Chapter 1: Entropy
Angel can barely utter a greeting before arms wrap around his neck and a high pitched squeal fills his ears. “Nice to see you, too, Cordy,” he says when the squealing stops.
Wesley and Gunn join them in the foyer. “You’re back. How was your trip?” Wesley says in greeting. He looks worn.
“Yeah!” Cordelia practically screams, “Any residual ‘grr’?” She raises her hands up near her face like claws and bares her teeth as she makes a growling sound.
Angel resists the urge to roll his eyes. “I’m not a mental health case,” he says. He drops his bag and sits on the couch.
“Not anymore than normal, anyway,” Gunn jokes. He punches Angel playfully on the shoulder. “We’ve missed you, man. Good to have you back,” he adds kindly.
Angel knows he was gone much longer than anticipated. After Willow’s message, he didn’t know what to do. He could not imagine a world in which Buffy did not exist. In his mind, their story was far from over. Her story was far from over.
Angel changes the subject. “How’s Fred?” he inquires. After he rescued Fred from Pylea, he left almost immediately for the monastery.
“She doesn’t come out very much. We’ve tried to talk to her, but she just babbles on like she’s a talking textbook,” Cordelia says with a shrug. She grabs his shirt sleeve and pulls him into the office, away from the boys.
“Are you sure you’re really okay? You know, after the B-word,” she speaks like she is telling a secret.
“I really don’t want to talk about it,” Angel groans. “I felt ready to come home, really,” he tries to give her a reassuring look, but is pretty sure it fails when she frowns.
“But,” she speaks slowly, “are you okay?” She pauses too long after each word.
“I think I am,” he answers. At first, he had felt guilty that Buffy had died and he was not there to protect her. Rather than that feeling subsiding, it was just replaced with a new, more haunting realization. He could go on without her. In another 200 years, maybe he would even forget the way she made him feel. That is why he truly felt guilty. He could be okay when she was not.
In an effort to avoid Cordelia’s prying gaze, Angel looks away. His eyes find Fred at the top of the stairs, peeking around the corner. She quickly ducks behind the wall. Cordelia’s knees buckle suddenly, demanding his attention. He hurries to catch her falling body. Angel lowers her gently to the floor of the office. He crouches beside her, pulls her head into his lap, and yells for the others. Cordelia presses her hands tightly against the sides of her head, and Angel can hear her grinding her teeth. The visions have gotten worse in his absence, more painful.
“There’s a demon attacking a woman,” Codelia grinds out, blatantly ignoring his concern. Gunn and Wesley have entered the office. She brings her palm to her forehead, pressing hard. “No, two demons. Maybe three. They’re coming through a portal in Griffith Park,” she adds. The vision subsides, and Cordelia relaxes.
“Another portal?” Angel questions, his brain trudging up many unpleasant memories of Pylea. He places his hands under Codelia’s shoulders, propping her against the desk in a sitting position.
“Fingers crossed it goes to Pylea,” Cordelia says. “I could totally reprise my role as a princess.” She grips the sides of her head firmly, then resumes rubbing her fingertips into her temples, chasing away the pain of the vision.
“What kind of demons?” Wesley asks.
“Tall green ones. Urgent need of a manicure,” Cordelia describes.
“Must be a vahrall demon,” Wesley answers. “Razor-like fingernails. Stay out of reach,” he says to Angel.
Angel walks to the weapons cabinet. He tosses Gunn a battle axe. Gunn catches it easily, twirling it in his hand for effect. They stride to the door quickly, eager to get going. Cordelia calls out right before the door closes.
“Get some tacos on the way home!” she yells. Angel sticks his head back in the doorway, raising an eyebrow in confusion. “Remember, for Fred?”
“Right,” Angel answers, finally shutting the door.
Angel yanks his sword out of the abdomen of the demon, cringing at the foul smell. The blood of demons assaults his senses, as if he needs a reminder that this choice of prey is not true to his kind. When the demon crumples to its knees, Angel brings his sword down again, separating the head from the body with a sickening crack. Talons scrape the air in front of his face, barely missing the skin of his cheek. Angel steps back hastily. The demon follows, lashing out with talons extended. He ducks quickly, then arcs his blade above him. The severed arms hit the ground with a muffled thud. As the demon screeches, Angel sends his sword into its chest, effectively cutting off the noise.
Angel checks the forest for other threats. Gunn has already killed the final demon. The girl that Codelia had seen in the vision is unharmed. He watches as Gunn approaches her, speaking quietly to soothe her. Over to his right, he can see the last feature of Cordelia’s vision.
The portal looks different than the ones that they used to travel to Pylea. Rather than swirling colors of purples and pinks, the air shimmers. It looks like the surface of a lake, rippling with the wind, casting a distorted reflection of everything around him. He can see the trees hanging on to the last of their fall leaves. Gunn and the brunette woman are visible. Where his reflection should be, there is nothing but forest.
Turning away from the portal, he walks to the others. “Everything good?” Angel asks.
“We’re alright. You?” Gunn responds. He receives a nod from Angel in answer. “Marlo, this is Angel. Can you tell us what happened here?” He gives her an encouraging look and keeps his voice low, as if he is talking to a child.
“I was just, just coming for a jog,” she says, stumbling on her words. Marlo speaks directly to Gunn. “Those things, what were they?”
“There’s no need to be worried,” Angel says. The woman glances at him when he speaks, but returns her gaze to Gunn.
“They won’t be coming back. Let’s get you back home,” Gunn says, helping the woman to her feet. They walk the opposite direction, towards the parking lot. Angel stays back, watching the portal. He explores, walking around the portal in slowly expanding circles, looking for visible markings on the ground or charms present. If one was used to open the portal, simply disturbing the ritual would close it right back up. Angel stops when he finds what he is looking for.
Gunn reappears, alone. “Any weird mojo?” he asks.
Angel points at the ground in front of him. There are four crude stoneware bowls. One bowl is filled with salt, and a second looks to be full of water. Blue flowers fill the third. The last only holds charred remains of something unidentifiable. Angel uses the toe of his boot to knock over the bowl of salt. When nothing changes, he knocks over the bowl of water as well.
“‘Cause that wouldda been too easy,” Gunn groans loudly.
“I haven't seen a portal like this before. Maybe Wesley will know-,” Angel starts, cutting his sentence short when the portal ripples wildly. Gunn brings up his battle axe. They watch the portal, ready for round two.
The portal continues rippling, like a flag in a heavy wind. Suddenly, it stills. Tiny objects come flying, sailing through the air for a few feet before falling to the ground. Angel and Gunn exchange confused glances. After a few uneventful moments, Gunn lowers his axe and walks to the intruders. “Now, you have got to be kidding me!” Gunn says emphatically moments later.
Angel looks at the small pink crustaceans. “Shrimp,” he says, unnecessarily. “At least we don't have to fight it.” He shrugs.
“I’ve got a plan. You stay here and guard the world from these freaky things,” Gunn gestured to the shrimp on the ground, “And I will go see what Wesley has to say.” He is already walking away by the time Angel can reply.
“Hey! Take these with you,” Angel calls out. He gives Gunn the two remaining bowls. “You’ll be back before dawn, right?” Gunn waves a hand as his only answer.
When Angel walks into the Hyperion, Wesley and Cordelia have their noses in books. Wesley is reading his, while Cordelia is taking the saying quite literally, snoring softly onto the pages. The door shuts behind him, waking Cordelia with a start.
“Angel,” Wesley addresses, turning the book he was reading to face Angel, “I have found some rather interesting information about the portal. The flowers were blue lotus, symbolizing rebirth. I haven’t figured out what was burned, but to open it, it’s fascinating really, the witch would have to-”
“Great, how do we close it?” Angel asks, cutting him off. Wesley often went on forever about the details before reaching the point. After standing guard at the portal all night, he has no desire to hear a long winded explanation.
“Yeah, fast forward,” Cordelia adds sleepily.
Wesley huffs, but answers. “The portal is very difficult to open because it goes to more than one dimension. Rather than the portal sending someone to a destination, it is for the witch to bring someone to this side. In the meantime, other things can stumble through it. It can be very dangerous,” he says.
“When shrimp came through, I was starting to think it wasn’t picky,” Angel mumbles.
“Woah,” Cordelia holds up both hands, “So it’s just like an open door into several sketchy worlds that anything can walk through?”
“Basically,” Wesley answers. “That was the easy part to find out. None of these books have anything pertaining to closing it. All they say is how to try and pull the being you desire towards your portal.”
When Wesley finishes, Cordelia perks up, fixing her eyes on Angel determinedly. Remembering her relentless desire to discuss his personal life, he holds up the box of food as an excuse. Angel asks Wesley to keep him updated as he leaves the room.
Tacos in hand, he walks up the stairs to Fred’s room. The girl is hiding herself in the small space. He knocks on the door, but only raps it once with his knuckles before it flies open.
“Angel,” Fred gushes in a quick breath, pulling off her glasses and running a hand through her brown hair. “And you brought tacos!” She says the word tacos with the same breathless tone as she used for his name.
“Good morning, Fred,” Angel says quietly, his tone hushed by wonder. The walls of the hotel suite are covered in words and symbols. Different colors and several markers had been used, and there is no pattern to the writings. Some spaces are covered in equations while others have a single word repeated over and over. “What is all this?”
“Oh,” she looks around the room slowly, as if she is noticing the writings for the first time as well. “Just, ya know, thoughts,” she answers.
Angel points at a patch of paint that has the word listen written dozens of times questionably. “Listening to the hotel, to the world,” Fred explains, shrugging. She turns around to the wall that is not completely covered.
“What happens if you run out of wall space before you hear what it’s saying?” Angel asks.
“I don’t know,” she answers honestly. Producing a permanent marker from her pocket, she finishes an equation she was in the middle of.
“What about this one?” Angel points to where she just wrote. That must have been what she was working on when he interrupted her. The wall reads ‘S = k log W’ many times.
Fred pushes a lock of long hair behind her ear before answering. “That’s entropy. It’s the measure of disorder in a system,” she explains.
Angel raises an eyebrow. “You can measure disorder? I thought that the point of disorder was that it isn’t… ordered,” he finishes lamely.
“Oh, silly,” Fred answers, touching his arm but pulling her hand back quickly. “It’s thermodynamics, see,” she points at another wall. “Systems all lean towards chaos. Entropy is how the world always favors death and disorder.”
Angel shifts uncomfortably. “I don’t know if it makes it better or worse that science actually has a formula for that.”
“This version of it is actually for a noble gas, but,” she smiles at the wall, “it makes it better. Definitely better.”
Angel arrives at the park shortly after sunset. Gunn is there waiting, sitting in a foldable bag chair with his battle axe across his knees. Angel makes a conscious effort to disturb the fallen leaves as he walks as to not spook Gunn. When he sees him approaching, Gunn gets up from his chair, excited for shift change.
“Any activity?” Angel asks. He can smell blood and something else, like rotten eggs.
“A Codger demon came through and turned right back around. More seafood,” Gunn answers, gesturing to the growing pile of shrimp in front of the portal. “Oh, and a few Fyarl demons. You ran into some of those overnight, too, right?”
“Yeah, the portal must be open somewhere that there are a lot of them. Wesley said this type of portal is open to many places at once,” Angel explains.
“That whole projectile mucus thing they have going on is totally rank,” Gunn complains. He folds up his chair, slingling it across his back. “Have fun, buddy,” he says.
Angel bids him goodnight and does several circles around the area. The last thing to come through was a Brachen demon, which was not necessary to kill, as they are harmless. Angel let him know what dimension he was in, and the demon went about his business.
He stands guard as the night drags on. His mind drifts, his thoughts circling back to Buffy. Healing the ache in his soul was out of his reach. He has not expected a few weeks at a monastery to truly soothe him. Vampire healing does nothing for the worst of wounds.
For the third time that night, the portal begins to ripple. Angel stands in front of it with his broadsword ready. Angel waits for the rippling to still, the tell tale sign that the intruder is about to emerge. It rests, and out walks something that is definitely not a demon. After a couple steps, it falls to its knees as if in exhaustion. Angel approaches slowly, not trusting his eyes.
Before him is a human. Long blonde hair flows down her back and hangs in her face. A simple white cotton dress covers her body, but leaves her arms exposed to the chill in the air. Angel takes a knee beside her, dropping his sword to the ground carelessly. As he does so, she raises her face to him.
Angel may not breathe, but that does not stop his reaction to inhale sharply. Green eyes meet his. He reaches forward to brush the hair out of her face and behind her ears. “Buffy?” he says quietly, disbelieving.
She raises a hand to caress his face in response, tracing his lips with the pad of her thumb. “Angel,” she says his name in an exhalation. She feels his smile, but does not break eye contact until her eyelids flutter closed in response to his lips landing softly on her own.
Chapter 2: Force
Angel clasps hands with Buffy and pulls her to her feet. She wavers, but stays upright. Ater her shiver, he removes his black leather duster and wraps it around her. Angel hooks his arm around her waist, supporting her. They walk to his Belvedere. Once they are both seated, Angel stares at her intently. “It’s really you?” he asks, not knowing if he really wants an answer.
“Buffy Summers, at your service,” she flashes a smile that doesn't quite reach her eyes. He can tell that her mind is swimming.
Angel wants to ask how this happened, but he holds his tongue. Ignorance is bliss. The drive back to the hotel is short and quiet. The silence is not awkward, but rather cathartic. Buffy holds his hand that is not steering. Her thumb rubs circles on the back of his hand. They have yet to relinquish contact, as if disconnecting would break the spell.
When they get to the hotel, he parks and helps her out. She looks at the building and turns back to Angel. “Has anyone ever told you that you have expensive taste?” she asks.
“Haunted hotels don't exactly fetch top dollar, “ he replies. He reaches for her hand and walks her to the courtyard. As they approach, she shakes her head. Catching the hint, they walk around back, entering the hotel through the service entrance close to his room. She is talking like herself, but she must not feel like herself if she wants to stay hidden. Best not to let the others know until they have this figured out.
“Why were you in the park? Were you trying to bring me back?” Buffy asks suddenly when they enter his suite.
“What?” Angel replies, caught off guard. Buffy repeats her first question. “Cordelia got a vision. She saw that there was a portal open and demons were slipping through. We have been guarding it until Wesley figures out how to close it,” he explains.
“So who is guarding it now?” Buffy asks. Judging by the panicked look this brings to Angel’s face, he had not thought about this complication.
“I’ll have to manage a reason for that,” Angel says, “There’s only about an hour ‘til dawn when Gunn would take over.”
“So, you weren’t trying to bring me back?” Buffy asks, but cannot keep eye contact. She looks at the carpet instead.
“No,” Angel answers softly. “Why would you think that?”
“I felt like I was losing a game of tug-of-war, just got pulled right through. It was like I didn’t have a choice,” Buffy takes a deep breath. No expectations then. Hopefully, no weird necromance spell side effects either. “Who-” she pauses for a deep breath, “Who told you I died?”
Angel grows nervous. “Buffy, we don’t have to go through all of this right now.” Buffy waits for an answer, needing to know. “Willow,” Angel says solemnly.
“So, my family, the gang, they’re all okay?” she asks, ignoring his suggestion.
Angel walks into the adjoining bathroom and emerges with a cool towel. “As far as I know, yes. They check in, every now and then.” Angel hands Buffy the cloth, and she scrubs at her face. Angel pulls back the covers on the bed, leaving an open invitation that she accepts.
She removes his jacket and drapes it over a chair before sitting on the bed. Buffy pats the mattress beside her before pulling the covers up past her shoulders. Angel toes off his shoes and socks before removing his pants and shirt. He feels strangely unembarrassed to change with her in the room. He dons a pair of pajama pants (a gift from Cordelia, printed with green shamrocks) before joining Buffy. He catches her giggle at his clothing.
Angel turns to face her, and Buffy places her hands on his bare chest. She tilts her head up to kiss him. He returns the kiss slowly, tenderly. Buffy cups his face with her hands, then tangles her fingers in his hair. Finally, she has to break the kiss for breath. Angel uses the pause to kiss the top of her head. Buffy settles against the cool skin of his chest, wrapping her arm around his middle. They are both exhausted and exquisitely comfortable.
“Angel,” Buffy asks quietly. He responds with an answer muffled against her hair. “I couldn’t do it again. I couldn’t kill someone I love to stop an apocalypse. To sacrifice Dawn,” her voice cracks with emotion, “After I killed you, I thought it would kill me, too. I just couldn't do that again. It would have taken more than I had left.”
Angel kisses the top of her head. “I understand, Buffy,” he says softly. Buffy does not argue, she knows he does. He is the only one that could. To have given up Dawn, Buffy would have had to compartmentalize away so many of the qualities that were uniquely her. Who would she have been after that? Who was she now?
Buffy’s breathing slows as she falls asleep. Angel stays awake, studying the rhythm of her heartbeat and memorizing the rise and fall of her chest. She snuggles into him further, and he is warmed physically and emotionally.
Angel manages to wiggle himself out of bed without waking Buffy. He slips on a shirt, and makes his way downstairs. “Afternoon coffee?” Cordelia greets him cheerily.
“Please,” Angel answers. Maybe the coffee will help him drive away the urge to rejoin Buffy in his bed, sleeping soundly, alive.
Angel sees Wesley over the rim of his mug. He looks like he has been researching through the night. His hair is askew, and his glasses are visibly smudged. Angel calls his name, and he comes over with the book he was reading.
“Each passage that describes these types of portals just ends. Witch opens portal, desired person called through, then it goes on a tangent about the person,” Wesley rants, frustrated.
“Then, maybe that's it,” Cordelia says nonchalantly.
“Cordelia,” Wesley says, exasperated, “That’s what I’ve been saying. That’s it. The passages don’t say how to close the portal.” He taps the text that he is holding for effect.
“Oh, you really are dense,” Cordelia says. Wesley glares at her with minimal effect. “I mean, the passages end there because that is how you close the portal. You have to get the right person to come through. Like when someone holds the door open for you, but you are too far away, so you have to do that awkward rush, jog thing.”
“That actually makes quite a bit of sense” Wesley starts, pulling off his reading glasses and running a hand through his hair. Cordelia huffs at his shocked tone. “But, how do we find out who that person is or how to get them through?”
“I can handle that,” Angel joins in, “We just need to find out who opened the portal.” Angel pauses before asking the question he dreads the most. “What happens to everything that came through the portal when it closes?”
“The texts don’t say much about anything that accidentally transcends. Whoever the ritual was seeking seems to be the only one to stay put once they come through.” Wesley continues talking, saying something about the possible repercussions of a walking into a portal unaware. Angel frowns at his coffee.
“Wesley made the coffee,” Cordelia says innocently, her gaze going between Angel and his mug. She has a reputation for making foul brews.
“It’s not that,” Angel answers, uncertain. He cannot explain this to her. Within the last twenty-four hours, Cordelia was consoling him over his loss of Buffy. Consoling may be too strong of a word. But, they were here, in this room, and Buffy was dead.
“So, we are brooding this afternoon,” Cordelia says, “What a nice change of pace.” She lays the sarcasm on thick, but Angel does not notice. All he can think about is that his world has been turned upside down, all over again.
Angel shakes his head as if it will clear his thoughts. He refills his mug and grabs a second, dismissing himself with an excuse about checking on Fred.
Buffy wakes to the smell of coffee and the shift of the mattress. Angel smiles as her eyelids flutter open. He balances a mug on each knee until Buffy has stretched and sat up. Angel watches as she brings her mug in front of her face and inhales deeply. Her every action is a wonder to him.
She flushes under the heat of his gaze. “Pictures last longer,” she teases.
“I know,” he says as he reaches over to the bedside table, grabbing a worn paperback book. Angel flips the book open to a place in the middle and pulls out a photograph. He keep his hand on the open page so he doesn't lose his place.
Buffy takes the photo from his hands, looking at it closely. Her own face stares back at her in black and white. “That hairstyle is so senior year,” she laughs, her nose crinkling and dimples showing. “What was I thinking with the chunky highlights?”
“You’re beautiful,” Angel says softly, gazing at her intently. Buffy hands the photo back to him, and he replaces it in the book. He puts the now empty mug on the bedside table. “And, you’re real.” He touches her face tightly. Buffy leans into his hand. His skin is warmed from holding the coffee mug, his body borrowing the heat of the liquid.
Buffy leans forward, straining for more contact. He complies, leaning forward to brush her lips with his. He means to keep it tender, slow. Last night, he wanted her presence. Now, he needs her touch. The kiss heats quickly. Angel finds his hair sliding into her hair, pulling her closer and closer. She jumps and lets out a yelp, almost biting his lip in the process.
She reaches into her lap quickly, coming up with the coffee up in hand. Buffy hops out of bed. A brown stain on her dress causes her to laugh. “Technical difficulties,” she says sheepishly.
Angel crosses the room to his dresser. He trades Buffy’s coffee mug for one of his black shirts. She thanks him quietly, fingering the hem of her dress nervously. She decides to bare all.
“Angel, I don’t think I’m supposed to be here.” Buffy says quietly, her voice shrinking with every word.
Angel can’t stand it. She is here; she is real. He can reach out and touch her, and that is all he wants to do. He closes what little distance is between them to grab her hands. Buffy lets the shirt fall. He pulls her towards him, bringing her hands together behind his neck. When their noses are almost touching, he lets go of her hands to move his own to her hips. Angel pulls her hips to his at the same moment she kisses him.
Buffy kisses him fervently, without pretense. He matches her passion, and their tongues duel. They lose themselves in each other. When she pulls away, her breaths are rapid and shallow. Angel kisses his way down her neck, thrilled by the way her pulse races under her skin. He forms words against her skin “You’re here. You’re real,” he whispers.
He skates his blunt teeth over the scar on her neck from his bite years ago, and is rewarded by her sharp inhalation. Encouraged, he glides his hands upwards from her hips to her breasts. She bows in his arms. Buffy find his mouth again, sucking in his bottom lip before nipping it payfully. He returns the gesture by bringing his thumbs over her nipples over the thin cotton. Her hands twist in the black fabric of his shirt tightly before trying to tug it off. Angel reluctantly removes his hands from her body to rid himself of it. Her hands instantly gravitate towards his bare chest. Her palms are like fire against his cool skin.
Everywhere he touches her is hot. Her arms, her shoulders, her chest prickles at his cool touch. He hooks his thumbs in the thin straps of her dress and pulls them over her shoulders. The straps roll down her arms and the dress pools at her feet. “Buffy,” he breathes, heart wrenched at the sight of her body. “You’re real.”
Buffy smiles softly. She presses her naked chest against his, melting him with her heat. Her hands blaze trails down his sides, coming to rest on the elastic waistband of his pants. His pants and boxers are pushed down in a fluid motion. Angel steps out of the clothing, reaching for Buffy’s hips. He supports her weight and her legs wrap around his waist, heels hooking together above his buttocks.
Angel walks her to the bed, the movement of his legs creating delicious friction between him and the lace of her panties. She kisses his face hungrily. When he hits the edge of the bed, they tumble onto it. Buffy straddles his hips and leans down to kiss him. He returns the kiss, but breaks away. He pushes her golden hair away from her face to cup her cheeks with both hands. “You’re here, Buffy,” he repeats.
“I am,” she answers. Buffy can feel him relax slightly. She grinds her core against his and feels his muscles tense again. She waits for the tension to fade before she does it again. This time, his hands fly to her waist and he flips them over.
Angel’s large hands come back to her face, caressing her temples, tangling in her hair as he kisses her. He keeps his mouth on hers, but his hands wander. His hands skate over her shoulders and down her sides, turning her skin to gooseflesh in their wake. He breaks the kiss to keep moving southward, catching her panties and rolling them down her legs until they fall to the floor. She is bared to him. She is real.
“Curse?” she whispers against his lips. Her breath is coming in pants. Angel can see her pulse jumping on her neck and hear her heart pounding.
“Not going to be an issue,” Angel answers, burdened with mental pictures of Buffy being sucked back through the portal. He fights away the images, returning his mouth to hers. He explores her mouth with his tongue, breaking when she needs to breathe.
“Angel,” she pleads, bucking her hips in a desperate attempt at friction. Angel moans softly before aligning himself to her entrance. He slides home slowly until he is sheathed completely. He allows Buffy time to adjust before moving his hips back. Buffy pulls him towards her, wanting to feel the weight of his body on hers as he rocks into her. She meets his thrusts as they set a steady rhythm.
Angel loses himself in the symphony of her moans, the warmth of her body, and the thrill of her touch. Buffy finds her release, and he follows. It is over too soon. They are a tangle of limbs and sheets, pleasantly spent.
“This is what heaven should feel like,” Buffy thought aloud, basking in the afterglow.
Angel chuckles. “If it is, then it gives me another reason to despise being damned,” he jokes.
“I think that’s where I was,” Buffy says, her tone serious and wondrous, “before I felt something, you, pulling me.”
Angel shifts so he can see her face. Her green eyes are clear, thoughtful rather than haunted. “Heaven?”
She nods. “It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, but I felt… content. No pain, no fear, no doubt,” she says. Angel looks into her eyes and smiles softly. “You aren’t surprised,” Buffy states.
“Part of me didn’t think that Heaven was real,” he answers, “But, no. I’m not surprised that you were in Heaven.” Angel drops a kiss onto her forehead. He wraps his arms around her tighter, feeling guilt land deep in his gut. Buffy is confiding in him, but he cannot bring himself to do the same. He keeps Wesley’s information to himself.
They lay together in shared silence until Buffy’s stomach growls loudly. After pulling on some clothes, Angel gives Buffy a chaste kiss. He leaves to go get her a snack and check on Fred like he said he would hours ago.
Once again, Fred jerks open the door to her suite within moments of Angel arriving. “Angel!” she greets him excitedly.
“Hi, Fred,” Angel returns, giving her a small, but genuine smile. He also gives her spiral notebook. “For when you run out of space. What’s on the wall today?”
Fred hugs the notebook to her chest. Her grin spreads from ear to ear at his interest. Silently, she points to several sketches on the wall. Each sketch shows a square in the center with arrows of varying lengths radiating from the center. Beside each sketch is a formula that begins with FNET= followed by a series of numbers.
Fred allows Angel time to look at the sketches before speaking. “Free body diagrams show all of the forces acting on an object. Gravity pulls it down, the ground or a surface exerts an upward force,” she explains, indicating the equivalent arrows radiating up and down from the squares. Fred points to one square that has a force of gravity pointing down, but no arrow pointing up. “This one is falling. No force holding it up,” she says with a shrug.
Angel continues to listen. He finds her endearing. Fred’s love of science and math is palpable, and the comfort it brings her is obvious. When she looks to him, he nods in encouragement. “Then you have other forces like pushing or pulling something,” she touches an arrow coming from the square and pointing to the right.
“And this?” Angel asks, indicating the arrow pointing left.
“Oh, those are forces working against movement,” Fred answers excitedly, “like friction.” She shows him the equations beside each sketch. “Then you just look at all your forces and add them up to see what’s going on. One direction is positive, like the pull, and the other is negative, like the friction from the carpet. If pull hard enough to overcome friction, it moves that way.” Fred pulls the chair out from its place under the desk to prove her point. “If you can’t, it just stays put.”
“Forces,” Angel muses out loud, running his fingertips over the sketches and formulas. “So, the force that is keeping you in this room is greater than the force that wants to go out?” he asks, trying to speak her language.
She blushes hotly. “I’m working on that,” she answers, receiving his analogy. Fear is not a force to be trifled with.
“Maybe tomorrow,” Angel says, not wanting her to feel overly pressured. She smiles, and he walks to the door. He has a few more hours to rejoin Buffy before going to guard the portal.
Chapter 3: Escape Velocity
Manning his post, Angel paces. The portal is uneventful, rippling slowly like the surface of puddle. Buffy stayed back at the hotel, but promised to sneak out to meet him later. He did not want to have to explain her presence to Gunn. Gunn barely believed his story about having to chase a demon through town (requiring him to leave the portal and then get to the hotel before sunrise) on the night that Buffy came through. Often the muscle of the group, Gunn didn’t concern himself with all the details. But, he didn't have to look too closely to know that something had changed.
His time with Buffy felt like days rather than just hours. His world seemed to move slower when she was in it. Angel berated himself for not telling her what Wesley said. Buffy’s presence may be temporary. He could lose her again. The portal that he was protecting the world from, trying to close, could also take Buffy back as quickly as it had given her to him.
The only thing worse than thinking those thoughts would be to say them out loud. So, he had not told her. Wesley was not sure, anyway. There was not much information on these types of portals, and even when the team had information, it was not always correct. Angel tried to erase the possibility with reason after reason.
Truthfully, he didn’t think he needed to tell her. She already knew. She said as much. I don’t think I’m supposed to be here. He could say nothing to the contrary, instead trying to convince her and himself that she was with his words and his touch. Being away from her now made it hard to believe it had happened at all. Maybe he dreamed it.
The soft rustle of leaves gets his attention. “I never could sneak up on you,” Buffy says, appearing between the trees. She is wearing one of his black shirts like a dress, blending into the night. Her honey blonde hair simmers in the moonlight, starkly bright against the forest. Her image does nothing to dissuade his dream theory.
“Just like patrolling in Sunnydale,” she says as she walks towards him, “Complete with smoochies.” Her words are a warning for her kiss.
Angel is still at first, taking a moment to savor the very corporeal feel of her lips on his. He gives into the embrace of her mouth as her arms wrap around his waist. He can feel the brush of a stake against his spine. “I remember this being a distraction,” he mumbles against her lips.
Buffy pulls away to laugh. “Don’t worry, I’m extra focused. Which I why I noticed some strange chick sitting in a parked car,” she says. She throws her thumb over her shoulder in a gesture to the parking lot close to the observatory.
Angel follows Buffy as she leads. They stick to the forest, hiding themselves in the darkest shadows. At the parking lot, there is one parked car, engine off. From the streetlamp, Angel can see the silhouette of a woman in the driver’s seat. She is looking in their direction, but he is sure she can’t see them. He looks closely, recognizing the woman’s dark hair and angular face. “I know her. Marlo,” he whispers.
Buffy looks surprised. “She was here last night,” he explains quietly, “Cordelia saw her in the vision. Gunn spoke with her. She said that she was out for a jog when she was attacked.”
“So, then it makes perfect sense for her to come back in the middle of the night,” Buffy says sarcastically.
“It does if she’s who opened it,” Angel pieces together. “Wesley said the portal is used to bring someone to this world rather than to transport someone out. She is the one who opened it, and she is waiting for who she called. After they come through, the portal will close.” Once again, guilt bubbles in his throat.
“Then, let’s go have a chat,” Buffy says. She strides out to the parking lot purposefully.
Buffy, Angel, and Marlo stand in the forest. The portal waves beside them. Marlo’s face is stained with tears as she talks. “I was just trying to get her back,” she says through hiccups. Her tears have slowed down enough to talk.
“Who?” Angel asks the obvious question. Buffy stands close to him, sensing his unease.
“Laurel,” Michele says, “We were practicing a spell together, trying to move objects between worlds. Like to develop a messaging system.” Buffy and Angel nod. “We couldn’t get it to work. Sending something was easy, but we had no way of knowing if it go to the right place. Laurel wanted to go though. That way, she could see where she went, then come back to report.”
“So you let her go?” Buffy asks, “And she hasn’t come back?”
“She couldn’t perform the spell on herself. So, I-” Marlo stops talking and resumes crying. “I sent her. I sent her through.” Marlo puts her face into her hands. “If I did the spell right, she should have gotten to a parallel universe. Then all she would have to do is chant the return spell to come back to me.” She inhales a shaky breath. “I must have- I guess I didn’t do the spell right. Why hasn’t she came back to me?” She directs her question to Angel and Buffy, begging them to have an answer.
Angel locks eyes with Buffy. They have no answers for Marlo. Angel’s life has changed so much in the last day that he has no answers for much of anything.
“I found this spell, this coaxing portal, and I had to try it,” Marlo adds. “But nothing is working. I keep calling, and calling,” she says, her voice breaking. “I’ve lost her,” Marlo repeats, her voice growing quieter and her tears flowing faster with each repetition.
Buffy reaches for Angel’s arm and pulls him to the side, giving Marlo space. Her eyes glisten as she looks into his eyes. “Angel,” she breathes, reaching a hand to his face. He looks into her green eyes, seeking comfort. Angel finds pain. It is too easy for her to empathize with Marlo. Both of their minds are flashing back to his mansion, in front of Acathla. His hand subconsciously finds the spot on his abdomen where she stabbed him. His skin may not scar, but neither of them need a marker to find the exact spot. Buffy covers his hand with hers. “We have to help her,” she says.
“I know,” he returns, his voice hoarse with emotion. Angel clears his throat forcefully. “It’s the only way to close the portal.” He does not mean to sound insensitive, but approaching the problem so personally will do harm.
“Right, close the portal,” Buffy repeats, stiffening her resolve. “Marlo said she has been calling to her, but nothing has happened. When I came though, I felt pulled. What were you doing to pull me?”
“Buffy, I-,” Angel stutters, “I mean I wasn’t trying to-.” He struggles with words. Yanking Buffy out of heaven was not his intention. He had no idea what was going to happen.
Buffy reaches for him, placing her palm on his cheek. She traces his cheekbone with her thumb.. “I know it wasn’t on purpose, but what were you doing?” Her face is soft, her features conveying understanding and love.
“I was missing you,” he answers simply and truthfully. He felt he should have been there for her against Glory. Angel thought they would have more time. He didn’t know how to keep fighting the good fight if she was not out there doing the same. All of it boiled down to him wanting her back in his arms again.
Buffy blushes, smiles, then presses a kiss to his lips. One kiss turns into several. “I felt you. I wanted to come, to follow your pull. I missed you, too,” she says.
“So maybe Laurel doesn’t want to come back?” Angel asks.
“It’s possible. But, I’m thinking that maybe she can’t. Marlo is pulling, but she is stuck wherever she is,” Buffy hypothesizes.
It makes enough sense. “Forces,” Angel muses aloud, “she needs a push.” He shakes his head in wonder, recalling Fred’s pictures on the wall. Push in one direction to overcome the opposing forces.
Buffy is suspiciously quiet. Finally, she speaks quietly, “I can go.” Angel’s brown eyes find hers quickly in confusion. All too quickly, it makes sense. “I can go,” she repeats, stronger this time, but Angel still does not want to hear the words.
“No,” he answers reflexively. He takes a tight grip on her hands. “You don’t have to save the world again.” They could just guard the portal forever. Not much different than a hellmouth. Maybe move everyone out of the city.
Buffy says his name quietly, interrupting his false hopes. She unwinds her hands from his and twists them in his hair instead. She kisses his cheeks and whispers his name again.
“You came back for this?” Angel asks, searching her eyes. “For goodbye?” His voice cracks harshly on the last word, as if it pains him to speak it.
“Yes,” she says confidently. Buffy does not offer anything else. They needed this time, this experience, this comfort.
Angel wants to argue. He wants to find another way. There could be an outcome where Buffy stays, and the portal closes. With more time, Wesley might find a new spell. Buffy could even get Willow to help. As he thinks, each idea gets more and more far fetched, more distant from their reality.
The portal begins to wave furiously, snapping the attention of all three onlookers. Angel raises his battle axe, and Buffy twirls her stake. Marlo backs up quickly.
The mirror-like surface stills momentarily before a figure emerges. The demon is tall with green skin. It’s mouth is in the shape of a beak on its large head, giving a demure impression. Angel begins to say something, but is stopped short when the demon’s head opens like a book. A large black mass unfurls from where it’s brain should be.
When Buffy sees the humongous insect-like creature that was hidden in the demon’s head, she cringes exaggeratedly. “Now, that’s a whole new level of ew,” she says.
Angel arcs his battle axe broadly. One of the insect pinchers falls to the ground. The demon twists to the side from the blow, knocked off balance. Buffy drops low, swinging her leg out and around to swipe the demon’s legs out from under him. When the demon lands on its back, Angel brings the edge of his axe to meet it. The insect body curls grotesquely after the blow.
The battle axe drips sticky purple blood onto the ground. Angel bends to wipe the blade on the ground. Before the blade is clean, the portal ripples again. This time two of the green Nurbatch demons emerge. Angel nods to Buffy, and they pair off. As Angel fights, the portal surface moves like boiling water in his peripheral vision.
For every demon Angel dispatches, two more take its place. Buffy is equally overwhelmed. At some point, she has lost her stake and has resorted to repeated punches and kicks. As if the current chaos wasn’t enough, Marlo screams loudly. She picks up a fallen branch as a weapon and swings it wildly in all directions. Buffy manages to evade a bite from an insect head and rushes to Marlo. Angel follows, helping to form a semicircle around her.
Buffy is talking loudly to Marlo, trying to calm her down. Marlo stops swinging the stick, but grasps it so fiercely that her knuckles are white. “How?” Buffy yells to Marlo.
Angel rips his battle axe through a demon. He spins quickly, slicing another. The hilt of his axe is slippery with blood. He hears Buffy’s fist connect with a demon before she yells again. “Click my heels three times?” he hears her say over the cacophony.
Another demon lunges, and Angel is too immersed in battle to overhear the rest of the conversation. He feels a sudden sharp pain in his right arm. The insect head managed to get a pincher around his bicep. He groans as he uses the muscle to swing the axe through the demon. Blood runs down his arm in rivulets, mixing in his hand with the blood of the slain. The pain brings out his own demon; his brow ridge morphs, and his teeth grow sharp.
The Nurbatch crowd him. Pinchers bite into his skin as he transfers his weapon to his left hand. He doubles his efforts, arcing his weapon with as much force as he can muster. He cuts down the demons sloppily, but effectively.
Momentarily, there is no imminent threat and he can check his surroundings. He searches immediately for Buffy. He finds her posed protectively in front of Marlo. The bodies of several demons lay on the ground around them. Buffy’s shirt is torn in several places, but the blood spattered on her body is purple, not red. Marlo also looks uninjured, but she is speaking frantically into Buffy’s ear. Angel watches her nod, listening to Marlo as she watches the portal. Her eyes find him. From the anxious look on her face, she has noticed his injuries.
“Angel,” she says. He begins to answer with a reassurance, but she cuts him off. “Angel!” Her panic manifests in her voice, and she reaches a hand out. Angel follows her point, turning around just in time to duck a blow. He rises, bringing his axe up with him, splitting the demon up the middle. As the two pieces fall to opposing sides, he glimpses Buffy running towards the portal through the aperture. A demon blocks her path. She kicks out, placing a destabilizing blow to its leg. As it falls, she connects her first with it’s green face, knocking it out before the insect can reveal itself.
Angel wrenches his eyes away to dispatch another demon. They keep coming through, one after another. Between slayings, he looks for Buffy, distressed. He spies Marlo running towards the parking lot. Finally, he sees Buffy. She works her way increasingly closer to the portal. When she is within a few feet, she turns back, immediately locking into his gaze. His vampire visage falls away.
Fighting has brought a flush to her face and tangled her hair. Her green eyes seem impossibly bright in the darkness. He wishes the rest of the world could fall away so that he could experience this moment eternally, but he knows it is in vain. She doesn’t belong here. She has always been too good for this world.
Angel thinks her mouth moves in a declaration, but he cannot remove his eyes from their focus on hers to be sure. He does not see her go. A demon steals his attention. By the time it’s body crumples, she is gone, and intruders demand his attention again.
His battle axe moves in broad strokes, his muscles powering it with renewed vigor. Angel beats down his crazed emotions with every demon killed. His blows slice through green flesh and insect chitin. His next swing is met with no resistance, and it throws him off balance. Righting himself, he looks around to see the demons turning to dust in a manner similar to staked vampires. The dust hangs in the air momentarily before falling. Even the pile of shrimp collapses into powder. The portal folds into itself, shrinking. It wavers to a pinprick of light, blazing brightly before disappearing entirely.
Angel removes his hand from shielding his eyes to find a girl. She is kneeling, short curly hair sticking in every direction. Before Angel can approach her, Marlo is at her side, called by the flash of light. Marlo cradles Laurel, whispering her name excitedly. Tears of relief are visible on the faces of both girls. Marlo helps Laurel to her feet, and they walk back in the direction of the parking lot. Before they are out of sight, Marlo looks back to Angel. Gratitude radiates from her. He nods. Soon, he can no longer hear their voices.
The forest is still, empty. He is alone. Angel waits unnecessarily, just in case, but it is futile.
Angel waits outside of the Hyperion, looking through the glass beside the door. He does not want to talk to anyone, but he has to tell them the portal is closed. He would rather brood, as Cordelia calls it. On his way over, he came up with a story to replace aspects of the truth.
Through the window, he can see into the foyer, where Wesley is at the front desk with a woman. It takes him several beats to realize that the woman in question is Fred. She looks nervous and out of place, fidgeting ceaselessly, but she is out of her room. Angel enters quietly, not drawing any attention.
“Your perspective is interesting,” Wesley says, “Applying the laws of physics to the supernatural world offers explanations I would never have thought of.”
Fred is flattered. Angel can see the blood rush to her face in a blush and the speed of her heartbeat accelerate. “That’s what my professor and I were working on. Then, you know, the bit about portling into a place where I was basically a cow,” she says, continuing to blush.
“Your formulas for the portal were the substitute for the usual spells. How did you find out what do do?” Wesley seems to be genuinely fascinated. He is eager for her answer.
“We approached it like a planetary system,” Fred explains. She pulls out the notebook that Angel had given her. As she talks, she writes and doodles. “Each parallel universe is like a planet. To leave your dimension, like leaving a planet, you have to reach the escape velocity. That’s how fast you have to go to escape the gravitational pull and enter space,” she says.
“So, like rockets?” Wesley asks sheepishly. Fred giggles and nods.
“Portal is closed,” Angel says. Fred squeaks in surprise, covering her mouth with both hands. Wesley jumps so suddenly that he almost knows off his glasses. After fixing them, he fires off a series of questions.
Angel raises his arms up as if to physically stop the interrogation, but the action reminds him of his injured bicep. He groans and lowers his arms. Fred races toward him, concerned. He unsuccessfully bats her away. She is persistent, and his wound is cleaned and bandaged swiftly. It should be healed by afternoon. Wesley is deterred with more success. Angel only tells him about Marlo, how she was the woman from the vision and the one who opened the portal. He leaves out the horde of Nurbatch demons. Most glaringly, he leaves out Buffy.
“So, when her friend came through, the portal just collapsed?” Wesley asks. Angel nods in agreement. Wesley is concerned that the witches would try to open a portal like that again, but Angel assures him that they will not. Neither Marlo or Laurel would be willing to risk that again.
“The portal was fully dependant on a single aspect. The right person shows up, and problem solved,” Wesley says like describing a magic trick. He keeps talking to Fred, going off on a tangent.
Angel stops listening, wandering to the recesses of his mind. He could be okay without Buffy. He would never be the same, but he could be okay, with time. Angel would always feel the weight of her absence, a void that could never be filled. Buffy would forever be in his reason for fighting. He could best honor her memory by continuing his mission. Their time together solidified her in his memory, and he was now certain that he could live another two hundred years and her touch, her smell, and the way she crinkled her nose when she thought something was funny would still be burned into his memory.
“Yeah,” Angel agrees even though Fred and Wesley are no longer listening to him. “The right person.” He makes his way to his room, hoping that the sheets still smell like her. He is not ready to go by memory just yet.