forgiveness

Forgiveness

Disclaimer: Characters and Premise are borrowed from the show "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer."

Christmas morning dawned bright and cheerful over Sunnydale. Anxiously Giles waited for Buffy to call and let him know how things had gone with the First's priests and Angel. Across town Joyce Summers kept a similar vigil with the second Slayer, Faith, for company.

Hours passed without word from Buffy. Giles, Willow, Xander and Oz joined Faith and Joyce at Buffy's home.

"No one has heard from her since last night?" Giles reiterated.

"Not since she asked me to keep an eye on her mom," Faith replied. "Why's it so urgent."

"Because if things went badly, if stopping the Harbingers didn't stop the attacks on Angel, Buffy may have been forced to destroy him," Giles said.

"You think she ran off again?" Xander said.

"I'm afraid she may do something like that," Giles admitted.

"We've got to stop her!" Joyce exclaimed.

"She wouldn't," Willow said. "Not again."

"Still we should find her now," Giles said. "Last time we gave her a week's head start before we began looking for her, this time I would prefer not to repeat our earlier mistakes."

"So you think she really killed him?" Xander asked.

"We should check with Angel before jumping to conclusions," Oz said.

"Right," Willow seconded. "He'll be at the mansion if Buffy didn't… Well, you know. Buffy might have just decided to stay with him for awhile, to help him, you know, deal with things."

______________________________________________________________

The little group hesitantly walked into the old mansion. Its cold austere atmosphere resisted any attempts the Christmas spirit may have made to enter. Even the warmth of southern California left this place alone. Here it was the bleak of winter.

The sextet first saw Buffy, she was crouched on the floor near the huge fireplace, one arm outstretched beseechingly, tear tracks marring her face. As they came further into the room they could see Angel huddled in the corner formed by the oversized hearth. The dark haired vampire was pressed as far into the corner as physics would allow. His knees were pulled to his chest and his arms were wrapped around them. Angel's dark eyes stared past Buffy, looking at something which only he could see, but which clearly horrified him.

Buffy's fingertips gently brushed Angel's cheek, trying to bring him back but only eliciting a terrified whimper. Hurt Buffy pulled back fresh tears spilling down her cheeks. "Angel," she whispered heartbrokenly.

"What happened?" Giles asked.

Buffy started violently, glancing around wildly, as she calmed her sadden gave focused on Angel again. Emotionlessly she began speaking, "I found the priests, fought them, won, then the First manifested. It told me that I couldn't fight it, and that Angel was already lost to me. I ran all the way here, and I found him like this. What do I do Giles? How do I fix this?"

Joyce quietly enfolded her daughter in a hug, looking from Buffy's hopeless expression to Angel's blankly horrified one.

Giles approached Angel carefully; he reached out and shook the vampire gently, trying to ignore the whimpers that were gradually changing to frighteningly inhuman noises. "Snap out of it Angel!" Giles commanded harshly.

"Stop it!" Buffy protested. "You're hurting him."

"I don't know what else to do," Giles said.

"Maybe if we just give him some time," Willow suggested clinging to Oz.

Xander swallowed harshly. "Cause obviously that isn't working," he said, staring at the person he frequently thought of as his arch nemesis with a kind of sickened pity.

Once Giles released him Angel settled back into silence. "Perhaps that is for the best," Giles said backing away from the vampire.

"I'm not leaving him alone," Buffy said firmly. "None of this would have happened if I hadn't been avoiding him."

"Buffy you don't know that," Willow protested.

"We would have known something was wrong sooner," Buffy replied. "He wouldn't have had to face it alone."

______________________________________________________________

"Hey girls," Joyce said with forced cheer, setting a tray of food down near Buffy and Willow's sleeping bags.

"Hey Mrs. Summers," Willow replied with a weak half-smile.

"No improvement I take it?" Joyce asked.

"Well he stopped whimpering when someone touches him," Willow said. "But I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. Now he doesn't respond to anything at all."

Joyce sighed, glancing at her daughter, wrapped in a blanket staring at Angel as if the force of her gaze could draw him back from whereever he had gone to. For his part, Angel was still huddled in the corner where they had found him several days ago, he had uncurled slightly but that was the only change. "He hasn't eaten yet either?" Joyce asked.

"He just ignores it," Willow said gesturing to the cooling mug of blood sitting on the floor near the souled vampire. "Buffy tried smearing some of it on his mouth once, but it looked too disturbing so we cleaned it off after a few minutes."

"Mr. Giles hasn't had any new ideas?"

"None that worked."

______________________________________________________________

Buffy looked around herself and only saw blackness. She shivered in the cold emptiness, drawing her thin jacket more tightly around her shoulders. This place chilled the soul as well as the body; it was impossible to imagine light or love surviving here.

Aimlessly she wandered through the desolate nothingness. Far below her, she caught a glimpse of a familiar figure.

"Angel!" She yelled.

______________________________________________________________

"Angel!" Buffy yelled, startling Xander out of sleep.

"What? Where? Who?" the groggy teen exclaimed looking around himself blearily.

"Just a nightmare Xander," Buffy said. "I'm sorry I woke you."

"Wanna talk about it?" Xander offered.

"Thanks, but no," Buffy replied. "Go back to sleep."

"If you're sure," Xander said snuggling back into his sleeping bag.

"I'm sure," Buffy replied.

Once Xander's breathing had slowed back to the gentle rhythms of sleep Buffy tossed off her blankets and walked across the room to the empty fireplace.

"Why couldn't I have wakened you Angel?" She asked.

In the dim light she couldn't see if Angel's eyes were open or closed but it didn't really make much of a difference, either way he didn't respond.

With a sigh Buffy sat beside him, she curled against his side and drew his arm around her shoulders holding his hand tightly.

In the past Angel's presence had always made her feel warm and protected despite his lack of body heat, now all she could feel was the hollowness of this parody of an embrace. "I love you Angel," she said. "I need you to come back."

After a long time she fell asleep still clutching at the illusion that he was holding her.

______________________________________________________________

"School's starting again in two days," Joyce said to Giles. "I've let Buffy stay with him since Christmas, but she had to go to classes."

"Yes, of course," Giles replied.

"I want you to tell her," Joyce continued.

"What? Why can't you tell her?" Giles asked.

"You're her Watcher, you've had more authority over her than I have ever since we came to this town," Joyce said bitterly. "You're the one who knew about this… relationship from the beginning. You're the one that gave your approval of it. Now you get to be the one to tell her it's time to give up on him."

"I wouldn't necessarily… she can't continue like she has… but to simply give up on Angel…" Giles stuttered.

"It's been almost two weeks, Angel's condition is unchanged, and you have no idea what to do for him. We can hardly take him to a hospital and he's not eating, how long before he starves to death? I won't have Buffy sitting there watching that, she won't be able to handle it," Joyce said.

"I… um… I'm not certain that a vampire actually can starve. All the Watcher's information claims beheading, sunlight, fire or, of course, stakes to the heart are the only means of destroying a vampire. However, I can't imagine that any experiments were preformed where one was actually starved," Giles said awkwardly.

"So you're saying that this… situation could persist for the rest of my daughter's life?" Joyce demanded.

"We will resolve the situation," Giles said. "But it hasn't been even two weeks yet. I agree Buffy can't be allowed to skip classes, additionally she should resume patrolling, but to forbid her from spending time with him?"

"She's becoming as withdrawn as he is," Joyce argued.

"Hardly," Giles said. "And I still believe Angel may recover."

"You feel guilty for turning him away when he came to you for help," Joyce said. "Don't let your personal feeling interfere with what's best for Buffy."

______________________________________________________________

"Hey Buffy. Hey Angel. Love you Oz," Willow said.

Buffy waved distractedly. Oz went to hug his girlfriend. "Still nothing," Oz reported. Willow made a sad face in response.

"I had another of those dreams," Buffy said. "I'm sure it's Angel trying to reach me."

"What happened?" Willow asked.

"It's still dark in the dreams, but there's a landscape now, it's all dead though. Everything's dead there and it's so cold. Angel's lost, I can see him, and he's so lonely Willow."

"They might be just dreams," Willow said.

"They're not. Angel needs me to find him, Willow. I try to reach him in the dreams but I always wake up before he can see me," Buffy said. "I'm always too late."

"Like the First said. Buffy it wasn't your fault. We did everything we could; it just took too long to find out what we needed to fight. We all feel bad," Willow said.

"We didn't do everything," Buffy said. "If it had of been anyone else, we wouldn't have left him alone. We didn't even bother to tell him we were trying to help or what we thought was happening until he was already falling apart. Can you imagine what it must have been like? That thing telling him he was a monster and his friends pretty much confirming it by sending him away?"

"We didn't…"

"He didn't know we were looking. Angel just knew none of us could stand to be around him. Willow we all knew that what happened when he lost his soul wasn't Angel's fault anymore than eating the pig was Xander's," Buffy said. "Or if it is his fault it's mine too, it took both of us to break the curse."

______________________________________________________________

Buffy followed Angel through the desolate landscape, calling out to him, but he was oblivious to her presence.

Desperately Buffy tried to grab him only to see her hand pass through his shoulder like a ghost's.

While she was in contact with Angel, Buffy could see that their surroundings weren't empty, at least not to him. All around them as far as the eye could see the ground was littered with dead bodies, their empty, accusing eyes fixed on Angel. Somehow Buffy knew these were his demon's victims. Every face carefully preserved in his memories. Most were nameless individuals unlucky enough to cross his path, but other were those he had know in life or in Sunnydale and still more were those Angelus had tormented for months before killing.

Out of the corner of the eye formless shadows could be glimpsed, the victims of those Angelus had made vampires. These lacked the form and substance of his own victims but they still made their presence felt, adding their weight to his already burdened conscious.

Horrified Buffy jerked away from Angel. As they separated the dead disappeared and she was surrounded once more by nothingness.

Steeling herself, Buffy reached for Angel once again only to hear a distant voice calling her name.

______________________________________________________________

"Buffy, wake-up," Giles said, shaking the sleeping girl's shoulder. He had intended to wait for her to awaken on her own for this conversation, but had changed his mind when her restless tossing and turning showed that her dreams had become nightmares.

"Angel… what?" Buffy mumbled.

"Just me, I'm afraid," Giles said with a small smile. "You fell asleep."

"I was in his dreams again," Buffy said.

Giles looked concerned but only replied, "School will be back in session tomorrow."

"I guess Angel and I will be on our own then," Buffy said.

"Angel will be on his own tomorrow," Giles corrected gently. "You have to attend classes with the others."

"But… Couldn't you or Mom excuse me?" Buffy asked.

"We could," Giles said. "But we won't. It wouldn't be good for you Buffy. It is apparent that Angel's condition won't just go away. You have other responsibilities; Angel wouldn't want you to neglect them. You need to go to classes and resume your training. I also want you to patrol at least twice a week and eat dinner with your mother on a regular basis."

"I promised Angel I wouldn't abandon him again," Buffy protested.

"You won't be abandoning him," Giles reassured Buffy. "We can train here, there's certainly enough space. And the mansion isn't that far from the school, you could spend your lunch and free period here. I'll stay with Angel while you patrol and have dinner. It will work out."

"But during school, he'll be alone," Buffy said.

"Yes, but Buffy, leaving this building to attend school hardly constitutes abandoning him. Would Angel really want you to throw away all the work you did to get readmitted?"

Buffy sighed dejectedly, but nodded her agreement. "You'll really stay with him when I'm out in the evening?" she asked.

"I will," Giles promised.

______________________________________________________________

Xander sat in the Sunnydale High lounge waiting for classes to start, wondering when Willow and Oz would show up and if Buffy would actually be in school like she promised.

Cordelia, just back from Aspen, decided to stop by to indulge in her daily dose of Xander abuse.

"How was your Christmas camp-out?" she asked, feeling slightly guilty about bringing up Xander's less than ideal home life. "Aspen was great."

"We had a demonic occurrence." Xander said.

"Well same old Sunnydale," Cordelia replied. "I'm so not sorry I missed that."

"Not quite same old," Xander said. "It targeted Angel, messed him up pretty bad. He's been… what's Willow call it… catatonic since Christmas morning. We're starting to think he might not get better. Except for Buffy, she won't give up hope. She's probably going to cut classes to sit with him again today. She hasn't left the mansion since it happened."

"Oh…" Cordelia said softly, she stood there for a few moment looking like she might add something to that then walked off without doing so.

Xander smiled and waved as Willow and Oz approached in Cordelia's wake. He was glad that they were back together, at least one good thing had happened over break.

"Is Buffy coming?" Xander asked.

"As of last night: yes," Willow replied. "And since her mom camped out at the mansion with her, she probably won't have the option of changing her mind."

"That's good, Buffy can't spend all her time there," Xander said.

"I think Giles and her mom are trying to gradually cut back on her time there," Willow said. "Get her back involved with life so when, if, Angel dies, she won't be so devastated."

"It would still be a major blow," Oz said. "They can't soften that."

The trio talked quietly about different things until the first bell rang, then with a last reluctant look around for Buffy they headed to their classes.

With a minute to spare Buffy burst into the schools main hall at a flat out run.

"Cutting things a bit close are we, Miss Summers?" Snyder asked. "Not the best way to start a new year, but just what I expected from a troublemaker like you."

"Can't talk, I'll be late," Buffy replied brushing past the diminutive principal.

"And no running in the halls!" Snyder yelled at Buffy's retreating back.

______________________________________________________________

"Hello Rupert."

"Jenny?" Giles asked disbelievingly.

"I missed you," Jenny said.

"How is this possible?" Giles asked.

"You're dreaming," Jenny explained.

"You're not real then," Giles said.

"Oh, I'm real alright, just a little non-corporal," Jenny said.

"What?"

"A ghost, Rupert. You've been spending too much time with the children, it's effecting your vocabulary," Jenny said.

"I'm sorry I couldn't save you," Giles said. "I let him kill you."

"Rupert, no. It wasn't your fault," Jenny insisted. "The demon was the only one to blame, not you, not Buffy, not even Angel, just the demon."

"How do I know it's really you?" Giles asked.

"Want me to make you squirm?" Jenny asked with a mischievous smile.

"Um, no, that would be quite alright," Giles said, adjusting his glasses nervously.

"Still my sexy fuddy-duddy," Jenny replied.

"How are you here?" Giles asked.

"Unfinished business, Angelus killed me before I could absolve my guilt for letting the curse be broken. I tried to set things right but… nothing ever works out like I intend," Jenny sighed.

"You helped Willow with the curse," Giles realized.

"Too late, it only made things worse, both for Angel and Buffy. I argued for Angel's release as well, but it only drew the First's attention to him," Jenny said.

"Why didn't you come to me before?" Giles asked.

"It's hard, just appearing here in your dreams is taking all the energy I can muster. Willow was open to the supernatural because of the nature of the spell she was casting. I managed to link Buffy and Angel through their dreams only because the First had already breached Angel's defenses and because she is the Slayer, Buffy's mind is naturally open to prophetic dreams, it gave me a starting point with them," Jenny explained. "Your mind is so intensely defended from external influence after what Drucillia did to you I can barely reach you."

"But I had to. You have to let go of your anger Rupert. It will corrupt you. All the hatred you harbor for Angel is hurting you. You can't move on with your life until you make peace with my death."

"Angel wasn't responsible for the curse breaking. He can't control the demon. He beats himself up over the demon's action enough on his own, he doesn't need your help to feel miserable."

"The whole curse was a horribly unjust punishment in the first place. That monster isn't Angel, but my people placed the burden of his crimes on Angel anyway. My uncle told me that we serve vengeance not justice before he was killed. Don't fall into that trap, Rupert. Vengeance is a sick, hollow thing. It will take everything you have and leave you empty."

"I understand Jenny," Giles replied. "And I'll try, but it's so hard to look at him and not see your murder."

"Just talk to him, you'll see they're not the same," Jenny said. "Oh and Rupert, you might want to take a look at the Restoration spell Willow cast, I meant it as a gift not a curse."

______________________________________________________________

Cordelia crept through the mansion feeling completely out of place. Since her break-up with Xander she'd attempted to sever all ties with the Slayerettes, but a part of her insisted that they were the best friends she'd ever had.

It was that part that had brought her here; to see Angel and tell him she hoped he'd be better soon. The rest of her screamed that she didn't belong here.

Cordelia stopped in the entranceway to the main room upon seeing that Buffy was with Angel.

"I don't think I ever told you I still loved you since you came back," Buffy was saying. "I do you know, I never quit. I'm sorry for what happened, for sending you to Hell, for making you loose your soul in the first place. I know if you were more here you'd tell me it wasn't my fault for either. I wish you'd tell me that. We could argue about whose fault things were, if anyone's and everything could be okay again."

"Please wake-up Angel. I need you. Even if we can't be together I need you to be all right. I need you to tell me you don't blame me for what happened. I need to tell you you weren't to blame for it either."

"I can't stand to loose you again. Please be alright, please be alright."

Silently Cordelia backed out of the room, an expression that spoke of weighty thoughts on her face.

______________________________________________________________

Giles wandered around the mansion's main room, trying to settle in for his first stint at watching Angel while Buffy patrolled. It wasn't easy given that the last time he'd spent any significant time with the vampire had been last spring when Angelus had tortured him.

"Angelus, not Angel," Giles reminded himself. "If you'd remembered that distinction a few weeks ago we might not be in this mess now."

Giles sighed, it had been so easy to separate Angel from the demon before he personally had to deal with Angelus.

Of the whole group, Giles knew he was probably the only one who had truly grasped what Angelus had been. Angelus the one with the Angelic face, the scourge of Europe, had been anything but a discrete creature. There were whole volumes devoted to him in the Council's library, most of which he read after realizing who Buffy's "Cryptic Guy" actually was. Angelus had encountered his share of Slayers as well, to their misfortune. Giles had warned Buffy that Spike had killed two Slayers, but he could never bring himself to tell her Angelus' grand total, it was too disheartening.

Despite all that Giles had accepted, even welcomed the souled vampire's help. Angel had shared the burden being the Chosen One placed on Buffy. Before the curse broke Giles had even considered Angel a friend. He had absolved the vampire of responsibility for his soulless counterpart's actions and been thankful for his quiet, dependable presence in the Slayer's life.

Then, of course, the curse broke and everything changed. Angelus' cruel mind games were something they had to face not just entries in a journal. Coming home to find Jenny's body had been the single most shattering moment in Giles' life and he knew the demon reveled in what it had done.

And then Angel was back, and suddenly it wasn't so easy to separate the demon from the man, because that would mean giving up an easy target for his rage.

Giles distractedly picked up a book laying open on the couch, it was Rolvaag's "Giants in the Earth"; Giles had found the novel most memorable for it's vivid descriptions of the Great Plains. Giles wondered if Angel read it simply for the chance to see the sun through the author's words.

Giles pulled a chair near Angel and settled in with the book. In a quiet, well-modulated voice, he began reading from the page Angel had left it open to.

A half-hour later Giles set the book aside.

"I didn't mean what I said that night," Giles said. "You don't belong in Hell. There are times when I wish the soulless version was still here, simply so that I would have the opportunity to hurt him for what he did to Jenny. It's easier to be angry than to grieve and you were a convenient substitute. Still I can hardly hold your soul responsible for actions taken in its absence."

______________________________________________________________

"Willow do you still have the Restoration spell?" Giles asked, stopping slight girl in the hall before class.

"Do you think it could help Angel now?" Willow asked.

"Not in this, but it might verify something," Giles said.

"How?"

"Jenny, or something that appeared to be Jenny, spoke with me. She said that she caused Buffy to be drawn into Angel's dreams. If their dreams really are linked perhaps that is the key to reaching him," Giles said.

"But the spell?" Willow asked.

"Jenny also said that the spell was a gift, not a curse. If that's true there won't be any clauses this time," Giles explained.

"You mean he and Buffy can be together again?" Willow squealed happily.

"If what I was told is correct and if Angel recovers," Giles cautioned. "Willow please don't tell Buffy until we're sure."

______________________________________________________________

"Xander," Cordelia said uncertainly. "Could we talk?"

"Sure," Xander said, clearly shocked.

"Okay, what I want to say is: What you did really hurt me and I don't think things will ever be the way they were between us again," Cordelia said.

"Cordy, I'm so sorry," Xander said.

"Just wait," Cordelia replied. "I'm not done yet. You really hurt me, but a lot of badness happens here and we're usually right in the middle of it. So I just want to say this before anything permanent happens to either of us: I accept your apology."

"And maybe if I'd told you I cared about you, you wouldn't have done what you did. So I'm sorry for pretending it was still all hormones between us. But what happened happened and we can't go back, but I don't hate you or Willow, at least not anymore." Cordelia sighed. "That's what I wanted to say and let Buffy and Giles know I'm still up for research parties and stuff even if I don't hang with you guys any more."

______________________________________________________________

"Buffy, Willow and I have been researching the Dream Plain," Giles said when Buffy returned to the mansion after dinner with her mother. "We believe that you need to gain control over the dream to reach Angel. I obtained a charm that will help you with lucid dreaming."

"So what do I do?" Buffy asked.

"Just wear the charm while you sleep, the next time you find yourself in Angel's dreams try to alter the dream. You've mentioned the cold and how nothing lives in the dreamscape, so I believe you should try to project warmth and life. Hopefully Angel will be drawn to that," Giles suggested.

______________________________________________________________

Buffy looked around the barren landscape with a feeling of anticipation. For the first time she had a plan, hope that she could do something here.

As always she found Angel wandering aimlessly through the desolation. Buffy picked a spot in his path and concentrated on her love for him and her desire to bring him home. Around her the air brightened and warmed, the grass under her feet gained a touch of green and a pale flower bloomed on the branch where she rested her hand.

When she saw Angel staring at her in amazement Buffy smiled and held her hand out to him welcomingly.

Angel walked to the edge of the sphere of life Buffy had brought into his dead world and stopped.

"Come back with me Angel," Buffy plead.

"I don't belong there," Angel replied.

"I need you," Buffy said. "I tried to go on without you, but I can't, please come back."

"I'll only end-up hurting you," Angel objected. "I'm not strong enough to be with you and not take comfort in you. I'll loose my soul again. I couldn't stand that again, I'm better off here where I can't do any more harm."

"No, Angel I won't let you stay here, you have to come back," Buffy argued.

"I belong in Hell Buffy, just leave me here," Angel insisted, turning and running, disappearing almost instantly.

"Angel!" Buffy yelled staring at the emptiness around her.

______________________________________________________________

"Even when he can hear me he won't listen," Buffy cried. "He won't even try to heal."

"Maybe a group approach," Willow suggested. "I saw a way we could tie others into your dreams, then when you're drawn into Angel's we'll just come along. Maybe if Angel knew we all wanted him back, that we aren't angry at him anymore, maybe then he'd come back."

"What you're suggesting is highly complicated Willow," Giles objected.

"Not really; first we wait till Angel's in REM sleep. Then we cast a spell to make the rest of us sleep, sleep spells are easy cause it's natural to the body. I already know one; it works a lot better than OTC's for insomnia. At the same time we cast the other spell to let us dream with Buffy the charm should work for all of us."

"Please Giles, we have to try," Buffy said.

"Very well, we will try."

______________________________________________________________

"Okay, we're ready," Willow said. "Faith you just have to keep adding herbs to the fire until someone wakes up."

"Why do spells always include stinky herbs?" Cordelia demanded.

"Just to annoy you," Giles said.

"You're sure I can help?" Xander asked. "I mean Deadboy and I aren't the bestest of friends."

"Do you want him back?" Willow asked.

"I don't want him hurting," Xander admitted.

"That's all you have to say," Oz said.

"Let's do this," Buffy said.

"I just keep things cooking right?" Faith asked.

"Exactly," Giles replied.

______________________________________________________________

Buffy checked on the locations of her friends then started out through the emptiness, looking for Angel.

The others took longer to orient themselves, but soon joined Buffy.

"Not my idea of a vacation spot," Xander commented.

"It is rather depressing," Giles said.

"Angel!" Buffy called spotting the morose vampire, he didn't respond.

"Remember, you have to help him find you," Willow said.

"Right," Buffy agreed. "We should be around him, maybe if he's actually in the living part he won't want to go back to this."

"Also it's harder to run if you're surrounded," Xander said as the group moved to stand in a loose circle around Angel. Slowly life crept back into the space they defined.

Angel looked around himself in disbelief.

"Since you wouldn't listen to me, I brought back ups," Buffy said cheerfully.

"Giles, please tell her she's wrong," Angel said. "You know I belong here."

"I came to help her persuade you to return with us," Giles said. "We all did."

Bewildered Angel backed out of the circle of life, forcing his way between Cordelia and Xander to return to the safe, undemanding dead world outside of the Slayerettes' circle of influence. "You don't mean that," Angel insisted. "You can't."

"They do," a new voice replied. "We're all your friends."

"I killed you," Angel said shaking his head and backing further away.

Jenny clasped the dark haired vampire's hands firmly in hers. "Not you, Angel, the demon. You saved my life. Angel let me help you now."

"I don't understand," Angel protested.

"Without you Angel, Eyghon would have killed me more than a month before the curse was broken," Jenny said.

"You aren't responsible for what the demon does. I know you can't remember it now, but we've all tried to tell you that a hundred times while the curse was broken. You aren't him Angel."

"No, it was my fault," Angel argued.

"You're so stubborn Angel," Jenny exclaimed. "Your family, your friends, all those the demon killed, they know he isn't you, why can't you believe that."

"The demon wouldn't even exist if I hadn't been so stupid," Angel said.

"We didn't know Angel," Buffy argued. "And I'm as much to blame as you are for what happened."

"It's my fault I was turned in the first place," Angel exclaimed.

"Maybe it was," Jenny admitted. "But you had no understanding of what was to come. You've more than made up for that long ago lapse in judgment."

"How can you say that?" Angel demanded.

"You got drunk, you went chasing after a pretty girl," Jenny said. "I'll grant you there wasn't anything to admire about your behavior as a human, but you can hardly claim you deserve eternal damnation for that. Everything that came after wasn't you."

"Angel, I'm glad you there to save me from the evil watcher lady," Willow said.

"And you've been there for me more times than I can count," Buffy said. "And not just for things like the Three and that first Order of Taraka guy, you were there when I fell apart after the whole dying thing and during my mom's romance with robo-Ted too. I love you so much Angel, just please don't give up, not after we've been through so much."

"You've helped Buffy as the Chosen One," Giles said. "You've helped me in my duties as Watcher. You were there to rescue Willow, Xander and I from the Invisible Girl. I would like you to come back and resume helping us."

"We don't know each other real well," Oz said. "But I can relate, it's not like I control the wolf."

"Well, you're usually too busy worrying about Buffy to rescue me," Cordelia said. "But I've been having these awful dreams about a Sunnydale where the Master rose. So I think everyone owes all of us a thank you for stopping that, and you were part of that."

"Like Cordy says: you're part of the team," Xander said.

"See," Buffy said. "We all want you back."

"There's too much risk," Angel said.

"No there isn't," Willow announced. "You can't loose your soul again."

"I fixed the spell," Jenny explained. "You don't have to worry about clauses anymore."

"Trust me, I checked that quite thoroughly," Giles said.

"But you told me if I took comfort in Buffy I'd loose my soul," Angel said to Jenny.

"That wasn't me," Jenny said. "That was the First. It believed that if your soul were weakened with despair you would willingly give control to the demon. You didn't do that though, even when you retreated completely from reality you were still strong enough to keep the demon locked away from the world. You stopped being weak a long time ago Angel, and you aren't a danger to anyone."

"Really?" Angel asked. "I can really go home?"

"Yes, already," Xander exclaimed. "Geese, even I get a hint quicker than this. Come on, this place is a drag, let's get out of here Angel."

Angel smiled shyly at the frustrated boy. "If even you're convinced Xander, well it must be okay."

______________________________________________________________

Faith added another bundle of herbs to the fire, and then tiptoed through the maze of sleeping bodies. The old mansion was eerie enough without bodies lying all over the place. Faith knew they were just sleeping, but it was all too easy to imagine that they wouldn't wake-up.

A movement from the shadows formed by the fireplace's imposing hearth brought Faith to full alert. Upon recognizing Buffy's vampire love Faith relaxed marginally.

"So you finally decided to rejoin the land of the living, well unliving in your case," Faith said. "I guess that means everyone should be waking up soon."

"I think so. Um Faith, right? Thanks for helping me," Angel said.

Faith stared at the floor shifting her weight uncomfortably, "It was nothing, I just, you know, burned some dead weeds. I didn't really help or anything."

"Thank you anyway," Angel said, kneeling to take Buffy's sleeping form into his arms. As he lifted her, the blonde Slayer stirred, blinking her eyes sleepily. "I love you," Angel said.

"Angel?" Buffy murmured, "I'm not just dreaming this?"

"I'm here," Angel promised.

"Don't ever do that again," Buffy demanded hugging Angel tightly.

Angel buried his face in her hair, returning her hug with enthusiasm. "I promise, I'll never leave you again," he whispered.

"It worked!" Willow exclaimed, popping up in her sleeping bag like a jack-in-the-box. She leaned over to shake Oz awake. "We did it! I worked! Angel's okay!" Willow cheered.

______________________________________________________________

"I don't want to leave you," Giles said, holding Jenny tightly.

After Angel and the others had disappeared their surrounding had mutated into Giles' apartment.

"They need you," Jenny reminded him.

"I know, I just miss you so much," Giles said.

Jenny caressed his cheek gently. "I miss you too Rupert, and I'll be waiting for you. But I want to wait a long time and I want you to be happy."

"It's not fair, we'd just found each other," Giles protested. "I love you, I've never felt like this about anyone else."

Jenny sighed, "Who ever said life is fair? But at least we did find each other. I'll never forget you."

Giles smiled slightly. "At least we found each other," he echoed leaning down to kiss Jenny.

"Goodbye Rupert," Jenny whispered.

"Farewell, beloved," Giles replied.

______________________________________________________________

Giles woke-up to a madhouse. Buffy and Angel stood in the center of the mansion's main room kissing passionately. Willow was bouncing about excitedly, clinging to Oz's hand, who followed her giddy antics with a bemused but happy expression. Xander impulsively hugged Cordelia then backed away looking embarrassed. Cordelia examined Xander for a moment then stepped forward with a smile and embraced the teen.

Faith stood off to one side looking like she was about to bolt. Giles walked over to the second slayer. "Faith, I don't know how we would have gotten through the last month with you. Your Watcher would have been very proud of how you handled yourself."

"You really think so?" Faith asked shyly.

"I know so, any Watcher would have been proud of how you managed. I know it isn't easy for you, the Council has yet to adapt to having two Slayers, and sometimes it must feel like you don't have a place here, but went you were needed you came through."

"But you don't need me anymore," Faith said. "What with Buffy and Angel being okay again."

"No Faith," Giles replied. "Much of Buffy's success has come from being part of a team. You're part of that now as well. I know you haven't had much time to find your place with the other socially yet, but just give it time."

Giles watched Angel lift Buffy off the floor to kiss her more thoroughly, Buffy wrapped her legs tightly around his waist, both were completely unaware of their surroundings. "Besides," Giles said to Faith. "I have a premonition that Buffy is going to be somewhat preoccupied for a good while to come."

"I thought they couldn't, because of his curse," Faith said.

"We missed the changes in the spell Willow cast last spring," Giles explained. "That oversight has been corrected. They seem to be making up for lost time."

Faith smiled suddenly. "They are getting disgustingly mushy," she said. "Hey! Lovebirds break it up or get a room! You're grossing out the Librarian."

Buffy and Angel never even glanced at her.

"G-man, how long can Slayers hold their breath?" Xander asked.

"Why?" Giles replied.

"Well, Buffy has to come up for air sometime even if Angel doesn't. I was just wondering if we could go for pizza or something while we wait."

"Maybe we should leave them alone for awhile," Willow said uncertainly.

"Perhaps we should," Giles said watching Angel's hand slide up Buffy's back, under her shirt.

Cordelia rolled her eyes and walked over to the couple. "You have an audience," she announced tapping Angel on the shoulder.

Reluctantly Angel separated from Buffy. "Thank you," Angel said looking around at the other Scoobies. "For forgiving me and for caring enough to help me."

"It wasn't you," Giles said with a sigh. "There was nothing to forgive, it just took me a while to realize that."

"Okay, if everyone's done with the sappy semimetal stuff, I say we get some food, maybe some movies and have a party," Xander declared.

"We can slip out later," Buffy whispered to Angel.

"It'll be like an impromptu New Year's," Willow exclaimed. "Now that we're all together again, we really have something to celebrate."

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