody was certain about their current judgement of the production.

"Bravo! Bravo!" Lorne clapped, disturbing the seer from her slumber.

Cordelia sat up straight suddenly. "I loved it."

"It's just intermission."

"Oh." Cordelia glanced at her wrap. "That isn't drool, is it?"

"Don't worry, it'll wash." Lorne assured her.

They saw the others were moving and followed them out into the lobby.

"I say it once, and gloat all you want," Gunn declared. "These guys are tight, and I am trippin' out."

"They certainly live up to their reputation," Wesley commented.

Buffy nodded, before asking her champion, "has the choreography changed much since..."

"No...." Angel answered, mystified. "Nothing's changed."

"Well, it's wonderful they're able to..." Wes stopped talking as he met his expression.

"No. I mean, nothing's changed. These are the same dancers I saw before."

"That's impossible," Fred voiced. "We're watching the exact same troupe you saw in nineteen-ninety?"

Gunn gently corrected her. "I think he said eighteen-ninety."

"Oh. Okay, that's much more impossible."

"So," Buffy began, "somebody wanna tell me how we're watching a show starring people who should have died sixty years ago?"

"Well, it's a puzzler," Cordelia decided. "Are there snacks?"

"So what are we thinking? Vampires?" Wes asked, ignoring her.

"Well, they're not a deeply tanned bunch," Buffy said thoughtfully.

"That would explain the precision and the athleticism. I mean, some of those jumps were..." Gunn's enthusiasm faded as he caught the glances from the rest. "You know, I was cool before I met you all."

"Dancing vampires," Cordelia commented. "Who's not scared?"

"On second thoughts, not it," the slayer was certain in her opinion. "I'd know. I'd sense it."

"Even all the way back there..." Wes caught Angel looking at him, "...with the panoramic view?"

"We should check it out." Angel decided.

"Maybe after the show we should head backstage?" Fred suggested.

"I was thinking now," he replied, turning to the slayer to receive her nod of agreement. "You guys should go back. We'll snoop."

"I'm with snoopies," Cordelia voted. "The magic of the ballet is not really getting to me."

"How will the dancers keep time without your rhythmic snoring?" Lorne remarked.

At that moment the lights in the lobby dimmed briefly, signalling the end of the first intermission.

"Don't think that's not coming back to haunt you," Cordelia threatened to Lorne.

"Go," Wesley ordered.

 


"Check out the zeppelin." That was the seer's first comment as they reached the access to backstage.

"Awful lot of muscle for a ballet company," the slayer agreed.

"You want me to distract him?" Cordelia asked both of them. "Make with the nice, nice while you two slip by?"

"I think I'll just have to go with my patented sudden burst of violence." Angel decided.

Cordelia produced a folded set of dollars. "Hey, hold on. I think I might have an approach that is a little more subtle." She came to stand before the guard. "Hey! Do you like bribes?"

Buffy and Angel glanced at each with a look of disbelief.

"Do I ever." The guard wisecracked.

Cordelia persisted. "Well, we really wanna go backstage."

The guard took the money, counting the amount with a single glance. "Yeah, okay, but this isn't so much a bribe as it is a tip. And since I'm not parking your car, there's really no way that..."

It was at this point that Angel cut in, with a hand slice to the back of the guy's neck. Leaving him unconscious on the floor, the trio entered the realm of backstage theatre.

And came to an abrupt halt.

"Okay," the slayer remarked, "you saw the building as we drove by. Do you remember it going on forever?"

"It's clearly a spell, or a time flux, or something." Angel paused. "I don't think we wanna be rushing in here."

"Well, let's get the others and talk options," Cordelia suggested.

Buffy turned round, only to see another corridor stretching on forever. "Works in theory," she commented wryly.

Angel turned to Cordelia. "How about you go back while Buffy and I go forwards?"

"Sounds like a plan," the seer agreed before walking away.

 


"This is the prima ballerina's dressing room," Angel uttered, as he and Buffy entered it. "It's unchanged," he added.

Buffy moved to the dressing table. "She would wait for him here," she uttered without thought.

"It's warm," Angel commented. "It's very warm."

Buffy glanced at him from her stance by the dressing table. "I feel it," she said softly. "Something happened here." She paused before adding, "Angel?"

"Yeah?" Her soulmate answered distractedly, as he continued to examine the room.

"I want you to undress me." The slayer answered.

That got his attention. "Beloved, this is hardly the time or the place...." He trailed off as she closed on him, her hands caressing the jacket material of his tux.

"It's just another costume," she uttered huskily. "I want you to see who I really am. You're the only one who can."

Angel struggled for control. "I... This isn't us. we're acting this out. Someone is..." he leaned down to just touch her lips.

Buffy let him, then stopped by in embarrassed surprise. "Whoa! Did I just ask you to undress me?"

Angel suddenly wrapped his arms around her waist. "Is that what you want?" He let his hands slip under her wrap to stroke her exposed back. "You want me to make love to you right here?"

The slayer sighed, tilting her head to bare her neck. "You know I do."

Angel gently kissed it. "But you're afraid," he whispered.

She nodded. "What if he finds us?"

Her tightened his embrace. "I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid of anything." He kissed her neck again.

Buffy groaned before uttering last, "I'm only alive when you're inside me." Then she captured his lips with hers.

 


Back amongst the seats in the dress-circles, Winifred, Gunn, Wesley and Lorne were still spellbound by the ballet, now in it's second act.

In grief at Giselle's suicide, Hilarion and Berthe visit her grave.

As night falls, the wilis awaken. Led by their Queen, Myrtha, they summon Giselle from her coffin.

Cordelia found herself walking round in circles through the never-ending corridors of the backstage. Giving up hope of contacting the others, she tried to return to the dressing room of the prima-ballerina.

To her surprise, this succeeded. She tried the door, but appeared to be locked. Fearing the worst, she pounded upon it calling out, "Buffy! Angel!"

Inside, the chosen warriors reluctantly put a stop to their making out session.

"Ah! Cordelia.," Angel uttered as they heard her voice.

"Yes," the seer replied through the door. "I couldn't get to Wes and the others, so I came back to you two. Are you guys alright?"

"We're fine," Buffy returned, looking at Angel. "We so need to be out of here," she stated aside.

"Yes," Angel answered, breathing heavily.

Still struggling with their conflicting desires, they moved the short distance to the door and tried to open.

The door resisted for a minute, then when they applied both their strength, it opened with a violence, pushing both of them out into the corridor.

Cordelia backed away from them in shock. "Whoa!"

"That's a fair assessment," Angel added as he leaned against the door.

"What the hell took you so long?" she asked them.

The champions glanced at each other, before the slayer opted to answer for both of them. "There's spirits in there. Energy trapped in time. It took us over."

Cordelia groaned. "Not again. I still have nightmares of when that happened during High school."

"Well, now we've discovered it, we have to stop it," the slayer decided. "Find out some way to break the temporal circle."

"Well, what was the story?" Cordelia asked. "In the room."

"Er.... the prima ballerina was in love with someone," Angel answered carefully. "But she was also afraid of showing that love."

"Which means she wasn't free to love him," Buffy answered, "rather like the ballet."

"But you don't know their names?" Cordelia asked.

The warriors shook their heads.

"Okay," the seer began, in an attempt to draw a conclusion. "They were afraid of someone. And I'll bet you anything that the someone is the reason why we're stuck here! You guys left the room too soon. You have to go back in."

"I'm marvelling at the wrongness of that idea," the slayer said.

"You wanna wander around backstage like Spinal Tap for the next - ever?" Cordelia countered.

"What if there is no more talking in that scene?" Angel asked his soulmate. "Look, we've been possessed by the spirits of old lovers before. Never goes well."

 


In the ballet, a grief stricken Count Albrecht approached Giselle's grave. Myrtha and her wilis retreated into the forest, letting Giselle try and comfort him.

"Angel!" Fred whispered abruptly, making Wes, Gunn and Lorne sit up. "And Buffy and Cordelia." She added. "They've been gone way too long."

"You're right," Wes agreed. "Come on."

"We're gonna miss the end!" Gunn objected to no avail as his colleagues slipped out into the aisle.

Reluctantly he followed.

 


"Okay," Buffy began when they had been in the dressing room a few, uneventful minutes. "Let's take it from the middle. I want you to undress me."

"You want me to have sex now with you here," Angel returned. "But you're afraid."

"Yes, What if he finds us?"

"Well, I'm not afraid of anything."

Buffy wrapped her arms around his neck. "I'm only alive when you're inside me," she said before kissing him.

Angel kissed her back, all the while sensing for the lost souls to kick in and take control. When nothing happened, he drew back.

Only to be swept up into another kiss by the slayer.

 


"At least Angel left us a trail," Gunn commented as they encountered the security guard.

Silently they stepped over him.

Above them in his box, Count Kurskov watched the second act. He was engrossed in the magnificence of the prima ballerina as she danced Giselle's required steps.

Suddenly two white-gloved hands clutched his shoulders. Voices sounded in his ears, laughing insanely.

"Deal with them," Kurskov answered them, his eyes still fixed on Giselle. "I can't be bothered right now."

 


In her dressing room, two possessed warriors embraced each other on the chaise lounge. A wrap and tux jacket lay pooled together on the floor below them.

"This is wrong," Buffy said softly.

"Hush," Angel gently commanded as he showered her neck and breastbone with kisses.

The slayer arched her back in pleasure. "You don't know him. He has power."

"The power to do this?" Angel answered, his lips touching a sensitive spot.

Buffy breathed deeply, her body shivering with ecstasy. "Stephan, his power is unnatural. He could..."

"He could what?" He questioned, as if it were ridiculous. "Kill us?"

"Worse."

Angel slipped her dress a touch lower. "Kurskov owns the company. He doesn't own you."

"He doesn't know that. He thinks I'm his. That I dance for him. He is nothing but a deluded fan. He thinks I love him."

"Come away with me. Now. Tonight. We'll disappear. Even he won't find us."

"Stephan, everything I worked for is here."

"You can still dance."

"Can I? I don't... Not yet. Maybe when we're..."

He put a finger to her lips. "Don't. Don't make promises you cannot keep."

She kissed them away. "Help me. Help me be not afraid."

He pressed her back down. "You are mine. He cannot touch you again."

 


"This is very not right." Gunn commented as they walked down the endless hallway.

"Do you hear it?" Fred asked.

"There is something," Wes confirmed. "Someone's in pain."

"Either that," Lorne muttered, "or someone's in fun."

 


Buffy moaned. Her dress had now slipped to rest just below her thighs Angel was kissing her abdomen, all conversation at an end.

A banging on the door stopped them from getting any further.

"Guys!" It was Cordelia. "Now is not the time to indulge in fantasies!"

The slayer sat up, Angel reluctantly following suit.

Only two be knocked to the floor by a white-gloved hand.

"Angel!" Buffy shouted, attracting the attention of another set of gloves. She hurriedly made herself decent before looking up to see what other horrors were above them. A grey comedy face stared back at her.

"Now enter the villainous lackeys," she commented before joining Angel in the fray.

 


"Now that sounds less like fun," Gunn remarked as their hearing picked up the fighting sounds.

And then he was screaming as a sword suddenly thrust through his body.

"Charles!" Fred cried out.

"Fred, stay behind us." Wes ordered as he and Lorne faced the demon, who had since been joined by another.

Lorne grabbed a prop and managed to knock free one of the swords, which Wesley deftly caught. Together they began fence off their attackers.

 


"A little help!" Buffy called out in the general direction of the door, hoping Cordelia had by now found some weapons outside.

One of the lackeys pulled out a stiletto-bladed dagger and threw it at her.

"Thank you," she said, catching it, much to his surprise. She threw it back, stabbing the other one, who was just about to come at Angel from behind.

Angel turned and grabbed the dagger, pulling it free of the minion's black chest. He faced his opponent, struck him across the chin then skewered him through the throat.

The slayer waited for the lackey to drop to the floor then rushed over to him. "You alright?" Angel asked her.

"Yeah. We gotta move."

"Why?" He asked. "You think they're not dead?"

Buffy shook her head. "You just looked really hot doing that."

"Oh," Angel answered, understanding. He grabbed the swords and handed one to her. "In that case, let's run."

 


After some pretty fancy sword play, Wesley managed to run through his own tragedy masked villainous lackey with his blade.

"Who is laughing now?" He commented. The minion let out one weak chuckle. "Well, you," he conceded. "But I still win."

"That's good," Gunn commented as Winifred tended to his wound. "That should hold. You okay? You hurt?"

"I'm fine," She answered. "I just thought.." she took a deep, shuddering breath to control her fears. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't fall apart like this."

Gunn managed a slight smile. "You scared I'm gonna die on you?"

"Charles, don't even..." she trailed off as he lifted his face to the ceiling, proclaiming theatrically, "and all I ask is one last kiss as the light is dimming." He laughed as he finished his sentence.

Fred was not in the least amused. "You think that's funny?"

"It's just a scratch!" Gunn assured her.

She shook her head. "I thought it was... I..."

"Hey," Gunn uttered, before carefully pulling her into a half embrace. "You really that worried about me?"

Fred looked down at her dress. "You probably think I'm an idiot."

"I think if you care that much, the wound is definitely deep."

Winifred looked up, hopeful. "The light is dimming?" She echoed.

"And all I ask is one last..." Gunn leaned forward and let his lips touch hers.

Wes and Lorne, their opponents conquered for the moment, turned in time to see them kiss. Lorne glanced at the former, only to be surprised as he sensed Wesley's calm acceptance of the new couple in the firm's mist.

Cordelia, Buffy and Angel unexpectedly emerged from another hallway, disturbing the scene.

"You guys alright?" The slayer asked.

"Charles got stabbed," Fred uttered.

"Yeah. A couple stitches worth," the former street fighter confirmed.

Angel took a look at their attackers. "They're same guys that attacked us."

"Any idea where we are or what the hell?" Lorne asked them.

"Yeah," the seer answered. "Buffy and Angel hit kind of a mystical hot-spot back in one of the dressing rooms."

"Well, it seems the prima ballerina had a lover back in the day," the slayer explained. "And there was this Count Kurskov, who owned the company, and I guess he had a thing for the girl and they were mightily afraid of him."

"He had powers of some kind," Angel added.

"He was a wizard," Wes stated abruptly, remembering. "He was obsessed with the girl. When he found her with the other man, he went insane with jealous rage and pulled her out of time, out of any reality beyond his theatre, his company. He swore she would dance for him forever."

"And now we're stuck here?" Lorne asked.

"Well, this kind of temporal shift can't just exist. It has to be maintained. That requires power and concentration. If we can overload him somehow, we might be able to slip back to the real world."

"Great. So, how do we overload him?" Angel queried.

"Well, I'd imagine that requires some energy."

The gang watched as their boss's eyes fixed on something behind them. They turned to see one of the minions rise from the floor, and split into two. The other followed suit.

"The more we kill, the more he makes," the slayer realised.

Wesley directed their gaze to the suddenly wavy corridor the lackeys were guarding access to. "And that is draining his energy. Angel, try and find a way to the stage. The count will be watching. Find his power centre and destroy it. We'll try and loosen his hold."

"It's normally a necklace," Buffy added, remembering Anyanka.

"By making more monsters?" Gunn commented as he shakily rose to his feet. "Man with the frightening plan!"

 


Angel navigated his way through the corridors until he found a fractured barrier. Taking a risk he jumped through to find himself in the wings of the stage.

Giselle was waiting behind the backdrop, watching the other ballerinas dancing as wilis, tormenting Hilarion into a dance of death.

Angel took another risk and called out to her.

Giselle turned her head in surprise. "Who are you? There's no one... You're new."

"I'm pretty old, actually. I've seen you dance."

Giselle sadly faced the stage once more. "Everyone sees me."

"It was Giselle then, as well."

"Always," she confirmed.

"I know what's happening. Count Kurskov's punishing you."

Giselle nodded. "He made me. He owns me. And when I dance it is only for him."

"Do you believe that?"

"It really doesn't matter. I'll dance. I'll wait here. And then I'll dance again. That's all."

"A hundred years doing the same piece every night. Is that enough? What about Stephan?"

A tear crept down her face. "I waited too long. I should have gone when he asked me, should have disappeared, but I wanted this. This dance, this. I hesitated and... I lost everything that mattered. Now all I do is wait." She smiled wryly. "There is a section in the first act, during the courtship dance, where my foot slips. My ankle's turned and I don't quite hold, every time. He doesn't notice. He doesn't even know ballet that well. But always, at that same moment, I slip. It isn't just the same ballet. It's the same performance. I don't dance. I echo. Please can you make it stop?"

"I can help you. But you have to do something."

"What?"

"Change the ending. Dance something new."

"I can't."

"He doesn't control all this. He's losing it. But you have to take the stage. It's not too late. You can change things."

Giselle looked from Angel to the stage. Then she made her entrance, coming to the rescue of Count Albrecht, before he befell the same fate as Hilarion.

From his box Kurskov saw the moves and realised he was being tricked. "No!"

Angel ran out on to the stage and jumped, landing in the Count's box. "Hey," he commented casually, "where is your power centre?"

"How dare you?" Kurskov was enraged.

Angel spotted the ruby jewelled cross he was wearing. "No wait, I'll guess." He smashed the gemstone.

A bright blue light flowed out of it's remains, over the stage and into the hallways behind. Taking away the villainous lackeys and the rest of the ballerinas into oblivion.

Giselle smiled at the Count and then at Angel before performing a bow to land in a half-split on the stage floor.

"You have no right," Kurskov told Angel.

"Save it," Angel replied as the audience began to applaud the end of the ballet.

"She was my love. She danced only for me!"

"You love her that much?" Angel began, before punching him. Kurskov dropped to the floor of his box. "Start a website."

 


It was close to midnight when the Fang Gang returned to the Hyperion, thankful that the rest of the audience had noticed nothing strange about the ballet.

"We'll have to clean the wound," Wes commented, glancing at Gunn. "Do you want something for the pain?"

"What pain?" Gunn asked as Winifred put an arm around him.

They entered the reception lobby to find someone waiting for them.

"Princess!" The visitor called out, rising from the soft furnishings.

"Groo!!" Cordelia practically screamed before rushing into his arms.

"I feared you'd forget who I was."

"Remind me," she commanded before kissing him. He swept her off her feet and upstairs in search of an empty room.

"One-fifteen's in good order," Wes called, chucking the appropriate key so it landed on the railed hallway of the first floor.

"Thank you," Cordelia managed to call out before she was whisked out of sight.

Gunn and Fred smiled at each other and then walked off up in direction of her room.

Buffy watched the couple go with a smile on her face. She turned to catch Wesley's expression. "You okay with them?" She asked him.

"I am," Wes assured her. "I foresaw it's coming. She and I were never meant to be."

"One thing you can be sure of in both this world and Pylea," Lorne remarked with compassion, "you can't fight Kyrumption. It's in the stars. It's fate."

"I'll say," Buffy whispered as she leaned into Angel's arms, which had been resting around her waist ever since they got out of the car.

He turned to her, his lips brushing her blond hair. "You fancy picking up at the fantasy where we left off?" He asked.

She smiled up at him. "You read my mind."

"You two go," Wes told them, witnessing their intimate conversation and guessing it's import without any knowledge of the words. "We'll lock up."

"Thanks," Angel acknowledged before sweeping the slayer into his arms. She laughed huskily and wrapped her arms around his neck, allowing him to carry her up the stairs.

Lorne and Wesley watched them go with a smile.

 


"Have I told you how beautiful you looked tonight?" Angel asked his beloved once they were safely installed in their suite on the second floor of the Hyperion.

"Looked?" the slayer echoed, emphasising the past tense of the word.

"Well, it is gone midnight."

"It's still the dark before dawn," she pointed out as his hands removed her stole from around her shoulders, dealing each of their blades a kiss as he did so.

"Then you look as beautiful as when I first saw you appear to me in this silken attire," Angel paused to kiss the back of her neck. "Wilt thou have me fashion into speech, the love I bear to thee?" 1 He softly added, as he undid the clasps of her dress once more.

Buffy smiled as she recognised the quote. "Do not say 'I love her for her smile, her look, her way of speaking gently," she returned, letting her own memory of the words come into play. "If thou must love me, let it be for nought, except for love's sake only." 2

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways," Angel continued as he slipped her dress gently off her upper arms, aiding the material's journey until the silk had fallen from her fingers, leaving the bodice to fall and reveal her bare front. "I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach, when feeling out of sight for the ends of Being and ideal Grace." He walked around her to stand before her; "I love thee to the level of everyday's most quiet need, by sun and candlelight. I love thee with the passion put to use in my old grief's, and with my childhood's faith." 3

"Say over again, and yet once over again, that thou dost love me," Buffy replied as her hands reached up to undo his cravat, deftly flicking the material behind his neck and thus to fall upon the floor. "Say thou dost love me, love me, love me..." she added, undoing his shirt buttons, revealing his bare chest to her gaze, "....only minding, dear, to love me also in silence with thy soul." 4

He helped her take off his shirt letting it rest by his jacket which he had removed the moment they entered the suite, then swept her into his arms once to lay her upon the bed. "The face of all the world is changed, I think," he began as he moved to knelt over her form, "since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul. I, who thought to sink, was caught up into love, and taught the whole of life in a new rhythm.5 Oh, beloved, how I love thee."

"Yes, call me by that name," Buffy answered as his lips began a trail of kisses down her neck to her breast, "and I, in truth, with the same heart, will answer and not wait."6 She arched her back as he reached her abdomen, "with the same heart, I said, I'll answer thee."7

Angel rose to remove his trousers, then, when she forestalled him with a hand and a look, he obeyed her silent wish and just unzipped his fly. "Love is fire," he continued as he settled back on top of her. "And when I say at need I love thee, mark! I love thee! In thy sight I stand transfigured, glorified aright."8

"Beloved, thou hast brought me many flowers," Buffy uttered softly as she opened her thighs to welcome him, "take them, as I used to do, thy flowers, and keep them where they shall not pine. Instruct thine eyes to keep their colours true, and tell thy soul their roots are left in mine." 9

And then there were no longer breath for words as their two bodies became one, in heart, in soul and in love.

The End.
To Be Continued In

Unearthed.

All quotes are from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets From the Portuguese (1850):

1. Sonnet 13.
2. Sonnet 14.
3. Sonnet 43.
4. Sonnet 21.
5. Sonnet 7.
6. Sonnet 33.
7. Sonnet 34.
8. Sonnet 10.
9. Sonnet 44.

Chapter Text

Author's Note: All of you have probably been wondering how long it would take the Scoobies from Willow seeing Buffy's Bio on the A.I website, to arrive in LA. Well now is the time. There is a lovely opening B/A scene, and Buffy does get a chance to celebrate her birthday. Enjoy.

Unearthed.

Angel's arms came around her from behind, pressing her flush against him. He bent his head and dealt a kiss to her neck, before whispering in her ear, "Happy...."

"Don't," she interrupted him. "Don't even say the word. I don't want to mark the occasion, let mention the word."

"That puts a spanner in the plans I have laid out for today," Angel remarked. He tilted his head and dealt another kiss to her neck, this time on the scar his fangs had once given her. "Guess I'll just have to send all the presents back too."

"Plans? Presents?" Buffy echoed. She turned round in his arms, shaking her head, glancing at him pleadingly. "No, no, no. No sending back of presents."

"Since when could I refuse you anything?" He countered rhetorically, before leaning forward to kiss her lips.

It was meant to be a short indulgence, but when she was clothed in only one of his shirts, he found her irresistible, as she had learned recently. His hands slipped from her waist to where the limits of this article of clothing lay around her thighs, and began to slide them under it. She adjusted her body to let them have access to her sex, her own hands wrapping themselves around his neck for support.

Gently he caressed her thighs before parting them to slip his hands in between. He nursed her sex the few final steps into full arousal, then snaked around the back to grab them by the underside. He lifted her up, wrapping them around him, smiling as he felt her gasp make its way through their kiss, as she realised he was still naked. He clasped her butt, pressing her sex against the hilt of his own, which stretched like a flower towards the sun.

He made a move to return them to their bed, but she clasped the underside of his knees with the lower part of her legs, her slayer strength denying him the move. He broke from her lips to take in a much needed breath and then asked her, his voice raw with need, "where?"

"The wall," she commanded, her voice just as raw.

"Buffy, the Hyperion's a listed building, I'm not sure...." he trailed off as one of hands suddenly uncurled itself from his neck, and stretched down to clasp the head of his sex, making him growl, a trait he had not lost despite gaining his humanity.

"It's stood since the nineteen-twenties, had a demon infest it and a girl with psychic abilities try and wreck it," she reminded him. "I think it can take us."

His resistance all but surrendered since she had begun touching him, Angel obliged her and guided them to the nearest stretch of wall in their bedroom. Her hand continued to caress him, while his own moved from her ass to the edges of the shirt, which she hadn't buttoned, parting it to fondle her breasts.

She let go of his sex and put her arms back around his neck again, grinding herself against him, until he could stand the tension no longer. He slid inside her with a sigh of satisfaction, and moved his mouth away from hers. Fixing it on the scar he had given her nearly three years ago, he sucked the healed skin while their bodies danced the ancient rhythm until their needs were sated.

Afterwards he withdrew from the hickey he had now given her scar and leaned his head against the end of her neck where the bones of her rib cage met, regaining his breath. Its warmth caressed her skin, making her sigh.

When he had recovered, he withdrew from her and swept her into his arms, carrying her back to their bed. Laying her on the sheets, he smoothed a strand of hair away from her lightly sweating brow, before rising up.

Buffy rested her head on one palm, watching as he moved about the room. "Angel, what are you looking for?"

"A spare sketch book," he answered, just as his hands lighted upon such an object. He grabbed one of the armchairs from its place by the small coffee table before the balcony, and sat down, flicking through the book until he found a blank sheet.

"How do you want me?" Buffy queried, stretching out to face him, her free hand parting the shirt she still wore to reveal her breasts and sex, then resting it on her side. Since their reunion he had often drawn her, and his mastery of the art had always astonished her, particularly when it came to the rather erotic sketching of them joined by flesh, catching her look of bliss perfectly, along with his awed expression.

"Like that," he replied, doing his best to ignore the desire within him to abandon the sketch book and make love to her again. When she looked at him like that he was unable to refuse her anything.

Fortunately, he was also still endowed with the speed of his once vampire possession, and the sketch of his beloved was finished barely half an hour from when he had first put pencil to paper.

When he had laid it aside, Buffy moved forward and took the book from him, gazing at herself with a critical eye.

"I draw you as you are," he reminded her as he joined her on the bed. "Beautiful."

Buffy said nothing to this, choosing instead to look at the other pieces before this latest one. She blushed as she encountered some of the sketches, even though she had seen them before. Several pieces of the two of them together, and one with her wearing nothing but a cross and claddagh ring, her legs open to display her sex, moist with arousal, which he had kissed her to before drawing her.

Angel watched her gazing self-consciously at the drawings, and his hands immediately sought to distract her, reaching out to her breasts. He gently fondled them, circling her nipples with the tips of his fingers.

Sighing in pleasure, Buffy put the sketch book on the floor, and lay back on the bed, allowing him to loom over her, as he continued to worship her body. His lips soon replaced his fingers, and she arched her back, her hands pressing his head against her.

He rose up to meet her lips and kissed her thoroughly, pressing himself against her, showing her exactly how much wanted her again, so soon.

Buffy took the opportunity to assert herself, and with slayer dexterity flipped them, rising up to sit just before his manhood. Her hands ran down the planes of his smooth chest, then closed around his sex, making him uttered a sound halfway between a growl and a moan. She smiled, pleased at how much she knew him already, and the level of power she had over him, just by one touch. She caressed him expertly, running her fingers up and down, drifting occasionally to his balls, then back to his sex. She delved a finger inside, then rose up on her knees and put the same finger, moist with his arousal, inside her own sex, watching his expression.

"Buffy," he growled, almost shaking with need.

She smiled and shifted her body, placing herself just on the head of his manhood, circling it gently, swaying her hips.

Abruptly Angel grabbed her hands and pulled down, impaling her fully, making her gasp in surprise. He let go of wrists to clasp her butt, guiding her into the dance he desired, letting her hands free to roam over his body.

Buffy ground herself against him, squeezing him inside her, while her hands reached out over his chest and fingered his nipples. She felt one his hand leave her butt, delving in between where they were joined to find her G spot. As he pressed it hard, she heard herself scream his name and come, his own joining her a moment later.

Exhausted and sated she collapsed on top of him, shrugging off the now damp shirt to lie bare flesh to bare flesh. His arms wrapped themselves loosely around her and their eyes closed, letting them fall asleep until the evening.

 


By the time they had emerged from their suite and were descending the stairs to the ground floor lobby of the Hyperion, the anticipation of waiting to spring the surprise had faded away into mild impatience. Banners hung expectantly, streamers lay scattered on the floor, the delay having impeded their ability to remain afloat.

The slayer took it all in, her expression forming a smile of bemusement as she took in the expressions of Wesley, Gunn, Fred and Cordelia, along with the almost childlike innocence coming from the Groosalug, who was still coming to understand the earthly custom of surprise parties on the day one was born.

"No speaking of the B word," Buffy warned them as she stepped from the last stair to the floor of the lobby. "When it comes to me, there's usually a curse attached to it."

"What happened with the two we missed?" Cordelia asked

"Giles got turned into a demon as I met the leaders of the Initiative, and for my twentieth my mother was dying, and my little sister key decided to slash her wrists, while in danger from a god," Buffy replied, a slight bitterness in her tone at the freshly healed wounds caused by these memories.

"Well, Angel has charged us to do all within our power to make this one perfect," Wesley informed her, as he handed her a brightly wrapped box.

"I see some of us were over-enthusiastic with the tape again," Buffy commented jokingly before unwrapping her first present. She gasped as the paper revealed an intricately craved, semiprecious jewel adorned book, which had the dual quality of looking ancient and new at the same time.

"Its a collection of summaries on the life of every slayer," Wesley explained as the latest to that sacred cause opened the work to examine it more closely. "Giles and I put it together."

"Thank you, its magnificent," Buffy remarked, before drawing him into an unexpected hug which left him blushing.

"Not that this will top that, but here's mine," Gunn said, handing her a slightly thinner and smaller wrapped box.

Buffy laid the book down reverently, then opened her next present. The paper parted to reveal a box, which when she had lifted off the lid, revealed two tickets and a couple of backstage passes. "How on earth did you get these?" She asked, awed.

"Its LA, and I have a few contacts," Gunn shrugged. "I know its your favourite show, so I pulled a few strings."

"Thank you," Buffy said, hugging him too. She stepped back to encounter Fred standing next to him, who shyly handed her another box. Buffy smiled at her, then tore off the paper and pressed in the lock on the little velvet casket which the wrapping had concealed. Inside was a silver chain, with a beautifully carved cross, stake and bottle of holy water, moulded from the same metal. "This is amazing, did you do this yourself?" She asked the physicist, who nodded shyly. "Thank you," Buffy added, before hugging her as well.

Cordelia's gift was next. "Its from me and Groo," she added, making her recently returned beau smile with gratitude at including him in this strange but fun custom.

Buffy opened the last present and blushed as she read the title of the book. "I thought Angel and I doing this," she gestured at the book, " disgusted you. And you'd want one of these for yourself."

"I did buy two, and hey, its making you both happy, so its fine by me," Cordelia smiled. "The two of you deserve some heaven."

"Well, thank you," Buffy said before hugging them. She parted and flicked through the book, opening it at random. "Hey, that looks interesting," she remarked, causing the seer to glance over the page as well. "I'll have to try that."

"Seconded," Cordelia replied, before taking her hand and steering her over to the reception desk, where a cake and snack food had been laid out. "Speaking of which I kinda need to ask your advice."

"What about?" Buffy queried as she selected a few choice morsels.

"When I was in Pylea, they, the monks, said that sex with the Groosalug would transfer my visions to him," Cordelia began in a lowered tone of voice.

"And you're worried that's still true?" Buffy guessed.

"Yeah."

"How did Doyle give you the visions?"

"He kissed me."

"I think," Buffy began after some thought, "that its all to do with intent. I mean, if you intend to give your visions, then they're given. They're a gift, which means something that can only be given away, not taken, by force or act."

"I hadn't thought of it like that," Cordelia said, nodding slowly at the possible truth her friend had offered. "I'll guess I should find out."

"You two need a vacation," Buffy mused.

"We all do," Cordelia pointed out.

"Yeah, but you guys have had it rough this year. And he's a visitor from another world. He needs time to become accustomed to this one. And you two need the same for each other, your relationship."

"Yeah, but can we be spared?"

"Angel and me were discussing this earlier, and we think you can." Buffy paused. "Use some money from the safe, and go."

"We will, thank you. Tomorrow," Cordelia smiled as she thought of what Angel had in store for the slayer this night that cautioned her against setting off immediately.

"Angel, its nearly six-thirty," Wesley remarked then, causing everyone to stop what they were doing.

Angel swept Buffy into his arms, and waltzed her to the foot of the stairs. "We have dinner reservations at seven," he revealed to her.

"Where?" Buffy asked him. He leaned forward and whispered the restaurant name in her ear, causing her to gasp, and then dash upstairs to find her most classy dress.

Angel watched her go before moving to his office to change into his tux which he had stored their earlier, trying not to feel nervous about his plans for the rest of the evening.

 


Half an hour later, Cordelia was the only one left in the old hotel, Fred, Wesley and Gunn having been called to a demon slaying minutes after the chosen warriors had left for dinner. She was sorting through the belongings that she left at the Hyperion, spare changes of clothes in case of slimy demons, working out what would be suitable for her vacation with Groo. Wes had completely agreed with Angel and Buffy, and had given her a generous amount of cash from the funds they had salvaged from the Nahdrah demons they had dealt with awhile back.

She was just about to pick up the phone and dial in her booking, when the front doors swung open and a large troupe of people wandered in.

"Angel Investigations," Cordelia called out, before jumping over the reception desk to see who the arrivals were. When she caught sight of them, a grim frown formed upon her face, and she folded her arms in a defensive stance. "What do you lot want?"

"Where's Buffy?" Willow asked.

Cordelia looked at the assembled Scooby Gang, taking in all their expressions. She held back her surprise at seeing Spike with the group, then met the sad resignation and apologetic look coming from Giles.

"Cordy, who are these people?" Groo questioned as he emerged from Wesley's office. The seer turned round to meet him and caught him in her arms before replying. "They're old acquaintances," she answered, before dropping her voice to a whisper. "Go back in there and call Wes. Get them to return at once."

When he had gone back into the office, Cordelia turned round to face them. "Where's Buffy?" She echoed. "Six feet under a Sunnyhell graveyard, last I heard."

Willow held up a piece of paper in response to this bluff, and the sight of it caused Cordelia to silently groan. She had told the others from the start that the website was a bad idea. She took in the print out of Buffy's profile as a member of Angel Investigations.

"I'm sorry, Cordelia," Giles began suddenly, startling them all, "there was nothing I could do prevent them."

Xander turned to him in shock. "You knew about this?"

"Yes, he does," Cordelia replied. "And yeah, Buffy's alive, but she's not here at the moment. But I know what her reaction will be. She doesn't want to see any of you."

"Of course she does," Willow replied. "We're her friends."

"Friends?" Cordelia scoffed. "You guys give a whole new meaning to the word. You don't trust her, you constantly pressure her and expect her to save your asses as well as the world on a daily basis. And to top it all off, when she dies you decide you can't deal without her and bring her back from the dead."

"She was in a hell dimension," Xander argued.

"Was she?" Cordelia countered. "Did you think to find out for sure? Did you even contemplate what such an ordeal would do to her? Force her to experience what her prey undergo when they return from the dead. Awake in a coffin, buried six feet underground. Having to use her slayer strength to punch a hole in said casket, then in the earth, and crawl out of the hole. A glance at the gravestone, revealing her death. We had to take her to the most powerful witches in the world to cleanse her of the experience and black magic you used to bring her back." Cordelia paused to glance at them and see if any of this was getting through. "She still has nightmares about it. "

The doors of the Hyperion swung open again at that moment, causing the seer to pause as the head and two other members of Angel Investigations returned to their headquarters.

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce was grim-faced as he took in the assembled group. He motioned with his eyes to Gunn, who stepped back and took out his cell, calling Angel to apprise him and his soulmate of the situation that awaited their return.

"Buffy is needed on the hellmouth," Willow began, shook up by Cordelia's story, but undeterred. "And we miss her."

"Well she doesn't miss you," Wesley replied harshly to them all. "Not even the girl who was forced upon by monks to be protected and cared for. All those implanted memories left her the day she died."

Dawn sniffed and ran, exiting into the courtyard. Willow turned on Wesley angrily. "That was too harsh."

"It was the truth though," Cordelia remarked. "None of you have given a thought to how Buffy feels about this. None of you have given her a thought since...... I can't remember when. You all took it for granted that she could deal with death because she's died once before. That she could move on from the love of her life, knowing that one moment of happiness between them costs him his soul. That she could deal with Angelus in his body, knowing if she kills him, as all of you were urging her to do, it would mean death to any chance of getting her soulmate back. That she could cope with having to send him to hell, when nobody informed her that you were trying to recurse him. That she could deal with him leaving for her supposed own good, that she could do college, the Initiative and slaying. That she could accept implanted memories, her mother dying, and yet another boyfriend betraying her and then leaving her. Everytime one of you messes up, you expect her to jump in and save the day. None of you are capable enough to figure out what to do yourselves. Did you ever stop to think that she might come to look on death as a release? Or that this was the Powers That Be had planned for her? That she might be in heaven rather than hell?"

 


The restaurant glowed in candlelight, the lit wicks revealing a soft fire rising from modern lighter fuel and stones, in a concrete bowl surround by a slim-line hearth. Their table was to the left of this feature, in the corner, adorned with sumptuous white table cloths and napkins. Oil dipped bread with mesquite sauce rested on a centre plate, while their chosen main courses of roasted duck in a plum sauce and medium rare venison lay before them, with side portions of potato and vegetable.

Angel had been unable to take his eyes off his beloved from the moment he had first caught sight of her coming down the stairs in the Hyperion. She was wearing a deep scarlet full length dress, with a dangerously low back and front; the former ending just above her pant-line, the latter forming a narrow triangle just above her navel. The folds of silk covered her cleavage enough to render the dress elegant rather than trashy, while her hair, long at his request, fell down in blond curls that turned gold in the candlelight. At her neck was the first of his birthday gifts to her; something he had presented her with while the chauffeur drove their rented limousine to the restaurant. A platinum necklace of drop rubies, with earrings to match. Every facet of their cuts spoke of mysterious depths that he longed and planned to explore in the suite he had booked tonight away from the Hyperion.

First course had consisted of lobster meat in a light sauce with salad and the bread that they had requested to be left in the middle of their table through the rest of the meal. Together they had laughed at each other's attempt to feed each other, Angel snatching kisses on her bare wrists each time she offered him another morsel.

Main meals had just come to be placed before them when Gunn's phone call disturbed the romance of the evening. Buffy had watched Angel with increasing anxiousness as he listened to what Gunn had to say, his face grim.

Now she reached out and clutched at his hand while his other, the call now finished, put the cellphone back in his jacket pocket. "What's up?"

"Sunnyhell saw your website bio before we removed it," Angel informed her grimly. "The entire gang, Spike and Dawn included, have turned up at HQ."

"And they want to see me," Buffy concluded sadly. A part of her was not surprised, she had expected this day might come sooner or later. And on her birthday after all, was nothing more than usual.

"What do you want to do?" Angel asked her. "I can cancel the suite," he added, letting her know he didn't mind either way.

"No," she decided immediately, "I'm not letting them upset this birthday. We'll stay the night. Hopefully the guys can deal with them."

"According to Gunn, Cordelia was giving them a lecture they're not likely to forget," Angel revealed, before taking out his phone once more. "I'll call the public line, make it look like a client, and tell them our plans."

 


"How could she look on death as a release?" Xander queried. "You have no idea of what her life, our lives have been since you all upped and left."

"I have more idea than the rest of you," Cordelia countered. "Buffy told us everything that happened, and trust me, her perspective ain't pretty. Its a wonder she didn't kill herself. A lesser mortal might of done. She has to be stronger than the rest of you. Not just physically, but mentally too. She has to lead, to rely on only herself, because none of you can be trusted to sort things out on your own. Nearly six years you lived on the hellmouth, and still not one of you have the first idea about what not to do with it."

The phone rang then, causing all to jump and a strange silence to rest upon the lobby as Fred went to answer it.

"Angel Investigations," she said. She listened for a few seconds, then handed it over to Wesley. "It's Shanshu," she remarked.

Wesley nodded, understanding the code immediately. "I'll take it in the office," he said, before heading to the room.

Inside he picked up the receiver. "Angel, I'm alone, you and I can speak freely," he said into it.

"We're spending the night as planned," Angel remarked. "Can you guys cope with the Scoobies until the morning?"

"I think so," Wes replied. "You make sure Buffy enjoys herself, she's more than deserved it, judging by what little Cordelia's allowed Willow and Xander to say. And there's more to come, neither of us are done yet."

"Thank you, Wes."

"Don't mention it," Wesley replied before finishing the call. Steeling himself, he walked out of the office and back into the fray.

"That was Angel," he informed the group at large. "He and Buffy won't be back until the morning, so I suggest you all sort out which rooms you'll be taking for the night. First time the hotel's been occupied by so many since the twenties, so some of the rooms might not be up to much. I'm afraid we don't do room service, but the nearest eatery is just down the block from here. Oh and have any of you remembered what today is? Buffy's twenty-first birthday. You think you still care about her? I think all of you are too selfish to do so."

"Fortunately none of you have wrecked this birthday just yet," Cordelia remarked. "Angel's determined that this one does not turn out like the rest of her birthdays have done, as I'm sure you all remember."

"What right have you guys to judge and condemn us?" Willow asked. "In case you haven't noticed, we've been dealing with the hellmouth and latest big bad very well without a slayer. Its Buffy we want back."

"The latest big bad?" Cordelia echoed. "That would be Jonathon, Andrew and Warren, right? I hardly think three humans compares to the god Buffy had to defeat last time. And did you even think to wonder if Buffy wanted to come back to Sunnydale? The minute she rose out of her grave, the hellmouth was the last place she wanted to be. And what right have we to condemn you? We've been supporting her ever since Angel found her by her grave. Since he brought her here to be rid of the black magic your spell put inside her. Do you know that the only reason she's grateful to you for bringing her back is because it has given her and Angel a second chance? He's human warrior now, like her, thanks to the Charmed Ones. When Giles learnt of all this, he was just as shocked we were. And fully on Buffy's side, once she had explained everything to him. He's helped us protect her from you lot finding out, and I'm sorry you have done. I knew we shouldn't have done that website, but I did hope that you lot would be too consumed by your own problems to bother surfing the net." Cordelia paused to turn to Spike. "And what are you doing here?"

"Just wanted to witness the fun," Spike replied with a grin. "And apologise to my grandsire for torturing him the last time we met up. And to assure him that I did what I could to protect his soulmate, and support her through the last year. I'm no part of their little attempt at self-righteous anger."

"Thank you, Spike," Wesley remarked. "Buffy told us of all you did to help her, and she and Angel are grateful. Now, its late, so I suggest we all retire. And pray you lot will be in a better frame of mind to deal with this tomorrow morning."

With that he walked off, heading into reception. Calmly he sorted out keys to the habitable rooms and laid them out on the reception desk. He took one himself, planning on keeping watch while the rest of his colleagues sought other places.

Cordelia took Groo and left for her apartment, followed by Gunn and Fred, who left for his place.

The Scooby gang took a key each and walked silently up to their rooms. Spike walked outside and retrieved Dawn before following them.

Wesley and Giles were soon left alone in the lobby. The former delved beneath the reception desk and drew out a bottle of whiskey with two snifters.

"Thank you," Giles uttered as he drank in the golden brown liquid. "I needed that," he confessed, draining the glass in one go.

"How was the journey here?" Wes asked as he poured him another one.

"Hell," Giles replied. "Once they had seen the website, I could do nothing to stop them. They were at her grave digging up the empty coffin before I could say stop. In the end I just submitted, waiting to see what support I could offer." He took another drink. "How's Buffy taking this?"

"As well as can be expected, according to Angel," Wesley replied. "We better retire," he remarked, glancing at the clock and noting the late hour. "Shore up for the morning."

"Here's hoping it turns out better than tonight," Giles toasted before they separated, each retiring to a room, their minds consumed in silent prayer at what tomorrow would bring.

To Be Continued In
FRIENDSHIP.

Chapter Text

Author's Note: Here's a part two, where as I have already warned there is a character death. However, its not any of the Fang Gang, or Buffy, or Angel. I would never do that. Lovely opening B/A scene for you to enjoy aswell. I've also advanced Spike's cannon by a year, as its suits my purposes more to have him as he was in year seven- barring the madness episodes -than year six. Enjoy.

FRIENDSHIP.

Angel's arms came around her from behind, and he felt a strange sense of deja vu as she pressed herself flush against him. Like the morning before, when he came to wrap his arms around her waist, finding her awake before him.

Only there were subtle differences that made the morning not the same as the one before. Instead of the blood red shirt she had worn yesterday, a pure white one clothed her, unfastened, the one which he had worn underneath his dinner jacket last night.

And they were in the hotel suite he had rented for them away from the Hyperion, to celebrate her birthday.

"Penny for your thoughts," he remarked, pressing a kiss to her scar.

"Nothing major," she replied, her fingers fiddling with something on her hand, "just reflections on birthdays and curses."

"Did last night change your mind about them?" He asked her.

"I think so," she answered. She glanced down at her hands, and he let go of her waist to part them, so he could see the cause of her preoccupation.

"Does it fit?"

"Perfectly," Buffy assured him, as she looked at the ring for the first time in the pale light after dawn. It was still something of a surprise to her; to see another claddagh on the third finger of her left hand, his final gift to her. Silently she leaned back against him as she recalled what had happened when they had finished their desert.

She remembered a conversation, during the journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles, after visiting the Charmed Ones for her cure, about his dreams on her graduation day, concerning an ill-fated wedding. It had led to her describing her idea of the perfect proposal. At the time all he had done was smile, and then turned off the interstate. She had no idea that he would remember it to replicate the fantasy last night.

He had led her to their hotel suite, whereupon he had asked her to close her eyes, before leading her inside. When he had told her she could open them, it was to find herself alone, save for a trail of red, white, pink and purple rose petals leading through the living room part of the suite to the bedroom doors.

The double doors were slightly open, allowing her to see that the trail led inside the bedroom, and she remembered telling him, causing a blush and a degree of nerves just in case her imagination turned out to be playing tricks on her. She walked to the doors and opened them, and the sight before her made her gasp.

The floor was covered in the same colour rose petals and lit by hundreds of candles. When she had turned her gaze to the bed, she saw him kneeling upon it, silk sheets covered with more rose petals. He was in his shirt and trousers, the shirt open and hanging out, and in his hands was a small velvet box.

Angel had doubted that she would answer yes so readily, concerned that it might be too soon for him to ask such a question, despite an overwhelming need within him to do so. Yet she had joined him on the bed before he had even finished, with a kiss that left him breathless.

Now, after a night spent love making in celebration, they stood together and admired the ring; a claddagh with her birthstone set in the heart, held by platinum hands and crown. Buffy tilted her head up slightly to see his face. "Thank you," she uttered softly, reluctant to disturb the peaceful calm which seemed to envelope them. "For making yesterday the happiest day of my life."

"My pleasure," he replied, before gently turning her around. He stood her a little back from him so he could see her face, and asked the question he dreaded. "When do you want to go back?"

"Cordy and Groo's flight leaves in about four hours," Buffy replied quietly, "we should get back in time before they have to leave for check in."

"An hour to spare then," Angel mused, his thumbs rubbing the material of the shirt over her slender waist.

"What could we possibly do to take up the time?" She laughingly questioned.

"Beats me," he remarked, before catching her lips with his.

Buffy's hands wrapped themselves around his neck, parting the opened shirt by such a movement, giving Angel the opportunity to let go of her waist, and roam his hands over her back under the shirt.

They stood together for a short while, the kiss long and fervent, with the easy languidness of familiarity and enjoyment. Soon Angel swept her into his arms and gently laid her upon the bed, his hands moving to caress her thighs, parting them deftly under him. Buffy moved her hands from around his neck to the upper realms of his back, finding by rote his tattoo, to trace its shape with her fingers. She barely felt him enter, so soft and unhurried the motion was. Only the swelling of his girth caused her to realise they were joined. She tightened around him with a pleasurable sigh, able to escape from her mouth by his drawing back, in order that he might see her face as they climbed to a higher plane of bliss.

Angel gazed deeply into her eyes, a part of him suddenly struck by the miracle of events which had taken place in order to bring them here. Her death at the hands of a god, to save a sister that never was. The act of dark magic undertaken by her once group of friends to bring her back. He, moved by the death of an old friend, visiting her grave just as she was wrenched from heaven to return to earth. Their return to the Hyperion, where they were given the solution to rid her of the dark magic which had remained within her due to the level of witchcraft required to bring her back. A journey to San Francisco, where not only was she cured, but so was he, given his Shanshu and made a human champion like her. And now this, the morning after their engagement. So much had happened to test them both, and their relationship, yet they had come through it all, scarred but still willing to serve the good fight, and determined that nothing would part them.

"I love you," he breathed out as their joining exploded into pure bliss, a vow which he could see seconded by her soulful gaze.

Sated he rolled them until she was resting on his front. Her thigh locked around the upper half of his legs, and she nestled her head on his chest in pure contentment. "I'm not worried about them, you know," she uttered, knowing he could understand this apparent non sequitur.

"Why not?" He asked her softly.

"Because nothing that they can say could ever touch me, touch us." She dealt a kiss to his smooth chest. "I know that nothing will separate us, ever."

"Me too," he agreed, not understanding how they knew, but as certain in the belief as she.


Only the members of Angel Investigations were awake and present in the lobby when the couple returned to Hyperion.

"Lets have a look," Cordelia commanded, dragging the slayer's left hand out of its folded position with the other. "Oh very nice," she uttered.

"You guys knew about this?" Buffy asked them.

"Yep," Gunn replied, "Angel told us his plans a couple of days ago."

"So any date set yet?" Wesley asked as he hugged her in congratulation.

"Barring apocalypses, some time in May," Buffy revealed.

"Well that's just jinxed it," Cordelia muttered as she stepped back to get her bag.

Angel inclined his head in the direction of the floors above them. "How did it go last night?"

"Just as we imagined it might," Wes informed them, as they walked further inside to gather around the reception desk. "They feel very betrayed."

"They're not the only ones," Buffy said, Angel's arm coming around her waist in support as she did so. "How did Dawn take it?" She asked.

"When I said you didn't remember her, she ran out," Wes replied, feeling a little guilty at how harsh he was to her last night. "Spike persuaded her to come in and rest."

"Well, Groo and I need to take off," Cordelia announced after a moment of silence dealing with that news.

The fang gang turned to them and one by one said their farewells and expressed hopes for a good trip and vacation.

By the time the doors had closed and Buffy, Fred, Wesley, Gunn and Angel had returned to the reception area, a sound alerted them to the fact that their guests were beginning to rise.

Cautiously the slayer glanced upwards, and sighed with relief as she identified Spike and Giles making their way down the front walkway from the elevators to the staircase that led into the lobby. "Morning guys."

"Morning Buffy," Giles remarked as he arrived before them. "How are you?"

"Very well, all things considered," she assured him. "I have a question to ask." She paused to take his hand with her left. "Would you give me away?"

Giles looked at her blankly for a moment, then glanced down at the hand which clutched at his, to see the new ring resting there. A smile broke out on his and he pulled her into his arms. "I'd be honoured," he answered. "Congratulations. When did this happen?"

"Angel asked me last night," Buffy informed them, as Spike joined the group to look at the slayer and his sire. "Morning, Spike."

"Morning, Bit," he greeted her, before taking a look at the ring. "Well done," he remarked to Angel.

"Thanks," Angel replied. "You're invited to the wedding, by the way."

"I should hope so," Spike said, though his face belied any insult. "I only came with that lot to give the slayer some much needed support."

"And we're grateful for it," Buffy assured him, before surprising him by pulling into her arms for a hug. "Thanks for what you did last year."

"No problem," he replied, drawing back from her.

Another sound caused them to widen the circle of their stance. Directing their gaze to the upper floor, they saw the doors of lift part, to reveal en masse the members of the Scooby gang, the once slayerettes.

Buffy placed her hands on her hips, forming her typical slayer position, readied for battle. Angel and fang gang moved to support spots beside and behind her, attempting a casual but alert positions, ready for anything. Giles and Spike also joined them.

Willow and Xander were at the forefront of the group as it descended the stairs and took up a stance opposite Angel Investigations in the lobby. It was the former that spoke first. "Buffy, you're really back."

"Yes, I am," the slayer replied, watching them carefully.

"Why didn't you stay in Sunnydale?" Willow asked.

"Because Angel welcomed me into the firm here," Buffy said simply, as though that answered everything.

"But we brought you back," Xander added now, at somewhat at a loss.

"No, the Powers That Be brought me back," Buffy revealed. "Dark magic of that kind never works unless they allow it to."

"We had to rescue you," Willow uttered, "you were in a hell dimension. You weren't meant to die."

"I wasn't in a hell dimension. I was in heaven," Buffy answered, keeping her tone even, her words straightforward. "But, you're right, I wasn't meant to give my life."

"Then how should we have defeated Glory?" Anya asked.

"Keys lock doors as well as opening them," Buffy answered.

Dawn drew in a startled breath. "I was meant to sacrifice myself?" She asked.

"According to what our contacts for above revealed, yes," Buffy remarked, her tone gentle and kind.

Willow turned horrified eyes on her once best friend. "Buffy, she's just a girl!" She appealed, while Dawn stepped to the back of the group and walked outside into the courtyard.

The slayer glanced silently at Angel, who nodded and together with Spike, left the ranks to follow her out into the sheltered garden. "So was I," she said in response to the redhead's appeal. "Before I was called. I was her age infact, when Merrick came to me on the steps of my school-yard and revealed to me the world I had inherited. But my youth didn't stop the Watcher's Council deciding that I should be trained. Nor did it stop any of you asking me to sacrifice any normal kind of a life again and again to save the world."

"How dare you claim it was us!" Xander shouted, the first to raise his voice. "Last year and the year before you frequently insisted that you could do it by yourself. You shut yourself off from the rest of us, and made all the decisions."

"Yes, I shut myself off from you all," Buffy agreed, surprising them, "but not out of selfishness. I shut myself off to protect you, to save you from the effects my kind of power has, everyday. Did you think it was easy for me to deal with death on a daily basis for over six years? To be expected to survive each battle, no matter who my opponent, vampire, demon, god, ghost. Expected to carry on with school, with college, with boyfriends. With the appearance of a sister, and the death of my mother. For five years I stuck with you, endured that pressure, all because of the hellmouth and responsibility that was thrust upon me. Did you ever once think I wouldn't get tired of it all? That I wouldn't wish for a release?"

"How could we?" Willow countered. "You never confided in any of us!"

"Because you never listened. You just expected me to cope. Oh, sorry Buffy, that's so bad, you having to send Angel to hell. We're sorry you lost your soulmate, but life goes on, plenty more fish in the sea. Or, sorry Buffy that he left you for your own good on the night of your prom, but don't worry, here's Riley, a perfectly normal psych TA, complete with a double life and drug problems for you. And so what if he's letting vampires suck blood out of him every night in a vain attempt to understand your strange fascination for vampires. He's still perfect for you, you shouldn't let him leave. Then, arw-shucks Buffy, we're sorry about your mom dying, but there's the world to save again, and you have to protect your little sister from the awful god Glory." Buffy dropped her mocking tone. "What were you gonna say when you brought me back? Sorry Buff, but we thought you in a hell dimension? Oh, and by the way, there's these three boys who we think are trying to take over the hellmouth?" She looked at them hard. "You couldn't think for one second that you might be able to cope with the trio by yourselves?"

"Well we have been!" Anya countered. "No thanks to you!"

"Giles kept me informed of every event," Buffy revealed. "If I felt that you needed my help, I would have come. But you have a former watcher, two witches, one chipped vampire, and a former vengeance demon. I think you can take on three nerds!"

"Why are you being so horrible?" Willow asked. "We brought you back, you should be grateful!"

"Oh I am! Not for the wrenching from heaven, or for the fact that I woke up in my coffin and had to crawl my way out of the ground, but for the act itself, which brought me here, and back to a life that, for the first time in years, didn't feel like a form of imprisonment." Buffy took a deep breath, making herself calm down. "I'm sorry, Willow, Xander, Tara, Anya, I truly am. But you came here for nothing more than confirmation that I'm alive. I'm also, where I belong."

With that she stepped back, and leaving them shocked and subdued, walked outside to join Angel, Spike and Dawn.


"Buffy is sorry you know," Angel revealed to Dawn as soon as he came outside. He joined her on the bench, while Spike hung back amongst the safety of the shade afforded him by the doors onto the courtyard.

"For what?" Dawn asked, looking at him with surprise. "How come you're not on fire?" She added.

"When Buffy came here, she still had some of the dark magic performed on her inside her soul," Angel began. "We had to travel to San Francisco and have cured by some powerful witches. Who also gave me my humanity, from the PTB."

"The Charmed Ones?" Spike sought to confirm, receiving Angel's nod in reply. "Heard of them awhile back," he mused. "Almost wish I had gone to them instead."

His choice of words made Angel look up. "For what?" He asked.

"I was having a few problems with my chip," Spike remarked. "The Scoobs weren't inclined to help, so I went to a few shamans and demons I knew. And instead of repairing the chip, they gave me my soul."

"You have your soul?" Angel queried, looking at his childe in a new light. "How on earth did you survive the nightmares?"

"I didn't have to," Spike revealed. "They were part of your gypsy curse. The Romany intended on making you crazy. I just have the guilt trip. I'm doing okay though."

"I'm pleased for you."

"Thanks mate," Spike grinned, "but I think we really ought to focus on Nibblet here," he added, gesturing at Dawn.

"Buffy's sorry for not being allowed to keep her memories of you being her sister," Angel explained, returning to the main cause at hand. "And for leaving you with the group in Sunnydale."

"Why didn't you come back for me?" Dawn asked.

"Because Buffy's still hurting, over all that has happened to her. And she has no legal claim on you, or memory to assert any. She also thought you would be better protected at the hellmouth."

"You have no memory of me either, do you?" Dawn guessed.

"No, I never did. I was here, the powers didn't see a need for me to be informed." Angel paused, before adding, "if you want to join us however, and be with Buffy, then you can. But on your own terms, no one else's."

"What does Buffy say to that?" Dawn asked.

"She agrees with her fiancee," Buffy remarked, as she stepped outside and joined her once sister and the former on the bench, sitting the other side of Dawn. "The Scoobs clearly have enough things to deal with, and Giles plans to move back to England." She turned to gaze at their other companion. "There's a place here for you as well, you know."

"Thanks but I'll pass," Spike informed her. "I think I ought to keep a watch on the hellmouth for you, as Rupert's leaving for home. God knows the others can't."

"Tara's okay," Dawn argued.

"She is, Nibblet," Spike agreed, "but she has Willow to keep under control. No my place is in Sunnyhell. But yours is anywhere you choose."

Dawn was silent as they all looked at her, waiting for her decision. Then suddenly she looked up, and seemed to smile. "I guess, if....." she trailed, and her skin suddenly paled.

"Dawn," Buffy began, "what's the matter?"

"I'm not sure," she replied, "I feel very strange......."

"Dawnie!" Buffy cried out, as she collapsed in her arms.


After that, events were somewhat of a blur. The four in the courtyard rapidly returned to the lobby, the slayer carrying the key upstairs to the nearest bed, shouting to her boss to get some help. The members of both groups followed her up, and formed a semicircle round the bed, crowding the hotel room. Only the arrival of the doctor herded them all out.

Buffy and Angel remained in the room, neither choosing to query for once the protection of sibling relationship.

The doctor examined her for a long time, before drawing back and walking to where the chosen warriors stood by the door, waiting. "Well, I must say I'm puzzled," he revealed to them. "You say she just went pale and collapsed?"

"Yes," Buffy confirmed. "What's wrong with her, doctor?"

"Nothing, as far as I can determine. I've done all the tests I can, and nothing medical is afflicting her. However, what I can tell you, is that she is dying."

"Dying?" Angel echoed, shocked.

"I'm afraid so. And there is nothing I can do." The doctor paused to allow them to take that in. "I've drawn some blood and I'll run it through some tests at the hospital, but I don't expect to reveal anything. I'd advise you to take her there, if I thought it would accomplish more than putting in the ICU permanently. Whatever her illness, I've never seen such a case."

"Thank you doctor, for seeing her anyway," Angel said to him, and showing him out of the room, leaving Buffy alone with Dawn.

She was still there when he returned, having shown the doctor out and informed everyone else of the situation.

"What do you want to do?" He asked her softly as he joined her on the edge of the bed, where she was, holding one of Dawn's hands.

"I don't know, Angel," Buffy uttered, tears falling down her face. "I don't know. This is all my fault."

Angel pulled her against him. "No it isn't, how can you say that? Your presence here changes nothing."

"How do we know that? I could have been meant to keep watch over her."

"The PTB told us you were meant to be here, remember?" Angel reminded her.

"But we didn't think to ask about Dawn, other than that she was meant to die instead of me," Buffy persisted. "We didn't ask if I should still protect her."

"Buffy, no one told us this would happen. And as they gave her to your protection, I think they would have let you know if she still needed you, now that Glory was dead." Angel paused to gaze at the person lying in the bed. "I think no natural causes are wrong with her," he said slowly. "She was made by supernatural powers. Authorities in such must be able to find out what's wrong with her."

A moment of silence passed, and then slayer realised what he meant. She rose from the bed and grabbed the handset of the phone on the nearby table. With shaking fingers, she put a call to the Lobby, where Fred and Gunn were stationed to keep a watch on any business which might call in. "Fred, call the Halliwells for us, will you? Tell them we need Leo here, urgently."


The wait seemed interminable, but it could only have been a matter of an hour when blue and white lights appeared in the hotel room, startling two new occupants, Willow and Xander, who along with Tara and Spike had been permitted to join the vigil of the chosen warriors over the key.

"You asked for me?" Leo began when he had fully appeared in the room.

Buffy turned from the bed. "Can you heal her?" She asked.

Leo came to stand beside the edge of the bed. He held his hands just above Dawn, and closed his eyes. When nothing happened, he opened his eyes and gazed at her, puzzled. He tried waving his hand up and down her body. Again nothing. Silently he stood up.

"What's wrong?" Buffy asked him.

"I can't seem to heal her," Leo said, puzzled still. "I'm gonna go and visit the Elders, see what they have to say about her." He orbed out.

"Who was that?" Willow asked.

"Leo healed Cordelia, and restored Angel's humanity," Buffy remarked, her eyes still on Dawn. "He's part of a race of guardians over witches and future people of his kind. I thought he might be able to cure her," she finished, her tone sounding certain suddenly that there nothing any one could do.

The whitelighter proved her right when he returned a few minutes later, orbing into the room with a solemn face.

"I'm sorry, Buffy," he said. "But there's nothing no one can do. This was meant to be."

"Why?" Xander asked.

"Dawn was never meant to live for so long," Leo explained gently. "The monks made her into what she was simply so Buffy could protect her from Glory. Once the god was defeated, Dawn was no longer in danger. She is now returning to her natural state of existence."

"Thank you, Leo," Buffy remarked, rising from the bed. "I'm sorry we called you here for nothing."

"I'm sorry there's nothing I can do," he returned, before orbing out.

Buffy kept her face from the others for a moment, holding back her grief. Despite the loss of memories, she still felt a connection with Dawn, who like her had been brought into the world for a higher purpose, and wasn't informed until someone tried to rid the world of her and the greater good she was able to perform.

"Buffy," a voice called out, making her turn. Dawn had opened her eyes and now called out to her from the bed. "I'm dying, aren't I?"

"Yes, you are," Buffy replied, before coming to sit beside her again.

"I knew," Dawn said. "I don't know how, but just as I was deciding about where to live, something inside of me told me that I wouldn't have to decide. That it wasn't up to me."

"Dawnie," Buffy uttered, letting her grief show for the first time, startling all but Angel and the figure in the bed.

"Its all right, B," Dawn replied, using the nickname she had given her, in implanted memories long before Faith's arrival and usage. "I'm strangely glad about it. I feel peaceful, you know. Like you did."

Buffy nodded, too choked to speak. Dawn's hand stroked the one of hers which was tightly gripping it, as if shear slayer willpower alone could keep her living. "I'm sorry, Buffy," Dawn replied.

"There's nothing you need to be sorry for," Buffy assured her. "I love you. Just remember that."

"I will, I promise." Dawn smiled. "I love you too, sis," she added, before taking a deep breath and closing her eyes.

"No, no," Buffy uttered rubbing her hand, trying to bring her back. "No."

Angel wrapped his arms around her, and held her quietly. Without a word she turned to him and cried.


It was another morning before the Scooby gang made their departure to return to Sunnydale.

After Dawn had passed, her body had disappeared, forming a pale blue gas of light and stars. It passed upwards, through the roof of the Hyperion, into the sky and the planes of dimensions beyond.

The slayer had cried out her grief in Angel's arms, before being ushered into their room, leaving the others to mourn and mull over all that had occurred. When she emerged, it was late evening, and various pizza boxes were scattered about the lobby, their contents being consumed halfheartedly by a silent and remorseful group.

Willow had been the first to speak, waiting until the slayer and her soulmate had sat down with the group and taken a proffered slice each.

"We're sorry," she said, speaking for all the former slayerettes. "I don't know if we'll ever understand fully what made you decide to come here, but we can see that you're happier here than you were in Sunnydale. So we're gonna return there, and we don't expect you to come with us. Not unless you want to."

"I don't," Buffy confirmed, before swallowing a bite of pizza. "And I'm grateful to you all. For bringing me back, and for being willing to try and understand that this place is now my home."

Willow nodded and paused, before adding, "I hear there's wedding soon, for you and Angel. Congratulations."

"Thanks." Buffy paused. "You're welcome to come."

"We'll see," Willow replied, understanding that things would never be the same again between them. That they would never be as close as they once thought they were.

After that, conversation had turned to shop, and they exchanged news and information on the latest demon, vampire, and Trio happenings. Somehow this conversation served to form a normality between them all, carrying well on until the hours of the night, whereupon exhaustion claimed them to all seek rooms once more in the former hotel.

In the morning Buffy and Angel were the only ones to see them go. They saw them to their car outside, wishing them a safe journey back, and to let them know whenever they needed their help.

Buffy and Angel hugged Giles and Spike, saying a more affectionate farewell to them, and they returned in kind.

When the car had disappeared round the corner of the block, heading for the interstate to take them back to the hellmouth, Angel had taken Buffy into his arms.

"Are you okay?" He asked her.

"Yeah," she replied, turning round to face him. "I am," she added, before kissing him.

The End.
To Be Continued In
Vale.

Chapter Text

Author's Note: No B/A love scene in this one unusually, but this one didn't seem to require it. I have moved things a season again in the cannon, you'll see what and why, as it fitted more with the series. Some lines have been borrowed from Sleep Tight and Home. And Roisin, in case you've never seen Lynda La Plante Trial & Retribution, is pronounced Rosheen. Enjoy.

Vale.

Latin for Goodbye.

"I fell so far - a light went out in my heart."

Buffy came downstairs just in time to hear the line of the song. It made her hand travel to her neck, and touch the necklace she had worn for seventeen days; a delicate platinum chain attached to a key and the letter D. The only memories she carried now were of that year she had fought Glory and the last day she had seen the 'girl' that the Powers That Be had made her sister. Yet she still felt the loss almost as deeply as if Dawn had been her sibling.

"You're gone - now I'm left alone in the dark."

She reached the ground floor of the Lobby and found Wesley behind the reception desk, sorting through watcher books. Giles had been sending them over ever since his decision to return to England became final.

He looked up as she came towards him. "Morning. Where's Angel?"

"In the shower," Buffy answered. "He'll be down in a minute." She turned to glance at the doors which led to the central courtyard. "Who is that singing?" She asked.

"Lorne is seeing a client in the garden," Wesley answered.

"She's good," Buffy remarked, before walking outside to join them.

"My soul is aching..." the woman with long blonde hair continued, before pausing as Buffy came to join them. "Who are you?"

"I'm Buffy Summers," the slayer replied. "One of Lorne's colleagues. Go on."

The singer turned to Lorne. "Do you see anything?"

"I see you're plenty scared," the Host answered. "It's alright. Keep going."

She returned to playing her guitar. "My heart is breaking..."

Inside Wesley closed the book he had been studying, put it away in the shelves behind him, and turned to another.

"Are you crazy? It's the best state in the Union!"

Wesley looked up to see Fred coming down the stairs, mobile by her ear.

"What's wrong with Texas?" She continued into the handset. "Texas doesn't hate the black man. Texas loves the black man. Well, most of Texas. Anyone with a brain. What's so great about California?"

To his surprise the head of Angel Investigations heard the response, as the entrance opened to reveal Gunn, talking to his cellphone.

"Everything," he replied. "It's got the climate, the ocean..."

"The earth that opens up and swallows you whole," Fred countered.

"The Lakers, the music," Gunn reminded her.

"The traffic, the smog," Fred pointed out as they walked towards each other across the Lobby floor.

"It's got you," Gunn said as they came face to face.

Fred closed her cell and smiled at him. "Okay. You win. Morning."

"Hi," Gunn returned the smile.

"Glad to see you're using the company phones for such important calls," Wesley remarked, breaking up the romantic moment.

"Did you want me to pay for that?" Gunn replied, holding up his mobile.

"Ah, guys?" Buffy said, popping herself briefly round the doors of the courtyard. "I think there's something you should... Ah, can you come here for a sec?"

The three caught the expression on her face and hurriedly joined her outside.

"Everybody, this is my friend, Kim," Lorne began. "It's alright," he added to the singer, "They're professionals. Just take it from the chorus, hmm?"

"My heart is breaking - in two. No love, no light left - no you..." her face suddenly morphed into that of a demon. "I'll hack your eyeballs out and rip your children in two!"

Kim stopped at this line and her face returned to normal. Lorne leapt from his seat to hug her as she burst into tears.

"It's okay. I got ya. It's all right. It's okay." He looked up at the shocked expressions of the team. "Catchy finish, huh?"

 


Angel had emerged from upstairs by the time Lorne and the group had managed to calm Kim down and lead her back inside. The Fang Gang crowded into Wesley's office, where the Englishman handed the singer a freshly brewed cup of tea.

"Kim is good, people," Lorne assured them. "She came to see me a couple of years ago."

"He put me on my true path," Kim informed them.

"She was throwing her life away in medical school, when she should have been a singer," Lorne added.

"Yeah," Gunn commented, mystified. "Who needs more doctors in the world when you can have singing demons?"

"Well, the demon part - is new," Kim added, before taking another sip of tea.

"She hooked up with this band a couple of weeks ago and..." Lorne turned to her, letting her finish the story.

"They were mellow - organic types. They never touched drugs or played a diminished chord."

"It's always the quiet ones," Buffy remarked.

"Um, then they started changing. Stevie, the lead guitar, grew a seventh finger like overnight."

"Seventh?" Gunn queried.

"Well, he already had six. I just thought..." Kim sighed. "I don't really know what I thought. And Raw, the drummer, suddenly sprouted that spiny thing on his back..... And they started playing this beyond industrial trash noise funk day and night. And then it happened to me. You saw it. Am I gonna turn into that?"

"No," Wesley remarked, looking up from the microscope, where he and Fred had been studying Kim's saliva. "You're human. They're not. What's happening to you isn't permanent. It's just an infection."

"Which you can get rid of by taking twenty milligrams of Cylenthium powder twice a day for a month," Fred added.

"Mystical antibiotic," Lorne explained. "I'll get you some."

Fred held up the slide sample. "I thought your saliva was suspect. Under the microscope it showed traces of Penloxia."

"Oh," Lorne uttered in understanding. "They're Wraith-ers."

"Wraith-ers?" Kim echoed.

"Demons that can make themselves look human - for a time," Wesley explained, as he flicked through one of the Demonology volumes on his desk.

"Here," he added, showing Kim and the team an illustration. "Ten days, two weeks, then they revert to what they really are."

"I wonder why they would wanna look like musicians?" Gunn queried.

"This is L.A." Buffy reminded him. "It's either that or actors."

"Where are they right now?" Angel asked her.

"In a rehearsal space," Kim informed them. "It's an old loading dock behind the Shop 'n' Go in Echo park."

The chosen warrior turned to his boss. "Wes?"

"You'll have to kill them. It's the only thing you can do with Wraith-ers," the head of A.I remarked, closing the volume on the entry which covered them.

"How many?" Angel asked her.

"Three," Kim replied.

Wesley turned to the team. "Buffy, Angel and Gunn, with one more to handle any groupies. I'll stay here, I still have a lot of books to sort through."

The slayer nodded and turned round, leading the team out of the office to collect weapons before heading out.

 


"I hate your zit-face smile, that's why I'll cut you it in two, and when I'm done with you, I'll throw your mother, brother, sister, uncle and your little dog, too."

The sound of glass shattering as a trash can torpedoed into the room, followed by the rapid entrance of the slayer, Angel, Gunn and Fred. Buffy and Gunn were carrying crossbows, while Angel held one of his board-swords. Fred hung back, looking about for any potential hostages.

"Dude!" One of the band members cried. "You're paying for that window."

"No, I'm not," Gunn replied.

"Wait, are you the 'A' and 'R' guys?" The drummer queried. "This isn't even the whole band. We got a killer chick who sings!" He caught sight of the slayer and Fred. "Hey, Girls! Hey, don't worry about the window, Holmes."

"We're not the 'A' and 'R' guys," Angel informed them. "We're just here to kill you."

"Ah, dude, they wanna kill us," the drummer remarked.

"Okay. But they're still paying for the window," the singer insisted.

The drummer stared at the slayer. "I got first ride on the hottie."

He leapt off the stage, heading straight for the slayer. But Buffy was ready for him. She land punch on his face, followed by a kick to abdomen, sending him flying backwards.

Gunn gestured to the groupies, who were screaming. "Get them out of here!" He asked his girlfriend before leaping into the fray.

"Be careful," Fred advised him before taking hold of the two girls and ushering them out.

Buffy and Gunn aimed their crossbows, while Angel held his sword at the ready. The Wraith-ers began to back away.

"Oh, come on! Take it like a demon," Gunn remarked, before shooting one of them in the throat.

"I think their Elvis has left the building," Buffy remarked before firing her crossbow.

"Its time for their swan song," Angel added before they launched into the fray.

 


"So, Sammy's at the Flamingo, and Frank, Dino, Peter, Joey, and Shirley are all front row centre," Lorne was saying to Kim and a faintly distracted Wesley as they as the quartet returned to Angel Investigations an hour or so later.

"Well, Sammy starts singing 'I Did It My Way' then he stops and says 'I can't sing this song in front of you, Frank.' The crowd loves it. They're laughing. Ha, ha, ha, ha. So, then Frank calls out 'hey, you're short, you're one-eyed, and I heard somewhere you're Jewish. Don't be intimidated!' The crowd goes wild!" He turned to glance at the four. "So, how'd it go?"

"The Wraith-ers are no more," Gunn announced as put the crossbows and sword back in the weapons cabinet.

"Anything happen while we were out?" Buffy asked Wesley, joining him at the reception desk.

"Nothing," the Englishman replied, putting another book on one of the shelves. "It's been oddly quiet."

The door opened just then, causing Gunn to turn to him. "You had to say it, didn't you?"

For once however, fate was being kind to them, as Giles stepped into the Lobby. "Hello everyone."

Buffy jumped down from the desk and walked over to hug him. "We didn't expect you so soon. How was the wedding?" She asked.

"A non-event event," Giles replied. "Instead of 'I do,' it was 'I don't.'"

"Anya said no?" Buffy sought to confirm.

Giles shook his head. "Xander. He received a visit from a Seer, who gave him a vision of an unhappy future if he and Anya married. However, it was really D'Hoffryn."

"D'Hoffryn?" Fred queried.

"Anya's old boss when she was a vengeance demon," Buffy explained before turning back to Giles. "So why did he trick Xander?"

"He wanted Anyanka back. By the time the charade was discovered, the damage was done. Xander refused to see that the future wasn't set in stone, and nothing Anya said could sway him otherwise. She disappeared after the service. I followed her and found out she had accepted D'Hoffryn's offer. She's demon again."

"Is she rampaging Sunnydale?" Buffy asked, shivering as she recalled what happened the last time she had encountered the patron demon of scorned women.

"No, oddly enough. She met up with one of her vengeance demon colleagues and left the hellmouth."

"How's Xander taking it?"

"He's hurting." Giles looked at her. "I think he finally understands what its like to lose someone you love."

Buffy nodded. "What about the others?"

"Willow and Tara are helping him as much as he will let them," Giles informed her. "We then discovered however that Warren, Andrew and Jonathon put the Magic Shop under surveillance, so finding them has managed to take their minds off everything else." He paused before adding, "I signed the lease over to them yesterday."

This piece of news caused the slayer to wrap her arms around him again. "I'm going to miss you," she uttered into his sweater.

Giles kissed her hair before returning the sentiment. "As will I you. You've been so much more than a slayer to me," he added, making her look up, to see his eyes glistening with tears. "You've been the daughter I always wanted."

"Make sure you come back in plenty of time for the wedding," Buffy managed to say through her own choked voice. "You've always been the father I yearned for."

Giles nodded as he reluctantly let go of her, and went to shake Angel's hand. To the warrior's surprise he briefly hugged him as well. "Take care of her," he said.

"I will," Angel promised, before letting him go.

Wesley was next, followed by Fred, Gunn and Lorne, who each exchanged a brief hug and handshake, before the ex-watcher returned to slayer once more for a final goodbye.

"Let me know when you fixed a date," he asked her before leaving the Hyperion.

Angel took his fiancee into his arms, silently offering her comfort. The rest of the team glanced at each other in silent confabulation.

"Why don't you two take the rest of the day off," Wesley suggested. "No one's called in and there's only the books to sort out."

Buffy looked up from Angel's shoulder and was about to answer, when the doors opened once more. She turned around in his arms, then abruptly parted from him to fall into her first attack position of choice; legs slightly apart, hands on hips.

"Lilah," Angel remarked in greeting, his tone of voice anything but a welcome.

"Angel," Lilah Morgan returned. "Wesley. Winifred. Charles. And Miss Summers. I don't believe we've had the pleasure. Although there was that time when you shot a piece of lead piping through the son of one of our most valued clients."

"What are you doing here, Lilah?" Angel asked her. "What's your game?"

"No game," Lilah shrugged and sat down on the oval sofa. "In fact, game over. Guess what? You win, which is why I'm here. I have been authorised to make you kids an offer."

"You can't possibly think there's anything we'd want from you," Wesley remarked.

Lilah merely leant back and crossed her legs. "I don't think you'll want it, but you'll take it, because this is the offer of a lifetime."

 


A few minutes later, and there was a less calm and collected group that stood before the lawyer from Los Angeles only demonic practice. Actually, the six were sitting down on chairs they had sought from their offices, after finding they needed the support of furniture in order to deal with this shock.

Glancing at one another uncomfortably, it was Gunn who decided to break the stunned silence first.

"You want to run that by us one more time?" He asked.

"What was unclear?" Lilah asked.

"I think the part where you offered us Wolfram & Hart," Fred replied.

"Not the entire company," Lilah corrected. "Just the L.A. Branch."

Lorne chuckled. "Just the L.A. Branch. Hi, from another dimension, what the hell does that mean?"

"Means we give. You win. We're moving out. The senior partners are ceding this territory to you, and to prove it, they want to give you controlling interest in our L.A. Office. You get the building, assets, personnel, letterhead, paper clips, all of it. It's yours to do with as you see fit."

"You want to give us your evil law firm?" Buffy sought to confirm.

"We ain't lawyers," Gunn added.

"Or evil," Fred answered. "Currently."

"What we're offering you is a turnkey, state-of-the-art, multitasking operation. What you do with it, well, that's up to you."

"Why?" Angel asked.

"Well, I thought that was obvious. You earned it. Think of it as a reward."

"Reward for what?" Buffy queried.

"Coming back from the dead. Becoming human. Sabotaging every one of our plans." Lilah rose up and walked towards the door. "Think about our proposal. If anyone's interested and wants the grand tour, there'll be a limo waiting outside just before dawn."

 


"She was serious, wasn't she?" Buffy wondered aloud as she stared at the swinging entrance doors.

"Seemed to be," Wesley replied, rising from his seat and returning to the pile of books behind the reception desk.

"We're not taking the offer though, are we?" Angel sought to clarify.

"Hell no," his fiancee uttered before walking up to the weapons cabinet. She took out one of the cross bolts and began walking in the direction of the basement. "I feel the need to do some training."

Angel took out a couple of swords and followed her. "Mind if I join you?"

"Not at all."

The four left glanced at each silently before the next member chose to depart.

"I'm gonna go and look over a few design plans for Caritas," Lorne said, heading to the stairs and his temporary accommodation while the club underwent repairs.

"I've gotta call a friend," Fred remarked before walking to her office.

Gunn glanced at Wesley, waiting for the Englishman to catch his eye. The Head of Angel Investigations closed the book he had been studying and rose up from his seat to file the tome away.

"What's wrong?" He asked Gunn.

"Can't help thinking it might be an idea to explore the a turnkey, state-of-the-art, multitasking operational corporation on offer," Gunn replied.

"You can't possibly think that's an option," Wesley remarked.

"Well, now I know it's an option, 'cause I was standing here when Lilah offered it to us." Gunn leaned on the desk.

"It's a trap. This has Faustian deal written all over it," Wes said grimly.

"I agree, it looks like that," Gunn said, "but I also think that if we refuse without checking out the merchandise first, we'll be making a mistake."

 


The rest of the day passed. At nightfall the team of Angel Investigations retired, unconsciously all choosing to spend the night at the Hyperion, so they did not have far to travel when they woke at dawn.

Fred believed herself to be the first to rise. As the she exited the Lobby however, she realised she was wrong.

"I don't know how long it's been here," Wesley remarked, after silently turning to acknowledge her presence. "Since before I arrived."

"I thought I'd be the only one," Fred admitted.

"I thought for sure I wouldn't be," Wesley confided, "although I wasn't expecting it to be you."

"I just figured... well, if they are up to something....."

"We should know what it is," Gunn finished as he walked out of the shadows.

"Well, we three," Wesley commented.

"Looks like," Gunn agreed.

"What are the odds the humans would be the most corruptible?" The Englishman asked rhetorically.

"Maybe we should just go back inside," Fred said, while her body began walking to the car. "What if this does turn out to be a trap?"

"Yeah, but what if it doesn't?" Gunn countered. "All we're gonna do is take the tour."

Wesley nodded. "We go into this with our eyes open and our wits about us. There shouldn't be any....."

"Surprises?" A voice finished, making them jump.

"Jesus, you two," Gunn said by way of greeting as the slayer and chosen warrior emerged from the shadow of the pillars by the car. "We were nowhere near prepared for that."

"You don't need to tell us," Buffy uttered before opening the door of the limousine. Then it was her turn to jump as the car revealed a passenger. "What the hell?"

"So it's an evil limo," Lorne was saying to the driver. "I get that, but does that mean we don't restock the cherries?" He laughed, noticed the draught and turned to the others. "Hi. I was just checking the vehicle for traps."

"Make room," Buffy remarked, smiling.

 


The car and driver dropped them off outside the entrance. After glancing at each other and silently voting for their boss to go first, the team walked up the steps and into the spacious lobby of Wolfram & Hart; Attorneys at Law.

Inside waiting for them by the front reception desk was five men and women in business suits, with Lilah at the head.

"Well, you've all made it," she said, smiling and stepping forward to greet them. "What a shock. We've got a lot of ground to cover, so best we get started. Let me introduce you to your guides."

"Guides?" Angel queried. "Separate guides?"

"Of course. There are six of you, all with specific interests, unique areas of expertise. Seemed the most efficient way of doing this. Prioritise and personalise."

Buffy folded her arms. "Divide and conquer, you mean," she said wryly.

"Oh, you're so cynical."

"We don't split up," Wesley remarked. "We came here together, we're gonna take the tour together. Right, guys?"

After a measured thoughtful pause, there was reluctant agreement from the others.

"Look, if we wanted to harm you, we'd have blown up the limo, right?" Lilah pointed out. Receiving silence in reply, she turned and beckoned forward a man pushing a metal cart full of guns. "If you prefer to be armed during your stay here, we'd have no objections," she explained. "Just because we've tried to kill or corrupt each and every one of you at one time or another doesn't mean we can't be trusted."

"She's right," Wesley conceded. "We've made deals with them before. They are honourable in their way. I doubt we'll be in any danger."

"She was right about the limo," Lorne added.

Fred picked up one of the large, semiautomatics. "I think we'll be okay."

Lilah gestured to one of the guides to come forward. "Lorne, Preston will show you around our entertainment division."

"Hi, big fan," the man, attired in a business suit with a vivid purple shirt began, coming forward to shake Lorne's hands. "Huge. Love your work." After the Host had accepted his shake, Preston brought out the pile of papers he had under his arm. "I had this prepared. Confidential list. Peepers only. Thought you might want to take a gander at our roster. Just a rundown of some of the talent we represent here."

"Uh, no, no, no, no," Lorne remarked. "I don't think you have to tell me what you represent here, young man. I know. Evil. Pure evil in the......"

Preston flipped the list open, allow him to see the names.

"Huh," Lorne added after a moment. "Which is also apparently everyone I've always wanted to meet."

"Follow me," Preston said.

Lilah waited for the two to exit before she brought the next guide forward. "Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, Rutherford Sirk. I think you'll find you two have a lot in common."

"It's a pleasure," Rutherford uttered after shaking Wesley's hand. "Shall we?"

Wesley glanced at him for a moment, then followed him out of the lobby.

Lilah gestured for one of the women to come forward. "Charles Gunn, Lacey Shepard. I think you'll find you two have nothing in common."

Lacey, with looks and a figure to match her name, shook Gunn's hand. "This way, Chuck."

"You're not gonna try to corrupt me, are you?" Gunn asked her with a grin.

"Wouldn't dream of it," Lacey assured him in a tone that implied anything but what she had just said.

"Good, because my girl's a physicist and she could probably kill you very easily," Gunn said, before allowing the woman to lead him away.

"Knox," Lilah remarked, calling forward a man wearing a crisp white lab coat. "This is Fred Burkle."

"Hi," Knox said nervously to her.

"Knox is the star of our Science Division," Lilah added.

"Oh!" Fred uttered, immediately interested. "Nice to meet you."

"You, too," Knox replied nervously. "Well, this, um, should be... fun."

"Yeah," Fred agreed before following him out of the Lobby.

Lilah brought forward the final guide, another woman, roughly the same age as the slayer, only with dark brown hair. "Roisin Winter, Buffy Summers."

"Hi," Roisin remarked, holding out her hand. "I've heard many things about you."

"Have you?" Buffy queried, shaking it.

"Roisin is, you might say, a sister of sorts," Lilah revealed cryptically.

Buffy nodded before following the woman out of the Lobby.

Angel glanced at Lilah and saw there was nobody else. "How did I guess?" He remarked as she smiled at him.

"Yep, just you and me." Lilah gestured before her. "Come on, Charlie. Let me show you around the chocolate factory."

 


"Pretty slick," Gunn commented as he followed his guide over a walkway that commanded a view of the Lobby below.

"What is?" Lacey asked.

"You know, giving each of us our own little tour. It's a good way to isolate Angel."

"Is that what we're doing?" Lacey queried as they passed some office cubicles.

"Well, it'd be a big coup bringing Angel over to the dark side. Ex Vampire with a soul, champion. It's gonna look good on anyone's letterhead."

"Why do you assume Angel is our priority?" Lacey countered.

Gunn looked at her sceptically. "You telling me he isn't?"

"A priority," Lacey conceded. "Though you each possess gifts we feel would be useful."

"Well, I see what the others got, Buffy's the slayer, Fred's big brain, Cordelia's premonitions, Wes' training, Lorne's mind-reading thing. Guess I just don't know what you guys expect me to do around..." he trailed off as they passed a door marked Security. "Here. Though I think maybe I'm starting to figure it out. Yeah, bet I'd look real smart in one of them blazers."

Lacey smiled. "Oh, I'm sure you would, but we have much grander plans for you, Mr. Gunn."

"You do? Grander?" Gunn felt his interest level rising.

Lacey halted outside the elevators. "Let's go upstairs."

 


"So are you a lawyer?" Fred asked her guide as they walked down a hallway. "'Cause you don't look like a lawyer."

"No, I'm strictly R & D," Knox replied. "Although, occasionally, some D & D. Dungeons and dragons. We actually have a dungeon. I can show it to you later if....." he trailed off. "I manage the Science Division."

"You seem pretty young to be a head of a whole Science Division."

"Oh, I'm not the head. I just manage it for the department head, which, I guess, you know, would be you."

Fred's eyes widened in shock. "Wait. I, uh....."

She trailed off as Knox led her inside a large room. It was full of people conducting all manner of experiments.

Fred was impressed despite herself. "Wow."

"I know. Everything modern technology has to offer, right at your fingertips. Everything's state of the art, cutting edge."

Fred picked up a hand held computer off one of the desks.

Knox smiled proudly. "That's one of my creations."

"You might want to get out of the lab more. Personal organisers have been around for a while. Not that it's not a nice Palm Pilot."

Knox opened the lid of the device. "Yeah, I'll bet your buddy Matthew Partney at 6200 Crestwood Boulevard in Lubbock, Texas, would agree." He showed her the screen.

Fred read the telephone number and gasped. "Hey, how'd you know about Matt?"

"Hacks into any electronic device within 100 yards. I patched in to your cell phone's address book."

"You're like the MacGyver of Wolfram & Hart."

Knox chuckled. "You're not wrong. I can make practically anything out of a fully equipped, multi-million dollar lab."

 


In another part of the building, Wesley followed his guide into a large but fairly empty library. Every wall was lined with vacant bookshelves and in the centre of the room, a wide lectern stood, with a selection of leatherbound volumes upon it.

"Our ancient prophecies wing," Rutherford informed him.

"Looks as if your wing's been clipped," Wesley remarked.

"Appearances can be deceiving. It's actually the most comprehensive collection of prophecy archives to be found anywhere. Choose something to read. Go on, anything at all. Something rare."

Wesley looked at him for a moment, then shrugged, conceding to curiosity. "All right. The Devandire Sibylline Codex."

Rutherford did not become decomposed. "Translated or Sanskrit?"

"Surprise me."

"I'm sure I will." Rutherford picked up the book and whispered to it. "Devandire Codex, Sanskrit." He handed the book to Wesley.

Wes took it and opened it, silently gasping as the seemingly blank pages filled themselves with the appropriate text.

"The, template you're holding provides access to anything stored in the firm's locked archives relating to prophecies, omens, revelations and so on," Rutherford informed him.

Wesley closed the book and resumed his previous pokerfaced expression. "Impressive. And does the Watcher's Council know you stole the only known copy of the codex when you left them?"

"They were in chaos when Miss Summers died again," Rutherford replied. "I figured it was time to take a sabbatical."

"So you opted to, what, play for the other side? Cross the line?"

"These are complicated times. Lines become blurry. How did you know?"

"Something about Watchers and......" Wesley suddenly struck out, punching Rutherford in the face, rendering him unconscious. "Libraries."

Wesley checked no one was in sight outside the room, then raised his arm to the ceiling. Out of his sleeve shot a tripwire, strong enough to carry his weight. After waiting for it to anchor itself in the ceiling, he began to climb.

 


"In case Lilah wasn't clear, I'm a slayer," Roisin informed her companion.

"I gathered," Buffy said. "So, are you about to tell me that the Watcher's Council is really your legal firm?"

"No, its not like that at all," Roisin answered. "After you died, sacrificing yourself to protect the Key, I was called. When Mr Giles informed the Council that you were alive, they were in chaos. Mr Sirk, Mr Wyndam-Pryce's guide, was my watcher. He received a job offer from Wolfram & Hart, and asked me if I wanted to come with him. When Ms Morgan phoned me with an offer just for me, it seemed too good to refuse."

"Didn't you realise you were making a deal with the devil?" Buffy asked her.

"Not until I ran into one of their 'fanged' clients," Roisin admitted. "But when I confronted them, they backed off. Allowed me to set my own agenda for working here. I'd earned an law degree from Cambridge and passed the state bar. I figured this was the best offer I could get."

"Didn't fancy explaining the need for flexibility to other less corrupted legal firms?" Buffy guessed.

"Exactly," Roisin confirmed with a smile.

"So, what's the sell?" Buffy asked her. "Come and train the recruits? Steal other potential slayers over the dark side?"

"No, there's only me," Roisin smiled. "I could use your experience."

"Well, I may be no lawyer, but I certainly have plenty of that," Buffy said, smiling too.

"Perhaps we can teach you things as well," Roisin remarked. "Allow you the chance to choose and train for a career."

"Any vocation I want?" Buffy sought to confirm.

"Any vocation you want," Roisin affirmed as she stopped before an elevator. "Come upstairs and I'll show you what I mean."

 


"Money, clothes, women. Did I mention we have a juice bar?"

Angel looked at Lilah. "Is that why you brought us here? To play 'Let's Make an Evil Deal?'"

Lilah grinned. "'Show him what's behind door number one, Bob.'" She opened the door before them, revealing a very large office. "I know it's not much," she added, "but the Taj Mahal was a bit of a commute."

"What, am I supposed to swoon?" Angel queried. "It's an office."

"With your own private elevator," Lilah remarked, as she pressed a button on the wall and the doors slid back. "Care to take it for a spin?"

"What's it gonna do? Drop me in a vat of boiling water?"

"I was pushing for that, but they went with the motor pool. Figured you'd like to stay mobile, what with all that rushing out to save the day you're so fond of."

"Thanks, but I already have a car."

"Now you have 12."

"What am I gonna do with 12 cars?"

"Anything you want. That's the point, or haven't you been listening?"

Angel smiled. "I have, and, I'm done now." He turned and began to head out of the office.

"Wait, I forgot to show you the best part." she pressed another button. "You're gonna love this." The window blinds swished back to reveal the sunshine. "Necro-tempered glass. The whole building's fitted with it. Helps keep those uplifting, wholesome rays from deadly sunburn and 30% more energy efficient. Feels even better when you're naked. I could turn around."

Angel folded his arms. "Close it."

"Promise I won't peek. Well, maybe just a skosh."

"Close it, Lilah."

Lilah sighed and obliged. "Goodbye, Mr. Sunshine. Hello, gloomy avenger."

"Make that goodbye. On behalf of my boss, I'm not taking the job."

"If you accept this offer, you will be the boss. And it's not a job," Lilah insisted. "It's an opportunity."

"Ooh, an opportunity to be part of the problem."

"If that's what you choose."

"I Really don't."

"Again, your choice. Think of what you can do with the resources of Wolfram & Hart at your fingertips, the difference that would make. Nothing in this world is the way it ought to be. It's harsh, and it's cruel, but that's why there's you, Angel. You live as if the world were as it should be. With all this, you can make it that way. People don't need an unyielding champion. They need a man who knows the value of compromise and how to beat the system from inside the belly of the beast."

"The beast's belly?" Angel echoed. "Doesn't that usually mean you've been eaten?"

"Maybe." Lilah grinned. "While you've been namby-pambying around for the past 90 seconds, 6 innocent people have died. Oh, but don't worry. There's always 6,000 more just around the corner."

"Me and my friends will be leaving now."

"One time offer only, Angel. Walk out that door, deal's off. Stay, and it's all yours."

"People like you, this place, that's what's wrong with the world, Lilah. I will never be a part of this. Not the way you're hoping." He walked up to her. "Now, let me tell you what the deal's gonna be."

 


"This is the longest damn elevator ride I ever took," Gunn remarked. "How big is this place?"

Lacey made no response, other than glancing at him, then at her watch. "It's time," she uttered finally.

Gunn turned to her, as a feeling of dread overcame him. "Time for what?"

Lacey directed his gaze to the level panel, where another button, placed above all the rest, suddenly appeared. She pressed it.

"Where are we going?" Gunn asked her.

"The answers you seek lie within the room," Lacey replied.

"Only thing I seek is the lobby," Gunn informed, pressing the button in question to no avail. "And here I am thinking I was getting seduced. Well, I'm getting screwed all..." He trailed off as the elevators doors opened and bathed the shaft in a brilliant white light.

Gunn stepped forward, blinking until his eyes adjusted. He glanced nervously around the room. "Right. Come on, you got the wrong guy in here. This room's for the big....." he paused as he heard the sound of growling. "Cats."

A black panther came towards him. Gunn turned to Lacey, who was standing well back. "What is this?" He asked her.

"Your education," Lacey replied as the lift opened again.

"Buffy?" Gunn cried as he saw her and her guide in the elevator. "Get out of here, this is a trap."

The slayer smiled. "Don't worry, Gunn." She struck out, punching Lacey, sending her to the floor, then Roisin. "I've got it covered." She held out her hand.

Gunn grabbed it and leapt back into the elevator shaft. Buffy closed the doors and took a knife out of her jacket lining. She knelt down and cut through the floor, revealing the elevator tunnel.

"Wesley's meeting us on the next level," Buffy explained, before pointing her arm down through the hole.

Gunn smiled and followed suit. The trip wires shot out of their sleeves and down the tunnel, anchoring themselves to the wall just above the next entrance.

Carefully the two of them descended.

 


When they reached the doors leading to the floor below, Buffy knocked twice, signalling to Wesley who helped her to make them open. He reached out and pulled them into the empty corridor.

"So what was in your guide's closet?" He asked them.

"A slayer," Buffy answered. "Your guide's charge. Where is he, by the way?"

"Unconscious in the Ancient Prophecies Wing." Wesley showed them book he was carrying under his arm. "I'm hoping this will work outside the building."

"Any idea what was in that white room?" Gunn asked them.

"The white room? That's where they took you?" Wesley queried.

"Yeah," Buffy answered. "We had to escape from this panther, of all things."

"From what I heard about it, the last person who went in there, has been in an asylum ever since," Wesley informed them as they walked down the corridor. "What did they tell you it going to do?"

"They didn't," Gunn replied. "All they said was about finding us careers. Grander plans and all that."

"Heard from Angel yet?" Buffy asked Wesley.

"He sent me a text just after I got yours, asking us to meet him, Fred and Lorne in the Lobby. The plan succeeded, apparently."

The three turned the corner and reached the fire exit. Cautiously they descended the stairs until they reached the ground floor.

Outside Angel was waiting for them, with a annoyed Lilah standing behind him. Buffy hugged her fiancee, then stepped back and looked around.

"Fred and Lorne?" She queried.

"On their way," Lilah answered curtly.

"So, are we agreed?" Wesley asked Angel.

"Yes," Angel confirmed. "We get all the resources we choose; the books, prophecies and other archived information. We also get our pick of who we judge good employees. In return Wolfram and Hart move out of L.A. and never trouble us again."

"This was your plan all along, wasn't it?" Lilah asked Wesley, outraged.

"The moment you offered us the deal, we knew that we could not accept your terms," the Englishman confirmed. "So we discussed it and decided what we could take from you without being corrupted."

"I would have like to see you explain this to those Senior Partners," Buffy revealed, grinning at Lilah. "But we have a lot do."

"Yes," Angel agreed as Fred and Lorne came towards them. "We must be going now, Lilah. We will contact you and let you know exactly what we want."

"Been nice knowing you," Wesley added before they all walked out into the city.

 


Not until they had stepped inside the Lobby of the Hyperion did the team relax and noticeably breathe sighs of relief. None of them had been entirely sure that the plan they had agreed upon the night before would work, even when they put it into operation. Good had prevailed however, and they were back where they should be, victory achieved.

The slayer turned from her fiancee to her boss. "Who's calling Cordy and Groo?" She asked him.

"I'll do it," Wesley informed her. "Tomorrow. I think we all need to get some sleep."

"Do you think all our guides were corrupt?" Fred asked him.

"Not all, perhaps," Wesley replied. "But Lilah and Rutherford I wouldn't trust as far as Buffy or Angel could throw them."

"I liked Roisin," Buffy revealed. "I think we ought to ask her to join. That's if she'll forgive me for punching her."

"You can call her tomorrow," Angel said, wrapping his arm around her. "For now, let's go to bed."

"Let's," Buffy agreed, allowing him to lead her to the stairs. "Because I have a feeling that the end of Wolfram and Hart L.A Branch, means a lot of cleaning up for us."

The End.
To Be Continued In

Remnants.

Chapter Text

Remnants.

"So W & H offered you the keys to the castle?"

"Yeah," Buffy replied, trapping the phone between her head and shoulder as she fetched a snack from the fridge in the large, former hotel sized kitchen of the Hyperion. "We were stunned to say the least."

"And when did the portcullis come crashing down?"

"Surprisingly never. Building, work force, even resources were available."

"Benefits?"

"Salaries, cars, promotion, office space. But we saw the evil within the keep, so we made the deal our own. Selection of work force, plus all the resources. We also have the possibility of another slayer."

"Another? How did that happen?"

"They activated another after I died." Buffy bit into her chocolate bar as she waited for Faith to digest this new information.

"So, aside from being a lawyer for world's most evil legal firm, what's her trauma?" Faith asked.

"Having a watcher whose an evil lawyer for the world's most evil legal firm," Buffy replied, making Faith chuckle. "She so needs rescuing."

"Well we intend to," Buffy assured her. "I just hope she has forgiven me for punching her," she added with a sigh.

"I wouldn't worry. Your punches are hugely educational," Faith replied without a hint of malice, making Buffy smile at how much their relationship had improved since she moved to the big city.

"So how's your parole coming along?" Buffy asked. "Need a new lawyer? With our sudden windfall we might actually be able to hire a good one."

"Might be a help, but the current one's not too bad. She tells me I should hear something by the end of May."

"Wes wanted me to assure you that there's still a place for you here when you're released."

"Won't three slayers be overkill?"

"I think three slayers will be enough kill," Buffy replied. "L.A's a big city and two hours from the hellmouth."

"Speaking of which, how are the Sunnyhell gang?"

"They're okay." Buffy recounted the details of the reunion and Dawn's 'passing,' managing to keep her emotion in check for the first time since the sequence of tragic events. Strangely, though it had been a fortnight since everything occurred, to her it still felt like it had just happened yesterday. "It's nothing like before, but then I never thought it would be. I think they hoped things would return to normal though."

"At a loss, are they?"

"Falling apart at the seams. Giles is well out of it, and lucky for him too."

Faith, sensing from her 'sister's' tone that she still missed her former watcher, changed the subject. "That reminds me, when's your next visit? I want to see this engagement rock of yours. Get the 411 on the proposal and wedding plans."

"Give us a chance to sort out things here first. Wolfram and Hart's exit left the city in a total mess. All those vamps and demons rich enough to afford them, skipped town with them, and now its a race between their underlings to seize control of the now leaderless organisations." Buffy grimaced even at the recap of what they were facing. "Each minion wants and needs to prove themselves capable of commanding the underworld and think massacring our Investigations is the way to do it. We've barely had a moment's peace since the firm left. Even had to call Cordy and Groo back. If things get any worse, we might have to call Sunnyhell in just to even the numbers."

"Break me out before you contemplate that. I could use a good fight." Faith sounded almost wistful.

"The signal will be a visit from Wes," Buffy replied as she threw away her wrapper, sending it in a direct hit to the waste bin.

"Thanks," Faith acknowledged, as a fellow inmate tapped her on the shoulder impatiently. "I better end this. The natives are getting restless."

"Till the next time," Buffy remarked in farewell before ending the call. Barely had she put the receiver down when her cell beeped. She read the text, sent her reply, grabbed her weapons and exited the Hyperion.

Angel met her outside, top down and engine running on the GTX convertible.

"What's the sit?" Buffy asked as she got in the passenger side.

Her fiancee took the precaution of returning to the road before answering her. "A lot of vamps have ambushed children of some of the human clients of Wolfram and Hart and are holding them for ransom. One which they have no intention of honouring."

Buffy uttered a sound of disgust in reply before letting Angel describe the location of the nest where the group were ready and waiting to storm.

They arrived as fast as traffic would allow. Angel parked the car a block away and they ran to join the rest of Angel Investigations, who had gathered themselves at the best vantage point to observe the nest in question.

"How many?" The slayer asked.

"Fifty," Wesley answered grimly.

"Against seven of us? Yeah, those are good odds," Cordelia commented sarcastically.

Just then a window boarded up with thin planks broke, and into a hailstorm of glass and wood shards, dived a woman with dark brown hair.

"Who's that?" Groo asked.

"Roisin Winters," Buffy replied. "And I think we'd better help her," she added, before rising up and performing the same stunt.

Angel joined her in the hail, while those not blessed with quick healing took the liberty of waiting until the debris had dispersed before joining the fight.

None of the vamps had been expecting the attack, so the first few kills were relatively easy. Most retreated out of the more immediate threat of the sun's glare, and the firm followed them into the shadows. Angel and Buffy instinctively selected the strongest and went after them, while the others concentrated on the rest.

Due to the number and the confined space there was no time for fancy moves or roundhouse kicks, just the short, sharp thrusts of stakes, waiting for an unguarded moment to kill before moving on to the next. Every fight was intense, with little sound except growls and grunts as energy was slowly depleted.

Buffy staked her eighth and caught her weapon from the ashes in time to see that her next opponent had rounded on the dark-haired woman who had begun the assault. She was focused on finishing off her own, and therefore had no time to react to this new threat as she prepared to stake the first one. The vampire bared his fangs, scenting victory as he struck out, catching her legs, making her lose balance. As she fell to her knees, Buffy made her move, striking him from behind.

Roisin fell to the floor, the vampire turned to dust, and through the remains Buffy walked, and held out a hand.

"Thanks," the slayer said as she clasped the hand and pulled herself upright.

"You're welcome," was all Buffy had time to say before both of them had to plunge back into the fight.

 


It was only later, after they had rescued the children and restored them to the safety of their schools, that they had more time to talk.

She joined them as they gathered themselves in the centre of the now empty warehouse and surveyed the damage surrounding them.

"Nothing like jumping in at the deep end," Cordelia commented, breaking the exhausted silence. "Some welcome back party."

"Sorry, Cor," Buffy replied. "Banners will come when we can all take a break."

"Bloody lawyers," Wesley declared. "Oh, no offence," he added as he caught sight of the newcomer.

"None taken," Roisin assured him. "Besides I'm unemployed currently."

"Cordelia Chase and Groosalug, meet Roisin Winters," Buffy said. "Fellow slayer. The Watcher's Council activated her after I died."

"So there's three of you now?" Cordelia sought to confirm.

"Yeah," Buffy nodded. "Ought to start a band."

"Well I always was good with a violin," Roisin said with a smile. "Don't suppose you guys have a vacancy?"

"Glad you asked," Wesley remarked. "We could do with a legal department."

"And by department, he means person," Gunn informed her.

"Long hours, little pay, no benefits," Fred added. "Interested?"

"After two years with an evil firm, it will be nice to work for a good one," answered Roisin with a nod.

"Welcome to the team," Buffy said. "Oh, by the way, sorry for punching you."

"Well you saved my life back there, so I guess that wipes it out," Roisin returned.

"Lets get back to the Hyperion," Wesley decided and the eight departed the now abandoned warehouse for their vehicles.

 


As they walked through the entrance of the old hotel, it was Wesley who hung back talking to Roisin, as they had discovered her mode of transportation was a Harley Davidson.

Buffy caught some of their conversation and chuckled, making her soulmate blush with embarrassment.

"I've gotta ask," she began, looking at him, "what shade of pink are we talking about here? Pastel, or something more cerise?"

"Bordering on hot pink," Wesley replied, making the slayer laugh even harder and Angel blush even more, as he recalled the time he borrowed the former rogue demon hunter's spare biker's helmet after being forced to hitch a ride during a case.

"So is Faith applying for parole?" Roisin asked as they settled around the reception desk in the lobby.

"She hopes to hear something by May," Buffy said with a nod.

"And is she coming here?"

"Yes, but we are only two hours away from Sunnydale," Buffy replied.

"The Hellmouth? Are you looking for a permanent person there?"

"After Glorificus, there hasn't been a need," Buffy confessed. "But L.A. is a big city. And its wise to expect the unexpected from Boca de Inferno." She smiled at her sister in arms. "Don't worry. This won't be short term."

"Glad to here it." Roisin paused before changing the subject. "What do you do for fun around here?"

"Fun?" Gunn queried. "What's that?" He turned to Fred. "What is fun? Don't think I've heard of that word before."

"We do have fun, don't we?" Buffy asked seriously.

"Occasional flashes," Angel confirmed.

"Birthdays," Cordelia reminded them. "I know that yours was followed by Dawn's death, but you still enjoyed it, didn't you?"

"Was better than the others," Buffy agreed.

"You learn to savour them," Wesley added. "Before the next case comes along."

As if their boss's words were prophetic, the phone rang, causing Wes to go and take it in his office.

"Did you ever take in that show?" Fred asked the slayer.

"Yes, thanks by the way, it was really good," Buffy replied, the last to Gunn.

"What show?" Roisin inquired.

Buffy quoted a well-known line from the comedy series, making Roisin chuckle and they talked about the show until their boss returned from his office.

Angel Investigations took one look at their chief's grim face and instantly their own became clouded.

"More vampires?" Buffy asked.

"Yes," Wesley replied curtly.

"Demons?" Angel guessed.

"Both," Wesley confirmed.

His team acquired a new depth of grimness to their expressions.

"Demons and vampires working together," Roisin murmured. "Never a more deadly combination."

"Well, its demon singular, according to my contact," Wes explained. "He mentioned the title 'Gorgon, Prince of darkness,'1 which sounds vaguely familiar, but I can't remember from where."

"' A bold bad man, that dared to call by name, Great Gorgon, Prince of darkness and dead night,'"2 the slayer softly intoned, making everyone turn to face her.

Buffy smiled sheepishly. "Spenser3 was one of my required readings at Sunnydale UCA," she explained.

"Of course," Wes remarked in remembrance. "I think it's mentioned elsewhere as well." He added in afterthought.

"Research then," Fred declared enthusiastically, reminding Buffy of Willow long, long ago. The slayer sent a brief prayer to the Powers That Be that she would never become like her once best friend, before leading the way to the new library area of the Hyperion, where they had put all the occult books Giles had given them before leaving for England.

 


Before long, someone had found something.

"There's a reference here," Groo remarked, calling the others over. "By someone called Loctantius, in the 4th century. The footnote says that he broke with superstition because to mention the demon's name brought forth death and disaster."4

"Not another 'that which cannot be named,'" Buffy groaned, as she remembered the hell she had gone through with the last evil who came under that heading.

"Well, not after the 4th century." Groo tried to console her. "Loctantius calls him Demogorgon."5

"Otherwise known as Gorgon of the people," Wes defined. "Although some believe the Christian writer miscribed the word Deimurge."6

"Milton speaks of him in Paradise Lost,"7 Roisin said, as she and Buffy had both delegated themselves to studying Literature for references.

"And Spenser adds that he dwells 'down in the bottom of the deep abyss,' with the three fatal sisters,"8 Buffy added.

"Where else is he mentioned?" Angel asked.

"In John Dryden's The Flower and The Leaf, and Shelley's Prometheus Unbound,"9 his fiancee answered. "Although he makes him out to be the eternal principle who outs false gods," she added.

"Not uncommon for writers to have different ideas on ancient superstitions," Wes commented. "Gorgon by itself is originally a Greek term, used to describe three female demons; Medusa, Stheno and Euryale."10

"Medusa as in she who turned people into stone?" Cordelia sought to confirm.

"Yes," Wes nodded.

"Urrgh, and I thought Ovi Moboni was bad," Cordelia muttered before turning back to her book.

"Actually that's where the Nigerians got their mask from," Wes informed them. "Euryale heard of the tribe's deadly reputation and gave them the mask as a gift."11

"What, they were out of Hell in a hand basket?" The Seer commented sarcastically.

"That's what they usually send to me," Buffy mocked.

"Where did you say Demogorgon dwelt?" Roisin asked her.

"'Down in the bottom of the deep abyss,'" Buffy repeated. "Why, do you know of any such locations nearby?"

"Not exactly. But the 'Deep Abyss' is a club on Alameda Avenue."12

The others paused in their research for five seconds, then, as their common sense combined with their instincts for evil, abruptly closed the open books before them, and hurried out of the library area. Quickly they grabbed weapons, coats and keys before dashing out to the car park.

 


Half an hour later, just as the night time had established itself upon the city of Angels, the two motorbikes and two cars drove past the entrance to the club, in search of a nearby- and preferably empty -parking lot.

Once parked, they climbed out of their vehicles and, hiding their weapons of choice in their leather jackets, they approached the front door of the club with the casual, confident walk of someone who attended the place every night.

The doorman outside, fell into the gullible trap by paying them no more than a cursory glance. Angel passed closely by the guy, so close as to be able to make the appearance of his death invisible, by stabbing the vampire with one of his wrist automatic stakes through the heart, though to outsiders, the blow appeared to be nothing more than a pat on the chest.

Leaving the ashes on the street, the fang gang advanced into the main room of the club. One glance by each took in the situation, quantity of evil to kill and any potential innocents to save. This was followed by another at each other to convey actions before, all at once, they moved into attack.

Some twenty or so vamps were in attendance at the club, with a dozen or more human victims unwittingly along for the ride. On the stage was a band of three grotesque looking women, obviously disguised vampiresses, who had put on head dresses of faux snakes, singing a rock remix lustfully into the microphones before their mouths, which those below bumped and grind to.

Roisin, Buffy, Angel and the Groosalug fetched out the strongest, deadliest vamps to be their prey. The four were the first wave, a distraction for their nocturnal targets so the four humans of Angel Investigations could have the advantage of surprise when they struck. It would not last long, the vampires would soon notice how many were attacking them, realise that the odds were in their favour, and not their enemy's, but if both waves were fast in their strikes, it would take their prey longer to see that difference in strength.

Buffy parried the vampire's blow, waiting for the opportunity to take out the stake she had concealed in her black leather jacket. She watched the vampire's eyes, divining from them which direction the next strike would come. Despite the raid on the warehouse earlier, she still possessed scores of energy and the vampire was the first to tire. Staking him, she moved to the next target without hesitation.

Angel was near her, rescuing one of the dozen or so humans from the vampire, who, seeing the chaos around him, decided to take what he could to eat before hightailing it out of there. The former souled vampire now human champion still possessed a strength equal that of his opponent, and the vamp had learned of his reputation enough to fear the onslaught he was currently suffering. However, he also had a reputation to make, so he endured the blows, until his opponent showed mercy, turning him into ashes.

Roisin dealt with her vampire much the same as any other slayer. Born and educated in Cambridge, England, she had only been Called after she had already established herself in her career, when she had been called to the bar for one year. Her Watcher had been her boss at the attorneys firm she had joined, and the more time they spent together, the more her colleagues became convinced they were having an affair.

When her Watcher had talked of an opportunity to join Wolfram & Hart, Roisin had seen the big, worldwide corporation as a chance to get away from the small-minded and petty firm she had begun her career in. She had no idea what skeletons lay in the offices of her new firm, and her shock upon discovering the attorney's main body of clientele was on the same level as when she had learned of the existence of vampires and demons. That shock had faded away when she was offered the chance to customise her case load, to refuse those clients who were evil. For a time she had almost enjoyed working there.

When she had shown Buffy around the company, she had still operated under this delusion. Then she had discovered the stealth sabotage of her cases by the Senior Partners, during the chaos that was evoked by Wolfram and Hart's decision to leave the Los Angeles offices to Angel Investigations. Thus the offer made by the latter earlier today, was a blessing. Perhaps this time, her future would be secure.

As secure as a slayer's could be, that is. She staked the vampire before her and moved on to the next.

The Groosalug had yet to be offered a place at Angel Investigations, but he had been told by Cordy that it was only a matter of time. Their small vacation together had given him the sense of belonging which he had lost when Pylea declared itself a republic. He knew that he did not have much to offer this new world to which he had turned to, in the hope that his princess had not forgotten him, but what he could do was fight. Fight and win against these demons that Angel Investigations was charged with ridding the world of.

He had not expected his princess to welcome him as she had. Their first meeting, coupled with the short time they had spent together in Pylea, had not ended happily for all concerned. She had not given him her visions, and he had granted liberty to his people, against the plans of the monks who were meant to advise him, but in reality controlling his very destiny, as well as that of his people. Cordelia had woken him to the truth behind their lies, and made him realise they could choose how to live the lives Wolfram and Heart had ruled as gods for so many years. Then she had returned to her world, but not before declaring her love for him. He had understood why she had gone back home, applauded her for it; knowing her visions were needed to help the world she lived in as much as they had been needed in Pylea. It had not taken him too long to realise how much he missed her, or how little he was needed in his world. So he had gone to hers, with nothing but the clothes he wore and the love he had felt since he first set eyes on her. And not only had she made him welcome, but she had offered him a place in her world. A world which felt more like home to him than Pylea had, even before he gave it liberty.

A glancing blow struck his left arm, bringing him out of his thoughts. He brought up his right hand and the weapon within its hold to counter the strike, and returned his focus back to the fight before him.

Buffy staked her latest vampire, then, seeing there was an empty space before her, took a moment to breathe and re-gather her strength. When she felt ready to face her next opponent, she turned and looked about the dance floor. The remaining vampires seemed to be contained by her friends, leaving the three disguised vampiresses on the stage as her next targets. She advanced towards them.

The trio had stopped singing their tawdry rock remix long ago and were now standing still upon the stage, trying to judge what would be their next course of action; whether to run or to stay and fight. Suddenly their eyes and senses fixed upon the slayer who was coming towards them. Three sets of demonic eyes met those of the champion for good, blinked and, stupidly, decided that three against one were good odds.

Buffy halted her walk before the short set of stairs that led to the vampire trio, and instead of ascending them, choose to leapt the distance. Performing a somersault before landing on her feet in a classic fighting stance, she allowed them to form a triangle around her- to believe that they could achieve what no one else had managed to do since she entered the club- kill the slayer.

She let them advance one step forward, then raised her arms. Out of the cuffs of her leather jacket shot two stakes, as fast as bullets from gun, staking two sides of the triangle immediately. It was the first time she had used her wrist weapons in the club, a device which all of them had chosen to equip themselves with since the departure of Wolfram and Hart. The weapon's weakness of course was its inability to self-load, causing her to stick with handing to handing fighting until now.

As the ashes fell she walked another step towards the one remaining vampiress. Her prey exchanged one last frightened stare, then swiftly retreated. Buffy let her go, knowing that she had still had one more fight before this night was over.

Demogorgon must have heard her, for it parted the blood red curtains which had hidden the backstage from the dance floor, and entered the fighting arena before the slayer. Involuntarily, Buffy took a step back, nearly overwhelmed by the towering height which the demon possessed. But her hesitation only lasted as long as it took for her thoughts to accept the snakes that made up the Demogorgon's hair. She avoided meeting the demon's gaze, and took out one of the knives concealed in her coat. Swiftly she through her arm forward, using the knife like a javelin, sending the weapon upwards to one of the black clouded eyes.

The sharp point struck, but its impact did not have the hoped for affect. Demogorgon growled, but felt little pain. He advanced forward and grabbed with his large hand the vampiress that the slayer had previously spared. Despite her screams, he crushed her body with his grip at the neck, the ashes falling through his fingers.

Buffy took in the lack of energy her prey had not required to form that task, and glanced over her shoulder. "Guys, I could do with a little backup here!"

Angel and Roisin immediately staked the vamps before them and ran to help her. Using their supernatural strength they too leapt on to the stage, forming a triangle around the Demogorgon, just as the vampiress band had done moments before their deaths. Simultaneously they began attacking the demon, hoping their combined onslaught would defeat him.

The snakes rose out of the demogorgon's head, in quest of victims. Hissing, their long bodies slithered in the air, and their tongues poked out to test its elements. The rest of Angel Investigations staked the last lot of vampires and rushed at the animals, slicing at them with swords.

Miraculously this combined effort of attacking body and snakes at the same time seemed to work. Buffy, Roisin and Angel felt the former weakening before them, buckling under the pressure of the desperate assault. Suddenly his mouth emitted an inhuman groan and his body doubled over as they struck his chest from three sides all at once. The snakes hissed and retreated back to the head. The eyes became completely white, and the huge body fell to the stage floor.

Buffy, Roisin and Angel immediately jumped back before the weight could damage them. They landed shakily on the dance floor, and rolled, knowing they might suffer strained or broken ankles if their let their feet take the full impact of the jump.

En mass Angel Investigations took a moment to draw breath, then walked to the stage to survey the dead body of the demon.

"Why is the large ones never go poof?" Buffy asked rhetorically.

"Way too tired to even contemplate digging a grave right now," Cordelia added.

"I'd suggest blowing the place up instead but I don't I could even summon the strength to run," Angel remarked.

"Can't we just go biddy-boddy-boo and its gone?" Roisin remarked.

"Fairy tales rarely work in real life I'm afraid," Wesley answered with a sigh.

"Why don't we just put a sign on the door, get some rest, and bury the guy in the morning?" Gunn suggested.

"Good call," Buffy decided and slowly went to the bar to fish out the 'sorry, we're closed' sign.

When she had hung it on the door, they grabbed what soft furnishing they could find, and settled down for some much needed sleep.

They would pick with up with the world once more tomorrow.

The End.
To Be Continued In.
High Stakes.

Notes 1-11: Direct quotes from the Oxford Book of Quotations, and Brewer's Book of Phrase and Fable. Connections to the demon world of Jossverse is purely my dramatic license. 12 Is a street nearby the WB Studios.

Chapter Text

Author's Note: This is a rewrite of the episode Double or Nothing, minus the absence of Wesley and the emotional fallout of Connor's disappearance. A happy episode, before things get really dark for the end of what I plan to be the first season. Enjoy.

high Stakes.

"Come on, shirt off."

Angel sighed dramatically, and surrendered. Placing the cards he had been holding on the bed, he freed himself of the white shirt which covered his chest. He now only had two items of clothing left. "I'm sure this game was invented just so women could ogle their boyfriends when they lost."

"Angel," his girlfriend- who unlike him, had only been forced to take off her boots -began, "Poker was invented by men and played by them for centuries. Only in this liberated age for women can we play the game. The question you should be asking is why you're losing. For a man who once had the demon known as the Scourge of Europe within his power, continuing losing round after round is strange in comparison." She paused to gather the cards for a shuffle for the next round. "Unless you've deliberately been losing."

"My love, believe me, deliberately losing at strip poker would be the last thing on my mind. Particularly playing against you." He accepted his new lot of dealt cards. "When did you learn to play like this, anyhow?"

"Spike taught me and Dawn during the time my Mom was in hospital," Buffy answered, her tone becoming soft as she recalled that difficult year. Angel reached across the small space between them to hold her hand in sympathy. "Its' one of my few good memories of that time." Mentally shaking off the sadness caused by that recollection, she shifted the conversation slightly. "Didn't you spend some time in Vegas? Surely you learned to play while you were there."

The telephone rang at this point, putting a stop to conversation. Angel got up from the bed to pick up the receiver which was located on the beside table. "Angel Investigations, we help the helpless."

"I know, I work here, duh," came back the dulcet tones of Cordelia Chase. "We were wondering if you two were gonna stop whatever it is you're doing up there that we don't want to know about, and come down and, you know, do some work on the saving front."

"Cordelia, there's you, Fred, Roisin, Groo, Gunn, Wes and Lorne downstairs. Don't tell me we're that busy."

"No," Cordelia huffed. "There's a couple of demons whose species we can't pronounce. Frizzana? Frizzle-car? Ring any bells?"

"I think that's Frzylcka," Angel replied after a moment. "They're that demon couple who called last week about a squatter in their lair."

"Oh," Cordelia replied. "Right, Wes is dealing with them, isn't he? I guess you can go back to whatever it is you doing that I don't want to know about."

"Thanks," Angel finished wryly and put the receiver down. He turned to his girlfriend, who was sitting cross legged on the bed, cards in one hand, a smile on her lips. "Should I even bother to check my hand?" he asked her.

Buffy grinned. "Not unless you have four of the same symbol and number."

Angel smiled at her, and then suddenly dived across the bed. He tossed the cards aside and pounced on her. "I have a better idea."

His soulmate laughed as he swallowed her amusement in a passionate kiss.

 


Across town, in another building, a similar gambling game was being played, in the more professional surroundings of a casino. The dealer of the game turned one of the two cards representing the house face-up. A queen. He turned the second, to reveal an ace, causing groans to echo within the confines of the room.

"And twenty-one for the house," he declared aloud. The demon players sighed and surrendered their cards and dips to the dealer. Behind him a large demon passed by the game hut, then more tables playing blackjack, the roulette wheel and a few craps tables before approaching another well-dressed demon, the owner of the casino.

"Table 6," the owner remarked to one of his bouncers, "the one in blue. Palmed a king in his left hand. And Benny? Just take the left hand. We can still make money off the right." He turned to the new companion. "You. Good." He took a business card out of his pocket and handed it to him. "Bring him in. His marker's up."

The demon examined the business card. 'Angel Investigations' it read, together with the address and telephone number. As well as the name of the owner of that card.

"It's time to collect his soul," the owner continued.

 


"Wesley. That was it," the woman said.

Cordelia smiled and nodded to the man sitting beside her. In typical British politeness, Wes waited in silence for the clients to recognise him.

"Don't be ridiculous, Monica," the husband said. "It wasn't Wesley, it was Sherman."

"Sherman?" his wife scoffed. "You don't even know any Shermans. It was Wesley. Irish fellow, right?"

"He was English, you old bat. Whoever heard of an Irishman named Wesley?"

"You see what I put up with? Anyway, that's who we talked to. Is he here?"

Wesley smiled and leaned forward. "I'm here, and I apologise for not getting back to you sooner. We were occupied in dealing with the fallout from the collapse of Wolfram and Hart. Now, it says in your file you have a squatter in your lair?"

"Damn no-good Skench demons," the husband, Syd commented. "They're all alike."

"Here we go..." his wife remarked with a sigh.

"A person spends his entire half-life.." Syd continued.

".....building a lair to relax in," Monica interrupted.

Her husband was oblivious. ".....and what happens? A Skench demon squats...."

".....right down on your coffee table," Monica finished. "Ask me how many times I've had to listen to this."

"Like you ever listen," Syd pointed out.

"And you have so many interesting things to say," Monica responded.

"So Skenches," Gunn interrupted. He, along with Fred, had joined the meeting. "I've heard about them. Sorta impish kinda demon -- like a leprechaun?"

Syd scoffed. "Leprechauns don't exist, son."

"Now, Syd, don't embarrass the lad," Monica admonished.

"Sorry, kid."

"Skenches take over a house, right?" Gunn sought to confirm. "Drive out the people who live there?"

Monica nodded. "Well God knows you can't stay, what with the shrieking all night and the projectile phlegm."

"Only thing worse is puttin' up with her for the last three hundred years," Syd remarked.

"You've been married for three centuries?" Fred said in astonishment.

"Ever since the mitosis," Monica answered.

"Not that I'd mind being a single-celled organism again, if you get my drift," Syd responded pointed.

"Oh, shut up, Syd. You never......"

"......had it so good. As if I need reminding."

Gunn turned to Wesley. "I thought gettin' rid of a Skench was pretty easy, though. Don't you just lop off its head?"

Syd answered for the ex-watcher. "Well, sure, if you can avoid the phlegm."

"Syd has a phobia about phlegm," Monica informed them.

"I do not. I have a phobia about sputum," Syd corrected.

"Okay," Gunn remarked, anxious to bring the interview to a close. "Think we got everything we need. I'll get right over and clean out your Skench problem today."

Fred rose as well to see them to the door. "Thanks so much for coming. We'll call you as soon as it's done."

As the couple exited, Monica could be heard saying, "Oh, for cryin' out loud, Syd, that girl's not a sixteenth your age. Put your eyes back in your head. I mean it, ya doddering old coot! Put 'em back in!"

Gunn followed her out of the office, followed by Wesley and Cordelia. "Man. You hear those two?"

"It's beautiful," Fred decided. "All that time and they're still in love. The way they finish each other's insults, it's so....."

"Beautiful," Gunn finished, smiling at his girlfriend.

Groo turned away from the reception area to face them "Is there evil to vanquish?"

"Thanks, bro, but I got it," Gunn replied. "Just a little mucus demon under Alvarado and Clark. I'll be back soon."

"Don't forget your machete!" Fred reminded him.

"Yes, dear," Gunn answered with a grin, before grabbing the weapon in question and leaving the Hyperion.

"He is very fortunate to have such a woman looking after his weapon," Groo remarked.

Lorne looked at him. "I'm not touchin' that one. Anyway. I gotta run. I have a reading in Topanga Canyon." He gestured a hand to the stairs in the general direction of the room where their champions were currently located. "Give me a call when those two finally emerge from the bedroom."

 


Down below town, in the sewer tunnels, Gunn twirled his machete as he walked until he approached a slight indentation in the wall, below which a welcome mat lay.

"'Gurforg bless our home,'" Gunn read aloud. "Gotta be it." He opened the door and entered the Frzylckas' home.

Inside, the rooms appeared as if some one had laid waste to the place with blue slime covering lamps and walls.

Gunn examined the classic decor. "Smells like old people in....." he trailed off a he moved to dodge a wad of blue slime, which hit the wall behind him. It was followed by an inhuman shriek. "......here," Gunn finished when he had gathered himself. "Gross!"

Skench rose out of hiding from behind the couch. Gunn took in the tall, strong albino-white demon with a big round shaped mouth.

"Okay. Definitely not a leprechaun," he observed to the room before launching into the battlefield.

 


"Hello. We welcome your telephonic......" Groo hung up on the empty line of the telephone before trying again. "Hell. Many thanks for telephoning........ Hi. This is Groo. I can't make it to the phone right now, but if you'll leave a message, I'll get back to you as soon as I can."

"See?" His girlfriend smiled. "That wasn't so hard was it?"

"Your speaking path is so odd," Groo replied.

"You get used to it." Cordelia replied. "I'm gonna get some lunch, you want anything?"

"Thank you my princess, but no." Groo watched her depart to the kitchen, then turned to the door as it swung open. "Hail to you, potential client. How may I be of service?" He asked the stranger.

"This Angel Investigations?" The stranger asked.

"It is. Are you in need of help?" Groo asked.

"So you must be Angel..." the demon began. "I'm looking for one of your employees."

 


In the home of the Frzylckas' the fight of Gunn verses the Skench demon was progressing well. The former managed to strike a swing at the demon's head, the move causing Skench to drop to the floor, and lunge in reply. Gunn aimed a kick at his midsection, sending over the coffee table. Grabbing the machete, Gunn leapt on top of the furniture, and put the weapon to the demon's throat. Struggling, he drove the blade through it's neck.

Skench shrieked, sending another phlegm projectile of blue slime straight up towards his killer. Gunn dodged the spray, making it's target the ceiling, leaving him to watch from his position on the floor as it impacted.

"Must be my lucky day," Gunn chuckled before standing.

"Wanna bet?" A voice remarked, making him look up, to see a demon standing at the door. A demon he met only once.

Seven years ago. He had walked into the casino......

"What you want?"

"I wanna talk to the man."

"You got an appointment?"

"No. Got business."

"Over here, Slick, little touch n' go. You packin'?"

"No."

"He could kill you ten ways from Sunday even if you were, but then he'd cook me, too... You're clean."

"Told ya'."

"Guess not everyone's as honest as you, bro'."

"I'm not your bro'."

"Know that. You got a name or just a 'tude?"

He had given his name, and the demon had led him into a curtained area.......

"Name's Gunn."

"Charles Gunn if I'm not mistaken. Man of the streets, protector of the young and innocent. What can I do for you, Mr. Gunn?"

"I want somethin'."

"Not sure I can help. I don't traffic in "wants", I supply needs. Kinda things you gotta have right now or you'll die. They tend to be more valuable."

"I need it."

"Then maybe I can assist. What is it? Money, power, love?"

Gunn had handed him a picture.....

"Very nice. She's a real beauty. I can make it happen. But there's a cost. I guess you know that."

"Yeah."

"It's nothing you have to pay now, but one day you will. The cost, Mr. Gunn, is your future."

"What future?"

"Well, there's that. Still, I need you to state for the record, of your own free will, you're sure you wish to mortgage your future for your present happiness?"

"I'm sure."

"Shake on that? Good."

"You made a deal..." the demon reminded him, bringing Gunn sharply back to the present. "Signed a blood oath trading your soul. You think that's an arrangement you can get out of? This ain't some D.vs.D. club -- although the one I'm in plays pretty rough, too."

"Who said I'm trying to get out of anything?" Gunn countered, bluffing.

The demon saw through it. "You're planning on giving your soul to another, aren't you?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Some broad, you're fallin' for her hard..."

"Fred?" Gunn uttered softly.

"I don't know, we don't get a name, just an image. Skinny white girl? Big eyes? We're professionals, we keep an eye on the Akashic records, think we wouldn't know when one of our souls was about to be transferred?" He paused, before seeking to confirm, "isn't Fred a guy's name?"

Gunn glared at him.

"Hey, none a mine, I'm just here to tell ya', you broke the contract. Your soul ain't yours to give, it's Mr. Jenoff's to take."

"I gotta see him."

"What you gotta do is pay up. He's not happy, now here I am talking to you."

Gunn sighed. "I'm not... I'm not the same person I was back then."

"We all get older. And we all pay our debts to Mr. Jenoff."

"There must be something else. Something else he can take."

The demon affected astonishment. "Gee, I never heard that before..... except every damn time the bill comes due. Now listen good: you got twenty-four hours to get your house in order and get your ass on down to that casino. If you're thinkin' about runnin' or cheatin', don't. Cause then we take your soul and the girl's, too."

"She's got nothing to do with this."

"Well, you can keep it that way or you can get her killed. It's up to you now, Slick. See ya' tomorrow."

 


In a daze, he walked for many hours, eventually returning to the Hyperion. As he neared the centre of the entrance lobby, he saw his girl discussing something with Wesley in his office. The two were laughing and smiling.

"R whooh kah bay?" A voice remarked, causing him to turn and face Cordelia. "What?" Gunn asked her.

Cordelia swallowed her bite of sandwich and repeated. "I said, are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," Gunn lied.

Angel Investigations resident Seer saw straight through it. "You are not okay, pal."

"I'm a little tired but...."

"Cordelia here. I can read the misery on your face. I know what's going on."

That caught him by surprise. "You do?"

"It's pretty obvious."

Gunn looked at her. She couldn't possibly know. He tried again. "I'm... happy."

"And wracked with guilt because of it. Well don't be. You and Fred were meant to be, and Wes gets that. He always did."

Gunn inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. Yet, at the same time, a notion of regret swept his mind.

Cordelia carried on. "... she's a doll. Who wouldn't be head over heels? I admit I was a little slow on the uptake. I thought she and Wes... but the way you two look at each other, well, I got eyes. I don't know why Lorne needs people to sing to figure out what's on their minds."

Gunn agreed. "No. You saw right away that I was..."

"Happy. Nothing to feel bad about. You and Fred have your whole big bright futures ahead of you and I'm here to tell you, it's all right to enjoy it. Life goes on."

"I should enjoy my future," Gunn remarked distantly.

"I'm just sayin'. If there's one thing I learned living on a hellmouth: every day is precious, you never know when it may be your last."

Gunn was still staring at Fred. "I never figured I'd be around this long. Or have this much."

"Some people never know one day of joy. You're lucky," Cordelia answered.

"Maybe I am," Gunn realised, though his words had an entirely different meaning.

"So live a little. We don't have any pressing cases and I haven't had a vision in like...." she trailed off, suddenly putting a hand to her temple. "Oh wait. I'm having one right now... It's of you and Fred taking tomorrow off. And see, my visions; never wrong."

Gunn smiled at her. "Thanks."

"Welcome. Have some fun," Cordelia walked away, leaving him alone, staring at his girl through the window wall.

Wondering about the best way to break her heart.

 


The next morning Fred woke up to the ringing not of her alarm, but the mobile beside her bed. She picked it up, checked the id, then answered the call. "All right, ready? Red t-shirt, your dark blue jeans, grey boots." She paused to hear his response. "Was I right about any of it? Okay, that was just a warm up: Yellow long sleeve tee, grey cords, tan boots." She smiled at his reply. "See, record secure. Never takes me more than twice." She listened again. "Me? I just woke up. Maybe you should come over here and find out. Mmmm-mmm... yeah... depends how soon you can get here... course if it takes you too long....."

She broke off as the door to her room in the Hyperion opened.

"It won't," Gunn answered, as he entered, a silver covered tray in one hand, the cell pressed to his ear in the other.

"Hey," Fred replied, before turning to the phone. "Sorry, have to cancel, somebody just walked in my door."

Gunn smiled before replying into his own handset. "He better looking than me?"

Fred grinned. "Way. And..... he brought me breakfast in bed!" She hung up her phone.

Gunn closed his and placed the tray before her. Voila, Madame. Room service."

"Cool," Fred replied. Suddenly a thought occurred to her. "You didn't cook, did you?"

"Nope." He smiled and lifted up the cover, to reveal two takeout containers and one long stemmed red rose. "Your favourite food from your favourite diner."

Fred opened the containers. "Pancakes and waffles? I'm in starch-heaven, yu-um." She dove in. "Is today special or something?"

"Yup. Very special."

"How come?"

"Cause we have the day off."

"We do?"

"And we are going to spend every minute of it having the best day of our lives."

"Well, now it's official."

"What?"

"You are the best boyfriend ever." She dropped her fork and pulled him in for a kiss.

 


Several hours later, at a cafe in Marathon Park, Fred was sitting across from Gunn at a table, surrounded by souvenirs from their day off. A banner from The Pier was tied around her neck; shopping bags lay scattered at her feet, a cardboard crown adorned her hair, and a pennant from the Dodgers game was doing the same to the table.

"Now, for out next item of pleasure: we got movies galore. You wanna go to the twelve plex, hit the previews in every theatre? It'd be like seeing a years' worth a movies all at once." He paused, catching on finally to her overwhelmed expression. "Somethin' wrong with the shake? It's your favourite, double mocha double whip."

"I'm... kinda full," Fred confessed.

"Oh my god, this is serious," Gunn pretended shock.

"It's just, Sixth Street tacos, fish sticks at the Pier, Dodger dogs..."

"Don't fold on me now, girl, we still got a lot of fun to go today."

"Oh... I'm for the fun... it's just, we have too much more of it I might explode."

"Right. Sorry." He pulled the drink away from her. "No more food..... but movie-club-shopping fun still to be had..... wanna hit the roller rink?"

"Charles, I think I'm kinda wiped."

A dark cloud began to ascend on his high. He hadn't wanted this moment to come, even though he knew it was inevitable. "Oh."

"It's just we've been having so much... fun today. Don't you think we should save some, before we use it up and all the other people get sad... 'cause we took all the happy?"

"Oh god. I blew it. I tried too hard."

"No. It's been like the most beautiful wonderful day ever, aside from the hurly burly and the knot in my tummy. Being with you is always special. It's just... it's not like we have to cram the rest of our lives into one single day." She took his hand across the table. "Right? Oh my god," she uttered, suddenly realising. "You did try too hard. You haven't been yourself all day. You're doin' all this because... because something's wrong, something's terribly wrong."

"No,...." Gunn began, hating himself.

"Charles, do you have leukaemia?"

The inquiry was so out of left field, that Gunn started to laugh.

Fred was outraged. "Don't laugh at me! I see it on the news all the time; they're young and in love, their whole lives ahead of them when tragedy strikes....."

Gunn sobered. "I'm not sick."

"You're not? You promise?"

"I'm not sick."

"Oh thank god. I feel better. Except for the terrible knot I've had inside all day....." she trailed off, realising the true source of her stomach ache. "Which is not the food, it's... us. What's wrong with us?"

"It's nothing."

"Oh, that helped."

"Maybe we should just go back to the hotel and call it a ...."

"And maybe we should stay right here and you should stop lying to me," Fred interrupted, catching him off guard. "I know something's wrong. Just be honest and tell me. Whatever it is we'll get through it together."

It was time. He shook his head. "No. We won't."

"What?"

"This isn't somethin' we're gonna talk through, you share your feelings, I share mine, then we have a big hug."

"I don't think I like the way you're talking to me."

Gunn kept his tone cruel. "Too bad."

Fred swallowed back her tears. "Why are you... why are you being so mean?"

"I'm being honest." Gunn countered. "Isn't that what you want?"

"Yeah. Be honest." Fred paused to gather her strength. "Is it me?"

"Wow. You finally figured that one out."

"What .......what's wrong with me?"

"Now I gotta make a list? I really don't have that much time."

"Are you joking? Charles..." Fred felt her good mood completely disappear. "What's happening?" She asked desolately.

"What's happening, girl, is you and me are over. Done."

Denial was easy to stand behind. Fred took shelter. "No."

"Am I askin'? I'm tellin'. I've had enough."

"I don't believe you."

"Best start." Gunn rose from his seat, ready to leave.

"But... wait... is there someone else? What... what's her name?"

"Her name is 'I'm a real woman, not a stick figure.' Get the picture?" Inwardly, he flinched from her tearful face, but it had to be done. "Speak up."

"...yeah," Fred managed to get out through her tears.

"Good. See ya' around." He walked out of the cafe, then around the corner of the street, determined not to look back.

If he had, he would have seen his girl gather her grief, pay the bill, then head out, back to the one place she knew that she could turn to for help.

 


In hindsight, she was lucky that they were decent. But then, her situation did not have time for her to adhere to social niceties.

"Fred?" Buffy stepped away to let the girl inside her and Angel's room, and the expression on their friend's face caused Angel to rise from the bed.

"I'm sorry. I was gonna knock, but it's not a good time, so I didn't, but I don't know what else to do..." Fred broke off as tears overwhelmed her once more.

Angel came to join his fiancee by the door. "Fred, what is it? What's wrong?"

"It's Charles. I think he' s in terrible danger."

 


Across town Charles walked into the casino he had once entered seven years ago. He walked up to Jenoff, meeting the respectful and surprised glance of the demon who had reminded him of the debt just a day ago. "I'm here to pay my bill."

Jenoff turned to face him. Slowly he took his fingers out of the eye-sockets of the last client who had come to pay his bill.

And smiled evilly at the next one in line.

His house always won.

 


"Wow," the slayer remarked.

I know, hunh?" Fred returned, a little more composed now the initial shock had passed.

"I am sorry this has come to pass," Groo uttered.

"I'm a little confused," Roisin confessed.

"About what? What was unclear?" Fred asked.

"Well... upstairs, you said you thought Gunn was in danger," Buffy sought to confirm.

"He is!"

Cordelia nodded slowly. "Right... and you think that be- cause..."

"He broke up with me!" Fred finished.

"Ah," Cordelia, still confused.

Fred registered the confusion on their faces and tried to explain. "But not really!"

"Oh. No?" Angel queried.

"No!"

"That is good. I am most relieved," Groo remarked.

"What? No! This is worse! Much worse! I wish he had broken up with me!"

Cordelia tried to sympathise. "Fred, I hate to say this, but... are you sure he didn't? I mean, those things you said he said to you..."

"I know I said he said those things to me, but he would never say those things to me!" Fred protested confidently. "That's how I know he's in trouble! Don't you see? He hurt me! And the only reason he'd do that is to protect me from something! And whatever it is, it's gotta be bad because... this hurts like hell."

"Then I guess we better help him," Angel declared for all.

"Cordy, try his cell again," Buffy asked her.

The seer tapped the number into the phone, and waited. One voice mail message later, and the absence was obvious. "Still no answer."

"Oh, god," Fred uttered fearfully.

"This does not bode well," Groo agreed.

"Okay, then we'll have to split up," Wes decided.

Groo nodded. "To cover more ground. That is a good plan. I agree."

"Fred, Buffy and I can hit Gunn's old gang haunts, see if maybe they've heard from him lately," Angel suggested.

"Or if they know of any old enemies he might have," Roisin added.

"Cordelia and Groo, you two go by Gunn's place, just make sure," Wesley decided.

"Maybe we could report his truck as stolen," Cordelia offered.

Buffy shook her head. "Not a terribly good idea to get the police involved if none of this pans out....."

"We should leave a note here for Lorne, let him know what's going on," Fred remarked.

"And If none of us come up with anything, we'll regroup back here at midnight," Wesley finished.

Groo held up one of the business cards. "And perhaps as we search, we could leave these small rectangles behind us, as did that creature who came by yesterday inquiring after Gunn."

"Right. Good..." Angel broke off as realisation dawned. "What?"

"Small rectangles with telephonic digits. As a way for people to get in touch with us should they learn anything."

"Could I see that?" Groo nodded and gave it to Buffy.

"Somebody came by here looking for Charles?" Fred sought to confirm.

"Yesterday. Please remind me to give that rectangle to Gunn when we find him, for I am confident we shall."

"Guy works for Jenoff," Angel remarked, as he caught sight of the name on the back.

"Jenoff?" Buffy queried.

"The Soul Sucker."

 


"Charles Gunn," Jenoff smiled as he advanced towards him. Behind two demons took away the corpse of the last bill payer. "I'm impressed. Not a lot of guys come in through that door of their own free will; not the second time, anyway. She must be pretty special, this girl you were gettin' ready to give my merchandise to."

"I'm here to make good on my debt. You don't even talk about her," Gunn remarked firmly. "Once we're square, you don't even think about her."

"She was never part of the deal." Jenoff turned his demon sidekick. "Hold him."

"I'm not gonna run," Gunn answered, before turning to the other demon. "But touch me and you'd better." He turned again to Jenoff. "Let's just get this over with."

Jenoff lifted his hand, his index and middle poised, ready to strike.

It was about then that the door fell down, and Gunn's cavalry arrived; Angel, Groo, Buffy and Roisin in front, while Fred, Cordelia and Wes brought up the rear.

Three of the demon bouncers rushed to attack them. The four champions took them on, sending them easily to the floor. In the midst of this melee, Fred burst through the crowd and called out to Gunn.

"Charles!"

"Fred!" Gunn responded, but was restrained by another pair of bouncers.

Demons from the craps and blackjack tables surrounded them.

Angel caught one of the demons and pushed his weapon at it's neck. "Who's a guy gotta kill to talk to the boss around here?"

Jenoff stepped forward. "I'm the boss. Mind telling me why you're disrupting my business?"

"Actually, it's you who's disrupting my business," Wesley answered, stepping forward. "You're about to deprive me of a very valuable employee. Charles Gunn works for me."

"Good business man looks into the backgrounds of potential employees. Had you done that, you might've learned he was strictly short-term material."

"Then I'll make a deal with you...." Angel volunteered. "You release him, forget what he owes you and I'll let you live."

Jenoff was unimpressed. "Thank you." He turned his bouncers. "Kill 'em."

"Double or nothing!" Buffy yelled.

Jenoff halted his exit. "You offerin' me your soul?"

The slayer smiled. "A chance to win it, anyway. I choose the game. I win, we walk outta here. Gunn's debt disappears. You win You get us both."

Jenoff smiled. One ordinary soul, and a slayer's. This would be sweet. "Walk this way, lady. I have just the table."

Buffy followed him and sat down across the table. She took the cards from the dealer and shuffled them flawlessly.

Angel placed his mouth by her ear. "A brilliant stall tactic, bought us some time. Now what's the plan?"

Buffy shook the cards. "This is the plan."

"Really?" Cordelia queried sceptically.

"Really. We're gonna win Gunn's soul back."

Fred removed her eyes from Gunn, who was being restrained by two bouncers still, across from them on the other side of the club. "This is so wrong in so many ways. I mean, it isn't money or a stuffed bunny Buffy's playing for. It's my boyfriend."

"Fred, I understand you're nervous," Buffy sympathised. "Don't be. I've been around a long time, slayer wise. Played a lot of cards and won a lot of bets."

"See, that's where we're different. I tend to get lost and lose things. And I can't lose Charles."

"I'm not gonna lose," Buffy assured her. "I've got too much at stake to do so."

"You worried about this?" The demon sidekick muttered to Jenoff.

"Like taking candy from a baby."

Groo turned to Angel. "If we must rely on luck, I prefer the odds of my sword. We should fight our way out."

Angel reluctantly shook his head. "Gotta disagree, Groo. Fighting puts all of us at risk. Buffy's way is safer."

"If she's wins!" Fred objected.

"I'm gonna win," Buffy assured her. Under the table, she took out a dagger from her pocket and handed it to her soulmate. "But if I lose... You know what to do. Just make it quick."

Angel took the dagger. "You know I will."

"One hand of cards," Jenoff stated as he sat down across from the slayer. "If you win, this man, walks free. If I win, I keep his soul, and I get yours."

Buffy nodded.

"Name your game. Omaha, Texas Hold 'Em, Seven Card Stud...?"

"How 'bout a simple cut of the deck? High card wins," Buffy suggested.

"Slayer's not only got a soul, she's got guts." Jenoff turned to the deck of cards lying on the table before them. "Feeling lucky?"

Buffy gestured. "After you."

Jenoff smiled and made his cut. The five of clubs. A murmur swept the room, while the members of Angel Investigations breathed a sigh of relief.

Buffy made her cut. She turned it over, and waves of shock and horror conquered her and the gang.

"A three?" She queried, staring at the card's three hearts.

"A three...?" Gunn echoed.

Jenoff however was triumphant. "A three! You lose."

Buffy met her fiancee's gaze. He took the dagger from it's hiding place in his trademark leather jacket, and struck.

Jenoff roared in agony as his hand received the full impact of the silver blade.

"That quick enough?" Angel asked his beloved.

Buffy grabbed his axe, and swung across the table, decapitating Jenoff. "Works for me."

Gunn punched the demon sidekicks. "Look out." He called to Buffy.

The slayer shrugged. "It's over. No need to say thanks."

"You're right," Gunn agreed. "If killing him was that easy, I would've done it myself."

Angel Investigations turned their gaze back on Jenoff, as he grew another head.

Buffy turned to address the room. "So who else in here owes this guy?"

As the demons swooped in on the soon to be dead casino owner, the fang gang made their escape back to the Hyperion.

 


"Say it again. A little slower this time."

Gunn adjust his seat, careful not to hit the steering wheel, and turned to face his girl. "I was terribly, terribly wrong to break up with you and say those mean, untrue things."

Fred basked in the moment. But only for a moment. "Good, now say it into the tape recorder." She held out her hand like a mike.

Gunn gently took it in his. "I'm really sorry and I'll never do it again." He kissed her hand softly.

"I'm just glad you're all right," Fred confessed, stroking his cheek.

He searched her gaze. "I'm only all right if you and me are good. We are, aren't we?

Fred nodded. "Just one last thing."

"Name it."

"Who'd you trade your soul for?"

"It was a long time ago."

"I know. But I want you to tell me and we'll never talk about it again. Who was she? Charles..."

"That was way before I met you."

"You musta wanted her pretty bad to trade your soul."

"Guess I did..."

"Just tell me."

"You'll think it's stupid."

"I won't."

"It was a truck. I was seventeen years old and I sold my soul for a truck."

Fred took in her surroundings. "Not this truck?"

"Don't go dissin' my girl."

Fred chuckled. "Oh, Charles. Your soul wasn't worth air conditioning?"

"Look, back in the day this truck kept me alive. Helped me save other lives too. I know it sounds dumb, but a soul didn't seem like such a big deal. Didn't think I had a future then." His eyes met hers. "Now I do."

They kissed.

"What is it about you that makes me melt?" Fred asked him.

"Maybe it's that I love you," Gunn replied.

"That's gotta be it."

They kissed again.

 


"Wow. I can't believe this."

Buffy groaned as she surveyed her cards and then those of her grinning soulmate. "This is incredible," She agreed. "Twice in a row on the same night? I'm losing my touch."

"That ain't all you're gonna be losing," Angel uttered, still grinning. "Off with them."

The slayer sighed and raised her arms as she began to remove her last few articles of clothing. "I don't know why you're so smug. It's not like you haven't seen it all before."

"Yeah, but with you, every time is like the first time. Except for the rainstorm and the horrible soul losing aftermath."

"Charmer," Buffy tossed her clothes on the floor, and made to remove her silver cross.

Angel leaned across the bed, forestalling her. "Nu-uh, leave that on."

Buffy shook her in amusement, but complied, before letting her future husband sweep her off her butt on to the silk sheets of their bed.

The End.
To Be Continued In

Dodging the Bullet.

Chapter Text

Author's Note: We finish this season on a four part story, which crossovers into Btvs; becoming a rewrite of the end of Season 6. This series is turning out a lot darker than I originally planned, so lookout.

Dodging the Bullet.

Previously, in Sunnydale........

"Hey. Clothes." Willow remarked, after she had finished buttoning up her blouse.

"Better not get used to 'em," Tara returned.

"Hmm, yes ma'am," Willow replied, before hooking her fingers in Tara's belt loop, pulling her in for a kiss. A chaste embrace in contrast to the ones the night before, and they moved into a hug now with comfortable ease.

"Mmmm... Xander!" Tara said suddenly.

Willow pulled back from the hug. "Okay, not quite the response I was fishing for," she joked.

"No, he's here," Tara explained as she advanced to the window. Despite the barrier created by the net curtains, the figure of their friend could be seen outside, walking around the garden of 1630 Revello Drive. "So's Anya," she added in surprise, leaning forward to get a better look.

Willow looked up from her opened dresser drawer. "Think they're making up?" She asked.

Tara turned from the window to smile at her. "I hope so, that's the best part."

Her girl returned the smile, and silently their thoughts drifted to the scene outside and below them, wondering what the once couple could be saying to each other.

If they had heard and seen them, this is what they would have witnessed.

Anya was exploring the bushes with a stick, her mind focused on what she was searching for, and trying not to think about the consequences previous discoveries had caused.

"Time for the Spring Poking already?" A voice asked her, making her turn round. Xander stood there before her, bringing the memories of those consequences back, and more besides.

Anya tried to sound normal as she replied. "Just making sure there are no more Evil Trio cameras. Or Evil Uno."

"The sinister yet addictive card game?" Xander queried.

"Warren. Jonathan and Andrew are clinked now, remember?"

"Vividly," Xander answered, his meaning ambiguous, making her turn away. Hurriedly, he continued. "We'll find him. He won't be much good without his friends."

"No, he won't," Anya added softly. Now it was her turn to have her words contain double meanings.

Silently they moved to the nearby bench, a token agreement to start peace talks. Uncertain, both waited for the other to make the first move.

Eventually Xander let his breath out in one long exhale, before speaking. "How did we get here?" He asked her.

"Scenic route," Anya replied. "Long drive."

"The past few weeks..." Xander trailed off, hating to recall them.

"I know," Anya answered.

"I thought I hit bottom, but ... it hurt. That you didn't trust me enough to tell me about Spike," Xander paused, before repeating softly, "It hurt."

"I thought....... there was nothing left between us. That it would have only made things worse," Anya replied. "But, I'm sorry. I should have told you,"

"Maybe you would have, if I hadn't given you so many reasons to think I'd be an ass about it," Xander pointed out.

"Guess we've all done a lot of things lately we're not proud of," Anya added, remembering what else she had yet to tell him.

"I think I've got you beat," Xander said with a smile, and suddenly, even though she knew it could wreck this fragile peace between them, Anya wanted to tell him. "Wanna compare?" She asked.

"Not so much," Xander replied, unconsciously making her impulse fade away. "I don't know what I'd do," He added, after a moment, "without you, Tara and Will."

"Let's not find out," Anya said suddenly, causing him to nod. He drew her into a hug, and there again, was that confessional need, the desire to have everything straight between them. The want to begin their relationship again.

"I love you," Anya uttered softly, her voice laced with tears, as he hugged her tightly. "You know that, right?"

Xander flinched, making Anya regret her statement, but she soon discovered that it wasn't from her words. "Anya!" He remarked, jumping up from the bench and pulling her up with him.

Warren strode towards them, still clothed in the all black outfit from the night before when the four of them had tried to catch the trio, minus his rocket suit. "You think you can just do that to me?" He cried to them. "You think I'd let you get away with that?" He laughed inanely. "Think again."

He raised his arm, revealing a gun in his hand. His finger pushed the trigger back feverishly, letting two bullets escape the barrel.

Xander shoved Anya down to the ground before hitting the grassy terrain himself.

Warren fired again as he ran off.

Two bullets hit the ground, their power to injure rendered an end by the earth.

Another made a soft shattering sound as it broke through the glass of the window above.

Willow was still standing by the dresser, smiling at her girl, when she felt something splatter her clothes. She looked down to see her white blouse was splattered with a red stain.

"Your shirt," Tara uttered making Willow look up, to see her worst nightmare happen before her eyes. "Tara?" She asked, rushing forward to catch her in her arms. Frantically she clutched her shoulders. "Tara?! Baby?" She pulled her over into her lap. "Baby, come on! Get up!"

There was no response. Tara lay limp in her arms.

Willow clutched at her, rocking back and forth as the horror of reality stole into her mind. "No... no....," she cried softly.

Grief held reign over her for but a moment. Other emotions soon took over. She turned her gaze away from her love, and displayed her anger to the heavens, the colour of her eyes transforming to match her emotion, and the stain which was spreading rapidly across her lost love's clothes.

Heaven or hell hath no fury like a avenging witch, and one of them was going to help Willow in her hour of need.

Though they would never replace that which she had lost.

 


Seconds later, at the Hyperion Hotel, Los Angeles......

"So, civil or religious?"

Buffy looked up from the glossy magazine she had been flicking through and replied to Roisin's question with one word. "Civil." Receiving a surprised look, she elaborated, "Angel had this nightmare about one in a church, or rather what happened outside the church after the ceremony. I'd rather not give him or me cause for concern. Besides, church weddings were never in my dreams. Outside, we were thinking."

"Ah," Roisin uttered in understanding. "On a beach?"

"No," Buffy shook her head. "There's this place that is very special to us. A spot where all are hopes and dreams were answered in one moment. We're thinking there, providing we can find someone who'd be willing to perform it in such a place."

Roisin was about to ask where, but the lights of the Hyperion's reception suddenly dimmed and flickered, causing the two slayers to look about the entrance hall of the old hotel. Soft chimes abruptly became audible, as something suddenly shimmered into being before them. Transforming into a familiar sight, the new arrival had time only for one word before collapsing to the floor.

"Buffy."

"Oh my god, Tara," Buffy cried, leaping from her chair to where the wiccan lay on the floor. She got there in time to cradle her in her arms, her shock acquiring a deepening addition of puzzlement as she surveyed the large pool of blood which was clinging to her friend's clothes, circling a small gaping wound.

"I'll call the paramedics," Roisin decided, her hand going to her cellphone. The motion was stopped by however, by Tara clutching her wrist with surprising strength. "Leo," she urged.

Buffy understood where Roisin did not, raising her head and calling aloud to the heavens beyond the ceiling. "LEO!"

A cloud of white lights appeared, and the angel arrived. "Buffy?" He queried, before catching sight of the woman she held in her arms. "Tara," he uttered then, before kneeling down and placing his hand over the wound.

Silence formed around the small group as he worked his healing magic; the glowing light under his hands forming a halo around the slowly closing wound until nothing remained.

Tara opened her eyes, to find his looking at hers in unspoken inquiry. "I don't know," she replied. "But they must have allowed this to happen. Therefore, Buffy is meant to help in avenging my murderer."

Leo nodded in understanding. "Normally I would stay," he remarked, "but the girls need my help."

"I'll be fine," Tara replied, knowing who he meant. "Go." Leo inclined his head towards her in silent gratitude and acceptance, then with one last glance at Buffy and Roisin, he reverted into white lights and orbed away.

"What was he?" Roisin asked as Buffy helped her friend to the nearest comfortable chair. "My Whitelighter," Tara answered, her voice still strained from the agony of those now non-existent internal injuries. "He's helped us before," Buffy added, though neither explanation could adequately serve, but Roisin accepted them for now, understanding like all slayers that now was not the time for detailed explanation.

"What happened?" Buffy asked her friend.

"I'm not sure myself," Tara replied. "I was with Willow;- we had just made up," she smiled at the thought of that, but the expression was quickly soured by the memory of what happened next. "I was standing with my back to the window, talking to her, when I heard the window break. Then I found myself in her arms. Her hands were covered in blood. She was crying. Then I appeared before you."

"And you don't know how?" Buffy sought to confirm. When Tara nodded, she turned to Roisin. "We better get everybody here. And call Willow; she must be out of her mind with worry."

"I'm not sure worry is the word," Tara remarked softly, making Buffy look at her. "The last thing I saw of her;- she was crying, but her eyes were red."

 


A few minutes later the rest of Angel Investigations had assembled and caught up with what had happened during their absence, while Buffy tried in vain to contact Willow or Xander.

"The number is too within the calling area," She objected into her cellphone before flipping the device closed and giving up completely. "I think we need to get down there," she added, looking to her boss.

Wesley nodded, his gaze not on Buffy, but instead studying the small object which she had handed over to him when he arrived. A bullet from the gunshot wound, which had fallen to the floor after Leo's healing finished. "Forgive me, Tara," he said, "but I still don't understand how you were brought back. Your wound was caused by a bullet, by human causes. No mystical forces were involved. By all the laws of the universe, you shouldn't be in the land of the living."

"I don't understand it either," Tara replied softly. "I thought I was dying. But then I was here."

Wesley shook his head again, still puzzled, but resigned to let the matter rest for the moment. "We'll need a place to stay," he remarked, looking to Buffy.

"I can't volunteer my place," she replied. "It'll be a crime scene, won't it?"

"What about the Mansion?" Angel suggested, causing his fiancee to turn to him in surprise. "I didn't realise you could still use the place."

"I brought it for the firm," Angel confessed. "With the funds from those Nahdrah demons. I thought we might need a place on the hellmouth."

"Then it's settled," Wesley decided. He turned to Tara. "Are you up to travelling with us?"

The wiccan nodded. "I need to see Willow."

"Are we all going?" Gunn asked. Again Wesley nodded. "I see no need for anyone of us to stay here; we don't have any cases requiring our attention, and we have no idea how bad things are going to be over there."

"I'll stay," Roisin said suddenly, Groo echoing her decision barely a second later. "We need someone here just in case we have to retreat back to this base," she added. "And if any cases come up while you're gone."

Wesley nodded in agreement. "You're right," he conceded before looking to the others. "Let's go," he decided.

 


Two hours later and the mansion on 1902 1 Crawford Street was rescued from the darkness of abandoned property, as lights were turned on inside the living room. During the journey Buffy had continued to try Xander and Willow's mobiles, even resorting to the land line of her old house which Tara and Willow had moved into originally to take care of Dawn when she 'died.' But no answer had met each fresh attempt, forcing her to admit defeat by the time Angel pulled up outside the Mansion.

Despite three years of neglect, the place was none the worse for the abandonment of its previous occupiers. Thanks to Angel's recent purchase, all the electric's and plumbing were still in working order, and the furniture which he had used before he left Sunnydale remained in their original positions, covered only for preservation.

Dusts sheets were lifted off furniture as Angel Investigations proceeded to establish their hellmouth base of operations. Cordelia set up the laptop for internet access to any sites they might need; while the others unpacked clothes and books, and aired the rooms in the mansion for sleeping arrangements.

When everything was ready, they left the house and split up to search for Xander and Willow. Wesley taking the traditional route for the hospital with Cordelia, while Fred and Gunn went to search the town.

After a little discussion Tara, Buffy and Angel took different destination from their friends and colleagues, deciding to speak with someone who could have heard of the news via the demonic grapevine communication of the underworld.

"Are you sure this is the place?" Angel asked her as they came to a halt in one of Sunnydale's many graveyards.

"He was still living here the last time I saw him," Tara replied, making them turn to her in surprise. "I kept in touch with him. He had a soft spot for Dawn, and it was the only way I could see her, without running into Willow."

"Are you sure you should be out here?" Angel asked.

Tara nodded. "Honestly, I'll be fine," she assured him, "once I see Willow."

"I know," Angel uttered in understanding, before turning to his beloved. "I was also talking to you," he added.

"Angel, stop worrying. I could have come here alone, you know," Buffy returned.

"I don't like the thought of you out here alone," Angel replied.

"Why? 'Cause of Spike's feelings for me?" Buffy asked, making Tara look at them, surprised by the level of honesty between them.

"No," Angel uttered, taking his girl's hands into the grasp of his own. "Buffy, the last time you were here," he gestured with his gaze at their surroundings, "you died."

"Oh." Buffy looked at their joined hands, remembering that night. "Technically, I came back to life," she reminded him.

"I know, but it..... scares me," he confessed, his earnest gaze upon her clearly showing that deep fear. Buffy nodded in acceptance, and a exchanged a gentle kiss with him before leading them into the crypt.

"Hey luv," Spike greeted her as she came in, followed by Angel. "Angel," he added, tossing his cigarette away. "Wondered if news had spread as far as the big city."

"You could say that," Buffy replied, as she stepped aside to reveal his third visitor.

Spike leapt off the tomb he had been sitting on in shock. "Tara?" He queried.

"Hey, Spike," she returned the greeting.

"She suddenly appeared in front of us at the Hyperion a few hours ago, suffering from a gunshot wound," Buffy explained.

"You went to them?" Spike sought to confirm, and when Tara silently nodded, his astonishment increased. "Blimey. According to what I've heard, she was found dead by Xander earlier today. Body taken to the morgue and everything."

"That's impossible," Angel uttered. Tara sought the support of the stone walls in a silent shock of her own. After meeting her gaze with his own, Spike shrugged and replied to Angel. "You said it, mate. I'm just telling what I heard."

"Did you hear who did it?" Buffy asked him. Spike nodded. "Word is that it was Warren. Xander, Anya, Tara and Red apparently put a stop to the three geeks schemes and he shot at them. I don't know if he even knows that he caused any harm." He paused, turning his gaze on Tara, who was still standing against the wall of his crypt. "Are you all right, luv?" He asked her softly.

"I'm fine," Tara replied. "My whitelighter healed me."

"I'm glad to hear that," Spike said. "Gladder still to see you as well. As will Willow be, I imagine."

"Where was Willow while Xander called in the medics?" Buffy asked.

"According to what I heard, she saw red; literally. Summoned up a higher power to bring Tara back. And when that didn't work, she ran off seeking revenge."

"What about Jonathan, and...... who is the other guy?" Buffy asked him.

"A something,....." Spike shrugged, giving up trying to recall the name. "They're in the clink, courtesy of Sunnydale's finest. The Scoobies collected enough evidence on their robberies to have them jailed for some time."

"And Warren?" Tara asked.

"I don't know, luv," Spike answered. "But if I was him, I'd be on the next bus out of town."

"And if I know Willow," Buffy added, as dread seeped into her mind, "she won't let him get that far."

Angel took out his cellphone and pressed the speed dial for their boss. "Wes, its me. We've just talked with Spike, and things are more complicated than we thought."

"Your telling me," Wesley replied, his voice audible as Angel held out the cell so everyone else could hear. "I'm at the morgue, where I've just seen records that Tara's body is being stored pending autopsy and police inquiry."

"We're just as surprised as you," Buffy said into the mobile. "Apparently Xander discovered her 'body' soon after she was shot.'"

"Xander discovered her?" Wesley repeated. "Where was Willow?"

"She called on the higher powers to bring Tara back, and when that didn't work, ran to seek revenge," Buffy answered him. "Listen, I think you need to call the others and see if you can retrieve Jonathan and the other guy from jail. Meanwhile, Tara, Angel, Spike and I will search for Warren. I think we need to find him before Willow does."

 


Yards of yellow tape surrounded 1630 Revello Drive, which Angel calmly lifted up as he, Buffy, Tara and Spike advanced cautiously inside her old home. Darkness had fallen some time ago, which together with the seeming emptiness of the house provided an aura that was spooking even vampires, let alone slayers.

They advanced into the living room, Buffy switching on the nearest lamp, causing the only occupant to blink as his eyes adjusted to the sudden light. "Xander," she uttered in greeting. When she received no reply, she walked towards him, and kneeled down in front of his seat to get his attention. "Xander, I'm here."

"Buffy," Xander uttered at last, his tone desolate. His eyes remained fixed on his hands. "When did you get here?"

"A few hours ago," Buffy replied. She turned briefly to Tara, silently motioning with a look for her to find something to calm her once best friend. "Have the police gone?"

Xander shook his head. "Coming back tomorrow with more of their pretty yellow tape," he uttered.

"We need to find Willow," Buffy added, looking at him. Tara returned with a tray of drinks, handing one to Xander, who nodded in silent gratitude. Suddenly he noticed who he was nodding to, and his surprise caused Buffy to hurriedly take the drink from him.

"What the......" he trailed off puzzled, staring at her. Tara backed away under the gaze, while Buffy clasped his knee to get his attention. "We're just as flummoxed as you are," she said, "but right now, we don't have the time. We need to find Willow."

Xander nodded, taking his mug from her. He took a sip, then sighed, letting the caffeine do its work. "Yeah, she's off the wagon big-time," he said eventually. "Warren's a dead man if she finds him."

"Don't say that," Buffy remarked, making him look at her, startled. Around them the others stilled, mugs hovering before their lips.

"Why not?" Xander queried, oblivious of the shock his words were causing. "I'd do it myself if I could."

"Because you don't really feel that way," Buffy replied.

Xander shook his head. "Yes I do. And you should too. He 'killed' Tara, and he nearly killed me and Anya. He needs to pay."

"Xander," Angel began to say, but Buffy clasped his hand, the unspoken words in her look preventing further speech.

His once enemy again ignored the cautioning tone. "I'm just saying he's ... he's just as bad as any vampire you've sent to dustville," he added, staring into his mug.

Buffy shook her head. "Being a Slayer doesn't give me a license to kill. And Warren is human."

Her old friend scoffed. "So?"

"So the human world has its own rules for dealing with people like him," Buffy continued.

"Yeah, we all know how well those rules work," Xander commented with bitter sarcasm.

Buffy inwardly sighed and moved to the sofa. "Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don't. We can't control the universe. If we were supposed to, then bad magic wouldn't change Willow the way it does. There are limits to what we can do. There should be. Willow doesn't want to believe that. And now she's messing with forces that want to hurt not just her, but all of us."

Xander sighed and reluctantly accepted her truth. "I just ... I've had blood on my hands all day," he explained hollowly. "Blood from people I love."

"I know. And now it has to stop. Warren's going to get what he deserves. I promise you. But I will not let Willow destroy herself."

Her friend nodded, sipping his drink. "Okay," he began, leaning back, laying the mug aside. "Where do we go? She could be anywhere."

"Maybe the Magic Box for some kind of locating spell." She paused, evaluating him carefully. He looked nowhere near prepared for what she imagined was to come. "We could just go," she offered, gesturing at herself, Tara, Angel and Spike.

"No no. I'm cool. I'll come," Xander rose from his seat. He glanced around, noticing the others at last. "Angel," he uttered. "Guess the whole fang gang came, huh? Spike." His tone was hard, making Buffy glance at the bleached blond recently souled vampire, who refused suddenly to meet her eyes. "Let's go," Xander decided, heading out, causing the four to follow him.

 


When they entered the Magic Box, it was to find the upper floor- and everywhere else for that matter -in chaos. Anya was standing still, seemingly frozen to the one calm spot in the middle of this mess, much resembling a statue, until she blinked, causing Xander to rush towards her in concern.

Buffy hung back, her inquiring gaze focusing on Spike. "What happened?" She asked him softly, making sure they weren't overheard. "I thought Anya had met up with one of her vengeance friends and left here."

Spike still refused to meet her eyes. "She did. Hallie was her name. I think they did some stuff, but nothing that matched her previous rep. Then she came back here, alone. I came to get something for Tara; she didn't want to run into Willow, and I found Anya here, sorting the place out. Right about the time those three idiots put us under surveillance. Not that any of us found out until it was too late of course. Anyway, we got to talking over things and........"

"And you slept with her," Buffy finished astutely. Spike nodded shamefully before continuing his tale. "Neither of us were proud of it afterwards. We were both feeling lonely, and it just happened. Anyway it was caught on tape, and he and Red saw when they were trying to trace the source of the camera feeds."

Buffy nodded, and clasped one of his hands, making Spike look at her. "You were both hurting. Things fall apart. Particularly in this town." She turned her attention back to Xander and Anya.

"You feeling any change? Can you talk?" Xander asked her. Anya walked away from him. "It's wearing off," she remarked, before siting down on a bench. "Willow was here earlier. She put the whammy on me and went straight to the dark arts books. Sucked them dry."

"Look, Anya, something terrible happened," Xander began.

"I know," she stopped him. "Tara," she added softly. She cast her gaze to the people behind him, who were exploring the remains of the books scattered on the floor. She gasped as she saw Tara hesitantly helping the slayer. "But how....."

Xander nodded. "I know, but now's not the time. And they've yet to explain it anyway. Willow's out for blood, big time. We need to find her before she finds Warren. Is there something you can do, a, a locator spell?"

Anya shook her head carefully, the spell still affecting her body. "I don't need a spell. I can feel her."

"You can...?" Xander let his question trail off, not liking where it was heading.

"Feel her," Anya repeated. "Her thirst for vengeance, it's overwhelming."

"Is that like, left over from your vengeance demon days?" Xander asked hopefully. "You just sense her?"

"No. Not left over," Anya remarked, causing Buffy to look up from her examination of the blank open books, as she realised that Xander didn't know what Giles had managed to discover before he left for England.

Until now. "Oh," he uttered. "When?"

Anya looked at him bitterly. "When do you think?" She asked, making him look away.

"So," he eventually said. "Willow's all wrathy ... why don't you go to her? Isn't that your gig?"

"Normally, I'd have to ... but she doesn't want me."

"She wants to do it herself," Buffy remarked in understanding. "Look, Anya, we don't have much time. Which side of this are you on?"

"If you know where she is, you can help us," Xander added.

Anya nodded, looking them. "I'll help," she replied slowly. "But I'm helping Willow," she added for clarification, causing Xander to step back from her.

Buffy inclined her head in understanding. "Where is Willow?" She asked.

Anya stood still, letting her mind gain focus. "She's close to him," she remarked after a while. "He's in the woods."

 




Thanks to Anya's demonic sixth sense, the six arrived at the forest while it was still dark. A voice could be heard over the trees and they followed the trail of it's sound until the words became audible.

"Something, isn't it?" Willow was saying. "One tiny piece of metal destroys everything. It ripped her insides out ... took her light away. From me. From the world. Now the one person who should be here is gone ... and a waste like you gets to live. Tiny piece of metal. Can you feel it now? I said, can you feel it?"

Buffy was in the lead, and as she came upon the scene from behind, she instinctively halted, causing the others to stop behind her. Tara advanced to stand beside her, eyes fixed on the scene before them, where Willow was holding Warren hostage. He was strapped to the trunks of two trees, his gaze fixed on something small and golden which was hovering before his chest.

Tara took another step forward, causing Buffy to whip out her hand, holding her back. "Buffy, I have to go to her."

"If you go now, her concentration will be shot," Buffy reasoned, her voice a whisper so as not to alert the torturer and murderer to their presence. "And who knows who else besides." She waited for Tara to agree, then let go of her hand, before walking forward herself.

And this time it was her who was stopped by a hand, capturing her wrist in a tight, unyielding grip. She turned, to find her soulmate standing by her. "I have to go, Angel. She's gonna kill him. And whatever my feelings about what she did to me last year, I can't lose Willow."

"And I can't lose you." Angel replied. "You may be powerful Buffy, but you're still mortal. You're no more immune to what she can do than Tara is. And the mood she's in right now, I don't trust her not to kill you."

Buffy stared at him, and reluctantly conceded. She turned her gaze back to the deadly scene before them.

Warren was begging now. "Please! God! I did wrong, I see that now. I need, I need jail! I need......" he trailed off, deciding to try a different tack. "But you, you don't want this. You're not a bad person. Not like me. Oh, and when you get caught, you'll lose your friends. You don't want that. I know you're in pain, but....."

"Bored now," Willow uttered, cutting his appeals off. Her hand made a slight gesture. The small golden bullet disappeared. A bolt of magic unleashed itself from her hand.

Flinging caution to the wind, Buffy wrenched herself from Angel's clasp, and rushed forward.

She was too late. Abruptly Warren's skin ripped itself from his body, making the six come to another sudden halt.

"Oh my god," Xander uttered, horrified.

"What did you do?" Buffy asked Willow hollowly. "Willow, what did you do?" She repeated, making her once best friend turned to her.

Willow stared at them for a moment. Behind her the body transformed into a funeral pyre, reminiscent of a victim burning at the stake, before fading into the darkness around them.

"One down." Willow uttered before the fire flashed in her eyes. Lightning struck around her body, making them back away.

Then she turned into smoke and was gone.

To Be Continued In
Two to Save.

Note: 1. Most of the Slayerettes' addresses can be obtained from The Watcher's Guide, Volume 2, but Angel's Crawford Mansion street number is my own creation, which is a reference to the year Arthur Conan Doyle published Sherlock Holmes Adventure of the Sussex Vampire in the Strand Magazine.

Chapter Text

Author's note: This part picks up where part one left off, borrowing dialogue from the original Btvs episode, with various changes to the plot.

Two to save.

The deafening silence which was the aftermath of the horrible sight that Anya, Buffy, Tara, Angel and Xander witnessed, seemed to take an eternity to end, when in reality it lasted all of two minutes. A beeping mobile sounded suddenly and awfully loud in the closed space of the forest surrounding them, and what little evidence was left of the last big evil to hit Sunnydale.

Numbly Buffy took the phone out of her pocket. Flipping the screen up, she pressed a button to reveal the text message. The SMS contained very few words and read remarkably like a kidnapping note, but its meaning was instantly understandable. Relief coursed through her, even as she wrote her reply, informing them of what she and the rest of them had just seen.

"That was Wes," she said, closing the cell. "He and the guys have Andrew and Jonathan."

"You don't think she's gonna kill them too?" Xander asked. "She wouldn't. It doesn't make sense."

"You heard what she said, 'One down,'" Buffy replied. "Willow's got an addictive personality, and she just tasted blood." She paused, turning to Anya. "How fast could she get there?"

"A witch at her level, she can only go airborne," Anya replied. "It's a thing. More flashy, impresses the locals, but it does take longer."

"Longer than what?" Xander asked her.

"Teleporting," Anya replied.

"Go," Buffy commanded. "Stall her for as long as you can. Wes is taking Andrew and Jonathan to L.A. We need Willow to believe we're hiding them here, that we're not one step ahead of her."

Anya nodded, then disappeared in a swirl of magic. Buffy turned to Tara. "How are you doing?"

Tara blinked, moving her gaze from the murder scene to her. "I still can't believe Willow did that," she replied.

"Warren was a cold-blooded killer of women just warming up," Xander uttered bitterly. "You ask me, that bastard had it coming to him."

"Maybe," Buffy conceded. "Andrew and Jonathan don't." She glanced up at the night sky. "Come on, we have to get moving. Anya's gonna need help."

"Anya can handle herself," Xander replied.

"Against Willow?" Buffy countered. "Tonight? Don't be too sure."

"Well ... she should be coming down at some point, shouldn't she?" Xander argued. "I mean, back there she was out of her head ... running on grief and magic's."

Angel shook his head. "Doesn't matter. Willow just killed someone. Killing people changes you. Believe me, I know."

"This is still Willow we're dealing with, right?" Xander asked.

"I hope so," Buffy uttered. "Whatever she's going through, we have to stop her. And maybe we can actually do that if we can get to your...... car."

They came to a sudden halt, staring at the remains of the vehicle they had used to get them to the forest. A large hole was where the windshield had once been, and smoke was drifting out of the engine.

"Willow," Tara softly said.

"I guess she wants to finish the job without us tagging along," Buffy remarked. She looked at her soulmate, then at her once best friend. "Meet us at the jail."

"Sure, how are you gonna..." Xander trailed off as he and Tara watched the two chosen warriors begin to run. Using their heroic strength they were soon nothing more than faint images in the darkness of the night.

"Okay, then, I'll just ... catch up," Xander said, watching the now empty road. "She's only my best friend, you know. No big deal, just..." he trailed off, only to slam down his fist on the wreckage of his car. "...glad I could help."

"Xander," Tara said, laying a hand on his shoulder. "They're only trying to protect you. Both of us. We're too close Willow to help her. When you're like this, it's the ones you love which you hurt the most."

 


"Dude. Move like, a foot to your left."

"What for?"

"I'm trying to hear something."

"Like what?"

Andrew dropped his voice to a whisper. "Signals."

Jonathan groaned. "Oh, for crying out loud. Signals? Who from, your probe-happy alien friends?"

"Laugh it up, fuzzball. I figured it out. Warren never abandoned us. Well, not me, anyway. This is like his test. If we can figure out how he's communicating with us, then we'll be, you know, worthy."

"You're checking for implants?" Jonathan asked incredulously.

"Lex Luthor had a false epidermis escape kit in 'Superman Versus the Amazing Spider-Man' Treasury edition-"

"Okay, first of all, those were sonic disrupters," his companion corrected. "And second of all ... you are sadness personified. Waiting for Warren? Yeah, maybe he'll come bust us out of here on Santa's magic sleigh."

"I'm telling him you said that."

"Why wait? I'll tell him right now." Jonathan grabbed Andrew's wrist. "Hey, Warren, do you read me, your girlfriend's pathetic, over."

Andrew wrenched his arm away. "Shut up, Jerk-athan! You see this? This is why we get jet packs and all you get is left behind."

"So you admit it."

"Why not? You were out of the Trio a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away and you know why, little feller? No respect for the chain of command."

"Yeah, see how far it's gotten you. Checking every hole in your sad little body for transmitters that don't exist."

"Oh I'll find it if I have to check every hole in my body and yours," Andrew said before shoving him.

Jonathan slapped him in response, and two started to fight, causing their other companions to intervene.

"Will you two just stop it for one minute?" Cordelia yelled at them from the front seat of Gun's truck. "Listen to me. We have to get you out of here or you'll both be killed. Warren shot Tara. Willow found out, and being the most powerful Wicca in the western hemisphere, decided to get the payback. With interest."

For a moment there was blessed silence in Angel's car as the two took in that piece of news. "Wh-what about Warren?" Andrew eventually asked.

"She killed him," Cordelia replied. "Ripped him apart and bloodied up the forest doing it. And the two of you are next."

Andrew sank back against the leather interior. "Oh my god ... Warren."

"Oh my god ... me," Jonathan uttered.

"But we didn't do anything," Andrew protested.

"Yeah, right. Causing havoc in Sunnydale is something everybody does," Cordelia taunted. "That doesn't matter to Willow right now. All she believes is that you two are as guilty as Warren was. So sit tight and let me and Wes get you as far away from the hellmouth before Willow realises you're gone."


Meanwhile, back at the Sunnydale police station, a solitary officer was pouring over some paperwork inside his car. Above the pile upon his dashboard sat a cup of coffee, fresh from the dispenser. Suddenly it began to shake, causing him to look up from his work.

Abruptly a flash of lightning lit up the entire car, causing him to check out his immediate surroundings.

Outside a tornado appeared as if from nowhere, coalescing into human form. A dark haired woman was the end result, who started walking to the station.

"What the hell was that?" The officer asked her as he got out of his car. "Listen, I don't know what you think you're doing, but just-"

Willow stared at him. "Take a nap."

The officer obeyed, falling to the hard surface of the asphalt below his shoes. Willow side-stepped his form to stand before the police station. Staring at the walls, she used her mind to take the bricks away, one by one.

"Back off." She ordered to the officers who came rushing out of the station to deal with her.

They went flying backwards.

Still the bricks fell away from the wall, until a gaping hole was left, opening the way to the cell.

Willow let herself float upwards until she was level with the hole she had invoked. Excepting to see two cowering men, she was quite surprised to see an empty cell, save for one vengeance demon awaiting her.

"Willow," Anya began, "just stop for a second and listen to-"

She did not get any further. Willow raised her hand, sending a blast of magic towards Anya. Powerless, the vengeance demon flew backward until she hit the wall, whereupon unconsciousness took over.

The last sound she heard was a scream of anger.


By the time Buffy and Angel reached the station, the scream was still echoing it's way through the main streets of the hellmouth. Slowing down to a cautious walk, they hid themselves down an alleyway which gave a good viewpoint of the station opposite.

"Any ideas?" Buffy asked her boyfriend as they took in the hole.

"We need a car," Angel replied eventually, transferring his gaze from the station to the vehicles on the road.

"I agree, but where do we go?" Buffy countered, her eyes still on the hole. "We need something to stop her, and the Magic Shop is empty."

"But it still is somewhere that she might look for us," Angel pointed out. "And we want her to look for us, right?"

"Right," Buffy agreed. "I still don't know what I'm going to do when we get hold of her though."

"You'll figure it out," Angel assured her. "You're a smart girl. One of the many reasons why I fell in love with you."

"Well, right now, my intelligence level is running pretty low," Buffy confessed. "Mostly through guilt and self-blame issues," she added, causing him to look at her. "After all, this is my fault. If I hadn't come to Sunnydale, Willow would still have been a nice, unassuming, normal girl."

"Buffy, you can't think like that," Angel protested. "Who knows what might have happened if you hadn't come here. The Master could have taken control of the hellmouth for all you know. Remember all that trouble we had with her doppelganger?"

"That's just one possibility," Buffy replied. "Still doesn't change the fact that my friendship with her brought her down this path."

"You don't dictate her actions," Angel argued. "No one does but themselves. In the end, we choose what to do through our own sense of morals." He took hold of her hands, drawing her before him. "This wasn't your fault, beloved." He kissed her softly and deeply.

The romantic avowal was interrupted by a flash of light, and the chosen warriors broke apart to find Anya before them.

"Anya, you okay?" Buffy asked her. "How's Willow?"

"I'm all right. And Willow's drained for the moment. We need to get the Magic Shop right now."

"Isn't it out of power?" Angel sought to confirm.

"Not entirely."


"What is it?"

"Book of protection spells. Anti-magic, our last resort," Anya replied, setting the volumes before them at the big table in the Magic Shop.

"Think you can work this stuff?" Buffy asked her and Tara.

Anya opened it and examined the pages. "Well, the good news is, the text is intact. Bad news is, ah, I can't read a word of it. It's like in, ancient Sumerian or something."

"Buffy," Xander began, "let's say this works. And we stop Willow from working the hoodoo for a minute. What then?"

"I talk to her," Buffy replied.

"Great. And say what?" He countered.

"Look ... whatever she's gonna do, she starts with Jonathan and Andrew. They're the line she cannot cross. And if she's running low on magic's? Then she's probably somewhere right now trying to get it all back."

"Rack's."

The shop floor silenced itself after this soft pronouncement. Buffy looked to Tara, who had uttered the word. "Who?" She asked.

"Rack's," Tara repeated. "Back when Willow got addicted to magic, she went to him. He's the equivalent of a drug dealer."

"Do you know where his place is?" Buffy asked. Tara nodded, causing the slayer to rise from her chair. "Come on. You lead me to the door, then come back here."

"But I might be able to help you," Tara protested.

"I don't think seeing you will cure Willow right now," Anya remarked. "I can't sense her anymore. Which means whatever she's feeling, it's gone way beyond simple vengeance. She won't believe that you're still alive, even if you're standing right before her eyes. Not until this madness is taken from her."

>>>>>>>>

"Hey, babe. I've been waiting for you. Guess the rehab didn't take, huh? That's the way it goes sometimes. But I gotta say ... I could feel you coming a mile away, the power you got. And you know something, sweetness? I liked it. When you first came to me, you were just a little ... slip of a girl. Look at you now, all ... grown up. So full of dark juice. And you still taste like strawberries. Only now, you're ripe. You came because you want something. Don't you?"

Willow nodded slowly.

Rack stroked her cheek. "Thought so. So tell me, Strawberry... what on this earth do you want?"

Willow lifted up her hand and caressed Rack the same way. "Just to take a little tour," she uttered, before her other hand came up and struck his chest. Her hand tore into the magic contained within, draining him.

Eventually he fell to the floor. The sound his body made was followed by another loud bang as the slayer burst through the door.

"Willow," she began. "Come with me. You need help."

"I'm doing fine on my own, thanks," Willow replied.

"Willow, I know what you want to do, but you have to listen to me. The forces inside you are incredibly powerful. They're strong ... but you're stronger. You have to remember you're still Willow."

"Let me tell you something about Willow. She's a loser. And she always has been. People picked on Willow in junior high school, high school, up until college. With her stupid mousy ways. And now? Willow's a junkie. The only thing Willow was ever good for... ...the only thing I had going for me ... were the moments - just moments - when Tara would look at me and I was wonderful. And that will never happen again."

"It might," Buffy uttered softly. Raising her voice, she added, "I know this hurts. Bad. But Willow, if you let loose with the magic's, it will never end."

"Promise?" Willow grinned.

"You don't want that."

"Why not?"

"Because you lose everything. Your friends, your self.... Willow, if you let this control you then the world goes away. And all of us with it. There's so much to live for. Will, there's too much-"

"Oh, please! This is your pitch? Buffy, you hate it here as much as I do. I'm just more honest about it."

"That's not true. Last year, yes, it was, but everything's different now."

"You're trying to sell me on the world. The one where you lie to your friends when you run out on them? This world? Buffy, it's me. I know you were happier when you were in the ground. The only time you were ever at peace in your whole life is when you were dead. Until Willow brought you back. You know, with magic?"

During this speech the world had begun to rotate around them, causing Buffy to feel slightly disoriented when it suddenly stopped. She blinked to find herself in the magic shop.

"Oh. Sorry, the trip can be kind of rough..... if you're, you know, not me. Want to see some magic? Abracadabra."

She raised her hands and black magic flowed from them, towards Buffy, Xander and Angel. Abruptly it stopped, petering out before it could do any damage.

"Okay," Willow remarked. "Didn't see that coming. You guys want to take it slow? I can do that, too. Ask Warren."

She sent out another stream of magic towards them. Unseen behind the curtain at the back, Anya continued to chant the now translated Sumerian, protecting them from the onslaught of the dark powers.

"Damn," Willow uttered, "that is one effective counter-spell. Won't keep you alive, though."

"Will, stop. You need to give this up now." Buffy protested.

Her once best friend ignored her. "I get it. You put a spell on yourselves, didn't you. Protecting you from harm ... from magic's. That's cute."

"Will, back off before somebody gets hurt."

"How 'bout I back off right after? So, which one of you worked the mojo? Doesn't matter, really. I'm just curious. Just because I can't do magic's to you, doesn't mean I can't do them on myself." Her voice dropped to murmur as she uttered an incantation upon herself. "Now I'm pretty sure I'm strong enough to beat you to death."

Buffy rose to stand before her. "I don't want to hurt you."

Willow punched her. The slayer flew backwards, hitting wall, which shook under the strength of the impact.

"Not a problem," Willow remarked.

Buffy got up from the floor and resumed her previous stance. "I said I didn't want to." She uttered, before backhanding her. Her once best friend was sent flying into one of the glass display cases, landing in a heap in the middle of it's smashed wreckage. "Didn't say I wouldn't."

She turned to her companions. "Angel, grab the others and get out here now. I can handle her."

Angel dragged Xander from his hiding place, and headed towards the curtains. Behind them Tara was waiting with Spike and Anya was still chanting.

"Come on!" Xander urged at the latter.

Anya shook her head. "I can't, I have to stay here to keep the spell going on Willow."

Xander moved to grab hold of her, but Angel stopped him. "She's right, Xander, we have go. Wes hasn't called yet, and until he does, Andrew and Jonathan aren't safe. And we need Willow to keep believing they're here."

Reluctantly, Xander nodded and followed them out of the shop.

In front of the curtain, Willow smiled as she recovered from the vampire slayer's punch. She came to stand before her once best friend.

"So. Here we are. "

"Are we really gonna do this?" Buffy asked her sadly.

"Come on, this is a huge deal for me! Six years as a side man, and now I get to be the Slayer."

"A killer isn't a Slayer. Being a Slayer means something you can't conceive of."

"Oh, Buffy. You really need to have every square inch of your ass kicked."

"Then show me what you got. And I'll show you what a Slayer really is."

Buffy grappled her. Willow went for a head-butt, then kicked Buffy in the stomach and punched her. The slayer ducked another swing, then returned the same to the witch. Willow performed a spin-kick, then flipped over her head. Buffy turned and tried to punch her, but Willow grabbed her arm and threw her against a bookcase. Books began flying off the shelves, hitting the slayer as she jumped back on to the floor.

She rushed Willow from behind.

"Get off, super-bitch," Willow cried, before throwing her towards the counter. Buffy shattered the glass, but rose unharmed and grappled her once best friend again.

"I can help you stop."

Willow just continued to punch her. "I thought you were gonna show me what a Slayer was."

Buffy aimed a leg at the witch's midsection, sending her flying towards the curtain at the back. Willow grabbed on to it, wrenching from the rails as she fell to the floor, to reveal Anya, still chanting.

"Well, hey. Isn't that interesting. Anya's still here. Looks like I've been beating on the wrong gal."

Buffy rushed forward to stop her from hurting the vengeance demon, only for Willow to raise a hand and send her flying to the other side of the shop floor. She turned back to Anya and grabbed her by the throat.

"Help me!" Anya cried. "Help me! You're hurting me."

"You can't block my spells if you can't chant. And you can't chant if you're sleeping." Willow chucked her aside.

Anya collided with another bookcase and fell to the ground.

Buffy rose to her feet.

Willow stared at her former best friend once more. "Buffy ... I gotta tell ya ... I get it now. The Slayer thing really isn't about the violence. It's about the power. And there's no one in the world with the power to stop me now."

At that moment a huge blast of green magic energy hit Willow from the side, sending her flying across the room, to land on the floor. She came to a stop and lift her head a hand going to her nose where blood was leaking. Surprised she looked up towards the source of the blast.

Giles stood in the door way, attired in a long black coat and no glasses. "I'd like to test that theory," he remarked.

To Be Continued In
Slaying the Red Slayer.

Chapter Text

Author's note: This third part picks up where part two left off, borrowing dialogue from the original Btvs episode, with various changes to the plot. Originally, I intended to kill Willow off, but my muse rebelled, and showed me that the story could still work without such a sacrifice. Plus I think I covered all my dislike of what she and the slayerettes did to Buffy earlier in the series. Warning you now however, there is final surprise in store concerning Tara, which I have only hinted at previously. Enjoy.

Slaying the Red Slayer.

If the red slayer think he slays,
Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again.

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803–82,
American philosopher and poet, from 'Brahma' (1867).

Buffy blinked, hardly believing her eyes. She had just prepared herself for another round of furious fighting with her once best friend, when suddenly a new player entered the deadly game. "Giles?"

Her former Watcher and surrogate father uttered no answer. His grim expression remained fixed on the end trajectory of his blast of magic which had heralded his entrance.

Anya slowly rose up from the shop floor, and blinked, feeling the same disbelief as Buffy did. "Giles?"

"Uh oh," a voice murmured, causing the girls to transfer their mutual gazes of disbelief to where Giles had fixed his.

Willow was lying collapsed on the floor, her voice the only part of her that belied the injury which Giles had caused to her. "Daddy's home. I'm in wicked trouble now." Sarcasm and the effects of her visit to Rack's still empowered her enough to let her sit up. She cleaned the blood from her nose with her hand as she rose to her feet, her now normal eyes the only indicator that Giles had done some damage to her inner magical resources.

"You have no idea," Giles finally spoke, grim tones matching the grim expression. "You have to stop what you're doing."

Willow smiled mockingly. "Uhh, sorry. Can't do that. I'm not finished yet."

"Neither am I," Giles informed her. "Stay down," he ordered calmly, his hand making a slight movement.

Willow fell back to the floor, wincing at the impact.

"How'd you do that?" Anya voiced the question she and Buffy were both longing to have answered.

From her position on the floor, Willow laughed. "That's borrowed power. No way is it gonna be strong enough....."

"I'm here to help you," Giles interjected.

Willow rolled her eyes. "Thanks, but I can kill a couple geeks all by myself. But, hey, if you'd like to watch ... I mean, that's what you Watchers are good at, right? Watching? Butting in on things that don't concern you?"

"You concern me, Willow." Giles revealed. "Stay on this path and you'll wind up dead."

"Willow," Buffy uttered imploringly. "Listen to him. I don't want to fight you anymore."

"I don't want to fight you either," Willow replied, but not in the tone her once best friend desired. Her eyes were fixed on Giles, the need for his power consuming her humanity. She started to rise again. "I wanna fight him."

"Stay down," Giles ordered, repeating his hand gesture.

"No," Willow replied, making one of her own to block him.

The first hint of uncertainty crept upon the Watcher's face, causing his slayer to move cautiously to his side.

"Remember that little spat we had before you left?" Willow taunted. "When you were under the delusion that you were still relevant here? You called me a rank, arrogant amateur. Well buckle up, Rupert..." she paused here dramatically as a light suddenly surrounded her body, and her eyes turned black once more. "'Cause I've turned pro." She began to chant. "Asmodea, bring forth......."

Giles gestured again. "Vincire!"

A Green blast of magic shot from his hand, forming a circle around her torso, binding her arms to her body, the power of it causing her skin to reflect the colour.

"What?" Willow uttered in disbelief. "No! Get off! Solvo, libero..."

Giles ignored her hand, his own still outstretched towards her, the blast of magic still emanating from him, until suddenly Willow threw her head back and closed her eyes, seemingly giving up the fight. The strength of the containment took control of her gravity, raising her from the shop floor. The band of magic changed spectrum into a more constant shade of blue grey.

"What did you do?" Buffy asked him.

"Contained her and her powers within a binding field," Giles explained. "It puts her in a kind of ... stasis for the time...." he trailed off as he looked at her properly for the first time. "Missed me?"

Buffy laughed and hugged him, the laughter fading into a grin as he hugged her back. Anya watched them embrace for a moment, then came up behind, causing Giles to open the embrace to encompass her as well. They hugged, forgetting for the moment the battle ahead of them, focusing on the reunion in the here and now.

Then Giles broke away and looked at Willow. "I'm very sorry about Tara," he remarked sadly.

"Er Giles," Buffy began, ready to tell him, but then he looked at her, and something about his eyes caused her own to question the sequence of events which had brought her here.

"This..... won't hold me ... forever," Willow remarked, causing everyone to look at her again, as their focus switched to her fall once more.

As they had yet to realise that Willow's descent had only just begun.

 


"Hey, you've decorated."

Angel turned to Xander as he, Spike and Tara entered the living room of 1902 Crawford Street behind him, rolling his eyes at the wisecrack, even though he detected the nervous tone underneath. Xander was calling up his humour defence to distract himself from worrying about Willow. Angel envied his ability to even say the words right now, despite the tone not entirely convincing.

Fred and Gunn looked up at their arrival, their serious expressions deepening as they noticed the absence of the slayer.

"Latest update from Wes," Gunn remarked as he rose from the sofa to greet them. "they're about an hour away."

"That's some good news at least," Angel acknowledged.

"Well, we knew you would bring the bad," Fred said lightly. "How's it going there?" She asked softly.

"Buffy and Willow were going one on one as she told us to get out," Angel informed them. "Anya still providing the protection spell, though I don't think it will hold Willow for much longer."

"Way to motivate the troops, deadboy," Xander remarked, but Angel ignored the nickname, his concern for Buffy overriding everything else right now. "I wish we knew what was going on in there," he uttered softly.

"Me too," Xander agreed, dropping his attempts at humour.

"You all right, luv?" Spike asked Tara, as he lingered with her on the threshold of the living area.

Tara nodded automatically, but everything in her stance conveyed the opposite. She felt torn, emotionally and physically. As if one part of her was where she was now; helping the second line of defence which the Mansion had now become; while the other was still at the front line, watching the woman she once knew transform into a stranger, far beyond her reach. Before they had been two quiet beings, content to wield power only when the slayer turned to them for help. Now they were beyond that power, though she had just begun to realise how much. But while Tara felt herself ascending, she knew Willow to be doing the opposite.

And she knew what lay in wait for her, when she hit the ground.

 


"I came as soon as I heard." Giles remarked. He and Buffy were in her old training room at the back of the Magic Shop, where, to the slayer's surprise, nothing had changed, except for the weapons cluttering the floor, having slipped from their places on the wall during the aftershocks of her and Willow's duel.

"The Council?" Buffy queried.

"The Council haven't a clue," Giles replied. "About much of anything, really. No, there's an extremely powerful coven in Devon. They sensed the rise of a dangerous magical force here in Sunnydale. A dark force, fuelled by grief."

"Willow," Buffy uttered in understanding.

"I'd so hoped it wasn't her," Giles confessed. "And then a seer in the coven told me about Tara. That's when the coven imbued me with their powers."

"And sent you here to bring Willow down," Buffy guessed.

"Buffy, what's happened here?" Giles asked her.

"God. I don't even know where to start," Buffy replied. "If Tara hadn't appeared when she did......"

"What?" Giles queried incredulously, causing her to start again.

"Tara appeared in the reception of the Hyperion, in a cloud of blue lights, suffering from a gunshot wound," Buffy explained to him, her mind focusing on that moment, as, unconsciously it began to put things together. "She was the first alarm to us that something big was going down. We closed the offices and set up at the Mansion."

"Well, Willow's clearly been abusing magic," Giles concluded. "Though I knew that before I even left. I should have realised that her spell to bring you back was not just a fluke."

"Xander told us that they were trying to take care of the Trio," Buffy continued. "Jonathan and that other one were arrested. But Warren escaped and shot Tara, causing Willow to demand her to be brought back."

"And the powers said no," Giles finished. "Which caused her to seek revenge." He stopped his pacing to join her rest placing against the pommel horse. "I should never have left," he sighed.

"No, Giles, you needed to go," Buffy assured him. "This wasn't your fault. If I hadn't given up on life none of this would have happened."

"What? No, Buffy," Giles clasped her hand as he shook his head at her. "If I'm not culpable in this, then neither are you. None of us knew that Dawn could also close the door which Glory was trying to use her to open, not even Dawn herself. We didn't know that your death would send Willow into the realms of dark magic in order to bring you back. My only consolation in this is that her first attempt succeeded."

"Mine too," Buffy replied. "It gave me the courage to break away. To make my own choices instead of sitting back and waiting for the next big evil to defeat. I didn't think that Willow would experience a flip side to the sacrifice she made for my life."

"None of us did," Giles agreed, accepting that he was not at fault.

"Especially her," Buffy added, her gaze drifting from her former Watcher to the door which led to the shop floor. "I don't think she had any idea what she was getting into."

 


Anya cleared up another pile of shop supplies wreckage into a box and carried past the floating Willow to the shop counter.

"Anya..." Willow's voice said suddenly in her head, causing her to turn round and face her for the first time since Giles and Buffy had left her their to talk.

"Willow," She acknowledged nervously.

"I need you, Anya," Willow's tones resonated in her head once more. "I need you to do something for me."

"I know what you're trying to do," Anya remarked with a confidence she didn't entirely feel. "And I hate to burst your bubble, but that mind control mojo doesn't work on vengeance demons, so why don't you just...."

"Stop talking and listen," Willow's voice commanded.

"Okay," Anya nodded.

"You need to free me," Willow ordered.

"No," Anya uttered, turning away from her, walking towards the back rooms.

"You don't want to call out to them," Willow commanded inside her head again, her tone almost hypnotic. "You want to take away this binding spell."

"I don't know how," Anya replied.

"I do. Do you want me to tell you?"

 


"What's gonna happen to her?" Buffy asked him.

Giles straightened up from his leaning position next to her before the pommel horse. "Well, the coven is working on a way to extract her powers without killing her. And should she survive, you ought to know, Buffy, that there's no guarantee she'll be as she was. Willow has killed a human being. How will she be able to live with herself?"

"I wouldn't worry about that," Willow answered, causing them to turn their concerned expressions on the door of the workout room.

The gazes met Anya's hovering body, seemingly unconscious, and deepened into alarm as they saw who was controlling her.

"Willow doesn't live here anymore," the witch announced, letting go of Anya, who fell to the floor.

Buffy looked at Giles then started forward, ready to resume the fight once more.

Willow lifted her hand and send a bolt of magic at her, flinging her back towards the wall opposite, the impact sending her to the ground.

Giles held out a hand. "Vincire!"

"Solutum." Willow uttered, dissolving the bind spell before it had even begun. "Fool me once..." She uttered, pausing to let Giles see the variety of knives and other arsenal from the training room hovering behind her.

"Willow..." he began, knowing it was useless, but prepared to try anyway.

"Shame on you," Willow taunted, sending the knives towards him.

Giles looked to his left and gestured to the dummy, which obligingly floated into the line of metal fire.

Willow angrily shoved the dummy aside, causing Giles to send a ball of magic at her. "Excudo!" He cried.

The witch flew against the brick wall, the strength of the ball carrying her through it into the shop once more. Her body slammed into one of the support pillars, sending it to the floor, along with everything else nearby it.

 


In 1902 Crawford Street, Tara flinched, as if somehow she had felt the impact that her lover's body was experiencing. Startled, she stilled herself, checking for the others in the living room before her.

None of them had noticed her reaction, too focused on trying to hack into the surveillance cameras that protected the street on which the Magic Shop stood from theft if not from the other demons of the hellmouth.

A noise seemed to call for her, causing her to turn, and she walked towards the other end of the room.

Someone was standing there, waiting for her. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness and defined who it was, Tara's unconsciousness caused the rest of her to realise what had really happened when she appeared to Buffy in the Hyperion only hours ago.

 


"That all you got, Jeeves?"

Giles gazed silently back at Willow from his stance by the workout room door. Between them the remains of the Magic Shop bore a striking resemblance to a bomb site, which they appeared only to be on the threshold of.

"'Cause, I could stand to go another ten rounds. Whereas you can barely stand."

"Your powers may be undeniably greater," he conceded. "But I can still hurt you if I have to."

"Boy, you just don't get it, do you? Nothing can hurt me now. This?" She indicated to a cut on her face. Waving her hand infront of it healed the slight physical wound instantly. "Is nothing. It's all ... nothing."

"I see. If you lose someone you love the other people in your life who care about you become meaningless," Giles remarked. "I wonder what Tara would say about that."

"You can ask her yourself," Willow remarked, sending a blast of magic towards him.

Buffy rushed forward then, sending Giles away as the blast caused what was left of the loft above to come crashing down. They landed in a heap on the floor, books raining down around them.

"You're always saving everyone," Willow remarked as her once best friend rose to her feet. "It's kinda pesky."

The Slayer watched her as she reached into the burning bookcase beside her and picked up a ball of fire. "You probably even think you're buying escape time for Jonathan and the other one. Well, I got a little secret for ya. I can kill them from anywhere I want. With this." She waved her hand and the ball of flame grew in size. "It'll find them. It'll bury them. Along with anyone helping those Dead Men Walking."

"Don't," Buffy cried helplessly.

Willow's tone turned mocking. "Unless somebody, somehow can get there in time to save them. Huh. Oh, well." She through the ball of fire into the ceiling above her. "Fly, my pretty, fly."

The ball disappeared into the sky above the Magic Shop.

Willow smiled at them. "See what I did there?"

Buffy looked towards Giles, who nodded. "Go." He agreed. She turned and ran towards the back exit.

"Good luck," Willow added, before returning to Giles. "Thought she'd never leave. Now I finally have you all to myself."

 


If Willow had stopped to watch her once best friend, she would have been surprised at her next move, for Buffy did not immediately go after the fire ball.

Instead, she slipped a hand into her pocket and fished out her cellphone, which to her surprised relief, was still working.

"Angel, it's me," She announced into it as soon as the line had connected. "How far away are Wes and Cor?"

"Under half an hour," Angel replied her. "How are you doing?" He asked.

"Middling," Buffy replied. "Giles arrived, with some magic from a coven in Devon, which he's using against Willow right now. But she's sent a ball of fire towards Jonathan and the other one. Can the furies protect against that?"

"When Wes and Cordelia get there, I think so," Angel assured her. "How's Anya?"

"Unconscious," Buffy replied, as she crouched next to the vengeance demon. "I'm gonna stay with her, keep an eye on things here. I don't believe Willow sent me away just to save the geeks."

"I don't either," Angel agreed. "I'll call you when they're safe. I love you."

"I love you too," Buffy returned before ending the call.

 


"You're such a hypocrite," Willow continued to Giles. "Waltzing in here with your borrowed magic. So you can tell me what? Magic's bad? Behave? Be a good girl?" she laughed. "Well, I don't think you're in any position to be telling me what to do." She looked up. "Do you?"

Giles was pinned against the ceiling, pained by her power. She gestured with one finger and he fell, hard, impacting the floor on his front.

"I used to think you had all the answers. That I had so much to learn from you," Willow's scornful voice continued.

"Willow..." Giles began, and again she gestured, sending him to the ceiling once more for his pains.

"You were jealous. Still are. Just couldn't bear that I was the one with power. That's why you ran away."

"Incurso!" Giles chanted and green magic flew out of his mouth towards his assailant.

"That's why you," Willow began then stopped as the magic hit her, making her stumble backwards, and Giles fall to the floor again. "That was rude! Now I forgot what I was saying."

"Perhaps you're not as strong as you think you are," Giles remarked, slowly rising to his knees. "You're expending way too much of your mystical energy to maintain your powers. At this rate you're going to ... burn out. And up."

"Blah blah blah," Willow mocked, annoyed.

"Willow, you need to stop," Giles continued.

"What I need..." Willow said, pausing to move herself forward and grab the Watcher. "Is a little pick-me-up."

She put her hand to his chest and began to drain away the borrowed power. Giles groaned in pain, until suddenly Willow staggered from the onslaught and let him go. "Whoa. Head rush." As he fell to the floor, she leant against the counter in pleasure at the rush. "Wow. Whoa. Who's your supplier? This is ... wow. It's incredible. I mean, I am so juiced ... Giles, it's like ... no ... mortal person has ... ever had ... this much power. Ever. It's like I, I'm connected to everything ... I can feel ... it feels like ... I ... I can feel..." she paused as she suddenly realised just how much she could feel. "Everyone. Oh. Oh my God. All the emotion. All the pain. No, it, it's too much. It's just too much."

"Willow," Giles began weakly. "It doesn't have to be ... like that. You ... you can stop it."

"Yeah. I, I can. I have to stop this." She stood up. "I'll make it go away."

"Willow..." Giles tried again.

"Oh, you poor bastards!" Willow uttered, as a swirl of magic began to encircle her body. "Your suffering has to end."

"No...." Giles cried weakly as the magic tornado she had created carried her away from him.

 


"Ow! Son of a bitch!"

"Buttwipe!"

Jonathan turned to his cohort. "I wasn't talking to you."

"Oh. Reflex," Andrew apologised.

Cordelia, who had been the one to forcefully push the two idiot boys into the reception of the Hyperion, rolled her eyes and turned to Wesley, who acknowledged her expression of annoyance with one of the same. "Call Angel, let them know we've arrived. After the furies set up the shielding we'll be in somewhat of a communications blackout."

Cordelia nodded as she walked round the reception desk and picked up the handset of the landline. "Groo?" She called out as she dialled the numbers.

Her boyfriend walked in from the courtyard, the furies behind him. "Princess, is everything okay?"

"Ask me again tomorrow," Cordelia replied as she waited for the line to connect. "Angel? It's me. We're here. What's happening?" She paused to listen for the reply, then abruptly slammed the receiver down, ending the call. "Get that shield up now!"

"What is it?" Wes asked her.

"Willow's sending a ball of fire towards us," Cordelia informed him grimly.

The furies began chanting.

Andrew turned to Jonathan. "You know, Mexico is looking a whole lot more safer now," he remarked.

"Can it," Cordelia ordered. "We don't have the luxury."

 


Buffy had heard the tornado heralding Willow's exit, and the noise was enough to wake Anya from her unconscious state as well. Together they rushed from the workout room, to discover Giles on the shop floor.

"Giles," Anya called out, as they kneeled beside him. "Giles!" She repeated, shaking him.

His eyes opened and acknowledged them. "Anya. Buffy."

"I'm so sorry," the former apologised. "Willow forced me to free her with her brain. Are you okay?"

"I can see..." Giles began.

"Oh. It's a ... miracle," Anya replied uncertainly.

"Willow," Giles clarified. "I can see her. She took the magic I had and ... now ... I know where she is. I can feel what ... Oh, God."

"Giles ... you have to rest," Buffy uttered.

"Silly girl. I'm dying," he replied.

"No you're not," Anya countered.

"It was ... It was the only way. I thought we ... there'd be a chance ... now ... I know where Willow is. She's going to finish it."

"Finish what?" Anya asked.

"The world," Giles informed them.

 


Back at the Mansion, Angel experienced no surprise at Cordelia's abrupt end to the telephone call, knowing time was of the essence.

"Same old Queen C," Xander remarked jokingly.

Then suddenly his last ex-girlfriend appeared before them.

"Holy frijole!" Anya uttered, surprised to be there.

"Anya!" Angel remarked, startled. "What are you doing here? Where's Buffy? Where's Giles?"

"Giles?" Xander queried.

"He's still at the magic shop," Anya replied.

"Giles is back? You didn't tell us that," Xander directed at Angel who merely rolled his eyes. "Did he stop Willow?" He asked Anya.

"No. And things just got a whole lot worse," the vengeance demon replied.

"How worse?" Gunn asked.

"End of the world worse. Willow's going to destroy it."

"She can do that?" Fred asked.

"She can and she will when she gets to where she's going," Anya replied.

"Where's she going?" Angel asked.

"Big old Satanic temple. Kingman's Bluff?"

"There's ... no temple on Kingman's Bluff," Xander remarked, confused.

"Proserpexa?" Angel guessed.

"Who's she?" Fred asked.

"Uh, way up there in the hierarchy of she-demons," Anya explained. "Her followers intended to use her effigy to destroy the world. They all died when the temple got swallowed up in the big earthquake of '32."

"So now seventy years later, Willow's going to make their dreams come true," Angel said grimly.

"She's going to drain the planet's life force, and funnel its energy through Proserpexa's effigy and, and burn the Earth to a cinder."

"Not if I can help it," Angel uttered.

"You can't," Anya revealed, causing them to stare at her in shock. "Something else Giles said. No magic or supernatural force can stop her."

"What does that mean?" Gunn asked.

"Don't know. He, he said, 'no chosen warrior can stop her,' and then he said a bunch of other stuff. He really wasn't too clear."

"Anya, what are you...." Angel trailed off, suddenly not wanting to know.

"I ... I should get back to him," Anya added.

"Is he okay?" Fred asked.

"Don't think he ... has a lot of time left. I'm sorry," She readied herself to go.

A hand clasped her wrist, causing her to turn and look.

"Let me," Tara replied.

Anya nodded, and together they disappeared in a cloud of white lights.

 


On Kingman's Bluff, a steep promontory of earth overlooking Sunnydale, a witch stood, watching Proserpexa's temple come forth from the earth which had once hid it's resting place.

"From the pit of forgotten shadows, awaken, sister of the dark, awaken," Willow commanded.

The steeple of the temple climbed higher and higher, as the ground of the bluff broke away to reveal the intricate gargoyles and carvings on the ancient building. A woman with a snake curled around her, the largest carving of all, stared lifelessly back at the witch who had summoned her temple forth.

Suddenly a voice seemed to echo with the witch's mind, making her pause as the words became audible.

"I'm not just gonna sit here while Willow incinerates what I'm chosen to protect," the slayer remarked, though a part of her refused to leave Giles' side.

"I have to stop her."

"Always the Slayer..." Willow remarked, and her words were heard by her once best friend. "Right to the last."

"Willow?" Buffy queried.

"And it is the last, you know? For all your fighting ... thinking you're saving the world... And in the end ... I'm the only one that can save it."

"By killing us?" Buffy countered.

"It's the only way to stop the pain," Willow informed her. "I can't take it anymore. But I know you, Buffy. You're a warrior. You won't go out without a fight. I don't really have time for one. But you should go out fighting."

"Willow, what are you....." Buffy trailed off, as the witch interrupted her. "It was me that took you out of the Earth. Well, now... the Earth wants you back."

The floor began to open below them, and Buffy clutched at Giles, until suddenly a cloud of white lights appeared and whisked them away.

 


They reappeared in the Mansion, making Angel and the others rise from their seats in surprise as the lights coalesced into their forms. As for the slayer and Anya, they could only watch, as Tara placed her hands on Giles' wounds, a halo of golden light emanating from her palms, healing him.

"What about the Magic Shop?" Buffy asked Tara as the last of wounds faded away.

"Whatever Willow cast for you there," Tara replied, "it will only last as long as she does. When the temple is activated, Proserpexa will take over."

"Giles?" Anya called out, still not quite believing the magic Tara had worked. "Giles! Don't die. Not yet, there-there are things I wanna tell you. Thanks a lot for coming. It was good of you to teleport all this way. Though in retrospect, it probably would have been better if you hadn't come and given Willow all that magic that made her like ten times more powerful. That would have been a plus."

Giles could not yet replied, still recovering under Tara's healing hands. Buffy turned from him to cast her gaze around the room. "Where's Xander?"

"Gone to save her," Angel replied.

 



"Proserpexa let the cleansing fires from the depths burn away the suffering souls and bring sweet death," Willow chanted.

Lightning crackled between her and the statue of the she-demon, while underneath them the ground shook from the spell.

Magic continued to flow from her, swirling the wind around them, creating a storm of gigantic proportions.

And then suddenly everything ceased, as Xander appeared infront of the statue.

"Hey, black-eyed girl. Whatcha doin'?" He asked her.

"Get out of here," Willow ordered.

"Ah, no. You're not the only one with powers, you know. You may be a hopped-up uber-witch, but ... this carpenter can drywall you into the next century."

"I'm not joking, Xander. Get out of my way. Now." She sent a blot of magic at him, lifting him off his feet and throwing him to the ground at the base of the statue.

 


"There..." Giles finally spoke, causing everyone at 1902 Crawford Street to gather more closely around him. "It's not over."

"Giles!" Anya cried in relief. "You're not dead!"

"No," he managed before being engulfed everyone. "However, I am still in some pain," he added, causing them back away.

"Oh... Well ... why aren't you dead?" Anya queried. "Why aren't I dead?" She added, wondering.

"Why aren't we all dead?" Gunn added.

"Uh, the threat's gone. Willow's been stopped," Giles replied.

"Oh. You mean she's......" Anya stopped, afraid to finish her sentence.

Giles shook his head as they helped him to sit up. "The magic she took from me, it did what I hoped it would do."

"Oh. You dosed her," Angel uttered, realising.

"Yes," Giles confirmed.

"You knew she'd going to take your powers all along," Buffy added.

"The gift I was given by the coven was the true essence of magic. Willow's magic came from a ... place of rage and power."

"And vengeance," Anya reminded him. "Don't forget vengeance."

"Oh. How could I? In any case, the magic she took from me tapped into ... the spark of humanity she had left. Helped her to feel again. Gave Xander the opportunity to ... reach her."

"Xander?" Anya queried, noticing his absence for first time.

"Yes. It was he who got to her in time. He saved us all."

The Scoobies and Angel Investigations smiled, before helping their Watcher to the near piece of soft furnishings.

Tara stepped away, her senses focused on her girl, her concern not quite as eased as the rest of them.

 


Xander, clutching his bruised ribbed chest, rose to his feet and stepped into the flow of magic once more, stopping it again.

"You can't stop this," Willow informed him.

"Yeah, I get that. It's just, where else am I gonna go? You've been my best friend my whole life. World gonna end ... where else would I want to be?"

Willow's tone changed to one of scorn. "Is this the master plan? You're going to stop me by telling me you love me?"

"Well, I was going to walk you off a cliff and hand you an anvil, but ... it seemed kinda cartoony," Xander replied.

Willow shook her head. "Still making jokes."

"I'm not joking. I know you're in pain. I can't imagine the pain you're in. And I know you're about to do something apocalyptically evil and stupid, and..... Hey. I still want to hang. You're Willow."

"Don't call me that," She growled at him.

"First day of kindergarten. You cried because you broke the yellow crayon, and you were too afraid to tell anyone. You've come pretty far, ending the world, not a terrific notion. But the thing is? Yeah. I love you. I loved crayon-breaky Willow and I love ... scary veiny Willow. So if I'm going out, it's here. If you wanna kill the world? Well, then start with me. I've earned that."

"You think I won't?" Willow countered.

"It doesn't matter. I'll still love you," Xander replied.

"Shut up," Willow commanded, gesturing with her hand. Xander's head jerked to the side, and three cuts appeared on his cheek, as he had been scratched by her.

"I love you," He uttered.

Willow gestured again, causing him to double over from the pain, but Xander was determined that nothing would stop him from saving her. "I ... love y...."

"Shut up!!" Willow cried and threw a blast of magic at him. The hit made him stagger, but he didn't fall down.

"I love you, Willow," Xander persisted, walking forward.

"Stop!" She cried, sending another magic blast, but one so under par that it barely touched her best friend.

"I love you," he repeated.

"Stop," Willow cried, as he came close enough for her to touch him. Despairingly she hit him with fists, hoping for something, she wasn't sure what.

Xander stood still, taking the blows, as Angel had done for Buffy, many months ago and not far from here.

Willow ceased her struggles and fell to her knees.

He fell with her, putting her arms around her as the tears became audible. "I love you," he uttered once more.

Slowly, as the sun began to cast it's usual brightness over Sunnydale once more, the magic receded from Willow, her veins retreating into her skin and her hair turning from black to it's usual red shade.

Xander continued to hold his friend, as she finally released her grief, letting his embrace heal her body and soul.

The End.
To be Continued In

Life Anew.

Chapter Text

Author's Note: This episode finishes off the series. I did think for awhile that there might be a second season, but I didn't want to rehash S7 when I was already planning to do so in Seasons Rewrite, and I was never a fan of Ats S4, probably because I've only watched it once. I've really enjoyed writing this series and it is sad for me that I have come to the end. I have tried to ensure that it is a happy one for all concerned, though it does begin rather darkly. There are references to Season Four of Charmed, The X Files Season Three, Jack London's Call of the Wild, and the 1982 Scarlet Pimpernel Film. Enjoy.


Life Anew.

It was weird, Tara reflected, attending your own funeral. They had told it would be so, given her sound reasons for keeping away; it was not for herself, but for her friends, they needed to reach a sense of closure and seeing her would not achieve that. Which was why she had agreed not to reveal herself to them, but insisted still on going. She needed closure too, for this duality of living and unliving had come upon her so suddenly that Tara felt all of her had yet to accept it.

So here she was, at the back of the large mausoleum in one of Sunnydale's cemeteries, her hair and features cloaked by a hooded jacket, listening to the service and wondering if any of her friends would actually see her.

If she had known before hand, or had any time to plan, it was the kind of funeral she would have desired for herself. Her coffin was placed on a pedestal surrounded by various varieties of wildflowers. A priestess, attired in ivory, presided over the service, which to any but those who knew appeared part new age, part traditional. Before her stood an altar covered in blue silk, adorned with a chalice, three candles- representing birth, death and rebirth -and a tied circle of silver cord.

"That which belongs to fellowship and love," the Priestess said. "That which belongs to the circle, remains with us. The wheel turns. As life is a day, so our sister has passed into night. Nothing is final, and we who remain behind know that one day, we will once again share the bread and wine with our sister. O' blessed spirit, we bid you farewell, for you await a new destiny."

After she finished, the priestess untied the silver cord and gently laid it in the chalice. She then blew out the candles.

One by one her friends rose from the chairs and made their way to pay their farewells to her coffin. Her family had not come, which Tara had expected. Ever since that confrontation with them in the Magic Shop she had never heard from them. Nor had she expected to, however. They were a part of her past, the life she had left behind when she moved to Sunnydale. She mourned their ignorance and misunderstanding, but did not regret her decision to stand firm and stay with her friends.

Tara watched them now, as they came up to the coffin; Willow in the lead. She was clutching her best friend's hand with all her might, tears still sliding down her cheeks. Tara could not look at her without feeling every drop of them. She still had not appeared to her. Everyone, her other friends, the Elders, even Leo had advised her against it, and it was one piece of advice which she was actually following for now. So much had happened to her girl during the aftermath of her passing. Tara feared that orbing before her might be another shock that Willow was nowhere near ready to deal with right now.

Xander was subdued, but calmer, letting Willow grip his hand for the entire service. Tara had not seen him crack a joke since Proserpexa's temple had slipped back into the ground of Kingman's Bluff. She had gone there after Giles woke, to find the temple reversing its ascension, and her girl in his arms, crying as her hair reverted its original shade of red, the evil magic slowly draining out of her. Tara had wanted to comfort Willow then, but Leo had forestalled her, leading her into the clouds to accept her new life as a whitelighter.

Buffy was next in line, Angel standing beside her. Tara found herself remembering all the times she and the slayer had talked alone. She and her had discovered many things they liked, and Buffy had found in her someone to talk and confide in, about things which she couldn't tell the others, who were at times incapable of seeing her point of view without selfish perspectives. Tara had understood more than the rest, the difficult duality Buffy used to protect her friends from the parts of her life that they were not ready to understand.

She had understood why Buffy had chosen to go with Angel to Los Angeles, and why she stayed when all her friends did not. Most of all, Tara felt grateful for Buffy's easy acceptance of her into their 'family' and when she had gone to her for help. And when she had told her and the rest of Angel Investigations, the truth behind her appearance at the Hyperion.

Strangely after them, came Spike and Giles. The latter had come back from England especially, although he had been informed by the others of what her real destiny was. Giles had taken the news in his usual way, and was shocked when she appeared to him the night before, though that emotion turned into fascination as his curiosity for information concerning that part of the supernatural world evolved.

Like Buffy he had respected her, and treated her with a kindness he always reserved for his surrogate daughter of a chosen one. Buffy had told her once it was because she reminded him of his lost love; Jennifer Calendar, who had died tragically at the hands of Angelus before Tara came to Sunnydale.

Tara was touched to see Spike at her funeral; he had always treated her with a kindness he rarely showed to anyone else, despite punching her nose, which was an act of kindness within itself when the resulting pain he endured revealed to everyone that she was human. His gentleness with Dawn had earned her respect of him, and the slayer's, who had a difficult time accepting her new sister when she learned the truth of her existence. In return, Buffy had arranged for the funeral to be held at dusk, so he didn't have to worry about stray beams of sunlight during the service.

A hand touched her arm, bringing her out of her reverie, and Tara turned to see Leo by her side. "Time to go, isn't it?" She asked softly. he nodded in reply. Taking one last look at her girl, who was quietly listening to Buffy, Angel, and Xander's conversation, Tara followed her former guide outside where they could orb to the clouds above unseen.

 


"Are you sure we can't dissuade you?" Buffy asked him.

Xander shook his head. "Come on, what's left for me here? Will's going to England, where that Devon coven have promised to help her heal, Giles is there too, Anya's a demon. There's nothing left for me here. I was never much help anyway."

"Yes you were," Buffy protested.

"We both know that's not true," Xander smiled sadly. "For as long as I can remember I wanted you, and I hated deadboy here for succeeding where I always failed. All I did was provide jokes and weird, often demonic dates. Besides I need someplace new. Where I can build a life. The construction company's offered me a gig in Nevada, and I'm gonna take it."

"Well, good luck," Angel offered.

"Thanks," Xander replied. "I hope there are no hard feelings between any of us," he added, holding out his hand.

"We can do better than that," Buffy replied before hugging him. He and Angel settled for a more manly handshake, then he quietly left them to quit the church.

Willow turned to the two of them then, who looked at her with heartfelt compassion. Every evil between them seemed to have been forgotten or healed during the service. Buffy impulsively pulled her into her arms, and Angel followed suit, before Giles came quietly behind them to say his farewells too, and take her to the airport.

Alone, Angel took Buffy's hand in his own and they wandered outside into the darkened graveyard.

"What are you thinking?" He asked her, knowing the thoughtful expression on her face intimately by now.

"That the hellmouth will need a new protector," Buffy replied. "And Roisin will probably enjoy such a challenge as Angel Investigation's representative here." She paused to glance at him. "What do you think?"

"It could work," Angel agreed. "If she accepts the position. And what about Faith, what will we do when her parole comes up?"

"Well, get married for one," Buffy replied, "I promised her head bridesmaid and charge of my bachelorette party, though I'm not sure that was entirely wise of me." She smiled as Angel chuckled. "Ultimately, what she does next is up to her. I don't know if she'll want to join us or not."

"Do you think we'll ever see Tara again?" Angel asked her in a lowered voice, cautious of anyone else in the graveyard overhearing them.

"I don't know," Buffy replied. "I hope so. She was a good friend to me. I think when Willow is healed, she will visit again, perhaps. Though what Willow will do after her time in England I'm not sure."

"You seem sad," Angel remarked, wrapping his arm around her waist.

Buffy nodded. "I am, a little," she replied. "Everything is changing. The Scooby gang is splitting up, moving to pastures new. I know we disbanded almost a year ago, but this is a true breakup now."

"Do you still blame yourself for that?" He asked her softly.

"Part of me does," she confessed. "After all I did bring them together on the same mission, and held them together over the years when others threatened to tear them apart. And then I broke from them, ran from them." She paused. "Deserted them."

"Buffy, you needed to get away," Angel reasoned. "They would have understood, in time, I think."

"No, not when I joined you," Buffy explained. "When I sacrificed myself for Dawn. For me then, death was more welcome than you could know. The past year had been nothing short of hell. My mother dying, my boyfriend letting vampires suck his blood in an effort to understand why I still loved you, leaving me in the middle of it all. Xander yelling at me for letting him leave. Glory. When I realised she could defeat me, and easily, I was so scared, Angel. And yet part of me was also relieved."

"Relieved?" He echoed, stopping to take hold of her hand with his free one.

"Spike was right, though not in the way he meant it," Buffy continued. "When he said that all slayers had a death wish. I don't think it's a wish as such, as more a weariness of life. From the moment we are called, we fight. That's all we do. Any kind of a life outside slaying becomes less of a priority, because slaying puts that life in danger every night. Eventually, you begin to see the futility of even wanting one." She smiled, surprising him. "You have to have something to live for. Or someone. Else it's worthless." Gently she took his other hand, gazing up into his face. "A year ago, I didn't have anyone to live for. So it was a relief to sacrifice myself for the cause. Then my friends brought me back. And you were there waiting for me."

"And now?" Angel asked her.

"Now, I have everything to live for," Buffy replied.

She stretched her face to his, and they kissed.


With the funeral over, and the slayerettes all relocating for pastures new, the couple had no reason to linger in Sunnydale. After dropping off Giles and Willow at the airport, they headed for home.

The Hyperion was devoid of all but staff who greeted them silently as they walked into the reception area.

"All quiet here while we were away?" Buffy asked as they joined them in the living area they had created off the reception.

"Eerily so," Wesley replied. "How's Willow?"

"Bearing up," Buffy answered. "I think the coven in England will help her find some clarity, if not some peace. I certainly found some when I moved from the hellmouth." She paused considering. "You know the evil which draws demons and vampires towards it? I can't help but wonder if it also affects the good people who live there aswell."

"Well humans are certainly not immune to evil," Wesley remarked, in a similar manner to Giles whenever he explained something. "As we all know. And those who deal with it on a daily basis, are often more tempted into involving themselves with it, rather than striving to eliminate altogether. Especially when one realises that you cannot make evil disappear, for it is the balance to good. Evil gives us the ability to realise the flip side of its immorality. To know right from wrong. It's rather comforting actually."

"Comforting?" Echoed Roisin. "To know that you can never eliminate evil?"

"The knowledge that evil is a balance to good stops you from blaming yourself or others when you hear of the horrors its reaps," Wesley replied. "After all, if evil no longer existed, how would we know good from wrong?"

"We would remember it," Roisin argued.

"Only those who were alive during it," Wesley countered. "Memory, though immutable, is not immortal. It only survives as long as the last person who remembers it. History teaches us that survivors and victors are its' authors, shaping it to their own opinions and loyalties. Memory is unable to ignore the truth, but neither can it escape the eternal truth that everything dies."

"So are you saying we should give up?" Cordelia asked.

"No," Buffy replies. "He means we should have something to live for other than our ideals. Family, friends, love," she paused to look up at Angel from her position in his arms. "Without those, our ideals mean nothing. They become worthless, along with our lives. That is our ultimate battle. To survive, against all the odds."

 


"So are we going for something sedate and mature for your last night of freedom?"

"Hell no," Buffy replied. "I thought we hit the nightclubs after this."

"That's my girl," Faith smiled and finished her wine, the others soon following suit.

It was some months later. Time had flown by, in the midst of the usual demonic and or vampiric encounters, international calls between England and it's former colony, and more local uses of the telephone, as two slayers sought to secure another's parole, and the establishment of Angel Investigations' Sunnydale Office. Plans were also underway for one of the slayer's forthcoming nuptials, as Buffy and Angel finalised a wedding date, booked the necessary officials, and filed the necessary papers.

Faith had been out of jail barely two days and though she tried to hide the effects of it under her usual devil may care attitude, Buffy could see that it had affected her deeply. Confined spaces were avoided as often as possible, exits surveillance almost continuously, and slaying, even handling of the weaponry, was not to be even thought of until she was finished with curfew and reporting to her parole officer. Even if these conditions had not been imposed on her, Buffy doubted that her sister slayer would return to her destiny as eagerly as she had embraced it before. Faith had changed. Confinement had matured her more than slaying did, lessening the wildness within her, though not the wiliness. To others she still appeared dangerous, but to her friends; for all of A.I were now considered as such, she was more cautious, less reckless and more assured within herself than she had ever been before.

Buffy had been wary of including a tour of Los Angeles nightclubs when she arranged for her bachelorette party to occur mere days after Faith's parole, but the officer had granted permission, and even Faith seemed eager to dance night away with the girls of the firm. So she chose the venues wisely, seeking out the less rowdy clubs, including ending with a visit to Caritas, which Lorne had recently finished refurbishing.

They could not have made a more unusual grouping; Buffy, Cordelia, Faith, Fred and Roisin. Three slayers, one Seer and a former physics grad. Each differing in character, attitude, opinions, beliefs. Three attached, two single, though they would have to been blind if anyone had not noticed the recent sparks flickering between one slayer and the boss of the firm, ever since they had liberated her from Wolfram and Hart. Nothing more concrete had been displayed by either of them, but all their colleagues foresaw the inevitability of the relationship.

They fell into dancing, Faith and Buffy keeping to themselves as they moved about the floor, while their companions happily danced the night away, freely accepting offers from the suitors that soon began to flock about them in typical male fashion. All longed to dance with the two girls who kept to themselves, but wisely respected the silent signs and signals that these girls would not welcome continued persistence, so gave up without holding grudges, turning their attention to the other three in the party. Cordelia, Fred and Roisin were having too much fun to resent being second choices and too close to Buffy and Faith to even envy them, possessing a confidence as well that their own powers of attraction would soon erase any regret or need for comparison.

While Buffy had no desire to continuously tell such suitors who did not notice the silver claddagh on her left hand that she was engaged, Faith had her own reasons for keeping the men at bay. Apart from a resolve not to revert to her old habits, Faith wished to adjust to a life devoid of entanglements, male or jail bars, or restrictions or otherwise. Her jail sentence had taught her the value of solitude; time spent with herself and no other, even amongst crowds of people wholly connected with her. She clung to it, not because the alternative was frightening to her, but because the solitude was a sanctuary where she knew no loss of identity, and knew that she had survived through all the trials she endured after the murder of the deputy mayor. That night still haunted her, causing her to analyse again and again what she did and why she did it, and, most importantly, could she have prevented his death. Her conclusion was the same every time. Yes. She was irresponsible, reckless and she could have avoided killing him if she looked before she staked.

If she had listened to the girl dancing opposite her. As much as she resented Buffy's abilities, life and friendship before, Faith wished now that she had listened to her three years ago, instead of blindly rushing ahead. Had she listened, the man would still be alive. And she would not be carrying a conviction for the rest of her life. Instead, by striving to be different, to be noticed and still appreciated, she had committed the gravest of crimes. Humans who murdered were considered monsters, but for a slayer to kill a human it was somehow worse. For slayers should know the quality of life even more, the morality of Hippocratic oath. From their first slaying, they recognised the abruptness of death, the frailty of life. The importance of their duty to such life. What good were they if they failed to protect those their destiny had charged them with the safety of?

Speaking of duty, Faith mused as she suddenly felt the unmistakable sensation that humans were not the only ones frequenting the nightclub this evening. Silently she glanced at her companion who nodded in understanding; she was sensing them also. She gestured at her pocket where her weapons were stored, inquiring by the unspoken signal if Faith was packing as well. Faith shook her head. She felt reluctant to resume her duties, for she feared what desires they might awaken in her if she did. But as Buffy handed her the weapon, Faith realised it was both unavoidable and inevitable.

Roisin met them as they tracked the large group luring their prey from the dance floor to the exit. With a glance filled of an unspoken but clear message to Fred and Cordelia still dancing, the three slayers left the nightclub to trail their prey.

They found them in a large dead end alleyway outside, pushing the helpless humans they acquired in the night club back and forth between each other, taunting them. Buffy, Faith and Roisin only needed no more than a second to size them up. These were the worse kind of vampires; ones who were entirely too cocky for their own immorality. Who treated prey not merely as food, but as objects of derision to torture, making sure they died in agonising terror.

Parting, the three slayers took up strategic positions around the vampires and their prey, silently stalking their first victims, waiting for the right moment to strike. Then simultaneously they launched their assaults, catching the vampires by surprise, enabling the humans to gain freedom through the distraction of their attack.

For Faith, the slaying routine- paradox as that was, for every fight was unique -came as easily to her as it appeared to do so for Buffy and Roisin. Before she was fully aware of her actions, she was trading blows, kicks and punches as fast as the other two. The primitive slayer within her, was eager to return to her destiny it seemed, even if the soul of the girl it lived inside, felt the opposite. As much as she tried to tell herself that the man before her was nothing but a vampire in human clothing, all her emotions were making her recoil from doing anything but defence. Going on the offensive felt abhorrent to her, as much as the end result of the fight which the primitive within her already knew was inevitable.

She wanted to run, to drop her stake and retreat, but she could not. Her friends were fighting beside her, outnumbered, if not outmatched. If she obeyed such instincts it would be a betrayal to them and to herself. Despite all, Buffy had kept faith in her, believed that she was as just as good as her, just as important to the world. Turning her back on her would destroy that faith forever, just as it would destroy herself.

To outsiders, it would appear as if only seconds had passed in which this turmoil raged its way through Faith's subconscious, but for her it felt an eternity. Victory achieved, the triumph of destiny over fear, she turned on the offensive, rapidly gaining the upper hand with a vampire who until this moment had believed that he was about to drain the life of his first slayer. He had no opportunity to cling on to the advantage she previously presented him with, swept up in the zone she now was. Before either of them were aware of it, one stake was in his chest, and he was dusted.

Faith stood still as the minuscule remains fell slowly to the ground, a slight breeze keeping some particles afloat about her. Artificial light from the street lamps caught them with their rays, reflecting on to the ground, and the slayers. Time seemed slowed once more as if put through a motion delayed camera lens, waiting for some silent sign from an invisible director to call a wrap.

Then something struck her arm, and instinctively her hand moved to block the punch. Time returned to its normal pace once more, and Faith to her destiny again.


It was a day he would remember for the rest of his life. A day which seemed
would never occur until recently. Reality had always intruded into his imagining
of how such a precious event would play out, a harsh reality born out of fire
and judgement, as if even his unconsciousness strove to remind him that what he
wanted most in this life could never be. At first he had never believed himself
worthy of the future, his self-esteem worn down by years of nothingness, then
decades of uncomfortable sovereignty over a malicious, vengeful, sadistic, brutal
demon, it's quiet, deadly, cruel voice constantly whispering in his mind's ear,
mocking his every move, his every thought.

Cowed into hiding his true feelings, his true emotions from the one who was the most dear to him, he was naturally astonished when he discovered that those feelings, those emotions, were returned and felt with equal force. During the first days, these first precious moments when their love was new and innocent, he rarely allowed the harsh reality to intrude into his thinking, knowing his tendency to brood nearly always caused despondency between them and within her, whom he wished to only cause happiness.

If that created distance between them, it was necessary, for it protected her from being hurt, and gave her the courage to fight the hardest of battles as was demanded by her destiny. He had little idea that it would only cause her to cling more and more to him, to turn those moments they had together into the most precious, most happy moments of his entire long life.

And then the harsh reality intruded, in a brutally painful manner, when they were at their most vulnerable. He had thought that their love would never recover from such a cruel destruction. That they were doomed now to spending the rest of their existence alone, never allowing themselves to love or live in the same way, too frightened of something ripping apart their scarred hearts again.

But he had underestimated her. Call it fate, destiny, coincidence, happenstance, whatever forces that existed to cause their reunion that day almost seven months ago changed their lives forever. In a way his unconscious, fearful imaginings had once foreseen the key which would provide them with this precious second chance, an opportunity to start afresh.

Three years ago, the day before her prom, when he dreamed of the ceremony which was to happen today. He could still remember every moment of that nightmare in vivid detail, from beginning to end. The perfect weather outside the church. The emptiness of that sanctified building during the ceremony. How beautiful his beloved looked in the slim-fitting satin bodice, and the flowing taffeta skirt. Her unchanging smile as she alternated her gaze between himself and the priest, visible even through the veil which adorned her head.

The simplicity of the gold rings they bestowed on each other's left hands. The moment of humorous relief after the kiss which sealed their union. How the stained glass windows seemed to loom over him as they walked down the aisle. How the high ceiling appeared to be slowly crushing him as they headed towards the open church door. How the bright light which emanated from that archway bore a striking similarity to the one talked of by those who suffered near death experiences.

Even before they reached it's threshold he had felt a foreboding, a omniscient knowledge of what fate awaited him beyond that light. She had seemed oblivious to it, her pace increasing as his decreased, leading him out into the mortal glare of day. The harsh ending which followed haunted him even now. His worse nightmares realised while he searched for the nearest shady protection. Slow realisation that he was somehow immune from that celestial danger. Relief only temporary, transforming into horror as her voice called to him, causing him to turn. To watch as she burned before his eyes.

At the time, he had believed that moment to be symbolic. His unconsciousness attempting to make him aware that love was not enough, that their relationship could never last, because reality would always interfere. It spurred him to listen to her mother's advice, to make him break her heart the night before prom, in middle of a sewer, during a slaying. To leave the hellmouth for Los Angeles, putting a distance between them which he doubted would ever be conquered. He had done it for her own good, hurting her to save her from the future hurt everyone was convinced would eventually occur. Even the Mayor seemed certain of that, having experienced such events himself. It was cruel and harsh, more hurtful perhaps than all his demon's torture visited upon her after her seventeen birthday, but, at the time, he believed it was necessary.

Then he returned from Pylea to find Willow waiting in Hyperion's reception. Of all the things he feared, strangely he had never imagined the very real possibility of her death. He knew with a slayer that death was more likely, expected even in one who risked their lives every night dusting vampires and demons, saving the world. But he had never contemplated her dying before him. Yet she had, suddenly and unexpectedly, although when he listened to the retrospection of events through her eyes, he knew that was inevitable.

In a world of harsh choices, few constant friends and daily mortal injury, he had been her one hope for a better future. He had given her the courage to face the next day, and the next. Until that long drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles he had never known that his decision to break up with her was not protection, but actually the opposite; the death of hope. By telling her that their future could never be, he had destroyed her belief in the reward of a life outside of slaying. For the second time as in many years, his ignorance had destroyed them again.

Her death, followed by her rebirth, gave them today. Despite their best and unwitting attempts to ruin every the chance the Powers That Be gave them, fate had intervened once more in their favour, by bringing her back from the grave. He wondered, just as she did, from time to time, what would have happened if he had not been there when she crawled her way out of the soil, if she had come back into the world alone. She had no doubt that a darker future would have occurred, that she would attempt to destroy herself again, because she believed that there was nothing left worth living for. He refused to believe events could be so cruel, but after the confrontation with her once best friends, he had been forced to accept the likely possibility.

But that was another dream. The reality was today, a recreation of his nightmare, transformed into bliss by the Powers That Be, one whitelighter and four charmed witches. There were differences, of course, a perhaps wise precaution of theirs. Instead of the ceremony taking place inside a deserted church, a priest would perform it within the grounds surrounding the holy building. Instead of no congregation, ten would serve as witnesses to the happy occasion. He would be dressed in a similar contemporary morning suit, but the flower adorning his buttonhole was the one which signified the month of her birth. As for her dress, it was nothing compared to the fussy one of his dreams. Buffy had chosen an off-white silk, styled close to her upper body, with thin straps of material caressing her arms just below her shoulders, while the skirt gently flowed out to the ground. Her veil was a simple, elegant affair, with circlet of silver and garnets to fasten it to her unbound blond hair. The birthstones continued through these long tresses, adding sparkles of light which glistened throughout the ceremony and into the night beyond.

They held the event at dusk, their eleventh unseen witness providing the one vampire who attended with the necessary protection from the setting sun. Spike would later deny that the wetness on his face was tears at the sweetness of the ceremony, but it was an emotion experienced by all who witnessed the happiness so readily displayed by the bride and groom.

Giles gave Buffy away, solemnly walking her down the gravel path aisle to the chosen spot where she and Angel had asked the priest to perform the sacrament. It was an honour which she felt none deserved more than he, and one of the proudest moments of his life since she had bounded into it. All his once justified objections to their relationship no longer existed as he handed her over to Angel's care before the priest, nor did Giles desire to even contemplate thinking of one.

The words of the service were traditional almost to the point of old-fashioned, reflecting a more innocent time when religion was considered to have more sway over every part of life. Prayers and readings were devoutly timeless, conveying symbolic meaning which was clear to all those present, who knew what the ceremony truly meant to the bride and groom, a deeper meaning beyond the mere joining of hands and lives. Vows were a simple declaration of names, an oath to take each other, to remain steadfast and true whatever the future may bring. Platinum claddaghs were exchanged as they promised to endow each other with gold and silver, swearing their oaths in the name of father, the son and holy ghost, placing the ring over each finger as they recited the words, until the metal circles reached their final resting place.

Buffy and Angel beamed at each other as the priest pronounced them husband and wife, before granting them permission to thank each other for the honour. Their lips met in a gentle devout kiss, passionate yet chaste, broken only by the applause of twenty hands, started by Faith before she returned the bride's bouquet. In the midst of this cheer, they thanked the priest for his kindness in performing the ceremony in such a unusual place, before turning round to walk down the gravel path, out of the church yard and to the cars. Humour ensued as the bride threw the flowers, forcing Cordelia to explain to her boyfriend the symbolism behind his catching them.

Then Angel started the engine of the Plymouth Belvedere and Buffy sank down into the passenger seat, fastening the safety belt as he drove the car away. Reception was to be held back at the Hyperion, leaving them all the time in the world to relish the reality of what had just occurred. Something they had never dared to dream would take place without harsh consequences, or cruel judgement from on high.

Just before the exit to the highway which would take them back to Los Angeles, Angel pulled the car into a little side road, parking it at one of the scenic rest spots. Turning off the ignition, he turned to his beloved, who gazed happily into his dark eyes, and smiled. Slowly he reached out to take her left hand in his own, whereupon his fingers reverently caressed the three rings that now adorned it. For a moment he marvelled at how the metal felt before his skin, symbolising the full truth of the event which had occurred. Then he felt her hand trace the contours of his face, before guiding it forward to capture their lips.

 


Day transformed into night, and the moon descended from the heavens, bathing the hellmouth with its eerie glow. Such natural light untempered by any artificial means caused the gravestones to glitter, producing highlights upon the names craved upon them, requiescat in pace. Grass caressed the ground before each momento mori, left to recover the once disturbed soil, leaving little evidence of its previous state, which was dependant on the passage of time since it was first struck.

At one such marble monument, surroundings were unusually devoid of noise. Few forms of life frequented the graveyards of Boca del Inferno, respecting the mortal dominion which reigned supreme over them. Stalking the earth with victorious arrogance, reminding those who fought to make a difference that the battle was eternal and eventually even they would be forced to surrender.

The silence was provocative, challenging the devious and cunning form which had secretly taken possession of the mortal remains the night before they were holy interred, to answer the haunting call of the moonlit night, and rise. Slowly it answered, having no need to rush such a non-shriven event. No evidence could be found of disturbance at this shortly peaceful shrine, until one hand, brown from soil, emerged from the earth below.

Hand paused, waiting for its twin to join, then en masse they gripped the blades of grass, seeking purchase support to help the rest of the body out of its burial place. The primitive being within growled, in pleasure, in agony, in desire for it's immortal hunger to be quickly sated.

Surprisingly, it appeared to him, as the beast opened it's eyes, that the want would soon be satisfied. For as it rose above the resting place, it was greeted by the form of it's prey, who the hunter assumed, was waiting for him.

In this he was half right, for the woman was indeed waiting for him, though not for the reason he supposed. She stepped back as he rose to his full height, waiting for him to descry the weapon she held, to sense the aura around her which identified her.

The beast was not unprepared for this circumstance, the sense not as unfamiliar to him, as one would believe. Rapidly it steadied and calmed those famished tendencies, delaying their wants, and called to the strength and intelligence it would need to face this next battle for survival.

A encounter such as this was not new but as old as time itself. Again and again it had been waged between similar opponents, on similar fields, foreign and domestic. Victories were stacked almost equally on both sides, the determination of either being such that superiority or advantage was rarely allowed. Strengths and weaknesses of each combatant were known by the other, strangers as they were.

Punch for punch, kick for kick, blow for blow traded on and on, until one side moved faster than the other, catching their opponent off guard, striking the fatal wound.

Vampire turned to dust, and Roisin withdrew her stake, returning it to her pocket. Her hand then retrieved her vibrating cell phone, and placed the device to her ear.

"Angel Investigations, Sunnydale department," she greeted the caller with. "How may I be of service?"

The End.