It's Better This Way

By Eleri McCleod

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Disclaimer: Now we all know who owns these characters and it certainly isn't me. If I were half the genius Joss Whedon was, I'd be on the set helping with the show. But I would like to thank him for creating this wonderful world and allowing me to play in it.

Author's Note: Okay, now that that's over, let's get to the important stuff. Critiques are a wonderful thing. Good and bad. I can't get any better if you, the readers, don't let me know what you liked and didn't like. So critique away and I promise I won't get mad if you say what you really felt.

After watching "Becoming" (which just aired in Germany), I felt the need to flesh out the story a little bit. Just a little something extra for us Buffy/Angel fans. Enjoy.

(c) 2000, Eleri McCleod

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The sword clatters loudly to the floor, blood from Angelus' wounded hand dripping next to it.

Breathing hard, not only from the battle but from the tension wrapped around her, Buffy takes advantage of the demon's pause and kicks him in the face. She watches with grim satisfaction as Angelus falls back into Acathla's stone image, landing on his knees in front of her.

Raising the blessed sword, she vows silently, For all the innocents. For Jenny. Buffy begins the killing stroke. For Angel.

But her muscles lock, frozen, when Angelus lets out a gasp, eyes glowing red for an instant. Groaning in pain, the vampire stares at her for a moment before collapsing to the floor.

Staring at the sobbing figure in confusion, Buffy holds the sword at the ready, wary of a trick. The Slayer inside screams, "Do it now! Kill the demon before he regains his strength." But again, the sword won't move, locked between anger, confusion and hope.

"Buffy?" the vampire whispers, tears flowing freely. He raises himself slightly off the floor. "What's going on?"

She continues to stare, hope beginning to overpower the anger and confusion. Her heart starts pounding, stomach tying itself into knots.

Getting to his feet, Angelus' (Angel? Buffy wonders) eyes never leave hers. "Where are we? I-I don't remember."

The sword starts shaking, wavering between straight and dropping to the floor. Buffy searches the vampire's gaze. Unbelievably, she sees confusion, pain, love and worry. All things she had seen in Angel's eyes before she'd unknowingly taken away his soul. Hope pushes the Slayer aside, wanting to grasp at the straw being handed it. As the Slayer part of her screams against the action, the arm holding the sword slowly lowers, bringing the sharp tip to the ground. Throat tight, she whispers, "Angel?"

His eyes finally leaving hers, he looks tenderly at her injured arm. "You're hurt." He slowly reaches out and strokes the bleeding limb, a worried frown appearing on his face.

Buffy glances briefly at the cut, looking back up at the man she thought she'd lost months ago. Almost involuntarily, her feet move closer, bringing her body in line with his. She feels his arms slide around her, still clutching the lowered sword.

"Oh, Buffy ... God. I ... I feel like I haven't seen you in months." He holds her tightly, molding her body to his.

'Angel,' her heart sings. Her eyes close, air escaping in a deep sigh. Half-believing he will disappear as soon as she touches him, she brings her left arm up and tentatively squeezes back. He is solid and real and oh-so familiar.

Feeling her arm along his back, he pulls her even tighter. "Oh, my God, everything's so muddled. I ..." A sigh escapes him as he kisses her on the shoulder. "Oh, Buffy."

At the touch of his lips, she breaks down and buries her face in his shoulder, crying. A low rumble echoes throughout the room. She opens her eyes to see Acathla, his face contorting, eyes glowing red. His mouth opens and a deep, red, glowing vortex emerges, growing slowly in size as she watches.

No, she can't even speak the denial aloud. The hope and joy so recently flowing through her clenches in agony as the realization burns it's way into her mind. It's too late. A scene from moments ago flashes across her memory: Angelus grasping the sword and a blinding burst of light, the completion of the spell. Angelus opened the Gate to Hell, she realized belatedly. Oh, Angel!

Her throat so tight she can barely breathe, she pulls slightly away from her love and stares into his eyes.

Concern and love shining on his face, Angel whispers, "What's happening?"

"Shh," she silences him, fighting to smile through her tears. "Don't worry about it." Running her hand softly over his lips, his cheek, Buffy steels herself, knowing what she has to do. She leans in to kiss him, cupping his cheek in her hand. He returns the kiss passionately, arms locked tight around her, his hand caressing her neck. I don't want to do this, she cries inside. But she pulls away, looking only into Angel's deep brown eyes and not the glowing vortex behind him.

Forcing the words past her choking throat, she whispers, agonized, "I love you."

"I love you," he vows, half-smiling.

She strokes his lips one more time, trying to memorize the feel of him on her fingers. "Close your eyes." He looks at her, questions in his eyes. She nods reassuringly to stop them. Trusting her completely, his eyes close. She tries to step back, but her heart clenches with pain. Barely able to see through the tears clouding her eyes, she reaches up and kisses him one last time. Softly, lovingly.

Stepping back, she thrusts the sword before she has time to stop the action, shoving it through Angel and into Acathla. Buffy takes another step back, unable to look in Angel's eyes. His arm reaches for her, pleading, confused. Staring only at the sword she just put through him, she knows what his eyes hold anyway: pain, fear, confusion, love and betrayal. I'm sorry, Angel, the words can't make it past the pain in her chest. I'm sorry.

"Buffy?" she hears him whisper disbelievingly.

She takes another step back, hardly able to breathe. The sword and Angel's outstretched hand fill her vision. I love- her heart begins, but he's gone. She stares at the silent stone, tears streaming down her face.

* * *

Buffy snapped upright drawing a deep, choked breath. Her mouth opened to say "I'm sorry, Angel" before she realized she was sitting on a bus and that Angel was dead. Because of her. For the second time.

She closed her eyes again, trying to block out the bright sunshine. You don't deserve to see the sun, she whipped herself, pressing her forehead against the cool glass. Tears flowed unnoticed over her cheeks.

'Why?' her heart shrieked in all directions, desperately searching for meaning behind the past few months. But mostly for the past twenty-four hours. 'Why, why, why, why?!!!' the shriek continued, unheard by those around her. Each shout ripped through her gut, straight from her bruised, bleeding heart.

'Not Angel', her heart called desperately. 'Why Angel? Why couldn't Angelus have stayed? Why did I have to kill my Angel?'

'Because it's only fair,' her mind answered calmly, unaffected by the pain surrounding it. 'You took his soul, his life. Why should you get to keep yours?'

'But he got it back!' Buffy's hands were bleeding, nails cutting into her palms. 'At the end, he had his soul! Why then? Why send his soul to Hell?' Angel's poor, battered, beautiful, loving soul.

Instead of getting an answer, she got another question. 'What about all the people who died because of Angelus? Because of you?'

'I didn't know!' her heart shouted back, defiant. The tears continued, unchecked. It was a whisper this time. 'I didn't know.'

She huddled into herself, arms wrapped tightly across her stomach. A deep ache surrounded her heart, fusing with her soul, trying to overpower her. She tried to let it, burned with the need to let go, but the Slayer instinct wouldn't let her. She furiously grabbed that instinct, wrapped her hands around its throat and threw it into a deep, dark corner. 'I'm not the Slayer anymore!' her heart cried. She searched frantically for anything, everything, that made her the Slayer and added it to the corner. A large pile sat in her mind's eye in that dark corner. She glared at it, hatred in every line of her body. A large stack of bricks appeared next to her, beside them, mortar and a trowel.

Blinking the tears out of her eyes, Buffy hardened her heart against the Slayer-bits that were pleading. She picked up the first brick. 'I am not the Slayer.' Placing it carefully, she spread mortar on its side. Brick #2. 'I'm sorry.' Brick #3. 'I am not the Slayer.' Another brick. "I'm so sorry, Angel.'

As the wall grew, it became easier to pick up the next brick, slather the mortar over it and move on. She reached for the last one and stared at it.

'No! No! No! You can't!' the Slayer cried. "There's too much to lose!'

'I've already given you everything.' She stared lifelessly at the almost completed brick wall, exhausted and drained. 'I gave you my life, my soul. And you took Angel. There's nothing else for me to lose. And nothing else to give you.' She shoved the last brick into place.

The Slayer voice stopped dead. Nothing.

Buffy heaved a sigh and wiped her cheeks. 'There is no Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer. She's dead. Now I'm ... I'm Anne.'

"Miss?"

'Anne doesn't patrol. Anne doesn't slay. And most of all, Anne doesn't -"

"Miss?" This time the voice broke through to Buffy. "Are you alright?"

'Nooo!!' her heart, soul, cried fiercely.

Buffy looked up to see a middle-aged woman standing in the aisle.

"Miss?"

"I'm fine," she said aloud, ruthlessly crushing the voice inside that said otherwise. "Really."

The woman gave Buffy a sympathetic smile and moved to her seat.

Buffy's eyes followed her, but saw nothing. The decision had been made, leaving her empty. 'Anne doesn't patrol,' she repeated, gathering the things that made her Buffy. 'Anne doesn't slay.' This wall towered high above the first. She stared at it, feeling nothing, a shell that breathed. The bus continued unconcerned down the highway, fleeing Sunnydale, Buffy's life, Buffy's pain.

'And most of all,' she turned her blank gaze to the cars passing by.

'Anne doesn't feel.'