Where Angels Fear to Tread, p7

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Buffy had seen the Butcher Knight several times now, once in real life, once in her dreams. Both of those times he had fought against her, or Elia, and she had been too busy with staying alive to really watch him.

Now she could. And he was magnificent.

Angelus was a weapon made flesh. Every inch of him was a killing machine, moving with the grace of a large cat, the long sword a part of his arm. He moved like a shadow, too fast to follow, and killed whatever came into his way.

A dozen Vampires tried to overwhelm him and they all died in seconds, crumbling into dust in the path of the Knight's blazing sword. Buffy blinked and it was over. Only Darla and Angelus remained, the dust slowly settling around them.

"Angelus," Darla screamed.

"You rang?" He grinned at her, walking closer, playfully whirling his sword in one hand.

"I conjured you forth from the darkness," she growled at him. "And now you betray me?"

He shrugged.

"What can I say? Comes a time a man has to go his own way. Don't take it personal, darling! I just felt it was time for a change."

The ancient Vampire stood face to face with the Etrigani and stared at his cold eyes.

"You made a deal with the Earl."

"I would call it a business association myself, but whatever works for you. Suffice to say that he made me an offer I could not refuse."

He slowly raised the sword and moved the tip of it over Darla's heart.

"My part includes killing you, I'm afraid."

Darla hissed and jumped him, something the Knight hadn't expected. The two tumbled to the floor in a flurry of arms and legs that carried them outside Buffy's field of vision. She heard the sounds of battle, but couldn't turn her head far enough to actually see it.

"I made you," she heard Darla scream. "I can unmake you as well!"

"Women and their empty promises," the Knight retorted and suddenly Darla was in Buffy's field of vision once more, flying halfway through the room and landing on the floor in a heap.

Angelus slowly walked up to her, still smiling.

"We had a nice time," he told her. "I will always remember you. Nicest piece of undead ass I ever met."

Darla jumped to her feet to rush him again, but this time the Knight wouldn't be taken by surprise. Darla came to a crushing halt and looked down to see the Butcher Knight's huge sword firmly embedded between her breasts, the tip protruding out her back.

"Angelus," she whispered.

"Don't go sentimental on me now!"

He pulled the sword out of her body in a shower of dark blood, then whirled around and took off Darla's head in the same motion. For a moment the headless body just stood there, frozen in shock, then time caught up with her.

The sound of settling dust was the only sound to be heard inside the mansion for a long, long moment.

"Angel?" Buffy whispered.

Angelus turned his eyes upon her and smiled.

"Not quite, deary. The good boy made a deal with me, can you believe it? A deal to save you."

He laughed and raised the sword above his head. Buffy's heart stopped for a moment, convinced he would kill her now.

The sword arced down and sheared clean through the chains that held her down.

"Sorry!" He laughed again. "Couldn't resist that look on your face."

He sheathed his sword and Buffy jumped to her feet, unconsciously taking a few steps back from the towering form of the Butcher Knight.

"What happened here?" she asked him. "What kind of deal are you talking about?"

The Knight shrugged.

"I guess he can explain that better than me."

He closed his eyes and a voice not his own burst forth from his lips.

"Be gone Angelus, Butcher Knight Be banished back into the night The new day's dawn shall be your ban Return once more in form of man!"

Buffy had to avert her eyes from the glare. When she looked back the Butcher Knight was gone and Angel stood in his place, looking at her.

"Are you all right?" he asked her with deep worry in his voice.

Right then Buffy didn't care whether she was Elia or not, whether her feelings for him were real or just memories of a former life. She launched herself into his arms and the two embraced each other with desperation, each needing the assurance that the other was alive and well.

After what seemed like an eternity they let go and looked into each other's eyes, searching for answers.

"What deal did you make with the Butcher Knight?" Buffy finally asked.

Angel closed his eyes, sighing deeply.

"Let's go to Giles first, beloved. I want to get out of this place."

Buffy nodded, looking back at the dust on the floor. For Angel it was the end of a millennium of being haunted and stalked by this Vampire, the end of a flight that had lasted ten centuries.

It was also a beginning, though. She just didn't know of what.

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"A deal?" Buffy asked him.

Angel just nodded.

Giles looked at the two people sitting on his couch, lost to everything but each other. The situation these two were in bordered on the ridiculous, Giles realized. A 10th century Vampire Slayer, reborn as a 20th century Vampire Slayer, and a 10th century Irish Earl, who survived the centuries by being bonded to a demon, just returned home from fighting an over 1000 years old Vampire who had first called that demon into existence.

"What kind of deal, Mr. Fitzpatrick?" Giles asked him.

Angel blinked, as if just now remembering that Giles was present, then looked at the Watcher.

"I knew that I had no chance of saving Elia ... Buffy from Darla on my own. So I looked up Angelus and offered him a deal. He would help me defeat Darla. In turn I would ..."

Giles waited until Angel found the strength to continue.

"I would give him freedom," Angel said finally. "One year out of every ten I would give him freedom."

For a long moment both Giles and Buffy just stared at him.

"Are you mad?" Buffy finally found her voice again. "You allow this thing freedom? He will start killing people as soon as you let him out and ..."

"No, he won't," Angel interrupted her. "All part of the deal. I ... convinced Angelus that he has missed out on a lot over the centuries. That there is more than just killing to be enjoyed. It's part of the deal we made. When ... when he does kill it will only be those who deserve to die."

"And who exactly decides who deserved to die?" Giles asked him, not happy with the way this deal was shaping up.

"We both will, together. I know what you are thinking, Mr. Giles, but me and Angelus are one. One in body and, to a certain degree, one in mind. It's one of the few positive points of our relationship. None of us can lie to the other. Angelus was getting quite sick of being Darla's toy and is looking forward to some time of true freedom. He will keep his part of the bargain and he knows that I will, too."

Giles shook his head, but knew that it was too late. For better or worse the deal was made and the Butcher Knight would roam the Earth one year out of every ten. He shuddered with the thought, even though he had never seen the monster in person.

"Giles," Buffy said without turning toward her Watcher. "Could you leave us alone for a moment?"

Again the two were looking only at each other and Giles didn't need any further encouragement.

"How could you do this?" Buffy asked Angel when Giles was gone. "How could you bargain with this monster?"

"How could I not?" he asked her back. "You are Elia, Buffy. The woman I love. Returned to me after a thousand years. I simply could not lose you again. I could not allow it."

She saw the look in his dark eyes and knew that he spoke the truth. More than that, she remembered. Remembered the man he had been to her in a life not her own, yet still hers. She remembered being Elia now and knew that the man who had been her husband in that earlier life had, in fact, been completely unable to do this any other way.

A tear rolled down her face. Angel's hand reached out to tilt her head up until she looked at him again, his thumb rubbing away the tear.

"Don't cry, my love," he whispered to her. "I don't want to see you sad."

She moved away from his touch and wrapped her arms around herself, more tears springing from her eyes.

"I ... I don't know, Angel! I simply don't know how to react to all this. I just found out that I've lived once before. I remember large pieces of that life now. I remember loving you, but I'm still not sure how much of that is just memory and how much is true. And now this! You make a deal with the monster you've hated all your life to save me. What am I supposed to do now? Can you tell me that?"

He looked down.

"I can't tell you what to feel, Buffy. I can only tell you what I am feeling. I would have done everything to save you and to me it is worth the price to see you alive and well."

She wanted nothing better than to just fall into his arms and be Elia, the woman he loved, the woman he needed. She was that woman, she knew that now, she just wasn't sure how much of her was that woman. Who was Buffy Summers then? What did she want?

"I ... I think I need some time to figure this out, Angel," she finally told him. "I need to ... to find out where the boundary is between Elia and Buffy. Who I really am. What I want. I'm sorry, but ..."

He nodded as words failed her, telling her without words that he understood. There was sadness in his eyes, but it seemed he had expected nothing else.

"You will have time, Buffy. A year's worth of time, to be exact."

"What?" Her eyes snapped back to him.

"One year out of ten, Buffy," Angel said. "Starting tonight."

She couldn't believe this. "You will leave? You will turn into Angelus tonight and stay gone for a year?"

"It was the only bargain he would accept. I will leave tonight. A year from now I will be back and by then ... by then I hope you have found out who you are ... what you want. I'm sorry I can't be here to help you with that."

He rose and reached for his coat and the gleaming sword of the Butcher Knight, which stood right next to the couch. Buffy was frozen for a second, then stood up and walked up to him.

"I will be here," she told him. "I ... I can't promise you anything beyond that, Angel. Sorry, but I ..."

"I understand," he just said, one hand softly caressing her cheek.

She looked up at him through teary eyes and managed a smile.

"Elia loves you, Angel," she told him. "Never doubt that! You are the most important thing in the world to her."

He nodded and brushed the lightest of kisses on her lips. Without any conscious effort on her part Buffy's arms went around him, pressing him closer. She didn't know how long they stayed like that, she only knew that it hurt when they finally parted.

"I will wait for you, my Angel," she told him.

"And I will come back."

Then he was gone.

#

"So much mushy stuff," Angelus complained.

"It's what makes life worth living," Angel told him, "and maybe you will learn that someday."

Angelus shook his head, a smile crossing his face. He was walking toward Sunnydale's bus station, seeing as Darla had wrecked Angel's car. The sword and a few other possessions were gathered in a bag and slung over his broad shoulders.

"Where do we go?" the phantom voice of Angel asked inside his head.

"You are the one who wanted to show me the fun sides of the world, remember? Mr. tour guide, that's you." He shrugged. "I guess out of this town first. Then maybe Disney Land. I've never been to Disney Land."

"I haven't either," Angel said.

"Okay, then Disney Land it is. And please stop brooding about your girlfriend, okay? Gives me a headache. You'll have her back in a year."

"I hope this year passes quickly."

"Oh, I think it will. Time always passes so quickly when you have fun. And I plan to have lots of fun, Earl, old buddy. Lots and lots of fun."

The two men in one body continued to walk down the dark street and a slight chuckle escaped the now ill-named Butcher Knight's lips.

"You know, Angel? This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

"As if!"

THE END